Courland, Duchy of

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Courland, Duchy of


(Duchy of Kurliandia and Zem-gal’ia), a feudal state on the territory of Latvia, a vassal of Poland-Lithuania. It was formed as a result of the subordination of the Livonian feudal lords to King Sigismund II Augustus by the agreement of Nov. 28, 1561, at the time of the collapse of the Livonian Order. Until 1737 the head of the Duchy of Courland was the former master of the Livonian Order, G. Kettler, and his descendants; in 1737, Biron [the favorite of Empress Anne of Russia] took over.

The center of the Duchy of Courland was Mitau (Jelgava). The German aristocracy made significant inroads on the powers of the dukes; by 1617 the duchy was a “republic of the nobility.” In 1710 it became a sphere of Russian influence. The power of the chief executive and the judiciary, according to the “formula of rule” of 1617, belonged to the council of the duke. The territory was divided into four oberhauptmann districts. The Latvian peasantry, according to the Courland Statutes, worked as serfs of the German landlords. The main branch of production was corvee agriculture, producing grain for foreign markets. The serf manufacturers of the duchy produced cloth and weapons and built ships.

The urban population did not possess any political rights. In 1790 under the influence of the Great French Revolution, the Burgher Union was established and struggled for reforms. According to the third partition of Poland, in 1795, the duchy was annexed to Russia to form the Courland Province.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.