Consolidation of the new regime. Origin and mutual relations of the new settlers

In rural areas, the new regime took a long time to become established. Initially, it was probably limited to collecting taxes. The first tax was probably the church tithe. Sources also mention a tariff paid to the landowners which was mostly paid in grain. How successfully these taxes were actually collected in the 13th century, is not known.

The German and Danish vassals initially lived mostly in new towns and castles. Their country houses served as a stopover while collecting taxes, and did not much differ from wealthier farms. The first vassals began moving from castles to manor houses only in the late 13th century and early 14th century.

Both the vassals’ names and the administrative distribution of land is significantly more known in North Estonia, because the period is quite well documented in Liber Census Daniae which contains a list of territories and vassals, updated in the early 1240s. The Liber was probably based on the notes of Danish priests who were active in North Estonia. The names in the list give reason to believe that at least four per cent of North Estonian vassals in the 13th century were Estonians who might have descended from the pre-conquest nobility. The rest of the vassals were Germans and Danes (in South Estonia only Germans). The majority of German vassals initially came from Low German areas, also from Westphalia, later from Holstein, Mecklenburg and Pomerania.

It is probably correct to assume that the first decades after the conquest saw no significant changes in the everyday life of Estonians, compared with the pre-conquest era. Tax and servitude obligations to local landowners was replaced by dependence on foreigners; legal dependence was only partial. Establishing the first manor houses did not mean, at least not on a larger scale, the reduction of the land owned by peasants. Saaremaa seems to have had a special status because, at least in the 13th century, its inhabitants acknowledged their limited dependence on the Teutonic Order only on a treaty basis.

One of the first visible signs of the new regime reaching the countryside in the Teutonic Order’s Livonian area was the establishment of the network of castles. Until the mid-14th century, the Order’s lands stretched only as far as South and Central Estonia and partly to the islands. Administrative units were commanderies and bailiwicks with a castle as their centre. The castles did not merely serve as means to keep an eye on local people and ward off foreign enemies — mostly Lithuanians and Russians. Their primary concern was rather maintaining the internal structure of the Order and defending the Order’s position against rivals among other local alien powers. The Order’s rules, moreover, required members to reside in convents. This tradition already originated from the Holy Land and was not invented for local purposes.

In contrast to the Ösel–Wiek and Dorpat bishoprics and the lands of Danish crown in North Estonia, where the landlord was an individual — a bishop or a king — the Teutonic Order employed a corporate system, i.e. the ruler was the Order as an organisation. The local Livonian master merely acted as the representative of the Order’s Grand Master.

Members of the Teutonic Order mostly arrived from the Rhineland and Westphalia, from the latter especially after the mid-15th century. At that time, a conflict developed between the Westphalians and the Rhinelanders on the basis of descent. As a result, the minority Rhinelanders were practically driven out of the country.

A peculiar characteristic of medieval Livonia was the fact that, unlike the Teutonic Order areas in Prussia, no German peasants arrived here as colonists. This has been explained by the nature of the local social structure which did not envisage a strong sphere of free peasantry, and unfavourable climatic conditions.

Starting from the mid-13th century, encouraged by local feudal lords, especially the Ösel–Wiek bishop, colonists began arriving in the sparsely populated coastal areas in West and North Estonia and the islands from Sweden and the Swedish areas of Finland. The new settlers who later came to be known as coastal Swedes, established villages in many places. In the mid-14th century, they also bought the land, and were no more than taxpayers as regards the landlords. A permanent Swedish settlement was thus established in Estonia which partly survived until 1944.

Details about this article