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Chapter 6

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

History of the Ukraine
By Dmytro Doroshenko

printed by
The Institute Press, Ltd.
Edmonton, Alberta,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 8

 p109  Chapter VII

 * * * *

(The numbers link directly to the sections.)

(32) Ukrainian Lands Under the Lithuanian Princes from the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Century. (33) Power of the Prince and Organs of State and Local Administration. (34) Council of the Lords (Rada Paniv). (35) Social Classes. (36) Lithuanian Statute.

 * * * *

32. Ukrainian Lands Under the Lithuanian Princes from the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Century.

It has already been stated that the chief element in the growth and development of the Lithuanian Princedom was the Ukrainian and White-Russian population. These two branches of the eastern Slavs had put all their gifts, all their creative power and all their material means into the building up of the Lithuanian State. The Lithuanian people merely supplied at first the organizing cement which united the Ukrainian and White-Russian worlds broken up by the disintegration of the Kievan State and ruin of the Tatar invasion. The Lithuanians provided the dynasty, which at first was very gifted and energetic. The occupation of the White Russian and Ukrainian lands by the Lithuanians in the Fourteenth century had not, as we have said, the character of a conquest or invasion. It was a peaceful "gathering" of the lands analogous to the uniting of the Kievan princes in the Tenth and Eleventh century. The Lithuanian princes looked upon themselves as heirs to the old Kievan State. The population also looked upon them as their lawful monarchs and on the Lithuanian Princedom as their own State.

All the circumstances led, as it would seem, to the Lithuanian Princedom becoming a united Ukrainian-White‑Russia, thus securing to these two peoples a free national and political development. However, at the end of the Fourteenth century the Ukrainian and White-Russian population in Lithuania was threatened by a power­ful rival in Poland, which possessed the strongest weapon of the time in the Roman Catholic Church organization that stood under the protection of the Popes and  p110 shared their international life and purposes. At the beginning of the Fifteenth century the Polish Roman Catholic element in Lithuania entered into conflict with the Ukrainian Orthodox population. At first Ukrainian opposition was passive only, but when, after the Union of Lublin in 1569, Ukrainian territories were directly connected with the Polish Crown a conflict became inevitable. The first step leading to the conflict was the fact that the Polish Government tried to introduce into the Ukrainian lands a social structure quite different from their own which had grown up under the protection of the Lithuanian princes out of local conditions in these lands. The conflict broke out at the end of the Sixteenth century shortly after the Union of Lublin.

33. Power of the Prince and Organs of State and Local Administration.

Like the state organization of the Lithuanian Princedom, its social structure had developed naturally out of the social forms known to us in the old Kievan State. The constitution of the Lithuanian State, as well as the principles of law on which the judicial system was based grew up out of the old Ukrainian law as practised in the Kievan State. Of course, this law showed certain changes, but they had evolved naturally from the new circumstances to which Ukrainian life was now subject, and down to the second half of the Fifteenth century these changes were only manifestations of the normal internal organic proceeds of development. It is not until the end of the Fifteenth century that foreign influences, such as Polish and German, were felt in the Ukrainian territory belonging to the Lithuanian Princedom. These influences gave a new and different direction to the development of the old Ukrainian social structure.

At the end of the Fifteenth century, the Lithuanian Princedom was a completely unified State, having a centralized monarchical power, while the various districts, especially the former minor princedoms, preserved a wide local autonomy. The monarchical power belonged  p111 to the house of Gedimin in the same way as in the old Ukraine it belonged to the house of Rurik. There was a difference, however, in the practice of succession to the crown; it was not the eldest who succeeded to the central power but the ablest, or his father's favorite. It is difficult to speak of any settled law of succession in the house of Yagailo which held in its hands the sovereign power, for instead of growing in number, his descendents diminished and became extinct in the second half of the Sixteenth century, with the death of Sigismund II. In the same way as in the Ukraine the central sovereign power was connected with the crown of Kiev, in Lithuania it was connected with the crown of Vilna, the ethnic Capital of Lithuania. The Great Prince was the sovereign head of the whole State, he was arbiter in the quarrels among the lesser Princes, he nominated them to vacant thrones, led the united armies, conducted foreign policy and represented the State abroad. The lesser princedoms were the appanages of the members of the house of Gedimin, who either succeeded their father, or were nominated by the Great Prince. In some lands the wish of the population had a certain influence on the choice of the Prince. In many lands the population became very much attached to their nominated Lithuanian princes. An example of this is in Kiev where three generations of the house of Gedimin, Vladimir Olgerovich, Olelko, and Simeon, contributed much to the prosperity of the population. During the whole of the Fifteenth century, as we have seen, the great princes of Lithuania struggled with the independence and insubordination of the lesser princes and were victorious in the struggle, assuring the preponderance of the central power.

