The Richest Bachelor in Late Medieval Reval

The Richest Bachelor in Late Medieval Reval

The Richest Bachelor in Late Medieval Reval

By Anu Mänd

Rund um die Meere des Nordens. Festschrift für Hain Rebas, hrsg. von M. Engelbrecht, U. Hanssen, D. Höffker (Heide: Verlag Boyens Medien, 2008)

Introduction: When Hans Bouwer had his last will and testament composed on 9 April 1519, he bequeathed approximately 7000 Rigan marks to different institutions and individuals. It subsequently turned out that his actual property exceeded 10,000 marks. There were very few people in early sixteenth-century Reval (Tallinn) whose wealth can be compared to that of Bouwer, and practically all of them were merchants dealing with long-distance trade. Bouwer was one such, but he cannot be regarded as a typical Reval merchant. The latter can be described as a married man, a citizen, and a member of the Great Guild. Bouwer, instead, was a bachelor and thus a member of the Black Heads’ confraternity, and he remained so until the end of his life.

Hans Bouwer died on 10 April 1519, the day after making his will. He had appointed four powerful men as the executors of his testament: burgomaster Jacob Richerdes, and city councillors Evert Hessels, Albert Vegesack and Hinrick Dobersin. Luckily, in addition to Bouwer’s will, the report of his executors has also been preserved, written down by Jacob Richerdes. This report, dated 29 October 1528, covers the years from 1520 to 1528 indicating that it took about nine years to carry out all of the dead man’s instructions. One of the executors, Albert Vegesack, died before the report was finished (in 1524), and it therefore carries the names of only three men. This rare document provides us with a detailed overview of Bouwer’s property and also of how his last wishes were carried out in practice.

It is not an exaggeration to say that had the last will of Bouwer and the report of his executors not survived, he would have remained for us one of the many merchants living or trading in Reval of whom little is known except for a name. We would not be able to tell, for instance, which goods he traded in and who his business associates were. Without his testament, we would not be able to estimate his wealth, the size of his household, or his religious preferences. There exist very few records about Bouwer in the city books, and he had no relatives in Reval. Therefore, the two documents can be considered as the primary sources about him.

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