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Battle of Wenden (1578)
Part of Livonian War
DateOctober 21, 1578
LocationCēsis, Latvia
Result Swedish–Polish victory
Flag of Sweden.svg Sweden
Herb Rzeczypospolitej Obojga Narodow.svg Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth
Coat of Arms of Russia 1577.png Tsardom of Russia
Commanders and leaders
Andrzej Sapieha,
Göran Boije[1]
Ivan Galitzine[2]
4,000–6,000[1][3] 18,000–22,000[1]
Casualties and losses
about 400 men[4] 6,280 killed
3,000 captured
1,720 dispersed[4]
20–30 artillery pieces[1]

Ruins of Cēsis (Wenden) Castle today

The Battles of Wenden were a series of battles for control of the stronghold of Wenden (Cēsis, Kiesia, Võnnu), in present-day Latvia, fought during the Livonian War in 1577 and 1578. Magnus of Livonia besieged the town in August 1577, but was deposed and replaced by Russian forces under tsar Ivan IV who eventually sacked the town and castle in what became a symbolic victory. Polish-Lithuanian forces however re-captured the stronghold in November, and beat back a Russian counter-attack in February 1578.

In October, the Russian army again laid siege to the town but was destroyed by a smaller Swedish-German-Polish relief force. This marked the turning point in the Livonian War, shifting the initiative from the Tsardom of Russia to Sweden and Poland-Lithuania. It also marked the end of the Kingdom of Livonia, which collapsed when Magnus retired to Courland.

Background[edit | edit source]

In 1570 and 1571, Ivan IV "the Terrible" of Russia faced internal disputes, culminating in the slaughter of Novgorod's inhabitants[5] and the burning of Moscow by the tartars.[6] Yet, he was able to recover and resume his campaigns in the Livonian War in 1572.[6] A Swedish counter-offensive in 1574 failed.[7] Ivan IV had introduced a new strategy, relying on tens of thousands of native troops, cossacks and tartars, instead of a few thousand skilled troops and mercenaries, as practiced by his adversaries.[7] Swedish forces were besieged in Reval (Tallinn), Danish Estonia was raided, and so was central Livonia as far as Dünaburg (Daugavpils), since 1561 formally under Polish-Lithuanian suzerainty.[7] The conquered territories submitted to Ivan or his vassal, Magnus,[7] who was declared as king of Livonia in 1570.[5]

The year 1576 marked the height of Ivan's campaign, and another 30,000 Russian forces crossed into Livonia in 1577.[5] Magnus had fallen into disgrace when he defected from Ivan IV during the same year,[8] and started to subordinate castles without consulting the tsar.[5] When Kokenhusen (Koknese) submitted to Magnus in the hope of avoiding Ivan IV's army, the tsar sacked it and executed its German commanders.[5] The campaign then focussed on Wenden (Cēsis, Võnnu), "the heart of Livonia", which as the former capital of the Livonian Order was not only of strategic importance, but also a symbol for Livonia itself.[7]

1577[edit | edit source]

Ivan IV of Russia

In the summer of 1577, Magnus of Livonia laid siege to Wenden.[3][7] The Russian army under Ivan IV appeared before Wenden's walls in late August.[3][7] Ivan had Magnus arrested, sacked the town and laid siege to the castle.[3][7] The last 300 defenders, men, women and children who were "promised a terrible fate" by the tsar,[3] retreated to the castle's main tower and committed collective suicide by blowing themselves up with 4 pounds (1.8 kg) of gunpowder.[3][7][nb 1] Thus, Wenden fell to Ivan in September, and was made a seat of four newly appointed voivodes who were to administer the province for Russia.[9]

The sack of Wenden was a huge symbolic victory for Ivan.[3][10] Among his opponents in the Livonian War, John III of Sweden only controlled Reval (Tallinn), Stephen Báthory of Poland-Lithuania only held Riga, Frederick II of Denmark was limited to the island of Øsel (Ösel, Saaremaa), Magnus of Livonia, though released by Ivan, abdicated in 1578 and withdrew to Piltene[8] in Courland.[7] Ivan's control of nearly all of Livonia and Estonia was secured by garrisons numbering 22,000 men in total.[3][10]

John III of Sweden

1578[edit | edit source]

John III and Stephen Báthory formed an alliance against Ivan IV in December 1577, after Báthory had concluded the Danzig War.[3][10] Already in November, Lithuanian forces had started an offensive from the south and captured Dünaburg (Daugavpils).[3][10] A Polish-Swedish force[10] took the town and castle of Wenden in early 1578.[3][10] Russian forces tried to re-take the town in February, but failed.[3]

