THE STRUGGLES FOR POLAND

BY NEAL ASCHERSON

PART 2

PART 1
PART 3
PART 4


THE STRUGGLES FOR POLAND

BY NEAL ASCHERSON

excerpts of  the 
First American Edition
Random House Inc.,
New York 1988

http://www.halat.pl/poland.html
 


 
 
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The Polish state was founded in 966. It was in the tenth century that tribal groups all over eastern Europe began to settle and consolidate into relatively stable kingdoms. One of these groups, the Polane, established its area of control in 'Great Poland' (the lands around Poznań), and under King Mieszko I extended its inf1uence as far as the mouths of the Vistula on the Baltic Sea, where the city of Gdańsk now stands. Mieszko's acceptance of the western form of Christianity in 966 is held to mark the origins of the Polish state. The Piast dynasty, which he founded, ruled until 1138.

THE STRUGGLES FOR POLAND BY NEAL ASCHERSON
excerpts of  the 
First American Edition
Random House Inc.
New York 1988


 
Mieszko I (c. 922-992)

the first historic ruler of Poland, founder of the Piast dynasty. He united several western Slavonic tribes under his sway and consolidated his power by marrying the Bohemian princess, Dobrava, and converting to Christianity in 966. As a result, the Polish state was brought into the European political system and established relations with the greatest powers of that period, the papacy and the empire. After Dobrava's death, Mieszko married Oda, the daughter of Margrave Dietrich. He conducted wars with the Eastern March and Bohemia. On his death, he divided his state among his first born, Boleslaus, and his sons by Oda.


 
 
GREATEST VICTORIES

Cedynia, June 24, 972 (During the first Polish-German war)

Gero's successor, Margrave Hodo crosses Oder to battle Mieszko. Poles had between 3,000-4,000 men, mostly infantry and pancerni cavalry. Germans had mostly heavy cavalry forces. In the first phase elements of the Polish cavalry attacked lead formations of German cavalry, the Germans slowly taking the advantage. This forced the Poles to retreat closer to a little town called Cedynia. The actual 'retreat', wasn't at all surprising, it was a calculated move. The Polish cavalry lead the charging German forces into a trap, under the command of the brother of Mieszko - Czcibor. The German column was then attacked from almost all sides. The Germans were forced to retreat in the only direction they could - right into a swamp. Here they were cornered and cut to pieces. German losses were significant. Thietmar claims that most of the best knights were killed, apart from Hodo and Zygrfyd. The success of this battle allowed the continued maintaining of Polish control of eastern Pommerania. Otto I after hearing of the unprovoked attack on the Poles seriously reprimanded Hodo. Otto II however had stronger claims on Poland, in 979 another German invasion of Poland was organized. Again the Germans were defeated. Poles again drive out the  Germans, taking a number of missionary fortresses and destroying Hamburg.
 


 
Boleslaus the Brave (c. 967-1025)

the first son of Mieszko I and the Bohemian princess Dobrava. After his father's death, he banished Mieszko's second wife Oda and her sons, and reunited the state. In his attempts at winning the royal crown for himself, he developed contacts with papacy and the empire. Thanks to his efforts, Bishop Adalbert, murdered by the pagan Prussians, was canonised in 999 and the first Polish metropolis (archbishopric) was established at Gniezno, the capital of the country, in 1000. The same year he welcomed in Gniezno the emperor Otto III, an event of considerable political importance. In the wars he fought in the west and the east, he extended his rule to Milsko and Lusatia along the Elbe and the group of strongholds called Grody Czerwienskie in Rus. He had himself crowned king of Poland in 1025, shortly before his death


 
 
GREATEST VICTORIES

Bug River, July 22, 1018

Chrobry defeats Jaroslav at the Bug river.  Pursues Jaroslav to Kiev, besieges, and wins. Establishes border at the Bug River. Legendary event - Notching of the Szczerbiec (Coronation Sword of Poland) on the Golden Gate of Kiev. August 14- Places son-in-law Sviatopolk on throne. Boleslaw sends 'Proclamation of Triumphant Peace and Friendship' to Roman and Byzantine emperors. Chrobry dismisses German, Hungarian, and Pecheneg allies, but stays in Kiev too long and makes Sviatopolk nervous. Chrobry withdraws in good order, retaking Grody Czerwienskie on the way home.


 
Mieszko II (990-1034)

became king under the will of his father, Boleslaus the Brave, who also arranged his marriage to Richeza (Ryksa) of Lorraine, the emperor Otto III's niece, in 1013. His brothers, the elder Bezprym and the younger Otto, opposed the father's decision and in their struggle against Mieszko sought support of a German-Rus coalition. Under Mieszko II's rule, Bohemia captured Moravia, Germany occupied Lusatia, Denmark entered Pomerania, and Rus recovered Grody Czerwienskie. Richeza secretly left Poland, taking with her to Germany the royal insignia. The young Polish state was collapsing. In 1033, Mieszko recognised the suzerainty of the emperor and resigned from the crown and the royal title. His death was followed by a civil war. Mieszko had one son, Casimir, and two daughters


 
 
Casimir the Restorer (1016-1058)

failed to take full control of the country which had slipped towards anarchy after the death of Mieszko II, and in 1037 was exiled by the rebellious nobles. Soon after, Prince Bretislav of Bohemia invaded Poland, sacked Poznan and Gniezno, stole the relics of Adalbert, the patron saint of Poland, and then captured Silesia. In these dramatic circumstances, Casimir's return encountered no opposition from the local nobles, and the prince proceeded to reconstruct the state and restore its economy and civilization. He regained Silesia and incorporated Mazovia. Since Great Poland and its oldest towns, Poznan and Gniezno, were in ruins, he moved his capital to Cracow.


