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    Here is a pretty cool page all about the great Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth: http://www.commonwealth.pl/

    Pages both in English and in Polish. True nationalism would even work to bring about all those differences. The fact that today nationalism doesn't seem to work that well in relatively homogenous nations is really saying something. It's a lost art that I hope will be recovered.



    To build on this thread:

    The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569-1795)



    Before his death, king Zygmunt August, the last of the Jagiellonian Dynasty, attempted to establish a set of structures that would unite the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania into a single workable unit. Although he enjoyed popular consent, he still had to deal with the power of nobility, which had grown significantly in the years since the Piast era. Nothing could be done without the consent of the powerful great nobles or magnates, who were driven by self-interest. Weak monarchy and state structure were to their benefit because they helped them increase their own power, whereas a powerful state might limit their freedom.

    It was against this fractious background that Zygmunt carried out the Union of Lublin (1569). When he brought the southeastern areas of greater Lithuania into the kingdom of Poland, the Lithuanian magnates finally consented to the union. Theoretically, every member of the noble estate (the szlachta) in Poland-Lithuania had the same political rights. This sector accounted for 10% of the population, a far larger class than in other European countries. In the context of the times, this arrangement appeared to constitute a democratic regime because a far larger proportion of the population enjoyed full political rights than those in the Western European countries.

    The death of Zygmunt August in 1572 marked the start of the Royal Nobility Republic (Rzeczpospolita Szlachecka) of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.


    With the death of Zygmunt August in 1572, the Royal Republic faced the prospect of electing a king from outside a reigning native dynasty. On the outskirts of Warsaw, in the vast field of Wola, 40,000 nobles, all representatives of their entire estates, gathered to vote. The meeting of the Seym (Parliament) began peacefully with approval of the Maintenance of Freedom of Conscience and Religious Tolerance in the Confederation of Warsaw. Once these tenets were recognized as principles of public life, Poland stood out as a bastion of liberty guaranteeing freedom and religious tolerance in the darkest hour of European religious wars.

    There were a number of elements in the Polish constitution that contributed to the country’s instability. Interregna often led to periods of weakness, when various foreign factions pursued their own interests, outbidding each other for the right to name the king. The liberum veto, originally conceived as a safeguard against tyranny, stipulated that a single deputy in the Seym (deputies were elected at Seymiks around the country), by his use of the veto if he strenuously objected to a piece of legislation, could cause the dissolution of a sitting of the Seym. Matters got even worse when the veto law was amended to require that all legislation in a particular sitting of the Seym be annulled. A democracy that required complete unanimity often resulted in gridlock.

    1. Henri de Valois

    On the first election, the nobility choose the new king of Poland; it was to be French prince Henri de Valois. But in 1574, barely several months after ascending the throne, faced with the opposition of Polish gentry, Henri secretly returned to France to wear the French crown after his brother’s sudden death. Chaos followed in the wake of Henri’s departure.

    2. Stefan Batory


    The second election winner was the Transylvanian Voivod (Prince), Stefan Batory, who became one of Poland’s most celebrated rulers, great in both war and peace.

    The port of Gdansk, which supported the Hapsburg candidate for Poland’s throne, revolted when Stefan Batory of Transylvania was elected. Batory placed a ban and a commercial blockade on Gdansk, moving all trade to Elbing. However when resistance continued and the Abbey of Oliwa was burned by rioters, he attacked by force. At Lubieszow (17 April 1577,) the Royal army, under Jan Zborowski, destroyed a 4x larger mercenary and militia force. The highlight of this battle was the performance of Bathrory’s haiduk infantry, which routed six large knescht German companies. But neither the town nor the guarding fort could be taken and according to the Treaty of Malbork, Batory received a hefty subsidy and Gdansk came back into the fold with the same privileges it had enjoyed previous.

    3. 1576-1582 War with Russia

    In 1576 the Inflanty (Livonia: modern day Estonia and Latvia) has been attacked by the Muscovite Tsar, Ivan the Terrible. At first the Commonwealth could not respond to Ivan’s attacks on Livonia, but in 1577 Lithuanian forces took Dvinsk and in 1578 Polish cavalry took Wenden in a nocturnal attack. In 1579 Batory gathered a large army (22,000) and took the war to Russia. He aimed at cutting off Livonia from Russia and took Polock by siege (11-30 August). The following year he returned with 29,000 men and ventured deeper, the target being Vielkie Luki (taken 4 Sept 1580), though many other strongholds were also captured. In 1581 (with 31,000 men) the campaign moved north and Pskov had been besieged. The siege of Pskov, which had continued through a fierce winter, freezing cavalrymen dead in their saddles, was then ended. During the war Russia lost some 300,000 men, the Poles capturing 40,000. Polish detachments roamed deep into enemy territory causing havoc and threatening the Tsar.

    After a successful campaign Batory accepted the Russian plea for peace and in the peace of Yam Zapolski (15 Jan 1582) Muscovy abandoned all of Livonia including Polotsk The Commonwealth was now recognised as the greatest power in Central Europe and only the Turkish Sultan ruled over more extensive territories.

    4. Zygmunt III Waza

    After the unexpected death of Batory in 1586, the third election brought the Swedish crown prince, Sigismund Vasa, to the throne but the Hapsburg candidate, Archduke Maximilian, invaded Poland to take the Crown Chancellor and Grand Hetaman Jan Zamoyski was ready, repulsing the Austrians at Krakow and defeating them the following year at Byczyna (24 Jan 1588), capturing Maximilian. He was not released until Austria abandoned all claims to the Polish throne almost a year later.

    In 1595 and 1596 the Synod of Brzesc (Brest) Litewski saw the Ruthenian (now Byelorussian and Ukrainian) Orthodox clergy recognise the supremacy of the Pope whilst retaining their distinctive religious rites and liturgy.

    King Zygmunt III Waza decided to move the capital from Krakow to Warsaw, the junction of all major routes crisscrossing the Commonwealth. This was done in 1596.

    5. 1600-1611 1st War with Sweden.


    Battle of Kircholm

    Zygmunt’s claims to the Swedish crown have provoked new conflict with Sweden. Their forces landed in Livonia in 1600, 1604 and 1605, but the invasions were notable for their conspicuous lack of success. Polish -Lithuanian forces under Jan Zamoyski and later Hetman Jan Karol Chodkiewicz crushed the Swedish armies at the battles of Kokenhauzen (10 March 1601), Bialy Kamien (25 Sept 1604), and Kircholm (27 Sept 1605, ) On each occasion the Poles were outnumbered, but by skilful tactics and the expert use of hussars the Swedes infantry was wiped off the field. However due to lack of funds, recapturing occupied towns was difficult and protracted, especially since the Swedes began to avoid battle and remained in towns and castles. Chodkiweicz, after helping to put down the Zebrzydowski Rebellion of 1606-07 relieved Riga. The war ended with a status quo, the attention of both countries turned to Russia. Livonia remained in Polish hands.

    6. 1606-1607 Zebrzydowski rokosz (rebellion)

    A large number of nobles revolted against the King Zygmunt III Waza, who concerned himself too much with regaining his Swedish throne. The nobles took to arms but were defeated by a heavily outnumbered Royal army led by the two Hetman’s Stanislaw Zólkiewski and Jan Karol Chodkiewicz at Guzow (6 July 1607).

    7. 1609-1619 War with Russia.


