History of the Barons von Schilling

From Brunswick to the Baltic

Kaspar Schilling, a son of Georg, mentioned in records in Brunswick in 1490, is said to have appeared shortly afterwards in Livonia, which was then a state governed by an Order of Knights. We do not know exactly when, where and why he got the idea of leaving the then relatively peaceful Brunswick to go to the "Wild East". Neither do we have any information about what Kaspar did in Brunswick. There are several indications that he might have been a merchant there and maintained intensive contacts with Livonia. Kaspar may possibly have been employed in the Hanseatic trading post in Novgorod which was closed by Ivan III, the Muscovite Tsar, in 1494.

Contacts with Wolter von Plettenberg, the new strong man in Livonia who was elected as the Grand Master of the Order in 1494, might have induced him to move to this country which was gaining in significance as an outpost of Eastern trade. Be this as it may, it was certainly a good idea to rely on Plettenberg at that time. Under his leadership, the Army of the Order defeated superior Russian forces in 1502, as they were moving westwards, and secured peace for the country again for another half-century.

Kaspar, who is strangely called Wilhelm in the official family register of the Curonian Assembly of Knights, left no trace in Livonia. He, who was born in 1470, possibly returned to Brunswick and left only his son Nikolaus as a "base" in the East.

His older son Friedrich and his daughter Anna are mentioned in Brunswick as late as 1523, whereas there are no records of the younger children Wilhelm, Adolf and Adelheid. However, his daughter Katharina married a v.d. Ropp in Old Livonia (Semigallia).

Oddly enough, two other Schillings appeared in Livonia at about the same time, also called Wilhelm and Adolf. They originated from the Schillings from Gustorf on the Lower Rhine.

From 1541 to 1549, Wilhelm was the Senior in Selburg. Adolf, who died in 1540, already held the post of House Commander in Wenden (now Cesis) from 1537 to 1539. These two men undoubtedly had a good relationship with the Grand Master of the Order. Since Wenden was the seat of the Order in Livonia, they were his close collaborators.

So, does the Baltic branch of the family not originate from the so-called Erik family but from the Gustorf line? Is that why the progenitor in the Assembly of Knights is called Wilhelm? This is improbable, because the men of the Order were not allowed to marry. Perhaps Kaspar became friendly with the men from Gustorf during a business trip to Livonia, left his son Nikolaus, possibly an illegitimate child, in the care of Wilhelm and gave his younger sons the first names of his two friends. Perhaps the Knights of the Order confused Nikolaus' "foster-father" with his birth father at a later date. But this is all speculation – back to the facts.

In 1548, a Grand Master of the Order called Brüggeney enfeoffed Nikolaus with the Meschgail estate (later the Schillingshof) in what is today the county of Riga, not all that far from Wenden (now Cesis).

After the death of Plettenberg, the fall of the rule of the Order of Knights in Livonia began in 1535. Plettenberg's successors were not able to solve the country's internal problems after the Reformation and to face up to Tsar Ivan the Terrible as opponents on an equal standing. In 1560, the army of the Order suffered a decisive defeat by the Russians. As a consequence, Old Livonia disintegrated. It ceased to be part of the German Empire. However, the Muscovites were not initially able to find their feet in Livonia. Revel (German: Reval, now: Tallinn) and the northern part of the country (i.e. Estonia) submitted to the Swedish and the bishoprics of Oesel and Courland (Pilten monastery) to Denmark. The rest of Old Livonia fell under Lithuanian-Polish protection. The last Grand Master of the order, Gotthard Kettler, managed to keep for himself the Order District of Courland, the area south of the Dvina, as a Polish hereditary fief duchy.


And this is where the Schillings' contacts with the Masters of the Order come to the fore again.

Kaspar II, Nikolaus' oldest son, did not stay on his father's estate of Meschgail, but moved to Courland, where he acquired "modest" properties (according to Vietinghoff, Archivist of the Curonian Knights' Archive, 1943) from the newly appointed Duke.

On April 3rd 1563, Kaspar Schilling was given three farms near Bauske for life-long use for a loan of 1600 Marks and on January 13th 1581 five for 2000 Marks. On March 4th 1586, he was given a life-long right of lien for these farms for himself and his sons. The second youngest of Nikolaus' four sons, Valentin, stayed in Livonia, on the estate of Meschgail, three "Haken" in size, which remained in the possession of the family until 1682.