 
 
Boleslaus the Bold (1039-1081)

the eldest son of Casimir the Restorer, obtained the royal title in 1076, after 18 years of rule as a prince, thanks to his support of the pope in the latter's dispute with the emperor Henry IV. Papal legates restored the metropolis of Gniezno and established a new bishopric (next to the old ones of Poznan, Wroclaw and Cracow) in Plock. Boleslaus conducted many wars and intervened in dynastic conflicts in Hungary and Rus. His strong-arm rule provoked opposition among the nobles, including the bishop of Cracow, Stanislaw of Szczepanow. The bishop was put to death for treason, which caused a revolt by the nobles. Boleslaus was excommunicated and in 1079 he had to abandon the throne and seek refuge in Hungary, where he died several years later


 
 
Ladislaus Herman (1079-1102)

son of Casimir the Restorer, was asked by the nobles to ascend the throne in Cracow after Boleslaus the Bold's flight. He married the emperor's daughter. His policy was based on alliances with the Germans and Bohemians, and the recognition of the latter's claims to Silesia. A weak ruler, he let the real power slip into the hands of the voivode Sieciech. The latter's growing influence was opposed by the nobles, who supported Ladislaus Herman's sons, first Zbigniew, and then Boleslaus. In 1097, internal disorders resulted in the division of the country between Zbigniew and his younger brother, Boleslaus the Wrymouthed. Ladislaus Herman recognised the suzerainty of the empire and therefore never crowned himself king.


 
 
Boleslaus the Wrymouthed (1085-1138)

after his father's death, drove his elder brother, Zbigniew, out of the country. His influence grew as he made new conquests and expanded the territory of his realm. The dramatic war against the emperor Henry V ended in the latter's defeat at the battle of Psie Pole near Wroclaw. Boleslaus' conquest of Pomerania was accompanied by missionary work. He captured Gdansk Pomerania and won suzerainty over Szczecin Pomerania. Unfortunately, he undid his enormous successes when in his political testament he divided the state among his three adult sons, although he also established the institution of the sovereign, or senior, prince. This was the beginning of the period of feudal disintegration, which lasted almost two hundred years.


 
 
 
GREATEST VICTORIES

Glogow & Psie Pole (Dogs' Field) 1109 (During the 3rd Polish-German war)

Germans again invade under the command of Henry V, in 1109 with around 10,000 men. Henry V moves into Poland but is unable to take Bytom, a massive Polish fortress. He then moves onto Glogow where another large Polish garrison awaited him. He demanded the capitulation of the garrison but it was refused. Boleslaw at the time was 200 km from Glogow during this time battling the Pommerians, it was imperative that he be given enough time to come to the aid of Glowgow. In 14 days he managed to arrive in the vicinity of the siege. Continued German assaults on the fortress came to no good, giving the Germans high casualties. Henryk V was forced to retreat with his army back west after this unsuccessful siege. After Henry V left Glogow he moved south onto Wroclaw. In an open field battle, Boleslaw defeated him again. The battle has a legendary name. The corpses of the dead Germans were left on the field of battle and therefore the wild dogs of the region took advantage of a free feed, hence the name 'Dog's field'
 


 
 

Jan Matejko: Dzieje cywilizacji w Polsce I. 
Zaprowadzenie chrześcijaństwa R.P. 965.
1889. Olej na płótnie.
Muzeum Narodowe, Warszawa - depozyt w Zamku Królewskim w Warszawie.

Jan Matejko: Dzieje cywilizacji w Polsce II.
Koronacja pierwszego króla R.P. 1001.
1889. Olej na płótnie.
Muzeum Narodowe, Warszawa - depozyt w Zamku Królewskim w Warszawie.

Jan Matejko: Dzieje cywilizacji w Polsce II. Fragment.
Na pierwszym planie: Radzim-Gaudenty, brat św. Wojciecha, pierwszy arcybiskup gnieźnieński od roku 1000; Bolesław Chrobry (klęczy); Otto III, król niemiecki 983, cesarz rzymski 996.

Jan Matejko: Dzieje cywilizacji w Polsce III. 
Przyjęcie Żydów R.P. 1096.
1889. Olej na płótnie.
Muzeum Narodowe, Warszawa - depozyt w Zamku Królewskim w Warszawie.

Jan Matejko: Dzieje cywilizacji w Polsce III. Fragment.
Scena pod katedrą płocką. Z prawej strony Bolesław III Krzywousty, za nim najstarszy jego brat Zbigniew. Ich ojciec, książę Władysław Herman, jest niewidoczny na tym fragmencie obrazu.

Jan Matejko: Dzieje cywilizacji w Polsce IV. W Łęczycy pierwszy sejm. Spisanie praw. Ukrócenie rozbojów. R.P. 1182.
1888. Olej na płótnie.
Muzeum Narodowe, Warszawa - depozyt w Zamku Królewskim w Warszawie.

Wojciech Gerson: Kazimierz Odnowiciel wracający do Polski.
1887. Olej na płótnie. 231 x 290 cm.
Muzeum Narodowe, Wrocław.

Jan Matejko: Zabójstwo św. Stanisława.
1892. Olej na płótnie.
Muzeum Pomorza Środkowego w Słupsku.

