Tag Archives: Livonia

Baltic Germans

The Jaunpils  Castle

Typical Baltic German Castle at Jaunpils

In late Medieval ages Holy German Empire became overpopulated. People had trouble finding land and jobs in the cities. In families with more than two children the third son was unable to inherit land from his family. So many Germans had to find a new place to live. The Germans looked to the east. Eastern Europe offered free lands to maintain and local people were poor and in much lower numbers. Also the Eastern European kings needed immigrants from the west to protect their lands from Mongolian invasions. This allowed the Germans to migrate to such places as Transylvania (in present day Romania), Bohemia (Sudetenland, Czech Republic) and other eastern parts. Later on the behalf of empress Katrina II Germans entered Russian lands.

But nobody invited Germans to Baltic lands. In 12-13 century Germans started a military expansion to the east under Crusader banner. Crusades in Latvia have been discussed in many posts before in this blog. Find them using tags or search.

First Germans in Latvia were Crusaders and Church missionaries.  Along with them came German merchants that settled in Riga. When all Latvian land became part of Livonia, more Germans came here. Crusaders became nobles and established castles around Latvia. Others mainly merchants lived in larger cities. In the 13th century there were 15 thousand Germans opposite to 160 thousand ancient Latvians. Also 20 thousand Livonians lived in Latvia. Despite the low numbers Germans were political majority. They held all political rights and titles; they got rights to land and ownership of local peasants. Ancient Latvians were mostly peasants that worked for German landlords for all their life with no rights for their own land. Latvians got little chance for education that would raise their social status. In cities Latvians could only have low rank jobs that were called “shameful jobs”. But Latvia escaped high scale colonization of German peasants. Livonia was hard to reach from Germany because of independent Lithuania and the Baltic Sea. If the Germans would enter Latvia in larger masses than Latvians would put at high risk of assimilation. There are however records of Latvian and Livonian entry into German noble families. One of the most famous Baltic German noble family Fon Lieven is said to originate from Livonians.

During the time of Reformation most Germans supported Martin Luther reforms and became Lutherans. Lutheranism and other protestant movements were highly common among German immigrants in Eastern Europe. Swift to Lutheranism also helped Latvians for the first religious texts were translated into Latvian.

The crush to German nobility was Livonian war that started in 1558. Livonia was at risk of being conquered by Russia. That did not happen thanks to Poland-Lithuania and Sweden, but the Germans had to give up their Crusader order. In 1561 the Livonia order ceased to exist. However Germans managed to keep all their rights because of the favor by Polish king Sigismund Augustus. A document containing promised privileges by Polish king gave wide rights to Germans in Latvia. But this document has not preserved until this day and nobody hasn’t seen it for a long time. Because of this historians speculate that document is falsification. Despite that Germans used this phantom document to protect their rights for many years.

However Poles did not keep all promises. Riga faced trade controls from Polish administration. Poles tried to restore Catholicism by removing few churches and imposing new calendar. This caused Calendar revolt in Riga that lasted from 1584 to 1589 and was defeated with the help of traitors within Germans. But in Duchy of Courland and Semigallia that was autonomous from Poland Germans had time of their lives. Germans ruled the Duchy and had a free hand in politics and religious matters. Their best days ended in 1795 when Duchy was added to Russia.

Germans in Swedish Vidzeme faced hard times when the Swedish administration decided to revise German ownerships and give large portions of land to Swedes. But in Riga Germans were supported because Sweden needed to keep the favor of Riga that got larger population than Stockholm. The Germans build many beautiful trade residences in Latvia like Reitern house and House of Danenstern in Martalu Street.

After Vidzeme capitulated to Russia things changed. One side of Germans led by count Johann Patkul conspired against Sweden to support Russia. However many German nobles were part of Swedish army and captured Patkul and sentenced him to death. But Russia at first did not want to conflict with the Germans. General Sheremtjev signed deal with Germans to allow them autonomy and official use of the German language. Latvians were completely subjected to Germans. Taxes and corve’s were increased. This was the highest point of Latvian enslavement that continued many decades until serfdom was abolished.

Russian emperor Peter I favored German aristocrats. He invited them to his court at Petersburg. The new city itself was built with the help of German engineers. Peter I needed well-educated Germans modernize his new empire.