    Hetman Karol-Chodkiewicz

    Though some Polish and Lithuanian adventurers interfered in Russia, supporting the First and the Second False Dimitri, the Commonwealth did not involve itself until Vasili Szujski became Tsar. It was Szujski who in the 1606 coup instigated the massacre of 500 Poles in Moscow, he also put out feelers for an alliance with Sweden. So Zygmunt decided to attack, giving the command of 9,000 troops to a Grand Hetman Stanislaw Zólkiewski. The aim of the expedition was to recapture Smolensk, but events overtook the Poles, after the startling destruction of the Russian army and auxiliary western mercenaries at Kluszyn (4 July 1610,) Szujski was removed by a court rebellion and the Poles moved to Moscow unopposed. The boyars invited Zólkiewski to protect them from the anarchy within Russia. On 27 August 1610 the boyars received the rights and privileges of the Polish szlachta (nobility) and the King’s son – Wladislaw, was proclaimed Tsar. A Polish garrison was installed in the Kremlin, but after the return of the King and Zólkiewski to Poland the situation for the garrison sharply deteriorated.

    In an effort to defend itself the garrison caused the Great Fire of 1611. The boyars abandoned their thoughts of Polish Protection and wide spread resistance began. In June 1611 Smolensk surrendered to Poland, but in Moscow the Polish garrison could not be saved, it capitulated on 22 October 1612 and half was butchered on the spot. Four months later, Michal Fyodorovitch Romanov, founder of the greatest Russian dynasty, was Proclaimed Tsar. A minor expedition in 1617-18 on Prince Wladislaw own initiative achieved nothing except the capture of one major fortress. Moscow was not captured due to the onset of winter, though it was besieged and assaulted several times. Significant role in this war was played by new formation of polish light cavalry called “lisowski cossaks”. Truce of Deulina (3 Jan 1619) left Smolensk, Siewiersk and Czernichow to Poland.

    8. 1620-1621 War with Turkey

    Polish claims for the Moldavia and auxiliary forces (15 000 “lisowski cossaks”) sent to help Habsurgs against Betheln Gabor (prince of Trasylvania – Ottoman’s vassal) provoked the conflict with Ottoman Empire.

    In early September 1620 the Royal Grand and Field Hetman’s Zólkiewski and Koniecpolski moved into Moldavia with 9,000 men. There they met a Turkish force under Iskanderpasha of about 20,000. Zólkiewski decided to fight it out in the open field, but he was defeated at Cecora (18 Sept to 6 Oct), and during retreat was killed, while Koniecpolski was captured. The following year a massive Turkish army of over 100,000 men invaded Poland, led by Sultan Osman II. He besieged the Polish and Cossack army (55,000), led by Chodkiewicz, at Chocim (2 Sept-9 Oct,). After over 40,000 losses the Turks gave up and returned home. Polish losses were also high and included Chodkiewicz who died in his chamber of old age just as the Turks began to retreat.

    9. 1621-1629 2nd War with Sweden

    In 1621 the Swedes, taking advantage of Poland’s war with Turkey, (Crown army busy far to the south-east) led by Gustav Adolph invaded Livonia with a reorganized army. The small Lithuanian forces were defeated and by 1623 most of Livonia was in Swedish hands. In 1626 Gustav turned to Prussia and landed with a strong army, on an unprepared Poland. On 17th January 1626 at the Battle of Wallhof defeated a Lithuanian army deficient in infantry. The first major Swedish field victory of the Poles in 25 years of war. Gustav quickly captured a number of Prussian towns, though not Gdansk and defeated another Polish army led by Zygmunt at Gniew (22-30 Sept 1626) through skilful use of terrain to impede the polish hussar charge on his infantry. Koniecpolski, free after a victorious war against the Turks now took command.

    Fighting Gustav to something of a standstill, both men avoided open battle on a number of occasions. Both armies fought each other to a standstill at Tczew, until a Polish musketeer shot Gustav – the Swedes retreated (18 Sept 1627,) and because of Gustav’s skilful maneuvering, had to resort to a campaign of harassment, which was quite successful at impeding Swedish offensive operations. 28th November 1627 a Polish flotilla defeated a Swedish fleet blockading Gdansk (battle on Oliva). In 1628 Koniecpolski defeated and forced surrender upon an enemy force (2,500 German mercenaries) sent to attack him from Germany at Czarne.

    Koniecpolski also attempted to catch the Swedes on the march, which he finally managed to do at Trzciana, defeating the Swedish King there (26 June 1629), Gustav had to sacrifice his cavalry to protect his infantry, though it also didn’t emerge unscathed from the battle.

    The Seym, however, preferred to buy the Swedes off with the Treaty of Altmark (26 Sept 1629) due to cash flow problems. The Swedes kept a number of coastal towns, which they used as a base for entering the Thirty Years War, and also received 3.5% of the trade through Gdansk, which financed the Swedes in Germany.

    10. Wladislaw IV Waza, 1632-1634 War with Muscovy

    With the death of Zygmunt III in 1632, the Tsar decided it would be an excellent opportunity to take Smolensk and he sent Michal Sheyn, commander of the Smolensk garrison in 1609-11, with 25-32,000 men. It was not until the following year, in September, that a Polish relief force of 20-25,000 men arrived. On 23 Sept the Russians were forced to break off the siege and were them besieged. On the 25 Feb 1634 the remaining 12,000 Russians and mercenaries capitulated. The Eternal Treaty was signed on 14 June 1634 and repeated the territorial provisions agreed at Deulina. This was the first war in which Poland relied on western tactics, using large numbers of pike & shot infantry and dragoons due to reforms instigated by the Wladislaw IV King. In 1635, armed confrontation against the Swedes occured. During the summer, large Polish forces under Koniecpolski, concentrated in Royal Prussia. Their aim was to remove the Swedish Garrisons in the Prussian towns (there since the late 1620’s). The Swedes exhausted after the 30 Years war, agreed to leave the towns in exchange for conformation of their hold on Livonia (Treaty of Shtumska Wies, 12 Sept 1635)

    11. Problem with the Tatars

    During this entire period, tartars continually raided Poland’s southeastern territories. The current defense force and the standing army were mainly used against them. Throughout the period Polish forces were stationed in the south. The tartars were difficult to combat, they traveled quickly and avoided battle, but when cornered they fought hard. The main encounters; – Kleck (5 August 1506), Lopusz (28 April 1512), Martynow (20 June 1624), & Ochmatow (30 Jan 1644), were Polish victories but they made little impression on the tartar incursions. The tartar raids disrupted life in those territories and caused a great deal of loss of life and property.




