St. George’s Night uprising and ‘help’ from Sweden

We do not know how the haggling over Estonia would have turned out in a peaceful situation. We do know that the oppressed Estonian peasants started an uprising in 1343 and it was brutally put down by the Order. The Livonian Order took control of all the major Danish strongholds in the Duchy of Estonia: Tallinn and Rakvere in 1343 and Narva in 1345.

The Emperor’s plan to place Estonia under the Order’s rule was beginning to materialise. The fact that this was not only in the interests of the Emperor but also of the Order is blatantly obvious. But there is another angle to this story, namely – who was the Order acting against? The information recorded by Hoeneke, corroborated by the inhabitants of Tallinn, seems to be truthful – authority was transferred to the Order in the face of the looming threat from Sweden. The statement from a German who changed sides and joined the Estonians also confirms that the Swedes had wanted to gain control of Tallinn for quite some time. And indeed, troops of the Viipuri and Turku bailiffs (i.e. Swedish troops) arrived in Tallinn immediately after the Sõjamäe battle on 18-19 May 1343.

Their arrival is usually explained by the fact that Estonians asked Turku bailiff to send help. But let us think. The uprising started on the night of 23 April. Padise monastery and dozens of manors were burnt down, Germans were killed, Estonians gathered, advanced to Tallinn and surrounded the town. Only after they had reached Tallinn, messengers were sent to Finland. The previous activities had to have taken several days; therefore, we can reasonably assume that the messengers started for Turku not earlier than in the end of April or beginning of May. Estonians did not have any large ships at their disposal at the time, any vessels owned by Estonian skippers were, as a rule, sailboats for sailing in coastal waters. The journey from Tallinn to Turku, at that time and on such a craft, had to take at least a week. Viipuri was even farther away, provided that messengers were sent there at all.

Taking care of affairs in Finland would also have taken some time. How did the men who had come from the woods across the sea get an audience with the Finnish vice-regent, i.e. the man next in the line of power after the King of Sweden? And even if they got an audience, it would have taken time to conduct negotiations, persuade, explain and, finally, return to Tallinn. The messengers had returned by 14 May, the date of the battle of Sõjamäe, at the latest, because a German who had defected to the side of Estonians and was captured by the Master of the Order already knew the exact date of the arrival of the bailiff of Turku. The bailiff, in the meanwhile, had to gather his warriors, find ships to transport them in and sail to Tallinn. And he had to co-ordinate his activities with the bailiff of Viipuri on the other side of Finland. It seems highly doubtful that all this was accomplished in such a short time. Therefore, it might be assumed that Estonians had established some sort of contacts with Sweden earlier, prior to the beginning of the uprising.

Or maybe the Swedes had seized the initiative? Denmark and Sweden were at war at the time and, according to Dan Nicklisson, the bailiff of Turku, the task of Swedish troops in Estonia had been to avenge the arrogance of the Danish king. But they were a little late. The rebellious forces were crushed in the battle of Sõjamäe. By fast and decisive action, the Order had gained control of the Duchy of Estonia and prevented a Swedish invasion. The Swedes had no choice but to agree to a one-year truce with the Danish royal counsellors and the inhabitants of Tallinn and Estonia on 21 May. The final peace agreement between Magnus, the King of Sweden, and the Danish representatives was probably sealed in September 1344.

But if there was a peace agreement, it had to have been preceded by hostilities. And what else was the abovementioned assertion of Dan Nicklisson but an official declaration of war on Danish Estonia on the part of a representative of Magnus Eriksson? But such an event could not have been initiated by rebelling peasants in a strange land. Therefore, we can speak about co-operation of Estonians and Swedes in 1343 with the objective of conquering Tallinn, although this was not an isolated assistance expedition by the Finnish bailiffs but a pre-determined move in the wider context of Swedish policy directed against Denmark and Estonia.

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