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Settled agricultural people have lived in the area that is now Poland for the last 7500 years, the Slavic people have been in this territory for over 1500 years, and the history of Polandmarker as a state spans well over a millennium. The territory ruled by Poland has shifted and varied greatly. At one time, in the late 16th and early 17th century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was a huge state in central-eastern Europe, with an area of about one million square kilometers. At other times there was no separate Polish state at all. Poland regained its independence in 1918, after more than a century of rule by its neighbors, but its borders shifted again after World War II. Poland largely lost its traditional multiethnic character and the communist system was imposed. When the opportunity arose in 1989, the country became a parliamentary democracy.

Following its emergence in the 10th century, the Polish nation was led by a series of rulers who converted the Poles to Christianity, created a strong kingdom and integrated Poland into the European culture. Internal fragmentation eroded this initial structure in the 13th century, but consolidation in the 1300s laid the base for the new dominant Kingdom of Poland that was to follow.

Beginning with the Lithuanian Grand Duke Jogaila (Władysław II Jagiełło), the Jagiellon dynasty (1385–1569) formed the Polish-Lithuanian union. The partnership proved beneficial for the Poles and Lithuanians, who coexisted and cooperated in one of the most powerful states in Europe for the next three centuries. The Nihil novi act adopted by the Polish Sejm (parliament) in 1505, transferred most of the legislative power from the monarch to the Sejm. This event marked the beginning of the period known as "Golden Liberty", when the state was ruled by the "free and equal" Polish nobility. The Union of Lublin of 1569 established the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as an influential player in Europe and a vital cultural entity, spreading the Western culture eastwards.

By the 18th century the nobles' democracy had gradually declined into anarchy, making the once powerful Commonwealth vulnerable to foreign intervention. Over the course of three successive partitions by the countries bordering it (the Russian Empiremarker, Habsburg Austria and the Kingdom of Prussiamarker), the Commonwealth was significantly reduced in size the first two times and ultimately ceased to exist in 1795. The idea of Polish independence however was kept alive throughout the 19th century and led to several Polish uprisings against the partitioning powers.

Poland regained its independence in 1918, but the Second Polish Republicmarker was destroyed by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Unionmarker by their Invasion of Poland at the beginning of the Second World War. Nevertheless the Polish government in exile kept functioning and through the many Polish military formations contributed significantly to the Allied victory. Nazi Germany's forces were compelled to retreat from Poland as the Soviet Red Army advanced, which led to the creation of the People's Republic of Poland. The country's geographic location was shifted to the west and Poland existed as a Soviet satellite state. By the late 1980s Solidarity, a Polish reform movement, became crucial in causing a peaceful transition from a communist state to a capitalist democracy, which resulted in the creation of the modern Polish state.

Prehistory and protohistory

Stone Age

The Stone Age era in Poland lasted five hundred thousand years and involved three different human species. The Stone Age cultures ranged from early human groups with primitive tools to advanced agricultural societies using sophisticated stone tools, building fortified settlements and developing copper metallurgy.

The Stone Age in Poland is divided into the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic eras. The Paleolithic extended from about 500,000 BCE to 8000 BCE. The Paleolithic is subdivided into periods, the Lower Paleolithic, 500,000 to 350,000 BCE, the Middle Paleolithic, 350,000 to 40,000 BCE, the Upper Paleolithic, 40,000 to 10,000 BCE, and the Final Paleolithic, 10,000 to 8000 BCE. The Mesolithic lasted from 8000 to 5500 BCE, and the Neolithic from 5500 to 2300 BCE. The Neolithic is subdivided into the Neolithic proper, 5500 to 2900 BCE, and the Copper Age, 2900 to 2300 BCE.

Bronze Age and Early Iron Age

The Bronze and Iron Age cultures in Poland are known mainly from archeological research. Early Bronze Age cultures in Poland begin around 2400/2300 BC. The Iron Age commences ca. 750/700 BC. The subject of the ethnicity and linguistic affiliation of the groups living in central and eastern Europe at that time is, given the absence of written records, speculative, and accordingly there is considerable disagreement. In Poland the most famous archeological finding from that period is the Biskupinmarker fortified settlement (gord), representing the Lusatian culture of the early Iron Age.

The Bronze Age in Poland consisted of Period I, 2300 to 1600 BCE; Period II, 1600 to 1350 BCE; Period III, 1350 to 1100 BCE; Period IV, 1100 to 900 BCE; Period V, 900 to 700 BCE. The Early Iron Age included Hallstatt Period C, 700 to 600 BCE, and Hallstatt Period D, 600 to 450 BCE.

La Tène and Roman periods

Peoples belonging to numerous archeological cultures identified with Celtic, Germanic and Baltic tribes lived in and migrated through various parts of the territory that now constitutes Poland from about 400 BC. Expanding and moving out of their homeland in Scandinavia and northern Germany, the Germanic people settled this area and used it as a migrating route for several centuries. Many Germanic tribes moved from present-day Poland in the southern and eastern directions, while other remained. As the Roman Empire was nearing its collapse and the nomadic peoples invading from the east destroyed, damaged or destabilized the various Germanic cultures and societies, the Germanic people left eastern and central Europe for the safer and wealthier southern and western parts of the continent. The northeast corner of modern Poland's territory was and remained populated by Baltic tribes.

The La Tènemarker period is subdivided into La Tène A, 450 to 400 BCE; La Tène B, 400 to 250 BCE; La Tène C, 250 to 150 BCE; La Tène D, 150 to 0 BCE. It was followed by the period of Roman influence, of which the early stage had lasted from 0 to 150 CE, and the late stage from 150 to 375 CE. 375 to 500 CE constituted the (pre-Slavic) Migration Period.

Arrival of the Slavs

According to the currently predominant scholarly opinion, the Slavs were not present in central Europe before the earliest Medieval period. In Poland their first waves migrated in and settled the area of the upper Vistula River and elsewhere in southeastern part of the country and southern Masovia, coming from the upper and middle regions of the Dnieper River, beginning in the second half of the 5th century, some half century after these territories were vacated by Germanic tribes. From there, the new population dispersed north and west over the course of the 6th century. Slavic people lived from cultivation of crops and were generally farmers, but also engaged in hunting and gathering. Their migration was likely caused by the pursuit of fertile soils and invasions of eastern and central Europe by waves of people and armies from the east, such as the Huns, Avars and Magyars.

Polish tribes and tribal states

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A number of West Slavic Polish tribes formed small dominions beginning in the 8th century, some of which coalesced later into larger ones. Among the tribes listed in the Bavarian Geographer's 9th century document were the Vistulans (Wiślanie) in southern Poland. Krakówmarker and Wiślicamarker were their main centers. Major building of fortified structures and other developments in their country took place in the 9th century. During the later part of the 9th century, according to a written account in the The Life of St. Methodius, the Vistulan state was subjected to Great Moravian rule, and after Great Moravia's fall in the 10th century it had become a part of the Czech state. The tribal unions built many gords - fortified enclosures with earth and wood walls and embankments, from the 7th century onwards. Some of them were developed and inhabited, others had a very large empty area and may have served primarily as refuges in times of trouble.

From the early part of the 10th century the Polans (Polanie, lit. "people of the fields") of what is now Greater Poland became a moving force behind the historic processes that gave rise to the Polish state. The Polans settled in the flatlands around Gieczmarker, Poznańmarker, Gnieznomarker and Ostrów Lednickimarker, that eventually became the foundation and early center of Poland, lending their name to the country. They went through a period of accelerated building of fortified settlements and territorial expansion beginning in the first half of the 10th century, and the Polish state developed from their tribal entity in the second half of that century. At that time, according to the chronicler Gallus Anonymus, the Polans were ruled by the Piast dynasty. In existing sources a Piast ruler, Mieszko I, was first mentioned by Widukind of Corvey in his Res gestae saxonicae. According to the chronicler, in 963 Mieszko's forces were twice defeated by the Veleti acting in cooperation with the Saxon exile Wichmann the Younger. Under Mieszko's rule (around 960 to 992), his tribal state accepted Christianity and became the Polish state.

Piast dynasty

Mieszko I; adoption of Christianity

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The viability of the emerging state was assured by the early Piast leaders' persistent territorial expansion, which beginning with a very small area around Gnieznomarker (before the town itself existed), lasted throughout most of the 10th century, resulting in a territory approximating that of the present day Poland. The Polanie tribe conquered and merged with other Slavic tribes, formed a tribal federation and then a centralized state, which after the addition of Lesser Poland and Silesia (taken from the Czech state during the later part of the 10th century) reached its mature form, including the main regions regarded as ethnically Polish.

Mieszko I, initially a pagan, was the first ruler of the Polans tribal union known from contemporary written sources. Mieszko was one of the four Slavic "kings", as reported by Ibrâhîm ibn Ya`qûb, a Jewish traveler. In 965 Mieszko, at that time allied with Boleslaus I of Bohemia, married his daughter Doubravka, a Christian princess. Mieszko's 966 conversion to Christianity in its Western Latin Rite followed and is considered by many to be the founding event of the Polish state. In the aftermath of Mieszko's 967 victory over a force of the Woliniansmarker led by Wichmann the first missionary bishop was appointed, which counteracted the intended eastern expansion of the Magdeburg Archdiocese, established at about the same time. Mieszko's state had a complex political relationship with the Germanmarker Holy Roman Empire, as Mieszko was a "friend", ally and vassal of Otto I, paying him tribute from the western part of his lands. It fought wars with the Polabian Slavs, the margraves of the Saxon Eastern March (Gero in 963-964 and Hodo in 972, see Battle of Cedynia), and the Czechs. After the death of Otto I, and then again after the death of Otto II, Mieszko supported Henry the Quarrelsome, a pretender to the imperial crown. After the death of Dobrawa, Mieszko married around 980 a German, Oda von Haldensleben, daughter of Dietrich, Margrave of the Northern March. When fighting the Czechs in 990, Mieszko was helped by the Holy Roman Empire. By around 990, when Mieszko I officially submitted his country to the authority of the Holy See (Dagome iudex), he had transformed Poland into one of the strongest powers in central-eastern Europe.

Bolesław I; Church province, conquests, Kingdom of Poland

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Mieszko I died in 992. Contrary to what the first ruler of Poland had intended, as Oda with her (and Mieszko's) minor sons lost the power struggle, Mieszko's oldest son Bolesław became the sole ruler of Poland. A man of high ambition and strong personality, he embarked on further territorial expansion to the west (Lusatia region), south, and east. While often successful, the campaigns and the gains turned out to be of only passing significance and badly strained the resources of the young nation. Bolesław lost the economically crucial Farther Pomerania, together with its new bishopric in Kołobrzegmarker; the region had previously been conquered with great effort by Mieszko.

Bolesław Chrobry (ruled 992-1025) started by continuing his father's policy of alliance with the Holy Roman Empire. He skillfully took advantage of the death of Vojtěch Slavník or Wojciech, a well-connected Czech bishop in exile and missionary, whom Bolesław received and helped, and who was killed while on a mission in Prussia. The martyrdom of Wojciech in 997 gave Poland a patron saint, St. Adalbert, and soon resulted in the creation of an independent Polish province of the Church with an archbishop in Gnieznomarker. The Congress of Gniezno took place in the year 1000, when the young Emperor Otto III came as a pilgrim to visit St. Adalbert's grave and lent his support to Bolesław. The Gniezno Archdiocese and several subordinate dioceses were established on this occasion. The Polish ecclesiastical province effectively served as an essential anchor and an institution to fall back on for the Piast state, helping it survive in the troubled centuries ahead.

Otto died in 1002 and Bolesław's relationship with his successor Henry II turned out to be much more difficult, resulting in a series of wars in the coming years (1002-1005, 1007-1013, 1015-1018). In 1003-1004 Bolesław intervened militarily in Czech dynastic conflicts. After his forces were removed from Bohemia, Bolesław retained Moravia. In 1013 the marriage between Bolesław's son Mieszko and Richeza of Lotharingia, the niece of Emperor Otto III and future mother of Casimir I the Restorer, took place. The conflicts with Germany ended in 1018 with the Peace of Bautzen accord, on favorable for Bolesław terms. In the context of the 1018 Kiev expedition Bolesław took over the western part of Red Ruthenia. In 1025, shortly before his death, Bolesław I the Brave finally succeeded in obtaining the papal permission to crown himself, and became the first king of Poland.

Mieszko II; collapse of the reign

After Bolesław's death his son, King Mieszko II Lambert (990-1034), tried to continue his father's politics, having his kingdom act as an interventionist great power. This reinforced much of the old resentment and hostility on the part of Poland's neighbors, which Mieszko's two dispossessed brothers took advantage of, arranging for Rus' and German invasions in 1031. Mieszko was defeated and had to leave the country. Although later Mieszko's brothers Bezprym and Otto were killed and Mieszko partially recovered, with Mieszko's death in 1034 the first Piast monarchy collapsed. Deprived of a government, Poland was ravaged by an anti-feudal and pagan rebellion, and in 1039 by the forces of Bretislaus I of Bohemia. The country suffered territorial losses, and the functioning of the Gniezno archdiocese had been disrupted.

Restoration under Casimir I

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The nation made a recovery under Mieszko's son, Duke Casimir I (1016-1058), properly known as the Restorer. After returning from exile in 1039 Casimir rebuilt the Polish monarchy and through several military campaigns (in 1047 Masovia was taken back from Miecław, and in 1050 Silesia form the Czechs) the country's territorial integrity. He was aided in this endeavor by the recent adversaries of Poland, the Holy Roman Empire and Kievan Rus', who didn't find the chaos in Poland to be to their liking either. Casimir introduced a more mature form of feudalism, by settling his warriors on feudal estates and turning them into landed gentry, thus relieving the burden of financing large army units from the duke's treasury. Faced with the widespread destruction of Greater Poland after the Czech expedition, Casimir moved his court to Krakówmarker, which replaced the old Piast capitals (Poznań and Gniezno) and functioned afterwards as the nation's capital for several centuries.

Bolesław II; conflict with Bishop Stanisław

Casimir's son Bolesław II the Bold, also known as the Generous (ruled 1058-1079), developed Polish military strength further, waging several foreign campaigns between 1058 and 1077. As an active supporter of the papal side in its feud with the German emperor, with the blessing of Pope Gregory VII Bolesław crowned himself king in 1076. In 1079 there was an anti-Bolesław conspiracy or conflict that involved the Bishop of Kraków. Bolesław had Bishop Stanisław executed; subsequently Bolesław was forced to abdicate the Polish throne because of the pressure from the Catholic Church and the pro-imperial faction of the nobility. St. Stanislaus was to become the second martyr and patron saint of Poland, canonized in 1253.

Władysław I Herman

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After Bolesław's exile the country found itself under the unstable rule of his younger brother Władysław I Herman (ruled 1079-1102), who was strongly dependent on Palatine Sieciech. When Władysław's two sons Zbigniew and Bolesław finally forced Władysław to remove his hated protégé, Poland from 1098 was divided among the three of them, and after the father's death from 1102 to 1106 between the two brothers.

Bolesław III

After a power struggle, Bolesław III the Wrymouth (ruled 1102-1138) became the Duke of Poland by defeating his half-brother in 1106-1107. Zbigniew had to leave the country, but received support from Emperor Henry V, who attacked Bolesław's Poland in 1109. Bolesław was able to defend his country because of his military abilities, determination and alliances, and also because of a national mobilization across the social spectrum (see Battle of Głogówmarker); Zbigniew who later returned was eliminated. Bolesław's other major achievement was the conquest of all of Mieszko I's Pomerania (of which the remaining eastern part had been lost by Poland from after the death of Mieszko II), a task begun by his father and completed by Bolesław around 1123. Szczecinmarker was subdued in a bloody take-over and Western Pomerania up to Rügenmarker, except for the directly incorporated southern part, became Bolesław's fief, to be ruled locally by Wartislaw I, the first duke of the Griffin dynasty. At that time also the Christianization of the region was initiated in earnest, an effort crowned by the establishment of the Pomeranian Wolinmarker Diocese after Bolesław's death in 1140.

Fragmentation of the realm

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Before he died, Bolesław Krzywousty divided the country among four of his sons; a complex arrangement intended to preserve the state's unity, in practice ushered in a long period of fragmentation. For two centuries the Piasts were to spar with each other, the clergy, and the nobility for the control over the divided kingdom. The stability of the system was supposedly assured by the institution of the senior or high duke of Poland, based in Kraków and assigned to the special Seniorate Province that was not to be subdivided. This principle broke down already within the generation of Bolesław III's sons, when Władysław II the Exile, Bolesław IV the Curly, Mieszko III the Old and Casimir II the Just fought for power and territory in Poland, and in particular over the Kraków throne. The borders left by Bolesław III to his sons closely resembled the borders left by Mieszko I; this original early Piast monarchy configuration was not to survive the fragmentation period.

Culture in the 10th-12th century

Early Medieval Poland was developing culturally as a part of the European Christendom, but it would be a few generations from Mieszko's conversion until significant numbers of native clergymen emerged. Large scale deeper Christianization of the populace had been accomplished in the 12th and 13th centuries, after the establishment of numerous monasteries.

Intellectual and artistic activity was concentrated around the institutions of the Church (written annals beginning in the late 10th century), the courts of the kings and dukes (already Mieszko II and Casimir the Restorer were literate and educated), and increasingly around the households of the emergent hereditary elite. Along with the Dagome iudex act, the most important written document and source of the period is the chronicle by a foreign cleric from the court of Bolesław the Wrymouth known as Gallus Anonymus. A number of Pre-Romanesque stone churches were built beginning in the 10th century, often accompanied by "palatium" ruler residencies; Romanesque buildings proper followed. The earliest coins were minted by Bolesław I around 995. The Gniezno Doors (1170s) of Gniezno Cathedralmarker (bronze low relief) are the finest example of Romanesque sculpture. Bruno of Querfurt was one of the pioneering Western clergymen spreading Church literacy; some of his prominent writings had been produced in eremitic monasteries in Poland. Among the preeminent early monastic religious orders were the Benedictines (the abbey in Tyniec founded in 1044) and the Cistercians.

State and society in the 13th century

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The 13th century brought fundamental changes in the structure of the Polish society and political system. Because of the fragmentation and constant internal conflicts, the Piast dukes were unable to stabilize Poland's external borders of the early Piast rulers. In mid 13th century Bolesław II the Bald granted Lubusz Land to the Margraviate of Brandenburg, which made possible the creation of the Neumark and had far reaching negative consequences for the integrity of the western border. Western Farther Pomerania broke its political ties with Poland in the second half of the 12th century and from 1231 became a fief of the Margraviate, which in 1307 extended its Pomeranian possessions even further east. Pomerelia or Gdańsk Pomeraniamarker had been independent of the Polish dukes from 1227. In the south-east Leszek the White was unable to preserve Poland's supremacy over the Halychmarker area of Rus', a territory that had changed hands on a number of occasions.

The social status was becoming increasingly based on the size of feudal land possessions. Those included the lands controlled by the Piast princes, their rivals the great lay land owners and church entities, all the way down to the knightly class; the work force ranged from hired "free" people, through serfs attached to the land, to slaves (purchased or war and other prisoners). The upper layer of the feudal lords, first the Church and then others, were able to acquire economic and legal immunity, which made them exempt to a significant degree from court jurisdiction or economical obligations (including taxation), that had previously been imposed by the ruling dukes.

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The civil strife and foreign invasions, such as the Mongol invasions in 1241, 1259 and 1287, weakened and depopulated the many small Polish principalities, as the country became progressively more split. This, but also increasing in the developing economy demand for labor, caused a massive immigration of West European, mostly German settlers into Poland (early waves from Germany and Flanders in the 1220s). The German, Polish and other new rural settlements were a form of feudal tenancy with immunity and German town laws were often utilized as its legal bases. The German immigrants were also important in the rise of the cities and the establishment of the Polish burgher (city dwelling merchants) class; they brought with them West European laws (Magdeburg rights) and customs which the Poles adopted. From that time on the Germans, who created early strong establishments (led by the patriciate) especially in the urban centers of Silesia and other regions of western Poland, have been one of the minorities in Poland.