 

In the thirteenth century, Poland began to suffer the foreign invasions and encroachments which have plagued the nation ever since. Two Mongol hosts swept in from the east, devastating the land and slaughtering the Polish armies which tried to halt them. Near the end of the century, the German crusading order of the Teutonic Knights conquered eastern Prussia, a region inhabited at the time by pagan peoples of Baltic origin, which was beyond the limits of Polish control. This was an aspect of the great colonising movement of Germans towards the east; Poland benefited in many ways from this movement, which brought her immigrant craftsmen and scholars and led to the foundation of new villages and town settlements under German law. There was nothing peaceful about the Teutonic Knights, who were soon in conf1ict with the Poles along the Baltic coast. But Poland continued to develop as a remarkably multinational structure, especially in the towns, a trend which was further advanced in the brilliant reign of Casimir the Great (1333-70). Casimir gave Poland its first written laws, rebuilt Kraków into a magnificent capital and - an act with great consequences - welcomed into Poland thousands of Jews fleeing from persecution in the Rhineland.

THE STRUGGLES FOR POLAND BY NEAL ASCHERSON
excerpts of  the 
First American Edition
Random House Inc.
New York 1988


 
Ladislaus the Exile (1105-1159)

the eldest son of Boleslaus the Wrymouthed and under the latter's will the first sovereign prince. In addition to his hereditary province of Silesia, he took over the senior's province, together with Cracow and Gniezno. He sought allies in his efforts to reunify the country. In 1146, he won the support of the emperor Conrad III and turned against his brothers, but was defeated and banished. He sought refuge in Germany. In 1157, he supported the emperor Frederick Barbarossa's expedition against Poland, but he never recovered the throne of the senior prince. He was the first of the Silesian Piast rulers


 
 
Boleslaus the Curly (1125-1173)

received, under Boleslaus the Wrymouthed's will, the principalities of Mazovia and Kuyavia and following the banishment of his elder brother, Ladislaus, ascended the Cracow throne as the senior prince. He had to fight to keep this position since Ladislaus made efforts to win back the throne with the support of the papacy and the German states. In 1148, the papal legate Guido came to Poland with the mission of persuading the provincial princes to recognise the suzerainty of the exiled Ladislaus. In 1157, Boleslaus was defeated by the emperor Frederick Barbarossa and forced to pay homage and a high contribution. In the event, Ladislaus did not return to Cracow, but Boleslaus had to hand over Silesia to his sons in 1163. Under his rule, Poland lost Pomerania


 
 
Mieszko the Old (1126-1202)

the prince of Great Poland under his father's will, became senior prince and ascended the Cracow throne after the death of his brother, Boleslaus the Curly. His attempts at strengthening his authority provoked dissatisfaction among the nobles, and then an open revolt, as a result of which in 1177 the Cracow province was seized by Casimir the Just. Mieszko did not give up his position easily and strove to regain the throne. His efforts succeeded when for several he was allowed to rule on behalf of the minor Leszek the White, the son of Casimir the Just


 
 
Casimir the Just (1138-1194)

the youngest son of Boleslaus the Wrymouthed, born probably after his father's death, which is why he was not assigned a hereditary province in the will. He succeeded to the province of Sandomierz only after the death of his brother, Henry. In 1177, in the wake of a revolt by the nobles, he became senior prince in Cracow, and in 1186, he took over the principalities of Mazovia and Kuyavia. He sought Church support and therefore at the congress at Leczyca in 1180, he bestowed various privileges on the Polish Church. In exchange, he was promised the Cracow province as his hereditary principality. Following his sudden death, war broke out for the Cracow throne and lasted eight years.


 
 
Ladislaus Spindleshanks (c. 1165-1231)

the son of Mieszko the Old, who was the prince of Gniezno and Poznan, ascended the throne after his father's death. However the majority of the nobles supported the prince of Sandomierz, Leszek the White, the son of Casimir the Just. Ladislaus was exiled from Cracow, and Leszek assumed power in the senior principality. Ladislaus did not give up his efforts to regain the throne and sought support in Great Poland. He achieved his aim shortly after Leszek's death, but was again exiled, this time by Prince Conrad of Mazovia, who claimed the throne as the brother of Leszek the White. After this defeat, Ladislaus also lost Great Poland. He sought refuge in Silesia, where in his last will he bequeathed his province to his host, Prince Henry the Bearded


 
 
Leszek the White (c. 1186-1227)

the prince of Sandomierz, and the son of Casimir the Just. After his father's death, Leszek claimed the senior province of Cracow, having as his main rival at first Mieszko the Old, Casimir's brother. He eventually ascended the throne in 1202. He made efforts to capture Halich Rus, also claimed by Hungary, but failed. He died in tragic circumstances at Gasawa in Pomerania, where he held a meeting with Ladislaus Spindleshanks and Henry the Bearded, when they were unexpectedly attacked by Swietopelk, prince of Gdansk Pomerania


 
 
Henry the Bearded (1163-1238)

the first representative of the line of the Silesian Piasts on the Cracow throne. He paid much attention to the country's economic expansion, supported the foundation of new towns and villages, the development of mining, and monetary reform. he was the prince of Wroclaw, and in 1228-29 and from 1234 till his death the ruler of the senior province. He worked towards the reunification of Poland, which provoked a sharp conflict with Conrad of Mazovia, who had earlier banished Ladislaus Spindleshanks from Cracow. Under the will of the latter, Henry the Bearded took over part of Great Poland, but he never attained his main aim of unifying the Polish state. His son, Henry the Pious, was killed in 1241 in the battle of Legnica during the first Mongol invasion which threatened the West.


