Danish and Livonian Order

History of Estonia between 1208 - 1560

Estonia remained one of the last corners of medieval Europe to be Christianized. In 1193 Pope Celestine III called for a crusade against pagans in Northern Europe. The crusade operation against Estonians was initiated by Teutonic Knights from northern Germany, which was since 1237 known as Livonian Order. With the help of the newly converted local tribes of Livs and Letts, the crusaders initiated raids into part of what is present-day Estonia in 1208. Estonian tribes fiercely resisted the attacks from Riga and occasionally themselves sacked territories controlled by the crusaders. In 1217 the German crusading order the Sword Brethren and their recently converted allies won a major battle in which the Estonian commander Lembitu was killed. The period of the several Northern Crusade battles in Estonia between 1208 and 1227 is also known as the period of the ancient Estonian fight for independence.

Danish occupation

At the same time Northern Estonia was conquered by Danish crusaders led by king Waldemar II, who arrived in 1219 on the site of the Estonian town of Lindanisse (now Tallinn). The Danish Army defeated the Estonians at Battle of Lyndanisse. The Estonians of Harria started a rebellion in 1343 (St.George's Night Uprising). The province was occupied by the Livonian Order as a result. In 1346, the Danish dominions in Estonia (Harria and Vironia) were sold for 10 000 marks to the Livonian Order.

Also Swedish had their own had their settlements in Estonia. The first written mention of the Estonian Swedes comes from 1294, in the laws of the town of Haapsalu. Estonian Swedes are one of the earliest known minorities in Estonia. They have also been called Coastal Swedes ("Rannarootslased" in Estonian), or according to their settlement area Ruhnu Swedes, Hiiu Swedes etc.

Feodal order

After the conquest, all remaining local pagans were ostensibly Christianized although no Christian literature or church services became available in native languages until the Protestant Reformation period in the 16th century. The conquerors upheld military control through their network of castles throughout Estonia and Latvia. The land was divided into six feodal principalities by Papal Legate William of Modena: Archbishopric of Riga, Bishopric of Courland, Bishopric of Dorpat, Bishopric of Ösel-Wiek, the lands ruled by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword and Dominum directum of King of Denmark, the Duchy of Estonia.

Reformation

The Reformation in Europe began in 1517 with Martin Luther (1483–1546) and his 95 Theses. The Reformation resulted in great change in the Baltics. The new ideas entered the Livonian Confederation very quickly and by the 1520s they were well known. The Baltic German elite preserved Estonian commitment to the Protestant Reformation from 1524. Language, education, religion and politics were greatly transformed. Church services were now given in the local vernacular, instead of Latin, as was previously used, and from this period the first book printed in Estonian also dates.

Livonian War

The Livonian War (1558–1583) was fought for control of Old Livonia in the territory of present-day Estonia and Latvia when the Tsardom of Russia faced a varying coalition of Denmark–Norway, the Kingdom of Sweden, the Union (later Commonwealth) of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland.

During the period 1558–1578, Russia dominated the region with early military successes at Dorpat (Tartu) and Narva. Russian dissolution of the Livonian Confederation brought Poland–Lithuania into the conflict while Sweden and Denmark both intervened between 1559 and 1561. Swedish Estonia was established despite constant invasion from Russia and Frederick II of Denmark bought the old Bishopric of Ösel–Wiek, which he placed under the control of his brother Magnus of Holstein. Magnus attempted to expand his Livonian holdings to establish the Russian vassal state Kingdom of Livonia, which nominally existed until Magnus' defection in 1576.

In 1576, Stefan Batory became King of Poland as well as Grand Duke of Lithuania and turned the tide of the war with his successes between 1578 and 1581, including the joint Swedish–Polish–Lithuanian offensive at the Battle of Wenden. This was followed by an extended campaign through Russia culminating in the long and difficult siege of Pskov. Under the 1582 Truce of Jam Zapolski, which ended the war between Russia and Poland–Lithuania, Russia lost all its former holdings in Livonia and Polotsk to Poland–Lithuania. The following year, Sweden and Russia signed the Truce of Plussa with Sweden gaining most of Ingria and northern Livonia while retaining the Duchy of Estonia.

