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European Kingdoms

Northern Europe


Ösel-Weik (Oesel-Wiek) / Saaremaa and Läänemaa

The island of Saaremaa is the largest belonging to the territory of Estonia, and lies off its western coast, south of the second-largest island of Hiiumaa and west of the smaller island of Muhu. Inhabited for at least five thousand years, in old Scandinavian sagas, Saaremaa is called Eysysla, the same name with a different pronunciation and meaning exactly the same thing: 'island' and 'land or district'.

The island and the nearby coastal strip of Courland (now in Latvia) were home to the feared Eastern Vikings during the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. The Scandinavian sagas mention numerous skirmishes between the islanders and Vikings, and Saaremaa was the wealthiest county of ancient Estonia. With the coming of the Danes and the Livonian Knights, the power of the Eastern Vikings was broken, and they were conquered in 1227. Saaremaa, or Ösel (along with Weik, or Läänemaa in Estonian), remained the property of the prince-bishops until Old Livonia was swept away by the Livonian Wars from 1559.

(Additional information 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), and from External Link: Archaeology: The First Vikings.)

c.650 BC

A meteorite enters the Earth's atmosphere, breaking up and striking Saaremaa as a shower. At least nine craters are formed by the impact, and the biggest becomes known as Lake Kaali (Kaali järv). The event is remembered by means of the native people's oral tradition and in archaic runes. Kalevala 47 runo gives a very realistic description of fire falling from the sky that burns houses, fields, fens and humans.

Saaremaa meteorite crater
The largest of the Kaali meteorite craters is 100 metres in diameter

AD 700 - 750

Two ships filled with Viking warriors who have been killed in battle are uncovered by archaeologists on the island of Saaremaa in 2008. The carefully stacked remains of thirty-three men have been buried in the ship that brought them from Scandinavia to Saaremaa more than a century before the Vikings are thought to have been able to sail across such distances. They are almost certainly Swedes who have been conducting a raid but have been defeated by the island's determined defenders - a sign of many battles to come.


Denmark is fast rising as a great military and merchant power, and it is in its interest to end the occasional Estonian and Couronian pirate attacks that threaten its Baltic trade (these are the Eastern Vikings, from Ösel - Saaremaa, the richest area of Estonia - and the later province of Courland respectively). To that end, a Danish fleets now makes an attack against Estonia. The fighting lasts for three days, but the pirate threat is clearly not contained, as later events prove.


Sverris saga says that King Sverre's brother, Erik, spends three years around 1185 looting Estonian coastal areas and then sails back to Svitjod in Svealand, to King Knut Eriksson of the Swedes, to whom he is related. Svitjod would seem to be Sigtuna, the most important centre in Svealand.


FeatureThe 'pagans of the Eastern Sea' (Estonians of Saaremaa, Couronians, and Sambians (Zembs) of Old Prussia) conquer Sigtuna, the most important town of the Swedes, which they then burn down. The Swedish Eric's Chronicle of 1335 blames the Finnish Karelians for the attack. More recently, Professor Kustaa Vilkuna has suggested that the raid is in revenge for Sigtuna's merchants having intruded upon Kven fisheries on the River Kemijoki and the hunting grounds of the Karelians. The medieval naming of a settlement in the village of Liedakkala by the River Kemijoki as 'Sihtuuna' may be additional confirmation of this.

Viking remains found on Saaremaa
Two ships were filled with Viking warriors who were killed in battle between AD 700-750, as uncovered by archaeologists on the island of Saaremaa in 2008 and proof of a Viking raid more than a century before the Vikings are thought to have been able to sail across such distances


According to the chronicle of Novgorod, 'coastal Estonians' - undoubtedly the people of Saaremaa - sail their six snäckas (shown as шнекъ in the chronicle, a Scandinavian type of vessel) to Lake Peipus where they are defeated and killed by the people of Pskov. This would appear to be another smash-and-grab raid, although one which goes disastrously wrong.


The Scandinavian-type pirate ships of the men of Saaremaa - the pyraeticas - land at the settlement of Listerby in what is now Blekinge County in Sweden. There they raid in a continuous cycle of hit-and-run raids between the 'eastern pirates' and the Scandinavians.


