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Pier Gerlofs Donia

Pier Gerlofs Donia
Etching of Grutte Pier, from 'Chronycke ofte Historische Geschiedenis van Frieslant' published in 1622.[1]
Born 1480
Kimswerd, Frisia
Died 1520
Sneek, Frisia
Nationality Frisian (Dutch)
Other names Grutte Pier
Occupation farmer
Known for Leading a Frisian rebellion between 1515 and 1519
Spouse(s) Rintsje Syrtsema
Children Gerlof Piers Donia and Wobbel Piers Donia
Parent(s) Gerlof Piers Donia and Fokel Sybrants Bonga

Pier Gerlofs Donia (ca. 1480–1520) was a Frisian rebel leader and pirate. He is best known by his West Frisian nickname Grutte Pier ("Big Pier"; in the pre-1980 West Frisian spelling written as Greate Pier), or by the Dutch translation Grote Pier which referred to his legendary size and strength.

His life is mostly shrouded in legend. Based upon a description now attributed to Pier's contemporary Petrus Thaborita, the 19th-century historian Conrad Busken Huet wrote that Grutte Pier was


  • Early life and family 1
  • Rebellion 2
  • Peasant rebels 3
    • Arumer Zwarte Hoop 3.1
    • Pirating in the Zuiderzee 3.2
    • Battles on land 3.3
  • Later years and death 4
  • Superhuman strength and size 5
  • In popular culture 6
    • Gysbert Japicx 6.1
    • Fivefal 6.2
    • Television 6.3
    • Video Gaming 6.4
    • Sport 6.5
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9

Early life and family

Pier Gerlofs was born around 1480 in Kimswerd near the city of Harlingen, Wonseradeel (modern Friesland, Netherlands). Pier Gerlofs was one of at least four children born to Fokel Sybrants Bonga and Gerlof Piers.[3] Pier's mother Fokel was the daughter of the Schieringer noblemen Sybrant Doytsesz. Bonga of Bongastate, Kimswerd.[4]

Pier married Rintsje Syrtsema and they had two children, a son named Gerlof and a daughter named Wobbel, who were born around 1510. Pier died in 1520, and in 1525, Pier's mother appointed in her will Pier's brother, Sybren, as guardian of Pier's children, who still were minors.[3][5] Pier and Pier's brother-in-law Ane Pijbes (husband of Tijdt Gerlofs), were partners in the farming estate of Meyllemastate in Kimswerd.

Wijerd Jelckama often is described by 18th and 19th century authors as the nephew of Grutte Pier. Contemporary Worp van Thabor identifies him simply as Wierd van Bolsward. Modern authors such as J.J. Kalma[6] doubt the nephew connection and Brouwer in the Encyclopedia of Friesland states that Wierd was not Grutte Pier's nephew but instead his "lieutenant".[7]


Approximately 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) to the north-east of Donia's village of Kimswerd, in the city of civil war between the Vetkopers, who opposed Burgundian and subsequently Habsburg rule, and the Schieringers. The Black Band were notorious as a violent military force; when their pay was insufficient or lacking, they would extract payments from local villagers and on 29 January 1515, the Black Band plundered Donia's village, then allegedly raped and killed his wife, Rintze Syrtsema, and burnt to the ground both the village church and Donia's estate.[9] Seeking revenge, Pier started a guerrilla war campaign against the Habsburgs and allied himself with Charles of Egmond, Duke of Guelders (1492–1538).

Peasant rebels

Arumer Zwarte Hoop

Pier's armed band, known as the Arumer Zwarte Hoop (English: Black Gang from Arum), were pirates mainly active against the Hollanders and Burgundians at sea. He managed to capture many English and Dutch ships, mainly on the Zuider Zee (today's ‘IJsselmeer’). Erasmus criticized Grutte Pier's exploits.[10]

"De dapperheid van Grote Pier" (The bravery of Grote Pier), anno 1516, Oil on canvas by Johannes Hinderikus Egenberger, (Arnhem 1822 – Utrecht 1897)

