Mestnichestvo


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Mestnichestvo

 

a system of feudal hierarchy in the Russian state during the 15th through 17th centuries. The name of the system was derived from the custom of reckoning status in service and at the sovereign’s table in terms of mesta (“places”). A feudal lord who considered his ancestry more ancient, noble, and distinguished or his personal merits higher than those of another lord occupied a place closer to the tsar and, consequently, laid claim to a higher post in the military or civil administration. The complexity and the mixed character of relations within and among the princely, boyar, and gentry clans, as well as the unreliability of genealogical information, led to frequent disputes and strife over precedence. These were investigated by the tsar and the Boyar Duma.

In the first half of the 16th century the mestnichestvo system was observed only among the boyars and the former appanage princes. Beginning in the mid-16th century it came into use among the gentry, and in the 17th century even the gosti (members of the highest privileged corporation of merchants) and urban officials observed it. As a result of the mestnichestvo system, individuals who were capable but insufficiently well-born could not occupy any important positions in the military and civil service. At the same time, the mestnichestvo system opened the highest positions to persons who were poorly qualified but who were from the most distinguished families.

The mestnichestvo system was eliminated with the development in Russia of absolutism, which stood for the creation of a bureaucracy subordinate to central authority and opposed to the supporters of feudal fragmentation. The princes and boyars, by contrast, were interested in preserving the mestnichestvo system, which distributed what had once been exclusively their privileges to the gentry and sluzhilye liudi (military service class). National defense, which called for capable military leaders, also made necessary the abolition of the mestnichestvo system, which was eliminated by a decision of the Zemskii Sobor (National Assembly) in 1682.

Figuratively, the term mestnichestvo refers to respect for narrow local interests that are contrary to the general welfare.

REFERENCES

Shmidt, S. O. “Mestnichestvo i absoliutizm.” In Absoliutizm v Rossii (XVII-XVIII vv.). Moscow, 1964.
Markevich, A. I. O mestnichestve, part 1. Kiev, 1879.
Markevich, A. I. Istoriia mestnichestva v Moskovskom gosudarstve XV-XVI vv. Odessa, 1888.

S. O. SHMIDT

References in periodicals archive ?
Can we say that Boris Godunov's promise to Basmanov to overturn mestnichestvo was a gesture that Pushkin in his own life would have resented, threatening as it did nobility of birth by a system of promotion by merit?
243); et "Even after the Muscovites formally did away with mestnichestvo in the late seventeenth century, clan and family relations continued to dominate Russian politics until the Revolution of 1917" (p.
11) This is very high praise, since mestnichestvo has attracted the attention of many important historians over the past century and a half, none of whom have achieved as much as Eskin has in his body of works, including, especially, this monumental book.
Despite all the attention, mestnichestvo has remained highly resistant to interpretation.
It is based on the complete surviving corpus of original documents that were generated by mestnichestvo disputes, as well as every reference to these disputes found in an array of other administrative and narrative sources.
It allows him to reconstruct the mestnichestvo archive: the "colossal number of documents" (401) that today are scattered in the collections (fondy) of several different archives, and that, in the 16th and 17th centuries, were scattered in the repositories of central Muscovite chancelleries and private family archives.
Though Sedov only touches briefly on the abolition of mestnichestvo, the best known of these reforms, he argues that it and the other measures were not directed against the aristocracy.
Mestnichestvo, the system of precedence whereby positions of authority were controlled by boyar clans according to strict traditions of hierarchy, was abolished in 1682.
It would be easy, then, to regard the abolition of mestnichestvo simply as a stage in the modernizing triumph of the Russian state over the antediluvian Russian nobility: as a step away from patronage toward bureaucracy.
Then, in the 1680s, the Razriadnyi prikaz was inundated with genealogical tables sent in after the abolition of mestnichestvo.
Like the boyars under the system of mestnichestvo, they lobbied energetically for their portions of food (and protested or grumbled when they failed to get what they considered their due).
It is a pity that Filiushkin did not extend his account to the 17th century, for serious consideration, about which very little is known, was then again given to the granting of territorial titles to Russian nobles during the reign of Fedor Alekseevich, in the context of the general plans for reform which surrounded the abolition of mestnichestvo.