History of Poland

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History of Poland
Coat of Arms of Poland
This article is part of a series
Prehistory and protohistory
Culture of Poland
Politics in Poland
Monarchs · Presidents
Territorial changes
after World War II

Poland Portal
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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 Poland 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.

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 Empire, Habsburg Austria and the Kingdom of Prussia), 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 Republic was destroyed by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union 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.


[edit] Prehistory and protohistory

[edit] 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.[1]

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.[2]

[edit] Bronze Age and Early Iron Age

The reconstruction of Lusatian culture's Biskupin fortified settlement

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 Biskupin fortified settlement (gord), representing the Lusatian culture of the early Iron Age.[3]

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.[2]

[edit] 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.[4]

The La Tène 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.[2]

[edit] 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.[5]

[edit] Polish tribes and tribal states

A Vistulan stronghold in Wiślica once stood here

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. Kraków and Wiślica 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.[6]

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 Giecz, Poznań, Gniezno and Ostrów Lednicki, 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.[7] Under Mieszko's rule (around 960 to 992), his tribal state accepted Christianity and became the Polish state.[8]

[edit] Piast dynasty

[edit] Mieszko I; adoption of Christianity

Ostrów Tumski (Poznań Cathedral on the right) is the area of the early beginnings of the Polish state and church

The viability of the emerging state was assured by the early Piast leaders' persistent territorial expansion, which beginning with a very small area around Gniezno (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.[9]

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.[10] In 965 Mieszko, at that time allied with Boleslaus I of Bohemia, married his daughter Dubrawka, 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 Wolinians 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.[11] Mieszko's state had a complex political relationship with the German 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. 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.[9][12]

[edit] Bolesław I and his empire

Bolesław buys Adalbert's body back from the Prussians (Gniezno Doors)
Poland 992–1025; the area at the end of the rule of Mieszko I (992) in dark pink, at the end of the rule of Bolesław I (1025) within the dark purple border

Contrary to what Mieszko had intended, his oldest son Bolesław managed to become the sole ruler of Poland. A man of high ambition and strong personality, he embarked on further territorial expansion to the west, 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 Polish Western Pomerania, together with its new bishopric in Kołobrzeg; the region had previously been conquered with great effort by Mieszko.[13][14]

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 Czech bishop in exile and missionary, whom Bolesław received and helped and who was killed 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 Gniezno. 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.[13][14]

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.[15] 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.[13][14]

[edit] 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.[16][17]

[edit] Restoration under Casimir I

Mieszko II shown symbolically with Duchess Mathilda von Schwaben
St. Andrew's Church in Kraków (built in 11th century)

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 Kraków, which replaced the old Piast capitals (Poznań and Gniezno) and functioned afterwards as the nation's capital for several centuries.[18]

[edit] 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 emperors, 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.[19]

[edit] Władysław I Herman

After Bolesław's exile the country found itself under the unstable rule of 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.[20]

[edit] 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 Głogów); Zbigniew who later returned was eliminated. Bolesław's other major achievement was the conquest of Pomerania (of which the remaining eastern part was lost by Poland after the death of Mieszko II), a task begun by his father and completed by Bolesław around 1123. At that time also the Christianization of the region was initiated in earnest, an effort crowned by the establishment of the Pomeranian Wolin Diocese after Bolesław's death in 1140.[21]

[edit] Fragmentation of the realm

Before he died, Bolesław Krzywousty divided the country among four of his sons; a complex arrangement intended to preserve the country'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.[22]

[edit] Culture in the 10th-12th century

Early Medieval Poland was developing culturally as a part of the European Christendom. 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 of the Gniezno Cathedral 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)[23] and the Cistercians.[24][25]

[edit] State and society in the 13th century

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. Polish Western 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 Pomerania 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 Halych area of Rus', a territory that had changed hands on a number of occasions.[26]

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.[26]

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. 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 have been one of the minorities in Poland.[26]

In 1228, the Acts of Cienia were passed and signed into law by Władyslaw III. 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.[26]

[edit] Teutonic Knights

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. In the following decades they conquered large areas along the Baltic Sea coast and established their monastic state. 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 (then pagan) Lithuania. In 1325 the Poles and Lithuanians made a treaty to defend themselves against the unruly former allies, who were invading their lands. During 1327-1332 the Polish-Lithuanian armies fought the Order, which managed to capture Dobrzyń Land and Kujawy, recovered by Poland in 1343. The wars continued for most of the 14th and 15th centuries, until the remaining state of the Teutonic Knights was converted into the Protestant Duchy of Prussia under the King of Poland in 1525. The Teutonic state had been claimed as a fief and protected by the German Holy Roman Emperors.

