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The Oxford history of Poland-Lithuania, Volume I: The Making of the Polish-Lithuanian Union, 1385-1569

The political union between the kingdom of Poland and the grand duchy of Lithuania is one of the longest-lasting political unions in European history, yet it is known more for the way it ended, destroyed by its neighbours in the late eighteenth century, than for its success in sustaining for over four centuries a consensual, decentralized, multinational, and religiously plural model of political union based on a concept of republican citizenship. From its inception in 1385–6, a vision of political union was developed that proved attractive to Poles, Lithuanians, Ruthenians, and Germans. The union was extended to include Royal Prussia in the 1450s and Livonia in the 1560s. This book charts the formation of the English union down to its final definition in Lublin in 1569. It examines the often bitter disagreements over the nature of the union that nevertheless were overcome by a republican vision of a union of peoples in one political community of citizens under an elected monarch. The book challenges interpretations of the union informed by the idea that the emergence of the sovereign nation state represents the essence of political modernity, and presents the Polish-Lithuanian union as a case study of a composite state.
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The Oxford History of
Volume I: The M aking o f the Polish-Lithuanian
Union, 1385—1569




Great Clarendon Street, Oxford, 0 X 2 6DP,
United Kingdom
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It furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship,
and education by publishing worldwide. Oxford is a registered trade mark of
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© Robert Frost 2015
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First Edition published in 2015
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In Memoriam
O skar H alecki (1 8 9 1 -1 9 7 3 )
A dolfas Sapoka (1 9 0 6 -1 9 6 1 )
M ykhailo H rushevsky (1 8 6 6 -1 9 3 4 )
M atvei K. Liubavskii (1 8 6 0 -1 9 3 6 )

This is not the history o f a state, or a nation, the usual concepts that fram; e the
writing o f political history, but o f a political relationship: a political union that grew
and changed over time, and expanded to include more peoples and cultures than
the Poles and Lithuanians who established it in its original form in 1386. Histor­
ians often write o f state- and nation-building; they rarely write o f the formation of
unions, and if they do, they usually do so from the point of view o f one or other
o f the states or nations that form the union. After the process usually— and
erroneously— referred to as the ‘partitions o f Poland’ removed Poland-Lithuania
from the map between 1772 and 1793, the complex historical development o f the
lands that once formed Poland-Lithuania has resulted for much o f the time since
1795 in the union being presented in a negative light: it is seen as a failure, and
above all an episode in Polish history, in which the Poles extended political control
over the territories o f what now constitute the modern states o f Lithuania, Belarus,
Ukraine, Latvia, and parts o f what became Estonia, Russia, and (until 1945)
Germany. This approach has led many non-Polish historians to portray the
Polish-Lithuanian union as an exercise in Polish imperialism that stunted their
own national development, while there is a strong tradition in Polish historiog­
raphy, dating back to Michal Bobrzynski and beyond, that blames the union for the
partitions. Yet the union was no empire. In its origin it was a classic late-medieval
composite state, in which the various realms that came together under the rule of
the Jagiellonian dynasty between 1386 and 1569 gradually formed a strong political
union through negotiation and consent, despite some spectacular disagreements as
to its nature and form. Its disappearance in 1795, just as revolutionaries in France
were proclaiming the doctrine o f the sovereign nation, one and indivisible, means
that the history o f east central Europe has been written largely through the eyes of
the partitioning powers and their successors— above all Russia and Germany— or
by historians o f the individual nation states that fought for the independence that
was only secured after 1918 or 1990. Yet the largely negative assessments o f the
union fail to explain why it came to be, and why it lasted so long. This book
attempts to answer the first o f those questions.
When, more years ago than I care to admit, Robert Evans invited me on behalf of
Oxford University Press to write a history o f the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth
from 1569 until 1795, I had originally intended the story o f the making o f this
union between 1386 and 1569 to be a brief introductory section. I soon realized,
however, that it is impossible to understand the political dynamics o f such a
complex political construct as the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, without a
clear grasp o f how it was formed. There is no detailed study in English o f the
making o f this union; indeed there is very little on it in English at all, since
the Anglo-Saxon scholarly world has for far too long been largely content with
the versions o f the history o f eastern Europe written by Russianists and Germanists.



With this in mind, and aware that there has been no comprehensive re-evalu­
ation o f the making o f the union since Oskar Halecki’s classic two-volume D zieje
unii jagiellohskiej, published in 1919, I suggested to O U P that I might publish a
two-volume study o f the union from its formation in 1386 to its dissolution,
against the will o f its citizens, in 1795. This book is the result. It takes the story
from the origins o f the union in the late fourteenth century up to its consummation
at Lublin in 1569. Halecki’s great work was written as the partitioning powers
imploded in the maelstrom o f the First World War, and published as Poles and
Lithuanians began a war over Vilnius, the former capital of the grand duchy of
Lithuania. While it is sympathetic to the Lithuanian and Ruthenian inhabitants o f
the former grand duchy, and is frequently critical o f Polish policy towards them, it
is written from a Polish perspective. This book is an attempt to provide a history of
the making o f the union that eschews any national perspective, and which suggests
that the non-Polish peoples within the union state played as great a part in its
formation as the Poles. It therefore tells the story from multiple viewpoints in order
to explain the success o f the union, which remains, despite its inglorious end, one of
the longest-lasting political unions in European history, whose cultural legacy is
evident to this day. It is the first part o f a two-volume attempt to study the union on
its own terms, and not to judge it for failing to be what it did not try to be. Above
all, it seeks to restore the history of the largest state in late medieval and early
modern Europe to the general story o f European development after years of
historiographical neglect outside eastern Europe.
This first volume is not and cannot be an histoire totale o f the vast geographical
area that constituted the union state. It is conceived as a political history that tells
the story o f the union’s making; it is therefore largely a histoire evenementielle, and
only deals with economic, social, and cultural factors o f direct relevance to the
making o f the union, such as the political role played by religion, and
the development o f the rural economy, which was o f crucial importance to the
nobility that formed— although never exclusively— the union’s citizen body.
There will be a fuller, thematic treatment o f important issues such as religion,
the Renaissance and the influence o f humanism, and the union’s unique urban
world in volume two.
The book is dedicated to the memory o f four great scholars o f the PolishLithuanian union: a Pole, a Lithuanian, a Ukrainian, and a Russian. They had
very different attitudes towards it, and one o f them— Mykhailo Hrushevsky—
loathed it and all it stood for. All o f them lived through the traumas o f the
twentieth century in eastern Europe, and suffered for their fearless and uncom­
promising attitude towards their scholarship. Two o f them— Oskar Halecki and
Adolfas Sapoka— ended their lives in exile, without access to the sources that
nourished and sustained their scholarship; two o f them— Matvei Liubavskii and
Mykhailo Hrushevsky— ended theirs in Soviet detention, as their works were
denigrated or suppressed by the communist regime. None o f them ever aban­
doned their integrity as historians: this work owes much to all o f them. Its
shortcomings are entirely the responsibility o f its author, who has had the good
fortune to live in an age when the difficulties they faced have largely evaporated,

and the peoples o f the successor states o f the Polish-Lithuanian union have
mostly— although alas not yet entirely— had the freedom to explore its history
on their own terms. I hope that they will accept this view from an outsider in the
spirit in which it was written.
Robert Frost
Warsaw, January 2014

