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Poland and Lithuania in 1387
The Jagiellon Era of 1385–1569 refers to the union of Polandmarker with Lithuaniamarker by the Lithuanian grand duke Jogaila. The partnership proved profitable for the Poles and Lithuanians, who played a dominant role in one of the most powerful empires in Europe for the next three centuries.

Jagiellon Era

The Jagiellon era began with the union of Polandmarker and Lithuaniamarker under one king which brought together two states which had nothing in common but their enemies, the Teutonic Knights and the rapidly rising Grand Duchy of Muscovy, and which contained elements so diverse, so antagonistic even, that it was an all but impossible task to weld them together and make of them a real political unit.Yet this was exactly the task that the Jagiellon kings set themselves, and that they succeeded in it is a great credit to their statesmanship. Four out of the seven of them were statesmen of real ability. They were of the patient, tactful, cautious type, seeing the limits of their tasks and staying carefully within them. But theywere none of them really great kings. They lacked the political vision, the genius for administration which was necessary to stem the rising tide of the power of the nobility, and it was precisely during this period of Poland's greatness that the aristocratic constitution came into existence, which in a short two hundred years replaced effective government with anarchy, made the king a mere figurehead, destroyed the freedom and the prosperity of the commercial and agricultural classes, and prepared Poland to become the prey of her strongerneighbors.

The election of Jagiello to the Polish throne raised up a host of enemies against him. The Teutonic Knights, already weakened by internal dissensions, saw their whole position menaced by the union of Poland and Lithuania.The conversion of Jagiello and of Lithuania (officially, anyway) to Christianity took away the nominal mission of the Order and reduced its warfare to political aggression pure and simple, and the great strength of the Lithuano-Polish state was a serious menace to its political supremacy, especially as the Hundred Years' War and the Hussite movement, both now at their height, drew German fighting men to the West and deprived the Order of reinforcements.Thus threatened, the Order used all its diplomatic skill to break up the union by making trouble between Jagiello and his cousin, Vytautas of Lithuania, who, though he greatly admired Jagiello personally, was opposed to him byevery political consideration, and was the natural center of all the disaffection to the union that existed in Lithuania. Jagiello had caused the death of his uncle, Witowt's father, in order to secure the Lithuanian throne, using for this purpose the services of the Teutonic Order – ever ready to promote dissension among itsneighbors. Witowt, ambitious and very able, both as a statesman and a soldier, had himself aspired to the throne of Poland, and failing that, had determined to keep Lithuania separate, raise it to a kingdom, and rule it himself. He was supported in this ambition, not only by the Teutonic Order and by Sigismund I the Old, but also, probably, by the majority of the Lithuanian nobility. Their opposition to the union was both political and religious. Religiously, though Lithuania proper was officially Roman Catholic, in fact she was still more than half pagan, while the province of Samogitia was frankly pagan and remained so for a long time. The rest of the territory – that conquered from Russia, which was five sixths of the whole – belonged to the Eastern or Greek Orthodox Church, and was almost as hostile to Roman Catholicism as to paganism.

Since the Greek Church is so important an element in Polish history, a word regarding its history is perhaps in place. Originally, the Catholic Church was one. Each bishop was supreme in his own diocese and subject to no superior authority except the General Church Councils,When, however, the Roman Empire broke into two parts, the Eastern and the Western, as a result of the barbarian invasions, the two branches of the Church developed very differently. The Church of the West was verystrongly influenced by Roman law. Changes in its creed, in its ritual, and also the increasing claims of the Bishop of Rome to supremacy over the other bishops, and finally over the world, completely estranged the Eastern Church and led to its rejection of the authority of the Councils where these matters were decided in favor of the West. It continued its existence as a separate Church, composed of the patriarchates (or archbishoprics) of Antioch, Alexandriamarker, Jerusalemmarker, and Constantinople. Although no one of these ever attained a supremacy over the others at all comparable to the supremacy of Romemarker in the West, yet Constantinoplemarker being the capital city and the residence of the Emperor, its patriarch did acquire an influence and a prestige much greaterthan that of the other patriarchs.

It was from the Church at Constantinople that the missionaries were sent who Christianized Russiamarker and from Constantinople the Russians derived, not only their religion, but their learning, their art, their philosophy, and their whole civilization. The culture which they developed had thus a strong Oriental strain based as it was upon Byzantine tradition. On the other hand, the fact that the Poles were Roman Catholics meant that their civilization was essentially Roman and Teutonic in origin. This difference has been the basal reason for theage-long antagonism of these two greatest, and, geographically, most closely connected, of Slav peoples. From the very moment of her conversion, Orthodoxy has been an integral part, a necessary characteristic, of Russian nationalism, and opposition to the one has been, from the Polish point of view, necessarily opposition to the other. All the old-Russian part of Lithuania was thus steadily opposed to any union with Roman Catholic Poland.

Politically, also, there were difficulties. Lithuania was feudally organized, and the greater nobles as well as the Grand Duke dreaded the lessening of their authority over their vassals and their peasantry, which amalgamation with a state so loosely organized and so decentralized as Poland would be almost sure to produce. They resented also Poland's claim on the border provinces of Volhynia and Podolia, which Lithuanian arms had conquered, and were jealous of Poland's claim to superiority on the basis of the higher level of her civilization.

Witowt had, therefore, a strong following, and Jagiello saw that he could not afford to remain his enemy, especially when the Teutonic Knights began their inevitable campaign against him in 1390. Accordingly, by the Compact of Wilna in 1401, Jagiello surrendered all his rights to the Grand Duchy to Witowt, on the sole condition that the two states were to have jointly elected sovereigns and were to pursue a common policy. Witowt then joined Jagiello in the war against the Knights, and together they inflicted upon them the great defeat at Grunewald, or Tannenberg Quly, 1410). Jagiello was unable to follow up his victory, however, because Witowt withdrew the Lithuanian army to meet a Tartar raid at home, and the Polish army had to be persuaded to fight. This took so much time that the opportunity passed and the peace signed the following year, the first Peace of Thorn (1411), was in fact little more than a truce, as it left the Order territorially intact. The Knights simply withdrew from Samogitia and Dobryzn – Polish provinces that they had invaded during the war – and paid an indemnity.

