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The Battle of Visby 1361 AD

The Battle of Visby 1361 AD

It’s summer of the year 1361.Danish King Valdemar Atterdag tries to overcome the Hanseatic domination in the region, and invades one of its most important trade centres on the Baltic Sea. Despite the unfavourable odds, Gutnish yeomen gather and attempt to fend off the invaders. It has been eight years since the death of the wretched King Christian. Christian’s ineffectual rule lead to the partition of the Danish realm, which was subsequently controlled by a number of counts, with Gerhard, Count of Holstein, holding a good part of Denmark. In April of the year 1340, a minor Danish nobleman, Niels Ebbesen, together with his retinue, sneaks into Count Gerhard’s residence and murders him, thus inciting a revolt. This event marked the end of the uneasy interregnum period in Denmark. Soon, Danish nobility proclaimed Valdemar, exiled youngest son of Christian, as the new King of Denmark. Though Ebbesen’s revolt ended after the unsuccessful siege of Skanderborg Castle in November of the same year, the new king turned out to be a wise and determined leader, unlike his father before him. Valdemar’s realm was limited to the northernmost part of Jutland, the rest of his kingdom was either mortgaged out or taken over by his neighbours. Soon, Valdemar started the struggle to rebuild the former power of Denmark. Due to the poor reputation of his father, Valdemar wasn’t initially recognized as a real threat in 1340, which made his ambitious plan somewhat easier at the outset. He used his wife’s dowry to buy back the rest of Northern Jutland, where he immediately imposed a heavy taxation, discontenting Jutlandish peasants. Soon, with his treasury enriched, he acquired the remaining southern part of Jutland and Northern Friesland. A few years later, Valdemar sold the far-off province of Estonia to the Teutonic Order, and used the funds to reclaim Zealand, probably his most important target. In the latter case, currency was not enough to ensure his goals, so Valdemar retook some parts of the island by force and by 1347 got his hands on the whole of Zealand. This enabled him to control the busy trade routes going through the sound, and to get more capital. Valdemar spent the next years on strengthening his rule and organising his kingdom. In 1350 the destructive Black Death finally reached Denmark, killing about half of the total Danish population, and many of Valdemar’s opponents as well. His power had grown significantly over the years, enabling him to influence the neighbouring German states, and claim his right to Scania, another land lost by his father then possessed by Swedish King Magnus. In 1360 he crossed the sound with an army and captured Helsingborg. He quickly became aware that Magnus wasn’t strong enough to resist his claims and captured the whole region shortly there after. Despite his successes, Valdemar still had some serious opponents, in particular the rising power of the Hanseatic League a league officially established in 1358 as a trade and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and trade centres operating on the Baltic and North seas. But Valdemar was an ambitious man, and decided that no trade organisation could stand in his way. In 1361 he assembled an invading force and set sail to plunder Visby, then an important Hanseatic trade centre located on the Gotland in the middle of the Baltic Sea. In the midst of XIV century, Visby was a thriving town and busy port, benefiting from its perfect location at the crossroads of the trade routes going through the Baltic. It was inhabited mostly by Danish, German and Russian merchants, while the rest of the island was a rural area with farmlands cultivated by Swedish peasants. These two groups were antagonistic towards each other, and, due to rising tensions, the town-dwellers had already started to fortify the town in the late XIII century in order to keep their warehouses and goods safe. On the 22nd of July, Valdemar reached Gotland and landed fourty kilometres south of Visby. His army was probably between 2,000 and 2,500 men strong, and the majority of them were equipped with chainmail and early plate armor. A good part of his troops consisted of German and Danish mercenaries – experienced soldiers that fought in various minor feuds in Northern Germany. Valdemar clearly used his wealth to gather solid, professional troops, able to force his rule on the island. The Gutes were probably warned by King Magnus of Sweden that Valdemar was planning to invade the island, so they might have been prepared to some extent. In order to delay the Danish march to the north, they destroyed the Ajmunds bridge south-west of Masterby, which forced Valdemar to seek out another route to cross the steep banks of the stream. The suitable passage was found a few kilometres northeast near Fjale marshes. While Danes attempted to cross the stream, they were suddenly attacked by 1,500 Gutnish yeomen, who were hoping to take advantage of the boggy terrain, limiting the manouverability of the heavily armored Danish soldiers. But the summer was hot and the marshes were dry, and thus moving in formation was not difficult. Valdemar’s army managed to withstand the initial push of the Swedish peasants, then swiftly regrouped and quickly overwhelmed their unexperienced opponents, killing hundreds of them and routing the rest. The Gutnish plan failed; Danish forces completed the crossing and proceeded north. On the 27th of July, Valdemar finally reached the outskirts of Visby and encountered another peasant army guarding the gates to the city. About 2,000 of Gotland’s farmers, fishermen and other inhabitants armed with pikes, axes and bilhooks lined up to fight for their lands. Archaeological evidence indicates, that approximately a third of the defenders were either too old or too young to wield a weapon, with even some cripples amongst Gotland’s forces. The citizens of Visby didn’t join the fight, and the town gates remained closed. Valdemar’s archer and crossbowmen units stepped to the front and rained arrows and bolts on the shaky Gutnish line, crippling their morale and killing many of the defenders. Then, the main body of the Danish army charged at the Gutes and inflicted further casualties. Melee combat begun, but with solid Danish training, equipment and cohesion, the advantage was clearly visible. Inexperienced Gutes were not able to hold the line for long as Valdemar’s units pushed relentlessly. Soon, the defenders’ line was broken, and the Danish soldiers slaughtered those who still dared to face them. The battle lasted barely two hours when the remaining Gutnish units were forced to flee. More than 1,500 of the Gotlanders were killed defending their homes, with just a few hundred dead on Valdemar’s side in a brutal, one-sided battle. Citizens of Visby could see the merciless slaughter from the city walls, and decided to open the gates to avoid further killing. Valdemar stepped into the town, sacked a few churches, ransomed the citizens and set sail back to Denmark with a considerable amount of wealth on board. Danish action against the Gotland marked the beginning of the war between the Hanseatic League and Valdemar, fighting for domination over the North European trade routes. Although the Danish King eventually lost the war and was forced to sign the unprofitable Treaty of Stralsund, he also brought Denmark back to life, and laid the foundations for the upcoming Kalmar Union.

