TIMELINE OF WORLD HISTORY
Timeline of World History: Year by Year from Prehistory to Present Day

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The Middle Ages

5th - 15th century

 

 
 


Eastern Europe
 


10TH-15TH CENTURY
 

 


1 Duke Boleslaw II of Bohemia gives an audience to
St. Adalbert, Bishop of Prague, bronze relief,
twelfth century
 




Following the Great Migration of Peoples, the Slavs spread into the areas of Eastern Europe abandoned by the German tribes. Around 900, the Magyars began to settle the central Danube region. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, the historical kingdoms of Poland, 1 Bohemia, and Hungary emerged. The last to form a unified nation were the Lithuanians in the 14th century. The political development of all these countries was fundamentally characterized by the dominance of the nobility, while the kings continually sought to establish a dynastic rule of their realms.


The Development of the Polish State in the Middle Ages
 

The long-ruling Piast dynasty was unable to establish a strong monarchy. Up until the 13th century, therefore, numerous territories were lost to Germany and other neighboring states.

 

Under the princely House of Piast, the West Slavic Polanie tribe, which settled between the Oder and the Vistula rivers, became the nucleus of the future Poland. Mieszko I came to power and converted to Christianity in the 960s.

Although the Ottomans wanted to prevent too strong a concentration of power in the east, Mieszko I and his son 6 Boleslaw I Chrobry (the Brave) initially maintained a cordial relationship with the German Saxon Ottomans.



6 Boleslaw of Poland receives German missionaries, wood engraving,
19th century



Only after the end of the Ottonian dynasty did Boleslaw assume the title of king in 1024 and thereby secure Poland's independence.

Boleslaw I's grandson Casimir I Odnowiciel had to contend with pagan revolts and repulse invasions from Bohemia and Kievan Rus.

Boleslaw III Krzywousty in 1138 restructured the monarchy such that the eldest member of the dynasty would act as an overlord in the capital 4 Krakow, while other family members would reign as autonomous princes over the provinces.


4 The king's castle Wawel in Krakow, residence of the dukes and kings of Poland until 1596


 

 

Boleslaw I

Boleslaw I, byname Bolesław the Brave, Polish Bolesław Chrobry (born 966/967—died June 17, 1025), duke (from 992) and then (from 1024) first king of Poland, who expanded his country’s territory to include Pomerania, Lusatia, and, for a time, the Bohemian princely lands. He made Poland a major European state and also created a Polish church independent of German control.

The son of Mieszko I, the first of the Piast dukes, and the Bohemian princess Dobrawa (Dubravka), Bolesław I inherited the principality of Great Poland (Wielkopolska, between the Oder and the Warta rivers) upon his father’s death in 992. He soon began, by energetic political and military action, to develop and expand the Polish state. He conquered Pomerania along the Baltic Sea in 996 and seized Kraków (formerly a Bohemian possession) soon afterward. He ransomed the relics of the martyred St. Adalbert, bishop of Prague, from the pagan Prussians and buried the relics at Gniezno. The Holy Roman emperor Otto III, who had been Adalbert’s student and Bolesław’s ally since 992, attended that ceremony (March 1000) and marked the occasion by personally acknowledging Bolesław as the sovereign ruler of Poland. With Pope Sylvester II’s approval, the emperor granted Poland its own archdiocese, with Gniezno as its seat. Bolesław then reorganized Poland’s church structure, making it a national church directly under papal jurisdiction and independent of German ecclesiastical control.

After Emperor Otto III’s death (1002), Bolesław seized the imperial lands of Lusatia and Misnia (Meissen) and the principality of Bohemia. These actions started a series of three wars between him and the German king Henry II that lasted until 1018, when, by the Treaty of Bautzen, Bolesław retained Lusatia and Misnia and Henry II won Bohemia. Bolesław’s expansionist policy continued. When he defeated Grand Prince Yaroslav I the Wise of Kiev in battle (July 21, 1018) and placed his own son-in-law (and Yaroslav’s brother), Svyatopolk, on the Kievan throne, his control extended from the western tributaries of the middle Elbe River to the eastern reaches of the Bug River. Though recognized as a sovereign by Otto III in 1000, Bolesław sought to strengthen his position and his independence from imperial control with his papally-sanctioned coronation by the archbishop of Gniezno on Dec. 25, 1024.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 

 

 

Casimir I

Casimir I, byname Casimir the Restorer or the Monk, Polish Kazimierz Odnowiciel or Mnich (born July 25, 1016—died at latest Nov. 28, 1058), duke of Poland who reannexed the formerly Polish provinces of Silesia, Mazovia, and Pomerania (all now in Poland), which had been lost during his father’s reign, and restored the Polish central government.

