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Dithmarschen County (Germany)

Kreis Dithmarschen, Schleswig-Holstein

Last modified: 2020-03-04 by klaus-michael schneider
Keywords: dithmarschen | norderdithmarschen | suederdithmarschen | stripes(7) | bars(3) | flaghead | knight | horse(forcene) | kirchspielslandgemeinde(klg) |
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[Dithmarschen County (Schleswig-Holstein, Germany)] 3:5 image by Stefan Schwoon, 31 Jan 2001
approved 17 May 1972 See also:

Dithmarschen County

Introduction of Dithmarschen

The official description is in the Hauptsatzung (the statutes) of the county, found at the Dithmarschen official website.
A depiction of the flag is at this commercial webpage and a better illustration of the arms is at this webpage. Ralf Hartemink's International Civic Arms website, which I used as a basis for the arms, has the colours slightly wrong.
Date of adoption: 17 May 1972, according to Dirk Schönberger's Administrative Divisions of the World website.
The rider is believed to be either St. George or a knight of Holstein, the longer explanation (in German) could be seen in: (obsolete webpage)
Dithmarschen used to be a sort of free peasants' state which for a long time retained independence from Holstein (Battle of Hemmingstedt, 1500) until it was finally conquered in 1559. It is interesting that the Ditmarsians still use these arms which were introduced by Holstein!
The fact that both the Lower Saxony arms and those of Dithmarschen feature a white jumping horse on a red field and the fact that Dithmarschen is geographically close to Lower Saxony might give rise to the idea that the arms are related, but I have found nothing to support this idea.
Stefan Schwoon, 31 Jan 2001

The relation of the flags of Dithmarschen and Steinburg with the former Royal Danish arms [shown at Arnaud Bunel's Héraldique européenne website] is not surprising since these areas were in the possession of the Danish king for a long time, and the royal Danish arms featured the arms of Holstein, Stormarn and Dithmarschen. On a related note, the flag and arms of Celle has an even more striking relation to the Danish arms.
Stefan Schwoon, 5 February 2001

- The county's coat of arms is red with a golden armed rider with silver helmet bush, that swings its silver sword over his head, riding a silver galloping horse with golden bridle and blue saddle blanket.
- The flag shows a white hoist with the (shield shaped) coat of arms and a red fly with three white stripes.
- Legislation: Main statute of the Dithmarschen county of 22 Feb 2001 The flag was approved on 17 May 1972. The coat of arms was approved on 30 July 1971. The artist is Wilhelm Horst Lippert from Brunsbüttel.
Source: (obsolete webpage) showed the Hauptsatzung texts about the county's arms and flag [with some changes and a more recent date]: (My translation)
Jens Pattke, 23 May 2001

These may be the latest formal adoptions of this coat of arms, but it is much older than that. This coat of arms was part of the Danish royal arms centuries ago (in Danish the area is called Ditmarsken). According to Linder and Olzog 1996, p. 355, the arms with the knight were used for Dithmarschen for the first time in 1580. However, some minor details in the blazon seem to have changed since then. In 1848, a flag with this knight upon it was used by young Ditmarsians, who wanted to cut Schleswig-Holstein away from the Danish crown.
Elias Granqvist, 25 May 2001

From Ralf Hartemink's webpage: The arms are identical to the previously adopted arms of Süderditmarschen and were granted on 31 July 1971. Dithmarschen was a free republic from the 13th until the 16th century. After the conquest in 1559 by Adolf of Gottorf, Duke of Holstein, his brother Johann of Hadersleben and his nephew King Frederik II of Denmark, Ditmarschen was split in Norder- and Süderditmarschen. Both new territories had until 1867 rather much political freedom.
The knight in the present arms appeared soon after 1559 in the arms of the Dukes of Holstein for the new territory. It was not popular in Dithmarschen, as it showed a knight of Holstein. However, in the 18th century the governors of both Ditmarschens started to use the knight as a symbol. Finally in the 19th century it was adopted as the symbol of Dithmarschen by the population. Both counties started to use the knight in their seals in the 1930s.
Source: Stadler 1964 and Reißmann 1997.
Santiago Dotor, 23 Oct 2001

