III. The Postclassical Period, 500–1500 > F. Europe, 461–1500 > 7. Eastern Europe, 1300–1500
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See 1300–1305)
7. Eastern Europe, 1300–1500
a. Poland
The history of Poland in this period is concerned chiefly with the efforts of the kings to reunite the various duchies and to establish the royal power. This policy was opposed, with success, by the nobility, which managed to extract countless privileges and to erect a type of oligarchical government. Externally the Poles were involved in a long struggle with the Teutonic Knights, designed to secure an outlet to the Baltic.  1
VLADISLAV IV (Lokietek), under whom Poland regained its independence after a brief period of Bohemian domination. Vladislav was obliged to continue the struggle against Bohemia, and was not crowned until 1320. For protection he concluded dynastic alliances with Hungary (his daughter married Charles Robert of Anjou) and Lithuania (his son Casimir married the daughter of Gediminas). He did much to reunite the various duchies and established a new capital at Kraków. But he failed to secure Pomerania, which in 1309 passed from Brandenburg to the Teutonic Order. A papal decision in 1321 awarded the region to Poland, but the Knights ignored the order and continued their raids into Polish territory (1326–33).  2
CASIMIR III (the Great). He introduced an improved administration, reduced the influence of the German town law (a new law code published), developed national defense, and promoted trade and industry (extensive privileges to the Jews, 1334). In 1364 he founded a school at Kraków, which became a university in 1400 and the chief intellectual center of eastern Europe. Here Johannes Dlugosz (1415–80) wrote the first critical history of the country. There was a printing press in Kraków as early as 1474.  3
In foreign affairs, Casimir abandoned claims to Silesia and Pomerania, turning his attention toward the southeast, where dynastic problems in the Ukraine called forth a rivalry between Poles, Lithuanians, and Hungarians. In an agreement with Hungary (1339), Casimir, who had no direct heir, promised that on his death the Polish crown would pass to Louis, the son of Charles Robert of Hungary. Louis was to reconquer the lost territories and to respect the privileges of the Polish nobility. This marks the beginning of the elective system, which gave the magnates an unequaled opportunity for extracting further rights (first real diet—colloquia—in 1367). In 1340 Casimir seized Halicz, Lemberg, and Volhynia. War ensued with Lithuania over Volhynia, and ultimately the Poles retained only the western part (1366).  4
LOUIS (of Anjou). He paid but little attention to Poland, which he governed through regents. To secure the succession to his daughter Maria (married to Sigismund, son of Emperor Charles IV), he granted to the nobility the Charter of Koszyce (Kaschau), the basis for far-reaching privileges.  5
Opposition to Sigismund led to the formation of the confederation of Radom and civil war between the factions of the nobility.  6
JADWIGA (Hedwig), a daughter of Louis, was elected queen.  7
Marriage of Jadwiga to Jogaila (Jagiello), grand duke of Lithuania, who promised to become a Christian and to unite his duchy (three times the size of Poland) with the Polish crown. As a matter of fact, though the marriage prepared the way for union, he was obliged to recognize his cousin Vytautas (Witold) as grand duke of Lithuania, and the connection continued to be tenuous.  8
JAGIELLO (title Vladislav V). He had great difficulty in keeping his fractious nobility in order and in 1433 was obliged to grant the Charter of Kraków, reaffirming and extending their privileges.  9
1410, July 15
Battle of Tannenberg (Grünwald), a great victory for the Poles, who used Bohemian mercenaries under John Ziska and were supported by the Russians and even the Tatars, against the Teutonic Knights. However, Jagiello was unable to keep his vassals in order.  10
1411, Feb. 1
As a result, Jagiello concluded the first Peace of Thorn, which failed to secure for the Poles an access to the Baltic.  11
VLADISLAV VI, son of Jagiello, succeeded to the throne. Since he was only ten years old, the country was ruled by a regency. Vladislav's brother, Casimir, was offered the Bohemian throne by the Hussites (1438); Vladislav himself became king of Hungary (1440). Thenceforth he devoted himself to Hungarian affairs, leaving Poland in the hands of the magnates. Vladislav lost his life in 1444 at the Battle of Varna (See 1444, Nov. 10) against the Ottomans.  12
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.