Only surviving son of Duke Mieszko II and Richeza (Ryksa) of Palatine Lorraine, Casimir I, who had taken monastic orders, received papal dispensation and ascended the throne after his father’s death (1034). In 1037 he was deposed; maneuvers of the magnates against his supremacy coincided with a popular revolt against the landowners and with an anti-Christian uprising by pagan tribes. Exiled to Germany, he won military aid from the German kings Conrad II and Henry III and about 1040 had regained his throne. He married the Russian princess Dobronega and, supported by her brother, the grand prince Yaroslav the Great of Kiev, regained the provinces of Mazovia and Pomerania in 1047. He took Silesia (1050) from the Bohemians, though he had to pay annual tribute to the Bohemian princes as compensation.

Casimir reestablished the Polish central government, revived the Roman Catholic church, and suppressed the pagan tribes that had helped to depose him. As ruler of Poland, however, he was never crowned king, and German suzerainty over Poland was in fact reestablished during his reign. Casimir was responsible for moving the administrative centre of the state from Poznań to Kraków.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 

 

 

Boleslaw III

Boleslaw III, byname Bolesław the Wry-Mouthed, Polish Bolesław Krzywousty (born Aug. 20, 1085—died Oct. 28, 1138), prince of Poland who introduced into his country the senioriate system, by which the eldest son received the major part of the royal inheritance. He converted the people of Pomerania to Christianity.

Son of Władysław I Herman, ruler of Poland, and Judith of Bohemia, Bolesław III and his illegitimate elder half brother, Zbigniew, each ruled a Polish province during their father’s lifetime. Bolesław III succeeded to his father’s princely title (no Polish ruler assumed the title of king from 1082 to 1296) in 1102 and spent the next several years fighting Zbigniew for control of the country. Not long after repelling an invasion of Silesia (1109) by the German king Henry V, Bolesław, who had exiled Zbigniew in 1107, allowed his half brother to return; soon, however, he accused Zbigniew of treason and had him blinded. Zbigniew died shortly thereafter.

For the next 22 years (1113–35) Bolesław sought control of Poland’s former province of Pomerania; he conquered Eastern Pomerania in 1122 but did not secure Western Pomerania until he had sworn fealty to the Holy Roman emperor Lothar II in 1135. Bolesław sent missionaries into Pomerania, converted the pagan tribes there to Christianity, and integrated the people into the Polish state. He then enacted legislation to secure Pomerania and Silesia for his eldest son and lesser provinces for his younger sons. The senioriate system, a halfway measure between primogeniture and equal distribution among all male heirs, was devised to satisfy all princely heirs; yet it caused dissension and eventually led to the disintegration of the state.

Encyclopaedia Britannica




Instead of the desired stability, however, this resulted in the fragmentation of Poland. The nobility and the Church benefited from the lack of a strong monarchy.

After the catastrophic 5 defeat in 1241 at Legnica (Liegnitz) against the Mongols, Poland was saved only by the death of the khan and the subsequent withdrawal of the Mongol army.

In the meantime, the 2 Germans were steadily encroaching from the west.

By the twelfth century, the Slavic tribes between the Elbe and Oder rivers had lost their independence and, with few exceptions, also their cultural identity through the targeted policies of German conquest and 3 colonization.

In the 13th century the indigenous rulers in Pomerania and Silesia promoted the influx of German settlers, and in 1226 the Piast princes of Mazovia sought the help of the German Teutonic Order against the pagan Prussians. The "Germanized" territories leaned politically toward the German king. The Teutonic Knights became an adversary of Poland in the 14th and 15th centuries.
 


5 Battle of Legnica, copper engraving, 17th century


2 Henry I, German king,
conquers Brandenburg,
colored lithograph, ca. 1900


3 The Polish town of Gdansk, which was
founded as a German colony in twelfth
century near a Slavic castle

 

 

 


Poland and Lithuania as Major Powers in Eastern Europe
 

The unified Poland-Lithuania under the Jagiellos became the largest state in Eastern Europe, although the domestic position of its rulers remained weak.

