Nobility and Schooling in Russia, 1700s-1760s: Westernization of an Elite as a Social Process

Posted: 16 Oct 2014 Last revised: 21 Mar 2016

See all articles by Igor Fedyukin

Igor Fedyukin

National Research University Higher School of Economics

Date Written: October 15, 2014


In this paper we use the records of the Heraldry and the Noble Land Cadet Corps to explore the career and educational choices made by Russian nobles in the 1730s and 1740s. We make use of the fact that after the 1736-7 reform of noble service, young members of the elite were allowed to express their preferences regarding enrollment in specific schools or branches of service, and the government promised to respect these choices. Our goal is to investigate how much choice had nobles in reality, what choices they made, and how these choices can be explained. Our analysis demonstrates that post-Petrine nobles had very clear preferences, and that there are deep cleavages within the elite in terms of the attitude of its members towards schooling. While wealthier nobles tended to opt for state schools, especially the Noble Cadet Corps, the poorest nobility overwhelmingly ignored the educational requirement and service registration rules imposed by the state, and did not apply for state schools, preferring instead to enlist directly into regiments as privates. Despite numerous attempts, the government failed to force the poorest nobility to follow the 1736-7 rules for entering schools and the state service, and was forced to regularly issue blank pardons to these offenders. Finally, the paper considers the role of social connections in shaping choices of education and service made by the nobility. The paper presents the Westernization of the Russian elite as a dynamic social process driven by the choices made by the nobles themselves.

Keywords: Nobility, education, state service, Peter I, Westernization, choices, Heraldry, Cadet Corps, schools, social networks

JEL Classification: Z

Suggested Citation

Fedyukin, Igor, Nobility and Schooling in Russia, 1700s-1760s: Westernization of an Elite as a Social Process (October 15, 2014). Higher School of Economics Research Paper No. WP BRP 67/HUM/2014, Available at SSRN: or

Igor Fedyukin (Contact Author)

National Research University Higher School of Economics ( email )

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