Parliamentarism of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Fourteenth-Eighteenth centuries

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Document Type:
Straipsnis / Article
Anglų kalba / English
Parliamentarism of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Fourteenth-Eighteenth centuries
Alternative Title:
Parlamentaryzm Wielkiego Księstwa Litewskiego XIV-XVIII w
In the Journal:
Przegląd Sejmowy. 2021, 6 (167), p. 43-83
14 amžius; 15 amžius; 16 amžius; 17 amžius; 18 amžius.
Summary / Abstract:

LTReikšminiai žodžiai: Lietuvos Didžioji Kunigaikštija; Parlamentarizmas; Seimas; Seimelis; Provincijos sesija; Konvokacija. Keywords: Grand Duchy of Lithuania; Parliamentarism; Diet (sejm); Dietine (sejmik); Provincial session; Convocation.Reikšminiai žodžiai: Parlamentarizmas; Lietuvos Didžioji Kunigaikštystė (LDK; Grand Duchy of Lithuania; GDL); Seimai; Seimeliai; Konvokacija; 14 amžius; 15 amžius; 16 amžius; 17 amžius; 18 amžius; Parliamentarism; Sejm; Sejmik; Convocation; 14th century; 15th century; 16th century; 17th century; 18th century.

ENThis article aims to present the beginnings and development of the forms of parliamentarism in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania when it was an independently functioning state and after its Union with the Crown of Poland, which gave rise to a new state in Europe called the Commonwealth. Lithuanian parliamentarism developed through a long process of evolution of representative institutions. The most important role was played by a group of magnates (the so-called lords and princes) holding the highest offices in the state and the Church, and appointed by the ruler. This group formed the Council of Lords, an advisory body to the grand dukes; during the Commonwealth ruler’s rare stays in Lithuania, the Council took over many of his prerogatives, becoming the most important legislative, executive, and judicial body of the state, except for the grand duke himself. The strong position of the Council of Lords (and in fact, a few of its most important members holding the most prominent offices) influenced for centuries the political life of Lithuania, dominated by powerful families, almost constantly playing the role of the so-called hegemons, even after they were formally equated in law with the common nobility in 1563. The Lithuanian nobility, on the other hand, was slowly gaining in the sixteenth century the right to participate in the parliamentary life of the state. In principle, however, Lithuanian nobles were deprived of the legislative and control initiative; their role was accepting and executing the ruler’s decisions agreed with the Council of Lords. Thus, they were interested in acquiring the rights of the Polish nobility, and consequently, in the Union with the Polish Crown.The establishment of the Commonwealth resulted in the incorporation of Lithuanian representatives from the senatorial group and poviat (county; Polish: powiat) nobility to the General Sejm of the Crown, in which, however, they could not play a significant role due to their small number compared to their Polish counterparts. In such a situation, it was important for the Lithuanians to maintain the principle of liberum veto, for in this way they could prevent the adoption of constitutions contrary to their interests. Throughout the whole history of the Commonwealth, the Lithuanians made efforts to ensure that their representation corresponded to the popular definition of the state of both nations (Polish and Lithuanian), and not one of its three equal provinces (Greater Poland, Little Poland, Lithuania). However, in the parliamentary system, their only success was the periodic separation of the constitutions for the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from those of the whole state. Even so, Lithuania was treated as one of three provinces, which was reflected in the election of a Lithuanian deputy as Sejm marshal every third Sejm, in the composition of Sejm commissions (1/3 of seats for Lithuanians), and finally in holding of every third Sejm in Lithuania (since 1676). While preparing the Lithuanian state for the union with Poland, King Zygmunt II Augustus carried through substantial political and legal reforms in 1564–66. He introduced a new administrative division, a uniform system of parliamentary institutions (district assemblies, bicameral Sejm), and a new code of civil criminal and administrative law (the so-called Second Lithuanian Statute in 1566). This system was much clearer, simpler, and better thought-out than the one in force in the Polish Crown.Each of the poviats of a province (i.e. voivodeship, some being single-poviat ones), was to meet for deliberations in a specific place (in fact, the capital town of this poviat), gathering local senators and the land owners (Latin: possessionati), and deliberate under the direction of the ‘lord’ of a given administrative unit, i.e. a bishop or voivode in poviats, and, from 1764 on, local marshals in non-voivodeship poviats, ex officio. The law stipulated who should attend a given sejmik under pain of penalties, how long a sejmik may be in session, how many deputies could be elected (only two in each poviat for ordinary Sejms), what remuneration each of them was to receive for their function. During parliamentary debates, Lithuanian senators and deputies often debated separately at the so-called provincial sessions (similar to the nobility from Greater and Little Poland) to prepare the constitutions for their own province and, possibly, take a common position on state issues. Since in Lithuanian law, only general sejms existed, for a long time Lithuanians did not recognise convocation and coronation Sejms as such, did not always participate in them, and did not agree to include them among the alternate ones (that is, for the marshal from Lithuania to head). Until the early eighteenth century, there were cases of calling by rulers or by the citizens of the Grand Duchy themselves of the so-called Lithuanian convocations, i.e. quasi-Sejm assemblies of Lithuanian estates, for deliberations to take decisions (mainly taxes) of a comprehensive nature. This process was initiated by Stefan Batory, but Lithuanians did not welcome the convocations as contrary to the provisions of the Union. [...]. [From the publication]

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2022-08-29 08:33:43
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