Battle of Visby
|Battle of Visby|
The skull of a soldier participating in the 1361 campaign.
|Commanders and leaders|
|Valdemar IV of Denmark||unknown|
|2,000–2,500 men||2,000 men|
|Casualties and losses|
On 22 July 1361, King Valdemar IV of Denmark (Valdemar Atterdag) sent an army ashore on Gotland's west coast. The Gutes of Gotland paid taxes to the King of Sweden, though the population of Visby was diverse and included Russians, Danes and Germans. In 1280, the city of Visby had joined the Wendish City-alliance along with Riga, Lübeck, Tallinn and other large population centres from northern Europe, further separating Visby from the Gutnish countryside. Antagonism between city-dwellers and the Gutnish country yeomen heightened, and the latter were defeated in battle in 1288 despite the aid of knights from Estonia.
It is unknown who commanded the Gutnish army. However, he was probably a minor noble of some standing, probably with military experience. The Danish army was composed mainly of Danish and German troops, many mercenaries from the Baltic coast of Germany, with recent experience in the various feuds and wars between the German and Scandinavian states. These men would have worn what was known as Transitional armour, with iron or steel plates over vital areas and joints over a full suit of chainmail. They were led by Valdemar IV of Denmark. Against them was an army of Gutes, mainly freemen and minor nobles. The ordinary freemen appear to have worn more limited but still effective protection, with many skeletons being excavated wearing a chainmail shirt or a coat of plates to protect the torso. Some warriors may have worn a padded Gambeson or a leather jerkin or coat, though these would not have survived the decomposition in the ground after the battle. Unusually, many appear to have not had protection for their head, with many skulls wearing only a mail coif for protection, though any helmets may have been stripped from the bodies after the battle. No weapons have been discovered, but it is likely that both sides used round shields, spears, axes, Billhooks, pikes and poleaxes. For close combat both sides would have had swords, light axes, war hammers and maces.
The Danish troops moved towards Visby. The first day of the invasion, two minor skirmishes were fought on marshy ground between yeomen farmers and the army. The next day, from 800 to 1000 farmers were killed after massing for battle near Fjäle myr.
On 27 July a Gutnish yeomen army fought the Danes just outside the city walls, and was severely beaten, with an estimated death toll of about 1,800 yeomen and peasantry killed, while the Danish casualties remain unknown. Only a couple of items that can be linked with Danish soldiers have been found, including a purse and an ornamented armour belonging to a member of the Roorda Family from Friesland. Casualties can be compared with those that the French suffered at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356 and should be seen as high by medieval standards.
Following the devastating battle, the citizens of Visby decided to surrender to avoid further losses. To save the city from sacking the inhabitants paid a large amount of their wealth to King Valdemar. This extortion of contributions became a legendary event, although it can not be confirmed to have taken place, and if so, the events are unclear. Despite the payment, the Danes plundered several churches and monasteries.
King Valdemar appointed sheriffs to govern Visby and then set sail again. It would take another year before Valdemar officially added "King Of Gotland" to his many titles. When Albert, King of Sweden took the Swedish crown he claimed Gotland as part of his domains and held the island at least until 1369; thus the Danish presence there couldn't have been strong, as it so rapidly and easily returned to the Swedish crown. The island would be disputed over by the House of Mecklenburg and the Danish Crown until 1376 when Queen Margaret (the daughter of the late King Valdemar) officially claimed the island for Denmark.
King Albert was defeated in a civil war in 1389, in which Queen Margaret supported the "rebels", and he was forced to abdicate. However, he was granted Gotland and its "capital" Visby, where he remained with a "pirate" organisation called the Victual Brothers. It was not until 1408 that the last remains of the house of Mecklenburg and the above mentioned pirates were driven out for good.
Graves have been excavated in modern times to bring clarification in the events. It showed that at least a third of the Gotlandian army consisted of minors and elderly. Many of the dead defenders were, unusually, buried in their armour; according to historian John Keegan "...hot weather and their great number (about 2,000 bodies were disinterred six hundred years later) defeated the efforts of the victors to strip them before decomposition began." The site of the excavation "yielded one of the most fearsome revelations of a medieval battle known to archaeologists."
Five mass-graves were located outside the city's walls.
Medieval Week on Gotland
Every year during the Medieval Week on Gotland a historical reenactment of King Valdemar IV of Denmark's entrance and ransoming of Visby is staged at the historical site. Since 2011, the Battle of Visby itself is reenacted outside the City wall of Visby with participants from historical societies from several European countries and the United States.
- "det här är Sveriges historia" season 1 episode 5
- "det här är Sveriges historia" season 1 episode 5
- Keegan, John. The Face of Battle
- Gotlands museum. "Korsbetningen utanför Visby stadsmur" (in Swedish). Sveriges läns- och regionmuseer. Retrieved 2011-05-12.
- "Medieval week on Gotland". www.medeltidsveckan.se. Medeltidsveckan. Retrieved 4 June 2014.
- "Battle of Wisby 1361". www.battleofwisby.com. Battle of Wisby 1361. Retrieved 4 June 2014.
- Thordeman, Bengt Invasion på Gotland 1361, 1944
- Thordeman, Bengt Armour from the Battle of Visby I-II (in collaboration with Paul Nörlund and Bo E. Ingelmark), 1939–40
- Westholm, Gun Visby 1361, Invasionen