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Ennoblement is the conferring of nobility—the induction of an individual into the noble class. Currently only a few kingdoms still grant nobility to people; among them Spain, the United Kingdom, Belgium and the Vatican. Depending on time and region, various laws have governed who could be ennobled and how. Typically, nobility was conferred on individuals who had assisted the sovereign. In some countries (e.g. France under the Ancien Régime ), this degenerated into the buying of patents of nobility, whereby rich commoners (e.g. merchants) could purchase a title of nobility.


Ennobling qualities

Medieval theorists of nobility relied on earlier classical concepts (Platonic, Aristotelian and Christian-Hellenistic) of what personal traits and virtues constitute grounds for ennoblement. In Plato's Republic, he provides for promotion and degradation of citizens according to a strict spiritual meritocracy. In the words of Will Durant, "If the ruler's son is a dolt he falls at the first shearing; if the boot-black's son is a man of ability the way is clear for him to become a guardian of the state" (Durant, The Story of Philosophy, 1961, p. 28). In medieval times, heraldic writers cited biblical examples to demonstrate that nobility is not just a matter of descent but of personal virtue: Shem, Ham and Japheth sprang from the same father, yet Ham was ignoble and King David rose from shepherd to become king through sheer faith and soldierly courage. Bartolus defined natural nobility by reference to Aristotle, who in his Politics explains how some are marked out for freedom by their virtues (and specifically by their capacity to rule), and are so distinguished from the mass of men whose talents fit them only for a servile role. Those free men whose virtues thus fit them to rule Bartolus defines as the natural nobility. With regard to natural nobility, Bartolus applauded Dante Alighieri's argument in his Convivio that nobility does not derive from ancient riches adorned with fine manners, but is the meed of individual virtue. Bartolus argues that the prince should strive to make his dominion a true mirror of God's own by advancing only those who are naturally noble (see Maurice Keen, Chivalry, p. 149). Geoffroi de Charny, the noted celebrant of knighthood, argued "God will mark out those who labor valorously, even though they come of little estate" (Livre de chevalrie, in Oeuvres de Froissart, ed. K. de Lettenhove I, pt. iii, 494, 495). During the Renaissance, the Platonic-Christian humanist belief in virtue as the essence of nobility was summed up in the Latin phrase: Virtus vera nobilitas est (Virtue is the True Nobility). The counter-revolutionary author Edmund Burke wrote on merit-based promotion: "...the road to eminence and power, from obscure condition, ought not to be made too easy, nor a thing too much of course. If rare merit be the rarest of all rare things, it ought to pass through some sort of probation. The temple of honor ought to be seated on an eminence. If it be opened through virtue, let it be remembered, too, that virtue is never tried but by some difficulty and some struggle." Napoleon Bonaparte and Friedrich Nietzsche were later to continue the tradition of promoting a vision of aristocratic meritocracy, although no longer within (and opposed to) the Catholic-chivalric framework.

Kingdom of Poland

In the Kingdom of Poland and later in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, ennoblement (nobilitacja) meant an individual's joining the szlachta (Polish nobility). At first it was granted by monarch, since the late 16th century by the sejm that gave the ennobled person [1] a coat of arms. Often that person could join an existing noble szlachta family with their own coat of arms. The increase of number of Polish nobility by trustworthy ennoblements was proportionally minimal since the 14th century.

Grand Duchy of Lithuania

In the late 14th century, in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Vytautas the Great reformed the Grand Duchy's army: instead of calling all men to arms, he created forces comprising professional warriors— bajorai ("nobles"; see the cognate " boyar "). As there were not enough nobles, Vytautas trained suitable men, relieving them of labor on the land and of other duties; for their military service to the Grand Duke, they were granted land that was worked by hired men (veldamas). The newly formed noble families generally took up, as their family names, the Lithuanian pagan given names of their ennobled ancestors; this was the case with the Goštautai, Radvilos, Astikai, Kęsgailos and others. These families were granted their coats of arms under the Union of Horodło (1413).

In 1506, King Sigismund I the Old confirmed the position of the Lithuanian Council of Lords in state politics and limited entry into the nobility.

