Szlachta

Szlachta

Overview

The szlachta was a legally privileged noble
Nobility
Nobility is a social class which possesses more acknowledged privileges or eminence than members of most other classes in a society, membership therein typically being hereditary. The privileges associated with nobility may constitute substantial advantages over or relative to non-nobles, or may be...

 class
Social class
Social classes are economic or cultural arrangements of groups in society. Class is an essential object of analysis for sociologists, political scientists, economists, anthropologists and social historians. In the social sciences, social class is often discussed in terms of 'social stratification'...

 with origins in the Kingdom of Poland
Kingdom of Poland (1385–1569)
The Kingdom of Poland of the Jagiellons was the Polish state created by the accession of Jogaila , Grand Duke of Lithuania, to the Polish throne in 1386. The Union of Krewo or Krėva Act, united Poland and Lithuania under the rule of a single monarch...

. It gained considerable institutional privileges during the 1333-1370 reign of Casimir the Great. In 1413, following a series of tentative personal union
Personal union
A personal union is the combination by which two or more different states have the same monarch while their boundaries, their laws and their interests remain distinct. It should not be confused with a federation which is internationally considered a single state...

s between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Grand Duchy of Lithuania
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a European state from the 12th /13th century until 1569 and then as a constituent part of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1791 when Constitution of May 3, 1791 abolished it in favor of unitary state. It was founded by the Lithuanians, one of the polytheistic...

 and the Kingdom of Poland, the existing Lithuanian nobility formally joined this class. As the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was a dualistic state of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch. It was the largest and one of the most populous countries of 16th- and 17th‑century Europe with some and a multi-ethnic population of 11 million at its peak in the early 17th century...

 (1569–1795) evolved, its membership grew to include leaders of Ducal Prussia
Ducal Prussia
The Duchy of Prussia or Ducal Prussia was a duchy in the eastern part of Prussia from 1525–1701. It was the first Protestant duchy with a dominant German-speaking population, as well as Polish and Lithuanian minorities...

 and Ruthenia
Ruthenia
Ruthenia is the Latin word used onwards from the 13th century, describing lands of the Ancient Rus in European manuscripts. Its geographic and culturo-ethnic name at that time was applied to the parts of Eastern Europe. Essentially, the word is a false Latin rendering of the ancient place name Rus...

n lands.

The origins of the szlachta are shrouded in obscurity and mystery and have been the subject of a variety of theories.
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The szlachta was a legally privileged noble
Nobility
Nobility is a social class which possesses more acknowledged privileges or eminence than members of most other classes in a society, membership therein typically being hereditary. The privileges associated with nobility may constitute substantial advantages over or relative to non-nobles, or may be...

 class
Social class
Social classes are economic or cultural arrangements of groups in society. Class is an essential object of analysis for sociologists, political scientists, economists, anthropologists and social historians. In the social sciences, social class is often discussed in terms of 'social stratification'...

 with origins in the Kingdom of Poland
Kingdom of Poland (1385–1569)
The Kingdom of Poland of the Jagiellons was the Polish state created by the accession of Jogaila , Grand Duke of Lithuania, to the Polish throne in 1386. The Union of Krewo or Krėva Act, united Poland and Lithuania under the rule of a single monarch...

. It gained considerable institutional privileges during the 1333-1370 reign of Casimir the Great. In 1413, following a series of tentative personal union
Personal union
A personal union is the combination by which two or more different states have the same monarch while their boundaries, their laws and their interests remain distinct. It should not be confused with a federation which is internationally considered a single state...

s between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Grand Duchy of Lithuania
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a European state from the 12th /13th century until 1569 and then as a constituent part of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1791 when Constitution of May 3, 1791 abolished it in favor of unitary state. It was founded by the Lithuanians, one of the polytheistic...

 and the Kingdom of Poland, the existing Lithuanian nobility formally joined this class. As the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was a dualistic state of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch. It was the largest and one of the most populous countries of 16th- and 17th‑century Europe with some and a multi-ethnic population of 11 million at its peak in the early 17th century...

 (1569–1795) evolved, its membership grew to include leaders of Ducal Prussia
Ducal Prussia
The Duchy of Prussia or Ducal Prussia was a duchy in the eastern part of Prussia from 1525–1701. It was the first Protestant duchy with a dominant German-speaking population, as well as Polish and Lithuanian minorities...

 and Ruthenia
Ruthenia
Ruthenia is the Latin word used onwards from the 13th century, describing lands of the Ancient Rus in European manuscripts. Its geographic and culturo-ethnic name at that time was applied to the parts of Eastern Europe. Essentially, the word is a false Latin rendering of the ancient place name Rus...

n lands.

The origins of the szlachta are shrouded in obscurity and mystery and have been the subject of a variety of theories. Traditionally, its members were owners of landed property
Landed property
Landed property or landed estates is a real estate term that usually refers to a property that generates income for the owner without the owner having to do the actual work of the estate. In Europe, agrarian landed property typically consisted of a manor, several tenant farms, and some privileged...

, often in the form of "manor farms" or folwark
Folwark
Folwark is a Polish word for a primarily serfdom-based farm and agricultural enterprise , often very large. Folwarks were operated in the Crown of Poland from the 14th century and in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania since the 15th century, from the second half of the 16th century in the joint...

s
. The nobility negotiated substantial and increasing political and legal privilege
Privilege
A privilege is a special entitlement to immunity granted by the state or another authority to a restricted group, either by birth or on a conditional basis. It can be revoked in certain circumstances. In modern democratic states, a privilege is conditional and granted only after birth...

s for itself throughout its entire history until the decline of the Polish Commonwealth in the late 18th century

During the Partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
Partitions of Poland
The Partitions of Poland or Partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth took place in the second half of the 18th century and ended the existence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, resulting in the elimination of sovereign Poland for 123 years...

 from 1772 to 1795, its members began to lose these legal privileges. From that point until 1918, the legal status of the nobility was essentially dependent upon the policies of the three partitioning powers: the Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

, the Kingdom of Prussia
Kingdom of Prussia
The Kingdom of Prussia was a German kingdom from 1701 to 1918. Until the defeat of Germany in World War I, it comprised almost two-thirds of the area of the German Empire...

, and the Habsburg Monarchy
Habsburg Monarchy
The Habsburg Monarchy covered the territories ruled by the junior Austrian branch of the House of Habsburg , and then by the successor House of Habsburg-Lorraine , between 1526 and 1867/1918. The Imperial capital was Vienna, except from 1583 to 1611, when it was moved to Prague...

. The legal privileges of the szlachta were legally abolished in the Second Polish Republic
Second Polish Republic
The Second Polish Republic, Second Commonwealth of Poland or interwar Poland refers to Poland between the two world wars; a period in Polish history in which Poland was restored as an independent state. Officially known as the Republic of Poland or the Commonwealth of Poland , the Polish state was...

 by the March Constitution in 1921.

Etymology


The Polish term "szlachta" designates the formalized, hereditary noble class of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In official Latin documents of the old Commonwealth
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was a dualistic state of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch. It was the largest and one of the most populous countries of 16th- and 17th‑century Europe with some and a multi-ethnic population of 11 million at its peak in the early 17th century...

, hereditary szlachta are referred to as "nobilitas" and are indeed the equivalent in legal status of the English nobility. In the past, a misconception existed regarding this point which sometimes led to the mistaken practice of translating the term "szlachta" as "gentry" rather than "nobility". This mistaken practice began as a result of the fact that the economic status of some individual szlachta was inferior to that of the nobility of England and other European countries (SEE: Estates of the Realm regarding wealth and nobility). It is true that some szlachta were poorer than some non-noble gentry
Gentry
Gentry denotes "well-born and well-bred people" of high social class, especially in the past....

 and that some particularly impoverished szlachta were forced to become tenants of the wealthier gentry. In doing so, however, these szlachta retained all their constitutional prerogatives, as it was not wealth or lifestyle (obtainable by the gentry) that constituted nobility, but rather, hereditary juridical status. A specific nobleman was called a "szlachcic," and a noblewoman, a "szlachcianka".

"Szlachta" derives from the Old German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 word "slahta" (now "(Adels) Geschlecht", "(noble) family"), much as many other Polish words pertaining to the nobility derive from German words — e.g., the Polish "rycerz" ("knight", cognate of the German "Ritter") and the Polish "herb" ("coat of arms", from the German "Erbe", "heritage"). Poles of the 17th century assumed that "szlachta" was from the German "schlachten" ("to slaughter" or "to butcher"); also suggestive is the German "Schlacht" ("battle"). Early Polish historians thought the term may have derived from the name of the legendary proto-Polish chief, Lech
Lech, Czech and Rus
Lech, Čech, and Rus is a legend of three brothers – Lech, Čech, and Rus – who founded three Slavic nations: Poland , Bohemia, and Ruthenia...

, mentioned in Polish and Czech writings.

Kindred terms that might be applied to an early Polish nobleman were "rycerz" (from German Ritter, "knight
Knight
A knight was a member of a class of lower nobility in the High Middle Ages.By the Late Middle Ages, the rank had become associated with the ideals of chivalry, a code of conduct for the perfect courtly Christian warrior....

"), the Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 "nobilis" ("noble"; plural: "nobiles") and "możny" ("magnate
Magnate
Magnate, from the Late Latin magnas, a great man, itself from Latin magnus 'great', designates a noble or other man in a high social position, by birth, wealth or other qualities...

", "oligarch"; plural: "możni"). Some powerful Polish nobles were referred to as "magnates" (Polish singular: "magnat", plural: "magnaci"). It has to be remembered however, that not all knights were nobles.