100 thoughts on “The Battle of Visby 1361 AD

  1. Why did the defenders not fight from the walls?

    If it is because the people/merchants of Visby didn't trust the peasants, then why did the peasants even bother putting their lives on the line and defending Visby in the first place?

  2. Perfect example of accepting defeat in some battles you can't win, that town was pretty nasty as well for leaving out all those peasants to die.

  3. The Wall: https://www.google.se/maps/@57.6443359,18.3012009,3a,90y,213.66h,101.04t/data=!3m8!1e1!3m6!1sAF1QipNqFEGpBGSnSCE2LAZrIK41R8ETaVDuZF2E1fQk!2e10!3e11!6shttps:%2F%2Flh5.googleusercontent.com%2Fp%2FAF1QipNqFEGpBGSnSCE2LAZrIK41R8ETaVDuZF2E1fQk%3Dw203-h100-k-no-pi0-ya100.53655-ro0-fo100!7i10000!8i5000

  4. I believe that by the late King Christian, you mean Christopher II of Denmark? The first King Christian to rule Denmark died in 1481.

  5. This battle is disproportionately important to the fields of history and archaeology as the uncovered mass graves told us a lot about peasant life back then. Arguably, this battle is more important today than it was back when it occurred.

  6. I wonder why the local peasants didn't consider posting behind Visby's walls? They must of been aware of there disadvantages.

  7. it seems a clear case of one side has way more powerful experienced soldiers with way better armor and weapon than the opponent

  8. …1347-'48 & "HALF THE POPULATION" of Denmark??… HALF of it?? …I'll be damned!… I thought that the Eastern & Northern parts of Europe were less affected by it… In Poland & Lithuania it may have been 20% TOPS in the most populated cities & areas, but OVERALL, it was much less destructive than – for instance – Italy, France or England… It's truly almost unbelievable how the "Black Death" affected Europe – not just economically & socially, but POLITICALLY…

  9. I beg your pardon, but I STILL don't understand it! First of all – WHO were those "Gutnish"?? …"Gotlanders"? …is it the same? …or does it come from "Jutes"? – the original inhabitants of JUTLAND?… SECOND (& MOST IMPORTANT) – WHY FOR CHRIST'S SAKES even DEFEND A CITY, that CLEARLY doesn't WANT YOU to be defending them, and – as far as you know – WANTS YOU DEAD?? Did they even give any support to those poor peasants?? You said it! – they didn't even OPEN THEIR GATES – not for them, neither for the wounded and those might need some help – they allowed them to be SLAUGHTERED under their own eyes, so WHY FIGHT FOR A CITY LIKE THAT??

  10. WHY did the defenders fight the Danish outside the walls? Shouldn't they have held up on the walls? Seems like the Danish force had limited ability to actually carry out a full siege.

  11. People who know Danish history, some help please. I have heard at least one Danish King be referred to as "Waldemar the Great". Is this him?

  12. It is an exaggeration to blame christopher ii ( valdemar father) for the fall of Denmark. Christopher ii father pretty much ruined the kingdom, which was already in decline since 1241

  13. (6:37) Key: Division with a big cross; Infantry.
    Division with a small cross; Peasants.
    Diagonally looking division; Calvary.
    Diagonally looking division with a bow and arrow; Archers.

