Who we are today
During the first half of the 13th century, the German Order of Knights (Teutonic Knights) entered the area of today's Baltic states in order to christianize the region. Following feudal practice, much of the Order's land was divided among the German noble families. Meanwhile in the towns a German mercantile class developed. This German-speaking segment constituted a small minority of the total population. As a result of the suppression of the Order and its lands during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, this area fell under the sovereignty of Sweden and Poland, which at that time dominated the Baltic Sea. Despite these changes, local self-government remained in the hands of the four aristocratic corporations of Livland, Estonia, Courland and Oesel.
With the growth of Russian power in the 18th century, Livland, Estonia (with the island of Oesel) and Courland became Russian provinces. The Russian sovereigns recognized the four aristocratic corporations' traditional privileges - German language, Lutheran religion and self-government.
Defeat of Tsarist Russia in WWI and the growth of Latvian and Estonian nationalism led to the founding in 1920 of Latvia and Estonia as independent Baltic states. The traditional aristocratic corporations lost their legal-political status and were reduced to charitable organizations. Most of the property belonging to German-speaking Balts, especially the estates, was confiscated. Many of these families emigrated, the majority to Germany but also overseas.
Two decades later in 1939, following agreement between Hitler and Stalin to divide up Poland and the Baltic states through the Molotov-Ribbentropp pact, the remaining German-speaking Balts were forced to leave their homeland and were evacuated to German-occupied Poland.
At the end of WW II, those Balts settled in 1939 in the East fled to what was to become West Germany. In 1949 some of their representatives came together to form the Association of Baltic Noble Corporations (Verband der Baltischen Ritterschaften e.V.) as a public and charitable organization. Its aims to foster an appreciation for aristocratic Baltic traditions and history, which are in many ways shared with the current Baltic states, and to support these states internationally. The Association deems it of utmost importance to link Baltic noble families, the historical backbone of the four aristocratic corporations, and to encourage their organizations, meetings, and youth activities.
An additional reason for the foundation of the Association was to develop official affiliation with the German noblity. This relationship permitted the Association to push for recognition under German law of Baltic titles, which had until then been regulated by Estonian or Latvian law. Finally, the Association cultivates contacts with other European nobles and their organizations, especially as regards youth activities.