In the 18th century there were 40 thousand Germans in Latvia. Because of Enlightenment in Western Europe many intellectuals entered Latvia most notably Johan Herder who worked in the Riga Dome School. German scholars started to show interest for Latvian folklore and language. Ernest Glik did tremendous work of translating the Bible in Latvian. Pastor Gothart Stender wrote many educational books in Latvian promoting Latvian education. Favored among Latvian are German scholar Garibl Merkel and his work “Latvians”. In this book he criticizes the Latvian enslavement and praises Latvian culture. This was one of the first times when information about Latvians was shown to the outside world. The work of German educators helped Latvians to get a national identity in future.

In 1766 first and last attempt of German colonization happened in Latvia. By the favour of empress Katrina II 85 Germans from Pfalz settled in Hirchen (Irši) parish near Aizkraukle. All of them were peasants who lived closely in Hirchen village. In 1914 there were a 8000 people who were born in Hirchen.  However only 1570 lived there because others left home to find luck in Riga, Russia or in Western Europe.

Germans living in Latvia often did not call themselves Germans. They identified themselves as Baltic Germans (deutchbalten). In 1817 and 1819 serfdom was abolished in Courland and Vidzeme (but still in Latgalia). German educators put even higher pressure to educate Latvians. They however wanted only elementary education for them. Latvians peasants still were objected to German landlords despite the abolishment of serfdom. That caused rapid Latvian conversion to the Orthodox Church to move away from the Germans. About 40397 Latvians became Orthodox Christians. To stop this leader of liberal German reformists Hamilkar von Felkerzam managed to allow Latvians rent land from the Germans and re-buy it in longer time. This finally allowed Latvians to become farmers.

The Germans got high influence in Russian politics. The Russian army was filled by German high rank officers. The Germans took posts in the Russian government. German academics and scientists pushed Russian progress. Only Noble prize winner from Latvia is German chemist Wilhelm Ostvald. In middle of 19 century 140 thousand Germans lived in Latvia.  They took part in the industrialization and controlled all industrial sectors in Latvia. They were wealthiest social group. But the growing sentiment of Russian nationalism or Slavophilism started to push pressure on the Germans. Russian Czar Alexander II started the process of Russifaction  and Unifaction of Russian Empire. In 1885 Nikolay Manasein revision cancelled the Baltic German autonomy, abolished German courts and made Russian language the official language in state matters. Baltic Germans did not receive any support from German Empire that wanted to keep good relations with Russia. 2000 Baltic Germans emigrated to Germany because of anti-German reforms. However Germans kept their status in industrial and commercial sector. They still worked in state offices because Russians were not eager to work in the Baltic provinces. All Majors of Riga were Germans (except Englishman John Armisted) no Russian ever wanted to lead Riga.

The Germans felt remorse to Latvians who gained more freedom because of Russian reforms. However the wave of Russifaction hit Latvians by prohibiting the Latvian language in schools and public places.  But Latvians were free to form their organizations and speak privately in Latvian. When a wave of revolution hits Latvia in 1905 the Latvian-German conflict sparkled in blood and fire. For the few months Russian administration lost control over Latvian rural areas that were taken by revolutionary committees. Revolutionaries burned 200 German mansions in all Latvia. The Germans formed self defense squads to fight armed social democrats and peasants. When things begun to heat up; Germans asked for Russian help. General Aleksey Orlov led “punishment expeditions” to stop revolution. Punishment battalions killed 1615 revolutionaries.

A new hit for Germans were the start of First World War. The Germans suddenly become haunted minority blamed for all calamities of the war. Russian administration destroyed the prosperous German controlled industry by evacuating all factory equipment to inner Russia. Even tram lines were taken to Russia. Despite this a large part of Germans fought with the Russian army against their brothers in Baltic front.

