March 01, 2014

Peter's Decree

On March 23, 1714, Peter I (the Great) issued an ukaz making it illegal to break up noble estates by dividing them among multiple heirs. Noble domains were now to be inherited by a single son, and not necessarily the eldest (fathers were to name their heirs).

From this, it might seem that Peter's first concern was the welfare of nobles, who over generations in some cases divided their lands so many times that once wealthy families eventually fell into poverty. In fact, the ukaz had another goal. Now sons not anticipating an inheritance would be forced to make their careers in service to the state, their self-interested ardor helping them rise through the ranks. The tsar felt that all his subjects should see such service as their primary duty.

It was a clever idea, but just ten years after Peter's death the ukaz was repealed – with the enthusiastic support of fecund aristocrats. Soon obligatory service was also abolished and the nobility regained the right to stay on their estates, large or small.

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