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Brethern o/t Sword

Livonian Order



Swedish Rule

Russian Rule

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Livonia was once the land of the Finnic Livonians inhabiting the principal ancient Livonian County Metsepole with its center at Turaida. The most prominent ruler of ancient Livonia was Caupo of Turaida.

During the Livonian Crusade, ancient Livonia was colonized by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, later called the Livonian Order, and the name Livonia came to designate a much broader territory: Terra Mariana on the eastern coasts of the Baltic Sea, in present-day Latvia and Estonia. Its frontiers were the Gulf of Riga and the Gulf of Finland in the north-west, Lake Peipus and Russia to the east, and Lithuania to the south.

After the dissolution of the Livonian Order in 1561 as a result of the Livonian War, Livonia was annexated by Poland. Riga remained a free city from 1561-’82.

In 1570 Livonia was declared a kingdom by the Russian Tsar Ivan IV (1533-’84). Duke Magnus of Holstein,  a brother of King Frederick II of Denmark (1559-’88) was to be its king. 

In the 30-years war Livonia was annexated by Sweden but it had to be ceded to Russia in 1721.

Russian rule lasted until 1918 when Livland was inciorporated into the newly formed Soviet Republic of Latvia. Later it was a part of the Latvian Republic of 1920, the Socialist Soviet Republic of Latvia  of 1940 and the restored Republic of 1991.




Milites Christi de Livoniæ


To provide the crusaders who had invaded the country at the end of the 12th century with a regular organisation Albrecht, first bishop of Riga founded a knighthood in 1202. In 1204 the new Order was confirmed by Pope Innocentius III and adopted the rules and organization of the Templars and also their official name of  Milites Christi’, be it with the addition of  de Livoniæ’. They also adopted the red cross of that order on their cloaks and added a red sword. Because of its emblem the knighthood was called Schwert-brüderorden or Schwertritterorden (Brethren of the Sword). [1]


Very little has been preserved from the Bothers of the Sword. The only reliable source for its emblems is a seal dated 1226 showing a sword point downwards and a square cross in chief. This is said to have been red on a white background, the colors and emblem of the cloaks of the brothers.


Seal of the Brethren of the Sword 1226.

Sword point downwards and a square cross patée in chief. L.: S. MAGISTER ET FR(atru)M MILICIE C(r)R(st)I DE LIVONIÆ


Livonian Order


The Order was decimated in the Battle of Schaulen (Saule) in 1236 against Lithuanians and Semigallians. This disaster led the surviving Brothers to become incorporated into the Order of Teutonic Knights in the following year, bij certificate of Pope Gregory IX issued in Viterbo on 12. May. From that point on they became known as the Livonian Order. They continued to function in all respects (rule, clothing and policy) as an autonomous branch of the Teutonic Order, headed by their own Master (himself de jure subject to the Teutonic Order's Grand Master). As a result the cross and sword of the order was replaced by a black cross. This was displayed on the shield of the Marshal of the Order as is demonstrated by his seal: 

Seal of the Marhal of Livonia.

Knight on horseback, on his shield and pennon a cross. Legend: X s(igillum) marscal­ci de livoni­a. Date: 08.10.1348. [2]


Banners of subordinated divisions were white and black.


The banner of the Order showed the Virgin Mary, patron of the Teutonic Order on the obverse, and St. Mauritius, patron of the Livonian Order on the reverse. It is depicted in the Banderia Prutenorum of Jan Dlugosz containing the banners of the battallions participating in the Battle of Tannenberg.


Livonian Banner (obv.), St. Mauritius of Africa

in armoury, proper, his skirt Azure, his belt, elbows and knees Or , ducally crowned and nimbused Or, armed wit a halberd Argent and Or, and a shield Argent, a cross Sable. In sinister chief a shield Argent, a cross Sable.


