The Economic and Organisational Significance of Catholic Monasteries and Convents in the Life and Activity of the Radziwills of Nieswiez in the Eighteenth Century
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A presentation of the economic profits associated with 18th century monastic foundations, discussed upon the example of one of the most powerful families in the Commonwealth – the Radziwills of Nieswiez. During the titular period, members of this family were celebrated as the generous founders and benefactors of numerous monastic institutions, and the funds donated for the expansion of the monastic network considerably exceeded the average of the epoch. Heretofore literature on the subject has, more often than not, accentuated the ideological, propaganda or political part played by a given foundation; its economic aspect, either totally ignored or relegated by researchers to the margin, attracted rather one-sided interest, usually within the context of analysing endowments and the economic activity of the monasteries/convents in the landed estates which formed their property. More in-depth reflection could considerably enhance our knowledge about the phenomenon of the foundation and its motives, as well as explain the strong position of the Catholic Church in the Commonwealth during the eighteenth century and the rapid expansion of its territorial structures. The first part of the article deals with the fiscal and economic services of the monasteries/convents, with particular attention paid to the loans offered by them; during the period under examination they comprised one of the most popular and secure ways of fulfilling the financial needs of the higher social strata. As a rule, the loans were contracted from women's monastic communities and the pledge included landed estates, with the reservation that they were to be bought back after the term mentioned in the contract. The author went on to show the role played by the monasteries and convents as intermediaries and partners in financial questions, focusing predominantly on the right to an unhampered administration of the monastic property, customarily enjoyed by the patron. Finally, the article brings the reader closer to the rank held by the monastery/convent as a host of the patron and members of his court. The presented reflections led to the following conclusion: although in comparison with the Crown the patron's authority over the monasteries/convents subordinate to him in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was much wider, it certainly was not unlimited. The Church had devised certain schemes of activity and mechanisms whose purpose was to protect the monasteries and convents from the excessive claims made by the magnate.
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