The Correspondence of David Hilchen

Primary Contributors:

Kristi Viiding, Thomas Hoffmann, Hesi Siimets-Gross, and Patryk Sapala

The signature of David Hilchen, from a letter of 11 August 1609 to Jakob Grynaeus. (University Library Basel, G II 6: Bl. 397; image courtesy of Kristi Viiding)

David Hilchen [Heliconius] (1561–1610)

David Hilchen was Livonia’s most influential humanist and lawyer, serving as secretary to the city of Riga between 1585 and 1589, and from 1589 to 1600 as Syndic of Riga. Hilchen was born in Riga in 1561 into a mercantile family: his father, Hans Hilchen (d. 1597) was of German origin and had moved from Cologne; his mother Catharina Kalb (d. 1588) came from a family in Riga. Hilchen’s older brother Johannes, a pharmacist, became the city physician in Riga and was appointed personal physician in 1600 to the Russian Tsar Boris Godunov.

After completing his basic education in Riga Cathedral School and possibly visiting the Jesuit College in Vilna, Hilchen studied Rhetoric and Law for five years from 1580 at the universities of Ingolstadt, Tübingen, and Heidelberg, concentrating in particular on the law of succession. Upon his return to Riga in 1585, Hilchen eased the crisis thrown into focus during the Calendar Riots (1585–89) by securing through the Severini Contract former privileges in Riga as well as ameliorating the relationship with the City council and the guilds. In 1588, Hilchen founded the first printing shop in Livonia and, six years later, reorganized Riga Cathedral School into the humanist Gymnasium.

As a lawyer, Hilchen compiled numerous laws and regulations for Riga, including the Act of Church Council (Konsistorialordnung, 1588), the Act on Orphans’ Court (Waisengerichtsordnung, 1596), the Regulation of Chancery (Kanzleiordnung, 1598), and the Territorial Law (Landrecht, 1599). Following his ennoblement in 1591, he represented both the City of Riga as well as the Livonian nobility in the Polish Sejm, and in 1597 he attempted to further Livonian and Couronian interests in Polish Sejm, a move which resulted in the Revision of the Livonian Manors by the Royal Commission of Poland (1598–9). This Revision was made possible following Hilchen’s appointment as Secretary to the Polish King and notary of Wenden Voivodeship, which resulted in a complex yet controversial triangular balancing act for him as representative of the City of Riga, of the Livonian nobility, and of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. From 1585 and over the course of the subsequent fifteen years, Hilchen served as a member of more than twenty legations to different rulers and countries.

The accusation by the city of Riga of treason caused Hilchen to flee to Poland in 1600, from where he participated in the Polish-Swedish war in Livonia, assuming the Polish cause, between December 1601 and January 1603. From 1603 he was based at the manor of Orissowo [Horyszów], near Zamość, which belonged to Jan Zamoyski, the Chancellor and Grand Hetman of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Hilchen served as secretary and administrator of the Academy of Zamość. Although he was acquitted by the Polish King Sigismund III in May 1609, Hilchen never returned to Riga, and he died in Orissowo on 4 June 1610.

Hilchen’s written legacy is typical of that of a civic humanist: he compiled numerous Latin orations about politics and educational politics, of which about twenty have survived; he completed and published a short historical monograph about the unrest surrounding calendar reform in Riga (Brevis narratio earum rerum quae An[no] 1585 a 12 die Jan[uarii] juxta Calend[arium] Gregor[ium] Rigae mota in ibidem seditione contra Maiest[atem] reg[iam] nec non consulatum civitatis sine causis legitimis ac probabilibus temere, petulanter et hostiliter attentata ac commissa sunt); he wrote occasional poetry; and he is credited composing the first satire in Livonia (Catharini Santonellae Horti Musarum in Monte Helicone custodis contra Cerberum in Elysijs vallibus excubitorem Heliconi oblatrantem Satyra). He was at his most prolific, however, in his letter-writing.

Partners and Additional Contributors

Metadata for Hilchen’s catalogue in EMLO are being collated and supplied to EMLO by Kristi Viiding, Thomas Hoffmann, and Hesi Siimets-Gross, who are members of a research group based in Tallinn at the Estonian Academy of Sciences Under and Tuglas Literature Centre. Patryk Sapala (National Library, Warsaw) added the metadata for the letters from the Polish archives and libraries. This project is working towards a critical edition of Hilchen’s correspondence. The Hilchen Project was funded by the Senior Fellows Programme of the State of Lower Saxony in the Wolfenbüttel Herzog August Library (2015), the Latvian Academy of Sciences (2014–2015), and the Estonian Research Council (2016–2019).

EMLO would like to thank the COST Action, Reassembling the Republic of Letters, for its generous funding of the Training School held in Tallinn in March 2018, during which the preparatory work for upload to EMLO of Hilchen’s metadata began. The Hilchen Project relied heavily upon the generous assistance of librarians and archivists in the institutions across Europe, in particular in Germany, Latvia, Poland, Sweden, and in the Netherlands. It is only thanks to their invaluable support that this inventory of Hilchen’s extant letters is possible. We would like to thank in particular the Latvian State Historical Archives, Linköping Stifts-och Landsbiblioteket, Warszawa Archiwum Glowne Akt Dawnych; Universitätsbibliothek Basel; Valda Kvaskova (Riga), and Jeannine Landtsheer (Leuven), and Kai Tafenau (National Archives of Estonia).

