CourlandCourland or Kurland formerly named a Baltic province of the Teutonic Order state in Livonia (ca.1200-1560), Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1560-1795) and imperial Russia (1795-1918), lying between 55° 45’ and 57° 45’ N. and 21° and 27° E., now (2003) parts of Latvia. In the imperial Russia it was bounded on the north-east by the river Daugava, separating it from the districts of Vitebsk and Livonia; on the north by the Gulf of Riga, on the west by the Baltic Sea, and on the south by the Prussian province of East Prussia and the Russian district of Kovno. The area comprised 10,535 square miles., of which 101 square miles comprised lakes. The surface was generally low and undulating, and the coast-lands flat and marshy. The interior was characterised by wooded dunes, covered with pine, fir, birch and oak, with swamps and lakes, and fertile patches between. The surface nowhere rose more than 700 feet above sea level.
The Mitau plain divided Courland into two parts, of which the western was fertile and thickly inhabited, except in the north, while the eastern was less fertile and thinly inhabited.
Courland is drained by nearly one hundred rivers, of which only three, the Daugava, the Lielupe (Aa) and the Venta (Windau), are navigable. They all flow north-westwards and discharge into the Baltic Sea. Owing to the numerous lakes and marshes, the climate is damp and often. foggy, as well as changeable, and the winter is severe. Agriculture was the chief occupation, the principal crops being rye, barley, oats, wheat, flax and potatoes. The land was mostly owned by nobles of German descent. In 1863 laws were issued to enable the Letts, who formed the bulk of the population, to acquire the farms which they held, and special banks were founded to help them. By this means some farms were bought by their occupants; but the great mass of the population remained landless, and lived as hired labourers, occupying a low position in the social scale.
On the large estates agriculture was conducted with skill and scientific knowledge. Fruit grows well. Excellent breeds of cattle, sheep and pigs were kept. Lihau and Mitau were the principal industrial centres, with iron-works, agricultural machinery works, tanneries, glass and soap works. Flax spinning was mostly a domestic industry. Iron and limestone were the chief minerals; a little amber is found on the coast. The only seaports were Libau, Windau and Polangen, there being none on the Courland coast of the Gulf of Riga.
The population was 619,154 in 1870; 674,437 in 1897, of whom 345,756 were women; 714,200 (estimate) in 1906. Of the whole, 79% were Latvians, 8.75% Germanss, 1.7% Russians, and 1% each Poles and Lithuanians. In addition there were about 8% Jews and some Livonians.
The chief towns of the ten districts were Jelgava (Mitau), capital of the government (pop. 35,011 in 1897), Bauska (6543), Jaunjelgava (Friedrichstadt) (5223), Kuldiga (Goldingen) (9733), Grobina (1489), Aizpute (Hasenpoth) (3338), Ilukste (Illuxt) (2340), Talsi (Talsen) (6215), Tukums (Tuckum) (7542) and Ventspils (Windau) (7132). The prevailing religion was Lutheranism, to which 76% of the population belonged; the rest belong to the Orthodox Eastern and the Roman Catholic churches.
History of Courland
Anciently Courland was inhabited by the Curonians, a Baltic tribe, who were subdued and converted to Christianity by the Brethren of the Sword, a German military order, in the first quarter of the 13th century. In 1237 it passed under the rule of the Teutonic Knights owing to the amalgamation of this order with that of the Brethren of the Sword.
At that time Courland comprised the two duchies of Courland and of Semgallen. Under the increasing pressure of Russia (Muscovy) the Teutonic Knights in 1561 found it expedient to put themselves under the suzerainty of Poland, the grandmaster Gotthard Kettler (d. 1587) becoming the first duke of Courland. (See Livonia.
The duchy suffered severely in the Russo-Swedish campaigns of 1700 - 1709. But by the marriage in 1710 of Kettler’s descendant, Duke Frederick William (d. 1711), to the princess Anne, niece of Peter the Great and afterwards empress of Russia, Courland came into close relations with the latter state, Anne ruling as duchess of Courland from 1711 to 1730.
The celebrated Marshal Saxe was elected duke in 1726, but only managed to maintain himself by force of arms till the next year. The last Kettler, William, titular duke of Courland, died in 1737, and the empress Anne then bestowed the dignity on her favourite Biren, who held it from 1737 to 1740 and again from 1763 till his death in 1772.
During nearly the whole of the 18th century Courland, devastated by continual wars, served as a shuttlecock between Russia and Poland; until eventually in 1795 the assembly of the nobles placed it under the Russian sceptre. The Baltic provinces - Esthonia, Livonia and Courland - ceased to form collectively one general government in 1876.
After World War I former Courland became part of Latvia.
See H. Hollmann, Kurlands Agrarverhältnisse (Riga, 1893), and E. Seraphim, Geschichte Liv-, Esth-, und Kurlands (2 vols., Reval, 1895 - 1896).
Initial text from a 1911 encyclopedia. Please update as needed.