The Danish king, Valdemar II, and Archbishop Andreas Sunonis of Lund, launch a raid on Ösel. The islanders are forced to submit and the Danes built a fortress there, but they can find no volunteers to man it. Relinquishing their brief occupation of the island, they burn the fortress and leave the island. However, they lay claim to Estonia as their possession, which claim the Pope recognises.


Andreas Sunonis (Sunesen)

Archbishop of Lund. First governor of Estonia (from Ösel).


The 'Vikings' of Saaremaa attack Turaida Castle, a stronghold of the Livs on the River Koiva. These Livs have been cooperating with the 'traitorous' and constantly encroaching Germans from Riga, both by sea as well as on the river.

1220 - 1226

As recorded both by the Chronicle of Henry of Livonia and the Livonian Rhymed Chronicle, The Swedes establish a presence on Saaremaa in 1220. Earl Karl Döve is the cousin of King John I, and he and the king's chancellor, Bishop Karl Magnusson, lead an expedition to the Estonian island which is confronted and defeated at the Battle of Lihula on 8 August 1220. The defeated Swedes withdraw, ending their country's involvement in Estonia for the next three centuries.

Despite the Danes having conquered Lindanäs in northern Estonia, their control certainly does not extend to western Estonia. Neither does that of Livonia to any great extent, as the fiercely independent and powerful 'Vikings' of Saaremaa are still a force to be reckoned with. Now they cross the Moonsund with a great host and liberate Rotalia County in western Estonia from the people of Svealand, who have conquered Lihula Castle. How long they remain there is unclear, but the fight against the Swedes continues in 1226 when the men of Saaremaa sail back home from Svealand with a great deal of loot and a large number of prisoners.

1224 - 1227

The role of the Estonian elders is effectively terminated, as Danish and Livonian authority is confirmed in north and southern-central Estonia respectively. Saaremaa itself is conquered in 1227 and Ösel-Wiek is established as one of four bishoprics in Livonia. The territory is divided between the archbishop of Riga, the Livonian Order of Knights, and the city of Riga. Over the course of the next few years, the city of Riga loses its domain and Saaremaa remains under the governance of two landlords - the bishop of Saare-Lääne (Oesel-Wiek) and the Livonian Order.


The elders of the islands of Muhu, Saare and Sõrve sign a treaty with the Livonian Knights, although the spellings shown below may not be entirely accurate after being rendered in Latin.









Prince-Bishops of Ösel-Wiek / Saare-Lääne
AD 1228 - 1562

Ösel-Wiek was also known as Osilia and Rotalia - modern Saaremaa and Läänemaa respectively. While the Danes were securing all of North Estonia by force, the rest of the Baltics was 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, governing the heart of later Latvia, the prince-bishop of Riga. The Livonian Knights conquered the rest of Latvia and central Estonia. The captured territory between Danish Estonia and Lithuania became known as Livonia.

FeatureFrom 1227, the conquered Ösel-Wiek was divided between the archbishop of Riga, the Livonian Knights, and the city of Riga. Over the course of the next few years, the city of Riga lost its domain and Saaremaa remained under the governance of two landlords - the bishop of Saare-Lääne (Oesel-Wiek) and the Livonian Order. The bishops of Ösel-Wiek, along with the islands of Dagö (Hiiumaa) and Moon (Muhu), ruled their feudal territories in the fashion of local kings, controlling their Estonian subjects from episcopal castles, most notably the one in the capital of Saaremaa, at Kuressaare, which dates to the early thirteenth century and which is one of the few of its kind to have survived almost completely intact. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of records regarding the prince-bishops - these can sometimes be a little sparse.

Haapsalu Episcopal Castle was also a domain of the prince-bishops, lying as it does at the heart of Haapsalu's Old Town. Along with Kuressaare, it is also one of the best-preserved castles in Estonia. Built in the thirteenth century it was actively used until the end of the seventeenth century. At its heart is the main building which housed the living quarters and administrative premises, as well as this small medieval state's 'cathedral', a decorated dome church. The main structure is surrounded by outer wards, which are all circled by a medieval wall which is embellished with seven towers and four gates. Today, the main castle houses an impressive museum while the outer wards have been turned into a park.