In 1228, the Acts of Cienia were passed and signed into law by Władysław III Laskonogi. The titular Duke of Poland promised to provide a "just and noble law according to the council of bishops and barons." Such legal guarantees and privileges included also the lower level land owners - knights, who were evolving into the lower and middle nobility class known later as "szlachta". The fragmentation period weakened the rulers and established a permanent trend in Polish history, whereby the rights and role of the nobility were being expanded at the monarch's expense.

Teutonic Knights

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In 1226 Konrad I of Masovia invited the Teutonic Knights to help him fight the Prussian people, who lived in a territory adjacent to his lands; substantial border warfare was taking place and Konrad's province had suffered from Prussian invasions. On the other hand, the Old Prussians themselves were at that time being subjected to increasingly forced (including papacy-sponsored crusades), but largely ineffective Christianization efforts. The Teutonic Order quickly overstepped the authority and moved beyond the area granted them by Konrad (Chełmnomarker Land or Kulmerlandmarker). In the following decades they conquered large areas along the Baltic Seamarker coast and established their monastic statemarker. When virtually all of the Western Baltic pagans became converted or exterminated (the Prussian conquests had been completed by 1283), the Knights turned their attention to Poland and Lithuaniamarker, then the last major pagan state in Europe. Teutonic expansionist policy and wars with Poland and Lithuania continued for most of the 14th and 15th centuries. The Teutonic state in Prussia, populated by German settlers beginning in the 13th century, had been claimed as a fief and protected by the popes and Holy Roman Emperors.

Reunification attempts; Przemysł II, Václav II

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As the disadvantages of national division were becoming increasingly apparent in various segments of the society, some of the Piast dukes had begun making serious efforts aimed at the reunification of the Polish state. Important among the earlier attempts were the activities of the Silesian dukes Henry I the Bearded, his son Henry II the Pious, who was killed in 1241 while fighting the Mongols at the Battle of Legnica, and Henry IV Probus. In 1295 Przemysł II of Greater Poland became the first, since Bolesław II, Piast duke crowned as King of Poland, but he ruled over only a part of the territory of Poland (including from 1294 Gdańsk Pomeraniamarker) and was assassinated soon after his coronation. A more extensive unification of Polish lands was accomplished by a foreign ruler, Václav II of Bohemia of the Přemyslid dynasty, who married Przemysł's daughter and became King of Poland in 1300. Václav's heavy-handed policies soon caused him to lose whatever support he had earlier in his reign; he died in 1305. An important factor in the unification process was the Polish Church, which remained a single ecclesiastical province throughout the fragmentation period. Archbishop Jakub Świnka of Gniezno was an ardent proponent of Poland's reunification; he performed the crowning ceremonies for both Przemysł II and Wenceslaus II. Świnka supported Władysław Łokietek at various stages of the duke's career.

Culture in the 13th century

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Culturally the 13th century brought a socially much broader impact of the Church, as a network of parishes was established and cathedral-type schools became more common. The leading monastic orders were now the Dominicans and the Franciscans, who interacted closely with the general population. Characteristic of the period was a proliferation of narrative annals, as well as other written records, laws and documents. More of the clergy were of local origin, others were expected to know the Polish language. Their most recognized representative in the intellectual sphere, where there was considerable achievement, is Wincenty Kadłubek, the author of an influential chronicle. A treatise on optics by Witelo, a Silesian monk, was one of the finest achievements of Medieval science. Gothic architecture became the predominant style of churches and castles constructed beginning in the 13th century, and in art forms native elements were increasingly important. Significant advances took place in agriculture, manufacturing and crafts.

Reunited kingdom of the last Piast rulers

The 14th century unified Kingdom of Poland of the last two rulers of the Piast dynasty, Władysław the Elbow-high and his son Casimir the Great, wasn't quite a return of the Polish state from before the fragmentation. The regional Piast princes remained strong and for economic and cultural reasons some of them gravitated toward Poland's neighbors. The Kingdom lost Pomerania and Silesia, the most highly developed and economically important of the ethnically Polish lands (a disputable designation in case of Western Pomeraniamarker), which left half of the Polish population outside the Kingdom's borders. The western losses had to do with the failure of the unification efforts undertaken by the Silesian Piast dukes and the German expansion processes. These included the Piast principalities developing (or falling into) dependencies in respect to the German political structures, settler colonization and gradual Germanization of the Polish ruling circles. The lower Vistula was controlled by the Teutonic Order. Masovia was not to be fully incorporated into the Polish state anytime soon. Casimir stabilized the western and northern borders, tried to regain some of the lost territories, and partially compensated the losses by his new eastern expansion, which placed within his kingdom regions that were ethnically non-Polish.

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Despite the territorial truncation, 14th century Poland experienced a period of accelerated economic development and increasing prosperity. This included further expansion and modernization of agricultural settlements, the development of towns and their increasing role in briskly growing trade, mining and metallurgy. Large scale German and Jewish ethnic presence had become a permanent feature of Poland's urban landscape. A great monetary reform was implemented during the reign of Casimir III.

Władysław I the Elbow-high

Władysław Łokietek (ruled 1305-1333), who started out as a rather obscure Piast duke from Kuyavia, fought a lifelong uphill battle with powerful adversaries with persistence and determination. When Łokietek died as the king of a partially reunited Poland, he left the Kingdom in a precarious situation, with limited area under its control and many unresolved issues, but he may have saved Poland's existence as a state.

Supported by his Hungarian allies Władysław returned from exile and challenged Václav II, and after his death Václav III in 1304-1306. Václav III soon being murdered, Władysław Łokietek took over Lesser Poland and the lands north of there, through Kuyavia all the way to Gdańsk Pomeraniamarker. In 1308 Pomerania was conquered by the Brandenburg state. In a recovery effort Łokietek agreed to ask for help the Teutonic Knights; the Knights brutally took over Gdańsk Pomerania and kept it for themselves. In 1311-1312 a rebellion in Kraków instigated by the city's patrician leadership, seeking a rule by the House of Luxembourg, was put down. This event may have had limiting impact on the emerging political power of towns. In 1313-1314 Władysław conquered Greater Poland. In 1320 Władysław I Łokietek became the first King of Poland crowned not in Gnieznomarker, but in Kraków's Wawel Cathedralmarker. The coronation was hesitantly agreed to by Pope John XXII, despite the opposition from John of Bohemia, who had also claimed the Polish crown. John undertook in 1327 an expedition aimed at Kraków, which he was compelled to abort, and a crusade against Lithuania in 1328, during which he formalized an alliance with the Teutonic Order. The Order was in a state of war with Poland from 1327 to 1332 (see Battle of Płowce); the Knights captured Dobrzyń Land and Kujawy. Władysław was helped by his alliances with Hungarymarker (his daughter Elizabeth was married to King Charles Robert in 1320) and Lithuania (1325 pact against the Teutonic State and the marriage of Łokietek's son Casimir to Aldona, daughter of Lithuanian ruler Gediminas), and from 1329 by a peace agreement with Brandenburg. A lasting achievement of John of Luxembourg (and Poland's greatest loss) was forcing most of the Piast Silesian principalities, often ambivalent about their loyalties, into allegiance.

Casimir III the Great

After Łokietek's death the old monarch's son, King Casimir III, later to be known as Kazimierz the Great (ruled 1333-1370), was a 23 year old, who had no inclination for military life hardships, and by his contemporaries was not given much of a chance for overcoming the country's mounting difficulties or succeeding as a leader. But from the beginning Casimir acted prudently, purchasing in 1335 John's claims to the Polish throne, and after a couple of high-level arbitrations settling in 1343 the disputes with the Teutonic Order by a territorial compromise. Dobrzyń Land and Kuyavia were recovered by Casimir. At that time Poland started to expand to the east and through a series of military campaigns between 1340 and 1366 Casimir had annexed the Halychmarker-Volodymyr area of Rus'. The town of Lvivmarker there attracted newcomers of several nationalities, was granted municipal rights in 1356, and had thus begun its career as Lwówmarker, the main Polish center in the midst of a Rus' Orthodox population. Supported by Hungary, the Polish king in 1338 promised the Hungarian ruling house the Polish throne in the event he dies without male heirs.

Casimir unsuccessfully tried to recover Silesia by conducting military activities against the Luxembourgs between 1343 and 1348, but then blocked the attempted separation of Silesia from the Gnieznomarker Archdiocese by Charles IV. Later until his death he pursued the Polish claim to Silesia legally by petitioning the pope; his successors had not continued his efforts.

Allied with Denmarkmarker and Western Pomerania (Gdańsk Pomerania was granted to the Order as an "eternal charity") Casimir was able to impose some corrections on the western border. In 1365 Drezdenkomarker and Santokmarker became Poland's fiefs, while Wałczmarker district was in 1368 taken outright, severing the land connection between Brandenburg and the Teutonic state and connecting Poland with Farther Pomerania.

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Kazimierz the Great considerably strengthened the country's position in both foreign and domestic affairs. Domestically, he integrated and centralized the reunited Polish state and helped develop what was considered the "Crown of the Polish Kingdom", the state within its actual, as well as past or potential (legal from the Polish point of view) boundaries. Casimir established or strengthened kingdom-wide institutions (such as the powerful state treasury) independent of the regional, class, or royal court related interests. Internationally, the Polish king was very active diplomatically, cultivated close contacts with other European rulers and was a staunch defender of the Polish national interest. In 1364 he sponsored the Congress of Kraków, in which a number of monarchs participated, and which was concerned with the promotion of peaceful cooperation and political balance in Central Europe.

Louis I of Hungary and Jadwiga (Angevin dynasty)

Immediately after Casimir's death in 1370, the heirless king's nephew, Louis of Hungary of the Angevin dynasty assumed the Polish throne. As Casimir's actual commitment to the Angevin succession seemed problematic from the beginning (in 1368 the Polish king adopted his grandson, Casimir of Słupsk), Louis engaged in succession negotiations with Polish knights and nobility starting already in 1351. They supported him, exacting in return further guarantees and privileges for themselves; the formal act was negotiated in Buda in 1355. Right after the coronation Louis left his mother and Casimir's sister Elizabeth in Poland as a regent, himself returning to Hungary.

With the death of Casimir the Great the period of hereditary (Piast) monarchy in Poland ended. The land owners and nobles did not want a strong monarchy; a constitutional monarchy was established between 1370 and 1493 (beginnings of the bicameral General Sejm).

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During the reign of Louis I Poland formed a union with Hungary. In the pact of 1374 known as the Privilege of Koszyce the Polish nobility, granted very extensive concessions, agreed to extend the Angevin succession to Louis' daughters, as Louis also had no sons. Louis' neglect of Polish affairs resulted in the loss of Casimir's territorial gains, including Halychmarker Rus' (recovered by Jadwiga in 1387). This Hungarian-Polish union lasted for twelve years and ended in war. After Louis' death in 1382 and a power struggle that ensued, the Polish nobility decided that Louis' youngest daughter Jadwiga should become the next "King of Poland". Upon their demands Jadwiga arrived in 1384 and was crowned at the age of eleven. The failure of the union of Poland and Hungary paved the way for the union of Lithuania and Poland.

Culture in the 14th century

Many large scale brick building projects were undertaken in the 14th century, in particular during Casimir's reign. These included Gothic churches, castles, urban fortifications and homes of wealthy city residents. Most notable are the many magnificent churches representing the Polish Gothic style. Medieval sculpture, painting and ornamental smithery are well represented, especially as the furnishings of churches and liturgical items. The Polish law was codified 1346-1347 and after 1357 and for conflict resolution legal proceedings were being commonly used domestically, while bilateral or multilateral negotiations and treaties were increasingly important in international relations. The network of cathedral and parish schools had become well developed. In 1364 Casimir the Great, based on a papal concession, established the University of Kraków, the second oldest in central Europe. While many still traveled for university studies to southern and western Europe, the Polish language, along with the predominant Latin, is increasingly present in written documents. The Holy Cross Sermons ( probably early 14th century) constitute possibly the oldest extant Polish prose manuscript.

Jagiellon Era

Jagiellon monarchy

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In 1385 the Union of Krewo was signed between Queen Jadwiga and Jogaila, the Grand Duke of Lithuania (the last pagan state in Europe). The act arranged for their marriage and constituted the beginning of the Polish-Lithuanian Union. The Union strengthened both nations in their shared opposition to the Teutonic Knights and the growing threat of the Grand Duchy of Moscow. Vast expanses of Rus' lands, extending south to the Black Seamarker, were at that time under Lithuanian control. The Union's intention was to create a common state under King Władysław Jagiełło, but the Polish ruling oligarchy's idea of incorporation of Lithuania into Poland turned out to be unrealistic. There were going to be territorial disputes and warfare between Poland and Lithuaniamarker or Lithuanian factions; the Lithuanians at times had even found it expedient to conspire with the Teutonic Knights against the Poles. Geographic consequences of the personal union and the preferences of the Jagiellon kings accelerated the process of reorientation of Polish territorial priorities to the east.

Between 1386 and 1572 Poland and Lithuania, joined until 1569 by a personal union, were ruled by a succession of constitutional monarchs of the Jagiellon dynasty. The political influence of the Jagiellon kings was diminishing during this period, which was accompanied by the ever increasing role in central government and national affairs of landed nobility. The royal dynasty however had a stabilizing effect on Poland's politics. The Jagiellon Era is often regarded as a period of maximum political power, great prosperity, and in its later stage, the Golden Age of Polish culture.

Social and economic developments

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The 13th and 14th century feudal rent system, under which each estate had well defined rights and obligations, degenerated around the 15th century, as the nobility tightened their control of the production, trade and other economic activities, created many directly owned agricultural enterprises known as folwarks (feudal rent payments were being replaced with forced labor on lord's land), limited the rights of the cities and pushed most of the peasants into serfdom. Such practices were increasingly sanctioned by the law. For example the Piotrkówmarker Privilege of 1496, granted by King Jan Olbracht, banned rural land purchases by townspeople and severely limited the ability of peasant farmers to leave their villages. Polish towns, lacking national representation protecting their class interests, preserved some degree of self-government (city councils and jury courts), and the trades were able to organize and form guilds. The nobility soon excused themselves from their principal duty - mandatory military service in case of war (pospolite ruszenie). The nobility's split into two main layers was institutionalized (never legally formalized) in the Nihil novi "constitution" of 1505, which required the king to consult the sejm, that is the senate (highest level officials), as well as the lower chamber of (regional) deputies, before enacting any changes. The masses of ordinary szlachta competed or tried to compete against the uppermost rank of their class, the magnates, for the duration of Poland's independent existence.

Poland and Lithuania in personal union under Jogaila

The first king of the new dynasty was the Grand Duke of Lithuania Jogaila, or Władysław II Jagiełło as the King of Poland. He was elected a king of Poland in 1386, after becoming a Catholic Christian and marrying Jadwiga of Anjou, daughter of Louis I, who was Queen of Poland in her own right. Latin Rite Christianization of Lithuania followed. Jogaila's rivalry in Lithuania with his cousin Vytautas, opposed to Lithuania's domination by Poland, was settled in 1392 and in 1401 in the Union of Vilnius and Radom: Vytautas became the Grand Duke of Lithuania for life under Jogaila's nominal supremacy. The agreement made possible close cooperation between the two nations, necessary to succeed in the upcoming struggle with the Teutonic Order. The Union of Horodło (1413) specified the relationship further and had granted privileges to the Roman Catholic (as opposed to Eastern Orthodox) portion of Lithuanian nobility.

Struggle with the Teutonic Knights

[[Image:Poland under Jagello.jpg|thumb|right|250 px|Poland (red) and Lithuania (blue) underJogaila or King Władysław Jagiełło after 1411]]

The Great War of 1409-1411, precipitated by the Lithuanian uprising in the Order controlled Samogitia, included the Battle of Grunwaldmarker (Tannenberg), where the Polish and Lithuanian-Rus' armies completely defeated the Teutonic Knights. The offensive that followed lost its impact with the ineffective siege of Malborkmarker (Marienburg). The failure to take the fortress and eliminate the Teutonic (later Prussiamarker) state had for Poland dire historic consequences in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. The Peace of Thorn had given Poland and Lithuania rather modest territorial adjustments, including Samogitia. Afterwards there were negotiations and peace deals that didn't hold, more military campaigns and arbitrations. One attempted, unresolved arbitration took place at the Council of Constancemarker. There in 1415 Paulus Vladimiri, rector of the Kraków Academy, presented his Treatise on the Power of the Pope and the Emperor in respect to Infidels, where he advocated tolerance, criticized the violent conversion methods of the Teutonic Knights, and postulated that pagans have the right to peaceful coexistence with Christians and political independence. This stage of the Polish-Lithuanian conflict with the Teutonic Order ended with the Treaty of Melnomarker in 1422. Another war (see Battle of Pabaiskasmarker) was concluded in the Peace of Brześć Kujawski in 1435.

Hussite movement; Polish-Hungarian union

During the Hussite Wars (1420-1434) Jagiełło, Vytautas and Sigismund Korybut were invoved in political and military maneuvering concerning the Czech crown, offered by the Hussites first to Jagiełło in 1420. Zbigniew Oleśnicki became known as the leading opponent of a union with the Hussite Czech state.

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The Jagiellon dynasty was not entitled to automatic hereditary succession, as each new king had to be approved by nobility consensus. Władysław Jagiełło had two sons late in his life, from his last marriage. In 1430 the nobility agreed to the succession of the future Władysław III, only after the King gave in and guaranteed the satisfaction of their new demands. In 1434 the old monarch died and his minor son Władysław was crowned; the Royal Council led by Bishop Oleśnicki undertook the regency duties.

In 1438 the Czech anti-Habsburg opposition, mainly Hussite factions, offered the Czech crown to Jagiełło's younger son Casimir. The idea, accepted in Poland over Oleśnicki's objections, resulted in two unsuccessful Polish military expeditions to Bohemia.

After Vytautas' death in 1430 Lithuania became embroiled in internal wars and conflicts with Poland. Casimir sent as a boy by King Władysław on a mission there in 1440, was surprisingly proclaimed a Grand Duke of Lithuania, and stayed in Lithuania.

Oleśnicki gained the upper hand again and pursued his long-term objective of Poland's union with Hungarymarker. At that time Turkeymarker embarked on a new round of European conquests and threatened Hungary, which needed the powerful Polish-Lithuanian ally. Władysław III in 1440 assumed also the Hungarian throne. Influenced by Julian Cesarini, the young king led the Hungarian army against the Ottoman Empire in 1443 and again in 1444. Like his mentor, Władysław Warneńczyk was killed at the Battle of Varnamarker.

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Beginning toward the end of Jagiełło's life, Poland was practically governed by a magnate oligarchy led by Oleśnicki. The rule of the dignitaries was actively opposed by various szlachta groups. Their leader Spytek of Melsztyn was killed during an armed confrontation in 1439, which allowed Oleśnicki to purge Poland of the remaining Hussite sympathizers and pursue his other objectives without significant opposition.

Casimir IV Jagiellon

In 1445 Casimir, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, was asked to assume the Polish throne vacated by the death of his brother Władysław. Casimir was a tough negotiator and did not accept the Polish nobility's conditions for his election. He finally arrived in Poland and was crowned in 1447 on his terms. Becoming a King of Poland Casimir also freed himself from the control the Lithuanian oligarchy had imposed on him; in the Vilniusmarker Privilege of 1447 he declared the Lithuanian nobility having equal rights with Polish szlachta. In time Kazimierz Jagiellończyk was able to remove from power Cardinal Oleśnicki and his group, basing his own power on the younger middle nobility camp instead. A conflict with the pope and the local Church hierarchy over the right to fill vacant bishop positions Casimir also resolved in his favor.