    1. Jan Kazimierz, Waza Chmielnicki Uprising


    Ukrainian Cossack

    In the second part of the 40s King Wladislaw IV begun preparations for the great war with Turks, in which Zaporozye Cossacks were to be the King s important allies. Seym of 1647 blocked the King s plans and ordered to disperse the army. Cossacks awoke and eventually failed hopes resulted in mutiny and they gained a new-distinguished leader – Bohdan Chmielnicki. He signed an alliance with khan of Crimean Tatars Islam Girej. Cossacks-Tatars joint forces ravaged the crown army in 2 battles: at Yellow Waters (16 V 1648) and at Korsuñ(26 V 1648). Two crown hetmans were enslaved and uprising spread across Ukraine. Situation got complicated with the death of the King Wladyslaw IV (20 V 1648). The only organized resistance was of civil squads of prince Jeremi Wisniowiecki-a formidable Ukrainian magnate. Both sides acted with unprecedented cruelty. Commonwealth have organized a new army and charged commands with 3 inefficient leaders (with the exception of Jeremi Wisniowiecki) and when 2 armies got into fighting at Pilawce (23 IX 1648 newbes soldiers and Polish nobility insurrection dispersed upon threat of Tatar’s attack. That helped Chmielnicki to proceed towards Lwow and Zamosc (both cities held out siege) and uprising spread over to Wolyn and Bialorus. Military activity was suspended for the time of new royal election, Chmielnicki supported candidacy of King Wladislaw’s younger brother – Jan Kazimierz – who presented amicable position with regards to uprising. After unsuccessful negotiations with newly elected King Jan Kazimierz, Chmielnicki beleaguered Zbaraz, which was strongly defended by small army of Jeremi Wisniowiecki. Kinf Jan Kazimierz have arrived with relief, and after stalemate battle at Zborow (15-16 VIII 1649) (Tatars have retreat after bribery of Poles), so called Zborow agreement was signed in which Cossacks gained many concessions. . The uprising erupted again in 1651. On 28-30 VI 1652 Chmielnicki was defeated at Beresteczko (130 000 Cossack and Tatars against polish forces of about 70 000 soldiers and nobles insurrection) and started looking for assistance from Russia. On 18 I 1654 he broke off relations with Poland and accepted superiority of Russia at Perejeslaw. Tzar granted Cossacks the right to elect hetman; he accepted 60.000 registers and guaranteed property of estates. Hitherto existing Cossacks-Polish conflict evolved into the war between Poland and Russia. (1654-1657).

    2. 1654-1655 Polish-Russian War

    Russia took advantage of Chmielnicki uprising and his submission to Tzar at Perejeslaw in 1654 and attacked Poland/stepped out/ against Poland. Moscow forces of 200.00 including Cossacks took control of many cities in Bialorus, Smolensk, and Minsk and Wilno in summer 1655,soon afterwards they moved towards Poland and following unsuccessful attempt to take over Kamieniec they managed to conquer Lublin. Following a new Polish-Swedish war, which broke off in 1655, and a rapid progress of the Swedish army, which alarmed Russia, the involved sides signed armistice at Niemierz (1656).

    3. Polish-Sweden War 1655-1660 –The Deluge Period

    [img width=700 height=554]http://www.allempires.com/empires/polish_lit_full/polish_lcav.jpg”/>

    Polish Light Cavalry

    Swedish who took advantage of Poland s involvement in war with Russia initiated the war. Swedish army broke in Poland s frontiers from Pomorze and Inflanty. 25 VII 1655 nobles insurrection of Poznan and Kalisz surrendered to Swedish army at Uyscie. The Swedish conquerors made a more spectacular success in Lithuania. According to arrangement in Kieydany (20X1655), most formidable Lithuanian notables Janusz and Boguslav Radziwill’s surrendered to Swedish and broke-off Polish- Lithuanian union, which was to be substituted by tight union with Sweden. Ujscie and Kieydany gave way to series of successes of Swedish army and which enabled Swedish king Karol Gustav to take control of the majority of territory of Poland with the exception of Ukrainian fields and Great Lithuanian Principality occupied by Russian army. 8 IX 1655 Warsaw surrendered, 19 X Krakow. The majority of magnates and Polish nobility joined victorious Karol X Gustaw. .Polish king Jan Kazimierz along with his court and a group of loyal magnates found shelter in Slask. The biggest of the Swedish successes was the treaty signed in Krolewiec on 17 I 1656 between Karol X Gustaw and Fryderyk Wilhelm, Prussian prince and Brandenburg ruler (Kaiser elector). Due to this Fryderyk Wilhelm severed feudal relations with Poland and joined Sweden as a vassal of Karol X Gustaw. Growing anti-swedish attitudes among Polish nobility, successful defense of Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa and Tatar s assistance and a change in position of Russia reversed the fate of the guerilla war. And later on national. guerilla with Stefan Czarniecki as a leader destabilized position of Swedish in Poland. Jan Kazimierz returned from banishment and on 30 VI 1656 recovered Warsaw from Swedish. During a 3-day battle in Warsaw (28-30 VII 1656) Polish army was defeated by Brandenburg-Swedish forces but this fact was not followed by any essential political consequences. Meanwhile Russia made an agreement with Poland. 3 XI 1656 the treaty was signed at Niemiez/Wilno in which Russia in exchange for support in electing tsar Alex for Polish throne, finished war with Poland and created an alliance against Sweden. In this situation Karol X Gustaw admitted that he is not able to held whole the Poland, so he made an attempt to Poland partition. To carry on this plan, he engaged (except elector of Brandenburg), Jerzy Rakoczy prince of Transylvania, Bohdan Chmielnicki (Cossakas leaser) and Boguslav Radziwill. 6XII 1656 at Radnot in Transylvania the try of 1st partition of Poland was established. It has not been carried out though since Austria and Denmark joined the war against Sweden and ally of Karol X Gustaw , Jerzy Rakoczy was severely defeated during retreat from his expedition to Poland. Sweden lost its current ally Fryderyk Wilhelm who had been offered from Poland and its new ally an advantageous treaty/beneficial for Brandenburg. After signing welawa-bydgoszcz treaties (from the names of towns Welawa and Bydgoszcz) Fryderyk Wilhelm freed himself from vassal dependency from King of Poland in Princess Prussia , he left Karol X Gustaw, joined anti-swedish coalition and signed a treaty with Poland, Denmark accessed Austria-Poland-Prussia alliance against Sweden, meanwhile Russia backed off despite the superiority of the coalition, Swedish attack Denmark and they defeated Danish in a rapid campaign.27 II 1658 King of Denmark Fryderik III signed the act of capitulation in Roskilde. Soon after Karol X Gustaw broke off the treaty from Roskilde and initiated a new war with Denmark which have also assisted by Dutch. War campaign 1658-59 carried over in Poland, Lithuania and Denmark was slowly bringing victory to the allied states. In January 1660 in Oliwa, the new peace negotiations were initiated with representatives of fighting states (except from Denmark) and French mediators, resulting with Peace Treaty signed on 3 V 1660. Sweden and Poland kept the state of possession from before the war and Poland promised to surrender pretension for the part of Inflant that had belonged to Sweden before the war. Jan Kazimierz relinquished rights for the throne of Sweden and Fryderyk Wilhelm received the confirmation of decisions from Welawa and Bydgoszcz.

    [img width=700 height=604]http://www.conflicts.rem33.com/images/Poland/PLCommonwealth%202_files/image012.jpg”/>

    4. Polish-Russian War 1658-1667

    When Bohdan Chmielnicki died in 1657 John Wyhowski, the temporary hetman, proceeded immediately to arrange for a return of the Cossacks to Polish sovereignty. In 1658, at Hadziacz, an agreement was to enable Ruthenia to join the Commonwealth on equal terms with Poland and Lithuania. Perceiving this, the Tsar determined to prevent it by force of arms and sent an unexpected expedition into Poland. Though still at war with Sweden the Republic raised an army large enough to deal successfully with Russia despite the fact that a section of the Cossacks under the younger Chmielnicki fought against her. The Polish arms triumphed in battle after battle and after the Peace of Oliva, when the Western armies were released, they forced the Russians to capitulate at Cudnow in Volhynia (1st November 1660). Chmielnicki then declared for Poland. Unfortunately this brilliant military successes could not be properly exploited this time on account of the revolt of the unpaid armies and rebellion of one of her leading magnates, Prince Lubomirsky, which involved Commonwealt in a dangerous civil war, compelled her to open negotiations with the Russia, at Andrussowo, and after protracted negotiations practically to accept the Russian terms. By the truce of Andrussowo (Feb. 11, 1667) Poland received back from Russia Vitebsk, Polotsk and Polish Livonia, but ceded in perpetuity Smolensk, Syeversk, Chernigov and the whole of the eastern bank of the Dnieper. The Cossacks of the Dnieper were henceforth to be under the joint dominion of the tsar and the king of Poland. Kiev, the religious metropolis of western Russia, was to remain in the hands of Russia for two years. Kiev, though only pledged for two years, was never again to be separated from Russia.

