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Szlachta in costumes of the Voivodeships of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland, Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 17th and 18th century.
Journey of a Polish Lord during the times of King Augustus III of Poland, by Jan Chełmiński, 1880.
Michał Kazimierz Ogiński, diplomat, engineer and musician

The szlachta ([ˈʂlaxta] (About this soundlisten), exonym: Nobility) was a legally privileged noble class in the Kingdom of Poland, and in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. After the Union of Lublin in 1569, the Grand Duchy and its neighbouring Kingdom became a single state, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.

The origins of the szlachta are shrouded in obscurity and mystery and have been the subject of several theories.[1]:207 Traditionally, its members were landowners, often in the form of "manorial estates" or so-called folwarks.[2] The nobility won substantial and increasing political and legal privileges for itself throughout its entire history until the decline and end of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in the late 18th century. Apart from providing officers for the army, among its chief civic obligations was to elect the monarch, fill advisory and honorary roles at court, e.g., Stolnik - "Master of the King's Pantry" or their assistant, Podstoli and in the state government, e.g. Podskarbi, "Minister to the Treasury". They were to serve as elected representatives in the Sejm - National Parliament and in local Sejmiki assemblies, to appoint officials and oversee judicial and financial governance, including tax-raising, at provincial and local level. Their roles included Voivodeship, Marshall of voivodship, Kasztelan and Starosta.[3]

The szlachta gained considerable institutional privileges between 1333 and 1370 in the Kingdom of Poland during the reign of King Casimir III the Great.[1]:211 In 1413, following a series of tentative personal unions between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland, the existing Lithuanian-Ruthenian nobility formally joined this class.[1]:211 As the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569–1795) evolved and expanded in territory, its membership grew to include the leaders of Ducal Prussia and Livonia. During the Partitions of Poland from 1772 to 1795, its members began to lose these legal privileges and social status. 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, the Kingdom of Prussia, and the Habsburg Monarchy. The legal privileges of the szlachta were abolished in the Second Polish Republic by the March Constitution of 1921.

Although in reality, szlachta members could have greatly unequal status due to wealth and political influence, there were very few official distinctions between the elites and common nobility. Unlike in most other countries, those relatively few hereditary titles that there were in the Kingdom of Poland, were bestowed by foreign monarchs, including personal hereditary titles granted by the Pope, see Feliks Sobański as an example.




A Polish Count - Kazimierz Skarżyński by Stefan Norblin.

The Polish term szlachta is derived from the Old High German word slahta. In modern German Geschlecht - which originally came from the Proto-Germanic *slagiz, "blow", "strike", and shares the Anglo-Saxon root for "slaughter" or the verb "to slug" - means "breeding" or gender. Like many other Polish words pertaining to nobility, it derives from Germanic words: So for example, the Polish for a "knight" is "rycerz", a cognate of the German "Ritter". The Polish word for "coat of arms"" is herb" from the German "Erbe" or "heritage". 17th century Poles assumed that "szlachta" came from the German "schlachten" "to slaughter" or "to butcher", and was therefore related to the German word for battle, "Schlacht". Some early Polish historians thought the term might have derived instead from the name of the legendary proto-Polish chief, Lech, mentioned in Polish and Czech writings.

A few exceptionally wealthy and powerful szlachta members during the 17th and 18th centuries came to be known as "magnates" - "możni": see Magnates of Poland and Lithuania.

So "szlachta" came to designate the hereditary noble class of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which constituted the idea of the nation itself, and ruled without fear or favour.[4] [5][6] In official Latin documents of the old Commonwealth, the hereditary szlachta were referred to as "nobilitas" from the Latin term, and could be compared in legal status to English or British peers of the realm, or to the ancient Roman idea of cives, "citizen".

Today the word szlachta simply translates as "nobility". In its broadest sense, it can also denote some non-hereditary honorary knighthoods and baronial titles granted by other European monarchs, including the Holy See. Occasionally, 19th-century landowners of non-noble descent were referred to as szlachta by courtesy or error, when they owned manorial estates but were not in fact noble by birth. Szlachta also denotes the Ruthenian and Lithuanian nobility from before the old-Commonwealth.

In the past, a misconception sometimes led to the mistranslation of "szlachta" as "gentry" rather than "nobility".[7][8][9] This mistaken practice began due to the inferior economic status of many szlachta members compared to that of the nobility in other European countries (see also Estates of the Realm regarding wealth and nobility).[10][11] The szlachta included those rich and powerful enough to be magnates down to the indigent with a noble lineage, but with no land, no castle, no money, no village, and no subject peasants.[12] At least 60,000 families belonged to the nobility, however, only about 100 were wealthy (less than 0.167%), all the rest were poor (greater than 99.83%).[13]

Over time, numerically most lesser szlachta became or were poorer than their few rich peers in their social class, and many were worse off than the non-noble gentry. They were called szlachta zagrodowa, that is, "nobility from within the second estate compound", sometimes referred to as drobna szlachta, "petty nobles" or yet, szlachta okoliczna, meaning "local". Particularly impoverished szlachta families were often forced to become tenants of their wealthier peers. They were described as szlachta czynszowa, or "tenant nobles" who paid rent.[14]. In doing so, they nevertheless retained all their constitutional prerogatives, as neither wealth nor lifestyle, such as was achievable by the gentry, but their blood-line and hereditary juridical status that determined Polish nobility.

An individual nobleman was called "szlachcic", while a noblewoman "szlachcianka".


Depiction of defeated Sarmatians on Roman relief first half of Second century AD

Mythic origins of Polish social stratificationEdit

The origins of the szlachta, while ancient, have always been considered obscure.[1]:207 As a result, its members often referred to it as odwieczna (perennial).[1]:207 Two popular historical theories about its origins have been put forward by its members and early historians and chroniclers. These involve a presumed descent from the ancient Iranian tribe known as Sarmatians, who in the Second century AD occupied land that is today's Ukraine, or from Japheth, one of Noah's sons - by contrast, the peasantry were said to be the offspring of another son of Noah, Ham — and hence subject to bondage under the Curse of Ham—and the Jews as the offspring of Shem).[15][16][17] Other fanciful theories included its foundation by Julius Caesar, Alexander the Greator regional leaders who had not mixed their bloodlines with those of 'slaves, prisoners or aliens'.[1]:207[1]:208

Another theory describes the szlachta's derivation from a non-Slavic warrior class, forming a distinct grouping known as the Lechici/Lekhi, within the archaic proto Polish tribal groupings (Indo-European caste systems). In this context is cited the medieval Boreyko coat of arms which contains a symbol that looks like a "swastika". Such an hypothesis would have it that the Polish nobility class was not of Slavonic extraction and was of a different origin than the Slavonic peasants, called kmiecie from the Latin: cmethones whom they ruled.[18]:482[19]:42, 64–66[20] [18]:482 Some have taken this to be analogous to the German Nazi belief in Arianism which accordingly made the Polish elite the alleged descendants of a Nordic Super race. [21] [18]:482[22] [23]

The Szlachta were strongly differentiated from the rural population.[24][25] In highly stratified Polish society, some noblemen's sense of superiority was said to lead to practices that sometimes approximated to bullying and slavery.[1]:233[6][26][27] Wacław Potocki, Śreniawa, (1621 - 1696), wrote: peasants "by nature" are so "chained to the land and plough," that even an educated peasant would always remain a peasant, because "it is impossible to transform a dog into a lynx."[28] The Szlachta's concept of being noble was in the ancient Aryan, see the Alans sense - in contrast to the people over whom they ruled.[18]:482

Legend has it that the szlachta traced their descent from one of three brothers, Rus, Czech and Lech/Lekh. The third of whom allegedly founded the Polish kingdom in about the fifth century.[18]:482 Lechia was the name of Poland in antiquity, hence their own name was Lechites.[18]:482 A similar counterpart to Szlachta society were the Meerassee of southern India—an aristocracy of equality—settled as conquerors among a separate race.[18]:484 The early Polish state saw itself in parallel to the Roman Empire.[29][30][31] The argument was that full rights of citizenship were limited to the szlachta.[32][33] In ancient antiquity Rome had devoted its attention nearly exclusively to agriculture and stock raising, as subsequently did old Poland.[34] The szlachta ideal also paralleled that of a Greek polis—a body of citizens, a small merchant class, and a multitude of laborers.[35][36][37]

Warrior class to casteEdit

Polish Knights 1447-1492

Mieszko I of Poland (c. 935 – 25 May 992) established an elite retinue of knights from within his army, upon which he depended for success in uniting the Lekhitic tribes and to preserve the unity of the state. Mieszko I's successors continued to use such a retinue.

Another class of knights were those who had been granted land by the local ruler or "prince", with the proviso that they served in his army. Prior to the 15th century a Polish nobleman would be referred to as a warrior - "rycerz", roughly equivalent to an English "knight". The main difference being this status was usually hereditary.[4][38] Collectively such military nobles were the warrior class - called "rycerstwo".[38] Together with the sons of Poland's wealthier families there were foreign itinerant knights, similar to contemporary mercenaries, who could join the honourable class of warriors and settle on Polish territory. In time they became the "szlachta". This term for Polish nobility came into usage around the 15th century and it was distinct from Mieszko I's and his successors' elite retinues. Gradually more privileges accrued to the warrior class. They were absolved from certain fiscal burdens and other obligations under ducal law, with the result that only those who combined military prowess with noble birth could serve as officials in state administration.

There was an hierarchy within the warrior class itself, based either on descent from past tribal dynasties, or on early endowments made by the Piast dynasty. These warriors of great wealth became known as "Magnates" możni. However, socially they were not granted preferment as they shared a common origin.[39](Manteuffel 1982, pp. 148–149)

The period of unrest from, A.D., 1138 – A.D., 1314, which included nearly 200 years of feudal fragmentation that had stemmed from Bolesław III's division of Polish territory among his sons, was the genesis of a social structure which saw the economic elevation of the great landowning feudal nobles, both ecclesiastical and lay. It replaced the earlier pre-Christian social structure of Polish tribes united into one Polish nation and ruled by the Piast dynasty from circa 850 A.D.