War with the Teutonic Order and its resolution

In 1454 the Prussian Confederation, an alliance of Prussian cities and nobility opposed to the increasingly oppressive rule of the Teutonic Knights, asked King Casimir to take over Prussia and stirred up an armed uprising against the Knights. Casimir declared a war on the Order and a formal incorporation of Prussia into the Polish Crown; those events led to the Thirteen Years War. The weakness of pospolite ruszenie (the szlachta wouldn't cooperate without new across-the-board concessions from Casimir) prevented a takeover of all of Prussia, but in the Second Peace of Thorn the Knights had to surrender the western half of their territory to the Polish crown (the areas known afterwards as Royal Prussia, a semi-autonomous entity), and to accept Polish-Lithuanian suzerainty over the remainder (the later Ducal Prussiamarker). Poland regained Gdańsk Pomeraniamarker and with it the all-important access to the Baltic Seamarker, as well as Warmia. In addition to land warfare, naval battles had taken place, where ships provided by the City of Gdańsk successfully fought Danishmarker and Teutonic fleets.

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Other 15th century Polish territorial gains, or rather revindications, included the Duchy of Oświęcim and Duchy of Zator on Silesia's border with Lesser Poland, and there was notable progress regarding the incorporation of the Piast Masovian duchies into the Crown.

The influence of the Jagiellon dynasty in Central Europe had been on the rise. In 1471 Casimir's son Władysław became a king od Bohemia, and in 1490 also of Hungary.

Turkish and Tatar wars

The southern and eastern outskirts of Poland and Lithuania became threatened by Turkish invasions beginning in the late 15th century. Moldavia's involvement with Poland goes back to 1387, when Petru I, Hospodar of Moldavia, seeking protection against the Hungarians, paid Jagiełło homage in Lvivmarker, which gave Poland access to the Black Seamarker ports. In 1485 King Casimir undertook an expedition into Moldavia, after its seaports were overtaken by the Ottoman Turks. The Turkish controlled Crimean Tatars raided the eastern territories in 1482 and 1487, until they were confronted by King Jan Olbracht, Casimir's son and successor. Poland was attacked in 1487-1491 by remnants of the Golden Horde. They had invaded into Poland as far as Lublinmarker before being beaten at Zaslavlmarker. King John Albert in 1497 made an attempt to resolve the Turkish problem militarily, but his efforts were unsuccessful as he was unable to secure effective participation in the war by his brothers, King Ladislaus II of Bohemia and Hungary and Alexander, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, and because of the resistance on the part of Stephen the Great, the ruler of Moldavia. More Ottoman Empire instigated destructive Tatar raids took place in 1498, 1499 and 1500. John Albert's diplomatic peace efforts that followed were finalized after the king's death in 1503, resulting in a territorial compromise and an unstable truce.

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Crimean Khanate invasions in Poland and Lithuania continued also during the reign of King Alexander in 1502 and 1506; in 1506 the Tatars were defeated at the Battle of Kletsk by Michael Glinski.

Moscow's threat to Lithuania; Sigismund I

Lithuania was increasingly threatened by the growing power of the Grand Duchy of Moscow. Through the campaigns of 1471, 1492 and 1500 Moscow took over much of Lithuania's eastern possessions. The Grand Duke Alexander was elected King of Poland in 1501 after the death of John Albert. In 1506 he was succeeded by Sigismund I the Old (Zygmunt I Stary) in both Poland and Lithuania, as the political realities were drawing the two states closer together. Prior to that Sigismund had been a Duke of Silesia by the authority of his brother Ladislaus II, but like other Jagiellon rulers before him, he had not pursued the Polish Crown's claim to Silesia.

Culture in the Late Middle Ages

The culture of the 15th century Poland was still mostly medieval. Under favorable social and economic conditions the crafts and industries in existence already in the preceding centuries became more highly developed, and their products were much more widespread. Paper production was one of the new industries, and printing developed during the last quarter of the century. In 1473 Kasper Straube produced in Kraków the first Latin print, in 1475 in Wrocław marker Kasper Elyan printed for the first time in Polish, and after 1490 from Schweipolt Fiol's shop in Kraków came the world's oldest prints in the Cyrillic alphabet, namely Old Church Slavonic language religious texts.

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Luxury items were in high demand among the increasingly prosperous nobility, and to a lesser degree among the wealthy town merchants. Brick and stone residential buildings became common, but only in cities. The mature Gothic style was represented not only in architecture, but also prominently in sacral wooden sculpture. The altar of Veit Stoss in St. Mary's Churchmarker in Kraków is one of the most magnificent in Europe art works of its kind.

The Kraków University, which stopped functioning after the death of Casimir the Great, was renewed and rejuvenated around 1400. Augmented by a theology department, the "academy" was supported and protected by Queen Jadwiga and the Jagiellon dynasty members, which is reflected in its present name. Europe's oldest department of mathematics and astronomy was established in 1405. Among the university's prominent scholars were Stanisław of Skarbimierz, Paulus Vladimiri and Albert of Brudzewo, Copernicus' teacher.

The precursors of Polish humanism, John of Ludzisko and Gregory of Sanok, were professors at the university. Scholarly thought elsewhere is represented by Jan Ostroróg, a political publicist and reformist, and Jan Długosz, a historian, whose Annals is the largest in Europe history work of his time and a fundamental source for history of medieval Poland. There were also distinguished and influential foreign humanists, among them Filippo Buonaccorsi, a poet and diplomat, who arrived from Italy in 1468 and stayed in Poland until his death in 1496. Kallimach wrote the lives of Gregory of Sanok, Zbigniew Oleśnicki, and very likely that of Jan Długosz. He tutored and mentored the sons of Casimir IV and postulated unrestrained royal power.

Agriculture based economic expansion

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The folwark, a serfdom based large-scale farm and agricultural business, was a dominant feature on Poland's economic landscape beginning in the late 15th century and for the next 300 years. This dependence on nobility-controlled agriculture diverged the ways of central-eastern Europe from those of the western part of the continent, where, in contrast, elements of capitalism and industrialization were developing to a much greater extent than in the East, with the attendant growth of the bourgeoisie class and its political influence. The combination of the 16th century agricultural trade boom in Europe, with the free or cheap peasant labor available, made during that period the folwark economy very profitable.

The 16th century saw also further development of mining and metallurgy and technical progress took place in various commercial applications. Great quantities of exported agricultural and forest products floated down the rivers and transported by land routes resulted in positive trade balance throughout the 16th century. Imports from the West included industrial and luxury products and fabrics.

Most of the grain exported was leaving Poland through Gdańskmarker (Danzig), which because of its location at the terminal point of the Vistula and its tributaries waterway and of its Balticmarker seaport trade role became the wealthiest, most highly developed, and most autonomous of the Polish cities, as well as by far the largest center of crafts and manufacturing . Other towns were negatively affected by Gdańsk's near-monopoly in foreign trade, but profitably participated in transit and export activities. The largest of them were Krakówmarker, Poznańmarker, Lwówmarker (Lviv), and Warszawamarker, and outside of the Crown, Wrocławmarker (Breslau). Toruńmarker (Thorn) and Elblągmarker (Elbing) were the main, after Gdańsk, cities in Royal Prussia.

Burghers and nobles

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During the 16th century prosperous patrician families of merchants, bankers, or industrial investors, many of German origin, still conducted large-scale business operations in Europe or lent money to noble interests, including the royal court. Some regions were relatively highly urbanized, for example in Greater Poland and Lesser Poland at the end of the 16th century 30% of the population lived in cities. The townspeople's upper layer was ethnically multinational and tended to be well-educated. Numerous burgher sons studied at the Academy of Kraków and at foreign universities; members of their group are among the finest contributors to the culture of the Polish Renaissance. Unable to form their own nationwide political class, many, despite the legal obstacles, melted into the nobility.

The nobility or szlachta in Poland constituted a greater proportion (up to 10%) of the population, than in other European countries. In principle they were all equal and politically empowered, but some had no property and were not allowed to hold offices, or participate in sejms or sejmiks, the legislative bodies. Of the "landed" nobility some possessed a small patch of land which they tended themselves and lived like peasant families (mixed marriages gave some peasants one of the few possible paths to nobility), while the magnates owned dukedom-like networks of estates with several hundred towns and villages and many thousands of subjects. The 16th century Poland was a "republic of nobles", and it was the nobility's "middle class" that formed the leading component during the later Jagiellon period and afterwards, but the magnates held the highest state and church offices. At that time szlachta in Poland and Lithuania was ethnically diversified and belonged to various religious denominations. During this period of tolerance such factors had little bearing on one's economic status or career potential. Jealous of their class privilege ("freedoms"), the Renaissance szlachta developed a sense of public service duties, educated their youth, took keen interest in current trends and affairs and traveled widely. While the Golden Age of Polish Culture adopted the western humanism and Renaissance patterns, the style of the nobles beginning in the second half of the century acquired a distinctly eastern flavor. Visiting foreigners often remarked on the splendor of the residencies and consumption-oriented lifestyle of wealthy Polish nobles.


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In a situation analogous with that of other European countries, the progressive internal decay of the Polish Church created conditions favorable for the dissemination of the Reformation ideas and currents. For example, there was a chasm between the lower clergy and the nobility-based Church hierarchy, which was quite laicized and preoccupied with temporal issues, such as power and wealth, often corrupt. The middle nobility, which had already been exposed to the Hussite reformist persuasion, increasingly looked at the Church's many privileges with envy and hostility.

The teachings of Martin Luther were accepted most readily in the regions with strong German connections: Silesia, Greater Poland, Pomerania and Prussia. In Gdańskmarker in 1525 a lower-class Lutheran social uprising took place, bloodily subdued by Sigismund I; after the reckoning he established a representation for the plebeian interests as a segment of the city government. Königsbergmarker and the Duchy of Prussiamarker under Albrecht Hohenzollern became a strong center of Protestant propaganda dissemination affecting all of northern Poland and Lithuania. Sigismund I quickly reacted against the "religious novelties", issuing his first related edict in 1520, banning any promotion of the Lutheran ideology, or even foreign trips to the Lutheran centers. Such attempted (poorly enforced) prohibitions continued until 1543. Sigismund's son Sigismund II Augustus (Zygmunt II August), a monarch of a much more tolerant attitude, guaranteed the freedom of the Lutheran religion practice in all of Royal Prussia by 1559. Besides Lutheranism, which, within the Polish Crown, ultimately found substantial following mainly in the cities of Royal Prussia and western Greater Poland, the teachings of the persecuted Anabaptists and Unitarians, and in Greater Poland the Czech Brothers, were met, at least among szlachta, with a more sporadic response.

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Calvinism on the other hand, in mid 16th century gained many followers among both the szlachta and the magnates, especially in Lesser Poland and Lithuania. The Calvinists, who led by Jan Łaski were working on unification of the Protestant churches, proposed the establishment of a Polish national church, under which all Christian denominations, including Eastern Orthodox, would be united. After 1555 Sigismund II, who accepted their ideas, sent an envoy to the pope, but the papacy rejected the various Calvinist postulates. Łaski and several other Calvinist scholars published in 1563 the Bible of Brest, a complete Polish Bible translation from the original languages, an undertaking financed by Mikołaj Radziwiłł the Black. After 1563-1565 (the abolishment of state enforcement of the Church jurisdiction) full religious tolerance became the norm. The Polish Catholic Church emerged from this critical period weakened, but not badly damaged (the bulk of the Church property was preserved), which facilitated the later success of Counter-Reformation.

Among the Calvinists, who also included the lower classes and their leaders, ministers of common background, disagreements soon developed, based on different views in the areas of religious and social doctrines. The official split took place in 1562, when two separate churches were officially established, the mainstream Calvinist, and the smaller, more reformist, known as the Polish Brethren or Arians. The adherents of the radical wing of the Polish Brethren promoted, often by way of personal example, the ideas of social justice. Many Arians (Piotr of Goniądz, Jan Niemojewski) were pacifists opposed to private property, serfdom, state authority and military service; through communal living some had implemented the ideas of shared usage of the land and other property. A major Polish Brethren congregation and center of activities was established in 1569 in Rakówmarker near Kielcemarker, and lasted until 1638, when Counter-Reformation had it closed. The notable Sandomierz Agreement of 1570, an act of compromise and cooperation among several Polish Protestant denominations, excluded the Arians, whose more moderate, larger faction toward the end of the century gained the upper hand within the movement.

The act of the Warsaw Confederation, which took place during the convocation sejm of 1573, provided guarantees, at least for the nobility, of religious freedom and peace. It gave the Protestant denominations, including the Polish Brethren, formal rights for many decades to come. Uniquely in 16th century Europe, it turned the Commonwealth, in the words of Cardinal Stanislaus Hosius, a Catholic reformer, into a "safe haven for heretics".

Culture of Polish Renaissance

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The Polish "Golden Age", the 16th century, is most often identified with the rise of the culture of Polish Renaissance. As was the case with other European nations, the Renaissance inspiration came in the first place from Italymarker. Many Poles traveled to Italy to study and to learn its culture. As imitating Italian ways became very trendy (the royal courts of the last two Jagiellon kings provided the leadership and example for everybody else), many Italian artists and thinkers were coming to Poland, some settling and working there for many years. While the pioneering Polish humanists, greatly influenced by Erasmus of Rotterdam, accomplished the preliminary assimilation of the antiquity culture, the generation that followed was able to put greater emphasis on the development of native elements, and because of its social diversity, advanced the process of national integration.

Beginning in 1473 in Kraków, the printing business kept growing. By the turn of the 17th century there were about 20 printing houses within the Commonwealth, 8 in Krakówmarker, the rest mostly in Gdańskmarker, Toruńmarker and Zamośćmarker. The Academy of Kraków and Sigismund II possessed well-stocked libraries; smaller collections were increasingly common at the noble courts, schools and townspeople's households. Illiteracy levels were falling, as by the end of the century almost every parish ran a school.

The Lubrański Academymarker, an institution of higher learning, was established in Poznańmarker in 1519. The Reformation resulted in the establishment of a number of gymnasiums, academically oriented secondary schools, some of international renown, as the Protestant denominations wanted to attract supporters by offering high quality education. The Catholic reaction was the creation of Jesuit colleges of comparable quality. The Kraków University in turn responded with humanist program gymnasiums of its own.

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The university itself experienced a period of prominence at the turn of the 16th century, when especially the mathematics, astronomy and geography faculties attracted numerous students from abroad. Latin, Greek, Hebrew and their literatures were likewise popular. By mid 16th century the institution entered a crisis stage, and by early 17th century regressed into Counter-reformational conformism. The Jesuits took advantage of the infighting and established in 1579 a university college in Vilniusmarker, but their efforts aimed at taking over the Academy of Kraków were unsuccessful. Under the circumstances many elected to pursue their studies abroad.

Zygmunt I Stary, who built the presently existing Wawelmarker Renaissance castle, and his son Sigismund II Augustus, supported intellectual and artistic activities and surrounded themselves with the creative elite. Their patronage example was followed by ecclesiastic and lay feudal lords, and by patricians in major towns.

The Polish science reached its culmination in the first half of the 16th century. The medieval point of view was criticized, more rational explanations were attempted. Copernicus' De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, published in Nurembergmarker in 1543, shook up the traditional value system extended into an understanding of the physical universe, setting free the explosion of scientific inquiry.

Nicolaus Copernicus, a son of a Toruńmarker trader who moved there from Kraków, exemplifies in his life pursuits Renaissance versatility. His scientific creativity was inspired at the University of Kraków, then at its prime; later he also studied at Italian universities. Copernicus wrote Latin poetry, developed an economic theory, functioned as a cleric-administrator, political activist in Prussian sejmiks, led the defense of Olsztyn against the forces of Albrecht Hohenzollern. He worked on his scientific theory for many years at Fromborkmarker, where he died.

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Josephus Struthius became famous as a physician and medical researcher. Bernard Wapowski was a pioneer of Polish cartography. Maciej Miechowita, a rector at the Cracowmarker Academy, wrote Tractatus de duabus Sarmatiis, a treatise on the geography of the East, the area in which Polish investigators provided first-hand expertise for the rest of Europe. Later Jan Brożek, another rector, was a multidisciplinary scholar, who worked on number theory and promoted Copernicus' work, banned from 1616 by the Church; his anti-Jesuit pamphlet was publicly burned. Brożek's co-worker, Stanisław Pudłowski, worked on a system of measurements based on physical phenomena.

Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski was one of the greatest in Renaissance Europe theorists of political thought. His most famous work, On the Improvement of the Commonwealth, was published in Kraków in 1551. Modrzewski criticized the feudal societal relations and proposed broad realistic reforms. He postulated that all social classes should be subjected to the law to the same degree, and wanted to moderate the existing inequities. Modrzewski, an influential and often translated author, was a passionate proponent of peaceful resolution of international conflicts.

Generally the prominent scientists of the period resided in many different regions of the country, and increasingly, the majority were of the urban, rather than noble origin.

The modern Polish literature begins in the 16th century. At that time the nationwide Polish language, common to all educated groups, matured and penetrated all areas of public life, including municipal institutions, the legal code, the Church etc., coexisting for a while with Latin. Klemens Janicki, one of the Renaissance Latin language poets, laureate of a papal distinction, was of the peasant origin. Another plebeian author, Biernat of Lublin, wrote in Polish his own version of Aesop's fables, permeated with his socially radical views.

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The literary Polish language breakthrough came under the influence of Reformation with the writings of Mikołaj Rej. In his Brief Discourse, a satire published in 1543, he defends a serf from a priest and a noble, but in his later works he often celebrates the joys of the peaceful but privileged life of a country gentleman. Rej, whose legacy is his unbashful promotion of the Polish language, left a great variety of literary pieces.

Łukasz Górnicki, an author and translator, perfected the Polish prose of the period. His contemporary and friend Jan Kochanowski became one of the greatest Polish poets of all times.

Kochanowski was born in 1530 into a prosperous noble family. In his youth he studied at the universities of Kraków, Königsberg and Padua and traveled extensively in Europe. He worked for a period as a royal secretary, and then settled in the village of Czarnolasmarker, a part of his family inheritance. Kochanowski's multifaceted creative output is remarkable for both the depth of thoughts and feelings that he shares with the reader, and for its beauty and classic perfection of form. Among Kochanowski's best known works are bucolic Frascas (trifles), epic poetry, religious lyrics, drama-tragedy The Dismissal of the Greek Envoys, and the most highly regarded Threnodies or laments, written after the death of his young daughter.

The poet Mikołaj Sęp Szarzyński, an intellectually refined master of small forms, bridges the late Renaissance and early Baroque artistic periods.

Following the European and Italian in particular musical trends, the Renaissance music was developing in Poland, centered around the royal court patronage and branching from there. Sigismund I kept from 1543 a permanent choir at the Wawel castle, while Reformation brought large scale group Polish language church singing during the services. Jan of Lublin wrote o comprehensive tablature for the organ and other keyboard instruments. Among the composers, who often permeated their music with national and folk elements, were Wacław of Szamotuły, Mikołaj Gomółka, who wrote music to Kochanowski translated psalms, and Mikołaj Zieliński, who enriched the Polish music by adopting the Venetian School polyphonic style.

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Likewise under the Italian influence were architecture, sculpture and painting, from the beginning of the 16th century. A number of professionals from Tuscany arrived and worked as royal artists in Kraków. Francesco Fiorentino worked on the tomb of Jan Olbracht already from 1502, and then together with Bartolommeo Berrecci and Benedykt from Sandomierz rebuilt the royal castlemarker, which was accomplished between 1507 and 1536. Berrecci also built Sigismund's Chapelmarker at Wawel Cathedral. Polish magnates, Silesian Piast princes in Brzegmarker, and even Kraków merchants (by mid 16th century their class economically gained strength nationwide) built or rebuilt their residencies to make them resemble the Wawel Castle. Kraków's Sukiennicemarker and Poznań City Hallmarker are among numerous buildings rebuilt in the Renaissance manner, but Gothic construction continued alongside for a number of decades.

Between 1580 and 1600 Jan Zamoyski commissioned the Venetian architect Bernardo Morando to build the city of Zamośćmarker. The town and its fortifications were designed to consistently implement the Renaissance and Mannerism aesthetic paradigms.

Tombstone sculpture, often inside churches, is richly represented on graves of clergy and lay dignitaries and other wealthy individuals. Jan Maria Padovano and Jan Michałowicz of Urzędów count among the prominent artists.

Painted illuminations in Balthasar Behem Codex are of exceptional quality, but draw their inspiration largely from Gothic art. Stanisław Samostrzelnik, a monk in the Cistercian monastery in Mogiła near Kraków, painted miniatures and polychromed wall frescos.

