Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas:  jgo.e-reviews 5 (2015), 3 Rezensionen online / Im Auftrag des Instituts für Ost- und Südosteuropaforschung in Regensburg herausgegeben von Martin Schulze Wessel und Dietmar Neutatz

Verfasst von: André Berelowitch


Tatjana A. Lapteva: Provincialnoe dvorjanstvo Rossii v XVII veke. Moskva: Drevlechranilišče, 2010. 596 S., Abb. ISBN: 978-5-93646-174-3.

Tatiana Lapteva’s book deals, although she does not say so herself, with an important subject, rather neglected by historians in recent years: the fate of Muscovite provincial gentry during the second half of the 17th century, when the pace of modernization, constantly accelerating, brought considerable changes into their way of life. While the bulk of research about the hierarchical status of noblemen and their military obligations during the first half of the 17th century, including the publication of source material, was performed by Storozhev and others between 1880 and 1915, no comprehensive survey of the lower ranks of Russian nobility was attempted at the time. Two recent monographs on the subject are Valerie Kivelson’s Autocracy in the Provinces. The Muscovite gentry and political culture in the seventeenth century (1997), a study in depth, based on the example of Vladimir-Suzdal’ area and covering the whole of the century, and Viacheslav Nikolaevich Kozliakov’s Sluzhilyi gorod Moskovskogo gosudarstva XVII veka. (Ot Smuty do Sobornogo ulozhenia) (2000), devised on more traditional lines and particularly stressing the political role of the provincial noblesse up to 1649. Like Kozliakov, Lapteva follows the patterns of inquiry customary among Russian historians dealing with the sluzhilye liudi. However, her years of serious and strenuous study of an almost entirely unexplored set of archives, especially from the second half of 17th century, enable her to adopt a point of view which differs significantly from the usual descriptions of Muscovite petty noblemen.

Her work should not be read as other history books, which usually start from one or several assumptions and then proceed to prove or disprove them, trying meanwhile to evolve a theory matching the known facts. Owing to the author’s modesty, or perhaps to her distrust of general ideas, she gives us what could be best described as field notes or reports on her finds, systematically classified under headings such as Situation of the townships [goroda; it means here local communities of noblemen] from the end of the Time of troubles to mid-XVIIth century (§ 1.1, pp. 98–124) or Service on the Southern frontier and the formation of Belgorod razriad [regional military administration] (§ 1.12, pp. 189–192). As a consequence, the book is fragmented to the extreme. The first, huge chapter on Service (pp. 98–316) is subdivided into no less than 31 pieces; the others deal successively with landowning (pp. 317–372), the gentry’s struggle for legal rights (pp. 373–421), collective petitions by noblemen (pp. 422–479), recruitment from lower classes into nobility (pp. 480–507) and everyday life (pp. 508–528), totalling 91 sub-sections. The conclusion (p. 529–538) conveniently lists the major findings of the author.

The chief drawback of this presentation is that, since the table of contents ignores the sub-sections and no subject-index is provided, the only way to spot any particular item is to read the book from cover to cover or to browse through the chapters. Nevertheless, the results are well worth the trouble: they sometimes confirm, sometimes complete our knowledge, but most of the time open new perspectives on the provincial gentry – this backbone of the empire. First comes the dynamics of numbers: the provincial gentry is in a very poor state at the end of the Times of troubles, has amazingly recovered by 1650, suffers severely during the war against Poland (1654–1667), but reaches unprecedented levels in the 1680’s – twice its mid-century strength. This rapid expansion would have been impossible but for two factors. Towards the end of the century, the government is still actively recruiting new nobles from the lower classes, musketeers, cossacks, even peasants. More important still, the economic welfare of the gentry has significantly improved. During the first half of the century, 50 % of the noblemen in the provinces had no serfs, and therefore no free manpower to till their estates; 20 %, despite the regulations, were landless. They were unable to sustain any prolonged campaign, which explains the high rate of absenteeism (25 to 30 %). But the new formation regiments: rei­tary (cavalrymen), dragoons, hussars, soldiers, into which most of the petty nobles were channelled after 1648, received pay, and this solved the problem. The proportion of AWOL servicemen fell under 10 %.

Lapteva challenges the traditional picture of noblemen pressed into compulsory service and enserfed (zakreposhcheny) by the government as their own peasants were in 1649. Actually, the government was much more lenient towards the gentry than is usually supposed. Only the possession of land, and later the pay, implied military service. The pomest’e (an estate held on condition of service) was progressively assimilated to a land in full ownership (votchina) during the second half of 17th century. The penalty for desertion from the army, which in the 1620’s was the seizure of the pomest’e, became accordingly a mere fine in the 1680’s. Besides, the noblemen were granted leave, not of course during campaigns, but often enough in peacetime. Through numerous petitions, they conquered the benefit of moratorium for their law suits when serving in the army.

Generally speaking, the provincial gentry was politically active, although remaining loyal to the tsar, during the 17th century. They played a crucial role in the 1648 riots and the subsequent assembly of the estates, where they achieved one of their major goals, the perpetual bondage of their peasants. Petitions bearing on various subjects, signed by dozens of nobles from different towns were submitted to the government and their demands were as a rule satisfied. Moreover, the whole process of petitioning was accepted, nay encouraged by the authorities. A number of officers were elected by noblemen, who, although most of them served now in western style regiments, still retained their traditional organization, the gorod, and were promoted, as of old, from syn boiarskii to dvorovoi and ultimately, for the more fortunate or deserving, to vybornyi (chosen gentleman).

One major reservation, though, must be made. Lapteva takes all statements by noblemen about their landowning, situation of fortune, number of serfs, etc., at their face value. Yet we know that citizens or subjects anywhere tend to minimize their assets; moreover, some cases of falsification in Muscovite official documents have been proved. For instance, the Saint-Cyril monastery in Beloozero obviously bribed the officials from Moscow in charge of the 1618 cadastre in order to evade taxation. Instead of 130 peasants in the immediate vicinity of the convent (okolomonastyr’e), a figure verified by the monastery’s internal documents, the cadastre registers only 5! (Zoia Vasil’evna Dmitrieva: Vytnye i opisnye knigi Kirillo-Belozerskogo monastyria XVI–XVII vv. S.-Peterburg 2003, p. 243–248). Why should nobles be more trustworthy than monks? Even after cross-checking the statements analysed by Lapteva with the corresponding cadastres, we could not be sure of the amount of land actually possessed by any individual nobleman.

André Berelowitch, Paris

Zitierweise: André Berelowitch über: Tat’jana A. Lapteva: Provincial’noe dvorjanstvo Rossii v XVII veke. Moskva: Drevlechranilišče, 2010. 596 S., Abb. ISBN: 978-5-93646-174-3, http://www.dokumente.ios-regensburg.de/JGO/erev/Berelowitch_Lapteva_Provincialnoe_dvorjanstvo_Rossii.html (Datum des Seitenbesuchs)

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