Some Magnates, descended from earlier tribal dynasties, regarded themselves as contenders for the Piast realms, even though the Piasts had attempted to curtail their independence and they continued to undermine princely authority.[1]:75, 76 Gall Anonym's chronicle speaks about the nobility's alarm when the Palatine Sieciech "elevated those of a lower class over those who were nobly born" entrusting them with state offices. (Manteuffel 1982, p. 149)

Recorded historyEdit

Polish aristocrat in the style of Sarmatism with a kontusz, żupan and rogatywka cap. Drawing by French-born Jean-Pierre Norblin de La Gourdaine
Union of Lublin (1569). Painting by Jan Matejko, 1869, Castle Museum, Lublin.

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, by being ready to participate in a Mass mobilization - pospolite ruszenie - when the need arose. Thereby they became the kingdom's most privileged social class. Inclusion in the class was almost exclusively based on inheritance.[4][38]

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, an assembly of free tribesmen. Later, when safety required power to be consolidated, an elected prince was chosen to govern. The election privilege was usually limited to elites.[40]

Families were ruled by clans ród consisting of people related by blood or marriage and in theory descended from a common ancestry, giving the ród/clan a strong sense of solidarity.[41] See: gens. The family unit of a clan is called the rodzina, while a collection of clans forms a tribe, a plemię. The starosta, or starszyna, "elder" had judicial and military power over the ród/clan, although this power was often exercised by an assembly of elders. Strongholds called, grόd, were built around the site of religious worship, where trials were conducted, and where clans gathered in the face of danger. The opole was the territory occupied by a single tribe.[42]

In the 16th century, the bishop of Poznań, Wawrzyniec Goślicki (c.1530 - 1607) wrote:

The kingdome of Polonia doth also consist of the said three sortes, that is, the king, nobility and people. But it is to be noted, that this word people includeth only knights and gentlemen. ... The gentlemen of Polonia doe represent the popular state, for in them consisteth a great part of the government, and they are as a Seminarie from whence Councellors and Kinges are taken.[43]

The old szlachta may be considered generally as a caste or a military caste, as in Hindu society.[44][32][10] In the year 1244, Bolesław, Duke of Masovia, identified the newly arrived knights' clan as being part of a single genealogy:

I received my good servants, Raciborz and Albert from the land of Greater Poland from the clan called Jelito, with my well-disposed knowledge and the welcome appellation, vocitatio, or war cry, of "Nagody", so I established them in the said land of mine, Masovia, on the military tenure described elsewhere in the charter.

The documentation regarding Raciborz and Albert's tenure is the earliest surviving use of a clan name and "appellation", defining the honourable status of Polish knights. The names of knightly genealogiae only came to be associated with heraldic devices later in the Middle Ages and in the early modern period. The Polish clan name and war cry became ritualized in the ius militare, i.e., the power to command an army. They had been used some time before 1244 to define knightly status. (Górecki 1992, pp. 183–185).

In Poland, the Radwańscy were noted relatively early (1274) as the descendants of Radwan, a knight - "rycerz", active a few decades earlier. ...[45][41]

In LithuaniaEdit

In Lithuania Propria and in Samogitia, prior to the creation of the Kingdom of Lithuania by Mindaugas, nobles were called die beste leuten in German sources. In Lithuanian, nobles were named ponai. The higher nobility were named kunigai or kunigaikščiai (dukes) — a loanword from Scandinavian konung. 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. Because of Lithuanian expansion into the lands of Ruthenia in the middle of the 14th century, a new term for nobility appeared — bajorai, from Ruthenian бояре. This word is used to this day in Lithuania to refer to nobility in general, including those from abroad.

After the Union of Horodło, the Lithuanian nobility acquired equal status with its Polish counterparts. Over time they became increasingly polonized, although they did preserve their national consciousness, and in most cases recognition of their Lithuanian family roots. In the 16th century, some of the Lithuanian nobility claimed that they were descended from the Romans, and that the Lithuanian language was derived from Latin. This led to a conundrum: Polish nobility claimed its own ancestry from Sarmatian tribes, but Sarmatians were considered enemies of the Romans. Thus, a new Roman-Sarmatian theory was created. Strong cultural ties with Polish nobility led to a new term for Lithuanian nobility appearing in the 16th century — šlėkta, a direct loanword from Polish szlachta. Recently, Lithuanian linguists advocated dropping the usage of this Polish loanword.[46]

Russification replaced polonisationEdit

The process of polonization took place over a lengthy period. At first only the leading members of the nobility were involved. Gradually the wider population became affected. Major effects on the lesser Lithuanian nobility occurred after various sanctions were imposed by the Russian Empire, such as removing Lithuania from the names of the Gubernyas shortly after the November Uprising.[47] After the January Uprising the sanctions went further, and Russian officials announced that "Lithuanians were actually Russians seduced by Poles and Catholicism" and began to intensify russification, and to ban the printing of books in Lithuanian.

In RutheniaEdit

Ruthenian nobleman Krzysztof Zbaraski

After the principalities of Halych and Volhynia became integrated with it, Ruthenia's nobility gradually rendered loyalty to the multilingual and cultural Melting pot that was the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Many noble Ruthenian families intermarried with Lithuanians.

The rights of Orthodox nobles were nominally equal to those enjoyed by the Polish and Lithuanian nobility, but they were put under cultural pressure to convert to Catholicism. It was a policy that was greatly eased in 1596 by the Union of Brest. See, for example, the careers of Senator Adam Kisiel and Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki.

Origins of szlachta surnamesEdit

Funerary portrait of John of Ujazd, with Virgin and Child, and Srzeniawa coat of arms - unknown artist. Czchów church, Kraków Voivodeship, Lesser Poland province, 1450.
Polish coats of arms in the Gelre Armorial - before 1396 - among them, Leliwa, Ogończyk, Ostoja and Nałęcz.

In antiquity, the nobility used topographic surnames to identify themselves. Almost all the surnames of traceable Polish szlachta can be linked with a patrimony or locality, despite most families becoming scattered far from their original territory. Thus, John of Zamość called himself John Zamoyski, Stephen of Potok called himself Stephen Potocki.[48] Not until the late 19th century did the surnames of noble families, cognomens and their spelling, became more or less fixed, remaining in that form until today. This was in part due to the imposition of Russian as the official language from the 1860s onwards in the Russian Partition, resulting in many erroneous manuscript transliterations from Latin script into Cyrillic and back again. Prior to the 17th century, family members would simply use Christian names (e.g., Jakub, Jan, Mikołaj, etc.) and the name of the coat of arms common to all their clan members.

The Polish state paralleled the Roman Empire in that full rights of citizenship were limited to the szlachta.[32] In Poland, where Latin was widely written and spoken, the szlachta used the Roman naming convention of the tria nomina - praenomen, nomen, and cognomen - to distinguish Polish szlachta from the peasantry and foreigners, hence the possible multiple surnames associated with particular Polish coat of arms.[49] [29] [30][50]

Bartosz Paprocki cites the case of the Rościszewski family who took different surnames from the names of specific patrimonies or estates they owned. The branch of the Rościszewskis that settled in Chrapunia, became the Chrapuński family. The branch of the Rościszewskis that settled in Strykwina, became the Strykwiński family. While the branch of the Rościszewskis that settled in Borków, became known as the Borkowski family. Because all the branches shared a common ancestor and belonged to the same clan, they used the same coat of arms as the original Rościszewski family.[51]

Each clan had its own coat of arms, out of a limited number of crests. There were very few coats of arms attached to a single family, herbu własnego.[52] Each coat of arms bore a name, the clan's battle cry. In most instances, the coat of arms belonged to many families within the clan.[53] The Polish szlachta had a different origin and structure in law to the rest of Western Europe's feudal nobility.[54] The clan system survived until the end of the Second Polish Republic.[55]


In the Kingdom of PolandEdit

Karol Stanisław Radziwiłł, the richest noble of his time.

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

In the Kingdom of Poland and later in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, ennoblement (nobilitacja) may be equated with an individual given legal status as a szlachcic member of the Polish nobility. Initially, this privilege could be granted by the monarch, but from 1641 onward, this right was reserved for the sejm. Most often the individual being ennobled would join an existing noble szlachta clan and assume the undifferentiated coat of arms of that clan.

According to heraldic sources, the total number of legal ennoblements issued between the 14th century and the mid-18th century is estimatedat approximately 800.[56][57] This is an average of only about two ennoblements per year, or only 0.000,000,14 – 0.000,001 of the historical population. Compare: historical demography of Poland. Charles-Joseph, 7th Prince of Ligne, when trying to obtain Polish noble status, supposedly said in 1784, "It is easier to become a duke in Germany, than to be counted among Polish nobles."[58][59]

The close of the late 18th century (see below) was a period in which a definite increase[56][57] in the number of ennoblements can be noted. This can most readily be explained in terms of the ongoing decline and eventual collapse of the Commonwealth and the resulting need for soldiers and other military leaders (see: Partitions of Poland, King Stanisław August Poniatowski).

Estimated number of ennoblementsEdit

According to heraldic[56][57] sources 1,600 is the 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 the final years of the late 18th century).

Types of ennoblement:

  • Adopcja herbowa – The "old way" of ennoblement, popular in the 15th century, connected with adoption into an existing noble clan by a powerful lord, but abolished in the 17th century.
  • Skartabellat – Introduced by pacta conventa of the 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.
  • Indygenat – from the Latin expression, indigenatus, recognition of foreign noble status. A foreign noble, after acquiring indygenat status, 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, after the 17th century it was done only by the Sejm.
  • "secret ennoblement" – This was of questionable legal status and was often not recognized by many szlachta members. It was typically granted by the elected monarch without the required legal approval of the Sejm.

In the Grand Duchy of LithuaniaEdit

In the late 14th century, in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Vytautas the Great reformed the Grand Duchy's army: instead of calling all men to arms, he created forces comprising professional warriors—bajorai ("nobles"; see the cognate "boyar"). 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 to the Grand Duke, they were granted land that was worked by hired men (veldams). The newly formed noble families generally took up, as their family names, the Lithuanian pagan given names of their ennobled ancestors; this was the case with the Goštautai, Radvilos, Astikai, Kęsgailos and others. These families were granted their coats of arms under the Union of Horodlo (1413).

