Polish landed gentry
Polish landed gentry (Polish: ziemiaństwo, ziemianie, from ziemia, "land") historically was a social group of hereditary landowners who held manorial estates. Historically ziemiane consisted of hereditary nobles and landed commoners. The Constitution of 1496 restricted the right to hold manorial lordships to the hereditary nobility proper only. So the non-noble landed gentry had to either sell their estates to the lords or seek a formal ennoblement for themselves. A rare exception were the burgesses of certain specially privileged "ennobled" royal cities who were titled "nobilis" and were allowed to buy and inherit manorial estates and exercise their privileges (such as jurisdiction over their subjects) and monopolies (over distilleries, hunting grounds, etc.). Thus, in the Nobility Commonwealth there was almost no landed-gentry in the narrow, English meaning of the term, i.e. commoners who own land estates. With the Partitions these restrictions were loosened and finally any commoner could buy or inherit a landed estate. This made the XXth cent. Polish landed gentry consist mostly of hereditary nobles but also of gentry in the narrow sense.
Although the March Constitution of Poland (1921) abolished the legal class of hereditary nobility, the social group of nobility remained socially recognized and gentry remained both an economic and social reality, similarly to other European countries.At the end of World War II, by the Polish Land Reform (1944) carried out by the Polish Committee of National Liberation this group was eliminated. Many gentry families, especially those descended from hereditary nobles or Jewish landowners, but also the landed gentry of commoner origin were eliminated by the Germans and Russians even earlier during the War.
With the liquidation of the People's Republic of Poland (1989) the Polish landed gentry became politically active, struggling for restoration of land ownership or at least compensation. In this respect of note are attempts to delegitimize the land reform of 1944.
- T. Chrzanowski, "Dziedzictwo. Ziemianie polscy i ich udział w życiu narodu", Kraków, Znak, 1995
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