Post-classical history

Stedinger Crusades (1233-1234)

Crusades carried out against the Stedinger, a peasant population living around the rivers Weser and Hunte in northwestern Germany.

In the early Middle Ages the Stedinger settled the land to the west of the Weser near Bremen. Eventually the name also came to include those who settled north and south of the lower Hunte. The Stedinger were subject to the archbishop of Bremen, who governed the land through ministerial knights. The counts of Oldenburg, whose influence extended north of the Hunte, were another dominant power in the region.

In 1204 the Stedinger of the northern regions rebelled against the count of Oldenburg, burning down two of his castles. Soon their compatriots in the south followed them in a well-planned uprising, attacking and driving off the knightly servants of the archbishop, to whom they refused to pay any taxes and tithes thenafter. Weakened by political unrest and internal schism, the archbishops in Bremen were unable to suppress the rebellion for years to come. The Stedinger took advantage of the situation with renewed attacks on several castles in 1212, 1213, and 1214.

The situation changed in 1219 when Gerhard II of Lippe became the new archbishop of Bremen and immediately began to restore archiepiscopal power, demanding that the Stedinger pay taxes and tithes. The Stedinger refused to do so. Gerhard seems to have excommunicated them in 1227 or 1229, and he also decided to use military force to subdue them. In December 1229, together with his brother, Hermann of Lippe, Gerhard attacked the land of the Stedinger with a small army. However, during the ensuing fight on Christmas Day, the archiepiscopal army was defeated and Hermann was killed “for the liberation of the church of Bremen,” as Gerhard expressed it when he founded the nunnery of Lilienthal for the salvation of his brother in 1232 [Schmidt, “Zur Geschichte der Stedinger,” pp. 58-59].

In March 1230 or 1231 a diocesan synod under the presidency of Gerhard declared the Stedinger to be heretics, accusing them of murdering clerics, burning churches and monasteries, desecrating the Eucharist, carrying out superstitious practices, and rejecting the teachings of the church. Other heretical acts also formed part of the accusations. Clearly Gerhard was preparing the way for a formal crusade against the Stedinger and was only waiting for papal permission to start preaching the crusade. In October 1232 Pope Gregory IX gave his permission after having called for an investigation of the alleged heresy of the Stedinger in July 1231. Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor, placed the Ste- dinger under the ban of the empire.

At first the crusade was preached in the bishoprics of Min- den, Lübeck, and Ratzeburg, but only a few local knights seem to have responded to this call. A renewed call for crusaders in early 1233 (this time over a wider area) led to the formation of a crusader army that attacked the Stedinger during the summer. The crusaders had some initial success but were defeated near Hemmelskamp in July. While the crusade was in progress, Gregory IX renewed his call for crusaders, this time promising them a full indulgence for their participation in the fight against the Stedinger. This papal act placed the crusades against the Stedinger on an equal footing with other German crusades against heretics as well as with the crusades to the Holy Land.

In early 1234 the archbishop of Bremen raised a new crusader army that included the duke of Brabant and the counts of Holland, Geldern, Kleve, Jülich, Berg, and Ravensberg as well as several Flemish barons; on 27 May 1234 the crusaders were finally able to defeat the Stedinger in a bloody battle near Altenesch.

A papal attempt in March 1234 to end the conflict through negotiations rather than force had not stopped the crusade. Apparently the Teutonic Order had intervened on behalf of the Stedinger, arguing for more negotiations. Gregory IX seems to have given his legate, William of Modena, the task of reconciling the Stedinger and the archbishop. Either this decision did not reach Gerhard II in time to stop the crusade, or the archbishop simply chose to ignore it.

After the defeat at Altenesch the surviving Stedinger could do nothing but surrender to the demands of the archbishop, and in August 1235 Gregory IX ordered that the excommunication of the once-rebellious Stedinger should be lifted.

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