  14. First of all, Gutnish peasents are not necessarily Swedish peasents. Gotland have been a country in its own right for long stretches of time and Gotlands culture has always been slightly different than the rest of Scandinavia, even thought the Gutes are Scandinavian. The Gutes even have their own founding myth in the Guta Saga.
    One thing that the excellent video does not mention is that the gutnish farmers fought a civil war against the city of Visby some decades before (1283?) the battle of Visby. So the relationship between them might have been tense. This civil war was probably about trade rights, originally the Gutnish farmers all had the right to do long distance trade for themselves but with increasing centralization they lost these rights (towns are easier to tax).
    Another thing about Gotland is that it had been very wealthy and powerful during the viking age and in the 11th and 12th centuries. The 13th century saw the beginning of the decline. The history of Gotland after the battle of Visby was very sad. For a long time Gotland was ruled by rouge Danish nobles that had turned pirate. When Gotland and Visby were won back by Sweden in 1645 Visby was described as a sleepy farm village among the proud stone ruins of its past.

  15. Wow. So late in the centuries ans these guys still gather armies from 10 villages. Its embarassment. Also French fight around 7k vs 10k or Holy Roman empire. Whqt are these doing. Rather than bring 200k soldiers to fight they collect soldiers from 2 or 3 towns and fight each other.

  16. Some of these comments about why the peasants fought are terribly misinformed. There was no Swedish patriotism back then. And the Gutes weren't Swedish as this video states. Well, nobody was Swedish by today's standards of course, but the Gutes were even less so. They had their own culture and they had minded their own business since forever. True, they submitted to the Swedish the crown about 60 years prior to Valdemar's invasion, but they also enjoyed a good amount of independence and prosperity. They even beat a Swedish king in battle when he landed a force to collect a harsh tax. So they probably felt that Valdemar Atterdag threatened their independence and livelihood. They lived on an island after all, and island people rarely take kindly to intruders.

  17. Hi..
    Please create a Didgori battle 50 000 georgians against 400 000 turkey..

    It was a great fight 1125 AC

  18. PLEASE do the Great Siege Of Malta in 1565! That is the FINEST hour of the Hospitaller Knights of Saint John, an order that has spent FAR too much time in the shadow of their brother order, the Knights Templar.

  19. Hi

    Just to let you know you got the name of Valdemar IV Atterdags father wrong.. He's called Christopher II. The first danish king called Christian ascended the throne in 1448.

    Otherwise a well made, short and informative video! Keep up the good work!

  20. Thats not what i learned when going to school in Swedish. The first skrimish was supposed to be at a bridge and the danes found a way to flank them and the Archers during the battle was supposed to be in a monestary at the flank

  21. As a Mideaval historian (Danish) I disapprove of the "history lesson"! For instance: Valdemar Atterdag had been elected king successor (by his father Christoffer – NOT Christian) already back when he turned 15, some parts of Denmark was pawned to the Hanseatic League, but far from all, the Scandic markets was pawned for a limited 15 years period – nothing more. Visby was NEVER ransacked as Valdemar depended on the trade florishing so he could tax the revenues, the Visby inhabitants and the outside farmers DID NOT fight – why would they muster the yeomanry to defend the city if they did! The Danish losses are exaggerated!

  22. This is my second time watching, and I only just realised that his tax level on Jutland was above high at "Valdemar". That's the most beautiful thing I've seen in a while.

  23. The Battle of Salado in XIV century, and for complete the Senguku Jidai colection of battles , the Batles the Sekiguazhara and Nagasino. Please

  24. Valdemar’s rule
    Get married=profits
    Buy north Jutland=profits
    Buy southern Jutland=profits
    Buy the Danish islands=profits
    Invade a trading island=profits
    Lose a war=less profits
    Final score=he is still richer than you

  25. I dont understand people who dislike these videos? He is teaching historical battles? Why dislike it? it actually annoys me lol

  26. I saw a video quite some time ago about this battle. Several mass graves of the Gutes militia were found and excavated. Many of the remains showed numerous and deep wounds to the bones, especially the legs.
    It looked like the Danish soldiers would slash at the legs of the Gutes, since they had little to no armour there. Then after they were brought down, the poor souls were mercilessly hacked to death.
    The conclusion was it was a one sided butchery rather than a real battle.

  27. This was pure massacre. Poor peasants trying to protect their land and getting murdered in the process, that's all I see here. Zero honor for the armored and trained soldiers as well as Valdemar. He could have easily found another way, perhaps diplomatically.

  28. Speaking as a combat veteran, as modern combat is horrific……..I think the battles past in world history where even more horrific in every single aspect. I was lucky to be in the war I was in and that in itself is a sad statement to make.

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