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European Kingdoms

Northern Europe


Bishops of Reval (Tallinn) (North Estonia)

Interest in the Early Baltics by the increasingly powerful states of Germany and Denmark during the twelfth century may have been generated in part by the continued raids by 'Eastern Vikings' on their ports and ships. These fierce and combative Couronians and Osilians (of Ösel, modern Saaremaa) harried the western states for decades before retaliatory raids grew into militaristic attempts at conquest. The Danes had already briefly occupied the island of Ösel in 1206, but had been forced to abandon their conquest due to a lack of volunteers to man the fortress they built there. They carried out a much more successful conquest in 1219 when they won a hard-fought battle to capture the stronghold of Lindanäs and the settlement at its foot.

Then they set about taking over and securing all of North Estonia by force, while the rest of the native Estonian lands were 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 Riga, while the Order of the Knights of the Sword conquered the rest of Latvia and central Estonia. The captured territory between Danish Estonia and independent Lithuania became known as Livonia.

The native Estonian fortress and settlement of Lindanäs or 'Lindanisse' (modern Tallinn) was renamed Reval by the Danes, after the name of the province in which the city lay, Revelia, or Rävala. The Revalians had been one of the native Finno-Ugric groups to be conquered during the Danish invasion, although little if anything of their resistance seems to have been recorded in any detail. The city today is known as Tallinn, probably meaning 'Danish town' (from the Estonian form of the word 'Dane', 'Taanlane', specifically meaning 'Danish person', while 'linn' means 'town'), although the source is disputed.

The Danish king appointed a vice-regent in Tallinn to govern in his name and, contrary to the law of the Catholic church, he also reserved the right to assign appointees to the subordinate post of bishop of Reval. This formed a unique situation in Catholic Europe, and one which was hotly disputed by the Pope and by various bishops, but to no effect. The royal right to select the bishop of Reval was maintained, and was even included in the treaty which was signed when North Estonia was sold to the Livonian Knights in 1346.

Seto People of Estonia

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Gediminas Kiveris and Merit Pai, from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia, 2008), from Eric's Chronicle, from the 15th Yearbook of the Estonian Learned Society in Sweden, 2010-2014 (Eesti Teadusliku Seltsi Rootsis aastaraamat XV. 2010-2014), Ants Anderson (Ed, Stockholm, 2015), from Guide to Castles in Estonia, Mart Helme (Kunst, Estonia, 2003), from The Four Oldest Churches of Tallinn (Morgan Studio, Estonia, 2006), from Guide to Churches in Estonia, Mart Helme & Peeter Säre (Kunst, Estonia, 2002), from Most Beautiful Manors and Castles, Valdo Praust (Grenader Grupp, Estonia, 2004), and from External Links: Life in Estonia (dead link) and Visit Estonia, and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and The Livonian War (Histrodamus), and History of Estonia (Country Studies), and The Missionary Man: Archbishop Anders Sunesen and the Baltic Crusade, 1206-21, Torben K Nielsen (Crusade and Conversion on the Baltic Frontier 1150-1500, Routledge, 2001, available via Taylor Francis), and World Statesmen.)

Bishops of Reval under the Kingdom of Denmark
AD 1219 - 1350

The first bishop of Reval was appointed by the king of Denmark in 1219, immediately following the Danish conquest of Lindanäs (modern Tallinn) in North Estonia. The conquest of the rest of North Estonia quickly got under way, probably under the direction of the first vice-regent of Reval, Andreas Sunonis, archbishop of Lund. The Scandinavian version of the older name, 'Lindanisse', seems to be one of the oldest used for the city, although the Rus names of Koluvan and Ledenets pre-date the Danish conquest. The Danes quickly exchanged the name for Reval, from the name for the province in which the city lay - Revelia, or Rävala - presumably taken from the native Revalians rather than the other way around. That province was itself later merged into Harria province (modern Harju County).

FeatureUntil 1374 the bishopric of Reval fell under the jurisdiction of the archbishop of Lund in Denmark (now in Sweden). It was under the Danish administration that the city's oldest churches were all founded, including St Mary's Episcopal Dome Church, St Nicholas Church, the Church of the Holy Ghost, and St Olaf's Church, all of which still survive (see feature link for a full tour of Tallinn's churches and chapels).

1219 - 1227

Wesselin / Welcelo / Wescelin

Assumed to be a Slavic name. Removed from post?

1219 - 1227

Over the course of the eight years following the conquest of Reval, North Estonia is slowly taken by force under Danish control. In 1220, following quarrels between the Danes and the Order of the Knights of the Sword over the precise borders between their conquests, Denmark agrees to submit the southern Estonian provinces of Sakala and Ugaunia (Dorpat) which are already under the control of the knights. Bishop Albert in Livonia officially submits to Denmark and North Estonia the provinces of Harria (Harju), Vironia (Viru), and Jerwia (Järva).