 

Following a period of Bohemian domination, Poland was reunited by Wladyslaw I Lokielek, who was crowned king in 1320 in Krakow. His son, Casimir III, became king in 1333.

He took care of the extensive development of the country and invited 10 Jews, who had escaped from pogroms in Western Europe, to settle down in Poland.
 


Wladyslaw I Lokielek


Casimir III


10 Old synagogue in Krakow,
built in the 15th century


He reached an agreement with the kings of Bohemia to abandon their claim to the Polish Crown in exchange for Silesia.
 

 

Wladyslaw I

Wladyslaw I, byname Władysław the Short, Polish Władysław Łokietek (born 1260/61, Poland—died March 2, 1333, Poland), king of Poland (1320–33), a ruler who succeeded in bringing together a series of Polish principalities into a kingdom and laying the foundations for a strong Polish nation.

Władysław was the son of Casimir I of Kujawy, the ruler of one of the numerous small principalities formed after the Old Polish realm had been divided up two centuries earlier. Władysław succeeded his father in 1275 and was elected by the nobles of Great Poland as their prince in 1296; however, they later transferred their allegiance to King Wenceslas II of Bohemia, who was then crowned king of Poland at Gniezno in 1300.

Władysław, seeking to press his claim to the throne, went to Rome and secured the support of Pope Boniface VIII. Then, in 1305, with Hungarian help, he began a war with Wenceslas II. He occupied Little Poland in 1305 and Great Poland in 1314 and also gained control of the northern areas along the Baltic Sea, including Pomerania and Gdańsk (Danzig). The Knights of the Teutonic Order, however, captured Pomerania in 1308, and, despite a good deal of maneuvering by Władysław, it remained in German hands. Having partially reunited the Polish lands, Władysław was crowned king of Poland on Jan. 20, 1320, at Kraków.

Władysław became involved in further conflicts with the Knights of the Teutonic Order. In September 1331 war again broke out between Poland and the Teutonic Order, and at the Battle of Płowce on Sept. 27, 1331, Władysław inflicted a serious defeat on the Knights.

On the diplomatic front Władysław sought to strengthen his friendship with Hungary, and for a time he was able to halt Lithuanian raids into Poland by marrying his son to a daughter of a Lithuanian nobleman. When Władysław died, he had established a solid base for the future growth of the Polish nation.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

 

 

 

Casimir III

Casimir III, byname Casimir the Great, Polish Kazimierz Wielki (born April 30, 1310, Kujawy, Poland—died November 5, 1370), king of Poland from 1333 to 1370, called “the Great” because he was deemed a peaceful ruler, a “peasant king,” and a skillful diplomat. Through astute diplomacy he annexed lands from western Russia and eastern Germany. Within his realm he unified the government, codified its unwritten law, endowed new towns with the self-government of the Magdeburg Law, and founded Poland’s first university, at Kraków, in 1364.

Casimir was the second king of the reunited and resuscitated Poland that for nearly two centuries had been split into numerous small principalities. His father, Władysław I, who had succeeded in reuniting Great Poland and Little Poland, renewed the long-forgotten kingship with his coronation in Kraków in 1320. During his own reign, Casimir continued the work of his father, adding two large and important regions (Red Russia and Masovia) to the country and making it a solid and respected partner among the other 14th-century powers in central Europe. In addition, he would provide the country with a well-organized government, and thus so strengthened feelings of popular unity that after his death (although he left no legal heir) there were no attempts at restoring the former duchies and principalities. Casimir’s mother was Jadwiga, daughter of Bolesław the Pious (Pobożny) of Great Poland. After the death of his elder brother in 1312, Casimir was regarded as heir and was prepared for the kingship by Jarosław, later archbishop of Gniezno and Casimir’s counsellor. Upon his father’s death Casimir became king of Poland in 1333. Of his three sisters, one, Elizabeth, who in 1320 married King Charles Robert of Hungary, figured prominently in his foreign and dynastic policy.


Dynastic alliances
In 1325 Casimir married Aldona-Ona, the pagan daughter of Gediminas (Giedymin), duke of Lithuania. Baptized before the wedding, Aldona brought with her thousands of Polish prisoners of war (one chronicle tells of 24,000) as a sign of reconciliation between Poland and the then still-pagan Lithuania. The marriage seems to have been unhappy, and the queen died in 1339 leaving no sons. Two years later Casimir married a German princess, Adelhaid of Hesse, but this marriage proved barren, and Adelhaid was sent home in 1356. A third marriage in 1365 with the Silesian princess Hedwig of Glogau-Sagan still brought no legal heir. The question of a successor was, therefore, one of Casimir’s main problems. He finally designated as his heir his nephew, Louis of Hungary. Since Louis had no sons either, Casimir named as his second choice Casimir of West Pomerania, a son of his eldest daughter. The act strengthened the position of the nobility, whose consent had to be obtained by the granting of privileges.