I owe a great deal to the many people who have helped me in the writing o f this
book, and to the institutions which have provided support. My greatest debt is to
the British Academy and the Wolfson Foundation, who appointed me to a threeyear research professorship in 2009; without the precious time that this afforded
me, I could neither have conceived the book, nor completed it. I owe much to
everyone at Oxford University Press, who have shown great belief in the project: to
Professor Robert Evans, who invited me to undertake it, who has given me
unstinting support and advice, and who read the text, making many invaluable
suggestions that have improved it considerably; to Christopher Wheeler, Stephanie
Ireland, and Cathryn Steele, who waited patiently for me to produce it, and were
extremely understanding and helpful when I asked whether they would allow me to
write a work double the length that they had expected; and to Emily Brand, who
proved a most helpful and constructive editor. I would also like to thank my copy
editor, Miranda Bethell, and my proofreader, Ela Kotkowska, whose sharp eyes
saved me from many infelicities. I owe a considerable debt to my employers during
the work’s long gestation: King’s College London and the University o f Aberdeen,
both o f which granted me research leave and funding. I am grateful to the Archiwum
i Biblioteka Krakowskiej Kapituly Katedralnej, the Archiwum Glowne Akt Dawnych
in Warsaw, the Zamek Krolewski in Warsaw, the Muzeum Historii Polskiej in
Warsaw, the Zamek Krolewski na Wawelu in Cracow, and the Muzeum Lubelskie
in Lublin for permission to publish illustrations o f materials in their collections.
Many individuals provided inspiration, help, support, and advice. Geoffrey
Parker first introduced me to the problems o f composite states in St Andrews
three decades ago, while Norman Davies guided my first steps in Polish history;
I have learnt much from both o f them. Hamish Scott has proven an invaluable
source o f wisdom over the years; his ability tactfully to save an author from the
consequences o f his own folly is unrivalled. I am particularly grateful to Igor
Kqkolewski, who helped enormously with regard to the illustrations, and to the
historians and librarians o f the Nicholas Copernicus University in Torun, who have
supported and helped me since my first visit in 1992, in particular Krzysztof
Mikulski, Jaroslaw Porazinski, Janusz Mallek, Roman Czaja, Tomasz Kempa,
Adam Szweda, the late Jacek Staszewski, the late Stefan Czaja, and Urszula
Zahorska. Chester Dunning read the first draft with characteristic care and
thoughtfulness, and made numerous perceptive suggestions. I owe much to Andrei
Ianushkevich, who invited me to Minsk, and took me to Kreva, where it all began,
and to Olenka Pevny, who was a splendid guide to the churches o f Kyiv and
Chernihiv, who read parts of the typescript, and whose scepticism about the value
o f unions was always bracing. Marek Ferenc kindly sent me his splendid biography
o f Mikolaj Radziwill Rudy long after it had disappeared from the shops. I have
benefited greatly from the practical help of, and discussions with, many other



scholars, including Hans-Jiirgen Bomelburg, Michael Brown, Paul Bushkovitch,
Jola Choinska-Mika, Jim Collins, Iaroslav Fedoruk, David Frick, Natalya Iako­
venko, Andrzej Kaminski, Jurate Kiaupiene, Colin Kidd, Val Kivelson, Paul Knoll,
Krzysztof Link-Lenczowski; Flenryk Litwin, Henryk Lulewicz, Allan Madnnes,
Karol Mazur, Michael Muller, Natalia Nowakowska, Micheal O Siochru, Rimvydas Petrauskas, Serhii Plokhy, Andrzej Rachuba, Martyn Rady, John Robertson,
Stephen Rowell, Henadz Sahanovich, Mindaugas Sapoka, Alex Storozynski, Frank
Sysyn, Arturas Vasiliauskas, Michelle Viise, Thomas Wiinsch, and Andrzej Zakrzewski. M y greatest personal debt, as ever, is to my wife, Karin Friedrich, who
taught me the importance o f Royal Prussia, and much else besides. This book could
not have been written without her. The complete indifference o f our children,
Tom m y and Anna, to the whole project has helped me keep it in perspective.


List o f M aps and Tables
List o f Illustrations
List o f Abbreviations
A Note on Personal and Place Names
A Note on Currency
A Note on the Genealogies

I. T O W A R D S U N I O N
1. Kreva, Kp3Ba, Krewo


2. Poland


3. Lithuania


4. On Unions


5. The Krewo Act


6. Structures


7. Baptism


8. Cousins


9. Vilnius-Radom


10. Fruits o f Union


11. Horodlo


12. Defending the Union


C R ISIS, 1 4 2 2 -4 7

13. The Coronation Tempest


14. Svitrigaila


15. Rus'


16. After Jagiello


17. Resolution




IV .


18. Defining the Union


19. Prussia


20. The Thirteen Years War


21. Nieszawa


22. Peasants



23. New Monarchs


24. Jagiellonian Europe


25. From Sejmiks to Sejm


26. Shliakhta


27. Litva

V I.


28. Mielnik


29. N ih il N ovi


30. Parliamentary Government


31. Mazovia


32. Prussia and the Union




33. M que Principaliter


34. Transformation


35. Execution Proposed


36. Execution Achieved


37. Failure


38. Interlude


39. Lublin





List o f Maps and Tables
1. The Kingdom of Poland in the fourteenth century
2. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1385
3. The Polish-Lithuanian Union in the early fifteenth century
4. The Prussian lands, 1454-1525


5. The Polish-Lithuanian Union in the early sixteenth century


6. The Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania in 1569



The Lithuanian reforms of 1565-6


List o f Illustrations
1. Genealogy 1. The Gediminids


2. Genealogy 2. The descendants of Algirdas


3. Genealogy 3. The Kjstutids


4. The Krewo Act (1385)


5. The Union of Horodlo (1413)


6. Genealogy 4. The Piasts, the Angevins, and the Jagiellons


7. Portrait of Wladyslaw II Jagiello. Fresco from the Chapel of the Holy
Trinity, Lublin


8. Portrait of Wladyslaw II Jagiello on horseback. Fresco from the Chapel
of the Holy Trinity, Lublin


9. Genealogy 5. The decendants of Casimir IV


10. View of Vilnius in the sixteenth century


11. View of Hrodna in the sixteenth century


12. The estates of the Sejm. Frontispiece, Statute o f Jan Laski, 1506


13. Arms of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania,
from the tapestries of King Sigismund August


14. View of Cracow from the north-west by Abraham Hogenberg, c. 1603-5


15. View of Lublin in the sixteenth century


16. The Union of Lublin (1569)


List o f Abbreviations

Akta Aleksandra krola polskiego, wielkiego ksiqcia litewskiego itd.
(1501—1506), ed. Fryderyk Papee (Cracow, 1927)
Altpreussische Forschungen
American Historical Review
Johannes Dlugossius (Jan Dlugosz), Annales seu cronicae incliti Regni
Acta Poloniae Historica
Acten der Standetage Preussens unter der Herrschaft des Deutschen Ordens
Acta Stanow Prus Krolewskich
Acta Tomiciana
Akta Unji Polski z Litwq 1385—1791, ed. Stanislaw Kutrzeba and Wladyslaw Semkowicz (Cracow, 1932)
Acta Universitatis Nicolai Copemici
Ateneum Wilenskie
Awnbi omnocmifiecn Kb ucmopiu 3anadm u Pocciu [Akty otnosiashchiiesia k istorii Zapadnoi Rossii]


Biblioteka Ksi^z^t Czartoryskich, Cracow
Biblioteka Gdanska Polskiej Akademii Nauk
Eejiapycm FicmapbiHHbi Azmd
Bialoruskie Zeszyty Historyczne


