Russian Rule

Estonia under Russian rule, 1795-1848

Napoleon once contemplated the plan to march along the Baltic coast and take the coastal cities and fortresses, a plan he abandonded in favour of the march on Moscow. Estonia thus remained uncontested within the Russian sphere, and outside of the reach of reforms inspired by the French Revolution.
Catherine II.'s absolutist reforms, which had temporarily abolished the RITTERSCHAFTEN (corporate nobility, which had run the administration of both Estonia and Oesel) had been undone by her successor Paul VI. in 1796. The Ritterschaften now were more suspicious than ever of any attempt to infringe on their privileges.
Estonia and Oesel were dominated by the German nobility, which ran the administration of the country and it's jurisdiction, and by the German burghers from the cities of Reval, Narva, Arensburg etc., who controlled much of the economic life. The vast majority of the population, Estonian speaking, was illiterate and lived in the state of serfdom.
In 1816, serfdom was abolished in Estonia, but the peasants' life continued to be regulated (1816-1819) - they were forbidden to take up any profession outside agriculture, and they did not own the land they tilled. German intellectuals, notably Lutheran (ethnically German) priests finding it difficult to communicate with their Estonian flock and (ethnically German) school teachers finding it difficult to reach their Estonian pupils, founded the ESTONIAN SOCIETY in order to study and standardize the Estonian language (1817).
In the 1840es Russian influence became stronger in the Baltic Provinces due to the Russian Orthodix Church. It had established communities in the provinces for Russians who resided there. For decades this presence of the Russian Orthodox Church had not challenged the position of the Lutheran Church as the state church. In the 1840es, however, the Russian Orthodox Church addressed the underprivileged Estonian peasants, and in the years between 1845 and 1848, over 60,000 Estonians converted, hoping that it would result in an improvement of their status.

Courland, Livonia and Estonia. Confidential Handbooks No.57, 1919, from the British Foreign Office, posted on the Web by
Estonian Timeline, by Tapani Hietaniemi
History of Tallinn (Reval), by infomaterjalid
REFERENCE David G. Kirby, The Baltic World 1772-1993, London : Longman 1995

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 11th 2004

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