The Greater and Lesser Nobility in Early Modern Europe: Poland-Lithuania and England and Wales in the Sixteenth Century
Title: The Greater and Lesser Nobility in Early Modern Europe: Poland-Lithuania and England and Wales in the Sixteenth Century
Author: GROMELSKI, Tomasz W.
Series/Report no.: EUI MWP; 2010/25
This paper comparatively discusses the relationship between the greater and lesser nobilities in two contrasting polities - sixteenth-century Poland-Lithuania and Tudor England. It argues that the szlachta’s and the gentry’s (the lesser nobility in Poland and England respectively) relations with their social superiors seem not to have undergone such significant changes since the late Middle Ages as has often been argued. The aristocracy were seen as the wealthier, more powerful and more respectable section of the wider class of gentlemen. They were expected to act as leaders of the gentry and the people in peace and at war, and to assist the monarch in running the country through participation in government and administration. From the perspective of the gentry, the great nobles were providers or brokers of patronage who, in exchange for loyalty and service, offered protection and rewards as well as access to the court. This symbiosis, which worked rather well despite occasional disputes, was cemented by traditions of reciprocity, blood links and personal allegiances. The differences in wealth and power between individual nobles and the rank-and-file szlachta and gentry were often great, but in the sixteenth century both lesser nobilities felt quite confident of their relations with their superiors. In the case of England, this seems to have been a consequence of the gentry oligarchies’ direct links with the court as well as their increasing importance as provincial magistrates and administrators. In Poland-Lithuania the szlachta could still challenge the magnates, who had not yet become the notoriously over-mighty subjects of the next era.
Subject: Nobility; aristocracy; gentry; szlachta; magnates; social structure; patronage; clients; affinity
Type of Access: openAccess