Historical Topics

Brief history:
The Ditmarsians were settlers of Saxonian origin.
804: The Franconian king Karl der Große (Charlemagne) conquers Dithmarschen and Holstein.
809-830: Near Itzehoe exists just one Franconian fortification.
810-826: In Meldorf a parish church is built.
814: Meldorf becomes seat of a parish. During the following years the king encourages the Slavic tribe of Abodrites to conquer the Saxonian shires (Gaue) in nowadays Holstein. They conquer parts of the Saxonian Holstein and Stormarn, are however defeated by the Ditmarsians(?) near Burg (Dithmarschen).
1062: Bishop Adalbert of Bremen gains the fiefdom over Dithmarschen by the Holy Roman Emperor. The bishops unify Dithmarschen with the County of Stade.
1075: Adam of Bremen reports Meldorf as "head and mother of the Ditmarsian parish churches".
1140: Meldorf Parish belongs to the chapter of Hamburg. The parishes of Tellingstedt, Süderhastedt, Weddingstedt, Lunden, Büsum and Uthaven (= Brunsbüttel?) are reported.
1144: Rudolf II, the last count of Stade and representative of the bishop, is killed by the Ditmarsians on the Bökelnburg near Burg (Dithmarschen). By a barter agreement between Rudolfs brother Hartwig and the bishops of Bremen, Dithmarschen comes under "direct rule" of the bishops.
1144-1227: Heinrich the Lion, Duke of Saxony (1130(?)-1195), overtakes Dithmarschen.
1177: After his fall Dithmarschen is ruled by various sovereigns and belongs to the Archbishopric of Bremen, afterwards to the Bishopric of Schleswig, the County of Holstein and the Kingdom of Denmark.
Meanwhile the Ditmarsians had established an efficient self-administration based upon the parishes, which also besides their proper function had civil and military functions. The supreme institution was the general assembly (Ting) of all free men in Meldorf. The assembly elected the duke, a warlord, and the Overbode, the military and juridical head of a shire, (i.e. Dithmarschen as a whole besides Holstein and Stormarn). The Overbode was considered to be, at least de iure, the deputy of the Count of Holstein. The shire was subdivided into four quarters, led by a Bode (military head) and a judge (juridical head). This system had been already reported in 1148 in a document certificated by Heinrich the Lion.
Dithmarschen was subdivided into districts (local term: Döfften), which may be an equivalent to English yeomanry districts and might have been the quarters mentioned above. The districts were:
1) Meldorfer Döffte (mother of parishes)
2) Westerdöffte (parishes of Büsum (island), Wesselburen, Wöhrden, Neuenkirchen)
3) Osterdöffte (4 parishes)
4) Middeldöffte (6 parishes, among those: Hemmingstedt)
6) Strandmannsdöffte (6 parishes in the South)
The Ditmarsian system was based upon kins, subdivided into clans. The kins practised a hard education and avoided a mixture with other kins. The most famous kin was the Vogdemannen family, who usually were the administrators (Vögte).
Around 1200 a treaty between the Ditmarsians and the merchants of Hamburg is mentioned concerning the picking up of merchandises of stranded Hamburgian vessels. The sovereign was not even asked for permission.
1227: After the Danish defeat in the battle of Bornhöved the Archbishopric of Bremen regains the sovereignty of Dithmarschen. As Bremen was far away, the rule of the archbishops wasn't very severe.
During the 13th century the nobility either had emigrated or had been expelled by the farmers.
At least since 1281 an independent jurisdiction, based upon the five Döfften, is reported. Attempts of the neighbours to subdue Dithmarschen failed.
1319: Count Gerhard III (the Great) of Holstein-Rendsburg (* 1293? - 1340), is defeated by the Ditmarsians in the battle of (Olden-)Wöhrden. It was his only defeat. Later on he becomes the strongman in Danish policy and prepares the union between Holstein and Schleswig.