 
 
Boleslaus the Bashful, 
also called the Chaste (1226-1279)

prince of Sandomierz, the son of Leszek the White, he assumed the throne in the Cracow province in 1243, having defeated Conrad of Mazovia. He failed to achieve his aims since the Sandomierz and Cracow provinces were invaded by the Mongols and attacked by Rus. In his foreign policy he relied on an alliance with Hungary, strengthened by his marriage with Kinga (Kunegunda), the daughter of the Hungarian king, Bela IV. He died leaving no heir


 
 
Leszek the Black (1241-1288)

the son of the prince of Kuyavia and Sieradz, and the brother of Ladislaus the Short, he inherited the Cracow throne from Boleslaus the Bashful. He took power in peaceful circumstances, with no opposition. In his efforts to reunify the country, Leszek the Black looked to the towns for support and quelled a revolt by the lords. A year before his death, the Mongols invaded Poland for the third time and Leszek fled to Hungary. The Mongols approached the walls of Cracow but failed to capture the city. Leszek's death opened a long period of struggle for the Cracow throne
 


 
 
 Przemysl II (1257-1296)

the prince of Poznan, he followed in the footsteps of many of his predecessors in efforts to reunify the Polish state. In 1290, he conducted a treaty with the dying prince of Cracow, Henry Probus, who had tried to get the crown from the pope. Under this treaty, he took over the Cracow province, but was defeated by Wenceslas II of Bohemia. He therefore concentrated his efforts on Great Poland, and was supported by an outstanding politician, the archbishop of Gniezno, Jakub Swinka. In 1294, Przemysl incorporated Gdansk Pomerania, and in 1295 had himself crowned king of Poland in the former Polish capital, Gniezno. This first coronation after almost 200 years had a considerable significance for the unification of the Polish state. A year later Przemysl was murdered, probably by hostile agents of the March of Brandenburg


 
 
Wenceslas II (1271-1305)

the son of King Premysl Otokar II of the Bohemian Premyslid dynasty. Crowned king of Bohemia in 1283, he banished Przemysl II and became prince of Cracow in 1291. He crowned himself king of Poland in Gniezno in 1300. In 1301, he took the Hungarian crown on behalf of his only son. He strove to strengthen royal power, which was a difficult task after the long period of feudal disintegration and unrest. He introduced the office of starost with large powers. The opposition against Wenceslas was headed by his future successor, Ladislaus the Short, who was supported both by Pope Boniface VIII and King Robert of Hungary, the latter anxious about Bohemia's growing influence


 
 
Ladislaus the Short (1260-1333)

the younger brother of Leszek the Black, inherited the province of Kuyavia and had plans for unifying the Polish territory. In 1296-1300, following a number of minor conquests, he captured the senior province and the principality of Sandomierz. Prevented by Wenceslas II from taking Cracow, he appealed for assistance to the Hungarians who helped him conquer Little Poland. However he lost Gdansk Pomerania to the Order of the Teutonic Knights. In 1311, he suppressed a rebellion of the Cracow townspeople, and then captured Great Poland. He knew what he wanted and how to get it. In 1320, he crowned himself in Cracow. This date is regarded as the end of the feudal disintegration of Poland.


 
 
GREATEST VICTORIES

Plowce 1331 (During the first Polish-Teutonic Order War) 

An army of Germans, from the Teutonic Order, 7,000 strong. Poles had 5,000 men. The aim of the Order was to take Brzesc Kujawski with a lightning attack. When the Germans under Dietrich Von Altenburg arrived near the blockaded peasant town of Plowce the Poles immediately attacked in a frontal assault. A few seconds later, Polish detachments hiding to the left of the city in a forest attacked themselves. The Poles were victorious in this phase of the battle taking into captivity 56 brotherly knights and freeing many Polish captives. The second battle was even more bloody with rear elements of the German formations alarmed on hearing the generals sounds of battle from Plowce. The battle was exceedingly bloody, both armies not giving up an inch. Reuss Von Plauen, commander of the army and 40 knights were taking into captivity by the Poles. An estimated 4,000 men (combined) were said to have fallen on the field of the battle. 73 of these were brotherly knights of the Teutonic Order. About 1/2 of the dead were Poles. The Germans had to retreat back to Torun, their losses climbing to 1/3rd dead of all their knights taking part in the whole war. The Polish armies, seriously bloodied as well didn't follow the retreating Germans. In actuality because of the casualties the battle is treated as a draw, but is important as it was the first defeat of the Teutonic Order in battle by any central / northern European army of that time. The Order was considered to have the most powerful armies in all of Europe during this time.
 


 
 
Casimir the Great (1310-1370)

the son of Ladislaus the Short and Poland's only king with the cognomen "Great". He completed the work of the reunification of the state which under his rule more than doubled its size. He attached great importance to economic development. He is said to have found Poland built in wood and to have left it built in stone. He contributed to the development of the towns and commerce, carried out a monetary reform and codified the laws. In 1364, he established the Cracow Academy, the first Polish university. In foreign policy, in spite of some opposition, he was in favour of compromise, for he believed that Poland needed internal stability and peace. The only point of his policy which never changed was his alliance with Hungary. In 1339, in Visegrad, he concluded a treaty with the Hungarian king, under which the throne was to pass to the Angevins in the event of his childless death. He was the last ruler from the great Piast dynasty. His death caused sadness and anxiety among his subjects


 
 
Louis of Hungary (1326-1386)

king of Hungary, called in his own country Lajos the Great. He was the son of Elizabeth, Casimir the Great's sister, and became king of Poland under the treaty concluded at Visegrad in 1339 by Casimir the Great and his father, Charles Robert, the founder of the Hungarian Angevin dynasty. After his coronation in Poland in 1370, he ruled in Cracow through the intermediary of his mother. He wanted the Polish throne for one of his daughters and therefore tried to win over the gentry by giving them extensive privileges, called the Kosice pact, which became the foundation of the freedom and political power of the gentry in Poland. In exchange, the gentry agreed to one of Louis' daughters ascending the throne. He left Poland united, its borders almost the same as after the death of Casimir the Great