The King was determined to have more, and saw that to do it was necessary to conciliate Lithuania still further. Accordingly, he opened negotiations with Witowt and in 1414 the Union of Horodlo was made which put the two states on terms of exact equality. Separate and identical administrations were provided for the two countries, all the great officers of state being duplicated, one for "the Crown," as Poland was designated, one for the Grand Duchy. The Grand Duke was declared to be in all respects the equal of the King of Poland and all the privileges of the Polish nobles were extended to the Roman Catholic nobles of Lithuania. This last concession meant exemption from all the services and dues of a feudal nature which had been in force since the time of Gedymin, and was a great advantage to the nobility, though it impoverished the state. The limitation of the privilege to Roman Catholics was to secure Poland against the Muscovite leanings of the Orthodox in the old-Russian provinces. Thisenactment secured to the Union the support of all the Catholic Lithuanian nobles in spite of the fact that Witowt did not like it and prevented its being carried out in many cases.

During the next reign, in 1434, a union of the Greek and Roman churches took place at a convent in Florence, – known as the ** Union of Florence/* – which resulted in establishing the Uniate Church. The Orthodox Church' conceded recognition of the Pope, and in return the Roman Church agreed to their use of their own ritual, the retention of their own creed and of a married clergy. This arrangement was a convenient compromise by which, without violence to their faith, the Orthodox nobles of Lithuania could enjoy the benefits of the Union of Horodlo and it was very generally adopted throughout the Ukraine and later in Lithuania, thus considerably increasing Lithuanian support of the Union,

The death of Queen Hedwig, in 1399, was a very real loss to the kingdom. Obliged when only a girl, for political reasons, to give up her cousin, William of Habsburg, to whom she was betrothed and whom she dearly loved, and to marry a man twice her age, whom she had never seen and whom all her circle regarded as a barbarian, she reconciled herself to the marriage by regarding it as a Christian mission as well as a patriotic service and devoted her life to Christianizing, educating, and civilizing her people. Her sympathy with the poor and the oppressed was well known all over the kingdom, but she had more vigorous qualities as well. On one occasion, when Jagiello was absent in Lithuania and the Hungarians invaded Poland, she herself led an army against them, notwithstanding the fact that the Hungarians were her own people. She founded a Lithuanian College at Prague, andbequeathed her jewels for the completion of the University of Cracow, founded in 1364 by Casimir the Great. Jagiello outlived her by thirty three years and had two other wives after her death.

The Hussite wars took place during the reign of Jagiello and the Hussite influence was considerably felt in Poland. The King not only helped the Hussite cause with men and money, for political reasons, but allowed public discussions of the points at issue between the Hussites and Roman Catholics to take place freely in Cracow. This was a unique and remarkable thing in fifteenth-century Europe, where bigotry was so characteristic of religiouszeal and persecution the chief attention paid to new religious ideas.

During Jagiello's long reign of forty-eight years, Poland was well started on her way to become a great power. He established a government and created a unity of feeling strong enough to hold the country together and enableit to go on by itself during the ten years of bad government that followed his death,

Wladislaus III (1434–1444), son of Wladislaus-Jagiello, was only nine years old when he became king and only twenty when he died on the battlefield of Varna fighting against the Turks. In 1442 he had been elected King of Hungary when that country was making a titanic struggle against the Turks and wanted the assistance of the great Lithuano-Polish state. The young Wladislaus defeated the Turks and made a good peace for Hungary, but was urged by the Papal Legate to reopen the war in order to draw off the Turks from Constantinople, which they were besieging, and which nine years later they were to capture. It was at the head of an expedition which he led for the relief of Constantinople that the King was killed – happily, perhaps, for Poland.

Casimir IV (1447–1492), his brother, who succeeded him, was a statesman of the type of his father, whose work he carried forward with ability and devotion. He was only seventeen when his brother died, he had always livedin Lithuania which he had ruled during his brother's life, and, sagacious beyond his years, he had small desire to exchange the Lithuanian throne for the more troublesome one of Poland. He was resolved to become King of Poland only on condition of reestablishing the real union of the two crowns. It was three years before the questions at issue between the two countries had been settled sufficiently to his liking for him to accept the throne of Poland.

Under Casimir, Pomerelia (Pomerania west of the Vistula), in the possession of the Teutonic Knights since the thirteenth century, was restored to Poland as the result of the long war which Casimir waged against them in alliance with the townspeople and gentry of Pomerelia. These classes in 1440 formed the so-called "Prussian League" for the defense of their rights against the Order, which had become simply a governing aristocracy, wholly out of touch with the people, and exploiting them in its own selfish interests. In 1454 the Prussian League offered its allegiance to Casimir and fought with him for thirteen years for freedom from the Order. The length of the war was due very largely to the fact that the Polish nobles made the King's dependence upon them for men and money the occasion to exact, as the price of every subsidy, constitutional concessions of the greatest importance. The delays and uncertainties thus entailed hampered the King greatly, but finally he managed to get the money with which to pay Bohemian mercenaries, the best soldiers of that day, by whose assistance the Order was, at last, defeated.Casimir's diplomatic skill also won the Pope, heretofore the champion of the Knights, to his side, and it was through papal mediation that the Peace of Thorn (1466) was finally signed which gave to Poland Pomerelia, or Polish Prussia. Over East Prussia or Prussia proper the King was able to establish only his suzerainty, the Teutonic Order continuing to rule there, but as vassals of the King of Poland. The Grand Master of the Order was given the first place in the Polish Senate, having a seat at the King's right hand, and had exclusive jurisdiction over his own territories, even the amount of military service he rendered being left largely to his own decision.

