Poland History: From The Origins to The War of Succession
The Polish state had its first nucleus in the marshy depression that goes from the Oder to the middle course of the Vistula. Here lived (IX-X century) a people of farmers divided into various tribes; the main of these, the Polani, gave its name to the whole region (later called Greater Poland). According to allpubliclibraries.com, Poland entered history in the century. X when Mieszko, of the Piasti family reigning in Gniezno, made himself a tributary of Otto I to escape the Germanic “crusades” and was baptized with his people (966), then expanding his domains towards Silesia, Lesser Poland and the Baltic. His son Boleslaus I the Brave (992-1025) went as far as Kijev and was the first to gird (1024) the crown of kings. In the following century, Poland found itself shattered into 24 duchies over which the Duke of Krakow had nominal sovereignty: then it fell to the Polish Church, ruled by energetic prelates, the task of maintaining national unity. Meanwhile, Germanic infiltration (monks, merchants, artisans) was accentuated, while German princes reigned over this or that Polish region. One of them called for help (1226) the Teutonic Knights, who settled in East Prussia and Pomerelia, where they threatened the Polish kingdom for a long time. This was however restored by another Piasti, Ladislao the Brief (1320-33). His son Casimir III the Great (1333-70) ceded Silesia to the kings of Bohemia and Pomerelia to the Teutonic Knights; but he distinguished himself as a legislator and administrator by establishing a Senate and then Regional Diets (Dietine) with consultative functions, establishing agricultural colonies, organizing the nobility in a very different regime from Western feudalism, protecting peasants and Jews and finally founding (1364) the University of Krakow, jewel of the capital. When the Piasti dynasty died with him, the crown passed to the Anjou of Hungary. Hedwig (Jadwiga), thirteen-year-old daughter of King Louis, agreeing to marry (1385) the Grand Duke of Lithuania Jagellone (Jagiełło, Jogaila), baptized and crowned king with the name of Ladislao II (1386-1434), annexed the Lithuanians to the Christian world and knotted tenacious bonds between the Polish people and those warlike Baltic people, already reaching out to the conquest of Belorussia and Ukraine. Ladislao, with Polish and Lithuanian forces, beat hard (1410) the Teutonic Knights, reduced since then to the defensive. His son Ladislao III (1434-44) also obtained the title of King of Hungary (1440), but died twenty years old in Varna fighting against the Turks. Casimiro IV Jagellone, brother of the hero of Varna, placed Lithuania on a plane of absolute equality with Poland and forced (1466) the Teutonic Knights to declare themselves his vassals. Meanwhile, Poland came into closer contact with the European West and absorbed the lesson of the Italian Renaissance. Casimir’s sons continued their father’s enlightened policy, especially Sigismondo I the Elder (1506-48). He found the way to an agreement with the Habsburgs and married the Italian Bona Sforza, who brought the splendor of Tuscan art and a taste for political intrigue to the court of Krakow. That was the age of Copernicus (1473-1543), followed by another no less happy one in which Polish literature and thought made great progress. in the meantime Sigismund II Augustus (1548-72), who succeeded his father, extended the institutions of the Kingdom of Poland to Lithuania and closely linked the two countries with the Union of Lublin (1569), so as to make a single res publica. Tolerant, it did not prevent the spread of the Reformation, however slowed down by the introduction of the Jesuits (late 16th century). When the Jagiellonian dynasty died out with him, the election of the king was regulated, entrusting it to the entire nobility so that with numbers he could limit the magnate arrogance. The crown then fell to Stefano Báthory (1576-86), prince of Transylvania and brother-in-law of the last king, magnanimous in peace and brave in war and well assisted by Chancellor Jan Zamoyski who, after Stephen died, had the Swede elected Sigismund III Vasa (1587-1632). There was now fighting on various fronts: the king’s troops reached Moscow and tried to settle there; but the Turks and the Swedes of Gustavo Adolfo gave no respite. Meanwhile, the capital was transferred to Warsaw (1596). The son of Sigismondo, Ladislao IV (1632-48), restored peace to the kingdom; but the social situation worsened due to the spread of serfdom. On the reign (1648-68) of Giovanni Casimir (d.1672) threatening storms gathered: the revolt of the Cossacks (1648-54), which ended with the appeal of these to the Tsar, and, more serious, the Swedish invasion (1655-60); the “Republic”, humiliated, gave up vast territories. There was a clearing with John III Sobieski (1674-96), who beat (1683) the Turks in Vienna, deserving the gratitude of Christianity. But the political decline was accentuated: Frederick Augustus II of Saxony (1697-1733) ascended to the throne, protected by Peter the Great, concerned about the future of the dynasty rather than the integrity of the Polish state. His death triggered the War of the Polish Succession (1733-38), which saw the victory of Frederick August III (1733-63) over Stanislao Leszczyński, a candidate of the Polish nobility.