Estonia divided between Sweden, Poland and Denmark

After a break in the war, the boundary between Poland and Sweden in mainland Estonia was drawn along the demarcation line of 1582–1583. The name of Livonia, formerly denoting all of present-day Estonia and Latvia, was now applied to Polish-controlled South Estonia and Latvia; while ‘Estonia’ began to denote the Swedish controlled areas of North and West Estonia. Until the early 20th century, the term ‘Estonia’ used to mark the northern part of present-day Estonia.

South-Estonia under Poland 1561–1625. Jesuits in Estonia
From 1561 to 1621, South Estonia was ruled by the Polish-Lithuanian union. By agreement between the Livonian authorities and the Polish king Sigismund II Augustus, the territories of the former Livonian Order and the bishop’s lands in Courland formed a duchy dependent on Poland; South Estonia was directly subjected to Poland. The Polish king promised to retain the self-government of the nobility and the Lutheran faith and recognise German as the administrative language. In reality the privileges of the nobility were soon curbed and the Livonian administration reorganised after the Polish–Lithuanian model.

The lands were divided into three presidencies, later renamed vojvods, centred upon Tartu and Pärnu in Estonia and Cesis in Latvia. The presidencies or vojvods were mostly headed by Poles and Lithuanians. The majority of the lands (as manorial lands were deserted) were taken over by the crown. The administrative units on the crown properties were 20 starosts, 10 in South Estonia. The starosts comprised crown manors called folvarks. Initially half of the starosts were Polish, half Lithuanian; later, about one third was given to Polish-oriented Livonian nobles. While South Estonian lands were given as fiefdoms to the Polish and Lithuanian nobility, the German nobility lost not only their lands but their control over local government as well.

The regional assemblies of the Livonian nobility (Diets or Landtags of the presidencies) and the assemblies of townspeople were convened by the king. The Landtag of the Livonian delegates sent 6 representatives — 2 Poles, 2 Lithuanians, 2 Livonians (Germans) to the Polish Diet, the Sejm.

By the beginning of the 17th century South Estonia, which had been the main battleground, had lost most of its population: farms were deserted, manors demolished and towns ransacked. The eastern areas that were under Russian control until 1582 were devastated. Between 1558 and 1582 about 10 000 captives, mostly peasants, were taken to Russia. In 1565 the whole German population — about 1000 people — was deported from Tartu; in 1570, the deportees established German settlements near Moscow. Russians were settled in Livonia; Russian nobles in the service of the tsar were given land here. An Orthodox bishop was appointed to Tartu.

The revival of Livonia commanded special attention from the Polish state. The deserted farmlands were populated mostly by the indigenous people (Estonians or Latvians) who migrated from the lands under Swedish or Danish control. The Polish authorities wanted to repopulate the land with foreigners, a policy of colonisation led by the Catholic Church. While the Polish–Lithuanian state under Sigismund II Augustus was quite tolerant in matters of religion, the second half of the 16th century saw growing tension between various denominations with the strengthening of Counter-Reformation in the whole of Europe. In the last decades of the 16th century, under the reign of kings Stefan Bathory and Sigismund III, the Jesuit Order gained an influential position in Poland as one of the principal forces of re-catholicisation. The Catholic Church played a central role in consolidating and expanding absolutist power in the strong Polish–Lithuanian state. The Catholic Church was re-established in Livonia; the Catholic bishopric was restored and its churches reclaimed from Lutheran hands.

Religion became paramount in Poland’s politics in 1582. Pope Gregory XIII (1572–1585) had as his aim to restore Catholicism in northern Europe and to increase the power of Rome in the east. Livonia was seen as a key area between Protestant Scandinavia and a schismatic (Greek Orthodox) Russia, and special attention was paid to it. The re-catholicisation of Livonia was led by the papal legate, an internationally renowned Italian Jesuit named Antonio Possevino. Launched on his missionary activities in Sweden in 1570, Possevino was an intermediary in the Russian–Polish peace treaty of 1582.

The Jesuit residence was located in Tartu. As elsewhere, the Jesuits’ principal activities in Livonia were, apart from mission, training and education. The Tartu residence grew into a Jesuit collegium (the Catholic corporation of clerical and lay brothers) which founded a gymnasium (a higher secondary school). In addition, a translators’ seminary was founded whose task was to train interpreters for Catholic priests from among the Estonian, Latvian, Russian or German population. The seminary was attended by a scholar named Andreas Esto, who has been taken for an Estonian. The language of tuition was Latin, but on their missionary trips Jesuits used these interpreters to help explain the tenets of Catholic faith to the audience in their mother tongue. The Jesuits were eager to publish and print religious books, and issued Estonian church literature as well. Unfortunately, the books printed by the Jesuits which contained Estonian parts have not survived: only one church manual from 1622 has been preserved. The loss of these books can also be attributed to the militant Protestants, as for example when the Jesuit library was destroyed by the Swedish troops who captured Tartu.

The accounts written by Jesuit priests on their missionary trips give an impression that they were favourably received by the people. Though these may have exaggerated their success, war-ravaged Livonia was probably fertile ground on which Jesuit teachings spread. The Counter-Reformation may have been well-received among the Estonians, charmed by the attractive services, Jesuits’ healing skills and their interest in the Estonian language. The German population of the towns preferred Lutheranism. German burghers ignored the Jesuit gymnasium in Dorpat (Tartu), whose students were mostly Polish by nationality. The lukewarm attitude to the Jesuits echoed the attitude to Polish authority, which was rather unfriendly. The cities in North Livonia were more lenient in their attitude than the Old Livonian centre of Riga, and there were no troubles to compare with the ‘calendar revolts’ when the Rigans protested against the Gregorian calendar.