The marriages of his daughters and grandchildren further strengthened Casimir’s foreign support. His second daughter was married to Louis of Brandenburg (1345); the third was betrothed to Wenzel, son of the Holy Roman emperor Charles IV (1369), who himself married first a grandniece and, later, a granddaughter of Casimir. The king thus had relatives in several important contemporary dynasties: the Wittelsbachs, the Anjous, the Luxemburgs, and the Lithuanians (later known as the Jagiellons). Casimir also had many mistresses, about whom little is known; the most famous of them, the beautiful Esther, may have been invented by the chroniclers to explain the king’s notable friendliness toward Jews.


Foreign policy
Casimir’s foreign policy reflected his own character: prudent, cool, obstinate, and self-controlled. He preferred diplomacy to war, though he did not entirely refrain from the latter, as shown by a series of forced occupations of foreign territory, notably Red Russia (eastern Galicia), in 1340 and 1349. At the beginning of Casimir’s reign Poland was beset by several difficulties: the king of Bohemia claimed the Polish crown; the German knights of the Teutonic Order disputed Eastern Pomerania; and the country lacked powerful allies.

By a series of treaties concluded with Hungary, Bohemia, and the Teutonic Order between 1335 and 1348, Casimir obtained a strong ally in Hungary and dropped his claims to Silesia and East Pomerania (claims that would in any case have been difficult to realize). The Bohemian king, in exchange, dropped his claims to Poland; and the Order withdrew from the territories of Kujawy and Dobrzyn, which it had occupied. Having secured his western frontier, Casimir was now able to occupy the former duchies of Halič and Vladimir (Red Russia) and to unite them step-by-step (though never completely) to Poland. As a result of this carefully planned policy, the Masovian princes, long anxious to preserve their independence, declared themselves Casimir’s vassals (1351–53); even in the West some German nobles preferred Casimir’s to Brandenburg’s lordship.

By 1370 Casimir, under different titles, had increased his territory to about 90,000 square miles (233,000 square km) from about 50,000 at his accession. More important than these territorial gains, some of which were lost after Casimir’s death, was the growth of the king’s prestige throughout Europe. A congress held in Kraków in 1364 was attended by the kings of Hungary, Bohemia, Denmark, and Cyprus, as well as a great number of other princes. Casimir, who 30 years previously had been a humble petitioner at the Congress of Visegrád in Hungary, was now asked to arbitrate a quarrel between the Holy Roman Emperor and Louis of Hungary.


Domestic achievements
Casimir encouraged economic activity and attempted to unite the country under one prince, one law, and one currency. He founded several new towns—two of them named Kazimierz after himself—and gave them, together with already existing towns, the so-called Magdeburg Law, the privilege of self-government. Casimir built more than 50 castles, fostered church building, and embellished the royal castle at Kraków. A special court was established in Kraków to arbitrate in all quarrels and to administer the law codified in the Liber juris Teutonici (“Book of Teutonic Law”). The former privileges of Jews were confirmed and improved. Though Casimir was able to inaugurate his principle of one law in Little Poland and Great Poland, Masovia and Red Russia kept their own nonwritten law. Wishing to educate native lawyers and administrators, he founded the Academy of Kraków (now Jagiellonian University) in 1364.

Since little is known of Casimir’s sympathies, personal interests, thoughts, and feelings, he must be judged on his deeds, which characterize him as an especially good, wise, and, to a degree, even modern ruler. He was a sober administrator but not a hero; a man who earned the respect of his contemporaries and posterity but was, perhaps, too cool, too aloof, and too faultless to obtain great sympathy.

Gotthold K.S. Rhode
 

Encyclopaedia Britannica



As the main line of the Piast dynasty ended with his death in 1370. he bequeathed the throne to his nephew, Louis I of Anjou, king of Hungary, known as the Great, in order to provide a counterweight to the empire. But the Polish nobility used this transition to secure advantages for themselves, Louis was forced to make further concessions in the Pact of Koszyce of 1374 in order to secure the throne for his daughter, Jadwiga.

