St. George's Night Uprising
St. George’s Night Uprising in 1343–1346 was an unsuccessful attempt by the indigenous Estonian population in the Duchy of Estonia, the Bishopric of Ösel-Wiek
Bishopric of Ösel-Wiek
The Bishopric of Ösel–Wiek was a semi-independent Roman Catholic prince-bishopric in what is now Saare, Hiiu and Lääne counties of Estonia.The bishopric was created as a state of Holy Roman Empire on 1 October 1228, by Henry, King of the Romans...

, and the insular territories of the State of the Teutonic Order to annihilate the Danish and German rulers and landlords, who had conquered the country in the 13th century during the Livonian crusade
Livonian Crusade
The Livonian Crusade refers to the German and Danish conquest and colonization of medieval Livonia, the territory constituting modern Latvia and Estonia, during the Northern Crusades...

, and to eradicate the non-indigenous Christian
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 religion. After initial success the revolt was ended by the invasion of the Teutonic Order. In 1346 the Duchy of Estonia was sold for 19,000 Köln marks
Mark (weight)
The mark was originally a unit of mass for gold and silver common throughout western Europe, and was equal to 8 troy ounces . Variations throughout the Middle Ages were, however, considerable.Later, the weight called "mark" was generally half-a-pound...

 by the King of Denmark to the Teutonic Order. The shift of sovereignty from Denmark to the State of the Teutonic Order took place on November 1, 1346.


With the conquest of Ösel
Saaremaa is the largest island in Estonia, measuring 2,673 km². The main island of Saare County, it is located in the Baltic Sea, south of Hiiumaa island, and belongs to the West Estonian Archipelago...

 (Saaremaa) by the Livonian Order
Livonian Order
The Livonian Order was an autonomous Livonian branch of the Teutonic Order and a member of the Livonian Confederation from 1435–1561. After being defeated by Samogitians in the 1236 Battle of Schaulen , the remnants of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword were incorporated into the Teutonic Knights...

 in 1261, Estonia was completely subjugated by the Northern Crusaders
Northern Crusades
The Northern Crusades or Baltic Crusades were crusades undertaken by the Christian kings of Denmark and Sweden, the German Livonian and Teutonic military orders, and their allies against the pagan peoples of Northern Europe around the southern and eastern shores of the Baltic Sea...

 from Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 and Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

. The new rulers imposed taxes and duties even as the indigenous population retained individual rights, such as the right to bear arms. Oppression hardened as the new ruling class started to build manor-houses all over the country. The weight of duties to the lay masters was redoubled by religious repression and economic demands imposed by the church. The area was also politically unstable. The Estonian provinces of Harria (Harju) and Vironia (Viru) had been conquered by Denmark but by the 14th century the kingdom's power had weakened. The province in Estonia became split between a pro-Danish party led by bishop Olaf of Reval and the pro-German party led by captain Marquard Breide. 80% of the Danish vassals in the Duchy of Estonia were Germans from Westphalia
Westphalia is a region in Germany, centred on the cities of Arnsberg, Bielefeld, Dortmund, Minden and Münster.Westphalia is roughly the region between the rivers Rhine and Weser, located north and south of the Ruhr River. No exact definition of borders can be given, because the name "Westphalia"...

, 18% were Danes and 2% Estonians
Estonians are a Finnic people closely related to the Finns and inhabiting, primarily, the country of Estonia. They speak a Finnic language known as Estonian...


Beginning of the uprising

On St. George's Night (April 23) 1343, a signal was given by setting fire to a house on a hilltop for a coordinated attack on the foreigners in Harria. The plan was to “kill all the Germans along with their wives and children. And so it happened, because they started to slay virgins, women, servants, maidservants, noblemen and commoners, young and old; all, who were of German blood, had to die.” According to the Younger Livonian Rhymed Chronicle, after renouncing Christianity, the rebel forces crisscrossed the whole province of Harria, burned down all the manors of the nobility and killed all the Germans who fell in their hands. Among others, they burned down the Cistercian Padise Abbey
Padise Abbey
Padise Abbey was a former Cistercian monastery in Padise in Harju County, Estonia, settled in 1310 by the dispossessed monks of Dünamünde Abbey in Latvia. It was converted into a fortress after its dissolution in 1559 and later used as a country house until 1766...

 and massacred the 28 monks who had failed to escape. The chronicle adds that any German women or children who were spared by the men were killed by the women who then proceeded to burn down all the churches and the huts of the monks.

