Ennoblement

Ennoblement

[en-noh-buhl]

Ennoblement is the conferring of nobility—the induction of an individual into the noble class. 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 Regime), this degenerated into the buying of patents of nobility, whereby rich commoners (e.g., merchants) could purchase a title of nobility.

The Idea of 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 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 fortitude. 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). 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). It was granted by the monarch, who gave the ennobled person a coat of arms. Often that person could join an existing noble szlachta family with their own coat of arms.

Polish ancient law recognized also the terms:

  • Indygenat - recognition of foreign noble status. A foreign noble, after indygenat, received all privileges of a Polish szlachcic. In Polish history, 413 foreign noble families were recognized. From 1578 this was done by the King and Sejm (Polish parliament), after 1641 it was done by Sejm only.
  • Skartabelat - introduced by pacta conventa of 1669, ennoblement into a sort of lower nobility. Skartabels could not hold public offices or be members of the Sejm. After 3 generations in noble ranks these families would "mature" to peerage.
  • Adopcja herbowa - old way of ennoblement connected with adoption into an existing noble clan by a powerful lord, abolished in 1633

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 (veldams). 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 Horodlo (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 obligated to serve as civil or military officials. Personal nobility was automatically conferred to all civil and military officials starting with the corresponding rank of Captain. Hereditary nobility was conferred for 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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