This compromise treaty was a keen disappointment to the King, who had counted on conquering the Order once for all and subjecting it absolutely to Poland, but his hands were tied by the selfishness and fatal blindness of the nobles. But, after all, Poland's gains were very great. The possession of the Baltic seaboard, after three hundred years, offered great opportunities for commercial expansion, and tended to bring Poland into the wider channelsof the life of the West.

From the constitutional point of view the struggle between the King and the nobles who formed his army was of the greatest importance. Profiting by the King's necessities – which they ought to have felt were their ownnecessities also, but did not – the sdachta refused to go to war until the King had granted the so-called "Statutes of Nieszawa" (1454), by which he promised neither to make new laws nor call the nation (i.e., the szlachta) to arms without the consent of the szlachta. As exemption from all taxes and dues except military service had been granted them by Louis of Anjou (in 1374, by the "Privilege of Kaschau" in order to secure the succession of his daughter to the throne), and as military service now became voluntary with them and legislation was in their hands, they were theoretically in control of the state, and needed only the machinery by which to use their new powers and carry out their will. They found this machinery in their local assemblies or Dietines, orSejmiki, and later in the central Diet which they developed to meet their requirements.

To understand this development we must look back to the time of Casimir the Great, when the szlachta, desirous of resisting the King's efforts toward centralization, looked about for means to their end. The most natural and effective instrument that came to their hand was the local assemblies of the principalities, or palatinates as they came to be called. The szlachta succeeded in transforming these hitherto official councils into general assemblies of all the szlachta of the provinces. At first the Dietines concerned themselves with localaffairs only, but as the szlachta won new and wider rights from the Crown they exercised these also through the Sejmiki^ partly because they were in existence and no machinery for united action was, but, probably, chiefly because it was natural to them to act as members of the local community rather than as citizens of a united state. The long "Partitional Period" had created this provincial feeling which led inevitably to a decentralized state.

The result of this was that for purposes of taxation after 1374, and of legislation after 1454, the King had to consult each Dietine separately. This was difficult in many ways, and the need of a central Diet was greatly felt. The germ of one, indeed, existed and was developed in the next reign, but Casimir had to deal with the Dietines directly, and found it a slow and trying process.

The Hussite movement was at its height in Bohemia during Casimir's reign, and Casimir, tolerant like all the Jagiellos, was very friendly with the Hussite leaders. The King of Bohemia at this time was George Podiebrodski who, realizing that papal opposition to his policy of toleration toward the Hussites would make the succession of his own son impossible, made an alliance with Casimir by which Casimir's eldest son, Wladislaus, became King of Bohemia on the death of Podiebrodski in 1471. Casimir also tried to put his second son, John Albert, onthe Hungarian throne, and wasted long years in this fruitless and mistaken attempt – one of the very few mistakes that Casimir made.

While he was wasting his efforts on the south and west, his enemies on his Lithuanian frontiers – Teutonic Knights, Turks, Tartars, and Muscovites, all encouraged and aided by the hostile King of Hungary – were making serious trouble. Muscovy, particularly, under its very able and astute Czar Ivan III, had thrown off the Tartar yoke and had set to work to expand toward the west, and particularly to reconquer the old-Russian lands in the possession of Lithuania. The Turks also, in I453 had captured Constantinople and had taken the Tartars of the Crimea under their protection, and the combination had become a very serious menace to southern Europe. A league was in process of formation against them which Casimir joined in 1484, chiefly in order to keep open Poland's great southern trade route which was seriously menaced by the Turkish capture of the Moldavian towns commanding the mouths of the Danube and the Dniester. Poland had exercised a very loose sort of suzerainty overMoldavia since 1393.* It had been sufficient, however, to protect her trade which was the chief value to her of the province.

During the war over Moldavia the King of Hungary, Matthias Corvinus, the inveterate enemy of Casimir, was killed. The Hungarians at once elected Wladislaus of Bohemia to fill his place, which effectively solved the Hungarian problem for Poland and put the Jagiellon dynasty in possession of four thrones.

During the reign of Casimir and under his wise guidance, Poland and Lithuania had remained closely united and the state had become a great European power. The separatist tendencies in Lithuania, still very strong and constantly pushing Lithuania toward Muscovy, were always recognized by Casimir as a very real danger to the union, and he worked incessantly to counteract these tendencies by constructive means. He promoted Catholic propaganda in Lithuania by every means in his power except persecution of the Orthodox, which he would not consider for a moment. He also favored the Uniate churches, established in Lithuania in 1443, by considering the Uniates asCatholics and extending to them all the privileges granted to the Catholics by Horodlo. He never appointed a viceroy for Lithuania or allowed even one of his sons to represent him there, but kept the government entirely under his own direction, thus maintaining absolute unity and centralization.

The long reign of Casimir IV was followed by the short reigns of his third and fourth sons. John Albert (1492–1501) and Alexander (1501–1506).

The reign of John Albert was filled with wars against the Turks, which were almost never successful and necessitated constant appeals for money to the sztachta, who gave very little, but extorted in return concessions that went far toward ruining the country. To avoid the necessity of applying to each Dietine for each grant, a slow and troublesome process, John Albert revived the National Diet and had each of the Dietines send deputies to it. Since the Diet of Chenciny in 133 1 the szlachta had had the theoretical right to sit with the Senateand advise the King, and from time to time some of them had done so. So also had representatives from the towns and the lower clergy. But it was not until 1493, in the Diet summoned by John Albert at Piotrkow, thatall the Dietines were represented. This Diet thus formed Poland's Model Parliament. Like the English Parliament the Diet sat in two houses : the Senate, composed of prelates, palatines, castellans, and crown officials, formedthe upper House, while the deputies from the Dietines, called Nuncios, formed the lower. Deputies from the towns sat with the Nuncios in this and in some few succeeding Diets, but they soon dropped out, just why is not known.At the Diet of 1493, before financial matters were even considered, the King was obliged to sign a new "Constitution" confirming all the privileges of the szlachta. In return he might reasonably have expected a generous grant, but, on the contrary, the szlachta were so niggardly that by 1496 the King was as poor asever, and had to call a new Diet to relieve his necessities. The szlachta had apparently spent the mtervening years preparing for this occasion and came to the Diet of 1496 with a whole volume of new demands which, when enacted into laws, as they were before the Diet adjourned, completed the process which made the szlachta a class apart, possessing all the privileges of government, free from all its burdens, and holding the other classes in a subjection that not only degraded the commercial and agricultural classes politically, but ultimately ruined them economically, thus destroying the prosperity of the whole country and diminishing very seriously the sources of wealth for the state. One of the most important of these enactments was one by which the burgesses were deprived of the right to hold land outside the very restricted area of the city walls. This practically excluded them from holding any land at all, and thus made it impossible for the richer merchants, as in other countries, to buy landed estates, and thus enter the noble and military class. Not only was a great incentive to the accumulation of wealth by this class thus destroyed, but another enactment exempting the szlachta from all export and import duties put the burgesses at such a disadvantage commercially that they soon ceased to be a wealthy class, and in the course of a century no longer formed a class distinct from the peasantry, to whose level they had beengradually pressed down.

