Ruthenian nobility (Polish: szlachta ruska) refers to the nobility of Kievan Rus and Galicia–Volhynia, which found itself in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and later, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and became increasingly polonized, while retaining a separate, cultural identity.
Ruthenian nobility, originally characterized as East Slavic language speaking and Orthodox, found itself ruled by the expanding Grand Duchy of Lithuania, where it rose from second class status to equal partners of the Lithuanian nobility. Following the Polish-Lithuanian union of the 14th century, the Ruthenian nobles became increasingly polonized, adopting the Polish language and religion (which increasingly meant converting from the Orthodox faith to Roman Catholicism). Ruthenian nobility, however, retained a distinct identity within the body of the Polish-Lithuanian szlachta, leading to the Latin expression gente Ruthenus, natione Polonus or gente Rutheni, natione Poloni (translated as "of Polish nationality, but Ruthenian origin", "of Ruthenia race and Polish nation", or in various similar veins), although the extent to which they retained and maintained this separate identity is still debated by scholars, and varied based on time and place.
Eventually, following the Union of Lublin in 1569, most of the territories of Ruthenia became part of the Crown of the Polish Kingdom in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The transfer of Ruthenian lands from the Grand Duchy to Poland occurred with a strong support of the Ruthenian nobility, who were attracted to the Polish culture and desired the privileges of the Polish nobility. Thus the Ruthenian nobility gravitated from the Lithuanian noble tradition towards the Polish noble one, described by Stone as a change from "wealth without legal rights" to "defined individual and corporate rights". The Lithuanian, Polish and Ruthenian nobility gradually became more and more unified, particularly with regards to their standing as a socio-political class. After the Union of Lublin, Ruthenian nobility eventually mostly disappeared from the Galicia region, but remained strong in the Volhynia region. By 19th and 20th century, the Ruthenian nobility became so heavily polonized, that the eventual national resurgence of Belarus and Ukraine was mostly spurred by the growing national consciousness of the new middle class, rather than of the nobility.
Some of the major Ruthenian noble families (all of which became polonized to a significant extent) included the Czartoryski family, Ostrogski family, Sanguszko family, Wiśniowiecki family, Zasławski family and the Zbaraski family.
- Daniel Z Stone (2001). The Polish-Lithuanian State: 1386-1795. University of Washington Press. pp. 12–13. ISBN 978-0-295-98093-5. Retrieved 19 November 2012.
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- Daniel Z Stone (2001). The Polish-Lithuanian State: 1386-1795. University of Washington Press. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-295-98093-5. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
- Daniel Z Stone (2001). The Polish-Lithuanian State: 1386-1795. University of Washington Press. p. 225. ISBN 978-0-295-98093-5. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
- Jörn Leonhard; Christian Wieland (23 June 2011). What Makes the Nobility Noble?: Comparative Perspectives from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. p. 152. ISBN 978-3-525-31041-0. Retrieved 20 November 2012.