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Hetman was the title of the second highest military commander (after the monarch) used in 15th to 18th century Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania, known from 1569 to 1795 as the Rzeczpospolita. It was the highest military title in Cossack Hetmanate as well as the head of state.

This title was used among the Cossacks (гетьман) of Ukraine since the 16th century and by the Czechs (hejtman) in Bohemia from the Hussite Wars (15th century) onward. Hejtman is today the term for the elected governor of a Czech region (kraj). Hetman is also the Polish name for the chess queen.



One theory derives the word from the Old High German Hauptmann,[1] with Haupt meaning "main" or "head" and Mann meaning "man". Hauptmann was a common military title during medieval times, literally meaning "captain" but corresponding functionally more to today's "general". The German "Hauptmann" deriving from the Polish "Hetman/Hatman" is less likely. The more accepted[by whom?] theory is it derives from the steppic/Turkic term "otaman". Due to centuries of contact, Polish and Prussian states were influenced by each other's military traditions (see Rittmeister/rotmistrz) and administrations (Rathaus/ratusz, Bürgermeister/burmistrz), or the fact that almost 70% of Prussian generals and commanders were foreign, and the majority of these Polish, though many changed their names to more German-sounding names[citation needed]. The entire Prussian cavalry, as well as most of Europe's, grew out of Polish, Serbian and Hungarian traditions, and most cavalrymen came from these peoples[citation needed]. However, an intermediation might have been provided in Czech[2]

Hetman of Poland and Lithuania

The first Polish title of Grand Crown Hetman was created in 1505. The title of Hetman was given to the leader of the Polish Army and until 1581 the Hetman position existed only during specific campaigns and wars. After that, it became a permanent title, as were all the titles in the Kingdom of Poland and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. At any given time there were four Hetmans – Great and Field (deputy) for Poland and Lithuania each . From 1585 the title couldn't be taken away unless treachery was proven, thus most Hetmans served for life, as illustrated by the case of Jan Karol Chodkiewicz literally commanding the army from his deathbed. Hetmans were not paid for their job by the Royal Treasury. Hetmans were the main commanders of the military forces, second only to the monarch in the army's chain of command. The fact that they could not be removed by the monarch made them very independent, and thus often able to pursue independent policies. This system worked well when a Hetman had great ability and the monarch was weak, but sometimes produced disastrous results in the opposite case, as illustrated by the actions of Mikołaj Potocki in 1648. The contrast with states bordering the Commonwealth, where army commanders could be dismissed at any time by their sovereigns, was immense. In 1648 the Zaporizhian Host (the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth subject) elected the Hetman of their own (Bohdan Khmelnytsky) igniting the Ukrainian struggle for independence.

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