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Courland Governorate, Governorate of Livonia, Governorate of Estonia of Russian Empire before the 1917 February Revolution

Flag of the United Baltic Duchy

The proposed United Baltic Duchy,[1] also known as the Grand Duchy of Livonia,[2] was a state proposed by the Baltic German nobility and exiled Russian nobility[3] after the Russian revolution and German occupation of the Courland, Livonian, and Estonian governorates of the Russian Empire.

The idea comprised the lands in Estonia and Latvia and included the creation of a Duchy of Courland and a Duchy of Estonia and Livonia that would be in personal union with the Crown of Prussia [4] under the German Empire's occupied territory Ober Ost before the end of World War I covering the territories of the Medieval Livonia what are now Latvia and Estonia.

Historical background

During World War I, German Armies had occupied the Courland Governorate of Russian Empire by the autumn of 1915. The front was settled along a line stretched between Riga, Daugavpils and Baranovichi.

Following the February Revolution in Russia, the Autonomous Governorate of Estonia was created on 12 April 1917 (30 March Old Style) from the former Russian Governorate of Estonia and northern Governorate of Livonia. After the October Revolution, the elected Estonian Provincial Assembly declared itself the sovereign power in Estonia on 28 November 1917 and on 24 February 1918, a day before the arrival of German troops the Estonian Declaration of Independence was issued. The Western Allies recognized the Republic of Estonia de facto in May 1918.[5]

The Latvian National Council was proclaimed on 16 November 1917. On 30 November 1917, the Council declared an autonomous Latvian province within ethnographic boundaries, and a formal independent Latvian republic was declared on 15 January 1918.[5]

After the Russian revolution, German troops had started advancing from Courland, and by the end of February 1918 the German military administered the territories of the former Russian Governorate of Livonia and Autonomous Governorate of Estonia that had declared independence. With the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on 3 March 1918, Bolshevist Russia accepted the loss of the Courland Governorate, and by agreements concluded in Berlin on 27 August 1918, the loss of the Autonomous Governorate of Estonia and the Governorate of Livonia.[5]

Attempt to create the United Baltic Duchy

Adolf Friedrich, Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, 1962

As a parallel political movement under the German military administration, Baltic Germans began forming provincial councils between September 1917 and March 1918. On 12 April 1918, a Provincial Assembly composed of 35 Baltic Germans, 13 Estonians, and 11 Latvians passed a resolution calling upon the German Emperor to recognize the Baltic provinces as a monarchy and make them a German protectorate.[6]

On 8 March and 12 April 1918, the local Baltic German-dominated Kurländische Landesrat and the Vereinigter Landesrat of Livland, Estland, Riga, and Ösel had declared themselves independent states,[citation needed] known as the Duchy of Courland (Herzogtum Kurland) and Baltic State duchy [7] (Baltischer Staat), respectively. Both states proclaimed themselves to be in personal union with the Kingdom of Prussia, although the German government never responded to acknowledge that claim.

The Baltic lands were nominally recognized as a sovereign state by emperor Wilhelm II only on 22 September 1918,[citation needed] half a year after Soviet Russia had formally relinquished all authority over its former Imperial Baltic provinces to Germany in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. On 5 November 1918, a temporary Regency Council (Regentschaftsrat) for the new state led by Baron Adolf Pilar von Pilchau was formed on a joint basis from the two local Land Councils.

The capital of the new state was to be Riga. It was to be a confederation of seven cantons: Kurland (Courland), Riga, Lettgallen (Latgale), Südlivland (South Livonia), Nordlivland (North Livonia), Ösel (Saaremaa), and Estland (Estonia), the four first cantons thus covering the territory corresponding to today's Latvia and the latter three corresponding to today's Estonia.

The first head of state of the United Baltic Duchy was to be Adolf Friedrich, Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, not as a sovereign monarch, but as a subordinate to the German Kaiser, similar to other dukes and grand dukes of the German Empire. But Adolf Friedrich never assumed office. The appointed Regency Council consisting of four Baltic Germans, three Estonians and three Latvians functioned until 28 November 1918, without any international recognition, except from Germany.

In October 1918, the Chancellor of Germany Prince Maximilian of Baden proposed to have the military administration in the Baltic replaced by civilian authority. The new policy was stated in a telegram from the German Foreign Office to the military administration of the Baltic: The government of the Reich is unanimous in respect of the fundamental change in our policy towards the Baltic countries, namely that in the first instance policy is to be made with the Baltic peoples.[5]

Independent Latvia

On 18 November 1918, Latvia proclaimed independence. In Estonia, the German military administration transmitted power to the Government of Estonia headed by Konstantin Päts. In Latvia, the Germans formally handed over authority to the Latvian national government headed by Kārlis Ulmanis on 7 December 1918.[5]

The Baltische Landeswehr was formed by the government of the United Baltic Duchy as its national defense force. Upon taking command of the Baltische Landeswehr, Major Alfred Fletcher, with the backing of the Baltic German land barons, began dismissing native Latvian elements and replacing them with Baltic Germans and Reichsdeutsche troops. Concurrently, German officers assumed most of the command positions. In his book Vanguard of Nazism: The Free Corps Movement in Postwar Germany, 1918-1923, author Robert G.L. Waite notes: "By mid-February 1919, Latvians composed less than one fifth of their own army". Britain backed down after recognizing the gravity of the military situation, and the White Russian units and the Freikorps moved on and captured Riga on 22 May 1919.

After the capture of Riga, the Freikorps were accused of killing 300 Latvians in Jelgava, 200 in Tukums, 125 in Daugavgrīva, and over 3,000 in Riga. After taking part in the capture of Riga, in June 1919 General von der Goltz ordered his troops not to advance east against the Red Army, as the Allies had been expecting, but north, against the Estonians. On 19 June 1919, the Iron Division and Landeswehr units launched an attack to capture areas around Cēsis (Wenden), the Baltische Landeswehr continued its advance towards the Estonian coast preparatory for a push on Petrograd. However, the Baltische Landeswehr was defeated by the 3rd Estonian Division (led by Ernst Põdder) and North Latvian Brigade in the Battle of Cēsis, 19–23 June 1919.

On the morning of 23 June 1919, the Germans began a general retreat toward Riga. The Allies again insisted that the Germans withdraw their remaining troops from Latvia, and intervened to impose a ceasefire between the Estonians and the Freikorps when the Estonians were about to march into Riga. Meanwhile, an Allied mission composed of British troops under General Sir Hubert de la Poer Gough had arrived in the Baltic to clear the Germans from the region and organize native armies for the Baltic states.

The defeat of Germany in World War I in November 1918, followed by the defeat in 1919 of the Baltische Landeswehr and German Freikorps units of General Rüdiger von der Goltz in Latvia by the 3rd Estonian Division and North Latvian Brigade, rendered the United Baltic Duchy irrelevant.


To ensure its return to Latvian control, the Baltische Landeswehr was placed under British authority. After taking command of the Baltische Landeswehr in mid-July 1919, Lieutenant-Colonel Harold Alexander (the future Alexander of Tunis), gradually dismissed the Baltic German elements. The Baltic nations of Estonia and Latvia were established as republics.

See also


External links

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