34. Council of the Lords (Rada Paniv).

It was in the second half of the Fifteenth century that the vestiges of the old order of appanages disappeared. At the head of the State was the Great Prince with practically unlimited power. Constitutionally, there was as yet no legal limitation to his power, but in practice  p112 he was compelled to share his power with the Council of Lords (Rada Paniv). At the beginning, about the end of the Fifteenth century, this Council (Rada), was not a legal institution but simply an assembly of clerical and secular officials standing nearest to the Prince, similar to the court of the Ukrainian Princes of Kiev and elsewhere called the Knyaza Rada or Boyarska Rada. In the first half of the Sixteenth century the constant attendance of the Council of Lords (Rada Paniv) became fixed and from the private Council around the Prince it grew into a State organ that sat in council even in the absence of the prince. The privileges and rights of the Council of Lords were now fixed by special charters, the Prince was compelled to consult it in case of important decisions affecting foreign and home policy, and had no right to enact laws without having consulted the Council of the Lords. The sphere of competence and activity of the Prince was still very wide. He held in his hands all the threads of the state administration, he was not only the sovereign but the richest landlord in the country, the income from his estates being the chief source of the State revenue. He was also the court of final appeal in the Princedom, and his Chancery was crowded with endless law‑suits that could not be settled in the local courts.

35. Social Classes.

An important task for the historian of this period is to throw light on the social structure of the Lithuanian Princedom. To all appearances this structure corresponded with that of other contemporary European States, it had all the principal features of feudalism. The chief task of the sovereign was to organize the defence of the country, and in order to do this he had the right to claim military service from every member of the community according to his means. In return for military service, the Prince granted lands. Being the real owner of all the land he could distribute it among his tenants-in‑chief, the great nobles, who, in their turn, had tenants, and so on, all being bound by military service in case of war.  p113 Here, as elsewhere, it was only gradually that the idea of conditional land tenure gave way to the principle of private property in land.

The Council of the Lords limited the absolute power of the Prince to the advantage of the great nobles. The influence of this Institution diminished as the Seim, where the lesser nobles were represented, grew in importance. The Statute of 1566 secured the predominance of the Seim, but even then the high administration and the preparation of the laws for submission to the Seim remained in the hands of the Council of the Lords.

The Seim originated in occasional assemblies of the knights for special important purposes. Such, for instance, was the meeting of 1401 called for the purpose of considering the proposed Union with Poland. From the second half of the Sixteenth century the sittings of the Seim became more frequent, but still the initiative in calling it lay with the Council of Lords, and its powers were very limited. By the Sixteenth century however, these had become very much wider. The principle of representative government was gradually growing. Thus, the Statute of 1566 fixed the Seim as a permanent institution and prescribed the order of representation, namely two knights from each district. The Seim was divided into two chambers, the Council of Lords which sat in corpore and that of the knights or lesser nobles. The most important Seims were those of 1554‑1556. They accepted the new draft of the Statute of 1566, and carried through the reform of the judiciary, by which all lands were divided into thirty districts with judges elected from among the local nobles. These Seims also carried out a new administrative division of the Princedom into thirteen provinces which in their turn were divided into districts. Voevods or governors were nominated by the Prince and given restricted power. Heads of districts, or starosts, were elected by the nobles and the election confirmed by the Prince.

The knights (lesser nobles) of every district formed a special military detachment which together with other  p114 similar detachments from the districts constituted more important military units under the governors. The Commander-in‑chief of the army was the great Hetman.

The administrative districts corresponded with the judicial districts. In every district there were three different courts in which justice was administered: the land court for judgments in private suits about landed property; the second was the land title's court which settled disputes about the boundaries of landed estates; and the third was the criminal court or court of the manor, presided over by the starost of the district.

From all these reforms laid down by the Statute of 1566 we conclude that the Lithuanian Prince was a Constitutional Monarch whose power was limited by the Council of Lords and by the Seim. The former was also gradually limited in power, the dominant class of the population being the lesser gentry represented in the Seim by two knights from every district. The great lords, however, still practically held the power in their hands because of their wealth, connections, and political influence.