Today the word szlachta in the Polish language denotes any noble class in the world. In broadest meaning, it can also denote some non-hereditary honorary knighthoods granted today by some European monarchs. Even some 19th century non-noble land owners would be called szlachta by courtesy or error as they owned manorial estates but were not noble by birth. In the narrow sense it denotes the old-Commonwealth
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was a dualistic state of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch. It was the largest and one of the most populous countries of 16th- and 17th‑century Europe with some and a multi-ethnic population of 11 million at its peak in the early 17th century...

 nobility.

Origins




Polish


The origins of the szlachta, while ancient, have always been considered obscure. As a result, its members often referred to it as odwieczna (perennial). Two popular historic theories of origin forwarded by its members and earlier historians and chroniclers involved descent from the Sarmatians or from Japheth
Japheth
Japheth is one of the sons of Noah in the Abrahamic tradition...

, one of Noah
Noah
Noah was, according to the Hebrew Bible, the tenth and last of the antediluvian Patriarchs. The biblical story of Noah is contained in chapters 6–9 of the book of Genesis, where he saves his family and representatives of all animals from the flood by constructing an ark...

's sons (by contrast, the peasantry were said to be the offspring of another son of Noah, Ham
Ham, son of Noah
Ham , according to the Table of Nations in the Book of Genesis, was a son of Noah and the father of Cush, Mizraim, Phut and Canaan.- Hebrew Bible :The story of Ham is related in , King James Version:...

 - and hence subject to bondage under the Curse of Ham
Curse of Ham
The Curse of Ham is a possible misnomer, for the Curse of Canaan. The curse refers to Noah cursing Ham's offspring Canaan, for Ham's own transgression against his father, according to Genesis in the Hebrew Bible. The debate regarding upon whom the curse fell has raged for at least two thousand...

 - and the Jews as the offspring of Shem
Shem
Shem was one of the sons of Noah in the Hebrew Bible as well as in Islamic literature. He is most popularly regarded as the eldest son, though some traditions regard him as the second son. Genesis 10:21 refers to relative ages of Shem and his brother Japheth, but with sufficient ambiguity in each...

). Other fanciful theories included its foundation by Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

, Alexander the Great or regional leaders who had not mixed their bloodlines with those of 'slaves, prisoners, and aliens'. Another theory describes its derivation from a Slavic warrior
Warrior
A warrior is a person skilled in combat or warfare, especially within the context of a tribal or clan-based society that recognizes a separate warrior class.-Warrior classes in tribal culture:...

 class, forming a distinct element within the ancient Polonic tribal groupings (SEE:  Indo-European caste systems). Around the 14th century, there was little difference between knights and the szlachta in Poland. Members of the szlachta had the personal obligation to defend the country (pospolite ruszenie
Pospolite ruszenie
Pospolite ruszenie , is an anachronistic term describing the mobilisation of armed forces, especially during the period of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The tradition of wartime mobilisation of part of the population existed from before the 13th century to the 19th century...

), thereby becoming the kingdom's most privileged social class. Inclusion in the class was almost exclusively based on inheritance.

Concerning the early Polish tribes, geography contributed to long-standing traditions. The Polish tribes were internalized and organized around a unifying religious cult, governed by the wiec
Veche
Veche was a popular assembly in medieval Slavic countries.In Novgorod, where the veche acquired the greatest prominence, the veche was broadly similar to the Norse thing or the Swiss Landsgemeinde.-Etymology:...

, an assembly of free tribesmen. Later, when safety required power to be consolidated, an elected prince was chosen to govern.

The tribes were ruled by clans (ród
Rod (god)
Rod is a Slavic deity, often mentioned in the Old Church Slavonic didactic literature which was directed against pagans...

) consisting of people related by blood or marriage and theoretically descending from a common ancestor, giving the ród/clan a highly developed sense of solidarity. (See gens
Gens
In ancient Rome, a gens , plural gentes, referred to a family, consisting of all those individuals who shared the same nomen and claimed descent from a common ancestor. A branch of a gens was called a stirps . The gens was an important social structure at Rome and throughout Italy during the...

.) The starosta
Starosta
Starost is a title for an official or unofficial position of leadership that has been used in various contexts through most of Slavic history. It can be translated as "elder"...

(or starszyna) had judicial and military power over the ród/clan, although this power was often exercised with an assembly of elders. Strongholds called grόd
Gord (Slavic settlement)
Gord is a medieval Slavic fortified settlement. This Proto-Slavic word for town or city, later differentiated into grad , gard, gorod , etc. The ancient peoples were known for building wooden fortified settlements...

were built where the religious cult was powerful, where trials were conducted, and where clans gathered in the face of danger. The opole was the territory occupied by a single tribe. .

Mieszko I of Poland
Mieszko I of Poland
Mieszko I , was a Duke of the Polans from about 960 until his death. A member of the Piast dynasty, he was son of Siemomysł; grandchild of Lestek; father of Bolesław I the Brave, the first crowned King of Poland; likely father of Świętosława , a Nordic Queen; and grandfather of her son, Cnut the...

 (c. 935 – 25 May 992) established an elite knightly retinue from within his army, which he depended upon for success in uniting the Lekhitic
Lechites
Lechites – an ethnic and linguistic group of West Slavs, the ancestors of modern Poles and the historical Pomeranians and Polabians.-History:...

 tribes and preserving the unity of his state. Documented proof exists of Mieszko I's successors utilizing such a retinue, as well.

Another class of knights were granted land by the prince, allowing them the economic ability to serve the prince militarily. A Polish nobleman living at the time prior to the 15th century was referred to as a "rycerz", very roughly equivalent to the English "knight," the critical difference being the status of "rycerz" was already almost strictly hereditary; the class of all such individuals was known as the "rycerstwo". Representing the wealthier families of Poland and itinerant knights from abroad seeking their fortunes, this other class of rycerstwo, which became the szlachta/nobility ("szlachta" becomes the proper term for Polish nobility beginning about the 15th century), gradually formed apart from Mieszko I's and his successors' elite retinues. This rycerstwo/nobility obtained more privileges granting them favored status. They were absolved from particular burdens and obligations under ducal law, resulting in the belief only rycerstwo (those combining military prowess with high/noble birth) could serve as officials in state administration.

Select rycerstwo were distinguished above the other rycerstwo, because they descended from past tribal dynasties, or because early Piasts'
Piast dynasty
The Piast dynasty was the first historical ruling dynasty of Poland. It began with the semi-legendary Piast Kołodziej . The first historical ruler was Duke Mieszko I . The Piasts' royal rule in Poland ended in 1370 with the death of king Casimir the Great...

 endowments made them select beneficiaries. These rycerstwo of great wealth were called możni (Magnates). Socially they were not a distinct class from the rycerstwo from which they all originated and to which they would return were their wealth lost. .

The Period of Division from, A.D., 1138 - A.D., 1314, which included nearly 200 years of feudal fragmentation and which stemmed from Bolesław III's division of Poland among his sons, was the genesis of the social structure which saw the economic elevation of the great landowning feudal nobles (możni/Magnates, both ecclesiastical and lay) from the rycerstwo they originated from. The prior social structure was one of Polish tribes united into the historic Polish nation under a state ruled by the Piast dynasty
Piast dynasty
The Piast dynasty was the first historical ruling dynasty of Poland. It began with the semi-legendary Piast Kołodziej . The first historical ruler was Duke Mieszko I . The Piasts' royal rule in Poland ended in 1370 with the death of king Casimir the Great...

, this dynasty appearing circa 850 A.D.

Some możni (Magnates) descending from past tribal dynasties regarded themselves as co-proprietors of Piast realms, even though the Piasts attempted to deprive them of their independence. These możni (Magnates) constantly sought to undermine princely authority. In Gall Anonym's
Gallus Anonymus
Gallus Anonymus is the name traditionally given to the anonymous author of Gesta principum Polonorum , composed in Latin about 1115....

 chronicle, there is noted the nobility's alarm when the Palatine
Count palatine
Count palatine is a high noble title, used to render several comital styles, in some cases also shortened to Palatine, which can have other meanings as well.-Comes palatinus:...

 Sieciech "elevated those of a lower class over those who were noble born" entrusting them with state offices.

Lithuanian



In Lithuania Propria, Samogitia
Samogitia
Samogitia is one of the five ethnographic regions of Lithuania. It is located in northwestern Lithuania. Its largest city is Šiauliai/Šiaulē. The region has a long and distinct cultural history, reflected in the existence of the Samogitian dialect...

 and Prussia, prior to the creation of the Kingdom of Lithuania
Kingdom of Lithuania
The Kingdom of Lithuania was a Lithuanian monarchy which existed from 1251 to roughly 1263. King Mindaugas was the first and only crowned king of Lithuania. The status of a kingdom was lost after Mindaugas' assassination in 1263. Other monarchs of Lithuania are referred to as Grand Dukes, even...

 by Mindaugas
Mindaugas
Mindaugas was the first known Grand Duke of Lithuania and the only King of Lithuania. Little is known of his origins, early life, or rise to power; he is mentioned in a 1219 treaty as an elder duke, and in 1236 as the leader of all the Lithuanians...

, nobles were called 'bajorai' and the higher nobility 'kunigai' or 'kunigaikščiai' (dukes). They were the established local leaders and warlords. During the development of the state they gradually became subordinated to higher dukes, and later to the King of Lithuania.

