The Baltic governorates (Russian: Прибалтийские губернии), originally the Ostsee governorates (German: Ostseegouvernements, Russian: Остзейские губернии), was a collective name for the administrative units of the Russian Empire set up in the territories of Swedish Estonia, Swedish Livonia (1721) and, afterwards, of Duchy of Courland and Semigallia (1795).
The Treaty of Vilnius of 1561 included the Privilegium Sigismundi Augusti by which Sigismund II Augustus guaranteed the Livonian estates several privileges, including religious freedom with respect to the Augsburg Confession, the Indigenat (Polish: Indygenat), and continuation of the traditional German jurisdiction and administration. The terms regarding religious freedom forbade any regulation of the traditional Protestant order by religious or secular authorities, and ruled that cases of disagreements be judged only by Protestant scholars. When in 1710 Estonia and Livonia capitulated to Russia during the Great Northern War, the capitulations explicitly referred to the Privilegium Sigismundi Augusti, with the respective references being confirmed in the Treaty of Nystad (1721).
The dominions of Swedish Estonia (in what is now northern Estonia) and Swedish Livonia (in what is now southern Estonia and northern Latvia) became the governorates of Reval and Riga, when they were conquered by Russia during the Great Northern War, and then ceded by Sweden in the Treaty of Nystad in 1721. Notably, both Reval Governorate and Riga Governorate were each at the time subdivided into one province only: the province of Estonia and the province of Livonia, respectively. In the period of the so-called Regency, 1783–1796, the Regent's (later Governor-General's) Office in Riga was created. It consisted of two subdivisions dealing with local matters and Russian affairs.
After an administrative reform in 1796, the Reval Governorate was renamed Governorate of Estland (Эстляндская губерния), and Riga Governorate renamed Governorate of Livland (Лифляндская губерния). The third Baltic province of Courland was annexed into Russian Empire after the third partition of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795.
The Baltic Governor-General (Прибалтийский генерал-губернатор) was the representative of the Russian Emperor in the provinces of Livland, Estland and Courland. He was appointed by the Emperor and was subject to the latter as well as to the Senate. His duties were regulated by laws and instructions from central authorities. From the beginning of the 19th century he acted as an intermediate between the ministries in Saint Petersburg and administration of the Baltic governorates on spot.
The Governor-General, the highest local executive official and military authority, was in charge of the internal order in the provinces and had to take care of their overall security. He was in charge of recruiting troops and had to keep an eye on the garrisons and fortifications. His civil duties included supervising the provincial administration and prisons, maintaining land roads and bridges, issuing passports, and overseeing collection of state taxes and customs duties. He appointed and dismissed higher officials. The Office of the Baltic Governor-General was abolished at the beginning of the russification in the Baltic Provinces in 1876.
Similarly to guberniyas of the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland, the Baltic Governorates until the end of 19th century were not a subject to the common civil and administrative laws of the Russian Empire, but did not have monetary, fiscal and passport system of their own. Like guberniyas of the Kingdom of Poland they were treated as an integral entity and the Russian law provided them the preservation of local authorities. In Baltics these were Landtags. The special legislation which set rules for municipal administration and entrepreneurship according to local traditions, as well as the privileges to the local nobility in the Baltics was known under the collective name of Ostsee Right (Russian: Остзейское право).
From the end of the 18th century through 1917 names and territories of the Governorate of Courland (German: Kurländisches Gouvernement, Russian: Курляндская губерния), the Governorate of Livland (German: Livländisches Gouvernement, Russian: Лифляндская губерния) and the Governorate of Estland (German: Estländisches Gouvernement, Russian: Эстляндская губерния) remained unchanged; the February Revolution of 1917 was followed by an internal redistribution of Latvian and Estonian lands between the latter two. The October Revolution of 1917 and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk of 1918 created the prerequisites for declaration of independence of these governorships from Russia as the independent states of Estonia and Latvia.
Map of the Baltic Governorates
List of governors-general
||South Estonia, North Latvia (Vidzeme)
||West Latvia, South Latvia (Kurzeme, Zemgale)