Picking up where we left off last week, talking about ancient names for Latvian territory – and now we’re moving into the Middle Ages, and then medieval and early modern eras!
After the German crusaders invaded and gradually conquered the Baltic and Finnic tribes, they created Terra Mariana – which was first a principality of the Holy Roman Empire, but was then subject instead to the Holy See directly. It was divided into several bishoprics – Courland, Dorpat (Tartu), Osel (Saaremaa) and the archbishopric of Rīga, in addition to the land directly administered by the Livonian Order. With the church, nobility and merchants in constant power struggles, this patchwork of administration was necessary to maintain order (and then there was the local peasantry). Rīga and Tallinn were both rising city powers in their own right, as members of the Hanseatic League.
Terra Mariana – also known as the Livonian Confederation – as such came to an end in 1561, as a result of the Livonian War. The northern part of the confederation became Swedish Estonia, while the southern parts – including all of present-day Latvia, as well as southern Estonia – became a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Here, they formed two duchies – the duchy of Livland, encompassing modern-day southern Estonia and the Latvian provinces of Vidzeme and Latgale, and the duchy of Courland-Semigallia, encompassing the modern-day Latvian provinces of Kurzeme and Zemgale. While under the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the German nobility retained most of their power and privileges and controlled day-to-day affairs in the duchies.
Further territorial divisions took place as a result of the Polish-Swedish conflict, and in 1621 the Swedes took over most of Livland, leaving Poland with just a tiny piece – modern-day Latgale, which became the Inflanty Voivodeship. This brought Latgale under direct Polish control and under the control of Catholicism (the Reformation having taken place a century earlier, bringing Lutheranism as the dominant religion in the rest of the Latvian territories). With this division, the stage was set for the future Latvian provinces to arise as they did.
Gradually, all of these Latvian territories – Swedish Livonia (Vidzeme and southern Estonia) in 1721, the Inflanty Voivodeship (Latgale) in 1772 and the Duchy of Courland-Semigallia in 1795 – all came under the Russian crown, and became provinces of the Russian Empire.
Stay tuned next week, when we will talk more about the Russian Empire era!