The Danish capture of Tallinn in 1219
This painting contains a somewhat romantic depiction of the Battle of Lyndanisse and the discovery of what would be accepted as the Danish national flag, falling from the sky (Archbishop Andreas Sunonis of Lund, soon to be vice-regent of North Estonia, advises the seated King Valdemar II about the victory to come)

1227 - 1238

The Danes are temporarily eclipsed in North Estonia when the Order of the Knights of the Sword conquer all of their territory from the heartland of their powerbase in central Livonia. In 1238, North Estonia (Harria and Vironia) is returned under the terms of the Treaty of Stensby, which is mediated by the Pope. No bishops of Reval are known for this period (it is possible that the post is abolished).

The role of the Estonian elders on Ösel is effectively terminated when that island is finally conquered. Ösel-Wiek is established as one of four bishoprics in Livonia. The territory is divided between the archbishop of Riga, the Order, and the city of Riga. Over the course of the next few years, the city of Riga loses its domain and the island remains under the governance of two landlords - the bishop of Saare-Lääne (Ösel-Wiek) and the Order.


FeatureThe area around the Dome Cathedral in Tallinn (see feature link) becomes the scene of a battle which takes place between the Order of the Knights of the Sword and pro-Papal vassals who want to create an ecclesiastical state. The bodies of defeated pro-Papal knights are piled at the alter of the cathedral after the battle spreads inside the church (see feature link for more on this church).

1238/40 - 1260

Thorkill of Ribe / Torchill / Thorkel

Died 14 October 1260?


The city of Reval (modern Tallinn) is granted town privileges by Lübeck, founder of the Hanseatic League of trading ports. This allows it an elevated degree of self-governance and probably a decreased tax burden with the Danish king.

Tallinn's medieval city walls
The oldest sections of Tallinn's city wall - still largely extant - were built by the Danes in the thirteenth century (click or tap on image to view full sized)

1260/63 - 1279


Died after 2 July 1279.


The Livonian Knights, along with the Teutonic Knights, are abandoned by their Estonian and Couronian vassals and defeated 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.

1268 & 1270

The Danish fleet sails to Reval in 1268 and 1270 to ward off threats posed by the Lithuanians and Rus (probably of Novgorod). The rebellions by Estonians and Couronians in northern Livonia seem not to extend into North Estonia, but the political situation is doubtless fraught and North Estonian lands vulnerable to attack.

1280 - 1294

Johannes / John (I)

Appointed 1279. Died after 5 June 1294.

1294 - 1298

This period following the death of Bishop Johannes sees the position remaining vacant until a successor can be chosen and then take up the post, in 1298.

1298 - 1318

Heinrich I

Appointed 13 March 1298. Not Heinrich II of Ösel-Wiek.

1318 - 1320

John (II)

Officially appointed 1320 but died prior to consecration.

1320 - 1323

This period following the unexpected early death of the appointed bishop, John, sees the position remaining vacant until a successor can be chosen and then take up the post, in 1323.

Tallinn's medieval city walls
The oldest sections of Tallinn's city wall - still largely extant - were built by the Danes in the thirteenth century (click or tap on image to view full sized)

1323 - 1346

Olaf / Olav von Roskilde

Allowed to retain his position by the Teutonic Knights.


King Christopher II of Denmark dies a prisoner, having already lost the kingdom to factionalism. Denmark as a kingdom ceases to exist for the next eight years. The political fallout and turmoil reaches North Estonia where the pro-German Marquard Breide and his supporters are opposed by the pro-Danish Bishop Olav. The division is replicated across North Estonia, with each group holding onto its own pockets of territory.

1343 - 1346

The St George's Night Uprising sees a large-scale native Estonian revolt beaten by the Livonian Knights, using a mixture of treachery and battle. The Danish response to the uprising seems to be muted (unsurprisingly, given their continued internal divisions), with the Knights taking command of the defence.

However, the Knights are unable to prevent some disasters, such as the loss of Pöide Castle on Ösel-Wiek, and the probable massacre of its entire garrison. Probably as a result of this, just three years later, the Danish king sells North Estonia to the Livonian Knights for ten thousand marks. All of Estonia is now ruled by a German nobility class.

St George's Night Uprising
The oppressed Estonian peasants began the St George's Night Uprising in 1343, which was brutally put down by the Livonian Order, resulting in the Order being able to take control of all of the major Danish strongholds in the duchy of Estonia