Republic of middle nobility; execution movement

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During the reign of Sigismund I, szlachta in the lower chamber of the General Sejm (from 1493 a bicameral legislative body), initially decidedly outnumbered by their more privileged colleagues from the senate (which is what the appointed for life prelates and barons of the royal council were being called now), acquired a more numerous and fully elected representation. Sigismund however preferred to rule with the help of the magnates, pushing szlachta into the "opposition".

After the Nihil novi act of 1505, a collection of laws known as Łaski's Statutes was published in 1506 and distributed to Polish courts. The legal pronouncements, intended to facilitate the functioning of a uniform and centralized state, with ordinary szlachta privileges strongly protected, were frequently ignored by the kings, beginning with Sigismund I, and the upper nobility or church interests. This situation became the basis for the formation around 1520 of the szlachta's execution movement, for the complete codification and execution, or enforcement, of the laws.

In 1518 Sigismund I married Bona Sforza d'Aragona, a young, strong-minded Italian princess. Bona's sway over the king and the magnates, her efforts to strengthen the monarch's political position, financial situation, and especially the measures she took to advance her personal and dynastic interests, including the forced royal election of the minor Sigismund Augustus in 1529 and his premature coronation in 1530, increased the discontent among szlachta activists.

The opposition middle szlachta movement came up with a constructive reform program during the Kraków sejm of 1538/1539. Among the movement's demands were termination of the kings' practice of alienation of royal domain, giving or selling land estates to great lords at the monarch' discretion, and a ban on concurrent holding of multiple state offices by the same person, both legislated initially in 1504. Sigismund I's unwillingness to move toward the implementation of the reformers' goals negatively affected the country's financial and defensive capabilities.

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The relationship with szlachta had only gotten worse during the early years of the reign of Sigismund II Augustus and remained bad until 1562. Sigismund Augustus' secret marriage with Barbara Radziwiłł in 1547, before his accession to the throne, was strongly opposed by his mother Bona and by the magnates of the Crown. Sigismund, who took over the reign after his father's death in 1548, overcame the resistance and had Barbara crowned in 1550; a few months later the new queen died. Bona, estranged from her son returned to Italy in 1556, where she died soon afterwards.

The sejm, until 1573 summoned by the king at his discretion (for example when he needed funds to wage a war), composed of the two chambers presided over by the monarch, became in the course of the 16th century the main organ of the state power. The reform-minded execution movement had its chance to take on the magnates and the church hierarchy (and take steps to restrain their abuse of power and wealth) when Sigismund Augustus switched sides and lent them his support at the sejm of 1562. During this and several more sessions of the parliament, within the next decade or so, the Reformation inspired szlachta was able to push through a variety of reforms, which resulted in a fiscally more sound, better governed, more centralized and territorially unified Polish state. Some of the changes were too modest, other had never become completely implemented (e. g. recovery of the usurped Crown land), but nevertheless for the time being the middle szlachta movement was victorious.

Mikołaj Sienicki, a Protestant activist, was a parliamentary leader of the execution movement and one of the organizers of the Warsaw Confederation.

Resources and strategic objectives

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Despite the favorable economic development, the military potential of 16th century Poland was modest in relation to the challenges and threats coming from several directions, which included the Ottoman Empire, the Teutonic state, the Habsburgs, and Muscovy. Given the declining military value and willingness of pospolite ruszenie, the bulk of the forces available consisted of professional and mercenary soldiers. Their number and provision depended on szlachta-approved funding (self-imposed taxation and other sources) and tended to be insufficient for any combination of adversaries. The quality of the forces and their command was good, as demonstrated by victories against a seemingly overwhelming enemy. The attainment of strategic objectives was supported by a well-developed service of knowledgeable diplomats and emissaries. Because of the limited resources at the state's disposal, the Jagiellon Poland had to concentrate on the area most crucial for its security and economic interests, which was the strengthening of Poland's position along the Balticmarker coast.

Prussia; struggle for Baltic area domination

The Peace of Thorn of 1466 reduced the Teutonic Knights, but brought no lasting solution to the problem they presented for Poland and their state avoided paying the prescribed tribute. The chronically difficult relations had gotten worse after the 1511 election of Albrecht as Grand Master of the Order. Faced with Albrecht's rearmament and hostile alliances, Poland waged a war in 1519; the war ended in 1521, when mediation by Charles V resulted in a truce. As a compromise move Albrecht, persuaded by Martin Luther, initiated a process of secularization of the Order and the establishment of a lay duchy of Prussia, as Poland's dependency, ruled by Albrecht and afterwards by his descendants. The terms of the proposed pact immediately improved Poland's Baltic region situation, and at that time also appeared to protect the country's long-term interests. The treaty was concluded in 1525 in Kraków; the remaining state of the Teutonic Knights (East Prussia centered on Königsbergmarker) was converted into the Protestant (Lutheran) Duchy of Prussiamarker under the King of Poland and the homage act of the new Prussian duke in Kraków followed.

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In reality the House of Hohenzollern of which Albrecht was a member, the ruling family of the Margraviate of Brandenburg, had been actively expanding its territorial influence, for example already in the 16th century in Farther Pomerania and Silesia. Motivated by a current political expediency, Sigismund Augustus in 1563 allowed the Brandenburg elector branch of the Hohenzollerns, excluded under the 1525 agreement, to inherit the Prussian fiefmarker rule. The decision, confirmed by the 1569 sejm, made the future union of Prussia with Brandenburg possible. Sigismind II, unlike his successors, was however careful to assert his supremacy. The Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth, ruled after 1572 by elective kings, was even less able to counteract the growing importance of the dynastically active Hohenzollerns.

In 1568 Sigismund Augustus, who had already embarked on a war fleet enlargement program, established the Maritime Commission. A conflict with the City of Gdańskmarker, which felt that its monopolistic trade position was threatened, ensued. In 1569 Royal Prussia had its legal autonomy largely taken away, and in 1570 Poland's supremacy over Gdańsk and the Polish King's authority over the Balticmarker shipping trade were regulated and received statutory recognition (Karnkowski's Statutes).

Wars with Moscow

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In the 16th century the Grand Duchy of Moscow continued activities aimed at unifying the old Rus' lands still under Lithuanian rule. Under Vasili III Moscow fought a war with Lithuania and Poland between 1512 and 1522, during which in 1514 the Russians took Smolenskmarker. The same year the Polish-Lithuanian rescue expedition (see Battle of Orsha) stopped their further advances, and an armistice took effect in 1522. Another round of fighting took place during 1534-1537, followed by over two decades of peace.

The Jagiellons and the Habsburgs; Ottoman Empire expansion

In 1515, during a congress in Viennamarker, a dynastic succession arrangement was agreed to between Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor and the Jagiellon brothers, Vladislas II of Bohemia and Hungary and Sigismund I of Poland and Lithuania. It was supposed to end the Emperor's support for Poland's enemies, the Teutonic and Russian states, but after the election of Charles V, Maximilian's successor in 1519, the relations with Sigismund had worsened.

The Jagiellon rivalry with the House of Habsburg in central Europe was ultimately resolved to the Habsburgs' advantage. The decisive factor that damaged or weakened the monarchies of the last Jagiellons was the Ottoman Empire's Turkish expansion. Hungary's vulnerability greatly increased after Suleiman the Magnificent took the Belgrademarker fortress in 1521. To prevent Poland from extending military aid to Hungary, Suleiman had a Tatar-Turkish force raid southeastern Poland-Lithuania in 1524. The Hungarian army was defeated in 1526 at the Battle of Mohácsmarker, where young Louis II Jagiellon, the son of Vladislas II, was killed.

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The 1526 death of Janusz III of Masovia, the last of the Masovian Piast dukes line (a remnant of the fragmentation period divisions), enabled Sigismund I to finalize the incorporation of Masovia into the Crown in 1529.

From the early 16th century the Pokuttya border region was contested by Poland and Moldavia (see Battle of Obertyn). A peace with Moldavia took effect in 1538 and Pokuttya remained Polish. An "eternal peace" with the Ottoman Empire was negotiated by Poland in 1533 to secure frontier areas. Moldavia had fallen under Turkish domination, but Polish-Lithuanian magnates remained actively involved there. Sigismund II Augustus even claimed "jurisdiction" and in 1569 accepted formal, short-lived suzerainty over Moldavia.

Livonia; struggle for Baltic area domination

Because of its desire to control Livonian Baltic seaports, especially Rigamarker, and other economic reasons, in the 16th century the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was becoming increasingly interested in extending its territorial rule to Livonia, a country, by the 1550s largely Lutheran, traditionally ruled by the Brothers of the Sword knightly order. This put Poland and Lithuania on a collision course with Moscow and other powers, which had also attempted expansion in that area.

Soon after the 1525 Kraków treaty, Albrech Hohenzollern, seeking a dominant position for his brother Wilhelm, the Archbishop of Riga, planned a Polish-Lithuanian fief in Livonia. What happened instead was the establishment of a Livonian pro-Polish-Lithuanian party or faction. Internal fighting in Livonia took place when the Grand Master of the Brothers concluded in 1554 a treaty with Moscow, declaring his state's neutrality regarding the Russian-Lithuanian conflict. Supported by Albrecht and the magnates Sigismund II declared a war on the Order. Grand Master Wilhelm von Fürstenberg accepted the Polish-Lithuanian conditions without a fight, and according to the 1557 Poswolmarker treaty, a military alliance obliged the Livonian state to support Lithuania against Moscow.

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Other powers aspiring to the Livonian Baltic access responded with partitioning of the Livonian statemarker, which triggered the lengthy Livonian War, fought between 1558 and 1583. Ivan IV of Russia took Dorpatmarker and Narvamarker in 1558, and soon the Danesmarker and Swedesmarker had occupied other parts of the country. To protect the integrity of their country, the Livonians now sought a union with the Polish-Lithuanian state. Gotthard Kettler, the new Grand Master, met in Vilniusmarker with Sigismund Augustus in 1561 and declared Livonia a vassal state under the Polish King. The agreement of November 28 called for secularization of the Brothers of the Sword Order and incorporation of the newly established Duchy of Livoniamarker into the "Republic" as an autonomous entity. Under the Union of Vilnius the Duchy of Courland and Semigalliamarker was also created as a separate fief, to be ruled by Kettler. Sigismund II obliged himself to recover the parts of Livonia lost to Moscow and the Baltic powers, which had led to grueling wars with Russia (1558-1570 and 1577-1582) and heavy struggles having to do also with the fundamental issues of control of the Baltic trade and freedom of navigation.

The Baltic region policies of the last Jagiellon king and his advisors were the most mature of the 16th century Poland's strategic programs. The outcome of the efforts in that area was to a considerable extent successful for the Commonwealth. The conclusion of the above wars took place during the reign of King Stefan Batory.

Poland and Lithuania in real union under Sigismund II

Sigismund II's childlessness added urgency to the idea of turning the personal union between Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania into a more permanent and tighter relationship; it was also a priority for the execution movement. Lithuania's laws were codified and reforms enacted in 1529, 1557, 1565-1566 and 1588, gradually making its social, legal and economic system similar to that of Poland, with the expanding role of the middle and lower nobility. Fighting wars with Moscowmarker under Ivan IV and the threat perceived from that direction provided additional motivation for the real union for both Poland and Lithuania.

The process of negotiating the actual arrangements turned out to be difficult and lasted from 1563 to 1569, with the Lithuanian magnates, worried about losing their dominant position, being at times uncooperative. It took Sigismunt II's unilateral declaration of the incorporation into the Polish Crown of substantial disputed border regions, including much of Ukraine, to make the Lithuanian magnates rejoin the process, and participate in the swearing of the act of the Union of Lublin on July 1, 1569. Lithuania for the near future was becoming more secure on the eastern front. It's increasingly Polonized nobility made in the coming centuries great contributions to the Commonwealth's culture, but at the cost of Lithuanian national development.

The Commonwealth: multicultural, magnate dominated

By the Union of Lublin a unified Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita) was created, stretching from the Baltic Seamarker and the Carpathianmarker mountains to present-day Belarusmarker and western and central Ukrainemarker (which earlier had been Kievan Rus' principalities). Within the new federation some degree of formal separateness was retained (distinct state offices, armies, treasuries and judicial systems), but the union became a multinational entity with a common monarch, parliament, monetary system and foreign-military policy, in which only the nobility enjoyed full citizenship rights. Moreover, the nobility's uppermost stratum was about to assume the dominant role in the Commonwealth, as the magnate factions were acquiring the ability to manipulate and control the rest of szlachta to their clique's private advantage. This trend, facilitated further by the liberal settlement and land acquisition consequences of the union, was becoming apparent at the time of, or soon after the 1572 death of Sigismund Augustus, the last monarch of the Jagiellon dynasty.

One of the most salient characteristics of the newly-established Commonwealth was its multiethnicity, and accordingly diversity of religious faiths and denominations. Among the peoples represented were Poles (about 50% or less of the total population), Lithuanians, Latvians, Rus' people (corresponding to today's Belarusians, Ukrainians, Russians or their East Slavic ancestors), Germans, Estonians, Jews, Armenians, Tatars and Czechs, among others, for example smaller West European groups. As for the main social segments in the early 17th century, nearly 70% of the Commonwealth's population were peasants, over 20% residents of towns, and less than 10% nobles and clergy combined. The total population, estimated at 8-10 millions, kept growing dynamically until the middle of the century. The Slavic populations of the eastern lands, Rus' or Ruthenia, were solidly, except for the Polish colonizing nobility (and Polonized elements of local nobility), Eastern Orthodox, which portended future trouble for the Commonwealth.

Poland had become the home to Europe's largest Jewish population, as royal edicts guaranteeing Jewish safety and religious freedom, issued during the 13th century (Bolesław the Pious, Statute of Kalisz of 1264), contrasted with bouts of persecution in Western Europe. This persecution intensified following the Black Death of 1348–1349, when some in the West blamed the outbreak of the plague on the Jews. Much of Poland was spared from this disease, and Jewish immigration brought their valuable contributions and abilities to the rising state. The number of Jews in Poland kept increasing throughout the Middle Ages; the population had reached about 30,000 toward the end of the 15th century, and, as refugees escaping further persecution elsewhere streamed in, 150,000 in the 16th century. A royal privilege issued in 1532 granted the Jews freedom to trade anywhere within the kingdom. By the mid-16th century 80% of the world's Jews lived in Poland. At that time the Jews were increasingly finding employment as managers and intermediaries, facilitating the functioning of and collecting revenue in the huge magnate-owned land estates, especially in the eastern borderlands, developing into an indispensable mercantile and administrative class.

Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth

Elective monarchy and republic of nobility

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During the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, in the 16th century, Poland became an elective monarchy, in which the king was elected by the hereditary nobility. This king would serve as the monarch until he died, at which time the country would have another election.

In 1572, the Polish King Sigismund II Augustus died without any heirs. The political system was not prepared for this eventuality, as there was no method of choosing a new king. After much debate it was determined that the entire nobility of Poland would decide who the king was to be. The nobility were to gather near Warsaw and vote in a “free election”.

The first such Polish royal election was held in 1573. The four men running for the office were Henry of Valois (Henryk Walezy), who was the brother of King Charles IX of France, Tsar Ivan IV of Russia, Archduke Ernest of Austria, and King John III of Sweden. Unexpectedly, Henry of Valois ended up a winner. But after serving as Polish king for only four months, he received the news that his brother, the King of France, had died. Henry of Valois then abandoned his Polish post and went back to France, where he succeeded to the throne as Henry III of France.

The elections of kings lasted until the Partitions of Poland. The elected kings in chronological order were: Henry of Valois, Anna Jagiellon, Stephen Báthory, Sigismund III Vasa, Władysław IV, John II Casimir, Michael Korybut Wiśniowiecki, John III Sobieski, Augustus II the Strong, Stanisław Leszczyński, Augustus III and Stanisław August Poniatowski.

A few of the elected kings left a lasting mark in the Commonwealth. Stephen Báthory was determined to reassert the deteriorated royal prerogative, at the cost of alienating the powerful noble families. Sigismund III, Władysław IV and John Casimir were all of the Swedishmarker House of Vasa; preoccupation with foreign and dynastic affairs prevented them from making a major contribution to the stability of Poland-Lithuania. John III Sobieski commanded the allied Relief of Vienna operation in 1683, which turned out to be the last great victory of the "Republic of Both Nations". Stanisław August Poniatowski, the last of the Polish kings, was a controversial figure. On the one hand he was a driving force behind the substantial and constructive reforms belatedly undertaken by the Commonwealth. On the other, by his weakness and lack of resolve, especially in dealing with imperial Russia, he doomed the reforms together with the country they were supposed to help.

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The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, following the Union of Lublin, became a counterpoint to the absolute monarchies gaining power in Europe. Its quasi-democratic political system of Golden Liberty, albeit limited to nobility, was mostly unprecedented in the history of Europe. In itself, it constituted a fundamental precedent for the later development of European constitutional monarchies.

However the series of power struggles between the lesser nobility (szlachta), the higher nobility (magnates), and elected kings, undermined citizenship values and gradually eroded the government's ability to function and its authority. The infamous liberum veto procedure was used to paralyze parliamentary proceedings beginning in the second half of the 17th century. After the series of devastating wars in the middle of the 17th century (most notably the Chmielnicki Uprising and The Deluge), Poland-Lithuania stopped being an influential player in the politics of Europe. During the wars the Commonwealth lost an estimated 1/3 of its population (higher losses than during World War II). Its economy and growth were further damaged by the nobility's reliance on agriculture and serfdom, which delayed the industrialization of the country. By the beginning of the 18th century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, one of the largest and most populous European states, was little more than a pawn of its neighbours (the Russian Empiremarker, Prussia and Austria), who interfered in its domestic politics almost at will.

Economic and social developments

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The agricultural trade boom in Eastern Europe showed the first signs of the approaching crisis in the 1580s, when food prices stopped increasing. It was followed by a gradual decline in agricultural products prices, a price depression, initially present in Western Europe. The negative consequences of this process on folwark economies of the East had reached its culmination in the second half of the 17th century. Further economic aggravation resulted from Europe-wide devaluation of the currency around 1620, caused by the influx of silver from the Western Hemispheremarker. At that time however massive amounts of Polish grain were still exported through Gdańskmarker. The Commonwealth nobility took a variety of steps to combat the crisis and keep up high production levels, burdening in particular the serfs with further heavy obligations. The nobles were also forcibly buying or taking over properties of the more affluent thus far peasant categories, a phenomenon especially pronounced from the mid 17th century.

Capital and energy of urban enterprisers affected the development of mining and metallurgy during the earlier Commonwealth period. There were several hundred hammersmith shops at the turn of the 17th century. Great ironworks furnaces were built in the first half of that century. Mining and metallurgy of silver, copper and lead had also been developed. Expansion of salt production was taking place in Wieliczkamarker, Bochniamarker and elsewhere. After about 1700 some of the industrial enterprises were increasingly being taken over by land owners who used serf labor, which led to their neglect and decline in the second half of the 17th century.

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Gdańskmarker had remained practically autonomous and adamant about protecting its status and foreign trade monopoly. The Karnkowski Statutes of 1570 gave Polish kings the control over maritime commerce, but not even Stephen Báthory, who resorted to an armed intervention against the city, was able to enforce them. Other Polish cities held steady and prosperous through the first half of the 17th century. War disasters in the middle of that century devastated the urban classes.

A rigid social separation legal system, intended to prevent any inter-class mobility, matured around the first half of the 17th century. But the nobility's goal of becoming self-contained and impermeable to newcomers had never been fully realized, as in practice even peasants on occasions acquired the noble status. Later numerous Polish szlachta clans had had such "illegitimate" beginnings. Szlachta found justification for their self-appointed dominant role in a peculiar set of attitudes, known as sarmatism, that they had adopted.

