The Family Vault of the Dukes of Courland

 

Kurzemes hercogu kapenes Jelgavas pilī. Ieeja

The family vault of the Dukes of Courland. Entrance

The family vault of the Dukes of Courland in Jelgava Palace is the largest burial of this kind in Latvia and it is one of the few burials of governors‘ dynasties in the world which is open to the public. The burial consists of 21 metal sarcophagi and 9 wooden coffins with 24 members of the Kettler dynasty and 6 members of the Biron dynasty buried between 1569 and 1791. Through centuries the vault was brutally demolished and plundered; now it has recovered its original significance and appearance of the monument of history and art.

In 1990 a permanent exhibition of the Rundāle Palace Museum was established in the vault. It is open to the public from May 1 to October 31.

Kapeņu loga režģis ar hercoga Ernsta Johana iniciāļiem

Window lattice with the initials of Duke Ernst Johann

The history of the vault is as tragic as that of Jelgava Palace. In 1582 the first Duke of Kurzeme Gotthard ordered construction of a church with basement for sarcophagi. The place of the vault was changed several times. More…

Kurzemes hercogu kapenes 2010. gadā, skats uz dienvidiem

The family vault of the Dukes of Courland in 2010

Since 1987 the family vault of the Dukes of Courland is under the authority of Rundāle Palace Museum. Realizing the historical and artistic significance of the vault, it is now turned into a museum to preserve and maintain the vault in all possible ways, taking into account its natural decay. Maintaining the ultimate meaning of this peaceful place, the preservation and restoration of the coffins, sarcophagi and textiles and conservation of the mortal remains are carried out. 

Burials in the Vault of the Dukes of Courland
(1587-1791) 

Hercogs Gothards un hercogiene Anna. Nezināms mākslinieks pēc senāka prototipa. 1584

Duke Gotthard and Duchess Anna. Unknown artist after a prior prototype. 1584. Germany, Hovestadt Palace

Duke Gotthard Kettler (February 2, 1517 – May 17, 1587, old style) was the last Master of the Order of Livonia and the first Duke of  Courland-Semigallia. In March 1566 in Königsberg he was married Anna, the daughter of Duke Albrecht VII of Mecklenburg. He  delegated the power of duke to his sons Friedrich (Semigallia) and Wilhelm (Courland) on the condition that the unity of the Duchy must be preserved. More…

Duchess Anna (1533 – July 4, 1602, old style) was the wife of Duke Gotthard. Anna’s father was the Duke of Mecklenburg, Albrecht VII, whereas her mother was the daughter of the Elector of Brandenburg Joachim. More…

Hercogienes Annas sarkofāgs

The sarcophagus of Duchess Anna

Duke Gotthard and Anna had five sons and two daughters. Three sons died as children. Sigismund Albert (January 24, 1567 – April 1, 1569, old style), Gotthard (March 20, 1568 – August 31, 1570, old style) and Georg (July 1, 1572 – August 10, 1572, old style) were buried in Kuldīga in sarcophagi made by pewterer Cyriak Klint and only later were they taken to Jelgava. The sarcophagus of Prince Sigismund Albert is the oldest in the vault.

Duke Friedrich (November 25, 1569 – August 16, 1642, old style) was the third son of Duke Gotthard and Duchess Anna. Friedrich became duke after the death of his father. In 1600 he married the Princess of Pomerania, Elisabeth Magdalena. As there were no children in their marriage, they took Jacob, the son of his brother Wilhelm, as foster-child. More…

Hercogs Frīdrihs. Kristiana Hola kopija no nezināma 17. gs. oriģināla

Duke Friedrich of Courland. C. Hohl’s copy of an unknown 17th century original. Poland, the District Museum in Torun

Hercoga Frīdriha sarkofāgs

The sarcophagus of Duke Friedrich

Duchess Elisabeth Magdalena (April 17, 1580 – February 23, 1649, old style), Duke Friedrich’s wife, was born in Wolgast; her father was Duke Ernst Ludwig of Pomerania; her mother was born Princess Sophie Hedwig of Brunswick-Lüneburg. More…