In 1506, King Sigismund I the Old confirmed the position of the Lithuanian Council of Lords in state politics and limited entry into the nobility.


Specific rights of the szlachta included:

Election of Stanisław August Poniatowski in 1764
  1. The right to hold outright ownership of land (Allod) -- not as a fief, conditional upon service to the liege Lord, but absolutely in perpetuity unless sold. The szlachta had a monopoly on land. Peasants did not own land.[60] See Polish landed gentry (Ziemiaństwo).
  2. The right to join in political and military assemblies of the regional nobility.
  3. The right to form independent administrative councils for their locality.
  4. The right to cast a vote for Polish Kings.
  5. The right to travel freely anywhere in the old Commonwealth of the Polish and Lithuanian nobility; or outside it, as foreign policy dictated.
  6. The right to demand information from Crown offices.
  7. The right to spiritual semi-independence from the clergy.
  8. The right to interdict, in suitable ways, the passage of foreigners and townsmen through their territories.
  9. The right of priority over the courts of the peasantry.
  10. Special rights in Polish courts, including freedom from arbitrary arrest and freedom from corporal punishment.
  11. The right to sell their military or administrative services.
  12. Heraldic rights.
  13. The right to receive higher pay when entitled in the "Levée en masse" (mobilization of the szlachta for defence of the nation).
  14. Educational rights
  15. The right of importing duty-free goods often.
  16. The exclusive right to enter the clergy until the time of the three partitions of Poland.
  17. The right to try their peasants for major offences (reduced to minor offences only, after the 1760s).[61]
Samuel Zborowski on his way to his execution, 26 May 1584. Sketch by Jan Matejko, 1860

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 Sejms, and statutes issued between 1496 and 1611 that prescribed the rights of commoners.[62]

Real and false noblesEdit

Nobles were born into a noble family, adopted by a noble family - this was abolished in 1633 - or achieved noble rank through Ennoblement by a king or Sejm for reasons such as, bravery in combat, services to the state, etc. Yet this proved to be the rarest means of gaining noble status. Many nobles were, in fact, usurpers since, as commoners, they would have moved to another part of the country and falsely claimed noble status. Hundreds of such "false nobles" were denounced by Hieronim Nekanda Trepka in his "Liber generationis plebeanorum", or "Liber chamorum", in the first half of the 16th century. The law forbade non-nobles to own folwarks and promised such estates as a reward to the would-be denouncers. Trepka was himself an impoverished nobleman who lived a town dweller's life and assembled hundreds of such false claims hoping to take over any one of the usurped estates. He does not seem to have succeeded in his quest, despite his employment as the king's secretary.[63] 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,[citation needed].

Ambitions of aggrandizement of perceived status was not confined to commoners. It was not uncommon for members of the lower szlachta to seek further ennoblement from foreign, therefore less verifiable, sources. That is, they might acquire by legitimate means or not, such as by purchase one of a selection of foreign titles, ranging from Baron, Marchese, Freiherr to Comte, all readily translatable into the Polish Hrabia. Alternatively, they would simply appropriate a title by conferring it upon themselves. An example of this is cited in the case of the last descendant of the Ciechanowiecki family, who managed to restore a genuinely old Comital title, but whose actual origins are shrouded in 18th century mystery.[64]

Accretion of sovereignty to the szlachtaEdit

Polish nobility enjoyed many rights that were not available to their equivalents in other countries. Over time, each new monarch ceded to them further privileges. Those privileges became the basis of the Golden Liberty in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Despite having a king, Poland was considered the 'nobility's Commonwealth' because Royal elections in Poland were in the hands of members of a hereditary class. Poland was therefore the domain of this class, and not that of the king or the ruling dynasty. This arose in part because of the extinction of male heirs in the original royal dynasties: first, the Piasts, then the Jagiellons. As a result, the nobility took it upon itself to choose "the Polish king" from among the dynasties' matrilinial descendants.

Poland's successive kings granted privileges to the nobility upon their election to the throne - the privileges having been specified in the king-elect's Pacta conventa - and at other times, in exchange for ad hoc leave to raise an extraordinary tax or a pospolite ruszenie, a military call up. Poland's nobility thus accumulated a growing array of privileges and immunities.

In 1355 in Buda King Casimir III the Great issued the first country-wide privilege for the nobility, in exchange for their agreement that in the absence of Casimir's having male heirs, the throne would pass to his nephew, Louis I of Hungary. He further 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 when the royal court was on tour, the king and the court would cover all expenses, instead of using the facilities provided by the local nobility.

The Privilege of Koszyce and othersEdit

In 1374 King Louis of Hungary approved the Privilege of Koszyce - przywilej koszycki to guarantee the Polish throne for his daughter, Jadwiga. He broadened the definition of membership of the nobility and exempted the entire class from all but one tax - łanowy - a limit of 2 groszes per łan of land, Old Polish units of measurement. In addition, the King's right to raise taxes was effectively abolished: no new taxes without the agreement of the nobility. Henceforth, also, district offices 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 to nobles injured or taken captive during a war outside Polish borders.

In 1422 King Władysław II Jagiełło was constrained by the Privilege of Czerwińsk - przywilej czerwiński which established the inviolability of nobles' property. Their estates could not be confiscated except upon the verdict of a court. It also made him cede some jurisdiction over fiscal policy to the Royal Council, later, the Senate of Poland, including the right to mint coinage.

In 1430 with the Privileges of Jedlnia, confirmed at Kraków in 1433, Polish: przywileje jedlneńsko-krakowskie, based partially on his earlier Brześć Kujawski privilege (April 25, 1425), King Władysław II Jagiełło granted the nobility a guarantee against arbitrary arrest, similar to the English Magna Carta's Habeas corpus, known from its own Latin name as "neminem captivabimus nisi jure victum". Henceforth no member of the nobility could be imprisoned without an warrant from a court of justice. The king could neither punish nor imprison any noble on a whim. King Władysław's quid pro quo for this Easement was the nobles' guarantee that the throne would be inherited by one of his sons, who would be bound to honour the privileges granted earlier to the nobility. On May 2, 1447 the same king issued the Wilno Pact - Wilno Privilege which gave the Lithuanian boyars the same rights as those already secured by the Polish szlachta.

In 1454 King Casimir IV granted the Nieszawa Statutes - Polish: statuty cerkwicko-nieszawskie, clarifying the legal basis of voivodship sejmiks - local parliaments. The king could promulgate new laws, raise taxes, or call for a mass military call up. pospolite ruszenie, 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, the national parliament, had the right to elect many officials, including judges, voivods and castellans. These privileges were demanded by the szlachta in exchange for their participation in the Thirteen Years' War.

First Royal ElectionEdit

The first "free election" - Polish: wolna elekcja - of a king took place in 1492. In fact, some earlier Polish kings had been elected with help from assemblies such as those that 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 John I Albert. 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 Sejm, began meeting every two years at Piotrków. It comprised two chambers:

The numbers of senators and deputies later increased.

On April 26, 1496 King John I Albert granted the Privilege of Piotrków. The Statutes of Piotrków increased the nobility's feudal power over serfs. It bound the peasant to the land, and only one son though not the eldest, was permitted to leave the village. Townsfolk mieszczaństwo were prohibited from owning land. Positions in the Church hierarchy were restricted to nobles.

On 23 October 1501, the Polish–Lithuanian union was reformed by the Union of Mielnik. It was there that the tradition of a coronation Sejm was founded. Here again, the lesser nobility, lesser in wealth only - not in rank - attempted to reduce the power of the Magnates with a law that made them impeachable before the Senate for malfeasance. However, the Act of Mielnik of 25 October did more to strengthen the Magnate-dominated Senate of Poland than the lesser nobility. Nobles as a whole were given the right to disobey the King or his representatives — non praestanda oboedientia, and to form confederations, armed opposition against the king or state officials if the nobles found that the law or their legitimate privileges were being infringed.

The Commonwealth's Power at Its Zenith, Golden Liberty, the Election of 1573. Painting by Jan Matejko

On 3 May 1505 King Alexander I Jagiellon granted the Act of Nihil novi nisi commune consensu - "I accept nothing new except by common consent". This forbade the king to pass new laws without the consent of the representatives of the nobility in the assembled Sejm, thus greatly strengthening the nobility's powers. Essentially, this act marked the transfer of legislative power from the king to the Sejm. It also marks the beginning of the First Rzeczpospolita, 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. At about that time the Executionist Movement, seeking to oversee law enforcement, began to take shape. Its members sought to curb the power of the Magnates at the Sejm and to strengthen the power of the monarch. In 1562 at the Sejm in Piotrków they forced the Magnates to return many leased crown lands to the king, and the king to create a standing army wojsko kwarciane. One of the most famous members of this movement was Jan Zamoyski.

End of the Jagiellonian dynastyEdit

Until the death of Sigismund II Augustus, the last king of the Jagiellonian dynasty, all monarchs had to be elected from within the royal family. However, from 1573, practically any Polish noble or foreigner of royal blood could potentially become a Polish–Lithuanian monarch. Every newly elected king was supposed to sign two documents: the Pacta conventa, the king's "pre-election pact", and the Henrican articles, named after the first freely elected king, Henry of Valois. The latter document was a virtual Polish constitution and contained the basic laws of the Commonwealth:

Henry of Valois, first elected monarch of the Commonwealth of Two Nations
  • Free election of kings
  • Religious tolerance
  • The Sejm to meet every two years
  • Foreign policy controlled by the Sejm
  • A royal advisory council chosen by the Sejm
  • Official posts restricted to Polish and Lithuanian nobles
  • Taxes and monopolies set up by the Sejm only
  • Nobles' right to disobey the Monarch should s/he break any of these laws.

In 1578 king, Stefan Batory, created the Crown Tribunal 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 as a class. In 1581 the Crown Tribunal was joined by a counterpart in Lithuania, the Lithuanian Tribunal.

Transformation into aristocracyEdit

Possessions of major magnate families in 16th–17th century.