Pirating in the Zuiderzee

Pier targeted ships that travelled the Zuiderzee and was very active in 1517, when he used his "signal ships" to attack ships in the region of the West Frisian coast, to which he also transported Geldrian forces, setting them ashore at Medemblik. Pier bore a personal enmity to Medemblik and its inhabitants as, in earlier years, soldiers from Medemblik had cooperated with the Holland army commanded by Duke Charles, the future Emperor.[11] In March 1498, Medemblik was where representatives of the Schieringers met the Saxon ruler duke Albrecht to request Saxon protection from the Vetkopers — a request that resulted in the Saxon occupation of Friesland, Netherlands.[12] On 24 June 1517, Grutte Pier and his Arumer Zwarte Hoop, consisting of some 4,000 soldiers from Frisia and Guelders, sailed to West Frisia, passing Enkhuizen, landing near Wervershoof and advancing to Medemblik. They swiftly captured Medemblik, killing many inhabitants and taking many others prisoner. Some were released on payment of a high ransom. Some of the town's inhabitants fled and found safety at Kasteel Radboud. The castle's governor, Joost van Buren, succeeded in keeping the aggressors outside the castle walls. Unable to take the castle, the Arumer Zwarte Hoop plundered the town and set it on fire. With most houses made of wood, the town, including the church, monastery and town hall, was razed. After this partial victory, Pier and his army stormed both Nieuwburg and Middleburg Castle near Alkmaar, plundered and set them on fire, leaving only ruins.

Battles on land

In 1517, the Arumer Zwarte Hoop captured the town of

External links

  • R. S. Roarda (1961). Ut it selde skaei as Greate Pier. Fryske Akademy. 
  • Sjoerd Pieter Leiker (1902). 2 fersen: De âlde Dreit en Greate Pier (yn: Yn ús eigen tael). 
  • Onno Sytstra (1884). Greate Pier. 
  • Alex Ritsema (March 2008). Pirates and Privateers from the Low Countries, C.1500-C.1810. pp. 9–.  

Further reading

  1. ^ Pierius Winsemius. Chronycke ofte Historische Geschiedenis van Vrieslant', published in 1622
  2. ^ Conrad Busken Huet (1884). Het land van Rembrand: studiën over de Noordnederlandsche beschaving in de zeventiende eeuw. Tjeenk Willink. 
  3. ^ a b Archief Familie Van Sminia, inv. nr 2556. Opschrift: Copia. In dorso (= f. 2v): Last Will and Testament of Fokel, widow of Gerloff Piers
  4. ^ J.J. Kalma. Grote Pier Van Kimswerd (1970), p. 51. ISBN 90-70010-13-5.
  5. ^ Approaches to Old Frisian Philology, By Rolf Hendrik Bremmer, Thomas S. B. Johnston, Oebele Vries, Published 1998, ISBN 90-420-0651-X, page 299, Widows in Medieval Frisia
  6. ^ J.J. Kalma: Grote Pier Van Kimswerd (1970), p. 127–129. ISBN 90-70010-13-5.
  7. ^ Encyclopedia of Friesland, by Jelle Hindriks Brouwer, 1958, p. 333.
  8. ^ Kalma, J.J. (1970). (ed.) de Tille, ed. Grote Pier Van Kimswerd. Netherlands. pp. 54–66.  
  9. ^ Kalma, J.J. (1970). (ed.) de Tille, ed. Grote Pier Van Kimswerd. Netherlands. p. 67.  
  10. ^ The Age of Erasmus, Lectures Delivered in the Universities of Oxford and London, by P.S.Allen, Clarendon Press 1914
  11. ^ "Kasteel van Medemblik in de 16e eeuw". Retrieved 2008-10-13. 
  12. ^ Johan Frieswijk (1 January 1999). Fryslân, staat en macht 1450-1650: bijdragen aan het historisch congres te Leeuwarden van 3 tot 5 juni 1998. Uitgeverij Verloren.  
  13. ^ Beekman, Martinus. Beschreiving van de Stad en Baronnie Asperen. Vertoonende haare oudheid, gebouwen, hooge, en verdere regeering, ens. Utrecht, Mattheus Visch, 1745.
  14. ^ a b Geldersche Volks-Almanak Published 1853
  15. ^ Kellman, Steven G. (2003), Switching Languages: Translingual Writers Reflect on Their Craft, University of Nebraska Press, ISBN 0-8032-2747-7, Page 10
  16. ^ a b Kok, Jacobus (1791). "Pier Gerlofs Donia". Vaderlandsch Woordenboek. 24 (P–R).  
  17. ^ Fries Scheepvaart Museum, Object number 1992-257
  18. ^ Kalma, J.J. (1970). (ed.) de Tille, ed. Grote Pier Van Kimswerd. Netherlands. p. 50.  
  19. ^ Kok, Jacobus (1791). "Pier Gerlofs Donia". Vaderlandsch Woordenboek. 24 (P–R).  
  20. ^ "Grote Pier (Grutte Pier)" (in Dutch). Retrieved 2009-06-07. 
  21. ^ " - Bezienswaardigheden" (in Nederlands). Retrieved 2008-10-13. 
  22. ^ Donia-Popta link
  23. ^ The Foreign Quarterly Review. 1829. pp. 617–. 
  24. ^ "Grutte Pier" (in Nederlands). Fryslân Marketing. Retrieved 2008-10-19. 
  25. ^ RC Greate Pier Leeuwarden history (Dutch)


