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Mes, Lietuva

Jūratė Kiaupienė Summary: ,,Mes, Lietuva" ('We, Lithuania')



Lietuvos tûkstantmeèio programos leidinys


prof., hab.dr. Bronius Genzelis,
doc. dr. Edmundas Rimða
dr. Jolita Sarcevièienë



Virginijus Dulskis,
Vaidotas Rimða

Dizainerë maketuotoja
Gitana Èibinskaitë


Lietuvos istorijos institutas

Jūratė Kiaupienė

Summary: ,,Mes, Lietuva"

('We, Lithuania')

The Nobility of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania
in the 16th Century (public and private life)

The Study inquires into important issues of the history of the nobility of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 16th century, and deals with a variety of historiography issues. The book comprises 'The Introduction 'and two parts: 'Theoretical Outline of the Problem', and 'The Profiles of the Nobility World', each, in turn, comprising five chapters. The book is completed with an 'Epilogue'. 

'The Introduction' (page 7) discusses the state of affairs in historiography and lays down the reasons behind the choice of the subject of investigation. The attention is drawn to certain new aspects of the history of social life of the nobility of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 16th century. 'The Introduction 'sets out and discusses the issues of interest, and reveals die opportunity to provide a nobility research within an European context.
Notably, the Study seeks to stay away from flat statements or conclusions so as to provide the reader with an opportunity to study the references self-sustainedly, and enable him or her to translate the information so that he or she shapes his or her own vision of the public and /or private life of the nobility of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 16th century.
The first part ('Theoretical Outline of the Problem', page 21) deals with the five issues of historiography which are made a subject of discussion. This part of the book shows how difficult it is to break down certain stereotypes and / or interpretation patterns that have taken root in the historical literature. Notably, a significant obstacle restricting the opportunities to write history works in a contemporary Lithuanian language of the science of history is the lack of subject-specific history studies that might enable exhaustive research of social life of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania be undertaken. The process is also hindered because of many concepts still being a subject of debate with their use far from being established.
Chapter 'The 16'h Century s Grand Duchy of Lithuania: The Middle Ages or the Early New Ages?' (page 26} asserts the nobility of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, in the 16th century, in it's public life, enjoyed every right or privilege originating from public rule, nevertheless accompanied by a burden of duties and responsibility. It is merefore very important that the question the people of which era, either me Middle Ages or the New Ages, ruled, managed, and protected the Limuanian state, shaped it's ideology and legal framework, nurtured it's culture, communicated with the external world. It must be remembered that the epoch makes an impact on the mentality of the society, die concepts of it's values, and leaves behind a pattern of tokens revealing die meaning behind political or military, strategic or tactical decisions taken, and die motivations adopted.
The concept of 'an early New Ages society' has been adopted to describe the community of the nobility of the 16th Century's Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Alongside, it is emphasised that the 'Lithuanian' Middle Ages wete still unfinished at that time, with certain typical Middle Age phenomena, as a result, extending to the 16th or even the 17th century. Nevertheless, those sporadic ties with the Middle Age tradition failed to choke the spirit of the New Ages taking an ever stronger root in the private and public life of the 16th century's noble citizens. The view of this life helps one understand the links between the 16th century and the already-passed Middle Ages, or the yet-to-come early New Ages.
Chapter 'Feudalism in the 16th Century's Grand Duchy of Lithuania: a Standard or an Exception? Historians Talk About the Specifics of Public Order'(page 38} highlights a question of theory / methodology that has been recurring, as a subject of debate, for many decades in historiography: may one assume Lithuania had feudalism? Alongside, the reasons provoking the researchers to debate the issue are brought to light.
Notably, the phenomenon of feudalism is difficult to define precisely even in case of the Western European Middle Ages where feudalism emerged and was shaped by obtaining a set of features which historians tend to refer to as the classical ones. It is further more difficult to define when dealing with a country that has taken a non-standard route of development.
The above mentioned state of affairs in historiography is said to be a reason reinforcing the determination to omit the concepts of 'feudalism', 'feudal', or 'feudal relations', both in terms of their origin and essence relating to the Middle Ages and Western Europe, when writing about the Grand Duchy's of Lithuania nobility of the 16th century, indeed touched by die spirit of die New Ages. The social / economical concept of feudalism bringing forth the relations between a noble person, representing a landlord, and a peasant, representing a land-user, is not appropriate for the research of the Grand Duchy's of Lithuania noble society, it's structure and course of development. A legal / political 'sui generis' modification of the concept of feudalism might provide greater functionality as far as the understanding of the noble society's internal relations is concerned.
Chapter 'Estate or Estates, or What is Referred to by Historians as the Nobility of the Grand Duchy of 'Lithuania’ (page 50) deals with a somewhat complicated situation in historiography and the consequences of non-accurate usage of the concept of estate! estate of realm. A provision of the theory of the contemporary Lithuanian historiography is highlighted whereas the concept of a noble person was used in the late 14th c. - the middle of 15th c. to describe the topmost rank of the society while in the early 16th century the concept degraded and started being used when referring to 'common noble' people. Alongside, the term 'noble [person]' became a common word to refer to all noble people.
