Russian nobility

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The Russian nobility ( Russian дворянство / dworjanstwo ) had quite different roots: In addition to dynastic families, descendants of the Rurik , Gediminas and ancient Caucasian princely families, there were descendants of Russian and other ascendants from the people: an international society made up of members of the integrated peoples and immigrants different nationalities.

The boyars

In ancient times the boyars were considered nobility in Russia , but their titles were not inheritable and they also had no permanent property. They were allowed to elect an advisory council to the prince, the boyar duma , and formed a standing bodyguard for the grand duke . As early as the 14th century, goods were given to the nobility for use - not as property, because this remained with the Grand Duke. In the 15th century, after the Grand Duke of Moscow had assumed the title of "Autonomous Ruler of All Russians ", the boyars and the dethroned descendants of the Rurik from the smaller principalities became a service aristocracy who were obliged to serve the Tsar as officials or officers. In 1649 the position of the nobility was consolidated through the legal anchoring of peasant serfdom . According to the 1678 census , 507,000 farms (85% of the total) were in the hands of the nobility. At the end of this century the first aristocratic registers ( Barchatnaja kniga ) were created. The nobility was divided into categories: the highest was that of the Moscow nobility, the lowest that of the city nobility.

Table of rank of the nobility

The position of the nobility was amended by decree of Tsar Peter I of 24 January 1722 regulated , a ranking table (Rank panel) was created by the civil servant classes. Peter I also introduced the counts and barons previously unknown in Russia (until then there was only the rank of prince - Knjas ). From now on there was (similar to in Great Britain ) the personal and the hereditary nobility ( Litschnoje Dworjanstwo / Potomstwennoje Dworjanstwo ). Even the first rank of officer in the army and navy gave the personal nobility, the rank of colonel or captain the hereditary nobility. The award of certain medals also gave the hereditary nobility: the Grand Cross of all Orders and the Order of St. Vladimir and the St. George Order of all classes. After 25 years of irreproachable service, the officials received the Order of Vladimir 4th class with the inscription 25 let and thus the hereditary nobility.

In the course of the 18th century the rights and privileges of the nobility were expanded considerably. In 1726 the compulsory service of the nobility in the civil service or the army was limited to 25 years, in 1762 the nobility was completely released from this service and declared owners of the goods by mere beneficiaries. In 1785, under Catherine II , the nobility was given very extensive rights of disposal over the peasants they owned. Their labor (even if formally not the human being) was not only allowed to be loaned out , but also sold, so that serfs could be sent to work anywhere in Siberia , Ukraine, the Baltic States or elsewhere or made into soldiers, be it under the Command of their own master or someone else. That was only under Tsar Alexander II by law of February 19/3. Changed March 1861 on the abolition of serfdom .

In the Russian army about 50% of the officers belonged to the hereditary nobility, while the rest had the personal nobility, which was already acquired through the officer's license. In the three elite bodyguard regiments ( Preobrazhensky , Semjonowski and Ismailowski ) only descendants of the old, titled nobility served.

Title of nobility in Russia

Since Peter I, the titles of nobility in Russia have been similar to those in the rest of Europe: prince, count, baron and untitled nobility. The princely families were either of dynastic origin or descended from the highest statesmen and military leaders. Counts' houses were either descendants of boyars or German nobles ( Baltic Germans ) from the conquered countries of the Baltic , the number of which was very high among the counts. The title of baron was not particularly valued among the older nobility (with the exception of the Baltic nobility), as it was mainly given to bankers and merchants as a reward for financial aid. The first baron in Russian history was the diplomat Shafirov , who was raised to this rank by Peter I. He came from a Jewish family.

The late 19th and early 20th centuries were marked by the gradual loss of estates by the nobility. This was related to the abolition of serfdom and the inability of the nobility to manage the estates under new conditions. In 1877 the nobility still owned 80% of the estates, in 1905 only 62%.

October Revolution abolishes the nobility

The October Revolution of the Bolsheviks in 1917 abolished the peerage from (Decree of 10 jul. / 23 November 1917 greg. ), Who was in the February Revolution played an active role and had occupied many positions in politics and public administration (eg. B . Prince Lvov and Kerensky ). However, many nobles played a major role in the building of the new state - such as Lenin himself, the head of the secret service Felix Dzerzhinsky or the marshals Mikhail Tukhachevsky , Konstantin Rokossovsky and others. Countless nobles fell in the civil war after the October Revolution - in the associations of the " whites " there were whole regiments that consisted exclusively of noble officers. Others emigrated, especially to Switzerland , preferably to Geneva , where the Russian Orthodox Church developed rapidly, to Germany and France , where Paris developed into the center of Russian emigrants, and Poland , from there to the USA , where it is today most of the last Tsar dynasty is alive.

During the Bolshevik rule, many nobles were persecuted, imprisoned and shot. The royal family was exiled to Siberia and murdered there . Thousands of dissidents, devout Christians, members of non-Russian peoples, communist functionaries and nobles fell victim to the " purges " under Stalin .

After 1991 the aristocratic associations and organizations of aristocratic traditions were allowed again, but the Russian nobility no longer exists as a social class .

After more than 70 years of communism, it is difficult to estimate the number of the races that are still flourishing today , but with around 100 million inhabitants in 1917 it would have to be at least 50–60,000.


  • Arthur Kleinschmidt : Russia's history and politics depicted in the history of the Russian high nobility . Publishing house Kay, Kassel 1877 (digitized version)
  • Dr. Steel hat: the Russian nobility. In: Familiengeschichtliche Blätter. 15th year, 1917, issue 4, pp. 104-108.
  • Douglas Smith: The Last Dance. The fall of the Russian aristocracy. translated by Bernd Rullkötter. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2014, ISBN 978-3-10-077203-9 .

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