Kurzemes hercogiene Elīzabete Magdalēna. Nezināms mākslinieks. Vācija, 17. gs. sākums

Duchess Elisabeth Magdalena of Courland. Unknown artist. Germany, early 17th century. Rundāle Palace Museum exhibition “From the Gothic Style to Art Nouveau”

Hercogienes Elīzabetes Magdalēnas sarkofāgs

Sarcophagus of Duchess Elisabeth Magdalena

Duke Wilhelm (July 20, 1574 – April 7, 1640, old style) was the youngest son of Duke Gotthard and Duchess Anna. In 1594 he became the ruler of Courland part of the split Duchy. In 1609 he married Princess Sophie of Prussia-Brandenburg. After loss of entitlement to dukedom, he spent the rest of his life abroad. Wilhelm died in Pomerania; in 1642 his body was taken to Courland by a mourning ship. More…

Kurzemes hercogs Vilhelms. Nezināms mākslinieks. 1615

Duke Wilhelm of Courland. Unknown artist. 1615. Rundāle Palace Museum exhibition “From the Gothic Style to Art Nouveau”

 

Hercoga Vilhelma sarkofāgs

The sarcophagus of Duke Wilhelm

Duchess Sophie (March 31, 1582 – November 24, 1610, old style) was the wife of Duke Wilhelm. Her father was the Margrave of Brandenburg and Duke of Prussia Albert Friedrich, mother – Maria Eleonore, Princess of Jülich-Cleves. Among her ancestors there were rulers of Prussia, Poland-Lithuania and Austria. Sophie and Wilhelm were married in January 1609 in Königsberg. Sophie died one month after childbirth and was buried in Kuldīga. Her body was taken to Jelgava in 1643. More…

Brandenburgas princeses Sofijas portrets

Portrait of Princess Sophie of Brandenburg. Daniel Rose. Around 1606

Hercogienes Sofijas sarkofāgs

Sarcophagus of Duchess Sophie

Duke Jacob (October 28, 1610 – December 31, 1681, old style) was the only son of Duke Wilhelm and Duchess Sophie, born in Kuldīga. From 1639 he was the Duke of Courland-Semigallia. In 1645 he married Princess of Brandenburg-Prussia Luise Charlotte. Jacob was buried in the vault on September 21, 1682. More…

Kurzemes hercogs Jēkabs. Nezināms mākslinieks. 18. gs. sākuma kopija

Duke Jacob of Courland. Unknown artist. Copy of the early 18th century. The National Museum of Sweden, Gripsholm Castle

Hercoga Jēkaba sarkofāgs

The sarcophagus of Duke Jacob

Duchess Luise Charlotte (September 3, 1617 – August 8, 1676, old style) was the wife of Duke Jacob. Her father was Elector Georg Wilhelm of Brandenburg from the Hohenzollern dynasty; her mother was Princess Elisabeth Charlotte of Pfalz. Louise Charlotte was buried in the vault of Jelgava Castle on August 8, 1677. More…

Kurzemes hercogiene Luīze Šarlote. Nezināms mākslinieks. 17. gs. beigas

Duchess Louise Charlotte of Courland. Unknown artist. Late 17th century. The National Museum of Sweden, Gripsholm Castle

Hercogienes Luīzes Šarlotes sarkofāgs

Sarcophagus of Duchess Louise Charlotte

Prince Wladislaw Ludwig Friedrich (December 4, 1647 – March 31, 1648, old style) was the first son of Duke Jacob and Duchess Luise Charlotte.

Vladislavs Ludvigs Fridrihs_sarko gerb

The coat of arms of Courland on the sarcophagus of Prince Wladislaw Ludwig Friedrich

Princess Christine Sophie (May 5, 1649 – December 28, 1650, old style) was the second daughter of Duke Jacob and Duchess Luise Charlotte. The pewter sarcophagus was presumably made by Franz Warnradt.