 
 
 Jadwiga of Angevin (1374-1399)

the daughter of King Louis of Hungary. In 1384, the Polish lords recognised her rights to the throne and had her crowned queen of Poland, but they forced her to break off her engagement to William of Habsburg, since they were in favour of a dynastic union with Lithuania, which would strengthen both these countries threatened by the Teutonic Knights. Under the treaty of Krevo concluded in 1385, the grand duke of Lithuania, Ladislaus Jagiello, together with his brother and the whole of Lithuania, were converted to the Latin rite and Ladislaus married Jadwiga. Jadwiga enjoyed great popularity due to her readiness to sacrifice her life to state aims. She renovated the Cracow Academy and bequeathed to it her personal property


Śląsk

www.halat.pl/silesia.html
 


Jan Matejko: Dzieje cywilizacji w Polsce VII.
Założenie Szkoły Głównej przeniesieniem do
      Krakowa ugruntowane. R. P. 1361-1399-1400.
      1889. Olej na płótnie.
      Muzeum Narodowe, Warszawa
- depozyt w Zamku Królewskim w Warszawie.



 
 


Jan Matejko: Dzieje cywilizacji w Polsce V. 
Klęska lignicka. Odrodzenie. R. P. 1241.
1888. Olej na płótnie.
Muzeum Narodowe, Warszawa 
- depozyt w Zamku Królewskim w Warszawie.

Jan Matejko: Dzieje cywilizacji w Polsce V. Fragment.
Na marach lezą: Henryk Pobożny i Poppo von Ostern, wielki mistrz Zakonu Krzyżackiego. Po prawej pod kolumną stoi Konrad I Mazowiecki. Klęczy Kinga, córka króla Węgier, żona Bolesława Wstydliwego, beatyfikowana 1683. Krzyżem leży Jadwiga, żona Henryka Brodatego, księżna śląska.

Wojciech Gerson: Władysław Łokietek na wygnaniu.

Jan Matejko: Władysław Łokietek zrywający układy z Krzyżakami w Brześciu Kujawskim.
1879. Olej na płótnie.
Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie.

Wojciech Gerson: Kazimierz Wielki i Żydzi.
Muzeum Narodowe, Warszawa. 

Jan Matejko: Dzieje cywilizacji w Polsce VI. Powtórne zajęcie Rusi. Bogactwo i oświata. R.P. 1366.
1888. Olej na płótnie.
Muzeum Narodowe, Warszawa - depozyt w Zamku Królewskim w Warszawie.

 

In the fourteenth century, the Kingdom of Poland entered a historic partnership with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a union which transformed the whole extent and future of Poland. The Lithuanian union began in 1385, when Jagiełło of Lithuania, prince of the only pagan nation left in Europe, was persuaded to marry the eleven-year-old Princess Jadwiga in Kraków. In return, he accepted baptism and ordered his people to adopt Roman Catholic Christianity. He was elected king the following year by the Polish nobility.

In outline, the Polish-Lithuanian union went through much the same stages as the union between England and Scotland several centuries later. It began as a union of crowns: Jagiełło and his successors were at once kings of Poland and Grand Dukes of Lithuania, while the political systems of the two nations remained separate. Finally , after nearly 200 years of association, the Union of Lublin in 1569 brought Poland and the Grand Duchy together into a single 'Commonwealth' with one united parliament (Sejm). The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was to last for over 200 years, binding together races of entirely different origins and language. After the Lublin Union, the Lithuanian nobility and gentry - originally a warrior caste speaking an East Slav dialect but ruling a population of Baltic language - became steadily 'polonised', reinforced by immigration and intermarriage from Poland proper until by the late eighteenth century the landowning and dominating class in Lithuania was 'plus polonais que les polonais' - the main source of Romantic Polish patriotism.

THE STRUGGLES FOR POLAND BY NEAL ASCHERSON
excerpts of  the 
First American Edition
Random House Inc.
New York 1988


 
 
Ladislaus Jagiello (1348-1434)

became grand duke of Lithuania in 1377 and was crowned king of Poland in 1396. He was the founder of the Jagiellonian dynasty, and as king opened a new epoch in the history of Poland, a central European country with close ties with western, Latin civilisation. Through Ladislaus Jagiello, Poland entered into a union with Lithuania, a country covering a vast territory between the Baltic and the Black Sea, inhabited by a mixture of pagan Lithuanians and Orthodox Christians in the Rus territory captured by Lithuania. This union served an important political aim: of checking the expansion of the Order of the Teutonic Knights who were defeated by the combined Polish-Lithuanian-Ruthenian forces at Grunwald on 15 July 1410. But it also resulted in some serious problems in the East, with which the kingdom not always could cope. In 1413, Ladislaus Jagiello concluded a new union at Horodlo, which strengthened Poland's links with Lithuania, and issued new privileges for the gentry in order to secure the throne for his sons


 
 
 

Jan Matejko: Dzieje cywilizacji w Polsce VIII.
Chrzest Litwy. R.P. 1387.
1889. Olej na płótnie.
Muzeum Narodowe, Warszawa 
- depozyt w Zamku Królewskim w Warszawie.

Jan Matejko: Dzieje cywilizacji w Polsce VIII. Fragment.
Mnich franciszkanin błogosławiący biblią. Przed nim z włócznią Skirgiełło Iwan, książę trocki i połocki oraz podparty pod boki Witold Aleksander, książę grodzieński, wielki książę litewski 1401.

 

The Jagiełło dynasty ruled Poland until just after the Lublin Union. At the outset, especially, these were dangerous years. The threat of the fanatical and aggressive Teutonic Knights had to be confronted.

