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6. Development of the law during the period of absolute monarchy:

During this period, the sources of law were legislative acts issued in the form of decrees, orders, statutes and manifestos.

The most important events were determined by decrees:

•“The Decree on Single Inheritance” March 18, 1714

•“The Table of Ranks” January 2, 1722

• “Decree on the form of court” Nov. 5, 1723

Organs of public administrations, the structure and order of their work were established by Orders:

• The General Order of the College February 29, 1720

• Order of the Chief Magistrate on January 16, 1721

•The Spiritual Order of January 29, 1721

Under the statutes were understood norms of law, which were regulated a particular area of ​​state activity:

• The Statute of the bills in 1722

•The Statute on Public Order 1782

• The Military Statute 1716

• The Maritime Statute 1720

The most important and solemn events were declared by Manifestos. For example: “A Manifesto for the granting of freedom and liberty to all the Russian nobility” 1762.

In 1715 were created:

The Military Articule” – the Criminal Code, and "The short representation of processes or litigations” – the Procedural Code.

The Sobornoe ulogenie of 1649 also was the source of law. Attempts to create a new Legal Code under Peter I and Catherine II were unsuccessful because of contradictions in the interests of different social classes, which were blocked the committee's work.

7. The main features of the law

The civil law. Much attention was paid to the regulation of ownership of real estate, primarily on the land. A long process to establish a single legal regime of ancestral lands and manors that had received the name of “real estate” was completed. The following settings were determined by the decree dated March 23, 1714 “On the order of inheritance in personal and real estates”:

• Land ownership could be inherited one of the sons, but in the absence of the will, it was inherited by the elder son, other members of family received a property and conscriptioned.

• daughters inherited the real estate in the case of sons' absence,

• forbidden to dispose the real estate except of the sale, except of the special needs

• The elder son and his descendants had the right to purchase the real estate for 40 years (in 1837 this term was reduced to 3 years, and the grandson's right was granted to all relatives).

“The Decree on Single Inheritance” was repealed in 1781 at the request of the nobility. By decree of 10 December 1719 the State retained the right to bowels of the earth and to the “vegetation of the earth” (forests). The felling the ship timber was forbidden under the fear death penalty (in 1782 Ordinance was repealed by Catherine II and the nobles became the absolute owner of bowels of the earth and forests).

All lands were divided on private and public.

Ways of establishing property rights:

• taking a thing no one belonging (extraction of minerals, animal capture, fishing) • offspring of animals and fruits of plants,

• Awarding of land by the state

•the increment (dry river bank),

•the finding (if the owner was not found) or a fee of 1 / 3 price from the thing

• Contracts (gift, barter, sale, pledge - in case of delay of repayment).

In family law had been significant changes. By “The Decree on Single Inheritance” 1714 was installed age for marriage 20 years for men and 17 for women. After the death of Peter I was set the previous marriage age 15 and 13 years.

By “The Decree of the Synod” in 1744 was identified the limiting marriage age - 80 years.

At the time of Peter’s death in 1725, Russia controlled territory six times greater than at the time of Ivan the Terrible. The Russian empire was thirty times larger than that of France. Because of Peter’s efforts to employ technology, many Westerners and western ideas flowed into Russia for the first time. A new class of educated Russians emerged. Sadly however, the split between the serfs and educated class widened, and the serfs hated Peter more than ever.

Unlike his predecessors, Peter fostered the idea that his actions were for the good of the country; that the state’s interest were more important than his own personal interests. He was the first Czar to distinguish between his person as ruler and the state. He required his nobles to take two oaths, one to him as ruler, and the other to the state itself. For the first time in history, the Czar attached explanations to his decrees in an attempt to gain the confidence and support of the populace. Even so, the Czar had the last word, and this became a continuing source of tension between the Czar and the people that finally erupted in 1917. Even so, Peter’s actions moved Russia into the modern era and closer to the West. His ideas allowed Russia to participate in the age Enlightenment under Catherine the Great.