The legend reads: “Banderium Liwonitarum, quod in prelio anno M quadringentesimo trice­simo primo comisso Theodoricus Croe, marscalcus Liwonie, ducebat.”[3]

St. Mauritius was also the patron of the Holy Roman Empire

Livonian Banner (rev.), Holy Virgin with child

 in the upper left corner a shield: Argent, a cross Sable.


The legend reads: “Banderium magistri Livonie ordinis cruciferorum quod Theodricus Croe, marscalcus Liuonie, ducebat in prelio anno M CCCC tricesimo primo circa villam Dambky iuxta fluvium Wyrzscha prope Nakiel. Cui Jodocus de Hogyerkyerche commendator de Tucholia, veluti locorum peritus ducatum prebebat."[4]


Perhaps the cross of the Schwert-brüderorden was also used to make a difference between the Teuronic order and the Livonian Order. This we may conclude from the fact that the square cross patée of the Livonian Order was still used on 15th and 16th century coins. Even we notice this cross on a shield which makes the arms of the Order of that time (Argent) a square cross patée (Gules).

Heinrich von Galen however seems to have readopted the straight cross of the Teuronic Order. Its arms are on coins of Gotthard Kettler.

No pictures in colour of these arms however, are known.


Wolter von Plettenberg


Hermann von Brüggeneye


Godert (Gotthard) Kettler



From about the end of the 15th century the personal arms of the Masters were combined in different ways with the black cross. [5] The earliest way was the personal arms supported by the cross (or the cross charged with the personal arms but the second way was a quartering of the personal arms with the cross.

Bernd von der Borch 1471-83

Arms: Three birds sejant 2&1.


Wolter von Plettenberg


Arms: Per pale Azure and Or

Hermann von Brüggeneye


Arms: NN

Johann von der Recke


 Arms: Azure, a fess compony Gules and Argent

Heinrich von Galen


Arms (1553): ¼: 1&4: A square cross patée; 2&3: Or, three double hooks 2&1 Gules

Heinrich von Galen


Arms (1557): ¼: 1&4 A cross; 2&3: Or, three double hooks 2&1 Gules

Johann Wilhelm von Fürstenberg 1557-‘59

 Arms: ¼: 1&4: A cross; 2&3: Or, two bars Gules


Godert (Gotthard) Kettler


Arms: ¼ 1&4: A cross; 2&3: Or, a kettle hook Gules.

Crests: 1. A crucifix; D.: A cross; S.: A kettle hook Gules.


Under the command of the Teutonic Order the cross of the Livonian Order was a red square cross of different forms (patée, potent, eight-pointed) on a white field. On the arms of its later Masters, it was quartered with the personal arms of the Master. This can be seen on the arms of  the masters Heinrich von Galen (1551-’57) and Gotthard Kettler (1559-’61).


Duchy of Livonia


After the dissolution of the Livonian Order in 1561, Livonia was annexated by Poland. Riga remained a free city from 1561-’82.


In 1566 by Treaty of Union between the landowners of Livonia and authorities of Lithuania, Livonia was made a duchy. At this occasion a coat of arms was granted to the Livonian Knights by king Sigismund August II of Poland (1548-’72) on 26. December 1566. It was:


Arms: Gules, a griffin Argent armed with a sword in his right paw, his breast charged with the crowned cypher SA Or. [6]


Jan Hieronimowicz Chodkiewicz (1537-’79) became the first Governor of the Duchy (1566–1578), residing in Sigulda castle. He impaled his arms of the Kosciesza clan consisting of an arrow with a bar Argent on a field Gules with these arms. The arms of the Kosciesza clan at least dates from the beginning of the 15th century when it appeared in a Burgundian Armorial known as MS 4790 of the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal in Paris. [7]



Until 1569 it was a province of Grand Duchy of Lithuania. After the Union of Lublin in 1569, it became a joint domain of the Polish Crown and the Grand Duchy.





In 1570 Livonia was declared a kingdom by the Russian Tsar Ivan IV (1533-’84). Duke Magnus of Holstein,  a brother of King Frederick II of Denmark (1559-’88) was to be its king. 


