Courland 1561-1641

In 1561, Gotthard Kettler, the last Livonian Landmaster, transformed Courland into a hereditary duchy and took it as a fief from the King of Poland, Sigismund II. August (who was happy to comply, as he hitherto had no sovereignty over Courland, the act thus extending Polish sovereignty). The district of Grobin, with Löbau, by 1561, was pawned to the Duchy in Prussia.
In 1566, Duke Gotthard Kettler married Anna of Mecklenburg, sister of the last coadjutor of Riga. In 1570 Courland got a Church Ordinnance, in 1581 a Chancellery Ordinnance. The Privilegium Sigismundi Augusti of 1562 and the Privilegium Gotthardinum of 1570 confirmed the rights of the nobility. Among these was the right, in case of a disagreement with the Duke, to directly appeal to the King of Poland. In 1576 Mitau - the capital - was granted the status of a city.
Between 1558 and 1583, the former princebishopric of PILTEN in western Courland was part of the Duchy created for Magnus, brother of the Danish king; 1583 to 1585 the princebishopric was contested between Courland and Denmark; in the Treaty of Kronenborg, April 15th 1585, Poland bought the Danish claim, which Courland could no longer contest as itself was a Polish satellite. Poland pawned it to Georg Friedrich von Brandenburg (who had privided the loan with which Denmark had been paid off); only in 1717 did it revert to Polish administration.
Courland in fact was an independent state, the capital at MITAU (Jelgava) just outside Riga. Courland was Lutheran (as opposed to Catholic Poland); in Courland the German minority dominated political and cultural life; German and Latin were the languages used by administration, jurisdiction and education. The Latvians, the vast majority of the population, were a ruled nation; fluency in German was a precondition for making a career.
In 1586, a Latvian-language church handbook, the Enchiridon, was published, together with a catechism.
In 1609, the district of Grobin, pawned to Prussia, was regained. In 1616 Duke Wilhelm was deposed. In 1617 the Courland Statutes were passed, which further strengthened the position of the nobility. The Courland cities were excluded from participating in the diet; Courland was a nobles' republic.
In 1620 the Courland RITTERSCHAFT established a MATRIKEL - a list on which the hereditary noble families were registered (in order to exclude parvenus). In 1621 Courland's capital MITAU was occupied by the Swedes. In 1630, Courland ceded the customs revenue collected at Windau and Libau to Sweden.

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Courland, Livonia and Estonia. Confidential Handbooks No.57, 1919, from the British Foreign Office, posted on the Web by jewishgen.org
Coinage of the Baltic Countries : Duchy of Courland, 1561-1795
Biography Gotthard Kettler, 1517-1587, 1st Duke of Courland, from Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon, in German
Kurland, from Meyers Konversationslexikon 1888-1890 edition, in German
DOCUMENTS Map featuring Europe in 1560, from Shepherd 1924 posted by The Crown and the Cross, featuring Courland as part of the Teutonic Order State, 941 K
Map of 1636-1641 of Livonia and Courland, by Hondius etc., posted by the Polish Museum Rapperswil
REFERENCE Reinhard Wittram, Baltische Geschichte. Die Ostseelande Livland, Estland und Kurland 1180-1918 (Baltic History. The Baltic Lands of Livonia, Estonia and Courland, 1180-1918), Darmstadt : Wissenschaftliche Buchgemeinschaft (1954) 1973, in German

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 11th 2004

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