Decree on Single Inheritance, March 23, 1714 [6]

The Decree on Single Inheritance promulgated in May 1714 was one of Peter I's less successful attempts to reform the Russian nobility. Intended to preserve the wealth of noble families and insure a steady flow of revenue to the treasury, the law forbade noble families from dividing up their landed wealth among multiple siblings. However, Peter failed to consider the cultural and practical obstacles to such a plan. The law was never fully implemented even during Peter's lifetime and after his death was quickly abandoned. Nonetheless, the degree provides insight into Peter's thinking on a number of points. Note, for example, Peter's unwillingness to institute primogeniture: it was a father's right to designate his heir regardless of birth order--a principle that Peter would later enshrine in his law of succession.

We, Peter I, Tsar and Autocrat of All Russia, etc., issue this ukaz for all the subjects of Our state, of whatever rank or status:

The division of estates upon the death of fathers causes great harm to Our state and state interests and brings ruin to our subjects and to the families concerned; for example:

1. Concerning Taxes. Suppose a man had 1000 [serf] households and five sons, had a fine manor, a good table, and a sound relationship with people; if after his death this property is divided among his children, each would receive 200 households; those children, remembering the fame of their father and the honor of their line [rod] would not wish to live the life of an orphan; everyone can see that the poor subjects [serfs]1 will have to supply five tables instead of one and that 200 households cannot bear the burden (including state taxes) previously borne by 1000. Does not this practice bring ruin to the people and harm to state interest? Because 200 households cannot make payments as reliably to the state and to the nobleman as 1000 households could, because (as noted above) one lord will be satisfied with [revenues from] 1000 [households] (but not from 200) and will moderate the situation of the peasants, who will be able to pay taxes punctually to both the state and to the lord. Consequently, division of estates brings great harm to the government treasury and ruins base people.

2. Concerning Families. And should each of those five sons have two sons, each of them son will receive 100 households, and should they further multiply, they will be so impoverished that they may turn into one-household owners, with the result that [the descendants of] a glorious line, in place of fame, will turn into villagers; there are already many examples of this among the Russian people [rossiiskii narod].

3. On Indolence: On top of these two harms, there is yet another. Anyone who receives his bread gratuitously, even if it is not much, will neither serve the state without compulsion nor try to improve himself; on the contrary, each will seek any excuse to live in idleness, which (according to Holy Scripture) is the mother of all evil.

In contrast to Item 1: If all real estate were to be handed down to one son and the others were to inherit only movable property, then state revenues would be sounder; the nobleman would be better off even if he should collect small amounts from a larger number [of serfs]; there will be only one manor [dom] instead of five (as stated above); and he can show favor to his subjects [serfs]. As for Item 2: Families will not decline, but will remain stable in all their glory and their manors shall remain famous and renowned. Regarding Item 3: The remaining [members of the family] will not be idle because they will be forced to earn their bread through service, teaching, trade, and so forth. And whatever they do for their own living will also benefit the state.

Because this [new system] is intended to bring benefit, the following is proclaimed:

(a) All real estate, i.e. hereditary, service, and purchased estates, as well as homes and stores, should neither be sold nor mortgaged but retained in the [family] line in the following manner:

(b) Whoever has sons must bequeath his real estate to one, who will inherit all; other children of both sexes, however many there are, will be awarded movable property which either the father or mother will divide for both sons and daughters in the amount they wish, except that the one who inherits the real estate [will be excluded]. If someone does not have sons, but daughters only, he should then designate one in the same manner. If someone fails to assign [his property], a government decree will assign the real estate to the eldest son as his inheritance, while movable property will be divided equally among the others; obviously, the same procedure is to apply to daughters.

(c) Whoever is childless is free to leave his real estate to one of the members of his family, whomever he wishes, and the movable [property] to his kin or even to outsiders. And if he fails to do this, both forms of property will then be divided by a decree among the members of the line, real estate to the closest relative and the rest to all others equally...


(1) The decree uses the same word, podannye, for subjects of the sovereign (as in the first sentence) as for “subjects” of a squire, i.e. serfs.

(2) At the time that the decree was promulgated taxes were levied on a per household basis. Preventing the break-up of large estates would not have helped the treasury directly since the tax burden of each individual household would have stayed the same. Peter is assuming that owners of large estates would demand less money per capita from their serfs leaving sufficient funds to fulfill tax obligations.