At the great battle of Grunwald in 1410, the Order was defeated by the combined Polish and Lithuanian armies. The Teutonic Knights were not finally subdued until the Peace of Toruń over fifty years later, but the breaking of their power allowed Poland to gain control of the Baltic seaboard around the city of Gdańsk. By dazzling good fortune, the whole length of the Vistula river, stretching from the fertile plains of central and southern Poland to the seaport of Gdańsk at its mouth, had now returned to Polish possession just as the growing populations of northern Europe were looking for fresh supplies of grain. Through the 'Vistula grain trade', Poland was to feed the soaring prosperity of western Europe in the Renaissance as North America's prairie wheat was to feed the Industrial Revolution in Europe three centuries later.

THE STRUGGLES FOR POLAND BY NEAL ASCHERSON
excerpts of  the 
First American Edition
Random House Inc.
New York 1988


 
 
GREATEST VICTORIES

Battle of Tannenberg, July 15, 1410

also called BATTLE OF GRÜNFELDE,or Grunwald , battle fought at Tannenberg (Polish: Stebark) in northeastern Poland (formerly East Prussia) that was a major Polish-Lithuanian victory over the Knights of the Teutonic Order. The battle marked the end of the order's expansion along the southeastern coast of the Baltic Sea and the beginning of the decline of its power.

Polish and Lithuanian forces proceeding toward the order's stronghold, Marienburg, met its army between the villages of Grünfelde (Polish: Grunwald) and Tannenberg. Though the order defeated the Lithuanian contingent, the ranks of the Poles remained unbroken. (as shown on diagram below, Polish force is in white. To the right in stage one the Lithuanians have been broken and indeed the Germans made an attack on the Polish King himself, however were routed by the Polish Royal Guard) The Poles / Germans continued to fight, the Poles slowly gaining an advantage. The Lithuanians had now reformed and had rejoined the battle. Eventually the Germans were circled and broke. Polish and Lithuanian cavalry charged as they ran capturing their tents and continuing the charge many km's past the battle zone.

By the end of the 10-hour clash, the order's forces had been crushed and its grand master, most of its commanders, and 205/250 of its knights had been killed. About 8,000 dead + 2,000 taken into captivity. Subsequently many Prussian castles controlled by the order surrendered to the Polish-Lithuanian force, though Marienburg, which was defended by Heinrich Reuss von Plauen, did not fall. It was one the most strongly built and defended fortresses in the whole of Europe. By September 1410 the Polish-Lithuanian army withdrew.

Sources are wild on actual numbers of this battle, though its safe to say Polish-Lithuanian armies were at between 30,000 and 50,000 men, whilst the Germans had around 25,000. Whatever the stats of this battle is considered to be the largest and bloodiest of the medieval era in the whole of Europe.
 


 

Jan Matejko: Bitwa pod Grunwaldem
1878. Olej na płótnie. 426 x 987 cm. 
Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie.

Jan Matejko: Bitwa pod Grunwaldem, Fragment - Witold, wielki książę litewski.

Jan Matejko: Bitwa pod Grunwaldem, Fragment - Wielki Mistrz i atakujący go wojownicy.

Jan Matejko: Bitwa pod Grunwaldem, Fragment - Skarbek z Góry i Kazimierz książę szczeciński.

Jan Matejko: Bitwa pod Grunwaldem, Fragment - Jan Żiżka z Trocnowa.

Jan Matejko: Bitwa pod Grunwaldem, Fragment - Zawisza Czarny.

 
 Ladislaus of Varna (1424-1444)

crowned king of Poland in 1434, and king of Hungary in 1440; the son of Ladislaus Jagiello and Sophia of Holszany. Since he ascended the Polish throne at the age of ten, the country was ruled in his name by Cardinal Zbigniew Olesnicki. The accepting of the Hungarian crown involved Ladislaus directly in a war  with the Turks, who were a threat to Hungary. Encouraged by the papal legate, the young king set out against the Turks at the head of a small, poorly prepared army. In the decisive battle fought at Varna on 10 November 1444, the anti-Turkish forces were routed and Ladislaus slain. Ladislaus is one of the best known rulers of medieval Poland. His defeat on the battlefield of Varna gave rise to a legend about a young king who died in a war between two different civilisations


Jan Matejko: Bitwa pod Warną (fragment)
1879. Olej na płótnie
Szépmüvészeti Muzeum, Budapeszt



 
 

The Jagellonian dominions expanded. They reached their maximum after 1490 when, for a brief period and through dynastic marriages, not only Poland and Lithuania but the kingdoms of Hungary and Bohemia owed allegiance to the Crown of the Jagiełłos. They were the princes of almost all central and eastern Europe. Only the duchy of Muscovy, far to the east, remained beyond their control, labouring to unite the territories of what would become modern Russia.

 
 Casimir Jagiellonian (1427-1492)

the younger son of Ladislaus Jagiello and Sophia of Holszany; grand duke of Lithuania, crowned king of Poland in 1447. He restricted the powers of Cardinal Zbigniew Olesnicki and the latter's supporters among the nobles, who held sway during the reign of his predecessor. He carried out an active dynastic policy: his son Ladislaus became king of Bohemia in 1471 and succeeded to the Hungarian throne in 1490. In his efforts to strengthen royal authority, he sought supporters among the knights and limited the influence of the nobles. Under the terms of the treaty of Torun, which ended the so-called Thirteen Years' War with the Teutonic Knights, he incorporated Royal Prussia, that is, the western parts of the Teutonic Knights' state. After years of conflict, he finally won the right to appoint bishops (who were members of the Royal Council). His long reign contributes to economic and cultural development, and to Poland becoming a European power.