Codex diplomaticus Majoris Poloniae
Codex diplomaticus Poloniae
Codex diplomaticus Prussicus
Codex epistolaris saeculi decimi quinti
Codex epistolaris Vitoldi magni ducis Lithuaniae 1376-1430, ed. Antoni
Prochaska (Cracow, 1882).
Corpus iuris polonici, Sectiones primae: Privilegia, statuta, constitutiones
decreta mandata regnum Poloniae spectantia comprehendentis, iii: Annos
1506-1522 continens, ed. Oswald Balzer (Cracow, 1906)
Czasopismo Prawno-Historyczne




JJnesHUK JI k>6jiuhckozo ceuMa 1569 zoda: Coedmueme Benumzo Kmotcecmea Jlumoecmzo c KopojiecmeoM nonbCKUM, H3fl. M. Komjiobhh
(St Petersburg, 1869)
dodatek (appendix)


Economic History Review


Harvard Ukrainian Studies

lus Polonicum

lus Polonicum: Codicibus veteribus manuscriptum et editionibus quibusque
collatis, ed. Wincenty Bandtkie St^zynski (Warsaw, 1831)


L ist o f Abbreviations


Jahrbucherfu r Geschicbte Osteuropas
Journal o f Modem History


1385 m. mgpjucio Krevos Aktas, ed. Jurate Kiaupiene (Vilnius, 2002)
Kwartalnik Historyczny
Kwartalnik Historyczny Kultury Materialnej

Liublino Unija

Lithuanian Historical Studies
Glemza, Liudas and Smigelskyte-Stukiene, Ramune (eds), Liublino unija:
ideja irjos tgstinumas (Vilnius, 2011)
Lietuvos Istorijos Metrastis
Lietuvos Istorijos Studijos
Lituano-Slavica Posnaniensia: Studia Historica


Lietuvos TSR Mokslq Akademijos darbai


Monumenta Poloniae Historica


Nasza Przeszlosc


Odrodzenie i Reformacja w Polsce
Oxford Slavonic Papers


Parliaments, Estates and Representation
Przeglqd Historyczny
Past and Present
Polski Slownik Biograficzny, 49 vols (1935 to date)
nojinoe CoGpcmue Pyccm x Jlemonuceu (.Polnoe Sobranie Russkikh Letopiset)
Przeglqd Wschodni
Przeglqd Zachodni


Roczniki Akademii Umiej^tnosci
Rozprawy Akademii Umiej^tnosci: Wydzial Historyczno-Filozoficzny
Roczniki Dziejow Spolecznych i Gospodarczych
Rocznik Gdahski
Roczniki Historyczne
Pyccan HcmopmecKax Eu6nuomem (Russkaia Istoricheskaia Biblioteka)
Jan Dlugosz, Roczniki czyli kroniki slatvnego Krolestwa Polskiego
Rozprawy i Sprawozdania z posiedzeh Wydzialu Historyczno-Filozoficznego
Akademii Umiej^tnosci


The Slavonic and East European Review
Studia Historyczne
Skarbiec diplomatow papiezkich, cesarskich, krolewskich, ksiqzqcych, uchwal
narodowych, postanowieh roznych wladz i urzydow poslugujqcych do krytycznego wyjasnienia dziejow Litwy, Rusi Litewskiej i osciennych im krajow, ed.
Ignacy Danilowicz, 2 vols (Wilno, 1860-62)
Studia i Materialy do Historii Wojskowosci
Slavic Review


List o f Abbreviations

Spoieczenstwo Polski Sredniowiecznej
Scriptores Rerum Polonicarum
Scriptores Rerum Prussicarum
Studia Zrodioznawcze


Teki Krakowskie



Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewicza, Poznan

yKpamcbKuu IcmopuHHUU LKypuan
Urzydnicy Prus Krolewskich
Urzydnicy centralni i dostojnicy Wielkiego Ksiptwa Litewskiego


Volumina Constitutionum
Volumina Legum


Zrodhpisma do dziejow unii Korony Polskiej i W. X. Litewskiego, ed.
A. T. Dzialynski (Poznan, 1861)
Zapiski Historyczne
Zeszyty Naukowe Uniwersytetu Jagiellonskiego: Prace Historyczne
Zeitschriftfir Osforschung
Zeitschriftf i r Ostmitteleuropa-Forschung
Zbiorpraw litewskich, ed. A.T. Dzialynski (Poznan, 1841)




A Note on Personal and Place Names
There is no completely satisfactory solution to the problems, both practical and
political, o f rendering the personal and geographical names o f eastern Europe in a
text written in English. A balance has to be struck between scholarly exactitude and
readability for those who do not know Slavic or Baltic languages. I have tried to
strike such a balance. With regard to personal names, I have generally used English
equivalents for the names o f ruling princes and their families: thus Casimir, not
Kazimierz; Sigismund, not Zygmunt; and Catherine, not Katarzyna. Where there is
no exact English equivalent, I have preferred the native version over archaic
anglicizations: thus Wladyslaw and Laszlo, not Ladislas; Vasilii, not Basil, although
I have preferred the German forms o f Slavic names for the Germanized Slavic
families who ruled in Silesia and Pomerania: thus Wladislaus and Bogislaw. I have
preferred Louis o f Anjou to Ludwig, Ludwik, or Lewis. For the man who instituted
the union, I use the Lithuanian form Jogaila until his conversion to Catholicism,
from which point I use the Polish form Jagiello, since this is mostly how he is
known in the English-language literature. I have used the Lithuanian form o f
Vytautas rather than the Polish Witold or the transliterated Russian form Vitovt,
and Zygimantas for his brother, rather than Sigismund, to distinguish him from
Sigismund o f Luxembourg, Sigismund I, and Sigismund August. In order to help
readers without Slavic and Baltic languages to discriminate between the different
backgrounds o f the individuals and families I have discussed, I have adopted a
scheme in which Polish forms are used for Poles, and Lithuanian forms for
Lithuanians until the mid sixteenth century, when Polish spread rapidly among
the Lithuanian and Ruthenian elites. I have signalled the gradual switch to Polish in
the sixteenth century by using Polish forms for Lithuanian names for the generation
politically active in the lead-up to the Lublin union. This is the point at which the
Radvila become the Radziwill, though the fact that Polish was the first language o f
Mikolaj Radziwill the Black (Czarny) and Mikolaj Radziwill the Red (Rudy) says
nothing about their national identity.
The situation is even more complex with regard to names o f Ruthenians, a term
used to denote the inhabitants o f what was known as Rush Modern Slavic
languages distinguish between Rus' and Russia, a distinction that was unknown
in the period covered by this book. Modern nationalist battles, however, make it
important to distinguish between Russian (rosyjski in Polish) and Rushan (ruski in
Polish). In order to avoid the awkward form Rushan in English, I have followed
convention by using the English form Ruthenian, derived from the contemporary
Latin. The Ruthenians in this book are the ancestors o f modern Belarushans and
Ukrainians, although Ruthenians in this period did not know any such distinction.
Since Ruthenians spoke a number o f different dialects o f eastern Slavic, and
orthography was by no means fixed, I have transliterated largely from modern
forms o f the names, using Ukrainian forms for Ruthenians from the southern lands,