A new hope for the Germans was Brestlitovsk peace agreement that gave all Baltic lands to Germany. On November 8 1918 Baltic Germans gathered in Riga to proclaim the “Baltic State”. This state should compromise Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and restore all rights for Germans. However in November 11 Germany signed capitulation act and in November  18 Latvia proclaimed its independence. The idea of Baltic State now was obsolete. Germans however did not lose hope for it until 1920. In 1918 Germans supported Latvian government because of growing danger from Soviet Russia. Germans made Landesver an army from Baltic Germans and ex members of the German army to help the Latvian army. With their help the Bolsheviks were pushed away from Riga however Germans quickly turned against Latvians by organizing coup 1919  April 16 in Liepaja. A plan to capture Karlis Ulmanis government failed and Germans formed a puppet government lead by Kārlis Niedra a pro-German pastor. Their plans failed completely when their armed forces were defeated by joint Latvian and Estonian forces near Cesis on June 22. By pressure of the US, England and France a ceasefire was signed and the Germans were forced to recognize the Latvian government. Germans Edvin Magnuss become minister of justice and Robert Erhard became minister of finance. Landesver was taken under Latvian control.

However radical German forces lead by General Ridiger von der Goltz and Russian whiteguard Pavel Bermont- Avalov attacked Riga in November of 1919 but failed once again. By this time more Germans supported Latvia. Paul Schiemann new German leader officially supported Latvian independence. Landesver forces took part in the liberation of Latgalia in 1920 from the Soviets. 54 German soldiers were awarded with the highest Latvian military award the Order of Lachpesis (Bear Slayer).

After the war Germans came to conclusion that they need to integrate in the Latvian politics.  A new party called “Baltic German democratic party” was formed. It was the most successful minority party in Latvia that won 6 seats in every election. Jewish and Russian parties had far lesser results because of their political divisions. A massive blow for German landlords was the Agricultural reform. Latvian government wanted to get rid of German landlords once and for all. 1300 properties of German mansions were confiscated. Noble families lost their mansions and palaces. Another boiling point was a German commemoration of Landesver. In 1929 a Landesver soldiers’ cemetery was established in Riga. A large monument was built. After few weeks monument was destroyed with explosives by unknown people. Resented Germans took all pieces of destroyed monument and connected to one piece.

Despite of deep divide Germans kept the status in industry and commerce. An autonomy in education was kept, a German self funded schools worked in all Latvia. Even the national reforms of Karlis Ulmanis regime could not hinder German place in Latvian economy.

But nothing was so crucial to Germans as the rise of National Socialism. Nazi Germany exported Nazi ideology to Baltic Germans. In 1933 a Nazi organization “Bewegung” (Movement) was established in Riga. Nazi supporters gained success by removing democrat Paul Schiemann from the leadership and excluding other democrats. Nazi leader Erich Krueger had ties with German SS and SD. The Nazi government wanted to make “fifth column” to fulfil their expansionist plans. Nazi movement made bitter danger for Latvia.

After signing non-aggression pact with Soviet Union it became clear to Hitler that once Latvia would be taken by the Soviets, the Baltic Germans will be oppressed by them. So he issued call to Baltic Germans to return to their ethnic homeland. Not all Germans in Latvia wanted to move. The majority however feared the coming Soviet occupation and used this chance to escape. In 1939.-1940 51 thousand Baltic Germans left Latvia. Only 11 thousand Germans stayed. After Soviet Occupation 10500 still remained. Those who moved to Germany however could not live in Germany itself but were moved to Nazi occupied Poland. There they met tragic fates in 1944-1945.

In 1989 by Soviet Census there were 3789 people calling them Germans. A large part of them came from mainland Russia. Only 944 were born in Latvia. 49% of Latvian Germans spoke only in Russian. After regaining of independence Germans organized new organizations, but there is a divide between German-speaking Germans and Russian speaking Germans. By the dates of 2007 there are 4226 Germans in Latvia. Some Germans from Germany move to Latvia to find jobs or move here because they married with Latvians. The last census in 2011 gathered 3042 Germans now living in Latvia.

German culture in Latvia has been destroyed by two-world wars. But the German presence can be seen in many places in Latvia. The buildings in Riga, mansions in rural areas. Latvian language and music have been influenced by the Germans. Latvians despite the conflicts own a lot of Germans and German factor will always have a place in Latvian history.

Selected Sources:

Krupņikovs, Pēteris. (1980). Melu un patiesības palete. Riga: Zvaigzne 1980.

Duhanovs, Maksims. (1986). Baltijas muižniecība laikmetu maiņā : Baltijas muižniecības politika 19.gs. 50.-70.gados un tās apoloģētiskās historiogrāfijas kritika. Riga: Zinātne.

Dribins, Leo, Spārītis Ojārs. (2000) Vācieši Latvijā. Riga: Latvijas Universitātes Filozofijas un socioloģijas institūts. Etnisko pētījumu centrs.