(Additional information by Annika Mändla, from Cultural heritage in Lääne County, Ülla Paras, Raina Jeeberg, & Vormsi Parish (NGO Läänemaa Turism & Lääne County Foundation (SA Läänemaa, 2019), and from Architectural Archaeology Surveys at Saaremaa's Maasi Castle, Garel Püüa (Saaremaa Museum, Lossihoov).)

1228 - 1229


1229 - 1234

The bishop's seat in Ösel-Wiek falls vacant.

1234 - 1260?

Heinrich I


After 1237, Ösel-Wiek is in the hands of the Livonian Knights in Livonia, which in this year effectively becomes the local branch of the Teutonic Knights after it joins this more powerful organisation as an autonomous branch.


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.

1262 - 1285?

Hermann I


FeatureBishop Hermann grants town rights to Haapsalu, a town which is overlooked by the large and impressive episcopal castle that belongs to the bishop himself. He transfers the official seat of the bishopric of Saare-Lääne there at the same time.

1290? - 1294

Heinrich II

1294 - 1297?

The bishop's seat appears to fall vacant again.

1297? - 1307?

Konrad I

1307? - 1310

The bishop's seat in Ösel-Wiek falls vacant for a third time.

1310 - 1321


1322 - 1337


1338 - 1362

Hermann II Osenbrügge

1343 - 1345

Pöide Castle on Ösel-Wiek has remained the military headquarters of the bailiwick of that name until now. The St George's Day Uprising (the Jüriöö Uprising) sees the native people of the island capture the castle and, according to legend, all of the Germans in the castle are killed. Following that the castle itself is destroyed. After the uprising is put down by Burchard von Dreileben, master of the Livonian Knights, the locals on the island are forced to build Maasi Castle on the north-western coast as punishment. His successor, Goswin von Herike, soon enlarges the new castle.

1363 - 1374

Konrad II

1374 - 1381

Heinrich III


Bishop Dietrich of Dorpat hates the Livonian Knights with some intensity, so much so that he forms a coalition against the Knights with Lithuania, Mecklenburg and the notorious Victual Brothers who are Baltic pirates. The Knights invade the bishopric but achieve no success. In the end their lack of results removes from them the right to demand military service from the Livonian bishops.

1381 - 1385

The bishop's seat is vacant for the fourth time.

Haapsalu Castle
Haapsalu Castle in Läänemaa was built mainly in the thirteenth century as the seat of the bishops of Ösel-Wiek

1385 - 1419

Winrich von Kniprode

Not to be confused with the grand master of the Teutonic Knights.

1420 - 1423

Kaspar Schuwenflug

1423 - 1432

Christian Kuband

1432 - 1438

Johann I Schutte

1439 - 1458

Ludolf Grove

In Ösel (Saaremaa) and Dagö (Hiiumaa) only.

1449 - 1457

Johann II Creul

In Wiek (Läänemaa) only.

1457 - 1460

The bishop's seat in Ösel-Wiek falls vacant for the fifth time.

1460 - 1471

Jodokus Hoenstein

1471 - 1491

Peter Wetberch

1491 - 1515

Johann III Orgas


The wide single-nave church of Martna is completed around this time. It carries the coat of arms with its three diamonds of Johann III Orgas. The church also contains an archaic christening stone with its Gotlandic design, made of limestone from Ungru.

1515 - 1527

Johann IV Kyvel

1527 - 1530

Georg von Tiesenhausen

1532 - 1541

Reinhold Buxhoewden

1542 - 1559

Johann V von Münchhausen


Following Russian provocation and the conquest of Dorpat, the Livonian Wars erupt in the Baltic states (1558-1583). The last German bishop sells the castle and the town of Kuressaare to the Danes, who also take Courland, both of which are held by Magnus, duke of Holstein in Denmark. Magus then adds Reval to his list of possessions.