The agricultural class, also, which had struggled, long and manfully to maintain its freedom, was now pushed down into a condition of serfdom by statutes which, on the one hand, limited the freedom of the farmers by obligingthem to stay on the land and work only for their landlords and at customary wages during harvest time when other labor was short and prices for outside labor high ; and on the other, changed the system of land tenure into whatwas practically the socage system.

Another law passed at this time, by which the holding of Church benefices was limited to those whose parents were both noble, put the Church on the side of the privileged and deprived the lower classes of their best champion.

And in return for all this, John Albert got nothing at all from the szlachta personally, who contented themselves with voting him two small subsidies, one of which came out of the towns and the other from the peasants! Smallwonder that the King's Italian tutor, Buonasi, should have advised him to restrain the liberties of the nobles at all costs, though it is not at all probable that the King allowed himself to be defeated by the Turks and Tartars in Moldavia in order to increase the royal authority, as some of his nobles accused him of doing. In spite of his misfortunes the King seems to have kept the confidence of the masses of the people. Even the Diet in 1501, shortly before his death, granted back to him the entire control of the military forces of the kingdom in order to facilitate his opposition to the Turks, who during the later years of the reign were ravaging Poland's southeastern border.

John Albert was succeeded by his brother Alexander (1501–1506), who in open defiance of the agreement of Horodlo had been elected Grand Duke of Lithuania in 1492. Steady pressure from Muscovy, however, had at lastconvinced Lithuania that union with Poland was useful, and from this time on the Lithuanians took the Kings of Poland for their Grand Dukes.

During Alexander's reign, however, Poland could give Lithuania little help. Turks and Moldavians continued their raids on her borders, and the Teutonic Knights, under a vigorous and able Grand Master, Albert of Hohenzollern, took advantage of the situation to refuse homage to the Polish King and to attempt the reconquest of Polish Prussia. Worse than that, however, the szlachta took advantage of the weakness of Alexander, both in character and in health, to complete their work of wrecking the kingship and despoiling the lower classes.

Perceiving how much greater their power of extortion was over an uncrowned than over a crowned king, the szlachta presented to him and obliged him to sign, in place of the usual coronation agreement, by which the King simply confirmed the privileges of the nobility, a whole series of articles, known as the "Articles of Mielnica," by which the King was deprived of the control of the mint and the regalia, and his appointing power greatly reduced; members of the Senate also were exempted from prosecution by the royal courts.

The Pacta Conventa thus became what it afterwards remained under the elective kingship, one of the most formidable governmental weapons in the hands of the ruling class.

But even greater humiliations were in store for the King. In 1504 the Diet enacted that the royal estates should not be mortgaged without the unanimous consent of the Senate given during the sitting of the Diet; that the King should be constantly attended by a permanent council of twenty-four Senators (the Senators were to take six-month turns at this somewhat arduous addition to their functions) and that the Grand Chancellor and the Vice Chancellor should be appointed only during the session of the Diet, and should receive the ratification of the Senate. In 1505, at the famous Diet of Radom, by the Edict Nihil Novi^ the Diet was given its permanent organization, andthe King bound himself and his successors never to alter it, or any other part of the Constitution, or to enact new legislation without the consent of both houses of the Diet.

Alexander's death in 1506 left the country in a bad condition. The finances were ruined by extravagance and bad government ; the southeastern provinces were wasted by Tartar raids, while Lithuania was threatened by Muscovy without and torn by feuds among the nobles within.

Fortunately the new King, Sigismund I ( 1506–1548), Alexander's brother, was a man of character, talents, and experience in government. His brother, Wladislaus of Bohemia and Hungary, had made him Governor of Silesia,the most troublesome of all his possessions, where Sigismund had speedily put an end to the continual and age-long dissension between Slavs and Germans, reorganized the finances, and made the province a model of a modern wellgoverned state. There is no doubt that Sigismund understood Poland's problems and that his policy, of peace abroad and of economy and financial reorganization at home, designed to pay Poland's debts and give to the King an income that should make him, in some measure at least, independent of the sztachta was a wise one, and had he come to the throne a little earlier, before the szlachta were so firmly entrenched, he might have been able to carryout his policy and put the kingship in a position of vantage that later monarchs could have sustained, and thus have prevented the worst of Poland's degradation. But it was too late. The szlachta, already supreme legislatively, during this reign steadily encroached upon the executive authority and passed statutes forbidding the Captain-General, or " Grand Hetman," to levy troops, the Lord Treasurer to collect taxes, or the Grand Councillor to direct the tribunals of the kingdom. The Diet was to attend to these matters henceforth. Onthe other hand, the King upheld the szlachta in their determined opposition to the attempt of the magnates to separate themselves from the szlachta and become legally, what they were in large measure economically and socially, a class apart. The victory of the szlachta is seen in the enactment of the Diet of 1527, which didaway with all exemptions from military service and obliged every great noble, as well as every poorer one, to contribute to the army according to his means. As the troops thus contributed had to be placed under the King's direct control, this measure was of real advantage to the monarchy. On the other hand, however, suspicion of the magnates of the Senate, through whose hands, as officers of the Crown, the public money must necessarily pass, kept the Diets of 1522 and 1523 from voting anything at all for national defense, notwithstanding the factthat the King was at war with the Turks. This was only the culmination of a policy of parsimony and indecision on financial matters that hampered and, in large measure, made impossible the King's work of rehabilitation.

