Polish Nobility in the Russian Empire

Many Poles resided in the South-Western provinces of the Russian Empire. Some families moved there, others continued to live on the lands of their ancestors, which became part of Russia after Poland was divided.

According to Russian laws, each generation of the Polish gentry (szlachta) had to confirm nobility in Russia. Often, they originated from an ancestor, who was granted nobility by a Polish King and were entered in the part 1 or 6 of the Noble Register. The 6th Part included only ancient noble families whose nobility was confirmed a hundred years ago or earlier. It means that when a family pretended to be included in the 6th part of the Noble Register, it was necessary to prove that nobility of this family had been granted not later than a hundred years ago. The regulations dated November 6, 1850, determined another condition. After this year it was not necessary to count down 100 years, but to prove that the family became noble not later than in 1785.

The 1st Part included the families which progenitor was granted nobility by Russian or foreign crowned persons. People who had enough proofs to be reckoned among the nobility, but their ancestors were not noble 100 years ago (or in 1785), were also included into this part.

In order to be entered in these Parts of the Noble Register, posterity of such families had to provide Noble institutions with proofs of the ancestor nobility and origin of members of each next generation from him. Since final decision about confirming nobility was made by the Heraldry Department of the Governing Senate, files with such informative documents are in the Fond (repository) of this institution available in the Russian State Historic Archive (RGIA)- Fond #1343.

At first, the procedure of confirming the right for nobility of Polish families was easier then for noblemen from other countries. Since the time of first Polish revolt of the year 1830, they had to confirm nobility not only in the Provincial Noble Assemblies but in the Heraldry Department of the Governing Senate as well, and provide a large number of documents for it. Many Polish families were registered among Russian Nobility by that time. After the rules became stricter, it was decided to found the Central Revision Commission for examining activity of the Provincial Noble Assemblies in the provinces of Kiev, Volynia and Podolia. This commission was formed in Kiev after suppression of the 1840 revolt in Poland. Many Polish families lost their official ancient nobility as a result of its activity. The documents of this Commission are available in the same Russian Archive – the RGIA.

In Poland, the szlachta families did not receive a personal coat-of-arms but received a right to use one from crests/blazons with specific name. Several families not related to each other used one and the same coat-of-arms. In Russia, the family had to confirm its right to use the crest and some families made inpidual small changes in the unified Polish crest which was used by their ancestors.
On June 25, 1836, a special Heraldry Department was established for considering social rights of people originating from Poland. This department was also responsible for issuing noble certificates to the people whose noble origin was confirmed. These certificates included an image of ancient Polish coat-of-arms, the right for which was established by the Heraldry Department for each noble family. As soon as a particular family was reckoned among the nobility it “automatically” received the coat-of-arms.

The Heraldry Department was assigned to compile the Armorial of the Polish Noble Families. The coats-of-arms which were to be included in the Armorial had to be approved by the Emperor. This Heraldry Department was subordinated to the State Council, which was abolished in the year 1841. The Heraldry Department remained as a special institution attached to the Joint Assembly of the Warsaw Departments in the Governing Senate.

The work for compiling this Armorial (“Herbarz Rodzin Szlacheckikh Krolestwa Polskiego”) was officially started in 1849. It was planned that it will consist of 8 volumes containing information about approximately 850 coats-of-arms, which were used by 3500 noble families.

However only two parts were provided for the Emperor’s confirmation. One – on January 10 (22), 1850 and another one on January 16 (28), 1851. Eventually, only two parts of this Armorial were published. The first one included 135 coats-of-arms and the second one – 111 of them.

In 1861, the Heraldry Department of the Polish Kingdom was abolished and its functions were given to the State Council again. By that time 121 clichйs for the 3rd part of the “Herbarz” had been ready. However, its publishing was stopped. In 1870, the State Council was abolished, too. From that time the Heraldry Department of the Governing Senate was responsible for considering the cases of honorary titles and nobility in the Polish Kingdom.

During 1895-1915, the following provinces were included into the Polish Kingdom, which was part of the Russian Empire: provinces of Warsaw, of Kalisz, Petrakow, Kelec, Radom, Plock, Suwalki, Lomza, Lublin, Sedlec, Holmsk. (In 1915-1918, the Polish Kingdom was occupied by Austro-Hungary).
Inventory #38 of RGIA Fond #1343 lists 2770 files with documents of cases examined by the Senate for confirming nobility of the generations of families in the Polish Kingdom. The inventory lists just the titles of files without details. Only the surname (and first name for some files), province of the Polish Kingdom and date of last document in the file are listed. Here are some entries in the inventory, as an example:

    • File 124. The Borowski. Province of Warsaw. December 12, 1896.
    • File 332. Wysocki, Stanislaw-Karl-Felician. Province of Kelec. October 30, 1908.
    • File 874. The Kwasebosrki. Province of Plock. October 28, 1899; September 19, 1902; October 30, 1902 (it means that there are documents of several cases in one and the same file).
    • File 2567. Zamorski. (Province is not listed in inventory). About issuing him information about the family and coat of arms. December 20, 1912.