Emancipation of the Woman Identity in the Documents of the Grand Duchy of Lithuanian Principality of Early 16th century


Nelė Asadauskienė




The goal of this article is to introduce aspects related to the identification of women from the ruling oligarchy families of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania by analysing the cases of entering into matrimonial relations by the highest-rank political members during the rule of the Great Duke Alexander. Seeking to comprehend the level of general informativeness, a definitely short period, the years 1492-1506, was chosen for the research. The group surveyed consisted of the members of the Noblemen Council from the Alexander times. The data selected by the statistical and analytical method provide an answer to the fundamental question - to what extent a family woman of the highest material and political status in 1492-1506 is visible to the present day researcher.

On the basis of the facts analysed conclusions could be made that there are cases when identification of the family woman in the nobility elite in the early 16th century is still complicated. We encounter three problems: non-identified spouse (no data is provided); only a name is known, but no facts are provided about the family; the family is known, but the name is not known.

It is impossible to rectify the situation. Although mentioned in the state documents, a woman remained partially anonymous (mention is made about her in the documents, but she is called after the name of her husband (e.g. Janovaya, Juryevna). Sometimes references are made to her family - the family name is known, however the sources fail to specify her name. These recordings in these documents, as a woman appears only as a daughter, wife (widow), i.e. she is somebody's, therefore her father's or husband's name is more important than her own name. Only if the woman gets married, information about her is continued, since now she is mother, grandmother, great grandmother. More exhaustive data are provided about a woman, if she gives birth to a male descendant and the parentage is extended. In the event a man marries a lower rank woman, the kinsfolk is tended to keep silent about her and her family, whilst in case the woman is of a higher rank, the relatedness according to the maternal side is more emphasized. Frequently, we cannot tell anything about a woman if she remains single. Nevertheless, in late 16th century, as compared with the early 16th century, the records instrumental in identifying a woman are more accurate.