Title Chain of the City of Lyakhovichi
by Deborah G. Glassman, copyright 2004

The title of this document is somewhat misleading. Title abstracts are based on an examination of documents stored in a legal repository and this article does not meet that standard. This is a reconstructed chain of title that began by examining a history of Lyakhovichi published on the Russian language site maintained by the current Belarus town of Lyakhovichi garod. It lists a number of the owners, but with the exception of the transfer from the King of Poland Sigismund Augustus in 1572, it does not provide dates, or consideration, or type of transfer. My contribution was to look at published details on the records of Lithuanian nobility: the Princes of the Gostautas, Chodkewiesz, Sapieha, and Massalsky families; and then to find when they got their property and in what manner they transferred it. We are aided by the nature of the Lithuanian nobility, who were anxious to conserve estates for the next generation. We are also assisted by the fact that the owners of Lyakhovichi were not the lower gentry or even just one of the “great magnate houses” but the major leaders in Lithuanian history from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries. The first owner whose name was clearly connected to the town, was Albert Marcin Gostautas, one of the most powerful men in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the fifteenth century. We can document him receiving a privilege for Lyakhovichi in 1492. Further investigation revealed that he had inherited his estates from his grandfather, Jan Gostautas who had helped Vytaut the Great, consolidate his Grand Duchy. Jan Gostautas was Chancellor of the Grand Duchy - his power was enormous and only surpassed by that of Vytaut the Great, himself. Jan Gostautas managed to pass this power and influence down to his son and grandson, but even as they added more titles like Hetman, Lead Military Commander,et al, their power probably never matched his.

It was critical that not one, but nine Lead Military Commanders owned Lyakhovichi (not including King Sigismund Augustus who traded it to his Chief Military Commander). Lyakhovichi’s fortifications were not the normal small town wall. It was a true fort with walls, earthen works, ditching, drawbridges, et al. Building and maintaining those defenses was a major preoccupation of the nobility. But these owners were not so concentrated on the bottom line of defense that they did not look to other aspects of town management. In 1495 one of the Gostautas’ exercised his rights as a noble, to not to expel Jews from his private holdings when the Grand Duke of Lithuania expelled all the Jews of Lithuania. When the Jews were readmitted to Lithuania in 1503, nobles like Gostautas patted themselves on the back for not giving in to ducal whims. Grand Hetman Jeronim Chodkewiesz owned a number of towns the year he acquired Lyakhovichi. Documentation shows he invited merchants and craftsmen to settle in those places.

Nikitin’s “Portrait of a Lithuanian Hetman” is said to be Kazimir Jan Sapieha, owner of Lyakhovichi from 1665 until his death in 1720.

This privilege dating from 1380 by Vytaut to a religious community (allowing them to establish both a settlement and farm lands remote to that settlement) is comparable to those that Kestutis and Vytaut offered to Tatars and Jews to settle in their cities. Though it was confirmed in 1502, the exact date of the original privilege was given, indicating that an original record was in existence at that time.

Privilege given in 1380 by Vytaut, confirmed in 1502

Alexander gave Albert Marcin Gostautis the privilege to hold fairs in Lyakhovichi the same year that he gave this privilege to the townspeople of Vilnius to not pay custom duties on the local rivers.

1492 Privilege from Alexander Grand Duke of Lithuania

Barbara Radziwill, widow of Stanislas Gostautas, husband’s death without children and her own death shortly into her marriage to King Sigismund Augustus of Poland, transferred Lyakhovichi into the hands of the monarchy.

Barbara Radziwill, widow of Stanislas Gostautas

Sigismund Augustus, King of Poland received Lyakhovichi and many other properties from his deceased wife’s estate. He transferred Lyakhovichi to the head of his Armies and in compensation received a city less key to the fortifications of the nation in exchange.

Sigismund Augustus, King of Poland

Remembered by the Polish-Lithuanian Republic as the Hero of Chocim, where in 1621, Jan Karol Chodkiewicz forced the many times larger Turkish army to withdraw their troops. He inherited Lyakhovichi from his father who had begun its rehabilitation as a military fortification.

Jan Karol Chodkiewicz, Great Hetman of Lithuania

One of the leading figures of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Grand Chancellor and Great Hetman. Lev Sapieha’s young daughter-in-law, Anna Scholasyka Chodkiewicz, died before him and his son inherited the Chodkiewiecz properties, including Lyakhovichi. But his son was not well and had no children, so Lev transferred many properties to another son.

Lev Sapieha

Lyakhovichi Castle

From the Belarus State Archive of Scientific and Technical Documentation, the Lyakhovichi Castle was built in this form by Hetman Jan Chodkewiecz, on the banks of the Vedzma River. A water channel with a dam to control the depth of the water artificially surrounded it. The castle was destroyed in the Great Northern war ending in 1721. Note from the webmaster -It started as a classic Lithuanian hill fort, built at a date that preceded Kestautis and his son Vytaut the Great. It was updated to the latest standards in defense fortifications repeatedly in the fifteenth and sixteenth century, and then differently, updated to the high residential standards of the Polish nobility in the time of the seventeenth century Sapiehas. They also built the nearby Sapieha palace in this same time period and both residences had ornate rooms, well-appointed libraries, and professional architects attending to the design.

Lyakhovichi Castle in 1654

Lyakhovichi Castle in 1660

Pawel Jan Sapieha, Hetman of Lithuania, was the owner of Lyakhovichi and used the Lyakhovichi Castle as one of his primary residences. He had Lyakhovichi released from the King’s taxes 1661-1670.

Pawel Jan Sapieha

Kazimierz Jan Sapieha, as noted above, was the Grand Hetman of Lithuania and active in Lyakhovichi life. Had taxes remitted for the town of Lyakhovichi from 1670 to 1679. His politics led to an uprising against him by other nobles and the purposeful weakening of Lyakhovichi’s defenses by his enemies as the Swedish war was about to begin. The city and its fort were captured for the first time since the Middle Ages, and his castle burned.

Kazimierz Jan Sapieha

Michael Jozef Massalski’s daughter-in-law, Krystina Rose Sapieha, transferred the town of Lyakhovichi and its fortress to Massalski to aid in his attempt to consolidate defensive positions that could be used to hold back Russia as the war with the three empires of Europe that would partition Poland, became imminent.

Michael Jozef Massalski

Ignacy Massalski was Bishop of Vilna, political partisan of the Russians against the constitutional government of Poland. He arranged the transfer of Lyakhovichi to his ally General Syman Marcan Kossakowski, Hetman of Lithuania.

Ignacy Massalski

Simon Marcan Kossokowski was the Great Hetman of Lithuania. He managed to acquire Lyakhovichi for his personal estate as he defrauded the Polish-Lithuanian government to trust him with its defense. He was of the party that supported Russia against his own nation and eventually, he and fellow conspirators were hanged by the Polish-Lithuanian Republic in its last days before Russia moved in against them.

Kossakowski Manor House

When a map of the Lyakhovichi area was drawn in 1805, the widow of the Elderman Kossakowski was in possession of the manor house and estate. The manor house passed to her children, or to relatives who also carried the name Kossakowski.

Kossakowski Manor house in Lyakhovichi as drawn shortly before WWI