Post-classical history

St. George's Night Revolt (1343)

A major uprising of the Estonian peasantry against the nobility of Danish North Estonia. The causes of the revolt were most probably agricultural crisis, famine, and oppression by the vassals of the king of Denmark. The main source for the rebellion is the Jüngere Livlāndische Reimchronik of Bartholomaus Hoeneke, who, although a participant in the events, represented the viewpoint of the Teutonic Order and tried to justify its intervention in Danish territory.

The revolt began with a massacre of the German nobility in the province of Harria and the monks of the Cistercian abbey in Padis (mod. Padise, Estonia) on St. George’s Night (23 April) 1343. The peasants gathered in the vicinity of Reval (mod. Tallinn) and elected leaders, who sent a delegation to the Swedish authorities in Finland to negotiate about subjection. The Teutonic Order reacted with remarkable speed and sent forces into Danish territory. These forces gained a victory over the rebels near Reval. It took longer to pacify Harria and Wiek. On St. James’ Eve (24 July), the Estonians on the island of Osel (mod. Saaremaa) also rose up; they destroyed the stronghold of the order in Peude (mod. Poide). The order suppressed this uprising with two campaigns in 1344 and 1345.

The St. George’s Night Revolt has remained one of the most controversial issues in the historiography of medieval Livonia. Although it was primarily a peasant uprising, modern Estonian historiography has stressed the political goals of the rebels—driving out their German and Danish rulers. Consequently the event has gained in Estonia a symbolic meaning comparable to that of the fight against the crusade armies in the early thirteenth century.

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