After the Union of Horodło  the Lithuanian nobility acquired equal status with the Polish szlachta, and over time began to become more and more polonized, although they did preserve their nation
Nation
A nation may refer to a community of people who share a common language, culture, ethnicity, descent, and/or history. In this definition, a nation has no physical borders. However, it can also refer to people who share a common territory and government irrespective of their ethnic make-up...

al consciousness, and in most cases recognition of their Lithuanian family roots. In the 16th century some of the Lithuanian nobility erroneously claimed that they were of Roman extraction, and the Lithuanian language
Lithuanian language
Lithuanian is the official state language of Lithuania and is recognized as one of the official languages of the European Union. There are about 2.96 million native Lithuanian speakers in Lithuania and about 170,000 abroad. Lithuanian is a Baltic language, closely related to Latvian, although they...

 was just a morphed Latin language.

The process of polonization
Polonization
Polonization was the acquisition or imposition of elements of Polish culture, in particular, Polish language, as experienced in some historic periods by non-Polish populations of territories controlled or substantially influenced by Poland...

 took place over a lengthy period of time. At first only the highest members of the nobility were involved, although gradually a wider group of the population was affected. The major effects on the lesser Lithuanian nobility took place after various sanctions were imposed by the Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

 such as removing Lithuania from the names of the Gubernyas few years after the November Uprising
November Uprising
The November Uprising , Polish–Russian War 1830–31 also known as the Cadet Revolution, was an armed rebellion in the heartland of partitioned Poland against the Russian Empire. The uprising began on 29 November 1830 in Warsaw when the young Polish officers from the local Army of the Congress...

. After the January Uprising
January Uprising
The January Uprising was an uprising in the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth against the Russian Empire...

 the sanctions went further, and Russian officials announced that "Lithuanians are Russians seduced by Poles and Catholicism" and began to intensify russification, and to ban
Lithuanian press ban
The Lithuanian press ban was a ban on all Lithuanian language publications printed in the Latin alphabet within the Russian Empire, which controlled Lithuania at the time. Lithuanian-language publications that used the Cyrillic alphabet were allowed and even encouraged...

 the printing of books in the Lithuanian language.

Ruthenian


In Ruthenia
Ruthenia
Ruthenia is the Latin word used onwards from the 13th century, describing lands of the Ancient Rus in European manuscripts. Its geographic and culturo-ethnic name at that time was applied to the parts of Eastern Europe. Essentially, the word is a false Latin rendering of the ancient place name Rus...

 (Ukraine
Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

) the nobility gradually gravitated its loyalty towards the multicultural and multilingual Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Grand Duchy of Lithuania
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a European state from the 12th /13th century until 1569 and then as a constituent part of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1791 when Constitution of May 3, 1791 abolished it in favor of unitary state. It was founded by the Lithuanians, one of the polytheistic...

 after the principalities of Halych
Halych
Halych is a historic city on the Dniester River in western Ukraine. The town gave its name to the historic province and kingdom of Kingdom of Galicia–Volhynia, of which it was the capital until the early 14th century, when the seat of the local princes was moved to Lviv...

 and Volhynia
Volhynia
Volhynia, Volynia, or Volyn is a historic region in western Ukraine located between the rivers Prypiat and Southern Bug River, to the north of Galicia and Podolia; the region is named for the former city of Volyn or Velyn, said to have been located on the Southern Bug River, whose name may come...

 became a part of it. Many noble Ruthenian families intermarried with Lithuanian ones.

The Orthodox nobles' rights were nominally equal to those enjoyed by Polish and Lithuanian nobility, but there was a cultural pressure to convert to Catholicism, that was greatly eased in 1596 by the Union of Brest
Union of Brest
Union of Brest or Union of Brześć refers to the 1595-1596 decision of the Church of Rus', the "Metropolia of Kiev-Halych and all Rus'", to break relations with the Patriarch of Constantinople and place themselves under the Pope of Rome. At the time, this church included most Ukrainians and...

. See for example careers of Senator Adam Kisiel
Adam Kisiel
Adam Świętołdycz Kisiel was the Voivode of Kiev and castellan or voivode of Czernihów . He was the last Orthodox senator of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth...

 and Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki.

Privileges


See also Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth#State organisation and politics

Significant legislative changes in the status of the szlachta, as defined by Robert Bideleux and Ian Jeffries, consist of its 1374 exemption from the land tax, a 1425 guarantee against the 'arbitrary arrests and/or seizure of property' of its members, a 1454 requirement that military forces and new taxes be approved by provincial Sejm
Sejm
The Sejm is the lower house of the Polish parliament. The Sejm is made up of 460 deputies, or Poseł in Polish . It is elected by universal ballot and is presided over by a speaker called the Marshal of the Sejm ....

s, and statutes issued between 1496 and 1611 that prescribed the rights of commoners.

Nobles were born into a noble family, adopted by a noble family (this was abolished in 1633) or ennobled by a king or Sejm
Sejm
The Sejm is the lower house of the Polish parliament. The Sejm is made up of 460 deputies, or Poseł in Polish . It is elected by universal ballot and is presided over by a speaker called the Marshal of the Sejm ....

 for various reasons (bravery in combat, service to the state, etc. - yet this was the rarest means of gaining noble status). Many nobles were, in actuality, really usurpers, being commoners, who moved into another part of the country and falsely pretended to noble status. Hundreds of such false nobles were denounced by Hieronim Nekanda Trepka in his Liber generationis plebeanorium (or Liber chamorum) in the first half of 16th century. The law forbade non-nobles from owning nobility-estates and promised the estate to the denouncer. Trepka was an impoverished nobleman who lived a townsman life and collected hundreds of such stories hoping to take over any of such estates. It does not seem he ever succeeded in proving one at the court. Many sejms issued decrees over the centuries in an attempt to resolve this issue, but with little success. It is unknown what percentage of the Polish nobility came from the 'lower' orders of society, but most historians agree that nobles of such base origins formed a 'significant' element of the szlachta.

The Polish nobility enjoyed many rights that were not available to the noble classes of other countries and, typically, each new monarch conceded them further privileges. Those privileges became the basis of the Golden Liberty
Golden Liberty
Golden Liberty , sometimes referred to as Golden Freedoms, Nobles' Democracy or Nobles' Commonwealth refers to a unique aristocratic political system in the Kingdom of Poland and later, after the Union of Lublin , in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth...

 in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Despite having a king, Poland was called the nobility's Commonwealth
Rzeczpospolita
Rzeczpospolita is a traditional name of the Polish State, usually referred to as Rzeczpospolita Polska . It comes from the words: "rzecz" and "pospolita" , literally, a "common thing". It comes from latin word "respublica", meaning simply "republic"...

 because the king was elected by all interested members of hereditary nobility and Poland was considered to be the property of this class, not of the king or the ruling dynasty
Dynasty
A dynasty is a sequence of rulers considered members of the same family. Historians traditionally consider many sovereign states' history within a framework of successive dynasties, e.g., China, Ancient Egypt and the Persian Empire...

. This state of affairs grew up in part because of the extinction of the male-line descendants of the old royal dynasty (first the Piasts, then the Jagiellons), and the selection by the nobility of the Polish king from among the dynasty's female-line descendants.

Poland's successive kings granted privileges to the nobility at the time of their election to the throne (the privileges being specified in the king-elect's Pacta conventa
Pacta conventa (Poland)
Pacta conventa was a contractual agreement, from 1573 to 1764 entered into between the "Polish nation" and a newly-elected king upon his "free election" to the throne.The pacta conventa affirmed the king-elect's pledge to respect the laws of the...

) and at other times in exchange for ad hoc
Ad hoc
Ad hoc is a Latin phrase meaning "for this". It generally signifies a solution designed for a specific problem or task, non-generalizable, and not intended to be able to be adapted to other purposes. Compare A priori....

permission to raise an extraordinary tax or a pospolite ruszenie
Pospolite ruszenie
Pospolite ruszenie , is an anachronistic term describing the mobilisation of armed forces, especially during the period of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The tradition of wartime mobilisation of part of the population existed from before the 13th century to the 19th century...

.

Poland's nobility thus accumulated a growing array of privileges and immunities:

In 1355 in Buda
Buda
For detailed information see: History of Buda CastleBuda is the western part of the Hungarian capital Budapest on the west bank of the Danube. The name Buda takes its name from the name of Bleda the Hun ruler, whose name is also Buda in Hungarian.Buda comprises about one-third of Budapest's...

 King Casimir III the Great (Kazimierz Wielki)
Casimir III of Poland
Casimir III the Great , last King of Poland from the Piast dynasty , was the son of King Władysław I the Elbow-high and Hedwig of Kalisz.-Biography:...

 issued the first country-wide privilege for the nobility, in exchange for their agreement that in the lack of Kazimierz
Casimir III of Poland
Casimir III the Great , last King of Poland from the Piast dynasty , was the son of King Władysław I the Elbow-high and Hedwig of Kalisz.-Biography:...

 male heirs, the throne would pass to his nephew, Louis I of Hungary. He decreed that the nobility would no longer be subject to 'extraordinary' taxes, or use their own funds for military expeditions abroad. He also promised that during travels of the royal court, the king and the court would pay for all expenses, instead of using facilities of local nobility.

In 1374 King Louis of Hungary approved the Privilege of Koszyce
Privilege of Koszyce
The Privilege of Koszyce was a set of concessions made by Louis I of Hungary to the Polish szlachta in 1374. The privileges were granted in Košice...

