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    Good morning!

    Lastly, I am very interested in this topic, and as I am too lazy at this hour and unable to sleep, I thought… why not to write something? Many people (even in Poland) suppose, that “szlachta” in Poland was just a higher and richer class. Moreover, many people assume, that having a surname suggesting gentry roots or having an ancestor makes them “the successors”. It is not 100% truth, but let’s start from the beggining.

    What is “szlachta”?
    It emerged from the knightry (pl. rycerstwo). In the middle ages, the highest and secular class were the knights – they had their own coats of arms, they were accoladed, and they were inheriting their class by their fathers (not mothers). The knight could have been only a son of a knight, or a person who merited (e.g. in a battle) and was ennobled by the ruler. In the afternoon of the middle ages, these knights started to become the gentry – a group of people who were similar to each other by being high-born, having a coat of arms, having a history of their house, wealth – and privileges.

    By this, in 14th-15th century, in Poland emerged the gentry class – it is: a group of people who had privileges, that other people like bourgeoisie or peasantry hadn’t. It was the most influencial group in 16th century, as it was a time of “demokracja szlachecka” (gentry democracy).

    In 17th-18th century, the gentry was a ruling class in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. During this century (to the partitions) in the country functioned the system of “Rzeczpospolita szlachecka” (Gentry’s Republic) and this class was still gaining more and more privileges. The partitions of Poland finished the era of gentry’s dominance, as they destroyed the country. However, the gentry under partitions preserved the national traditions, and patriotism.

    On the other hand, it was this class that led to the partitions. So we will always perceive “szlachta” in two sides: 1. They preserved the patriotism, were convincing and leading the people during uprisings; 2. Their were egoists, who by caring only about their own comfort have led to the partitions.

    There were 4 kinds of “szlachta” that were NOT equal:

    – Magnateria (the magnates) – were the richest and the most influential group in PLC. They were on the highest ranks, the biggest and softest chairs, living in palaces;

    – Szlachta średnia (the landed gentry) – were the owners of 1 or more villages. To the end of 17th century they were the most numerous and politically active group; later, due to warfares and poundings connected with the wars, the group got addicted to the magnates. From the landed gentry were recruited: landed officials (pl. urzędnicy ziemscy), members of parliament and deputies to tribunals;

    – Szlachta zaściankowa/szlachta zagrodowa – were poorer, living in small villages without peasantry. It had privileges, was able to vote, however had to work and lived in worse conditions;

    – Gołota – had no land, no wealth, lived in the cities, where they worked as craftsmen, merchants, or became a servants of the magnates. They had not every privileges but was able to vote – though as the magnates wanted them to vote.

    In the gentry there were same rules of inheriting “the blood” as in the knightry – by father’s side. In present times people sometimes think, that having an ancestor gives this “blue blood” – not really. Blue-blooded could be only aristocracy (the magnates), others were just simple gentry, or gentry without money nor land. And having an ancestor (even from mother’s side, to be just assured about some roots) is nothing rare here. Probably everyone nowadays, when classes from the past are mixed, is able to find gentry’s surname on genealogical tree. In fact, it is fun to search for the surname meaning and coat of arms.

    Here is Wikipedia site with listed Princely Houses of Poland, year of gaining the title, coats of arms, estates and with remarks (if family exist, or when they lost the title). I’ll add below the descent of these families, as it may be also interesting.


