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Ösel-Weik (Oesel-Wiek) / Saaremaa and Läänemaa

The island of Saaremaa is the largest belonging to the territory of Estonia, and lies off its western coast, south of the second-largest island of Hiiumaa and west of the smaller island of Muhu. Inhabited for at least five thousand years, in old Scandinavian sagas, Saaremaa is called Eysysla, the same name with a different pronunciation and meaning exactly the same thing: 'island' and 'land or district'.

The island and the nearby coastal strip of Courland (now in Latvia) were home to the feared Eastern Vikings during the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. The Scandinavian sagas mention numerous skirmishes between the islanders and Vikings, and Saaremaa was the wealthiest county of ancient Estonia. With the coming of the Danes and the Livonian Knights, the power of the Eastern Vikings was broken, and they were conquered in 1227. Saaremaa, or Ösel (along with Weik, or Läänemaa in Estonian), remained the property of the prince-bishops until Old Livonia was swept away by the Livonian Wars from 1559.

c.650 BC

A meteorite enters the Earth's atmosphere, breaking up and striking Saaremaa as a shower. At least nine craters are formed by the impact, and the biggest becomes known as Lake Kaali (Kaali järv). The event is remembered by means of the native people's oral tradition and in archaic runes. Kalevala 47 runo gives a very realistic description of fire falling from the sky that burns houses, fields, fens and humans.

Saaremaa meteorite crater
The largest of the Kaali meteorite craters is 100 metres in diameter

AD 1170

Denmark is fast rising as a great military and merchant power, and it is in its interest to end the occasional Estonian and Couronian pirate attacks that threatened its Baltic trade (from Ösel - Saaremaa, the richest area of Estonia and home to the notorious Eastern Vikings - and the later province of Courland respectively). To that end, a Danish fleets now makes an attack against Estonia.

1187

The 'pagans of the Eastern Sea' (Estonians of Saaremaa, Couronians, and Zembs of Prussia) conquer Sigtuna, the most important town of the Swedes, which they then burn down. The Swedish Eric's Chronicle of 1335 blames the Finnish Karelians for the attack. More recently, Professor Kustaa Vilkuna has suggested that the raid is in revenge for Sigtuna's merchants having intruded upon Kven fisheries on the River Kemijoki and the hunting grounds of the Karelians. The medieval naming of a settlement in the village of Liedakkala by the River Kemijoki as 'Sihtuuna' may be additional confirmation of this.

1206

The Danish king, Valdemar II, and Archbishop Andreas Sunonis of Lund, launch a raid on Ösel. The islanders are forced to submit and the Danes built a fortress there, but they can find no volunteers to man it. Relinquishing their brief occupation of the island, they burn the fortress and leave the island. However, they lay claim to Estonia as their possession, which claim the Pope recognises.

1206

Andreas Sunonis (Sunesen)

Archbishop of Lund. First governor of Estonia (from Ösel).

1220

As recorded both by the Chronicle of Henry of Livonia and the Livonian Rhymed Chronicle, The Swedes establish a presence on Saaremaa. Earl Karl Döve is the cousin of King John I, and he and the king's chancellor, Bishop Karl Magnusson, lead an expedition to the Estonian island which is confronted and defeated at the Battle of Lihula on 8 August 1220. The defeated Swedes withdraw, ending their country's involvement in Estonia for the next three centuries.

1224 - 1227

The role of the Estonian elders is effectively terminated, as Danish and Livonian authority is confirmed in north and southern-central Estonia respectively. Saaremaa itself is conquered in 1227 and Ösel-Wiek is established as one of four bishoprics in Livonia.

1251

The elders of the islands of Muhu, Saare and Sõrve sign a treaty with the Livonian Knights, although the spellings shown below may not be entirely accurate after being rendered in Latin.

Ylle

Culle

Enu

Muntelene

Tappete

Yalde

Melete

Cake

Prince-Bishops of Ösel-Wiek
AD 1228 - 1562

Ösel-Wiek was also known as Osilia and Rotalia - modern Saaremaa and Läänemaa respectively. While the Danes were securing all of North Estonia by force, the rest of the Baltics was undergoing the same process from the south. What is now Estonia and Latvia quickly came to be governed by German prince-bishops in Courland, Dorpat, Ösel-Wiek, and, governing the heart of later Latvia, the prince-bishop of Riga. The Livonian Knights conquered the rest of Latvia and central Estonia. The captured territory between Danish Estonia and Lithuania became known as Livonia.

FeatureThe bishops of Ösel-Wiek, along with the islands of Dagö (Hiiumaa) and Moon (Muhu), ruled their feudal territories in the fashion of local kings, controlling their Estonian subjects from episcopal castles, most notably the one in the capital of Saaremaa, at Kuressaare, which dates to the early thirteenth century and which is one of the few of its kind to have survived almost completely intact. Records regarding the prince-bishops can sometimes be a little sparse.

