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Tallinn’s Military Obligations and its Swedish Garrison at the End of the 16th Century and in the First Third of the 17th Century

The Swedish crown’s right to maintain a certain number of soldiers in Tallinn, in Toompea and in the lower town, in a state of war was set in writing in the affirmation letters issued in June of 1561 to the Knighthood of Harju-Viru and the city of Tallinn after they became subjects of the Swedish crown. At the same time, the number of soldiers in Tallinn’s garrison was not fixed. The size of the military unit stationed in Tallinn depended on how large the territory under Swedish control was in Estland, on how intense the fighting was in the province, and to what extent forces were needed in wars being waged beyond Estonian territory. Hence the size of the garrison at the time of subjecting the city to Swedish rule (1561/1562) was less than 4,000 men. During the two extensive sieges of Tallinn (1570/1571 and 1577), about 6,000 men was achieved as the maximum size of this defence unit, with the inclusion of the city’s burgher force, and military units formed from Hofleute (cavalrymen from the landed gentry) and refugees. In peacetime or when the fighting took place some distance removed from Tallinn, the number of garrison soldiers decreased, fluctuating between around a hundred and five hundred men. In the estimation of the central authorities, it was sufficient to keep one to three companies of men in Tallinn. Generally speaking, men of Finnish origin served in Tallinn. In addition to the garrison, Tallinn’s burghers encountered soldiers who stayed in the city for a short time and were billeted in the lower town and in the suburbs.

Tallinn’s Swedish garrison’s main problem was supply difficulties. The garrison’s soldiers were often at the edge of starvation. Along with food, there was also a shortage of clothing and footwear. Starting from 1570, Finland’s bailiffs sent almost everything that was necessary to Tallinn, but the consignments arrived late, were insufficient, or did not arrive at all because they were sent too late in the shipping season. Tallinn’s burghers were asked for food aid, first and foremost grain, and for aid in supplying clothing. During the reigns of Johan III, Sigismund, Duke Charles and Gustav II Adolf, aid provided by Tallinners to the army was often compensated for by mortgaging crown landholdings. The state paid back some of the loans by payments in copper, butter, grain, and other such goods brought from Sweden and Finland. The central authorities also issued bills of exchange. The town council and the community complied with the crown’s wishes to the best of their ability and gave money and provisions. Large-scale lenders emerged among the burghers, like Valentyn Kruse, Hinrich von Lohn, Bugislaus Rosen and Jost Dunte, who were able to use the crown’s debts in their own interests. At the same time, it is clear that the loans and aid that the Swedish authorities requested from Tallinn’s town council and burghers were modest compared to the expenditures that the state spent on the upkeep of the soldiers and government officials in Estland, and the maintenance and supply of Estland’s fortresses.

While at first the crown asked the city for loan assistance in addition to the upkeep of the city’s soldiers, this was soon replaced by non-refundable war taxes – contributions. Like other class-based local governments, Tallinn was not prepared to give money to the central authorities at all or in the requested amounts, neither was it willing to pay additional taxes (for instance, the little toll). For this reason, Gustav II Adolf introduced a new maritime toll – the licent – in Tallinn in 1628. With the introduction of the licent toll, Tallinners were exempted from other monetary war duties starting in May of 1629. Even though the central authorities did not forget the city’s obligation to send ‘a certain number of soldiers’ to the battlefield in the event of war, this is not known to have been demanded from the city later on.

Tallinn was obliged to maintain a certain number of soldiers at its own expense in wartime and to send them to the battlefield. This obligation arose from the ratification document of 2 August 1561. This had already been the city’s obligation under the reign of the masters of the Livonian Order (the so-called Heeresfolge, military service duty). The fulfilment of this obligation was demanded of the city essentially right away in the first years of Swedish rule. Throughout the latter half of the 16th century and the start of the 17th century, the city’s German soldiers did indeed participate in the crown’s military operations in Estland, Livland and Saaremaa.

In addition to the German soldiers, the city also hired municipal soldiers. How large the number of municipal soldiers was at the end of the 16th century and at the start of the 17th century remains an open question. This number was in the range of 18–38 men in the 1620s. The duties of the city’s soldiers were primarily sentry duty on the city walls, at the gates and in the harbour, but the town council placed even these men at the crown’s disposal when necessary.