Duchy of Livonia

History of Latvia between 1562 - 1620

Livonian Wars (1558–1583) led to the dissolution Livonian Confederation and the lands were divided between surrounding countries. In 1561 the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, an order of German knights, was disbanded. On the basis of the Treaty of Vilnius, the southern part of Estonia and the northern part of Latvia were ceded to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and formed into the Ducatus Ultradunensis. The part of Latvia between the west bank of the Daugava River and the Baltic Sea became the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia, nominally a vassal state of the King of Poland.

Gotthard Kettler, the last Master of the Order of Livonia, became the first duke of Courland. Other members of the Order became the Couronian nobility, with the fiefdoms they had hitherto held becoming their estates. In all, Kettler received nearly one-third of the land in the new duchy. Mitau (Jelgava) was designated as the new capital and a Diet was to meet there twice a year.

Several parts of the Courish area did not belong to the Duchy. The Order of Livonia had already loaned the Grobiņa district (on the coast of Baltic Sea) to the Duke of Prussia. Another district, the Bishopric of Piltene, also called the "Bishopric of Courland" (on the Venta River in western Courland), belonged to Magnus, son of the king of Denmark. He promised to transfer it to the Duchy of Courland after his death, but this plan failed and only later did Wilhelm Kettler regain this district.

Like the other members of the Order, Kettler was German and set about establishing the Duchy along the lines of similar German states. In 1570, he issued the Privilegnum Gotthardinum, which allowed the landholders to enserf the native peasantry on their lands.

When Gotthard Kettler died in 1587, his sons, Friedrich and Wilhelm, became the dukes of Courland. They divided the Duchy into two parts in 1596. Friedrich controlled the eastern part, Semigalia (Zemgale), with his residence in Mitau (Jelgava). Wilhelm owned the western part, Courland (Kurzeme), with his residence in Goldingen (Kuldīga). Wilhelm regained the Grobiņa district when he married the daughter of the Duke of Prussia. He also paid out and regained control over the Piltene district, but eventually it fell to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Here he developed metalworking, shipyards, and the new ships delivered the goods of Courland to other countries.

However, relations between the duke and the landowners were quite hostile. In addition, the Commonwealth, the overlord of the Duchy of Courland, supported the landowners. Wilhelm expressed his disappointment with the landowners, but this ended with his removal from the duke's seat in 1616. Finally, Wilhelm left Courland and spent the rest of his life abroad. Thus, Friedrich became the only duke of Courland after 1616.

From 1600 to 1629, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Sweden conducted a war with its main battlefields around Riga. As the result, Sweden gained control of central and northern Latvia, which became Swedish Livonia. The Commonwealth retained the eastern part of the Duchy of Livonia, thereafter called Inflanty Voivodeship in Polish. Courland was also involved in this war, but did not suffer severe damage.

Reference: Wikipedia

Popular sites founded between 1562 and 1620 in Latvia

Talsi Lutheran Church

On the steep Church Hill of Talsi rising above the old town stands the white-stone Church of Talsi – built in 1567 and reconstructed numerous times. In the course of several centuries its architecture was shaped by Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles. Its history is reflected both in the architectural planning and in the facade structure of the building, providing an insight into the architectural fashion of ...
Founded: 1567 | Location: Talsi, Latvia

St. Anne’s Church

St. Anne’s Lutheran Church is one of the largest and certainly the oldest church in Liepaja. First written references about this church were found in documents dated in 1508. Initially wooden St. Anne’s Church was built by the Master of Livonian Order and was located elsewhere in Liepaja. Construction works of the wooden church were finished in 1587. In the 17th century, the wooden church was bordered with bri ...
Founded: 16th century | Location: Liepāja, Latvia

Church of Holy Spirit

The oldest building in the Bauska Old Town is the Lutheran Church of Holy Spirit built for German congregation. It was built in 1591-1594, at the beginning without the tower, but with nice facade plastering decorated by ornamental lines. Tower was additionally built in the west end only in 1614 but in 1623 it obtained a nice conclusion with a dome and a steeple. In 1813 the steeple of the tower had to be dismantled becaus ...
Founded: 1591-1594 | Location: Bauska, Latvia

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Erfurt Synagogue

The Erfurt Synagogue was built c. 1094. It is thought to be the oldest synagogue building still standing in Europe. Thanks to the extensive preservation of the original structure, it has a special place in the history of art and architecture and is among the most impressive and highly rated architectural monuments in Erfurt and Thuringia. The synagogue was constructed during the Middle Ages on the via regia, one of the major European trade routes, at the heart of the historical old quarter very close to the Merchants Bridge and the town hall. Many parts of the structure still remain today, including all four thick outer walls, the Roman­esque gemel window, the Gothic rose window and the entrance to the synagogue room.

After extensive restoration, the building was reopened in 2009. On display in the exhibition rooms is an collection of medieval treasures discovered during archaeological excavations. This includes 3,140 silver coins, 14 silver ingots, approx. 6,000 works of goldsmithery from the 13th and 14th centuries and an intricately worked wedding ring of the period, of which only two others are known to exist anywhere in the world. A mikveh (Jewish bath) has been excavated close by (13th/14th century). The Old Synagogue, the Small Synagogue and two Jewish cemeteries together form a network of historical buildings and sites which vividly portray the role of Jewish life in the history of Erfurt.