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Old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Inheritance, Legitimacy, and Nobility.


Przybyslaw  
5 Mar 2016  #1

Dzień dobry~
(FIRST- I must say I am uncertain whether this belongs in the History, Genealogy, or Law category, for reasons you will see in the post,)

Hi, I'm an amateur historian and a pretty hardcore genealogist. For both personal familial reasons and a general fascination with the history, I have come up with a question that has really stumped my research. The question of illegitimate children of noble women in the old commonwealth legal system. In particular, the children of unmarried noblewomen in cases of rape.

Now, through my research of the old legal system and what sites about the szlachta class report: Membership in a noble clan, coat of arms, and the noble class as a whole is normally exclusively inherited from a noble father within legitimate marriage. I'm sure most of you are familiar with this. Historically, in practice, many noble fathers who had illegitimate(or natural) children outside of marriage gave their children their surnames and hid their spurious origins enough that it was often forgotten and the children were assumed to be noble. Legally, however, this was considered to be fraudulent and was often taken to court to be proven false and the noble status stripped from the accused (although this was, obviously, very difficult to prove.). This much is clear about a noble father.

Now, in cases of illegitimate children by single mothers who did not acknowledge a father for whatever reason, these children were often given up as orphans without attachment to surname- However I have seen many instances where it appears the norm throughout Poland, like in many other European countries, the legal principle was that the child inherited the mother's surname and was considered a member of her family.

This is the norm and appears to follow the old Roman/Latin Law principles, like in many other Roman Catholic countries (as opposed to the Germanic 'Common Law' where an illegitimate child is considered to be a child of the parish or village where it was born), where a fatherless child(in particular in legal cases of rape, even without stigma to the mother or child) is a full member of the mother's family, under her father's household, and often can inherit in her place among her brothers, and would take after her social class as well. If she was a slave, the child was a slave. If she was a peasant or burgher, she was a peasant or burgher. If she was a patrician, the child, although spurious, was a member of her patrician gens.

Now, we know historically that the illegitimate child of a polish woman, if acknowledged, would usually be baptized with her surname and raised in her father's household. Reason holds that this would also apply to membership of a noble gens, the Herb going along with the surname. Indeed, it appears to follow Roman law in all other aspects. However I would still somewhat expect this not to be the case in situations of a "seduced" noblewoman, the blame being laid upon her.... yet not in cases of rape. Reason dictates that if they follow roman law, and have actual records of children inheriting mother's surnames, that the status of a raped noblewoman's child would almost certainly inherit her status... Yet I have not seen any record of this either way. I have not seen any historical record of law or practice confirming or denying my theory.

If anyone has seen any record of law or practice of what was inherited by the child of a noblewoman, whether naturally illegitimate, or the product of rape- in particular when the child was baptized and legally given her surname, please, share with me in researching this, and solving this interesting and difficult question! Proof or Disproof!, or point me to somewhere with sources. Unfortunately, my father never taught me Polish, and he has forgotten the language entirely, so I would really appreciate any help.

Thank you all very much for your time!

Ironside Activity: 41 / 7,546
Joined: 26 Feb 2009 ♂
 
5 Mar 2016  #2

The question of illegitimate children of noble women in the old commonwealth legal system.

According to the law those children had no right to inherit name or nobility status from their mothers.

Now, we know historically that the illegitimate child of a polish woman, if acknowledged, would usually be baptized with her surname and raised in her father's household

Now, father could recognize an illegitimate child as his own and give him/her his own surname or part of it or another name as well as bestow his estate or part of it to him/her.

Now, we know historically that the illegitimate child of a polish woman, if acknowledged, would usually be baptized with her surname and raised in her father's household

That would be most likely due to decision made by the mother's father.
OP Przybyslaw  
5 Mar 2016  #3

According to the law those children had no right to inherit name or nobility status from their mothers.

Do you have any records of this? I have seen records of all situations in the old texts but haven't found one for this either way.

And in particular, even in cases of rape? If a woman was raped, her child, if given her surname, would not inherit her status? It seems incongruous with the spirit of the law that children of rape would be treated the same as children of adultery. The main thing I am looking for is sources in the law. Always sources. Do you know where I might find anything? Thank you for your time to answer, by the way.

I don't know if it's against the rules to bump this up, but this site is my last resort to finding sources for this history and question. Just thought I'd give it one more try before this falls so many pages in it'll never even be seen. Thanks.
Ironside Activity: 41 / 7,546
Joined: 26 Feb 2009 ♂
 
8 Mar 2016  #4

Do you have any records of this?

No, if you are looking for specific and if you need old records and some sources for your research I doubt somebody have it on hand translated into English and ready to post.