[edit] Reunification attempts; Przemysł II, Wenceslaus II

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 Pomerania) and was assassinated soon after his coronation. A more extensive unification of Polish lands was accomplished by a foreign ruler, Wenceslaus II of Bohemia of the Přemyslid dynasty, who married Przemysł's daughter and became King of Poland in 1300. Wenceslaus' 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.

[edit] Culture in the 13th century

Władysław I the Elbow-high, a fragment of his sandstone sarcophagus

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.

[edit] 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 reasons some of them gravitated toward Poland's neighbors. The Kingdom lost Pomerania and Silesia, the most highly developed or economically important of the ethnically Polish lands, which left half of the Polish population outside the Kingdom's borders. The western losses had to do with the German expansion, and 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.

Despite the territorial truncation 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. A great monetary reform was implemented during the reign of Casimir III.

[edit] Władysław I the Elbow-high

Władysław Łokietek (ruled 1305-1333) fought a lifelong uphill battle with powerful adversaries and 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 Wenceslaus II, and after his death Wenceslaus III in 1304-1306. Wenceslaus III soon being murdered, Władysław Łokietek took over Lesser Poland and the lands north of there, through Kuyavia all the way to Gdańsk Pomerania. 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. In 1313-1314 Władysław conquered Greater Poland. In 1320 Władysław I Łokietek became the first King of Poland crowned in the Wawel Cathedral, which was agreed to by Pope John XXII, despite the opposition from John of Bohemia, who 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). Władysław was helped by his alliances with Hungary and Lithuania, 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 into allegiance.

[edit] Casimir III the Great

Poland at the end of the rule of Casimir III (1370) within the dark purple border; Silesia (yellow) is lost and the Kingdom is expanding to the east

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 wasn't 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. At that time Poland started to expand to the east and through a series of military campaigns between 1340 and 1366 Casimir annexed the Halych-Volodymyr area of Rus'. 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 Gniezno 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 Denmark 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 Drezdenko and Santok became Poland's fiefs, while Wałcz district was in 1368 taken outright, severing the land connection between Brandenburg and the Teutonic state and connecting Poland with western Pomerania.

Kazimierz the Great considerably strengthened the country's position in both foreign and domestic affairs. Domestically he integrated 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.

[edit] Louis I of Hungary and Jadwiga (the 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 (the establishment of the bicameral General Sejm).

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. This 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.

[edit] 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 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 became well developed, and 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.

[edit] Jagiellon Era

In 1385 the Union of Krewo was signed between Jadwiga and Jogaila, the Grand Duke of Lithuania (later known as Władysław II Jagiełło), beginning the Polish-Lithuanian Union and strengthening both nations in their shared opposition to the Teutonic Knights and the growing threat of the Grand Duchy of Moscow. The Union's intention was to create a common state under King Jagiełło. The idea turned out to be premature at that time (there were going to be territorial disputes and warfare between Poland and Lithuania or Lithuanian factions), but 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 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.

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, 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 Piotrków 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 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 (red) and Lithuania (blue) under Jogaila or King Władysław Jagiełło

The first king of the new dynasty was the Grand Duke of Lithuania Jogaila, or Ladislaus II as the King of Poland. He was elected a King of Poland in 1386, after becoming a Christian and marrying Jadwiga of Anjou, daughter of Louis I, who was Queen of Poland in her own right. Christianization of Lithuania followed. Jogaila's rivalry in Lithuania with his cousin Vytautas was settled in 1401 in the Union of Vilnius and Radom. Vytautas became the Grand Duke of Lithuania for life under Jogaila's nominal supremacy, but the agreement made possible close cooperation between the two nations, necessary to succeed in the upcoming struggle with the Teutonic Order. The campaign of summer of 1410 included the Battle of Grunwald, where the Polish and Lithuanian-Rus' armies completely defeated the Teutonic Knights. The offensive that followed lost its impact with the ineffective siege of Malbork. The failure to take the fortress and eliminate the Teutonic (later Prussian) state had for Poland dire historic consequences in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. After 1410 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 Constance. 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 Melno in 1422.

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.

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 Hungary. At that time Turkey 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 Varna.

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.