1404: Count Gerhard VI of Holstein-Rendsburg, since 1386 also Duke of Schleswig, and Albrecht of Holstein are defeated after a successful campaign in 1403 by the Ditmarsians on 4 August 1404 in the battle of Süderhamme.
During the 14th century Dithmarschen was transformed into a confederation of joint parishes. The general assembly also in Holstein remained a political institution until 1602. Since 1400 the count of Holstein took part in the assemblies. Troublesome times in the 14th and 15th century and struggles between kins caused important changes and created a requirement of a strong central power and of breaking the influence of the bishops'administrators.
1428: Ditmarsian farmers resettle the island of Fehmarn, which had been devastated by Danish king Erich of Pomerania.
1447: A common law (Landrecht) is adopted, a supreme court and the assembly of 48 (judges) are created. They gather every Saturday in Heide and there is also a permanent executive board. Their members are appointed and supplemented within the kins. As a result the importance of Meldorf declines.
1473: King Christian I of Denmark (1448-1481) receives Dithmarschen, which was considered as unappropriated by its neighbours, as an imperial fiefdom. Jakob Polleke, mayor of Meldorf, immediatedly remonstrates by Emperor and Pope.
1474: Christian I and the Ditmarsian sign a ceasefire, although war had not even begun(!!).
1499: Christian's son Hans and the Ditmarsians struggle about fishery rights around Heligoland. Dithmarschen refuses the conditions of the Danish king.
1500: Troops from Denmark, Schleswig and Holstein invade Dithmarschen, reinforced by the Black Guard, a troop of 4000 mercenaries. They are completely defeated in the battle of Hemmingstedt on 17 February 1500.
1559: Danish troops, well prepared and well led by 67-years-old Johann Rantzau again attack Dithmarschen. The motor of the campaign is Duke Adolf I of Holstein-Gottorf (1544 - 1586). Rantzau conquers Albersdorf (22 May), Meldorf (3 June), Brunsbüttel (8 June) and finally after a short siege Heide (13 June), the seat of the 48 judges. On 20 June the Ditmarsians surrender between Lohe and Rickelshof and the last campaign (letzte Fehde) has ended. Despite of hard conditions the prosperity of Dithmarschen goes on.
Afterwards Dithmarschen is split up into three parts: Adolf I receives the northern part around Lunden, his brother Duke Johann of Schleswig-Holstein-Haderslev receives the central part around Heide and King Frederik II of Denmark receives the southern part around Meldorf.
1581: After the death of Duke Johann his part is divided between Adolf I and Frederik II. Since then Norder- und Süderdithmarschen exist as regions with different common laws (since 1567) and royal/ducal governors (Landvögte) as deputies of their sovereigns. Thus Norderdithmarschen becomes part of the ducal portion and Süderdithmarschen becomes part of the royal portion.
1585: The island of Busen (nowadays Büsum) is connected with the mainland by dyking and land reclamation.
During the 30-Years-War (1618-1648) and the Nordic War (1700-1721) Dithmarschen suffers from Imperial, Danish, Swedish and Ducal troops.
1717: Dithmarschen is devastated by the Christmas flood.
1864: Dithmarschen becomes a part of the Prussian province of Schleswig-Holstein. The Ditmarsians keep a certain independence until 1867.
1868: Royal and ducal portion are transformed into Prussian counties of Norderdithmarschen (capital: Heide) and Süderdithmarschen (capital: Meldorf)
1970: Due to an administrative reform Norder- and Süderdithmarschen are united, forming the new county of Dithmarschen. Capital of the new county is Heide.
Source: Otto Brandt: "Geschichte Schleswig-Holsteins", 5th edition, Kiel 1957; pp. 67,85,104-105,114,116-120,133-137
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 6 Feb 2013

