1641-1795 1848-1880

Courland 1795-1848

Napoleon once contemplated the plan to march along the Baltic coast and take the coastal cities and fortresses, a plan he abandonded in favour of the march on Moscow. Courland thus remained uncontested within the Russian sphere, and outside of the reach of reforms inspired by the French Revolution. Catherine II.'s absolutist reforms, which had temporarily abolished the RITTERSCHAFTEN (corporate nobility) had been undone by her successor Paul VI. in 1796. The Ritterschaft now was more suspicious than ever of any attempt to infringe on their privileges. Courland was dominated by the German nobility, which ran the administration of the country and it's jurisdiction, and by the German burghers from the cities of Mitau, Pilten, Hasenpoth etc., who controlled much of the economic life. The vast majority of the population, Latvian speaking, was illiterate and lived in the state of serfdom.
French emigres, most notably the future King Louis XVIII. of France, spent several years in Courland, where Louis had been provided with an estate by Czar Paul I.
A Latvian literature began to emerge in the 1820es, indicating a rising literacy among the peasantry, results of improved education in schools run by the Lutheran church and served by ethnically German teachers.
In Courland, reforms abolishing the state of serfdom came in 1817, but the peasants' life continued to be regulated - they were forbidden to take up any profession outside agriculture, they did not own the land they tilled, could not move into towns. In the 1840es Russian influence became stronger in the Baltic Provinces due to the Russian Orthodix Church. It had established communities in the provinces for Russians who resided there. For decades this presence of the Russian Orthodox Church had not challenged the position of the Lutheran Church as the state church. In the 1840es, however, the Russian Orthodox Church addressed the underprivileged Latvian peasants, and in the years between 1845 and 1848, a considerable number of Latvians converted, hoping that it would result in an improvement of their status.

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Courland, from Courland, Livonia and Estonia. Confidential Handbooks No.57, 1919, from the British Foreign Office, posted on the Web by jewishgen.org
DOCUMENTS Historical Flags of Courland, from FOTW
Website of the Latvia State Historical Archive
Brief Report from the H.M.S. Implacable, off Courland, June 4th 1808
REFERENCE David G. Kirby, The Baltic World 1772-1993, London : Longman 1995

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on January 5th 2002, last revised on November 11th 2004

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