Sights of Kurzeme
Kurzeme – one of four historical areas, located in the western part of Latvia. Kurzeme is the land of Latvia, where there are two large port cities of Ventspils and Liepaja. Kurzeme is one of the four cultural and historical regions of Latvia occupying the entire western part of the country, from the Irbensky Strait in the north, to the Lithuanian border in the south. First of all, Kurzeme is of course the Baltic Sea coast. In the town of Sabile grows the northernmost grapes in Europe. The city of Kuldiga with its unique tiled roofs and many other beautiful places, here is one of the widest waterfalls in Europe – Ventas rumba, the most beautiful river Venta. The city on nine hills – Talsi and the historical castle Jaunmoku in the vicinity of Tukums.
History of Kurzeme
Kurzeme from history is known as Courland, the ancient Course is the land of ancient Livs and Curonians. In the 13th century, this region was captured by German knights and was part of Livonia. Since 1561, the Courland Duchy and the Piltene region, in 1795 – 1917 Kurland province of the Russian Empire.
After the collapse of the states of Livonia in 1567, the power of which belonged to the order and bishops, the Kurzeme-Zemgale duchy (duchy of Courland and Zemgale) emerged, a state that was vassal dependent on Poland. Usually it was called Kurzeme (Kurland) dukedom (German Kurland – land Curonians). At the head of this state was the Duke, who was the vassal of the Polish king.
The first ruler of Kurzeme was Gotthard Ketler, the last master of the Livonian Order. The Duke did not have a strong power, as the nobility refused to obey him. In 1570, the Kurzeme landlords achieved the fact that the Duke signed the so-called “Gotthard Privilege” – a legal act by which all the former landed estates of the order became private property of the landlords. Private property was declared also those medieval estates, which after the liquidation of the Livonian Order were captured by former members of the Order. The nobility was also exempt from any taxes or duties.
At the disposal of the duke were only his personal possessions, which occupied about a third of the territory of the duchy. To prevent the strengthening of the power of the Duke, the Polish government strongly supported the Kurzeme landlords. The nobility possessed unlimited power over their serfs – the landowners were even entitled, as a punishment, to pass a death sentence to the peasants. The infamous pillar and the gallows were in every estate. The code of laws, published in 1617 – the “Kurland Statute” – equated the Latvian serfs with ancient Roman slaves. Peasants could be bought and sold, excommunicated from the family, it was possible to take away the children from their parents, to take the peasants away from their native places. Fugitive peasants and their descendants could be persecuted for a hundred years.
In somewhat better conditions, there were peasants in the estates of the duke. They were entitled to own property and to inherit it. The size of corvee service and quitrent in the estate of the duke was determined on the basis of so-called inventory lists, while in private estates these dimensions were determined in such a way that peasants were on the verge of ruin, but at the same time the income of the landowner did not decrease.
Duke often lacked money, so he gave his estate as a pledge to wealthy landlords and merchants. The situation of serfs in these estates was particularly difficult, since the creditor tried to extract the maximum profit from these possessions.
The main source of income of the Kurzeme Duchy was trade. The rise in grain prices in Western Europe, as well as the ever-increasing demand for timber and other materials used in shipbuilding, brought additional profits, both to owners of private estates, and to the duke.
In 1587, the first Kurland duke Gotthard Ketler died and the government passed over to his sons Friedrich and Wilhelm. Friedrich reigned Zemgale, and Wilhelm – Kurzeme. The Duke of Wilhelm understood the importance of trade in raising the welfare of the state. During his reign, the territory of the Piltensky Bishopric was again annexed to Kurzeme, which the bishop sold to the Danes during the Livonian War, as well as the Grobin district, pledged to the ruler of Prussia.