Sofija Kristine_kleita

The dress of Princess Christine Sophie

Prince Karl Jacob (October 20, 1654 – December 29, 1676, old style) was the third son of Duke Jacob and Duchess Luise Charlotte. Karl Jacob studied in Geneva. In 1676 he was an infantry commander in the army of the prince of Orange in Holland. Having received the news about his mother’s death, he hurried to Courland, but in Berlin he fell ill with typhus and died. His sarcophagus is decorated with gilded reliefs of war trophies and floral motifs.

Kurzemes princis Kārlis Jēkabs. Nezināms mākslinieks. 18. gs. sākuma kopija

Prince Karl Jacob of Courland. Unknown artist. Early 18th century copy. The National Museum of Sweden, Gripsholm Castle

Prinča Kārļa Jēkaba sarkofāgs

The sarcophagus of Prince Karl Jacob

Prince Alexander (October 18, 1658 – August 16, 1686, new style), the youngest son of Duke Jacob and Duchess Luise Charlotte, was born in Swedish captivity. Alexander chose a military career in spite of the fact that he was born without the right forearm.  In 1678 in the army of the elector of Brandenburg he participated in the battle against the Swedes. After his father’s death he summoned an infantry regiment and fought against the Turks. He was injured in July 1686 and died near Vienna. Alexander was buried in a simple gown; that is why there was a legend that some peasant is buried in the vault; however the well-embalmed mummy with the shot wound and an artificial right arm prove that it is Prince Alexander.

Kurzemes princis Aleksandrs. Nezināms mākslinieks. 18. gs. sākuma kopija. Zviedrijas Nacionālā muzeja krājums Gripsholmas pilī

Prince Alexander of Courland. Unknown artist. 18th century copy. The National Museum of Sweden, Gripsholm Castle

Duke Ferdinand (November 2, 1655 – May 4, 1737) was the fourth son of Duke Jacob and Duchess Luise Charlotte and the last Duke of Courland from the Kettler dynasty. In his youth Ferdinand was at war in Holland, later under the command of the Polish king and the elector of Brandenburg he fought against the Turks, and afterwards moved to Polish-Lithuanian service. During the Great Northern War he participated in the defence of Riga, but after the defeat he fled abroad. After the death of his nephew Friedrich Wilhelm, Ferdinand became the Duke of Courland, but he lived abroad. 1730 he married the 22 years old Princess of Saxe-Weissenfels, Johanna Magdalena. They did not have any children. Duke Ferdinand died in Danzig and was buried in the vault in the new Jelgava Palace in 1743. The pewter sarcophagus was made in Danzig. Its restoration was completed in 2009 and the burial was consecrated.

Kurzemes princis Ferdinands, vēlāk Kurzemes hercogs. Nezināms mākslinieks. 18. gs. kopija

Duke Ferdinand of Courland. C. Hohl’s copy (the first half of the 18th century) of an unknown original. The National Museum of Sweden, Gripsholm Castle

Kurzemes hercoga Ferdinanda sarkofāgs

The sarcophagus of Duke Ferdinand

Duke Friedrich Casimir (July 6, 1650 – January 22, 1698) was the second son of Duke Jacob and Duchess Luise Charlotte. In his youth, Friedrich Casimir chose a military career. After 1670 he commanded Courland Grenadier Regiment in the Dutch Army. In 1675 he married Princess Sophie Amelie of Nassau-Siegen; in this marriage a son and four daughters were born. In 1681 he became the Duke of Courland. After the death of his first wife Friedrich Casimir married Elisabeth Sophie, the daughter of the Elector of Brandenburg Friedrich Wilhelm, with whom two sons were born. The reign of Friedrich Casimir was characterised by luxurious and wasteful court life. His funeral was equally extravagant – the ritual lasted several months. In 1705 the burial was destroyed by Swedish soldiers. His gown is restored and included in the vault exhibition.