In view of these facts what the King accomplished in the way of financial regeneration is really remarkable. At the very beginning of his reign, he called to conference with him some of the successful foreign merchants and bankers of Cracow, such as the Scotchman, John Boner, and the Germans, Kaspar Beer and the two Bettmans, and put into their hands the reform of the finances of the state. By applying very skillful business management to the problem, they succeeded in rescuing the state from bankruptcy. The King was enabled to pay his brother's debts, to recover some of the alienated crown lands, and to hire a few mercenaries to form the nucleus of a standing army independent of the vagaries of the sdachta. His attempt to increase this army by commuting the military services of the nobility to money payments was, however, rejected by the Diet.

The szlachta were also during this reign doing their best to exclude the deputies of the towns from the Diets and thus complete the degradation of the burgher class. But this the King was able to prevent. Recognizing the great value to the state of a rich, strong, middle class, he was, as indeed were all the Jagiellos, the consistent friend and champion of the towns. In 1513 when the representatives of Cracow were excluded from their local Dietine, the King reinstated them auid publicly confirmed them in their right to be there. This, however, did notprevent the Dietines from trying again, and in 1539 the King issued an edict threatening to prosecute for lese-majeste any noble who should attempt to curtail the rights of the citizens. Many Dietines were also now steadily curtailing the rights of the peasantry. The obligation to work one day a week without pay on the lord'sland now became in some palatinates, a legal and a general one, instead of a matter of individual arrangement as heretofore.

It was during this reign that the Reformation came into Poland. Poland had close relations with Wittenberg and other German universities through her youth who attended them in large numbers, and the doctrines of Luther spread rapidly, especially in Polish Prussia. In Danzig, in 1524, five important churcheschanged from the Catholic to the Protestant worship. The Protestant movement here, as in many other places, was associated with a democratic political movement which aimed at getting the town government out of the hands of the ruling oligarchy. The Lutheran party were able to force the election of a new town council, but not content with a moderate victory they proceeded to abolish Roman Catholicism, close the monasteries, and declare all Church property confiscated to the Government. These measures so offended the Roman Catholics, still very numerous in the town, that the political issue became secondary, and when the King came with his troops and restored the old order the sentiment of the towns people was generally with him.

Though Sigismund was himself a strong Catholic and regarded the Lutheran doctrines as dangerous innovations, he was not bigoted and neither persecuted Protestants nor allowed the conversion of his friends to that faith to make a difference in his confidence in them either personally or officially. He was equally tolerant toward the Greek Church, and his favor and friendship toward their religion did much to keep the old-Russian provinces faithful to the union with Poland at a time when external events strongly taxed their allegiance.

Temperamentally a lover of peace, and regarding it as a necessity for restoring prosperity to the country and rebuilding the strength of the monarchy, Sigismund managed by diplomacy and compromise to keep the countryfrom a long war, but at no time during his reign can he be said to have been really at peace with Muscovy.

Originally a very tiny principality belonging to a very minor prince of the group that migrated from Kiev to the northeast, Muscovy had used an excellent trading position to become rich, under able princes had extended herterritories, and by friendship with the Tartar khans had grown strong enough to lead the movement that finally freed the Russian princes from the Tartar yoke. Having thus achieved the position of leader in an all-Russian cause, the Muscovite prince laid claim to all the lands hitherto Russian (under the suzerainty of theGrand Prince of Kiev) and called himself, by virtue of his claim upon them, "Czar of all Russia." The Russian principalities independent of him, no less than Lithuania, regarded this claim as entirely preposterous, but Muscovy never abandoned it, and in the end she made it good. It meant, meanwhile, permanent hostility between Muscovy and Poland, and any cessation of hostilities was never felt to be more than a truce.

Sigismund's relations with Muscovy, as well as his whole foreign policy, were complicated and made extremely difficult by the treachery of Prince Michael Glinsky. A Lithuanian of great talents, highly educated, traveled, a soldier of European renown, Prince Michael had won the heart as well as the favor of King Alexander, who had made him Court Marshal of Lithuania and had left the government of the Grand Duchy practically in his hands. ThePrince had used his position to enrich himself and his family to such an extent that at Alexander's death nearly half of Lithuania was in their hands, and it was generally thought that Prince Michael meditated the erection of these territories into an independent duchy for himself. In any case, he was altogether too powerful a subject for Sigismund's liking, and their mutual suspicion led to Glinsky's desertion to Muscovy, carrying a good number of his friends and supporters with him. Henceforth he was the most persistent and insidious of Sigismund's enemies. As the chief adviser of the Czar Vasily HI, who had married his niece, Helena Glinsky, he was a very formidable antagonist, giving help to all Sigismund's foes, and letting slip no opportunity to embarrass and harass him. And there were many such. Turks, Tartars, and Teutonic Knights, as well as Muscovites, were always ready to cross theborder when occasion offered, and the aspirations of the Habsburg Emperors to the thrones of Hungary and Bohemia, occupied by Sigismund's brother, Wladislaus, threatened the dynasty with a new danger.

As a result of sdachta control the Polish army was always inefficient and the treasury always empty, so that, though the Poles were then, as always, excellent soldiers, and the Polish army particularly well officered by men trained in the best foreign service, the Czar's army, while inferior in personnel, could generally defeat themby superior organization. For these reasons Smolensk, the great border fortress of Lithuania, remained in Russian hands, though Sigismund never acknowledged its loss by any treaty.

