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The Schwerin family

Although the exact figures of the year can be disputed, there is reason to assume that Alšvanga, together with the surrounding manors, was in the possession of the Schwerin family for 164 years (from 1574 to 1738). One of the owners – Johann Ulrich von Schwerin – converted to Catholicism in 1623 and, starting from 1632, introduced this faith to the entire Alšvanga district. Thanks to him, during the following centuries, the inhabitants of Alšvanga and the surrounding manors acquired their special identity as Courland Catholics and began to be called the Suits. Precisely thanks to this self-isolation of the region caused by religious differences, the Suits have acquired and preserved to this day a cultural and historical heritage unique to the conditions of Latvia. Johann Ulrich von Schwerin only managed to live in Alschwang for a little more than four years until he was poisoned. However, we still remember him with pride, like it or not. Not many people have achieved that in such a short time.

The roots of the Schwerin family can be traced back to Pomerania, in the county of Schwerin, where it was first mentioned in 1178. The Schwerin family was formed from the Spantekow 3rd line. The data below on the family tree of the Schwerin family are taken from the archives of Courlander’s Knighthood (Kurländische Ritterschaft) in Germany and from Der Adel der russischen Ostseeprovinzen (Estland, Kurland, Livland, Oesel), 1980s. It is sometimes contradictory and even illogical, which due to limited information tends to happen in ancient studies. We have not specifically corrected these discrepancies, because we did not have primary sources of information in our hands. First names and surnames, as well as sometimes difficult-to-translate positions, have been left in the original German and Polish.

The first four marriages with unknown partners can be explained by the fact that the development of the family tree started very early. In the first four generations, only male names are known. The first number of the year that is named is 1562, which is the year of Jacob’s marriage, and it refers to the sixth generation.

1st generation

Christoph von Schwerin.

2nd generation

Jacob Ottto, Land Steward (Statthalter) in Pomerania.

3rd generation

Johann Felix, Chancellor of the Duchy of Pomerania (Kanzler).

4th generation

Ulrich, Kapitain and Commander (Befehlshaber).

5th generation

Johann, also called Hans Bohne, board director, married twice to Anna von Behr and Ilsabe von Flemming, five sons.

6th generation

Jacob I, Counselor of the Duke of Prussia, Capitain and Hofmeister in Courland, Magister Curiae in Courland, died shortly before 30 June 1578. On February 10, 1574, he bought Alšvanga and surrounding area from Friedrich von Kanitz. Married twice, in 1562 to Barbara von Gablentz and later to … von Dönhoff. In 1576, he became the first Chief of Knighthood (Ritterschaftshauptmann) in Courland and fulfilled this duty apparently until his death shortly before June 30, 1578.

Siblings: Hans Hugolt (living 1574), Henning (died before 1574), Christoph and a daughter married to Joachim Schwerin (?).

7th generation

Jacob II, Capitain, from October 1600 to 1601, Ritterschaftshauptmann von Kurland und Semgallen of Courland Knighthood, heir to Alšvanga, Basi, Blinten, Gudenieki and Feliksberg, on September 4, 1590, sells his possessions in Prussia to his brother-in-law Hans von Kalekstein, in 1581 studies in Frankfurt am Oder, died on February 29, 1608 (according to other data, before 1602). In 1595, Jacob von Schwerin was the delegated envoy of the Duchy in Krakow.

Married Emerentia von Kalekstein, who was still alive in 1634. Her mother was from the Kanitz family, probably the daughter of Friedrich von Kanitz, who at one time owned the area of Alšvanga. According to other data, with Christine von Korf, while Emerentia von Kalekstein is mentioned as the wife of Jacob III.

Sisters: Anna, already living on August 30, 1592, widow of Hans Bikhahn. Another sister whose name is unknown is mentioned.

8th generation

(according to other data) there was another Jacob III who is not recorded in the family tree. He inherited the Alschwang estate in 1605 and died in 1632. During his lifetime, it did not allow Johann Ulrich to return to Alschwang after his conversion to Catholicism and his wedding to Barbara von Konarska in 1623. There is no record of his possible siblings.

