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Emancipation of Russian Nobility, 1762-1785

Emancipation of Russian Nobility, 1762-1785

Robert E. Jones
Copyright Date: 1973
Pages: 326
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    Emancipation of Russian Nobility, 1762-1785
    Book Description:

    Catherine the Great's treatment of the Russian nobility has usually been regarded as dictated by court politics or her personal predilections. Citing new archival sources, Robert Jones shows that her redefinition and reorganization of the Russian nobility were in fact motivated by reasons of state.

    In 1762, Peter III had "emancipated" the nobility from obligatory state service, and in the early years of her reign Catherine attempted to govern Russia through a bureaucratic administration. Although this threatened the provincial nobles with social and economic decline, the government was oblivious to their plight until the peasant revolt of 1773-1775 convinced Catherine that she could not provide Russia with a government capable of defending and promoting the national interest without them. This realization led to the formation of a new alliance between the state and the nobility, based on a mutual fear of peasant revolt and expressed first in the provincial reforms of 1775 and finally in Catherine's Charter to the Nobility of 1785. In the 1760's Catherine had hoped to forestall peasant uprisings by improving the lot of the serfs and limiting the authority of the serf-owners. But faced with the choice between controlling the serfs in a way open to abuses and eliminating abuses in a way that might lead to loss of control, Catherine chose the former. Her Charter committed the state to the preservation of serfdom and the reactionaryancien régime.

    Originally published in 1973.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-7214-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Preface
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    Robert E. Jones
  4. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-1)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. 2-2)
  6. I The Russian Nobility from Peter the Great to Peter III
    (pp. 3-38)

    In 1762 the Russian government began a general reorganization of the state aimed at reducing the inefficiency and disorder that had frustrated its efforts in the Seven Years’ War and driven it to the verge of bankruptcy. An integral part of that reorganization was the revision and updating of the laws governing the nobility. Although Russia’s 50,000 noblemen represented only .6 percent of the empire’s male population,¹ they accounted for 100 percent of its military officers and its middle- and upper-level civil servants.² Their educational advantages assured the nobles of a predominant role in intellectual and cultural affairs.³ As the...

  7. II The “Emancipated” Nobility
    (pp. 39-90)

    To understand and appreciate Catherine’s handling of the problems generated by the Manifesto of Peter III, one must first of all consider the condition and the attitudes of the “emancipated” nobility. As one might expect, the practical and psychological effects of that act were as diverse as the nobles themselves and tended to reflect existing differences within thedvorianstvo. The higher a nobleman’s personal or familial status, the less his relationship to the service and to the state was likely to be affected by the abolition of compulsory service. On the whole, the Manifesto’s confident depiction of the Russian nobleman...

  8. III The Politics of Usurpation
    (pp. 91-122)

    Taken as a whole, the reign of Catherine II appears in retrospect to have been the “golden age” of thedvorianstvo, a period in which the state committed itself to the support of the nobility and satisfied many if not all of the nobles’ ambitions. Consequently, there is a tendency among historians to see Catherine’s favorable treatment of the nobles as one consistent policy and to attribute that policy either to Catherine’s personal predilections or to political exigencies that compelled a usurper to buy the support of the nobility in order to remain on the throne.¹ Such an interpretation, however,...

  9. IV The Legislative Commission
    (pp. 123-163)

    The next attempt to redefine the legal status of thedvorianstvowas made in conjunction with the Legislative Commission that Catherine convened in 1767. Unlike the Commission on the Freedom of the Nobility, however, the Legislative Commission was to deal with that issue in the context of a general reform and reorganization of the empire. Russia’s domestic problems were so intertwined that any attempt to solve one of them was certain to affect the others. Any change in the status of the nobility, for example, would affect the other classes and many of the state’s institutions. Rather than a series...

  10. V Bureaucratic Absolutism 1762-1774
    (pp. 164-209)

    While the controversy over the future role of thedvorianstvoawaited its resolution, the administrative reforms that threatened to erode the privileged standing of thedvorianstvocontinued their advance. The professionalization of the state service and the expansion of the imperial bureaucracy increased the autonomy and capability of the state and lessened its dependence on the owners of hereditary estates. It was that development, more than any other, that gave rise to questions about the future status of the nobility, for ultimately that status was based upon the nobility’s value to the state, on the state’s inability to carry out...

  11. VI The Provincial Reform of 1775
    (pp. 210-243)

    The sweeping reform of provincial administration that followed the Pugachev Revolt was embodied in a single statute, The Fundamental Law for the Administration of the Provinces of the All-Russian Empire (Uchrezhdeniia dlia Upravleniia Gubernii Vcerossiiskoi Imperii), enacted on 7 November 1775. For the remainder of her reign, that law was to serve as the cornerstone of Catherine’s domestic policies: it created an administrative structure that was to last until the 1860s and in some respects until 1917; it became the basis of her subsequent reforms of state finance; it led to efforts to stimulate the development of towns and of...

  12. VII The State and the Nobility 1775-1785
    (pp. 244-272)

    In presenting the Fundamental Law to the Senate on 7 November 1775 Catherine assured the senators that the reform would improve provincial administration and the overall condition of the provinces, but she admitted that its implementation would entail some difficulty and that some unforeseen changes or adjustments might have to be made. She proposed, therefore, that the reform first be tested in theguberniiaof Tver’ and that then, after it had been tried in practice and any mistakes or problems had been identified and corrected, the reform could be introduced throughout the empire. The senators were opposed to a...

  13. VIII The Resolution of the Problem
    (pp. 273-299)

    The questions raised by the Manifesto of Peter III were finally answered in 1785 with the enactment of Catherine’s Charter to the Nobility. A comprehensive statute defining the nobility and its role in Russian society, the Charter resolved by fiat the issues that had generated so much controversy in the 1760s, the issues that both the Commission on the Freedom of the Nobility and the Legislative Commission had grappled with in vain. By 1785, however, those issues were much less controversial. In the aftermath of the Pugachev Revolt official attitudes toward bureacracy, serfdom, and the value of the provincial nobility...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 300-312)
  15. Index
    (pp. 313-326)