Dribins, Leo (Ed.) (2007) Mazākumtautības Latvijā : vēsture un tagadne. Rīga : Latvijas Universitātes Filozofijas un socioloģijas institūts, 2007.

Pistohlkors, Gert, Von. (Ed.) Deutsche Geschichte im Osten Europas: Baltische Länder, Vol 4.Berlin: Seidler Verlag.

Cerūzis, Raimonds (2004). Vācu faktors Latvijā (1918-1939) : politiskie un starpnacionālie aspekti = German factor in Latvia (1918-1939) : political and inter-ethnic aspects. Rīga : LU Akadēmiskais apgāds.

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The Livonian War

Narva attacked by Russians in 1558.

15-16 century was a time of great change in Europe in both political and social fields. Feudal ways of ruling nations changed. Strong European countries became centralized with strong royal administration and armies became more powerful.  Once weak feudal nations slowly became empires. At this time the nation that was unable to make significant changes became prey to other much stronger nations.

Livonia had strong neighbors- Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was largest country in Europe spanning from the Baltic sea to the Black Sea. Sweden started to gain ambitions to control the Baltic Sea. Denmark also rivalled for mastery in the Baltic. However even stronger and dangerous enemy was tempting to get Baltic region. It was Russia. In 8-9 century Kievan Rus was the first form of the Russian Empire, but it broke in many weak duchies. Duchies such as Pskov, Polotsk and Novgorod often tried to interfere Baltic region by attacking local tribes and forcing to pay fees for them. But they were too weak to conquer the Baltic peoples. When German Crusaders took Baltic lands by force, Russians were unable to do anything about it. Another weakening factor was Mongol invasion- in 13th century Mongolian Hordes destroyed Russian cities and imposed so-called Mongol-Tatar yoke.  Kiev fell in direct Mongolian rule, while Novgorod was more independent but still fed up with Mongols.  The Mongols created a country called the Golden Horde with Sarai as capital. Mongols controlled Russian Duchies with use of fees and taxes and tried not to make them too strong. However because of inner conflicts within the Horde the yoke got weaker. In 1380 the forces of Moscow defeated the Mongol army at the Battle of Kulikovo. This great battle however was more a result of an inner Mongol power struggle than effort of Russian liberation. Mongol power stayed and in 1382 the Mongols revenged by burning Moscow. But Mongols were crushed by Mongolian ruler Timur (Tamerlan) from Samarkand who destroyed Sarai but spared Moscow. In 1480 Moscow destroyed Mongol army at the Battle at River Ugra and no longer saw them as their senior rulers. Mongol yoke ended and Moscow became a prime duchy in Russia. The Russians learned many things from Mongols, such as brutal ways of ruling and the lack of justice.  Grand Duke of Ivan III captured Novgorod and Pskov. When 1455 Constantinople the center of the Orthodox Church was taken by the Ottomans, Ivan III declared that Moscow has become a Third Rome- the center of Eastern Christianity and heir of Roman Empire. That was beginning of the Russian imperialism.

Czar of All Russia Ivan IV the Terrible

Heir of Ivan III was Vasily III. In 1530 Ivan his son was born. In 1533 Vasily III was dead. Ivan IV was crowned as Czar of all Russia. Since he was child first years of his rule the power was managed by boyars. Ivan IV reached his prominence when he led the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan.   Both cities were owned by the Mongols and that was the end of Mongol influence in Russia.

After the fall of Kazan Ivan IV took his eyes on Livonia. Ivan IV wanted free port to the west and connect trade routes from the Baltic to Caspian Sea. Only Russian port on the Baltic Sea was Ivangorod right next to Narva, but it was too small and shallow. Russia required Livonia to pay taxes for Dorpat (Tartu) to keep peace. But in 1557 Livonians could not pay money to Ivan IV triggering his anger. Russia at first could not invade Livonia because relations with Poland-Lithuania were not secured. But in 1557 Kazan was captured and Russian army got large reinforcements from local Tatar tribes. Livonia still was not paying the money. Before that Russians managed to defeat Han of Crimea and stop Sweden. Grip on Livonia was getting stronger and Livonian cities asked for Polish help. In 1557 Livonia signed anti-Russian alliance with Poland-Lithuania and Order was under Polish protection. Russia saw this as a threat to its security and in 1558 declared war on Livonia.