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 "Crimsons" - from the crimson colour of their boots. A true Magnate had to be able to trace his ancestry for many generations and own at least 20 villages or estates. He also had to hold high office in the Commonwealth.[citation needed]. Thus, out of about one million szlachta, only 200–300 persons could be classed as great Magnates with country-wide possessions and influence. Of these some 30–40 were considered as having significant impact on Poland's politics. Magnates often received gifts from monarchs, which greatly increased their wealth. Although such gifts were only temporary leases, often the Magnates never returned them. This gave rise in the 16th century, to a self-policing trend by the szlachta, known as the ruch egzekucji praw — movement for the enforcement of the law - against usurping Magnates to force them to return leased lands back to their rightful owner, the monarch.

One of the most important victories of the Magnates was the late 16th century right to create Ordynacjas, similar to Fee tails under English law, which ensured that a family which gained landed wealth could more easily preserve it. The Ordynacjas that belonged to families such as the Radziwiłł, Zamoyski, Potocki or Lubomirskis often rivalled the estates of the king and were important power bases for them.

Very high office of the Polish crown was de facto "hereditary" and guarded by the magnateria of Poland, leaving the lower offices for the "lesser" nobility. For "the baronage" &mdash: see Offices in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth for a sense of the hierarchy. The prestige of lower offices depended on the economic wealth of the region. The Masovian region of Poland had a long-standing reputation of being rather poor due to the condition of the soil.

The difference between the magnateria and the rest of the szlachta was primarily one of wealth and life-style, as both belonged to the same legally defined class being members of the same clans. Consequently, any power wrested from the king by the magnates was consequently trickled down to the entirety of the szlachta. This often meant the rest of the szlachta tended to cooperate with the magnates rather than struggle against them.[39]

The szlachta's loss of influenceEdit

The Peasant Uprising of 1846, the largest peasant uprising against szlachta rules on Polish lands in the 19th century.

The notion of the szlachta's accrued sovereignty ended in 1795 with the final Partitions of Poland, and until 1918 their legal status was dependent on the policies of the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia or the Habsburg Monarchy. A project begun in the Golden Age of Poland was finally eclipsed, but arguably the memory of it has lingered in succeeding generations.[65]

In the 1840s Nicholas I reduced 64,000 szlachta to commoner status.[66] Despite this, 62.8% of all Russia's nobles were Polish szlachta in 1858 and still 46.1% in 1897.[67]Serfdom was abolished in Russian Poland on February 19, 1864. It was deliberately enacted with the aim of ruining the szlachta. Only in the Russian Partition did peasants pay the market price for land redemption, the average for the rest of the Russian Empire was 34% above the market rates. All land taken from Polish peasants since 1846 was to be returned to them 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 lived in the 8 western provinces. Along with Romania, Polish landless or domestic serfs were the only ones to be given land after serfdom was abolished.[68] All this was to punish the szlachta's role in the uprisings of 1830 and 1863. By 1864 80% of szlachta were déclassé - downward social mobility. One quarter of petty nobles were worse off than the average serf. While 48.9% of the land in Russian Poland was in peasant hands, nobles still held onto 46%.[69] In the Second Polish Republic the privileges of the nobility were legally abolished by the March Constitution in 1921 and as such not reinstated by any succeeding Polish law.

Cultural and international connectionsEdit

Coat of arms of the Order of Malta

Despite preoccupations with warring, politics and status, the szlachta in Poland, as did people from all social classes, played its part in contributing in fields ranging from literature, art and architecture, philosophy, education, agriculture and the many branches of science, to technology and industry.[70] [71] Perhaps foremost among the cultural determinants of the nobility in Poland were its continuing international connections with the Rome-based Catholic Church. It was from the ranks of the szlachta that were drawn the church's leading Prelates until the 20th century. Other international influences came through the more or less secretive and powerful Christian and lay organisations such as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, focused on hospital and other charitable activity.[72] The most notable Polish Maltese Knight was the Pozńan commander, Bartłomiej Nowodworski, founder in 1588 of the oldest school in Poland. One alumnus was John III Sobieski.[73] In the 18th century, after several false starts, international Freemasonry, wolnomularstwo, from western lodges, became established among the higher échelons of the szlachta, and in spite of membership of some clergy, it was intermittently but strongly opposed by the Catholic Church. After the partitions it became a cover for opposition to the occupying powers.[74] Also in the 18th century there was a marked development in Patronage of the arts during the reign of Stanisław August Poniatowski, himself a freemason, and with the growth of social awareness, in Philanthropy.

The role of women as purveyors of cultureEdit

High-born women in Poland exerted political and cultural influence throughout history in their own country and abroad, as queens, princesses and the wives or widows of magnates. Their cultural activities came into sharper relief in the 18th century with their hosting of salons in the French manner. They went on to publish as translators and writers and as facilitators of educational and social projects. [75]

Barbara Sanguszko, philanthropist, writer and salon hostess at Poddębice. Oil by Marcello Bacciarelli

Notable women members of the szlachta who exerted political and/or cultural influence include:


Elżbieta Potocka by Wojciech Kossak

The szlachta, no less than the rest of the population, placed a particular accent on food. It was at the centre of courtly and estate entertaining and in good times, at the heart of village life. During the Age of Enlightenment, King Stanislaw August Poniatowski emulated the French Salons by holding his famed Thursday Lunches for intellectuals and artists, drawn chiefly from the szlachta.[76] His Wednesday Lunches were gatherings for policy makers in science, education and politics. There was a tradition, particularly in Mazovia, kept till the 20th century, of estate owners laying on a festive banquet at the completion of Harvest for their staff, known as Dożynki, as a way of expressing an acknowledgment of their work. It was equivalent to a Harvest festival. Polish food varied according to region, as elsewhere in Europe, and was influenced by settlers, especially Jewish cuisine, and occupying armies.[77][78]


"brach", Polish Hunting Dog

One of the favourite szlachta pastimes was hunting Łowiectwo.[79] Before the formation of Poland as a state, hunting was accessible to everyone. With the introduction of rulers and rules, big game, generically zwierzyna: Aurochs, bison, deer and boar became the preserve of kings and princes on penalty of poachers' death. From the 13th century on the king would appoint a high-ranking courtier to the role of Master of the Hunt, Łowczy. In time, the penalties for poaching were commuted to fines and from around the 14th century, landowners acquired the right to hunt on their land. Small game, foxes, hare, badger and stoat etc. were 'fair game' to all comers. Hunting became one of the most popular social activities of the szlachta until the partitions, when different sets of restrictions in the three territories were introduced. This was with a view to curbing social interaction among the subject Poles.[80] Over the centuries, at least two breeds of specialist hounds were bred in Poland. One was the Polish Hunting Dog, the brach. The other was the Ogar Polski. Count Xavier Branicki was so nostalgic about Polish hunting, that when he settled in France in the mid 19th century, and restored his estate at the Chateau de Montresor, he ordered a brace of Ogar Polski hounds from the Polish breeder and szlachcic, Piotr Orda.[81]

Demographics and stratificationEdit

The szlachta differed in many respects from the nobility in other countries. The most important difference was that, while in most European countries the nobility lost power as the ruler strove for absolute monarchy, in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth a reverse process occurred: the nobility actually gained power at the expense of the king, and enabled the political system to evolve into an oligarchy.

Szlachta members were also proportionately more numerous than their equivalents in all other European countries, constituting 6–12% of the entire population.[82][a] By contrast, nobles in other European countries, except for Spain, amounted to a mere 1–3%. Most of the szlachta were "minor nobles" or smallholders. In Lithuania the minor nobility made up to 3/4 of the total szlachta population.[page needed][83] By the mid-16th century the szlachta class consisted of at least 500,000 persons (some 25,000 families) and was possibly a million strong in 1795.[84] [82] The proportion of nobles in the population varied across regions. In the 16th century, the highest proportion of nobles lived in the Płock Voivodeship (24,6%) and in Podlachia (26,7%), while Galicia had numerically the largest szlachta population.[85] In districts, such as Wizna and Łomża, the szlachta constituted nearly half of the population. Regions with the lowest percentage of nobles were the Kraków Voivodeship with (1,7%), Royal Prussia with (3%) and the Sieradz Voivodeship with 4,6%.[86] Before the Union of Lublin, inequality among nobles in terms of wealth and power was far greater in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania than in the Polish Kingdom. The further south and east one went, the more the territory was dominated by magnate families and other nobles.[82] In the Lithuanian and Ruthenian palatinates, poor nobles were more likely to rent smallholdings from magnates than to own land themselves.[87]

It has been said that the ruling elites were the only socio-political milieu to whom a sense of national consciousness could be attributed. All szlachta members, irrespective of their cultural/ethnic background, were regarded as belonging to a single "political nation" within the Commonwealth. Arguably, a common culture, the Catholic religion and the Polish language were seen as the main unifying factors in the dual state.[88] Prior to the Partitions there was said to have been no Polish national identity as such. Only szlachta members, irrespective of their ethnicity or culture of origin, were considered as "Poles".[89][90][91]

Despite polonisation in Lithuania and Ruthenia in the XVII-XVIII centuries, a large part of the lower szlachta managed to retain their cultural identity in various ways.[page needed][92][93][94][95] Due to poverty most of the local szlachta had never had access to formal education nor to Polish language teaching and hence could not be expected to self-identify as Poles.[83][96] It was common even for wealthy and in practice polonised szlachta members still to refer to themselves as Lithuanian, Litwin or Ruthenian, Rusyn.[97]

Although born a Lithuanian and a Lithuanian I shall die, I must use the Polish idiom in my homeland.

