What was the status of Latvian and Estonian aristocrats/chiefs in the 18th century?

Sep 2018
101
transitory
#11
No offense guys, but if you want to debate about the ethnic categorisation of the crusader states in the Baltic, can you find somewhere else please? I am asking about indigenous nobility and their descendants in this thread, not about the Germans and other foreigners who came to the region with the crusades and after...

I don't know about Estonia, but Latvian local nobility was integrated into local German state pretty soon. They were reasonably content being part of that state. This was very different from Prussia that had massive uprisings and locals running away to Lithuania.
I am aware of some resistance from Latvian tribes during the medieval period (such as Curonian attacks on Riga in the 1210s-1220s), but I agree with you, generally it seems Latvia was pacified sooner. I know that Estonians were still rebelling in the 14th century (e.g. St. George Night rebellion in 1343). Don't know whether their nobility still had any distinct identity by the 18th century..
 
Oct 2012
565
#12
No offense guys, but if you want to debate about the ethnic categorisation of the crusader states in the Baltic, can you find somewhere else please? I am asking about indigenous nobility and their descendants in this thread, not about the Germans and other foreigners who came to the region with the crusades and after...



I am aware of some resistance from Latvian tribes during the medieval period (such as Curonian attacks on Riga in the 1210s-1220s), but I agree with you, generally it seems Latvia was pacified sooner. I know that Estonians were still rebelling in the 14th century (e.g. St. George Night rebellion in 1343). Don't know whether their nobility still had any distinct identity by the 18th century..
They had no distinct identity nor status by the 18th century.
 
Mar 2016
881
Australia
#13
No offense guys, but if you want to debate about the ethnic categorisation of the crusader states in the Baltic, can you find somewhere else please? I am asking about indigenous nobility and their descendants in this thread, not about the Germans and other foreigners who came to the region with the crusades and after...
You're not the moderator, so no, we'll discuss this if we feel like it. It isn't entirely unrelated to the topic, even if it isn't exactly what you'd want us to say. That's not how topics on here work. They inspire discussion about a topic or theme and these discussions can branch off into other aspects that are still related in some way to the original point. History does not exist in a vacuum, and it can't be discussed as such. And of all possible topics, culture is possibly the most ambiguous and fluid type of identity a group can have, so whether you like it or not, this does mean taking into consideration the various possibilities for labeling their culture.
 
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Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,072
#14
No offense guys, but if you want to debate about the ethnic categorisation of the crusader states in the Baltic, can you find somewhere else please? I am asking about indigenous nobility and their descendants in this thread, not about the Germans and other foreigners who came to the region with the crusades and after...
None taken. The only problem is that there never was any indigenous nobility. So either we discuss the effects of the crusader states, or what followed, or this is one short thread.

The status of nobility there in itself was a direct effect of the crusaders. The first nobles were Danes.
 
Likes: YungTea
Sep 2018
101
transitory
#15
They had no distinct identity nor status by the 18th century.
That isn't surprising to me. Thanks for the reply.

You're not the moderator, so no, we'll discuss this if we feel like it. It isn't entirely unrelated to the topic, even if it isn't exactly what you'd want us to say. That's not how topics on here work. They inspire discussion about a topic or theme and these discussions can branch off into other aspects that are still related in some way to the original point. History does not exist in a vacuum, and it can't be discussed as such. And of all possible topics, culture is possibly the most ambiguous and fluid type of identity a group can have, so whether you like it or not, this does mean taking into consideration the various possibilities for labeling their culture.
Sure, you keep being snarky and discuss whatever you want here. I was only trying to (politely) ask if we could keep the thread on topic for the social status of Latvian and Estonian nobility, rather than drift into discussions on how "German" the crusaders states were. Please feel free to continue lecturing me on what history and forum discussions are, just don't be surprised if I only reply to posts that are relevant to my question from now on.

None taken. The only problem is that there never was any indigenous nobility. So either we discuss the effects of the crusader states, or what followed, or this is one short thread.

