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Pils laukums 9, Cesis
Latvia LV-4100
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» Cesis Castle » Medieval castle » History » History of the Cesis Castle

History of the Cesis Castle

Cesis Castle is one of the most famous medieval monuments of history and architecture in Latvia. Although the castle was inhabited as late as the beginning of the 18th century, most important is its medieval history, when it was a very important support base for the German knights in the Baltic States. At this time a few masters of the German Order, which was a branch of the Livonian Order, resided in Cesis Castle; the annual meeting of the Chapter of the Orders was held here, as well as the inner Council of the master.

The origins of  the Cesis Castle are associated with the settlement of Wends in the 11th century, which was located on Riekstu Hill, the current territory of Castle Park. In 1207, knights of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, who were coming from the Western Europe, settled with christened Wends, and under their leadership during the following years, the wooden castle of Wends was fortified with a defensive stone wall. In around 1213, opposite to the hillfort on the Riekstu Hill, the Livonian Brothers of the Sword began construction of the present castle. As a result, in the 13th century there were two castles in Cesis next to each other- the Castle of Wends or Old Cesis castle and a newly built stone castle of the knights of the Order; the two castles created a double reinforcement.

The residence of the masters. The remnants of the destroyed Sword Order in 1237, after the Saules battle, were added to the German Order. This year the first master of the order of the Livonian branch Hermann von Balke came to Livonia, and as his residence chose the Cesis Castle. Subsequent masters later chose as their main place of residence Riga Castle. The masters would move temporarily into Cesis Castle only in case of danger and instability when the Order was in conflict with Riga or the Archbishop of Riga. At the end of the 15th century the centre of the Order moved from Riga to Cesis, which became the permanent residence of the Livonian masters of the German Order from 1481. The time of the greatest growth of Cesis Castle falls in the period from 15th to the 16th centuries, when the Order was led by Master Wolter von Plettenberg.
Cesis Castle has witnessed many important events in the history of Livonia. Here ambassadors were received, questions of war and peace have been decided and the internal affairs of the Order have been settled. Cesis Castle was often mentioned in medieval sources as the place for gatherings of the Chamber of the Order, as well as the place of receiving documents. The archive of the Order was stored in the castle, and since 1555, the treasury of the Order was also secured here. As the visitations of the Order castles in the 15th century show, Cesis Castle was the best supplied of all castles of the German Order in Livonia- it accounted for almost half of the total reserves of grain and weapons of the Order.

