Smolensk nobility

Smolensk nobility. The ruling class of the Smolensk region. Largely of Belarusian origin, it defended its rights as a local aristocracy from the encroachments of Muscovy after the territory’s annexation by the Muscovite state in the mid-17th century. Beginning with Peter I Russian authorities incrementally limited the Smolensk nobility’s rights despite numerous petitions and protests. In 1764–5 the Smolensk military organization was abolished outright, the territory was reconstituted as a Russian gubernia, and the nobility was incorporated into the Russian nobility.

Geographic proximity, historical ties and a similarity of traditions, and an autonomous legal status as well as a distaste for the centralizing tendencies of Moscow helped to develop relations between the Smolensk nobility and Cossack starshyna. Hetmans Ivan Samoilovych and Danylo Apostol and a number of officers’ families (Dunin-Borkovsky, Hamaliia, Lyzohub, Myklashevsky, and others) were directly related to Smolensk aristocratic lines (Engelhardt, Khrapovitsky, Korsak, Krasno-Mylashevich, Likoshin, Paseka, Rachinsky, Ridvansky, Savitsky, Voevodsky, and others). Such family, cultural, and economic ties brought about frequent bilateral resettlement, the sale and exchange of estates, and the introduction of Smolensk peasants into Ukraine. A regiment of Smolensk nobility participated in the 1677–8 Chyhyryn campaigns, the Crimea campaigns, and the Oziv campaigns led by the Cossacks.

The ties between the two areas also developed a political dimension. In the 18th century the Smolensk nobility was so impoverished and weakened by Russian policies that it sought even closer ties with Ukrainians. The extent of its effort was great enough to alarm the imperial officials, and Empress Anna Ivanovna noted in a secret ukase to Prince Aleksei Shakhovskoi, dated 31 January 1734, that it was necessary ‘to pull the Little Russians away from relations with the Smolenskians.’ The Russian government was particularly disturbed by Smolensk ties to the government of the Hetman state. The autonomist aspirations of the Smolensk territory, also supported by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, had a certain impact on Ukrainian affairs, particularly in the 1730s. The abolition of the autonomy of the Smolensk nobility was part of a broader process of centralization of power within the Russian Empire; it was followed closely by similar moves against the Ukrainian Hetman state. The last significant episode of Ukrainian-Smolensk relations occurred in the late 18th century, when the Russian government (under Paul I) uncovered the so-called Smolensk conspiracy of 1798; among the participants were several Ukrainian officers of the Russian army (Gen P. Bilukha-Kokhanovsky, Capt F. Lukashevych, the brother of Vasyl Lukashevych, and others).

Oleksander Ohloblyn

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 4 (1993).]




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