History Files

European Kingdoms

Northern Europe


Prince-Bishops of Dorpat (Tartu) (Livonia)
AD 1211 - 1558

Interest in the 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 Germans especially had already proven themselves capable of applying creeping subjugation on their less advanced eastern neighbours, as could be seen in the march of Lusatia and the North March. 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.

In 1211, when the Northern Crusade to conquer and Christianise the Baltic tribes was well underway, the bishopric of Leal (or Lihula) was established by the bishop of Riga. The intent was that it would serve all of Estonia, but the conquest of North Estonia by the Danes prevented the military arm of the bishop of Riga from completing its conquest, although bishoprics were already being established in Courland and Ösel Wiek.

In 1224 the Estonian bishop took temporal authority over southern Estonia as a sovereign prince-bishop of the Holy Roman empire. The move was formally confirmed on 6 November 1225. The bishop gave part of his possessions as a fief to the Order of the Knights of the Sword, and ceded the western part of the Estonian mainland (including Leal) to the bishop of Riga on 24 July 1224. Then he selected Dorpat (modern Tartu) as his new capital. The first bishop of Dorpat continued to style himself bishop of Leal, however, until that diocese was suppressed so that Dorpat's could be created, on 8 January 1235.

Estonian history from this period is very sketchy in places, and records regarding the bishops can equally be a little sparse. Much of what is known is little more than a list of incumbents. In Dorpat these prince-bishops governed the indigenous Ungenois Estonians in the south-east of today's Estonia, along with what are now the counties of Jõgeva, Põlva, Tartu, and Võru.

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.)

1211 - 1219

Theodoric von Treyden / Dietrich I

Bishop of Leal. Killed at Lindanäs in 1219.

1215 - 1217

Native resistance leader, Lembitu, finds his stronghold at Suure-Jaani being taken by Germans and Lembitu himself is imprisoned. By 1217 he is released, only to raise a new Estonian army of around six thousand. That army is defeated and Lembitu is killed at the Battle of St Matthew's Day on 21 September 1217, along with Wottele and Maniwalde of the Sakalans.

Tartu's Dome Church ruins, Estonia
Tartu's modern ruins of the Dome Hill Church or cathedral date back to 1234, when a stone fortress replaced the original wooden one of the Unguenois (click or tap on image to view full sized)

1215 - 1219

The Unguenois fight on in their ongoing feud against the Lets, but Let reprisals are intensely forceful. Just about all Unguenois regions and settlements are burned down or otherwise attacked. The onslaught forces the Ungenois to submit entirely to Riga, accepting baptism in return for protection. When Vladimir of Polotsk hears this he attacks the Unguenois, forcing a German defence and fortification of Unguenois lands. The Unguenois are now firmly aligned with the crusaders in Riga and the bishop in Dorpat.


Over the course of this period, North Estonia is slowly taken by force under Danish control. This begins with the arrival of a Danish fleet led by Valdemar II. On 15 June 1219, he attacks the fortress of Lindanäs (now Tallinn). The battle is a hard-fought one and the Danes are close to admitting defeat when, according to tradition, a red cloth with a white cross falls from the sky, inspiring them to fight on and conquer the town.

In the same year the Order of the Knights of the Sword raid Vironian lands, aided by contingents of recently christened Lets, Livs, Sakalans, Ugaunians, and 'Jervians' (presumably people of the Alempois). The raid continues for five days, killing and pillaging Vironian people and settlements, before several elders request a truce. One admits - without having much of a choice - that he is ready to accept the Christian god. The other Vironian elders also accept Christianity and the German crusaders take the customary hostages in the form of the sons of elders to ensure that the truce is maintained.

1219 - 1245

Hermann I of Buxhoeveden

First bishop of Dorpat. Brother of Albert of the Order.


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 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).

Tartu's Dome Church ruins, Estonia
Tartu's modern ruins of the Dome Hill Church or cathedral date back to 1234, when a stone fortress replaced the original wooden one of the Unguenois (click or tap on image to view full sized)


In the same year the Unguenois rebel against their German overlords. They are encouraged by the Sakalans who send them the bloody swords of Germans they have killed. The Unguenois decide to side with Novgorod, with the result that the Rus princes of Polotsk, Novgorod, and Suzdal send around twenty thousand men to their aid. Prince Vyachko of Koknese is left in charge of the Unguenois and any other Estonians who will submit to him.

1224 - 1225

German crusaders recapture all of the rebellious Estonian provinces and Vetseke of Koknese is reduced to holding just the Unguenois centre at Tharbata. Bishop Hermann of Buxhoeveden takes control of Ugaunia from his base in Dorpat while the Order of the Knights of the Sword is granted control of Sakala.

Tharbata is conquered later in 1224 and all of its Unguenois and Rus defenders are killed, Vetseke included. Bishop Hermann begins fortifying Otepää and Tarbatu, selecting the latter to be his residence. The bishop and his Unguenois subjects continue to fight frequently against Novgorod until they are defeated (in 1242). In 1225, Hermann is confirmed in his position by the Holy Roman emperor.


