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Ivo Schenckenberg Taken Prisoner by Rakvere Castle and Cruelly Executed

Ivo Schenkenberg, the Hannibal of Livonia, was imprisoned during the attack on Rakvere Castle and executed in a particularly cruel way. Ivo Schenkenberg (approx. 1550 – 1579) was a son of the Tallinn minter Christopher Schenkenberg, who gained fame during the Livonian War as the leader of an Estonian detachment. The Russian troops that had invaded Livonia had occupied almost the whole Estonia territory by 1576. The Swedish held only Tallinn with its nearest surroundings.

In July when the Russian troops reached the approaches to Tallinn, Ivo Schenkenberg formed a defence group of peasants who had escaped to town. His troop of horsemen became quickly well known for their bold and clever operations and numerous victories. Schenkenberg himself earned the nickname “the Hannibal of Estonia”. His group was called the Hannibal people.

From January 23rd to March 13th of 1577, a large Russian army besieged Tallinn. During the siege, ‘the Hannibal people’ were used both as the town’s firemen and as fighters in sorties.

It is said that during the sorties, Schenkenberg showed great personal bravery. “Russians were particularly full of hostility and grudge against that Hannibal and his people,” stated Balthasar Russow in his Livonian Chronicle.

After the Russians had left the siege of Tallinn, Schenkenberg began the guerrilla struggle against the Russians in virtually the whole country and instilled great fear and dread in them.

Balthasar Russow has written:

“After the leaving of Muscovites in April, all warriors in Tallinn, namely squires, lansquenets, citizens, and freemen were given full liberty to loot the Livonian areas that were under the Russians’ control.

But peasants were in a better situation than German squires and mercenaries at such a looting because they were born and raised in the country and knew all circumstances of the country and peasants, also all secret paths and lanes through meadows, thickets, brushwood and bogs.

And many of them had lived and served under the Russians and knew where the Russians used to keep their stallions and animals and also where they themselves usually moved around. For this reason and also because of good scouting by their good friends and relatives, they often inherited a greater prize from plunder and imprisoned Russians, so that some hatred and envy arose between German squires and non-German peasants, and it was to be feared that the Germans had to behave towards the same peasants as towards the Scots under Wesenberg.”

In 1578, Ivo Schenkenberg and his squad continued the guerrilla war in the enemy’s territory.

On the 4th of June, his troop looted and burnt the Russian outskirts of Tartu in the north of the Emajõgi River.

In July 1579, the Schenkenberg guerrillas ambushed the Tatars that had forayed in Harjumaa and took shelter in Rakvere Castle.

B. Russow described the events as follows:

… Ivo Schenkenberg alias Hannibal went out with his peasants again to attack the Tatars near Rakvere even though lately the whole bulk of Swedish and German warriors had not been able to do it; and he wanted to win all honour to himself alone.

And when he came near Rakvere and got a firm message that the Tatars were too strong for him, he deemed it better to get into a better position, from where he could lure the enemy to come out to the open.

His brother Cristoffer Schenkenberg would not agree to the plan. He vituperated his brother Ivo and others as cowards and he, accompanied by some peasants, was in his foolish bravery the first to dare to attack.

When the others saw that, they followed him and valiantly attacked the Tatars, chased them twice through the gate of Rakvere, and slew more than fifty of them. 

The Russians and Tatars were quite astonished at the great courage of the small group and could only guess that they must have a reserve hiding somewhere in a spinney. 

But when they captured one of Ivo’s men in the second encounter and learnt from him that there was no reserve, all the Tatars and Russians attacked them en masse and encircled them all.

When Ivo saw that, many of his men were already fleeing.

Cristoffer Schenkenberg would not yield himself prisoner but fought mightily until his death, and Ivo was wounded and taken prisoner with fifty-nine other men.

Some of them were hanged in Rakvere and some were thrown into jail; but the latter got out of jail again in a miraculous way, which defies logic, and came to Tallinn in a few weeks’ time. 

When Ivo Schenkenberg was taken prisoner, there was such joy and jubilation among all Russians in both Livonia and Russia, as if they had captured a prince.

Soon after that they took him with thirty other prisoners to Pskov to the grand duke, where Ivo offered to set free three boyars or noblemen in exchange of himself. 

But it was of no help, and he and his companions were pitifully put to death, which caused great grief among Tallinners.

That battle with the Tatars near Rakvere took place on the 27th of July in 1597.

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