    5. Lubomirski rokosz (rebellion) 1665-1666

    Rokosz was led by Jerzy Lubomirski, the Grand Marshal of Poland and Field Hetman of the Crown, the issue was the attempt to settle ahead of time the question of succession, in particular to promote the election 'vivente rege' (during live of king) of Duc d'Condé. When Lubomirski started a movement of opposition, the King countered by having Lubomirski impeached in absentia by the Seym Tribunal of 1664. When Lubomirski returned from exile and started arming his supporters, Jan Kazimierz decided to take the matter to the battlefield, nonconsidering the fact that Lubomirski was one of the ablest Generals of the Commonwealth. The King's army was heavily defeated at Matwy in (13 th July 1666), but the rokosz was finally concluded by negotiation and the submission of Lubomirski. King promised to abandon his plan about an election of his successor. Lubomirski died in 1667.

    The rebellion prevented the development of sufficient strength to support the loyal Cossacks. Disheartened, they turned, under new leader – Doroszenko, to Turkey. Tartars and Cossacks made their appearance on the frontiers. Jan Sobieski, then Field Hetman, met them and with small forces; and though battling against great odds was able by superior strategy to achieve victory and compel their retreat. (Podhajce 4-17 th November 1668)

    Jan Kazimierz whom people consider responsible for the misfortunes which had befallen the country during his reign, decided to resignate and abdicated on September 16, 1668. He left for France where he died three years later in the Abbey of St. Germain near Paris.

    6. Micha³ Korybut Wisniowiecki

    Dissatisfied with the Waza's dynastic policies, which they saw as contrary to the interest of the Polish-Lithuanian state, the gentry decided to elect a native Pole, to the throne. Micha³ Korybut was the son of Jeremi Wisniowiecki, a military commander who won fame during Chmelnitski's rebellion, He proved to be largely ineffective and became a tool of the magnate.

    7. Polish-Turkish War 1672-1676

    In 1672 the Turks invaded the Commonwealth and after besiege of fortress Kamieniec Podolski, imposed the treaty of Buczacz on the Poles by which Poland ceded to Turkey the provinces of Podolia and Ukraine paid a heavy war tax of 80,000 thalars and promised an annual tribute of 22,500 thalars. In 1673, an expedition was sent against the Turks under Sobieski and at Chocim, Poles scored a splendid victory over the Porte army (). The Turkish army was almost entirely annihilated, and 120 mortars, 400 standards and the entire supply store fell into Polish hands. The fruits of this victory were not fully gathered because of the death of the King Michal Korybut who expired on November 10, 1673.

    8. Jan III Sobieski


    In gratitude for his glorious victory, after the death of Wisniowiecki, Jan Sobieski was elected king.

    Almost immediately after the election, the King left with the army to halt a new Turkish invasion, postponing the coronation until a later date. After two years of brilliant campaigning in the course of which the Turks were thrown across the Dniester and a great many towns (except that of Kamieniec Podolski) were retaken, Sobieski returned to Cracow for the coronation, and at the Diet immediately following the ceremony asked for adequate appropriations to continue the war. He was soon in the field again. After the famous siege of Zoravno, where nearly hundred thousand Turks in vain endeavored to surround the small forces of the, Polish King, by the aid of French mediation, peace was established, the terms of which superseded the Buczacz treaty. Many other advantages were gained by Poland, among them the restoration of two-thirds of Ukraine (1676).

    Sobieski, realizing that the struggle against the Ottoman power had to be postponed, proved equally interested in the problems of the Baltic. Here the general European situation seemed to favor an attempt at recovering East Prussia from Hohenzollern rule. After Poland’s reconciliation with Sweden in 1660, cooperation with that country, against the common enemy, seemed quite possible. But Sobieski’s plan to occupy East Prussia with Swedish cooperation and French support was doomed to failure because of the skillful policy of the Great Elector and the frequent shifts of alliances among the Western powers. From 1678 Frederick William, after defeating the Swedes, was himself in the French camp, and the Peace of Nimwegen, in the following year, made a necessarily isolated Polish action completely hopeless.

    The Polish Seym of 1679-1680 was a turning point in Sobieski’s policy which also affected the European situation. The missed opportunity on the Baltic contributed to a cooling off in John III’s French sympathies. In spite of the intrigues of the French ambassador and his partisans in Warsaw, the king decided to turn again to the main task of his life, the defense against the Muslim danger. From the beginning of the year 1683 it was apparent that the Turks, under the influence of Grand Vizier Kara Mustapha, were planning a new war. It was uncertain, however, whether their main onslaught would be directed against Austria or against Poland. In any case a formal alliance between both threatened powers now became urgent, and with the papal nuncio in Warsaw acting as mediator, it was concluded there on March 31. The treaty provided that sixty thousand men would be mobilized by the emperor and forty thousand by the king of Poland, and that in case of a siege by the Turks of either Vienna or Cracow, all efforts would be made by the ruler of the other country to liberate the capital of his ally.

    9. Polish-Turkish War (1683-1699)


    Battle Against the Ottoman Turks

    At that time it was already easy to foresee that Vienna, easy to reach from the Turkish-controlled part of Hungary whose other part was in open rebellion against Habsburg rule, would be the goal of that last Ottoman attempt to penetrate deep into Central Europe. Warfare also continued, however, on the Podolian front where part of the Polish forces, supported by loyal Cossacks, had to be kept during the whole campaign. Nevertheless, as soon as Sobieski was informed that the siege of Vienna had started, he rapidly moved with an army of twenty-five thousand through Silesia and Moravia to Austria’s assistance, while a Polish auxiliary corps of six thousand, under Hieronim Lubomirski, had already joined the imperial forces before the king’s arrival.

    The question as to who would be the commander in chief of the allied armies, which included contingents from most German states with the exception of Brandenburg-Prussia, was decided in favor of the King of Poland, since the emperor was not present in person. The main leader of the imperial forces of seventy thousand men, Charles of Lorraine, agreed to place himself under the orders of Sobieski whose unique experience in fighting the Turks was universally recognized. It was the King of Poland who, after the junction of both armies, drafted the plan of the battle which was fought before Vienna on September 12, 1683, and was to be one of the decisive battles in European history.

    The Christian forces occupied the mountain range west of the city, which in spite of the heroism of its defenders under Rudiger von Starhemberg was already in a desperate position, and from these heights they launched their attack against the Muslims. The fighting started at the left wing near the Danube, where the imperial regiments distinguished themselves, but according to all witnesses the battle was decided through a brilliant assault of the Polish cavalry at the right wing, which under the king’s personal leadership penetrated into the camp of the Turks and broke their resistance.