Similar reasons and the added pressure of the Turks on the south made necessary Poland's recognition of the transformation of the territories of the Teutonic Order into the Duchy of Prussia. Albert of Hohenzollem, the Grand Master, was converted to Protestantism in 1522, and to keep the territory of the Order in his own possession, he followed the custom of the day and secularized it; that is, he declared it no longer the property of the Order, but a secular duchy, hereditary in his family. Though this was, naturally, extremely objectionable to the Roman Catholic Powers, from whom the use of a technical word did not hide the fact that the transaction was plain robbery, Sigismund nevertheless recognized the new Protestant state, accepted the new Duke of Prussia ashis vassal, and received his homage in April of 1525.

The Turkish question was a very serious one for Sigismund, and was the determining factor in his attitude toward Habsburg aspirations to the thrones of Bohemia and Hungary. Up to the end of the fifteenth century, Hungary andMoldavia and the No Man's Land of the steppe had separated the Polish Empire from the Turks, and the King of Hungary had been the ruler upon whom the task fell of keeping the barrier intact against Turkish aggression. Thesubjugation of the Crimean Tartars by the Turks in 1475, however, followed by the submission of Moldavia to Turkish suzerainty, brought Poland for the first time into direct contact with Turkey. How threatening theMoldavian situation was is seen by the events of 1531. In that year, without any declaration of war, an army of Moldavians and Turks simply invaded Polish territory. The King was quite unprepared, the forces he could commandfew, and it was very largely the personal valor and superior generalship of the Polish commander, John Tamowski, that defeated them.It is probable that the object of this expedition was to test the strength of Poland, and, if successful, it was to be followed up by a serious attempt to conquer the country. The Turks were now, under Suleiman II, nearing the height of their power; they had already crushed Hungary and advanced to the very walls of Vienna. The King showed his appreciation of Tarnowski's great services by descending from the throne to welcome him when he entered theSenate – a miique distinction in the relations between Polish kings and their subjects.

The situation on the steppe was not less disquieting. The country from Kiev to the Black Sea, Ijdng in the arm of the Dnieper, was an unprotected wilderness (it was known as the "Ukraine," meaning "border") and offered great advantages for Tartar raids, which were all too frequent and very harmful. The Tartars kept a Polish army busy all the time, but in spite of its presence the country was in constant disturbance and many captives were carried off each year to be sold as slaves in the markets of Turkey. The Poles felt keenly the humiliation of this situation, as well as its other inconveniences, and the belief that the great House of Habsburg would be the best guardianof both Hungary and Poland against the Turks was the chief reason why the King consented to, and urged his brother, Wladislaus, to accept, the marriage propositions of the Emperor Maximilian. By this arrangement the House of Habsburg, by virtue of the mguriage between Anne, only daughter of Wladislaus, and Maximilian's grandson, Ferdinand, came into possession of the thrones of Hungary and Bohemia after the death of Wladislaus's only son, Louis.Sigismund was one of the few statesmen of his day who recognized the real weakness of Hungary in spite of her outward appearance of greatness, and he saw in the Austrian connection the only means of giving her the strengthwhich would enable her to continue to act as the barrier for Europe against the Turk. He consistently maintained this position throughout his reign ; he refused the crown of Hungary when it was offered to him by the opponentsof the Germans after the death of his nephew, Louis, in 1526; he refused also to help his son in-law, John Zapolya of Transylvania, who accepted the crown when Sigismund refused it, and fought a long and terrible civil war to keep it. This war was ended by the compromise Peace of Grosswardein in 1538, by which John was to have the throne during his lifetime and was to be succeeded by Ferdinand of Habsburg.When John died in 1540, Sigismund obliged his sister. Queen Isabella of Hungary, to keep the treaty and hand over the kingdom to Ferdinand, though she and a very strong Hungarian party wanted to put her infant son on thethrone. The leaders of this anti-German party were the Polish Primate, Jan Laski, and his nephews, Hieronymus, Jan, and Stanislaus, all of them very powerful and very able. Their activities were a rather serious embarrassment to the King's policy of Habsburg friendship, but it survived to the end and was strengthened by the marriage of Sigismund's only son to the Austrian Archduchess Elizabeth.

In this reign, in 1526, at the extinction of the Piastine line of Masovian princes, Masovia was united with Poland. Its annexation added a strong democratic element to Polish politics which was of great importance in the next reign.

For the defense of the Ukrainemarker against the Tartars nothing was done, though the Lord Marcher Daszkiewicz had a very admirable and inexpensive scheme for the organization of the wandering bands of freebooters of the steppe,called Cossacks, into companies for the defense of the border, and Queen Bona, in the work that she did for the protection of her private estates in the Ukraine, showed how easily and how effectively such a plan couldhave been carried out. She built two castles, one at Bar, another at Krzemieniec. At Bar she stationed her Steward, Bernard Pretficz, who so successfully repulsed the Tartar bands (he beat them off seventy times) that thousands of colonists flocked thither where alone on all the border was life safe and a living secure.• Queen Bona was the second wife of King Sigismund; she was an Italian of the great Sforza family of Milan. Beautiful, cultivated, the patron of the Renaissance, she made the Court of Cracow a literary and artistic centerof no mean importance. She was very unpopular in Poland on account of her greed for both money and power, her entire unscrupulousness, and her very mischievous influence over the King all during his latter years. She is suspected of having poisoned her daughter-in-law, Barbara Radziwill, that her son might marry someone more favored by herself.

Sigismund Augustus, or Sigismund II (1548–1572), came to the throne under the disadvantage of having to appoint almost all new advisers. A dozen or more of the old magnate families of Poland, Lithuania, and Masovia became extinct at this time, and the King had to raise members of the lesser nobles to positions that had never before been given to their families. The new King did not, however, regard this as a very serious disadvantage. Hewas of a far more yielding disposition than his father, more interested in new things, and more ready to welcome new ideas. He had much of the suppleness of his Italian mother's race and much of their diplomatic genius, as well as a large measure of the tenacity of purpose of the Jagiellos. His subjects, a little contemptuous of a king " brought up by a woman," the friend of artists and speaking three languages besides his own, were surprised to find in him a ruler of firmness, intelligence, and rare skill in the management of men.