Imperial Russia

After the reforms of Tsar Peter the Great in the early 18th century, noblemen in Russia were obliged to serve as civil or military officials. Personal nobility was automatically conferred on all civil and military officials starting with the corresponding rank of captain. Hereditary nobility was conferred on all officials with the rank of colonel (Any given military post had an equivalent civil one, rank-wise). The system was later extended to merchants and industrialists that with a successful career managing a business of moderate size would achieve personal or hereditary nobility.

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<i>Szlachta</i> Legally privileged noble class in the Kingdom of Poland, and in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania

The szlachta were the noble estate of the realm in the Kingdom of Poland, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth who, as a class, had the dominating position in the state, exercising extensive political rights and power. Szlachta as a class significantly differed from the feudal nobility of Western Europe. The estate was officially abolished in 1921 by the March Constitution.


A magnate, from the late Latin magnas, a great man, itself from Latin magnus, "great", is a noble or a man in a high social position, by birth, wealth or other qualities. In reference to the Middle Ages, the term is often used to distinguish higher territorial landowners and warlords, such as counts, earls, dukes, and territorial-princes from the baronage, and in Poland for the richest szlachta.

Lithuanian nobility

The Lithuanian nobility was historically a legally privileged class in the Kingdom of Lithuania and Grand Duchy of Lithuania consisting of Lithuanians, from the historical regions of Lithuania Proper and Samogitia, and, following Lithuania's eastern expansion, many Ruthenian noble families (boyars). Families were primarily granted privileges for their military service to the Grand Duchy. The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth had one of the largest percentages of nobility in Europe, close to 10% of the population, in some regions, like Samogitia, it was closer to 12%. However, the high nobility was extremely limited in number, consisting of the magnates and later, within the Russian Empire, of princes.

False titles of nobility are claimed titles of social rank that have been fabricated or assumed by an individual or family without recognition by the authorities of a country in which titles of nobility exist or once existed. They have received an increasing amount of press attention, as more schemes that purport to confer or sell such honorifics are promoted on the internet. Concern about the use of titles which lack legal standing or a basis in tradition has prompted increased vigilance and denunciation, although under English common law a person may choose to be known by any name they see fit as long as it is not done to "commit fraud or evade an obligation."

Grandee Aristocratic title conferred on Spanish nobility

Grandee is an official aristocratic title conferred on some Spanish nobility. Holders of this dignity enjoyed similar privileges to those of the peerage of France during the Ancien Régime, though in neither country did they have the significant constitutional political role the House of Lords gave to the Peerage of England and later Peerage of the United Kingdom. A "Grandee of Spain" would have nonetheless enjoyed greater "social" privileges than those of other similar European dignities.

Topór coat of arms

Topór is a Polish coat of arms. It was used by several szlachta (noble) families in medieval Poland and under the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Aksak coat of arms

Aksak is a Polish coat of arms of Tatar origin. It was used by several szlachta families in the times of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Geysztor coat of arms

Geysztor or Gieysztor - is a Polish coat of arms. It was used by several Szlachta families in the times of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Polish heraldry

Polish heraldry refers to the study of coats of arms in the lands of historical Poland. It focuses on specifically Polish traits of heraldry. The term is also used to refer to the Polish heraldic system, as opposed to systems used elsewhere, notably in Western Europe. As such, it is an integral part of the history of the szlachta, the nobility of Poland.

Prus coat of arms

Prus I is a Polish coat of arms. It was used by a number of szlachta (noble) families under the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Orla coat of arms

Orla, is a distinct Polish armorial estate and heraldic clan coat of arms adopted in Polish heraldry since the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland. It was vested upon several knightly families of Poland's nobility situated in the historical region of Greater Poland, Silesia and Lesser Poland from about the 14th century, where it was first historically known in Poland as the coat of arms of 'Saszor' [Szaszor], later 'Orla', and subsequently conferred on the ennoblement of several individuals.