(3) During Peter's reign Russian nobles were obliged to serve the state throughout their lives and harsh penalties were instituted to deter shirkers. Thus the concern expressed in the decree regarding indolence would appear to be a moot point.


Peter III's Manifesto Freeing Nobles from Obligatory Service: 1762 [6]

All Europe, indeed the greater part of the world, knows what difficulties and effort that Peter the Great, wise monarch of immortal memory, Our dear sovereign grandfather and Emperor of all the Russias, had to expend in his efforts, solely with a view to bringing benefit and welfare to father land, to introduce into Russia advanced knowledge of military, civil, and political affairs. To achieve this goal it was essential first to coerce the nobles, the chief body of the state, and convince them of the great advantages enjoyed by enlightened states over those countless peoples who are sunk in the depths of ignorance. Because the circumstances of the time then demanded extreme sacrifices from Russian Nobles, he [Peter I] did not show any mercy towards them, he forced them into military and civil service, and furthermore required noble youth to study the various liberal arts and also useful skills; he sent [some of] them to European countries, and, to achieve the same goal as rapidly as possible, established various schools in Russia itself. It is true that in the beginning these innovations were burdensome and unendurable for the nobles, as they were deprived of peace, were forced to leave their homes, were obliged against their will to serve in the army or to perform other service, and were required to register their children. Inconsequence some nobles tried to evade these requirements, for which they were fined or even forfeited their estates, since they had shown themselves indifferent to their own best interest and that of their descendants. These demands, though burdensome in the beginning and accompanied by force, proved to be much advantage during the reigns of Peter the Great's successors, especially during the reign of Our dear aunt, Empress Elizaveta Petrovna, of glorious memory, who followed in the footsteps of her sovereign father, who supported the knowledge of political affairs and who, by her protection, extended much useful knowledge throughout Russia. We can look with pride at everything that has occurred, and every true son of the country will agree that great advantages have resulted from all this. Manners have been improved; knowledge has replaced illiteracy; devotion and zeal for military affairs resulted in the appearance of many experienced and brave generals; civil and political concerns have attracted many intelligent people; in a word, noble thoughts have penetrated the hearts of all true Russian patriots who have revealed toward Us their unlimited devotion, love, zeal, and fervor. Because of all these reasons We judge it to be no longer necessary to compel the nobles into service, as has been the practice hitherto. Because of these circumstances, and by virtue of the authority granted to Us by the almighty, We grant freedom and liberty to the entire Russian nobility, by Our High Imperial Grace, from this movement and forever, to all future generations. They may continue to perform service in Our Empire or in other European countries friendly to our State on the basis of the following rules:

1. All nobles who are presently in our service may continue as long as they wish or as long as their health may permit; those serving in the army may request release or furlough during a campaign or three months before a campaign; they should wait for release until the end of a war; those serving inthe army may request release or retirement permits from their superiors and must wait for these permits; those serving Us in various capacities in the first eight ranks must apply for their release directly to Us; other ranks will be released by the departments for which they work.

2. At their retirement We will reward all nobles who serve Us well and faultlessly by promoting them to a higher rank, provided they have served at least one year in the rank from which they retired; those who wish to retire from military service and enter civil service, provided there is a vacancy for them, should be rewarded only if they have served three years in a given rank.

3. Those nobles who have retired or those who have terminated their military or civil service for Us, but who should express a desire to re-enter the military service, shall be admitted, provided they prove worthy of those ranks to which they belong and provided they will not be elevated to ranks higher than those of their co-servicemen who were equal in rank at the retirement; if they should be elevated in rank this should go into effect from the day they re-join the service over those who have retired and also make it possible for those who have retired from one service to join other services.

4. Those nobles who, freed from Our service, who wish to travel to other European countries should immediately receive the necessary passports from Our Foreign College under one condition: namely, that should ever a pressing need arise, those nobles shall return home whenever they are notified. Everyone should fulfill this request as soon as possible; those who fail to comply with it will have their property confiscated.

