Marriage, Inheritance, and Family Discord: French Elite and the Transformation of the Polish Szlachta




Blackburn, Christopher

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Several important themes permeate Monsieur Damon’s instructions to his aristocratic pupil. Most significant is not that Poland was a part of the general European Enlightenment, but that Polish enlightened thought resided primarily within “fashionable”elite circles and was ultimately based on the writings of the French philosophes. The wholesale acceptance of French culture brought a clear and conscious change to the szlachta’s traditionally Sarmatian character, while at the same time the szlachta family was unconsciously transformed by the more subtle Western notions of kinship and affective individualism, a process that culminated with the reign of the last enlightened despot—Napoleon Bonaparte.2 The mentalité of the Polish nobility was recast in the eighteenth century as its membership embraced selectively certain aspects of both the Enlightenment and ancien régime France. The piecemeal acceptance of these ideas by the traditionally Sarmatian nobility led to the evolution of an ideology resembling Enlightened Sarmatianism—one that embraced formal education, individualism, and Western appearance, which coexisted with agrarianism, anti-urbanism, and devotion to the Church.



Marriage, Inheritance, Family, French Elite, Polish Szlachta, History


Blackburn, C. (2004). Marriage, inheritance, and family discord: French elite and the transformation of the Polish Szlachta. World History Review, 1(3), pp. 2-20.


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