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Common Wealth, Common GoodThe Politics of Virtue in Early Modern Poland-Lithuania$

Benedict Wagner-Rundell

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780198735342

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198735342.001.0001

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(p.163) Appendix B Note on Names and Glossary of Polish Terms

(p.163) Appendix B Note on Names and Glossary of Polish Terms

Common Wealth, Common Good
Oxford University Press

Note on Personal and Place Names

For the sake of consistency, throughout this study personal names have been rendered in the primary language of the individual concerned, with the exception of the regnal names of monarchs, which have generally been Anglicized.

Historical names of places within the borders of the Commonwealth have been given in their modern Polish forms (e.g. Lwów, Gdańsk, and Wilno not Lviv, Danzig, and Vilnius), except here familiar English forms are available (e.g. Warsaw).

In references to modern places (for example when referring to places of publication), present modern names have, with the exception of Warsaw, usually been preferred.

Glossary of Polish Terms

Below is a short glossary of the key Polish terms for the key offices and institutions of the early modern Commonwealth. Throughout this study institutional terms are rendered in their modern Polish spelling (e.g. Sejm not Seym or Diet and Województwo not Woiewództwo or Palatinate) except when quoted from primary sources.

  • Castellan

  • (Kasztelan)

Originally governors of royal cities, by the eighteenth century Castellans had few administrative responsibilities. Castellans sat ex officio in the Senate.

  • Chamber of Envoys

  • (Izba Poselska)

The lower chamber of the Sejm. When (rarely) fully attended, the Chamber was made up of 182 Envoys (Posłowie) elected by the Sejmiki of the Crown and the Grand Duchy, along with an indeterminate number of envoys from Royal Prussia.

  • Chancellor

  • (Kanclerz)

Ministers responsible for overseeing the activities of the king and counter-signing all royal edicts. In theory the Chancellors (Poland and Lithuania each had a Grand Chancellor and a Vice Chancellor) were also responsible for conducting foreign policy.

  • Confederation

  • (Konfederacja)

A league or union of the szlachta, either of a particular region or of the whole Commonwealth (known as a General Confederation). Confederations were temporary, emergency institutions established in response to a particular crisis or threat, either external or internal.

  • Fiscal Tribunal

  • (Trybunał Skarbowy)

Central institution responsible for overseeing the fiscal administration of the Commonwealth, assigning tax quota to particular regions, and judging disputes over tax payments.

  • Henrician Articles

  • (Artykuły henrykowskie)

Set of conditions to which every newly elected king was obliged to agree before his coronation. Named after the first elected king, Henri de Valois (r. 1573), the Henrician Articles were the same for every king and guaranteed the basic constitutional rights of the szlachta. They were supplemented by particular conditions set for individual kings in their Pacta Conventa.


Commanders-in-chief of the Commonwealth’s armies. Poland and Lithuania each had a Grand Hetman and a subordinate Field Hetman. Grand Hetmans were usually succeeded in their office by their Field Hetman.


The established strength and make-up of the Commonwealth’s armies.

Liberum veto

Derived from the principle that all laws must be agreed unanimously, the right of any individual Sejm Envoy to veto any proposed bill. Since all bills were formally passed in a single package at the very end of a Sejm, a single veto invalidated all of the legislation agreed by a particular Sejm. The liberum veto also applied at Sejmiki, where any individual nobleman could block proceedings.

Pacta Conventa

Particular conditions set for each newly elected king and sworn along with the Henrician Articles before his coronation.

Pospolite ruszenie

A general levy of the szlachta, either of a particular region or of the entire Commonwealth. Of little actual military value, the Pospolite ruszenie symbolized the szlachta’s responsibility to defend the Commonwealth and their willingness to do so even at the cost of their own lives.


Szlachta rebellion against royal authority. Such rebellions usually claimed to be defending szlachta liberty against tyrannical royal ambitions and declared themselves to be Confederations.


The Commonwealth’s parliament, considered to be made up of three estates: the King, the Senate (chaired by the king), and the Chamber of Envoys.


Local assembly, at which all members of the szlachta could attend.

  • Senate

  • (Senat)

The upper chamber of the Sejm. Chaired by the king, the Senate was made up of the Commonwealth’s chief ministers along with the Roman Catholic Bishops, Wojewodas and Castellans.

  • Senate Council

  • (Senatus Consilium)

Council of senators called together to advise the king. The Senate Council, whose membership was largely decided by the king, possessed no legal power to decide government business and could only take interim decisions that had to be ratified by the next Sejm.


Originally a royal official in the provinces, by the seventeenth century starostas retained only a few local judicial functions. More importantly, they also controlled portions of royal land, whose revenues they were supposed to pay to the king.

  • Tribunal

  • (Trybunał)

The highest szlachta courts in the Commonwealth (one existed for each of Poland and Lithuania), made up of judges or deputies (deputaci) elected by the Sejmiki.


Originally royal regional governors, by the eighteenth century Wojewodas retained only ceremonial and a few local judicial powers. Wojewodas did, however, sit in the Senate.


Principal administrative division of the Commonwealth. In most cases one Sejmik met for each Województwo, but in some regions smaller units such as districts (ziemie) or even parishes (powiaty) also had their own Sejmiki. (p.164) (p.165) (p.166)