Origins and history
The Estländische Ritterschaft (noble
corporation of Estonia) looks back on a long history. First documented in 1252, it is the oldest of the four Baltic noble
corporations of Estonia, Livonia, Curland and Oesel. Its origins date back to the alliance of, mainly German, vassals in the
Northern Estonian provinces of Harrien (Estonian Harju) and Wierland (Virumaa), which were Danish territories
until 1346. Initially a community of interests, it developed into a political entity representing the entire country, including
the Estonian peasant population, but excluding the cities. This process was largely completed by the end of the Rule of the
Teutonic Order in 1561. The Estländische Ritterschaft maintained its role throughout the period of Swedish and Russian
rule (from, respectively, 1561 and 1710) through a regime of self-administration based on privileges (re-)confirmed by each
sovereign until the early 20th century. These conferred wide-ranging autonomy for the administration of the land and the application
of the law to its German and Estonian population. They also guaranteed the practice of the Protestant-Lutheran faith (of Augsburg
Confession) and the use of German as the administrative language. Owners of country estates were expected to perform voluntary
duty services ("Landesdienst") in the country's administration. Posts were filled through triennial elections.
The collapse of the Russian and German
Empires in 1917 and 1918 created a context for the creation of new national states in the Baltic region. The Estonian people
seized this opportunity and the Republic of Estonia was declared on 24 February 1918. In the new republic, Baltic Germans
were a small minority and no longer the dominant class. The Estländische Ritterschaft was dissolved as a public entity
and country estates were expropriated.
Now reconstituted as a private voluntary
organisation called Estländischer Gemeinnütziger Verband, the Estländische Ritterschaft represented a remarkable
historic achievement: together with the German population of the country's cities, it had indelibly marked Estonia's identity
over centuries and made it culturally to a part of Western Europe. This is widely acknowledged in Estonia today, following
the country's 51 years of Soviet rule from 1940 until 1991 when it finally regained its independence.
In 1939/40, as a direct result of the Hitler-Stalin
Pact, those members of the Estländische Ritterschaft who had not left the country in 1918, were 'repatriated' with
their fellow Baltic Germans to German-occupied Poland (Warthegau). At that point they forever lost their homeland in
which most families had had their roots for centuries - thus becoming the 'first victims' of the Hitler-Stalin Pact as former
Estonian President Lennard Meri once pointedly described them. Between the two World Wars they had remained in their homeland,
most of them leading modest lives as Estonian citizens. The Estonian Republic granted them wide-ranging cultural autonomy,
enshrined in minority legislation passed in 1925, which was then recognised internationally as exemplary.
Since the end of the Second World
War, the majority of the members of the Estländische Ritterschaft live in Germany where it has become part of the Association
of Baltic Noble Corporations (Verband der Baltischen Ritterschaften). In the difficult post-war years a large number
of members of the four noble corporations emigrated, in particular to Canada and Sweden where local branches were set up.
The Matrikel (register)
of the Estlaendische Ritterschaft
Following his conquest of the regions of
Harrien and Wierland in northern Estonia in the summer of 1219, King Waldemar II of Denmark handed out land as fiefs to his
vassals for these to be administered and protected against foreign powers. The Liber Census Daniae of 1241 lists 114 vassals
in Harrien and Wierland, most of whom originating from northern parts of Germany. These united to form the Harrisch-Wierische
In autumn 1346 King Waldemar IV sold his
'Duchy of Estonia' to the German Teutonic Order, which already ruled over the region of Jerwen in southern Estonia. The Western
Estonian region of Wiek, on the other hand, belonged to the Bishopric of Oesel. After the collapse of the rule of the Teutonic
Order, the Harrisch-Wierische Ritterschaft and the Order's vassals in Jerwen swore allegiance to King Erik XIV of Sweden who
confirmed their privileges. The Wiek followed in summer 1584 when King Johann III united the four regions of Harrien, Wierland,
Jerwen and Wiek into one duchy. Since this date, the Estlaendische Ritterschaft has existed as one entity.
Originally, every person with an estate
established as a fief belonged to the Ritterschaft. When the Swedish kings began to hand out estates to mercenary leaders
who did not belong to the nobility, and wealthy burgers of Reval and Narval to invest in country estates, the Ritterschaft
felt the need to set itself apart from these by creating a Matrikel (register). Such registers already existed in Curland
since 1620 and in Sweden since 1625. However, despite the approval for the establishment of a Matrikel of the Estlaendische
Ritterschaft, issued by Queen Christina of Sweden 1648, it was never implemented as she and her successors ennobled most of
these mercenary leaders and burgers.
Only when Peter the Great confirmed the
privileges of the Estlaendische Ritterschaft in 1710 after his conquest of Estonia, was the establishment of a register reconsidered.
Preparations for this were started in 1729 and inscriptions took place from 1745. Since then 308 families have been registered.
Of these, the following 179 remain in existence:
Every legitimately born male descendant of a noble father
and his spouse is entered into the Matrikel, not however bearers of the title through adoption or other legal transfer of
name. The following information is included:
Name, christian name(s), place and date of birth, confession
(where not Lutheran), profession, academic title, job title or rank, place and date of marriage, divorce and death as appropriate.
For spouses additionally: christian name and profession
of the father, christian and maiden name of mother.
The genealogist would like to stress that this form of
record does not affect current rules on names under public law. It simply states the person's status as belonging to the historic
nobility from a genealogical perspective in accordance with long-standing principles of nobility law now enshrined in private
In order to maintain a complete and up-to-date genealogical
picture of a family, it is important that all the information referred to above is passed on to the genealogist. This will
also assist preparations for the publication of the Genealogical Handbook of German Nobility (Geneaologisches Handbuch des
We therefore ask you to provide the genealogist
with all of the mentioned family and person related data. Please also send him copies of family announcements, or better of
the relevant certificates. In addition we request copies of newsletters of family associations, published family histories,
family trees etc. for the genealogist's archives.