Back to Mappy Monday – sorry we missed last week, but I was down with a bad cold and headache, so I couldn’t get this out last Monday! But continuing on from where we left off, at medieval to early modern names for Latvian territory, we now move into the Russian Empire age, which started in 1721, 1772 and 1795, depending on where in modern Latvia you were.
As I mentioned in the last post, those three divisions and times that these territories were incorporated into the Russian Empire set the stage for the modern Latvian provinces.
Swedish Livonia became the Russian governorate of Livland (Lifland in Russian, for a time it was also called the Rīga governorate). In Latvian, it was called Vidzemes guberņa. Vidzeme literally means “Middle Land” or “Middle Earth” – something Tolkien fans can really enjoy! I know I like telling people my ancestors are from Middle Earth. The Duchy of Courland and Semigallia became the governorate of Courland (Kurland in Russian), in Latvian Kurzemes guberņa.
As two of the three of the Baltic governorates of the Russian Empire (third being Estland – northern Estonia), Courland and Livland enjoyed various privileges – or should I say, the local Baltic German nobility enjoyed various privileges. While being nominally under the Russian Empire, the Baltic German nobility still maintained most of the control until the late 19th century and the beginning campaign of Russification at that time. The peasantry did gain one advantage sooner than in the rest of the Empire, however, and that was the abolishment of serfdom in 1817 (Courland) and 1819 (Livland). Otherwise, the peasantry were subject to the laws and administration of the Baltic German nobility and not the laws that governed the rest of the Russian Empire.
The third Latvian territory, on the other hand, did become a part of “mainland” Russia so to speak – the Inflanty Voivodeship became a part of the Russian Empire after the First Partition of Poland. After a few territorial changes and divisions, it became a part of the newly created Vitebsk governorate in 1802. This territory encompassed what is now eastern Latvia, northern Belarus and a part of western Russia. It was under the direct rule of the Russian Empire and thus subject to its laws. This meant that serfdom was not abolished there until 1861. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, the three Latvian districts of Vitebsk – Dinaburg (from 1893 known as Dvinsk, in Latvian Daugavpils), Lucyn (Ludza in Latvian) and Rezhitsa (Rēzekne in Latvian) – became a part of the Latvian Soviet territory known as Iskolat, which encompassed parts of Vidzeme as well. After the Soviets were removed from Latvia during the Latvian War of Independence, these three districts would become the Latvian province of Latgale.
And this brings us to post-First World War independent Latvia! Well, for the most part. There are a few territorial changes during the initial years of independence that we will get into next week!