The Second and Third Lithuanian Statutes

Do You Know?

The Lithuanian Statute came into effect on September 9th, 1529, which foresaw the possibility for new norms to be added to it if they were sanctioned by the Sejm. This is why a new redaction of the First Lithuanian Statute came into being at the end of the 1540s. However, the adoption of the improved Statute opened up a number of cracks in practice. The most important of which was the political and legal emancipation of nobles that was not implemented due to the massive opposition of the lords. This is why in 1544 the nobles in the Brest Sejm asked the ruler to “correct” the Statute.

The fight for the nobles’ freedom

In 1551, Sigismund Augustus created a commission of 10 people on the basis of confession parity to prepare the Second Lithuanian Statute: 5 Catholics (the commission head and future Samogitian bishop Jan Domanowski, Vilnius Canon Stanisław Gabrielowicz Narkuski, the ruler’s secretary Augustin Rotundus, and the nobles’ representatives as well as legal practitioners Pawel Ostrowicki and Marcin Wolodkowicz) as well as 5 Orthodox representatives (who are not known). After the death of the head of the commission in 1563, Pedro Ruiz de Moros took up the post.

Well-versed in intricate jurisprudence and doctors of Roman and canon law, Augustin Rotund and Pedro Ruiz de Moros’ work was instrumental for the noticeable influence of Roman law on the norms of the Second Lithuanian Statute.

The statute also legally established the 1557 Volok reform and legal and administrative reforms demanded by the nobles in 1564-1566, i.e. the division of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania into districts, which became the centres of the nobles’ legal, political and military activities was adopted; the introduction of district dietines that chose representatives to the GDL Sejm; the creation of a court system for the noble class. The Second Lithuanian Statute was adopted during the Vilnius and Bielsk dietines in 1564-1566, and came in full effect starting March 1st, 1566, however already in 1566, an important correction was adopted in the Brest Sejm, which gave the right to the nobles to freely own land.

The Second Statute was comprised of 14 sections (a special 8th section was added concerning the making of wills, which was not in the First Lithuanian Statute, and also the order of the sections was changed), which contained 368 articles. Most were expanded upon: the 3rd section on the nobles’ personal liberties, the 4th section about the courts and selection of judges, and the 7th section about the owning of property. Despite the promise of the ruler to print the Second Statute, this statute, like the First Lithuanian Statute, spread as hand-written copies (58 hand-written copies in Ruthenian, Polish and Latin have survived): some included the important corrections of the Brest Sejm, while others did not. This caused much confusion.

The printed letter of the law

The aim of the nobles and nobles on the eve of the Union of Lublin to establish the independence of the GDL forced them to rush, thus some of the norms of the Second Statute remained imperfect. In 1568, a commission was created in the Grodno Sejm to “correct” the Second Statute. After signing the Union of Lublin, a new 12-person commission was formed according to the principle of class and territory. It was led by Vilnius Bishop Walerian Protasewicz. The commission did not implement the demand raised by the nobles of Poland in the Lublin Sejm to bring the norms of the Second Statute in line with the laws in force in Poland (which was to ease the integration of the GDL and Poland). The preparation of the Third Lithuanian Statute was delayed. Led by Stephen Bathory, especially after the death of the head of the commission in 1580, the work of codifying the Third Statute was moved to the chancellery of the GDL and the dietine meetings in which the nobles actively expression their opinion. It is thought that the Third Statute was prepared in 1582. GDL chancellor Eustachy Wołłowicz and vice chancellor Lew Sapieha were able to do much during the last period of its improvement. With Sapieha’s efforts, using the complex internal political situation for the Commonwealth of Two Nations in choosing a new ruler, he was able to secure that Sigismund Vasa endorsed the Third Statute on January 28th, 1588, which came into effect starting January 6th, 1589.

The original of the Third Statute in Ruthenian was printed with funds from Lew Sapieha at the Mamonicz Printing House in Vilnius in 1588 (it was later reprinted in 1592-1593 and 1600, showing the date of the first printing). The Polish translation was printed for the first time in 1614 in Vilnius, and later was reprinted 7 times (1619, 1623, 1648, 1693, 1744, 1786, and 1819) and a translation in Russian and Polish in St. Petersburg in 1811. Compared to the Second Statute, the structure of the Third Statute did not change. It was comprised of 14 sections (with only the names of some of the sections slightly modified), in which there were 487 articles. The sections that underwent most corrections were the 3rd (On the Personal Liberties of the Szlachta and On the Expansion of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania), the 4th, (On Judges and On Courts), and the 9th (On Violence, On Contusions, On the Nobles’ Poll Taxes). The norms of these sections guaranteed the immunity of the territory of the Lithuanian state (and even the duty of the ruler to return occupied lands of the GDL) and ensured the nobles’ rights and personal freedoms and their security.