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 Vilnius 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.

In 1454 the Prussian Confederation, an alliance of Prussian cities opposed to the 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 (1466) the Knights had to surrender the western half of their territory to the Polish crown (the areas known afterwards as Royal Prussia), and to accept Polish-Lithuanian suzerainty over the remainder (the later Ducal Prussia). Poland regained Gdańsk Pomerania and with it the all-important access to the Baltic Sea. 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.

Poland, Poland's fiefs (striped) and Lithuania in 1466

The southern and eastern outskirts of Poland and Lithuania became threatened by Turkish invasions beginning in the late 15th century. 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 Lublin before being beaten at Zaslavl.[27] 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.[28] 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.

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 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.

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. Luxurious 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, of which the altar of Veit Stoss is the finest example.

The Kraków University, which stopped functioning after the death of Casimir the Great, was renewed and rejuvenated around 1400, 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.

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 than in the East extent, 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 Gdańsk, which because of its location at the terminal point of the Vistula and its tributaries waterway and of its Baltic seaport trade role became the wealthiest, most highly developed (by far the largest center of crafts and manufacturing) and most autonomous of the Polish cities. Other towns were negatively affected by Gdańsk's near-monopoly in foreign trade. The largest of them were Kraków, Poznań and Warszawa, and outside of the Crown, Wrocław. 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.

Wawel Castle Renaissance courtyard

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 has 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 Gdańsk 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. Königsberg and the Duchy of Prussia 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, 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.

Calvinism on the other hand in mid 16th century gained many followers among both szlachta and the magnates, especially in Lesser Poland and Lithuania. The Calvinists proposed the establishment of a Polish national church, under which all Christian denominations would be unified. After 1555 Sigismund II, who accepted their ideas, sent an envoy to the pope, but the papacy rejected the various Calvinist postulates. 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. 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 Stanisław Hozjusz, a Catholic reformer, into a "safe haven for heretics".

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 Italy. 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 Kraków, the rest mostly in Gdańsk, Toruń and Zamość. 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 Academy, an institution of higher learning, was established in Poznań 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.

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 Vilnius, 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 Wawel 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 Nuremberg in 1543, shook up the traditional value system extended into an understanding of the physical universe, setting free the explosion of scientific inquiry.

Nicolas Copernicus, a son of a Toruń 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 Frombork, where he died.

Maciej Miechowita, a rector at the Cracow 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.

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.

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 Czarnolas, 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 a large scale group Polish language church singing during the services. 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.

Sigismund II Augustus, the last Jagiellon king; his actions facilitated the Union of Lublin

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 Florentino worked on the tomb of Jan Olbracht already from 1502, and then together with Bartolommeo Berrecci and Benedykt from Sandomierz rebuilt the royal castle, which was accomplished between 1507 and 1536. Berrecci also built Sigismund's Chapel at Wawel Cathedral. Polish magnates, Silesian Piast princes in Brzeg, 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 Sukiennice and Poznań City Hall 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 Zamość. The town and its fortifications were designed to consistently implement the Renaissance 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.

During the reign of Sigismund I, szlachta in the lower chamber of the sejm, initially decidedly outnumbered by their more privileged colleagues from the senate, acquired a more numerous and fully elected representation, but Sigismund 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 of the szlachta's execution movement, for the execution or enforcement of the laws.

In 1518 Sigismund I married Bona Sforza d'Aragona, a young, strong-minded Italian princess. Bona's influence 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 minor Sigismund Augustus in 1529, 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. Sigismund I's unwillingness to move toward the implementation of their goals negatively affected the country's financial and defensive abilities.

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 before his accession to the throne was strongly opposed by his mother Bona and by the magnates of the Crown. Sigismund overcame the resistance and had Barbara crowned; 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 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 never became completely implemented, but nevertheless for the time being the middle szlachta movement was victorious.

Royal Prussia shown in light pink, Ducal Prussia striped

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 Baltic coast.

The Peace of Thorn of 1466 reduced the Teutonic Knights, but brought no lasting solution to the problem they presented for Poland. 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, and the homage act of the new Prussian duke in Kraków followed.

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 Western Pomerania and Silesia. Motivated by a current political expediency, Sigismund Augustus in 1563 allowed the elector branch of the Hohenzollerns to inherit the Prussian fief rule. The decision, confirmed by the 1569 sejm, made the future union of Prussia with Brandenburg possible, even though, unlike his successors, this Polish king was 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 Gdańsk, 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 Baltic shipping trade were regulated and received statutory recognition.

