Statue of Grutte Pier in his hometown of Kimswerd
Pier Gerlofs Donia of Kimswerd (1480? - October 28, 1520) was a Frisian pirate and freedom fighter. He is most well known by his Frisian nickname "Grutte Pier" (in the old Frisian spelling "Greate Pier"), or by his Dutch aliases of "Grote Pier" and "Lange Pier". These nicknames all refer to his legendary size and strength. His life is for the most part shrouded in legends, but there is no doubt that he really existed.
He was a farmer in the West of Friesland at the beginning of the sixteenth century in the village of Kimswerd near the city of Harlingen. His village was plundered by a band of mercenaries in 1515 during a civil war between Schieringers and Vetkopers, the latter in favour of the Burgundian/Habsburg rule over the Low Countries, the others against. During the sacking of Kimswerd Pier's wife, Rintze Syrtsema, was allegedly raped and killed. For this reason Pier started a guerrilla war against the Burgundian party and allied himself with Charles of Egmond, Duke of Gelre (1492-1538) the foremost opponent of the Burgundian Duke Philip the Handsome (1494-1506) and after him his son Charles V (1515 - 1555).
Pier's armed band, known as the Arumer Zwarte Hoop (Arumer Black Heap, as in group/mass of), was mainly active against the Dutch and the Burgundians at sea where he captured many English and Dutch ships. In the biggest battle of his career, in 1515, he captured 28 Dutch ships, which earned him the nickname: the "Cross of the Dutchmen". He bestowed the title "King of the Frisians" on himself, though. In 1517 he landed an army in the Dutch province of Holland and sacked the towns of Medemblik and Alkmaar.
According to legend, Pier forced his captives to repeat a shibboleth to distinguish Frisians from Dutch and Low Germans:
Bûter, brea en griene tsiis: wa't dat net sizze ken, is gjin oprjochte Frys.
(Butter, rye-bread, and young cheese: whoever cannot say that is not a true Frisian.)
Despite his successes Pier could not turn the Burgundian/Habsburg tide and he retired disillusioned in 1519. He died peacefully in bed in the Frisian town of Sneek in the year 1520 on October 28.
After his death Pier grew into a hero of Frisian folklore and tales abound which relate of his superhuman strength. A great sword which quite possibly belonged to Pier is kept at the Frisian museum in Leeuwarden. It measures 2.12 meters in length and weighs over 6 kilograms. To have wielded such a weapon he must have been a man of unusual stature indeed.
In his hometown of Kimswerd a statue reminds people of the village's hero. The line of text on the foot of the statue simply reads "Grutte Pier