Noblemen who fell into serfdom

by Reet Hünerson, specialist at the National Archives of Estonia

While collecting data for the database “Land registers” at, I have sometimes come across rather unexpected stories.

Two decades before the Great Northern War, the Swedish King Charles XI initiated the Great Reduction of manors in the overseas provinces of Estland and Livland. About 80 per cent of all noble holdings in Livland and c. 50 per cent in Estland went into the crown possession. The war ravaged the provinces in 1700-1710 and the plague also took its toll. The human loss was huge, villages were suffering population decline or even became empty. Several manors were also damaged or desolated and their owners had either died or fled the country. Some parishes had no pastors who would have recorded the deaths of parish members in the registers. As a result of the war, Sweden lost Estland and Livland to Russia and the Russian Tsar Peter I restored landholding rights that had existed before the reforms of Chrales XI of Sweden. In the “unsettled times” after the war, hunt for ownerless landed properties started. In such a situation, minor heirs could even lose their noble title as well as their title to land, as the case of the descendants of Rittmeister and Baron (Freiherr) Heinrich Homburg shows. Noblemen who fell into serfdom weiterlesen