 (Polish: "przywilej koszycki" or "ugoda koszycka") in Košice
Košice
Košice is a city in eastern Slovakia. It is situated on the river Hornád at the eastern reaches of the Slovak Ore Mountains, near the border with Hungary...

 in order to guarantee the Polish throne for his daughter Jadwiga
Jadwiga of Poland
Jadwiga was monarch of Poland from 1384 to her death. Her official title was 'king' rather than 'queen', reflecting that she was a sovereign in her own right and not merely a royal consort. She was a member of the Capetian House of Anjou, the daughter of King Louis I of Hungary and Elizabeth of...

. He broadened the definition of who was a member of the nobility and exempted the entire class from all but one tax (łanowy, which was limited to 2 grosz
Grosz
Grosz may refer to:* Grosz, a coin used in Poland as a hundredth part of 1 złoty. Złoty is Polish currency* Kraków grosz, 14th century coins of Kraków* Groschen, a coin used in various statesGrosz or Grósz is the surname of:...

e from łan (an old measure of land size)). In addition, the King's right to raise taxes was abolished; no new taxes could be raised without the agreement of the nobility. Henceforth, also, district offices (Polish: "urzędy ziemskie") were reserved exclusively for local nobility, as the Privilege of Koszyce forbade the king to grant official posts and major Polish castles to foreign knights. Finally, this privilege obliged the King to pay indemnities
Indemnity
An indemnity is a sum paid by A to B by way of compensation for a particular loss suffered by B. The indemnitor may or may not be responsible for the loss suffered by the indemnitee...

 to nobles injured or taken captive during a war outside Polish borders.

In 1422 King Władysław II Jagiełło by the Privilege of Czerwińsk (Polish: "przywilej czerwiński") established the inviolability of nobles' property (their estates could not be confiscated except upon a court verdict) and ceded some jurisdiction over fiscal policy
Fiscal policy
In economics and political science, fiscal policy is the use of government expenditure and revenue collection to influence the economy....

 to the Royal Council
Privy council
A privy council is a body that advises the head of state of a nation, typically, but not always, in the context of a monarchic government. The word "privy" means "private" or "secret"; thus, a privy council was originally a committee of the monarch's closest advisors to give confidential advice on...

 (later, the Senat of Poland), including the right to mint
Mint (coin)
A mint is an industrial facility which manufactures coins for currency.The history of mints correlates closely with the history of coins. One difference is that the history of the mint is usually closely tied to the political situation of an era...

 coin
Coin
A coin is a piece of hard material that is standardized in weight, is produced in large quantities in order to facilitate trade, and primarily can be used as a legal tender token for commerce in the designated country, region, or territory....

age.

In 1430 with the Privileges of Jedlnia, confirmed at Kraków
Kraków
Kraków also Krakow, or Cracow , is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River in the Lesser Poland region, the city dates back to the 7th century. Kraków has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, cultural, and artistic life...

 in 1433 (Polish: "przywileje jedlneńsko-krakowskie"), based partially on his earlier Brześć Kujawski
Brzesc Kujawski
Brześć Kujawski is a town in the Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship, Population - 4,521 , Poland.It has been the seat of one of two small duchies into which Kuyavia has been temporarily divided....

 privilege (April 25, 1425), King Władysław II Jagiełło granted the nobility a guarantee against arbitrary arrest, similar to the English Magna Carta
Magna Carta
Magna Carta is an English charter, originally issued in the year 1215 and reissued later in the 13th century in modified versions, which included the most direct challenges to the monarch's authority to date. The charter first passed into law in 1225...

's Habeas corpus
Habeas corpus
is a writ, or legal action, through which a prisoner can be released from unlawful detention. The remedy can be sought by the prisoner or by another person coming to his aid. Habeas corpus originated in the English legal system, but it is now available in many nations...

, known from its own Latin name as "neminem captivabimus
Neminem captivabimus
Neminem captivabimus is a legal term in Lithuanian and Polish historical law.Short for , ....

 (nisi jure victum)." Henceforth no member of the nobility could be imprisoned without a warrant
Arrest warrant
An arrest warrant is a warrant issued by and on behalf of the state, which authorizes the arrest and detention of an individual.-Canada:Arrest warrants are issued by a judge or justice of the peace under the Criminal Code of Canada....

 from a court of justice: the king could neither punish nor imprison any noble at his whim. King Władysław's quid pro quo
Quid pro quo
Quid pro quo most often means a more-or-less equal exchange or substitution of goods or services. English speakers often use the term to mean "a favour for a favour" and the phrases with almost identical meaning include: "give and take", "tit for tat", "this for that", and "you scratch my back,...

for this boon was the nobles' guarantee that his throne would be inherited by one of his sons (who would be bound to honour the privileges theretofore granted to the nobility). On May 2, 1447 the same king issued the Wilno Privilege which gave the Lithuanian
Grand Duchy of Lithuania
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a European state from the 12th /13th century until 1569 and then as a constituent part of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1791 when Constitution of May 3, 1791 abolished it in favor of unitary state. It was founded by the Lithuanians, one of the polytheistic...

 boyar
Boyar
A boyar, or bolyar , was a member of the highest rank of the feudal Moscovian, Kievan Rus'ian, Bulgarian, Wallachian, and Moldavian aristocracies, second only to the ruling princes , from the 10th century through the 17th century....

s the same rights as those possessed by the Polishszlachta.
In 1454 King Kazimierz IV Jagiellon granted the Nieszawa Statutes (Polish: "statuty cerkwicko-nieszawskie"), clarifying the legal basis of voivodship sejmik
Sejmik
A sejmik was a regional assembly in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and earlier in the Kingdom of Poland. Sejmiks existed until the end of the Commonwealth in 1795 following the partitions of the Commonwealth...

s (local parliaments). The king could promulgate
Promulgation
Promulgation is the act of formally proclaiming or declaring a new statutory or administrative law after its enactment. In some jurisdictions this additional step is necessary before the law can take effect....

 new laws, raise taxes, or call for a levée en masse
Levée en masse
Levée en masse is a French term for mass conscription during the French Revolutionary Wars, particularly for the one from 16 August 1793.- Terminology :...

 (pospolite ruszenie
Pospolite ruszenie
Pospolite ruszenie , is an anachronistic term describing the mobilisation of armed forces, especially during the period of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The tradition of wartime mobilisation of part of the population existed from before the 13th century to the 19th century...

) only with the consent of the sejmiks, and the nobility were protected from judicial abuses. The Nieszawa Statutes also curbed the power of the magnates, as the Sejm (national parliament) received the right to elect many officials, including judges, voivods and castellan
Castellan
A castellan was the governor or captain of a castle. The word stems from the Latin Castellanus, derived from castellum "castle". Also known as a constable.-Duties:...

s. These privileges were demanded by the szlachta as a compensation for their participation in the Thirteen Years' War.

The first "free election" (Polish: "wolna elekcja") of a king took place in 1492. (To be sure, some earlier Polish kings had been elected with help from bodies such as that which put Casimir II on the throne, thereby setting a precedent for free elections.) Only senators voted in the 1492 free election, which was won by Jan I Olbracht. For the duration of the Jagiellonian Dynasty, only members of that royal family were considered for election; later, there would be no restrictions on the choice of candidates.

In 1493 the national parliament, the Sejm, began meeting every two years at Piotrków
Piotrków Trybunalski
Piotrków Trybunalski is a city in central Poland with 80,738 inhabitants . It is situated in the Łódź Voivodeship , and previously was the capital of Piotrków Voivodeship...

. It comprised two chambers:
  • a Senate of 81 bishop
    Bishop
    A bishop is an ordained or consecrated member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. Within the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox Churches, in the Assyrian Church of the East, in the Independent Catholic Churches, and in the...

    s and other dignitaries; and
  • a Chamber of Envoys of 54 envoys (in Polish, "envoy" is "poseł") representing their respective Lands.

The numbers of senators and envoys later increased.

On April 26, 1496 King Jan I Olbracht granted the Privilege of Piotrków (Polish: "Przywilej piotrkowski", "konstytucja piotrkowska" or "statuty piotrkowskie"), increasing the nobility's feudal power over serfs. It bound the peasant to the land, as only one son (not the eldest) was permitted to leave the village; townsfolk (Polish: "mieszczaństwo") were prohibited from owning land; and positions in the Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 hierarchy could be given only to nobles.

On 23 October 1501, at Mielnik
Mielnik
Mielnik is a village in Siemiatycze County, Podlaskie Voivodeship, in north-eastern Poland, close to the border with Belarus. It is the seat of the gmina called Gmina Mielnik...

 Polish-Lithuanian Union
Polish-Lithuanian Union
The term Polish–Lithuanian Union sometimes called as United Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania refers to a series of acts and alliances between the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania that lasted for prolonged periods of time and led to the creation of the Polish–Lithuanian...

 was reformed at the Union of Mielnik
Union of Mielnik
The Act of Mielnik or Union of Mielnik was an attempt to unite the Kingdom of Poland with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1501. It was not ratified by the Lithuanian Seimas or by the Polish Sejm . The Act of Mielnik remained just a political project...

 (Polish: unia mielnicka, unia piotrkowsko-mielnicka). It was there that the tradition of the coronation Sejm (Polish: "Sejm koronacyjny") was founded. Once again the middle nobility (middle in wealth, not in rank) attempted to reduce the power of the magnates with a law that made them impeachable
Impeachment
Impeachment is a formal process in which an official is accused of unlawful activity, the outcome of which, depending on the country, may include the removal of that official from office as well as other punishment....

 before the Senate for malfeasance
Malfeasance
The expressions misfeasance and nonfeasance, and occasionally malfeasance, are used in English law with reference to the discharge of public obligations existing by common law, custom or statute.-Definition and relevant rules of law:...

