This site is a mirror of the original site, made in 2022 by Heraldry of the World. The original site is unaltered. This mirror functions as an archive to keep the material available on-line.
All rights remain with the late Hubert de Vries, the original site owner.






The Duchy of Courland and Semigallia

The House of Kettler

The House of Biron

The Governorate



Back to Latvija



In ancient times Courland was inhabited by the Curonians, a pagan tribe. The Brethren of the Sword, a German military order, subdued the Curonians and converted them to Christianity in the first quarter of the 13th century. In 1237 the area passed into the rule of the Teutonic Knights owing to the amalgamation of this order with that of the Brethren of the Sword which then became the Livonian Order .

Courland was conquered by the Livonian Order between 1237 and 1290 and was ruled by it until 1560 when the Order was dismembered during the Livonian Wars. Its last Master Gotthard Kettler, who had sought protection from the Polish king Sigismund II Augustus secularized the Order and converted to Lutheranism. In the southern part of the Brothers’ lands he created the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia for his family. Most of the remaining lands were seized by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

The duchy of Courland and Semigallia remained a property of the Kettler-family until 1737 when it was given to Ernst Johann Biron, a favourite of Anna Ivanovna, widow of the late duke of Courland Frederick William Kettler (1698-1711) and later Empress of Russia (1730-’40)).

After the death of Anna Ivanovna in 1740 Ernst Johan lost his duchy and had to go in exile in Siberia. On 27 June 1741 Ludwig Ernst von Braunschweig Wolfenbuttel was elected in his place but, due to a coup in Russia on 6 December of the same year, he lost his title.

After an interim in which Ernst Johann ruled from Siberia by means of a ducal council, king August III of Poland  (1733-’63) granted the duchy to his son Charles  on 10.11.1758 and invested him on 8 January of the next year. After the death of his


Dukes of Courland & Semigallia



Gotthard Kettler


Friedrich Kettler


Wilhelm Kettler


Jacob Kettler


Friedrich Casimir


Friedrich Wilhelm Kettler


Anna Ivanovna Romanov


Ferdinand Kettler




Ernst Johann Biron


Louis Ernest of Brunswick-Lüneburg


The Council of Ernst Johan Biron


Karl von Sachsen


Ernst Johann Biron


Peter Biron


father in 1763, Charles could not maintain his position and Ernst Johann returned to rule the duchy until his abdication in 1769.

In the end Courland and Semigallia were ceded to Russia by the last duke from the House of Biron, Peter,  in 1795.


After 1795 Courland and Semigallia became a Russian government, the Government of Courland (Курляндской губерніи), which lasted until 1918 when the emperor William II of Germany recognized the governorate, proclaimed a duchy, as an independent state. After the defeat of Germany however, the German command ceded the duchy to the Latvijan republic on 7 December 1918. Since then it has been a part of the Latvijan Republic.




The knights of the Brethren of the Sword bore white cloaks over a white coat of arms charged with a red cross and sword. 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).


The Duchy of Courland and Semigallia


The House of Kettler


Gotthard Kettler

1st Duke of Courland and Semigallia 1562-1587


The arms of the Kettler were canting arms after Ketteler = tinker, and showed a pot-hook. The oldest known appearance of the arms is on a coin of Gotthard Kettler when a Master of the Livonian Order. Later sources give the arms  Or, a pot-hook Gules or Sable.


Coin of Gotthard Kettler, 1559-1561


Arms of Gotthard Kettler:  Quarterly of the cross of the Livonian Order and the pot-hook of Kettler, surrounded by the legend: GOTHART D. G. M(agister) LIVON(ia).


Later sources added a helmet and crest:

The arms of Kettler

as in Siebmachers Wappenbuch Bd. I.187 (1703)


The arms are: Or, a pot-hook Gules. Crest: on a crowned helmet, lambrequined Or and Gules, the arms between two feathers Or.

Reconstruction of the arms of Kettler, 1903 [1]


The tinctures of shield and crest changed  from Or into  Argent.


As a duke of  Courland and Semigallen Gotthard added the royal cypher of his suzerein, King Sigismund August II (1548-’72) of Poland.


Coin of Gotthard Kettler, Duke of Courland and Semigallia.


On te obverse a lion within the legend DVCIS CVR ET SEMIG.

On the reverse a pot-hook enclosing the crowned cypher SA and the legend MONE NOVA ARGENTE.


The lion is the oldest known emblem of Courland. In later sources he is Gules and depicted on a field Argent.


Not long after the lion of Courland was quartered with a stag issuant from the edge of the shield for Semigallia and the arms of Kettler with the royal cypher were placed on an escutcheon in nombril point. On the shield were the crests for Kettler, Semigallia and Courland.





These arms were also used by his great-granddaughter, daugther of  Jacob Kettler, Maria Amalia (1653-1711), who was married with Charles of Hessen-Kassel. For the purpose they were crowned with a ducal crown and supported by two lions.


