Old Westrussian Correspondence of Women-Rulers and Noblewomen of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania at the End of the 15th – in the 16th Centuries Cover Image

Rusėniška XV a. pab.–XVI a. Lietuvos Didžiosios Kunigaikštystės moterų: valdovių ir didikių korespondencija
Old Westrussian Correspondence of Women-Rulers and Noblewomen of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania at the End of the 15th – in the 16th Centuries

Author(s): Raimonda Ragauskienė
Subject(s): History
Published by: Lietuvos edukologijos universitetas
Keywords: the Old Westrussian language; the GDL of the 16th century; the noblewomen of the GDL; women’s correspondence.

Summary/Abstract: The linguistic situation of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL) at the end of the 15th – the beginning of the 16th centuries could be characterized as being heteroglossia, or interaction of different languages, cultures and social classes. Therefore, researches of languages used by different social classes might contribute to the overall research concerning the usage of spoken and written language in Lithuania of that period. This article presents letters written in the Old Westrussian language (office language of the Great Duchy of Lithuania) which constitute the basis for the correspondence among the women-rulers and noblewomen at the end of the 15th – in the 16th centuries. The article also aims to estimate the amount of this material as well as its ratio to women’s correspondence in general. It should be noted that women’s correspondence in the GDL, both qualitatively and quantitatively, lagged behind that in Central Eastern Europe. The first few letters known to us are those by the GDL rulers and a noblewoman written in Latin and German at the end of the 14th – the first half of the 15th centuries. However, a notable beginning of women’s correspondence could be dated by the end of the 15th century and could be associated with the “office culture”. The most educated Lithuanian women-rulers were the ones who mastered best the art and genre of epistolography. There exists a collection of 300 letters, which were written (or dictated) by all Polish queens and Lithuanian duchesses at the end of the 15th – the beginning of the 16th centuries. They used Latin, Italian, Polish, Old Westrussian, and German languages. However, letters, written in the Old Westrussian language are not numerous, i. e. seven letters written by Duchess Elena and some dozens by the Queen Bona. In the second half of the 16th century the GDL rulers neither wrote nor gave orders to write letters in the Old Westrussian language. At the end of the 15th – in the 16th centuries there appeared a number of letters in the Polish and Old Westrussian languages. Though there remained only three letters in the Old Westrussian language, their existence and the usage of this language among the nobility prove the importance of this language. In the second half of the 16th century, the noblewomen of various nationalities started using Polish in their correspondence, even those who communicated in Old Westrussian in their family circles. In such a case they at least signed in the Old Westrussian language. Little by little this language became unfashionable, and the usage of the Polish language marked class distinctions. We know only one letter in the Old Westrussian language written in the second half of the 16th century, and it could be treated as a sign of respect to the addressee. However, lower layers of nobility still used this language and replaced it by Polish gradually and with less speed.

  • Issue Year: 76/2009
  • Issue No: 4
  • Page Range: 18-29
  • Page Count: 12
  • Language: Lithuanian