The nobility immediately demonstrated its increased power by forcing Jadwiga to marry 9 Jogaila, the grand duke of Lithuania, who was crowned king of Poland in 1386 as Wladyslaw II Jagiello.


9 Jogaila of Lithuania,
crowned Wladyslaw II

 

 

Wladyslaw II Jagiello

Wladyslaw II Jagiello, Lithuanian Jogaila, or Iogaila, English Jagiello, or Jagello (born c. 1351—died May 31/June 1, 1434, Grodek, near Lwów, Galicia, Pol. [now Lviv, Ukraine]), grand duke of Lithuania (as Jogaila, 1377–1401) and king of Poland (1386–1434), who joined two states that became the leading power of eastern Europe. He was the founder of Poland’s Jagiellon dynasty.


Early life
Jogaila (Jagiełło in Polish) was one of the 12 sons of Algirdas (Olgierd), grand duke of Lithuania, who named him his heir apparent. When his father died in 1377, Jogaila’s title of grand duke was disputed by his relatives, and only after several years and some ruthless actions—such as the imprisonment and murder of his uncle Kęstutis (Kejstut)—did his rule become as secure as his father’s had been. Part of this reign had to be devoted to winning over Keştutis’ son Vytautas (Witold in Polish), who, with the backing of the Teutonic Order, was a rival candidate for the throne of Lithuania. In the decades that followed, Jogaila and his cousin were alternately allies and foes.

In 1384 Polish nobles, who wanted a strong ruler who could help them in their attempts at recovering territory from Hungary, offered Jogaila marriage to the young Polish queen, Jadwiga (Hedwig, born in 1373 or 1374), to share her throne on the condition that he Christianize Lithuania and unite it completely with Poland. Jogaila considered the plan strategically advantageous. The agreements were set forth in the Treaty of Krewo (1385). Elected king of Poland on Feb. 2, 1386, Jogaila was baptized as a Roman Catholic, taking the name Władysław II, on February 15, married Jadwiga on February 18, and was crowned king on March 4 in Cracow. He began at once to convert Lithuania to Roman Catholicism.

As long as Queen Jadwiga lived, Władysław, though not content to play the role of prince consort, nevertheless was regarded as a foreigner and had to come to terms with a queen who had the prerogative of acting in her own right. Not until Jadwiga died childless in 1399 did he really become the leading personality in Poland, and even then many months were to pass before a second event turned his leadership to good advantage. The Teutonic Order had been successfully exploiting further dissension between him and Vytautas, but this subsided when, by the Treaty of Vilnius in 1401, Władysław recognized Vytautas as supreme duke of Lithuania on the condition that Poland and Lithuania be indissolubly united by a common foreign policy.


Rule of Poland and Lithuania
In foreign policy Władysław had four major problems to be solved: restoring Lithuania’s and Poland’s position vis-ŕ-vis the Teutonic Order; halting aggression by the Tatars; regaining Ruthenia, occupied by Hungary; and expanding Poland’s influence in the southeast against its Hungarian rival. In all areas Władysław was successful—thanks, in regard to the first two problems, to the military help of the energetic Vytautas. In a series of wars (1409–11, 1414, 1422, 1431–32)—the first of which included the Battle of Tannenberg (Polish Grunwald; July 15, 1410)—the Teutonic Order was defeated and lost its leading position in northeastern Europe. The territorial losses of the order were small (Samogitia to Lithuania and a little territory on the Vistula River to Poland), but its military and financial power was weakened once and for all.

As for the Tatars, they defeated Vytautas in 1399 at the Battle on the River Vorskla, at the cost of a decisive check on their own territorial expansion. For Władysław this was a double victory: the Tatars were weakened, and Vytautas’ endeavours to become a fully independent ruler of a more powerful Lithuania were brought to an end by the defeat.

Ruthenia was recovered from Hungary as early as 1387, and Poland grew strong enough to make the prince of Moldavia its vassal. In 1412 Władysław even came to terms with Hungary, formerly an ally of the Teutonic Order, in exchange for a loan. Continually, he played his hand cautiously: although he supported the Hussites in their struggle against King Sigismund of Bohemia and Hungary, for example, he refrained from intervention. Władysław ended his reign with good relations between Poland and Hungary.

