The Livonian Crusade refers to the conquest of the territory constituting modern Latvia and Estonia during the pope-sanctioned Northern Crusades: performed mostly by Germans from the Holy Roman Empire and Danes, it ended with the creation of the Terra Mariana and Duchy of Estonia. The lands on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea were the last corners of Europe to be Christianized.
Moving in the wake of German merchants who were now following the old trading routes of the Vikings, a monk named Meinhard landed at the mouth of the Daugava river in present-day Latvia in 1180 and was made bishop in 1186. Pope Celestine III proclaimed a crusade against the Baltic heathens in 1195, which was reiterated by Pope Innocent III and a crusading expedition led by Meinhard’s successor, Bishop Berthold of Hanover, landed in Livonia (part of present-day Latvia, surrounding the Gulf of Riga) in 1198. Although the crusaders won their first battle, Bishop Berthold was mortally wounded and the crusaders were repulsed.
In 1199, Albert of Buxhoeveden was appointed by the Archbishop Hartwig II of Bremen to Christianise the Baltic countries. By the time Albert died 30 years later, the conquest and formal Christianisation of present-day Estonia and northern Latvia was complete. Albert began his task by touring the Empire, preaching a Crusade against the Baltic countries, and was assisted in this by a Papal Bull which declared that fighting against the Baltic heathens was of the same rank as participating in a crusade to the Holy Land. Although he landed in the mouth of the Daugava in 1200 with only 23 ships and 500 soldiers, the bishop’s efforts ensured that a constant flow of recruits followed. The first crusaders usually arrived to fight during the spring and returned to their homes in the autumn. To ensure a permanent military presence, the Livonian Brothers of the Sword were founded in 1202. The founding by Bishop Albert of the market at Riga in 1201 attracted citizens from the Empire and economic prosperity ensued. At Albert’s request, Pope Innocent III dedicated the Baltic countries to the Virgin Mary to popularize recruitment to his army and the name “Mary’s Land” has survived up to modern times. This is noticeable in one of the names given to Livonia at the time, Terra Mariana (Land of Mary).
lbert of Riga or Albert of Livonia (c.1165 – 17 January 1229) was the third Bishop of Riga in Livonia. In 1201 he allegedly founded Riga, the modern capital of Latvia, and built the city’s cathedral in 1221. Albert headed the armed forces that forcibly converted the eastern Baltic region to Catholic faith, in the nature of a crusade that was undertaken while the Fourth Crusade was sacking Constantinople.
Albert was born in Bexhövede, a part of Loxstedt. He and his brother Hermann were members of the powerful Buxhoeveden family from Bexhövede, now a part of Loxstedt, Lower Saxony. Because of this he has also been known as Albert of Buxhoeveden (or Bexhövede, Buxhövden, Buxhöwde, Buxthoeven, Appeldern). Albert was a canon in Bremen when his uncle Hartwig, Archbishop of Bremen and Hamburg, named him Bishop of Livonia, provided that he could conquer and hold it, and convince the pagan inhabitants to become Christians. The patent was granted 28 March 1199, and by the beginning of spring 1200 he embarked with a Baltic fleet of 23 vessels and more than 1,500 armed crusaders. He had the support of the Hohenstaufen German King, Philip of Swabia, and the more distant blessing of Pope Innocent III.
Together with merchants from the Baltic Sea island of Gotland, Albert founded Riga in 1201, where a small community of Hanseatic traders from Lübeck held a tentative trading encampment. He successfully converted many Livs under their leader Caupo, offering them protection against neighboring Lithuanian and Estonian tribes; Albert also subjugated Latvian principalities of Koknese, Jersika and Tālava later on. The conquest of Livonia in full occupied almost three decades of his life.
Albert created a military order, the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, and began to build his cathedral in 1215. King Philip made him a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, with Livonia for a fief, and thus Albert became a “Prince-Bishop”. In 1225 King Henry (VII) of Germany confirmed the title of Prince for Albert and his brother, Hermann. Albert declared his diocese independent of Bremen, and later Riga was raised to an archbishopric.
A first-hand account of Albert is in the contemporary Livonian Chronicle of Henry by Henry of Latvia. Albert died in Riga in 1229, but, as a Catholic Bishop, left no descendants. He was venerated as a Catholic saint until the Protestant Reformation. (Source: Wikipedia)