 
 
GREATEST VICTORIES

Swiecino 1462

Fought during the 13 years war with the Teutonic Order. The definitive battle that saw the Order reduced into  ruin and fall under the might of Polish overlordship. Polish army decides to charge the German Garrison near Swiecino. Assault is successful, 1,000 Germans die, 70 are captured, 200 tabors are taken including all 15 artillery pieces. Polish losses at 100 dead and 150 wounded. After this battle the Order's defenses slowly cracked. In 1463 ships under the Polish insignia of Elbing and Gdansk defeated a German flotilla at Zalewie Wislanym. Puck fell in 1464, Now in 1465. In 1466 Starogard and Chojnice.


Jan Matejko: Zjazd królów Jagiellonów
z cesarzem Maksymilianem pod Wiedniem.
1879.  Olej na płótnie.
Własność prywatna w Wiedniu.



 
 


But the victory over the Teutonic Knights, which made the Jagellonian kings mighty, also began the process of limiting their royal power. The Polish nobility was seeking to entrench its rights against the monarchy. Even before the Peace of Toruń in 1466, the nobles had struck a bargain with the king, selling him their military support in the war in return for privileges which included the establishment of provincial and national assemblies. Here were the origins of the Polish parliament, the Sejm, and the seeds of a 'noble democracy' which was to put bounds on the power of the crown. But here, too, was the beginning of a fateful segregation in society , lifting the aristocracy to the status of a class so self-confident and powerful that it came to identify itself as 'the nation'. The gentry - ranging from magnates with huge estates to petty squires with only a patch of land, composed not only of Poles but of Lithuanians, Germans and eventually a number of Jewish nobles - was 'the nation', while the burghers of the towns and the peasantry on the land were merely subjects.

This was not as outrageous as it sounds. In much of Europe at the time, a nation was defined as a series of 'estates': nobles, the Church, the burghers and commoners, and so on. But there was always a large mass of the poor 'below the line' who belonged to no 'estate' and were not considered to be part of the political nation at all, even though they usually formed a majority of the population. The Polish 'noble estate' merely pulled the line upwards until it excluded from 'the nation' almost everyone but its own members.

There was good and bad in this 'gentry power'. It meant that the Commonwealth was a primitive and limited democracy, in which no king could ever attain absolute control - a contrast to the grimly autocratic systems soon to arise on either side of Poland in Prussia and Russia. The gentry, perhaps ten per cent of the total population, enjoyed their 'golden freedom' by developing a high-spirited, generous, often wild and hard-drinking style of life; their proud impulsiveness and touchy independence have left their mark on Polish behaviour to this day. On the other hand, the Commonwealth was not only difficult to govern but - more importancly - almost impossible to adapt to changing conditions.

The sixteenth century was Poland's 'Golden Age'. All through the period, the privileges of the gentry continued to accumulate. They had personal immunity against the law, freedom to follow any faith and - from l496 - a monopoly on landholding; the burghers had to sell what land they possessed. They acquired increasing power over the peasants on their land, who were steadily reduced to the condition of serfs, forbidden to leave the estate.

Here was a real divergence between the histories of eastern and western Europe. In the west, rural slavery or serfdom was rapidly vanishing by the late Middle Ages, parcly due to the shortage of labour caused by plague, and was being replaced by wage labour. But in central and eastem Europe - not only in Poland, but in the whole region from eastem Germany to Russia, from the Baltic south to Hungary - serfdom became far more common in the same period, and survived until the nineteenth century . The cause seems to have been the increasing monopoly of political power by the noble classes, reinforced by the new wealth of the great estates which exported grain to the West.

In 1505, the nobles extorted from the Crown the Nihil Novi (Nothing New) statute, a pledge that no new taxes or laws would be applied without the consent of both chambers of the Sejm. In 1573, when the last of the Jagiełło kings died, the nobility finally secured the right to elect the monarch - not through their representatives in the Sejm but at a vast, often chaotic, rally of the entire gentry at Warsaw.

In the sixteenth century , the Polish gentry - and not just the bigger landowners - prospered as the rye and wheat from their estates was floated down the Vistula on rafts and sold at Gdańsk to German, Dutch and Scottish merchants. But this was an agricultural boom. The urban development and the rise of a native middle class which was taking place so rapidly in westem and northem Europe at this period was only stunted in Poland. Especially in smaller towns, jealous local landowners controlled trade and prices; serfdom meant that it was almost impossible for peasants to move off the land, find work in towns and enter trade, and most commerce stayed in the hands of Jews, Germans and Scots. Some of the money rubbed off on the towns; cities like Kraków or Torun acquired magnificent buildings and became centres of craftsmanship, high art and science. But no coherent middle class emerged in Poland, as it did in the West, to challenge the old landed nobility for economic and political influence.

THE STRUGGLES FOR POLAND BY NEAL ASCHERSON
excerpts of  the 
First American Edition
Random House Inc.
New York 1988


 
 
John Albert (1459-1501)

the son of Casimir Jagiellonian, crowned king in 1492. He reigned in Poland, while his brother Alexander became the grand duke of Lithuania. He carried out reforms which strengthened the position of the gentry. The Statute of Piotrkow of 1496 reserved higher church positions for the gentry exclusively, barred the townspeople from buying land, and restricted the peasants' freedom of movement. In foreign policy, John Albert concentrated on the Turkish problem and wished to improve Poland's standing by assuming control over Danube principalities. In 1497, he set out on an expedition against the Turks, which ended in his defeat.