After the initial success, Estonians elected four kings amongst themselves. The kings along with the rebel army proceeded to Danish-held Reval (Tallinn) and laid siege on the city with 10,000 men. In the first battle under Tallinn the Estonians were victorious over the knights. However, the leaders of the rebellion were worried that once the Germans and Danes recovered from the initial shock, the Estonian government may not be able to withstand the combined onslaught of their enemies. Therefore they sent a delegation to the Swedish bailiff
A bailiff is a governor or custodian ; a legal officer to whom some degree of authority, care or jurisdiction is committed...

s of Åbo
Abo may refer to:* ABO blood group system, a human blood type and blood group system** ABO , enzyme encoded by the ABO gene that determines the ABO blood group of an individual* Abo of Tiflis , an Arab East Orthodox Catholic saint...

 and Viborg
Viborg may refer to:*Viborg, Denmark, a city in Jutland, Denmark**Viborg Municipality, a Danish municipality named for the city**Viborg County, a former county of Denmark**Diocese of Viborg**Viborg FF, a professional football team based in Viborg...

 and let them know that the Germans in Harria had been killed. They also told them that the Estonian army had laid siege on Reval, but they were willing to hand the Danish city over to the king of Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

 if the Swedes sent help. The bailiffs promised to raise an army and sail to Estonia.

Spread of the rebellion

A few days later, the Estonians in the province of Rotalia (Lääne) renounced Christianity and killed all the Germans they could find. After the countryside was firmly in the Estonian hands, the rebel army laid siege on the city of Hapsal (Haapsalu), the capital of the Bishopric of Ösel-Wiek. According to the Renner version of the Younger Livonian Rhymed Chronicle, 1800 Germans were killed in Läänemaa. According to the Wartberge
Hermann von Wartberge
Hermann von Wartberge was a chronicler of the Livonian Order. Born in Westphalia, Wartberge was a Catholic priest and author of the valuable Latin chronicle Chronicon Livoniale covering the history of the Livonian Crusade from 1196 to 1378...

 and Russow
Balthasar Russow
Balthasar Russow was one of the most important Livonian and Estonian chroniclers.Russow was born in Reval . He was educated at an academy in Stettin in Pomerania...

 versions, the number of 1800 or 2000 killed Germans refers to either Harria or Harria and Vironia combined.

Murder of the four kings

Soon after the massacre terrified survivors started to trickle to the castle of Weissenstein
Paide is the capital of Järva County, Estonia.A castle built by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword is located here. The town was formally founded 30 September 1291 by Halt, master of the Livonian Order....

 (Paide). The vogt
A Vogt ; plural Vögte; Dutch voogd; Danish foged; ; ultimately from Latin [ad]vocatus) in the Holy Roman Empire was the German title of a reeve or advocate, an overlord exerting guardianship or military protection as well as secular justice...

 of the castle immediately sent a letter to the master of the Livonian Order advising him on the situation. Burchard von Dreileben, the Livonian Master, sent one Brother to the Estonians “who knew their language and whom they knew” (possibly an ethnic Estonian member of the order) and asked them to send a delegation to Weissenstein to explain the reasons why they had renounced Christianity and killed all the Germans. He also promised to redress the past wrongs and establish good relations with the Estonians.

Estonians sent their four kings to Weissenstein accompanied by three squires. Estonians also let the bishop of Reval to pass through the rebel-held territory and attend the negotiations. Among the many high-ranking members of the Livonian Order who came to Paide were the Livonian Master Burchard von Dreileben, the komtur
Komtur was a rank within military orders, especially the Teutonic Knights. In the State of the Teutonic Order, the Komtur was the commander of a basic administrative division called Kommende . A Komtur was responsible for the alimentation of the Knights by the yield from the local estates, he...

s of Fellin (Viljandi) and Riga
Riga is the capital and largest city of Latvia. With 702,891 inhabitants Riga is the largest city of the Baltic states, one of the largest cities in Northern Europe and home to more than one third of Latvia's population. The city is an important seaport and a major industrial, commercial,...

, the vogt of Jervia
Järva County
Järva County , or Järvamaa , is one of 15 counties of Estonia. It is situated in central part of the country and borders Lääne-Viru County to the east, Jõgeva County to the south-east, Viljandi County to the south, Pärnu County to the south-west, Rapla County to the west, and Harju County to the...