A Note on Personal and Place Names


Belarusian forms for Ruthenians from the lands o f modern Belarus, and Russian
forms for Muscovites. I have simplified the transliterations, omitting soft signs and
diacritics to make the text more readable for non-Slavic specialists; thus I use
Hrushevsky, not Hrushevs'kyi; Ostrozky, not Ostroz'kyi. For families o f Lithu­
anian origin who became Ruthenianized and Orthodox, I have used the Ruthenian
version o f their names: thus the Holshansky, not the Alseniskiai.
Similar principles are used with regard to geographical names. Where there is a
standard English form, I have used it: thus Warsaw, Cracow, Moscow, Vienna. My
general principle is to use the language in which places appear most often in the
sources, and which is used by the dominant elites in a city or province. Thus
I prefer the German forms Danzig, Thorn, and Elbing to the Polish forms Gdansk,
Torun, and Elbl^g. Matters are more complex in the lands o f the grand duchy o f
Lithuania, where the linguistic map has altered considerably since the period
covered by this book. On the whole, I have therefore used Lithuanian forms for
places within the territory o f modern Lithuania (Vilnius, not Wilno or Vilna;
Trakai, not Troki), and Ruthenian forms for territories with a largely Ruthenian
population. Rather than adopt one o f the numerous variant spellings that appear in
the sources, I have preferred to use the modern place names in Belarusian,
Ukrainian, and Russian. Thus I use Kyiv, not Kiev— although I do refer to Kievan
Rus^; Navahrudak, not Nowogrodek; Hrodna, not Grodno. The exception is for
Red Ruthenia, most o f which is now in Ukraine, but which was part o f the Polish
kingdom from the 1340s until 1795, and where Polish was the dominant language
among most o f the elites by the late fifteenth century. Thus I prefer Lwow to L'viv,
although I use Kamianets (Podilsky) not Kamieniec Podolski, since this territory
was disputed between Poland and Lithuania.
Transliterations from Cyrillic are based on a modified form o f the Library of
Congress system, omitting diacritics. It has long been standard for bibliographic
information in footnotes to be transliterated, but computerization has made it
easier and less expensive to print different alphabets. I have therefore left titles in the
bibliography and footnotes in the Cyrillic alphabet. Those who read east Slavic
languages do not need them to be transliterated; for those who do not, it may be
useful to be able to tell at a glance whether a source is in Russian, Belarusian, or
Ukrainian, rather than Polish. I have provided a gazetteer with equivalents for place
names in the various languages o f the region. All translations are my own, unless
otherwise indicated.

A Note on Currency
Until 1569 Poland and Lithuania had different currencies, as did Mazovia until
1529 and the Prussian lands, until the currency union with Poland established
between 1526 and 1530. Polish monarchs also maintained a separate system of
coinage in Red Ruthenia in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
The Polish monetary system in the fourteenth century was heavily influenced by
the currency reforms carried out in 1300 by Vaclav II o f Bohemia, king o f Poland
1300-5, and the introduction o f a gold coinage in Bohemia in 1325. The silver
Prague grosz— the name derives from the Latin denarius grossus, or large penny—
circulated freely in Poland, as did the gold Bohemian florin in this period, at a rate
o f roughly twelve groszy to the florin. Wladyslaw Lokietek’s 1315 currency reform
owed much to the Bohemian example. From 1315, 48 groszy were minted from
one mark o f silver— grzywna in Polish— which weighed half a pound; this was
worth 576 pennies {denary). In 1315, one grosz contained 3.6 grams o f silver,
equivalent to the Prague grosz. By 1384-86, there were 16 pennies to the grosz,
and 768 were struck from one mark.
The silver content o f the grosz declined steadily between 1300 and 1530, and the
Polish grosz devalued substantially against its Bohemian equivalent: if in 1300—10
they both contained 3.6 grams o f silver, in 1400-10 the Polish grosz contained
1.38 grams compared with 1.75 grams contained by the Prague grosz; by 1530 the
figures were 0.77 grams and 1.18 grams. The mark remained a money o f account.
Lokietek and his son Casimir III (1333-70) minted gold ducats, probably largely
for representational reasons, and Bohemian and Hungarian ducats long remained
the main gold coins circulating in Poland. Under John I Albert (1492-1501) the
problems caused by fluctuations in the value o f silver and gold led to a half-hearted
currency reform whose major achievement was the introduction o f a new gold coin,
the Polish zloty (florenus polonicus ; aureus polonicus ), as the equivalent o f the ducat,
whose value was established at 30 groszy, although this was raised to 32 groszy in
1505. In 1528 Sigismund I’s currency reform laid the foundations o f the bimetallic
system for the rest o f the early modern period. It established a new ducat or red
zloty (czerwony zloty). Henceforth, the zloty became a money o f account; in 1528,
one ducat or red zloty was worth 11/2 zloties. In 1558 Sigismund August raised the
weight o f the mark from 198 to 202 grams. Between 1547 and 1571 one ducat or
red zloty was worth 54 Polish groszy.
Lithuania in the fifteenth century adopted the Culm mark (hryvna ) from the
Teutonic Knights at a weight o f 191.29 grams. In 1500, 100 Lithuanian groszy
were worth just over 136 Polish groszy; after the reforms o f Sigismund I, the figure
was 100:125. Monetary calculations in Lithuania and Ruthenia were often carried
out in kop groszy, in which a kopa was a unit o f measurement denoting 60 pieces.
Thus 100 kop groszy was worth 6,000 Lithuanian groszy.

A Note on the Genealogies
The genealogies in Figures 1-3 are based on Darius Baronas, Arturas Dubonis,
Rimvydas Petrauskas, Lietuvos Istorija, iii: X I I I a . - l 385 m. (Vilnius, 2011), 338-9,
336-9; Stephen Rowell, L ithuania Ascending (Cambridge, 1994), genealogical
tables 1—4; JleoHTm B ohtobhh, Kusutca do6a na Pyci: Ilopmpemu enimu
(Bnjra L(epKBa, 2006) and Ydinbm Kusuiecmea PtopuKoemie i redtmmoemie
y X II—X I V cm. (JI bb Ib , 1996); and Jan T^gowski, Pierwsze pokolenia Giedyminowiczow (Poznan and Wroclaw, 1999), table 1, 304—5. The exact order and number
o f the children o f Gediminas, Algirdas, and Kestutis is a matter o f some contro­
versy. With regard to Algirdas’s children, I have accepted the traditional view of
Andrei o f Polatsk as the eldest son o f Algirdas’s first marriage, and Jogaila/Jagiello as
the eldest son o f the second. This is the view o f Rowell and Nikodem. T^gowski
and Lietuvos Istorija, iii: 3 5 6 -7 take a different view. The order and birth dates
o f Algirdas’s children are based largely on Jaroslaw Nikodem, ‘Data urodzenia
Jagielfy: Uwagi o starszenstwie synow Olgierda i Julianny’, Genealogia, 12 (2000),
23-49. For a full discussion o f the problem, see Chapter 8, 74-5.


