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Polish Nobility in Russia

By the middle of the 19th Century the nobility of the Governments around Kiev were of Polish origin, very few Great Russian families being settled there. Among the Little Russians and Red Russians (Russines) there had never been a native class of nobles, as, according to Procopius, was the case with all the Slavonic peoples. When, after the conquest by the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, that country became united to Poland, Polish and Lithuanian nobles penetrated into them.

Very few Polish nobles settled in Little Russia on the left bank of the Dnieper, and none in the Cossack countries ; but the Empress Catherine gave Russian peasants to many of her courtiers here, and these, from being free people, fell into Russian serfdom. In these districts the Russian and Polish nobility border on each other, and frequently live intermingled. In the Cossack countries many officers who have acquired Russian hereditary rank constitute a rural nobility.

The Polish nobles in Podolia and Volhynia occupied the same position as they do in Eastern Galicia, where the original population were likewise Russines. But the treatment of these countries was different by Russia and Austria: the latter had not favored the Polish landed nobility in their relations to the peasantry; it has not recognized the serfage of the peasants, but only their manorial duties. The nobles also paid very heavy taxes.

In the Russian parts of what was formerly the Kingdom of Poland, inhabited by Russines, the Government favored the Polish nobility, who occupied the same position as the Russians, the serfage of their peasants being unconditionally recognized: although their right to corvee service was limited by law to three days in the week, the lord was no loser by this, as it would be impossible to exact more, unless the peasant were to leave his own laud uncultivated and starve. Patrimonial jurisdiction, which was still found in Galicia, did not exist in these Russian districts; but the most important part, the Police, was left to the nobility. It had no value for the landowners in Galicia, being exercised by their attorneys and factors, and affording only an additional opportunity to these leeches to oppress and harass the peasants for their own benefit, while it increased the feeling of hatred toward the nobility. The Polish nobles in Russia paid the same taxes as the Russians.

Although the landed nobility had not by any means forgotten old Poland, their attachment to it was much less strong than in Galicia: they were consequently little implicated in the Revolution of 1831. About 27,000 or 30,000 peasants had their goods confiscated in these old Polish districts. Those of the nobility who had estates both in Galicia and this country lived for the most part in the latter, where they were less oppressed. Moreover, by th middle of the 19th Century the financial position of the nobles was much improved under the Russian Government, by the rise of Odessa and the extraordinary increase of the corn-trade : they had far more sympathy therefore for the Russian than for the Austrian Government.

It was different in the case of the Shliakhta (inferior Polish nobility): a much stronger feeling of nationality was found among them than in the higher class of nobles, with their French polish and education. The former are completely uncultivated; they were poor, but proud, and as brave as possible. In 1831, throughout the old Polish districts, they were deeply implicated in the Revolution, which occasioned afterwards a revision of their relations. They were obliged to prove their nobility by documentary evidence, and, being unable to do so, the majority were degraded, and the legal position of the Odnodvortzi was assigned them.

The original inhabitants, the Malo-Russians (Little Russians) and Russines (Red Russians), had little sympathy with the Polish Government, and hated their lords, the Polish nobles. But the Malo-Russians had more sympathy for the Russian Government, especially on religious grounds, having always belonged to the Russian Church. With the Russines it was different; they had not the slightest sympathy for the Russian Government; and, although disliking the Poles, they felt attached to them by the bond of a common faith, as they acknowledged the authority of the Pope; they therefore kept aloof from the Great and Little Russians, and had evidently a strong sympathy with their Galician brethren in consanguinity and religion.

The property of the nobles in the soil is different from what it was in Great Russia, where they had a certain extent of territory, with peasants who cultivated and paid a poll-tax for it. Here they possessed large estates, with enclosed fields, meadows, and pasture-land, divided into small portions or farms, the occupiers of which render corvee service to the chief estate. In short, it was the same kind of agriculture as found almost throughout Germany and in a great part of the rest of Europe.




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