1228 - 1229

Gottfried

1229 - 1234

The bishop's seat in Ösel-Wiek falls vacant.

1234 - 1260?

Heinrich I

1260

The Livonian Knights, along with the Teutonic Knights, are abandoned by their Estonian and Couronian vassals and defeated again, this time severely, at the Battle of Durbe in Livonia by the Samogitians. As a result, numerous rebellions break out against the Teutonic Knights all across the Baltics, including military expeditions by the Lithuanians, and it takes around thirty years before complete control is regained.

1262 - 1285?

Hermann I

1279

FeatureBishop Hermann grants town rights to Haapsalu, a town which is overlooked by the large and impressive episcopal castle that belongs to the bishop himself. He transfers the official seat of the bishopric of Saare-Lääne there at the same time.

1290? - 1294

Heinrich II

1294 - 1297?

The bishop's seat appears to fall vacant again.

1297? - 1307?

Konrad I

1307? - 1310

The bishop's seat in Ösel-Wiek falls vacant for a third time.

1310 - 1321

Hartung

1322 - 1337

Jakob

1338 - 1362

Hermann II Osenbrügge

1363 - 1374

Konrad II

1374 - 1381

Heinrich III

1379

Bishop Dietrich of Dorpat hates the Livonian Knights with some intensity, so much so that he forms a coalition against the Knights with Lithuania, Mecklenburg and the notorious Victual Brothers who are Baltic pirates. The Knights invade the bishopric but achieve no success. In the end their lack of results removes from them the right to demand military service from the Livonian bishops.

1381 - 1385

The bishop's seat is vacant for the fourth time.

Haapsalu Castle
Haapsalu Castle in Läänemaa was built mainly in the thirteenth century as the seat of the bishops of Ösel-Wiek

1385 - 1419

Winrich von Kniprode

Not to be confused with the grand master of the Teutonic Knights.

1420 - 1423

Kaspar Schuwenflug

1423 - 1432

Christian Kuband

1432 - 1438

Johann I Schutte

1439 - 1458

Ludolf Grove

In Ösel (Saaremaa) and Dagö (Hiiumaa) only.

1449 - 1457

Johann II Creul

In Wiek (Läänemaa) only.

1457 - 1460

The bishop's seat in Ösel-Wiek falls vacant for the fifth time.

1460 - 1471

Jodokus Hoenstein

1471 - 1491

Peter Wetberch

1491 - 1515

Johann III Orgas

1515 - 1527

Johann IV Kyvel

1527 - 1530

Georg von Tiesenhausen

1532 - 1541

Reinhold Buxhoewden

1542 - 1559

Johann V von Münchhausen

1559

Following Russian provocation and the conquest of Dorpat, the Livonian Wars erupt in the Baltic States (1558-1583). The last German bishop sells the castle and the town of Kuressaare to the Danes, who also take Courland, both of which are held by Magnus, duke of Holstein in Denmark. Magus then adds Reval to his list of possessions.

Duchy of Ösel
AD 1562 - 1645

In 1560, the king of Denmark purchased the bishopric of Ösel-Wiek (Saaremaa and Läänemaa) from the last German prince-bishop. This had been a semi-independent principality encompassing what are now Saare and Lääne counties (Lääne meaning 'western' in Estonian) in the islands and west of Estonia respectively (with Saare being known as Ösel by the Danes). Ösel was given as an appendage to the king's brother, Magnus Herzog von Holstein, and Wiek was ceded to Poland in exchange for Livonian possessions in Ösel.

1560 - 1562

Magnus of Livonia

Bishop of Courland and Reval. Titular 'king of Livonia'.

1562

The Danes cede Wiek and Dägo (Hiiumaa) to Poland in exchange for Livonian possessions in Ösel, which is reformed as a duchy.

1560 - 1562

Dietrich Behr

First governor.

1562 - 1567

Heinrich Wulf

Self-proclaimed on 5 March on eastern Ösel.

1563 - 1567

Christoffer Valkendorff

Installed in October.

1573 - 1576

Klaus von Ungern zu Dalby

Governed May-Aug.

1572

Ösel is transferred to direct the administration of Denmark.

1576 - 1579

Johann von Mentz

Governed from 2 Sep.

1579

Vincent Juel

1579 - 1584

Jürgen Farensbach

1581

The county of Läänemaa (Wiek) is conquered from Poland by Sweden, giving it control of all of North Estonia (while southern Estonia remains part of Livonia at this stage).

1584 - 1589

Mathias Budde

1589 - 1594

Johan Schwalbe

1594 - 1612

Claes Maltesen Sehested

Governed from 2 Feb.

1612 - 1613

Nils Kraggen

1613 - 1622

Jakob Wacke / Jacob Berk

1622 - 1634

Frederik Rantzau

1629

The First Polish-Swedish War ends with the Treaty of Altmark, which sees the Swedes take all of Poland-Lithuania's Livonia.