Kreva, Kp3Ba, Krewo
The small, sleepy town o f Kreva is little more than a straggling village, hard to
distinguish from the rolling wooded countryside in which it lies. Rundown wooden
houses with hens running free in their vegetable gardens cluster haphazardly round
a large, whitewashed Catholic church. There is a small cafe with parking for the odd
bus-party o f tourists visiting the ruins o f an imposing fourteenth-century fortress.
The scaffolding erected at some point to effect repairs has mostly collapsed. A sign
declares the castle to be a valuable historical and cultural monument o f the republic
o f Belarus, and that anyone damaging the ruins will be prosecuted. One is tempted
to ask whom the authorities intend to prosecute for neglect.1
Little about Kreva today suggests that it was ever o f any great importance. In the
fourteenth century, however, it was Kreva, a power-centre o f the Gediminid dynasty.
In 1338 it was given by Gediminas, grand duke o f Lithuania (1317-41), to his son
Algirdas (c. 1300-77). Long after Algirdas became grand duke in 1345, he in turn
bestowed it upon his chosen heir, Jogaila. It was here that Jogaila was imprisoned in
1381 after being deposed by his father’s brother and co-ruler Kestutis. It was here that
Kestutis was imprisoned a year later after Jogaila overthrew him. Five days later
Kestutis was found dead in mysterious circumstances. Besieged and sacked by the
Perekop Tatars between 1503 and 1506, the castle was visited by the imperial
ambassador Sigismund Herberstein en route to Moscow in 1518. It was at Kreva
that Andrei Kurbskii took refuge after 1564 from the blood-spattered rule o f Ivan the
Terrible. Thereafter, Kreva lost its military and political significance. When Napo­
leon Orda sketched it in the mid nineteenth century in his classic survey o f the
historic monuments o f the former Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, the castle had
long been an abandoned ruin. It suffered further damage during the First World War,
when for three years Kreva lay on the front line. Abandoned by its inhabitants, who
were evacuated deep into Russia, it was heavily bombarded in 1916, and was at the
centre o f a major battle in 1917 as the Germans pounded the Russian line.
It is for other reasons that Kreva has gone down in history. It was here, on
14 August 1385, that Europe’s political geography was transformed by a document
o f a mere 26 lines and 560 words. It was written in Latin, on a parchment to which
were attached the seals o f Jogaila, his brothers Skirgaila, Kaributas, and Lengvenis,
and his cousin, Kestutis’s son Vytautas. The seals disappeared during the nine­
teenth century, but the document is preserved in the chapter archive o f Cracow
Kreva’s population in 2004 was 726, down from a peak o f 2,300 in 1909, <
readardcle.php?article_id=17> accessed 2 July 2010.


Towards Union

cathedral. It marked Jogaila’s acceptance o f terms agreed in Cracow the previous
January for his marriage to Jadwiga, elected queen regnant o f Poland in 1384, two
years after the death o f her father, Louis o f Anjou, king o f Hungary and Poland.
Since Jadwiga was a minor, Skirgaila travelled to Buda to secure the consent o f her
mother, Elizabeth o f Bosnia, who sent a delegation to Kreva where the document
known as the Krewo Act was agreed.2
It took five months to consummate the relationship. In December Duke
Siemowit IV o f Mazovia, from a cadet branch o f the Piast dynasty that had ruled
Poland until 1370, was persuaded to resign his claims to the throne. On 11 January
1386 a Polish delegation met Jogaila in Vaukavysk, between Vilnius and Brest,
presenting him with a document in which his safety was guaranteed and the Poles
confirmed their promise to elect him as their king.3 The election— or rather pre­
election, since Jogaila would not be crowned until he had fulfilled his promises—
took place in Lublin on 2 February, whence Jogaila travelled to Cracow, where he
was baptized on 15 February, adopting the Christian name Wladyslaw in homage
to Jadwiga’s great-grandfather, Wladyslaw Lokietek, who had refounded the Polish
kingdom in 1320. Vytautas and Jogaila’s pagan brothers Vygantas, Karigaila, and
Svitrigaila were baptized alongside him. Three days later Jogaila married Jadwiga;
on 4 March he was crowned by the Polish primate, Bodz^ta, archbishop o f
Thus did the pagan grand duke Jogaila metamorphose into the Christian king
Wladyslaw II Jagiello (1386-1434) and two very different realms were united in an
association that was to last 409 years. Why the Krewo Act should have laid the
foundations for what remains one o f the longest political unions in European
history is hard to glean from the brief documents agreed at Kreva and Vaukavysk,
which left a great deal unsaid and contained much that was unclear. There was
nothing inevitable about the momentous decision that Jogaila took in committing
Lithuania to a political relationship with the Poles and their western, Catholic,
culture, and much to suggest that this association would prove as short-lived as the
Polish unions with Bohemia (1300-6) and Hungary (1370-82).

2 A U , no. 1, 1 -3 ; KA, 17-20.
3 A U , no. 2, 4.
4 Grzegorz Blaszczyk, D zieje stosunkowpolsko-litewskich od czasow najdawniejszych do wspolczesnosci,
i: Trudnepoczqtki{Poznan, 1998), 2 0 6 -8 ; Jadwiga Krzyzaniakowa and Jerzy Ochmariski, Wladyslaw I I
Jagiello (Wroclaw, 2006), 9 4 -7 . For a translation o f the Vaukavysk document, see Stephen Rowell,
‘ 1386: Th e marriage o f Jogaila and Jadwiga embodies the union o f Poland and Lithuania’, LH S, 11
(2006), 137-44.

The Krewo Act was the result o f contingency rather than any long-term process.
The immediate cause was Louis’s failure to produce a male heir. On his death in
1382, his Polish and Hungarian subjects had the opportunity to reconsider the
personal union that had begun on Louis’s accession to the Polish throne in 1370.
For the Poles, the relationship had been difficult. Hungary was the senior partner:
the crown o f St Stephen was long established, and its bearers ruled a populous,
dynamic, and wealthy realm. The Polish monarchy rested on fragile foundations.
Since the establishment o f the Polish state, first mentioned in written sources in the
960s, only four o f its rulers, Boleslaw I (992-1025), his son Mieszko II (1025-34),
Mieszko’s grandson Boleslaw II (1058-79), and Przemysl II (1295-6) had been
crowned. Only Mieszko enjoyed royal status for long: Boleslaw I was crowned
around Easter 1025, shortly before his death in June. Boleslaw II only received
papal permission for his coronation in 1076, eighteen years after succeeding his
father, and was driven from his throne in 1079 after ordering the murder o f
Stanislaw, bishop o f Cracow; he died in exile in 1081. Przemysl II claimed the
title o f king o f Poland, but only controlled Pomerania and his own duchy o f
Wielkopolska. He did not long enjoy his status: crowned in 1295, he was kid­
napped and murdered in 1296 on the orders o f the margraves o f Brandenburg.
Other Polish rulers bore the title k$iqz$, rendered in Latin as d u x or princeps ,
whether they ruled over all, or only part, o f the Polish lands.
The Piasts were bedevilled by dynastic rivalries. These were exacerbated by the
attempt o f Boleslaw Krzywousty (the Wrymouth) (1107—1138), to provide for his
five surviving sons and to systematize the opaque principles o f succession among
the burgeoning numbers o f Piast dukes. Patrilineal inheritance and male primo­
geniture were not Slavic customs. Collateral succession was the norm. Brothers
took precedence over sons, and rulers nominated their successor.1 Wrymouth’s
testament divided the kingdom among his sons, establishing a complex system in
which the senior member o f the dynasty held Cracow and exerted supreme
authority over other family members. He does not deserve his popular reputation
as the man who wilfully smashed the unity o f the Polish state: he tried to solve an
increasingly intractable problem, prevent the worsening o f the position through his
own fecundity— altogether he fathered seventeen children— and to protect the
position o f his four sons born o f his second wife Salomea. Nevertheless, while a
1 Marek Barariski, D ynastia Piastow w Polsce (Warsaw, 2005), 218. For Polish succession law see
Oswald Balzer, Krolestwo Pohkie 1 2 9 5 -1 3 7 0 , 2nd edn (Cracow, 2005), 515-86.


