Sudebnik of 1550

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Sudebnik of 1550


(the Tsar’s Sudebnik), in Russia, a code of laws dating from the period of the estates monarchy; it was confirmed, scholars believe, in 1550 by the first zemskii sobor (assembly of the land) in Rus’.

In the most direct sense, the Sudebnik of 1550 was adopted primarily in order to consolidate the forces of the feudal lords and thereby to suppress popular uprisings and curb boyar highhandedness in the courts and in the administration. Based on the Sudebnik of 1497 and on the joint decisions of Ivan IV the Terrible, the boyars, and the high clergy, the Sudebnik of 1550 abolished the judicial privileges of the appanage princes and strengthened the role of the state’s central judicial bodies. In establishing a procedure for the submission and consideration of complaints against the vicegerents (namestnikt) and in thus giving the service nobility (pomestnoe dvorianstvo) control over the vicegerents, the Sudebnik opened the way to the abolition of kormlenie (“feeding,” or the system of supporting officials at the expense of the local population). In the Sudebnik, for the first time in Russian history, the enactments of the state were declared the sole source of law.

In consonance with the policy of further enserfment of the peasantry, the Sudebnik of 1550 defined in detail the legal status of kholopy (slaves), including that of kabal’nye kholopy (debt slaves). It specified the procedure for payment of the pozhiloe, confirmed St. George’s Day (November 26, around which day the peasants could move from one lord to another), and introduced a new fee “for transport” (za povoz), levied on peasants who refused to carry out their obligation to bring the landowner’s harvest in from the fields.

The Sudebnik of 1550 helped bring an end to feudal fragmentation in the Russian state, even though a series of norms in the Sudebnik were essentially compromises.