9th generation

Johann Ulrich, in 1631 was the commander (Rittmeister) of the Royal Cavalry Squadron. Heir of Alšvanga and Gentiliski (Gintališkė in Lithuania), converted to Catholicism in 1623, but was forced to live on his wife’s estate in Gentiliski due to his father’s ban. In 1632, after his father’s death, he returned to Alšvanga and in 1634 he handed over the Alšvanga church to the Catholic congregation. He also invited Jesuits to Alšvanga and promoted the conversion of the Lutheran population to Catholicism in every way. According to the legends, he was poisoned in the Reģi manor and died in May 1637. Married to Barbara von Konarska, heiress of Dexen estate, died before 1663.

Sister (name unknown) died before June 13, 1613.
Lucretia Dorothea, married Christian von Korf in 1623, born October 10, 1595, heir to Priekule.
Anna Margaretha, born on July 25, 1573, until January 21, 1612 married Berthold von Sieberg, mentioned also Wischling, heir of Schlossberg.
Benigna Emerentia, married to godfather Friedrick von Behr, in Alšvanga on 28 December 1613. Friedrich was born on February 13, 1584 in Pilten, heir to Schleck.
Maria Elisabeth, born in 1606. Married to Colonel Wilhelm von K… Died in 1669.

10th generation

Johan Felix, heir to Alšvanga, Basi, Gudenieki and Feliksberg, probably died in 1649, married Hedwig von Naruszewicz, who later married Wilhelm von Plater.

Georg Jacob, born in 1633, King’s Chamberlain (Kammerherr), inherited Gentiliski in 1677, married Princess Euphrosine Sangusko, whose father was the Voivode Roman of Vitebsk, and whose mother was Princess Hedwig Radziwil from Biržai (Lithuania).

Daughter and son:
Euphrosina Marsancella, married to Michael von Bausendorff, mentioned as heir of Kansowski, Kansow and Bialoruca.
Johann Feliks, nothing more is known.

Samuel Christoph, 1663 pledge holder (Pfandherr) on Gudenieki and Basi.

11th generation

Christoph Johann, sub-officer, heir to Alšvanga, died 4 May 1681. Married to Anna Christina von Woyna.

George Casimir, the holder of the Feliksberg pledge, had already died in 1685.
Johann Alexander, King’s chamberlain, already died in 1685.
Barbara, married to Hieronymus Wozynski, Starast aus Turksel, Herr der Osmianschen Guter, died before 1685.

12th generation

Johann Antonius Graf von Schwerin, non-commissioned officer, heir to Alšvanga, died 1726. Was not married.

Casimir, died before 1727.
Wladislaw George Graf von Schwerin, Stolnik Orzanski, in 1728 became the heir to Alšvanga and Oszert in Belarus. Was not married. The last member of the Schwerin family, with whom the Schwerin family ended in Alšvanga.
Elisabeth, married to Otto Johann, v.d. Osten also mentions Sacken, Taujahn’s heir.
Maria Ancella von Schwerin, died in 1711.

During the duchy, the Courlander’s Knighthood performed the functions of the self-government of nobles and was the second largest force after the duke. The exact year of its creation is unknown, but it happened between 1561 and 1576. In 1817, it was the Courlander’s Knighthood that made the decision to abolish serfdom in Courland. It retained its legal rights and power until 1920.

The oldest of the known leaders of the Courlander’s Knighthood (kurländischen Ritterschaft) was Jacob von Schwerin the Elder. He and his four followers called themselves Heads of Knighthood (Ritterschaftshauptmänner). According to the contract of February 18, 1576 between Duke Gotthard of Courland and Thies von der Recke of Dobele, Jacob von Schwerin is named the heir of Alšvanga and head of the Knighthood. On March 18, 1577, this agreement was confirmed by the Polish king Johann (Johann), and with this confirmation, Jacob von Schwerin obtained the assigned position. Jacob von Schwerin Sr. is believed to have held this position for two years until his death in 1578.

Jacob von Schwerin was a Brandenburgian councilor (Rath) and after arriving in Courland, he purchased Alšvanga from the ducal councilor Friedrich von Kanitz in 1575 (confirmed by Duke Gotthard on 10 February 1574). Alšvanga remained in the possession of the Schwerins until 1738, when it passed into the possession of (the next duke) Ernest Johann von Biron. Friedrich von Kanitz, after Jacob’s death, describes him in a letter as a pious and honorable man, endowed with good understanding and speaking skills.