On June 10 1570 Duke Magnus of Holstein arrived in Moscow where he was crowned as King of Livonia. Magnus took the oath of allegiance to Ivan as his overlord and received from the corresponding charter for the vassal kingdom of Livonia in what Ivan termed his patrimony. The treaty between Magnus and Ivan IV was signed by an oprichnik and by a member of the zemskii administration, the d’iak V. Shchelkalov. The territories of the new kingdom still had to be conquered. The new king Magnus of Livonia left Moscow to the conquest of Swedish controlled Reval. Ivan’s hope for the support of Frederick II of Denmark failed. By the end of March 1571 Magnus gave up the struggle for Reval and abandoned the siege.

In 1577 having lost Ivan’s favor and getting no support from his brother, Magnus called on the Livonian nobility to rally to him in a struggle against foreign occupation. He was attacked by Ivan’s forces and taken prisoner. On his release he renounced his royal title. Magnus spent the last six years of his life at the castle of Pliten in Courland where he died as a pensioner of the Polish crown.


Magnus of Holstein

King of Livonia 1570-1577


Duke Magnus of Holstein (26.08.1540 – 18.03.1583) was a Prince of Denmark, the son of King Christian III of Denmark and Queen Dorothea of Saxe-Lauenburg, He was a bishop of Oesel (Saaremaa) from 1560 until his death in 1583.


On his seal as a bishop of Oesel from 1563 his arms are:

Arms: Quarterly of Oesel and Gotland, and a base of Reval. On an escutcheon another quarterly of Norway, Schleswig, Holstein and Stormarn, charged with Oldenburg.

On his seal of majesty he is surrounded by the arms corresponding with his titles:


Seal of Magnus of Holstein as a bishop of Oesel etc..


The bishop sitting on his throne between two angels playing the trumpet. In the margin the arms of Norway, Schleswig, Holstein Stormarn, Oldenburg, Oesel, Reval and Gotland. The legend runs:  SIGILLVM MAIESTATIS MAGNI DEI GRATIA EPISCOBI OZILIÆ MARITIME CVRONIÆ ECCLESIARVM ADMINISTRATORIS REVALIE HÆREDIS NORVEGIÆ SLESVIC HOLSAT STORET DITMAR COMI OLIT DELM.


On his seal as a king of Livland showing a crowned coat of arms the arms for his Livonian territories are added. It is:

Seal of King Magnus of Livonia

(Latvijas arhīvi. Nr.3./4., 2011., 55. lpp.) [8]


Arms: Quarterly of Estonia, Livonia Semigallia and Oesel and a base per pale of Gotland and two latin crosses in saltire. On an escutcheon: Quarterly of Norway, Schleswig, Holstein and Stormarn, with a base per pale of Delmenhorst and Oldenburg and charged with an escutceon of Ditmarschen.



The blasoning of the quarters is:


Delmenhorst: Azure, a pointed cross patée Or.

Ditmarschen: Gules a rider on horseback, his horse Argent, his armoury Or.

Estonia: Or, three lions passant guardant Azure.

Gotland: Gules, a paschal lamb Argent, his cross and banner Or.

Holstein: Argent a bordure indented Gules

Livonia: Gules a griffing armed with a sword Argent.

Norway: Gules a lion Or armed with an axe Argent.

Oesel: Azure, an eagle rising Argent [9]

Oldenburg: Or, two bars Gules.

Riga: Gules, a crozier and a latin cross in saltire Argent. (not certain, here: two latin crosses in saltire)

Schleswig: Or, two lions passant Azure

Semigallia: Azure, a stag Proper

Stormarn: Gules, a swan Argent cowned Or.

Obverse of a 1 Schilling coin of Livonia 1572


For the Duchy of Livonia the arms with the griffin-and-sword were continued, the crowned cypher SA omitted.