— Janusz Radziwiłł, in letter to his brother Krzysztof[98]

According to Polish estimates from the 1930s, 300,000 members of the common nobles -szlachta zagrodowa - inhabited the subcarpathian region of the Second Polish Republic out of 800,000 in the whole country. 90% of them were Ukrainian-speaking and 80% were Ukrainian Greek Catholics.[85] In other parts of the Ukraine with a significant szlachta population, such as the Bar or the Ovruch regions, the situation was similar despite russification and earlier polonization.[99][100][101] As an example:

... The first official records of the Chopovsky family, as clan members of the Korwin coat of arms, date back to mid-XVII century. As the Chopovsky family multiplied, by 1861 they were already 3063 souls of both sexes. They were considered szlachta members, but neither their way of life nor their clothing distinguished them from the neighbouring peasants, except that they were more prosperous and possessed more of their own land [...]. When Uniates began joining the Orthodox church in 1839 - The Russian government liquidated the Uniate church after the Polotsk Convocation - 43 souls of both sexes switched to the Roman faith, while the rest of the Chopovsky (86%) returned to Orthodoxy. The Heraldic Office of the Russian Senate declined to certify the Chopovsky family's noble status, but the land remained theirs. The exception were the Prokopenko-Chopovsky branch of the family who were received into the Russian nobility in 1858,[102]

However the era of sovereign rule by the szlachta ended earlier than in other countries, excluding France, in 1795 (see Partitions of Poland). Since then their legitimacy and fate depended on the legislation and policies of the Russian Empire, Kingdom of Prussia and Habsburg Monarchy. Their privileges became increasingly limited, and were ultimately dissolved by the March Constitution of Poland in 1921.

Polish Nobleman with a Parrot, by Józef Simmler.

There were a number of avenues to upward social mobility and the attainment of nobility. The szlachta was not rigidly exclusive or closed as a class, but according to heraldic sources, the total number of legal ennoblements issued between the 14th and mid-18th century, is estimated at approximately 800.[56][57] This is an average of about two ennoblements per year, or 0.000,000,14 – 0.000,001 of the historical population.

According to two English journalists Richard Holt Hutton and Walter Bagehot writing on the subject in 1864,

The condition of the country at the present day shows that the population consisted of two different peoples, between whom there was an impassable barrier. There is the Sliachta, or caste of nobles (the descendants of Lekh), on the one hand, and the serfs or peasantry, who constitute the bulk of the population, on the other."[18]:483-484


... the Statute of 1633 completed the slavery of the other classes, by proclaiming the principle that 'the air enslaves the man,&#39 in virtue of which every peasant who had lived for a year upon the estate of a noble was held to be his property. Nowhere in history - nowhere in the world - do we ever see a homogeneous nation organise itself in a form like that which has prevailed from the earliest times in Poland. But where there has been an intrusion of a dominant people, or settlers, who have not fused into the original population, there we find an exact counterpart of Polish society: the dominant settlers establishing themselves as an upper caste, all politically equal among themselves, and holding the lands (or, more frequently, simply drawing the rents) of the country.[18]:483

Sociologist and historian, Jerzy Ryszard Szacki said in this context,

... the Polish nobility was a closed group (apart from a few exceptions, many of which were contrary to the law), in which membership was inherited.[4]

Others assert the szlachta were not a social class, but a caste, among them, historian Adam Zamoyski,

A more apt analogy might perhaps be made with the Rajputs of northern India. ... unlike any other gentry in Europe, the szlachta was not limited by nor did it depend for its status on either wealth, or land, or royal writ. It was defined by its function, that of a warrior caste.[10][32]

Jerzy Szacki continues,

While Świętochowski wrote: ‘If from the deeds of the Polish nobility we took away excesses and the exclusiveness of caste, ...’.[44]

Low-born individuals, including townsfolk mieszczanie, peasants chłopi, but not Jews Żydzi, could and did rise to official ennoblement in Commonwealth society, although Charles-Joseph, 7th Prince of Ligne, while trying to obtain Polish noble status, is supposed to have said in 1784,

It is easier to become a duke in Germany, than to be counted among Polish nobles.[58][59]

According to heraldic sources 1,600 is the 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 enacted in the final years of the late 18th century.[56][57] Hutton and Bagehot,

... for the barrier of exclusion was partly thrown down in the last days of the monarchy ....[18]:482

Stanisław Wyspiański, Self-portrait with wife, 1904.

Each szlachcic was said to hold enormous potential influence over the country's politics, far greater than that enjoyed by the citizens of modern democratic countries. Between 1652 and 1791, any nobleman could potentially nullify all the proceedings of a given sejm or sejmik by exercising his individual right of liberum veto - Latin for "I do not allow" - except in the case of a confederated sejm or confederated sejmik.

In old Poland, a nobleman could only marry a noblewoman, as intermarriage between "castes" could be fraught with difficulties.[103][104] (wiktionary:endogamy); but, children of a legitimate marriage followed the condition of the father, never the mother, therefore, only the father transmitted his nobility to his children.[105][106] See patrilineality. Later, as marriages of a nobleman to a commoner became more frequent, children inherited nobility from their noble parent. Although a noble woman married to a commoner could not transmit nobility to her husband and to all their children. Any individual could attain ennoblement (nobilitacja) for special services to the state. A foreign noble might be naturalized as a Polish noble through the mechanism called the Indygenat, certified by the king. Later, from 1641, it could only be done by a general sejm. By the eighteenth century all these trends contributed to the great increase in the proportion of szlachta in the total population.

In theory all szlachta members were social equals and were formally legal peers. Those who held civic appointments were more privileged but their roles were not hereditary. Those who held honorary appointments were superior in the hierarchy but these positions were only granted for a lifetime. Some tenancies became hereditary and went with both privilege and title. Nobles who were not direct Lessees 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, who held honorary aristocratic titles bestowed by foreign courts and recognised in Poland which granted them use of titles such as "Prince" or "Count". See also The Princely Houses of Poland. All other szlachta simply addressed each other by their given name or as "Brother, Sir" 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 descending order, or simply "His/Her Grace Lord/Lady".

Prot Potocki, banker and industrialist who turned Odessa from a sleepy fishing village into an international trade centre

The notion that all Polish nobles were social equals, regardless of their financial status or offices held, is enshrined in a traditional Polish adage:

Szlachcic na zagrodzie
równy wojewodzie.

equivalent to:

The noble on the croft Is the voivode's equal.

Szlachta levelsEdit

According to their wealth, the nobility were divided into:

  • magnates: the wealthiest class; owners of vast lands, towns, many villages, thousands of peasants
  • middle nobility średnia szlachta, owners of one or more villages, often having some official titles or Envoys from the local Land Assemblies to the General Assembly,
Artist, Jacques Hnizdovsky, Korab coat of arms, as a child in Galician lesser nobility costume
  • petty nobility drobna szlachta, owners of part of a village or owning no land at all, often referred to by a variety of colourful Polish terms such as:
    • szaraczkowagrey nobility, from their grey, woollen, undyed żupans
    • okolicznalocal 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
    • cząstkowapartial, owners of only part of a single village
    • panek – little pan (i.e., lordling), term used in Kaszuby, the Kashubian region, also one of the legal terms for legally separated lower nobility in late medieval and early modern Poland
    • hreczkosiejbuckwheat 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.
    • brukowacobble nobility, for those living in towns like townsfolk
    • gołotanaked nobility, i.e., the landless. Gołota szlachta would be considered the 'lowest of the high'.
    • półpanek ("half-lord"); also podpanek/pidpanek ("sub-lord") in Podolia and Ukrainian accent[107] – a petty szlachcic pretending to be wealthy.

Landed szlachta - ziemianie or ziemiaństwo - meant any nobleman who owned land, including magnates, the lesser nobility and those who owned at least part of the village. Since titular manorial lordships were also open to burgers of certain privileged cities with a royal charter, not all landed gentry had hereditary title to noble status.


Jan Matejko - Drawing from an old print

Coats of arms were very important to the szlachta. Its heraldic system evolved together with neighbouring states in Central Europe, while differing in many ways from the heraldry of other European countries. Polish Knighthood had its counterparts, links and roots in Moravia, e.g. Poraj coat of arms and in Germany, e.g. Junosza coat of arms.

Escutcheons and hereditary coats of arms with eminent privileges attached is an honor derived from the ancient Germans. Where Germans did not inhabit, and where German customs were unknown, no such thing existed.[108] The usage of coats of arms in Poland was brought in by knights who had arrived from Silesia, Lusatia, Meissen, and Bohemia. Migrations from there were the most frequent, and the time period was the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.[109] However, unlike other European chivalry, coats of arms were associated with Polish knights' clans' (genealogiae) names and war cries (godło), where heraldic devices came to be held in common by entire clans, fighting in regiments.[53][54][55] (Górecki 1992, pp. 183–185).

Families who had a common origin would also share a coat of arms. They would also share their crest with families adopted into the clan. Sometimes unrelated families would be falsely attributed to a clan on the basis of similarity of crests. Some noble families inaccurately claimed clan membership. The number of coats of arms in this system was comparatively low and did not exceed 200 in the late Middle Ages. There were 40,000 in the late 18th century.

At the Union of Horodło, forty-seven families of Catholic Lithuanian lords and boyars were adopted by Polish szlachta families and allowed to use Polish coats of arms.[110][111]


The tradition of differentiating between a coat of arms and a lozenge granted to women, did not develop in Poland. By the 17th century, invariably, men and women inherited a coat of arms from their father. When mixed marriages developed after the partitions, that is between commoners and members of the nobility, as a courtesy, children could claim a coat of arms from their distaff side, but this was tolerated and could not be passed on into the next generation. The brisure was rarely used. All children would inherit the coat of arms and title of their father. This partly accounts for the relatively large proportion of Polish families who had claim to a coat of arms by the 18th century. Another factor was the arrival of titled foreign settlers, especially from the German lands and the Habsburg Empire.

Illegitimate children could adopt the mother's surname and title by the consent of the mother's father, but would sometimes be adopted and raised by the natural father's family, thereby acquiring the father's surname, though not the title or arms.


Hetman Jan Zamoyski, as a representative of Sarmatism.