A subsequent Swedish offensive, targeted Leal (Lihula), Lode (Koluvere), Hapsal (Haapsalu), Pernau (Pärnu), Dorpat (Tartu) and Novgorod.[3] In September, Ivan responded by sending in an army of 18,000 men, who re-captured Oberpahlen (Põltsamaa) from Sweden and then marched on Wenden.[3][10]

Resolution[edit | edit source]

Stephen Báthory of Poland-Lithuania

Upon their arrival at Wenden, the Russian army laid siege to the town.[10] An allied relief force consisting of 5,500[3][10] to 6,000[3] German, Polish, Transylvanian, Bohemian, Romanian and Swedish soldiers[3][10] confronted the Russians on 21 October.[11] First, the Russian cavalry was defeated[10] and driven off[3][10] in open field,[10] then the Russian infantry, still entrenched for the siege,[3][10] was routed or taken prisoner.[3] Russian casualties were severe,[3][10] and among the captives, there were several high-ranking boyars.[3] More than twenty siege guns and large numbers of horses[nb 2] were captured, enabling the whole Swedish infantry to ride back to Reval.[3][10]

The battle was unusual insofar as only a few battles of the Livonian War were fought in open field; usually, one of the parties took a defensive position in a fortress, while the opposing party laid siege.[12] Furthermore, Wenden was to remain the only occasion of a Swedish-Polish-Lithuanian collaboration in battle,[11] as the alliance fell apart in the following years.[13]

The allied victory marked the turning point of the Livonian War.[3][10][11] Ivan IV was for the first time seriously defeated in Livonia.[10] A series of further Russian defeats followed,[11] forcing Ivan to accept an unfavourable outcome of the war in the Truce of Jam Zapolski with Stephen Bathory[13] and the Treaty of Plussa with John III.[14]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Responsible for the blast was Livonian noble Hinrik (Heinrich) Boismann. Derrik, Torsten (2000) (in German). Das Bruderbuch der Revaler Tafelgilde (1364-1549). Marburg: Tectum. p. 56. http://dspace.utlib.ee/dspace/bitstream/10062/1755/6/Derrik.pdf.txt. 
  2. "A thousand" according to Frost, "thousands" according to Peterson.

Sources[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Sarmacki, Kwartalnik. Bitwa Pod Kiesią 1578
  2. Robert Payne, Nikita Romanoff. Ivan the Terrible (1975). p. 368.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 3.18 3.19 3.20 3.21 3.22 3.23 Frost (2000), p. 28
  4. 4.0 4.1 Hedberg (1975)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Frost (2000), p. 27
  6. 6.0 6.1 Peterson (2007), p. 91
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 7.9 Peterson (2007), p. 93
  8. 8.0 8.1 Oakley (1992), p. 37
  9. Angermann (1972), p. 29
  10. 10.00 10.01 10.02 10.03 10.04 10.05 10.06 10.07 10.08 10.09 10.10 10.11 10.12 10.13 10.14 10.15 10.16 10.17 Peterson (2007), p. 94
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Roberts (1986), p. 263
  12. Peterson (2007), p. 95
  13. 13.0 13.1 Roberts (1986), p. 264
  14. Roberts (1986), p. 265

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

  • Hedberg, Jonas (1975). Kungl. Artilleriet - Medeltid och äldre vasatid. Stockholm: Militärhistoriska förlaget. ISBN 91-85266-03-5. 
  • Angermann, Norbert (1972) (in German). Studien zur Livlandpolitik Ivan Groznyjs. Marburger Ostforschungen. 32. Hamburg. ISBN 3-87969-098-7. 
  • Frost, Robert I (2000). The Northern Wars. War, State and Society in Northeastern Europe 1558-1721. Longman. pp. 27–28. ISBN 978-0-582-06429-4. 
  • Oakley, Steward (1992). War and peace in the Baltic, 1560-1790. War in Context. Abingdon - New York: Routledge. p. 37. ISBN 0-415-02472-2. 
  • Peterson, Gary Dean (2007). Warrior kings of Sweden. The rise of an empire in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. McFarland. pp. 94–95. ISBN 0-7864-2873-2. 
  • Roberts, Michael (1986). The early Vasas. A history of Sweden 1523-1611. CUP Archive. ISBN 0-521-31182-9. 

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