Seal of the Master of the Livonian Order. It is not known whether Konrad von Mandern also had a personal seal.
Our city’s founder, Konrad von Mandern, was born around 1230. It is possible that the origin of his name ”Mandern” is from the village of Mandern in the German state of Hessen, whose territory since 1971 has included Bad Wildungen. Other historical sources concerning the origin of von Mandern include references to the name ”Manstadt”.
In 1252, in Hessen, he enrolled in the Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem. The German or Teutonic Order (Latin: Ordo fratrum answers Sanctae Mariae Theutonicorum Hierosolymitanorum, Ordo Teutonicus) is an order of Catholic religious crusaders, founded during the Third Crusade in Palestine. Its origins are found in Akonas (or Accra) during the siege of that fortress (1189 – 1191), when Lubeck and Bremen traders and monks established the first war hospital for the care and treatment of sick and wounded crusaders, which was called the “German Hospital of St Mary in Jerusalem". This hospital’s order of monks gradually grew into an independent order – confirmed on February, 19, 1199 by Pope Innocent III. This order of nursing monks eventually evolved into a military order, the Teutonic Knights. At its head were the Hochmeister (Grandmaster), elected by the Generalkapitel (General Assembly). The Teutonic Order knights wore a white robe with a black cross. The Order failed in Palestine, driven out after the Christian forces were defeated.
The impact of the Teutonic Order in Europe increased over 1300-1400, and the Order played a substantial role in the subjugation of the pagan nations of Eastern Europe. As thanks for the hospitals it established, the Order received gifts of land in Germany, Hungary and elsewhere in Europe. Territories in Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland were added in 1220, and in Spain in 1230. However, the Order was unsuccessful in trying to establish these properties as a separate country, because the nature and essence of the Order was to crusade against infidels and deniers of Christ. In 1226 the Order answered Duke of Masovia’s call to participate in a battle with Baltic Old Prussians, and engaged in a bloody war which lasted for half a century. After the defeat of Brothers of the Sword at the Battle of Schaulen in 1236, the remnants of the Brothers were absorbed into the Teutonic Order , and a new branch was created – the Livonian Order. Konrad von Mandern was one of those young men from Germany who had chosen the life of a monk and crusader, and was sent to Livonia to fight the indomitable pagans.
It's difficult to know now why Konrad von Mandern would choose to link his life with the Order, but he was a a perfect brother knight of the Order, the kind the Order hoped for - young and healthy, descended from the nobility, and to knew how to handle weapons. Aristocrats were trained to handle weapons, and saw themselves born rulers, and their contemporaries saw them as good candidates for leadership positions. In any case, Konrad von Mandern had clearly proved himself capable, as in 1263 he was apppointed Master of the Livonian Order.
The previous Master, Werner von Breithauzen had resigned from his post in 1263. It was a politically difficult time, because in losing at the Battle of Durbe in 1260, where Grand Master of the Order Bernd von Hornhausen was also killed, Treniota, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, significantly set back the German Order’s military and strategic position in the region. The Order lost not only their Samigotian subjects (latvian: žemaiši), but also the Curonians (latvian: kurši) as well as the Semigalians (latvian: zemgale), and substantial areas populated by the Prussians. The problem was exaccerbated by regular Russian and Lithuanian forays into Livonia.
Konrad von Mandern continued his predecessor’s military policies – he strengthened the Order’s strategic position in Livonia, and acted with political foresight in taking advantage of the overthrow of Lithuanian King Mindauga from the throne and the subsequent internal instability in neighbouring countries. He achieved peace between the princes of Vitebsk and Polotsk (now in Belarus) which were politically dependent on Lithuania during this time. He renewed Livonia’s Tartu and Pernava cities (now in Estonia) which had been burned to the ground during the military conflict. Concurrently he went to war with the Curonians, invaded Dienvidkurzeme, and took control of several Curonian castles in order to renew the trade route from Lubeck to Reveli (now Tallin), which was vital to the existence of Livonia.
The fight against the intractable Zemgale tribe needed new support structures. As far back as 1241, Papal Legate Wilhelm of Modena had given the Livonian Order permission to build a stronghold at Lielupe. Construction on the strip of land between the Driksa and Lielupe Rivers only started in 1265, in the time of Master Konrad von Mandern. A Papal Bull dated May 25, 1266, issued by Pope Clement IV, pronounced the completion of the castle where Jelgava stands today.
The castle might initially have been simply a very large wooden house, which would account for the short construction time. This is implied by the term “Huss Mitowe” - in Low German “Huss” means house. The castle was rebuilt in the 14th century using rock and dolomite, giving it its characteristic convent shaping with four wings that surround the interior yard, and square corner towers. In the middle ages the castle was not only fundamentally different from an ordinary farmhouse, fulfilling significant defense functions, but, as in the case of the castle at Mitava, over time experienced substantial changes and modernisation. From the 13th to 16th centuries it evolved from a simple fortification to became representative of stone strongholds which, before the collapse of the Livonian Confederation in 1561, also had to epitomize the power of the German Order in the region.
