"Romeo and Juliet", the Livonian Way? Historical Background and Literary Variations of the Legend of Barbara von Tiesenhausen  Cover Image

"Romeo ja Julia" Liivimaa moodi? Barbara von Tiesenhauseni legend: ajalooline tagapõhi ja kirjanduslikud variatsioonid
"Romeo and Juliet", the Livonian Way? Historical Background and Literary Variations of the Legend of Barbara von Tiesenhausen

Author(s): Liina Lukas, Juhan Kreem
Subject(s): Cultural history
Published by: SA Kultuurileht
Keywords: comparative literary studies; Baltic German literature; Estonian literature; folkloristics; 16th century Livonian history

Summary/Abstract: The story of Barbara von Tiesenhausen drowned in an icy lake by her own brothers as punishment for her misalliance, has been used both in the Baltic German and in the Estonian literary traditions. The article discusses the historical background of the story and follows its evolution in folk tradition as well as in literary versions. The execution of Barbara von Tiesenhausen has been recorded in the chronicles of the 16th century. In addition, the hostilities of her lover Franz Bonnius against the Tiesenhausen family and Livonia can be followed in the correspondence of the potentates and legal documents of the time. The conflict ensued from the (planned) marriage that was not considered acceptable by the family. At the same time, the social station of the fiancé Franz Bonnius has remained somewhat ambiguous. Considering his later activities aimed at establishing his rights in Prussia and Lithuania, at whose courts his claims were heard, one is left with an impression that he may have been less of an outsider to the aristocratic society than hitherto depicted. Despite the real restrictions to marriage with men of a lower rank no historian has found convincing proof of the legitimacy of Barbara’s execution. This leaves the exact nature of the conflict unclear. In any case, the killing of Barbara was shocking even by 16th-century standards. In folklore and literature, in their close mutual interaction, the story is living its own life. The Baltic German literary tradition keeps to the chronicles, associating the story with Rannu manor and Lake Võrtsjärv, as well as with concrete historical figures (T. H. Pantenius). In Estonian literature and folklore, however, a divergence can be observed. One tradition feeds on the book Ennemuistsed jutud („Folk tales”) by F. R. Kreutzwald. Here the Barbara of Rannu transforms into the young lady of Porkuni manor, while the story, shedding off its concrete realia, acquires mythical dimensions and becomes an explanatory legend (F. R. Kreutzwald, M. Under). Aino Kallas, however (as well as the opera „Barbara von Tiesenhusen” written by E. Tubin on the inspiration of A. Kallas’s prose ballad of the same name), draws on the chronicles and Pantenius. The modern approach of Maimu Berg treats the innocent girl in love as a vicious vamp and the heroic Bonnius as a cynical egoist. There are more (unrealized) options to the story of Barbara. And yet, running through the literary versions like a red line is the tragedy of a misalliance, innocent love and criticism of rank restrictions.

  • Issue Year: LI/2008
  • Issue No: 03
  • Page Range: 156-177
  • Page Count: 22
  • Language: Estonian