Estonia 3: A reversed Saint George's Night
The first Nordic troops crossed from Finland into Estonia already in the winter of 1435-1436, walking across the frozen gulf of Estonia, but it wouldn’t be until spring the next year when the ice cleared that any larger forces could arrive. Two fleets were dispatched, one from Sweden and one from Denmark, both carrying soldiers that were to land in Estonia and support the knights who had thrown off their allegiance to the Order in favor of King Eric. The goal was not the complete capture of the country, not yet anyway, but rather to secure the northern parts that roughly responded to the old Danish Duchy of Estonia. This excluded the islands of Øsel and Dagö, as well as the western county of Wiek, where the Bishop with his base in Arensburg still held allegiance to the Livonian Confederation. Probing attacks on the castle of Leal showed that it would be difficult to seize territory without local help.
The pro-Danish rebellion in northern Estonia meant that Eric’s forces would have a good amount of support from the Knights of the region. However, they were not the only factions to consider. The towns of Reval, Wesenburg and Narva would also be crucial to get on Eric’s side if he wanted to control northern Estonia. Luckily for the King, he had a plan to get the burgher’s support. The Grand Masters of the Livonian Order had not renewed any of the town’s privileges since they became part of the Order’s domains nearly 90 years ago, this was mainly due to legal uncertainties, as the privileges had been granted by the King of Denmark and it remained unclear if it was up to the Order to renew them. While this was largely a symbolic dispute, Eric sent messengers to the three towns in which he re-confirmed their privileges and with this took them under his protection. This was a useful gesture, offering the towns a seemingly legit alternative to opposing the King by implying that they could be spared attacks if they joined his cause.
Like any war, the Kalmar Union’s invasion of Estonia was an international affair. In that department Eric’s main concern was the Hanseatic League, whom he feared would take the Livonian side over his. This was especially true since Reval was a Hanseatic town, and if Eric appeared too domineering towards the town it might antagonize the League. But he had timed his strike well, for the Wendish cities currently had their eyes turned to the west. A decade-old trade conflict with the Dutch towns, backed by the Duke of Burgundy, was seemingly about to expand into a military one. While Eric would covertly fan the flames of this dispute, he also saw the chance of acting as a mediator between the two parts – which came naturally as his domain lay right between the two struggling parties. In doing so, he intended not only to distract the Hansa, but also continue to build goodwill with the League and prevent them from taking hostile action against him.
With the combined efforts of Nordic forces and the local knighthood, Eric’s forces were soon in control of most of northern Estonia. The Livonian Confederation, still reeling from the defeat at Vilkomir, struggled to mount a counterattack. Fiercest opposition came from the Bishop of Øsel-Wiek, but this was mostly defensive, preventing Eric and the Knights of Estonia from encroaching on his lands. As 1436 progressed, the remaining pro-Livonian pockets of resistance became increasingly surrounded and isolated and began falling one by one. Reval accepted Eric’s offer of protection in the summer of 1436, and the King personally travelled to the town to receive its allegiance at the Castorum Danorum, which only seemed fitting. As the campaign season ended, the conflict seemingly died down quite naturally, one side having achieved its goals and the other unable to do much about it. Eric sent representatives to the Livonians informing them that he was invoking his right to redeem the pawned territory of Estonia. This was an olive branch from Eric, who offered the Livonians an honorable and legal end to the conflict. Negotiations were held in Pernau, in which the exact terms for the repayment of the 19,000 silver marks were specified, which would take place over the five years.
While Eric had symbolically assumed control of the now revived Duchy of Estonia at the ‘Danish Castle’ of Tallinn, and in a strict legal sense Estonia was a Danish fief, he was never one to make clear distinctions between his Kingdoms. In the preparations for the conquest, he had spent most of his time in Stockholm and Kalmar, and there found loyal men who he now would place as local governors in Estonia. Among these were the Swedish knights Gustav Algotsson, who was made chief governor of Reval and Broder Svensson, who was made governor of Herrmannsborg near Narva. There were also members of the border nobility, such as the Scanian Olaf Axlesson, who was made governor of Wesenburg. By sharing the spoils in this way, Eric retrospectively justified the war in the eyes of the Swedes, who had provided most of the forces for the Estonian expedition and reaped most of the rewards. Eric could now style himself as ‘Duke of Estonia’ alongside his already extensive list of titles and was one step closer in making his realm the dominant force in the Baltic Sea.