Post-classical history

Albert of Buxhovden (d. 1229)

The third bishop of Livonia (1199-1229).

Albert was born around the year 1165 into an influential, ministerial, knightly family of Buxhovden (or Bekeshovede) in the archbishopric of Hamburg-Bremen. A close relative of Archbishop Hartwig II, as a young man Albert became a canon of the cathedral in Bremen. He also served as head of the cathedral school.

In March 1199 Albert was appointed as the new bishop of Livonia following the violent death of Bishop Bertold the previous year. However, it was only in the summer of 1200 that Albert visited Livonia for the first time. He used the intervening time very effectively to obtain papal support for the crusades in Livonia and also to make arrangements with the Danish king, Knud VI; his brother (and future king) Duke Valdemar of Schleswig; and Absalon, archbishop of Lund. Albert also met with the king of Germany, Philip of Swabia, in Magdeburg during Christmas 1199 to ask for his support. Finally, Albert gathered a substantial army of crusaders in Lübeck and arrived in Livonia in the summer of 1200 accompanied by no less than twenty-three ships.

In Livonia the fighting between the crusaders and the Livs began at once. Bishop Albert soon found the village of Üxküll (mod. Iķškile, Latvia) unsuited as the seat of his diocese, as it was too far from the more accessible coastal regions. Instead he made plans for an entirely new ecclesiastical and urban center at Riga, founded in 1201.

In only a few years Riga became the most important religious and economic center in the region, while Albert installed German knights as vassals in the surrounding country to secure his position. Albert had thus secured a permanent and strong Christian presence in the region, creating a gateway for merchants, crusaders, and clerics alike. Also of great importance was the foundation in 1202 of a new knightly military order, the Sword Brethren, by a Cistercian monk called Theoderich, who was a close associate of Albert. Theoderich and Albert thus secured a permanent military force in the region but also paved the way for future disputes and conflict. In 1207 Albert met again with King Philip and persuaded him to accept Livonia as a principality of the empire.

From 1210 onward Albert was in continual conflict with the Sword Brethren over the government of the conquered territories. This also came to involve an ever-increasing conflict with Danish crusaders in the northern provinces of Estonia, where Albert’s claims to supremacy were opposed by both the Sword Brethren and the Danes. In 1225 the papal legate William of Modena intervened and to some extent settled the dispute with the Sword Brethren.

During his episcopate Albert sought to loosen his dependency on the archbishopric of Hamburg-Bremen, orienting himself more toward Magdeburg; he evidently intended to have Riga raised to an archbishopric, but he did not realize this aspiration. Bishop Albert died on 17 January 1229 and was buried in the cathedral church of Riga.

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