 
 
Alexander Jagiellonian (1461-1506)

the son of Casimir Jagiellonian, crowned grand duke of Lithuania in 1492 and king of Poland in 1501. At the beginning of his reign, he issued the so-called Mielnik privileges, by which the Senate under the monarch's chairmanship was granted the exclusive right to take decisions on state matters. This caused sharp protests of the gentry who well remembered Alexander's predecessors pro-gentry policy. The gentry were against one person holding more than one dignity and in favour of the participation of the lower chamber in government. This last privilege was granted by the Constitution Nihil Novi, adopted by the Seym in Radom in 1505. This meant that from then on no new law could be adopted without the joint consent of the Senate and Deputies. This was the beginning of the system called gentry democracy in Polish history.


 
 
 Sigismund the Old (1467-1548)

son of Casimir Jagiellonian, the grand duke of Lithuania and king of Poland from 1506. He married Bona Sforza, the duchess of Milan, who exerted a strong influence on the government and who supported her husband in his efforts to strengthen royal authority. Under Sigismund's reign, Renaissance spread in Poland, and the level of eduction among the magnates and the gentry grew. Nicholas Copernicus worked on his De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. The king corresponded with Erasmus of Rotterdam. The townspeople became more active in the field of literature. Discussion on the Reformation developed freely. The gentry continued its struggle against the magnates and for restricting the Church's privileges. The Polish language began to prevail in literature and diplomacy. Sigismund incorporated Mazovia with Warsaw (the last province which remained outside Poland) and accepted the tribute of Prince Albrecht Hohenzollern. The state was powerful and no one threatened it. The golden age of the Renaissance began.


 
 
Sigismund Augustus(1520-1572)

the son of Sigismund the Old and Bona Sforza, crowned king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania in 1529, during his father's lifetime. He assumed power in 1548. He supported the reformatory movement of the gentry. The result was the re-seizure of royal lands and the setting up of a standing army. A supporter of tolerance, he prevented persecution and religious wars, for, as he declared in the Seym: "I am not the king of your consciences." He had no sons or daughters to inherit the throne, therefore he strove to consolidate Poland's links with Lithuania on the basis of a real union. He achieved this aim - the Union of Lublin of 1569 - three years before his death. His romantic love and marriage to Barbara Radziwillowna, and the latter's coronation was in contravention of the dynastic interests and reasons of state. The king built a large fleet and incorporated Livonia into the Polish-Lithuanian state. He was a Renaissance man, a well educated protector of science and learning which flourished under his reign


 
 

Jan Matejko: Zawieszenie dzwonu Zygmunta na wieży katedry w roku 1521 w Krakowie.
1874. Olej na desce. 94 x 189 cm.
Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie.

Jan Matejko: Hołd pruski.
1882. Olej na płótnie. 388 x 875 cm.
Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie - Sukiennice

Jan Matejko: Śmierć Zygmunta Augusta w Knyszynie.
1886. Olej na płótnie.
Muzeum Narodowe, Warszawa - depozyt w Muzeum Okręgowym w Toruniu.

Jan Matejko: Astronom Kopernik, czyli rozmowa z Bogiem.
1872, olej na płótnie, 221 x 315 cm.
Muzeum Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego, Kraków.

 

The sixteenth-century Reformation came to Poland mostly from Bohemia. Today, the overwhelming mass of Poles in almost all layers of society are fervently Catholic, and allegiance to the Roman Catholic faith - and loyalty to the Vatican - is commonly regarded as an integral part of Polish patriotism. But this was not always so. Lutheranism, Calvinism and other Protestant faiths made rapid headway in Poland, while some forty per cent of the total population of the Commonwealth, mostly in the Lithuanian lands, already belonged to the Orthodox Church. The Reformation scarcely affected the mass of the Polish peasantry, who held to their old Catholic faith, but Lutheranism was strong in the towns, especially among the Germans, and a part of the nobility adopted Calvinism: more, perhaps, as a way of outflanking and reducing the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Catholic church than out of passionate conviction.

THE STRUGGLES FOR POLAND BY NEAL ASCHERSON
excerpts of  the 
First American Edition
Random House Inc.
New York 1988


Jan Matejko: Dzieje cywilizacji w Polsce X. Fragment.
Centralną postacią jest Jan Kochanowski, obok z prawej - Mikołaj Rej.
Niżej po lewej siedzi Samuel Maciejewski, biskup krakowski, kanclerz wielki koronny.
Na górze, po prawej Stanisław Hozjusz, biskup warmiński,
kardynał, przywódca polskiego Kościoła kontrreformacyjnego.



 
 


Jan Matejko: Dzieje cywilizacji w Polsce IX. Wpływ Uniwersytetu na kraj w wieku XV. Nowe prądy. Husytyzm i Humanizm.
1889. Olej na płótnie.
Muzeum Narodowe, Warszawa - depozyt w Zamku Królewskim w Warszawie.

Jan Matejko: Dzieje cywilizacji w Polsce X. Złoty wiek literatury w XVI w. Reformacja. Przewaga katolicyzmu.
1889. Olej na płótnie.
Muzeum Narodowe, Warszawa - depozyt w Zamku Królewskim w Warszawie.

Jan Matejko: Dzieje cywilizacji w Polsce XI. Potęga Rzeczypospolitej u zenitu. Złota wolność. Elekcja. R.P. 1573.
1889. Olej na płótnie.
Muzeum Narodowe, Warszawa - depozyt w Zamku Królewskim w Warszawie.
Jan Matejko: Dzieje cywilizacji w Polsce XI. Fragment.
Z lewej Jan Zamojski, sekretarz królewski i starosta bełski, późniejszy kanclerz i wielki hetman koronny. Po prawej szablą migający Jan Tomasz Drohojewski, referendarz koronny.

END OF PART 2

PART 1
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