“Kõige selgem õiguslik järjepidevus valitses Eestimaa kubermangus.” Ühe baltisaksa ajalookirjutuse paradigma kriitika [Abstract: “The strongest legal continuity was in the province of Estland.” A critique of a paradigm in Baltic German historiography]


  • Andres Andresen




Keywords: Estonian history, legal history, legal continuity, Baltic German historiography, Baltic German corporative autonomy, 1710 capitulations, 1721 Nystad Treaty, province of Estland, Lutheran church governance. This article is focused on a research problem that has been crucially important for Baltic German historians: Baltic German corporative autonomy in the early modern era. Baltic German historiography has followed a paradigm, according to which – in the provinces of Estland and Livland after the fall of Swedish rule and the establishment of Russian supremacy, and pursuant to the terms of the 1710 capitulations and the 1721 Treaty of Nystad – the corporative autonomy was restored to the status that had existed before the reforms of the Swedish king, Charles XI. The research results of this article, however, show that the paradigm of restoring the corporative self-governing organization on the basis of legal continuity has to be revised regarding the province of Estland. When the Russian central government initially refrained from interfering with the internal matters of the province, the Estland Ritterschaft’s position of power increased significantly, while the Lutheran clergy lost the strong support of the central power. The Ritterschaft already had wanted to participate in church governance, but so far the opposition of the Swedish power had been an impassable obstacle in this regard. Then in 1715, taking advantage of the changed political constellation, the Ritterschaft subordinated the governance of Estland’s territorial church to its own power. Consistorial church governance (common to the German lands), in which the representative of secular power led the main church governance institution (consistory), replaced episcopal governance (specific to the Swedish state). However, this system change in church governance was illegal and violated the terms of the capitulations as well as those of the later Nystad Treaty, according to which the church organization of the Estland province had to remain as it had been during the period of Swedish supremacy, or in other words on the provincial level solely under the governance of the clergy. Thus, the arguments of Reinhard Wittram and Gert von Pistohlkors about the extraordinarily strong legal continuity of the Estland province in the context of early Russian supremacy are not valid. The core issue lies in the fact that the capitulations and the Treaty of Nystad served as the legal foundational norms of the whole Baltic German corporative autonomy during Russian supremacy. The main arguments of the Baltic German estates against the unification policies of the Russian central power and against the leveling of the special position of Estland and Livland in the Empire were the privileges, stated in the aforementioned foundational norms and confirmed by the Russian monarchs, as well as the legal continuity which resulted from these privileges. These points have to be considered first and foremost, if we are trying to understand why Baltic German historiography has ignored the fact that Estland’s Ritterschaft, right at the beginning of Russian supremacy, violated the terms of the capitulations and of the Nystad Treaty. Andres Andresen (b. 1971) is a Senior Researcher at the Institute of History and Archaeology, University of Tartu.


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