Valentin is the progenitor of the now defunct Livonian partial family line. He represented the Eastern branch of the family at an event which may seem strange but was not unusual at the time, namely the inheritance alliance of the Schilling family, which was formed by six lines of the family with different coat-of-arms in Breslau on August 15th 1556. This alliance aimed to settle hereditary succession in the family. We do not know why it was Valentin who travelled to Silesia from distant Livonia. Perhaps Valentin used this journey to demonstrate the not very certain origins of his family.

Registration in the Knights' Bank

Valentin's involvement in the Breslau meeting may have been useful to his nephew Alexander, who represented the family before the Curonian Knights' Bank with the aim of achieving entry in the Curonian Roll in 1620.

Applicants had various alternative ways of proving that their family were of noble blood. Alexander selected the method most frequently used, namely invoking the "Notorium", i.e. he stated that the family was of noble origin. The minutes of the assembly show (according to Vietinghoff's records) two "poor" ancestors among a total of 16 in the paternal and maternal lines. Not until the end of the assembly was he finally accepted. It is not impossible that the two "poor" ancestors were the cause of the delay. Registration was necessary to secure the position of the nobility after the end of the rule of the Order of Knights.


Alexander's elder brother Georg inherited his father's property. However, he only remained holder of the lien for the five farms near Bauske for two years. He then moved to the estates of his wife Margarete, née Urader, who owned, among other properties, the Lambertshof in Courland. But this never came into the possession of the Schilling family, although Georg's son Matthias (Werner) called himself "heir of Lambertshof". In addition, Matthias was the lien lord of Brunowisci in the county of Ipice in Lithuania from 1634 to 1649.

At that time, most of the estates in northern Lithuania belonged to Curonian nobility. Since Lithuania was united with Poland then, Courland belonged to the Polish crown too. A grandson of Matthias, Matthias Georg, acquired the Pojulen estate in 1717, which gave a branch of the family the additional name of "Pojulen". Since Matthias Georg, the Schillings in the Baltic signed their name as "von Schilling".

Alexander's descendants also moved to Lithuania. In 1676, his grandson Alexander Johann became master of Schilling-Pommusch. Alexander Johann's second wife was Emerentia von Borch, who had inherited from her first husband, Karl von Szoege, the usufructuary rights to the estates of Kommodern and Brunnowiski in Lithuania, but the estates themselves belonged to the eight children from her marriage to Szoege.

Alexander Ladislaus (born in 1681), the only son of the marriage between Alexander and Emerentia, inherited Pommusch in his father's will but sold it again in 1712.


His grandson, Alexander Magnus, lien lord of Breden (again in the county of Bauske), went bankrupt in 1763.

The name of Alexander Magnus also appears in a publication of the Institute for Archive Science in Marburg, listing all the soldiers sold to England by the Landgrave of Hesse Kassel to reinforce the troops fighting against the rebel American independence forces. Whereas it was hitherto believed that he was the first Schilling to emigrate to America, taking his wife and four children with him, it has meanwhile become clear that he actually never left Germany for America. Moreover, he was only 18 years old at the time and would hardly have had a wife and children already. So this matter needs to be investigated.

This branch of the family died out in Lithuania and Courland.

His brother, Alexander Magnus, went to Austria for reasons still unknown, probably as an officer (cavalry captain), and died in St. Pölten (Lower Austria) in 1834. He formed a side branch of the family, which flourished as part of the petite bourgeoisie without a title.

The owner of Pojuhlen, Matthias Georg, had three sons. The second son, Friedrich Wilhelm (1684 to 1756), appears to have had no great agricultural ambitions. He joined the army and sold his share in Pojuhlen to his older brother Otto Nikolaus.

The Pojuhlen branch can no longer be traced after 1761. The youngest son, Gotthard Ernnst, owned various properties in Lithuania. His son Karl Nikolaus bought the Pomusch estate back for the Schillings in 1778 and it remained in the family's possession until 1878. Then this branch died out.

Friedrich Wilhelm was discharged from the army in 1714 because of numerous wounds and lived, as he said himself "poorly but contentedly" in Lithuania and Courland until his death.

His 3rd son Karl Gebhard became the progenitor of the Estonian line, the branches of which flourish all over the world as the only proven heirs of the Eastern line of the family.