The szlachta's prevalent ideology, especially in the 17th and 18th centuries, was manifested in its adoption of "Sarmatism", a word derived from the legend that its origins reached back to the ancient tribe of an Iranic people, the Sarmatians. This nostalgic belief system embracing chivalry and courtliness, 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, kontusz, sukmana, pas kontuszowy, delia and made the scimitar-like szabla a near-obligatory item of everyday szlachta apparel. Sarmatism served to integrate a nobility of disparate provenance, as it sought to create a sense of national unity and pride in the szlachta's "Golden Liberty" złota wolność. It was marked furthermore by a linguistic affectation among the szlachta of mixing Polish and Latin vocabulary, producing a form of Polish Dog Latin peppered with "macaronisms" in everyday conversation.[112]

Religious adherenceEdit

Prior to the Reformation, the Polish nobility were either Roman Catholic or Orthodox with a small group of Muslims. See the Muslim, Haroun Tazieff of princely Tartar extraction.[113] Many families, however, went on to adopt the Reformed Christian faith. Jan Łaski or Johannes Alasco (1499-1560) was a cleric, whose uncle, the eponymous Jan Łaski (1456-1531) was Grand Chancellor of the Crown, Archbishop of Gniezno and Primate of Poland. His nephew was an early convert to Calvinism and had a hand in implementing (c. 1543–1555) Reformation in England where he is known as John Laski.

After the Counter-Reformation, when the Roman Catholic Church regained power in Poland, the nobility became almost exclusively Catholic. Approximately 45% of the population were Roman Catholic or members of Protestant denominations, 36% were Greek Catholic, 4% Orthodox, of whom some were members of the Armenian Apostolic or the Armenian Catholic Churches and the Georgian Orthodox Church. The remaining 15% were made up of a substantial minority of Jews. [114] In the 18th century, the followers of Jacob Frank were ennobled as a result of their conversion to Roman Catholicism. Although Judaism per se had not been a bar to noble status, in practice there were laws that favoured religious conversion to Christianity by rewarding it with ennoblement (see: Neophyte).[115] A later example, in 1839, of certifying the noble status of converts is the Wołowski family with the Bawół coat of arms.[116]


