Count of May – the Symbol of Spring
During the medieval times Maikrahv celebrations (Count of May) took place annually here in Tallinn. But who was this mysterious figure and what did he do?
Maikrahv festivals celebrated springtime, youth and happiness. This marked the victory of spring over long winter.
The Count of May celebrations took place from 13th to 16th century. There have been quite few documents preserved, the oldest date back to the beginning of the 14th century. The last celebrations on the eve of the Livonian War (1558–1583).
Besides Tallinn, the Count of May was elected in Riga, Stockholm and many other places in Europe. The first document about the celebrations comes from Lubeck from 1226. The preserved documents have helped to get the whole picture of the celebrations in Tallinn as well.
Electing the Count of May
Organised at first by the Merchant Guild and later by the Brotherhood of Blackheads, the festival was held during the week of Whitsuntide and lasted the whole week. On Monday there was a festive feast and on Tuesday morning a fancy procession made its way out of town to the oak forest of Kopli. This was the place where a tournament was held for young men to compete in riding and shooting.
The initial reason for the festivities was to control the skills of handling military equipment and weapons after a long distressing winter.
Besides military skills the Count of May had to be prosperous as it was his duty to treat the guests at plentiful feasts. The Count of May could be a member of the Brothers of Blackhood or the Great Guild, he had to have spotless reputation and come from the town elite.
Although we imagine today the Count of May as a handsome young man, age played no role in the elections. Sometimes the Count of May was even 50 or 60 years of age.
When the Count of May was elected he was crowned with a birch wreath. Birch branches became the symbol of the festivities, they marked the coming of spring and were used in festive decor.
The Count of May – Superstar of the Middle Ages
Then the new Count of May had the honor of choosing a Countess of May from among eight lovely maidens in a rose garden. In addition to the right of choosing the Countess of May, the Count of May was entitled to grant liberty to a prisoner that day.a.
On Thursday, the festival crowd rode around the town in procession and on Sunday, there was another feast and a ball. The Count of May treated his attending ladies and torch holders to a delicious meal and offered 30 marks for the feast.
The title of the “Count of May” was granted for one year. It was customary that on the Whitsuntide the Count of May and his attendants rode out of town to have fun. On some other church holidays, he and the blackheads participated in processions where they held huge candles, the so-called Count of May lights.
The Count and the Countess of May were as if the superstars of the time, popular citizens who were honored and who attended the most important events and festivities of the town.
The Count of May Celebrations Today
Nowadays, the tradition of choosing the Count and Countess of May is revived each year during the Old Town Days.
At Maikrahv the old tradition comes to life every day. We have special, hearty feasts on our list that are like the real medieval feasts. We serve them to groups starting four people.
The feasts start with telling the Maikrahv legend after which you can enjoy the meals and let them that take you back to the medieval days when counts, aldermans and knights walked the narrow gobbled streets….
Welcome to an unforgettable trip to the medieval times! Take a look at our medieval feasts and reserve a table.