So as the Study follows the tradition of the Lithuanian historiography, those belonging to the 16th century's Grand Duchy's of Lithuania estate of noble people, either by origin, or by designation, those who held land and those who did not, all of them are referred to by using a common word - the nobility (bajorija). It is not the intention behind the usage of a common term to refer to all those who belonged to this estate to eradicate the boundaries of the estate's internal division, or to pretend no difference existed between rulers and grandees, occupying the topmost step of the hierarchy ladder, and common servicemen, who owned little land or no land at all. To differentiate the strata that existed inside of the estate, the concepts typical to the Lithuanian historiography have been adopted, including didikas ('grandee'), 'middle-class', 'low-rank' or 'common' nobility. A Polish-origin word ðlëkta, or Latin nobilis have only been used when citing other sources or authors.
Chapter 'Middle Age Knights, Perhaps the 'Genfry'of the Early New Ages'Grand Duchy of Lifhu-ania?' (page 71) discusses who actually were those that are frequently referred to as 'knights' in the sources of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Were they a separate social stratum, or 'knight' was just an 'attribute' word, synonymous to 'nobility'.
It is assumed that the word 'knight' had several meanings in the society where old Middle Ages' concepts dwelled next to their fresh meanings. On one hand, any noble person might be called a knight. On the other hand, certain ties may be identified between the English gentry and the 16th century's Grand Duchy's of Lithuania knights as there were many low-rank land-owners among them who earned their incomes not only from land, but also other sources, such as service. Presumably, these 'noble knights' represented the elite of the nobility in local circuits (pavietas) and rendered their service to the state that might not afford a bureaucratic apparatus. Notably, these noble persons agglomerated into a separate stratum of common interests and identity.
Chapter 'The Sources: Dictatorship or Freedom of Interpretation, or What is the Truth of a Source' (page 95), discusses a range of theoretical issues on the basis of a choice of disputable subjects of the 16th century's Grand Duchy's of Lithuania political history, including such issues as how many 'truths' there may be in a source, and what is meant by a 'historian's interpretation'.
A number of different simultaneously existing truths, left behind by the Lublin Union era, and recorded in historical sources, is revealed. These truths witness that the politicians of the 16th century's Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland had been failing to arrive at any mutually acceptable decisions for quite a long period of time as they talked in different political languages. They actually pursued a dialogue where each party had a different vision of the prospective relation of the two countries, and, as a result, protected but it's own truth.
Each historical source, as far as it is authentic, is emphasized to tell a truth, at least representing the views, or the vision, of those who generated the source. Thus sources having emerged in different environments bear different facets of the Truth. For a historian, to comprehend the existence of multiple truths revealed through a number of different sources, means to be able to convey the multi-dimensional nature of the epoch, and to generate a highly thorough and informative view of the events having taken place several hundred years ago, by analysing the sources and comparing them against each other. The greater is the number of different sources available to a historian, the higher is the possibility that his / her interpretation would approach the Truth closely, however contradicting these sources may seem to be.
The second part 'The Profiles of the Nobility World, (page 115) comprises five interpretation stories on the public and private life of the nobility of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 16th century.
Chapter 'Motherland is a Nation's Home Created by History' (page 119) seeks to provide the readers with an understanding on how the people who dwelled several hundred years ago perceived their spiritual and physical environment we call Motherland today. The aim was to introduce the words the nobility of the 16th century's Grand Duchy of Lithuania used to refer to their historical multinational homeland.
Notably, the terms used in historical sources, that are nor always easy to decrypt, readily reveal to a historian a concept of homeland described as Lithuania (Grand Duchy of Lithuania), meaning a state with it's own land, history, and heroes — maybe well-deserving the rulers to rule both countries - Lithuania and Poland, serving as a proof of self-consciousness of the nobility of the 16th century's Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
Chapter ‘I Humbly Ask Your Grace to be, as Promised, my Lord, my Benefactor, my Mecenate' (page 136), reveals, on the basis of a variety of sources, the multitude of the meanings of the client concept, and describes a system of client relations that existed in the 16th century's Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It is emphasised that the relations between grandees (patrons) and common noble people (clients) were of multifaceted nature, consequently, making it a mistake to see the system from a single point of view, focusing on what was good, or what was wrong only.
On one hand, those who cherished the Polish-type nobility's democracy are said to be right, as they argue that the system of grandees' patronage did restrict the initiative of the middle and low-rank nobility of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and prevented them from becoming a significant political force of the 16th century, with it's own leaders, an established action plan independent of the will of grandees, and a freedom to implement it. It is also asserted that alongside with sponsorship relations political dictatorship by grandees (patrons) did exist, which was especially apparent m the government (seimelis - 'a little parliament') of local circuits (pavietas). Moreover, a wide-spread system of protections promoted servility, injured self-sufficiency of the nobility and added to a number of other negative personal or collective features.