 (Järva), and many others. The large number of knights who arrived to the negotiations indicates that the true purpose of the meeting was to neutralize the Estonian kings and then to attack the leaderless rebel army. Even after truce had been declared did the knights of the order attack a camp of 500 Estonians in Ravila
Ravila is a small borough in Kose Parish, Harju County in northern Estonia.-External links:*...


On May 4, the two side sat down for talks. The Livonian Master personally served as the spokesperson for the German side at the conference. The Estonian kings offered to become vassals to the Livonian Order, provided they would have no overlords over them. The master demanded to know why they had killed so many people, including the 28 monks of Padise. The answer he received was that any German deserved to be killed even if he were only two feet tall. The master of the order, Burchard von Dreileben, pronounced the answer outrageous, but declared that the four kings and their retinue were to remain unpunished and could keep their personal liberty; however, until the master has returned from the campaign against the Estonian army the kings were not to be allowed to leave the castle of Weissenstein. The four kings, who had been granted safe passage under the medieval code of honor, were outraged. They demanded to be released so that they could meet their fate with their army, but to no avail.

When the Estonian delegation was escorted to their quarters they were suddenly attacked by their German hosts in the courtyard of the castle. In the ensuing fight the four kings and their squires were all hacked to death. The chronicle blames the incident on the envoys themselves, saying that one of them attempted to kill the vogt of Järva who had been assigned to attend to the Estonian envoys' needs. Many historians dismiss this explanation and say the negotiations were just a ruse to kill the leaders of the insurgency, and that the official version of the incident was a rather inept attempt to justify the murder of diplomatic envoys by the Teutonic knights.

Battle of Kanavere

A large army led the Master of the Order proceeded immediately towards Reval, seeking out and engaging smaller Estonian units on the way. A larger Estonian force that had been sent to block the knights' advance was intercepted by the German cavalry. In the ensuing Battle of Kanavere
Kanavere is a village in Kose Parish, Harju County in northern Estonia....

 on 11 May 1343, Estonians made a tactical retreat into the Kanavere bog. Since the knights were not able to employ their heavy cavalry in the bog, they dismounted and continued to fight on foot. The bog was not very large and the numerically superior forces of the Order were able to completely surround it. The battle ended with a German victory. Estonian losses in the battle amounted to 1,600 men.

Battle of Warhill

After the battle of Kanavere, Burchard von Dreileben, the Master of the Order, wanted to avoid engaging the main force of the Estonian army, strategically camped next to a large bog, in yet another battle where the heavy cavalry of the Order would lose its tactical superiority. Therefore he decided to use deceit and sent the vogts of Wenden
Wenden is a community in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. It belongs to the Olpe district in the Sauerland. It lies 10 km south of Olpe and approx. 20 km northwest of Siegen.- Location :...

 (Cesis) and Treyden (Turaida) under the pretext of peace negotiations to the Estonians, apparently agreeing to the idea of vassalage without landlords. Estonians accepted the offer and the envoys returned to the German army. Von Dreileben, in the meantime, had two banners of cavalry locate between the swamp and the Estonian camp. After the envoys had delivered the acceptance of terms to the Order, the Master and the knights agreed that the killed Germans need to be avenged and the Estonians deserved no mercy. On 14 May 1343, the Germans attacked and Estonians began their retreat towards the bog. Because of the advance troops of the German cavalry, they were not able to complete this maneuver and in the battle that followed 3,000 Estonians were killed. According to the chronicle, individual Estonians who had pretended to be dead in their desperation tried to kill Germans even after the end of the battle. The location of the battle became known as Sõjamäe
Sõjamäe is a subdistrict in the district of Lasnamäe, Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. It has a population of 114 .Sõjamäe has a station named "Vesse" on the Elektriraudtee rail line.- References :...

, or Warhill; it is now a subdistrict of Lasnamäe
Lasnamäe is the most populous administrative district of Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. The districts' population is about 115,000, the majority of which is Russian-speaking. Local housing is mostly represented by 5-16 stories high panel blocks of flats, built in the 1970-1990s. Lasnamäe is...

, Tallinn.

Aftermath of the Battle of Warhill

The Master of the Order and the magistrates of Tallinn learned from a captured German deserter that the Estonians had been promised military assistance from Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

 that had recently conquered several Danish territories in Scandinavia
Scandinavia is a cultural, historical and ethno-linguistic region in northern Europe that includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, characterized by their common ethno-cultural heritage and language. Modern Norway and Sweden proper are situated on the Scandinavian Peninsula,...