Towards Union

common dynastic sense lingered after 1138, Wrymouth’s testament undermined
the hereditary principle by establishing non-hereditary duchies for his sons. The
failure of the principle o f seniority, by which the duke o f Cracow was to preside
over the rest, brought nothing but confusion. The once-proud kingdom disinte­
grated over the generations into a mess o f petty, squabbling duchies, whose rulers
grew in assertiveness as their territories declined in size: if there were still only five
duchies in 1202, there were nine by 1250, and seventeen by 1288.2 It was not until
1320 that Louis o f Anjou’s maternal grandfather Wfadysfaw Lokietek (the Short)
secured the permission of Pope John XXII for his coronation and revived Poland’s
status as an independent monarchy.
His achievement was made possible by a reaction to the dark days following
Przemysl II’s assassination, when the Bohemian Premyslid dynasty briefly sustained
its claim to the Polish throne. Lokietek’s own claims, as the third son o f Casimir I o f
Cujavia, were weak. Yet he managed to unite the core provinces o f Wielkopolska
and Malopolska, though he lost control o f Pomerelia and with it access to the Baltic
Sea to the Teutonic Order in 1308-9, and was unable to recover Silesia or Mazovia.
Rejecting Lokietek’s advances, the Silesian dukes swore homage in the 1320s to
John o f Luxembourg, king o f Bohemia, who sustained the Premyslid claim to the
Polish throne. The Mazovian dukes were fiercely protective o f their independence.
One o f them, Konrad I, invited the Teutonic Order into Prussia in 1226 to aid
Mazovia against attacks by the pagan Prussian tribes to his north. Wary o f Lokietek,
the Mazovian Piasts swore homage to John o f Luxembourg in 1329. For them, as
for the Silesian Piasts, the resurrection o f a Polish monarchy was unwelcome. As so
often in dynastic politics, blood proved thinner than water.
Lokietek’s son Casimir III (1333-70) built impressively on the foundations laid
by his father, but his major successes lay in the east, not the west, where he had to
accept the status quo. He exploited the deaths without issue o f Boleslaw III o f Plock
in 1351 and Casimir I o f Czersk in 1355 to secure oaths o f homage to him
personally, but not to the Polish kingdom: the vassal status o f both duchies lapsed
on his death, and the Mazovian dukes, like their Silesian cousins, were to be thorns
in the side o f Polish monarchs for generations to come.3 For all his achievements,
Casimir faced daunting rivals. Apart from the Order, he had to deal with the
fundamental shift in political gravity following the extinction o f the Arpads in
Hungary (1301) and the Premyslids in Bohemia (1306). The flourishing econ­
omies o f these established kingdoms drew the attention o f more powerful dynasties,
with roots in western Europe and tendrils that snaked across the continent: the
Neapolitan branch o f the Angevins, which claimed the Hungarian crown, and the
Luxembourgs, who succeeded the Premyslids in Bohemia. The contrast between
the dingy Piast capital o f Cracow and the glittering courts of Buda and Prague was
2 Benedykt Zientara, ‘Spoleczeristwo polskie X III-X V wieku’, in Ireniusz Ihnatowicz etal. (eds),
Spoleczehstwo polskie o d X d o X X wieku (Warsaw, 1988), 96.
3 H istoria Slqska, ed. Marek Czapliiiski (Wroclaw, 2002), 7 0 -1 ; D zieje M azow sza, i, ed. Henryk
Samsonowicz (Pultusk, 2006), 2 5 1 -4 , 2 6 6 -7 . For the reigns o f Lokietek and Casimir, see Jan
Baszkiewicz, Odnowienie krdlestwa polskiego 1295—1320 (Poznan, 2008) and Paul Knoll, The Rise o f
the Polish M onarchy: P iast Poland in E ast Central Europe, 1320—1370 (Chicago, 1972).



all too evident; the more so after the election o f the glamorous cosmopolitan king of
Bohemia, Charles IV o f Luxembourg, as Emperor in 1347.
Casimir was a pragmatist. He abandoned thoughts o f recovering eastern Pom­
erania, ceding it to the Order at Kalisz in 1343, thereby surrendering Poland’s
direct access to the Baltic. His major problem, however, was his lack o f a male heir.
He therefore turned to the Angevin king o f Hungary, Charles Robert, husband o f
his sister Elizabeth. In March 1338 Charles Robert agreed with the Luxembourgs
that the Polish throne should be inherited by the Angevins in return for a promise
that Charles Robert would do all he could to persuade Casimir to renounce his
claims to Silesia, something that Casimir, aware he had little chance o f recovering
it, duly did in February 1339. He agreed that, should he die without a male heir,
Elizabeth would succeed him and, through her, Charles Robert or one o f his three
sons; the agreement was probably sealed at Vysegrad following the death o f
Casimir’s beloved Lithuanian wife Aldona in May 1339, although its existence is
only known indirectly.4
In 1339 Casimir was only 29 and had fathered two daughters with Aldona. His
prospects o f a male heir were ruined by his disastrous second marriage to Adelheid
o f Hesse who, after a brief period o f spectacular conjugal disharmony, was des­
patched to a remote castle where she stubbornly refused an annulment, only leaving
Poland in 1357. By 1355 Casimir was ready to sign away his daughters’ rights,
putting flesh on the bones o f the 1339 treaty by agreeing a succession pact with his
nephew Louis, Charles Robert’s only surviving son, who was to succeed him should
he die without male heirs. Casimir did not help Poland’s prospects o f avoiding an
Angevin succession by bigamously marrying his mistress, the widowed Krystyna
Rokicana, daughter o f a Prague burgher, in 1357 and then, in 1364 or 1365, after
declaring himself divorced from her, Hedwig, daughter o f the Piast duke Henry o f
Sagan, on the basis o f a falsified papal dispensation purporting to deal with the issue
o f consanguinity, but not the more awkward one o f bigamy. Hedwig bore him
three daughters, all o f them eventually legitimized by Urban V and— after Casi­
mir’s death— Gregory XI. Polish law did not recognize succession in the female
line, however, and Casimir confirmed his arrangement with Louis in a treaty signed
in Buda in February 1369.
In 1370, just before his death, Casimir reconsidered. He negotiated with Charles
IV for a marriage between Charles’s son and one o f his daughters, and legitimized
his favourite grandson, Casimir (Kazko) o f Stolp, son o f Bogislaw V o f Pomerania,
whose sister Elizabeth had married Charles IV in 1363. Casimir probably did not
intend to challenge Louis’s accession, for all the pro-Luxembourg sentiments o f his
chancellor, Janusz Suchywilk, and vice-chancellor, Janko o f Czarnkow. Louis’s
lack o f a male heir, however, meant that the succession was not secure, and it is
likely that Casimir’s intention was to make Kazko the heir presumptive should
Louis die without a male heir. After Casimir’s unexpected death Louis duly
Paul Knoll, ‘Louis the Great and Casimir o f Poland’, in S.B. Vardy, Geza Goldschmidt, and Leslie
S. Dom onkos (eds), Louis the Great, K ing o f Hungary an d Poland (New York, 1986), 108-9; Stanislaw
Szczur, ‘W sprawie sukcesji andegaweriskiej w Polsce’, RH , 75 (2009), 6 4 -7 1 , 101-2.