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 Smolensk. 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.

In 1515, during a congress in Vienna, a dynastic succession arrangement was agreed to between Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor and the Jagiellon brothers, Vladislaus 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 Belgrade 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 Mohács, where young Louis II Jagiellon, the son of Vladislaus II, was killed. Poland's 1533 "eternal peace" with the Ottoman Empire did nothing to stop Turkey's take-over of Moldavia a few years later.

Livonia on a map published in 1573

Because of its desire to control Livonian Baltic seaports, especially Riga, 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 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 Poswol treaty, a military alliance obliged the Livonian state to support Lithuania against Moscow.

Other powers aspiring to the Livonian Baltic access responded with partitioning of the Livonian state, which triggered the lengthy Livonian War, fought between 1558 and 1583. Ivan IV of Russia took Dorpat and Narva in 1558, and soon the Danes and Swedes 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 Vilnius 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 Livonia into the "Republic" as an autonomous entity. Under the Union of Vilnius the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia 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.

Rzeczpospolita in 1569; the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, having lost lands to the Russian state and to Lithuania's partner Poland, is much smaller than a hundred years earlier

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 in 1529, 1565 and 1588, gradually making its social and legal system similar to that of Poland, with the expanding role of the middle and lower nobility. Fighting wars with Moscow 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.

By the Union of Lublin a unified Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita) was created, stretching from the Baltic Sea and the Carpathian mountains to present-day Belarus and western and central Ukraine (which earlier had been Kievan Rus' principalities). Within the new federation some degree of formal separateness was retained, but the union became a multinational entity, 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 was becoming apparent at the time of, or soon after the 1572 death of Sigismund Augustus, the last monarch of the Jagiellon dynasty.

During this period Poland became 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, 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. 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.[29] The greatest increase in Jewish population occurred in the 18th century, when the Jews constituted up to 7% of the population.

[edit] Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

Stephen Báthory was one of the foreigners elected as kings

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 Henri of Valois (Henryk Walezy), who was the brother of the King of France Charles IX, the Russian Czar Ivan IV the Terrible, Archduke Ernest from the Austrian Habsburg dynasty, and the King of Sweden, Johan Vasa III. Henri of Valois was the winner in a very disorderly election. But after serving as Polish king for only four months, he received the news that his brother, the King of France, had died. Henri of Valois then abandoned his Polish post and went back to France, where he claimed the throne as Henry III.

From the 16th century the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth suffered a series of Tatar invasions. 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 were captured and enslaved during the time of the Crimean Khanate.

In 1593, 1626, 1637-1638 and 1648-1654 several Cossack uprisings took place. The last one led by Bohdan Khmelnytsky lasted for six years. As a result of several requests from the Ukrainian hetman Ukraine was taken under the protection of Russia. The agreement was made in January of 1654 in the city of Pereyaslavl (Ukraine). This development led to a new Russian-Polish war that lasted from 1654 to 1667. In the end, the parties signed an agreement in the village of Andrusovo near Smolensk, according to which eastern Ukraine now belonged to Russia (with a high degree of local autonomy and an internal army).

The Lipka Tatars were a noble military caste of the Commonwealth. In the year 1672, the Tatar subjects rose up in open rebellion against the Commonwealth. This was the widely remembered Lipka Rebellion.

Election of King Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki on Wola fields in 1669

The elections of kings lasted until the Partitions of Poland. The elected kings in chronological order were: Henri of Valois, Stefan Batory, Zygmunt III Vasa, Władyslaw IV Vasa, Jan Kazimierz, Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki, Jan III Sobieski, Augustus II the Strong, Stanisław Leszczyński, Augustus III and Stanisław August Poniatowski.

Two of the elective kings are more highly regarded than the others. Stefan Batory was determined to reassert the deteriorated royal prerogative, at the cost of alienating the powerful noble families. Jan 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.

Stanisław Antoni Szczuka, a Polish nobleman

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, following the Union of Lublin, became a counterpoint of sorts 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, on the other hand, 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 (relatively 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, the largest European state, was little more than a pawn of its neighbours (the Russian Empire, Prussia and Austria) who interfered in its domestic politics almost at will.

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 his reform camp. 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.

In 1791 the "Great" or Four-Year Sejm adopted the May 3 Constitution at Warsaw's Royal Castle

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, at least not yet, but the King surrendered and the pro-Russian Targowica took over. The Empire 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 Commonwealth ceased to exist.