A secular legal manifesto ahead of its time

The phenomenal dynamism of the codification of European law at the time (with a total of 3 statutes in a 60-year span) bears witness to the maturity and legal thought and fast modernization of society. The Lithuanian Statutes legally legitimized the system of the state and functions of the government’s institutions as well as prerogatives (The First Lithuanian Statute strengthened the rule of the Lords’ Council; the Second Statute the nobles’ democracy and a parliamentary system; the Third Statute, for the first time in Europe, had a separation of legislative, executive powers, and judiciary powers), and implemented the idea of a state having a legal system based on social class. The largest section in all the statutes (the 5th section in the First Statute, and the 4th section in the Second and Third Statutes) regulated the court system and their competency, the principles and mechanisms of court trials, as well as the ethics of judges. The Third Lithuanian Statute, adopted by the Lithuanian Supreme Tribunal that had been founded in 1581, was recognised as the highest instance for court appeals.

In historiography, the statutes are considered to be the GDL’s constitution of the gentry, which is characterized by a unique secular nature.

The statutes did not regular the relations of the Church and state, nor is there a concept of religion or slander of the Church, while the Second and Third Statutes include articles that established the lack of jurisdiction for nobles in civil cases in a church court. However, Christian ideology was entrenched in these statutes (already the First Statute established the principle of personal responsibility for a crime, the presumption of innocence, public courts, etc). The Second Statute, approved on June 6th, 1563 by privilege of the ruler, which gave equal rights to Orthodox and Catholic believers, declared the freedom of religion, while the Third Statute include the Pax inter dissidentes in religione act of the Warsaw Confederation of 1573, which declared the equality of all Christian confessions. However, the Third Statute discussed in detail the rights of all nobles, even what could be called “traffic rules”: the width of country roads was written; the right of way of wagons, pedestrians and riders when passing on the road, and other similar things.

The law of the state as well as citizen rights

A unique aspect of all the Lithuanian Statutes was a special section (the 4th section in the First Lithuanian Statute, and the 5th section in the Second and Third Statutes) that regulated the wealth of nobles and paid great attention to the protection of women, establishing compensation two times larger for the injury or murder of a woman (than that of a man from the same social class).

The Lithuanian Statute established the status of castes and social groups: the privileged status of the nobles, while the Second and Third Statutes established the serfdom of the peasants. But the latter statutes are characterized by the humanism of its laws: the causes for personal enslavement were increasingly limited (in the Third Statute, only the prisoners of war could become slaves), adhering to the principle that a free, innocent person could not be turned into a slave. The Third Statute even banished the term slaves, indicating they were to be called the “familials” of the manor. The statute also included the death penalty for the premeditated murder of a peasant, and the more lenient criminal liability of minors.

If there was not sufficient evidence, it is recommended for judges to acquit rather than punish an innocent person.

The Third Statute, which does not mention the Union of Lublin, still contained the ban on foreign nationals to purchase land (Lat.: ius indigenatus) and offices (dignitaries) in Lithuania. These norms were directed against the entrenchment of the Polish nobles in the GDL. Though the Third Statute defended the separate structures of the GDL within the make-up of the Commonwealth, it abolished the GDL’s Sejm, and established only the pre-Sejm meeting of delegates in Slonim, while all the other laws had to be adopted in the joint Sejm of Poland and the GDL.

The circumstances surrounding the political development of Lithuania determined that the statute, as the understanding of the greatest value of the nobles, even gained in strength in the 18th century. Discussions concerning a common legal codex for the Commonwealth were halted because of the aggression of neighbouring states and the collapse of the state. After a greater part of Lithuania was joined to Russia, the tsar did not abolish the power of all the sections of the Third Statute at once. However, after the suppression of the uprising in 1830-1831, the Third Statute that was in effect in Lithuanian governates was brutally replaced with Russian laws in 1840.

Do You Know?

The dynamic character of the codification of Lithuanian law was a phenomenon during the Europe of the time (with three statutes made in a 60-year period). The Third Lithuanian Statute (1588) was particularly innovative. It was the first law in European history to separate legislative, executive, and judicial powers.

Literature: I. Lappo, 1588 metų Lietuvos Statutas, I ir II t., Kaunas, 1934, 1936, 1938; S. Lazutka, Lietuvos Statutai, jų kūrėjai ir epocha, Kaunas, 1994.

Irena Valikonytė