On his first public appearance after his father's death (he had been crowned during his father's lifetime), when the Senate of Lithuania came together to do homage to the new ruler, he threw a bomb into their midst by announcing his marriage with Barbara Radziwill, member of a great Lithuanian family, which had taken place secretly some years before. Barbara was a Calvinist, and the daughter of the leader of Lithuanian Calvinism, Nicholas Radziwill, called "the Black." As a Lithuanian she was especially offensive to the Polish nobles, who wished the King to marry a foreigner of royal blood, and as a Calvinist she was anathema to the clergy. The King's first Diet,which met in October, 1548, at Piotrkow, almost unanimously demanded that he divorce Barbara. John Tamowski was the only Senator who supported the King, while the lower House was almost equally insistent. To these clamors the King replied quite calmly, "Every man has the right to choose his own wife; why cannot the King do the same? Or does the Christian religion allow me to put away her whom I have wedded? It is for you of the clergy, who know better about such things, to convince your brethren on this head. But I will not desert my wife, though she were stripped of everything but her shift." After a stormy session the King dissolved the Diet, and issued a "Universal," or appeal to the people against the position of the Diet. Eighteen months later, when his second Diet came together, public opinion was so strongly with him that not a word about his marriage was said !

The szlachta used the opportunity presented by the discussion of the King's marriage to forward their plan of bringing the clergy, as they had brought the other classes of society, under their control. They had tried in vain to bring this about under Sigismund I, who, in spite of his tolerant spirit, remained to the end of his life the stanch supporter of the rights of the Church. When the marriage question came up the House of Nuncios asked the privilege of meeting with the King without the presence of the Senators, The Chancellor objected that thiswas contrary to usage, but the King consented to it, and the meeting took place. Ever after the Nuncios considered it a precedent and from this time on claimed the right to meet separately with the King, and regarded their Houseas possessing powers distinct from those of the Diet as a whole. The story goes also that in this famous interview the Nuncios, in despair of moving the King concerning his marriage, fell upon their knees in a body before him.. Greatly astonished at this unprecedented occurrence, the King rose from his seat and took off his hat. The Nuncios insisted on treating this unconscious act as a precedent and demanded that the King always receive any large body of the Nuncios uncovered. In the end the King was obliged to concede both points.From this time the Senate lost its legislative predominance, which passed to the lower House. The more important matters that came to the Diet were considered in joint session by the two Houses, and their superiority of numbers gave the House of Nuncios the advantage in all these sessions. With the military and civil powers thus undermined, the King had very little to support his authority except tradition and religious sentiment, and both these wereseriously shaken by the Reformation.

As has been stated above, the Reformation had entered Poland during the reign of Sigismund I, and had made some progress, especially in the German parts of Poland, but it is doubtful if it would have proved a factor of great importance had it not been for the szlachta's jealousy of the power of the clergy and theirrecognition of the reform movement as a weapon with which to destroy it. Protestants, who from conviction refused to pay tithes, questioned the jurisdiction of the Church courts, and objected to the payment of annates andother papal contributions, were supported by the szlachta for political reasons irrespective of their own religious convictions, and the very worldly lives and lax faith of many of the more conspicuous of the Catholic clergy won a certain measure of popular approval for the reformers from those not especially interested in thepolitical aspect of the case.

The Polish-Lithuanian Union

At the end of the fourteenth century, Lithuania was an expanding state struggling against the Teutonic Knights. Neighboring Poland was constantly threatened by invading Mongols and Tatars. Partnership between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Polandmarker provided an immediate remedy to the political and military dilemmas of each nation. Poland and Lithuania put aside their previous hostility and negotiated the Union of Krewo in 1385.

The compact hinged upon the marriage of the Polish queen Jadwiga to Jogaila, who would rule the new state as Władysław II. In return, the new monarch accepted Roman Catholic baptism in the name of his people.During the Christianization of Lithuania, the Bishopric of Vilnius was established in 1387 to convert Władysław's subjects to Roman Catholicism. (Eastern Orthodoxy predominated in the bigger part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.)


The alliance of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania exerted a profound influence on the history of Eastern Europe. Poland and Lithuania would maintain a joint statehood for more than three centuries, establishing the "Commonwealth of Two Nations." Their confederation produced one of the leading powers of the Continent.

The association produced prompt benefits in 1410 when the forces of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania defeated the Teutonic Knights at the battle of Grunwaldmarker (Tannenberg). The battle was a turning point of the Polish-Lithuanian-Teutonic War, allowing Lithuania to finally seize the upper hand in the long struggle with the renegade crusaders. The new Polish and Lithuanian dynasty, called "Jagiellon" after its founder, continued to augment its holdings during the following decades.

By the end of the fifteenth century, representatives of the Jagiellons had conquered virtually all of Eastern Europe and Central Europe. This farflung dynastic compound collapsed in 1526 when armies of the Ottoman Empire won a crushing victory at the Battle of Mohácsmarker. The death of Louis II of Hungary and Bohemia on the battlefield allowed the Austrian Habsburgs to wrest Bohemia and the crown of Hungary from the Jagiellons. The Ottoman conquest of the larger part of Hungary installed the Turks as a menacing presence in the heart of Europe.

The "Golden Age" of the Sixteenth Century

The Jagiellons never recovered their hegemony over Central Europe. However, the half century that followed the Battle of Mohácsmarker marked an era of stability, affluence, and cultural advancement widely regarded by Poles as their country's golden age.

Poland and Lithuania in 1466


Lithuania and Poland as European powers

The Teutonic Knights had been reduced to vassalage, and despite the now persistent threats posed by the Turks and an emerging Russian colossus, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania managed to defend itself as one of the most prominent states of Europe. The wars and diplomacy of the century yielded no dramatic expansion but shielded the country from significant disturbance and permitted significant internal development. An "Eternal Peace" concluded with the Ottoman Turks in 1533 lessened but did not remove the threat of invasion from that quarter.

