Go to homepageUncovering the common past of the countries around the Baltic Sea in the years 1450-1800

Advanced search

Dukes of Courland Archives


Latvijas Valsts vēstures arhīvs
Latvia State Historical Archives
Riga, Latvia

Record group

Dukes of Courland Archives
Kurzemes hercogu arhīvs
Reference code : 554
Period : 1352-1848
Extent : 8460 items


The archives of the Dukes of Courland comprise documents pertaining to the Duchy of Courland and Semgallen and the Dukes' dynasties. The records have been created by the Dukes themselves, as well as by the highest administrative and estate organs of the Duchy: the Chancellery, the Chamber and the Diet. The documents (privileges, agreements, correspondence, orders, reports, etc.) reflect the legal and economic situation of the Duchy, administration and finances, relations between the Duke and the nobility, the dynastic and economic policy of the Dukes, diplomacy and contacts with Poland-Lithuania, Sweden, Russia, England, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, the German territories, etc. The record group also contains several records of the Livonian Order from the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries.

Relevant contents

Period : 1561 - 1795
Countries involved : Denmark, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Sweden, The Netherlands, Various countries
Languages : Danish, Dutch, French, High German, Latin, Russian, Various languages

Information about trade and shipping is to be found in the records of the Chancellery and the Chamber, in various parts of the Dukes' correspondence and in ordinances of the Diets. Below, however, only the most relevant groups of items and only some general issues of their contents are mentioned. Most of the relevant records date from the period between the early or mid-seventeenth century and the late eighteenth century.

An important part of the materials in inventory no. 1 consists of documents concerning the Duchy's contacts to Poland, Sweden, Germany (especially Brandenburg), Russia and Denmark, as well as the Netherlands and other countries beyond the Baltic Sea region. These documents are grouped according to the reigning periods of the Dukes. The proportion of the materials concerning trade and shipping is especially large in the section about the relations of Duke Jacob (1642–1682) with the Netherlands (inventory no. 1: items 707-723), among them letters of merchants and the Duke's foreign representatives, A. Vicqfort, H. Member, N. de Bijem, A. Cogan, P. de Volkershoven, J. van der Velde, J. van Racy and others from The Hague and Amsterdam. Contacts between Courland and the Netherlands remained important later on (inventory no. 1: items 1013-1016, 1023, 1026, 1217, 1218, dating from the years 1674-1716). Other items pertain to trade contacts and diplomacy between Courland and Riga, Russia, Poland, Lithuania, etc. (inventory no. 1: items 1833, 1834; inventory no. 2: item 3161; inventory no. 3: items 1908-1914).

Various treaties, reports, petitions and bills reflect trade regulation, trade routes, assortment of goods, etc. (inventory no. 1: items 844, 845, 945, 1215, 1811; inventory no. 2: item 3218; inventory no. 3: items 1941-1960). Information about trade regulations and merchants may also be found in records regarding to relations between the Duke and various towns in Courland including the ports of Liepaja and Ventspils (inventory no. 1: items 342-345, 947, 1757, 1764, 1765, 1808, 1817, 1818, 1836, 1837, 2420, 2890; inventory no. 2: items 3156, 3157; and in particular inventory no. 3: items 1859-1900, dating from the years 1562–1795).

Other relevant papers (decrees, reports, bills, shipping lists, etc.) are to be found among items pertaining to harbour construction, taxes, shipping movements and cargoes in Liepaja and Ventspils (inventory no. 1: items 1216, 1219c, 1810, 1813; inventory no. 2: item 3160; inventory no. 3: items 1916-1932). Similar records are available that deal with topics concerning navigation and shipping from the late sixteenth to the late eighteenth century (inventory no. 1: items 1219b; inventory no. 2: item 3159; inventory no. 3: items 1901- 1907). Inventories, account books, ship's journals, etc., give information about ships and their crews (inventory no. 1: items 340, 638, 833, 850c, 1026-1028, 1032, 1204; inventory no. 3: item 1936). Petitions, reports and decrees related to shipwrecks contain information about ship chartering and cargoes (inventory no. 1: item 946; inventory no. 2: item 3165; inventory no. 3: items 1937-1940; dating from 1576-1794).