In domestic policies Władysław was less successful. He energetically Christianized those parts of Lithuania still pagan, but he was unable to incorporate Lithuania into Poland as he had promised and was forced to let Vytautas act virtually as a sovereign. After Vytautas’ death in 1430, Władysław was still unable to restore his authority in Lithuania, and, after a period of civil war, Vytautas’ brother became governor in Lithuania. In Poland the nobility strengthened its position, especially during the latter part of Władysław’s reign, and Władysław was unable to win the burghers to his side and use them politically as a counterweight to the nobles. In questions of national religion the king showed resoluteness, particularly in his attempt to suppress the Polish followers of Jan Hus.

Władysław died in 1434. Subsequent to his marriage to Jadwiga he had married three times. His fourth wife became the mother of the future kings Władysław III and Casimir IV.

Gotthold K.S. Rhode
 

Encyclopaedia Britannica


Lithuania was at this time still a young, and for the most part pagan, country. The first grand duke of all Lithuania had been Jogaila's grandfather Gediminas, who
fought against the Teutonic Order and benefited from the decline of Kievan Rus. In 1325, Gediminas captured Kiev and extended Lithuania's borders far inside today's Russia and Ukraine.

After their union under Jadwiga and Wladyslaw, Poland and Lithuania defeated the Teutonic Knights in the 12 Battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg).
 


12 Battle of Grunwald, painting, 20th century


Battle of Tannenberg
, also called Battle of Grünfelde, or Grunwald, (July 15, 1410), battle fought at Tannenberg (Polish: Stębark) 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.

Forces from Poland and Lithuania, which had recently united politically, were proceeding toward the order’s stronghold at Marienburg when they were met by the order’s army, in one of the largest cavalry battles of the age, between the villages of Grünfelde (Polish: Grunwald) and Tannenberg. Though the order defeated the Lithuanian contingent, the ranks of the Poles remained unbroken. By the end of the 10-hour battle, the order’s forces had been crushed and its grand master, most of its commanders, and 205 of its knights had been killed. Subsequently, many Prussian castles controlled by the order surrendered to the Polish-Lithuanian force, and, though Marienburg, which was defended by Heinrich Reuss von Plauen, did not fall, the Teutonic Knights never regained their impetus. Memory of the defeat lived on: when in 1914 a German army routed Russian invaders at the same spot, the German high command portrayed it as revenge for the defeat of the order five centuries before.

Encyclopaedia Britannica


In the 11 Treaty of Torun in 1466, the orderwas forced to yield large territories to Wladyslaw's son Casimir IV and recognize him as sovereign.


11 Treaty of Torun, document with seals
 

 

Casimir IV

Casimir IV, byname Casimir Jagiellonian, Polish Kazimierz Jagiellończyk (born Nov. 30, 1427—died June 7, 1492), grand duke of Lithuania (1440–92) and king of Poland (1447–92), who, by patient but tenacious policy, sought to preserve the political union between Poland and Lithuania and to recover the lost lands of old Poland. The great triumph of his reign was the final subjugation of the Teutonic Knights (1466).

Casimir was the second son of Władysław II Jagiełło and his fourth wife, Zofja Holszańska. His father was already over 75 at Casimir’s birth, and his brother Władysław III, three years his senior, was expected to become king before his majority. Casimir was thus the second in succession to the throne, and, after Władysław had succeeded his father in 1434, he became the legal heir. Strangely, little was done for his education; he was never taught Latin, nor was he trained for the responsibilities of office, despite the fact he was the only brother of the sovereign. Yet the necessity of taking office was thrust upon him in 1440, when the grand duke of Lithuania, Sigismund, was murdered. The boy was sent to Wilna to act as governor for his brother, but he was proclaimed grand duke in a coup d’etat by the leading boyars (nobles), who evidently hoped to use him as a convenient tool.

