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Russian Baltic Provinces (Russian Empire)
AD 1762 - 1917

The Livonian Wars of 1558-1583 had allowed Sweden to take control of the Baltic states, but the Great Northern War at the start of the eighteenth century ended that control. The Russian empire had been building its strength and territories over the intervening time and was now the dominant regional force. In 1710 Russia secured control of the territory that would form modern Estonia, all except Ösel which the Swedes retained. It was Rudolph Felix Bauer who besieged Riga, Pärnu, and Tallinn, successfully securing all three and becoming the first Russian governor-general of Estonia's Reval Governate.

The captured territories were divided by their new masters into three Baltic provinces: Courland, Estonia (with its capital at Reval - today's Tallinn), and Livonia. They were first merged into a single political entity in 1762 under the orders of Empress Catherine the Great. She was Russia's great empire-builder, and she concentrated her efforts on expanding the new empire's borders both southwards and westwards. However, in a reversal of Catherine's own policy and during her lifetime, local governors were re-appointed and continued to administer the former divisions from 1783. In 1801-1809 and from 1819 onwards, under a very different Russian emperor, supreme authority was vested in a governor-general who was based in Riga, but at other times the provinces were governed individually, answering directly to St Petersburg. The governor-general was also the military governor of Riga until 1864 and then the commander of the military district of Riga until 1870.

To gain support from the German landowners who still dominated the region culturally and linguistically, the Russian authorities greatly diminished the rights and freedoms of the Estonian peasants. On the plus side - if there could be one for the enslaved Estonians - this regime was not nearly so aggressively destructive for them as the later Soviet one would be.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008), from the 15th Yearbook of the Estonian Learned Society in Sweden, 2010-2014 (Eesti Teadusliku Seltsi Rootsis aastaraamat XV. 2010-2014), Ants Anderson (Ed, Stockholm, 2015), from Genealogisches Handbuch der baltischen Ritterschaften, Teil 2, 2: Estland, Görlitz (1930, in German), and from External Links: Life in Estonia (dead link), and Encyclopaedia Britannica.)

1762 - 1792

Count George Browne

Governor-gen of Livonia (from 1762) & Estonia (from 1775).

1762 - 1783

With an increase of direct Russian control of the Baltic states in mind, Catherine the Great orders Livonia to be administered directly by the governor-general of the Baltic provinces, Count George Browne. Estonia follows suit in 1775. Local governors are re-introduced to both Estonia and Livonia in 1783.

Czarina Catherine the Great
The assassination of Czar Peter III and the seizure of the imperial throne by his widow, Catherine (pictured on the balcony at the time of her accession as czarina), resulted in a shift in Russian policy and in its administration of the Baltic Provinces

1778 - 1790

Having secured the Swedish throne through force, Gustavus reintroduces an absolute monarchy, forcing parliament to accept a secondary role. Despite two failed military campaigns in 1788-1790, first to capture Norway and then to recapture the Baltic provinces from Russia, he is still able to restore Sweden's military power and restore to the country some of its former sense of greatness.

1792

Between 9 September and 11 October the position of governor-general of the Baltic provinces which oversees Estonia and Livonia is vacant (Courland remains a duchy with its own chain of command). The brief gap is ended when Prince Nikolay Repnin-Obolensky takes over the position.

1792 - 1798

Prince Nikolay Repnin-Obolensky

Also Vila Governate (1796).

1795

The joint kingdoms of Poland-Lithuania are extinguished, with Prince Nikolay Repnin-Obolensky having played a key role in their dissolution. Now overseen by the Vilna Governate, Lithuania is submerged within imperial Russia. The following year, the Riga governorate which oversees the administration of Livonia is renamed the 'Governorate of Livonia'.

1798

Between October and 9 November 1798 the position of governor-general of the Baltic provinces of Estonia and Livonia is again vacant. Ludwig von Nagell is the next incumbent.

1798 - 1800

Ludwig von Nagell

Russian native.

1800

The role of the governor-general of the Baltic provinces of Estonia and Livonia is expanded to include Courland under its aegis. As a duchy it had ceased to exist at the Third Partition of Poland-Lithuania, although the last sitting duke had been happy enough to relinquish the title in return for rewards from Russia. The territory has been merged with that of the Russian-controlled Kurzeme and Zemgale regions of Livonia and local governors have answered directly to the czar until now.

Rundāle Palace in Courland
When the duchy of Courland was handed over to the Russian emperor in 1795, Rundāle Palace first became the property of Count Valerian Zubov, then passed into the hands of the Shuvalov family, and was effectively nationalised in 1920 (click or tap on image to view full sized)

1800 - 1801

Peter Ludwig graf von der Pahlen

Until 29 Jun 1801. Former St Petersburg military gov (1798).

1801 - 1803

Prince Sergey Fyodorovich Golitsyn

From 21 Jul 1801. Russian native.

1803 - 1807

Friedrich Wilhelm graf von Buxhövden

Until 6 Feb 1807. Commanded during the Finnish War (1809).

1807

Aleksandr Petrovich Tormasov

Acting governor from 27 Mar 1807.

1807 - 1810

Friedrich Wilhelm graf von Buxhövden

Second term of office.

1808

Estonia is removed from the responsibility of the governor-general of the Baltic provinces. From 1809 the post of governor of Estonia itself is vacant for two years when the incumbent, Duke Peter von Oldenburg, a younger son of the grand duke of Oldenburg, marries Grand Duchess Catherine Pavlovna of Russia in order to keep her out of the hands of the now-divorced Napoleon Bonaparte of France. Later occupants of the post are increasingly drawn from the local nobility.

