THE BOOKS OF VOLHYNIAN CASTLE AND LAND COURTS AS A SOURCE FOR THE HISTORY OF THE UKRAINIAN SZLACHTA FAMILY IN THE 16TH-17TH CENTURIES

  • Iryna Voronchuk
Keywords: Volhynia, books of castle and land courts, marriage, family, married couple, parents and children, inter-family relationships

Abstract

Whilst the history of private life, including family life has attracted a lot of attention in historical research worldwide, in Ukrainian historiography it still remains on the periphery, and a wide spectrum of issues of the history of the family has not yet been explored. Using the anthropological approach, reconstructive and comparative methods, and the method of critical analysis of documentary sources, this article discusses the approach to study the history of the Ukrainian family. In this article we focus on the Volhynian family in the early modern times.
The studying of the history of family requires numerous, extensive and comprehensive sources. For the history of the early modern Volhynian family, such relatively well preserved documents are recorded in judicial and administrative books, the most relevant of which are books of castle and land courts. Following the Polish court system, castle and land courts in the Volhynian voivodeship were established by the Second Lithuanian Statute of 1566 and existed until the mid-19th century. In the course of centuries many court books perished. Yet, nowadays, the Central State Historical Archives of Ukraine in Kyiv retain 2119 judicial and administrative books, out of which 643 are the castle and land court books of the early modern Volhynia. This article emphasizes the importance and significance of castle and land court books as a source for studying the history of the early modern Ukrainian family.
Castle and land courts, in addition to judicial functions, also carried out functions of notary institutions, i.e., they notarized documents of private property rights. Most agreements and records were of financial or business nature and were settled within a family or amongst relatives. Among them are marriage contracts, dowry insurance records, gift deeds and testaments that contain detailed information about married couples and their offspring, and hence provide important data for the reconstruction of contemporary families. Purchase and sale agreements (venditio, emptio, resignatio), exchange agreements (commutatio), pledge records (obligatio), records on the division of estates among relatives (ad attentandam exdivisionum), and protests against unfair property distribution or its illicit appropriation (protestationes) are the most valuable in establishing extended family (kin) relations. Thus, a significant amount of court records contains direct and explicit information on lineal and collateral consanguinity, marriage ties, and relationships among blood and close relatives. Yet, the available data require verification by the methods of documentary research and critical analysis.
The importance of court books for genealogical research has been demonstrated by prominent Polish scholars. However, the significance of court books is not confined to the reconstruction of family structures. Their importance is also in preserving and providing information about existing marriage practices and intra-family relations. In Ukrainian historiography, Orest Levickij was among the first to rely on court books to study the history of the family. The renowned Polish scholars, Aleksander Jabłonowki and Juliusz Bardach explored family relationships in the 16th–17th century Volhynia. Thereafter, research on the history of Ukrainian family was stalled. Therefore, in Ukrainian historiography, the history of the family, particularly of early modern times, remains a rather novel strand of research – research that requires a thorough in-depth analysis of castle and land court books that are essentially the only documentary source on this subject.
Recently, inspired by the advances in academic literature including those by Polish scholars, Ukrainian historians have engaged in studying the history of the early modern Ukrainian family. Based on the court records, family trees of the ordinary Volhynian szlachta of the 15th–16th century have been constructed, which allows us to estimate various demographic statistics, such as the average birth rate and the number of children, and to characterize marriage and its determinants, and the structure and features of family organization. The obtained results reveal that the model of the early modern Ukrainian family differed from the contemporaneous Polish model of late marriages. A comparative analysis of Ukrainian laws, in particular of the Statutes of 1529, 1566, and 1588, and social practices documented in court books reveals that, in contrast, early age marriages prevailed in Ukrainian lands.
A careful critical analysis of court book documents questions some of the propositions advanced in the earlier literature on the position of a woman in Ukrainian society of that time. We find that the prevalent patriarchal social system inhibited not only women but also men from exercising their free will in choosing marriage partners. Marriage was of a totally pragmatic nature, initiated by parents and, first and foremost, it served economic and social interests of the whole family. Numerous records show that women were often coerced by their husbands to register gift deeds to the benefit of their husbands, who in such manner tried to appropriate their wives’ real estate property. A significant amount of records illustrate relationships between parents and children, documenting their emotional complexity and diversity: from mutual understanding, love and respect to manifestations of disrespect, brutality and cruelty of men towards women, children and elders.
Overall, our analysis shows that Volhynian castle and land court books are an important systematic source for the comprehensive study of the history of the early modern Ukrainian family. They provide a significant amount of data and information on family structures, filiations, kinship ties, intra- and inter-family relationships, differences in marriages of the wealthy and poor szlachta, the system of values, mentality and demographic behaviour of people in that period.

Published
2019-10-29