. However the Act of Mielno (Polish: Przywilej mielnicki) of 25 October did more to strengthen the magnate dominated Senate of Poland
Senate of Poland
The Senate is the upper house of the Polish parliament, the lower house being the 'Sejm'. The history of the Polish Senate is rich in tradition and stretches back over 500 years, it was one of the first constituent bodies of a bicameral parliament in Europe and existed without hiatus until the...

 then the lesser nobility. The nobles were given the right to disobey the King or his representatives—in the Latin, "non praestanda oboedientia"--and to form confederations, an armed rebellion against the king or state officers if the nobles thought that the law or their legitimate privileges were being infringed.
On 3 May 1505 King Aleksander I Jagiellon granted the Act of "Nihil novi
Nihil novi
Nihil novi nisi commune consensu is the original Latin title of a 1505 act adopted by the Polish Sejm , meeting in the royal castle at Radom.-History:...

 nisi commune consensu" (Latin: "I accept nothing new except by common consent"). This forbade the king to pass any new law without the consent of the representatives of the nobility, in Sejm and Senat assembled, and thus greatly strengthened the nobility's political position. Basically, this act transferred legislative power from the king to the Sejm. This date commonly marks the beginning of the First Rzeczpospolita
Rzeczpospolita
Rzeczpospolita is a traditional name of the Polish State, usually referred to as Rzeczpospolita Polska . It comes from the words: "rzecz" and "pospolita" , literally, a "common thing". It comes from latin word "respublica", meaning simply "republic"...

, the period of a szlachta-run "Commonwealth".

In 1520 the Act of Bydgoszcz granted the Sejm the right to convene every four years, with or without the king's permission.

About that time the "executionist movement" (Polish: "egzekucja praw"--"execution of the laws") began to take form. Its members would seek to curb the power of the magnates at the Sejm and to strengthen the power of king and country. In 1562 at the Sejm in Piotrków they would force the magnates to return many leased crown lands to the king, and the king to create a standing army (wojsko kwarciane
Wojsko kwarciane
Wojsko kwarciane was the term used for regular army units of Poland . The term was used from 1562.Wojsko kwarciane was formed from earlier obrona potoczna units....

). One of the most famous members of this movement was Jan Zamoyski
Jan Zamoyski
Jan Zamoyski , was a Polish-Lithuanian nobleman, magnate, 1st duke/ordynat of Zamość. Royal Secretary since 1566, Lesser Kanclerz ) of the Crown since 1576, Lord Grand-Chancellor of the Crown since 1578, and Grand Hetman of the Crown since 1581...

. After his death in 1605, the movement lost its political force.

Until the death of Zygmunt II August, the last king of the Jagiellonian dynasty, monarchs could be elected from within only the royal family. However, starting from 1573, practically any Polish noble or foreigner of royal blood could become a Polish-Lithuanian
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was a dualistic state of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch. It was the largest and one of the most populous countries of 16th- and 17th‑century Europe with some and a multi-ethnic population of 11 million at its peak in the early 17th century...

 monarch. Every newly-elected king was supposed to sign two documents - the Pacta conventa
Pacta conventa (Poland)
Pacta conventa was a contractual agreement, from 1573 to 1764 entered into between the "Polish nation" and a newly-elected king upon his "free election" to the throne.The pacta conventa affirmed the king-elect's pledge to respect the laws of the...

("agreed pacts") - a confirmation of the king's pre-election promises, and Henrican articles (artykuły henrykowskie, named after the first freely elected king, Henry of Valois
Henry III of France
Henry III was King of France from 1574 to 1589. As Henry of Valois, he was the first elected monarch of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth with the dual titles of King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania from 1573 to 1575.-Childhood:Henry was born at the Royal Château de Fontainebleau,...

). The latter document served as a virtual Polish constitution and contained the basic laws of the Commonwealth:
  • Free election of kings;
  • Religious tolerance;
  • The Diet
    Diet (assembly)
    In politics, a diet is a formal deliberative assembly. The term is mainly used historically for the Imperial Diet, the general assembly of the Imperial Estates of the Holy Roman Empire, and for the legislative bodies of certain countries.-Etymology:...

     to be gathered every two years;
  • Foreign policy controlled by the Diet;
  • A royal advisory council chosen by the Diet;
  • Official posts restricted to Polish and Lithuanian nobles;
  • Taxes and monopolies set up by the Diet only;
  • Nobles' right to disobey the king should he break any of these laws.


In 1578 king Stefan Batory
Stefan Batory
Stephen Báthory was a Hungarian noble Prince of Transylvania , then King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania . He was a member of the Somlyó branch of the noble Hungarian Báthory family...

 created the Crown Tribunal
Crown Tribunal
Crown Tribunal – was the highest appeal court in the Crown of the Polish Kingdom for most cases, exceptions being the cases were a noble landowner was threatened with loss of life and/or property - then he could appeal to the Sejm court .In 1578 king Stefan Batory created the...

 in order to reduce the enormous pressure on the Royal Court. This placed much of the monarch's juridical power in the hands of the elected szlachta deputies, further strengthening the nobility class. In 1581 the Crown Tribunal was joined by a counterpart in Lithuania, the Lithuanian Tribunal
Lithuanian Tribunal
The Lithuanian Tribunal was the highest appeal court for the nobility of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It was established by Stefan Batory, Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland, in 1581 as the counterpart to the Crown Tribunal of the Crown of the Polish Kingdom, established in 1578...

.

Transformation into aristocracy


For many centuries, wealthy and powerful members of the szlachta sought to gain legal privileges over their peers. Few szlachta were wealthy enough to be known as magnates (karmazyni — the "Crimson
Crimson
Crimson is a strong, bright, deep red color. It is originally the color of the dye produced from a scale insect, Kermes vermilio, but the name is now also used as a generic term for those slightly bluish-red colors that are between red and rose; besides crimson itself, these colors include...

s", from the crimson colour of their boots). A proper magnate should be able to trace noble ancestors back for many generations and own at least 20 villages or estate
Folwark
Folwark is a Polish word for a primarily serfdom-based farm and agricultural enterprise , often very large. Folwarks were operated in the Crown of Poland from the 14th century and in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania since the 15th century, from the second half of the 16th century in the joint...

s. He should also hold a major office in the Commonwealth.

Some historians estimate the number of magnates as 1% of the number of szlachta. Out of approx. one million szlachta, tens of thousands of families, only 200-300 persons could be classed as great magnates with country-wide possessions and influence, and 30-40 of them could be viewed as those with significant impact on Poland's politics.

Magnates often received gifts from monarchs, which significantly increased their wealth. Often, those gifts were only temporary lease
Lease
A lease is a contractual arrangement calling for the lessee to pay the lessor for use of an asset. A rental agreement is a lease in which the asset is tangible property...

s, which the magnates never returned (in 16th century, the anti-magnate opposition among szlachta was known as the ruch egzekucji praw - movement for execution of the laws - which demanded that all such possessions are returned to their proper owner, the king).
One of the most important victories of the magnates was the late 16th century right to create ordynacja's (similar to majorat
Majorat
Majorat is the right of succession to property according to age . A majorat would be inherited by the oldest son, or if there was no son, the nearest relative. This law existed in some of the European countries and was designed to prevent the distribution of wealthy estates between many members of...

s), which ensured that a family which gained wealth and power could more easily preserve this. Ordynacje's of families of Radziwiłł, Zamoyski
Zamoyski
Zamojski, plural: Zamojscy is the surname of an important Polish nobility family of Jelita coat of arms. The name is sometimes spelled Zamoyski. It is the Polish for "de Zamość" - the name they originally wore as lords of the place...

, Potocki
Potocki
Potocki is the surname of a Polish noble family.-History:The Potocki family is a great artistocratic family originated from Potok in the Kraków Voivodeship; their family name derives from that place name. The family is heavily entwined with the cultural development and history of Poland's Eastern...

 or Lubomirski
Lubomirski
Lubomirski family is a Polish szlachta family. The family used the "Szreniawa without a cross" arms and their motto was: Nil conscire sibi ....

 often rivalled the estates of the king and were important power bases for the magnates.

Loss of influence by szlachta


The sovereignty of szlachta was ended in 1795 by the Partitions of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
Partitions of Poland
The Partitions of Poland or Partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth took place in the second half of the 18th century and ended the existence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, resulting in the elimination of sovereign Poland for 123 years...

, and until 1918 their legal status was dependent on policies of the Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

, the Kingdom of Prussia
Kingdom of Prussia
The Kingdom of Prussia was a German kingdom from 1701 to 1918. Until the defeat of Germany in World War I, it comprised almost two-thirds of the area of the German Empire...

 or the Habsburg Monarchy
Habsburg Monarchy
The Habsburg Monarchy covered the territories ruled by the junior Austrian branch of the House of Habsburg , and then by the successor House of Habsburg-Lorraine , between 1526 and 1867/1918. The Imperial capital was Vienna, except from 1583 to 1611, when it was moved to Prague...

.

