The meaning of our family name is not clear. The name may stem from “Stecken” (trees) on a mountain or from a “stahelen” (steep) mountain. The family coat of arms suggests both interpretations.
The first mentioning of our family name is in a Cologne deed dating back to 1244 and later in Old Livonia. The fate of the Stackelberg family in the centuries thereafter is a true picture of the political changes in the Baltic Sea area.
The von Stackelberg family belongs to the ancient German nobility. It is first mentioned in a deed of 1244.1 At the time, i.e. four years before the Cologne Dome Church started to be built, Waldewerus de Stackelberg and his wife Alveradis donated four residential buildings near the St. Gereon Convent to build a hospital (today: Steinfelder Gasse 31–35).
The hospital probably mainly served as a pilgrims’ hostel, as innumerable pilgrims came to Cologne after the relics of the Three Magi had been brought there from Milan. Up to 1316, nine further mentionings in the Cologne real estate register concern the de Stackelberg family (Stakelberg, Staggilberg, Stachilberg); after that, there are no further traces in Cologne.
1 Köln 1244: Schreinsbuch 334, fol.3v, Nr.89 u. 90
We do not know whether the first Stackelbergs came to Old Livonia following the call of their bishops or that of the German Order or whether they had trade interests in connection with Hansa. The first family member mentioned in a Baltic deed is Henricus de Stakilberg in 1305. He borrowed an unusually large amount in Riga and paid it back shortly after (214 marks silver, approximately the annual budget of the city of Riga). Probably it served to finance comprehensive trade business within the framework of the Hanseatic League. Also other family members soon appear in Livonia in important functions. Page Arnoldus Stakelberch, as the representative of the city of Tartu, ends a feud with the city of Tallinn in 1341.1 He seals the contract with his personal coat of arms. This is the oldest deed bearing our family’s coat of arms which is still valid.
In 1394, the same coat of arms appears in the city of Lübeck.2 Knight Peter Stakelberch swears that he is the owner of a shipload of weasel skins. As his home town, he names Brünbeyne (Breuvanne) in the duchy of Luxembourg and seals the deed with his four-part coat of arms the first and fourth fields of which are identical to the Tallinn seal of 1341. The deed confirms that the Stackelbergs in Livonia and Rhineland belong to the same family and that at least some family members were involved in the Hansa trade business. In Old Livonia, the Baltic states consisted of the areas owned by the Riga archbishop, the bishoprics of Tartu, Oesel-Wieck and Curonia and the areas owned by the German Order. The vasall families living there soon united to form knight organizations, in Estonia in 1252 and later in Livonia, Curonia and Saremaa. Whereas the Stackelbergs are no longer mentioned in Rhineland after the 14th century, they became one of the largest and most influental families in Estonia and Livonia.
1 Reval 1341: Stadtarchiv Reval/Tallinn, Bfl.IV, T.57 Nr.3
2 Lübeck 1394: Staatsarchiv Urkunde 218-03.tif
In consequence of the Reformation, the Old Livonia Federation collapsed in the 16th century. Neighbouring great powers desired to expand their territories. The country suffered from severe war devastation. In these conflicts, Sweden, Russia and Poland recognized the Baltic chivalries as organizations that had a right to participate in the decision as to which country they wished to belong to. At the end, Sweden was able to expand its power to Estonia and Livonia which thus became part of the Kingdom of Sweden. The chivalry privileges were explicitly recognized.
For more than 100 years, up to the end of the Nordic War, all Stackelbergs were Swedish citizens. Some of them were naturalized in Sweden and bought land there and in Finland. In 1625, Wolmar von Stackelberg (1592 – 1652) was the first family member introduced to the Stockholm House of Chivalry, which meant that he had the right to participate in Imperial Diets. The Family was true to the Swedish Crown. In the course of 18 years, there were 44 Stackelbergs as officers serving in Carl XII’s army.
In Swedish times, Major-General Carl Adam von Stackelberg (in 1714) and Bernd Otto von Stackelberg (in 1727) became hereditary Barons. In 1763, General Baron Wolter Reinhold von Stackelberg became hereditary Count.
After the end of the Nordic War, which was unfortunate for Sweden, it got back Finland, but had to cede Estonia and Livonia to Russia in the 1721 Peace of Nystad. The various lines of the family had to decide whether they wished to stay Swedish citizens and renounce their estates in Estonia and Livonia or to become subjects of the Russian Crown. Thus the family was divided into Swedish, Finnish and Russian members.
Czar Peter the Great also confirmed the privileges of the Baltic chivalries and thus also those of the Stackelberg family.
In 1775, Emperor Joseph II made the Russian envoy Otto Magnus von Stackelberg hereditary German Empiric Count, after Tsarina Catherine the Great had agreed. Joseph II also made Reinhold Johann von Stackelberg, Chamberlain of the Polish King, hereditary German Empiric Count in 1786.
In 1854, all family lines that did not belong to the Count lines got the right to bear the baron title, according to a decree of the Ruling Senate of St. Petersburg. No further coats of arms were bestowed thereby.
In 1864, the von Stackelberg Family Association was formed in Tallinn as an incorporated union.
According to statistics compiled in 1927, 206 Stackelbergs served as officers in the armies of the Swedish King and the Russian Czar, among them:
2 Field Marshals
In those times there were the following civil servants:
8 Land Marshals, Chivalry Leaders
7 Envoys, Ambassadors, Senators
30 District Presidents, Governors
3 Ship’s Captains
At the time, and to the present day, numerous other Stackelbergs have become well-known as scientists, artists and authors.
After the independent republics of Estonia and Latvia were formed in 1919, the lands of the chivalry were expropriated, save small remaining plots. At the time, the chivalry owned 48 estates measuring 162,566 ha altogether. Due to expropriation, many Stackelbergs lost their basis of existence. Some of them emigrated to Germany as early as that. The Hitler-Stalin Pact forced all Germans at the beginning of World War II to leave their Baltic home country within only a few weeks in autumn 1939. They were “resettled” (as the Nazis called it) to Poland in the region of Poznan and Bromberg. From there, they had to flee in 1944/1945, often losing all they had been able to take with them from home. After World War II, thus many Stackelbergs were forced to build up a new existence from nothing. Many emigrated to other continents.
Today, only slightly more than half of all family members live in Germany, the others live in Canada, Sweden, USA, Finland, Russia and many other countries. In the 19th century, one line emigrated from Finland to Australia where it is successful since then. There is no Stackelberg living any more in Estonia or Latvia where the home of the family was for 650 years.