Most Frisians know the name of Great Pier, or ‘Grutte Pier’ in Frisian. But what do we really know about him? Well, all we know for sure is that he was tall. Very tall. Spoiler alert: his name gave away that he was tall, right?
If you would ask your friends and family what they know about Grutte Pier, then most of them would be able to tell you a handful of characteristics. Some might be even able to add a small story to that name.
What most of them know is that Grutte Pier originally came from the little village of Kimswert. Fewer know his real name: Pier Gerlofs Donia.
People will tell you that Piers farm, together with the entire village was burned to ashes by the Dutch, and that Pier lost his wife because of it (his kids survived, btw).
Some people will say that he was a strong man because he could lift a plow, but also a huge sword, with just one hand.
In all likelihood, those two elements, the plow, and the sword, for some probably hint that Grutte Pier was a farmer or some kind of soldier.
Possibly some will add to the anecdote that when opponents would ask our hero for directions when plowing his land, Pier lifted the plow with one arm, pointed towards the direction, and then plunged the plow onto their heads.
Fewer people will mention the saying attributed to Grutte Pier: “Bûter, brea en griene tsiis, wa dat net sizze kin is gjin oprjochte Fries” (translation: “Butter, bread and green cheese, who can’t pronounce that is not a real Frisian”).
The pronunciation of those three Frisian delights, food-related words, was hard for non-Frisian (still is). It was an effective test to separate friends and foes, especially the Dutch (the inhabitants of the provinces of South and North Holland).
If they quote the saying at all, then all too it is often not in connection with Great Piers’ seafaring career on the South Sea (today’s IJsselmeer). But if one does, then they probably know that Grutte used a second saying. He would say: “Look guys, how that devil’s dung can swim!” while throwing the unmasked Dutchman into the South Sea.
Much fewer people will inform you about the looting of Medemblik, Hoorn, Alkmaar, and the threat of Amsterdam and Haarlem. Outside Frisia, in Medemblik, next to the castle Radboud, there is an inscription talking about a feared terrorist and sea pirate: Grutte Pier.
But when someone starts talking about his battle for Frisian Freedom and his hatred of the Dutch, we’re opening up quite a new and potentially dangerous chapter. It’s time to ask ourselves where all of this is heading.
Fake news and facts concerning Grutte Pier
In 2020, the Frisian broadcasting company, Omrop Fryslân, conducted a survey about what Frisians know about the mythological hero of Grutte Pier. Oh boy, do Frisians need some education about their own history (the reason for starting the Frisia Coast Trail in the first place)!
40% of Frisians believe that Grutte Pier (1480–1520) fought for Redbad (around 680–719). Further research is needed to check if Frisians believe in time traveling.
More than 50% of Frisians also think that Grutte Pier fought in the famous Frisian battle against the Dutch, the battle of Warns, in 1345, more than a hundred years earlier. Yep, Frisians definitely believe in time traveling.
Luckily the Frisians acknowledge their lack of understanding and therefore 50% want more education about this topic, i.e. Grutte Pier.
Not hindered by their lack of knowledge, they do believe Grutte Pier is one of the greatest heroes of Frisian history. Well, let’s see how great Pier was indeed by doing some fact-checking!
The truth is in the eye of the beholder
Historical education is not only needed for the reason of looking less ignorant. It also is to prevent more harmful aspects of worshipping national heroes. Because without facts, the truth is in the eye of the beholder. And looking at the many commenters and haters on the internet forums, some beholders have a questionable reputation.
Without proper history education, there is a clear and present danger that everyone is embellishing their version of the story of Grutte Pier, making him greater and greater. It seems a bit like everyone makes their own version of it. This is not unusual considering the lack of factual knowledge about historical figures like Grutte Pier. With so few facts at our disposal, we have plenty of room for filling in the gaps. The historical research then often starts to look like a self-help book: their opinion about a historic person or an event often says more about the person speaking than about the person or event being discussed. We’ll show you poignant examples in this blogpost!
You will see that Grutte Pier’s story was told differently at different times. This applies not only to the ‘amateur historian’ (boy, do we have plenty since the rise of social media!), but also to the so-called specialists such as poets, writers, and scientists. Augh.
What sources described Grutte Pier?
With a certain frequency, Grutte Pier has been taken mentioned over the centuries. Some important sources will be mentioned below; it is of course not a complete list.