[edit] Partitioned Poland

The Partitions of Poland of 1772, 1793, and 1795

Polish independence ended in a series of Partitions (1772, 1793 and 1795) undertaken by Russia, Prussia and Austria. Russia gained most of the Commonwealth's territory including nearly all of the former Lithuania (except Podlasie and lands west of the Niemen River), Volhynia and Ukraine. Austria gained the populous southern region henceforth named GaliciaLodomeria, after the Duchy of Halicz and Volodymyr. In 1795 Austria also gained the land between Kraków and Warsaw, between the Vistula and Pilica rivers. Prussia acquired the western lands from the Baltic through Greater Poland to Kraków, as well as Warsaw and Lithuanian territories to the north-east and Podlasie.

Following the French emperor Napoleon I's defeat of Prussia, a small Polish state was set up in 1807 under French tutelage as the Duchy of Warsaw. 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 Poland, 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.

[edit] 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.

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 war hero who had engineered the defeat of the Soviet forces. 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.

[edit] World War II

German battleship Schleswig-Holstein shelling Westerplatte on September 1, 1939

On August 23, 1939 Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union 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 Britain and France 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 Paris and later in London, 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 Kolhapur in India. The camp numbered about 5000 refugees, and the Polish embassy of the government in exile had its office in Bombay. The camp existed from 1943 to 1948.

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 Katyń, in the USSR. The Soviets claimed that the Poles had insulted them by requesting that the Red Cross investigate these reports. In July 1944 the Soviet Red Army and the Peoples' Army of Poland controlled by the Soviets entered Poland, defeated the Germans (losing 600,000 of their soldiers), and established a communist-controlled "Polish Committee of National Liberation" in Lublin.

Jewish prisoners liberated by Polish soldiers in the beginning of Warsaw Uprising

There was powerful hatred of the Nazis in Warsaw, and there was often resistance, 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 Nazis 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.

During the war about 6 million Polish citizens were killed by the Germans, and 2.5 million were deported to Germany for forced labour or to extermination camps such as Oświęcim-Auschwitz. 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. Previously it was believed that about one million Polish citizens died at the hands of the Soviets, however recently Polish historians, based mostly on queries in Soviet archives, estimated the number of deaths at about 350,000.

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

Warsaw destroyed, January 1945

During World War II over half a million fighting men and women and 6 million civilians (22% of the total population) died. About 50% of these were Polish Christians and other non-Jews and 50% were Polish Jews. Approximately 5,384,000, or 89.9% 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 Lwów and Wilno. 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 (1944–1946)), 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 Nazis' 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.

[edit] People's Republic of Poland

At the end of World War II, the gray territories were transferred from Poland to the Soviet Union, and the pink territories from Germany to Poland. The post-war Poland consists of the white and pink portions.

In June 1945, following the February Yalta Conference, a Polish Provisional Government of National Unity was formed; the US recognized it the next month. Although the Yalta agreement called for free elections, those held in January 1947 were controlled by the Communist Party. The communists then established a regime entirely under their domination. The Polish government in exile existed until 1990, although its influence was degraded.

In October 1956, after the 20th Soviet Party Congress in Moscow ushered in destalinization and riots by workers in Poznań 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.

In December 1970, disturbances and strikes in the port cities of Gdańsk, Gdynia, and Szczecin, 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.

1980 strike at Gdańsk Shipyard, birthplace of Solidarity

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 Gdańsk, led by an electrician named Lech Wałęsa, signed a 21-point agreement with the government that ended their strike. Similar agreements were signed at Szczecin 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.

Wojciech Jaruzelski declared martial law on December 13, 1981

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.

In late 1980s the government was forced to negotiate with Solidarity in the Polish Roundtable Negotiations. The Polish legislative elections in 1989 became one of the important events marking the fall of communism in Poland.

[edit] Third Republic

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' (Communist) Party dissolved itself in January 1990, creating in its place a new party, Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland.

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 NATO 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.

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.