The Union of Lublin accelerated the process of massive Polonization of Lithuanian and Rus' elites and general nobility in Lithuania and the eastern borderlands, the process that retarded national development of local populations there. In 1563 Sigismund Augustus belatedly allowed the Eastern Orthodox Lithuanian nobility access to highest offices in the Duchy, but by that time the act was of little practical consequence, as there were few Orthodox nobles of any standing left and the encroaching Catholic Counter-Reformation would soon nullify the gains. Many magnate families of the East were of Ruthenian origin; their inclusion in the enlarged Crown made the magnate class much stronger politically and economically. Regular szlachta, increasingly dominated by the great land owners, lacked the will to align themselves with Cossack settlers in Ukrainemarker to counterbalance the magnate power, and in the area of Cossack acceptance, integration and rights resorted to delayed and ineffective half-measures. The peasantry was being subjected to heavier burdens and more oppression. For those reasons, the way in which the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth expansion took place and developed had caused an aggravation of both the social and national tensions, introduced a fundamental instability into the system, and ultimately resulted in the future crises of the "Republic of Nobles".

Western and Eastern Christianity: Counter-Reformation, Union of Brest

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The increasingly uniform and polonized (in case of ethnic minorities) szlachta of the Commonwealth for the most part returned to the Roman Catholic religion, or if already Catholic remained Catholic, in the course of the 17th century.

Already the Sandomierz Agreement of 1570, which was an early expression of Protestant irenicism later prominent in Europe and Poland, had a self-defensive character, because of the intensification of Counter-Reformation pressure at that time. The agreement strengthened the Protestant position and made the Warsaw Confederation religious freedom guarantees in 1573 possible.

At the heyday of Reformation in the Commonwealth, at the end of the 16th century, there were about one thousand Protestant congregations, nearly half of them Calvinist. A half century later only 50% of them had survived, with the burgher Lutheranism suffering lesser losses, the szlachta dominated Calvinism and Arianism the greatest. This happened somewhat mysteriously in a country, where there were no religious wars and the state had not cooperated with the Catholic Church in eradicating or limiting competing denominations. Among the factors responsible, the low Protestant involvement among the masses, especially of peasantry, the pro-Catholic position of the kings, the low level of involvement of the nobility once the religious emancipation had been accomplished, the internal divisions of the Protestant movement, and the rising intensity of the Catholic Church propaganda, have been listed.

The ideological war between the Protestant and Catholic camps at first enriched the intellectual life of the Commonwealth. The Catholic Church responded to the challenges with internal reform, following the directions of the Council of Trent, officially accepted by the Polish Church in 1577, but implemented not until after 1589 and throughout the 17th century. There were earlier efforts of reform, originating from the lower clergy, and from about 1551 by Bishop Stanisław Hozjusz of Warmia, a lone at that time among the Church hierarchy, but ardent reformer. At the turn of the 17th century a number of Romemarker educated bishops took over the Church administration at the diocese level, clergy discipline was implemented and rapid intensification of Counter-Reformation activities took place.

Hozjusz brought to Poland the Jesuits and founded for them a collegemarker in Braniewomarker in 1564. Numerous Jesuit educational institutions and residencies were established in the following decades, most often in the vicinity of centers of Protestant activity. Jesuit priests were carefully selected, well educated, of both noble and urban origins. They had soon become highly influential with the royal court, while working hard within all segments of the society. The Jesuit educational programs and Counter-Reformation propaganda utilized many innovative media techniques, often custom-tailored for a particular audience on hand, as well as time-tried methods of humanist instruction. Preacher Piotr Skarga and Bible translator Jakub Wujek count among prominent Jesuit personalities.

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Catholic efforts to win the population countered the Protestant idea of a national church with Polonization, or nationalization of the Catholic Church in the Commonwealth, introducing a variety of native elements to make it more accessible and attractive to the masses. The Church hierarchy went along with the notion. The changes that took place during the 17th century defined the character of Polish Catholicism for centuries to come.

The apex of the Counter-Reformation activity had fallen on the turn of the 17th century, the earlier years of the reign of Sigismund III Vasa (Zygmunt III Waza), who in cooperation with the Jesuits and some other Church circles attempted to strengthen the power of his monarchy. The King tried to limit access to higher offices to Catholics. Anti-Protestant riots took place in some cities. During the Sandomierz Rebellion of 1606 the Protestants supported the anti-King opposition in large numbers. Nevertheless the massive wave of szlachta's return to Catholicism could not have been stopped.

Although attempts were made during common Protestant-Orthodox congregations in Toruńmarker in 1595 and in Vilniusmarker in 1599, the failure of the Protestant movement to form an alliance with the Eastern Orthodox Christians, the inhabitants of the eastern portion of the Commonwealth, contributed to the Protestants' downfall. The Polish Catholic establishment would not miss the opportunity to form a union, although their goal was rather the subjugation of the Eastern Rite Christians to the pope (the papacy solicited help in bringing the "schism" under control) and the Commonwealth's Catholic centers of power. The Orthodox establishment was perceived as a security threat, because of the Eastern Rite bishops dependence on the Patriarchate of Constantinoplemarker at the time of an aggravating conflict with the Ottoman Empire, and because of the recent development, the establishment in 1589 of the Moscow Patriarchate. The union idea had the support of King Sigismund III and the Polish nobility in the East; opinions were divided among the church and lay leaders of the Eastern Orthodox faith.

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The Union of Brest act was negotiated and solemnly concluded in 1595-1596. It had not merged the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox denominations, but led to the establishment of the Uniate Church, which was to become an Eastern Catholic Church, one of the Greek Catholic Churches. The new church, of the Byzantine Rite, accepted papal supremacy, while it retained in most respects its Eastern Rite character. The compromise union was flawed from the beginning, as despite the initial agreement the Greek-Catholic bishops were not, like their Roman Catholic counterparts, seated in the Senate, and to their disappointment the Eastern Rite participants of the union had not been granted full equality in general.

Union of Brest increased antagonisms among the Belarusian and Ukrainian communities of the Commonwealth, within which the Orthodox Church had remained the most potent religious force. It added to the already prominent ethnic and class fragmentation and became one more reason for internal infighting that was to impair the Republic. The Eastern Orthodox nobility, branded "Disuniates" and deprived of legal standing, led by Konstanty Ostrogski commenced a fight for their rights. Prince Ostrogski had been a leader of an Orthodox intellectual revival in Polish Ukraine. In 1576 he founded an elite liberal arts secondary and academic school, the Ostroh Academymarker, with trilingual instruction; in 1581 he and his academy were instrumental in the publication of the Ostroh Bible, the Bible's first scholarly Orthodox Church Slavonic edition. A a result of the efforts, parliamentary statutes of 1607, 1609 and 1635 recognized the Orthodox religion again, as one of the two equal Eastern churches. The restoration of Orthodox hierarchy and administrative structure proved difficult (most bishops had become Uniates, and their Orthodox replacements of 1620 and 1621 were not recognized by the Commonwealth) and was officially done during the reign of Władysław IV. By that time many of the Orthodox nobles had become Catholics, and the Orthodox leadership fell into the hands of townspeople and lesser nobility organized into church brotherhoods, and the new power in the East, the Cossack warrior class. Metropolitan Peter Mogila of Kievmarker contributed greatly to the rebuilding and reform of the Orthodox Church.

Culture of Early Baroque

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The Baroque style dominated the Polish culture from the 1580s, building on the achievements of the Renaissance and for a while coexisting with it, to the mid 18th century. Initially Baroque artists and intellectuals, torn between the two competing views of the world, enjoyed wide latitude and freedom of expression. Soon however the Counter-Reformation instituted a binding point of view that invoked the medieval tradition, imposed censorship in education and elsewhere (the index of prohibited books in Poland from 1617), and straightened out their convoluted ways. By the middle of the 17th century the doctrine had been firmly reestablished, sarmatism and religious zealotry had become the norm. Artistic tastes of the epoch were often acquiring an increasingly Oriental character. In contrast with the integrative tendencies of the previous period, the burgher and nobility cultural spheres went their separate ways. Renaissance publicist Stanisław Orzechowski had already provided the foundations for Baroque szlachta's political thinking.

At that time there were about forty Jesuit colleges (secondary schools) scattered throughout the Commonwealth. They were educating mostly szlachta, burgher sons to a lesser degree. Jan Zamoyski, Chancellor of the Crown, who built the town of Zamośćmarker, established an academy there in 1594; it had functioned as a gymnasium only after Zamoyski's death. The first two Vasa kings were well known for patronizing both the arts and sciences. After that the Commonwealth's science experienced general decline, which paralleled the wartime decline of the burgher class.

The early Baroque period produced a number of noted poets. Sebastian Grabowiecki wrote metaphysical and mystical religious poetry representing the passive current of Quietism. Another szlachta poet Samuel Twardowski participated in military and other historic events; among the genres he pursued was epic poetry. Urban poetry was quite vital until the middle of the 17th century; the plebeian poets criticized the existing social order and continued within the ambiance of elements of the Renaissance style. The creations of John of Kijany contained a hearty dose of social radicalism. The moralist Sebastian Klonowic wrote a symbolic poem Flis using the setting of Vistula raft floating work. Szymon Szymonowic in his Pastorals portrayed, without embellishments, the hardships of serf life. Maciej Sarbiewski, a Jesuit, was highly appreciated throughout Europe for the Latin poetry he wrote.

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The preeminent prose of the period was written by Piotr Skarga, the preacher-orator. In his Sejm Sermons Skarga severely criticized the nobility and the state, while expressing his support for a system based on strong monarchy. Writing of memoirs had become most highly developed in the 17th century. Peregrination to the Holy Land by Mikołaj Radziwiłł and Beginning and Progress of the Muscovy War written by Stanisław Żółkiewski, one of the greatest Polish military commanders, are the best known examples.

One form of art particularly apt for Baroque purposes was the theater. Various theatrical shows were most often staged in conjunction with religious occasions and moralizing, and commonly utilized folk stylization. School theaters had become common among both the Protestant and Catholic secondary schools. A permanent court theater with an orchestra was established by Władysław IV at the Royal Castlemarker in Warsawmarker in 1637; the actor troupe, dominated by Italians, performed primarily Italian opera and ballet repertoire.

Music, both sacral and secular, kept developing during the Baroque period. High quality church pipe organs were built in churches from the 17th century; a fine specimen has been preserved in Leżajskmarker. Sigismund III supported an internationally renowned ensemble of sixty musicians. Working with that orchestra were Adam Jarzębski and his contemporary Marcin Mielczewski, chief composers of the courts of Sigismund III and Władysław IV. Jan Aleksander Gorczyn, a royal secretary, published in 1647 a popular music tutorial for beginners.

Martin Kober, a court painter from Wrocławmarker, worked for Stephen Báthory and Sigismund III; he produced a number of well-known royal portraits.

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The period in art history during which the late Renaissance coexisted with the early Baroque, in Poland the last quarter of the 16th century and the first quarter of the 17th century, is sometimes referred to as Mannerism. Polish art remained influenced by the Italian centers, increasingly Romemarker, and increasingly by the art of the Netherlands. As a fusion of imported and local elements, it evolved into an original Polish form of the Baroque.

The Baroque art was developing to a great extent under the patronage of the Catholic Church, which utilized the art to facilitate religious influence, allocating for this purpose the very substantial financial resources at its disposal. The most important in this context art form was architecture, with features rather austere at first, accompanied in due time by progressively more elaborate and lavish facade and interior design concepts.

Beginning in the 1580s, a number of churches patterned after the Church of the Gesùmarker in Rome had been built. Gothic and other older churches were increasingly being supplemented with Baroque style architectural additions, sculptures, wall paintings and other ornaments, which is conspicuous in many Polish churches today. The Royal Castle in Warsawmarker, after 1596 the main residence of the monarchs, was enlarged and rebuilt around 1611. The Ujazdów Castlemarker (1620s) of the Polish kings turned out to be architecturally more influential, its design having been followed by a number of Baroque magnate residencies.

The role of Baroque sculpture was usually subordinate, as decorative elements of exteriors and interiors, and on tombstones. A famous exception is the Sigismund's Columnmarker of Sigismund III Vasa (1644) in front of Warsaw's Royal Castle.

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Realistic religious painting, sometimes entire series of related works, served its didactic purpose. Nudity and mythological themes were banned, but other than that fancy collection of Western paintings were in vogue. Sigismund III brought from Venicemarker Tommaso Dolabella. A prolific painter, he was to spend the rest of his life in Krakówmarker and give rise to a school of Polish painters working under his influence. Gdańskmarker was also a center for graphic arts; painters Herman Han and Bartholomäus Strobel worked there, and so did Willem Hondius and Jeremias Falck, who were engravers.

During the first half of the 17th century Poland was still a leading Central European power in the area of culture. As compared with the previous century, even wider circles of the society participated in cultural activities, but Catholic Counter-Reformation pressure resulted in diminished diversity. Catastrophic wars in the middle of the century greatly weakened the Commonwealth's cultural development and influence in the region.

Sejm and sejmiks

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After the Union of Lublin, the Senate of the General Sejm of the Commonwealth became augmented by Lithuanian high officials; the position of the lay and ecclesiastical lords, who served for life as members of the Senate was strengthened, as the already outnumbered middle szlachta high office holders had now proportionally fewer representatives in the upper chamber. The Senate could also be convened separately by the king in its traditional capacity of the royal council, apart form any sejm's formal deliberations, and szlachta's attempts to limit the upper chamber's role had not been successful. After the formal union and the addition of deputies from the Grand Duchy, and Royal Prussia, also more fully integrated with the Crown in 1569, there were about 170 regional deputies in the lower chamber (referred to as the Sejm) and 140 senators.

Sejm deputies doing legislative work were generally not able to act as they pleased. Regional szlachta assemblies, the sejmiks, were summoned before sessions of the General Sejm; there the local nobility provided their representatives with copious instructions on how to proceed and protect the interests of the area involved. Another sejmik was called after the General Sejm's conclusion. At that time the deputies would report to their constituency on what had been accomplished. Sejmiks had become an important part of the Commonwealth's parliamentary life, complementing the role of the General Sejm. They sometimes provided detailed implementations for general proclamations of the sejms, or made legislative decisions during periods when the sejm was not in session, at times communicating directly with the monarch.

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There was little significant parliamentary representation for the burgher class, and none for the peasants. The Jewish communities sent representatives to their own Va'ad, or Council of Four Lands. The narrow social base of the Commonwealth's parliamentary system was detrimental to its future development and the future of the Polish-Lithuanian statehood.

From 1573 an "ordinary" General Sejm was to be convened every two years, for a period of six weeks. A king could summon an "extraordinary" sejm for two weeks, as necessitated by circumstances; an extraordinary sejm could be prolonged if the parliamentarians assented. After the Union the Sejm of the Republic deliberated in more centrally located Warsaw, except that Kraków had remained the location of Coronation Sejms. The turn of the 17th century brought also a permanent migration of the royal court from Kraków to Warsaw.

The order of sejm proceedings was formalized in the 17th century. The lower chamber would do most of the statute preparation work. The last several days were spent working together with the Senate and the king, when the final versions were agreed upon and decisions made; the finished legislative product had to have the consent of all three legislating estates of the realm, the Sejm, the Senate, and the monarch. The lower chamber's rule of unanimity had not been rigorously enforced during the first half of the 17th century.

General Sejm was the highest organ of collective and consensus-based state power. The sejm's supreme court, presided over by the king, decided the most serious of legal cases. During the second half of the 17th century, for a variety of reasons, including abuse of the unanimity rule (liberum veto), General Sejm's effectiveness had declined, and the void was being increasingly filled by the sejmiks, where in practice the bulk of government's work was getting done.

Nobility rule, first "free election"

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The system of noble democracy became more firmly rooted during the first interregnum, after the death of Sigismund II Augustus, who following the Union of Lublin wanted to reassert his personal power, rather than become an executor of szlachta's will. A lack of agreement concerning the method and timing of the election of his successor was one of the casualties of the situation, and the conflict strengthened the Senate-magnate camp. After the monarch's 1572 death, to protect its common interests, szlachta moved to establish territorial confederations (kapturs) as provincial governments, through which public order was protected and basic court system provided. The magnates were able to push through their candidacy for the interrex or regent to hold the office until a new king is sworn, in the person of the primate, Jakub Uchański. The Senate took over the election preparations. The establishment's proposition of universal szlachta participation (rather than election by the Sejm) appeared at that time to be the right idea to most szlachta factions; in reality, during this first as well as subsequent elections, the magnates subordinated and directed, especially the poorer of szlachta.

To make sure that the new king, who was going to be a foreigner, complies with the peculiarities of the Commonwealth's political system and respects the privileges of the nobility, already during the interregnum the szlachta prepared a set of rules and limitations for any monarch to obey. As Henry of Valois was the first one to sign the rules, they became known as the Henrician Articles. The articles also specified the free election as the only way for any monarch's successor to assume the office, thus precluding any possibility of hereditary monarchy in the future. The Henrician Articles summarized the accumulated rights of Polish nobility, including religious freedom guarantees, and introduced further restrictions on the elective king; as if that were not enough, Henry also signed the so-called pacta conventa, through which he accepted additional specific obligations. Newly crowned Henry soon embarked on a course of action intended to free him from all the encumbrances imposed, but the outcome of this power struggle was never to be determined. One year after the election, upon learning of his brother's death, in June of 1574 he secretly left for France.

Stephen Báthory

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In 1575 the nobility commenced a new election process. The magnates tried to force the candidacy of Emperor Maximilian II, and on December 12 Archbishop Uchański even announced his election. This effort was thwarted by the execution movement szlachta party led by Mikołaj Sienicki and Jan Zamoyski; their choice was Stephen Báthory, Prince of Transylvania. Sienicki quickly arranged for a December 15 proclamation of Anna Jagiellon, sister of Sigismund Augustus, as the reigning queen, with Stefan Batory added as her husband and king jure uxoris. Szlachta's pospolite ruszenie supported the selection with their arms. Batory took over Kraków, where the couple's crowning ceremony took place on May 1, 1576.

Stephen Báthory's reign marks the end of szlachta's reform movement. The foreign king was skeptical of the Polish parliamentary system and had little appreciation for what the execution movement activists had been trying to accomplish. Batory's relations with Sienicki soon deteriorated, while other szlachta leaders had advanced within the nobility ranks, becoming senators or being otherwise preoccupied with their own careers. The reformers managed to move in 1578 in Poland and in 1581 in Lithuania the out-of-date appellate court system from the monarch's domain to the Crown and Lithuanian Tribunals run by the nobility. The cumbersome sejm and sejmiks system, the ad hoc confederations, and the lack of efficient mechanisms for the implementation of the laws escaped the reformers' attention or will to persevere. Many thought that the glorified nobility rule had approached perfection.

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Jan Zamoyski, one of the most distinguished personalities of the period, became the king's principal adviser and manager. A highly educated and cultivated individual, talented military chief and accomplished politician, he had often promoted himself as a tribune of his fellow szlachta. In fact in a typical magnate manner, Zamoyski accumulated multiple offices and royal land grants, removing himself far from the reform movement ideals he professed earlier.

The king himself was a great military leader and far-sighted politician. Of Batory's confrontations with members of the nobility, the famous case involved the Zborowski brothers: Samuel was executed on Zamoyski's orders, Krzysztof was sentenced to banishment and property confiscation by the sejm court. A Hungarian, like other foreign rulers of Poland, Batory was concerned with the affairs of the country of his origin. Batory failed to enforce the Karnkowski's Statutes and therefore was unable to control the foreign trade through Gdańskmarker, which was to have highly negative economic and political consequences for the Republic. In cooperation with his chancellor and later hetman Jan Zamoyski, he was largely successful in the Livonian war. At that time the Commonwealth was able to increase the magnitude of its military effort: The combined for a campaign armed forces from several sources available could be up to 60,000 men strong. King Batory initiated the creation of piechota wybraniecka, an important peasant infantry military formation.

In 1577 Batory agreed to George Frederick of Brandenburg becoming a custodian for the mentally ill Albert Frederick, Duke of Prussiamarker, which brought the two German polities closer together, to the detriment of the Commonwealth's long-term interests.

