Families of Power in 18th Century Ukraine: John LeDonne on Hetmanate Genealogy

April 12, 2016

John LeDonneOn Monday, April 25 at 4:15, HURI’s Seminar in Ukrainian Studies features historian John LeDonne. In the words of the editors at Kritika, “[f]ew have done more to explore the deep structures and broad tendencies that shaped Russia’s imperial period, especially its first 150 years.” The event is co-sponsored by the Historians’ Seminar at the Davis Center.

LeDonne’s talk, Hetmans and Regimental Colonels in the Eighteenth-Century Hetmanate: Genealogies and Integration, will be of particular interest to those seeking to know more about 18th century Ukrainian and Russian history. All are welcome to attend, and the event takes place in the Omeljan Pritsak Memorial Library, at HURI, 34 Kirkland Street.

We sat down with LeDonne for a brief overview of the topic. But first, a little context for anyone unfamiliar with 18th century Ukraine:

I.SkoropadskyThe Hetmanate was a Cossack state, a self-governing, semi-military community. The state was led by the highest military officer, known as the hetman. Each regimental district comprising the Hetmanate was ruled by a regimental colonel. In the 18th century, the Hetmanate in left-bank Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire, following agreements in the middle of the 17th century.

Ivan Stepanovych Mazepa, hetman from 1687 to 1708, attempted to switch allegiance from Peter I to Charles XII of Sweden, resulting in a battle, his subsequent loss of power, and his excommunication by the Russian Orthodox Church. The Hetmanate remained in the Russian Empire and was dissolved in 1775, eventually fully incorporating the region into the Russian state.

On Monday, LeDonne will examine the lineage and relationships within the ruling elite in the post-Mazepa Hetmanate. Because of the Hetmanate’s inclusion in the Russian Empire, this information is part of a comprehensive understanding of the Empire’s social and political history. It also contributes to historical understanding of Ukraine and provides an interesting look at ties between historically powerful families in Ukraine and Russia.

HURI: Your seminar on Monday is entitled, “Hetmans and Regimental Colonels in the Eighteenth-Century Hetmanate: Genealogies and Integration”. What can we expect?

LeDonne: Covering the post-Mazepa period (1708-1780s), I’ll discuss the genealogies of the hetmans and regimental colonels - the nobility in the Hetmanate. This includes how people in power were related, their marriages, alliances, and so on.

The study makes a contribution to the history of the Ukrainian starshyna, the ruling elite, one that hasn’t been done before. It gives us a better idea of how the nobility on the left bank of the Dnieper was structured, what its goals were, and how it developed.

This was a formative period for the Russian Empire, one of the most formative and influential. Therefore, this information illuminates the historical power dynamics of the region.

HURI: Why did you choose this topic?

LeDonne: I had done something similar for the Russian nobility a few years ago. Within that research, I came across many Ukrainian names and wanted to find out if they were related. As it turns out, they were.

HURI: Were you surprised by anything you found?

LeDonne: These colonels formed a very, very tight group. They were all connected. The three hetmans during the period were from a tightly connected family network. It was a structure similar to that in Russia.

After the network emerged, those involved desired integration with the Russian nobility. And they were successful, very successful.

John LeDonne has been an independent scholar at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies for 32 years and is an associate of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute. His expertise lies in Russian history, law, and economics, with his current project focusing on the administration of the Russian Empire, 1650-1850. He received his PhD in History from Columbia University. Select publications include The Grand Strategy of the Russian Empire, 1660-1831 (Oxford UP, 2004), The Russian Empire and the World, 1700-1831 (Oxford UP, 1997), Absolutism and Ruling Class: The Formation of the Russian Political Order, 1700-1825 (Oxford UP, 1991), and Ruling Russia: Politics and Administration in the Age of Absolutism, 1762-1796 (Princeton, 1984; reprint 2014).

LeDonne’s latest work is Empire or Unitary State? Russia’s Management of the Eurasian Space, 1650-1850 (submitted).