Duchy of Ösel
AD 1562 - 1645

In 1560, the king of Denmark purchased the bishopric of Ösel-Wiek (Saaremaa and Läänemaa) from the last German prince-bishop. This had been a semi-independent principality encompassing what are now Saare and Lääne counties (Lääne meaning 'western' in Estonian) in the islands and west of Estonia respectively (with Saare being known as Ösel by the Danes). Ösel was given as an appendage to the king's brother, Magnus Herzog von Holstein, and Wiek was ceded to Poland in exchange for Livonian possessions in Ösel.

(Additional information from Architectural Archaeology Surveys at Saaremaa's Maasi Castle, Garel Püüa (Saaremaa Museum, Lossihoov).)

1560 - 1562

Magnus of Livonia

Bishop of Courland and Reval. Titular 'king of Livonia'.


The Danes cede Wiek and Dägo (Hiiumaa) to Poland in exchange for Livonian possessions in Ösel, which is reformed as a duchy. Magnus of Livonia does not govern it directly but he remains active in Estonian and Livonian politics.

1560 - 1562

Dietrich Behr

First governor.

1562 - 1567

Heinrich Wulf

Self-proclaimed on 5 March on eastern Ösel.

1563 - 1567

Christoffer Valkendorff

Installed in October.


Ösel (Saaremaa) is invaded by Swedes who pillage the entire island and leave with a huge quantity of loot. Being unable to defend another castle besides Kuressaare if the Swedes attack again, the Danes destroy Maasi Castle in the same year. They soon began to regret that decision and instead reinforce the castle again.


In the summer of 1568, the Swedes return to Maasi Castle, this time in eighteen ships. On 14 August the castle is handed over to them, together with Pöide and the island of Muhu.

1570 - 1575

Signed in 1570, the Stettin Peace Treaty stipulates that Sweden is supposed to return Maasi Castle and its surrounding territory to Denmark, but the act is delayed. John III of Sweden fails to respect the peace treaty and in 1575 he gives Maasi Castle to Duke Magnus of Saxe-Lauenburg, who is allied to Sweden. Magnus arrives on Ösel (Saaremaa) in the same year, promptly taking over Maasi Castle and, somewhat later, Muhu island as well. While there, he imprisons the Danish Praetor Claus (Klaus) von Ungern but soon releases him and leaves Ösel.

As a response, Ungern surrounds the Swedish-held Maasi Castle. A few days later the city’s defenders surrender thanks to a large fire breaking out in the castle. As it had fallen very quickly to the Swedes for a second time the castle is blown up in 1576 upon the orders of Frederik II of Denmark.

1573 - 1576

Klaus von Ungern zu Dalby

Governed May-Aug. Briefly imprisoned.

1576 - 1579

Johann von Mentz

Governed from 2 Sep.


Vincent Juel

1579 - 1584

Jürgen Farensbach


The county of Läänemaa (Wiek) is conquered from Poland by Sweden, giving it control of all of North Estonia (while southern Estonia remains part of Livonia at this stage).

1584 - 1589

Mathias Budde

1589 - 1594

Johan Schwalbe

1594 - 1612

Claes Maltesen Sehested

Governed from 2 Feb.

1612 - 1613

Nils Kraggen

1613 - 1622

Jakob Wacke / Jacob Berk

1622 - 1634

Frederik Rantzau


The First Polish-Swedish War ends with the Treaty of Altmark, which sees the Swedes take all of Poland-Lithuania's Livonia.

1635 - 1643

Anders Bille

1643 - 1645

Ebbe Ulfeld

Last Danish governor.


One of the first acts of Queen Christina of Sweden is to negotiate the peace with Denmark. She does so successfully, gaining all of modern Estonia when the Danes hand over Ösel under the Treaty of Brömsebro. Ösel is subordinated to the Swedish governors-general of Livonia while the Swedish queen adopts the style 'Prince of Ösel'. The Swedes also gain the island of Götaland and the Norwegian districts of Härjedale and Jämtland which remain part of Sweden to this day.