Kurzemes hercogs Frīdrihs Kazimirs. Nezināms mākslinieks. 18. gs. sākuma kopija

Duke Friedrich Casimir of Courland. Unknown artist. Early 18th century copy. The National Museum of Sweden, Gripsholm Castle

Duchess Sophie Amelie (February 20, 1650 – November 25, 1688) was the first wife of Duke Friedrich Casimir and a mother of five children. Her father was Elector Heinrich of Nassau-Siegen, but her mother was born as Countess of Limburg-Styrum. Sophie Amelie died ten days after the birth of her daughter Christine Sophie. She was buried in a pewter sarcophagus decorated with the coat of arms of Nassau-Siegen. The silk brocade coat has come down to our times, but the white satin dress embroidered with gold is lost. Preserved are only some tiny fragments which show the fineness of embroidery and the luxury of the gown. The restoration of the sarcophagus was completed in 2008 and the burial was consecrated.

Nasavas-Zīgenes princese Sofija Amēlija, vēlāk Kurzemes hercogiene. Nezināms mākslinieks. 18. gs. sākuma kopija

Duchess Sophie Amelie of Courland. Unknown artist. Early 18th century copy. The National Museum of Sweden, Gripsholm Castle

Kurzemes hercogienes Sofijas Amēlijas sarkofāgs

The sarcophagus of Duchess Sophie Amelie of Courland

Prince Johann Friedrich (April 3, 1682 – April 11, 1683) was the son of Duke Friedrich Casimir and Duchess Sophie Amelie. He was buried in a pewter sarcophagus with the coat of arms of Courland-Semigallia.

Prinča Johana Frīdriha sarkofāga fragments

A fragment of Prince Johann Friedrich’s sarcophagus

Princess Christine Sophie (November 15, 1688 – August 21, 1694) was the youngest daughter of Duke Friedrich Casimir and Duchess Sophie Amelie. She is buried in a luxurious wooden coffin.

Prince Leopold Karl (December 14, 1693 – July 21, 1697) was the second son of Duke Friedrich Casimir and Duchess Elisabeth Sophie. He was buried in the vault on February 7, 1698; later he was reburied together with his father. The sarcophagus was made by pewterer H. Eppner from Jelgava, but the gilded copper decorations were made by goldsmith J. Kassell.

Prinča Leopolda Kārļa sarkofāgs. Gala plāksne ar Kurzemes-Zemgales un Brandenburgas-Prūsijas ģerboni gājusi bojā

The sarcophagus of Prince Leopold Karl

Princess (February 23, 1695) as the stillborn daughter of Duke Friedrich Casimir and Duchess Elisabeth Sophie. The pewter sarcophagus with gilded copper plaques has disappeared after World War II, only one side plaque is preserved. 

Hercoga Frīdriha Kazimira meitas sarkofāgs. 1934. gada fotogrāfija

The sarcophagus of Duke Friedrich Casimir’s daughter in 1934

Duke Friedrich Wilhelm (July 19, 1692 – January 21, 1711) was the first son of Duke Friedrich Casimir and Duchess Elisabeth Sophie. During the Great Northern War, he was living at the court of his maternal uncle Friedrich I, King of Prussia, and received good education and upbringing. When Friedrich Wilhelm became duke, he returned by ship to the destroyed Courland. On the day of his arrival, May 13, 1710, in Liepāja he founded the Order of Recognition (Ordre de la Reconnaissance), which was restored in the Republic of Latvia in 1938 under the name of the Cross of Recognition. Since 2004 it has been again one of the highest awards of the State of Latvia. Subject to the will of Emperor Peter I of Russia, Friedrich Wilhelm married Emperor’s niece Anna Ioannovna, but on his way home he died not far from St. Petersburg. He was buried in the vault in March 1711.

Kurzemes hercogs Frīdrihs Vilhelms. K. Veigela akvatinta pēc L. Hiršmana gleznas. 18. gs. sākums

Duke Friedrich Wilhelm of Courland. K. Weygel’s aquatint after L. Hirschmann’s painting. Early 18th century

Duke Ernst Johann Biron  (November 23, 1690 – December 28, 1772) was the first Duke of Courland from the Biron dynasty. His father was the owner of Kalnciems estate, Karl von Bühren, his mother – Catharina Hedwig, nee von der Raab-Thühlen. In 1723 Ernst Johann married Benigna Gottlieb von Trotta-Treyden, a lady-in-waiting to the Duchess of Courland, Anna Ioannovna. Two sons and a daughter were born in their marriage. In 1737 Ernst Johann was elected Duke of Courland. In 1769 he gave up the throne in favour of his oldest son. More…

