History Scotland

PROSPERITY, CALAMITY AND SURVIVAL IN THE GRAND DUCHY OF LITHUANIA

The standard story of young, impoverished traders from Scotland flooding through the Baltic area had only limited relevance to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (the northern part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth which includes present-day Lithuania and Belarus). By the early 1650s, these itinerant hawkers of fabrics, shoes, cutlery, etc. were displaced when a very different type of settler – older, educated, better prepared, with years of experience somewhere in Poland or Prussia – began to appear in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL). Their presence was most noticeable in Kėdainiai, a small market town in western Lithuania owned by the wealthy Radziwiłł family who controlled vast swaths of land in the GDL and were active in noble politics. What caught the attention of potential migrants were the incentives offered by the Radziwiłłs, including civic rights, commercial privileges and religious freedoms (the Kėdainiai branch of the Radziwiłłs were Calvinists). So close did the relationship grow that the Radziwiłłs essentially left the town’s administration in Scottish hands.

Prominent among this wave of immigrants was George Bennett, who was born in the Musselburgh/Inveresk area to the east of Edinburgh. After serving under Janusz Radziwiłł in the military, he arrived in Kėdainiai in 1650 at the age of 35. In quick succession he married Sofia Arnot, daughter of an important Scots businessman, developed a merchant venture, was appointed Radziwiłł’s representative in town and collector

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