The origins of the szlachta are shrouded in obscurity and mystery and have been the subject of a variety of theories.:207 Traditionally, its members were owners of landed property, often in the form of "manor farms" or so-called folwarks. The nobility negotiated substantial and increasing political and legal privileges for itself throughout its entire history until the decline of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in the late 18th century.
During the Partitions of Poland from 1772 to 1795, its members began to lose these legal privileges and social status. From that point until 1918, the legal status of the nobility was essentially dependent upon the policies of the three partitioning powers: the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia, and the Habsburg Monarchy. The legal privileges of the szlachta were legally abolished in the Second Polish Republic by the March Constitution of 1921.
The notion that all Polish nobles were social equals, regardless of their financial status or offices held, is enshrined in a traditional Polish saying:
Szlachcic na zagrodzie
—which may roughly be rendered:
or "the tenant farmer noble stands equal to the noble army commander".