War with Russia over Livonia

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King Sigismund Augustus' Dominium Maris Baltici program, aimed at securing Poland's access to and control over the portion of the Balticmarker region and ports that the country had vital interests in protecting, led to the Commonwealth's participation in the Livonian conflict, which had also become another stage in the series of Lithuania's and Poland's confrontations with Russia. In 1563 Ivan IV took Polotskmarker. After the Stettin peace of 1570 (which involved several powers, including Swedenmarker and Denmarkmarker) the Commonwealth remained in control of the main part of Livonia, including Rigamarker and Pernaumarker. In 1577 Ivan undertook a great expedition, taking over for himself, or his vassal Magnus, Duke of Holstein most of Livonia, except for the coastal areas of Riga and Revalmarker. A success of the Polish-Lithuanian counter-offensive became possible as Batory was able to secure the necessary funding from the nobility.

The Polish forces recovered Dünaburgmarker and most of middle Livonia. The King and Zamoyski then opted for attacking directly the inland Russian territory necessary for keeping Russian communication lines to Livonia open and functioning. Polotsk was retaken in 1579 and the Velikiye Lukimarker fortress fell in 1580. The take-over of Pskovmarker was attempted in 1581, but Ivan Petrovich Shuisky was able to defend the city despite a several months long siege. An armistice was arranged in 1582 by the papal legate Antonio Possevino. The Russians evacuated all the Livonian castles they had captured, gave up the Polotsk area and left Velizh in Lithuanian hands. The Swedish forces, which took over Narvamarker and most of Estoniamarker, contributed to the victory. The Commonwealth ended up with the possession of the continuous Baltic coast from Puckmarker to Pernaumarker.

Sigismund III Vasa's reign

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There were several candidates for the Commonwealth crown considered after the death of Stephen Báthory, including Archduke Maximilian of Austria. Anna Jagiellon proposed and pushed for the election of her nephew Sigismund Vasa, son of the King of Sweden and the Swedish heir apparent. The Zamoyski faction supported Sigismund, the faction led by the Zborowski family wanted Maximilian; two separate elections took place and a civil war resulted. The Habsburg's army entered Poland and attacked Kraków, but was repulsed there and then, while retreating in Silesia, crushed by the forces organized by Jan Zamoyski at the Battle of Byczynamarker (1588), where Maximilian was taken prisoner.

In the meantime Sigismund also arrived and was crowned in Kraków, which initiated his long in the Commonwealth (1587-1632) reign as Zygmunt III Waza. The prospect of a personal union with Swedenmarker raised for the Polish and Lithuanian ruling circles political and economic hopes, including favorable Balticmarker trade conditions and a common front against Russia'smarker expansion. However concerning the latter, the control of Estoniamarker had soon become the bone of contention. Sigismund's ultra-Catholicism appeared threatening to the Swedish Protestant establishment and contributed to his dethronement in Sweden in 1599.

Inclined to form an alliance with the Habsburgs (and even give up the Polish crown to pursue his ambitions in Sweden), Sigismund conducted secret negotiations with them and married Archduchess Anna. Accused by Zamoyski of breaking his covenants, Sigismund III was humiliated during the sejm of 1592, which deepened his resentment of szlachta. Sigismund was bent on strengthening the power of the monarchy and Counter-Reformational promotion of the Catholic Church (Piotr Skarga was among his supporters). Indifferent to the increasingly common breaches of the Warsaw Confederation religious protections and instances of violence against the Protestants, the King was opposed by religious minorities.

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1605-1607 brought fruitless confrontation between King Sigismund with his supporters and the coalition of opposition nobility. During the sejm of 1605 the royal court proposed a fundamental reform of the body itself, an adoption of the majority rule instead of the traditional practice of unanimous acclamation by all deputies present. Jan Zamoyski in his last public address reduced himself to a defense of szlachta prerogatives, thus setting the stage for the demagoguery that was to dominate the Commonwealth's political culture for many decades.

For the sejm of 1606 the royal faction, hoping to take advantage of the glorious Battle of Kircholmmarker victory and other successes, submitted a more comprehensive constructive reform program. Instead the sejm had become preoccupied with the dissident postulate of prosecuting instigators of religious disturbances directed against non-Catholics; advised by Skarga, the King refused his assent to the proposed statute.

The nobility opposition, suspecting an attempt against their liberties, called for a rokosz, or an armed confederation. Tens of thousands of disaffected szlachta, led by the ultra-Catholic Mikołaj Zebrzydowski and Calvinist Janusz Radziwiłł, congregated in August near Sandomierzmarker, giving rise to the so-called Zebrzydowski Rebellion.

The Sandomierz articles produced by the rebels were concerned mostly with placing further limitations on the monarch's power. Threatened by royal forces under Stanisław Żółkiewski, the confederates entered into an agreement with Sigismund, but then backed out of it and demanded the King's deposition. The ensuing civil war was resolved at the Battle of Guzów, where the szlachta was defeated. Afterwards however magnate leaders of the pro-King faction made sure that Sigismund's position would remain precarious, leaving arbitration powers within the Senate's competence. Whatever was left of the execution movement had become thwarted together with the obstructionist szlachta elements, and a compromise solution to the crisis of authority was arrived at. But the victorious lords of the council had at their disposal no effective political machinery necessary to propagate the well-being of the Commonwealth, still in its Golden Age (or as some prefer Silver Age now), much further.

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In 1611 John Sigismund, Elector of Brandenburg was allowed by the Commonwealth sejm to inherit the Duchy of Prussiamarker fief, after the death of Albert Frederick, the last duke of the Prussian Hohenzollern line.

The reforms of the execution movement had clearly established the sejm as the central and dominant organ of state power. But this situation in reality had not lasted very long, as various destructive decentralizing tendencies, steps taken by the szlachta and the kings, were progressively undermining and eroding the functionality and primacy of the central legislative organ. The resulting void was being filled during the late 16th and 17th centuries by the increasingly active and assertive territorial sejmiks, which provided a more accessible and direct forum for szlachta activists to promote their narrowly conceived local interests. The sejmiks established effective controls, in practice limiting the sejm's authority; themselves they were taking on an ever broader range of state matters and local issues.

In addition to the destabilizing to the central authority role of the over 70 sejmiks, during the same period, the often unpaid army had begun establishing their own "confederations", or rebellions. By plunder and terror they attempted to recover their compensation and pursue other, sometimes political aims.

Some reforms were being pursued by the more enlightened szlachta, who wanted to expand the role of the sejm at the monarch's and magnate faction's expense, and by the elected kings. Sigismund III during the later part of his rule constructively cooperated with the sejm, making sure that between 1616 and 1632 each session of the body produced the badly needed statutes. The increased efforts in the areas of taxation and maintenance of the military forces made possible the positive outcomes of some of the armed conflicts that took place during Sigismund's reign.


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There weren't very many Cossacks in the mid 16th century in the south-eastern borderlands of Lithuania and Poland yet, but the first companies of Cossack light cavalry had become incorporated into the Polish armed forces already around that time. During the reign of Sigismund III Vasa the Cossack problem was beginning to play its role as Rzeczpospolita's preeminent internal challenge of the 17th century.

The Cossacks were first semi-nomadic, then also settled Slavic people of the Dnieper River area, who practiced brigandage and plunder, and, renowned for their fighting prowess, early in their history assumed a military organization. Many of them were or originated from run-away peasants from eastern and other areas of the Commonwealth or from Russiamarker; other significant elements were townspeople and even nobility, who came from the region or migrated into Ukrainemarker. The Cossacks considered themselves free and independent of any bondage and followed their own elected leaders, who originated from the more affluent strata of their society. There were tens of thousands of Cossacks already early in the 17th century. They had frequently clashed with the neighboring Turks and Tatars and raided their Black Seamarker coastal settlements. Many Cossacks were being hired to participate in wars waged by the Commonwealth. The Cossack rebellions or uprisings typically assumed the form of huge plebeian social movements.

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The Ottoman Empire demanded a total liquidation of the Cossack power. The Commonwealth however needed the Cossacks in the south-east, where they provided an effective buffer against Crimean Tatars incursions. The other way to quell the Cossack unrest would be to grant nobility status to a substantial portion of their population and thus assimilate them into the Commonwealth's power structure. This solution was being rejected by the magnates and szlachta for political, economic and cultural reasons when there was still time for reform, before disasters struck. The Polish-Lithuanian establishment had instead shifted unsteadily between compromising with the Cossacks, allowing limited numbers, the so-called Cossack register (500 in 1582, 8000 in the 1630s), to serve with the Commonwealth army (the rest were to be converted into serfdom, to help the magnates in colonizing the Dnieper area), and brutally using military force in an attempt to subdue them.

Efforts to subjugate and exploit economically the Cossack territories and population in Zaporizhia region resulted in a series of Cossack uprisings, of which the early ones could have served as a warning for the szlachta legislators.

In 1591 the bloodily suppressed Kosiński Uprising was led by Krzysztof Kosiński. New fighting took place already in 1594, when the Nalyvaiko Uprising engulfed large portions of Ukraine and Belarusmarker. Hetman Stanisław Żółkiewski defeated the Cossack units in 1596 and Severyn Nalyvaiko was executed. A temporary pacification of relations followed in the early 17th century, when the many wars fought by the Commonwealth necessitated greater involvement by registered Cossacks. The Union of Brest however resulted in new tensions, as the Cossacks had become dedicated adherents and defenders of the Eastern Orthodoxy.

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The uprising of Marko Zhmailo of 1625 was confronted by Stanisław Koniecpolski and concluded with Mykhailo Doroshenko signing the Treaty of Kurukove. More fighting soon erupted and culminated in the "Taras night" of 1630, when the Cossack rebels under Taras Fedorovych turned against army units and noble estates. The Fedorovych Uprising was put under control by Hetman Koniecpolski. These events were followed by an increase in the Cossack registry (Treaty of Pereyaslav), but then rejection of demands by Cossack elders during the convocation sejm of 1632, who wanted to participate in free elections as members of the Commonwealth and have religious rights of the "disuniate" Eastern Christians restored. The 1635 sejm voted instead further restrictions and authorized the construction of the Dnieper Kodak Fortressmarker, to facilitate more effective control over the Cossack territories. Another round of fighting, the Pavluk Uprising followed in 1637-1638. It was defeated and its leader Pavel Mikhnovych executed. Upon new anti-Cossack limitations and sejm statutes imposing serfdom on most Cossacks, the Cossacks rose up again in 1638 under Jakiv Ostryanin and Dmytro Hunia. The uprising was cruelly suppressed and the existing Cossack land properties were taken over by the magnates. The harsh measures restored relative calm for a short period, while the Cossack affair, perceived as a weak spot of the Commonwealth, was increasingly becoming an issue in international politics.

Władysław IV

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Władysław IV Vasa, son of Sigismund III, ruled the Commonwealth during 1632 - 1648. Born and raised in Poland, prepared for the office from the early years, popular, educated, free of his father's religious prejudices, he seemed a promising chief executive candidate. Władysław however, like his father, had the life ambition of attaining the Swedishmarker throne by using his royal status and power in Poland and Lithuania, which, to serve his purpose, he attempted to strengthen. Władysław ruled with the help of several prominent magnates, among them Jerzy Ossoliński, Chancellor of the Crown, Hetman Stanisław Koniecpolski, and Jakub Sobieski, the middle szlachta leader. Władysław IV was unable to attract a wider szlachta following, and many of his plans had foundered because of lack of support in the increasingly ineffectual sejm. Because of his tolerance for non-Catholics, Władysław was also opposed by the Catholic clergy and the papacy.

Toward the last years of his reign Władysław IV sought to enhance his position and assure his son's succession by waging a war on the Ottoman Empire, for which he prepared, despite the lack of nobility support. To secure this end the King worked on forming an alliance with the Cossacks, whom he encouraged to improve their military readiness and intended to use against the Turks, moving in that direction of cooperation further than his predecessors. The war never took place, and the King had to explain his offensive war designs during the "inquisition" sejm of 1646. Władysław's son Zygmunt Kazimierz died in 1647, and the King, weakened, resigned and disappointed, in 1648.

Seeking preponderance in Eastern Europe

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The turn of the 16th and 17th centuries brought changes that, for the time being, weakened the Commonwealth's powerful neighbors. The resulting opportunity for the Polish-Lithuanian state to improve its position depended on its ability to overcome internal distractions, such as the isolationist and pacifist tendencies that prevailed among the szlachta ruling class, or the rivalry between nobility leaders and elected kings, often intent on circumventing restrictions on their authority, such as the Henrician Articles.

The nearly continuous wars of the first three decades of the new century resulted in modernization, if not (because of the treasury limitations) enlargement, of the Commonwealth's army. The total military forces available ranged from a few thousands at the Battle of Kircholmmarker, to the over fifty thousands plus pospolite ruszenie mobilized for the Khotyn campaign of 1621. The remarkable during the first half of the 17th century development of artillery resulted in the 1650 publication in Amsterdammarker of the Artis Magnae Artilleriae pars prima book by Kazimierz Siemienowicz, a pioneer also in the science of rocketry. Despite the superior quality of the Commonwealth's heavy (hussar) and light (Cossack) cavalry, the increasing proportions of the infantry (peasant, mercenary and Cossack formations) and of the contingent of foreign troops resulted in an army, in which these respective components were heavily represented. During the reigns of the first two Vasas a war fleet was developed and fought successful naval battles (1609 against Sweden). As usual, fiscal difficulties impaired the effectiveness of the military, and the treasury's ability to pay the soldiers.


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As a continuation of the earlier plans for an anti-Turkish offensive, that had not materialized because of the death of Stefan Batory, Jan Zamoyski intervened in Moldavia in 1595. With the backing of the Commonwealth army Ieremia Movilă assumed the hospodar's throne as the Comonwealth's vassal. Zamoyski's army repelled the subsequent assault by the Ottoman Empire forces at Ţuţora. The next confrontation in the area took place in 1600, when Zamoyski and Stanisław Żółkiewski acted against Michael the Brave, hospodar of Wallachia and Transylvania. First Ieremia Movilă, who in the meantime had been removed by Michael in Moldavia, was reimposed, and then Michael was defeated in Wallachia at the Battle of Bucovmarker. Ieremia's brother Simion Movilă became the new hospodar there and for a brief period the entire region up to the Danube had become the Commonwealth's dependency. Turkey soon reasserted its role, in 1601 in Wallachia and in 1606 in Transylvania. Zamoyski's politics and actions, which constituted the earlier stage of the Moldavian magnate wars, only prolonged Poland's influence in Moldavia and interfered effectively with the simultaneous Habsburg plans and ambitions in this part of Europe. Further military involvement at the southern frontiers ceased being feasible, as the forces were needed more urgently in the north.

War with Sweden

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Sigismund III's crowning in Swedenmarker took place in 1594 amid tensions and instability caused by religious controversies. As Sigismund returned to Poland, his uncle Charles, the regent, took the lead of the anti-Sigismund Swedish opposition. In 1598 Sigismund attempted to resolve the matter militarily, but the expedition to the country of his origin was defeated at the Battle of Linköping; Sigismund was taken prisoner and had to agree to the harsh conditions imposed. After his return to Poland, in 1599 the Riksdag of the Estates deposed him in Sweden, and Charles led the Swedish forces into Estoniamarker. Sigismund in 1600 proclaimed the incorporation of Estonia into the Commonwealth, which was tantamount to a declaration of war on Sweden, at the height of Rzeczpospolita's involvement in Moldavia region.

Jürgen von Farensbach, given the command of the Commonwealth forces, was overpowered by the much larger army brought to the area by Charles, whose quick offensive resulted in the 1600 take-over of most of Livonia up to the Daugava River, except for Rigamarker. The Swedes were welcomed by much of the local population, by that time increasingly dissatisfied with the Polish-Lithuanian rule. in 1601 Krzysztof Radziwiłł succeeded at the Battle of Kokenhausen, but the Swedish advances had been reversed up to (not including) Revalmarker only after Jan Zamoyski brought in a more substantial force. Much of this army, having been unpaid, returned to Poland, but the clearing action was continued by Jan Karol Chodkiewicz, who with the small force left defeated the Swedish incursion at Paidemarker (Biały Kamień) in 1604. In 1605 Charles, now Charles IX, the King of Sweden, launched a new offensive, but his efforts were crossed by Chodkiewicz's victories at Kircholmmarker and elsewhere and the Polish naval successes, while the war continued without a decisive resolution being produced. In the armistice of 1611 the Commonwealth was able to keep the majority of the contested areas, as a variety of internal and foreign difficulties, including the inability to pay the mercenary soldiers and the Union's new involvement in Russia, precluded a comprehensive victory.

Attempts to subordinate Russia

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After the deaths of Ivan IV and his son Feodor, the last tsars of the Rurik Dynasty, Russiamarker entered a period of severe dynastic, economic and social crisis and instability. As Boris Godunov encountered resistance from both the peasant masses and the boyar opposition, in the Commonwealth the ideas of turning Russia into a subordinated ally, either through a union, or an imposition of a ruler dependent on the Polish-Lithuanian establishment, were rapidly coming into play.

In 1600 Lew Sapieha led a Commonwealth mission to Moscowmarker to propose a union with the Russian state, patterned after the Polish-Lithuanian Union, with the boyars granted rights comparable with those of the Commonwealth's nobility. A decision on a single monarch was to be postponed until the death of the current king or tsar. Boris Godunov, at that time also engaged in negotiations with Charles of Sweden, wasn't interested in that close a relationship and only a twenty-year truce was agreed upon.

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In order to continue their efforts, the magnates took advantage of the death of Tsarevich Dmitry under mysterious circumstances and of the appearance of False Dmitriy I, a pretender-impostor claiming to be the tsarevich. False Dmitriy was able to secure the cooperation and help of the Wiśniowiecki family and of Jerzy Mniszech, Voivode of Sandomierz, whom he promised vast Russian estates and a marriage with the voivode's daughter Marina. Dmitriy became a Catholic and leading an army of adventurers raised in the Commonwealth, with the tacit support of Sigismund III entered in 1604 the Russian state. After the death of Boris Godunov and the murder of his son False Dmitriy I became the Tsar of Russia, and remained in that capacity until killed during a popular turmoil in 1606.

Russia under the new tsar Vasili Shuisky remained unstable. A new false Dmitriy materialized and Tsaritsa Marina had even "recognized" in him her thought-to-be-dead husband. With a new army provided largely by the magnates, False Dmitriy II approached Moscow and made futile attempts to take the city. Tsar Vasili IV, seeking help from King Charles IX of Sweden, agreed to territorial concessions in Sweden's favor and in 1609 the Russo-Swedish anti-Dmitriy and anti-Commonwealth alliance was able to remove the threat from Moscow and strengthen Vasili. The alliance and the Swedish involvement in Russian affairs caused a direct military intervention on the part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, instigated and led by King Sigismund III.

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The Polish army commenced a siegemarker of Smolenskmarker and the Russo-Swedish relief expedition was defeated in 1610 by Hetman Żółkiewski at the Battle of Klushinomarker. The victory strengthened the position of the compromise-oriented Russian boyar faction, which had already been interested in offering the Moscow throne to Władysław Vasa, son of Sigismund III. Under arrangements negotiated by Żółkiewski, the boyars deposed tsar Vasili and accepted Władysław in return for peace, no annexation of Russia into the Commonwealth, the Prince's conversion to the Orthodox religion, and privileges with exclusive rights to high offices in the Tsardommarker granted to the Russian nobility. After the agreement was signed the Commonwealth forces entered the Kremlinmarker.

Sigismund III subsequently rejected the compromise solution and demanded the tsar's throne for himself, which would mean complete subjugation of Russia, and as such was rejected by the bulk of the Russian society. Sigismund's refusal and demands only intensified the chaos, as the Swedes proposed their own candidate and took over Veliki Novgorodmarker. The result was a popular Russian uprising and a siege of the Polish garrison occupying the Kremlin.

In the meantime the Commonwealth forces after a long siege stormed and took Smolenskmarker in 1611. At the Kremlin the situation of the Poles had been worsening despite occasional reinforcements, and the massive national and religious uprising was spreading all over over Russia. A new rescue operation attempted by Hetman Chodkiewicz failed and a capitulation of the Polish and Lithuanian forces at the Kremlin became necessary. Mikhail Romanov, son of the imprisoned in Poland Patriarch Filaret, became the new tsar in 1613.

