Carslberg Fellowship 8. Was Estonia the first part of the Danish realm Valdemar IV managed to subject to his rule?

by Mihkel Mäesalu & Stefan Pajung

Willekin the White, a canon of the Cathedral Chapter of Reval (Tallinn), hosted a dinner party at his home in the castle of Reval on Dome Hill in the beginning of May 1339. During this party Hermann Heympel, a consul of the town of Reval, was severely wounded in circumstances unknown. Thereafter several burghers of Reval entered the home of Willekin the White to bring Hermann Heympel away from there. The burghers got into a fight with the other guests of the party and killed a nobleman named Nicolaus von Brunswic. On the 9th of May 1339 Berthold von Lechtes, the deputy viceroy of Danish Estonia relieved the burghers of all charges resulting from the fight, except for the murder of Nicolaus von Brunswic.

On the first glance these events seem to have little to do with Danish-Estonian relations during the 14th century. Actually the charter provides crucial information for the relations between Danish Estonia and the future Danish king Valdemar IV (1340–1375) during the years 1338–1339. For it is the first mention of a viceroy in Danish Estonia after the death of King Christopher II of Denmark (1320–1326, 1329–1332). As readers of this blog surely know, the Kingdom of Denmark had entered a period of deep crisis during the reign of Christopher II when most of the kingdom (with the sole exception of Danish Estonia) had been pawned to the counts of Holstein. There was no king in Denmark between the years 1332 and 1340, when Christopher’s youngest son Valdemar IV finally managed to regain the throne.

King Valdemar IV as depicted on a mural in St. Peters Church in Næstved
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Valdemar IV raised his claim to the Danish throne in the year 1338. As we wrote in our preceding blog-post a canon named Johann of Wesenberg, who was descended from a family of royal liegemen in Danish Estonia, came in contact with Valdemar in May 1338. Just one month later Valdemar began to use the title Duke of Estonia and one year later a deputy viceroy was already in office in the castle of Reval. Could this mean that Danish Estonia was the first part of the Danish realm Valdemar IV managed to subject to his rule?

Excerpt from the charter issued by deputy viceroy Berthold von Lechtes on the 9th of May 1339.
Tallinn City Archives

Berthold von Lechtes was an important royal liegeman and one of the king’s councillors in Estonia. He attained the office of deputy viceroy at some point between the 12th of March 1338 and 9th of May 1339. The viceroy of Danish Estonia was always appointed by the king. When king Christopher II died in 1332 his viceroy Marquard Breide relinquished his office. As the Danish throne was thereafter vacant there was no-one to name another viceroy and so this office was also left vacant. Danish Estonia was thereafter administrated by the king’s councillors in Estonia.

A deputy viceroy was appointed by the viceroy. This means that Berthold von Lechtes could only have become deputy viceroy through Valdemar’s authority. Maybe Valdemar had named a viceroy, whose name we sadly do not know and who in turn appointed Berthold as his deputy. Then again, it is also possible that as Valdemar had not yet become king of Denmark, he chose to appoint only a deputy viceroy. Maybe he simply did not have enough trusted men in his entourage to send one of them to Estonia and decided to appoint one of his councillors in Estonia as a provisional viceroy.

Whatever the case, the dominant noble families of Danish Estonia were in contact with Valdemar in the year 1338 and the result was, that by May 1339 Valdemar had already established his rule over Danish Estonia. This is more than a year before he was elected King of Denmark and began his reign in Denmark.