Photo H.d.V. 2012

Achievement of Courland on the façade of the Orangerie of Kassel

The stags not issuant



Still during his reign the arms of Kettler were augmented with the wolfs’jaw from the arms of his new suzerein, Stephen Bathori (1575-’86) but this can only be seen on the arms of his sons.


William Kettler




Arms of William Kettler

on the reverse of a medal with the legend: W. D.G. IN LIVON CURL & SEMGAL DUX on the obverse



The escutcheon parted per pale, in the dexter the wolfs’jaw of Bathori, in the sinister the cypher SA, and over all the pot-hook of Kettler, crowned.

This seems to be the most accurate version of the Kettler arms as in some other cases the crowned pot-hook serves as a bordure of the shield.


Coloured arms of William, duke of Courland and Semigallia

in the album of Johanna Hieronima Rörscheidt, 1596. [2]

The lions crowned and dimidiated

The arms are:

Arms: Quarterly of Courland and Semigallia and on an escutcheon Kettler being parted per pale Gules and Or, in the first a wolfs’jawa Or, in the second the royal cypher SA, all surrounded by a pot-hook

Crest: 1. On a crowned helmet, a pot-hook Sable between two feathers, the dexter Gules, the sinister Or. 2. On a crowned helmet lambrequined Or and Azure, a stag issuant Or; 3. On a crowned helmet lambrequined Argent and Gules, a cornwed lion issuant Gules.


Jacob Kettler







Arms of Jacob Kettler

Panel in the Rundale palace Museum

Reconstruction of theArms as of Jacob Kettler, 1903


By Jacob Kettler the wolfs’jaw was omitted alltogether and the escucheon Kettler became: Parted per pale  Gules and Or, in the first a pot-hook Argent, crowned Or, in the second the royal cypher SA Sable, crowned Or. The crests were replaced by a ducal hat.


Frederick Casimir Kettler



Fredrick Casimir added two lions as supporters and a small red mantle lined ermine.

Company colour

of Duke Frederick Casimir of Courland Cavalry regiment on Dutch service, 1672-74 (reverse)

State Trophy Collection, Armémuseum Stockholm


Fredrick William


Anna Ivanovna Romanov



¥ 1710 Anna Ivanovna



Arms of Frederick William and Ferdinand

Engraving by Christoph Weigel (1654-1725) published 1747


Arms of Ferdinand Kettler together with the arms of his successors

from: Der durchlauchtigen Welt vollständiges Wappenbuch. Dritter Band Nürnberg 1773


The House of Biron


Ernst Johan Biron



The arms of Ernst Johan Biron.


Arms: Gules, a crow sejant in a tree, three acorns in its beak, proper, and a key per fess over all, Or, and a chief of the Empire.

Crown: Of nine pears.

Crest: The crow of the arms between two branches fructed with three acorns each on a crowned helmet lambrequined Or and Sable on the dexter and Or and Gules on the sinister.

Orders: Of St. Andrew (Russia, 1698), Of the White Eagle (Poland, 1713) and of St. Alexander Newski (Russia, 1725).


When a duke of Courland he impaled his arms with the royal cypher of his suzerein August III of Poland (1733-‘63) and this was placed on the quarterly of Courland and Semigallen.


Arms of Ernst Johan Biron after 1737

from: Der durchlauchtigen Welt vollständiges Wappenbuch. Dritter Band Nürnberg 1773



Louis Ernst von Braunschweig Wolfenbuttel



After the demise of Ernst Johan Biron, Ludwig Ernst of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel was elected his successor on 27 June 1741 with the support of his cousin Maria Theresa of Austria. He then went to St Petersburg in connection with this title, and seems to have been interested in marriage with Elizabeth of Russia. However, upon Elizabeth's palace coup on 6 December 1741, his nephew Ivan and all Ivan's German advisers lost their positions, resulting in their exile, imprisonment or departure. Ludwig lost his Duchy of Kurland due to the coup and returned to Germany in 1742.


The Council of Ernst Johan Biron



In this time the escutcheon with the arms of Ernst Johan were omitted from the arms of Courland and Semigallia.


Achievement of Courland and Semigallia.

On a map of  Courland and Semigallia of  Johann Barnickel, 1747 (Nat. Library of Latvija).


Charles of  Saxony



Arms of Charles of Saxony as a duke of Kurland.

On his portrait: Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Kupferstich-Kabinett, Inventar-Nr. A 139 562 in Saxonica


The arms are:

Arms: ¼ of Courland and Semigallia. And on a ducally crowned escutcheon in nombril point: Per pale, the dexter per fess, the chief per fess of Poland and Lithuania, the base of Saxony; the sinister Azure, the crowned cypher A III.

Crown: A Royal Crown.   


Peter Biron



Arms of Ernst Johann when returned from his exile or of his son Peter before 1764

The two-headed eagel replaced by Gules, three chvrons Argent royally crowned.