In the 1840s Nicholas I
Nicholas I of Russia
Nicholas I , was the Emperor of Russia from 1825 until 1855, known as one of the most reactionary of the Russian monarchs. On the eve of his death, the Russian Empire reached its historical zenith spanning over 20 million square kilometers...

 reduced 64,000 szlachta to commoner status. Despite this, 62.8% of Russia's nobles were szlachta in 1858 and still 46.1% in 1897.
Serfdom was abolished in Russian Poland on February 19, 1864. It was deliberately enacted in a way that would ruin the szlachta. It was the only area where peasants paid the market price in redemption for the land (the average for the empire was 34% above the market price). All land taken from Polish peasants since 1846 was to be returned without redemption payments. The ex serfs could only sell land to other peasants, not szlachta. 90% of the ex serfs in the empire who actually gained land after 1861 were in the 8 western provinces. Along with Romania
Romania
Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea...

, Polish landless or domestic serfs were the only ones to be given land after serfdom was abolished. All this was to punish the szlachta's role in the uprisings of 1830 and 1863.
By 1864 80% of szlachta were declasse, 1/4 petty nobles were worse off than the average serf, 48.9% of land in Russian Poland was in peasant hands, nobles still held 46%.
In Second Polish Republic
Second Polish Republic
The Second Polish Republic, Second Commonwealth of Poland or interwar Poland refers to Poland between the two world wars; a period in Polish history in which Poland was restored as an independent state. Officially known as the Republic of Poland or the Commonwealth of Poland , the Polish state was...

 the privileges of the nobility were lawfully abolished by the March Constitution in 1921 and as such not granted by any future Polish
Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

 law.

Szlachta culture


The Polish nobility differed in many respects from the nobility of other countries. The most important difference was that, while in most European countries the nobility lost power as the ruler strove for absolute monarchy
Absolute monarchy
Absolute monarchy is a monarchical form of government in which the monarch exercises ultimate governing authority as head of state and head of government, his or her power not being limited by a constitution or by the law. An absolute monarch thus wields unrestricted political power over the...

, in Poland the reverse process occurred: the nobility actually gained power at the expense of the king, and the political system
Political system
A political system is a system of politics and government. It is usually compared to the legal system, economic system, cultural system, and other social systems...

 evolved into an oligarchy
Oligarchy
Oligarchy is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with an elite class distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, commercial, and/or military legitimacy...

.
Poland's nobility were also more numerous than those of all other European countries, constituting some 10% - 12% of the total population of historic Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth also some 10% - 12% among ethnic Poles on ethnic Polish lands (part of Commonwealth), but up to 25% of all Poles worldwide (szlachta could dispose more of resources to travels and/or conquering), while in some poorer regions (e.g. Mazowsze, the area centred on Warsaw
Warsaw
Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. It is located on the Vistula River, roughly from the Baltic Sea and from the Carpathian Mountains. Its population in 2010 was estimated at 1,716,855 residents with a greater metropolitan area of 2,631,902 residents, making Warsaw the 10th most...

) nearly 30%. However, according to szlachta comprised around 8% of the total population in 1791 (up from 6.6% in the 16th century), and no more than 16% of the Roman Catholic (mostly ethnically Polish) population. It should be noted, though, that Polish szlachta usually incorporated most local nobility from the areas that were absorbed by Poland-Lithuania (Ruthenian boyars, Livonian nobles, etc.) By contrast, the nobilities of other European countries, except for Spain, amounted to a mere 1-3%, however the era of sovereign rules of Polish nobility ended earlier then in other countries (excluding France) yet in 1795 (see: Partitions of Poland
Partitions of Poland
The Partitions of Poland or Partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth took place in the second half of the 18th century and ended the existence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, resulting in the elimination of sovereign Poland for 123 years...

), since then their legitimation and future fate depended on legislature and procedures of Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

, Kingdom of Prussia
Kingdom of Prussia
The Kingdom of Prussia was a German kingdom from 1701 to 1918. Until the defeat of Germany in World War I, it comprised almost two-thirds of the area of the German Empire...

 or Habsburg Monarchy
Habsburg Monarchy
The Habsburg Monarchy covered the territories ruled by the junior Austrian branch of the House of Habsburg , and then by the successor House of Habsburg-Lorraine , between 1526 and 1867/1918. The Imperial capital was Vienna, except from 1583 to 1611, when it was moved to Prague...

. Gradually their privileges were under further limitations to be completely dissolved by March Constitution of Poland
March Constitution of Poland
The Second Polish Republic adopted the March Constitution on 17 March 1921, after ousting the occupation of the German/Prussian forces in the 1918 Greater Poland Uprising, and avoiding conquest by the Soviets in the 1920 Polish-Soviet War. The Constitution, based on the French one, was regarded as...

 in 1921.

There were a number of avenues to upward social mobility and the achievement of nobility. Poland's nobility was not a rigidly exclusive, closed class. Many low-born individuals, including townsfolk, peasant
Peasant
A peasant is an agricultural worker who generally tend to be poor and homeless-Etymology:The word is derived from 15th century French païsant meaning one from the pays, or countryside, ultimately from the Latin pagus, or outlying administrative district.- Position in society :Peasants typically...

s and Jews, could and did rise to official ennoblement in Polish society. Each szlachcic had enormous influence over the country's politics, in some ways even greater than that enjoyed by the citizens of modern democratic countries. Between 1652 and 1791, any nobleman could nullify all the proceedings of a given sejm
Sejm
The Sejm is the lower house of the Polish parliament. The Sejm is made up of 460 deputies, or Poseł in Polish . It is elected by universal ballot and is presided over by a speaker called the Marshal of the Sejm ....

 (Commonwealth parliament) or sejmik
Sejmik
A sejmik was a regional assembly in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and earlier in the Kingdom of Poland. Sejmiks existed until the end of the Commonwealth in 1795 following the partitions of the Commonwealth...

 (Commonwealth local parliament) by exercising his individual right ofliberum veto
Liberum veto
The liberum veto was a parliamentary device in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It allowed any member of the Sejm to force an immediate end to the current session and nullify any legislation that had already been passed at the session by shouting Nie pozwalam! .From the mid-16th to the late 18th...

(Latin for "I do not allow"), except in the case of a confederated sejm
Confederated sejm
Confederated sejm was a form of sejm in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 18th century. After 1764, sejms were frequently confederated...

 or confederated sejmik.

All children of the Polish nobility inherited their noble status from a noble mother and father. Any individual could attain ennoblement () for special services to the state. A foreign noble might be naturalised as a Polish noble (Polish: "indygenat") by the Polish king (later, from 1641, only by a general sejm
General sejm
The general sejm was the parliament of Poland for four centuries from the late 15th until the late 18th century.-Genesis:The power of early sejms grew during the period of Poland's fragmentation , when the power of individual rulers waned and that of various councils and wiece grew...

).
In theory at least, all Polish noblemen were social equals. Also in theory, they were legal peers. Those who held 'real power' dignities were more privileged but these dignities were not hereditary. Those who held honorary dignities were higher in 'ritual' hierarchy but these dignities were also granted for a lifetime. Some tenancies became hereditary and went with both privilege and titles. Nobles who were not direct barons of the Crown but held land from other lords were only peers "de iure". The poorest enjoyed the same rights as the wealthiest magnate. The exceptions were a few symbolically privileged families such as the Radziwiłł, Lubomirski and Czartoryski
Czartoryski
Czartoryski is the surname of a Polish-Ukrainian-Lithuanian magnate family also known as the Familia. They used the Czartoryski Coat of arms and were the leading noble family of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 18th century.-History:The Czartoryski is a family of a Grand Ducal...

, who sported honorary aristocratic titles recognized in Poland or received from foreign courts, such as "Prince" or "Count
Count
A count or countess is an aristocratic nobleman in European countries. The word count came into English from the French comte, itself from Latin comes—in its accusative comitem—meaning "companion", and later "companion of the emperor, delegate of the emperor". The adjective form of the word is...

". (see also The Princely Houses of Poland
The Princely Houses of Poland
The Princely Houses of Poland differed from other princely houses in Europe. Most importantly, Polish nobility could not be granted nobility titles by the Polish kings in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth...

). All other szlachta simply addressed each other by their given name or as "Sir Brother" (Panie bracie) or the feminine equivalent. The other forms of address would be "Illustrious and Magnificent Lord", "Magnificent Lord", "Generous Lord" or "Noble Lord" (in decreasing order) or simply "His/Her Grace Lord/Lady XYZ".
According to their financial standing, the nobility were in common speech divided into:
  • magnates: the wealthiest class; owners of vast lands, towns, many villages, thousands of peasants
  • middle nobility (średnia szlachta): owners of one of more villages, often having some official titles or Envoys from the local Land Assemblies to the General Assembly,
  • petty nobility
    Petty nobility
    Petty nobility is dated at least back to 13th century and was formed by Nobles/Knights around their strategic interests. The idea was more capable peasants with leader roles in local community that were given tax exemption for taking care of services like for example guard duties of local primitive...

     (drobna szlachta), owners of a part of a village or owning no land at all, often referred to by a variety of colourful Polish terms such as:
    • szaraczkowa - grey nobility, from their grey, wool
      Wool
      Wool is the textile fiber obtained from sheep and certain other animals, including cashmere from goats, mohair from goats, qiviut from muskoxen, vicuña, alpaca, camel from animals in the camel family, and angora from rabbits....

      len, uncoloured zupan
      Zupan
      Żupan was a long garment, always lined, worn by almost all males of the noble social class in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, typical male attire from the beginning of the 16th to half of the 18th century, still surviving as a part of the Polishnational dress.- Derivation :The name żupan has...

      s
    • okoliczna - local nobility, similar to zaściankowa
    • zagrodowa - from zagroda, a farm, often little different from a peasant's dwelling
    • zagonowa - from zagon, a small unit of land measure, hide nobility
    • cząstkowa - partial, owners of only part of a single village
    • panek - little pan (i.e. lordling), term used in Kaszuby
      Kashubia
      Kashubia or Cassubia - is a language area in the historic Eastern Pomerania region of northwestern Poland. Located west of Gdańsk and the mouth of the Vistula river, it is inhabited by members of the Kashubian ethnic group....