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The war effort, debilitated by a rebellious confederation established by the unpaid military, was continued. Turkey, threatened by the Polish territorial gains became involved at the frontiers, and a peace between Russia and Sweden was agreed to in 1617. Fearing the new alliance the Commonwealth undertook one more major expedition, which took over Vyazmamarker and arrived at the walls of Moscowmarker, in an attempt to impose the rule of Władysław Vasa again. The city would not open its gates and not enough military strength was brought in to attempt a forced take-over.

Despite the disappointment, the Commonwealth was able to take advantage of the Russian weakness and the territorial advances accomplished to reverse the eastern losses suffered in the earlier decades. In the Truce of Deulino of 1619 the Rzeczpospolita was granted the Smolenskmarker, Chernihivmarker and Novhorod-Siverskyimarker regions. The attempted union could not have been accomplished, as the systemic, cultural and religious incompatibilities between the two empires proved to be insurmountable. The territorial annexations and the ruthlessly conducted wars left a legacy of injustice suffered and desire for revenge on the part of the Russian ruling classes and people. The huge military effort weakened the Commonwealth and the painful consequences of the adventurous policies of the Vasa court and its allied magnates were soon to be felt.

The Commonwealth and Silesia during Thirty Years' War

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In 1613 Sigismund III Vasa reached an understanding with Matthias, Holy Roman Emperor, based on which both sides agreed to cooperate and mutually provide assistance in suppressing internal rebellions. The pact neutralized the Habsburg Monarchy in regard to the Commonwealth's war with Russia, but had resulted in more serious consequences after the Bohemian Revolt gave rise to the Thirty Years' War in 1618.

The Czech events weakened the position of the Habsburgs in Silesia, where there were large concentrations of ethnically Polish inhabitants, whose ties and interests at that time placed them within the Protestant camp. Numerous Polish Lutheran parishes, with schools and centers of cultural activity, had been established in the heavily Polish areas around Opolemarker and Cieszynmarker in eastern Silesia, as well as in numerous cities and towns throughout the region and beyond, including Breslau marker and Grünberg marker. The threat posed by a potentially resurgent Habsburg monarchy to the situation of Polish Silesians was keenly felt, and there were voices within King Sigismund's circle, including Stanisław Łubieński and Jerzy Zbaraski, who brought to his attention Poland's historic rights and options in the area. The King, an ardent Catholic, advised by many not to involve the Commonwealth on the Catholic-Habsburg side, decided in the end to act in their support, but unofficially.

The ten thousand men strong Lisowczycy mercenary division, a highly effective military force, had just returned from the Moscow campaign, and having become a major nuisance for the szlachta, was available for another assignment abroad; Sigismund sent them south to assist Emperor Ferdinand II. Sigismund court's intervention greatly influenced the first phase of the war, helping save the position of the Habsburg Monarchy at a critical moment.

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The Lisowczycy entered northern Hungarymarker (now Slovakiamarker) and in 1619 defeated the Transylvanian forces at the Battle of Humenné. Prince Bethlen Gábor of Transylvania, who together with the Czechs had laid siege to Viennamarker, had to hurry back to his country and make peace with Ferdinand, which seriously compromised the situation of the Czech insurgents. Afterwards the Lisowczycy ruthlessly fought to suppress the Emperor's opponents in Glatz marker region and elsewhere in Silesia, in Bohemia and Germany.

After the breakdown of the Bohemian Revolt the residents of Silesia, including the Polish gentry in Upper Silesia, were subjected to severe repressions and Counter-Reformational activities, including forced expulsions of thousands of Silesians, many of whom ended up in Poland. Later during the war years the province was repeatedly ravaged in the course of military campaigns crossing its territory, and at one point a Protestant leader, Piast Duke John Christian of Brieg appealed to Władysław IV Vasa for assuming supremacy over Silesia. King Władysław, although a tolerant ruler including matters of religion, was like his father disinclined to involve the Commonwealth in the Thirty Years' War. He ended up getting as fiefs from the Emperor the duchies of Opolemarker and Racibórzmarker in 1646, twenty years later reclaimed by the Empire. The Peace of Westphalia allowed the Habsburgs to do as they pleased in Silesia, already completely ruined by the war, which had resulted in intense persecution of Protestants, including the Polish Lower Silesia communities, forced to emigrate or subjected to Germanization.

Conflicts with the Ottoman Empire and Crimean Khanate

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Although the Rzeczpospolita had not formally participated directly in the Thirty Years' War, the alliance with the Habsburg Monarchy contributed to getting Poland involved in new wars with the Ottoman Empire, Swedenmarker and Russiamarker, and therefore led to significant Commonwealth influence over the course of the Thirty Years' War. The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth also had its own intrinsic reasons for the continuation of struggles with the above powers.

From the 16th century the Commonwealth suffered a series of Tatar invasions. In the 16th century Cossack raids began descending on the Black Seamarker area Turkish settlements and Tatar lands. In retaliation the Ottoman Empire directed their vassal Tatar forces, based in Crimeamarker or Budjak areas, against the Commonwealth regions of Podolia and Red Ruthenia. The borderland area to the south-east was in a state of semi-permanent warfare until the 18th century. Some researchers estimate that altogether more than 3 million people had been captured and enslaved during the time of the Crimean Khanate.

The greatest intensity of Cossack raids, reaching as far as Sinopmarker in Turkey, fell on the 1613-1620 period. The Ukrainianmarker magnates on their part continued their traditional involvement in Moldavia, where they kept trying to install their relatives (the Movileşti family) on the hospodar's throne (Stefan Potocki in 1607 and 1612, Samuel Korecki and Michał Wiśniowiecki in 1615). Ottoman chief Iskender Pasha destroyed the magnate forces in Moldavia and compelled Stanisław Żółkiewski in 1617 to consent to the Treaty of Busza at Poland's border, in which the Commonwealth obliged not to get involved in matters concerning Wallachia and Transylvania.

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Turkish unease about Poland's influence in Russia, the consequences of the Lisowczycy expedition and the burning of Varnamarker by the Cossacks in 1620 caused the Empire under the young Sultan Osman II to declare a war against the Commonwealth, with the aim of breaking and conquering the Polish-Lithuanian state.

The actual hostilities, which were to bring the demise of Stanisław Żółkiewski, were initiated by the old Polish hetman. Żółkiewski with Koniecpolski and a rather small force entered Moldavia, hoping for military reinforcements from Moldavian Hospodar Gaspar Graziani and the Cossacks. The aid had not materialized and the hetmans faced a superior Turkish and Tatar force led by Iskender Pasha. In the aftermath of the failed Battle of Ţuţora Żółkiewski was killed, Koniecpolski captured, and the Commonwealth left opened defenseless, but disagreements between the Turkish and Tatar commanders prevented the Ottoman army from immediately waging an effective follow-up.

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The sejm was convened in Warsaw, the royal court was blamed for endangering the country, but high taxes for a sixty thousand men army were agreed to and the number of registered Cossacks was allowed to reach forty thousand. The Commonwealth forces, led by Jan Karol Chodkiewicz, were helped by Petro Konashevych-Sahaidachny and his Cossacks, who raised against the Turks and Tatars and participated in the upcoming campaign. In practice about 30,000 regular army and 25,000 Cossacks faced at Khotynmarker a much larger Ottoman force under Osman II. Fierce Turkish attacks against the fortified Commonwealth positions lasted throughout September of 1621 and were repelled. The exhaustion and depletion of its forces made the Ottoman Empire sign the Treaty of Khotyn, which had kept the old status quo of Sigismund II, a favorable for the Polish side outcome. After Osman II was killed in a coup, ratification of the treaty was obtained from his successor Mustafa I.

In response to further Cossack attacks Tatar incursions continued as well, in 1623 and 1624 reaching almost as far west as the Vistula, with the attendant plunder and taking of captives. More effective defense was put together by the freed Koniecpolski and Stefan Chmielecki, who defeated the Tatars on several occasions between 1624 and 1633, using the quarter army supported by the Cossacks and general population. More warfare with the Ottomans took place in 1633-1634 and ended with a peace treaty. In 1644 Koniecpolski defeated Tugay Bey's army at Okhmativ and before his death planned an invasion against the Crimean Khanate. King Władysław IV's ideas of a grand international war-crusade against the Ottoman Empire were thwarted by the inquisition sejm in 1646. The state's inability to control the activities of the magnates and the Cossacks had contributed to the semi-permanent instability and danger at the Commonwealth's south-eastern frontiers.

Baltic area territorial and maritime access losses

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More acute threat to the Polish-Lithuanian state came from Swedenmarker. The balance of power in the north had shifted in Sweden's favor, as the Balticmarker neighbor was led by King Gustavus Adolphus, a highly able and aggressive military leader, who greatly improved the effectiveness of the Swedish armed forces, while also taking advantage of Protestant zealotry. The Commonwealth, exhausted by the wars with Russiamarker and the Ottoman Empire and lacking allies, was poorly prepared to face this new challenge. Continuous diplomatic maneuvering by Sigismund III made the whole situation look to szlachta like another stage in the King's Swedish dynastic affairs; in reality the Swedish power resolved to take hold of the entire Polish-controlled Baltic coast, and thereby profit from the Commonwealth's maritime trade intermediary control, endangering its basis for independent existence.

Gustavus Adolphus chose to attack Riga in late August of 1621, just as the Ottoman army was approaching Khotyn, tying-up the Polish forces there. The citymarker, stormed several times, had to surrender a month later. Moving inland to the south the Swedes next entered Courland. With Riga the Commonwealth lost the most important Baltic seaport in the region and an entry to northern Livonia, the Daugava River crossing. The 1622 Truce of Mitawa gave Poland the possession of Courland and eastern Livonia, but the Swedes were to take over most of Livonia north of the Daugava. The Lithuanian forces were able to keep Dyneburgmarker, but suffered a heavy defeat at the Battle of Wallhof.

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The losses impacted severely the trade and customs income of the Great Duchy of Lithuania. The Crown lands were to be also affected, as in July of 1626 the Swedes took Pillaumarker and forced the Prussian Duke George William, Elector of Brandenburg and vassal of the Commonwealth, to assume a neutrality stance. The Swedish advance resulted in the take-over of the Baltic coastline up to Puckmarker. Gdańskmarker, which had remained loyal to the Commonwealth, was subjected to a naval blockade.

The Poles, completely surprised by the Swedish invasion, in September attempted a counter-offensive, but were defeated by Gustavus Adolphus at the Battle of Gniewmarker. The forces required serious modernization. The sejm passed high taxation for the defense, but collections lagged behind. The situation was partially saved by the City of Gdańsk, which hurriedly embarked on the construction of modern fortifications, and by Hetman Stanisław Koniecpolski. The accomplished commander of the eastern borderlands fighting quickly learned the maritime affairs and contemporary methods of European warfare. Koniecpolski promoted the necessary enlargement of the naval fleet, modernization of the army, and became a fitting counterbalance for the military abilities of Gustavus Adolphus.

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Koniecpolski led a spring 1627 military campaign, trying to keep the Swedish army in the Ducal Prussiamarker from moving toward Gdańsk, while also to intending to block their reinforcements arriving from the Reich. Moving quickly the Hetman recovered Puckmarker, and then destroyed at the Battle of Czarnemarker (Hammerstein) the forces intended for Gustavus. The Swedes themselves Koniecpolski's forces kept near Tczewmarker, shielding the access to Gdańsk and preventing Gustavus Adolphus from reaching his main objective. At the Battle of Oliva the Polish ships defeated a Swedish naval squadron.

Gdańsk was saved, but the next year the strangthened in the Ducal Prussia Swedish army took Brodnicamarker, and early in 1629 defeated the Polish units at Górznomarker. Gustavus Adolphus from his Baltic coast position laid an economic siege against the Commonwealth and ravaged what he had conquered. At this point allied forces under Albrecht von Wallenstein were brought in to help keep the Swedes in check. Forced by the combined Polish-Austrian action Gustavus had to withdraw from Kwidzynmarker to Malborkmarker, in process being defeated and almost taken prisoner by Koniecpolski at the Battle of Trzciana.

But in addition to being militarily exhausted, the Commonwealth was now pressured by several European diplomacies to suspend further military activities, to allow Gustavus Adolphus to intervene in the Reich. The Truce of Altmark left Livonia north of the Daugava and all Prussian and Livonian seaports except for Gdańsk, Puck, Königsbergmarker, and Libaumarker in hands of the Swedes, who were also allowed to charge duty on trade through Gdańsk.

Compromised power

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As Władysław IV was assuming the Commonwealth crown, Gustavus Adolphus, who had been working on organizing an anti-Polish coalition including Sweden, Russia, Transylvania and Turkey, died. The Russians then undertook an action of their own, attempting to recover lands lost in the Truce of Deulino.

In the fall of 1632 a well-prepared Russian army took a number of strongholds on the Lithuanian side of the border and commenced a siege of Smolenskmarker. The well-fortified city was able to withstand a general onslaught followed by a ten-month encirclement by an overwhelming force led by Mikhail Shein. At that time a Commonwealth rescue expedition of comparable strength arrived, under the highly effective military command of Władysław IV. After months of fierce fighting, in February 1634 Shein capitulated. The Treaty of Polyanovka confirmed the Deulino territorial arrangements with small adjustments in favor of the Tsardommarker. Władysław had relinquished, upon monetary compensation, his claims to the Russian throne.

Having secured the eastern front, the King was able to concentrate on the recovery of Baltic areas lost by his father to Sweden. Władysław IV wanted to take advantage of the Swedish defeat at Nördlingen and fight for both the territories and his Swedish dynastic claims. The Poles were suspicious of his designs and war preparations and the King was able to proceed with negotiations only, where his unwillingness to give up the dynastic claim weakened the Commonwealth's position. According to the Treaty of Stuhmsdorf of 1635 the Swedes evacuated Royal Prussia's cities and ports, which meant a return of the Crown's lower Vistula possessions, and stopped collecting custom duties there. Sweden retained most of Livonia, while the Rzeczpospolita kept Courland, which having assumed the servicing of Lithuania's Baltic trade entered a period of prosperity.

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The position of the Commonwealth with respect to the Duchy of Prussiamarker kept getting weaker, as the power in the Duchy was being taken over by the Electors of Brandenburg. Under the electors, princes of the Reich, the Duchy had become ever more closely linked to Brandenburg, which was harmful to the political interests of the Commonwealth. Sigismung III left the Duchy's administration in the hands of Joachim Frederick, and then John Sigismund, who in 1611 acquired the right to Hohenzollern succession in the Duchy by the consent of the King and the sejm. He actually became the Duke of Prussia in 1618, after the death of Albert Frederick, and was followed by George William and then Frederick William, who in 1641 in Warsaw for the last time paid a Prussian homage to a Polish king. The successive Brandenburg dukes would make nominal concessions, to satisfy the Commonwealth's expediencies and justify the granting of privileges, but an irreversible shift in relations was taking place.

In 1637 died Bogislaw XIV, Duke of Pomerania, the last of the Slavic Griffins Dynasty of Stettinmarker Pomerania. Sweden acquired the Pomeranian rule, while the Commonwealth was only able to get back its fiefs, Bytówmarker Land and Lęborkmarker Land. Słupskmarker Land was also sought, but it ended up a part of Brandenburg. Western Pomeraniamarker was populated in part by the Slavic Kashubians and Slovincians.

The Thirty Years' War period brought the Commonwealth a mixed legacy, rather more losses than gains, with the Polish-Lithuanian state retaining its status as one the few great powers in central-eastern Europe. From 1635 the country enjoyed a period of piece, during which internal bickering and progressively dysfunctional legislative processes prevented any substantial reforms from taking place. The Commonwealth was unprepared to deal with grave challenges that materialized in the middle of the century.

Decline of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth

War destruction and economic breakdown

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The economic breakdown in the Commonwealth in the second half of the 17th century has often been seen as a result of the destruction of the country caused by wars. There were also other depressing factors present that affected at that time large portions of Europe, to which the manorial, serfdom-based economy of the Commonwealth had tried to adjust. The particular solutions adopted resulted in time in deterioration of the effectiveness of agricultural practices, lower productivity and pauperization of the rural population. But the degree to which the economic regression in the Commonwealth had progressed had no parallels in the economies of the neighboring countries, some of which practiced the same type of rural economy. While the war destruction that took place during the events of 1655-1660 was particularly devastating, the Commonwealth was subjected to constant warfare from 1648 to 1720.

Unlike the previously fought wars, which had affected mostly the peripheries of the huge state, from the mid-17th century onward central Poland was being ravaged as well. The two Northern Wars turned out particularly destructive. Several massive foreign armies traversed the Commonwealth in the course of the Second Northern War. The protracted battlefield role and especially stationing of troops, combined with the policy of exacting contributions and pillaging populated areas during the Great Northern War, were even more burdensome for the country not recovered from the damage incurred two generations earlier. The Polish state was also forced to pay the occupying armies extremely high contributions. Internal warfare and looting by unpaid Commonwealth troops added to the damage.

The destruction and depletion of resources applied to all segments of the society, affecting rural villages, cities and towns, of which many had practically lost their urban character, industry and manufacturing, and the state treasury. The war losses and epidemic disease outbreaks had reduced the total population by 1/3, down to 6-7 million. As the peasants, the townspeople and ordinary szlachta each lost their economic base, the magnate class had become the only social group capable of significant economic and political activity, which led to their more total domination of what was left of the Commonwealth politics.

Further stratification among nobility

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Szlachta's folwark, the predominant in the 16th century agricultural production organization type, gave way by the middle of the 17th century to the magnate-owned latifundium, a huge network of landed estates. Latifundia were present in any part of the Polish–Lithuanian federation, but developed most extensively in the eastern reaches of the Crown, expanded in that direction before the Union of Lublin. War destruction affected the diversified magnate possessions to a lesser degree than single estates of middle szlachta, which increasingly turned szlachta into dependent clients of their "elder brothers". Parts of the latifundia were leased or run by hired szlachta or urban, often Jewish, hierarchy of administrators, with each layer milking the serf laborers. The various aspects of commercial life in the territories, including agriculture, trade, mining, and manufacturing, had previously been controlled by szlachta in a legally protected way. Now, in the more decentralized and anarchistic feudal state, the magnate class was in a position to establish in its state-like domains absolute rule, based not on laws but on practical advantages they enjoyed. The regional authority and power that they attained was exerted by a variety of means, including private military forces.

Agricultural regression and peasantry

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The long-lasting Cossack uprising began in 1648 and was led by Bohdan Khmelnytsky. As a result of several requests from the Ukrainian hetmanmarker, Ukraine was taken under the protection of Russiamarker. The agreement was made in January of 1654 in the city of Pereiaslavmarker (Ukraine). This development led to a new Russo-Polish war that lasted from 1654 to 1667. In the end, the parties signed an agreement in the village of Andrusovo near Smolenskmarker, according to which eastern Ukraine now belonged to Russia (with a high degree of local autonomy and an internal army).

The Bar Confederation of 1768-1772 was the first in a series of uprisings and wars aimed at preserving Poland's independence, but it was directed not only against Russia, but also against King Stanisław August and in support of szlachta's traditional causes. The Bar Confederation was quelled and the country was punished with the First Partition of Poland, in which Russia, Prussia and Austria took big chunks of the Commonwealth's territory.

With the coming of the Polish Enlightenment in the second half of the 18th century, the movement for reform and revitalization of the country made important gains, culminating in the adoption of the Constitution of May 3, the first modern codified constitution on the European continent. However the reforms, which transformed the Commonwealth into a constitutional monarchy, were viewed as dangerous by Poland's neighbours, who didn't want the rebirth of the strong Commonwealth.

Before the Commonwealth could fully implement and benefit from its reforms, it was invaded in 1792 by Russia aided by the local anti-reform alliance of conservative nobility known as the Targowica Confederation. The ensuing war was not lost, as the Polish army conducted a mostly defensive campaign, but the King surrendered and the pro-Russian Targowica took over. The Empiremarker responded with the Second Partition nevertheless, in which only Russia and Prussia participated.