- The first to write about Grutte Pier were his contemporaries, monks, and brothers Petrus Jacob van Thabor and Worp van Thabor (1450 – 1527), monks in a nearby monastery.
- Later in the same century, in 1597, Ocko Scarlensis wrote in his ‘Chronijcke ende waerachtige beschryvinge van Vrieslant’ about Grutte Pier.
- A quarter of a century later, in 1622, but still a whole century after Grutte Piers died, Pierius Winsemius paid attention to the hero of Kimswert in his ‘Chronique of the historische geschiedenisse van vrieslant’.
- Also in the description of the city of Leeuwarden by Simon Abbes Gabbema, Grutte Pier is mentioned.
Not only in historiography, but also in poetry, Grutte Pier spoke to the imagination.
- Gysbert Japiks in his poem ‘Tjesck-Moars see-aengste‘, around 1655.
- Douwe Kalma published a ‘History of Fryslân’ in 1935. Grutte Pier plays a relatively small role in this.
- Jacob Jetzes Kalma gives more attention in the first real biography about Grutte Pier in 1970, ‘Grote Pier van Kimswerd‘.
How great was Grutte Pier really?
Let’s zoom in on the latter two biographers of Grutte Pier, Douwe Kalma (1896-1953) and Jacob Jetzes Kalma (1907-1990). Since we know the authors’ lives in quite some detail, and therefore we know what motivated them, we can better understand how they filled in the blanks in Grutte Pier’s life.
These two writers have gone on to describe the Kimswerter hero, where the majority of us would already have stopped. They tried to find out the personality and motivations of Grutte Pier by studying his life and deeds.
Due to the limited amount of information about Grutte Pier, there is a danger that it will be filled in with the help of the personal experience and knowledge of the two authors.
What if we compare both authors since both have been active members of pro-Fryslân groups in almost the same tumultuous period of two wars and both dropped out of these groups? Those groups were supporting the Frisian culture and language, a.k.a., the ‘Frisian case’. This train of thought brings us to the central question of this blogpost.
“Does the political background of both authors, Dr. D. Kalma and Reverent J.J. Kalma, play a role in their vision of the actions and life of Grutte Pier?
The political background includes both the political conviction of both, as well as the political careers of the biographers. But before we start comparing the two stories of Grutte Pier with that of his ‘biographers’, we should define the dimensions against which we compare both ‘biographies’ and ‘biographers’. The political portrayal of Grutte Pier in historic research is one of a mythical hero and national figure in Frisian historiography.
Therefore we cover four dimensions.
- First, we must pay attention to the challenges of historic research in general that the two authors had to deal with.
- As Grutte Pier is often portrayed as a national hero, the phenomenon of the formation of a national image needs attention too.
- As Grutte Pier played a role in the Frisian national historiography, we need to have a closer look at the Frisian national history research.
- Finally, the process of mythologizing and demythologizing deserves attention.
1. Challenges with historic research
In scientific literature, a lot of attention is paid to the problems and dangers that are linked to the practice of historiography.
We must be aware of the fact that one cannot do objective historical research because there is no objective truth. Historian Willem Frijhoff states it like this: ‘History and its end product are, (…) forms of interpretation, of construction of the past”. Even if quoting a written statement made in the past about a trait of a people, doesn’t make it more true. It is just merely recycling an opinion.
Willem Frijhoff states that writing about history is also about the writing skills of the author. Writing about history is “not the same as writing literature, but certainly comes with a narrative structure”. The qualities that a writer has are not only related to knowledge and experience but also to talent.
2. Challenges with national images
Then there is historiography in the context of national image-making. The national image is “the cognitive representation that a person holds of a given country, what a person believes to be true about a nation and its people.”
In his article, ‘On National Identity‘, Joep Leerssen talks about the writing and thinking in and about national typologies. According to him, the characterization of the Dutch or the Frisian is a stretchable concept. That flexibility gives room to read into it what one wants, often influenced by the reader’s recognition based on the same reader’s knowledge and experience.
Thus, such a typology is fundamentally subjective, because it lies ‘in the eye of the beholder’. The person telling such a typology, let’s call him a ‘narrator’ (because ‘zegsman’, in Leerssens’ words, cannot be translated into English), cannot be free from experiences that influence the interpretation of facts. ‘We cannot become independent from our sources’.