Livonia was invaded by Russian forces and large groups of Tatar Hordes. Narva surrendered to Russia first, next was Dorpat. Sweden, Poland-Lithuania tried to force Russians leave Livonia, but without any luck. Russians pillaged Livonia killed civilians and in 1559 the Livonian Order gave up their independence to Poland-Lithuania. Order became part of the Polish army and their lands were given to them. Ivan IV tried to persuade Poland-Lithuania to join war against Muslim rulers of Crimea, but Lithuania disproved such proposal and helped the Han of Crimea. In 1560  August 2 Russians completely destroyed the Livonian army at the Battle of Ergeme. In same time Ivan IV started repressions against its aides.  On August 7 Ivan IV lost his beloved wife Anastasia. It was a great tragedy for Ivan and probably caused mental breakdown. Some say that Ivan IV turned evil after this and deserved his nickname ‘Terrible’. Ivan married again many times and most of his future wife’s were killed by his orders.

Atrocities of Russian army in Livonia

During the next years’ wars with brief cease-fire continued. Russia confronted Poland and Sweden and was unable to win. In Moscow Ivan IV continued bloody repressions accompanied by orgies and heavy drinking. In 1563 Russians captured Lithuanian controlled Polotsk.

The war started to shift against Russia when Crimean Tatars won many victories in 1579. They even devastated Moscow. Meanwhile after death of Polish king Sigismund Augustus throne was taken by energetic Stepfan Batory who started many successful attacks against Russia. He recaptured Polotsk and head deep into the Russian land almost threatening Ivan’s IV safety.   Sweden chased away Russians from Estonian part of Livonia. In 1581 Swedish mercenary forces captured Narva making heavy blow to Ivan IV. In November 1581 Ivan did heavy blow for himself by killing his son Ivan in spike of anger. Ivan IV now lost his heir. His remaining son Feodor was sick with Down syndrome and unable to rule. This was end of Rurikovich dynasty. Next year Russia made peace deal with Poland-Lithuania and Sweden.

Livonian Confederation ceased to exist. Northern Livonia with Reval (Tallin) and Narve was given to Sweden. Rest of Livonia was given to Poland-Lithuania. The New Duchy of Courland and Semigallia was established, its Duke was the last Master of the Livonian Order Gotthard Kettler. It was an autonomous nation with Jelgava as a capitol. Rest of Latvia was under direct jurisdiction of Poland. Riga tried to resist and was independent for many years but was captured by the Poles.

Russia lost in her first attempt to get way to the west. After Ivan IV death Russia felled in civil war together with Polish invasion.  Peace in the Baltic was kept until 1600 when Sweden and Poland-Lithuania started wars for Latvian territory.  It was Czar Peter I who again tried to “carve a window to Europe” and succeed in 1721 realizing an Ivan’s dream.

Livonia after Livonian war

Selected Sources

Madariaga, Isabel de. (2005) Ivan the Terrible: First Tsar of Russia. New York. Yale University Press.

Klišāns, Valdis. (1992) Livonija 13.-16. gs. pirmajā pusē : mācību līdzeklis. Riga: Latvijas Universitāte

 

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Wolter von Plettenberg

Wolter von Plettenberg bust at his grave site at Cesis

At 16th century the era of knights and crusader orders had come to an end. In most parts of Europe new age reforms were taken putting an end to importance of chivalry. England and France became centralized states and Teutonic Order became a secular Prussian state. The Grand Duchy of Moscow was heading to become a unified Russian state. At this time Livonia was still decentralized confederation ruled by Order and church, unable to unify. Unable to make reforms Livonian Confederation was prone to be conquered by the superior neighbor state.

At this time Livonia required a strong leader to save it from its own fate. This could be Wolter von Plettenberg the last powerful Master of Livonian Order. He had power in his hands to make changes, but in the end he only made life of Livonia only a little longer.

We don’t know the exact birth year of Plettenberg, but he was born in Westphalia Germany near the town of Plettenberg. His parents were local landlords. Because some of his relatives were already in Livonian order like landmarchall Gedert Plettenberg, Wolter joined the ranks of order in 1460′s in youth times.