    [img width=700 height=586]http://www.conflicts.rem33.com/images/Poland/PLCommonwealth%202_files/image010.jpg”/>

    The victory was so complete that the liberation of Vienna could be followed immediately by an advance far into Hungary. But while the population of the Austrian capital welcomed Sobieski with grateful enthusiasm, misunderstandings between the two monarchs arose at the arrival of the emperor. Leopold I resented the fact that the king had not waited for him to enter Vienna and at once he wanted to discourage Sobieski’s hopes that his eldest son James, who had also fought bravely in the great battle, would receive an archduchess in marriage. In spite of his disappointment, the king, with all Polish forces, joined in the Hungarian campaign, and after a setback in the first battle of Parkany, where he himself was in mortal danger, he won another important victory near that place and also participated in the taking of Esztergom, Hungary’s ecclesiastical center.

    That war was to continue for sixteen years. Though Sobieski and his army returned to Poland at the end of 1683, he remained resolved to participate in the struggle against the Ottoman Empire and to eliminate the Muslim danger to his own country and to the whole of Christendom once and for all. Therefore in 1684 he joined the so-called Holy League which included, besides Austria and Poland, the Republic of Venice, eager to regain its possessions in the Levant, and Pope Innocent XI, who from the very beginning had inspired the joint action in defense of Christendom.

    Now, however, the forces of Austria and those of Poland were concentrated on two different fronts. For Leopold I, the main objective was the occupation of all Hungary. Sobieski wanted to regain Podolia with Kamieniec and, advancing in the direction of the Danube, to bring Moldavia and possibly also Wallachia under Polish suzerainty again. In spite of all his efforts, these campaigns ended in failure. Only one of them, undertaken in 1686, parallel to the Austrian advance to Buda, had any chance of success. The immediate reason why the Polish forces, after advancing far into the Danubian principalities, had to retreat, as they also had to in subsequent expeditions until 1691, was the lack of support from the native Rumanian population.

    For even in Poland there was a suspicion — one more reason for the king’s failure —that he wanted to turn the conquered territories into a private domain for one of his sons, thus strengthening his own power and securing the future election of his descendants to the Polish throne. The result was, on the contrary, a growing opposition to Sobieski which disregarded all his outstanding achievements and troubled the end of his otherwise so glorious reign until his death on June 17, 1696. With the death of Sobieski, ended the glory of old Poland. He was the only man, who if he could not revive the country, could at least prevent Poland's speedy destruction.


    Winged Hussar




    1. August II


    August II

    The Polish Commonwealth entered the critical stage and the decline was on the way. Following election was one of the most dismal episodes in Polish parliamentary history. The three principal candidates were king’s Jan III son Jakub, German Elector of Saxony and French Prince – de Conti. Jakub Sobieski was seized by Saxon troops, Prince de Conti was elected but a small group of malcontents 'elected' separately Friedrich Augustus, who marched into Poland at the head of a Saxon army. He was crowned in Krakow as Augustus II of Poland. It was the first time that a deceased monarch's son had not been elected to succeed him; that the rightful candidate had been debarred from the throne by military force; and that the Poles had acquired a German king, which went against a long tradition of keeping German hegemony at arm's length.

    The twenty-seven-year-old Augustus was known as Augustus the Strong. He was not a stupid man, and he intended to turn the Commonwealth into a centralized monarchical state. Like Sobieski he saw war as the surest way to gain prestige and a free hand to carry out his plans.

    In the pacta conventa he promised to bring Ukraine and Podolia, with the fortress of Kamieniec, back to Poland. Soon after the election he determined upon and prosecuted a war with Turkey as the first step in the seeming fulfillment of his promises. The conflict was not long drawn out, for the Porte, after a series of long and disastrous wars with Sobieski and Austria was exhausted. The allied forces of Poland and Saxony, under Field Hetman Felix Potocki, won a brilliant victory at Podhayce in 1698, which hastened the conclusion of the peace at Karlowice (1699), by the terms of which Austria received Transylvania and Hungary as far as the Save; Azov was ceded to Russia; and Ukraine, and Podolia with Kamieniec came back to Poland. Poland in return, abandoned all claims to Wallachia and Moldavia. This peace marks the end of hostilities between Poland and Turkey.

    Now August turn his attention to the north. Together with Peter the Great of Russia, he planned a joint war against Sweden. They signed an agreement with King of Denmark and went to war on Sweden.

    The Great Northern War began in 1700 with unexpected Swedish victories over Denmark, and particularly over Peter the Great at the Battle of Narva. After Narva, instead of advancing against Russia he turned against Augustus II, thus giving Peter the Great the necessary time for reforming his army and crushing internal troubles, while in Poland the Swedish invasion created only misery and division. For Charles XII tried to force upon the Poles a king who would be his subservient ally. Though he chose an excellent candidate, Stanislaw Leszczynski, that election in 1704 was obviously illegal. A large part of the Poles, as well as an important faction in Lithuania, remained loyal to Augustus II in spite of his deplorable policy. Finally Charles had the good idea of invading Saxony where he pinned down Augustus and extorted his abdication of the Polish throne. Stanislaw I was king of Poland but after Charles was defeated by the Russians (Poltava 1709), Augustus reascended the Polish throne. He was now little more than the Tsar's client, dependent on his support and protection.

    The Seym of 1712 reached deadlock on various reforms put forward by Augustus, whereupon he brought in troops from Saxony. This had the effect of rallying the opposition, which in 1715 formed a Confederation. Conflict between Augustus and the Seym almost ended in civil war in 1717, only prevented by a Russian offer of mediation; 18,000 Russian troops surrounded the chamber where the deputies met, they were denied the right to speak whilst the Russian "mediator" dictated the Russian " solution". This Seym became known as the "Silent Seym" and the Republic became little more than a Russian client state; this was the start of the Russian "Protectorate" in which Poland was forced to reduce her standing army. The fact that over two hundred and fifty years later the whole of Eastern Europe was still infested with these 'friendly protectors' testifies to the brilliance of Tsar Peter's policy. Poland's internal and external affairs were now the business of Russia, and to a lesser extent of Prussia and Austria, since Poland had to be kept isolated. The last part of the reign of Augustus II, until his death in 1733, was for the country a real “dark age.” The growing opposition against the king, this time entirely justified by his desire to establish an absolute form of government and by his intrigues with Poland’s neighbors, made any constructive reform plan impossible.

    2. Stanis³aw Leszczyñski

    Before the election, at the so-called Convocation Seym, the Poles decided to exclude all foreign candidates and amidst great enthusiasm the primate, on September 12, proclaimed Stanislaw Leszczynski king of Poland. Leszczynski had been able to reach that country by secretly crossing Germany, but his election, signed by about twelve thousand voters, was undoubtedly legal, and expecting French and Swedish assistance through the Baltic he moved to Danzig. Help was indeed badly needed because Russia, supported by Austria and with Prussia s silent approval, decided to enforce the election of Frederick Augustus of Saxony (Augustu’s II son), as King Augustus III, after abandoning the extravagant idea of offering the throne of Poland to the Infante of Portugal. Under the control of the Russian army which occupied Praga, the eastern suburb of Warsaw, no more than a thousand voters signed the fake election of Augustus III. France declared war on Austria and started the War of the Polish Succession. Two years of sporadic fighting ensued, but France made peace, having got what she wanted from Austria in Italy. Stanislaw Leszczynski was given the Duchy of Lorraine as a consolation, and Augustus III ascended the Polish throne.