To further the interests of Catholicism in Livonia, Possevino suggested that Catholic peasants, artisans and merchants from other countries, including the Italian Alps, should settle here. Catholic priests were mostly expected to arrive from Germany. The settlers were promised land and a tax exemption for ten years. The colonisers were not many, but their origin was varied. In the late 16th century South Estonia was peopled by Poles, Lithuanians, Germans, Scots, Dutchmen, Hungarians, and others. Larger ethnic groups formed socially homogeneous groupings: the larger part of the Polish and Lithuanian people were administrators, the Germans were burghers, the Estonians peasants and the Russians merchants.

In 1600–1603 Dorpat (Tartu) was captured by the Swedish troops and Jesuit activities ceased; some of the Tartu Jesuits were taken prisoners and sent to Sweden. The gymnasium and the translators’ seminary never again resumed their activities on their former scale. With the capture of Tartu by the Swedish in 1625, the age of the Jesuits and Catholicism in Estonia ended; it seems highly symbolic that the year before, the largest Catholic Church in the Baltic countries, Tartu Cathedral, burnt down.

North-Estonia under Sweden
The duchy of Estonia, formed in 1561 on the basis of Swedish-controlled North Estonia, was unstable until the war with Russia ended: several areas in North and West Estonia changed hands frequently between Russians and Swedes. In 1570 Russian troops lay siege twice to Tallinn, the major centre in North Estonia, which, thanks to its mighty fortifications, was not captured. Sweden started to reorganise the government in the new duchy only after the conclusion of a peace treaty with Russia in 1583 — a dual administrative system of Swedish state and the Baltic–German self-government was introduced. Like the Livonian estates, Estonian aristocracy and towns had surrendered on condition that their privileges be retained. Unlike Livonia, where Poland soon violated the agreement, Swedish kings kept their promises to the city of Tallinn and the nobility.

The landlords of North and West Estonia who formed the Estonian nobility were represented by its general assembly, convened regularly every third year (Landtag), and its executive body — the college of magistrates (Landratscollegium). The Swedish monarchy was represented by the lord lieutenant, later governor, and the area was governed with the help of the nobility. Crown properties consisted of the lands formerly owned by the Livonian Order, monasteries and bishops, and deserted manorial estates; part of the lands that had been deserted in the war came under the control of the local aristocracy. For administration, these lands were divided into fiefdoms, subdivided into crown manors headed by bailiffs. The Swedish kings generously gave lands into private possession — in reward both for merit and for service.

For that reason most of Estonian lands were in private ownership by the end of the 16th century, and the owners were mostly Baltic Germans. The Baltic German nobility gained extensive power in both the economic and political spheres, and later attempts of the crown to curb this power met with strong resistance. That central authority complied for such a long time was due to the continuous wars, which made it important to preserve the loyalty of the local aristocracy.

Ösel (Saaremaa) under Denmark 1559–1645
The development of the island of Ösel (Saaremaa), controlled by Denmark from 1559, was different from mainland Estonia. The Danish were more careful than Polish or Swedish monarchs of establishing fiefdoms: the larger part of the land was owned by the crown and administered by the lord lieutenant appointed by the king. Despite the fact that the Ösel nobility wielded less power, it formed its own representative body. It is noteworthy that peasants too were involved in administration. After yet another war between Sweden and Denmark (though not on Estonian territory), the Peace of Brömsebro in 1645 gave control of Ösel (Saaremaa) to Sweden, and the whole of present-day Estonian territory was governed by one central authority. In 1654 Ösel provided habitation for Queen Christina (1632–1654) who had abdicated and converted to Catholicism. After Christina’s death, Ösel was held by the Swedish state and was governed by a vice-governor.

Estonia as part of the Swedish kingdom
In 1629, Polish–Lithuanian Livonia fell under Swedish control, so that all mainland Estonia became Swedish overseas provinces headed by governors-general. While the strong self-government of North Estonia was henceforth recognised by the central authority, Livonia, annexed several decades later, was treated differently. The surrender of Estonia to Sweden was seen as voluntary, but Livonia was regarded as an occupied territory. The Livonian aristocracy, who had been suppressed both legally and economically, expected the extension of the privileged status of the Estonian aristocracy to South Estonia, as had allegedly been promised by earlier Swedish kings. However, King Gustavus II Adolphus (1611–1632) only partly restored the privileges of the Livonian aristocracy. Led by the governor-general, a strong central authority was developed and Swedish laws instituted. However, the successors to Gustavus II Adolphus ceded more rights to the Livonian aristocracy. This was partly caused by the fact that the state had surrendered its economic and political power by transferring most crown properties to private hands (mostly Swedish high aristocracy for their merits). The Livonian nobility had won recognition by 1647: it too was now represented in a regional Landtag and an executive Landratscollegium. The Landtag was convened every three years and the policies discussed with the central authority. The aristocracy of Estonia, Livonia and Ösel had no representation in the Swedish Diet (Riksdag).

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