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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.
REFERENCESShmidt, 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