The Dithmarschen Wars

For many centuries Dithmarschen was an independent and free peasant state, maintaining political association with the north German bishopric of Bremen. In 1319 Gerhard the Great attempted to subjugate Dithmarschen but lost the battle of Wöhrden. Also Duke Albrecht died in battle in 1403. His brother, Gerhardt VI of Schleswig, lost the battle in the Hamme near Heide on August 4, 1404, and was killed together with many of his knights.

King Johann I and Duke Friedrich demanded the Dithmarschers recognized their sovereignty and pay an annual contribution of 15,000 Marks. They further demanded that three strongholds be erected. The Dithmarschers rejected these demands which led to another war in February, 1500. An army of 15,000 soldiers consisting of 5,000 members of the Black Guard commanded by Squire Schlentz and 10,000 Schleswig, Holstein and Danish knights invaded Dithmarschen and occupied Meldorf.

Commanded by Wolf Isebrand, the Dithmarschers erected fortifications near Hemmingstedt. Because of the Spring thaw, only certain roads were passable.
The Dithmarschers opened the sluice gates and flooded the surrounding countryside.

With the battle cry "Wahr di Garr de Bur de kumt" = “Look out, peasant, here comes the Guard!” the attackers stormed the battlements but they lacked mobility on the narrow roadway and thus the defenders repelled the attackers. Squire Schlentz and numerous knights died in battle. The Dithmarscher then launched a counter-attack crying “Look out, Guard, here come the peasants!” The battle of February 17, 1500 cost the lives of a large part of Holstein, Schleswig and Danish nobility, and the Danish battle flag, the “Dannebrog”, was captured by the Dithmarschers.

In 1559 King Frederik II, Duke Adolf and Duke Johann entered into a treaty for the purpose of  subjugating the Dithmarschers. Under the command of Johann Rantzau they raised an army of 25,000 men which was opposed by a mere 6,000 Dithmarschers. After Rantzau occupied Meldorf, Brunsbüttel was captured as well, leaving the southern part of Dithmarschen in the hands of the conquerors. On June 13, 1559, near Heide, the Dithmarschers were defeated with heavy losses in a decisive battle. Peace was concluded at Lohe on June 20, 1559. This was the last war fought between  Schleswig-Holsteiners, and peace reigned until 1625.

On February 17, 1900, a memorial was inaugurated at the Dusenddüwelswarf to
commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Battle of Dithmarschen. At the time
this was believed to be the location of the entrenchment, however, more
recent research has suggested that the entrenchment must have been located
some 4 km further in the direction of Hemmingstedt.

This boulder was moved 12.5 km from the hamlet of Barlter Kleve to its present location.

This Visitors Information Center was opened on February 17, 2000.
It contains a diorama of the historic battle.

Coming from the direction of Meldorf (at left), the Guard encounters the farmers' entrenchment (at right) but cannot deploy proper battle formations since the road is the only dry area in the flooded surroundings. Many knights in their heavy armour drown as soon as they leave the road.

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Produced in January 2001 by:

Hans Peter Voss
Genealogical Research Service in SH
An de Marsch 6
25557 Steenfeld