Fief of Viborg

Fief of Viborg or Margraviate of Wiburg 13201534, was for some two centuries a late medieval feudal fief in the southeastern border of Finland and the entire Swedish realm, held by its chatelain, a fiefed, appointed feudal lord.

History of the margraviate

For extended periods the medieval commanders of Viborg castle (chatelains, castellans), on the border with republic of Novgorod, did in practice function as margraves, collecting the crown's incomes from the fief in their own name and being entitled to keep them all to use for the defense of the realm's eastern border. They enjoyed more independence than the kingdom's other castellans, "burgraves". However the fief of Viborg castle and its county, was not formally hereditary, though almost all appointees were from certain families, related to the Bonde-Bååt-Haak family that also between the 1350s and 1390s held the Swedish titular version of the earldom of Orkney.

Organization of that new territory for the Swedish realm took place between the 1290s and 1330s. The conquered Kexholm was lost, and Neva river's Landskrona was destroyed catastrophically. There was much sporadic warring for decades after, until 1323. Viborg was however held, and the coast westwards. When the conquest became established, a special fief became formed. Gotland had strong trade relations with coastal Carelia. Novgorod succeeded maintaining its control of the Ladoga coast and Neva river.

The independence and privileges of the county were founded by the Joninpoika brothers. Squire Peter Jonsson (later knighted) and his elder brother sir Sune Jonsson, Lord of Flishult, Royal Councillor, the lawspeaker of Tiohärad (in inland Småland), together with their close relative Charles, bishop of Linköping, allies of the new king Magnus IV of Sweden, in 1320 or 1321 purchased dominus Efflerus, the bailiff of the deposed king Birger of Sweden, out from Viborg castle. They committed to keep the castle and its revenues for bishop Charles until the purchase price be compensated.

Their escutcheon depicted a boat, as is also depicted in arms of the so-called Bonde family and Snakenborg family and Bååt family and Puke family; and they were from an originally Smålandic family, some of them at that time using nickname Haak.

Lord Peter was set up as the fief-holder, and the whole clan participated in consolidating the fief. They also brought numbers of their Smålandic peasants to start farms in the county. There are toponymic indications of an influx of Southern-Swedish immigrants having settled in vicinities of Viborg and on the coast west up to Kymi river.

Peter and Sune recognized the new king and received important privileges, which effectively turned their holding of Viborg as an independent feudal fief, the start of a veritable margraviate.

The position of this fiefed chatelain was "to defend the castle and the county, to administer them, with freedom to organize the internal affairs of the county as it pleased them, to bear the revenues and use as it pleased..."

They also grabbed immense wealth for the family: Sune's son Erengisle, Earl of Orkney is a recorded owner of Kymmenegård manor in the Viborg province, on which spot the later town of Kotka became erected. Munkenäs, an immense domain in Vederlax, was owned first by Sten Turesson Bielke, Lord High Constable of Sweden, and then his son Sten Stensson, Lord of Engsö.

All the Swedish-party negotiators of Treaty of Nöteborg 1323, three years after the acquisition of Viborg, appear to be members of their extended family or representatives of bishop Charles' diocese and merchants of Gotland which was a part of that diocese.

Its chatelains were generally from the most powerful families of the kingdom. They enjoyed large administrative powers and a good distance from the capital. Those realities made them practically independent rulers. The position of Viborg's lord became effectively independent. As such, it was desired by many powerful magnates. In the 1350s it was held by earl Erengisle's brother-in-law, the mighty King-Maker Nicholas Turesson, Lord of Kråkerum of the Bielke. He personally owned Kaukjärvi domain in the Karelian isthmus near Viborg.

They organized defences, constant local guarding, provisions of food and equipment, kept fortress in shape, kept mercenaries and paid military.

The direct-line Jonsson family ended in 1392 at the death of Earl Erengisle. However, the margraviate was, almost without exception, held by descendants (or husbands of such) of their extended family until its very end, over two centuries.

Early margraves of Viborg created a petty nobility, knapadel, around their strategic points. More capable peasants with some leader role in local community, were given tax exemption against guard duties of local strongholds, those somewhat primitive "linnavuori" fortresses. Cavalry service was not required from them for the frälse tax exemption. Petty nobility of Veckelax is particularly noted in literature for as having been an example of such petty nobility. Later margraves, such as Krister Nilsson and Charles Knutsson, declined to accept fully the nobility of such families of the petty nobility.

Apparently the main reason why the chatelain of the Viborg county succeeded in keeping such an independent position compared to other castles and their holders, was Viborg's extraordinary position as the easternmost outpost and the stronghold of the Swedish realm against eastern neighboring power, their attacks and desires to annex more land. Revenues from this county were needed for the defense of eastern border, which usually was understood in the government of he kingdom - were eastern defense not granted sufficient resources, taxes from more western aras would possibly also have been lost to enemy.

These fiefholders were also responsible for holding the border norther. In the 1470s, they established another castle, Olofsborg, over 100 km north of Viborg. All the Middle Ages, that fortress was kept under the command of Viborg.

Important personages who held Viipuri county as their fief, were Bo Jonsson Grip, Krister Nilsson Vasa (1417–42), Charles Knutsson Bonde (1442–48, the future king), Erik Axelsson Tott (1457–81), Knut Posse (1495–97), Sten Sture the Elder (particularly 1497-99 when personally in residence, between his regencies), Eric Bielke and count John of Hoya.

Particularly in 1440s and in late 15th century, the fortresses of the Viborg castle were further enlarged and built.

In 1534, king Gustav I of Sweden abolished the independent fief by deposing and exiling his brother-in-law John, Count of Hoya. Lord Nils Grabbe took Viborg castle by force on behalf of the king and became its royal governor, without gaining feudal privileges held by earlier holders of the castle.

List of fiefholders of the Viborg castle

This is to list all those medieval and 16th century lords who held Viipuri castle and its fief, as fiefed chatelains, in the independent way ("margrave") and not simply as governors or bailiffs. The list is incomplete, due to the scarcity of historical sources and thus gaps.

In 1320, lord Peter Jonsson (Haak) purchased the castle and its dominions from the bailiff Efflerus set there by the deposed king Birger.

In 1534, Gustav I of Sweden, Sten Sture's grandnephew, abolished the independent fief.

Lord Nicholas Grabbe was the next commander of the Viipuri castle, 1534–45, but he did not receive the feudal privileges held by earlier chatelains.

See also


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