Magnate, from the Late Latin
Late Latin
Late Latin is the scholarly name for the written Latin of Late Antiquity. The English dictionary definition of Late Latin dates this period from the 3rd to the 6th centuries AD extending in Spain to the 7th. This somewhat ambiguously defined period fits between Classical Latin and Medieval Latin...

 magnas, a great man, itself from Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 magnus 'great', designates a noble or other man in a high social position, by birth, wealth or other qualities. In reference to the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

, the term is often used to distinguish higher territorial landowners and warlords such as count
A count or countess is an aristocratic nobleman in European countries. The word count came into English from the French comte, itself from Latin comes—in its accusative comitem—meaning "companion", and later "companion of the emperor, delegate of the emperor". The adjective form of the word is...

s, earl
An earl is a member of the nobility. The title is Anglo-Saxon, akin to the Scandinavian form jarl, and meant "chieftain", particularly a chieftain set to rule a territory in a king's stead. In Scandinavia, it became obsolete in the Middle Ages and was replaced with duke...

s, duke
A duke or duchess is a member of the nobility, historically of highest rank below the monarch, and historically controlling a duchy...

s, and territorial-prince
Prince is a general term for a ruler, monarch or member of a monarch's or former monarch's family, and is a hereditary title in the nobility of some European states. The feminine equivalent is a princess...

s from the baron
Baron is a title of nobility. The word baron comes from Old French baron, itself from Old High German and Latin baro meaning " man, warrior"; it merged with cognate Old English beorn meaning "nobleman"...


The term was specifically applied to the members (equivalent to British Peers) of the Upper House in the Apostolic Kingdom of Hungary
Apostolic Majesty
His Apostolic Majesty was a style used by the Kings of Hungary, in the sense of being latter-day apostles of Christianity.-First creation:The origin of this title dates from about A.D...

, the Főrendiház or House of Magnates.

Magnates were a social class
Social class
Social classes are economic or cultural arrangements of groups in society. Class is an essential object of analysis for sociologists, political scientists, economists, anthropologists and social historians. In the social sciences, social class is often discussed in terms of 'social stratification'...

 of wealthy and influential nobility
Nobility is a social class which possesses more acknowledged privileges or eminence than members of most other classes in a society, membership therein typically being hereditary. The privileges associated with nobility may constitute substantial advantages over or relative to non-nobles, or may be...

 in the Kingdom of Poland
Kingdom of Poland (1385–1569)
The Kingdom of Poland of the Jagiellons was the Polish state created by the accession of Jogaila , Grand Duke of Lithuania, to the Polish throne in 1386. The Union of Krewo or Krėva Act, united Poland and Lithuania under the rule of a single monarch...

 and Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Grand Duchy of Lithuania
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a European state from the 12th /13th century until 1569 and then as a constituent part of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1791 when Constitution of May 3, 1791 abolished it in favor of unitary state. It was founded by the Lithuanians, one of the polytheistic...

 (and later the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was a dualistic state of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch. It was the largest and one of the most populous countries of 16th- and 17th‑century Europe with some and a multi-ethnic population of 11 million at its peak in the early 17th century...

), and some other medieval realms. In Spain, since late Middle Ages there is the highest class of nobility who hold appellation of Grandee of Spain. In Sweden, wealthiest medieval lords were known as storman (plural stormän), "great men", a similar description as magnate, and same meaning. In England, the term magnate has often been applied to the extremely powerful nobles that Edward III created when he split his kingdom amongst his sons rather than choosing one son to inherit the entire kingdom. The ensuing conflict between these powerful nobles (and their successors) and whoever was king led to the aristocratic wars known as the Wars of the Roses
Wars of the Roses
The Wars of the Roses were a series of dynastic civil wars for the throne of England fought between supporters of two rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet: the houses of Lancaster and York...

. A similar class in the Gaelic
The Gaels or Goidels are speakers of one of the Goidelic Celtic languages: Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx. Goidelic speech originated in Ireland and subsequently spread to western and northern Scotland and the Isle of Man....

 world were the Flatha.