    3. August III

    August III, Poland's new monarch, was obese, indolent, virtually incapable of thought and drunkard as his father was. He reigned for thirty years, but spent only twenty-four month of that time in Poland, since he felt more at home in Saxony. The only redeeming feature of Augustus III was a love for beauty inherited from his father, who had made Dresden one of the artistic centers of Europe. Augustus II had entertained great ideas for rebuilding Warsaw and brought architects from Dresden to draw up plans. Augustus III had realized some of those plans, but still Poland had become the Sick Man of Europe, a laughing stock to foreigners who believed strongly in progress and efficient government. It had lost the will as well as the ability to conduct a policy or to defend itself. August III died in 1763.

    4. Stanislaw August Poniatowski


    Stanislaw Poniatowski

    In 1764, Stanislaw Antoni Poniatowski, supported by Russia, was elected King of Poland taking the name of Stanislaw II Augustus. He was fascinated by England and its politics. He spent some time in Paris and St.Petersburg , where he became the official lover of future Russian Empress Catherine. With this election a new era dawned in Poland. Fiscal and military commissions were established. A national customs tariff was introduced and the project for municipal reform was commissioned. In addition, the king founded "College of Chivalry", the first entirely secular academy for the training of military and administrative cadres.

    When the project for constitutional reform was laid before the Seym, which included the abolition of the veto, Russia and Prussia threatened war if it were not withdrawn and if the Seym were not dissolved. Alarmed at the renewal taking place in Poland, Catherine and Frederick (Prussian king) decided to start a hare which would embarrass Poland internationally, revive the conservative anarchist elements, and generally foul up the political scene. The king and his supporters had little room for maneuver. The Seym assembled in a capital full of Russian troops. The only course was to bow to Russian demands, which included the acceptance by the Seym of five principles which Catherine then solemnly vowed to'protect' in the name of Poland liberties. These principles (free election; absolute rule of the veto; the right to renounce allegiance to the king; the szlachta's right exclusively to hold office and land; the landowner's power of life and death over his peasants) were effective barricade against any possibility of reform. Polish society had awoken from the pacifist slumber of the Saxon era, and many refused to follow the 'reasonable' course favored by the king.

    5. Bar Confederation

    In 1768 a Confederation was formed in city Bar. It lacked leadership of serious caliber and its program consisted of windy phrases about the faith and national freedom. The Russians put pressure on the king to declare himself against the Confederation. France intervened by sending money to the Confederates and encouraging Turkey to declare war on Russia. The king, who had been trying at all costs to avoid civil war, was left with no choice. The forces of the crown joined the Russian troops and defeated the Confederates. The magnates who had joined the Confederation went into exile, but over 5,000 captured szlachta were sent to Siberia.

    6. The First Partition of Poland 1772

    Russia wanted to keep Poland docile, but Prussia was interested in 'eating up' various Polish provinces. Frederick the Great (king of Prussia) had already worked out a plan for weaning Austria away from France and for binding her to Russia and Prussia – by dragging her into a tripartite despoliation of Poland. On August 5-th, 1772 the first partition of Poland was agreed. Prussia took 36,000 square km with 580,000 inhabitants; Austria 83,000 square km with 2,650,000 inhabitants; and Russia 92,000 square km with 1,300,000 inhabitants.

    The three Powers determined to carry out some window-dressing, and insisted that the Polish Seym ratify the partition treaties. Prearranged deputies were elected, protected by foreign troops. Even so, many delegates raised havoc in the Seym, refusing to allow the ratification to proceed. Russia and Prussia threatened to seize even more territory, so the Seym had no alternative but to ratify the treaties of partition on 30 September 1773.

    The loss of territory would been a fair price to pay if it had bought freedom of action. But the five 'eternal principles' dictated to the Seym by Russia excluded all possibility of constitutional reform. Nevertheless, the next twenty years were to see a complete transformation. The country was ruled by a Permanent Council, in effect the first proper ministerial government in Poland. The war on obscurantism declared by a relatively small group of people appointed by the king to the Commission for National Education, in effect a ministry of education, the first of its kind in Europe. In the 1780s a handful of people turned into a national movement. By then two generations had passed through the reformed schools, giving rise to a new phenomenon in Polish life, the intelligentsia. This term, only coined later, is used to describe an identifiable group which transcended class barriers and was united by a common educational background and political vision, which might differ in details but accepted the service of society as its fundamental moral obligation. By the late 1780s there was a widespread feeling that the time had come to shrug off the protection and restrictions imposed by Russia, and to follow a more independent policy of reform.

    [img width=700 height=539]http://www.conflicts.rem33.com/images/Poland/PLCommonwealth%203_files/image007.jpg”/>

    7. Great Seym (1788-1792) and 3rd May Constitution

    The Seym assembled in 1788 took matters into its own hands. It voted an increase of the army and vested control of it in a Seym Commission. It placed the conduct of foreign policy in the hands of another Seym Commission and imposed a tax on income from lands the first direct taxation. The opposition was split between Russian toadies and chauvinistic reactionaries. Neither could voice any coherent argument and both were taken aback by events. They were also unsettled by the ferment taking place in France, whose heady emanations could be felt in Poland. Debate on the question of reform had grown progressively more radical and the Seym had appointed a Commission to prepare a written constitution for the Polish Commonwealth. King Stanislaw Augustus, emerged from the isolation and started drawing up the new constitution. The ground for voting was prepared carefully, the allegiance of the Warsaw populace was assured, and date was chosen when many reactionary deputies were absent. 3 May 1791 the proposed constitution passed overwhelmingly and became the law. It was the first written constitution in Europe. The opening clauses were purposely anodyne. Catholicism was enshrined as the religion of the state, although every citizen was free to practice another without prejudice; the szlachta was declared to be the backbone of the nation; the peasantry was piously acknowledged as its lifeblood. The Seym became the chief legislative and executive power and voting was to be conducted by strict majority. The veto was abolished. The government of the country was vested in the King and a Royal Council. The king could direct policy, but nothing could leave his hands without the signature of at least one of the ministers, and the whole Council was answerable directly to the Seym. It was hardly revolutionary in itself; it was the commissions and other organs it set up which were to carry through the real reforms. The events in Poland were hailed all over the world.

    8. Polish –Russian War and the Second Partition of Poland

    In 1792, Catherine of Russia sought out a number of her old placemen in Poland, and made them set up a Confederation in the town of Targowica, under the slogan of defense of Polish 'golden freedoms' against the monarchical and democratic revolution. The confederates crossed the border at the head of 97,000 Russian troops. Against these seasoned veterans of the Turkish wars, Poland could field only 37,000 untried recruits. The Polish forces went into action alone and acquitted themselves valiantly. One corps, under the king's nephew Jozef Poniatowski won a battle, another under the American revolutionary general Tadeusz Kosciuszko fought a fine rearguard action. But there could be no hope for victory. A second partition of Poland was agreed between Russia and Prussia, and signed in Petersburg in 1793. Catherine helped herself to 250,000 sq.km., and Frederick of Prussia to 58,000. The Polish Commonwealth now consisted of no more than 212,000 sq.km.

    The king returned to Warsaw where he technically ruled. In fact, the Russian embassy was the source of all policy and a large Russian garrison policed the country. There was no possibility for action by patriots and most of them went into voluntary exile.

