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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Modern History of Estonia – Livonian War and Swedish Rule

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In the 16th century, the Livonian Confederation, the Russian Kingdom, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL), the Swedish and Danish kingdoms entered into a major and long-lasting conflict over the territories, including the territory of modern Estonia. This conflict, which lasted from 1558 to 1583, was called the Livonian War. The outcome of the conflict was the collapse of the Livonian Confederation, Estonia was divided between Sweden, the Commonwealth and Denmark, half a century later, South Estonia was also transferred to Sweden under the Altmark Agreement.

By the beginning of the Livonian War ( 1558 – 1583 ), the population in the territory of modern Estonia ranged from 250 to 300 thousand people. At the initial stage of the war, the Livonian Confederation was unable to resist the Russian troops, was quickly defeated, and already in 1561 ceased to exist. In addition, in 1559 Denmark bought the island of Ezel and part of the territory of modern western Estonia. The Danish king gave these lands to the possession of the duke Magnus Holstein. However, there were other claimants to the “Livonian inheritance.” In 1561, Revel voluntarily accepted the patronage of Sweden, and, at the same time, Swedish citizenship assumed the knighthood of Harju County, Järvamaa and Virumaa. In 1561, the territory of the Dorpat bishopric was seized by the troops of the Russian kingdom.

In 1561, the Swedish army landed in Reval and took control of the northern part of medieval Livonia. Not recognizing the Swedish conquest, Denmark and Poland (which the Free City of Lubeck also joined) in 1563 began against the Swedes, the so-called Scandinavian seven-year war, which lasted until 1570. As a result, the coalition failed to take away the Swedish possession in Estonia.

In 1570, on the lands of the Livonian Confederation, Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible created the Livonian Kingdom, led by the Danish Prince, Duke Magnus, a vassal of the Russian kingdom. During the Livonian War, Russian troops besieged Revel twice (in 1570 and 1577 ), but could not take it. Russia ceded all the territories of the Commonwealth seized in Livonia (the treaty was signed in 1582 ) and Sweden (the treaty of 1583 and 1595 ).

By the end of the Livonian war, the population in the territory of present-day Estonia had decreased to 120–140 thousand.

Territory division

From the moment Livonia was divided between GDL and Sweden and until the beginning of the 20th century, only the northern part of the modern territory of the country was called Estlandia, while the southern part was called Livonia.

At the beginning of the XVII century, the struggle for the Baltic states between Sweden and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth continued. According to the terms of the Altmark Armistice of 1629, the whole of Livonia (including present-day southern Estonia and northern Latvia) withdrew to Sweden. After defeat in the war of 1643–1645, Denmark lost control of Ezel, and Sweden seized the entire modern territory of Estonia.

As part of Sweden

Swedish domination was challenged by the Commonwealth in the war of 1654–1660 and by the Russian kingdom in the war of 1656–1558, but Sweden retained its position in Estonia until the end of the century. The population of Estonia had recovered to 400,000 people. The Germans, who had lost political power, remained the ruling socio-economic class. Estland and Livonia governorates were established on the territory of Estonia.

The area where the Swedish government had the greatest influence on Estonia was education. Since the end of the 17th century, schooling in Estonian had spread. In 1632, the Dorpat University was founded 4 years earlier than Harvard. In 1684, with the support of the Swedish royal authority near Dorpat, a teacher’s seminary was opened, where Bengt Gottfried Forselius taught, and the publication of books in Estonian expanded.

During the Great Famine ( 1695 – 1697 ), due to lean years, the population declined by about 70,000. The largest of the cities were Tallinn, Derpt, Narva, Ahrensburg, Pernau, Fellin.

Until the 17th century, trade was the basis of the Estonian economy. Due to its advantageous territorial location, goods from Europe to Russia and back passed through Tallinn and Narva. The River Narva provided communication with Russia: Pskov, Novgorod, Moscow. The main number of landowning aristocrats in Estonia were Germans and Swedes. In 1671 a law was passed allowing the return of fleeing peasants, as well as their entry in the books of the serfs. In the Middle Ages, Estonia was a major supplier of grain to the northern countries. Only in the XVII century began the industrialization of the extractive industries and woodworking. A discussion of the alleged abolition of serfdom caused concern to large German landowners.

At the beginning of the 18th century, the interests of the Russian Empire in the Baltic region clashed with the interests of Sweden. The Northern War ( 1700 – 1721 ) ended with the surrender of Sweden and the accession of Estonia and Swedish Livonia to the Russian Empire in 1710 , which was formalized by the Nishtadt Peace Treaty of 1721. The usual robberies and killings of the time were reinforced by the royal order to use scorched earth tactics and deportations of the local population.


Subrenat Jean-Jacques. Estonia: identity and independence
Toivo Miljan. Historical Dictionary of Estonia
Tuchtenhagen R. Geschichte der baltischen Länder
Tauber joachim. Die Geschichte der baltischen Staaten bis 1945

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