In the wake of the 1792 war and the Second Partition a new conspiracy came into being. Among its leaders were both the civilian personalities of the reform movement and military officers of the previous war. The Kościuszko Rising erupted in March of 1794. When it too became extinguished, the three partitioning powers executed the final, or Third Partition, and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth ceased to exist.

Partitioned Poland

Polish independence ended in a series of Partitions (1772, 1793 and 1795) undertaken by Russiamarker, Prussia and Austriamarker. Russia gained most of the Commonwealth's territory including nearly all of the former Lithuaniamarker (except Podlasie and lands west of the Niemen Rivermarker), Volhynia and Ukrainemarker. Austria gained the populous southern region henceforth named GaliciaLodomeria, after the Duchy of Haliczmarker and Volodymyr. In 1795 Austria also gained the land between Krakówmarker and Warsawmarker, between the Vistula and Pilicamarker rivers. Prussia acquired the western lands from the Balticmarker through Greater Poland to Krakówmarker, as well as Warsawmarker and Lithuanianmarker territories to the north-east and Podlasie.

Following the Frenchmarker emperor Napoleon I's defeat of Prussia, a small Polish state was set up in 1807 under French tutelage as the Duchy of Warsawmarker. When Austria was defeated in 1809, Galicia was added, giving the new state a population of some 3.75 million, a quarter of that of the former Commonwealth. Polish nationalists were to remain among the staunchest allies of the French as the tide of war turned against the French, inaugurating a relationship that continues into the present.

With Napoleon's defeat, the Congress of Vienna in 1815 converted most of the Duchy of Warsaw into the so-called Kingdom of Polandmarker, ruled by the Russian tsar, until the Russian dynasty was deposed from the throne by the Kingdom's Parliament during the November Rising of 1830/31. After the January Rising of 1863 the Kingdom was fully integrated into Russia proper. The national uprisings were bloodily subdued by the partitioning powers, which did not extinguish the striving of Polish patriots to regain their independence. The opportunity for freedom appeared only after World War I, when the oppressing states were defeated or weakened by war and revolution.

Second Republic

World War I and the political turbulence that was sweeping Europe in 1914 offered the Polish nation hopes for regaining independence. By the end of World War I Poland had seen the defeat or retreat of all three occupying powers. On the outbreak of war the Poles found themselves conscripted into the armies of Germany, Austria and Russia, and forced to fight each other in a war that was not theirs. Although many Poles sympathized with France and Britain, they found it hard to fight for their ally, Russia. They also had little sympathy for the Germans. Total deaths from 1914-18, military and civilian, within the 1919-1939 borders, were estimated at 1,128,000.

Polish independence was eventually proclaimed on November 3, 1918 and later confirmed by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. The same treaty also gave Poland some territories annexed by the Germans and Austrians during the partitions (see Polish Corridor). The post-war eastern borders of Poland were determined by Polish victory in the Polish–Soviet War. According to the British historian A. J. P. Taylor, the Polish-Soviet War "largely determined the course of European history for the next twenty years or more. […] Unavowedly and almost unconsciously, Soviet leaders abandoned the cause of international revolution." It would be twenty years before the Bolsheviks sent their armies abroad to "make revolution".

From the mid 1920s to mid 1930s the Polish government was under the control of Józef Piłsudski, the politically-moderate accomplished independence movement leader and war hero, who had engineered the defeat of the Soviet forces, but in 1926 also a military overthrow of the Polish government. Polish independence had boosted the development of culture, but Poland was hit hard by the Great Depression. The new Polish state had had only 20 years of relative stability and uneasy peace before Poland's neighbours attacked. In 1939, under constant threat from Germany, Poland entered into a full military alliance with Britain and France. In August, Germany and Russia signed a secret agreement concerning the future of Poland, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

World War II

On August 23, 1939 Nazi Germany and the Soviet Unionmarker signed the Ribbentrop–Molotov non-aggression pact, which secretly provided for the dismemberment of Poland into Nazi and Soviet-controlled zones. On September 1, 1939 Hitler ordered his troops into Poland. Poland had signed a pact with Britainmarker and Francemarker and the two western powers soon declared a war on Germany, but remained rather inactive and extended no aid to the attacked country. On September 17 the Soviet troops moved in and took control of most of the areas of eastern Poland having significant Ukrainian and Belarusian populations under the terms of the German-Soviet agreement. After Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Poland was completely occupied by German troops.

The Poles formed an underground resistance movement and a Polish government in exile, first in Parismarker and later in Londonmarker, which was recognized by the Soviet Union. During World War II 400,000 Poles fought under the Soviet command, and 200,000 went into combat on western fronts in units loyal to the Polish government in exile. Many Polish refugee camps were set up, including one in Valdivadé, near Kolhapurmarker in Indiamarker. The camp numbered about 5000 refugees, and the Polish embassy of the government in exile had its office in Bombaymarker. The camp existed from 1943 to 1948.

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In April 1943 the Soviet Union broke relations with the Polish government in exile after the German military announced that they had discovered mass graves of murdered Polish army officers at Katyńmarker, in the USSR. The Soviets claimed that the Poles had insulted them by requesting that the Red Crossmarker investigate these reports. In July 1944 the Soviet Red Army and the Peoples' Army of Poland controlled by the Soviets entered Poland, and through protracted fighting in 1944 and 1945 defeated the Germans, losing 600,000 of their soldiers. Initially a communist-controlled "Polish Committee of National Liberation" was established in Lublinmarker.

There was strong resistance to Nazi Germany, which often took the form of armed struggle, of which the most famous instance was the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. The uprising, in which most of the Warsaw population participated, was largely instigated by the underground Armia Krajowa, the Home Army. The uprising was planned with the expectation that the Soviet forces, who had arrived in the course of their offensive and were waiting on the other side of the Vistula River in full force, would help in battle over Warsaw. However the Soviets betrayed the Poles, stopping their advance at the Vistula and branding them as criminals on radio broadcasts. For the next two months the Soviets calmly watched as the Germans brutally suppressed the forces of the pro-western, loyal to the government in exile Polish underground. Historian Norman Davies has said that to comprehend the numbers killed, one would have to imagine the Twin Towers 9/11 disaster every day for 63 days, and it still wouldn't be enough. After a hopeless surrender on the part of the Poles, the Germans carried out Hitler's order that "there not be two bricks standing" in Warsaw, systematically levelling the city. They retreated only in January 1945 when the Soviets resumed their offensive.

Modern research indicates that during the war about 5 million Polish citizens were killed, including 3 million Polish Jews. According to the Holocaust Memorial Museum, at least 1.9 to two million ethnic Poles and 3 million Polish Jews were killed, and 2.5 million were deported to Germany for forced labour or to German extermination camps such as Auschwitzmarker. In 1941-1943 Ukrainian nationalists (OUN and Ukrainian Insurgent Army) massacred more than 100,000 Poles in Galicia and Volhynia. During 1939-1941 1.45 million people inhabiting Eastern Poland (Kresy) were deported by the Soviet regime, of whom 63.1% were Poles and 7.4% were Jews. Recently Polish historians, based mostly on queries in Soviet archives, estimated the number of Polish citizen deaths at the hands of the Soviets at about 350,000.

The Soviet government retained most of the territories captured as a result of the German-Soviet pact in 1939 (now western Ukrainemarker, western Belarusmarker and the area around Vilniusmarker), compensating Poland with parts of Silesia, Pomerania and southern East Prussia, along with Gdańskmarker ("Regained Territories"), which were granted to Polandmarker. Most of the German population there was expelled to Germany.

Approximately 90% of Polish war losses (Jews and Gentiles) were the victims of prisons, death camps, raids, executions, annihilation of ghettos, epidemics, starvation, excessive work and ill treatment. So many Poles were sent to concentration camps that virtually every family had someone close to them who had been tortured or murdered there.

There were one million war orphans and over half a million war disabled. The country lost 38% of its national assets (Britain lost 0.8%, France lost 1.5%). Half the prewar Poland was expropriated by the Soviet Union, including the two great cultural centres of Lwówmarker and Wilnomarker. Many Poles could not return to the country for which they had fought because they belonged to the "wrong" political group, or came from prewar eastern Poland incorporated into the Soviet Union (see Repatriation of Poles ), or having fought in the West were warned not to return because of the high risk of persecution. Others were arrested, tortured and imprisoned by the Soviet authorities for belonging to the Home Army (see Cursed soldiers), or persecuted because of having fought on the western front. Although technically "victors", they were not allowed to partake in victory celebrations.

With the Germans' defeat, as recreated Poland was shifted west to the area between the Oder Neisse and Curzon lines, the Germans who had not fled were expelled. Of those who remained, many chose to emigrate to post-war Germany. Ukrainians remaining in Poland were forcibly moved to Soviet Ukraine (see Repatriation of Ukrainians from Poland to the Soviet Union), and to new territories in northern and western Poland under Operation Wisła.

People's Republic of Poland

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In June 1945, following the February Yalta Conferencemarker, a Polish Provisional Government of National Unity was formed; the USmarker recognized it the next month. Although the Yalta agreement called for free elections, those held in January 1947 were controlled by the communists. A Polish People's Republic (Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa) was created under the Communist Party rule after a brief period of coalition government. The Polish government in exile existed until 1990, although its influence was degraded.

In October 1956, after the 20th Soviet Party Congress in Moscowmarker ushered in destalinization and riots by workers in Poznańmarker ensued, there was a shakeup in the communist regime. While retaining most traditional communist economic and social aims, the regime of First Secretary Władysław Gomułka began to liberalize internal Polish life.

In 1965 the Conference of Polish Bishops issued the Letter of Reconciliation of the Polish Bishops to the German Bishops. In 1966 the celebrations of the thousandth anniversary of the Baptism of Poland led by Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński and other bishops turned into a huge demonstration of the power and popularity of the Polish Catholic Church.

In 1968 the liberalizing trend was reversed when student demonstrations were suppressed and an anti-Zionist campaign initially directed against Gomułka supporters within the party eventually led to the emigration of much of Poland's remaining Jewish population. In August 1968 the Polish People's Army took part in the infamous Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.

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In December 1970, disturbances and strikes in the port cities of Gdańskmarker, Gdyniamarker, and Szczecinmarker, triggered by a price increase for essential consumer goods, reflected deep dissatisfaction with living and working conditions in the country. Edward Gierek replaced Gomułka as First Secretary.

Fueled by large infusions of Western credit, Poland's economic growth rate was one of the world's highest during the first half of the 1970s. But much of the borrowed capital was misspent, and the centrally planned economy was unable to use the new resources effectively. The growing debt burden became insupportable in the late 1970s, and economic growth had become negative by 1979.

In October 1978, the Archbishop of Kraków, Cardinal Karol Józef Wojtyła, became Pope John Paul II, head of the Roman Catholic Church. Polish Catholics rejoiced at the elevation of a Pole to the papacy and greeted his June 1979 visit to Poland with an outpouring of emotion.

On July 1, 1980, with the Polish foreign debt at more than $20 billion, the government made another attempt to increase meat prices. A chain reaction of strikes virtually paralyzed the Baltic coast by the end of August and, for the first time, closed most coal mines in Silesia. Poland was entering into an extended crisis that would change the course of its future development.

On August 31, 1980, workers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańskmarker, led by an electrician named Lech Wałęsa, signed a 21-point agreement with the government that ended their strike. Similar agreements were signed at Szczecinmarker and in Silesia. The key provision of these agreements was the guarantee of the workers' right to form independent trade unions and the right to strike. After the Gdańsk agreement was signed, a new national union movement "Solidarity" swept Poland.

The discontent underlying the strikes was intensified by revelations of widespread corruption and mismanagement within the Polish state and party leadership. In September 1980, Gierek was replaced by Stanisław Kania as First Secretary.

Alarmed by the rapid deterioration of the PZPR's authority following the Gdańsk agreement, the Soviet Union proceeded with a massive military buildup along Poland's border in December 1980. In February 1981, Defense Minister Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski assumed the position of Prime Minister, and in October 1981, was named First Secretary of the Communist Party. At the first Solidarity national congress in September–October 1981, Lech Wałęsa was elected national chairman of the union.

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On December 12–13, the regime declared martial law, under which the army and ZOMO riot police were used to crush the union. Virtually all Solidarity leaders and many affiliated intellectuals were arrested or detained. The United States and other Western countries responded to martial law by imposing economic sanctions against the Polish regime and against the Soviet Union. Unrest in Poland continued for several years thereafter.

In a series of slow, uneven steps, the Polish regime rescinded martial law. In December 1982, martial law was suspended, and a small number of political prisoners were released. Although martial law formally ended in July 1983 and a general amnesty was enacted, several hundred political prisoners remained in jail.

In July 1984, another general amnesty was declared, and two years later, the government had released nearly all political prisoners. The authorities continued, however, to harass dissidents and Solidarity activists. Solidarity remained proscribed and its publications banned. Independent publications were censored.

With the Soviet Unionmarker increasingly destabilized, in late 1980s the government was forced to negotiate with Solidarity in the Polish Round Table Negotiations. The resulting Polish legislative elections in 1989 became one of the important events marking the fall of communism in Poland.

Third Republic

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The government's inability to forestall Poland's economic decline led to waves of strikes across the country in April, May and August 1988. The "round-table" talks with the opposition began in February 1989. These talks produced an agreement in April for partly-open National Assembly elections. The failure of the communists at the polls produced a political crisis. The round-table agreement called for a communist president, and on July 19, the National Assembly, with the support of a number of Solidarity deputies, elected General Wojciech Jaruzelski to that office. However, two attempts by the communists to form governments failed.

On August 19, President Jaruzelski asked journalist/Solidarity activist Tadeusz Mazowiecki to form a government; on September 12, the Sejm voted approval of Prime Minister Mazowiecki and his cabinet. For the first time in more than 40 years, Poland had a government led by noncommunists.

In December 1989, the Sejm approved the government's reform program to transform the Polish economy rapidly from centrally planned to free-market, amended the constitution to eliminate references to the "leading role" of the Communist Party, and renamed the country the "Republic of Poland." The Polish United Workers' Party dissolved itself in January 1990, creating in its place a new party, Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland.

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In October 1990, the constitution was amended to curtail the term of President Jaruzelski.

In the early 1990s, Poland made great progress towards achieving a fully democratic government and a market economy. In November 1990, Lech Wałęsa was elected President for a 5-year term. In December Wałęsa became the first popularly elected President of Poland.

Poland's first free parliamentary elections were held in 1991. More than 100 parties participated, and no single party received more than 13% of the total vote. In 1993 parliamentary elections the Alliance of the Democratic Left (SLD) received the largest share of votes. In 1993 the Soviet Northern Group of Forces finally left Poland.

In November 1995, Poland held its second post-war free presidential elections. SLD leader Aleksander Kwaśniewski defeated Wałęsa by a narrow margin—51.7% to 48.3%.

In 1997 parliamentary elections two parties with roots in the Solidarity movement — Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) and the Freedom Union (UW) — won 261 of the 460 seats in the Sejm and formed a coalition government. In April 1997, the first post-communist Constitution of Poland was finalized, and in July put into effect.

Poland joined NATOmarker in 1999.

In the presidential election of 2000, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, the incumbent former leader of the post-communist SLD, was re-elected in the first round of voting. After September 2001 parliamentary elections SLD (a successor of the communist party ) formed a coalition with the agrarian PSL and leftist UP.

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Poland joined the EU in May 2004. Both President Kwaśniewski and the government were vocal in their support for this cause. The only party decidedly opposed to EU entry was the populist right-wing League of Polish Families (LPR).

In the autumn of 2005 Poles voted in both parliamentary and presidential elections. September's parliamentary poll was expected to produce a coalition of two centre-right parties, PiS (Law and Justice) and PO (Civic Platform). During the increasingly bitter campaign however, PiS launched a strong attack on the liberal economic policies of their allies and overtook PO in opinion polls. PiS eventually gained 27% of votes cast and became the largest party in the Sejm ahead of PO with 24%. Presidential elections in October followed a similar script. The early favorite, Donald Tusk, leader of the PO, saw his opinion poll lead slip away and was beaten 54% to 46% in the second round by the PiS candidate Lech Kaczyński (one of the twins, founders of the party).Coalition talks ensued simultaneously with the presidential elections. However, the severity of the campaign attacks had soured the relationship between the two largest parties and made the creation of a stable coalition impossible. The ostensible stumbling blocks were the insistence of PiS that it controls all aspects of law enforcement: the Ministries of Justice and Internal Affairs, and the special forces; as well as the forcing through of a PiS candidate for the head of the Sejm with the help of several smaller populist parties. PO also wanted to control the law enforcement and the situation ended up in the stalemate. The PO decided to go into opposition. PiS then formed a minority government which relied on the support of smaller populist and agrarian parties (Samoobrona, LPR) to govern. This became a formal coalition, but its deteriorating state made early parliamentary elections necessary.

After the 2007 parliamentary elections the government of Donald Tusk, the chairman of PO was formed. The current government is made of two parties, PO and the peasants' party, PSL.

See also



a. This is true especially regarding legislative matters and legal framework. Despite the restrictions the nobility imposed on the monarchs, the Polish kings had never become figureheads. In practice they wielded considerable executive power, up to and including the last king, Stanisław August Poniatowski. Some were at times even accused of absolutist tendencies, and it may be for the lack of sufficiently strong personalities or favorable circumstances, that none of the kings had succeeded in significant and lasting strengthening of the monarchy.



  • Jerzy Wyrozumski - Historia Polski do roku 1505 (History of Poland until 1505), Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe (Polish Scientific Publishers PWN), Warszawa 1986, ISBN 83-01-03732-6
  • Józef Andrzej Gierowski - Historia Polski 1505-1764 (History of Poland 1505-1764), Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe (Polish Scientific Publishers PWN), Warszawa 1986, ISBN 83-01-03732-6

Further reading

More recent general history of Poland books in English
  • History of Poland, by Oskar Halecki. New York: Roy Publishers, 1942. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1993, ISBN 0-679-51087-7
  • The Cambridge History of Poland, 2 vols., William F. Reddaway et al., eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1941 (1697-1935), 1950 (to 1696). New York: Octagon Books, 1971
  • History of Poland, Aleksander Gieysztor et al. Warsaw: PWN, 1968
  • History of Poland, Stefan Kieniewicz et al. Warsaw: PWN, 1979
  • God's Playground. A History of Poland. Vol. 1: The Origins to 1795, Vol. 2: 1795 to the Present, by Norman Davies, first published in 1979 by Columbia University Press. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981, ISBN 0-19-925339-0 / ISBN 0-19-925340-4. Revised edition Columbia University Press, 2005, ISBN 978-0-231-12817-9 / ISBN 978-0-231-12819-3
  • Heart of Europe. A Short History of Poland, by Norman Davies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984, ISBN 0-19-285152-7. Heart of Europe: The Past in Poland's Present, by Norman Davies. Oxford University Press, USA. New edition 2001, ISBN 0-19-280126-0
  • An Outline History of Poland, by Jerzy Topolski. Warsaw: Interpress Publishers, 1986, ISBN 832232118X
  • The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History of the Poles and Their Culture, by Adam Zamoyski. London: John Murray, 1987, ISBN 0-531-15069-0; Hippocrene Books, 1994, ISBN 0-7818-0200-8, ISBN 978-0-7818-0200-0
  • Poland: An Illustrated History, by Iwo Cyprian Pogonowski. New York: Hippocrene Books, 2000, ISBN 0-7818-0757-3
  • The History of Poland, by Mieczysław. B. Biskupski. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2000, ISBN 0-313-36086-3
  • A Concise History of Poland, by Jerzy Lukowski and Hubert Zawadzki. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1st edition 2001, 2nd edition 2006, ISBN 0-521-61857-6
  • A History of Poland, by Anita J. Prazmowska. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2004, ISBN 0333972546
  • A Traveller's History of Poland, by John Radzilowski. Northampton, Mass.: Interlink Books, 2007, ISBN 1-56656-655-X
  • An Illustrated History of Poland, by Dariusz Banaszak, Tomasz Biber, Maciej Leszczyński. Poznań: Publicat, 2008, ISBN 978-83-2451-587-5

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