In the first years of his career he was at the castle of Narve, Estonia, Aizkraukle and Aluksne. At 1481 he was finance and production administrator at the Castle of Riga. At 1482-1488 he was fogt of Rezekne and resided in Rezekne castle.

In 1489 he was elected landmarchal – the commander of armed forces and Masters adviser. His first military victory was against revolting Riga in 1491. Riga again tried to break free from Orders influence and broke the treaty of Salaspils signed in 1452 which made Riga under jurisdiction of the Order and Archbishop. He defeated the Riga’s armed forces at the battle of Bukulti and restored the power of Order. This made him very powerful among the ranks of Order and 1494 without a doubt he was elected as the Master of Order.

His main field of foreign affairs was Russia. Grand Duke of Moscow Ivan III annexed Novgorod, the strategic partner of the western world. He closed all trade offices in Novgorod and held captive western traders. This was a clear danger for Livonia as Ivan III made no secret that he wants to be ruler of whole Russia. He who was first called himself Czar- Emperor. Plettenberg sent 7 diplomatic delegations to Moscow and at the end 45 of 49 western officials were returned home. But the war was still imminent.

Knowing this Plettenberg tried to acquire allies against Moscow. He tried German Kaiser, Denmark but made an alliance with Lithuania. In 1501 he crossed the Livonian border for a preventive strike since Russians dissembled their forces near Pskov. Lithuanians did not send any help and Plettenberg acted on his own. He defeated the Russians and left the Russian border.  Russians strike back and entered Livonia and head to Cesis meeting no resistance. They pillaged Vidzeme and left. Plettenberg prepared to attack Russia next year.

In 1502 Plettenberg attacked Pskov. He pillaged its outskirts and siege the main town. He asked the defenders to surrender, but they waited for reinforcements and declined the surrender. When they came both sides met at the Battle of Smolin.

The order had cavalry commanded by Archbishop and landmarchal Micheal Hildebrand along with Latvian and Estonian foot soldiers.  About 5000 men.  Russians had forces from Pskov, Novgord, Moscow and Tatar allied forces. Order won the battle and left 2500 men dead. The Chronicle of Baltasar Rusov tells that Plettenberg lost only 400 men. After Lithuanian army again did not come, Plettenberg left Russia.

The battle was an important victory for the Order since Russians now hesitated to attack Livonia again until 1558. Numerous extensions of peace period showed that Russians respected the Order. However Russian historians try wash away the grunge of Smolin defeat (Russians never admit their defeat) by making it look like a victory since Plettenberg retreated after battle.

After setting things with Russia, Plettenberg was hit by a wave of the Reformation. He did not attempt to stop the spread of Lutheranism. But he kept his Catholic faith and when his Senior ruler the Teutonic Order became a secular state he rejected the possibility to do the same with his order. That may be his biggest mistake since he could make Livonia a centralized kingdom and start serious reforms. He was better off commanding army than being the real king of Livonia. So because of his hesitation Livonia never became a centralized   state.   He died in old age in 1535.  He saved Livonia from early collapse but did not do enough to make it last for steady future. His reigns did nothing significant either and so at 1558 the Livonian Confederation met serious nemesis- Czar Ivan IV the Terrible. But that is another story.

Selected Sources

Angerman, Norbert and Misāns, Ilgvars. (2001) Wolter von Plettenberg und das mittelalterliche Livland. Lüneburg : Verl. Nordostdeutsches Kulturwerk

Militzer, Klaus. (2005) Die Geschichte Des Deutschen Ordens. Stuttgart. Kohlhammer.

Klišāns, Valdis. (1992) Livonija 13.-16. gs. pirmajā pusē : mācību līdzeklis. Riga: Latvijas Universitāte

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Reformation in Livonia

Since Emperor Constantine made Christianity as the main religion of Roman Empire this religion took its grip under Europe. Rome, previously a main enemy of Christian sect now was its main center. The Christian religion spread among the barbarian nations on the ruins of the old Roman Empire. However as every religion Christianity was vulnerable to inner quarrels and splits. The first great split was in 1054 when differences between churches in Rome and in Constantinople became so great that both sides made a split between the Catholic Church at Rome and Orthodox Church in Byzantium. This was western-eastern split.  In Medieval times Catholic Church made itself strong and significant. It was more or less independent from secular kingdoms and had its influence in every man’s life. The church had their own lands, their own treasury and supreme rights in European politics. Crusades were part of the Catholic Church quest for supremacy. However starting from the Medieval ages Catholic church started to become vulnerable itself from inner opposition. Protest movements were called heresies and eagerly attacked by the church. Most times heretics such as the Cathars, Free Spirit and Waldensians were crushed.