. Swedish forces were expected to arrive in Estonia in five days. The subjects of the Danish king in Tallinn, severely weakened after the carnage in Harju and Viru, and fearful of the Swedish intentions, submitted Tallinn and other Danish dominions in Estonia under the protection of the Order. After been promised compensation the Master of the Order agreed to provide Reval and Wesenberg
Wesenberg may refer to:*The German name for Rakvere, a town in Estonia*Wesenberg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, part of the Amt Mecklenburgische Kleinseenplatte, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Germany...

 (Rakvere) with German garrisons.

The bailiff of Viborg arrived with a large army on 18 May and the bailiff of Åbo a day later. After discovering the Danish stronghold in the hands of the Order and the Estonian army utterly defeated, the Swedes satisfied themselves with looting around Reval before sailing back to Finland
Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...


The Estonians had also tried to find allies in Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

. Two envoys had been sent from Harria to Pskov
Pskov is an ancient city and the administrative center of Pskov Oblast, Russia, located in the northwest of Russia about east from the Estonian border, on the Velikaya River. Population: -Early history:...

 to inform the Russians of the slaughter of the Germans in Harria and Vironia and the imminent demise of the Order. The envoys suggested that the Russians may want to loot the German dominions in southern Estonia. On 26 May 1343, the Bishopric of Dorpat
Bishopric of Dorpat
The Bishopric of Dorpat was a medieval principality and a catholic diocese which existed from 1224 to 1558, generally encompassing what are now Tartu, Põlva, Võru and Jõgeva counties in Estonia. The Bishopric was part of Livonian Confederation...

 (Tartu) suffered a belated intrusion by 5,000 Pskovians. However, since the rebellion in Estonia had already been largely crushed the Order was able to scramble enough troops and with some effort rout the marauding Russians, killing about 1,000 of them.

In the meantime, the Master had led the main force of the Order to Rotalia in order to break the siege of Hapsal. The Estonians retreated from the city without battle, again taking refuge in the bogs.

Soon the Livonian Order received more troops from the Teutonic Order in Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

. In the beginning of the winter the Master of the Livonian Order returned with these reinforcements to Harria and quelled the remaining resistance. The last Estonian strongholds in Harria to fall were Varbola
Varbola Stronghold
The Varbola Stronghold was the largest circular rampart fortress and trading centre built in Estonia, in Harju County in the 10th – 12th centuries. Parts of the ruins of the 580 metre long and 8-10 metre high limestone wall of the fortress stand til this day. The long gateways with...

 and Loone (Lohu). In the wake of the bloody suppression of the rebellion, Harria was described as a “barren and desolate land".

The chronicler Bartholomäus Hoeneke also tells a story about Estonians plotting to get inside the castle of Fellin
Viljandi is a town and municipality in southern Estonia with a population of 19,150 . It is the capital of Viljandi County. The town was first mentioned in 1283, upon being granted its town charter by Wilhelm von Endorpe....

 by hiding armed warriors in bags of grain. The plot failed when one mother tipped off the Order commander in exchange for the life of her son. This possibly apocryphal account has inspired several writers.

After losing Reval and Wesenberg to the Livonian Order in 1343, the severely weakened Denmark also lost Narva in 1345. Thereupon king Valdemar IV
Valdemar IV of Denmark
Valdemar IV of Denmark or Waldemar ; , was King of Denmark from 1340 to 1375.-Ascension to the throne:...

 in 1346 sold the Duchy of Estonia
Duchy of Estonia
The Duchy of Estonia may refer to:*Danish Estonia, Hertugdømmet Estland, a Dominum directum of King of Denmark from 1219 until 1346.*Swedish Estonia, Hertigdömet Estland a dominion of Swedish Empire from 1561 until 1721....

 to the Teutonic knights for 19,000 silver marks (4 tons of silver). Another 6,000 marks was paid to the Margrave of Brandenburg
Margraviate of Brandenburg
The Margraviate of Brandenburg was a major principality of the Holy Roman Empire from 1157 to 1806. Also known as the March of Brandenburg , it played a pivotal role in the history of Germany and Central Europe....

