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Item 7046 - Peter the Great Signed Document Catalog 509 (Oct 2017)

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Description


Important manuscript DS in Cyrillic, signed "Peter," nine pages on five sheets, 8.25 x 12.75, St. Petersburg, February 1, 1721. An amendment, or rider, related to Peter I’s Table of Ranks, put forth as part of his process of total reform over the entire administration of the state. Peter’s reforms were designed with the view of breaking the powers of the old Muscovy machinery and replacing it with a new aristocracy based on Western models. This document sets forth in fifteen lengthy articles the supplementary instructions altering or expanding upon the "established promulgated table of ranks."

In part (translated): "1. Whoever demands honor greater than his own rank or takes a position that is higher than his rank will have to pay a fine of two months' salary for each offense. And if a person serves without salary, then he must pay the same fine as is equal to the salary of those ranks which are equal to his…The announcer [of the offense] will receive one-third of the penalty money. And the almshouses will have the remainder to use. But the observance [of this rule] of each rank is not required in the following occasions: when several good friends and neighbors get together or during public assemblies, but [is required] only in church during divine services, at court ceremonies, during ambassadors’ audiences, at solemn occasions or high state gatherings, at weddings, christenings, or other similar public ceremonies. There is a similar fine for him who gives his place of rank to one lower than he. The tax collectors should keep careful watch on this in order to give the desire to serve and by so doing to receive honor rather than [a reputation] for being a lout or parasite. The above penalty is a mandatory punishment for men and women.

2. Under the same penalty no-one will demand a rank for himself until he can show his own patent for it. 3. Also, no-one will assume a rank for services which he received in another’s service until we have substantiated that service which…we shall willingly give for each instance of his service. 4. Without a patent no-one will receive a release from rank [for a new rank] and truly that release will be given only under our hand. 5. They who were dismissed for serious crimes and were publicly punished in the square either by being made partially naked or tortured, they are deprived of their title and rank unless they are restored by us for some services and honor accomplished under our own seal; and this shall be made known publicly. Commentary on the Tortured: There will be torture because many evil doers lead others [to it] out of spite. Therefore he who is unjustly tortured it is not possible to number among the dishonorable; rather it is incumbent upon us to give our charter with the circumstances of his innocence.

6. All married women, high and low, join the ranks of their husbands; when they act against [that rank] they will pay the same fine from their own belongings as declared above. 7. Although we permit the sons of princes of the Russian state, or courts, of barons, of the most distinguished nobility, and also of the servants of the most important rank either because of their distinguished birth or because of their fathers’ distinguished ranks, before persons of lower rank free access to public assemblies where the court is located, and although we willingly wish them to see that they are distinguished in all ways by worth from others, however, we do not allow that for any one of any rank until they perform some service for us and the homeland and until they receive recognition of that service.

8. Whereas: all unmarried women whose fathers are in the first rank while they are unmarried will receive rank above all women who are in the seventh rank, that is, lower than major-general, but higher than a brigadier; and daughters whose fathers are in the second rank will be above women who are in the eighth rank, that is, lower than a brigadier but higher than a colonel; unmarried women whose fathers are in the third rank will be above women of the ninth rank, that is, lower than a colonel but higher than a lieutenant colonel; and the remaining ranks follow similarly to this. 9. Ladies and unmarried women at court receive the following ranking while they are actively in their [ranks]: Both court ladies-in-waiting of Her majesty…follow the wives of active members of the Privy Council; active chamber maids have rank equal to the wives of the presidents of the colleges [i.e. ministries]; ladies of the court [have rank] with the wives of brigadiers; unmarried women of the court have rank with the wives of colonels; our daughters’ ladies-in-waiting have rank with active ladies-in-waiting who [serve] her Majesty the Empress; the chamber ladies of the royal princesses follow behind the court ladies of Her Majesty…

10. All servants Russian or foreign, who are or were active in the first eight ranks have [their ranks] for their lawful children and descendants for all time. There should be similar honors and advantages for the old nobility even if they are of lower birth and have never before been introduced to noble dignity or given a coat-of-arms by the crowned heads. 11. Whenever a person from our high or low servants has two ranks and more, or has received a title higher than his rank which he really deserves, then in all cases he has the higher rank. However, when he does his work in a lower rank, then in that place he cannot have his higher rank or title, but…is to act according to the rank [of place] which he actively fills.

12. Princes who are related to us by blood and they who are married to our princesses have precedence and rank in all cases above all the princes and high Russian state servants. 13. And because to no-one but to us and other crowned heads belongs [the right] to whom to grant noble distinction by coat-of-arms and seal, and whereas many times it has turned out that several persons have named themselves nobility and in truth they are not nobles, and also willfully have taken a coat-of-arms which their ancestors did not have, and which was given to them neither by our ancestors nor by foreign crowned heads, and moreover, they will dare sometimes to choose a coat-of-arms such as official and other well-known families really do have, we therefore remind those people that this concerns that each person avoid such a heinous act and the subsequent cursing and imposition of fines. Moreover, it is announced to all people that when we set up a commission for a search of each rank and coat-of-arms, then native-born Russians will have to make legal and prove that they or their ancestors have claim to rank and coat-of-arms from some deed, or that it was transmitted as an honor from our ancestors or our good graces. Foreigners in our service have to prove their noble status and coat-of-arms either through their own diplomas or through public certificates from the home government. In this way no-one will be able to legitimize through himself that they have taken the whole nobility of some province into some sort of brotherhood.

14. Whoever will be not of the nobility and advanced from the lower ranks in service to the rank of ‘ober-officer,’ that is, up to ensign and such like ranks, then they and their children or their descendants will be honored with nobleman’s status. 15. Because people will implore some person’s fame and dignity of rank when dress and other actions differ, and in contrast many people ruin themselves when they dress higher than their grade and possessions, therefore we kindly call to mind that each person have the dress, equipage and ‘kaftan’ as grade and reputation demand. All people will act according to this [decree] and be careful of the established fines and greater punishments.” A concluding note in a contemporary hand at the bottom of the final page reads: “Returned from the shining prince with the above-signed table.” In fine condition, with lights stains along the hinge, and the first page detached.

Peter's distrust of Russia's elite and anti-reformist nobility led to the creation of the Table of Ranks in 1722 (one year after the date of this document), which established a formal list of ranks in the Russian military, government, and royal court. It established a complex system of titles and honorifics, each classed with a number (I to XIV) denoting a specific level of service or loyalty to the czar. Of these, the highest ranks—both civil and military—conferred hereditary nobility and sometimes land, a reward based solely upon service. This letters patent clarifies the ranking system and outlines punishments for those found to be abusing it. The Table of Ranks was among the most audacious of Peter's reforms, and transformed Russian society such that a commoner could work their way up the hierarchy—a feat that would have previously been impossible. With minimal modifications, the Table of Ranks remained in effect until the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.


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