Battle of Hemmingstedt
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|Battle of Hemmingstedt|
|Peasantry of Dithmarschen|| Kalmar Union
|Commanders and leaders|
|Wulf Isebrand||John, King of Denmark
Frederick I of Denmark
|1,000 - 4,000 peasants||4,000 mercenaries (Great Guard)
2,000 armoured cavaliers
|Casualties and losses|
|unknown||4,000, thereof 360 nobles|
The Battle of Hemmingstedt took place on February 17, 1500 south of the village of Hemmingstedt, near the present village of Epenwöhrden, in the western part of present-day Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. It was an attempt by king John of Denmark and his brother Duke Frederick, who were co-dukes of Schleswig and Holstein, to subdue the peasantry of Dithmarschen, who had established a peasants' republic on the coast of the North Sea. John was at the time also king of the Kalmar Union.
The ducal army consisted of the "Great Guard", 4,000 mercenaries from the Netherlands, commanded by a petty noble (Junker) named Thomas Slentz, 2,000 armoured cavaliers, about 1,000 artillery-men and 5,000 commoners. The defenders were about 1,000 men, all peasants. These men were a well-armed and well-organized militia, not the desperate, badly armed rabble one would associate with the term "peasant army".
Use of terrain
After seizing the village of Meldorf, the ducal army advanced, but was stopped at a barricade equipped with guns (Geschütze). The defenders opened at least one dike sluice in order to flood the land. The land quickly turned into morass and shallow lakes. Crammed together on a narrow road with no solid ground on which to deploy, the ducal army was unable to make use of its numerical superiority. The lightly equipped peasants were familiar with the land and used poles to leap over the ditches. Most of the ducal soldiers were not killed by enemy arms, but drowned. The conquest attempt was thus repelled. The casualties among the Dithmarsians are not known, but the Danish and the Dutch lost together more than half of their army, making about 7,000 men killed and 1,500 men wounded.
Personalities; real and imagined
The farmer Wulf Isebrand (died 1506) was the leader and organiser of the peasants' defence. While he was a real person, the existence of other participants of the battle is not proven. For instance, the legendary Reimer von Wiemerstedt is said to have killed Junker Slentz, the chief of the "Great Guard"; another doubtful participant was the "virgin" Telse.
Many details about the battle were made up later in order to heroize the defenders. In 1900 a monument to the defenders was raised. The cult reached its peak in the Nazi era, when local party members used the names of the battle participants for their propaganda. Today there is a more neutral museum at the site commemorating the battle.
The Battle of Hemmingstedt is a prime example of the use of terrain in military tactics. The Ditmarsians had taken a vow to donate a monastery in honour of the then national patron saint Mary of Nazareth if they could repel the invasion. In 1513 the Ditmarsians founded a Franciscan Friary in Lunden fulfilling their vow. The Ditmarsians also captured diverse banners and standards of the defeated enemies, among them the Danebrog. They were presented in St. Nicholas Church in Wöhrden until Frederick II of Denmark, victorious in the Last Feud against Dithmarschen in 1559, forced the Ditmarsians to return them.
- Birch, J.H.S., Denmark in History, London: John Murray, 1938, p. 141
- Elke Freifrau von Boeselager, „Das Land Hadeln bis zum Beginn der frühen Neuzeit", in: Geschichte des Landes zwischen Elbe und Weser: 3 vols., Hans-Eckhard Dannenberg and Heinz-Joachim Schulze (eds.), Stade: Landschaftsverband der ehem. Herzogtümer Bremen und Verden, 1995 and 2008, vol. I 'Vor- und Frühgeschichte' (1995; ISBN 978-3-9801919-7-5), vol. II 'Mittelalter (einschl. Kunstgeschichte)' (1995; ISBN 978-3-9801919-8-2), vol. III 'Neuzeit' (2008; ISBN 978-3-9801919-9-9), (=Schriftenreihe des Landschaftsverbandes der ehem. Herzogtümer Bremen und Verden; vols. 7–9), vol. II: pp. 321–388, here p. 333.
- Thies Völker, Die Dithmarscher Landeskirche 1523–1559: Selbständige bauernstaatliche Kirchenorganisation in der Frühneuzeit, section 'Konfliktauslöser: Besetzung der Pfarrstellen und Klosterprojekt', posted on 16 July 2009 on: suite101.de: Das Netzwerk der Autoren.
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