1635 - 1643

Anders Bille

1643 - 1645

Ebbe Ulfeld

Last Danish governor.

1645

One of the first acts of Queen Christina of Sweden is to negotiate the peace with Denmark. She does so successfully, gaining all of modern Estonia when the Danes hand over Ösel under the Treaty of Brömsebro. Ösel is subordinated to the Swedish governors-general of Livonia while the Swedish queen adopts the style 'Prince of Ösel'. The Swedes also gain the island of Götaland and the Norwegian districts of Härjedale and Jämtland which remain part of Sweden to this day.

Swedish Governors of Ösel
AD 1645 - 1919

The Swedes gained control over all of Estonia when the Danes handed over the island of Ösel (Saaremaa) under the Treaty of Brömsebro in 1645. There was a smooth transition of power, with a Swedish governor immediately replacing the Danish one on 31 October. Unlike the rest of Livonia and Estonia, the Swedes managed to retain Ösel following the unsuccessful conclusion of the Great Northern War, and held onto it until the formation of an independent Estonian state was achieved.

1645 - 1646

Erik Gustafsson greve Stenbock

First Swedish governor.

1646 - 1648

Anders Eriksson Hästehuvud

1648 - 1654

Johan Pendersson Utter

1654 - 1660

Friedrich friherre Lieven

1660 - 1676

Karl friherre Sparre

1676 - 1678

Karl Johannsson friherre Sjöblad

1678 - 1687

Osten-Sacken

1687 - 1689

Karl Johannsson friherre Sjöblad

Second term of office.

1689 - 1690

Osten-Sacken

Second term of office.

1690 - 1701

Per friherre Örneklow

Died 1701.

1701 - 1710

Engelbrecht Mannerburg

1710

Sweden loses control of the rest of Estonia to the Russians. The city of Arensburg (Kuressaare), the capital of Ösel, surrenders to Russian forces on 26 September 1710 and the occupation of the island (Ezel' in Russian) is completed (and is formally ceded by Sweden to Russia on 10 September 1721).

Kuressaare Episcopal Castle
Having completely lost its military reason for existing, Kuressaare Episcopal Castle remained a symbol of the control of Saaremaa until the nineteenth century

1713

On 8 August, Ösel becomes an autonomous part of the province of Livonia, directly administered by the governor-general of Livonia until 1781. Baltic Swedish and German lords manage the internal government of the island.

Friedrich Johann von Lode

Landschaftshauptmann ('land captain marshal').

Nicolas von Krämer

First Ritterschaftshauptmann ('knight captain'). Died 1739.

Christian Friedrich von Poll

Died 1748.

Otto Friedrich von Vietinghoff

Died 1777.

1753 - 1760

Reinhold Gustav von Nolcken

First Landmarschälle ('land marshal').

1760 - 1765

Hermann Gustav von Weymarn

1762 - 1772

Carl Gustav von Güldenstubbe

1772 - 1780

Otto Frommhold von Buhrmeister

1780 - 1783

Johann Christoph von Nolcken

Assessor.

1781 - 1783

Balthasar Baron von Campenhausen

Vice-governor, until 14 July.

1783 - 1796

Autonomy for the island is abolished on 14 July 1783. Ösel is administered directly by Livonia. On 28 November 1796, limited local autonomy is restored. This is confirmed by all successive Russian czars upon their accession before 1881, but after that it is gradually extinguished.

1797 - 1800

Karl Johann Gustav von Ekesparre

1800 - 1806

Georg Friedrich von Sass

1806 - 1808

Otto Fromhold von Buhrmeister

Second term of office.

1808 - 1813

Otto von Buxhoeveden

1813 - 1816

Reinhold Friedrich Pilar von Pilchau

1816 - 1818

Peter Anton von Sass

1818 - 1841

Peter von Buxhoeveden

1841

Alexander von Nolcken

Acting.

1841 - 1843

Karl von Güldenstubbe

Acting.

1843 - 1849

Georg von Ditmar

1849 - 1862

Karl von Güldenstubbe

1862 - 1864

Ernst Baron Nolcken

Acting.

1864 - 1865

Ottokar von Aderkas

1865 - 1867

Ernst Baron Nolcken

Acting for the second time.

1867 - 1876

Charles Freytag von Loringhoven

1876 - 1906

Oskar von Ekesparre

1906 - 1919

Axel Baron Buxhöveden

Last Swedish Landmarschälle. Assassinated.

1918 - 1919

The Baltic Provinces are formally transferred to German authority by Russia in 1918 following the Treaties of Brest-Litovsk and of Berlin. However, Germany is in no position to enforce its power and Estonians quickly push for independence, with the declaration being delivered on 23 February 1918. Power is transferred to a new council for the island on 18 November 1918. On 16 February 1919, the last Swedish administrator is assassinated by Bolsheviks on his estate, amid a local peasants' revolt at the lack of services and provisions.