The coup practically severed the ties between Lithuania and Poland, but these were restored after Władysław III’s death in the Battle of Varna against the Turks (Nov. 10, 1444). The Poles, having to elect a new king, had no other candidate but Casimir. The young man, despite his lack of experience, knew how to wield his new power. He acted to preserve the hereditary rule of the dynasty in Lithuania with no connection with Poland other than the common monarchy, and, when he was finally crowned king of Poland (June 25, 1447), he had succeeded in affirming his right to live in Lithuania and choose his counsellors freely. Considering his deeds and policy (no personal utterances of his are recorded), it may be inferred that he regarded himself more as the head of a dynasty than as the elected king of Poland. His policy, therefore, was partly family policy, and in cases of conflict between dynasty and state the former had priority. His marriage to Elizabeth of Habsburg in 1454 had clear political aims; as the daughter of Albert II of Habsburg, Elizabeth had claims to Bohemia and Hungary. In fact, this first connection between the Habsburgs and the Jagiellons was a happy one; because of her six sons and seven daughters (born between 1456 and 1483), Elizabeth was called the “mother of Jagiellons.” Casimir did everything he could to provide his children with advantageous marriages. In this he was more than successful: his eldest son, Władysław, became king of Bohemia (1471) and of Hungary (1490); three others were his successors on the thrones of Lithuania and Poland; one became an archbishop and, later, a cardinal. Five of his daughters were married to German princes, as a result of which the Polish name Casimir became a familiar one among German dynasties. When he died he left a dynasty renowned among the courts of Europe.

In foreign policy, Casimir had few far-reaching plans or great ambitions. He neither organized a crusade against the Turks as his brother had done, nor did he build up an efficient defense system against the aggressions of the grand duchy of Moscow. He failed also to support Moscow’s enemies and contented himself with the favourable treaty of 1449, which, however, did little to prepare Lithuania for the attacks that were to begin in 1486. Thus, a number of Russian princes, vassals of Lithuania, went over to the Muscovite grand duke after 1486 because they had obtained no protection from Casimir.

Similarly, in Poland the king showed little initiative in foreign policy. When the Prussians, however, revolted in 1454 against their overlord, the Teutonic Order, and placed themselves under the protection of Casimir, he was aware that this was a unique opportunity to destroy the power of the order. In October 1453 the cities and gentry of Prussia, in a dispute with the order (which had been excommunicated by the pope and put under the ban of the Holy Roman Empire), placed themselves under Casimir’s overlordship. Subsequently, in February 1454, they renounced their allegiance to the order. They then captured 57 towns and castles, and on March 6, 1454, Casimir incorporated all of Prussia with Poland, with a guarantee of autonomy and of freedom from taxation. When, as a result, war broke out and Polish troops were severely defeated by the order near Konitz (Sept. 18, 1454), it was mainly Casimir’s perseverance and stubbornness that led eventually to success after a bloody victory at Puck (Sept. 17, 1462).

The papacy finally intervened, and by the second Treaty of Toruń (Thorn; Oct. 19, 1466), all of western Prussia, called “Royal Prussia,” was ceded to Poland, while the remainder of Prussia was held by the Teutonic Order as a fief of the Polish crown. Though the order thus retained a part of its former territory and “Royal Prussia” was not formally incorporated but only united with the Polish kingdom while preserving its own diet and administration, this treaty was Casimir’s most important foreign policy success.

In domestic affairs Casimir was relatively passive but anxious to preserve the prerogatives of the crown, notably his right to nominate bishops. In the question of territories in dispute between his two states (Volhynia and Podolia) he favoured Lithuania. During the war against the Teutonic Order he was forced to grant the Polish nobility substantial concessions by the Privilege (statute) of Nieszawa (November 1454); these, however, became important only after his death, and royal power was not greatly diminished during his lifetime.

Casimir was neither a splendid ruler nor a good and wise administrator, but a mistrusting, cautious, and sober head of a large family who regarded Lithuania as his personal estate. His reign was remembered as being both successful and peaceful.

Gotthold K.S. Rhode

Encyclopaedia Britannica


The Polish-Lithuanian kingdom now reached from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and was the largest territorial state of Europe. Domestically, the Jagiellon dynasty was locked in contention with the great nobles, known as the magnates.

Casimir IV therefore sought support from the lesser nobility, the szlachta, who were given tax privileges and admitted to the Polish 8 sejm, or parliament.

There, however, the magnates and the szlachta banded together, holding tight to the principle of the elective monarchy and demanding ever greater liberties from each new ruler. Casimir's successor in 1505 was forced to accept the nihil novi ("nothing new") law, according to which nothing was to be decided without the approval of the nobility.

Possession of property became a privilege of the nobility, and the 7 peasants were forced into serfdom.

After 1652, any member of the sejm could alone thwart a decision through the "liberum veto." An aristocratic republic with a monarch evolved. However, the Polish kings of the 18th century were no match for the expansionist drives of the absolute rulers reigning in the neighboring countries of Prussia, Austria, and Russia.


8 Quarrels between different factions of the nobility during
a session of the Polish parliament


7 Peasant's wedding, engraving, 19th с