Swedish Governors of Ösel
AD 1645 - 1919

The Swedes gained control over all of Estonia when the Danes handed over the island of Ösel (Saaremaa) under the Treaty of Brömsebro in 1645. There was a smooth transition of power, with a Swedish governor immediately replacing the Danish one on 31 October. Unlike the rest of Livonia and Estonia, the Swedes managed to retain Ösel following the unsuccessful conclusion of the Great Northern War, and held onto it until the formation of an independent Estonian state was achieved.

1645 - 1646

Erik Gustafsson greve Stenbock

First Swedish governor.

1646 - 1648

Anders Eriksson Hästehuvud

1648 - 1654

Johan Pendersson Utter

1654 - 1660

Friedrich friherre Lieven

1660 - 1676

Karl friherre Sparre

1676 - 1678

Karl Johannsson friherre Sjöblad

1678 - 1687


1687 - 1689

Karl Johannsson friherre Sjöblad

Second term of office.

1689 - 1690


Second term of office.

1690 - 1701

Per friherre Örneklow

Died 1701.

1701 - 1710

Engelbrecht Mannerburg


Sweden loses control of the rest of Estonia to the Russians. The city of Arensburg (Kuressaare), the capital of Ösel, surrenders to Russian forces on 26 September 1710 and the occupation of the island (Ezel' in Russian) is completed (and is formally ceded by Sweden to Russia on 10 September 1721).

Kuressaare Episcopal Castle
Having completely lost its military reason for existing, Kuressaare Episcopal Castle remained a symbol of the control of Saaremaa until the nineteenth century


On 8 August, Ösel becomes an autonomous part of the province of Livonia, directly administered by the governor-general of Livonia until 1781. Baltic Swedish and German lords manage the internal government of the island.

Friedrich Johann von Lode

Landschaftshauptmann ('land captain marshal').

Nicolas von Krämer

First Ritterschaftshauptmann ('knight captain'). Died 1739.

Christian Friedrich von Poll

Died 1748.

Otto Friedrich von Vietinghoff

Died 1777.

1753 - 1760

Reinhold Gustav von Nolcken

First Landmarschälle ('land marshal').

1760 - 1765

Hermann Gustav von Weymarn

1762 - 1772

Carl Gustav von Güldenstubbe

1772 - 1780

Otto Frommhold von Buhrmeister

1780 - 1783

Johann Christoph von Nolcken


1781 - 1783

Balthasar Baron von Campenhausen

Vice-governor, until 14 July.

1783 - 1796

Autonomy for the island is abolished on 14 July 1783. Ösel is administered directly by Livonia. On 28 November 1796, limited local autonomy is restored. This is confirmed by all successive Russian czars upon their accession before 1881, but after that it is gradually extinguished.

1797 - 1800

Karl Johann Gustav von Ekesparre

1800 - 1806

Georg Friedrich von Sass

1806 - 1808

Otto Fromhold von Buhrmeister

Second term of office.

1808 - 1813

Otto von Buxhoeveden

1813 - 1816

Reinhold Friedrich Pilar von Pilchau

1816 - 1818

Peter Anton von Sass

1818 - 1841

Peter von Buxhoeveden


Alexander von Nolcken


1841 - 1843

Karl von Güldenstubbe


1843 - 1849

Georg von Ditmar

1849 - 1862

Karl von Güldenstubbe

1862 - 1864

Ernst Baron Nolcken


1864 - 1865

Ottokar von Aderkas

1865 - 1867

Ernst Baron Nolcken

Acting for the second time.

1867 - 1876

Charles Freytag von Loringhoven

1876 - 1906

Oskar von Ekesparre

1906 - 1919

Axel Baron Buxhöveden

Last Swedish Landmarschälle. Assassinated.

1918 - 1919

The Baltic Provinces are formally transferred to German authority by Russia in 1918 following the Treaties of Brest-Litovsk and of Berlin. However, Germany is in no position to enforce its power and Estonians quickly push for independence, with the declaration being delivered on 23 February 1918. Power is transferred to a new council for the island on 18 November 1918. On 16 February 1919, the last Swedish administrator is assassinated by Bolsheviks on his estate, amid a local peasants' revolt at the lack of services and provisions.