Life in the castle of German Order . Cesis Castle had not only political, military and economic importance, but served as much a place of residence for the religious community of the Order. Surrounded by a defensive wall and castle-fronts, the main Castle and its monastery complex consisted mainly of housekeeping premises- a kitchen, bakery, warehouses, breweries and common premises for the brothers of the Order (chapels, a dining room, bedrooms and a hall for meetings). As such, the castle combined both a fortress and a monastery, in turn the knights living in the castle had to maintain a monastic way of life.
Brothers of the Order were divided into knights and priests. The knights that resided in castles held various offices such as managing the finances of the castle, economic affairs and trade. In turn, the priests had the obligation to minister and to take care of the maintenance of the religiosity of the rest of the brothers of the Order. Each Convention had to consist of at least 12 knights, to match the number of Apostles of Christ, as well as at least one priest. It is known that in 1451, the Cesis Castle was the residence of 14 knights and 3 priests which, in comparison with other Livonian Conventions, is the average number. There were workers and artisans from different industries also in the castle working as servants, most of whom were local inhabitants of Livonia.
The life of the brothers in the castle was strictly governed by rules approved by Pope- statutes and regulations. Daily life for the brothers was characterised by strict discipline; regular devotions, ascetic clothes and food, abstinence from entertainment. The usual order of the day was the so-called “Liturgy of the Hours” when every brother living in the castle had to go to the chapel of the castle for worship at certain times of the day. Brothers had to wake up at 2am and go to the chapel of the castle to participate in the first night service. All other daily activities were subordinate to the services- common meals, discharge of duties, care for weaponry and horses, as well as military education and training.
For eating in the dining room of the castle, brothers of the Order were invited with the toll of the chapel bell twice a day. The first meal was served before the daily divine service (None) at approximately 1pm, the second meal of the day was at about 7pm after evening prayers (Vespers). The menu mainly consisted of meat, fish, eggs, bread, wine and beer. Meat was allowed to be eaten no more than three times a week- on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Meals began with a prayer- the priest, and then all together would read The Lord’s Prayer and “Ave Maria”.  One of the brothers would read works of religious content to the priest, all sitting at the table listening silently. The remains of meals and one tenth of the baked bread in the castle were given to the poor.
The day of the brothers of the Order ended after the Compline (service before going to bed) around 9pm, when they closed the gate of the castle and went to sleep. All healthy brothers of the Order slept together in the dormitory of the castle. They slept on straw mattresses and a linen sheet, and covered themselves with woollen blankets. The dormitory was alight all night, and all brothers slept dressed in shirts and trousers.
In the fire of three wars. The status of Cesis Castle was significantly altered by the liquidation of the German Order in 1561, leaving the castle to become as the seat of one of Polish garrisons and the stronghold of the Duchy of Livonia. Only in the summer of 1577, during the Livonian war, when the Cesis Castle became the only residence of Livonian King Magnuss, it temporarily regained the status of the main castle of Livonia. On 31st August of the same year Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible and King Magnuss has a meeting in Cesis, which resulted in the arrest of Magnuss and 5 days of bombarding the Cesis Castle. To the destruction caused by the Russian artillery was added another catastrophe- the 300 inhabitants of the city and its surroundings, seeking protection in the castle, decided to blow themselves up instead of surrender to the hands of cruel invaders. After the castle had been destroyed in the Livonian war, in 1582 it moved to the possession of the Cesis Catholic Diocese. The castle was partially restored and became the residence of the Bishop. During the Polish-Swedish war the castle was more than once in turns occupied by Polish and Swedish troops. The city of Cesis and the castle, in subordination to Sweden, were allocated to the State Chancellor Aksel Uksenšern, who in 1633 ordered to renovate the castle. During this time the manager of Uksenšerna for Vidzeme lands was living in the castle. In connection with the resolution on the reduction of manors in 1681, Cesis Castle came into the possession of the Sweden. The Swedish garrison was located there and the castle became a military defensive construction. At the beginning of the Great Northern war in 1703, the castle was taken by the Russian army. This time the castle was no longer restored, and it lost its military importance. The castle was no longer inhabited and gradually fell into ruins.
The Sievers family. After the Great Northern war, the fortified Cesis manor (including the ruins of the medieval castle) changed owners several times until it was purchased in 1777 by Earl Carl Eberhard Sievers. Under the leadership of the Earl, former buildings of the Castle gate were rebuilt into the house of the owners of the manor, the so-called New Castle. The Manor of the castle was owned by the Sievers family for 140 years- the duration of the ownership was outpaced only the German Order. The owners of the manor of the castle used ruins of the medieval castle as a source of readily available construction material. Obtained in the territory of the Castle, stones were used not only in the construction of housekeeping buildings of the Manor of the Cesis Castle, but also in the construction of the manor in Murjāņi, where the ruins of the Cesis castle were delivered in 200 carts. In the 1830s at the foot of the castle, the romantic landscape park was created, and the jagged silhouette of the castle ruins became the main accent of the park. Moreover, the movement of Romanticism of that time had prompted an interest in the medieval castle as a monument of antiquity, and the work of researching and practical preserving of the castle then began. Around the year 1849, under the leadership of the Earl Emanuel Sievers, one of the oldest known archaeological excavations in Latvia had been made, and already by the middle of the century architect Yegor Sievers had prepared the first research on the history of Cesis and Cesis Castle. After World War I, the house of the owners of the Cesis manor and its adjacent territory, which was in the possession of the Sievers family, was dispossessed and transferred to the army of Latvia. The ruins of the Cesis Castle were placed under the guide of the city of Cesis and were opened to public. In 1925, ruins of the castle which were deemed an outstanding model of Cesis architecture of the Middle Ages were given the status of protected monument.