Kurzemes hercogs Ernsts Johans. Nezināma mākslinieka kopija pēc L. Karavaka gleznas. 18. gs. 30. gadi

Duke Ernst Johann of Courland. Unknow artist’s copy after the painting of L. Caravaque. 1730s

Hercoga Ernsta Johana un hercogienes Benignas Gotlības sarkofāgi

The sarcophagi of Duke Ernst Johann and Duchess Benigna Gottlieb

Duchess Benigna Gottlieb (October 15, 1703–November 5, 1782) was the wife of Duke Ernst Johann and a mother of three children. Her father was a mortgage owner of Jogeļi estate, L. von Trotta-Treyden; her mother Anna Elisabeth was the daughter of H. von Wildemann, the owner of Ķeveļi estate. During her lifetime Benigna Gottlieb was a well-known author of sacred songs – in 1777 a cycle of songs in German was published in Jelgava. She was buried in the vault in a copper sarcophagus. Its restoration was completed in 1990 and the burial was consecrated.

Kurzemes hercogiene Benigna Gotlība. Nezināma mākslinieka kopija pēc L. Karavaka gleznas. 18. gs. 30. gadi

Duchess Benigna Gottlieb of Courland. Unknown artist after L. Caravaque’s painting. The 1730s

Kurzemes-Zemgales ģerbonis uz hercogienes Benignas Gotlības sarkofāga vāka

The coat of arms of Courland-Semigallia on the lid of Benigna Gottlieb’s sarcophagus

Peter, the oldest son of Ernst Johann and Benigna Gottlieb, became Duke of Courland in 1769. In his marriage with Princess Caroline Luise they had one stillborn son. No children were born in Peter’s marriage with Princess Yevdokia Yusupova, whereas his marriage with Anna Charlotte Dorothea von Medem resulted in the birth of five daughters and one son. After incorporation of the Duchy of Courland into Russia in 1795, the Birons  moved to Silesia. Peter died on January 13, 1800 and was buried in Gellenau. In 1847 he was reburied in Sagan (now Zagan in Poland) Lutheran Church. His wife Dorothea, their two daughters and nephew were buried in the same place. The burial was completely destroyed after World War II.

Frīdrihs Hartmans Barizjens. Kurzemes hercogs Pēteris. Kurzeme, 1781

Duke Peter of Courland. F. H. Barisien, 1781

Prince (stillborn on November 9, 1766), son of Duke Peter and Caroline Luise, was buried in a wooden coffin, which was later put into a copper sarcophagus.

Prince Peter (February 23, 1787 – March 25, 1790) was the son of Duke Peter and Anna Charlotte Dorothea, born von Medem. He was buried in the vault on March 29, 1790 in a wooden coffin.

Prinča Pētera un princeses Šarlotes Frīderikes zārki 1913. gadā

The coffins of Prince Peter and Princess Charlotte Friederike in 1913

Princess  Charlotte Friederike (January 26, 1789 – March 10, 1791), daughter of Duke Peter and Duchess Anna Charlotte Dorothea, was buried in the vault on March 14, 1791.

Sarlote Friderike_kleita

Princess Charlotte Friederike’s gown after restoration

Restoration and preservation

Until now (spring 2017) the restorers of the Museum have renovated ten sarcophagi, two other sarcophagi are partly restored and work is going on to restore the rest of them.

Rundāles pils muzeja Restaurācijas nodaļas vadītāja Aina Balode un speciālists Arvis Druviņš pie hercoga Ferdinanda sarkofāga

The Head of the Scientific Restoration Department of the Rundāle Palace Museum Aina Balode and the Head of the Mechanics Department Arvis Druviņš at work restoring the sarcophagus of Duke Ferdinand

In the room next the vault an exhibition of the history of the vault is arranged, where the restored burial gowns, fragments of textiles and other ancient objects are exhibited.

Kurzemes hercogu kapenēs iekārtotā ekspozīcija

Exhibition of the ducal vault of Courland

 

Last updated
02.05.2017

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