Curonian Kings

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Modern coat of arms of Turlava parish based on coat of arms of a Curonian Kings' village

Curonian Kings (German: Kurische Könige; Latvian: Kuršu ķoniņi) are a Latvian cultural group, originally lesser vassals and free farmers that lived in seven villages between Goldingen (Kuldīga) and Hasenpoth (Aizpute) in Courland.

It is unclear how Curonian Kings gained their status, however a popular assumption is that their ancestors were Curonian nobility prior to conquest by Livonian Order. They were first mentioned in a document of 1320 and lived in the villages of Ķoniņciems, Pliķu ciems, Kalējciems, Ziemeļciems, Viesalgciems, Sausgaļciems, and Dragūnciems (now in Kuldīga municipality). All of them possessed independent farms (did not belong to any lord), but they were not allowed to own their own serfs. They had only one landlord komtur of Kuldīga and they were related to him only by military service in case of war. Curonians usually served as a light cavalry in the Livonian Order army. Sources mentions that Curonian Kings fought in the Livonian War against invading russians, as Johann Renner's chronicle reports:

The Russians protected themselves boldly, and they knocked out a Curonian cadet (who, although only a peasant, is called by them the Curonian king) from his horse.
—Johann Renner, Lievländische Historien, 1556–1561, C. 124v

It is known that in the 17th century Curonian Kings had their own coats of arms. In the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia they gradually lost their privileges, but they were still counted as separate class. They were not recognized landlords but maintained middle position between landlords and peasants. However in 18th century they were likened to serfs, although with smaller socage duties.

Their status was again recognized in 19th century, although they were not recognized as part of local nobility. In 1860 there were 833 Curonian kings living in Courland Governorate. While the Curonian tribe had long been assimilated by the Latvians, the Curonian Kings preserved a separate identity and traditions. Differences mandated by traditional rights disappeared as legal basis for them was removed in 1920s after Latvia became independent.