The first five leaders (Ritterschaftshauptmann) of the Courlander’s Knighthood were:

Jacob von Schwerin – Alschwangen (Alšvanga), 1576 – 1578, died 1578;
Dietrich von Grotthuß – Ruhenthal, 1588 – 1599, died 1599;
Jacob von Schwerin – Alschwangen (Alšvanga), 1600 – 1601, died 1608;
Johann von Nolde – Virginahlen, 1601 – 1610, born 1568, died 1610;
Otto von Grotthuß – Waldegahlen, 1610 – 1618, born 1579, died 1652.

The position of head of the Courlander’s Knighthood (Ritterschaftshauptmann) existed from 1576 to 1618. After that, until the election of the first land trustee (Landesbevollmächtigte) in 1712, the functions of this office were performed by the supreme councils (Oberräte). The position of land trustees existed until 1920.

After the establishment of the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia under the suzerainty of the Polish fiefs and after the recognition of the closed corporation (equester ordo Curlandiae et Semigalliae), the Knighthood had to determine the leader, which would act as a representative between them and the government. The head of the Knighthood was chosen by the Landtag assemblies, but little is known about their powers. He had to represent the interests of Knghthood in the interregnums of the Landtags according to his best conscience.

The Schwerin family gave Alšvanga eight owners. The last two owners of Alšvanga: Johann Antonius, who died in 1726, and Vladislav Georg, were titled as counts, as if without any justification. The last brother’s year of death is unknown. It is only known that he was still alive in 1729. Both have been unmarried and the development of the Schwerin family in Alšvanga ended with them.

The Schwerins in Courland are one branch of an old and well-known, very branched family. This family had acquired the title of counts in many lines through the Imperial and Royal Prussian Free Lordships. In the second half of the 16th century Schwerins entered Courland from East Prussia. In 1569 (more likely 1574 or 1575) they purchased Alšvanga.

Courlander’s Knighthood started the matriculation of aristocratic families in 1620. On August 2, 1631, Johann Ulrich von Schwerin was matriculated into the Courland nobility, first class with no. 65. The Courland line of the Schwerins died out around 1730. The line of free lords of Schwerin still flourishes in Sweden to this day, and many noble and countable lines exist in Germany.

According to the materials of the Knighthood Archive of Courland, the Schwerin family intersected with the following aristocratic families:

von Bausendorff, also Kansowski – 1 time;
von Behr – 2 times;
Birkhahn – 1 time;
von Dönhoff – 2 times;
von Flemming – 1 time;
von Gablentz – 1 time;
von Kalckstein – 1 time;
von Konarski – 1 time;
von Korff – 2 times;
von Naruszewicz (also Narnszewicz) – 2 times;
von Sacken – 1 time;
Fürst Sangusko – 1 time;
von Schwerin – 1 time;
von Sieberg – 1 time;
Wazynski – 1 time;
von Woyna – 1 time;
Zawadski (?) – 1 time.

The coat of arms of the Schwerin branch of Kurzeme is described as follows: a shield of silver, inside it a red rhombus. Above the armored cap, a green braided crown, from which three silver – red – silver ostrich feathers extend out, the outer ones decorated with red rhombuses. The decoration (decken) of the coat of arms is red and silver plated. The image of the coat of arms above corresponds to the ancient original. The lower colored one is just a modern variation on this theme that we got from Germany. Other branches of the Schwerin have slightly different coats of arms, but in their structure they remain closely similar.

Materials used:

Archive of Courlander’s Knighthood (Kurländische Ritterschaft) in Germany.
Der Adel der Russischen Ostseeprovinzen (Estland, Kurland, Livland, Oesel), J. Siebmacher’s groses Wappenbuch, Band 25, 1980 Bauer & Raspe, Inhaber Gerhardt Gessner Neustadt an der Aisch.
Kurland und seine Ritterschaft, Herausgegeben von der Kurländischen Ritterschaft im Verband der Baltischen Ritterschaften e. V. Bildteil von Georg von Krusenstjern.