1810 - 1812

Prince Dmitriy Lobanov-Rostovsky

Strengthened the Riga garrison and fortress.

1812

Johann Magnus Gustav von Essen

Forced to burn Riga's suburbs as Napoleon advanced.

1812

Napoleon invades the Russian empire with one of the largest armies that French-dominated Europe has ever seen, occupying the Baltic provinces for several months and interrupting the governor-generalship between 24 October and 9 November 1812. The governor of Courland flees to Riga and remains there for the period of French occupation.

French defend against Prussians. Leipzig 1813
French grenadiers of the line defend against an attack by Prussian infantry in the three-day Battle of Leipzig in October 1813, dubbed the 'Battle of the Nations' due to the number of states involved, in this 1914 painting by Richard Knötel

1812 - 1830

Marquis Filipo Paulucci

Italian army officer in Russian service.

1813

On 5 January, with Napoleon Bonaparte having been hurried out of imperial territory on his ignominious retreat towards Central Europe, Estonia is once again included in the governor-general's responsibilities.

1817 - 1819

The emancipation of the serfs in Livonia is something which is advantageous to the nobility, as it dispossesses the peasants of their land without compensation. The social structure changes dramatically, and a class of independent farmers establishes itself after reforms allow the peasants to repurchase their land.

1830 - 1845

Carl Magnus Baron von der Pahlen

Until 29 Mar 1845.

1845 - 1848

Yevgeniy Aleksandrovich Golovin

From 9 Apr 1845. Russian native.

1848 - 1861

Aleksandr Suvorov-Rymnikskiy

Until 13 Nov 1861. Russian native. Later in St Petersburg.

1861 - 1864

Wilhelm Heinrich von Lieven

From 14 Dec 1861.

1863 - 1880

The January Uprising or 'Second (January) Insurrection' across much of the former Poland-Lithuanian commonwealth includes Poland, Lithuania, the Baltic provinces, Latgallia, and Livonia. It results in a policy of Russification throughout these regions after spreading from Latgallia to the rest of Livonia.

January Uprising 1863
The January Uprising of 1863 took place in Poland, but it disrupted Russian governance much further afield and caused the policy of Russification to be firmly enforced

1864 - 1866

Pyotr Andreyevich Shuvalov

Last military gov of Riga. First cmdr of Riga military district.

1866

Eduard / Trofimovich von Baranov

Russian native.

1866 - 1870

Pyotr Pavlovich Albedinskiy

Last commander of the Riga military district.

1870 - 1876

Pyotr Romanovich Bagration

Of the Bagrationi dynasty of Kakhetia.

1876 - 1905

Between these years, authority over the Baltic provinces is devolved to the provincial governors. Revolution in the Baltics in 1905 takes on a nationalist character, and in the same year the position of governor-general of Courland (from 23 August) and Livonia (from 11 December), but not Estonia, is revived on a temporary basis until 1909.

1905

Woldemar von Böckmann

Courland alone at first, but later also Livonia.

1905 - 1906

Vasiliy Yustinovich Sollogub

Russian native.

1906 - 1909

Aleksandr Meller-Zakomel'skiy

Last temporary governor-general.

1909 - 1914

Between these years authority over the Baltic provinces is again devolved to the provincial governors. In 1914, the position of special plenipotentiary for civil administration of Livonia, Estonia, and Courland is created. The first incumbent is given responsibility for Estonia and Livonia, but excluding the district of Riga in 1914, then Reval (Tallinn), Baltischport (Paldiski), and Dünamünde (Daugavgriva).

Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1914
Kaiser Wilhelm II of Prussia and the German empire inspects his troops on the eve of war in 1914, a war that none of the tributary German principalities had any chance of escaping

Having jointly guaranteed in 1839 to support the neutrality of Belgium, when the country is invaded by Germany, Britain, France, and Russia are forced to declare war against imperial Germany and Austria at midnight on 4 August 1914 in what becomes known as the Great War or First World War. However, the Russian army that advances into Eastern Europe is routed by the Germans at the Battle of Tannenberg, and Russian Poland is lost.

1914 - 1917

Aleksandr Mikhailovich Gerasimov

Estonia and Livonia.

1914

Churin

Courland and the district of Riga.

1914 - 1915

Pavel Grigoryevich Komarov-Kurlov

Later published memoirs on the end of the empire.

1915

?

Acting special plenipotentiary, but name unknown.

1915 - 1917

Radko Ruskov Dimitrov

Acting special plenipotentiary.

1917

Vladimir S Voytinsky

Commissioner, civil admin of Courland, Estonia, & Livonia.

1915 - 1918

Thanks to Russian First World War defeats of 1916 and 1917, the Baltic provinces are conquered by Germany between 1915 (Courland) and 1918 (Estonia), much to the relief of the German-descended land-owning aristocracy. In 1917, Bolshevik-inspired thoughts of revolution are swiftly put down by the Germans and a semi-independent pro-German regime is established.

Jelgava in Courland
Jelgava in Courland viewed shortly before the destruction visited on it during the Second World War, when bombing raids destroyed all but the palace in the foreground and a few churches

The Baltic provinces are formally transferred to German authority by Russia in 1918 following the Treaties of Brest-Litovsk and of Berlin. But Germany is in no great shape itself following its own defeat and the arrangement quickly falls apart in the face of local nationalist sentiment. Within a year Courland, Latgallia, and southern Livonia are independent in the form of the republic of Latvia, while northern Livonia, Ösel, and North Estonia are pulled together as the republic of Estonia.