The status of nobility there in itself was a direct effect of the crusaders. The first nobles were Danes.
"Nobility" in this context doesn't have to refer to feudal nobility, I was using the term to encompass people like the Latvian and Estonian chiefs/elders who held political authority in the native societies. I was curious what the social position of their descendants was by the 18th century, whether they had any distinct identity by that point.
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,072
#16
"Nobility" in this context doesn't have to refer to feudal nobility, I was using the term to encompass people like the Latvian and Estonian chiefs/elders who held political authority in the native societies. I was curious what the social position of their descendants was by the 18th century, whether they had any distinct identity by that point.
The answer would have to be no, there was no such local elite. That kind of leaders were defeated in the 14th c. at least, and not accommodated in the feudal state that was set up. They could have been, sometimes that happened, but no.

Effectively there was a German-Baltic nobility, with Danes sprinkled in, lording it over the local peasantry, who spoke whatever was the common tongue in an area, also providing the upland support in between the urban centres, the towns, which had their own jurisdiction and was mostly German. The peasants were the majority, but the main representative organ was the "Lantdag" of the nobility, in which they had no place.
 
Sep 2018
101
transitory
#17
The answer would have to be no, there was no such local elite. That kind of leaders were defeated in the 14th c. at least, and not accommodated in the feudal state that was set up. They could have been, sometimes that happened, but no.

Effectively there was a German-Baltic nobility, with Danes sprinkled in, lording it over the local peasantry, who spoke whatever was the common tongue in an area, also providing the upland support in between the urban centres, the towns, which had their own jurisdiction and was mostly German. The peasants were the majority, but the main representative organ was the "Lantdag" of the nobility, in which they had no place.
Thanks for the info. But then how did groups like the "Curonian Kings" fit into this social ladder? From what little I have read on them, they seem to have been more than mere peasants, with a sort of intermediary position between the Baltic German aristocracy and the Latvian peasantry, and apparently some privileges above that of normal tenant farmers. Most of the info I found on them though was pre-18th century, so I am not sure what their situation (or the situation of similar native groups with ancient elite heritage) was like at that time.
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
5,072
#18
Thanks for the info. But then how did groups like the "Curonian Kings" fit into this social ladder? From what little I have read on them, they seem to have been more than mere peasants, with a sort of intermediary position between the Baltic German aristocracy and the Latvian peasantry, and apparently some privileges above that of normal tenant farmers. Most of the info I found on them though was pre-18th century, so I am not sure what their situation (or the situation of similar native groups with ancient elite heritage) was like at that time.
Ok, had to look them up.

We are talking six villages in modern Latvia, former Courland, of freeholding farmers, i.e. unlike virtually every other member of the peasantry these were not serfs.

What I would first observe is that it looks precisely like one of the manifold exceptions and seeming contradictions that the feudal system also accommodated. Feudalism was based on privilege (private law), mostly these privileges were reserved for the nobles. But since on another level the system on collectivism, on group-rights, there would be commoners enjoying a privilege of some sort. This looks precisely like that.

Then there seems to be ideas about WHY this privileged status (not being serfs) was accorded these villages as a group-right? And suggestions have been they would be descended from pre-conquest, pre-feudal local "nobles". Which seems purely speculative. (Makes a kind of fetish of the idea of "aristocracy" really.)

If we don't know the reason why these villages were exempt from serfdom, it can really only be speculated about. It might as well originally have been a reward for NOT taking part in some (forgotten) peasant uprising or other?

I actually think it directly unlikely a group like that would somehow represent the defeated pre-conquest nobility. Either the conquerors would crush it (as seems to have happened), unless forced to concede to them as another group of nobles. In the latter case there would be intermarriages, but then the local elite would ALSO be confirmed as nobles. (Nobles stick up for one another in the end.) What shouldn't really happen would be to somehow defeat a local elite, and then somehow implicitly reward them by according them privileged status, bit NOT as nobility. That one would just be weird.

What typically seems to have happened in Medieval times when communities of commoners have privileged status tends to have been that they were rewarded for loyalty to the powers that be, i.e. reliable population that could be assumed not to rebel. Often communities like that were actively moved in as colonists, and given special privileges. Fx the island of Ösel, in Estonia, seems to have been colonised like that (peasants from Swedish island of Öland in the early 13th c.). The Norman English kings also seeded colonies of Englishmen and even Flemish people, in part of Wales, to give themselves a bit of local support against the Welsh who would rebel at the drop of a hat.
 
