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

Broch of Gurness

The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village. Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.

The remains of the central tower are up to 3.6 metres high, and the stone walls are up to 4.1 metres thick. The tower was likely inhabited by the principal family or clan of the area but also served as a last resort for the village in case of an attack.

The broch continued to be inhabited while it began to collapse and the original structures were altered. The cistern was filled in and the interior was repartitioned. The ruin visible today reflects this secondary phase of the broch's use.

The site is surrounded by three ditches cut out of the rock with stone ramparts, encircling an area of around 45 metres diameter. The remains of numerous small stone dwellings with small yards and sheds can be found between the inner ditch and the tower. These were built after the tower, but were a part of the settlement's initial conception. A 'main street' connects the outer entrance to the broch. The settlement is the best-preserved of all broch villages.

Pieces of a Roman amphora dating to before 60 AD were found here, lending weight to the record that a 'King of Orkney' submitted to Emperor Claudius at Colchester in 43 AD.

At some point after 100 AD the broch was abandoned and the ditches filled in. It is thought that settlement at the broch continued into the 5th century AD, the period known as Pictish times. By that time the broch was not used anymore and some of its stones were reused to build smaller dwellings on top of the earlier buildings. Until about the 8th century, the site was just a single farmstead.

In the 9th century, a Norse woman was buried at the site in a stone-lined grave with two bronze brooches and a sickle and knife made from iron. Other finds suggest that Norse men were buried here too.