Dithmarschen County Flag

The flag is flywise horizontally divided into seven alternating red and white stripes. The red stripes are broader. Their ratio is acc. to Falko Schmidt 9:5:9:5:9:5:9 (acc. to roll of arms: three white bars in a red field). The coat of arms is in a white flaghead.
Source: letter of the county administration from 26 April 1970
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 6 Feb 2013

Süderdithmarschen County Flag

[Süderdithmarschen County (until 1970)] 2:3 image by Falko Schmidt and Klaus-Michael Schneider, 22 Oct 2019

The flag is flywise horizontally divided into seven alternating red and white stripes. The red stripes are broader. The coat of arms without shield is in a red flaghead. The flag was abolished in April 1970 or earlier.
Source: image provided by Falko Schmidt
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 22 Oct 2019

Dithmarschen County Coat of Arms

[Norderdithmarschen County CoA]
Norderdithmarschen Coat of Arms
[Dithmarschen County CoA]
Dithmarschen Coat of Arms
[Süderdithmarschen County CoA]
Süderdithmarschen Coat of Arms

images by Klaus-Michael Schneider, 6 Feb 2013

Description of coat of arms:
In a red shield is a knight in golden (= yellow) armour. He is riding on a silver (= white) horse forcene with golden (= yellow) saddle and bridles and a blue saddlecloth. The tail is pointing upwards. The helmet of the knight is crested by silver (= white) plumes. The knight holds a sword upon his head.
Meaning: Before the defeat in 1559 the seals of the so called "farmers' republic" showed the Ditmarsian patron saints Virgin Mary and St. Oswald. The seal on the document of capitulation from 1559 shows St. Mary as Mater Dolorosa (mother of pains), perhaps a symbol of the lost independence. This symbol is said to have been used later on. Unique symbols of Dithmarschen didn't exist. Norderdithmarschen in the 16th century adopted an own seal, showing St. Mary within an aureola.
The Holstein knight displayed in the nowadays arms appears first as part of the royal arms of Denmark representing the royal portion of Süerdithmarschen (capital: Meldorf). The knight appears on the seals of Norderdithmarschen around 1570 and of Süderdithmarschen around 1580, when Meldorf had become capital of the royal portion (of Dithmarschen).
The symbol wasn't particularly popular in Dithmarschen, reminding on the subjugation after 1559. In the 18th century both portions had the knight in their seals. The motiv became popular as a regional coat of arms in the 19th century and was often used inofficially by the Ditmarsians. The knight appeared again on seals of both counties since 1934 and replaced the Prussian eagle. In 1946 the British military government awarded the county of Süderdithmarschen (right image) the coat of arms displaying the knight. The county fixed the arms officially on 8 August 1963 with some minor changes. The new built county Dithmarschen overtook the arms in 1970 with some details overtaken from the arms of Norderdithmarschen (left image).
Those were:
1) the colour of the armour, which had been silver (= white) before
2) the plumes in the crest were added
3) the saddle cloth, which had been silver (= white) before Furthermore in the arms of Norderdithmarschen the knight held his sword upright and the horse was rising upon a green base with its tail pointing downwards.
Sources: Reißmann 1997, p.26 and Stadler 1964, pp.68, 87

Parochial Rural Municipalities (Kirchspielslandgemeinden)

Parochial rural municipalities existed in the counties of Süderdithmarschen, Norderdithmarschen and Husum. They had the same rank like subcounties, but they were successors of civil parishes. They consisted of villages, in Husum called Dorfschaften, in Dithmarschen called Bauerschaften. After the annexation of Schleswig-Holstein rural municipalities (Landgemeinden) were established, but Prussia kept, as usual, the local structures. The civil parishes, or as they were then called: parochial rural municipalities (Kirchspielslandgemeinden) were an equivalent of a subcounty (Amt) in other parts of Prussia. But they were no municipalities.
Under NS-rule the Kirchspielslandgemeinden were dissolved and replaced by single municipalities.
1948 in Schleswig-Holstein subcounties were reestablished. In Dithmarschen and Husum County they were denoted as "Kirchspielslandgemeinde" like before 1934. In the same year in Husum County the KLGs were renamed into subcounties. When the northern and the southern part of Dithmarschen were united in 1970, also the KLGs in Dithmarschen became subcounties, but "Kirchspielslandgemeinde" now became part of the proper name of some subcounties. Currently (2012) this prefix is kept just within two names: Amt Kirchspielslandgemeinden Eider (plural, the territory of three former KLGn) and Amt Kirchspielslandgemeinde Heider Umland. We have a similar practice in Lower Saxony, where comprehensive municipalities (Samtgemeinden) or municipalities keep the old title "Amt" as part of their proper names; e.g. Samtgemeinde Altes Amt Ebstorf or Gemeinde Amt Neuhaus.
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 6 Feb 2013

Klaus-Michael Schneider, 6 Feb 2013

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