References: Wikipedia

Popular sites founded between 1208 and 1560 in Estonia

Toompea Castle

Toompea Castle is situated on the steep limestone hill in the central part of Tallinn. The first wooden castle is believed to have been built on the hill in either the 10th or 11th century by residents of the ancient Estonian county of Rävala. It was probably one of the first inhabited areas of what later became Tallinn. In 1219, the castle was taken over by Danish crusaders - led by Valdemar II. According to a legen ...
Founded: 13-14th century | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

St. Nicholas Church

St. Nicholas' Church (Niguliste kirik) is a medieval church in Tallinn. The church is dedicated to Saint Nicholas, the patron of the fishermen and sailors. It was founded and built around 1230-1275 by Westphalian merchants, who came from Gotland in the 13th century. While the city was still unfortified, the church had heavy bars for closing the entrances, loopholes and hiding places for refugees. When the fortificatio ...
Founded: 1230-1270 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Martna Church

The single-nave St. Martin’s Church was built by Johannes Orgas, the bishop of Saare-Läänemaa (Ösel-Wiek), in the beginning of 16th century. His shield is located in the church wall, above the north portal. The oldest artefact inside the church is a Gotland-style baptising stone. Also valuable are the altar wall and Empire style pulpit. The church’s collection of 17th-18th century epitaph coat o ...
Founded: 16th century | Location: Läänemaa, Estonia

Tallinn Town Hall

Tallinn Town Hall, located in the main square, is the only surviving Gothic town hall in Northern Europe. The first recorded mention of the Town Hall dates from 1322. Its present form dates from 1402-1404, when the building was rebuilt. The spire was destroyed in an aerial bombing on March 9, 1944. It was rebuilt in 1950. The Town Hall is in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites with the Tallinn's Old Town. The buil ...
Founded: 1322 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn City Museum

The building of the City Museum dates from the 14th century. The oldest record in the real estate register dates from 1363. The permanent exhibition provides an overlook of Tallinn’s history through centuries – beginning with prehistory and ending with Estonia’s regaining of independence in 1991. Various sectors of medieval society are explained using a combination of texts, artefacts, life-sized models ...
Founded: 1363 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Rakvere Castle

The earliest data regarding human settlement at Vallimäe in Rakvere come from the Viking Age, an arrowhead from the 9th century and some broken pieces of pottery from this period have been found on the territory of the castle. There is more information about the last centuries of the prehistoric age when an ancient wooden stronghold surrounded by a fence stood in the place of the present convent building. First writ ...
Founded: 1226 | Location: Rakvere, Estonia

Red Tower

The Red Tower (which is actually white) is the only defence tower left from medieval Hanseatic city of New-Pärnu. It is the oldest city’s architectural monument and was used as the prison. According to the chronics, in 14th century Pärnu was encircled by a fortified wall with many towers: the round Viliand Tower, also know as the White Tower, in the north-eastern corner and Red Tower in the south-eastern c ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Pärnu, Estonia

Haapsalu Castle

The bishop castle of Haapsalu was built in the 13th century. It was the main residence of the Bishop of Läänemaa. The Läänemaa bishopric was created as a state of the Holy Roman Empire on 1 October 1228. Construction, widening and reconstruction of the stronghold went on throughout several centuries, with the architecture changing according to the development of weapons. The stronghold achieved its fi ...
Founded: 1228 | Location: Haapsalu, Estonia

Tartu Cathedral

Tartu Cathedral (Estonian Tartu toomkirik) is one of the landmarks of the city of Tartu. The building is now an imposing ruin overlooking the lower town. In the small part of it that has been renovated is now located the museum of the University of Tartu, which the university also uses for major receptions. The hill on which the cathedral later stood (Toomemägi or "cathedral hill") was one of the largest strongholds ...
Founded: 1250-1300 | Location: Tartu, Estonia