Swedish Rule



The First Polish-Swedish War ended with the Treaty of Altmark in 1629, which formalised the occupation of Poland-Lithuania's Livonia under Swedish rule as Swedish Livonia. In fact, parts of Livonia as far south as Riga had been in Swedish hands since 1621. Only the remainder of Livonian territory, the small eastern part of Livonia, named Latgallia, remained in Polish hands. The country retained its own diet, or parliament.

For Swedish Livonia the arms with the griffin were continued, the cypher of Sigismun August omitted, the crown maintained.[10]

Arms of Livonia

Embroidery, made for the funeral of King Karl X Gustav of  Sweden of 4 November 1660.

Stockholm, Livrustkammaren inv. nr. 24861 (60:13:a)


Russian Rule



Sweden was defeated at the end of the Great Northern War. The victors, Russia, Poland and Denmark, divided the spoils with the Treaty of Nystad. Much of Livonia was handed over to Russia, although it had already been occupied by Russian troops in 1710.


After Polish Livonia had been ceded to Russia at the second partition of Poland in 1772 the arms corresponding with the title Prince of  Livonia (Князь Лифляндскіи) were incorporated into the larger arms of Tsar Paul I, adopted in 1800. For the occasion the arms of Livonia were:


Arms of Livonia

in the “Complete Armorial of the Greater Russian Empire, 1800” [11]


Arms: Azure, a griffin armed with a sword Argent, in his sinister paw a shield Sable the letter ‘R’ also Argent.


On 8 December 1856 arms were granted to the Livonia Governorate. They are:



Arms: Gules, a griffin Argent, armed with a sword Or, on his breast the cypher ПB ИB (Petr, Vtorii Imperator' Vserossiiskii) Gules imperially crowned.

Crown: The russian Imperial crown

Garland: Branches of oak Or, tied with the blue ribbon of the Order of  St. Andrew.


On the arms of the Republic of Latvija of 18 November 1920 and readopted 17 February 1990 Livonia is represented by a white griffin armed with a sword on a red field..


Æ See illustration in the head of this essay



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 © Hubert de Vries 2012-12-10. Updated 2019-10-21




[1] Bunge, Friedrich Georg Von:  Der Orden Der Schwertbruder: Dessen Stiftung, Verfassung Und Auflosung (1875). Reprint 2010.

[2] 800 Jahre Deutscher Orden. München/Gütersloh, 1990. no. VI.3.23.)

[3] Id. fol 44v° (reverse of  the banner on fol 43v°)

[4] Ekdahl, Sven: Die "Banderia Prutenorum" des Jan Dlugosz. Göttingen, 1976. Dlugosz, Jan: Banderia Prutenorum fol. 43v°

[5] Oelsnitz, A.B.E. von der: Herkunft und Wappen der Hochmeister des Deutschen Ordens. 1198-1525. Königsberg, 1926. Pp.17-22: Der Gebrauch der Geschlechtswaapen im Deutschen Orden

[6] Hefner, Otto Titan von: Die Neuen Wappen des russischen Kaiserreiches. 1859, p. 45 note †

[7] Pinches, R. & Anthony Wood, eds.:A European Armorial. An Armorial of Knights of the Golden Fleece and 15th century Europe. From a contemporary manuscript in the Bibli­othèque de l'Arsenal in Paris. With an introduction to polish heraldry by Bernard J. Klec-Pilowski. London, 1971. P. 149, 5th line.

[8] http://vesture.eu/index.php/Att%C4%93ls:Magnus_von_Livonia_coat_of_arm.jpeg

[9] Grandjean, Poul Bredo: Det Danske Rigsvaaben. København, 1926. p. 151

[10] Wallin, Sigurd: Carl X Gustafs Begravningsfanor. In: Livrustkammaren Vol. VIII: 11-12. IX.1960. figs. 11 & 12.

[11] http://the.heraldry.ru/armorial/manifesm.html

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