    9. Kosciuszko’s Insurrection and The Third Partition of Poland


    Kosciuszko in Krakow

    In 1794 in Krakow, Tadeusz Koœciuszko took command of what was left of Polish army and proclaimed the Act of Insurrection. He assumed dictatorial powers and granted freedom to all peasants and ownership of land to all who fought in the mass levy. From Krakow Koœciuszko marched north. At Raclawice he defeated a Russian army with a force of 4,000 regulars and 2,000 peasants armed with scythes, than arrived to already liberated Warsaw. When the Russian troops retreated from the capital, the punch-drank mob which dragged out and hanged the handful of traitors never thought of raising a hand against the king. Some magnates joined the Insurrection and the king supported it, but majority of the szlachta were cautious. On the other hand, the Jewish community formed up and equipped a special regiment of its own, the first military formation since Biblical times. Unfortunately Koœciuszko was outnumbered and defeated by the Prussians who entered Krakow. Then a combined Russo-Prussian army of 40,000 besieged Warsaw but after two months they withdrew. Fighting against overwhelming odds, Kosciuszko was wounded at the Battle of Maciejowice and taken prisoner. Praga (the right-bank district of Warsaw) was then taken by Suvorov and its population exterminated. Terrorized by the carnage, Warsaw surrendered. A new treaty of partition was signed in 1795, wiping what was left of Poland off the map. Prussia seized Mazovia with Warsaw, as well as the lands all the way to the Niemen River; Austria took the lands between the Pilica, Wisla [Vistula] and Bug Rivers; while Russia took the territory between the Bug and Niemen Rivers. The king was forced to abdicate, bundled into a carriage and sent off to Petersburg, he died in 1798, and the foreign diplomats accredited to the Polish court were told to leave.



    Political System

    The Constitution of Poland was never written. It was a body of laws sanctioned by ancient custom and subsequent legislation. By the end of Zygmunt Waza's reign it became a rigid state instrument, and underwent but few changes until the last quarter of the XVIII th century.


    Every nobleman of Poland, Lithuania and the other parts of the Commonwealth had a right to vote. The representatives of the more important cities were members of the electorate, as were also Poland's.

    The elections took place in a suburb of Warsaw, where the nobles and dignitaries formed two separate camps. Here the assembled electorate listened to the exhortations of the representatives of the candidates and their supporters. On the day set for the election the Senators and Representatives met with the nobility of their respective provinces and took a viva voce vote on the various candidates. Unanimous consent was necessary to make the election valid. The Primate announced the result of the election. The elected candidate, first by his representatives and then in person, swore to uphold the constitutional privileges enumerated in the pacta conventa, which the pre-election or "convocation Seym" had drawn up, whereupon a duly executed diploma of election was handed to him. He did not become, however, vested with monarchical authority until after the coronation, which took place at Cracow. The coronation ceremony was followed by a special "coronation Seym" at which the King confirmed the laws of the Commonwealth.


    At first the King's power was considerable. The King was the supreme judge until the elective tribunals were established in Batory's time, which, however, did not supersede him in civil matters. He was commander-in-chief of the army. He could call out the national insurrection of nobles (pospolite ruszenie), but only with the consent of the Seym, of which he was an integral part.

    He convened the national and local Seyms at times instanced by law and at other times on extraordinary occasions. He specified the matters to be submitted for the consideration of the Seym. The resolutions and acts of the Seym, as well as court decrees, were issued in his name. He had power to appoint ambassadors to foreign countries, but could give them instructions in minor matters only. The ambassadors were responsible to the Seym. Similarly, the King could confer with foreign representatives only in the presence of the Council of the Senate. The King could not go abroad, marry, or secure divorce, without the assent of the Senate. Although the King derived his power from the election, he was responsible to nobody. He was merely limited by the privileges which he granted, or which were granted by his predecessors and which he confirmed. After the extinction of the Jagiellon dynasty the electorate claimed the right to renounce allegiance to the King in case of his disregard of the law or of the articles of the covenant (de non praestanda-obedientia). The executive power of the State was vested in the King. He was, however, handicapped in the exercise of it by the life tenure of officials and by their independence. He had the sole right to appoint civil and military officers, but could not recall any officials unless guilt had been established before the Seym sitting, as a court of justice. The right of appointing bishops was vested in the King, and he had the power to donate; or mortgage crown lands.

    3. OFFICES

    All offices were life tenures. The chief offices which, with the exception of the Hetmans and the Under-Treasurer, entitled the incumbent to senatorial dignities were:

    The Chancellor, or Keeper of the Great Seal. Both ecclesiastical and temporal nobles could hold this office. The Chancellor was the representative of the King and the interpreter of his will and intentions. He read the speeches of the Crown, presented to the Seym the matters for consideration, negotiated with foreign ambassadors and acted as intermediary between the people and the king. All royal decrees, mandates and correspondence were prepared and sign signed by him.

    The Under-Chancellor attended to minor affairs and assumed the duties of the Chancellor in his absence. The Grand Marshall had charge of the King's safety, and was at the head of the administration of the police and judicial departments of the capital and its vicinity. His jurisdiction was very' large. Two Under-Marshalls, assisting the Grand Marshall, were also regular officials.

    The State Treasurer had charge over the royal exchequer. He was responsible for the collection of revenue and the expenditures approved by the Seym. His reports were regularly submitted to the Seym, and for every misuse of funds he was responsible with his private fortune. He was also in charge of the mint and of the royal domains.

    An Under-Treasurer attended to the minor matters of the office.

    Hetmans. One Grand Hetman commanded the Crown army and another the Lithuanian army. They were charged with the duty of defending the country against invasion and of guarding the Republic against internal disturbances.

    The Field Hetmans (also one for Crown and one for Lithuania) were a military officials of a lower rank. Their duty was to defend the frontiers of the country. They also substituted for the Grand Hetman when necessary.

    All the above mentioned dignitaries were ministers of state

    There were many minor state or court offices, some of which during the course of time lost their significance and were retained merely for honorary designations. Of the crown officers who discharged their duties outside of the capital, the following were the most important:

    The "Woyevoda" was a provincial Governor. The Woyevoda led the insurrection of nobles of his province in case of war, looked after the weights and measures in towns, prescribed the prices of products, and had jurisdiction over Jews. The office entitled the holder to a seat in. the Senate.

    The "Castellan's" was one of the offices which, like that of the Woyevoda, had a, historical tradition, but which in time proved to be a mere honorary title of the leader of the nobility of a district. In case of war he organized the citizens of the district and led them to the Woyevoda. The office gave the incumbent senatorial rank.

    The actual executive work in the country was done by the Starostas. They enforced the decrees, and had charge over the law and order of their respective districts. They were also judges of the nobility in criminal matters. The civil jurisdiction was almost, wholly in the hands of special judges, appointed by the King from the lists of candidates presented by the nobility of the districts.

    4. THE SEYM

    The King, the Senators and the representatives of the nobles constituted the Polish Seym or Parliament. The King was an integral part of the Seym, although his constant presence during the sessions was not required. The Senate consisted of the archbishops and bishops, ministers of state, castellans and woyevodas. The high state offices created after the Senate was definitely constituted (the middle of the XVth century) did not find representation in it. That is why the Under-Treasurer and the Hetmans had no seats in the Senate. The Representatives were elected by the land seymiks, which were the legislative organs of the local autonomous government, and were bound to observe the mandates given to them.