Key Bibliographic Source(s)

Gustav Bergmann, Vita Davidis ab Hilchen Secretarii regis Poloniae et notarii terrestris Vendensis (Ruini in Livonis, 1803).

Carola L. Gottzmann and Petra Hörner, Lexikon der deutschsprachigen Literatur des Baltikums und St. Petersburgs (Berlin: Verlag Walter de Gruyter, 2007), vol. 2, pp. 57882.

Stanislaw Herbst, ‘Hilchen (Heliconius Livonus) Dawid (1561–1610)’, Polski Słownik Biograficzni, 9 (Wroclaw, 1960–1961), p. 513.

Thomas Hoffmann, Der Landrechtsentwurf David Hilchens von 1599 — ein livländisches Rechtszeugnis polnischer Herrschaft (Frankfurt, 2007).

Stanisław Leliwa, ‘Dawid Hilchen. Szkic biograficzny na tle dziejów inflancko-polskich osnuty’, Bibliotheka Warszawa, 1 (157), (Warszawa, 1880), pp. 2–27, and 383–90.

Herta von Ramm-Helmsing, David Hilchen 1561–1610. Syndikus der Stadt Riga (Posen, 1936).


Hilchen’s surviving private correspondence, both letters by and to him, amounts to almost 800 letters written between 1577 and 1610. Almost all of his private letters were composed in Latin, some with short Greek components. Only few letters to and by him are in German or Polish. Hilchen’s correspondence as high official of Riga City Council is written in High German, however, and is not included in the inventory at present.

Hilchen exchanged letters with almost 200 individuals. The four circles of his correspondents were made up of: 1) German (including Prussian) humanists and academics, in particular the Caseliani in Helmstedt; 2) Polish-Lithuanian humanists, scholars, high officials, and representatives of different religions and orders; 3) Livonian nobility and their sons, officers in the cities and in the countryside, clergy (notably during his exile post 1600), and his own relatives; and 4) eminent Western European humanists, literati, diplomats, and politicians from, for example, the Low Countries, France, and Denmark. Hilchen corresponded with a broad range of scholars including Justus Lipsius, Johannes Wouwer, Janus Dousa, Isaac Casaubon, Johannes Caselius, Friedrich Taubmann, Jakob Monau, David Chytraeus, Christoph Pelargus, and Salomon Frenzel von Friedenthal, as well as with Adam Burski, Jan Dymitr Solikowski, Szymon Szymonowic, and Andrzej Wolan.

As he was in the service of many patrons from 1600 onwards (for example, Jürgen von Fahrensbach from 1600–02, Jan Zamoyski from 1602–05, and Micołaj Zebrzydowsky from 1605–10), Hilchen wrote more than 100 letters in Latin in the name of, and on behalf of, others within his patronage circles who were themselves not able to write Latin. These letters are included in the present inventory and both individuals have been recorded as the author of the letter.

Hilchen intended to publish many of his letters. The manuscripts preserved in Riga Latvian State Historical Archives (Books I–VI) and Linköping Stifts- och Landsbiblioteket (Books I–IV) reveal that a collection of six volumes was planned: Books I and II were to have been Epistolae officiales [letters to high officials]; Books III and IV would have been Epistolae nomine aliorum; and Books V and VI Epistolae familiares [letters to scholars and humanists, as well as to his family members]. As H. von Ramm-Helmsing has observed, one set of the letters was copied for Hilchen’s oldest son David the younger, and the other set was for his second son Franz. Yet this collection was never published and only a very few laudatory and consolatory letters to certain high representatives of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Livonian nobility were printed during Hilchen’s lifetime.


The largest collections of Hilchen’s surviving letters are to be found in the Latvian State Historical Archives in Riga and in the Linköping Stifts- och Landsbiblioteket. Smaller numbers, including letters to and from German humanists, are in the care of the Herzog August Library in Wolfenbüttel; the State and University Library Hamburg Carl von Ossietzky; the Library of the Gymnasium Christianeum in Hamburg; and Basel University Library. Letters to Polish and Lithuanian correspondents are now in Central Archives of Historical Records in Warsaw.

Scope of Catalogue

This catalogue of Hilchen’s correspondence in EMLO is being published in two installments. The first consists of the basic metadata for ninety-eight surviving letters sent by and to Hilchen prior to his departure from Livonia at the end of January 1603; these span the quarter of a century from 1577. The metadata of letters written during Hilchen’s exile in Poland (between March 1603 and May 1610, the month before his death) makes up the second installment and will be added to EMLO in the autumn of 2019. Undated letters (including those which may be inferred as having been written before Hilchen’s move from Livonia) will be added to the inventory at the time of this second upload.

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