St Mary's Cathedral

St Mary’s Cathedral was originally established by Danes on 13th century and it is the oldest church in Tallinn and mainland Estonia. It is also the only building in Toompea which survived a 17th century fire. The first church was made of wood and built there most likely already in 1219 when the Danes invaded Tallinn. In 1229 when the Dominican monks arrived, they started building a stone church replacing the old ...
Founded: 1229 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Kiek in de Kök

Kiek in de Kök is an artillery tower built between 1475 and 1483. It is 38 m high and has walls 4 m thick. Cannon balls dating back to 1577 are still embedded in its outer walls. Compared to the other Tallinn towers Kiek in de Kök was predominant in its fire power, due to its 27 embrasures for cannons and 30 for handguns Kiek in de Kök (low German Peep into the Kitchen ) is an old German language nicknam ...
Founded: 1475-1483 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Ruins of the Käina Church

According to the contract of 1254 between Saare Lääne bishop Heinrich and the High Master of the Order Eberhard von Seyne the diocesan area of Hiiumaa was divided into two parts and Käina became the center of one of them. In the middle of the 13th century a new house of God was built in the newly established parish. The building´s incinerated ruins were discovered in 1981 while clearing the nave of the church. A ston ...
Founded: 1492-1515 | Location: Käina, Estonia

Kuressaare Castle

Kuressaare Castle from the 14th century is a symbol of Kuressaare and all of Saaremaa island. The convent building at the castle is the only surviving medieval fortified building in the Baltic States without noteworthy architectural alterations. The construction of the stronghold was closely connected with the Estonians' fight against the German feudals. In 1227 the last Estonian county - Saaremaa surrendered to the Germ ...
Founded: 1260s | Location: Kuressaare, Estonia

Pikk Hermann

Pikk Hermann (Tall Hermann) is a tower of the Toompea Castle. The first part was built 1360-70. It was rebuilt (height brought to 45,6 m) in the 16th century. A staircase with 215 steps leads to the top of the tower. Pikk Hermann tower is situated next to the Estonian Parliament building and the flag on the top of the tower at 95 metres above sea level is one of the symbols of the government in force. The national flag, ...
Founded: 1360-1370 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

St. Olaf's Church

St. Olaf’s Church (Oleviste kirik) is believed to have been built in the 12th century and to have been the centre for old Tallinn's Scandinavian community prior to the conquest of Tallinn by Denmark in 1219. Its dedication relates to King Olaf II of Norway (a.k.a. Saint Olaf, 995-1030). The first known written records referring to the church date back to 1267, and it was extensively rebuilt during the 14th century. ...
Founded: 1267 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

St John's Church

St. John's Church was probably built in the first third of the 14th century as a three-nave basilica. The church was damaged in the Russian- Livonian War in the 16th century; lightning has set its spire on fire several times. Some parts of the church were destroyed in the Great Nordic War in 1708. In the end of 19th century external walls of St. John's Church were cleaned of limewash, the original shape of the ch ...
Founded: 1300-1330 | Location: Tartu, Estonia

Viljandi Castle

Viljandi castle was one of the strongest castles in Livonia. The construction was started 1224 under Teutonic Order in place of a former hillfort. The crusaders of Sword Brethren conquered the hill fort at the place of later main castle in 1223. A year later, construction of stone fortifications started. Viljandi was chosen as the high seat of the order. The convent house, a typical form of castle of Teutonic Knights, wa ...
Founded: 1224 | Location: Viljandi, Estonia

Great Guild Hall

Since the 14th century craftmen’s guilds were significant brotherhoods who drove interests of their members. The big guild of Tallinn was an union of wealthy merchants. Their base was the Great Guild Hall in downtown, opposite the church of Holy Spirit. The building itself was built in 1407-1410 and is a well-preserved sample of Medieval construction. Today the Great Guild Hall houses a museum presenting Estonia's hist ...
Founded: 1407-1410 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Helme Castle

