The noblemen's democracy in the old Commonwealth created a specific political culture in which duties towards the state and the whole society were part of a system of custom patterns. These patterns can be studied on the basis of many 16th-18th century epitaphs of petty noblemen and provincial clergy from the palatinate of Sandomierz, groups which are weakly represented in other sources. Unlike the contemporary epitaphs in other countries of Latin Europe, the Polish epitaphs laid stress on political and social models, not on individual virtues as was the case in Britain or on the content of last wills, a frequent French custom; with the exception of family life, they did not borrow much from ancient inscriptions. They portrayed a different picture of the noblemen's community than the picture presented in literature, which was often satirical and critical; they supplemented and corrected the frequently exaggerated statements found in literature. They did not mention the noblemen's equality, replacing it by satisfaction with one's fate and position; great value was attached to ancestors' services, especially if they were rendered in public life; social promotion had to be explained by similar criteria. Social duties were linked to the position an individual occupied. Noblemen's concern for their serfs was presented as a highly valuable virtue; care of the poor was a duty of women and the clergy. A harmonious family life and the parents' concern for their children were of enormous importance. As regards upbringing, stress was laid on tuition, especially university studies; in the 16th and 17th centuries great attention was paid to studies abroad; then came the time for royal service, service to the king. The 17th century appears to have been an age of wars and military service which was then more important than service at the royal court, but as time went on this service came to be regarded as a heavy, sometimes even inordinately heavy task. More attention began to be attached to the preservation of internal peace and public service in central and local offices, to activity in the dietines and service no longer to the king but to the Commonwealth. This trend increased in the Saxon times in the 18th century; on the eve of the partitions and during the struggles against the partitioning powers it was replaced by the defence of the motherland, an idea which drew on the 17th century war patterns.
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