Carlsberg Fellowship 1: start of the reseach project on the common history of Denmark and Estonia

On the 15th of June 2019, on the day of the 800th anniversary of the Dannebrog, we, Mihkel Mäesalu from the University of Tartu and Stefan Pajung from the Museum of National History at Frederiksborg Castle, were awarded “HM Queen Margrethe II Distinguished Research Fellowship” by the Queen of Denmark herself in order to do research on the common history of Denmark and Estonia. The project started on the 1st of October 2019, and after some initial reading we quite quickly decided that at least two archive tours were warranted.

Mihkel came to Copenhagen at the end of October to get hold of hitherto unpublished source material from the Danish National Archives and The Royal Library in Copenhagen. Much of the Estonia-related source material has been digitized and is available online – but not all. This material we ordered and was made available to us, so we were able to either photograph or scan it. Mostly, the sources were in good condition, but sometimes we were confronted with material that looked like this or even worse.

An example of the almost unreadable sources we found at the Danish National Archive

Historians are used to the usual difficulty of deciphering hand-written Latin and German texts that are hundreds of years old, but water damaged, bleached out texts with gaps do not make our job easier. And the example shown above was not even the worst example.

But we also found some nice surprises, among them a collection of privileges of the Estonian “Ritterschaft” from 1712 which included privileges dating back to the 13th century. Apparently, this was compiled to show the latest conqueror of Estonia, Czar Peter the Great, what privileges the local nobility possessed, and that these rights were not just new privileges. In Estonia, the memory of the Danish rule still lingered on long after it had ended. Furthermore, we found possible evidence of the Teutonic Order having landed possessions in Denmark, a fact which until now has not been documented!

In early December 2019, Stefan made his return visit to Estonia and was welcomed by Mihkel, who gave him an introduction not only to the National Library in Tallinn, but also the University Library and the National Archives in Tartu. Here we found unpublished source material regarding the church relations between Denmark and Estonia during the Middle Ages and letters from various Danish noblemen to the town council of Reval (Tallinn).

In Tallinn, the staff of the town archive was most helpful in our search for material, and this yielded, among other things, several unknown and unpublished letters from Danish kings Christoffer III (pictured below) and Christian I to the same city.

A letter by Danish king Christoffer III to the Town Council of Reval (Tallinn), 1440

The close collaboration between a Danish and an Estonian Scholar also yielded some interesting discussions and findings – among them the fate of Danish prince Otto, who became a member of the Teutonic Order in the 1340’s but of whom nothing further was known – until now. But to find out more about that fascinating story, you will have to follow this blog, as this is a story for another time.