The Myth of the Lithuanian Conquest
For several centuries now, ever since from the Middle Ages in fact, a myth has been going around that the lands of present-day Belarus, exhausted and laid waste by the Tatar-Mongol invasion, were seized by two Lithuanian princes - Erdzivil (Erdvilas) and Mingaila. Historians have long since ascertained that there was neither an invasion of Belarus by the Tatars nor a "Lithuanian invasion". Even so, these fairy tales are advantageous to both the modern Lietuvians and the Russians (the latter can then pose as "liberators"). These fabrications are very tenacious and even gained a foothold in scholarly historical writing. Now attempts are made to present Duke Mindaŭ (Mindaugas) as "conqueror". He was a real personality, but the historical role he played was quite different.
There is another myth connected with this one - that there once existed an early mediaeval Lietuvian state on the Baltic lands, a kind of precursor to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. All attempts to find traces of this state - by analysing written sources or examining archaeologists' discoveries - have ended in failure.
The Legitimation of Nobility (šlachta)
The partitions of Rzeczpospolita between 1772 and 1795 and the fall of the Polish-Litvan (Litva - authentic name of historical Lithuania) Commonwealth resulted in the territory of Rzeczpospolita becoming part of Austria, Prussia and Russia. Each of those countries had their own specific structure and laws concerning nobility and its heraldry which, eventually, seriously affected the status of the Polish-Litvan nobility as a whole. In theory, the invading Emperors of Austria and Russia, as well as the King of Prussia recognised and legalised all Polish coats of arms and treated their bearers as equal to the Austrian or German Ritter von (a hereditary Knight). However, at the same time, they tried to win over the more influential families by the conferring of titles, and through a process of legitimation, (taking away of privileges) of the landless and the poor nobility. According to the laws of nobility upheld in Russia, Prussia and Austria these groups of the Polish-Litvan nobility could not claim to be included in their ranks. Even though the partitioners created a new type of nobility, members of which came mostly from the ranks of public servants, first class officers and industrialists, (people who did not belong to the noble class in Rzeczpospolita in the first place), overall the numbers of nobility plummeted down. As a result, thousands of ancient (from German - Uradel) but impoverished knightly families had totally lost their noble status. In all, only about twenty percent of the pre-1795 Polish-Litvan nobility succeeded in legitimating. This proved to be the final blow given to the genealogy and heraldry of the Polish-Litvan nobility, from which it will probably never recover. Read more...
In the former Litvan provinces (occupied by Russia) according to a decree by the Governor General Chernyshev (1772) in order to be legitimated Litvan nobility had to prove their lineage (in other words, to get a decree of district court - named vyvod, a proof of nobility). Required documentation included detailed genealogies, blazons of arms and other relevant materials. After examining the tabled documents such court would issue a verdict on inclusion into the nobility caste. If, in the process, the lineage was approved, the court would issue a so called descend decree - letters patents which verified the rights of a particular person or a family to noble privileges and their right to bear arms. In 1785, the Russian Empress Catherina II ordered the preparation of separate and distinct Noble Lineage Book (NLB) or nobility register in all provinces of the Empire. Those books (or archives) were divided into six parts (categories) - each corresponding to a different group of nobility:
1. untitled nobility by imperial letters - families unable to prove their noble pedigree dating more than a hundred years back;
2. noblesse d'epe é - officers of the army who reached the rank of colonel and officers of the navy who were captains of the first rank and above;
3. noblesse du cap - government officials who reached a rank equivalent to colonel;
4. foreign nobility - that became naturalised in Russia;
5. titled nobility;
6. ancient noblesse - old aristocracy, noble families before 1685.
Using the legitimation data from Horadnia, Miensk, Mahiloŭ, Smalensk and Viciebsk Governorates as indicative of the trends in all Litvan provinces which after 1772 fell under the Russian occupation, it is possible to conclude that the majority of registrations were contained in the first and the sixth parts. In the above provinces, from the total number of registered families (approx. 6888) around 39% (2681 families) were registered in the sixth and around 28.6% (1969 families) in the first part.
In the beginning, the legitimation process utilised in Russia was rather liberal when compared to the rules of registration devised by the Austrian and Prussian officials. In Russia, more rigid rules were introduced during the reign of Tsar Alexander I, when the control over all matters regarding legitimation was transferred to the Heraldry Office in Petersburg. Tsar's decrees aimed at lowering the number of nobility, and just as elsewhere, affected the less wealthy nobility, majority of which belonged to the old nobility (Uradel). The decrees, however, did little to protect the legitimation of the wealthy usurpers, (families which before the Partitions did not belong to nobility at all). As a result, a large number of families which ancestors were army or civil officials (and who often were of lower social class), was admitted among the ranks of nobility; while a great number of old noble families lost its caste.