The Problem of Western Provinces Petty Nobility’s Positioning in Social Hierarchy of the Russian Empire in the First Half of the 19th Century

Aspects of Russian society history

The article focuses on imperial policies towards petty nobility which after the partitions of Poland-Lithuania’s Commonwealth became subjects of the Russian monarchs. Given that Russian imperial society was conceptualized as consisted of four broad social estates (sosloviia) nobility, clergy, urban and rural dwellers, the influence of social estate aspects on policies’ formulation is investigated. Perception of szlachta social estate as an equivalent to the Russian nobility was the primary motive for a series of measures designed to sort out petty szlachta into “authentic” nobles and usurpers. imperial administrators demonstrated more flexible approach in 1829–1830 when elaborating a project that institutionalised minor szlachta as a separate social estate with a privileged status. After the Polish insurrection of 1830–1831 Russian authorities abandoned the idea of adjusting soslovie estate structure of the empire to accommodate petty szlachta. A decree of 19 October 1831 established a new social estate of western odnodvortsy to accumulate szlachta whose noble status was not approved by the authorities. Devised as a semi-privileged status group it was seen by the russian officials as a primary instrument to integrate petty szlachta into imperial social structures.