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Home                       The Stedinger's fight for freedom

By Hans Dirks
Translated by Jost & Teffy

In the year 1106 , five Dutchmen made a long journey from the mouth of the Rhine to Bremen. They wanted to talk to the Archbishop of Bremen about taking over settlingland on the Weser River, under certain conditions. They made an agreement whereby the Archbishop gave the farmers and their descendants the swampy regions south of the Hunte on both sides of the Weser for cultivation.This land was to pass from father to son in free heriditary possession. Every settler would pay a yearly tax of one pfennig, and in addition would pay the 11th sheaf of all fruits of the field and a 10th of livestock. In the administration of their lands and in secular jurisdiction the farmers and their descendants were free. When the Dutch farmers showed this agreement to their countrymen, after returning to their homeland, many young men eagerly set out to cultivate the new land on the Weser.

It was a difficult beginning. The troubled waters of the Weser flooded through moor and swamp. Heath, cotton grass and reeds covered the land and the river bank. But the settlers took the work in hand. They dug ditches to drain much of the water, and they built dikes to provide dry land and to prevent the flooding. At first, there was little to gain from its soil. Often it was difficult for them to do their work. But they were free! And this freedom was worth all the difficulties. Other country folk had to perform compulsory services for their Counts and their Lords.

After a decade, the settlers had won fruitful acres out of swamp and moor. New settlers came to Stedingen, as the land was named. After several generations, the settlers melted into one large society. They certainly knew how to handle weapons, and patterned themselves after the Rustringer Frisians, on the mouth of the Weser. Like the Frisians, they bore a particular provincial seal.

The freethinking Stedingers displeased the Archbishop of Bremen. He would have gladly seen them as dependent as most other peasants. In order to slowly force them under the Carolingian-Roman order, the Count of Oldenburg, with the agreement of the Archbishop of Bremen, built two fortresses In Stedingen: Lechtenburg and Lineburg. The character of the people who manned the fortresses soon showed itself. Women and young girls were suddenly attacked and carried off to the fortresses, and were only freed again for high ransom. For the first time in Stedingen, the rural Germanic order and the Roman order of sovereigns clashed. At the Thing, this situation was discussed, and it was decided that the fortresses should be removed, and judgment held on the evildoers, which was soon accomplished. This was in the year 1204 , some 100 years after the first settling of the land.

In order to be secure from similar encroachments, the Stedingers built bulwarks and formed militia. The roads were protected by fortified gates and trenches. Finally, the country folk defiantly proclaimed their complete freedom and refused to pay any more taxes. Archbishop Gerhard I of Bremen silently yielded to this demand. The old German order reigned in Stedingen!

The new Archbishop, Gerhard II, wanted to force the Stedingers under the Roman order, and he demanded the tax which his predecessor had promulgated. Naturally, the Stedingers refused to comply with this demand. Then, an alms-begging monk traveled through the land and proclaimed to the selfassertive countryfolk, "Disobedience is idolatry!" This offended the honor of the Stedingers, and they condemned him. Now the war-like Bishop wanted to collect with force that which he demanded. In front of the borders of Stedingen he built Schlutterburg, in which his brother, Count Hermann von der Lippe, quartered himself. On Yule of 1229 came the first battle between the free country folk and the knights of the Archbishop. Hermann von der Lippe was killed. The rest of the knights turned in flight. Again, the Stedingers were able to uphold their freedom.

The Archbishop could not forget this battle. He was obsessed by the desire to subdue the Stedingers. On the 17th of March, 1230 , he convened a great Gathering at Bremen. There, the Abbots and the high clerics of the Bremen Archbishopric were to judge the Stedingers on such crimes as worshipping images of wax, seeking counsel from soothsayers, and believing in evil spirits. The judges were only too glad to believe all these tales of horror. The Gathering decreed the excommunication of all Stedingen. The church doors were nailed shut and the priests left the heretical land.

The Archbishop himself went to Rome in order to persuade Pope Gregor IX to call for a crusade against the Stedingers. He succeeded in this and the Dominican Monks travelled throughout Northern Germany, announcing the crusade. In lurid colors, they described the eternal torments of hell for an ostensibly godless life. At the same time they promised the eternal bliss of heaven to those ready to take part in this crusade against the Stedingers. The pope had promised the same spiritual rewards as for the crusades in the holyland. More and more crusaders assembled in Bremen. Such promises also deluded the people of Bremen into aiding this guest of destruction. It was then spring of 1233 .

The West Stedingers, on the left side of the Weser, were on their guard, but the East Stedingers, on the other side of the Weser, had not prepared their defenses. So, the army of crusaders attacked them first. Not only men, but also women, the elderly, and the children were killed. The few survivors were burnt at the stake. The grisly shine of the fire let the West Stedingers foresee what would happen to them.

Great jubilation filled the mob of crusaders as they returned to Bremen. They prepared themselves for battle against the West Stedingers. But on the 6th of Haymoon, 1233 , the crusaders were sent home with bloody noses. Many were dealt the deathblow by the freedom loving countryfolk. In winter, the Archbishop tried to bore holes through the dykes of Stedingen, in order to drown the rebels in the ice-cold water. But the dyke guards were alert, and he couldn't carry out his devilish plan.

In spring of the year 1234 , the Dominicans went anew through the cities and villages, in order to incite the otherwise unalarmed people to the crusade against the Stedingers. They told even more horrible tales about these "fallen" people. "They must be exterminated!" A gigantic army assembled, which set out from Bremen on the morning of the 27th of Merrymoon, 1234 , led by the Duke of Brabant.

But the Stedingers were willing to defend their freedom to the death. Their leaders were Bolko von Bardenfleth, Tammo von Huntrop and Detmar tom Diek. Determined, they stood

against the enemies of their freedom. The first clash took place at one of the fortified gates. The Stedingers under Bolko von Bardenfleth ventured out in front of the gate. Landsman and crusader collided terribly against one another. No one gave ground. Finally, a Knight forced his armored war horse all the way to the rear of the country folk and with that, he opened a path for the other crusaders. The country folk could no longer withstand the superior force and were ridden down and slaughtered.

The rest of the Stedingers were near Altenesch under Detmar tom Diek and Tammo von Huntrop. The final battle for the freedom of the Stedingers took place there. The country folk fought obstinately for every foot of ground, but the crusaders raged terribly against them. These proud, brave country folk, who had taken up arms for the defense of their homeland and their freedom, were killed. Nearly 5,000 Stedinger bodies covered the blood soaked earth of their land , where once the waters of the Weser had flowed. In the Saxon Chronicles it is stated objectively and realistically:

"ALDUS NAMEN DE STEDINGE EREN ENDE"
"Thus the Stedingers met their end"

 

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