The same also applies to the sources that he has used. Scientifically speaking, one can never say anything objective about national typologies because there are no narrator independent sources about national typologies. In essence, national typologies are subjective (i.e. not scientific) by definition.
3. Challenges with Frisian national history research
Let’s take a closer look into how the national image historiography took place in Fryslân. Grutte Pier is linked with ‘Frisian Freedom’. Freedom, or independence they had lost in the 15th century.
In his article called ‘National-Frisian aspects of the Frisian history until 1900′, Philippus Breuker indicates that from 1498 the Frisian Skieringers enlisted the help of the provincial authority and thereby lost Frisian Freedom. From then onwards, the former independence colors the entire Frisian historic research. Not so much to justify to become independent again, but rather to justify new political power by keeping the of glory alive up until today”.
Johan Frieswijk shows the influence of Frisian nationalism on science. As far as the historiography of Friesland is concerned, the plea of a convinced Frisian nationalist, E.B. Folkertsma (1893-1968) around 1916, is illustrative: ‘The history of a people is not made of the circumstances, nor of other peoples, but of the nation, united with his being. As the nation’s earth is, so is the nation’s history’.
Such nationalist expressions are not isolated: ‘Throughout Europe, in this period (the twenties and thirties, FR) one sees a strongly increasing interest in folklore, one’s own ‘home’, regional cultural heritage and folk tales’. Frieswijk also sees the same development in the historic research of Fryslân.
The Frisian national and national socialist image of history emphasized the Frisians as an age-old Germanic people. Those Germanic ancestors ‘already had a primitive but high level of civilization that can also be easily traced back to our own national character and racial characteristics’.
One could find an anti-Dutch attitude in the political ideology, not only in Fryslân. Dr. Johan Theunisz, a Dutch sympathizer with the nazis, writes in August 1940: ‘The Dutch fabrication has collapsed’. ‘Frisians and Saxons do not regret that.’ After all, precisely these tribes least corrupted by the Romans have had ‘nothing in common with Holland for more than sixteen centuries (and now I’m not even talking about history).’ ‘Would we like to keep this unit? Feel free to let this wrecked structure collapse’. In connection with the Frisian language, Dr. J. Botke, Frisian biologist and teacher says; ‘if we only see it as unwanted that Holland is prescribing Frisians how they have to live.’
The claim ‘Frysk en Frij‘ (Frisian and Free) is also here again a cry to recover some of the old glory in new political contexts and to use it as a propaganda tool, as Breuker has already made clear. The same thing happened in the Frisian national-socialist historiography.
That national-socialist historiography was like this: the Union of Utrecht, the Enlightenment, and the Dutch unitary state are ‘negative decision moments’ for Fryslân, but in the end, it had already gone wrong when Fryslân lost its freedom and the Groningen inhabitants played a traitorous role. This is around the time of Grutte Pier.
4. Challenges with Mythologizing
Historian Thomas von der Dunk believes that the need for myths is nothing other than the human thinking of each generation that “its own representation of the past is the reality, or at least the truest’.
Von der Dunk makes a distinction between fable, legend, forgery, and myth. According to the author, the first two are perceived as innocent.
- A fable is accepted even though it is a fabrication with a certain morality which is not misleading because the fictitious character can simply be seen through.
- Although the legend wants to continue for real, and therefore can also be seen as a forgery, the legend is acquitted of this by the noble morality of the intention behind it. Of course, it is a lot less difficult with the forgery; in it, the so-called ‘truth’ is deliberately distorted.
- Just like fables and legends, “forgeries are at the service of an image formation, where fiction and reality are mixed.” But can have misleading consequences, just like the Frisian Oera Linda book did.
- There there is the myth. Von der Dunk describes the myth as a supernatural story with an explanatory purpose of earthly existence, in which gods, demigods, and heroes have a role. According to this description, our Great Pier is not clearly a myth. He could very well be a hero in such a myth, considering his unworldly, pure inhuman strength. But his story explains nothing of earthly existence and, moreover, we are dealing with an existing historical hero.
Von der Dunk believes that many historians see demythologizing as their task, whereby the inseparable nature of myth and historical truth is ignored as if such an ‘objectively recognizable reality’ exists. He also connects the myth with nationalism. ‘Each nation knows its myths’, he says, ‘which are even indispensable for the national consciousness’. As a kind of ‘Genesis myth’, an origin myth, he explains the importance of the family tree which is both individual and collective for the ‘consciousness of national togetherness causes. Again, enter the Frisian Oera Linda book.