Union of Horodło 1413 series of pacts between Poland and Lithuania

The Union of Horodło or Pact of Horodło was a set of three acts signed in the town of Horodło on 2 October 1413. The first act was signed by Władysław II Jagiełło, King of Poland, and Vytautas, Grand Duke of Lithuania. The second and third acts were composed by the Polish nobility (szlachta) and Lithuanian boyars, respectively. The union amended the earlier Polish–Lithuanian unions of Krewo and Vilnius–Radom. Politically, Lithuania received more autonomy as, after the death of Vytautas, the Lithuanian nobles could choose another Grand Duke instead of passing the title to Władysław II Jagiełło or his heir. However, culturally, Lithuania and Poland grew closer. Lithuania adopted Polish institutions of castellans and voivodes. Catholic Lithuanian nobles and church officials were granted equal rights with the Polish nobles and clergy. Forty-seven selected Lithuanian nobles were adopted by Polish families and granted Polish coats of arm. Thus the union signified the beginnings of the Polonization of Lithuanian culture and the rise of the Lithuanian nobility. It was one of the major steps towards the modernization and Europeanization of Lithuania.

Law of heraldic arms

The law of heraldic arms governs the "bearing of arms", that is, the possession, use or display of arms, also called coats of arms, coat armour or armorial bearings. Although it is believed that the original function of coats of arms was to enable knights to identify each other on the battlefield, they soon acquired wider, more decorative uses. They are still widely used today by countries, public and private institutions and by individuals. The earliest writer on the law of arms was Bartolus de Saxoferrato. The officials who administer these matters are called pursuivants, heralds, or kings of arms. The law of arms is part of the law in countries which regulate heraldry, although not part of common law in England and in countries whose laws derive from English law.

Karpiński is one of the Polish families of the heraldic clan that used the Korab coat of arms. Their family motto is: "For the greater glory of God".

Pogonia coat of arms

Pogonia is a Polish coat of arms. It was used by several szlachta families in the times of the medieval Poland and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Gentry People of high social class, in particular of the land-owning social class

Gentry are "well-born, genteel and well-bred people" of high social class, especially in the past. Gentry, in its widest connotation, refers to people of good social position connected to landed estates, upper levels of the clergy, and "gentle" families of long descent who in some cases never obtained the official right to bear a coat of arms. The gentry largely consisted of landowners who could live entirely from rental income, or at least had a country estate; some were gentleman farmers. In the United Kingdom, the term gentry refers to the landed gentry, the majority of the land-owning social class who were typically armigerous, but did not have a peerage. The adjective "patrician" describes in comparison other analogous traditional social elite strata based in cities, such as free cities of Italy, and the free imperial cities of Germany, Switzerland, and the Hanseatic League.

Polish Nobility Association

The Polish Nobility Association (PNA) – is a sociocultural organization, registered in 1995 in Gdańsk. The association aims to integrate the nobility of the once Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, take care of cultural monuments of the nobles, popularize the history and traditions of the Polish nobility, szlachta, and promote the ethos of chivalry.

Nobility privileges in Poland

The privileges of the szlachta formed a cornerstone of "Golden Liberty" in the Kingdom of Poland and, later, in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Most of the privileges were granted between the late 14th and early 16th centuries. By the end of that period, the szlachta had succeeded in garnering numerous privileges, empowering themselves and limiting the powers of the monarch to an extent unprecedented elsewhere in Europe at the time.

Heraldic adoption

Heraldic adoption, was in the Kingdom of Poland a legal form of ennoblement and adoption into an existing heraldic clan; along with assuming the coat of arms of that clan it took place as a result of an act issued by the King. The adoption of heraldic arms was a procedure used solely in Polish heraldry and was one of the earlier "old way" forms of ennoblement in Poland. It became particularly popular in the 15th century, especially with prosperous or prestigious city burghers and patricians aspiring to attain noble status, but was abolished by the first half of the 17th century.

Heraldic clan

A heraldic clan, in Poland, comprised all the noble (szlachta) bearers of the same coat of arms. The members of a heraldic clan were not necessarily linked by consanguinity. The concept of heraldic clan was unique to Polish heraldry.


  1. Lyczkowski, Jury. "Ennoblement".The registers of ennobled persons in Polish-Litvan Commonwealth during 1569-1792

See also