Construction is begun of the first stone fortress on Toomemägi. This replaces the old Unguenois stronghold which dates back to the seventh century, although it has been rebuilt several times. Construction of a church on the same site starts later in the thirteenth century, and is fully completed by the beginning of the sixteenth century.

Tartu's Dome Church ruins, Estonia
Tartu's modern ruins of the Dome Hill Church or cathedral date back to 1234, when a stone fortress replaced the original wooden one of the Unguenois (click or tap on image to view full sized)

1240 - 1242

Denmark attacks Novgorod to the east of its lands in North Estonia. Apart from teaching Novgorod a lesson and perhaps winning some territory, the Finno-Ugric Votians are also targeted as the Danes want their territory. Overall, though, the campaign fails to gain any territory at all. In fact, Novgorod is able to launch a reprisal attack.

Bishop Hermann and his Unguenois forces are defeated along with the Teutonic Knights on 5 April 1242 by the prince of Novgorod, Alexander Yaroslavitz Nevsky, during the Battle of the Ice on Lake Peipsi. This halts the eastwards advance of the German crusaders and fixes Dorpat's border along Peipsi, where it remains to this day (with later Soviet era modifications).

Dorpat is captured and destroyed by the victorious Novgorod army but they fail to capture the Bishop's Fortress on the Dome Hill. Following the army's withdrawal a defensive wall is built around Dorpat's lower town, stretching for a total of about two kilometres. The destruction wrought by the Novgorod forces is recorded in Rus and German chronicles, which provide the first written evidence that, alongside the Bishop's Fortress, a settlement of German merchants and artisans has sprung up.

1245 - 1250?

Bernhard I

Mentioned (not by name) in 1249 & 1254.

1250? - 1268


First mentioned in 1263. Killed by invading Rus.


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.

Typical Lithuanian wooden castle
A typical Lithuanian wooden castle from a time in which the land was filled with them, approximately 450 in all, held by the nobility against the country's powerful enemies

1268 - 1285

Friedrich von Haseldorf

Also claimed title 'Bishop of Karelia' for reasons unknown.


The towns of Riga, Cesis, Limbaži, Koknese (mentioned briefly in 1205 in connection with Livonia), and Valmiera in Livonia, and Tartu/Dorpat, are included in the Hanseatic League of trading towns in Northern Europe.

1285 - 1302

Bernhard II


The accession of Pukuveras to the Lithuanian throne unites Samogitia to the crown on a permanent basis, and probably serves to end the series of Samogitian rebellions against their various German opponents. Pukuveras dies just three years later but his son, Viten, rules both lands as a single political entity.

1302 - 1313

Dietrich II Vyshusen

1313 - 1323


c.1310 - 1325

FeatureIt is around this period that a former Unguenois fortress site, near Tõrva, is believed to be taken by the Livonian Knights so that they can construct Helme Order Castle on the site (see feature link for more detail).

1323 - 1341

Engelbert von Dolen

Later bishop of Riga (1341).


Peter von Dusburg writes that in the Prussian province of Nadruva, in the place called Romuva, there is a powerful priest named Krivė, whom the people regarded as pope, and whose dominion extends not only over Nadruva, but also over Couronia, Lithuania, and Semigallia. The only such 'pope' known to recorded history, Krivė is highly respected by the kings, nobility and common people, and his rule covers almost all of the Baltic lands during the wars against the Teutonic Knights.

Three Old Prussian gods
The gods of the Old Prussians were Patrimps, Parkuns, and Patolls (sounding like modern Latvian names in the near-compulsory 's' at the end of each name) who were related to the principle cycles of human life - birth and growth, maturity, and ageing and death

1332 - 1343

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 von Roskilde of Reval.

FeatureThe division is replicated across North Estonia, with each group holding onto its own pockets of territory. In what is now southern Estonia, within the Livonian bishopric of Tartu itself, more castle-building is taking place in the form of Rõngu Vassal Stronghold (see feature link).

1342 - 1344



The St George's Night Uprising sees a large-scale native Estonian revolt beaten by the Livonian Order, 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 of the Order taking command of the defence. However, the Order is unable to prevent some disasters, such as the loss of Pöide Castle on Ösel-Wiek, and the probable massacre of its entire garrison.

1344 - 1346?

Johannes I


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. The official transfer of power takes place on 1 November 1346. The last Danish bishop of Reval, Olav von Roskilde, is allowed to retain his position, but now under the governance of the Teutonic Knights. The title of 'Duke of Estonia' falls into disuse (only to be revived by Danish King Christian I in 1456 without actually holding any Estonian territory).

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

1346 - 1373

Johannes II Viffhusen

1373 - 1378

Heinrich Velde

1378 - 1400

Dietrich III Damerow

Elected over Albert Hect. Resigned office.


