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Castles of Estonia

Photo Focus: Laiuse Order Castle

by Peter Kessler, 4 March 2023

 

Laiuse Castle in Jõgevamaa, Estonia
Photo © Kersti Hansen

The fourteenth century Laiuse Order Castle is located in Estonia's Jõgeva County (Jõgevamaa), in the eastern centre of the country.

It was built by the Livonian Order which had conquered central areas of today's Estonia in the thirteenth century (these areas were part of Livonia at this time). The English name 'Laiuse Castle' is a translation of the original German 'Schloss Lais'.

The German-led Northern Crusade had been designed to Christianise (and profit from) the entire Baltic region. It had largely been German leaders and organisations which had undertaken that mission, and with enthusiasm. Officially the Livonian Order began as the Order of the Knights of the Sword, but from 1237 they were known as the Livonian Knights or Livonian Order.

Laiuse Castle in Jõgevamaa, Estonia
Photo © Kersti Hansen

The castle witnessed a good many sieges. In the fifteenth century its defences were increased in size and thickness.

It was one of the first medieval castles to be designed for warfare in the age of gunpowder, with canon towers being added. In 1501 and 1502 its defenders repelled attacks by Russian forces during a short-lived war at the start of the new century.

Laiuse Castle in Jõgevamaa, Estonia
Photo © Kersti Hansen

In August 1559 Russian troops captured the main keep during the Livonian Wars, greatly damaging its military fortifications in the course of a six month siege. Its former Livonian commander, Gotthard Ketler, attempted to recapture his lost possession at the end of the same year, but failed in his task.

Instead, in 1561 Kettler had to acknowledge the supreme power of King Sigismund II of Poland over all areas regarding the Order, including its territories. So weakened was the Order that it effectively handed control of Livonia to Poland rather than ceding it to Russia.

Laiuse Castle in Jõgevamaa, Estonia
Photo © Kersti Hansen

Poland formally gained Laiuse Castle in 1582 under the terms of the Yam-Zapolski peace treaty, but its hegemony over Livonia was far from universally accepted.

During the Polish-Swedish War (1600-1629), Laiuse Castle saw more action. In the early part of the war it was captured by Sweden following a four week siege. Just a year later Polish forces restored the castle to their control.

The Poles lost it again though, on 5 January 1622 to Swedish General Henrik Fleming. This was the same year in which the Swedes gained effective control of Livonia as a whole, although this was not formalised until 1629.

Laiuse Castle in Jõgevamaa, Estonia
Photo © Kersti Hansen

During the Great Northern War, after defeating the Russian empire at the Battle of Narva, Sweden's King Charles XII established his winter quarters in the shattered remains of the castle. While he and his men rested, his troops erected several wooden structures to house him and his court in the midst of the medieval castle's ruined defences.

For five months Laiuse Castle served as the administrative and military centre of the Swedish empire, although the king's quest to defeat Russia and expand his own empire was something of a forlorn hope.

Laiuse Castle in Jõgevamaa, Estonia
Photo © Kersti Hansen

The rest of the war went badly for the Swedes. They were outmatched by Russia's now-greater resources. Czar Peter defeated and effectively destroyed the Swedish empire at the Battle of Poltava, in Ukraine in 1709 when he forced the Swedish army to surrender at Perevolochna.

In the following year, 1710, the growing Russian empire gained control of Finland, Estonia, and Livonia, and Laiuse Castle's use was at an end.

 

All photos kindly contributed by Kersti Hansen, taken in July 2022.

Main Sources

Ermak's Travel Guide: Laiuse Castle (Laiuse Ordulinnus)

Visit Jõgevamaa

 

Images and text copyright © Kersti Hansen & P L Kessler except where stated. An original feature for the History Files.