In the old Kievan Princedom there were roughly three classes into which the population was divided: boyars, townsmen and peasants. Along with free‑men there existed half-free peasants or serfs and slaves. Further evolution produced the great nobles or aristocracy, a class above the boyars composed partly of former reigning princes who had lost their appanages and the more power­ful boyars. They surrounded the Prince and helped him with the state administration. Besides the landed nobility the class of military nobles arose, who were still connected with the land. This class, under the influence of Poland, where a similar class known as the Szlachta, played an important part, became also in the Lithuanian Princedom the privileged class which played a most important part in the government, and enjoyed great political influence. With the development of this class of gentry the former balance of the classes disappeared, the classes below the gentry, formerly free peasants, gradually losing their rights and becoming serfs. Citizens  p115 within the towns who had rights and privileges formed a class between the gentry and the serfs. The clergy, however, were above and outside the classes. Such was the evolution of the social structure of the Ukraine under the Lithuanian Princes.

Let us examine each of these classes separately. The Nobility as a class was not numerous. It consisted of about twenty princely families and about fifty boyar families. In the old Ukraine the Boyars were not yet an exclusive class. Through personal merit, wealth, and family connection access to this class was not closed to "the grand-sons of the Clergy or of yeomen (free peasants)". This class now was closed with very few exceptions to new‑comers from below. Former lesser royal princes having lost their appanages, became officials of the ruling Prince and formed merely the titled section of this class without any special privileges. Their wealth lay in great landed estates, and their chief privilege was to have their own military detachments and the right to display their own colors in war. All the high posts of the administration of the State were concentrated in the hands of the great Nobles, such as Hetman, Chancellor, Marshall, Voevod. All these posts were hereditary and limited to a few families only. Even the minor posts, such as heads of district (starosts) were in their hands to bestow. Thus in the hands of this class was the Council of Lords, being the Senate and the Cabinet of Ministers. Their privileges exempted them from local jurisdiction, they being subject only to that of the Prince or the Council of Lords. In war they fought under their own colors at the head of their own detachments. The Lithuanians composed only a small part of this class, most of them being old Ukrainian and White-Russian families of princes and boyars. The conspiracy of the Fifteenth century under Prince Hlinski led to the emigration of this and other Ukrainian princely families to Moscow. Some of the princely houses became extinct. Under the Polish crown, after the Union of Lublin, they soon became Roman Catholic and polonized. Thus, in  p116 the Seventeenth century this class was completely lost to Ukraine.

The middle class, between the aristocracy and the peasants, was now formed by the gentry. They took the Polish word "Szlachta". The origin of this class chiefly lay in military service. The defence of the State required a standing army. The State, however, could not afford a paid army, and the princes had recourse to the middle class of the population, who were obliged to furnish men and horses according to their income, and the importance of their estates. These were lesser nobles not included in the upper class, lesser tenants of the great lords, burgesses, yeomen, even rich peasants who were freed from other duties for the purpose of serving in the army. Till the end of Fourteenth century this class was in process of formation. Consolidation did not begin until the end of the Sixteenth century. In the struggle against the lesser princes with their independent and separatist tendencies, the Great Princes of Lithuania had to find support somewhere, and gave charters of all sorts of privileges chiefly to the middle class of gentry, mostly of Ukrainian and White Russian origin. One of the most important of these privileges was the right of jurisdiction over their dependents. The struggle for Union with Poland to which the great nobles were opposed brought a new distribution of privileges to the Szlachta, conceded by special charters and granted to separate provinces, such as Volynia, Kiev and Podolia. These rights and privileges were confirmed by the Lithuanian Statute of 1566.

Military service was the only duty exacted from this class. Every tenant of an estate had to join the detachment of his district bringing with him the appointed number of men and horses. In case of illness a substitute had to be found. Non‑appearance and unpunctuality were severely punished even by loss of the estate.