See alsoEdit


a.^ Estimates of the proportion of szlachta vary widely: 10–12% of the total population of historic Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth,[117] around 8%[118] of the total population in 1791 (up from 6.6% in the 16th century)[citation needed] or 6-8%.[82]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Davies, Norman (1982). God's Playground: A History of Poland, Volume I - The Origins to 1795. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-05351-7.
  2. ^ Szulc, Halina. (1995) Morfogeneza Osiedli Wiejskich w Polsce. published by Continuo. ISBN 83-86682-00-0. esp. p.59. In Polish but with a decent Summary in English about patterns of rural settlement in Poland since the Middle Ages. [accessed 2018-11-08]
  3. ^ Góralski, Zbigniew (1998). Urzędy i godności w dawnej Polsce. LSW. ISBN 83-205-4533-1. (Pol.)
  4. ^ a b c d Szacki, Jerzy Ryszard (1995). LIBERALISM AFTER COMMUNISM. Budapest, Central Hungary region, HUNGARY, EU: Central European University Press. p. 48. ... the Polish nobility was a closed group, save for a few exceptions many of which were formally contrary to law, to which membership could only be inherited.
  5. ^ Dmowski, Roman Stanisław (1917). "POLAND, OLD AND NEW". In Duff, James Duff. RUSSIAN REALITIES & PROBLEMS. Cambridge, East of England, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM: Cambridge University Press. p. 116. In the past the nobility in Poland constituted the nation itself. It ruled the country without any hindrance from any other class, the middle class being small in number and wealth, while the peasantry were subjugated into Serfdom.
  6. ^ a b Gliński, Mikołaj (8 October 2015). "Slavery vs. Serfdom, or Was Poland a Colonial Empire?". Warsaw, POLAND, EU: Archived from the original on 24 June 2017. Retrieved 23 June 2017. The boundaries between nobility and peasantry and other social groups, persisted well into the 19th and 20th centuries. A shocking proof of how effective the Sarmatian ideology was, can be found in a personal letter by Zygmunt Krasiński, one of the three greatest Polish Romantic poets of the 19th century (and descendant of an aristocratic family). In the mid-19th century Krasiński wrote to his English friend Henry Reeve: ‘Believe me and rest assured that apart from aristocracy there’s nothing to Poland: no talent, no bright minds, nor any sense of sacrifice. Our third estate [bourgeoisie] is nonsense; our peasants are machines. Only we [nobles] are Poland.’
  7. ^ Michener, James Albert (1983). Poland. Random House; New York City, NEW YORK, U.S.A. ISBN 0-394-53189-2. Minor nobility: Linguistically, this category causes trouble. Some Polish writers refer to "gentry", which doesn't quite sound right in English. Whereas some European writers use the term "petty nobility" [analogously to Petite bourgeoisie], but the adjective has unfortunate connotations.
  8. ^ Zamoyski, herbu Jelita, Adam (1998) [1987]. THE POLISH WAY: A THOUSAND-YEAR HISTORY OF THE POLES AND THEIR CULTURE (Fourth Printing ed.). New York City, NEW YORK, U.S.A.: Hippocrene Books. p. 55. ISBN 0-7818-0200-8. One cannot substitute the terms 'nobility' or 'gentry' for szlachta because it had little in common with those classes in other European countries either in origin, composition or outlook.
  9. ^ Davies, Norman (1982). God's Playground: A History of Poland, Volume I - The Origins to 1795. New York City, NEW YORK, U.S.A.: Columbia University Press. p. 206. ISBN 0-231-05351-7. For the sake of precision therefore, it is essential that szlachta should be translated as 'Nobility', szlachcic as 'nobleman', and stan szlachecki as 'the noble estate'.
  10. ^ a b c Zamoyski, herbu Jelita, Adam (1998) [1987]. THE POLISH WAY: A THOUSAND-YEAR HISTORY OF THE POLES AND THEIR CULTURE (Fourth Printing ed.). New York City, NEW YORK, U.S.A.: Hippocrene Books. p. 55. ISBN 0-7818-0200-8. A more apt analogy might perhaps be made with the Rajputs of northern India. ... unlike any other gentry in Europe, the szlachta was not limited by nor did it depend for its status on either wealth, or land, or royal writ. It was defined by its function, that of a warrior caste.
  11. ^ Zamoyski, herbu Jelita, Adam (1998) [1987]. THE POLISH WAY: A THOUSAND-YEAR HISTORY OF THE POLES AND THEIR CULTURE (Fourth Printing ed.). New York City, NEW YORK, U.S.A.: Hippocrene Books. pp. 57–58. ISBN 0-7818-0200-8. While land provided the majority with a livelihood, it was not the only or even the predominant source of wealth for the magnates, whose estates were not large by the standards of the barons of England or the great lords of France. ... The magnates only started accumulating property on a large scale at the beginning of the fifteenth century.
  12. ^ Michener, James Albert (1983). Poland. Random House; New York City, NEW YORK, U.S.A. ISBN 0-394-53189-2. Minor nobility: ... The category includes men almost rich and powerful enough to be magnates, and all intervening levels down to the roving rascal with no castle, no money, no village, no peasants, one horse and pride unbounded.
  14. ^ Jolanta Sikorska-Kulesza. (Pol.) Deklasacja drobnej szlachty na Litwie i Białorusi w XIX wieku Warszawa, Oficyna Wydawnicza "Ajaks". 1995. p.14. [accessed 2018-11-2]. This monograph describes how during the 19th century the mass of "local" szlachta in the western borderlands of the Russian Empire were subjected to downward mobility and rank poverty through tsarist bureaucracy and a policy of social degradation
  15. ^ Kidd, Colin (1999). British identities before nationalism: ethnicity and nationhood in the Atlantic world, 1600–1800. Cambridge University Press. p. 29. ISBN 978-0-521-62403-9.
  16. ^ Davies, Norman (1982). God's Playground: A History of Poland; Volume I: The Origins to 1795. Columbia University Press. pp. 161–163. ISBN 978-0-231-05351-8. Retrieved 2010-09-22.
  17. ^ Steinlauf, Michael C. (1997). Bondage to the dead: Poland and the memory of the Holocaust. Syracuse University Press. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-8156-2729-6.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Hutton, Richard Holt; Bagehot, Walter (January 1864). "The Races of the Old World". The National Review. London, England: Robson and Levey. Retrieved 9 Oct 2014.
  19. ^ Sulimirski, Tadeusz (Winter 1964). "Sarmatians in the Polish Past". The Polish Review. Champaign, Champaign county, ILLINOIS, U.S.A.: University of Illinois Press on behalf of the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America. 9 (1): 13–66. JSTOR 25776522.
  20. ^ Niesiecki S.J., Kasper; de Bobrowicz, Jan Nepomucen (1846) [1728]. Herbarz Polski (online book) (in Polish). I. (3rd? ed.). Leipzig, Saxony, GERMANY: Breitkopf & Härtel. p. 430. Retrieved 13 Oct 2014. Miano Szlachty, pochodzi od Lechitów (The name of the nobility, derived from the Lechites).
  21. ^ Lukas, Richard C. (1 July 2001). "Chapter IV. Germanization; Part I". DID THE CHILDREN CRY?: HITLER'S WAR AGAINST JEWISH AND POLISH CHILDREN, 1939-45 (Online excerpt from book). 171 MADISON AVE RM 1602, NEW YORK NY 10016-5110: HIPPOCRENE BOOKS INC. ISBN 978-0781808705. Archived from the original (website) on 11 September 2012. Retrieved 17 August 2018. The same bizarre logic was applied to the Polish intelligentsia, who led the Polish resistance movement. To the Nazis, these leaders were largely Nordic which enabled them 'To be active in contrast to the fatalistic Slavonic elements.' The implication was obvious: If the Polish elite were re-Germanized, then the mass of Polish people would be denied a dynamic leadership class.
  22. ^ Niesiecki S.J., Kasper; de Bobrowicz, Jan Nepomucen (1846) [1728]. Herbarz Polski (online book) (in Polish). I. (3rd? ed.). Leipzig, Saxony, GERMANY: Breitkopf & Härtel. p. 430. Retrieved 13 Oct 2014. Kmiecie czyli lud pospolity wolny (Kmiecie is the common free people), ...
  23. ^ Guzowski, Piotr (1 May 2014). "Village court records and peasant credit in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Poland". Continuity and Change. Cambridge, East of England, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM: Cambridge University Press. 29 (01): 118. doi:10.1017/S0268416014000101. Retrieved 9 Oct 2014. The most important and the most numerous section of the peasantry in late medieval and early modern Poland was the kmiecie (Latin: cmethones), full peasant holders of hereditary farms with an average size in the region under study of half a mansus, which was equivalent to eight hectares. Farms belonging to kmiecie were largely self-sufficient, although some of them were, to varying extents, engaged in production for the market. Other, less numerous, sections of the peasantry were the zagrodnicy (Latin: ortulani), or smallholders, and the ogrodnicy, or cottagers, who farmed small plots of land. These two categories of peasants were not able to support themselves and their families from their land, so they earned extra money as hired labourers on their landlords’ land, or that of the kmiecie. Apart from the holders of large or small farms, Polish villages were also inhabited by so-called komornicy, landless lodgers who earned wages locally. This group included village craftsmen, while the wealthiest kmiecie included millers and innkeepers.
  24. ^ Jastrzębiec-Czajkowski, Leszek Jan. "Niektóre dane z historii slachty i herbu". Warszawa, POLAND, EU: Artur Ornatowski. Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 9 Oct 2014.
  25. ^ Dmowski, Roman Stanisław (1917). "POLAND, OLD AND NEW". In Duff, James Duff. RUSSIAN REALITIES & PROBLEMS. Cambridge, East of England, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM: Cambridge University Press. p. 91. The population consists of free husbandmen and slaves. Above them there is a class of warriors, very strong numerically, from which the ruler chooses his officials.
  26. ^ Struve, Kai (2008). "Citizenship and National Identity: the Peasants of Galicia during the 19th Century". In Wawrzeniuk, Piotr. SOCIETAL CHANGE AND IDEOLOGICAL FORMATION AMONG THE RURAL POPULATION OF THE BALTIC AREA 1880-1939 (PDF) (History). Flemingsberg, Huddinge municipality, Stockholm county, KINGDOM OF SWEDEN: Södertörns högskola. pp. 76–77. ISBN 978-91-85139-11-8. A deep division between enserfed peasants and gentry landowners had developed in the early modern Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The noble estate, the szlachta, monopolized the political rights and consequently only the szlachta, as constituted by the Commonwealth’s sovereign, according to the early modern understanding of the concept, as well as the Polish nation and its members, were considered to be citizens.
  27. ^ Struve, Kai (2008). "Citizenship and National Identity: the Peasants of Galicia during the 19th Century". In Wawrzeniuk, Piotr. SOCIETAL CHANGE AND IDEOLOGICAL FORMATION AMONG THE RURAL POPULATION OF THE BALTIC AREA 1880-1939 (PDF) (History). Flemingsberg, Huddinge municipality, Stockholm county, KINGDOM OF SWEDEN: Södertörns högskola. p. 78. ISBN 978-91-85139-11-8. The peasants feared the reestablishment of a Polish state because they expected it to be the state of their landlords. Their memory of independent Poland, conveyed from one generation to the next, was one of landlord wilfulness and a lack of rights.
  28. ^ Jastrzębiec-Czajkowski, Leszek Jan. "Niektóre dane z historii slachty i herbu". Warszawa, POLAND, EU: Artur Ornatowski. Archived from the original on 5 March 2016. Retrieved 22 August 2018. Podobnie głosił Wacław Potocki h. Śreniawa, że chłopi 'z natury' są 'sprawieni do ziemi i do pługa', że nawet wykształcony chłop zawsze pozostanie chłopem, bo 'niepodobna przerobić psa na rysia'; ... (Wacław Potocki, Śreniawa, wrote peasants 'by nature' are 'chained to the land and plow,' that even an educated peasant would always remain a peasant, because 'it is impossible to transform a dog into a lynx.')
  29. ^ a b Davies, Ivor Norman Richard; Dawson, Andrew Hutchinson; Jasiewicz, Krzysztof; Kondracki, Jerzy Aleksander; Wandycz, Piotr Stefan (2 June 2017). "Poland". Encyclopædia Britannica. p. 15. Retrieved 4 June 2017. Throughout most of Europe the medieval system of estates evolved into absolutism, but in the Commonwealth it led to a szlachta democracy inspired by the ideals of ancient Rome, to which parallels were constantly drawn.
  30. ^ a b "Latin as the Language of Social Communication of the Polish Nobility (Based on the Latin Heraldic Work by Szymon Okolski)". Kórnik Library, Poznań, Greater Poland voivodeship, POLAND: The Central European Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities. Archived from the original on 8 June 2017. Retrieved 8 June 2017. The article highlights the role of Latin as the language of communication of the nobility living in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. At the beginning discusses the concept 'latinitas', which meant not only the correct Latin, but also pointed to the ideological content of antiquity passed through the language of the ancient Romans. ... We studied Latin armorial 'Orbis Polonus' by Simon Okolski (Cracow 1641-1645). ... It concludes that Okolski consciously wrote his work in the language of the ancient Romans.
  31. ^ Boswell, Alexander Bruce (1919). POLAND AND THE POLES (GOOGLE EBOOK). New York City, NEW YORK, U.S.A.: Dodd, Mead and Company. p. 47. ... through all modern Polish history it was Roman republicanism that formed the ideal of the republican gentry. The Roman precedent was even quoted to justify serfdom, which was a modified form of Roman slavery.
  32. ^ a b c d Topór-Jakubowski, Theodore (2002). Sulima-Suligowski, Leonard Joseph, ed. "Claiming Inherited Noble Status" (PDF). WHITE EAGLE: JOURNAL OF THE POLISH NOBILITY ASSOCIATION FOUNDATION. Villa Anneslie, 529 Dunkirk Road, Anneslie, Towson, Baltimore, Baltimore county, MARYLAND, U.S.A.: Polish Nobility Association Foundation. 2002 (Spring/Summer): 5. the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of Two Nations (from 1385 until the Third Partition of 1795) paralleled the Roman Empire in that -- whether we like it or not -- full rights of citizenship were limited to the governing elite, called szlachta in Polish ... It is not truly correct to consider the szlachta a class; they actually were more like a caste, the military caste, as in Hindu society.