Helme church parish was first mentioned in 1329 during a Lithuanian raid. Most of the neighbouring land was fiefed in the 15th–16th centuries. Livonian Order castle in Helme (Ordensburg Helmet) was probably built in the first half of the 14th century. The site on a steep hill is belived to have been used as a stronghold earlier by Sackalians in the Ancient Estonia. By its ground plan the order castle was 120× ...
Founded: ca. 1330 | Location: Valgamaa, Estonia

The Church of Holy Spirit

The Church of Holy Spirit is the only sacred building from 14th-century Tallinn preserved its original form. The church was originally founded as part of the neighbouring Holy Spirit Almshouse, which tended to the town's sick and elderly. Throughout Medieval times it remained the primary church of the common folk. First Estonian-language sermons were held there, and the famous Livonian chronicler Balthasar Russow work ...
Founded: 1319 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Kadrina Church

The construction of Kadrina (St. Catherine) Church was started in the mid-15th century. It had also a defensive purpose; narrow windows, thick walls and the room on top of the vault could be used as hideout. The tower was added later. The interior originates from different centuries. The German crucifix is made in 1490’s, pulpit in 1745 and altar mainly in the19th century. Reference: Tapio Mäkeläinen 200 ...
Founded: 1450-1490 | Location: Kadrina, Estonia

Keila Church

Keila Church is the biggest medieval country church in Harju county, which was obviously established shortly after the North Estonia was occupied by Danes. In 1280 a spacious square chapel was established at "Keila hill", where today there is the chancel of the church. Fragments of the paintings at the chancel walls date possibly from this period already. The main body of the church remained unbuilt at the beginning and w ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Keila, Estonia

Dominican Monastery

The Dominican monastery was founded in 1246 and it is the oldest one in the medieval old town. The center of monastery was St. Catherine's Church, which was completed in the late 1300s and was the largest church building in the lower town. The Monastery was expanded several times, most recently in the 16th century. St. Catherine's convent closed down in 1525, when the monks were expelled from Tallinn during the R ...
Founded: 1246 | Location: Tallinn, Estonia

Muhu Church

The St.Caherine's Church of Muhu is considered one of the most remarkable early-Gothic buildings in Estonia. It was first mentioned in Hermann von Wartberge's Chronicle dated 1276. The exterior architecture of the Muhu Church is a strict monumental style and its originality is prominent. The Muhu Church has preserved its original shape. Around 1663, a little wooden steeple was added to the church, but perished tog ...
Founded: 1276 | Location: Muhu, Estonia

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Sweetheart Abbey

Sweetheart Abbey was a Cistercian monastery, founded in 1275 by Dervorguilla of Galloway in memory of her husband John de Balliol. His embalmed heart, in a casket of ivory and silver, was buried alongside her when she died; the monks at the Abbey then renamed the Abbey in tribute to her. Their son, also John, became king of Scotland but his reign was tragic and short. The depredations suffered by the Abbey in subsequent periods, have caused both the graves to be lost. The abbey, built in deep-red, local sandstone, was founded as a daughter house to Dundrennan Abbey; this Novum Monasterium (New Monastery), became known as the New Abbey.

The immediate abbey precincts extended to 120,000 m2 and sections of the surrounding wall can still be seen today. The Cistercian order, also known as the White Monks because of the white habit, over which they wore a black scapular or apron, built many great abbeys after their establishment around 1100. Like many of their abbeys, the New Abbey's interests lay not only in prayer and contemplation but in the farming and commercial activity of the area, making it the centre of local life. The abbey ruins dominate the skyline today and one can only imagine how it and the monks would have dominated early medieval life as farmers, agriculturalists, horse and cattle breeders. Surrounded by rich and fertile grazing and arable land, they became increasingly expert and systematic in their farming and breeding methods. Like all Cistercian abbeys, they made their mark, not only on the religious life of the district but on the ways of local farmers and influenced agriculture in the surrounding areas.

The village which stands next to the ruins today, is now known as New Abbey. At the other end of the main street is Monksmill, a corn mill. Although the present buildings date from the late eighteenth century, there was an earlier mill built by and for the monks of the abbey which serviced the surrounding farms.