. Another consequence of St. George’s Night Uprising was the disappearance of the remnants of pre-Christian Estonian nobility in North-Estonia.

Rebellion in Ösel

On 24 July 1344, one day before St. Jacob’s Day, Oeselians
The Oeselians were a historical Finnic people inhabiting Saaremaa , an Estonian island in the Baltic Sea. They are first thought to be mentioned as early as the 2nd century BC in Ptolemy's Geography III. The Oeselians along with Curonians were known in the Old Norse Icelandic Sagas and in...

 in Ösel (the islands of Saaremaa
Saaremaa is the largest island in Estonia, measuring 2,673 km². The main island of Saare County, it is located in the Baltic Sea, south of Hiiumaa island, and belongs to the West Estonian Archipelago...

 and Muhumaa) renounced Christianity, killed all the Germans, and drowned the priests in the sea. On the same day they assembled around the Castle of the Livonian Order in Pöide. The castle surrendered after an eight-day siege. The vogt of the castle along with his garrison of Livonian Knights, as well as all the other Germans in the castle, were promised free passage. Regardless, all the defenders of the castle were killed after they had come through the gates.

Saaremaa and Muhumaa remained in Estonian hands until the winter. As soon as the sea between the islands and the continent was frozen, the Master of the Order with fresh reinforcements from Prussia crossed the sea and invaded Saaremaa. The German army looted and burned all the villages they came across and finally laid siege on Purtsa Fortress, one of the largest Estonian strongholds on the island. In the winter of 1344, one day before Shrove Tuesday
Shrove Tuesday
Shrove Tuesday is a term used in English-speaking countries, especially in Ireland, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, Germany, and parts of the United States for the day preceding Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of fasting and prayer called Lent.The...

, the knights penetrated the stronghold after tearing down one of the battlements. According to Wigand of Marburg
Wigand of Marburg
Wigand of Marburg was a German herald of the Teutonic Knights in Prussia and one of the notable chroniclers of the Middle Ages.Wigand expanded upon the earlier work of Nikolaus von Jeroschin...

, 2,000 people were killed in the fortress. Germans lost 500 killed. The Oeselian king Vesse was captured, tortured, and then executed. Nevertheless, Saaremaa remained free and staunchly anti-Christian as the German army was forced to cross back to the continent before the sea ice melted in the spring and the roads became impenetrable for the returning reinforcements from Prussia.

In the winter of 1345 the Christian army returned to Saaremaa where it laid waste to the northern districts by looting and burning for eight days. Eventually Oeselians asked for peace. The two sides reached an agreement and the army of the Livonian Order left Saaremaa after the Oeselians had reluctantly agreed to giving hostages and tearing down the fortress of Maasilinn. The rebellion in Ösel had lasted for two years. With the conditional surrender of Ösel St. George's Night Uprising was finally over.

In literature

The St. George’s Night Uprising has inspired several historical novels by Estonian writers, such as Eduard Bornhöhe
Eduard Bornhöhe
Eduard Bornhöhe , born Eduard Brunberg , was an Estonian writer.Bornhöhe is generally considered a pioneer of the genre of Estonian historical novel, as a lion's share of his creations consist of romanticism-influenced historical adventure stories.- Bibliography :*1880 Tasuja *1890 Villu võitlused...

's Tasuja (The Avenger). The Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 tried to use the anniversary of the uprising in 1943 to pit Estonians against Germans.

The uprising is also a popular subject for debate among Estonian historians and writers. Some, like Edgar V. Saks
Edgar V. Saks
Edgar Valter Saks was an Estonian statesman, amateur historian and author. He was Estonian Minister of Public Education in exile from May 8, 1971 until his death...

 and the writer Uku Masing
Uku Masing
Uku Masing was an Estonian philosopher, translator, theologist and folklorist. He developed Estonian analytical philosophy. Masing also wrote poetry, mostly on religious issues...

 have argued on the basis of contemporary documents that, contrary to claims in the chronicles, the uprising was not a fight against Christianity but only against the Livonian Order and that the crimes attributed to the insurgents were actually committed by the Order. Some see it as a continuation of the struggle between the Order and the Holy See
Holy See
The Holy See is the episcopal jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome, in which its Bishop is commonly known as the Pope. It is the preeminent episcopal see of the Catholic Church, forming the central government of the Church. As such, diplomatically, and in other spheres the Holy See acts and...

. Others dismiss such claims as biased and unhistorical.
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