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When an Albanian ‘King’ Marched through Medieval London

#When an Albanian ‘King’ Marched through Medieval London

The tale of a labour dispute aboard a Venetian vessel provides insights into the inhabitants of medieval London.

In June 1396, two Venetian galleys, the Zana and Leona, docked in London. Shortly thereafter, a disagreement arose between the crew and the ship captains. Paul Alessio and six other crew members spearheaded the dispute. Historian Adrian Muhaj recounts that the crew staged a demonstration:

Shortly before the return from London, they had encouraged other sailors to rebel, demanding a doubling of wages, creating a union (setta), the leader or “king” of which was Paul. This together with his retinue (comitiva) had run a procession through the streets of London bearing the flag of the galley Leona, insulting their superiors and even saying words against the honor of the state of Venice. They forced the messenger of the owners, Bertuccio Bonci to remove his hat and to fall to his knees in honour of “the King”. Paul was accused of having proclaimed himself king and of threatening other sailors not to dare to accept the offers of the owners.

Details of this incident come from a subsequent court hearing held in Venice later that year. Paul (who like much of the crew was Albanian) and three other leaders received a five-year prison sentence and were banished from Venetian territories for life. There are no records of this event from the City of London.

Adrian Muhaj’s article, “Albanian Seamen in England during the Middle Ages,” recounts this workers’ revolt, illustrating the interconnectedness of the medieval world. Muhaj’s research reveals Albanian presence in London and Southampton by the late 14th century and beyond.

During the Middle Ages, Venice was a prominent maritime power, regularly sending fleets to trade with the Low Countries and England. These ships required sailors and rowers, and by the late 14th century, Albanians increasingly made up these crews.

As Venetian fleets visited London and Southampton to acquire cargoes of wool and textiles, their crews spent time in these cities — sometimes just days, but often for months. Records indicate that Albanians not only served as crew members but also engaged in trade themselves. Documents from Southampton mention individuals like Marin of Shkodra, who visited the town at least twice between 1469 and 1477, selling ivory combs, painted cards, knives, dyed cloths, and purchasing cloths and tanned skins.

Illustration of a 15th-century trade galley from a manuscript by Michael of Rhodes (1401-1445) – this manuscript also has an Albanian connection – Wikimedia Commons

Muhaj notes the connection between medieval Albania and England was not just one way. Among the examples, he writes of:

John the English (Zuan Engelese or Johannes Anglicus), mercenary and commander of mercenaries in Shkodra in the first half of the fifteenth century, appears even as owner of land in the outskirts of Shkodra, such as the village Gleros in 1417, although the Senate had prohibited the practice of rewarding mercenaries with feudal property1. After his death, the Venetian authorities had handed the property of John to other persons, contrary to community laws of Shkodra. Consequently, years later, his heirs were seeking to get back the rights.

The article, “Albanian Seaman in England during the Middle Ages,” by Ardian Muhaj, appears in the journal Studime Historike. You can read it through the Central and Eastern European Online Library or through Adrian’s page.

Top Image: Detail of the Coppergate Map of London from the 16th century – Wikimedia Commons

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