In the Middle Ages a bishop
A bishop is an ordained or consecrated member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. Within the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox Churches, in the Assyrian Church of the East, in the Independent Catholic Churches, and in the...

 sometimes held territory as a magnate, collecting the revenue of the manor
Manorialism, an essential element of feudal society, was the organizing principle of rural economy that originated in the villa system of the Late Roman Empire, was widely practiced in medieval western and parts of central Europe, and was slowly replaced by the advent of a money-based market...

s and the associated knights' fees
Knight's fee
In feudal Anglo-Norman England and Ireland, a knight's fee was a measure of a unit of land deemed sufficient from which a knight could derive not only sustenance for himself and his esquires, but also the means to furnish himself and his equipage with horses and armour to fight for his overlord in...


Magnates in Poland and Lithuania

In Poland and Lithuania all members of the nobility (szlachta
The szlachta was a legally privileged noble class with origins in the Kingdom of Poland. It gained considerable institutional privileges during the 1333-1370 reign of Casimir the Great. In 1413, following a series of tentative personal unions between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of...

) were equal under the law. "Magnate" was thus not an official title but rather a position of social class
Social class
Social classes are economic or cultural arrangements of groups in society. Class is an essential object of analysis for sociologists, political scientists, economists, anthropologists and social historians. In the social sciences, social class is often discussed in terms of 'social stratification'...

, based on wealth
Wealth is the abundance of valuable resources or material possessions. The word wealth is derived from the old English wela, which is from an Indo-European word stem...

. Magnates (or higher nobility) vied for political power with the lesser and middle nobility (see Ruch egzekucyjny) and the Król (Monarch). From the second half of the 17th century, the magnates emerged as the victors in the struggle for power in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, as they were able to concentrate most of the land in their own hands and bribe smaller nobles to preserve the appearance of democracy: "Golden Liberty
Golden Liberty
Golden Liberty , sometimes referred to as Golden Freedoms, Nobles' Democracy or Nobles' Commonwealth refers to a unique aristocratic political system in the Kingdom of Poland and later, after the Union of Lublin , in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth...

" in the parliaments, not only the local Sejmik
A sejmik was a regional assembly in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and earlier in the Kingdom of Poland. Sejmiks existed until the end of the Commonwealth in 1795 following the partitions of the Commonwealth...

s but also in the national Sejm
The Sejm is the lower house of the Polish parliament. The Sejm is made up of 460 deputies, or Poseł in Polish . It is elected by universal ballot and is presided over by a speaker called the Marshal of the Sejm ....


There were several other terms for "magnate" in Poland and Lithuania:
  • Możny - "powerful one"; used up to the 15th century, later replaced by Magnat;
  • królik, plural królewięta - "petty kings", used especially of magnates with large fiefdom
    A fee was the central element of feudalism and consisted of heritable lands granted under one of several varieties of feudal tenure by an overlord to a vassal who held it in fealty in return for a form of feudal allegiance and service, usually given by the...

    s in Lithuania
    Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the biggest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark...

     or Ukraine
    Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

    ; rather negative (król in Polish means "king", but the diminutive królik also means "rabbit");
  • pan - lord (much later, by title devaluation, Mister); this could also apply to members of the common szlachta and was often used by people from other social classes;
  • starsi bracia - "older brothers"; all members of the szlachta referred to each other as Pan brat ('lord brother'), but Magnates who were appointed to the Senate of Poland
    Senate of Poland
    The Senate is the upper house of the Polish parliament, the lower house being the 'Sejm'. The history of the Polish Senate is rich in tradition and stretches back over 500 years, it was one of the first constituent bodies of a bicameral parliament in Europe and existed without hiatus until the...

     often styled themselves senior brothers, referring to the nobles from the Sejm ("parliament") as młodsi bracia ("junior brothers");
  • karmazyn - "the crimson one", from their expensive crimson
    Crimson is a strong, bright, deep red color. It is originally the color of the dye produced from a scale insect, Kermes vermilio, but the name is now also used as a generic term for those slightly bluish-red colors that are between red and rose; besides crimson itself, these colors include...

