Imagined Society of Polish Nobility in the Early Modern Period vs. Hard Numbers

Piotr Guzowski, University of Bialystok

Political and socio-economical systems of late medieval Poland and then Polish-Lithuanian Commonweatlh were dominated by members of the nobility, who constituted 6-8% of the population. For this reason, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth is frequently referred to as the Republic of Nobles. Middle gentry’s control over the king and parliament has been popularly viewed in historiography as conducive to the country’s great prosperity, whereas the reasons for its collapse are sought in the assumption of power over state institutions and the economy by the richest elite called magnates. Until now, historians have rarely consulted tax registers and genealogical data, available nowadays in the form of databases, in their deliberations on the political system in historical Poland. These data not only allow for a new understanding of the economic and demographic position of the nobility, but also provide a new perspective on the problem of inequalities among the nobility, shed new light on noblemen’s participation in social life, and allow the answer to the question of which groups within the noble state were represented by parliamentarians. The aim of the paper is to confront certain myths concerning the nobility, such as: the representation of the nobility in parliament, the role of the manor economy, the wealth of this privileged estate, and the marriage strategies that played an essential role in building the political and economic position of the nobles.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 184. Social Actors inside, outside, and in between Early Modern States