In this respect, Grutte Pier fits perfectly under the definition of a myth. ‘Family tree myths therefore also belong to the permanent repertoire of nationalism’. He then points to the influence of myths on people: ‘Not abstract concepts and theories, but the myth brings people into motion because it (…) speaks in images’.
Grutte Pier according to Dr. Douwe Kalma (1896-1953)
Douwe Kalma was born on 3 April 1896 in Boksum. On 18 October 1953, he died after being hit by a car. After the gymnasium in Snits, Douwe Kalma began to publish in 1914 either in different publications about Frisian literature.
Often these pieces were very critical of nineteenth-century Frisian literature, which he considered from the level of folk culture. Frisian literature should be brought up to the level of world literature.
He established this idea in his first political program that he published: “Fryslân en de wrâld” (1916), in which Fryslân had to become the link between England and Scandinavia. This piece had to become the blue book of his newly founded ‘Jongfrieske Mienskip’ (1915). In 1916 he went to Groningen to study, but in the following year, he stopped doing so. Only to continue studying ten years later, now not Theology, but English.
In 1931, after his studies, he went to Eindhoven to become a teacher. He is no longer active in a variety of movements, where he earlier held a leading position or tried to get one, such as in the Jongfryske Mienskip, Selskip 1844, the CDU, Frisian council, etc.
In 1935 he published the ‘Skiednis fen Fryslân‘, which took him three years to write. In 1938, Douwe Kalma obtained his doctorate on his study: ‘Gysbert Japiks, a study in poetry’ at the University of Groningen.
During the war, Douwe Kalma chose the side of the Germans as he also had socialist sympathies”. That was surprising as he was quite an Anglophile during the twenties and at the end of the First World War he still wrote excitedly: ‘Friesland has risen, Germany has fallen”.
After the failed attempt to become the leader of the Frisian Movement, he kept himself somewhat in the background politically and literary during the occupation period. In 1944, the second print of the ‘History of Fryslân’ was published.
Douwe Kalma was primarily a man of letters who focussed on poetry, plays, translations, literary history, and historical work. According to the author of the ‘History of the Fryske Biweging‘, Sjoerd van der Schaaf, Douwe Kalma was ‘primarily focussed on literature (…), not a man with a sharp insight into politics and not a philosopher”.
That did not mean that Kalma had no political ideas or ambitions. His political ideas largely coincided with those of the Frisian nationalists as described above in Frisian national historiography. His political ideas seemed ad hoc and somewhat haphazard intervention in the current situation, in order to gain some advantage for Friesland and the Frisians, because ‘Friesland had to be freed from itself and become part of the greater humanity”.
There is also an appreciation for Douwe Kalma’s efforts for Young Frisian Community and he is seen ‘as the man who raised the profile of Frisian literature’. As late a 1965 the last print of the ‘History van Fryslân’, this time edited by G.N. Visser.
Grutte Pier in the book ‘Skiednis fen Fryslân’ (1935)
In his article ‘Geschiedschrijving als wapen in de Fries-nationale strijd’ (1915- 1945)’ Johan Frieswijk takes Douwe Kalma’s book, ‘History of Fryslân’, as an example to show that historiography is not always as innocent as it looks.
He quotes the English historian Eric Hobsbawm: “The past is an essential element, perhaps the essential element in these (read: ‘nationalist or ethnic or fundamentalist’) ideologies”. “If there is no suitable past, it can always be invented”. Kalma is guilty of this, according to Frieswijk, and is therefore also a good example.
Douwe Kalma had read Rosenberg’s ‘Mythus des 20sten Jahrhunderts’, the ideological source for National Socialism in Germany. He writes: ‘We see it national socialism too much in the light of the fascists. What is behind it is a Germanic view of the world. I dare say that their background and ours in the Frisian movement are the same; the difference naturally comes to the point that he continues the history of Germany and we continue that of Fryslân. But I have rarely found so much of our own striving in a self-conflict struggle in Friesland’.
Regarding Kalma’s intention behind his ‘History of Friesland’, Wybren J. Buma believes it was to write: ‘a history ‘in the Frisian national spirit’. In his book ‘Skiednis fen Fryslân’ it is not mentioned (intentionally?) that Fryslân in the last centuries focused more on the west than on the north, according to his political program laid down in ‘Frisia en de wrâld’ in 1916.