  33. ^ Boswell, Alexander Bruce (1919). POLAND AND THE POLES (GOOGLE EBOOK). New York City, NEW YORK, U.S.A.: Dodd, Mead and Company. pp. 116–117. The Polish peasant in the past was a very humble member of the Polish community – in fact he scarcely belonged to it at all. He had for 350 years no civic rights whatever. He was the serf of his master. It was only the easy-going and patriarchal relations between squire and peasant that made life tolerable for the latter.
  34. ^ Boswell, Alexander Bruce (1919). POLAND AND THE POLES (GOOGLE EBOOK). New York City, NEW YORK, U.S.A.: Dodd, Mead and Company. p. 136. Poland was formerly a purely agricultural country and produced large quantities of food not only for herself, but for export. ... Poland is still pre-eminently an agricultural country, ...
  35. ^ Boswell, Alexander Bruce (1919). POLAND AND THE POLES (GOOGLE EBOOK). New York City, NEW YORK, U.S.A.: Dodd, Mead and Company. p. 66. Their ideal was that of a Greek city State—a body of citizens, a small trading class, and a mass of labourers.
  36. ^ Ross, M. (1835). "A DESCRIPTIVE VIEW OF POLAND: CHARACTER, MANNERS, AND CUSTOMS OF THE POLES". A HISTORY OF POLAND FROM ITS FOUNDATION AS A STATE TO THE PRESENT TIME; INCLUDING A FULL ACCOUNT OF THE RECENT PATRIOTIC STRUGGLE TO RE-ESTABLISH ITS INDEPENDENCE. TO WHICH IS PREFIXED, A DESCRIPTIVE VIEW OF THE COUNTRY, ITS NATURAL HISTORY, CITIES AND TOWNS, AND THE MANNERS AND CUSTOMS OF ITS INHABITANTS. 48 Pilgrim Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland county, North East region, ENGLAND: PATTISON AND ROSS. p. 55. The peasants of Poland, as in all feudal countries, were serfs, or slaves; and the value of an estate was not estimated from its extent, but from the number of peasants, who were transferred, like cattle, from one master to another.
  37. ^ Stephenson, Andrew (1891). "CHAPTER I. SEC. 1.—LANDED PROPERTY.". PUBLIC LANDS AND AGRARIAN LAWS OF THE ROMAN REPUBLIC (Online eBook). Baltimore, MARYLAND, U.S.A.: THE JOHNS HOPKINS PRESS. Archived from the original (website) on 13 October 2015. Retrieved 23 August 2018. The Romans were a people that originally gave their almost exclusive attention to agriculture and stock-raising. The surnames of the most illustrious families, as Piso (miller), Porcius (swine-raiser), Lactucinius (lettuce-raiser), Stolo (a shoot), etc., prove this. To say that a man was a good farmer was, at one time, to bestow upon him the highest praise.
  38. ^ a b c Topór-Jakubowski, Theodore (1998). Sulima-Suligowski, Leonard Joseph, ed. "15th-Century Polish Nobility in the 21st Century" (PDF). WHITE EAGLE: JOURNAL OF THE POLISH NOBILITY ASSOCIATION FOUNDATION. Villa Anneslie, 529 Dunkirk Road, Anneslie, Towson, Baltimore, Baltimore county, MARYLAND, U.S.A.: Polish Nobility Association Foundation. 1998 (Spring/Summer): 9. Membership in the Polish szlachta was hereditary. ... (and the family knighthood, rycerstwo, in itself) ... The paramount principle regarding Polish nobility is that it was hereditary. ... one Rudolf Lambert had successfully proven his right to hereditary knighthood (szlachectwo) ... He [Nikodem Tadeusz] was also Marshal of the Knighthood (using the word rycerz and not szlachcic ...)
  39. ^ a b Dmowski, Roman Stanisław (1917). "POLAND, OLD AND NEW". In Duff, James Duff. RUSSIAN REALITIES & PROBLEMS. Cambridge, East of England, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM: Cambridge University Press. p. 94. But between the lesser nobility and the magnates there was only a difference of wealth and education. Both belonged to the same class in the community, they were members of the same clans, and the nobility by its social character was inclined to co-operate with the magnates rather than to oppose them. Since both occupied the same legal position, the power wrested from the king by the magnates legally and practically became a benefit for the whole of the nobility, ...
  40. ^ Juliusz Bardach, Boguslaw Lesnodorski, and Michal Pietrzak, Historia panstwa i prawa polskiego (Warsaw: Paristwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1987), p.20, 26-27
  41. ^ a b Okolski, herbu Rawicz, Szymon (15 September 1643). "RADWAN alias WIRBOW.". ORBIS POLONUS (in Latin). Kraków, Kraków voivodeship, Lesser Poland province, KINGDOM OF POLAND AND THE GRAND DUCHY OF LITHUANIA: Franciscus Caesarius. II: 564. Archived from the original on 8 June 2017. Retrieved 8 June 2017. LINEA FAMILIAE RADWAN
  42. ^ (Manteuffel 1982, p. 44)
  43. ^ Frost, Robert I. (23 June 2011). "Nobility, Citizenship and Corporate Decision-Making in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, 1454-1795". In Leonhard, Jörn; Wieland, Christian. WHAT MAKES THE NOBILITY NOBLE?: COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVES FROM THE SIXTEENTH TO THE TWENTIETH CENTURY. Göttingen, Göttingen district, Lower Saxony, GERMANY: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. pp. 148–149. ISBN 978-3525310410. &lsquo. The kingdome of Polonia doth also consist of the said three sortes, that is, the king, nobility and people. But it is to be noted, that this word people includeth only knights and gentlemen.’ This limitation of political rights to the szlachta, Goślicki argued, meant that the system was more balanced and virtuous since it was based on the best elements of society: ... ‘The gentlemen of Polonia doe represent the popular state, for in them consisteth a great part of the government, and they are as a Seminarie from whence Councellors and Kinges are taken.’
  44. ^ a b Szacki, Jerzy Ryszard (1995). LIBERALISM AFTER COMMUNISM. Budapest, Central Hungary region, HUNGARY, EU: Central European University Press. p. 46. ...Świętochowski, on the other hand, wrote as follows: ‘If from the deeds of the Polish nobility we took away excesses and the exclusiveness of caste, ...’
  45. ^ Janusz Bieniak, "Knight Clans in Medieval Poland," in Antoni Gąsiorowski (ed.), The Polish Nobility in the Middle Ages: Anthologies, Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich; Wrocław, POLAND, EU; 1984, page 154.
  46. ^ Kiaupienė, Jūratė (2003). "Mes, Lietuva": Lietuvos Didžiosios Kunigaikštystės bajorija XVI a. ["We the Lithuania": nobility of Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 16th c.] (in Lithuanian). Kronta. p. 64. ISBN 9955-595-08-6.
  47. ^ Ochmański, Jerzy (1986). The National Idea in Lithuania from the 16th to the First Half of the 19th Century: The Problem of Cultural-Linguistic Differentiation. Poznań: Mickiewicz University.
  48. ^ Dmowski, Roman Stanisław (1917). "POLAND, OLD AND NEW". In Duff, James Duff. RUSSIAN REALITIES & PROBLEMS. Cambridge, East of England, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM: Cambridge University Press. p. 91. The Polish nobility, which sprang from this military class and which derived its family names from its landed properties (in the fifteenth century), ...
  49. ^ Boswell, Alexander Bruce (1919). POLAND AND THE POLES (GOOGLE EBOOK). New York City, NEW YORK, U.S.A.: Dodd, Mead and Company. p. 47. The use of the Latin language was universal in Poland well into the eighteenth century, and many words from Latin have been assimilated by the Polish language and have added to its vocabulary and its expressiveness.
  50. ^ "DWÓR DĄBROWSKICH W MICHAŁOWICACH - "Nowe życie dworu" (wystawa)" [DĄBROWSKI MANOR/MANSION IN MICHAŁOWICE - New Life of the Manor/Mansion (Exhibition)]. SlideShare (in Polish). Kraków, Kraków county, Lesser Poland voivodeship, Southern Poland, POLAND: Małopolska Institute of Culture. 12 December 2016. Archived from the original on 5 June 2017. Retrieved 5 June 2017. The Dąbrowski family [Żądło-Dąbrowski, herbu Radwan, landowners of Michałowice - See Boniecki's HERBARZ, Volume 4., page 149] willingly engaged in rural life. In the picture: a festive harvest in nearby Masłomiąca in 1939, ...
  51. ^ Bajer, Piotr Paweł. "POLISH NOBILITY AND ITS HERALDRY: AN INTRODUCTION". Warsaw, Masovian voivodeship, POLAND: Archived from the original on 4 May 2016. Retrieved 5 June 2017. This peculiarity may be best illustrated by the example given by Paprocki [50] who mentions the Rosciszewski family which took a surname different from the names of the land properties it had owned. Those of the Rosciszewski family who settled in Chrapunia became known as Chrapunskis; those who settled in Strykwina were known as Strykwinskis; and those who settled in Borkow became known as Borkowskis. Since they shared a common ancestor and belonged to the same clan - they were entitled to bear the same arms as Rosciszewskis.
  52. ^ Zamoyski, herbu Jelita, Adam (1998) [1987]. THE POLISH WAY: A THOUSAND-YEAR HISTORY OF THE POLES AND THEIR CULTURE (Fourth Printing ed.). New York City, NEW YORK, U.S.A.: Hippocrene Books. p. 54. ISBN 0-7818-0200-8. Fig. 4 A selection of Polish coats-of-arms. These were never personal to the bearers; each was borne by all members of the family, and often by dozens of families of different names which may or may not have shared their origins.
  53. ^ a b Zamoyski, herbu Jelita, Adam (1998) [1987]. THE POLISH WAY: A THOUSAND-YEAR HISTORY OF THE POLES AND THEIR CULTURE (Fourth Printing ed.). New York City, NEW YORK, U.S.A.: Hippocrene Books. p. 55. ISBN 0-7818-0200-8. Polish coats of arms are utterly unlike those of European chivalry, and were held in common by whole clans which fought as regiments.
  54. ^ a b Zamoyski, herbu Jelita, Adam (1998) [1987]. THE POLISH WAY: A THOUSAND-YEAR HISTORY OF THE POLES AND THEIR CULTURE (Fourth Printing ed.). New York City, NEW YORK, U.S.A.: Hippocrene Books. p. 24. ISBN 0-7818-0200-8. Polish society had evolved from clan structures, and the introduction of Christianity did not significantly alter them. The feudal system which regulated society all over Europe was never introduced into Poland, and this fact cannot be overstressed.
  55. ^ a b Dmowski, Roman Stanisław (1917). "POLAND, OLD AND NEW". In Duff, James Duff. RUSSIAN REALITIES & PROBLEMS. Cambridge, East of England, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM: Cambridge University Press. pp. 91–92. This military class was subdivided into clans. Members of each clan were bound together by strong ties of solidarity. Each clan had its own name and crest. Polish nobility, which sprang from this military class and which derived its family names from its landed properties during the fifteenth century, originally had no family crests, of which there was only a limited number. Each of these bore a name which had been the battle cry of the clan. In many instances, one crest belonged to more than a hundred families. The clan system survived in this way into the contemporary era. Evidence shows that the warrior class in Poland had quite a different origin and a different legal and social position to that of the feudal nobility of Western Europe.
  56. ^ a b c d e Jastrzębiec-Czajkowski (leader of Polish pro Monarchismparty: pl:Polska Liga Monarchistyczna, Leszek Jan. "Niektóre dane z historii szlachty i herbu". (in Polish). Warszawa, POLAND, EU: Artur Ornatowski. Archived from the original on 5 March 2016.
  57. ^ a b c d e Mówią wieki, number 5, Leszek Pudłowski[permanent dead link], 1988
  58. ^ a b Bajer, Peter Paul (2012). Scots in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, 16th to 18th Centuries: The Formation and Disappearance of an Ethnic Group. Leiden, South Holland province, NETHERLANDS, EU: Brill Publishers. p. 315. In 1784, Prince Charles de Ligne from Belgium, who was trying to obtain Polish noble status, supposedly said, ‘It is easier to become a duke in Germany, than to be counted among Polish nobles,’ quoted in Kulikowski, Heraldyka szlachecka, 27.
  59. ^ a b Bajer, Piotr Paweł. "POLISH NOBILITY AND ITS HERALDRY: AN INTRODUCTION". Warsaw, Masovian voivodeship, POLAND: Archived from the original on 4 May 2016. Retrieved 5 June 2017. It should not be difficult to understand then, why prince Charles de Ligne from Belgium, who in 1784 was trying to receive the Polish nobility status, supposedly commented that: It is easier to become duke in Germany, then to be counted among Polish nobles [34]. Indeed, from the moment of the prohibition of private adoptions, Polish nobility became a closed cast [caste] ...
  60. ^ "FOLWARK SZLACHECKI I CHŁOPI W POLSCE XVI WIEKU". POLAND. Archived from the original on 2017-12-03. Retrieved 22 August 2018. Posiadanie ziemi * Ziemia na której gospodarowali chłopi nie stanowiła ich własności. Jej rzeczywistym właścicielem był pan określonych dóbr: król, zwykły szlachcic lub kościół. Chłop był więc tylko użytkownikiem ziemi. Zwyczajowo było to użytkowanie dziedziczne - przekazywane na męskich potomków. Pan wsi mógł zawsze jednak usunąć chłopa z gospodarstwa. (The plot of land on which the peasants lived and resided was not their property. The owner was a particular estate: king, nobleman, or church. Therefore, the peasant was only a land user. Land use and residence was hereditary - the use transmitted to male descendants. However, the village master could always evict the peasant from the plot of land.)
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  • Manteuffel, Tadeusz (1982), The Formation of the Polish State: The Period of Ducal Rule, 963–1194, Detroit, MICHIGAN, U.S.A.: Wayne State University Press, ISBN 978-0-8143-1682-5.
  • Żernicki-Szeliga Emilian v., Der Polnische Adel und die demselben hinzugetretenen andersländischen Adelsfamilien, General-Verzeichnis. Published by Verlag v. Henri Grand. Hamburg 1900. (Ger). This is a reasonably modern and comprehensive list of 3000 Polish and settler szlachta families and their crests, sourced from, among others, Niesiecki, Paprocki and Boniecki. 598 pages. Accessed 2018-11-02.

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