History of Latvia between 1722 - 1918
In 1700, the Great Northern War broke out. The course of this war was directly linked with today's Latvian territory and the territorial claims of the Russian Empire. One of its goals was to secure the famous and rich town of Riga. In 1710, the Russian Tsar, Peter I, managed to secure Vidzeme. Through Vidzeme to Riga, Russia obtained a clear passage to Europe. By the end of the 18th century, due to the Partitions of Poland, all of Latvia's territory was under Russian rule.
In 1812 Napoleon's troops invaded Russia and the Prussian units under the leadership of the field marshal Yorck occupied Courland and approached Riga. The governor-general of Riga Ivan Essen set the wooden houses of the Riga suburbs on fire to deflect the invaders and thousands of city residents were left homeless. However York did not attack Riga and in December the Napoleon's army retreated. Serfdom was abolished in Courland Governorate in 1818 and Governorate of Livonia in 1819. However all the land stayed in the hands of the German nobility. Only in 1849, a law granted a legal basis for the creation of peasant-owned farms. Reforms were slower in Latgale which was part of Vitebsk Governorate, where serfdom was only abolished in 1861 after emancipation reform. In the middle of 19th century industry developed quickly and the number of the inhabitants grew. Courland and Vidzeme became one of Russia's most developed provinces.
In the 19th century, the first Latvian National Awakening began among ethnic Latvian intellectuals, a movement that partly reflected similar nationalist trends elsewhere in Europe. This revival was led by the "Young Latvians" from the 1850s to the 1880s. Primarily a literary and cultural movement with significant political implications, the Young Latvians soon came into severe conflict with the Baltic Germans.
In the 1880s and 1890s the russification policy began by Alexander III was aimed at reducing the autonomy of Baltic provinces and the introduction of the Russian language in administration, court and education replacing German or Latvian (in regard to schools).
With increasing pauperization in rural areas and growing urbanization, a loose but broad leftist movement called the "New Current" arose in the late 1880s. Led by Rainis and Pēteris Stučka, editors of the newspaper Dienas Lapa, this movement was soon influenced by Marxism and led to the creation of the Latvian Social Democratic Labour Party.
Following the shooting of demonstrators in St. Petersburg on January 9 a wide-scale general strike began in Riga. On January 13 Russian army troops opened fire on demonstrators in Riga killing 73 and injuring 200 people. During the summer 1905 main revolutionary events moved to the countryside. 470 new parish administrative bodies were elected in 94% of the parishes in Latvia. The Congress of Parish Representatives was held in Riga in November. Mass meetings and demonstrations took place including violent attacks against Baltic German nobles, burning estate buildings and seizure of estate property including weapons. In the autumn 1905 armed conflict between the German nobility and the Latvian peasants begun in the rural areas of Vidzeme and Courland. In Courland, the peasants seized or surrounded several towns. In Livland the fighters controlled the Rūjiena-Pärnu railway line. Altogether, a thousand armed clashes were registered in Latvia in 1905. Martial law was declared in Courland in August 1905 and in Livland in late November. Special punitive expeditions were dispatched in mid-December to suppress the movement. They executed 1170 people without trial or investigation and burned 300 peasant homes. Thousands were exiled to Siberia. In 1906 the revolutionary movement gradually subsided.
On August 1, 1914 Germany declared war on Russia and by 1915, the conflict reached Latvia. On May 7 the Germans captured Liepāja and on May 18, Talsi, Tukums and Ventspils. On June 29 the Russian Supreme Command ordered the whole population of Kurzeme evacuated, and around 400,000 refugees fled to the east. Some of them settled in Vidzeme but most continued their way to Russia. On July 19 the Russian War Minister ordered the factories of Riga evacuated together with their workers. In the summer of 1915, 30,000 railway wagons loaded with machines and equipment from factories were taken away. In August the formation of Latvian battalions known as Latvian Riflemen started. From 1915 to 1917, the Riflemen fought in the Russian army against the Germans in positions along Daugava River. In December 1916 and January 1917, they suffered heavy casualties in month-long Christmas Battles. In February 1917 Revolution broke out in Russia and in the summer the Russian army collapsed. The German offensive was successful and on 3 September 1917 they entered Riga. In November 1917, the Communist Bolsheviks took power in Russia. The Bolshevik government tried to end the war and in March 1918, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed which gave Kurzeme and Vidzeme to the Germans. By February the Germans had occupied all of Latvia. However after the German Revolution, on 11 November the armistice treaty between the Allies and Germany was signed thus ending World War I. Great Britain declared its de facto recognition of Latvia in writing on that day as well, confirming a prior verbal communication of 23 October to Meierowitz by the British Minister for Foreign Affairs, A. J. Balfour.
The moated castle at Beersel is one of the few exceptionally well-preserved examples of medieval fortifications in Belgium. It remains pretty much as it must have appeared in the 15th century. Remarkably, it was never converted into a fortified mansion. A visitor is able to experience at first-hand how it must have felt to live in a heavily fortified castle in the Middle Ages.
The castle was built in around 1420 as a means of defence on the outer reaches of Brussels. The tall, dense walls and towers were intended to hold any besiegers at bay. The moat and the marshy ground along its eastern, southern and western edges made any attack a formidable proposition. For that reason, any attackers would have chosen its weaker northern defences where the castle adjoins higher lying ground. But the castle was only taken and destroyed on one occasion in 1489, by the inhabitants of Brussels who were in rebellion against Maximilian of Austria.
After being stormed and plundered by the rebels it was partially rebuilt. The pointed roofs and stepped gables are features which have survived this period. The reconstruction explains why two periods can be identified in the fabric of the edifice, particularly on the outside.
The red Brabant sandstone surrounds of the embrasures, now more or less all bricked up, are characteristic of the 15th century. The other embrasures, edged with white sandstone, date from the end of the 15th century. They were intended for setting up the artillery fire. The merlons too are in white sandstone. The year 1617 can be clearly seen in the foundation support on the first tower. This refers to restorations carried out at the time by the Arenberg family.
Nowadays, the castle is dominated by three massive towers. The means of defence follow the classic pattern: a wide, deep moat surrounding the castle, a drawbridge, merlons on the towers, embrasures in the walls and in the towers, at more or less regular intervals, and machiolations. Circular, projecting towers ensured that attacks from the side could be thwarted. If the enemy were to penetrate the outer wall, each tower could be defended from embrasures facing onto the inner courtyard.
The second and third towers are flanked by watchtowers from which shots could be fired directly below. Between the second and third tower are two openings in the walkway on the wall. It is not clear what these were used for. Were these holes used for the disposing of rubbish, or escape routes. The windows on the exterior are narrow and low. All light entering comes from the interior. The few larger windows on the exterior date from a later period. It is most probable that the third tower - the highest - was used as a watchtower.