    I) Kingdom of Poland

    a) Piast Dynasty – probably Polan descent (Slavic tribe living in Greater Poland)
    b) Jagiellonian Dynasty – Lithuanian descent, Gediminid Dynasty (about the descent of Gediminas we can only speculate)

    II) Duchy of Pomerania

    a) House of Griffins – probably Pomeranian descent
    b) House of Sobiesław – descent speculated

    III) Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

    1. Ancient Houses

    a) Olelkowicz – Lithuanian descent
    b) Ostrogski – Ruthenian descent (Rurikid Dynasty [Varangian descent])
    c) Borowski – Polish descent
    d) Zasławski – Ruthenian descent
    e) Zbaraski – Ruthenian descent (previously it was thought they were of Lithuanian descent)
    f) Wiśniowiecki – Ruthenian descent (previously it was thought they were of Lithuanian descent)
    g) Korecki – Lithuanian descent
    h) Sanguszko – Lithuanian descent
    i) Czartoryski – Lithuanian descent
    j) Czetwertyński – Ruthenian descent
    k) Radziwiłł – Lithuanian descent

    2. New Houses

    a) Lubomirski – Polish descent
    b) Poniatowski – Polish descent
    c) Sapieha – Lithuanian descent

    3. Princes of the Partition Sejm

    a) Poniński – Polish descent
    b) Sułkowski – Polish descent
    c) Jabłonowski – Polish descent
    d) Massalski – Ruthenian descent

    4. Ordynacja families

    a) Zamoyski – Polish descent
    b) Gonzaga – Italian descent
    c) Myszkowski – Polish descent
    d) Wielopolski – Polish descent

    5. Lords of Principalities

    a) Potocki – Polish descent
    b) Mniszech – Polish descent

    6. Royal Houses

    a) Sobieski – Polish descent
    b) Leszczyński – Polish descent

    7. Dukes of Polish fiefs

    a) Hohenzollern – German descent (Swabia)
    b) Kettler – German descent (Westphalia)
    c) Movilești – Moldavian descent
    d) Wettin – German descent (Saxony-Anhalt)
    e) Biron – German descent (Westphalia)



    This is great, Gaius! My ancestors were probably serfs for some of these families. ;) Radziwiłł is a very famous name in America. Prince Stanisław Albrecht “Stash” Radziwiłł was the brother-in-law of President John F. Kennedy. He was married to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s sister. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanis%C5%82aw_Albrecht_Radziwi%C5%82%C5%82



    @Karpivna, I’d guess that your ancestors could have been from “szlachta średnia” (also called “szlachta ziemiańska”). Someone, who shared your surname, was an owner of a village and was a Member of Parliament. ;)

    Radziwiłł House was one of the most most powerful (if not most) houses in PLC.



    @Gaius: Well, I guess all of my ancestors lost their great wealth, if they ever had any. haha. My grandfather Kysil related that his house in Volyn had a dirt floor and he slept on a straw mattress. :D



    During partitions there was no matter if someone was from gentry or not ;) Everyone had similar problems :] So probably they lost it indeed.



    I was surprised when I’ve found out that I’m related to to Jakusz Von Gostomski noble family. They were magnates ,very active and present in Polish history. Especially in Pomerania.



    7:32AM Flag
    I was surprised when I’ve found out that I’m related to to Jakusz Von Gostomski noble family. They were magnates ,very active and present in Polish history. Especially in Pomerania.

    Are you rich? If you are, I need to marry you. ;)



    How have you discovered that? He lived in 16th century, it shouldn’t be so ease to find it out.



    Which “he” are you reffering to?
    Karpivna ,you have to send me some photo first ;)



    Ancestor with this surname. Or ancestors.



    You mean the first one of this branch? Well I know that there was a “mezalians” (I dont know english equvalent for this word) in my family amd a woman of aristocratic blood married a normal Kashebian guy. It wasnt so long ago ,simply few generations. She was probably already “poor”. From what I know house in Gostomia had other owners after Gostomski family so I think no one in this family own anything. On my mothers side for example sister of my grandpa married a Winarski ,man who had lots of lands after ancestors but lost everything during occupations. Same with Polish politician Robert Winnicki from Kresy Wschodnie. Communists have stole all the land from the nobles , especially aristocrats.
    Btw. My woman have also Jakusz crest from the mothers side. We are probably related ,as most Kashebians are.



    So you know pretty much about your family history.

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