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The Polish kingdom
Link with Lithuania
     Jogaila and Jadwiga
     Poland and Lithuania
     The Jagiellon dynasty

16th - 17th century
18th - 19th century
1815 - 1939
20th century
To be completed

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Jogaila and Jadwiga: 1385-1386

In August 1385 Jogaila and the Polish ambassadors come to an agreement. Lithuania, together with Belorussia and Kiev (part of Jogaila's inheritance), is to be linked to the Polish crown. In return, he is himself to marry the 11-year-old queen (he is about thirty-four) and become king of Poland.

During the following winter Jogaila, or Jagiello as his name is written in Polish, travels south to Cracow. He is baptized a Roman Catholic in the cathedral on February 15, adding the Polish name Wladyslaw to his own. He marries Jadwiga on February 18. On March 4 he is crowned, as Wladyslaw II.


In making Lithuania Roman Catholic, Wladyslaw brings into the Christian fold the last remaining pagan kingdom in Europe. The conversion which the Teutonic knights have tried so hard to impose in a century and a half of violence is achieved at a stroke, by Polish diplomacy, through the more peaceful means of marriage.

The kingdom created by the union of Lithuania and Poland becomes immediately the most powerful state in eastern Europe. Its strength is shown in a dramatic clash with the Teutonic knights. They attack Poland in 1409, provoking a response from Wladyslaw which brings a great victory over the knights at Grunwald in 1410.


Poland and Lithuania: 1386-1772

The coronation of Wladyslaw II in 1386 forges a link between Poland and Lithuania which lasts nearly four centuries. At first the separate identity of Lithuania is carefully preserved. The region is guaranteed a grand prince of its own, who sometimes but not invariably will also be the king of Poland.

In 1501 it is agreed that the king of Poland shall always be the grand prince of Lithuania. In 1569 this personal union develops into a more complete merging of kingdom and principality when a joint sejm or parliament is established, formed of nobles and gentry from both regions. Lithuania has its own identity (the language of the majority is Belorussian), but it remains a part of Poland until the partitions of 1772-95.


The Jagiellon dynasty: 1386-1572

The descendants of Wladyslaw II (or Jagiello in his Lithuanian name) rule Poland for two centuries. It is a period during which the country is greatly strengthened, by the expansion of its borders but also by internal consolidation.

The expansion mainly involves the vast territories of Lithuania, though from 1561 there is a further advance along the Baltic coast when part of Livonia comes under Polish control. Internally the strengthening of Poland differs from the rest of Europe. Elsewhere at this time rulers are achieving greater autocracy. In Poland power is increasingly gathered in the hands of parliament.


The first recorded parliament or sejm representing the whole of Poland is called by the king (John I Albert) in 1493. The royal purpose, as with parliaments elsewhere, is to raise funds.

The power of the new national assembly is vividly emphasized in 1505 when the crown accepts the principle of Nihil novi (Latin for 'nothing new'). The principle states that no new law may be introduced without the authority of the sejm.


The power of Poland's broadly based sejm is again evident at the end of the Jagiellon dynasty. The last king in the line, Sigismund II, dies childless in 1572. There are five candidates eager to succeed him, including the Russian tsar, a French royal duke and an Austrian archduke.

Such a list provokes bitter reactions from rival groups, whether on religious grounds (Protestant as well as Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox interests are now involved, in post-Reformation Poland and Lithuania) or on a national basis (mainly a case of passionate commitment for or against the German cause).


Tempers are cooled by an exercise of democracy unusual for its period. It is decided that the new king shall be elected by an assembly in which all the nobles and gentry of the country will have a voice.

The convention meets in April 1573 in Warsaw (the site four years earlier of the first joint Polish-Lithuanian sejm). French diplomacy wins the day and Henry de Valois is elected. His reign only lasts a year. In 1574 he succeeds to the throne of France as Henry III, abandoning Poland with what is considered unseemly haste. But the practice of democracy has been considerably extended in this election. And Warsaw has begun to replace Cracow as Poland's capital - a process gradually completed during the next thirty years.


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