|Thaarason I Lepitamatu|
|Thaarason I after his coronation as Duke of Livonia.|
|Duke of Livonia, Count of Oeselia|
|Reign||1395 - 1415|
|Predecessor||Vesse of Oeselia|
|Spouse||Johanna of Guelders|
|Issue||Alev I Lepitamatu|
|Father||Vesse of Oeselia|
|Born|| 1375 |
Thaarason I, commmonly Thaarason the Prudent, and widely, by his enemies, "the Sodomite", was the second Duke of Livonia and the first Count of Sambia, succeeding his father Vesse in 1395. A fairly skilled military commander who fought in several conflicts, he was an intelligent diplomat and statesman who presided over a period of prosperity in Livonia. He is noted for the trade contacts established during his reign with Flanders, and was the first Count of Oeselia, a position established during the war with the Teutonic Knights.
Thaarason was born in Narva, the son of Vesse, the first Duke of Livonia, and Ylva Niklasson, the daughter of the bailiff of Viborg. Little is known of his early life, although he was raised mainly on the coastal Estonian islands, where he acquired a lifelong predilection for ships and an interest in shipbuilding. He was also fostered at the court of the Lithuanian Grand Duke for several years. He also learned to speak, in addition to his native Livonian, Swedish, Latgalian and Lithuanian. He served in his father's armies during the Ingrian War, fighting mainly against Novgorod, and gaining a reputation as a capable if not particularly skilled commander. Following the Livonian victory at the Battle of Allenburg, he brokered a deal with Lithuania whereby the lands conquered from the Teutonic Knights were given to Lithuania, gaining it an outlet on the Baltic, and Livonia received Latgalia in return. He was made Count of Oeselia by his father in 1393.
Marriage and Rule
Numerous crusaders had been captured at the battle of Allenburg, and were held for ransom by the Livonians after the battle. One of these was William I of Guelders and Jülich, a noble from the Low Countries, who found himself, having been engaged in a long civil war against a rival claimant for Guelders, greatly impoverished and unable to raise the ransom. He offered, instead, the hand of one of his illegitimate daughters, Johanna of Guelders, to Thaarason. Illegegitimacy was not a prticular issue in Livonia, it being a pagan country, and Thaarason saw the marriage only as one to a wealthy Fleming. He sailed west in 1394 to pick up his bride; the two were duly wed, according to pagan rites, in Guelders. In the Low Countries, he encountered numerous wealthy grain merchants, the region begin major centre for trade, and offer them extremely favourable conditions, including monopolies for Livonian furs, if they would transport grain to Livonia. The hostile Hanseatic League, which had been blocking trade using its dominance of the Baltic sea lanes, was shocked the next year when ships from Holland, Flanders and Guelders began to pour into Livonian ports, carrying grain and dried fish and leaving with holds full of furs, wool and lumber. He returned in 1396, bringing with him a large retinue of Flemings, including a number of literate clerks; these he set to the task of codifying and writing down the Livonian language, a monumental task which Thaarason took a constant interest in.
Although Livonian noble hostility to this foreign bureaucracy was initially substantial, most saw the benefits of greater commercial contact with the West and a counterbalance to the Hanseatic League. They also appreciated Thaarason's maintenance of peace and relatively limited taxation. Nevertheless, Thaarason had to crack down hard on border warfare with the Teutonic enclave at Riga to avoid a resumption of full-scale war. His relationship with Margrethe I of Denmark, Livonia's overlord, was relatively positive; he was skilled at maintaining the religious ambiguity that made it politically possible for Margrethe to have a pagan vassal state at all. Nevertheless, he was also careful to bring the garrisons at Narva and Reval, formerly held by Swedish troops, under Livonian control.