Fall and fate of Viljandi during the Russian rule

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21. August 1560

At the beginning of August, Russians arrived under the strongest order fortress in Livonia, Viljandi, which was defended by the former Grandmaster Wilhelm Fürstenberg. He had a pretty small army at his disposal: 300 mercenaries, 150-men troop of the town and 50 refugees. However, the fortress was rather well equipped with ammunition and cannons; there was plenty of food as well.

The Russian forces that set to siege Viljandi allegedly had 40,000 men, but probably, at least twice as few. In any case, they were in great majority and when the town was bombed on 11 August, they used this majority. Most of the town was destroyed by fire and captured by the Russians. But the order fortress was still standing. After intensive bombing, part of the fortress wall collapsed, but there was still no real danger of the fortress being captured by Russians. But then, mercenaries started rebelling in the fortress as they had been unpaid for quite a while.

Although Fürstenberg offered them his personal belongings as pay, they decided to abandon defending the fortress and leave with the fortune they got from the fortress. But they did not do well as the enraged Grandmaster Kettler had them hung. Fürstenberg was arrested and taken to Russia, where he died in 1568. Most of the townspeople escaped to the unoccupied parts of Livonia; only four families stayed.

At the same time, Russians attempted to capture Paide Fortress, but Oldenbockum was again able to successfully defend it. During the Russian rule, Aleksei Adashev, who was one of the most important advisors of Ivan the Terrible, became the chief of the fortress. A great number of Russians settled in the town, hosting a tavern and growing vegetables. Estonians were living in slums; Germans also rather lived outside of the former heart of the town as the latter was in charred ruins. The Russians fortified the Viljandi Fortress and town wall to a great degree, only the lead roof of the fortress was broken up and melted into bullets.

Mati Laur. Eesti ajalugu varasel uusajal 1550-1800. Tallinn: Eesti Entsüklopeediakirjastus, 1999.

Viljandi ajalugu, juht ja linnaplaan. 1939.

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