On the other hand, a strong political clientship tradition is asserted to have helped prevent internal fractionisation of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy's political society, and the confrontation between common noblepeople and the grandees, the absence of which was of utmost importance during the making of the Lublin Union with Poland (1569). An antagonism-free noble political society with established leaders from among the grandees was able to better keep a stronghold against the Polish execurionist nobility and resist their annexation-oriented ambitions. Political clientship reinforced self-consciousness of the estate of realm in general, fostered patriotism among the nobility of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, nurtured the 16th century society's political mentality, and provided the most gifted ones, who were capable to break away from the personal cravings of their patrons, with an opportunity to obtain education, improve, and enter the path of public political life.
The above proves clientship was an intrinsic feature of the noble society of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 16th century, not purely a theoretical concept devised by contemporary historians.
Another three interpretation stories, 'Take Heed to Lithuania First of All! Serve Your Homeland '(page 165), 'The Republic May Not Have Omitted Sending it's Messengers to the Duke of Mos-
cow '(page 196), and 'From There on One Must Go Entirely by His Own Mind’ (page 220) interweave tightly. Through these stories, the reader is virtually immersed in die text of die sources bringing alive the war-induced vortices of the distant past, that used to harshly shatter the rhythm of the everyday life, revealing the chemistry of making a diplomatic acquaintance with the contemporary 'humane' bureaucracy, or the powerful ones of Europe, who shaped the 'fashion' of the international relations in the era of the Early New Ages, and showing die ways and places that were available for one to obtain the skills.
Notably, the scope of public activity of the state of Lithuania in the 16th century expanded at a considerable pace in a number of directions. Therefore, a shortage of qualified professionally trained people to manage state affairs was soon experienced. They were wanted in great numbers, and as soon as possible. People were wanted for war, diplomacy, an overall modernisation of die domestic life of the state, as well as numerous additional urgent matters.
The surnames of the members of the 'political society' of die 16th century's Grand Duchy of Lithuania, most frequently mentioned in this Study, let one see how few in number were those involved in the management of the affairs of a state so huge by area, how big the workload shared by each of them was, and how different the assignments were. The Council of Lords whose members had the most of the real power in their hands, was in charge of decision-making on all practical and theoretical issues of foreign and domestic politics. They also acted as judges, used to initiate and codify legislative instruments, managed die reforms of courts and administration, conducted military activity in the field during die military campaigns getting ever more frequent, travelled as messengers or on long-term diplomatic missions, costing much physical and psychological effort, conducted major reforms of economy. The same people were the patrons and Maecenas of culture, indeed.
Thanks to the understanding and the support of these most powerful and richest members of the 'political society', the 16 th century's Grand Duchy of Lithuania provided a cultural environment where such a great number of creative personalities matured and materialised their talents yielding an intellectual heritage that has been relevant up to the present day to several nations of the Middle and Eastern Europe. They entered the path as teenagers and had to become statesmen at the age of as little as twenty to be responsible for the destiny of the country, the well-being of their immediate and remote families. Thus they were sucked down by life from where they had to 'go on entirely by their own minds', as the contemporary puts it.
The goal was to shock and warn by revealing the facts witnessing the gap dividing on one hand the personalities of the Renaissance era, who sought, discovered, created, were dignified and self-respectful, and, on the other hand, the people ruled totally by the instinct of fear, who employed the most awful torturing techniques and burnt on bonfires other human beings, who, except of being declared witches, were equally the same human beings with a body and a soul, was so unbelievably small, and so easily tresspassable in the Europe of prospering university culture and printed books, where the heritage of the antiquity was admired, and philosophical and theological disputes on the world and the man were conducted.
Notably, the young generation of the Lithuanian historians makes many insights into the issues of interpretation of this controversial period, and are critical of retrospective interpretation based on facts solely, as this approach is not adequate in the case of a unique cultural, social and political formation, i.e. the Republic of die Two Nations established by die Lublin Union Act of 1569. It is clearly an exception from the generic European cultural processes, falling outside of unambiguous definitions or classification, as much as the entire cultural period does. !
'The Epilogue''(page 241) reminds that the book's characters, the nobility of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, representing the contemporaries and the witnesses of the making of Europe, who disseminated the shapes of on-going modernisation of everyday life throughout the mulrifaceted changing environment of the Eastern and Middle Europe, have not left behind any written account of their work or commandments. So everyone of us, either willingly or unawarely, creates his or her own vision of the past and enters into a relationship with the past by either accepting it or wanting it to have been different. We pick from the past something we deem important today. Our relationship with the past is ever changing. Thus the interpretation of the past comes always in the light of the epoch the historian lives in. Everyone of us has a different understanding of die didactic meaning of history too,
Notably, the Study is but one of the great many possible interpretations of the past. The most important words in it, constituting the unwritten testament of the nobility of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania of the 16th century, might sound the way they were pronounced at the intense debates with the politicians of the Kingdom of Poland in 1569, where the destiny of the state of Lithuania had to be decided upon: 'Your Graces' Mother may have baptized us, but our Mother has given us a birth, thus she is our beloved Motherland'.

Translated into English by Dalius Kaminskas


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