When you think about the Dutch, you (perhaps unfairly?) picture a bunch of totally chill, easy-going, business-savvy dudes who have a well-documented appreciation for the finer things in life – little luxuries like windmills, three-masted wooden ships, gratuitious red light districts, and spending weekday afternoons in a coffee shop smoking enough weed to make Snoop’s eyes bug out of his head like a cartoon character and roll around on the ground. You don’t picture seven-foot-tall, William Wallace motherfuckers who hack people in half with broadswords and eviscerate the corpses of their fallen enemies with meat cleavers like a psychotic butcher on a PCP rampage hacking his way through the lunch meat aisle at the grocery store.
Meet Pier Gerlofs Donia.
Even though this giant sword-swinging warrior hailed from the land we now know as Holland, the Netherlands, and the Place Where Dutch People Live, Pier Gerlofs Donia wasn’t really Dutch. He was Frisian, which, for the sake of brevity, is kind of like what you get when you cross a Dutchman with a German, give him a two-handed zweihander greatsword and send him off to split his enemies from head to groin with one swing of his mighty blade like the Conan the Librarian skit from Weird Al’s cinematic masterpiece UHF.
Known simply as Grutte Pier (a clever Dutch phrase that translates to "Big Pier"), this legendary semi-barbarian pirate berserker of neck-severing Dutchman annihilation was born in Kimswerd in 1480. Now, at this time the Frisians were basically a group of people who lived in Holland and Germany but were neither Dutch nor German, a fact that alternatively pissed off both the Dutch and the Germans – both of whom responded by fucking with the Frisians at every possible opportunity, usually in the form of ultra-strict penal measures, curfews, and taxing the jock straps off of them until the only thing the Frisians could afford to do for fun was sit around in their underwear eating Top Ramen out of a dirt bowl and playing with their Pet Rocks. Those Frisians who didn't see this as a viable means of spending their time took up swords and rebelled against the Saxon Dukes who ruled Friesland, and a series of intense wars resulted in a copious amount of mutilated corpses and nearly drained the Saxon treasury of its last gold coins.
But Pier Gerlofs Donia wasn't one of those rebellious motherfuckers. He was just a quiet farmboy, minding his own business, chillin' like a villain' in his little wood house with his wife and kids, chopping up firewood with a single stroke of his pocketknife, carrying trees up and down the neighborhood like Arnold in Commando, and spending his weeknights watching Dancing With the Stars on basic cable. Life was good, until one day in 1515 when a rampaging horde of mercenary soldiers rolled into town, burned Pier's house down, murdered his two kids, raped and killed his wife, and then burned his church down just for good measure.
Now would be a good time to point out that Pier was seven feet tall, carried a six-foot-long greatsword that weighed approximately fifteen pounds, was so strong that he could bend a coin between his thumb and his forefinger, and was such a fucking maniac berserker in combat that he allegedly once decapitated seven enemy soldiers with one swing of his weapon.
Big Pier's sword. No shit.
From this point on, Grutte Pier's story becomes a 16th-century iteration of Clint Eastwood's character in The Outlaw Josey Wales. Instead of the Kansas Redlegs, the villains this time were the Black Band – a jackass gang of mercenary thug douchebags who, when they didn't get paid, went out to extract their blood money from the locals – but these weren't the only motherfuckers who were going to suffer for the injustice that Pier just had to suffer. Yeah, he was going to carve his name into the faces of every single one of those assholes with a Bowie knife – that was a given – but he was going to take this shit all the way to the top. He was going after the Saxons and the Dutch, both of whom he blamed for unleashing this plague of war on his land and for oppressing his countrymen. It was pretty much on like Donkey Kong.
The Giant of Kimswerd went on a goddamned rampage, massacring every soldier, Saxon, and Dutchman he could find by hacking them into ground round with a two-handed sword until all that stood between Pier's front door and the local Black Band Union was an inch-deep oil slick of human blood and entrails. A bunch of Pier's fellow Frisians got word that this guy was wrecking more asses than a habanero chalupa and joined up, and before long Pier found himself at the head of a rebel army composed of pirates, landless noblemen, and peasants on a single-minded rampage against all who stood before them. They called themselves the Black Gang from Arum (awesome), and on land and sea they attacked the Dutch, the Saxons, the Burgundians, and pretty much anybody else who wasn't Frisian.
It didn't take long before the Saxon Duke (the dude who had hired the Black Gang) said "fuck it" and bugged outta there like the MiGs at the end of Top Gun, selling all of his land in Frisia to the future Hapsburg Emperor Charles V and then running off to a nice quiet part of Europe where a human juggernaut with a badass 'stache wasn't actively trying to cut him into many tiny pieces and feed his dismembered corpse to dogs. Charles V tried to quell the revolt, but Pier continued roaming the countryside plundering and pillaging and wreaking havoc on everything he saw.
Pier also roamed the high seas between 1515 and 1517, hammering Dutch and Saxon ships ferrying troops and supplies to Charles' forces. Basically, he worked like this – any time Big Pier ran into a ship he didn't recognize he charged right at it, boarded it, and forced the people on board to recite a Frisian tongue-twister. Anyone who couldn't say, " Bûter, brea en griene tsiis: wa't dat net sizze kin, is gjin oprjochte Fries" (and I can only imagine this is even harder to pronounce than it is to spell) was executed by keelhauling. For those who don't know, keelhauling is when they tie a rope around your waist, throw you off the front of the boat, and then drag you underneath it until you drown. I really feel like there should be some sort of "long walk off a Big Pier" joke to be made here, and it bothers me that I can't find it.
In just two years of this hardcore scurvy pirate action, Pier sunk 132 enemy ship – including one battle where he destroyed 28 Dutch ships in a single day, a deed that earned him the badass nickname "The Cross of the Dutchmen".
When he wasn't making up insane tongue-twisters about fries and buter, Pier also attacked and plunder land targets as well as naval ones. In 1516, he attacked Medemblik, a stronghold of Saxon sympathizers. The city was sacked, razed to the ground, and its inhabitants massacred. Two enemy castles fell to him soon after. In 1517 the town of Asperen was also annihilated in a similar manner – the Dutch responded by sending a punitive fleet to bombard him with cannons. Pier's pirate armada captured 11 of their ships and drove the rest from the harbor.
Pier's countless battle wounds and injuries finally caught up with him, and in 1519 he retired as a rebel leader, went back to his new home, and died peacefully in his bed in 1520. His buddy Wijerd carried on the fight against the Saxons for a while, but that guy was no Giant of Kimswerd. He suffered a number of defeats and was decapitated in 1523. Charles V wasn't able to fully assume control over Friesland until 1524.
His Dutch Wiki Page
Cross of the Dutchman
Harrison, Paul. Pirates. Rosen Publishing Group, 2008.
History of Europe. eM Publications, 2011.
Lokin, J., Frits Brandsma, and C. Jansen. Roman-Frisian Law of the 17th and 18th Century. Duncker & Humblot, 2003.
McNamara, Timothy and Carsten Roever. Language Testing. John Wiley and Sons, 2006.