Livonian Chronicle of Henry

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A page from a copy of the Henry of Latvia manuscript

The Livonian Chronicle of Henry (Latin: Heinrici Cronicon Lyvoniae) or Henry's chronicle of Livonia is a document in Latin describing historic events in Livonia (roughly corresponding to today's inland Estonia and north of Latvia) and surrounding areas from 1180 to 1227. It was written by a priest Henry of Latvia (Latin: Henricus de Lettis). Apart from the few references in the Primary Chronicle compiled in Kievan Rus' in the twelfth century, it is the oldest known written document about the history of these countries. For many episodes in the early stages of the Christianization of the peoples of the eastern Baltic, the Chronicle of Henry is the major surviving evidence aside from the Livonian Rhymed Chronicle and the Novgorod First Chronicle.

Background[edit]

Papal calls for renewed holy war at the end of the twelfth century inspired not only the disastrous Fourth Crusade that sacked Constantinople in 1204, but also a series of simultaneous "Northern Crusades" that are less fully covered in English-language popular history, but which were more successful in the long run. Before the crusades, the region of Livonia was a mixed outpost, a pagan society where merchants from the Hanseatic League encountered merchants of Novgorod, and where Germanic, Scandinavian, and Russian trade, culture, and cults all mingled. Scandinavian rulers and German military knightly orders led by the German Prince-Bishops conquered and resettled the Baltic world and drew it into the Western orbit.

Content[edit]

The Livonian Chronicle of Henry provides eyewitness accounts of the events, with an invaluable and deeply human history. It provides insight, not only into military operations in the East during this tumultuous period, but also into the conflicted attitudes of an eyewitness; it reveals the complexities of religious motives enmeshed with political aims. The other famous early Livonian text, the Rhymed Chronicle has less historical value, as it was essentially intended as a patriotic and Christian courtly entertainment.

The chronicles consist of four books.

  • The first book, "On Livonia" describes events between 1186 and 1196: the arrival of the first bishop of Ikšķile Meinhard and baptizing of Livonians.
  • The second book, "On bishop Berthold" describes events between 1196 and 1198: the arrival of the second bishop of Ikšķile Berthold of Hanover and his death in the battle with Livonians near what later became the town of Riga.
  • The third book, "On bishop Albert" describes events between 1198 and 1208: the arrival of third bishop of Ikšķile, Albert of Buxhoeveden, the foundation of the Christian knightly order of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, the conquest and dividing of Livonian territories between the Bishopric of Livonia and the Order, the wars with the Princes of Polotsk and Lithuanians, conquest of the Principality of Koknese and the country of Selonians.
  • The fourth book, "On Estonia" describes events between 1208 and 1226: the campaigns against Estonian counties, the conquest of the Principality of Jersika, the wars with Curonians, Semigallians, Lithuanians and Princes of Pskow and Novgorod.

The original manuscript of the chronicles has not been preserved. There are sixteen different copies, dating from 14th to 19th century, the oldest of which is the Codex Zamoscianus, written on parchment and dating from the end of the 13th century. The Codex Zamoscianus is incomplete, as the text of the Chronicle ends in the 23rd chapter. The Codex Zamoscianus is presently kept in the Polish National Library in Warsaw.

English online material on the chronicle is rather scarce, though there are some excerpts [1], and the image of a page from one of the copies can also be viewed [2].

Author[edit]

The author of the chronicles is Henry of Latvia (Henricus de Lettis). The chronicles say that he was a Catholic priest who witnessed most of events described. Henry is thought to have been born between 1180 and 1188. Henry was probably German, bearing a German forename and consistently referring to Germans in the first person plural, but it is also possible he came from Livonia. He had a thoroughly German and Catholic education and as a youth was attached to the household of the Prince-Bishop Albert of Buxhoeveden, was ordained a priest in 1208, founded a parish and lived out his life in peace.

His Chronicles are written from the clerical point of view, that the history of the Church was the essential history of Livonia. The Chronicles may have originated as a report to the papal legate William of Modena, to whom he was assigned as interpreter in 1225 through 1227. The legate, one of the papacy's most able diplomats, was in Livonia to mediate an internal church dispute between the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, and the territorial claims of the Catholic bishops of Livonia.

Modern Translation[edit]

A modern translation was published in 1961 (2nd ed. 2004), by James A Brundage, and is available through Columbia University Press.

References[edit]