Dietrich hates the Livonian Order with some intensity, so much so that he forms a coalition against the Order with Lithuania, Mecklenburg and the notorious Victual Brothers who are Baltic pirates. The Order invades the bishopric but achieves no success. In the end its lack of results removes from it the right to demand military service from the Livonian bishops.

1400 - 1410

Heinrich Wrangel

Died, although the year of his death is uncertain.


The Battle of Tannenberg on 15 July (which is known more locally as the Battle of Grunwald) is one of the region's greatest battles and one which is remembered for centuries afterwards by Germans. It is triggered by a Samogitian revolt in 1409, and sees Polish and Lithuanian forces under Polish leadership crush the Order's army. Although the defeat is not followed up, it halts the eastward expansion of the Teutonic Knights, and after this defeat, the Livonian Knights begin to weaken and disintegrate.

1410 - 1413

Bernhard Bülow

1413 - 1441

Dietrich IV Resler


Grand Prince Zygmunt of Lithuania crushes the opposition forces of Swidrygiello and his ally, the Livonian Order. This proves to be the last invasion into Lithuania to be carried out by the Order. Lithuania, at least, is now too powerful for them.

Battle of Tannenberg
The Battle of Tannenberg (or Grunwald) in 1410 witnessed the shock defeat of the Teutonic Knights at the hands of a Polish-Lithuanian army and destroyed their authority in the Baltics

1441 - 1459

Bartholomäus Savijerwe

Possibly from Finnish Sippo.


One of the merchants guilds in Tallinn erects Estonia's (and the world's) first Christmas tree (sixty-nine years before Riga does the same). Merchants and single women dance around the tree, after which it is set alight and all the evidence is disposed of. According to records, Riga's first Christmas tree isn't even a real tree, just a wooden pyramid decorated with flowers, fruits, and toys.

1459 - 1468

Helmich von Mallinkrodt

1468 - 1473

Andreas Pepler

1473 - 1485

Johannes Bertkow

Formerly lord of Tartu and treasurer. Died in office.

1485 - 1498

Dietrich Hake

Raised in Riga. Died in office.

1499 - 1505

Johannes III von der Rope

Elected either 1498 or 1499. Died in office.

1505 - 1513

Gerhard Schrove

Probable son of Mayor Gerhard Schrove of Reval.

1513 - 1514

Johannes Duesborg

Former secretary to Bishop Peter Wetberch of Ösel-Wiek.

1514 - 1518

Christian Bomhower

Former secretary to Livonian Order's Wolter von Plettenberg.

1518 - 1527

Johann Blankenfeld

Already bishop of Reval (1514). Archbishop of Riga (1524).


The German Lutheran reformation reaches Tartu, accompanied by a surprisingly violent stripping of the churches (the furnishings of the Diocesan Cathedral on the Dome Hill are also destroyed). Crowds even make preparations to attack the bishop's residence. A similar mood of destructive reformation occurs in the capital city of North Estonia.

Tartu and the River Emajõgi
Estonia's second city of Tartu, with the River Emajõgi ('mother river') running through it, has origins which go back to a time before AD 1030 and its first mention in any written sources (tap or click on image to view full sized)

1528 - 1543

Johannes VII Bey

1543 - 1551

Jodokus von der Recke

Brother or cousin of Livonian Order's Johann von der Recke.

1552 - 1558

Hermann II Wesel

Deported to Russia.

1547 - 1558

The Russian Czar Ivan the Terrible involves the bishop in a dispute which becomes the main pretext of the Livonian Wars. Ivan demands that the bishopric pay a huge tribute of 40,000 talers, insisting that city of Dorpat is the ancient Russian fortress of Yuryev, referring to the short term Ruthenian rule of the area after its conquest by Prince Yaroslav I the Wise of Kyiv between about 1030-1061. Bishop Hermann tries to negotiate a smaller tribute in the interests of extending the truce, but Ivan dismisses the diplomats and starts the war.

1558 - 1562

In the very first stage of the Livonian Wars (1558-1583) the city of Dorpat is conquered by Russian troops and the bishopric is terminated. The bishop is taken to Moscow where he is imprisoned. Dorpat is the first of the Old Livonian states to cease to exist.

1562 - 1582

The Livonian Wars witness Poland, Sweden and Denmark enter the conflict in the hope of gaining a chunk of Old Livonia. In 1582, the signing of the Jam Zapolski Peace Treaty sees Tartu become part of the Poland-Lithuanian joint kingdom.

Tartu Town Hall
The town hall building in Tartu's city centre remains the city's seat of administration while also taking care of administrative duties for the entire county of the same name

During the seventeenth century, Tartu continually changes hands between warring Polish and Swedish overlords. In 1704 it is taken by the Russians, who hold it until the 1918 declaration of independence in Estonia, after which it remains part of a single Estonian nation. Today it is known as Estonia's southern capital, while also being the country's second-biggest city in terms of population after Tallinn.

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