Towards Union

succeeded him under the terms o f the 1355 and 1369 agreements, although his
rapid arrival in Poland in 1370 and hasty coronation in Cracow suggest he was
nervous o f his prospects (see Map l ) .5
The brief personal union o f Poland and Hungary was not a happy one. Louis
may have earned the title ‘Great’ in Hungary, but he did not in Poland, which he
barely visited during his reign, feebly claiming that the climate was disagreeable.67
He appointed as governor his formidable mother, Elizabeth Lokietkowna, who
proved unpopular, partly because o f the Hungarians who thronged her court. In
1376 resentment boiled over in a rising in which some o f her Hungarian entourage
were massacred. Elizabeth fled to Hungary; she was replaced by Wladislaus duke o f
Oppeln, a Silesian Piast, until her return in 1 3 7 8 /
It was not so much Elizabeth’s unpopularity, however, as uncertainty about the
succession that lay behind the political instability. Since Krzywousty’s testament
dealt only with males, the fact that Polish customary law did not recognize
succession through the female line gave the kingdom’s powerful elites considerable
room for manoeuvre, not least because Louis’s tenure o f the throne was based on
their acceptance o f Casimir’s disinheritance o f the Piast cadet lines. In order to
secure an agreement that on his death one o f his three daughters would succeed
him, in 1374 Louis granted a set o f privileges at Kassa in the kingdom o f
Hungary— Kosice in modern Slovakia; Koszyce in Polish— the foundation stone
o f the liberty o f the Polish szlachta.8
The Koszyce agreement allowed Louis to choose which o f his daughters should
inherit the Polish throne. Several magnates swore oaths o f loyalty to Catherine on
behalf o f the kingdom, but her death, aged eight, in 1378 threw Louis’s plans into
disarray. Between 1373 and 1375 he negotiated the betrothal o f Catherine’s younger
sister, Mary, born in 1371, to Sigismund o f Luxembourg, second son o f Charles
IV and great-grandson o f Casimir III, who was three years her senior.9 Jadwiga, his
youngest daughter, underwent a ceremony o f sponsalia de fu tu ro — a form o f
betrothal— with William, son o f Leopold III von Habsburg, in 1378, when Jadwiga
was four and William eight. After Catherine’s death Louis anointed Mary as his
choice for the Polish throne, with Jadwiga intended for Hungary, as her nuptial
agreement with William stipulated. At Kassa in August 1379 representatives o f the
leading Polish lords were invited to swear homage to Mary as their future queen. To
overcome their evident reluctance, Louis shut the city gates, preventing them from
leaving until the oath was sworn.10 In February 1380 he confirmed the arrangements
5 Knoll, Rise, 2 2 9 -3 0 ; W anda Moszczenska, ‘Rola polityczna rycerstwa wielkopolskiego w czasie
bezkrolewia po Ludwiku W ielkim’, PH , 25 (1925), 8 8-91.
6 Jaroslaw NWao&em, Jadw iga, krolPolski (Wroclaw, 2009), 6 4 -5 . Polish historians generally reject
D^browski’s claim that Louis was also a great king o f Poland: Jan D^browski, O statnie lata Ludw ika
Wielkiego 1370—1382, 2nd edn (Cracow, 2009).
7 Jerzy Wyrozumski, Krolowa Jadw iga, 2nd edn (Cracow, 2006), 44; D^browski, Ostatnie, 318-20.
8 See Chapter 6.
9 D;\browski, Ostatnie 18-23. Hoensch mistakenly suggests she was eight, confusing her with
another Mary, born in 1365, who died soon after her birth: Jorg Hoensch, K aiser Sigism und: Herrscher
an der Schwelle der N euzeit 1 3 6 8 -1 4 3 7 (Munich, 1996), 45.
10 Johannes de Czarnkow, Chronicon Polonorum, ed. Jan Szlachtowski, M PH , ii (Lwow, 1872), 711.

Map 1. The Kingdom of Poland in the fourteenth century.


Towards Union

for Jadwiga and William’s marriage, stipulating that it should take place as soon as
Jadwiga reached the canonical age in 1386, and secured Hungarian recognition o f
these arrangements.11 In July 1382 he extracted another oath o f loyalty to the
fourteen-year-old Sigismund from representatives o f the Polish nobility at Zolyom.
Whatever Louis’s intentions, after his death on the night o f 10/11 September
1382, the vultures circling the Angevin inheritance discovered that the elites o f his
kingdoms had their own ideas and were as ready to break their promises as their
royal masters. Five days later the Hungarians declared Mary, not Jadwiga, to be
their queen, leaving the regency council appointed in 1381 after Elizabeth Lokietkowna’s death with an interesting dilemma and an enticing opportunity.1112 Sigis­
mund entitled himself H err des Kunygreiches z u Polen despite not being married yet,
and secured oaths o f loyalty from several Wielkopolskan towns and some members
o f the clergy. He met significant resistance, however, from the province’s nobility,
who sought a commitment that after his coronation Sigismund would reside
permanently in Poland.13
The Poles had had their fill o f absentee monarchy, but this was an undertaking to
which Sigismund, who knew o f Mary’s election, was unwilling to agree. Whatever
Louis’s intentions, Sigismund had always been more interested in Hungary than
Poland. He refused to enter into any commitments in Poland that might com­
promise his position in Hungary. Encouraged by Konrad Zollner von Rottenstein,
the Order’s grand master, Sigismund returned to Hungary to secure his throne; no
easy task as it transpired. His candidature was by no means dead, but his refusal to
accept their terms left the Poles with a dilemma. They could remain loyal to Louis’s
broad intentions— if not his last wishes— and the oaths they had sworn since 1374,
and seek to avoid another absentee monarch by supporting Jadwiga’s accession. Yet
Jadwiga was eight years old.14 She had never visited Poland, had been raised in
expectation o f the Hungarian throne, and was the ward o f her mother, Elizabeth of
Bosnia. She was betrothed to a German princeling largely unknown in Poland who
was no match for the mighty Luxembourgs. There were other candidates, not least
Siemowit IV o f Mazovia, who attracted supporters, especially in Wielkopolska;
Wladislaus o f Oppeln; and the last surviving male in the royal Piast line, Wladysfaw
the White, who had already mounted a claim to the throne in 1370, when he had
unexpectedly stirred himself from his Benedictine monastery in Dijon. He only
reached Poland after Louis’s accession; although he had some support in Cujavia
and Wielkopolska, having failed to persuade the pro-Angevin pope, Gregory XI, to
release him from his vows, he could do little more than seize Gniewkowo, his
hereditary duchy. In 1373 and 1375-6 he laid siege to several Wielkopolskan and
Cujavian towns, before his final defeat after the siege o f Zlotoryja in 1377, at which

11 \3'\kodtm , Jadw iga,
12 Jacek Gzella, M aiopolska elita wiadzy w okresie rzqddw Ludw ika Wfgierskiego w latach 1 3 7 0 -1 3 8 2
(Tomri, 1994), 146.
13 Hoensch, ‘Konig/Kaiser Sigismund, der Deutsche O rden und Polen-Litauen’, Z O F n f 46
(1997), 3 - 4 ; W yrozumski, Jad w iga, 76.
14 She was probably born on 18 February 1374: N ikodem , Jad w iga, 80.



