Historical documents of Hanseatic League added to UNESCO archival heritage list
Yesterday, on 18 May in Paris, letters addressed to the merchant Hildebrand Veckinchusen and his account books from 1398-1428 kept in the Tallinn City Archives along with other documents related to the history of the Hanseatic League were added to the UNESCO Memory of the World register, which gathers documentary heritage of outstanding global value.
“The Veckinchusen archive is the best-preserved merchant archive from the beginning of the 15th century on this side of the Alps,” head of the City Archives Küllo Arjakas said. “That is why having these documents is both a special privilege and a great responsibility, to preserve archives that are important on a global scale. UNESCO’s decision is proof of the international reputation of Tallinn City Archives. It is like a label of quality that helps you recognise when something is good. The Veckinchusen Archive is the second documentation related to Estonia in the UNESCO archival heritage list. Documents on organising the Baltic Way were the first to be added there in July 2009,” he added.
Hildebrand Veckinchusen, a merchant from Westphalia, was presumably born around 1370. He began his work in Bruges between 1395 and 1398, then married in Riga and after stopping in Lübeck for a few years, moved back to Bruges, where he managed his extensive business until his death in 1426.
The Veckinchusen Archive consists of 12 account books and approximately 600 letters addressed to him, which reflect his work and wide reach as a Hanseatic merchant. Veckinchusen traded from Flanders across Lubeck and the Baltics to Novgorod. He also had business connections with southern Germany and Venice, as well as in France and London. He sold broadcloth, salt and spices to the east, receiving furs and wax in return. The documents left behind by Veckinchusen reflect the functioning of the Hanseatic trade based on the personal contacts and trade partnerships he formed. At the same time, they reflect how the expanding and increasingly far-reaching business was accompanied by great risks, which eventually led to Veckinchusen's bankruptcy.
How Veckinchusen's letters and account books ended up in Tallinn is still unknown. Presumably, the Tallinn Town Council took them into custody during the inheritance process of some of Hildebrand's relatives who were active in Livonia.
In 2016, under the initiative of the Archive of the Hanseatic City of Lübeck, an application was initiated for the inclusion of Hanseatic documents in the UNESCO archival heritage list. Several archives from Germany as well as from Belgium, Latvia, Poland, Denmark and Estonia joined the application. A representative list of documents was prepared, which would reflect the activities of the Hanseatic League as diversely as possible. Decisions of meetings of representatives of Hanseatic cities, Hanseatic trade agreements and privileges, internal regulations of Hanseatic offices, a manuscript of maritime law, documents related to Hanseatic warfare, a Russian-Low German dictionary and one merchant archive were selected.