[edit] See also

[edit] Maps

[edit] References


  1. ^ Various authors, ed. Marek Derwich i Adam Żurek, U źródeł Polski (do roku 1038) (Foundations of Poland (until year 1038)), p. 10-53. Wydawnictwo Dolnośląskie, Wrocław 2002, ISBN 83-7023-954-4.
  2. ^ a b c Kalendarium dziejów Polski (Chronology of Polish History), ed. Andrzej Chwalba, p. 8, Jacek Poleski. Copyright 1999 Wydawnictwo Literackie Kraków, ISBN 83-08-02855-1.
  3. ^ Various authors, ed. Marek Derwich i Adam Żurek, U źródeł Polski (do roku 1038) (Foundations of Poland (until year 1038)), p. 54-85
  4. ^ Various authors, ed. Marek Derwich i Adam Żurek, U źródeł Polski (do roku 1038) (Foundations of Poland (until year 1038)), p. 86-121
  5. ^ Various authors, ed. Marek Derwich i Adam Żurek, U źródeł Polski (do roku 1038) (Foundations of Poland (until year 1038)), p. 122-129
  6. ^ Various authors, ed. Marek Derwich i Adam Żurek, U źródeł Polski (do roku 1038) (Foundations of Poland (until year 1038)), p. 130-143
  7. ^ Kalendarium dziejów Polski (Chronology of Polish History), ed. Andrzej Chwalba, p. 29, Krzysztof Stopka
  8. ^ Various authors, ed. Marek Derwich i Adam Żurek, U źródeł Polski (do roku 1038) (Foundations of Poland (until year 1038)), p. 144-159
  9. ^ a b Various authors, ed. Marek Derwich i Adam Żurek, U źródeł Polski (do roku 1038) (Foundations of Poland (until year 1038)), p. 146-167, Zofia Kurnatowska
  10. ^ Jerzy Wyrozumski - Dzieje Polski piastowskiej (VIII w. - 1370) (History of Piast Poland (8th century - 1370)), p. 77, Fogra, Kraków 1999, ISBN 83-85719-38-5
  11. ^ Polski mogło nie być (There could have been no Poland) - an interview with the historian Tomasz Jasiński by Piotr Bojarski, Gazeta Wyborcza July 7, 2007
  12. ^ Jerzy Wyrozumski - Historia Polski do roku 1505 (History of Poland until 1505), p. 80-88, Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe (Polish Scientific Publishers PWN), Warszawa 1986, ISBN 83-01-03732-6
  13. ^ a b c Jerzy Wyrozumski - Historia Polski do roku 1505 (History of Poland until 1505), p. 88-93
  14. ^ a b c Various authors, ed. Marek Derwich i Adam Żurek, U źródeł Polski (do roku 1038) (Foundations of Poland (until year 1038)), p. 168-183, Andrzej Pleszczyński
  15. ^ Kalendarium dziejów Polski (Chronology of Polish History), ed. Andrzej Chwalba, p. 33, Krzysztof Stopka
  16. ^ Jerzy Wyrozumski - Historia Polski do roku 1505 (History of Poland until 1505), p. 93-96
  17. ^ Various authors, ed. Marek Derwich i Adam Żurek, U źródeł Polski (do roku 1038) (Foundations of Poland (until year 1038)), p. 182-187, Andrzej Pleszczyński
  18. ^ Jerzy Wyrozumski - Historia Polski do roku 1505 (History of Poland until 1505), p. 96-98
  19. ^ Jerzy Wyrozumski - Historia Polski do roku 1505 (History of Poland until 1505), p. 98-100
  20. ^ Jerzy Wyrozumski - Historia Polski do roku 1505 (History of Poland until 1505), p. 100-101
  21. ^ Jerzy Wyrozumski - Historia Polski do roku 1505 (History of Poland until 1505), p. 101-104
  22. ^ Jerzy Wyrozumski - Historia Polski do roku 1505 (History of Poland until 1505), p. 104-111
  23. ^ Kalendarium dziejów Polski (Chronology of Polish History), ed. Andrzej Chwalba, p. 37, Krzysztof Stopka
  24. ^ Jerzy Wyrozumski - Historia Polski do roku 1505 (History of Poland until 1505), p. 111-115
  25. ^ Various authors, ed. Marek Derwich i Adam Żurek, U źródeł Polski (do roku 1038) (Foundations of Poland (until year 1038)), p. 196-209
  26. ^ a b c d Jerzy Wyrozumski - Historia Polski do roku 1505 (History of Poland until 1505), p. 116-128
  27. ^ Russian Interaction with Foreign Lands
  28. ^ List of Wars of the Crimean Tatars
  29. ^ European Jewish Congress - Poland


[edit] Further reading

History of Poland books in English

  • 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

[edit] External links

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