    There was no specified place or time for the sessions of the Seym. The king summoned it whenever occasion arose. Sometimes it met twice a year, at other times once in several years. In the XVth century the sessions lasted for a few days; in the XVIth century deliberations lasted several months. Later on the Seym met regularly every second year, and the time limit was six weeks. Extraordinary sessions could be called between the regular sessions and were to last not more than two weeks.. The "Liberum veto," whereby one deputy could dissolve a session of Seym and render nugatory all its previous decisions, came into life in the middle of the XVIIth century, in the era of moral and political decline.


    The state revenue was derived from various duties and taxes, and from the leasing of the crown domains. The land tax was a general tax, from which only the clergy, and later the nobility also, were exempt. The products of the salt and metal mines were taxed, as were also, dwellings in the country and in the cities. The various taxes levied in the cities on commerce, transportation, manufactures and crafts, and the Jewish capitation tax were the other kinds of state revenue. The tax rate was a variable quantity; in cases of need the Seym would double, treble, and even quadruple the usual tax rate. Until the year 1717 the clergy were exempt from taxation. In extraordinary cases the Church would donate to the state treasury a "subsidium charitativum," the amount of which was fixed by the Church Council. The expenditures went for the maintenance of the King and his court, for state administration and foreign representation, and for the regular army. The collection of taxes and the disposition of the revenues were under the control of the Treasurer, responsible to the Seym. Some taxes went directly to certain officials on whose ability to collect them depended the size of their incomes; others were farmed out, and in some instances the army officers collected the taxes designated for the maintenance of the army.


    The Nobles


    The nobles were the ruling class with the exclusive right to enjoy full citizenship. Nobility was, hereditary in the male line, and an escutcheon was an outward sign of it. The power to ennoble resided originally in the King, but after the end of the XVIth century the approval of the Seym was required. As the class-consciousness of the nobility grew, attempts were made to restrict admission. Naturalization of foreign nobles, after 1641, similarly became a matter over which the Seym had sole control.. There were not gradation in the ranks of the nobility who guarded jealously against the rise in station of anyone by reason of hereditary title. By the act of 1638 no noble could accept or use a title, which had not been registered in the acts of the Union of Lublin in 1569. The following were the special privileges and immunities enjoyed by the nobility exclusively:

    The right to acquire and own land in the country as well as real estate in cities, with all the wealth below the surface; The property of the nobles was exempt from confiscation without due process of law; only to the nobility was the door of the more exalted temporal and spiritual offices open;

    They were exempt from taxation, making only such contributions as they voluntarily imposed upon themselves, with the single exception of compulsory military duty in case of war.

    A noble was answerable only to his own courts. For killing a person not of noble rank he was punishable by a fine only. He enjoyed the right of habeas corpus; had complete freedom of speech, was an elector of the King and qualified to become a candidate for the royal office. Finally, he had a voice in the affairs of the country by electing delegates to the National Seym through the local seymiks. There was only one restriction to which the nobles had to submit, and that was the prohibition of being a merchant or an artisan. By settling in a city and engaging in this kind of work a noble forfeited all his rights to nobility.

    The Clergy

    Next to the mobility in order of enjoyment of special privileges and immunities was the Roman Catholic clergy. All the higher offices were given exclusively to persons from among the nobility, with the exception of the doctoral canons," to which only priests holding doctors degrees in theology, law and medicine could be appointed. Catholic diocesan bishops were members of the Senate. Many high state offices including that of the Chancellor, were open to the clergy. The King appointed the bishops and canons, as well as the abbots and rectors.

    The nobility was tireless in opposing the tax exemptions of the clergy, the tithes and ecclesiastical jurisdiction. By a law of 1510 the Seym prohibited bequests of land to the Church in order to stop the tremendous growth of "the dead hand," as the Church estates were called.

    The Dissidents

    The legal guarantees of equality of rights of dissidents with Catholics were contained in the provisions of the Warsaw Confederacy of 1573, and were sworn to by every new monarch. With the growth of the Catholic reaction they became more or less a dead letter, and dissidents were made, the subjects of discrimination. No bishop of the Orthodox Church or even of the Uniate Church was recognized in the Senate, and State offices were very seldom filled by persons from among the non-Conformists. In 1632 the Seym prohibited the erection of new dissident churches in the cities of the Crown, and in 1717 this prohibition was extended to the rest of the country

    The Townspeople

    The XVI th and XVII th centuries saw the decline of the once, prosperous and powerful Polish cities. Geographical and economic conditions as well as pernicious legislation were the causes of it. Gdansk (Danzig) only, and a few other maritime cities continued to prosper. The direct interchange of the products of the manor for the foreign manufactures and luxuries, and the development of self-sufficing, communities around the manor eliminated the need of cities, and their marts and fairs. The weakness and disorganization of the cities became reflected in their relation to other elements of the population and to the Government. The cities lost their former right to home rule and representation, and were subjected to the authority of state officials and private magnates. The woyevodas prescribed prices for city products, the rates of excise taxes, etc., and the Seym established rules as to profits and even as to private expenditures and the kind of dress to be worn.

    The townspeople did not have access to any state offices or to the higher spiritual positions. They were excluded from the national insurrection. Aside from the economic advantages the nobility planned to derive, by making themselves independent of the cities, the chief motive in destroying important and powerful cities was to remove every possibility of furnishing the King with an ally strong enough to overturn the existing order of things and to introduce absolute government in Poland.

    The Peasants


    In the XVIth century there was not so much as a trace left of the independence of the peasant and his right to self-government. The laws limiting his freedom became more rigid, and the punishment for flight from the jurisdiction of his master more severe The owner of the Manor had jurisdiction over his peasants, and prescribed laws and regulations for them; he could transfer them from place to place; he could take away certain leased parcels of land and, give them others instead; he prescribed the amount of free labor the peasant had to render. There existed no state regulations as to the number of free days the peasant was obliged to give to his landlord, as to the number of beasts of burden that he had to bring with him to help in the work and as to the other duties he had to perform. In time the manor became an entirely independent economic unit. The peasant was obliged to buy all his necessities of life from the landlord and was compelled to sell all the products of his farm to the manor. The manor also established a monopoly of milling, bleaching and of spirits and beer production. The landlord compelled his peasants to purchase certain quantities of these drinks for various occasions, such as marriages and christenings. Similar conditions prevailed in church estates and crown lands, except that in crown lands the peasant had a right to appeal to the royal referee's court for redress. In spite of the loss of personal liberty, dating from 1496 in Poland and lasting longer than in the western countries of Europe, the Polish peasant was not a slave. He could not be sold and he was not, deprived of legal competence, although since 1573 he was the "peculium" of his overlord. He could hold property, both real and personal, and nobody could deprive him of it. He had hereditary rights to his land and could buy land from his landlord, to which his children had hereditary claims. His rights however, were greatly restricted; he could not leave the landlord except with his consent, or, as in some places, by forfeiting a certain sum, but by law he remained a free man.

    The Jews

    The Jews in Poland had complete autonomy in their internal affairs. In each city in which they were allowed to live there was a special Jewish college called "Kahal," which governed the Jewish affairs of the community. Every year during the great fairs at Lublin and Jaroslav the representatives of the Jews from all the provinces of Poland assembled in synods to settle the internal affairs of the various communities and inter-communal matters; also to make joint representations to the King and to apportion the taxes levied upon them as a body. In time the Jewish autonomy became weaker, and they came more under the supervision of the woyevoda and his subordinates, but they always retained their right to appeal to the King's court for redress.




    Great thread. Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was pretty cool and a powerful force back then to bad it was consumed by neiborghs. That site is just amazing by the way.

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