This applies to the one-sided emphasis on the first centuries of Frisian history when Frisia was still ‘free’. Van der Schaaf also notices this: ‘a somewhat romantic work where it received a little too much attention in the past and often too little attention on later times”.
The image that Douwe Kalma creates of Grutte Pier is one of a folk hero whose battle cry: ‘Frysk en Frij‘ sounded better in the mouth of Frisians than that of their allies, the Fetkeapers and the Geldersken’.
At the time of Grutte Pier, “there was murder and looting everywhere around”, Kalma writes. “Greate Pier at sea, de Black Hope at the shore, nobody was spared”. The fact that Grutte Pier also plundered the country is not mentioned. Instead, Kalma concludes: ‘Friesland was invaded by Saxon and Gelderian gangs, to which gangs from Holland, Groningen, and Edzard should be added’.
Kalma talks about the Gelderian gangs, just as if Grutte Pier did not belong to them, while Grutte Pier was fighting on their side. But that is not made clear in the story: ‘Great Pier and his gang achieved on the Sudersé important facts, not only did they respond to the Dutch ships, but they also raided cities in Holland, like Alkmaar and Medemblik, threatened Amsterdam and Haerlem, whose surroundings they destroyed’.
Kalma, therefore, sees Grutte Pier as a freedom fighter in a quest for the freedom of Fryslân, who took a politically independent position. This is also evident from his comment about the Gelderland governor in Snits, Marten van Rossum: ‘Someone like Grutte Pier could also tolerate Marten van Rossum (…) next to him, but above him?’.
Kalma continues to explain that Marten served Karel van Gelder, someone who only wanted to be a country lord and was therefore just as treacherous as anyone who was in pursuit of their own benefit”, unlike Grutte Pier. Douwe Kalma points out the stark contrast with his hero, Grutte Pier, did: ‘Great Pier who as soon as he saw that his fight was not serving Fryslân but a stranger, he withdrew himself from the battle grounds’.
Great Pier according to Jacob Jetzes Kalma (1907-1991)
J.J. Kalma was born on 17 May 1907 in Hantemahuzen and died in Leeuwarden at the age of eighty-four on 23 May 1991. After graduating from HBS in Leeuwarden, he studied Theology in Leiden in 1928. This is how he became acquainted with religious socialists.
From 1932 to 1968 J.J. Kalma was a reverent mainly in Fryslân. Meanwhile, he stayed true to his origins: a socialist-religious background. He collaborated with the ‘Frisian Society’, the Frisian Academy, the newspaper ‘Leeuwarder Koerier’, the religious-socialist magazine ‘Tijd en Taak’, the SDAP etc.
In 1939 J.J. Kalma became a member of the Society for Frisian Language and Script (Selskip foar Fryske Tael en Skriftekennisse). In the following year, he joined a committee of three of the Christian Frisian Society (Trijemanskip). In 1942 he became chairman of the Frisian Biweging (Frisian Movement).
Kalma’s participation in the Trijemanship board looked like a collaboration with the enemy. During the war, J.J. Kalma defended his cooperation by saying that they could influence a potential Frisian ‘Führer’. As early as 1940, he made clear what his ideological views were in a speech on a major movement gathering on 19 October 1940: ‘We were supposed to be pro-German because we talked to the Germans. We were anti-German because we did not adopt the German principles; and sometimes the people didn’t see that we had to be: pro-Frisian’. After the war, however, in 1946, he wrote about his participation in the Trijemanskip: ‘That cannot be justified, but must be recognized as a mistake’.
Kalma leaves the Fryske Biweging in 1947. Van der Schaaf writes: ‘He had experienced the tension of the occupation period and witnessed great changes after the liberation. The same thing happened with the SDAP. Also, a job at the Frisian newspaper Liouwerter Krante turned out to be a disappointment after enthusiasm’.
From 1949 onwards, he turned away from politics and focused more and more on Frisian historical studies and socialism and his work as a reverent. His new assignments to the Frisian Academy and the Frisian Society supported him in this direction.
Breuker states that Kalma wanted to write for what he called the ‘general reader’. Kalma did not bring much news to the science of history. ‘For that, he stayed too close to the factual material, he immersed too little into the historical backgrounds and circumstances, and he focused himself too much on interpretations based on prevailing views’.
