HOW THE DITMARSHERS KEPT THEIR FREEDOM
 THE name of Ditmarshers was given to the inhabitants of a broad, marshy region adjoining the
district of Holstein on the Baltic shores of Germany. They were not pure Germans, however, but
descendants of the ancient Frisian tribes who had long occupied the northwest parts of Germany and
Holland and were known as far back as the times of the Romans for their courage and love of liberty.
For age after age this people had shown the same bold spirit and made many a gallant stand against
the princes who sought to subdue them. Geert the Great and other princes of Sleswick and Holstein
had suffered defeat at their hands, and the warlike Valdemar III. of Denmark had been sadly beaten
by them. At a much later date the Emperor Frederick had formally given the lands of the Ditmarshers
to Christian I. of Denmark, to be joined to Holstein, but the marshmen declared that they were not
subjects of Denmark and would not be given and taken at its king's will.
It was in the year 1500 that the most striking event in the history of the Ditmarshers took place.
King Hans, the son of Christian I., then ruled over Denmark and Norway and five years before had
been crowned king of Sweden. It was due to his dealings with the bold sons of the marshes that he
 lost the latter throne. This is the story of this interesting event.
When Hans was made king of Denmark his ambitious brother Frederick, who had sought to obtain the
throne, was made duke of Sleswick-Holstein, and called upon the Ditmarshers to pay him taxes and
render homage to him for their lands. This they declined to do, not recognizing the right of the
Emperor Frederick to hand them over to Denmark and to decide that the country which had belonged to
their fathers for so many centuries was part of Holstein.
Finding that he had tough metal to deal with in the brave marshmen, Frederick induced his brother
Hans to invade their country and seek to bring them to terms. King Valdemar had done the same thing
three centuries before, with the result of losing four thousand men and getting an arrow wound in
his eye, but undeterred by this, if they knew anything about it, the nobles and knights, who were
very numerous in the army led by Frederick and Hans, went to the war as lightly as if it were an
excursion of pleasure.
Disdaining to wear their ordinary armor in dealing with peasant foes, they sought to show their
contempt for such an enemy by going in their ordinary hunting costume and carrying only light arms.
It was a piece of folly, as they were to learn. The marshmen fought like their fathers of old for
their much-valued liberty, and the knights found they had no cravens to deal with.
 It is true that the royal troops took and sacked Meldorf, the chief town of the Ditmarshers, cruelly
killing its inhabitants, but it was their only victory. It proved a lighter thing to get to Meldorf
than to get away from it, and of the Danes and Germans who had taken part in the assault few escaped
with their lives.
It was the depth of winter, cold, bitter weather, and as the army was on its march from Meldorf to
Hejde the advance guard suddenly found itself in face of a line of earthworks which the marshmen had
thrown up in front of a dike. This was defended by five hundred Ditmarshers under their leader, Wolf
The German guards rushed to the attack, shouting:
"Back, churls, the guards are coming!"
Three times they forced the marshmen to retreat, but as often these bold fellows rallied and came
back to their works. In the midst of the struggle the wind changed, bringing a thaw with it, and as
the troops struggled on, blinded with the sleet and snow that now fell heavily, and benumbed with
the cold, the men of the marshes opened the sluices in the dike. Through the openings poured the
waters of the rising tide, quickly flooding the marshes and sweeping everything before them.
The soldiers soon found themselves wading in mud and water, and at this critical juncture the
Ditmarshers, accustomed to make their way through their watery habitat by the aid of poles and
 fell upon the dismayed invaders, cutting them down in their helpless dilemma or piercing them
through with their long lances.
The victory of the peasants was utter and complete. Six thousand of the invaders, nobles and
men-at-arms alike, perished on that fatal day, and the victors fell heir to an immense booty,
including seven banners. Among these was the great Danish standard, the famous Danneborg, which was
carried in triumph to Oldenwörden and hung up in the church as the proudest trophy of the victory.
As for King Hans and his brother Duke Frederick, they barely escaped falling into the hands of the
marshmen, while the estimate of the losses in money, stores, and ammunition in that dread
afternoon's work was 200,000 florins.
King Hans lost more than money by it, for he lost the kingship of Sweden. The nobles of that
country, when the news of the disastrous defeat reached them, rose in revolt, under the leadership
of Sten Sture, drove the Danes out of Stockholm, and kept his queen, Christina of Saxony, prisoner
for three years. Hans had no more armies to send to Sweden and he was obliged to renounce its crown.
Norway also rose against him under a brave leader, and his power over that country was threatened
also. It was finally saved for him by his son Prince Christian, who used his power so cruelly after
order was restored that he nearly routed out all the old Norwegian nobles.
Thus, from his attempt to make the Ditmarshers
 pay taxes against their will, King Hans lost one kingdom and came near losing another. The only
successful war of his reign was one against the traders of Lübeck, who had treated him with great
insolence. In a war which followed, the fleet of the Lübeckers was so thoroughly beaten that the
proud merchant princes were glad to pay 30,000 gulden to obtain peace. Then, having this one success
to offset his defeat by the Ditmarshers, King Hans died.
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