The Royal economies: how women accumulated assets of the Grand Duke of Lithuania

Until the Union of Lublin the state-owned and private estates of the Grand Duke of Lithuania were not clearly separated. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was being created as the economy of the Ruler’s family. In the 14th and at the beginning of the 15th century “sticking” the Rus’ principalities to Lithuania did not only have a political and strategic but also economic significance. At that time nobody limited the Ruler’s desire to demand and obtain more tithes or greater privileges from the communities of the subordinates. Nobody had any authorisation to detect how much the ruler allocated to the state from the derived incomes and how much was used for his own needs. After Vytautas’ death, when the period of fights for the throne and the instable condition of the Grand Duke that lasted for several decades started, the rulers of Lithuania had to make significant concessions to the communities, which were settled on the lands occupied by their ancestors: to exempt them from some taxes, to grant more rights to the local noblemen, not to establish some new estates of the Ruler in the regions, to grant new economic freedoms to the towns. During the years of Casimir Jagiellon reign the representatives of Lithuanian nobility ever more often hinted that the royal estates scattered all over the country were not the ruling dynasties but the ownership of the state whose main purpose was to concentrate the resources for the defence of the “land” (the state is meant) rather than to meet the needs of the Ruler’s family.

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Confrontation between the personal needs of the Ruler and the needs to defend the State gradually determined separation of the state-owned estates and the Ruler’s estates. In. 1589, by resolution of the Sejm of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth six royal table economies (personal estates of the King) were eventually formed of these estates– Gardinas, Alytus, Brest, Kobryn, Mogilev, and Šiauliai, which existed until the abolishment of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Separation of the needs of the Ruler’s “table” and those of the state

A slow process of separating the state-owned and the Ruler’s estates started in the years of Sigismund the Old (1506–1548). The Ruler’s patrimonial rights did not help there. Never-ending confrontation with Moscow made an ever-larger part of the state’s income to be given to the military needs, and the Sejms, which resolved the military issues, pushed the Ruler’s personal interests to the background. This situation did not satisfy the Ruler. Singling out his personal estates referred to as the table estates (bona mensae regiae, добра стола господарского) from the Ruler’s estates (добра господарские) took place in establishing exclusive rights of the Ruler to the property of individual estates.

It seems that in separating the personal estates, Sigismund the Old’s wife Bona Sforza (1494–1557; Queen from 1518) played the most important role. Having received Pinsk and Kobryn estates as apanage (estates that provided income for the upkeep of the Queen), she developed an intense economic activity there: bought up the states, started to measure their lands in volok, at the same time changed the principles of farming. Having discovered the cases of abuse of the Lithuanian noblemen she initiated court processes for them because of their illegal appropriation of the Ruler’s land all over the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Lithuanian noblemen, fearing inspection of lawfulness of all their ownership, started presenting the Ruler and his wife with estates hoping to curb the appetite of the monarchs.

In essence, Bona Sforza created the model of separating the Ruler’s table estates.

The Ruler appropriated unilaterally the estates of apanage of his brother Alexander Jagiellon’s wife Helen (1476–1513), the largest of which was Mogilev. Sigismund the Old informed at the beginning of his reign already that he would rule all the estates received by the law of decease or by testament at his own discretion. His son Sigismund Augustus used the same methods later having inherited the already formed large complexes of estates from his both parents. On the eve of the Union the Ruler had about 60 larger, well arranged estates that had been measured by volok at his disposal. The Act of the Union specified that these table estates of the Ruler would not be given to anybody, that is, they would remain the Ruler’s ownership. Therefore, immediately after forming the Union Sigismund Augustus instructed the deputies to give no more levies to the Land Treasury of Lithuania. In this way, during the last years of his life the Ruler separated his personal property from the state-owned one.

“Reward” for reigning

After the Union of Lublin the first elected rulers of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth did not have any birthrights to the domain holdings of the Grand Duke of Lithuania.

In part these rights were ensured to them by Sigismund Augustus’ sisters: by Hanna Jagiellon – to her husband Stephen Báthory; by Kotryna – to her son Zygmunt Waza. The nobility of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania recognised the rights of the elected rulers with great reservations. In 1588, the envoys of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania presented the newly elected King of Poland Zygmunt Waza with the conditions under which they agreed to recognise him as a ruler. Among any other conditions the requirement was set to define strictly the estates from which the Treasury of the Grand Duke had to receive income. It is not known if an argument about the list of the estates arose. It seems that it had to be so. On 28 January 1588, Zygmunt Waza in his official letter to the estates of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania announced that he agreed to the estates “allocated” to him by the Lithuanian envoys: the wards of Grodno, Alytus, Brest (Kobryn and Kamyanets holdings), Mogilev and Šiauliai and the forests of Gardin, Alytus, Kamenec and Belovež. In 1589, by resolution of the Sejm of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth 6 royal domain economies were eventually formed from these estates (Gardin, Alytus, Brest, Kobryn, Mogilev, and Šiauliai), which existed until the abolishment of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

The ruler was not allowed to sell economies otherwise his heir would be left without any estates. However, laws did not prohibit the ruler to pledge them or to hand them over to be managed by the citizens of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Economies were large estates, they contained several towns, several dozens of small towns, 6-7 thousand voloks of farming land and 20-40 thousand inhabitants each. Management of such estates was a great thing and every nobleman understood that it was worth fighting for it. Most often they were given to political supporters of the Ruler, for example, Mikołaj Krzysztof Radziwiłł the Orphan managed Šiauliai and Lew Sapiega managed Mogiliov for a long time.

In this case it was the women who helped the men to profit. 

Literatūra: М. Довнар-Запольский, Государственное Хозяйство Великаго Княжества Литовскаго При Ягелонах, Киев, 1901, p. 163–182 

Eugenijus Saviščevas