The political ideology of Kalma had a religious-socialist aspect. His interest was in religious, cultural, social, and socialist topics, often in connection with Fryslân. He was particularly interested in current affairs and this was reflected in the fact that: ‘his views on historical figures or situations are characterized by references to his own time, often with a moralizing intention’.
Grutte Pier in the book ‘Grote Pier van Kimswerd’ (1970)
In the context of the description of the Kimswerter hero, Grutte Pier, Breuker’s comment that J.J. Kalma preferably sought the explanation of historical phenomena in psychological factors, which also explains his biographical interest’.
First of all, it should be noted that Kalma’s research has yielded a lot of information. The book is comprehensive. Not only does Kalma order the historical facts surrounding Grutte Pier, but also what the contemporary image of the figure of Grutte Pier looked like and what many poets and writers have written about him.
In the first chapter, Kalma tries to make his intentions clear in the first chapter, especially in his ‘preface’ which was written on the ‘Day of Liberation’. First of all, Kalma mentions the liberation of the Germans, twenty-five years earlier. He asks himself whether Grutte Pier is returning to the struggle with a sense of disappointment that so many of his generation had, especially the young people after 1945.
Kalma mentions the 450th anniversary of Grutte Pier’s death as a reason for the writing of his book. Furthermore, he describes that he would like to give an ‘authentic’ image because there is more ‘Fiction’ than ‘Facts’ about Grutte Pier. According to him, Grutte Pier has suffered from his own ‘image’.
He states that his book is no biography of Grutte Pier. He believes that ‘historical research is the effort to always get a little closer to the truth, by recognizing ourselves both in our own and in other research’.
In conclusion, Kalma’s impression is that, right from the start, many authors did not know what to make of Grutte Pier. With such a bold statement one would expect that making a clear picture then would be the objective for writing the book about Grutte Pier, right?
Strangely enough, a hypothesis as to who Grutte Pier was is simply missing. As a result, a clear picture of the Kimswerter hero is not emerging after reading the book. Throughout the book, there are plentiful examples of contrasting images of Grutte Pier.
- a gang leader and a privateer captain (p. 113)
- an innocent simple farmer with a vengeance (p. 67)
- a Frisian freedom fighter for a free Fryslân’ without ‘national politics’ (p. 35)
- a good Christian who could well be a pagan (p. 70)
- a pious person who used pagan laws such as the right of revenge (p. 70)
- a misunderstood and abused resistance fighter (p. 35) who at the same time did ‘what he pleased (like plundering)’ (p. 123)
- a ‘tempered brute’ who is very ‘reasonable’ (p. 182).
In addition to this contradicting image of Grutte Pier, there is a striking similarity with Kalma’s life. A disappointed Great Pier emerges. He knew that ‘the freedom struggle did not yield much’ (p. 105) and ‘was unsuccessful’ (p. 126), although he had still achieved small successes (p. 105 ) and left him with ‘a bad taste in his mouth.’ (p. 126).
Then, Kalma decides, quite suddenly, that Pier withdrew himself from the national pantheon. Grutte Pier is nothing more than an ‘honest savage’.
How great was Grand Pier?
The title of this post has still not been answered: “How great was Grutte Pier seen through the political eyes of Douwe and Jaap Kalma?”.
To answer the question we created a framework consisting of historiography, national image, Frisian national historiography, and mythologizing. Let’s summarize how the two authors describe our hero against this historical framework.
The Grutte Pier of Douwe Kalma
- Historiography. The sources used are not discussed at all and there is only certainty around Grutte Piers’ intentions, not to bring facts about.
- Leerssen has shown that national typologies in the formation of the national image are stretchable. Douwe Kalma depicts Grutte Pier as a Frisian national typological figure i.e. as the Frisian freedom fighter to set an example of how the Frisian should stand up for Fryslân.
- Frisian national historiography. Kalma made it clear that he wanted to write Frisian history in a ‘Frisian-national spirit’ in order to give the Frisians and Friesland ‘an inspiring force in life and struggle’ in an international framework.
- Douwe Kalma’s mythologizing of Grutte Pier is one of the roles in building up the Frisian national consciousness before the second world war. After all, Grutte Pier fought for a free Fryslân against the corrupting foreign influences.
