The Social and Economic Situation before the Great Reform
The most privileged social class in imperial Russia was the dvorianstvo, which monopolized the right to own serfs and possessed many other legal and social prerogatives. Although "nobility" is probably the most convenient translation of "dvorianstvo," members of this legally defined class (soslovie) in most cases did not possess any aristocratic title and should not be considered as "nobility" in the normal English meaning of the term. To be sure, some members of the dvorianstvo did bear such hereditary titles as kniaz' (prince) or graf (count), which had originated in early times or in the reign of Peter the Great, but the great bulk of the Russian nobility consisted of untitled persons, many of whom earned this legal status through the ranks of the civil or military services.
According to the census of 1859, there were about 887,000 members of the nobility in the European Russian population of about 57 million persons, or roughly 1 noble for every 64 persons.*____________________