One of the first Reformation movements was Hussites in Bohemia (nowadays Czech Republic). Church killed their leader but that caused bloody wars against German Catholic rule.

In 15-16 century because of Renaissance and rise of need for more freedoms from the  Church a more bitter opposition started to take place. Its starting point was in Germany. Triggered by clergyman Martin Luther who objected the indulgences- Church practice which allowed repaying sins with money – a successful scam that made church filthy rich.  This caused a Europe wide stir and the Church tried to get rid of Luther, but this time he had support from German statesman Frederic III of Saxony and the church was unable to touch him. Inability to quell the rebellion made support for Luther and Reformation begun. The rise of Protestantism reached the shores of Livonia and affected it but not as bloody as in Germany, France or other places.

First Protestants came to Livonia from Germany. Andreass Knopken, Silvester Tegetmeier brought Protestant ideology to Riga. New movement got support from Riga Town Council and vassal curries. Catholic Church did not show enough resistance. At 1524 riots against Catholic Church took place as churches were demolished by protesters.  Monks and nuns were chased away from Riga. The church lost many real estates and riches. At the end Town council tried to stop the riots. The Livonian Order who should protect the Church was not interested in showing any serious action against the movement, the Order wanted to weaken its rival the Archbishop of Riga. Also the patron of the Order the Teutonic Order in Prussia was abolished and the Order was free from Germany. The order also desired to become a secular country rather than theocratic. However Wolther von Pletenberg the Master of the Order did not choose to do that, but he allowed freedom of belief in Riga Church lost its properties in Riga and Archbishop was exiled. Reformation then quickly came to other Livonian towns and finally in 1554 freedom of belief was imposed in all Livonia. Latvians who lived in towns also joined the movement. First Latvian congregations opened where ministration was taken in Latvian (Luther preached that ministrations can be taken in local language rather than Latin). This bought need for religious text translation in Latvian. First Lutheran Catechisms and sacral songs were translated into Latvian. This was a big step for Latvian writing and language as whole. Reformation also made first Latvian schools and need for Latvian priests. On the country side Reformation was not taken seriously by Latvian peasants. If the German landlord changed his beliefs then peasants also changed but they more practiced ancient pagan rituals than Christian beliefs. Paganism dominated the countryside to 18-19 century.

Reformation made victory in Livonia with ease because local German government wanted to be more independent from Germany and Rome and Germany itself had no real influence on Livonia. Therefore Latvia today is one of the strongest key points of Protestant movement.

After the  fall of Livonia new powers the Catholic Poles tried to make Contra-reformation. This was met by resistance and only region which was brought back to Catholicism was Latgalia. Now Lutheran Church is the main Church in Latvia. However Catholic Church holds influence in Latvia also. Surprisingly in today’s Latvia both Church shows unity and friendship. Latvia is also no stranger to other Christian movements like Baptism, Jehovah Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists and other Christian sects. Latvia more or less has always been one of the freest places for multiple beliefs.

Selected Sources:

Feldmanis, Roberts. (2010) Latvijas baznīcas vēsture. Riga: Luterisma mantojuma fonds.

Spekke, Arnolds. (1995) Latvieši un Livonija 16. gs. Riga: Zinātne.

Klišāns, Valdis. (1992) Livonija 13.-16. gs. pirmajā pusē : mācību līdzeklis. Riga: Latvijas Universitāte

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The Livonian Order

Livon ord

The Seal of Livonian Order

The German Crusader disaster in 1236 at the battle of Saule marked a major change in events of the Crusades in the whole Baltic region. The core of the leadership of The Order of The Brothers of Sword was eliminated and Order could no longer function properly. This was the bitter danger for the German power in the Latvian land. Riga needed protection, the earlier conquered lands needed to be held against still free Pagan tribes. A large portion of Curonians and Semigallians were free from Crusader rule and not to mention the Lithuanians who could make a powerful raid against Germans. So proper action was needed to be done to save whole Crusader campaign in the Baltic.

