an area of 27,286 square km
to that part of modern Latvia which lies to the south of the Dvina (Daugava)
- is characterized
by abundant woods and fertile soil
- had Mitau
(Jelgava) as its capital
the harbors Libau (Liepaja) and Windau (Ventspils) among its larger
generally protestant population comprised the peoples of the Livs and
Cours, for whom the provinces Livonia and Courland were named, and the
Latvians. The other group living in Courland was the German minority
essentially made up of the nobility and the so-called Literaten
(literary class), i.e. commoners who had pursued academic careers as
pastors, medical doctors, and teachers. These two groups combined represented
less than 10 % of the total population. The 'germanization' that characterizes
the history of other parts of Eastern Europe under German rule, i.e.
the assimilation of the indigenous populace to the German culture, did
not take place here. Quite the contrary: in the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries, German pastors not only translated the Bible and the Hymnal
into Latvian, but also created a written Latvian language in which the
sagas and folk tales were recorded (Gotthard Fr. Stender).
As a result
of the territorial and political upheavals ensuing in the course of
the Reformation, the Order of Teutonic Knights lost control of the area
it had thus far occupied. Its last Master, Gotthard von Kettler, created
a hereditary duchy in the area south of the Dvina (Daugava) river in
1561, placing it under the protection of the Polish king as liege lord.
The following 234 years, until 1795, represent this region's specific
Partition of Poland in 1795 meant the downfall of Courland's feudal
lord, and the province subsequently came under Russian rule. It was
then also that the duchy was united with the Pilten bishopric, an enclave
of 5,500 square km on the northernmost peak of the country that had
initially been under Danish and later under Polish rule.
19th century, the Latvians increasingly strove for a national identity
of their own as well as for greater influence in matters of the state.
This culminated in the 1905 insurgencies not only against Russian rule,
but also against the position the Germans had achieved in the region.
World War I, German troops occupied Courland. After they had been withdrawn
in 1918, some German soldiers who had remained in the province formed
the Eiserne Division (Iron Division) and joined the Landeswehr
(National Defense Guard) made up of German Baltic volunteers. Together
with a small Latvian contingent, they drove the Bolshevik troops out
of the country. On November 18th, 1918, the Republic of Latvia was proclaimed.
This then proceeded to expropriate all landed property owned by Germans
without any compensation, permitting them to keep only residual freeholds
of 50 hectares. Furthermore, the members of the German minority were
barred from holding any higher offices in the administration or in the
military. As a result, the Courlandians fled the country in large numbers,
most of them to Germany. The last of them left their homes in the course
of the mandatory resettlement (Umsiedlung) agreed upon in 1939 by Germany
and the Soviet Union.
Gotthard von Kettler
of Courland is characterized by its noble corporation. This essentially
consisted of noblemen originally from Westphalia and regions along the
Rhine who had acquired land under the rule of the Order of Teutonic
Knights. The constitution provided that whenever the duke was absent
or otherwise prevented from performing his duties, the power of government
was in the hands of the noble corporation. The duke's position vis-à-vis
the noble corporation was additionally weakened by the fact that the
latter was entitled to file complaints with the king of Poland in cases
1620, the noble corporation had the sole power of immatriculation (i.e.,
to register families in the roll of nobility). This means that it admitted
certain families into the circle of those who were entitled to send
a representative to the Landtag (representative assembly) and
to thus participate in governing the country. However, the noble corporation
was not entitled to raise such families to nobility.
noble corporation observed governmental and corporative tasks. It was
represented by the Landesbevollmächtigte (head of the province).
Under what today would be termed the chairmanship of the Landbotenmarschall
(literally: marshal of the country messengers), those members of the
Courlandic noble corporation who were correspondingly legitimized by
their possession of a knight's manor convened every three years in Mitau
as the Landtag and passed the necessary resolutions. Whenever
any cases admitted of no delay, the Brüderliche Konferenz (Brotherly
Convention) made up of the Kirchspielsdelegierte (representatives
of the various church parishes) made the corresponding decisions.
The Mitau Ritterhaus (House of Lords)
of the noble corporation, all of whom worked in an honorary capacity,
were responsible for the administration of the province. The costs for
the maintenance of schools, of streets, for health care and social welfare
(provided to the Latvian populace as well), for the teachers' colleges
training Latvian teachers, were borne by the owners of knight's manors.
Their financial contributions were made on a voluntary basis. The size
of the 642 Courlandian manors varied from 72,700 hectares to 71 hectares.
They were each allotted one vote only in the Landtag. In 1819,
voluntarily and before the rest of the Russian empire did so, the Courlandic
noble corporation abolished serfage and furthermore enabled farmers
to purchase land by granting them low-interest loans. Thus, in 1914,
1,017,000 hectares of land were owned by Latvian farmers while 1,113,400
hectares of land belonged to knight's manors.
Dukes of Courland
dynasty continued for six generations of dukes. Three of them married
princesses of Brandenburg. The most important of them was Duke Jakob
(who ruled Courland from 1642 until 1682). He founded the first German-speaking
colonies in Gambia and Tobago. After the first dynasty had died out,
Ernst Johann v. Bühren, later called v. Biron, was able to ascend to
the duchy (ahead of numerous competitors). He was the favorite of the
last Kettler duke's widow, who ascended to the Russian throne in 1730
as the Tsarina Anna. His son Peter, for whom the Berlin service of porcelain
'Kurland' was designed, abdicated in 1795 upon the Third Partition of
Set of china 'Kurland'
manufactured by the Staatliche Porzellan-Manufaktur Berlin
Duke Jakob Kettler
Translator: Carmen v. Samson-Himmelstjerna