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Sep 2018
101
transitory
#19
Ok, had to look them up.

We are talking six villages in modern Latvia, former Courland, of freeholding farmers, i.e. unlike virtually every other member of the peasantry these were not serfs.

What I would first observe is that it looks precisely like one of the manifold exceptions and seeming contradictions that the feudal system also accommodated. Feudalism was based on privilege (private law), mostly these privileges were reserved for the nobles. But since on another level the system on collectivism, on group-rights, there would be commoners enjoying a privilege of some sort. This looks precisely like that.

Then there seems to be ideas about WHY this privileged status (not being serfs) was accorded these villages as a group-right? And suggestions have been they would be descended from pre-conquest, pre-feudal local "nobles". Which seems purely speculative. (Makes a kind of fetish of the idea of "aristocracy" really.)

If we don't know the reason why these villages were exempt from serfdom, it can really only be speculated about. It might as well originally have been a reward for NOT taking part in some (forgotten) peasant uprising or other?
Yes, information on these guys seems to be patchy (in English at least). I'm sorry if it sounded like I was taking a leap in grouping them with noble descendants; I definitely wasn't trying to make a "fetish" of the aristocracy in this case, I just had to go on the little bit of reading material I could find, which said that the prevailing theory about these "Curonian Kings" is that they received their status due to being descendants of the pre-crusade Curonian elite. To me these guys sound more like "free peasants", if such a category could be used, than "nobility", at least by the early-modern period. But anyway, this is the kind of group that raised my curiosity about the status of Latvian and Estonian "nobility", for want of a better word. It seems that not all Latvians, at least, were reduced to tenant farmers after the crusades...

As far as being rewarded for not taking part in uprisings, to me that would sound like something more likely to be found among the Latgalians, who had named chiefs/elders that sided with the crusaders. I am not sure how much "collaboration" (for want of a better word) there was between the Curonians and Crusaders, but I do know the Curonians took part in quite a bit of fighting against them during the 13th century.

Hopefully someone can come along and enlighten us a bit on these guys, or any other similar groups that might have existed in present-day Latvia and Estonia.
 
Sep 2018
101
transitory
#20
I actually think it directly unlikely a group like that would somehow represent the defeated pre-conquest nobility. Either the conquerors would crush it (as seems to have happened), unless forced to concede to them as another group of nobles. In the latter case there would be intermarriages, but then the local elite would ALSO be confirmed as nobles. (Nobles stick up for one another in the end.) What shouldn't really happen would be to somehow defeat a local elite, and then somehow implicitly reward them by according them privileged status, bit NOT as nobility. That one would just be weird.
I missed your edit there.

Well, regarding Baltic tribal "nobility" being given privileges above peasants but below the top feudal nobility, I am aware of the story of Skomantas, who is referred to variably as a "chief", "duke", and "high priest" of the Yotvingians/Sudovians. He was initially involved in a lot of fighting against both the Slavic states and the German Crusaders during the time of the Great Prussian Uprising in the 13th century, working in tandem with Lithuanian forces. However, from what I read, after the Prussian rebels were crushed, Skomantas seems to have gone "turncoat" against his former Lithuanian allies, and went over to the Teutonic Knights, where he accepted baptism, and was given military command and some small land holding in the territory of them (Lithuanian wikipedia seems to think this was due to some falling out he had with the Lithuanians after a change in their leadership). His descendants did not survive as "nobility" though, as far as I know, because I have seen no evidence of an aristocratic family bearing his lineage in Prussia post-13th century. His people seem to have effectively "vanished" into the surrounding Slavic, Prussian, and Lithuanian populations.

It could be that the "Curonian Kings", after switching sides at some point during the crusades, were reduced from a previous tribal elite status to one of "freemen" with some right to bear arms in the service of their new overlords (probably after having first proven themselves in combat against Livonia's enemies, such as they did during the Livonian War in the 16th century). But I don't know enough about them to say.
 
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