On silverware owned by the duke (Coll. Hermitahe, St. Petersburg)


Arms of Peter Biron

On a map of  Ducatus Curlandiae et Semigalliae by Adolf  Grot, 1770.


Arms.: ¼: 1&4: Argent a lion Gules crowned Or (Courland); 2&3: Azure, a stag issuant from the edge of the shield proper, cropwned Or (Semgallen). Escutcheon: ¼: 1. Or, the royal cypher S.A (Stanislas II August, King of Poland 1764-’95), Gules, royally crowned; 2. Gules, three chevrons Argent royally crowned; 3. Gules, a crow on a trunk three acorns in its beak proper (Biron); 4. Or, the royal cypher A.3. (Frederik Augustus III, King of Poland 1733-‘63), royally crowned.

Mantle: Purpure, lined ermine fringed and tasseled Or, ducally crowned.

Supporters: Two crowned lions Or.

Seal of Peter Biron


The arms on the seal are as before. Legend: D.G. PETRUS . IN . LIVONIA . CURLANDIA . ET SEMGALIAE . DUX. Æ 60 mm.. On an act 1777.10.30. [3]


After Courland had been ceded to Russia at the third partition of Poland in 1795 the arms corresponding with the title Prince of  Courland (Князь Курляндскіи) were incorporated into the larger arms of Tsar Paul I, adopted in 1800. For the occasion the arms of Courland were:


Arms of Courland

in the “Complete Armorial of the Greater Russian Empire, 1800” [4]


Arms:¼ 1&4 Argent a crowned lion Gules; 2&3 Azure, a stag issuant from the edge of the shield Argent.


Courland Governorate



Arms for the Governorate were granted on 8 December 1856:


Arms: ¼: 1&4: Argent, a lion Gules crowned Or (Courland); 2&3: Azure a stag issuant from the edge of the shield Argent ducally crowned (Semigallia).

Russian Imperial crown, branches of oak tied with a ribbon Azure. [5]



The German Emperor  William II recognised the creation of Courland as a German vassal, by writing to Courland's Landesrat on March 8, 1918. The letter reads:


Wir Wilhelm, von Gottes Gnaden Deutscher Kaiser, König von Preußen etc. beauftragen hiermit Unseren Reichskanzler, den Grafen von Hertling, dem Kurländischen Landesrat zu erklären, daß Wir auf den Uns durch seine Vertreter übermittelten Wunsch und auf den Bericht Unseres Reichskanzlers im Namen des Deutschen Reiches das Herzogtum Kurland als freies und selbständiges Staatswesen anerkennen und bereit sind, im Namen des Deutschen Reiches diejenigen Staatsverträge mit Kurland abzuschließen, die eine enge wirtschaftliche und militärische Verbindung beider Länder gewährleisten. Gleichzeitig beauftragen Wir Unseren Reichskanzler, den Abschluß dieser Verträge vorzubereiten. Urkundlich haben Wir diesen Auftrag Allerhöchst Selbst vollzogen und mit Unserem Kaiserlichen Insiegel versehen lassen.

Gegeben ................ , den 15. März 1918


Graf von Hertling.

That is in English:


We, William, by the grace of God German Emperor, King of Prussia, etc., herewith command Our Chancellor, Count von Hertling, to inform the Government of Courland, that, upon the wish communicated to Us by its ambassador, and upon the report of Our Chancellor, in the name of the German Empire, We recognize the Duchy of Courland as a free and independent state; in the name of the German Empire, to negotiate such treaties with Courland as will guarantee a close economic and military union between both lands. At the same time, we command Our Chancellor to prepare for the negotiation of these treaties. Our Majesty has commanded that this order be documented, and affixed with Our Imperial Seal.

Given at [unknown], the 15th of March 1918

[signed] William

Count von Hertling.


On the arms of the Republic of Latvija of 18 November 1920 and readopted 17 February 1990 Courland is represented by a red lion on a white field.


Æ See illustration in the head of this essay



Back to Main Page



© Hubert de Vries 2012-11-30


[1] Spießen, Max von, & Adolf Matthias Hildebrandt (drawings): Wappenbuch des Westfälischen Adels, Band 2  1901/1903, Tafel 087

[2] Latvijas Valsts arhivi, LVVA, 5759. f., 2. apr., 1403. l., 2. lp.  Kurzemes un Zemgales hercoga Vilhelma ģerbonis Johana Hieronima Rēršeita (Rörscheidt) albūmā. 1596. gads

[3] Sella, Pietro: I Sigilli dell'Archivio Vaticano. Citta del Vaticano MDCCCCXXXXVI. 2x2 Banden. n° 2196. Arch. Muz. Varsavia 189, 8. Atti varii

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

[5] Picture from: Отпечатано по распоряжению министра внутренних дел. Санкт-Петербург: Картографическое заведение А.А. Ильина и типография Министерства путей сообщения А. Бенке, 1880.


Flag Counter In cooperation with Heraldry of the World