Unlucky for early Latvian tribes a powerful alternative was found- the Teutonic Order or The German Order. Details about this order was described in a post about Order of The Brothers of Sword. At this time when the Brothers of Sword were destroyed the Teutonic Order was the best power to take its part in conquering the Latvian land. Even before the battle of Saule the Master of the Order tried to make deal with the Teutonic Order. But no deal was made. After the battle pope Gregor IX forced the Teutonic Order to incorporate The Brothers of Sword in their ranks with condition that King of Denmark gets his lost land in Northern Estonia back including the city of Revel (Tallin). In 1237 The Grand Master of Teutonic Order Herman from Salza declared the full incorporation of Brothers and give the mission to Heman Balke to go to Riga and consolidate the situation in Livonia and  fulfill the pope’s orders. At this time the conquered Latvia and Estonia was called Livonia or the Terra Mariana (Land of Saint Mary). So in future posts the German acquired lands will be called Livonia. This name was used for many centuries to name the lands of Estonia and Latvia even after the breakdown of Livonian Confederation.

Herman from Balke made his voyage to Livonia with escort or 60 knights, enough to compensate the causalities of Saule. In 1238 June 7 he finished talks with Danes and gave their lost lands back. This was protested by ex-Brothers of Sword who were the ones who detracted the land from the Danes. But the protesters were removed from their posts and some of them were even sent to the Holy Land (Palestine). New knights did not show any sign of protest against this deal.

The Teutonic Order did not conquer the Brother of Sword lands but acquired them legally. The old form of ruling structure was kept and many ex-Sword brothers kept their seats. However the new Master Dietrich from Gröningen no longer wanted to cooperate with old Sword Brothers and removed them from their office and took their lands. Since the Livonia and Prussia which was the main Teutonic base of operations was separated from each other, the knights of Livonia became the Livonian Order. It was still a branch of Teutonic Order fully depended on it, but still kept some form of free action in their zone of operations. Since the Teutonic Order was rich organization the Livonian Order could get enough supplies and reinforcements to make their wars more effective than Brothers of Sword.

In 1240 Livonian Order   captured Russian city Pskov but were defeated by legendary Duke Alexander Nevskya  on the ice covered lake Piepuss in 1242 This battle was an even bitter failure than a battle of Saule and stopped the German Drang nach Osten (Drive to the East) for many centuries. After that the Order took their attention on easier targets in Courland.  Order started to build castles in Courland like the castle of Kuldīga (Goldingen) and castle of Klaipėda (Memel). Crusaders managed to take control of Lithuanian coast making Lithuania a land locked country for many centuries.  In 1252 The Lithuanian Ruler Mindaugas finally agreed to baptize and was recognized by Pope as legitimate Catholic King. Since Crusaders had no progress with the conquer of Lithuania, making them officially Christians was the only thing what they could do. Mindaugas gave Samogottia to Order, but Order was too weak to actually take it.

Mindaugas was a bloody tyrant and double-crosser; some years after the Order was forced to fight with him and in 1260 alongside Curonians, the Lithuanians defeated the Order near Durbe. Two years later Mindaugas was killed by conspirators and Lithuania switched back to Paganism.  Despite that the Order survived the blow and defeated Curonians and finally Semigallians and established numerous outposts around Livonia, like Dünaburg (Daugavpils) and Mitau (Jelgava) which became an important cities.

After the defeat of the last native resistance the Order established himself as the primary power in the Livonian Confederation. It ruled the most lands in Livonia and was the main defense force of the confederation.  It had to rival with Archbishop of Riga who ruled large lands in Vidzeme and administration of Riga who desired more freedom from the Order and the Church. This caused Civil Wars between Riga and the Order. Later Order again acquired Northern Estonia and Revel. The Order lived until 1561 when forced by Livonian breakdown the last Grand Master of the Livonian Order Gothard Ketler became the Duke of Courland and Semigallia.

Selected Sources

Šterns,Indriķis. (2002) Latvijas vēsture, 1180-1290: krustakari. Riga: Latvijas vēstures instūta apgāds.

Militzer, Klaus. (2005) Die Geschichte Des Deutschen Ordens. Stuttgart. Kohlhammer.

Grīnberga L. (Ed.) (1999) Ceļvedis ordeņu vēsturē. Riga. Zvaigzne ABC.


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