1848-1880 1914-1918

Courland 1880-1914

Administration . Since 1795/1796, Courland was a Gubernia (Governorate) within the Russian Empire; the former enclave of Pilten had been annexed into Courland. Courland Gubernia bordered on the Prussian Province of East Prussia and on Kovno Gubernia in the south, on Livland and Vitebsk Gubernia in the north. The capital was Mitau (Jelgava). Courland Gubernia was divided in 10 districts : Bauske (Bauska), Friedrichstadt (Jaunjelgava), Goldingen (Kuldiga), Grobin (Grobina), Hasenpoth (Aizpute), Illuxt (Ilukste), Mitau (Jelgava), Talsen (Talsi), Tuckum (Tukums), Windau (Ventspils).

Population . In 1882 the population numbered 642,570, 74 % of whom were Protestant, 18 % Greek or Roman Catholics, c. 8 % Jews; by nationality 8.2 % Germans, Russians 1.7 %, Poles and Lithuanians about 1 % each; the bulk of the population Latvians (Meyers)..

Russification . In 1881 Tsar Alexander II. was crowned, and with him began a new phase in Livonian history, as Russification, under the slogan one Tsar, one faith, one language, one law, was implemented step by step. The German Ritterschaft did their utmost to fight it, and then there was the Latvian community, the vast majority of the population. The administration in St. Petersburg, which hitherto had regarded the German Ritterschaft as partners in the administration of the country, now came to regard them as obstacles to be removed.
The Russian administration took over elementary education, which now was held in Russian (with the result that school attendance figures considerably declined and numerous schools were closed); the judicial system was reformed, Russian introduced as the language of jurisdiction and Russian law implemented, most of the judges appointed being Russians.
The result was emigration of Germans into the Reich, rising numbers of ethnic Russian residents of Livonia, the opening of career opportunities for ethnic Latvians and a growing Russian Orthodox community.

Libau . Libau (Liepaja) on Courlands Baltic coast was developed as Russia's Baltic naval harbour (1899-1909), the seat of Russia's Baltic fleet. From here the Baltic fleet departed in 1904 to the Far East, where it was defeated in the Battle of Tsushima. Due to it's specific function, the city of Libau had a strong element of non-Latvian, non-German population.

Society . However, the Germans continued to have a strong influence on the country's economy, owned most of the farmland and dominated the better jobs in administration, education and economy. Many job-seeking Latvians, unable to find the job they hoped for in Courland, transmigrated to Russia.

Political Developments . The early 20th century saw the establishment of modern political organizations. The Latvian Social Democratic Party was founded in 1904 - note that the organization addressed the Latvian speakers, both in Livonia and Courland, thus not working within the limitations of existing regions.
During the Russian Revolution of 1905, in countryside Courland Executive Committees were established; a number of German feudal estates went up in flames, more in Courland than in northern Latvia and Estonia. The Social Democrats were the dominating group. Negotiations and plans for an opening of the Baltic Provinces' diets for representation of all groups of society did not lead to a result. State control was reestablished, and the Ritterschaft remained unreformed.

Courland, Livonia and Estonia. Confidential Handbooks No.57, 1919, from the British Foreign Office, posted on the Web by jewishgen.org
History, from About Liepaja
List of Match Factories in the Russian Empire : Kurland Gubernia, from The Virtual Matchbox Label Museum, in Russian
DOCUMENTS Henry Lansdell, Baltic Russia, in Harper's New Monthly Magazine July 1890 pp.295-309, from Cornell Digital Library Collection
Map : The Baltic Provinces 1882, from Blackie & Sons Atlas (Edinburgh, 1882), posted by FEEFHS
Article Kurland, from Meyers Konversationslexikon 1888-1890 edition, in German
Kurland Gubernia Coat of Arms, from Civic Heraldry, from Vector Images
REFERENCE David G. Kirby, The Baltic World 1772-1993, London : Longman 1995

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on March 23rd 2008

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