Along with the consolidation of the class of szlachta or gentry went the process of differentiation and consolidation of the town population. In old Ukraine the class of burgesses as such was unknown. Though the  p117 towns were very highly developed and were centres of economic and political life, the citizens were in no way distinct from the country population. At the end of the Twelfth century we notice the decline of the towns and the growth in importance of landed property, especially in Galicia. Under the Lithuanian princes, this process was further accelerated, all importance and influence being transferred to the lords and gentry connected with the landed property. The Galician and Volynian Princes, however, fully understood the importance of towns for trade and industry, and they even undertook the repopulation of deserted towns of foreigners, especially Germans. These colonists were granted self-government according to German law and customs, thus the German form of municipal self-government was introduced into Ukraine under the name of German or Magdeburg law. The chief privileges under this law included the exemption of the town population from the direct detailed jurisdiction of the central government and introduced the right of self-government based on a system of election and guilds. The burgesses of each town formed a community with their own municipal administration and court of justice, granted and sanctioned by a special charter to the town. At the head of the administration stood elected mayors, or reeves, assisted by aldermen. Burgesses alone came under municipal jurisdiction. Those in the towns who lived on the lands attached to the castle, or which belonged to the prince, or on the lands of the bishop, were outside the municipal jurisdiction.

The oldest charter granting municipal self-government which has been preserved is dated 1339, but we have every reason to believe that municipal self-government according to the German model or Magdeburg Law was introduced in the towns of Galicia and Volynia as early as the end of the Thirteenth century. Lithuanian princes began to grant their towns charters of municipal self-government about the end of the Fourteenth century.

Together with self-government, towns were entrusted with keeping the fortifications in order, and with maintaining  p118 the watch. This was of particular importance in border towns, especially in the south and south-east of the Ukraine for defence against the Tatars.

Self-government however, improved but little the economic status of the town population. The landed gentry were exempt by special privileges from paying duties on products they imported directly from abroad. Great nobles and many of the lesser gentry employed their own artisans on their estates. The town population was not allowed to own land and had to buy the products from the country. They were locked within the walls of their towns with practically no liberty outside them. The burgesses were not represented in the Seim. The town population of the Orthodox confession was very soon excluded from sharing in the government at all, their places being occupied by foreign elements, such as Germans and Poles. In commerce there shortly appeared aggressive rivals, namely the Jews.

The great mass of the population in the Ukraine were peasants. The history and development of this class is intimately connected with that of the landed gentry. The country population in old Ukraine was subdivided into the free peasants, who were small land-holders; the half-free peasants or serfs bound by certain duties to the estates of their landlord; and finally the slaves. Development tended towards the levelling of the differences between the sub‑divisions, the position of slaves being very much improved in the course of centuries while on the other hand, the free peasants had their freedom gradually very much curtailed.

In the beginning of the Sixteenth century slavery still existed in the Ukraine under the Lithuanian princes. The slaves were mostly employed in agriculture. Some of the Slavs were attached to the Manor, others had their own homesteads on the estate. In the Statute of 1529 we find that the origin of slavery was the same as in the Kievan State, that class being recruited from prisoners of war, descendents of slave parents, marriage with an enslaved man or woman, or through sentence of death  p119 commuted to slavery. The same Statute also provides some possibility for the slaves to buy their freedom. By the Statute of 1566 the commutation of the death sentence to slavery was abolished, and the Statute of 1588 abolished slavery altogether, former slaves being put on the same footing as the serfs.

The freedom of former free peasants was, as we have said, very much curtailed. They were sub‑divided into different groups chiefly according to the sort of labor they had to provide and the duties they had to perform. Most of them were attached to the land. They had to pay to the landlord some tribute mostly in kind, and their work on his land constituted the chief source of labor on the estates. Their duties were constantly growing, also the amount of personal service they were bound to give. In some rare cases they paid their duties in money, but mostly in products of their trade if they had any, such as hunting, fishing, beekeeping and so on.

Considerable masses of peasant-serfs were bound not to private landlords but to the State. These peasants were employed on the borders, in the castles and fortresses; often they were artisans such as smiths, carpenters, wheelwrights, coopers, wagoners, carters, whose chief duties were transport during the military campaigns. The peasants of this category were especially numerous in the south and south-east of Ukraine, in the provinces of Kiev, Sieversk and Podolia.

The most common type of peasant settlements was a farm or group of two or three farms occupied by the members of the same family or close relatives. The quantity of arable land that such a settlement cultivated varied much according to local conditions. This type of peasant settlement was also considered as a unit for taxation and the imposition of other duties. About the middle of the Sixteenth century an important land reform was carried out in order to render taxation more uniform. According to this new arrangement, by the law of 1557 a certain definite measure of arable land became the unit for taxation purposes. This was the "voloka", equivalent to  p120 about fifty-five acres. Every peasant group in possession of a "voloka" of land was bound to pay a certain tax in money and produce as well as in labor service, the latter being two days in the week. The peasants were not yet definitely deprived of liberty of movement and bound to the soil. This law was applied only in certain parts of the Ukraine, mostly in the north, whereas in the south of the Ukraine old customs were in force until after the Union of Lublin and the attachment of Ukrainian territories directly to the Polish crown.