      , the Kashubian region, also one of the legal terms for legally separated lower nobility in late medieval and early modern Poland
    • hreczkosiej - buckwheat
      Buckwheat
      Buckwheat refers to a variety of plants in the dicot family Polygonaceae: the Eurasian genus Fagopyrum, the North American genus Eriogonum, and the Northern Hemisphere genus Fallopia. Either of the latter two may be referred to as "wild buckwheat"...

       sowers
      - those who had to work their fields themselves.
    • zaściankowa - from zaścianek, a name for plural nobility settlement, neighbourhood nobility. Just like hreczkosiej, zaściankowa nobility would have no peasants.
    • brukowa - cobble
      Cobblestone
      Cobblestones are stones that were frequently used in the pavement of early streets. "Cobblestone" is derived from the very old English word "cob", which had a wide range of meanings, one of which was "rounded lump" with overtones of large size...

       nobility
      , for those living in towns like townsfolk
    • gołota - naked nobility, i.e. the landless. Gołota szlachta would be considered the 'lowest of the high'.


Note that the Polish landed gentry
Polish landed gentry
Polish landed gentry historically was a social group of hereditary landowners who held manorial estates. Historically ziemiane consisted of hereditary nobles and landed commoners. The Constitution of 1496 restricted the right to hold manorial lordships to the hereditary nobility proper only...

 (ziemianie or ziemiaństwo) was composed of any nobility that owned lands: thus of course the magnates, the middle nobility and that lesser nobility that had at least part of the village. As manorial lordships were also opened to burgesses of certain privileged royal cities, not all landed gentry had a hereditary title of nobility.

Heraldry


Coats of arms
Coat of arms
A coat of arms is a unique heraldic design on a shield or escutcheon or on a surcoat or tabard used to cover and protect armour and to identify the wearer. Thus the term is often stated as "coat-armour", because it was anciently displayed on the front of a coat of cloth...

 were very important to the Polish nobility. It is notable, that the Polish heraldic system evolved separately from its western counterparts and differed in many ways from the heraldry of other European countries.

The most notable difference is that, contrary to other European heraldic systems, most families sharing origin would also share a coat-of-arms. They would also share arms with families adopted into the clan (these would often have their arms officially altered upon ennoblement). Sometimes unrelated families would be falsely attributed to the clan on the basis of similarity of arms. Also often noble families claimed inaccurate clan membership. Logically, the number of coats of arms in this system was rather low and did not exceed 200 in late Middle Ages (40.000 in late 18th century).

Also, the tradition of differentiating between the coat of arms proper and a lozenge
Lozenge (heraldry)
The lozenge in heraldry is a diamond-shaped charge , usually somewhat narrower than it is tall. It is to be distinguished in modern heraldry from the fusil, which is like the lozenge but narrower, though the distinction has not always been as fine and is not always observed even today...

 granted to women did not develop in Poland. Usually men inherited the coat of arms from their fathers. Also, the brisure was rarely used.

Sarmatism


The szlachtas prevalent mentality and ideology
Ideology
An ideology is a set of ideas that constitutes one's goals, expectations, and actions. An ideology can be thought of as a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things , as in common sense and several philosophical tendencies , or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to...

 were manifested in "Sarmatism
Sarmatism
"Sarmatism" is a term designating the dominant lifestyle, culture and ideology of the szlachta of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Together with "Golden Liberty," it formed a central aspect of the Commonwealth's culture...

", a name derived from a scientifically unproved myth of the szlachtas origin in the powerful ancient nation of Sarmatians
Sarmatians
The Iron Age Sarmatians were an Iranian people in Classical Antiquity, flourishing from about the 5th century BC to the 4th century AD....

. This belief system became an important part of szlachta culture and affected all aspects of their lives. It was popularized by poets who exalted traditional village life, peace and pacifism. It was also manifested in oriental-style apparel (the żupan
Zupan
Żupan was a long garment, always lined, worn by almost all males of the noble social class in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, typical male attire from the beginning of the 16th to half of the 18th century, still surviving as a part of the Polishnational dress.- Derivation :The name żupan has...

, kontusz
Kontusz
Kontusz - a type of outer garment worn by the Hungarian, Polish, Belarusian, Lithuanian and Ukrainian male nobility...

, sukmana, pas kontuszowy
Pas kontuszowy
Pas kontuszowy was a cloth sash used for compassing a kontusz . It was one of the most distinctive items of dress of Polish and Lithuanian nobility from about 17th through the 19th centuries. In an earlier periods, sometimes narrower sashes of fine cloth or silk net were worn, but the wide...

, delia); and made the scimitar
Scimitar
A scimitar is a backsword or sabre with a curved blade, originating in Southwest Asia .The Arabic term saif translates to "sword" in general, but is normally taken to refer to the scimitar type of curved backsword in particular.The curved sword or "scimitar" was widespread throughout the Muslim...

-like szabla
Szabla
Szabla is the Polish word for sabre. It specifically refers to an Eastern European one-edged sabre-like mêlée weapon with a curved blade and, in most cases, a two-bladed tip called a feather . Initially used by light cavalry, with time it also evolved into a variety of arms used both for martial...

, too, a near-obligatory item of everyday szlachta apparel. Sarmatism served to integrate the multi-ethnic nobility as it created an almost nationalistic
Nationalism
Nationalism is a political ideology that involves a strong identification of a group of individuals with a political entity defined in national terms, i.e. a nation. In the 'modernist' image of the nation, it is nationalism that creates national identity. There are various definitions for what...

sense of unity and pride in the szlachta's "Golden Liberty
Golden Liberty
Golden Liberty , sometimes referred to as Golden Freedoms, Nobles' Democracy or Nobles' Commonwealth refers to a unique aristocratic political system in the Kingdom of Poland and later, after the Union of Lublin , in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth...

" (złota wolność). Knowledge of Latin was widespread, and most szlachta freely mixed Polish and Latin vocabulary (the latter, "macaronism
Macaronic language
Macaronic refers to text spoken or written using a mixture of languages, sometimes including bilingual puns, particularly when the languages are used in the same context . The term is also sometimes used to denote hybrid words, which are in effect internally macaronic...

s" — from "macaroni") in everyday conversation.
In its early, idealistic form, Sarmatism seemed like a salutary cultural movement: it fostered religious faith, honesty, national pride, courage, equality and freedom. Late Sarmatism turned belief into bigotry, honesty into political naïveté, pride into arrogance, courage into stubbornness, equality and freedom within the szlachta class into dissension and anarchy.

Religious beliefs


Prior to the Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

, the Polish nobility were mostly either Roman Catholic or Orthodox
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

 with a small group of Muslims
Islam in Poland
The first ever written account of Poland was recorded by the Muslim Caliphate of Córdoba's 10th-century envoy, Ibrahim ibn Jakub. A continuous presence of Islam in Poland began in the 14th century. From this time it was primarily associated with the Tatars, many of whom settled in the...

. Many families, however, soon adopted the Reformed faiths. After the Counter-Reformation
Counter-Reformation
The Counter-Reformation was the period of Catholic revival beginning with the Council of Trent and ending at the close of the Thirty Years' War, 1648 as a response to the Protestant Reformation.The Counter-Reformation was a comprehensive effort, composed of four major elements:#Ecclesiastical or...

, when the Roman Catholic Church regained power in Poland
Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

, the nobility became almost exclusively Catholic, despite the fact that Roman Catholicism was not the majority religion in Commonwealth (the Catholic and Orthodox churches each accounted for some 40% of all citizens population, with the remaining 20% being Jews or members of Protestant denominations). In the 18th century, many followers of Jacob Frank
Jacob Frank
Jacob Frank was an 18th century Jewish religious leader who claimed to be the reincarnation of the self-proclaimed messiah Sabbatai Zevi and also of the biblical patriarch Jacob...

 joined the ranks of Jewish-descended Polish gentry.

Although Jewish religion wasn't usually a pretext to block or deprive of noble status, some laws favoured religious conversion from Judaism to Christianity (see: Neophyte) by rewarding it with ennoblement.

In Kingdom of Poland


The number of legally granted ennoblements after the 15th century was minimal.

In the Kingdom of Poland
Kingdom of Poland (1385–1569)
The Kingdom of Poland of the Jagiellons was the Polish state created by the accession of Jogaila , Grand Duke of Lithuania, to the Polish throne in 1386. The Union of Krewo or Krėva Act, united Poland and Lithuania under the rule of a single monarch...

 and later in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was a dualistic state of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch. It was the largest and one of the most populous countries of 16th- and 17th‑century Europe with some and a multi-ethnic population of 11 million at its peak in the early 17th century...

, ennoblement (nobilitacja) may be equated with an individual given legal status as a szlachta (member of the Polish nobility). Initially, this privilege could be granted by monarch, but from the 1641 onward, this right was reserved for the sejm
Sejm
The Sejm is the lower house of the Polish parliament. The Sejm is made up of 460 deputies, or Poseł in Polish . It is elected by universal ballot and is presided over by a speaker called the Marshal of the Sejm ....

. Most often the individual being ennobled would join an existing noble szlachta clan and assume the undifferentiated coat of arms
Polish heraldry
Polish heraldry is a branch of heraldry focused on studying the development of coats of arms in the lands of historical Poland , as well as specifically-Polish traits of heraldry. The term is also used to refer to Polish heraldic system, as opposed to systems used elsewhere, notably in Western Europe...

 of that clan.

