Russia, 16th C. Poland, 1525-1652. Sweden, 1560-1611. Denmark, 1525-1660.
Estonia, 1561-1660. Livonia, 1561-1621. Courland, 1561-1641.

Livonian War, 1558-1582

A.) Preconditions of the War

The reformation had reached Livonia in the 1520es. In 1558, Livonia formally declared the Lutheran confession official. The political constitution of Livonia, both the Livonian Order and the Livonian bishoprics, were now questioned; the Livonian Order, for decades, had suffered a sharp decline in their ranks, seriously affecting its ability to defend the country.

B.) The War

The Livonian War is a complex affair, involving four foreign entities - Russia, Poland-Lithuania, Sweden and Denmark, as well as political elements within Livonia aiming at securing protection for themselves - Reval, Ösel, Riga, the Estates of (smaller) Livonia and the last grand master.
Militarily the war began with a Russian invasion in 1558; the Livonian Order no longer was capable of defending the country; Russian troops occupied and held Narva and Dorpat (modern Tartu) and threatened the rest. A truce was signed May 1st; on August 31st 1559, the Livonian Order recognized Polish-Lithuanian sovereignty, in return for Polish-Lithuanian protection. Certain territories in Latgale and Semigallia were ceded to the King, who, while himself a Catholic, guaranteed the Augsburg confession of the Livonians. In 1562/3, full scale war erupted between Poland-Lithuania and Russia, but the center of activity moved from Livonia to Lithuania (see Russo-Polish Wars). The matter was complicated by Sweden, after first laying siege to Russian-held Narva, signed an alliance with Russia, Denmark with Poland; both gained shares in Livonia, as Reval and adjacent areas of Estonia recognized Swedish sovereignty (1561), The Bishop of Ösel, Wiek and Courland Danish sovereignty (1559).
In 1570 Denmark and Sweden, between Poland and Russia peace treaties were signed, which left the situation in Livonia unchanged. In 1572 Russian troops invaded Swedish Estonia and took the fortress of Weissenstein; in 1575 the Russians occupied Pernau in western Estonia (at that time, Poland, protector of Livonia, was without king). Stephen Bathory was elected King; while he dealt with the city of Danzig (which refused to recognize him), Russian troops invaded the southern regions of Polish Livonia. Magnus of Holstein, ruler of Ösel-Wiek (since 1560) and appointed "King of Livonia" by Ivan IV., tried to expand his rule (1577). Late in 1577, Polish King Stephen Bathory dispatched troops; in 1578 the Polish-Lithuanian Sejm formally decided to wage war on Russia, a war fought and decided in Lithuania (see Russo-Polish Wars.
With Russia under pressure (and allied with Denmark), Sweden took the offensive against Russia and in 1581 took Narva, as well as fortified places in Ingria (see Russo-Swedish War).
Poland and Russia in 1582 signed a peace treaty, in which Russia recognized Polish sovereignty over all of Livonia (except Swedish Estonia). Russia could no longer contest the Swedish hold over eastern Estonia; the Russo-Swedish War formally was ended in 1595. The territories of Duke Magnus were split, the Stift Pilten was annexed by Poland, Wiek by Sweden; Ösel returned to Danish rule (until 1645).

C.) The Legacy

The balance of powers in the region had been destroyed, by the implosion of Livonia as well as by a strengthened, aggressive Russia, which was supplied with gunpowder through the English via Archangelsk.
For centuries the Livonian society had been dominated by the Baltic Germans, a minority of c. 10 %. By arranging themselves with the protecting powers (Sweden, Denmark, Poland) they managed to hold on to their dominating role for the next centuries, however no longer masters of their own fate, and often the prize over which the powers fought.

First Northern War, from Polish Renaissance Warfare, scroll down
William Urban, The Origin of the Livonian War, posted by Lituanus
The Livonian War, from Tallinn Town Hall, encyclopedic

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on May 28th 2003, last revised on November 17th 2004

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