IV. The Early Modern Period, 1500–1800 > B. Early Modern Europe, 1479–1815 > 1. Europe, 1479–1675 > j. Poland-Lithuania
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See 1447) (See 1612) (See 1650)
j. Poland-Lithuania
The history of Poland in this period was marked by a constant growth of power by the lesser nobility, so that Poland became transformed into a republic of the gentry (szlachta) (Rzeczpospolita) with an elected king as the titular head. The Rzeczpospolita had to fight constantly against the expansion of two powers, Muscovite Russia and Ottoman Turkey, but all efforts of the kings to establish a modern standing army failed.  1
JOHN ALBERT, the son of Casimir IV, relied upon the gentry to reduce the power of the great magnates.  2
The result was the Statute of Piotrkow (the Magna Carta of Poland), which gave the gentry extensive privileges at the expense of the burghers and peasants. The burghers were restricted from buying land and the peasants were practically deprived of freedom of movement.  3
A futile invasion of Moldova, which was intended to secure a throne for the king's brother, led to a devastating invasion by the Ottoman Turks.  4
ALEXANDER I, brother of John Albert and, since 1492, grand duke of Lithuania. His reign was important only for the war with Ivan the Great of Russia (See 1462–1505), which resulted in the loss of the left bank of the Dnieper by Poland (1503), and for the Constitution of Radom (1505), which made the national diet, elected by the nobles at their provincial assemblies (the dietines), the supreme legislative organ. Henceforth no new laws were to be passed without the diet's consent.  5
SIGISMUND I, brother of John Albert and Alexander, during whose reign the diet (1511) passed laws finally establishing serfdom in Poland and Lithuania. The serfs were attached to the soil and could be sold by one lord to another, but only together with the land. In times of war each lord had to provide a fixed number of fully equipped soldiers, recruited from among his serfs.  6
War with Russia over the White Russian region (Belarus). The Russians made considerable gains and in 1514 took Smolensk, but most of Belarus remained under Polish-Lithuanian rule.  7
Secularization of Prussia and end of the rule of the Teutonic Knights. Prussia remained a fief of Poland.  8
Another war with Russia brought no success to the Poles.  9
SIGISMUND II (Aug.). His reign was distinguished by the wide spread of the Protestant Reformation, which had taken root in 1518 and had gained ground, especially in the Baltic lands and in the towns, despite many edicts penalizing the adherents, who were known as Dissidents. Demands for a national church, marriage of the clergy, communion in both kinds, Slavonic liturgy, and so on. Calvinism and Antitrinitarianism also established themselves. After the Council of Trent (See 1523–34) the crown, backed by the recently formed Polish-Lithuanian chapter of the Jesuit Order (1565), succeeded in checking the movement and in restoring the supremacy of Roman Catholicism.  10
The Livonian War, arising from a disputed succession and from the conflicting claims of Poland, Russia, Sweden, and Denmark. The Russians invaded the country (1557) and the Swedes took Estonia, while the Danes acquired part of Courland. In 1561 the Poles took over Livonia, but Ivan the Terrible of Russia conquered part of it in 1563.  11
1569, July 1
The UNION OF LUBLIN, which, despite opposition on the part of Lithuania, merged that country with the Polish kingdom. The two nations were to have a common sovereign and a common diet, though Lithuania was to retain a separate administration and army.  12
With the death of Sigismund II the Jagellon dynasty came to an end and the Polish crown, already elective in theory, became so in fact.  13
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.