5. ... [on Russians who would serve in other states.]

6. By virtue of this manifesto, no Russian nobleman will ever be forced to serve against his will; nor will any of Our administrative departments make use of them except in emergency cases and then only if We personally should summon them; this rule also applies to the nobility of the Smolensk area. An exception to this rule is St. Petersburg and Moscow, where an ukaz of the Sovereign Emperor Peter I stipulated that some men from among the retired nobles should be made available for various needs at the Senate and at the [Heraldic] Office; We amend this Imperial rule by decreeing that henceforth there should be selected annually thirty men to serve in the Senate and twenty to serve in the Office. These men should be chosen by the Heraldic Office from among the nobles living in the provinces and not from those still in service. No one should be designated by name for this duty. Nobles themselves should decide who should be selected in the districts and provinces. Local officials should forward the names of those so selected to the Heraldic Office and also provide those selected with needed items.

7. Although, by this gracious manifesto we grant forever freedom to all of Our Russian nobles, except freeholders [odnodvortsy], Our fatherly concern for them as well as for their children will continue. These latter, We decree, should henceforth, whenever they reach twelve years of age, be reported to the Heraldic Office in districts, provinces, or cities or wherever is most convenient. From their parents or relatives who are bringing them up, information should be obtained about the level of the children's education up to the age of twelve and where they would like to continue their studies, whether within Our State in various institutions We have founded, in European countries, or, should the means of their parents allow it, in their own homes by experienced and skill fulteachers. No nobleman should keep his children uneducated under the penalty of Our anger. Those noblemen who have under 1000 serfs should report their children to Our Cadet Corps of the Nobility, where they will learn everything befitting a nobleman and where they will be educated with the utmost care. Following his education each nobleman will assume his rank in accordance with his dignity and reward, and subsequently each may enter and continue his service as indicated above.

8. Those nobles who presently are in Our military service as soldiers or non-commissioned officers below the rank of oberofitser, that is, those who have failed to attain officer rank, should not be allowed to retire unless they have served twelve years in the army.

 9. We grant this gracious act to all of Our nobles for eternity as a fundamental and unalterable law; by Our Imperial word We pledge to observe it in its entirety in the most solemn and irrevocable manner. Our rightful successors should not alter it in any way whatsoever, as their adherence to this decree will serve as an indispensable support for the autocratic throne of All Russia. We hope that in return for this act Russian nobles, realizing what great concern We have shown toward them and toward their descendants, will continue to serve Us loyally and zealously and will not withdraw from Our service; on the contrary, that they will seek the service eagerly and will continue it as long as possible, and will educate their children attentively in useful knowledge; those who will not perform any service will also lead purposeless lives and will not educate their children in any useful subject. Such people are not concerned with the general good, and We order all true sons of the Fatherland to despise and demolish [!] them. We will not allow such people any access to Our court, nor will We tolerate their presence at public assemblies and festivals.


  1. Statesman’s handbook for Russia, 2 vols / Edited by the Chancery of the Committee of Ministers. – St. Petersburg, 1896. –Vol. I. – 364 p.

  2. The Cambridge history of Russia, 3 vols. / edited by Dominic Lieven. – Cambridge, 2006. – Vol. II. – 806 p.

  3. Encyclopedia of Russian history / James R. Millar, editor in chief. – THOMSON – GALE. – New York, 2004. – 1930 p.

  4. Kelly W.K. The history of Russia from the earliest period to the present times, 2 vols. / Walter K. Kelly. – London, 1953. – 532 p.

  5. The new Encyclopædia. Britannica. Volume 25. 1994. 724 pages

  6. http://academic.shu.edu/russianhistory/index.php/Decree_on_Single_Inheritance#2

  7. http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-Peter1-Rus.html

  8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_history%2C_1682%E2%80%931796

  9. http://www.cozy-corner.com/history_eng/events_Petr%20I_peter_reforms.htm

  10. http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/peter_the_great3.htm

  11. http://www.goznak.ru/eng/site.shtml?id=125

  12. http://www.hermitage.ru/html_En/04/b2003/hm4_1_f.html

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