Courland or Kurland (both: kûr´lănd, Ger. kōōr´länt), Latvian Kurzeme, historic region and former duchy, in Latvia, between the Baltic Sea and the Western Dvina River. It is an agricultural and wooded lowland. Jelgava (Ger. Mitau), the historic capital, and Liepaja (Ger. Libau) and Ventspils (Ger. Windau), the Baltic seaports, are the chief cities. The early Baltic tribes—Letts and Kurs—who inhabited the region were subjected in the 13th cent. by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword. In 1561 the order disbanded and its grand master became the first duke of Courland, under Polish suzerainty. In the Northern War (1700–1721), it was taken (1701) by Charles XII of Sweden. Empress Anna, who was, by marriage, duchess of Courland before her accession in Russia, forced (1737), the nobles of Courland to elect her favorite, Ernst Johann von Biron, their duke. Russian influence became paramount, and with the third partition of Poland (1795) the duchy passed to Russia. In 1918, Courland was incorporated into Latvia, except for a strip of the southern coast that went to Lithuania.
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