The Greate Pier rugby club in Leeuwarden, which plays on a regional level, is named after Donia in Friesland.[25] Many other clubs and several ships are named after him.


Pier is also the main character of video game named "Cross of the Dutchman" , game is available at the market since 10 September 2015 received some positive feedback and some mixed reviews, complaining about historical inaccuracy.

Video Gaming

In the 1970s, in the Dutch Floris series, Donia was a major character played by actor Hans Boskamp.


Stories about Pier grew into legends that often share themes with stories of other strong men in Germanic heroic literature. For example, one story says Pier ploughed his land by pulling the plough himself instead of using horses. Another story states that Pier could lift a horse above his head. Fivefal is the name in Frisian of a Frisian legend. It tells the story of Pier beating five strong men who came to fight him: the place where he beat them is known as Fivefal, (Lit. Five fall) for all five of them fell to the ground.[24]


Thee I’ll follow, noble Peter,
Thou wert nobler far and greater,
Than the noblest, home-kept lord,
Battling like an ancient Roman,
For his country with her foeman,
Whom he chased with fire and sword.

Grandmothers’s Sea Anguish

The seventeenth century Friese poet Gysbert Japicx (1603–1666) wrote in his composition Tjesck Moars See Aengste ("Grandmothers's Sea Anguish")[23] the following verse in reverence to Grote Pier (eng. trans., Tall Peter):

Gysbert Japicx

Statue of Grutte Pier in his hometown of Kimswerd. The line of text on the foot of the statue simply reads in Frisian "Grutte Pier".

In popular culture

Pier's son Gerloff died unmarried and left no issue. His daughter Wobble married three times, lastly to one Popta by whom she had issue. Therefore Donia left no descendents in male line, but has many descendents through his daughter.[22]

Today, a great sword that is said to have belonged to Pier is on display at the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden. It measures 2.15 metres (7 ft) in length and weighs about 6.6 kilograms (14.6 lb). Some sources put his height at 7 ft.[20] Pier was alleged to be so strong that he could bend coins using just his thumb, index and middle finger. A huge helmet said to be Grutte Pier's is kept in the town hall of Sneek.[21]

In 1791, Jacobus Kok wrote that above the porticus of the New City Hall of Leeuwarden, two remarkably large swords were found which were said to have belonged to Grutte Pier and Wijerd Jelckama. Donia was noted for the ability to wield this great sword so efficiently that he could behead multiple people with it in a single blow.[19]

Superhuman strength and size

Despite his successes, Pier could not turn the Burgundian/Habsburg tide and he retired, disillusioned, in 1519. Wierd Jelckama took over the command of Pier’s forces.[16] Pier died peacefully in his bed at Grootzand 12[17] in the Frisian city of Sneek on 18 October 1520.[18] Pier is buried in Sneek in the 15th-century Groote Kerk (also called the Martinikerk).[14] His tomb is located at the north side of the church.[16]

Later years and death

Bûter, brea en griene tsiis: wa't dat net sizze kin, is gjin oprjochte Fries. (Butter, bread, and green cheese: if you can’t say that, you’re not a real Frisian.)[15]

Shortly after this victory, Pier defeated 300 Hollanders in Hindelopen.[14] According to a legend, Pier forced his captives to repeat a shibboleth to distinguish Frisians from Holland and Lower German infiltrators:


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