36. Lithuanian Statute.

The conception of law in the Lithuanian State in the Sixteenth century, especially from the point of view of the szlachta, found its expression in the historical document known under the name of the Lithuanian Statute. This code of laws lasted much longer than the Lithuanian Princedom and was in force in the Ukraine as late as the middle of the Nineteenth century, under the Russian government.

The first scientific studies of this document immediately connected it with the old Ukrainian code of Yaroslav, "Ruska Pravda". Indeed, all historians are unanimous in saying that it is in the Ukraine and not in Moscow that the old forms of law as fixed by the code of Yaroslav found their natural development. Not only the chief laws of the Lithuanian Statute but even the sub‑divisions are made under the same headings as in the Code of Yaroslav, thus proving the complete dependence of the later code on the legal conceptions of the Kievan State.

Before the publication of the first Lithuanian Statute in 1529 there was no written, generally accepted, Code of Laws, the Lithuanian Princedom being governed according to local customs, precedents, charters and privileges. The initiative for codification came from the szlachta who petitioned the Prince in the Seim of 1514 to give a written law. The draft of the Statute was prepared by the lawyers of the Great Prince's Chancery,  p121 examined and discussed in successive Seims, and finally published in 1529.

This first Lithuanian Statute had only thirteen paragraphs, subdivided into articles. Under the first heading we find the definition of the sovereign power and its relation to the population; the second is about the organization of the defence of the State and military service; the third treats of the privileges of the gentry; and the fourth is on jurisdiction and courts of justice and judges. It contains also the codes of civil and penal law and the order of legal procedure. The final form of the Statute was undoubtedly the result of certain struggles between the great nobles and the lesser gentry. We distinctly see in it how the privileges of the latter are insisted upon. A member of the gentry class could not be imprisoned without a public trial. He could not be deprived of his estate unless there was sufficient ground for punishment. His dependents were exempted from state taxation. If a person belonged to the gentry class, the principle of prescription was taken as a criterion; those who had belonged to this class for several generations and enjoyed the rights and privileges of the gentry were considered as such. In some cases it was necessary to bring a certain number of witnesses to swear that the person was "a gentleman by birth". New nobility was acquired only through grants by the sovereign.

The growth of the gentry necessitated a new settlement of these rights and privileges, and they saw to it themselves that a new edition of the Statute should be made to include all the additions. Thus, the second Lithuanian Statute was edited in 1566, augmented and revised, but the same in principle as the first.

Hardly had this second edition come into use when the Union of Lublin considerably changed the situation in the Lithuanian State, especially in the Ukrainian provinces. The Seim of Lublin appointed a Commission to adapt the Lithuanian Statute to the new circumstances, that is to the Polish Code, so as to make it workable under the Union. The Commission, however, composed of Lithuanians  p122 only, did not care to give much consideration to Polish legislation and practically left it out of account. In the new Lithuanian Statute the Union of Lublin was not even mentioned. The Third Lithuanian Statute of 1588 confirmed by King Sigismund III without having consulted a Seim, was adopted not only in Lithuania proper but also in the Ukrainian territories. In addition to legislation concerning the privileged gentry, this code contains laws concerning all classes of the population.

As an important feature of this part of the Code the Communal courts of Justice (Kopny Sud) should be mentioned. Besides the regular legal system administered in courts by appointed judges there existed in the Ukraine under the Lithuanian and Polish crowns irregular communal courts based entirely on custom or established by precedent, a practice that acquired the force of law. It was based on the principle of self-government or self-defence of a community against the criminal elements in it. Any member of a community aware of some crime that had been committed had the right to call together a sufficient number of qualified persons to denounce the crime, and make the accusation before them. They then proceeded to investigate and sit in judgment on the matter. The powers of these Communal courts were very wide, and appeal from them could be made to the regular court of the district, the minor court. The origin of these communal courts is to be sought in the practice in use from the Eleventh to the Thirteenth centuries when justice was administered in public meetings, or "Viche". As far as we can judge from the records preserved, the communal courts flourished in Ukraine mostly about the Sixteenth century, but the practice lasted until the end of the Eighteenth century.

Generally speaking, certain social changes appeared during the Lithuanian period, which for centuries played a very important part in the life of the Ukrainian people.

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