Bischofsburg Hapsal (Haapsalu)

English regrettably lacks the term I was looking for here, or at least it’s clumsier than Bischofsburg: Episcopal Castle, so I’ve gone with the German term. I guess this comes from the fact that rarely were bishops there highest secular power in a region/area in the British Isles and so their construction efforts took the form of palaces and priories more than castles (North Elmham is a good exception but it’s still called ‘castle’ and it’s bishop was definitely subservient to the King with regards to secular folk in the Bishopric of Norwich).

Typical (restored) section of walls

The story of this place begins in the early 13th century with the creation of the Bishopric of Ösel-Wiek or, at least, that is the story told in part here. No doubt people lived in this area long before that time (and they have continued to live there long after the end of the Bishopric as well), but those stories are not known to me (yet). Nevertheless, in the latter part of that century (1279), the then-Bishop Hermann von Bekeshoevede moved the seat of the principality to Haapsalu (Hapsal) by founding the castle. Though the Bishops themselves moved on about a century later when they founded their residence in Kuressaare (Arensburg), Haapsalu remained the real centre of power for the state until it was sold to the Crown of Denmark in 1560.

This gradual development also results in this castle exhibiting about four different layers of construction, all against their own specific enemies. The first was the original old citadel, the smallest of the developments. After this, the 15th century saw the expansion of the castle by building large outerworks. The development of firearms gave additional reason to expand this structure and some works were undertaken during Bishop Johannes IV Kievel’s reign. It is also his coat of arms that features above the main gate.

Bishop Johannes IV Kievel’s coat of arms above the main gate

The last set of works, not described above, was the erection of a set of inner earthworks by the Swedish after they gained control over the castle (late 16th century). After this time, the castle began its slow decline which was not hampered much when a scion, Jacob, of the famous de la Gardie family purchased it with hopes of making it into a proper palace (the very same Jacob notably served his King and country against both Russia and the Commonwealth). Most of these dreams were never realised but the family kept ownership of the property, but notable people did walk by here. A photo, illustrated outside the castle on a placard, shows the Russian imperial family on a visit in the summer of 1880 with both Nicholas II and Alexander III present (though neither in their official roles yet).

This story has mostly revolved around the historical progress, and I think that is fine here. Another story, mostly about love and sacrifice could be presented — for the castle is also well known for the legend of the White Lady. But I’ll leave that for another time…

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