According to heraldic sources total number of legal ennoblements issued between the 14th century and the mid-18th century, is estimated at approximately 800. This is an average of only about two ennoblements per year or only 0.000 000 14 - 0.000 001 of historical population. Compare: historical demography of Poland.

The close of the late 18th century (see below) was a period in which a definite increase in the number of ennoblements can be noted. This can most readily be explained in terms of the ongoing decline and eventual collapse of Commonwealth and the resulting need for soldiers and other military leaders (see: Partitions of Poland
Partitions of Poland
The Partitions of Poland or Partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth took place in the second half of the 18th century and ended the existence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, resulting in the elimination of sovereign Poland for 123 years...

, King Stanisław August Poniatowski).

Total number of ennoblements estimation


According to heraldic sources 1,600 is a total estimated number of all legal ennoblements throughout the history of Kingdom of Poland and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from the 14th century onward (half of which were performed in final years of late 18th century).

Types of ennoblement:
  • Adopcja herbowa - The "old way" of ennoblement, popular in 15th century, connected with adoption into an existing noble clan by a powerful lord, but abolished in 17th century.
  • Skartabelat - Introduced by pacta conventa
    Pacta conventa (Poland)
    Pacta conventa was a contractual agreement, from 1573 to 1764 entered into between the "Polish nation" and a newly-elected king upon his "free election" to the throne.The pacta conventa affirmed the king-elect's pledge to respect the laws of the...

     of 17th century, this was ennoblement into a sort of "conditional" or "graduated nobility" status. Skartabels could not hold public offices or be members of the Sejm, but after three generations, the descendants of these families would "mature" to full szlachta status.


Similar terms:
  • Indygenat
    Indygenat
    Indygenat in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was a recognition of foreign status as a noble. A foreign noble, after indygenat, received all privileges of a Polish szlachcic. In Polish history, 413 foreign noble families were recognized...

     - Recognition of foreign noble status. A foreign noble, after indygenat, received all privileges of a Polish szlachcic. In Polish history, 413 foreign noble families were recognized. Prior to the 17th century this was done by the King and Sejm
    Sejm
    The Sejm is the lower house of the Polish parliament. The Sejm is made up of 460 deputies, or Poseł in Polish . It is elected by universal ballot and is presided over by a speaker called the Marshal of the Sejm ....

     (Polish parliament), after 17th century it was done only by the Sejm
    Sejm
    The Sejm is the lower house of the Polish parliament. The Sejm is made up of 460 deputies, or Poseł in Polish . It is elected by universal ballot and is presided over by a speaker called the Marshal of the Sejm ....

    .
  • "secret ennoblement" - This was of questionable legal status and was often not recognized by many szlachta. It was typically granted by the elected monarch without the required legal approval of the sejm
    Sejm
    The Sejm is the lower house of the Polish parliament. The Sejm is made up of 460 deputies, or Poseł in Polish . It is elected by universal ballot and is presided over by a speaker called the Marshal of the Sejm ....

    .

In Grand Duchy of Lithuania


In the late 14th century, in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Grand Duchy of Lithuania
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a European state from the 12th /13th century until 1569 and then as a constituent part of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1791 when Constitution of May 3, 1791 abolished it in favor of unitary state. It was founded by the Lithuanians, one of the polytheistic...

, Vytautas the Great
Vytautas the Great
Vytautas ; styled "the Great" from the 15th century onwards; c. 1350 October 27, 1430) was one of the most famous rulers of medieval Lithuania. Vytautas was the ruler of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania which chiefly encompassed the Lithuanians and Ruthenians...

 reformed the Grand Duchy's army: instead of calling all men to arms, he created forces comprising professional warriors—bajorai ("nobles"; see the cognate
Cognate
In linguistics, cognates are words that have a common etymological origin. This learned term derives from the Latin cognatus . Cognates within the same language are called doublets. Strictly speaking, loanwords from another language are usually not meant by the term, e.g...

 "boyar
Boyar
A boyar, or bolyar , was a member of the highest rank of the feudal Moscovian, Kievan Rus'ian, Bulgarian, Wallachian, and Moldavian aristocracies, second only to the ruling princes , from the 10th century through the 17th century....

"). As there were not enough nobles, Vytautas trained suitable men, relieving them of labor on the land and of other duties; for their military service
Military service
Military service, in its simplest sense, is service by an individual or group in an army or other militia, whether as a chosen job or as a result of an involuntary draft . Some nations require a specific amount of military service from every citizen...

 to the Grand Duke, they were granted land that was worked by hired men (veldam
Veldamas
Veldamas was a form of landownership in the early stages of Lithuanian serfdom. The term describes a peasant family with its land and other belongings granted by the Grand Duke of Lithuania to his loyal followers, usually as a reward for military service. The peasant retained ownership of his...

s). The newly-formed noble families generally took up, as their family name
Family name
A family name is a type of surname and part of a person's name indicating the family to which the person belongs. The use of family names is widespread in cultures around the world...

s, the Lithuanian
Lithuanian language
Lithuanian is the official state language of Lithuania and is recognized as one of the official languages of the European Union. There are about 2.96 million native Lithuanian speakers in Lithuania and about 170,000 abroad. Lithuanian is a Baltic language, closely related to Latvian, although they...

 pagan given name
Given name
A given name, in Western contexts often referred to as a first name, is a personal name that specifies and differentiates between members of a group of individuals, especially in a family, all of whose members usually share the same family name...

s of their ennobled ancestors; this was the case with the Goštautai
Goštautai
Gostautai , masculine Gostautas and feminine form Gostautaite were a Lithuanian noble family, one of the most influential magnate families during the 15th and early 16th centuries...

, Radvilos, Astikai
Astikai
Astikai was a Lithuanian noble family, that prospered in late 14th and early 17th centuries. Kristinas Astikas, a noble from Kernavė, was the founder of the family. There is some vague evidence, that his father was Sirputis and his grandfather was Viršpulis, mentioned in chronicles...

, Kęsgailos
Kesgailos
Kęsgailos was a Lithuanian noble family, one of the biggest landowners in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The family traces its roots to the 14th century AD . Their seat was in the Samogitia and Trakai regions...

 and others. These families were granted their coats of arms under the Union of Horodlo
Union of Horodlo
The Union of Horodło or Pact of Horodło was a set of three acts signed in the town of Horodło on October 2, 1413. The first act was written by Jogaila, King of Poland, and Vytautas, Grand Duke of Lithuania. The second and third acts were composed by the Lithuanian and Polish nobility respectively...

 (1413).

In 1506, King Sigismund I the Old
Sigismund I the Old
Sigismund I of Poland , of the Jagiellon dynasty, reigned as King of Poland and also as the Grand Duke of Lithuania from 1506 until 1548...

 confirmed the position of the Lithuanian Council of Lords
Lithuanian Council of Lords
The Lithuanian Council of Lords was the main permanent institution of central government in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania active in its capital city of Vilnius....

 in state politics and limited entry into the nobility
Nobility
Nobility is a social class which possesses more acknowledged privileges or eminence than members of most other classes in a society, membership therein typically being hereditary. The privileges associated with nobility may constitute substantial advantages over or relative to non-nobles, or may be...

.

See also

  • Hidalgo (Spanish nobility)
    Hidalgo (Spanish nobility)
    A hidalgo or fidalgo is a member of the Spanish and Portuguese nobility. In popular usage it has come to mean the non-titled nobility. Hidalgos were exempt from paying taxes, but did not necessarily own real property...

  • Druzhina (Russian nobility)
    Druzhina
    Druzhina, Drużyna or Družyna in the medieval history of Slavic Europe was a retinue in service of a chieftain, also called knyaz. The name is derived from the Slavic word drug with the meaning of "companion, friend". -Early Rus:...

  • Legitimization of szlachta in Congress Poland
    Congress Poland
    The Kingdom of Poland , informally known as Congress Poland , created in 1815 by the Congress of Vienna, was a personal union of the Russian parcel of Poland with the Russian Empire...

     (legitymacja szlachectwa)
  • List of szlachta
  • Lithuanian nobility
  • Polish heraldry
    Polish heraldry
    Polish heraldry is a branch of heraldry focused on studying the development of coats of arms in the lands of historical Poland , as well as specifically-Polish traits of heraldry. The term is also used to refer to Polish heraldic system, as opposed to systems used elsewhere, notably in Western Europe...

  • Polish name
    Polish name
    A Polish personal name, like names in most European cultures, consists of two main elements: imię, the first name, or given name, followed by nazwisko, the last name, surname, or family name....

  • ziemiaństwo or Polish landed gentry
    Polish landed gentry
    Polish landed gentry historically was a social group of hereditary landowners who held manorial estates. Historically ziemiane consisted of hereditary nobles and landed commoners. The Constitution of 1496 restricted the right to hold manorial lordships to the hereditary nobility proper only...

  • Clan of Ostoja
    Clan of Ostoja
    The Clan of Ostoja was a powerful group of Knights and Lords in late medieval Europe. The clan encompassed several families in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Upper Hungary , Hungary, Transylvania, Belorus, Ukraine and Prussia....

  • Krupski
    Krupski
    Krupski - Belorussian are a noble, family from Eastern Europe-Origin of the Surname:The family Krupski was before the 14th century together with common practice for all noblemen in Europe. Comes from attachment to a personal name of hereditary nobles who owned the family nest Krupe , founders...


External links