Large Estate Owners in Estonia

Karl Gebhard's career certainly did not have a promising start. In 1733, at the age of 14, he joined the Russian Army as a common soldier and distinguished himself several times in the Seven-Year War (1756 to 1763) fought by Frederick the Great against Austria and, initially, Russia, for the acquisition of Silesia. Karl Gebhard was finally discharged from field service as a Major-General in 1760 after being wounded several times and sent to Estonia to the Baltischport project, involving the construction of a fortress and a harbour. On September 15th 1760, he married the widowed Helena Charlotte von Römer, née von Tiesenhausen, there and retired from military service in 1765.

This is where a new chapter in family history begins, namely the management of estates in Estonia. Karl Gebhard took over the Seinigal estate from his wife and later bought Orgena, where he went to live in 1765.

155 years later, when estates were expropriated in 1919/1920, the Schilling estates were the second largest (21 estates covering an area of 41,000 hectares) in this Russian province, coming after those of the Stackelbergs.

On application of Karl Gebhard, the Schilling family was entered in the Estonian Register of Nobility in 1768. By edicts issued by the Imperial Russian Directing Senate on May 18th 1834 and October 17th 1855, the right of the Estonian branch of the family to use the title of Baron was officially recognized, although it has already existed previously.

Karl Gebhard's brother Gotthard Raffael rose to an even higher rank. Thanks to personal contacts with the Austrian Field-Marshall Ernst von Loudon, who came from Livonia, he joined the Austrian Army, advanced to become a Major-General and a Royal and Imperial Chamberlain and was granted the title of an Imperial Freiherr in 1772. In 1781, he was elevated to the rank of an Imperial Count, as Count Schilling von Schillingshof, although the Schillingshof had already been lost to the possession of the family for a long time by then. Gotthard Raffael remained unmarried.

However, Karl Gebhard's only son, Fabian Wilhelm, made sure that the Schillings multiplied quickly in Estonia. His second wife, Anna Juliane, née von Rosen, bore him 13 children.

Karl Raffael inherited Serrefer, Gustav Gideon Orgena and Alexander Napoleon Seinigal and founded these branches of the family. Gustav Gideon's son Georg Walter later became the founder of the Jürgensberg branch.

Sadly, we know very little about Fabian Wilhelm and do not even have a picture of him. During his short time of study in Germany (probably mainly in Berlin and Göttingen) from the spring of 1778 until the death of his father in the summer of 1779, he acquired the rank of a Hesse-Darmstadt Lieutenant-Colonel. Fabian Wilhelm seems to have had many different interests. He wrote poetry, was a Freemason and acted in plays.

Relocation and Emigration

Following the unrest in the Baltic provinces (1906), the 1st World War and the Russian revolution (1917), several parts of the family moved to Germany.

Because of the expropriation of large properties and dissolution of the Assemblies of the Estates, there were great changes in the lives of all the German families when the republics of Estonia and Latvia were formed in 1918. In 1939, relocation to the German Reich marked the end of the centuries of history of the Baltic Germans. This programme was part of the German-Russian non-aggression pact in August 1939.

Most of the resettled Schillings found a new home in the cities and country estates – initially managed in a temporary capacity – in the districts of Danzig (now Gdansk)-West Prussia and Wartheland, until the families were scattered all over Germany and the world when they fled from the Russians in 1945.

Of the 143 family members registered in 1996, 80, i.e. the majority, lived in the Federal Republic of Germany. There are meanwhile 53 in Canada, four in South Africa, two in Denmark, two in the USA and one each in Finland, Switzerland and Guadeloupe.

Emigration of family members to Canada began as early as 1927, when Gebhard and Friedrich (Fritz), the two eldest sons of Hermann (Orgena), sought their fortune in the New World. Whereas Gebhard returned in 1939, farmer Fritz formed a new house of Schilling on Vancouver Island with his six children, and this has now grown to consist of 30 people.

Georg (Jürgen, Orgena), a nephew of Fritz twice removed, emigrated to the city of Vancouver in 1953.

In the Fifties, four of Bodo and Inge's children (Serrefer) went to the east of Canada, namely Karin, Wolter, Heinrich and Kurt.

The house of Serrefer is currently flourishing in Ontario and British Columbia and one member of this family group has married into the province of Quebec. There, in Montreal, a cousin of Georg, Dagmar, whose married name is Edel, has now settled too.