In the period from the 13th to the 16th century, when Latvia’s territory included the Livonian confederation, the dominant power centres were the medieval castles. Castles assured not only military protection, but also concretely represented royal power. Although Mitava’s castle never became a medieval centre of political power in Livonia (as, for example, the Order's Master’s castles in Riga and Cesis,or the Archbishop of Riga’s castles at Koknese, Limbaži, and Rauna, as well as the Bishop of Kurzeme’s castle at Piltene), nevertheless in the fight against the Zemgalian tribes locally and the Zemgalian raiders from the Lithuania, it had a significant strategic military role in the region. It should also be noted that the creation of a network of German castles in the territory of Latvia was not only about occupying the land, but a means of disseminating European values, which meant primarily the entrenchment of Western Christianity or Catholicism in the region, as well as expansion of cultural and commercial relations with Western European. At the same time opportunities arose to acquire new technologies, tools, weapons, building materials and methods, as well as basic household items from Western Europe, which substantially changed the lives of the local population.
In time, a community grew up around the 1265-built Mītavas castle – Jelgava city - therefore this time period is credited with being the start of Jelgava, and Konrad von Mandern as Jelgava’s founder. In the beginning it was known as Mitava (German: Mitau), which may be related to the ancient Latvian word for ‘meet’ and ‘change’. The word ‘Jelgava’ in entomological literature raises significantly more disagreement. One theory is that the name ‘Jelgava’ might be descended from the Liban (or līvu) word ‘Jālgab’ which denotes an open populated area or city. But linguistic studies, analysing place names elsewhere in Latvia (for example, Jelgavkalns, Jelgavkrasti, Jaunjelgava, etc.) confirm that the word ‘Jelgava’ comes from the Latvian language, and means a place that is difficult to access because of surrounding obstacles. Consequently, it is not possible to come to any definitive conclusion, as the word over time might have undergone significant changes in different languages.
Balthasar Russow’s Chronicle of Livonia (1570’s) says of Konrad von Mandern’s reign: “This master built an excellent castle at Wittenstein Jarva (today known as Paide, Estonia) and Jelgava castle in Kurzeme. In the time of the Master someone struck Lithuanian ruler Mindaugas down like a dog; he received what he earned. This Master had had many wars with the Russians, and Curlanders and Samigotians. In these wars he lost 20 brothers of the Order and 600 soldiers and one other time another 10 brothers of the Order. After a 3 year reign he resign, citing old age, and traveled to Germany."
The Chronicle states that in 1266 Konrad von Mandern declined further involvement in the leadership of the Livonian Order on the grounds of his age, but it is more likely that he resigned as Master of the German Order in Livonia for some unknown reasons and returned to Germany. Historical sources cite that the ‘old age’ theory of his resignation does not withstand scrutiny, as he was about 36 years old at that time. In Germany he held various positions and continued to work there for almost another 30 years.
In 1268 von Mandern – as a former Master – participated in negotiations at Lubeck between the Danish king, the bishops of Karelia and Tervete, as well as all the Livonian landholders on the one side, and citizens of Lubeck on the other side, on how to enter into a peace agreement with the Novgorod Russians. On May 5th of the same year, an agreement was reached. Konrad von Mandern represented the interests of ‘all Livonia landholders’. This last apparently referred to the Archibishop of Riga, Kurzeme and Saaremaa bishops, as well as the German Order’s Master of Livonia, all of which collectively represented ‘power over land’ (Latin – dominum, German – Herrschaft).
At the end of his career, von Mandern returned again to the land of Hessen and temporarily (1285 – 1295) was Marburg’s (Marburg) commander and land commander Ballaihesenē (Ballei Hessen). Konrad von Mandern fulfilled the functions of his office almost to the end of his life, May 5th, 1295 (approx.). Jelgava’s historical founder Konrad von Mandern lived an unusually long and historically eventful life, dying at about 65 years of age.
Kristaps Kaktiņš, Museum Specialist
Literature and sources
1) Friedrich Benninghoven. Der livländ. Ordensmeister K. v. M., in: Hamburger mittel- u. ostdt. Forsch. VI, 1967.
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5) Levāns A., Politiskās organizācijas modeļi viduslaiku Livonijā 13. – 16. Gadsimtā: manifestācijas un leģitimācijas formas. Latvieši un Latvija II sējums. Valstiskums Latvijā un Latvijas valsts – izcīnītā un zaudētā. Rīga, 2013.
8) Milicers, K., Vācu ordeņa vēsture. Rīga, 2009.
9) Ose, I., Pilis kā Livonijas laika varas centri Latvijas teritorijā 13. – 16. gs. Latvieši un Latvija II sējums. Valstiskums Latvijā un Latvijas valsts – izcīnītā un zaudētā. Rīga, 2013.