Information on the migration of craftsmen from the Netherlands and Germany and on the exchange of information is to be found in records about the management of the Duchy's shipyards (inventory no. 2: item 3148; inventory no. 3: items 1754-1760; dating from 1640-1792) and sail weaving workshops (inventory no. 2: item 3149; inventory no. 3: items 1763-1765: dating from 1693-1773).

In the course of the seventeenth century, a system of trade duties and taxes, paid in favour of the Duke, was established. The Lizent was a customs duty paid on all goods shipped over sea. The Akzise was a tax paid on trade of beverages and food. Another duty, Zoll, was paid on goods transported inland, for example from Lithuania to Riga. The archives also contain a large number of records concerning the activities of tax and customs offices and of special officials in harbour towns (Strandvogt) who supervised tax collection and the logistics of the Duke's fleet and operated as his trade agents. These records contain information about toll and tax policies, trade volumes, cargoes, etc. (inventory no. 1: items 831, 832, 2414, 2416, 2783-2787, 2848, 2849, 2859, 2928, 2929; inventory no. 2: items 3219, 3167-3173; inventory no. 3: items 1961-2062).

In addition, the following items are relevant:

  • Collection of drawings by J. Streck, depicting the ships of Ventspils shipyard, mid-seventeenth century, grisaille technique (inventory no. 1: item 850d).
  • Account book of unknown origin with data about dealings in Courland, 1698-1699 (inventory no. 1: item 1030).
  • Several account books of the trading company "Witte and Huecke" in Liepaja (inventory no. 2: items 3158, 3162-3164).
  • Treaties, reports and correspondence with the King of Denmark about trade privileges in Iceland and ore mining in Norway, 1639-1688 (inventory no. 1: item 731; inventory no. 2: item 3146).
  • Correspondence about expeditions and colonies in East India, Africa and South America (inventory no. 1: items 616, 724, 849, 850, 1025, 2621, 2739; inventory no. 2: items 2982, 3179-3182; inventory no. 3: items 387-392).


The materials are described in three inventories:

  1. in Russian and Latvian, based on the catalogue of the Duke's archives published in 1903, with supplements from the 1930s–1970s.
  2. in Latvian, drawn up around 1930s, with supplements from the 1960s-1980s.
  3. in Latvian (1982).

Герцогский архив в Митаве [The ducal archive in Jelgava] (Jelgava, 1903), a systematic inventory with introductory survey, chronologically organised according to the successive dukes of Courland. The materials now constitute the base of inventory no. 1 in the Latvia State Historical Archives, though there have been many losses and changes since 1903.

Record creator / provenance

In 1561 Gothard Ketler, the last Grand Master of the Livonian Branch of the German Order, became a vassal of the Polish-Lithuanian rulers and was appointed as Duke of Courland and Semgallen (nowadays the territory of Latvia west of the Daugava River). The dynasty of the Ketlers (1561–1737) and later the Birons (1737–1795, with intervals) ruled the Duchy until 1795, when as a result of the third partition of Poland-Lithuania this territory was included into the Russian Empire as the Courland Province (in German Kurland, in Latvian Kurzeme).

The Dukes, especially Jacob (1642–1682), tried to strengthen their sovereignty and minimise their dependence on the Polish-Lithuanian rulers and the Courland nobility, and developed many economic activities based on mercantile principles, such as the foundation of manufactories, shipyards in Ventspils (Windau) and Liepaja (Libau), and colonies in Tobago and Gambia. With respect to foreign affairs, the Duchy tried to be neutral, although it still got involved in various seventeenth- and eighteenth-century military conflicts between Poland and Sweden, and in the course of the eighteenth century it was gradually absorbed into the Russian sphere of influence. During almost the entire period of the Duchy, its capital, Chancellery and archives were located at Jelgava (in German Mitau).

Custodial history

Visually attractive


Related materials