    -coloured clothing (especially the boots).

Several Magnates held high feudal titles or peerage ranks such as prince or count. With few exceptions, mostly dating from the Union of Lublin
Union of Lublin
The Union of Lublin replaced the personal union of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania with a real union and an elective monarchy, since Sigismund II Augustus, the last of the Jagiellons, remained childless after three marriages. In addition, the autonomy of Royal Prussia was...

, and special privileges permitting some Lithuanian magnates to use them, such titles were forbidden by law. Titles from offices however were very popular: see Offices in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Magnates in England

The large number of extremely powerful nobles, many of whom had claims to the throne, led to over 100 years of aristocratic civil war
Civil war
A civil war is a war between organized groups within the same nation state or republic, or, less commonly, between two countries created from a formerly-united nation state....

, in the form of the Wars of the Roses
Wars of the Roses
The Wars of the Roses were a series of dynastic civil wars for the throne of England fought between supporters of two rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet: the houses of Lancaster and York...


Eventually intermarriage between the royal family and the higher nobility led to large numbers of claimants to the throne, most of whom tried to attain the throne by usurping their predecessors. In this period, despite laws governing succession, most of the succession was determined not as much by primogeniture
Primogeniture is the right, by law or custom, of the firstborn to inherit the entire estate, to the exclusion of younger siblings . Historically, the term implied male primogeniture, to the exclusion of females...

 as by military victory.

In the Tudor period, after Henry VII
Henry VII of England
Henry VII was King of England and Lord of Ireland from his seizing the crown on 22 August 1485 until his death on 21 April 1509, as the first monarch of the House of Tudor....

 defeated Richard III
Richard III of England
Richard III was King of England for two years, from 1483 until his death in 1485 during the Battle of Bosworth Field. He was the last king of the House of York and the last of the Plantagenet dynasty...

 at Bosworth Field
Battle of Bosworth Field
The Battle of Bosworth Field was the penultimate battle of the Wars of the Roses, the civil war between the House of Lancaster and the House of York that raged across England in the latter half of the 15th century. Fought on 22 August 1485, the battle was won by the Lancastrians...

, Henry made a point of executing or neutralizing as many magnates as possible. Henry VII would make parliament attaint
In English criminal law, attainder or attinctura is the metaphorical 'stain' or 'corruption of blood' which arises from being condemned for a serious capital crime . It entails losing not only one's property and hereditary titles, but typically also the right to pass them on to one's heirs...

 undesirable nobles and magnates, thereby stripping them of their wealth, protection from torture, and power. Henry VII also used the Court of the Star Chamber to have powerful nobles executed. Henry VIII continued this approach in his reign; he inherited a survivalistic mistrust of nobles from his father. Henry VIII ennobled very few men and the ones he did were all "new men": novi homines
Novus homo
Homo novus was the term in ancient Rome for a man who was the first in his family to serve in the Roman Senate or, more specifically, to be elected as consul...

, greatly indebted to him and having very limited power.

See also

  • Aristocracy
    Aristocracy , is a form of government in which a few elite citizens rule. The term derives from the Greek aristokratia, meaning "rule of the best". In origin in Ancient Greece, it was conceived of as rule by the best qualified citizens, and contrasted with monarchy...

  • Leidang
    The institution known as leiðangr , leidang , leding, , ledung , expeditio or sometimes lething , was a public levy of free farmers typical for medieval Scandinavians. It was a form of conscription to organise coastal fleets for seasonal excursions and in defence of the realm...

  • List of szlachta (this article lists the families of the magnate class, or higher nobility).
  • Swedish nobility
    Swedish nobility
    The Swedish nobility were historically a legally and/or socially privileged class in Sweden, part of the so-called frälse . Today, the nobility is still very much a part of Swedish society but they do not maintain many of their former privileges...

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