History of Latvia between 1207 - 1561
After crusades made by Teutonic Order Livs were conquered by 1207 and most of Latgalians by 1214. But the Sword Brothers were defeated in Battle of Saule (1236) and its remnants accepted incorporation into the Teutonic Order. By the end of 13th century also the Curonians and Semigallians were subjugated and the development of separate tribal realms of the ancient Latvians came to an end.
In the 13th century, an ecclesiastical state Terra Mariana or Livonia was established under the Germanic authorities consisting of Latvia and Estonia. In 1282, Riga and later Cēsis, Limbaži, Koknese and Valmiera were included in the Northern German Trading Organisation, or the Hanseatic League (Hansa). From this time, Riga became an important point in west-east trading. Riga, being the centre of the Eastern Baltic region, formed close cultural contacts with Western Europe.
The reformation reached Livonia in 1521. It was supported in particular in the cities and by the middle of 15th century the majority of the population had already converted to Lutheranism.
In the 15-16th century the hereditary landed class gradually evolved from vassals of the Order and the bishops. In the time their descendants came to own vast estates over which they exercised absolute rights. At the end of the Middle Ages, this Baltic German minority had established themselves as the governing elite, partly as an urban trading population in the cities, and partly as rural landowners, via a vast manorial network of estates. The titled landowners wielded immense economic power and for all that they had a duty to care for the peasants dependent of them, in practice the latter sank into serfdom.
The Livonian War (1558–1583) was fought for control of Old Livonia 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.
Dating from the 15th century, Kisimul is the only significant surviving medieval castle in the Outer Hebrides. It was the residence of the chief of the Macneils of Barra, who claimed descent from the legendary Niall of the Nine Hostages. Tradition tells of the Macneils settling in Barra in the 11th century, but it was only in 1427 that Gilleonan Macneil comes on record as the first lord. He probably built the castle that dominates the rocky islet, and in its shadow a crew house for his personal galley and crew. The sea coursed through Macneil veins, and a descendant, Ruari ‘the Turbulent’, was arrested for piracy of an English ship during King James VI’s reign in the later 16th century.
Heavy debts eventually forced the Macneil chiefs to sell Barra in 1838. However, a descendant, Robert Lister Macneil, the 45th Chief, repurchased the estate in 1937, and set about restoring his ancestral seat. It passed into Historic Scotland’s care in 2000.
The castle dates essentially from the 15th century. It takes the form of a three-storey tower house. This formed the residence of the clan chief. An associated curtain wall fringed the small rock on which the castle stood, and enclosed a small courtyard in which there are ancillary buildings. These comprised a feasting hall, a chapel, a tanist’s house and a watchman’s house. Most were restored in the 20th century, the tanist’s house serving as the family home of the Macneils. A well near the postern gate is fed with fresh water from an underground seam. Outside the curtain wall, beside the original landing-place, are the foundations of the crew house, where the sailors manning their chief’s galley had their quarters.