And in particular, even in cases of rape?

If you are asking for the law in the old Commonwealth there were illegitimate and legitimate children without specifics.

If a woman was raped, her child, if given her surname, would not inherit her status?

An illegitimate child would not inherit mother's surname or status, period. The only way around it was vie father of a child or father of a mother because they could legally transfer their surname and their status if that was what they wanted to do.

Here some books on the subject:
D. Zo³±d¼-Strzelczyk. Dzieci niechciane. W: "Dziecko w dawnej Polsce", Wyd. Poznańskie, 2002
B. Baranowski. Sprawy obyczajowe w s±downictwie wiejskim w Polsce w wieku XVII i XVIII. £ód¼ 1955
M.J. Nowaczyk. Spis chrztów cioski Czachorowo, parafia Gostyń, 1736-1779
OP Przybyslaw  
9 Mar 2016  #5

No, if you are looking for specific and if you need old records and some sources for your research I doubt somebody have it on hand translated into English and ready to post.

Well no, I don't need people to have it on hand, but if anybody had any sources, not just things that we have all read and accept because we've read it so often, it's more helpful.

If you are asking for the law in the old Commonwealth there were illegitimate and legitimate children without specifics.

Okay that makes some sense. Thanks for linking the books, I imagine you got this information from those sources. That's all I really wanted. Not just someone saying some opinion. Thank you!

An illegitimate child would not inherit mother's surname or status, period.

But I actually have records of that happening with people. It happened within my own family, and I have heard from others that it had happened with them. Which leads to the next thing you said...

The only way around it was vie father of a child or father of a mother because they could legally transfer their surname and their status if that was what they wanted to do.

So, based on this: If a child of an unmarried mother was given her surname, it would be because her own father is passing it on to the child... Which would mean what for the status of the child?It seems to contradict here with what is generally said about simply "legitimate" and "illegitimate" children.

The only way around it was vie father of a child or father of a mother because they could legally transfer their surname and their status if that was what they wanted to do.

That is, from my understanding , that if an unmarried noblewoman had a child, her father could choose to pass his surname... and his noble status(?) onto his grandchild? Is that right? That doesn't seem right, I feel as if I'm misunderstanding. Sorry for double-posting.
Ironside Activity: 41 / 7,546
Joined: 26 Feb 2009 ♂
 
9 Mar 2016  #6

That is, from my understanding , that if an unmarried noblewoman had a child, her father could choose to pass his surname... and his noble status(?) onto his grandchild?

That's right.

That doesn't seem right,

Why? A noble in the old Polish Commonwealth could adopt a stranger if he wished to and pass onto him his status. He could do whatever he wanted with his property. Do you think he couldn't do this for his grandchild?

But I actually have records of that happening with people. It happened within my own family, and I have heard from others that it had happened with them

If you are talking about Commonwealth that is not possible according to the law of that period. The only way for an illegitimate child to inherit surname and status of her mother would be by the legal action undertaken by the child's grandfather.

One could say that in a way that child inherited surname and status from mother - but that is just a figure of speech not a legal reality.

Sorry for double-posting.

No problemo, I helped you to the best of my ability. Admittedly I could be wrong about all that - its possible but not probable. Sorry but I don't know any more on the subject. All the best and good luck in your research.
OP Przybyslaw  
8 Jun 2016  #7

I did some further research on this question and came up with the answer that while it may have been possible in the early stages of history, after the 1500s, individual noblemen could NOT adopt/enoble people, even within say, cousins, and after (1515?) that, a nobleman would even be stripped of his noble status if he married a non-noble woman. Interesting. This is just what I have come across and thought that I should update the thread for any others who may come across it.

Which leads me to a secondary question: Within family descended from nobles, but not legally being noble themselves.. were they still a member of the Rod/Herb/Clan? For example, were non-noble descendants(whether through illegitimacy or simply marrying non-nobility) of families considered to be non-noble members of that clan/herb/coat of arms? Did the guild/burgher class (some of whom descended from nobility and some not) ever use coat of arms even if they themselves were not legally szlachta? Simply as a member of the greater "Herb/Rod/Clan"?

Or if one was legally not szlachta, one could also not be considered a member of those larger clans? Hmmm...?
Paulina Activity: 8 / 1,344
Joined: 31 Jan 2008 ♀
 
8 Jun 2016  #8

were they still a member of the Rod/Herb/Clan?

I somehow doubt it, to be honest... My mum said that according to a family legend her family had an ancestor from nobility who got disowned by his family for marrying a peasant. I think my mum mentioned that her family was bound by serfdom so I doubt that they were using any coat of arms ;) or that they had any dealings with a family so "noble" that they disowned their own son (if that's even true, of course).



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