The Grutte Pier of J.J. Kalma
- Historiography. J.J. Kalma had more knowledge and experience with historiography than Douwe Kalma. He has done a lot of research, not only for this book but also earlier in his life. Despite being armed with more facts, Kalma joins the ranks of the authors he claims did not know what to make of Grutte Pier.
- National image. J.J. Kalma also uses a national typology when describing Grutte Pier as an innocent pious man fighting for his freedom and taking part in the battle scene. However, this is not about creating a national image, but more about describing the character of Grutte Pier who could only handle so much injustice (like a true socialist reverent).
- Frisian national historiography. J.J. Kalma is doing the opposite of the Frisian nationalists: he portrays Pier as an ordinary man driven by compassion for common people instead of nationalist powers, debunking the myth.
- Mythologizing. As an apolitical happy farmer, Grutte Pier stands up for the Frisian cause but leaves disappointed in the political life in Fryslân.
One thing is for sure, we can ask ourselves whether we have learned more about the authors or about Grutte Pier. We ended up with two Great Piers. One who is a freedom fighter showing the contemporary Frisians the way to freedom. The other one is an ordinary Kimswerter farmer who is driven by humanity and compassion. Take your pick, unless you are now convinced that Grutte Pier suffered from a multiple personality disorder). It is up to you to forge your own history!
Note – This article was written at the University of Amsterdam in 1995 and reviewed by Philippus Breuker.
- Black Sabbath, Country Girl (1981)
- Deep Purple, Sail Away (1974)
Sources used / further reading
- Ankersmit, F.R., De navel van de geschiedenis (1990)
- Ankersmit, F.R., The reality effect in the writing of history (1989)
- Bergsma, W., Oer Fryske Skiednis nei de Midsieuwen (1993)
- Berkel, van K., De naderende crisis van de cultuurgeschiedenis (1991)
- Breuker, Ph. H., Nasjonaal fryske aspekten fan de Fryske skiednis oant 1900 (1994)
- Breuker, Ph. H., Jacob Jetzes Kalma (1993)
- Buma., W.J, Wei en Wurk fan Douwe Kalma (1972)
- Dunk, von der H.W., Mythen en onnnythologisering in de geschiedenis (1994)
- Fridsma, B.J., Nea terbrutsen ban (1991)
- Frieswijk, J., Geschiedschrijving als wapen in ‘Fries-nationale strijd’ (1915-1945) (1994)
- Frieswijk, J., Fryske Bewegers yn de Twadde Wräldoarloch: tusken Scylla en Charjbdis?, in: Wat oars as mei in echte taal, red. Ph. H. Breuker éfb. (1994)
- Frijhoff, W.F., Normeren of waarderen?, Over cultuur, geschiedenis en geschiedfilosofie (1991)
- Kalma, D., Skiednis fan Fryslan (1965)
- Kalma, J.J., Grote Pier van Kimswerd (1970)
- Kloek, E. & Dorsman, L., De nationale identiteit en historisch besef in Nederland (1993)
- Leerssen, J. Th., Over nationale identiteit (1988)
- Naumann, H., Strukturwandel des Heroismus: von sakralen zum revolutionären Heldentum (1984)
- Schaaf, van der Sj., Skiednis fan de Fryske Biweging (1977)
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4 thoughts on “How great was Great Pier?”
All this is fine, but are the Frisians really Frisians? The rumor has it that the Romans, after a Frisian uprising, dispersed and resettled them. Perhaps they were replaced by the Chauci, maybe Belgians, or trouble making Spaniards. As you can see from my name, I, too, am a real bastard Frisian, born in the historic city of Ruestringen! Look that one up, just for laughs. It will give you a clue to my age.
You’re quite right that the Frisians of Late Antiquity aren’t the medieval Frisians, although the Romans cannot be blamed for it. Climate change, however, can 😉 : https://frisiacoasttrail.blog/2020/10/21/have-a-frisians-cocktail/
and what happened to Ruestringen? You might start with Xmas 1717, and end with Sptember 4, 1937.
Have fun and laugh, otherwise you must cry.
Keep in mind, in the Frisian culture it’s very common for history to travel by mouth. Meaning not everything is written down. To present a correct story at this moment will be very difficult, unless you take it from the civilians in Kimswerd. Frisians consider Pier a hero, regardless of if historians (usually subsidized by the Dutch government, a government that is historically against Frisian heritage and national identity) will agree.