The Livonian War (1558-1583) marked the end of the medieval era in Baltic history. When the states of the Livonian Confederation fell apart under an unexpectedly successful Russian military attack, the monarchs of Sweden, Poland-Lithuania, and Denmark moved in more or less reluctantly to pick up the pieces. As the western monarchs expected, the Russian tsar, Ivan IV, was unable to continue expanding his borders in all directions; indeed, though several times Ivan's ambitions seemed on the point of being realized, ultimately they ended in defeat and chaos. As the war came to a close, Sweden acquired Estonia, Poland-Lithuania gained territory from Russia and Livonia and acquired a vassal in the Duke of Courland, and a dynastic union of Sweden and Poland-Lithuania seemed possible.

This was unforeseeable, of course, in detail during the years Johannes Renner was writing his chronicle. What he observed in Livonia was the destruction of a well-established society, accompanied by the suffering of countless numbers of innocent townspeople and peasants. This was divine punishment, many of his contemporaries said, for the worldly sins of the people, great and small, but it was an especially just punishment for those in charge of the governments, because they had demonstrated how little political wisdom they possessed, how little understanding of their enemy and of themselves. Lack of unity had prevented an early coordination of strategy and hampered tactical application of strategy once one was cobbled together. However, not all would be lost, even now, if the surviving officers of the Livonian Order, the prelates, the nobles and the burghers could just work together. Livonia had faced greater challenges in the past and prevailed. Despite receiving only minimal help from the West, despite the divided leadership, despite one setback after the other in the first year of the war, the Livonians several times had almost recaptured Dorpat and other fallen strongpoints. Surely, Renner and many contemporaries thought, God's people could prevail again. All that was necessary was to repent of their personal and political sins, join arms, and go forward in God's name against the foe.

Was this a pipe dream? Was it possible to defeat a totalitarian tyrant (a phrase they did not yet know but probably would have approved of) like Ivan the Terrible? Certainly, Ivan had serious problems in trying to garrison the cities and castles his armies had captured. Not even he could require his experienced troops to remain in Livonia forever. Moreover, he had enemies on other fronts, especially the Crimean Tatars to the south. Not even Ivan could fight the Tatars without German mercenaries. The German rulers in Livonia believed that if only some financial help could be mobilized from the homeland, and if the mercenaries' military talents could be denied to the "Archenemy" and made available to them, they could reverse the series of defeats that had marked the opening years of the war. This was Renner's task: by showing that the Livonians had fought well and hard, that their reverses were due to the failure to take seriously the task at hand, he might persuade the Hanseatic cities and electors of the Holy Roman Empire that there was a great deal at stake in Livonia, and that victory could still be obtained.

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