In the Name of Allah, The Beneficent, The Merciful

Tartar Nobility
in the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth

(Szlachta tatarska w Rzeczypospolitej)
Verbum Nobile no 2 (1993), Sopot, Poland.Translated by: Paul de Nowina-Konopka)

The Tatars (or Tartars) of the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania, also known as Tatars of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, or just Lithuanian Tatars, who united their destiny with that of the Commonwealth 600 years ago, have remained ever since loyal sons of their new fatherland (in Tartaric: vatan). They arrived in Lithuania from the former territories of the Golden Horde: specifically from the Khanate of the Crimea, and the Khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan, polities which emerged upon the dissolution of the Golden Horde.

The principal immigration of Tatars to Lithuania took place from the end of 14th century up to the end of 17th century. The last wave of Tatar immigration to Lithuania occurred after 1917 when Tatars left Russia due to the bolshevik terror.

By the end of 18th century, the Tatar nobility was principally Polish speaking, but Tatar burghers and members of the lesser nobility adopted the Belarusian language.

The Crimean Tatars and Ottoman Turks called the Tatars from Commonwealth: Lipka Tatarłar (Lithuanian Tartars). The first word of this phrase, Lipka, is a linguistic distortion of Litwa [Lithuania], and the phrase Tatarzy Lipki is found used subsequently in documents of the Commonwealth and by historians.

The use of Lipka for Lithuania occurs in the diplomatic correspondence [jarłyki] of the Crimean Tatar khan Gerejs with the Polish kings in the 16th century and later.

A quotation from a jarłyk of Khan Mechmed Gerej I to King Zygmunt I, dated 22 October 1520 reads: "Our father Mengli Geraj, Hadji Geraj, and the ancient khans entertained friendly relations with the Polish king Wladislaw and with Dawud, the Great Bey of Lipka (libkanum beyi – in Tartaric), as well as with the Polish king Casimir and with the Great Bey of Lipka. We demand from the countries of Lipka and Poland 15,000 florins. The countries of Lipka and Poland are of equal value to us, and their enemies are also ours."

The Great Bey of Lipka was, of course, Witold [Vytautas], Grand Duke of Lithuania.

From the Turks and the Crimean Tatars, Tatar Lipka passed into the Polish language and was used as an equivalent term for Lithuanian Tatars. After the Turkish wars, in 1672 and in 1678, the phrase "Tatar-Lipka" was in use in official documents.

Grand Duke Witold of Lithuania was accorded an important place by the Tatars in their legends. They called him Vattad, meaning defender of the (Islamic) faith and of the rights of Muslims in non-Islamic countries. The Tatars with the notion of Vattad, i.e. Widowd or Witowt, mentioned by 19th century historians, phonetically associated the older forms of the name of Witold.

Grand Duke Witold established Tartar settlements along the Samogitian border and around the fortified cities of Lithuania as Troki, Wilno, Kowno, Lida, Krewa, Nowogrodek and Grodno to assist the defence against the Teutonic Knights and the Knights of the Sword. The Lithuanian Tatars considered Witold as their khan and defender, and still mentioned his name in their prayers as late as the 1930s.

The nobiliary rights of the Hospodar (meaning: host, ruler) Tatars were sanctioned and officially acknowledged by two charters issued by King Zygmunt August in 1561 and 1568, and by a number of charters issued by other kings, e.g. by Stefan Batory in 1576, Zygmunt III in 1609,
Wladyslaw IV in 1634, Michal Korybut Wisniowiecki in 1699, and by several constitutional enactment.

The Lithuanian Tatars comprised four social groups, which in the territories of the Commonwealth, and particularly in Lithuania, reflected the social organisation of the Golden Horde. The Tartar nobility or aristocracy was recognised as such in Lithuania, and subsequently in the Commonwealth, upon presentation of letters of patents issued by the Golden Horde.

The status of Tatar and Lithuanian princes was handled differently. As the Commonwealth did not grant any new princely titles, those who aspired to such titles had their princely titles recognised only if they were related to the reigning house of the Golden Horde. This group of the Tatar aristocracy was the least numerous. Recognition required in every single case the joint decision of the king and the parliament of the Commonwealth.

A different case is that of the non-royal Tatar nobility, later called Hospodar's Tatars. Princes of the blood, sometimes called "carewicze" (tsarevitje) meaning “sons of the tsar,” were followed in precedence by begs or beys. The next most illustrious group consisted of the murza (mirza or murza from emir-zade, literally a “son of emir” i.e. "a son of the ruler"). These were followed by the uhlans (oglan or ohlan meaning “brave” - dominus or miles would be fairly correct translations into medieval, feudal Latin). The use of the princely titles of bey or beg (kniaz and 'tsarevij') was subsequently abandoned. From the 17th century, Tatar princes used the title of murza or mirza in Poland.

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