“Crusade” is somewhat of a romantic term for “people killing people until they agree to abandon their belief system and adopt the one being forced on them”. I will try my best to summarize this war that shaped modern Latvia:
In 1195, The Pope (Celestine III) decided that the pagan tribes in the Baltics needed to be more Christian. Conflict was nothing new in the area, with Saxon/Danish/Viking raids occurring for centuries before the Crusades began, mostly in attempts to gain control of trade routes.
As the Catholics in the west and Orthodox believers in the East grew in size and power, The Baltics were (not for the last time history) stuck in between the two. Christianity came to the Baltics following German trade routes down the river Daugava. Bishop Berthold of Hanover led an expedition into Latvia at the Pope’s bidding, but was quickly defeated.
In his wake, in the year 1199, Albert of Buxhoeveden was appointed by the Archbishop Hartwig II with the task of converting the Baltic peoples. Medieval propaganda was used to help recruit crusaders, and in 1202 the Livonian Brothers of the Sword were formed, as a permanent military fixture in the Baltics. The crusaders kept their main stronghold at Riga, in it’s strategic position at the mouth of the Daugava and the Gulf of Riga. Albert of Buxhoeveden was appointed Bishop of Riga.
The crusaders first focused on the Livonian tribe (in modern day Vidzeme), succeeding in Christianising the majority of the Livonians by 1208, and even enlisting them to join their crusade against other tribes.
Next the crusaders turned their sights on the Latgallians and Selonians of modern-day Latgale and Estonians, to the north of Vidzeme. The crusaders did not attack Courland (Kurzeme) on a large scale because Bishop Albert believed it to belong to the King of Denmark .
After Albert’s death in 1230, the crusaders attempted to peacefully convert Courland with a series of treaties with some success. In 1242, the newly formed, reorganized Livonian Brothers of the Sword, now known as the Livonian Order (a sub-army of the German Teutonic Order) led by Andrew of Groeningen began a military campaign against the Curonians, and with much effort, managed to subjugated the Curonians in 1267, establishing their main stronghold in Kuldiga. The southern-most parts of old Courland (Ceklis and Megava) were not officially conquered by the crusaders, but united under the rule of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, ending the Latvian leg of the Crusaders’ northern Holy War.
Below is pictured the old Curonian territory (which I tend to favour since most of my ancestors hail from Kurzeme). You can see Valtaiki parish in the Bandava region, and judging by this, Nikrace was also within Bandava.