A lucrative agricultural export market was the foundation for the state wealth. A population boom in Western Europe prompted an increased demand for foodstuffs; the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth became Europe's foremost supplier of grain from their Balticmarker seaport of Gdańskmarker. Aside from swelling Polish coffers, the prosperous grain trade supported other notable aspects of national development. It reinforced the preeminence of the landowning nobility that received its profits, and it helped to preserve a traditionally rural economy at a time when Western Europe had begun moving toward urbanization and capitalism.

Poland and Lithuania in 1526

The Government of Poland and Lithuania

Jagiellonian Poland possessed distinctive features which ran against the historical trends of early modern Europe. Not the least of these features was its singular governmental structure and practice. In an era that favored the steady accumulation of power within the hands of European monarchs, Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania developed a highly decentralized system dominated by a landed aristocracy that kept royal authority firmly curtailed. One of the greatest tools for checking the monarchy was the noble parliament, or Sejm.

The Sejm operated on the principle of unanimous consent, regarding each noble as irreducibly sovereign. In 1505 the Sejm concluded that no new law could be established without the agreement of the nobility (the Nihil Novi act). King Alexander Jagiellon was forced to agree to this settlement. In a further safeguard of aristocratic rights, Polish law sanctioned the right of the nobility to form an armed confederation for the redress of grievances.

The nobility also possessed the crucial right to elect the monarch, even though the Jagiellons were the de facto hereditary rulers. In practice, the Jagiellons had to give privileges to the nobles to encourage them to elect their sons to be the successors. These privileges reduced the king's power. King Sigismund II Augustus was the last of the Jagiellon dynasty; he had no sons. The Jagiellon prestige and the certainty of their succession supplied an element of cohesion that tempered the adversarial forces built into the state system.



Modern historians have frequently derided the idiosyncratic, delicate government of Poland and Lithuania as a recipe for anarchy. Nevertheless, the union of Poland and Lithuania fostered a spirit of civic liberality unmatched in the Europe of its day. Although its eventual breakdown contributed greatly to the loss of Polish independence in the 18th century, the system worked reasonably well for 200 years. The host of legal protections that the nobility enacted for itself prefigured the rights generally accorded the citizens of modern democracies, and the memory of the "golden freedoms" of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth is integral to the Poles' present-day sense of their tradition of liberty.

On the other hand, the exclusion of the lower nobility from most of those protections caused serious resentment among that largely impoverished class, and the aristocracy passed laws in the early sixteenth century that made the peasants virtual slaves to the flourishing agricultural enterprises. The Polish nobility enjoyed the considerable benefits of control over the labor of the peasantry. The aristocracy were not the masters of life and death for the peasantry, but peasants could not leave the village without permission of their manorial lord.

Poland and Lithuania in the Reformation Era

To modern eyes, the most liberal aspect of Jagiellon Poland was its exceptional tolerance of religious dissent. This policy prevailed in Poland even during the religious upheaval, war, and atrocities associated with the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation arrived in Poland between 1523 and 1526. The small Calvinist, Lutheran, and Hussite groups that sprang up were harshly persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church at first; in 1552 the Sejm suspended civil execution of ecclesiastical sentences for heresy. For the next 130 years, Poland remained solidly Roman Catholic while refusing to repress differing faiths and providing refuge for a wide variety of religious nonconformists.

Such broad-mindedness derived as much from practical necessity as from principle: both Poland and Lithuania governed a populace of remarkable ethnic and religious diversity. Sixteenth century Poland supported the world's largest concentration of Jews, whose numbers were estimated at 150,000 in 1582. Under the Jagiellons, Jews suffered fewer restrictions in Poland and Lithuania than elsewhere in Europe while establishing an economic niche as tradesmen and managers of noble estates.

The Polish Renaissance

The sixteenth century was perhaps the most illustrious phase of Polish cultural history. During this period, Poland-Lithuania drew great artistic inspiration from the Italians, with whom the Jagiellon court cultivated close relations. Styles and tastes characteristic of the late Renaissance were imported from the Italianmarker states. These influences survived in the renowned period architecture of Krakówmarker, which served as the royal capital until that distinction passed to Warsawmarker in 1611. The University of Kraków gained international recognition as a cosmopolitan center of learning, and in 1543 its most illustrious student, Nicolaus Copernicus (Mikolaj Kopernik), literally revolutionized the science of astronomy.



The period also bore the fruit of a mature Polish literature, once again modeled after the fashion of the West European Renaissance. The talented dilettante Mikołaj Rej was the first major Polish writer to employ vernacular language, but the elegant classicist Jan Kochanowski (1530–1584) is acknowledged as the genius of the age. Accomplished in several genres and equally adept in Polish and Latin, Kochanowski is widely regarded as the finest Slavic poet before the nineteenth century.

The Eastern Regions of the Realm

The majority of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was neither Catholic nor Polish.
Rzeczpospolita in 1569
In those days, to be Polish was less an indication of ethnicity than of rank; it was a designation largely reserved for the landed noble class, which included members of Polish and non-Polish origin alike. Generally speaking, the ethnically non-Polish noble families of Lithuania adopted the Polish language and culture. In consequence, the eastern territories of the kingdom possessed a Polonized aristocracy dominating a peasantry which was neither Polish nor Catholic. This bred resentment that later grew into separate Lithuanian, Belarusian, and Ukrainian nationalist movements.

In the mid-sixteenth century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth confronted two crises. First, since the late 1400s a series of ambitious Russian tsars had begun competing with Lithuania for influence over the Slavic territories located between the two states. Second, Sigismund II Augustus (1548–1572) had no male heir. The Jagiellon Dynasty, the essential link between the states, would end after his reign. Accordingly, the Union of Lublin of 1569 transformed a loose confederation and a personal union of the Jagiellonian epoch into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, deepening and formalizing the bonds between Poland and Lithuania. See also Muscovite wars.

References

  • Poland.
  • (available on Google Books)
  • Joseph Gigliotti, "The Role of High Inflation in the Decline of Sixteenth-Century Poland-Lithuania's Economy," The Polish Review, vol. LIV, no. 1, 2009, pp. 61–76.


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