Kazko o f Stolp, who had joined his cause, was fatally wounded. Louis bought
Wladyslaw out o f Gniewkowo and granted him an abbacy in Hungary. Clement
VII, who was hostile to the Angevins, issued a bull in September 1382 releasing
Wladyslaw from his vows, but Wladyslaw showed no inclination to leave his abbey.
Wielkopolskan resentment at Angevin rule was channelled into support for Siemowit IV, an experienced politician who had many links to Wielkopolska, not least
with the archbishopric o f Gniezno, which had substantial estates around Lowicz in
Siemowit’s lands.15
Whatever the merits o f the various candidates, none was in a position to dictate
to the Poles who should rule over them. By 1382 they had developed an ideology
that justified their right to decide, and the institutional means to effect that
decision. Both rested on the concept of the corona regni Poloniae— the crown of
the Polish kingdom— formed during the fourteenth century, influenced by con­
temporary developments in Bohemia and Hungary.16 The concept o f the corona
regni in east central Europe embodied the idea that, as Susan Reynolds puts it in her
study o f western Europe:
A kingdom was never thought of merely as the territory which happened to be ruled by
a king. It comprised and corresponded to a ‘people’ {gens, natio, populus), which was
assumed to be a natural, inherited community o f tradition, custom, law, and descent.17

Reynolds argues that this concept, which she terms ‘the community o f the realm’,
was deeply embedded in medieval political consciousness. The idea o f a political
community distinct from the person o f the ruler was familiar across Europe,
although its expressions varied according to local conditions. Whereas in Bohemia
it was used by Charles IV to give institutional coherence to the eclectic collection of
realms he had gathered under his rule, in Scotland it provided a theoretical basis for
setting limits to the power o f the crown: the 1320 declaration o f Arbroath, which
claimed the right to depose Robert I should he recognize English claims to
suzerainty over Scotland, was drawn up in its name.18
The Polish concept o f corona regni was influenced by contemporary Hungarian
and Bohemian examples, but developed somewhat differently. As in Bohemia, it
was originally nurtured from above by Lokietek and Casimir, for whom it served

15 D^browski, Ostatnie, 2 1 0 -1 5 ; Jo z ef Sliwiriski, Pow iqzania dynastyczne Kazim ierza Wielkiego a
sukcesja tronu w Polsce (Olsztyn, 2000), 122—42; Oswald Balzer, Genealogia Piastow , 2nd edn (Cracow,
2005), 6 4 0 -7 .
16 The classic account is Jan D^browski, Korona Krolestwa Polskiego (Wroclaw, 1956; repr. 2010),
abridged, tr. Ch. Woesler, as; ‘Die Krone des polnischen Konigtums im 14. Jahrhundert’, in Manfred
Hellmann (ed.), Corona Regni: Studien iiber die Krone als Sym bol des Staates im spateren M ittelalter
(Darm stadt, 1961), 3 9 9 -5 4 8 . C f. Balzer, Krdlestwo, 5 8 6 -6 4 9 ; Knoll, Rise, 4 0 -1 , 170.
17 Susan Reynolds, Kingdoms an d Communities in Western Europe 9 0 0 -1 3 0 0 , 2nd edn (Oxford
1997), 250.
18 Jo se f Karpat, ‘Zur Geschichte des Begriffes Corona Regni in Frankreich und England’, in
Hellm ann (ed.), Corona Regni, 7 0 -1 5 5 ; Fritz Hartung, ‘Die Krone als Symbol der monarchischen
Herrschaft im ausgehenden Mittelalter’, in Hellmann (ed.), Corona Regni, 1-69; Edward Cowan, For
Freedom Alone: The D eclaration o f Arbroath, 1320, 2nd edn (Edinburgh, 2008). For a full discussion o f
her views, see Reynolds, Kingdoms, 2 5 0 -3 3 1 .


Towards Union

the purposes o f strengthening royal authority and asserting the essential unity o f the
Polish lands. Although Casimir was forced to accept the de facto loss o f eastern
Pomerania and Silesia, the concept o f the corona regni allowed him to claim that
although control over these territories had been lost, they still formed an integral
part o f the regnum: the Silesian dukes were referred to in Poland throughout the
fourteenth century as duces Poloniae despite paying homage to the Bohemian
crown.19 Initially the monarch’s right to alienate parts o f his realm was not
questioned: as Janislaw, archbishop o f Gniezno put it in 1339: ‘the king o f Poland
is lord o f all lands that constitute the kingdom o f Poland, and can grant them to
whomsoever he wishes’.20 Yet when Casimir bequeathed L^czyca, Sieradz, and
Dobrzyh to Kazko o f Stolp in his testament, the concept o f corona regni was
invoked to block the move. Louis was inclined to respect Casimir’s wishes, but
strong opposition persuaded him to refer the matter to a tribunal, which decided
that no monarch had the right to treat the territory o f the corona regni as his
patrimony, a verdict that Louis accepted.21
The triumph o f the concept was apparent at Louis’s coronation, when he became
the first Polish monarch to swear to maintain the kingdom’s territorial integrity:
not only was he not to reduce it, but he swore to augment it through recovering lost
provinces, a pledge he renewed at Koszyce in 1374.22 Under Casimir and Louis, the
central government asserted its authority against the local and provincial institu­
tions established before 1320. The chancellor and vice-chancellor were no longer
referred to as ‘o f Cracow’ or ‘o f the court’: Jan Radlica, chancellor from 1381 to
1382, styled him self 1regni Poloniae supremus cancellarim. The separate chancellors
for the various provinces disappeared, and central control was asserted by starostas
appointed by the king, who acted on his orders; o f particular importance were the
starostas general, who had responsibility for a whole province.23 The influence o f
these officials, and o f a small group o f leading lords, particularly in Malopolska,
grew during the unpopular governorships o f Elizabeth Lokietkowna and Wladislaus
of Oppeln. Louis’s decision to appoint a regency council after Elizabeth’s death
placed substantial powers in the hands o f this overwhelmingly Malopolskan group.
Since Jadwiga was ten years old when she was crowned in October 1384, it was not
until Jagiello’s coronation in February 1386 that royal authority was restored.
For all the powers vested in the regents, they struggled to dictate the course o f
events. There was some unrest, notably in Wielkopolska, where, in 1377, the
powerful position of the Grzymalita family was sealed by the appointment as
starosta general o f Domarat o f Pierzchna, a dedicated Angevin loyalist and the
province’s only member o f the regency council. Wielkopolska, the main centre of
power under the early Piasts, had long resented its loss of political influence to
Malopolska. Przemysl II’s murder in 1296 deprived it o f its duke, while Lokietek
and Casimir based their power in Cracow and openly favoured the Malopolskan

19 D^browski, Korona, 72.
20 Q uoted in D^browski, Korona, 77.
21 D^browski, Ostatnie, 145-6, 150-3 and Korona, 83.
22 Dqbrowski, Korona, 85.
23 D^browski, Korona, 87.



elite. Louis ignored Wielkopolskan demands and chose to be crowned in Cracow
rather than— as was traditional— in Gniezno, a decision that provoked resentment,
especially when he broke a promise to attend a ceremonial welcome in his
coronation robes in Gniezno cathedral.24
There were good reasons for choosing Jadwiga. One of Casimir’s greatest
achievements had been his acquisition o f the Ruthenian principality o f HalychVolhynia after the murder o f its young ruler Boleslaw/Iurii, a Mazovian Piast, in
1340. Halych-Volhynia had emerged relatively intact from the destruction of
Kievan Rus' by the Mongols, despite its subjection to Mongol power in 1257.
Stretching from Lwow and Przemysl in the north-west, it had originally included
Volhynia, Black Ruthenia, and the cities o f Halych, Volodymyr, Befz, and Chehn.
Orthodox in religion, its economy blossomed in the fourteenth century as the
Mongol grip slackened, the Ottoman stranglehold on the Bosphorus tightened, and
eastern trade sought alternative overland routes.
The murder o f Boleslaw/Iurii, who had claimed the throne after the death o f its
last Rurikid prince in 1323, saw Poland, Lithuania, and Hungary advance claims to
this strategically vital territory. Hungary had included the claim to be rex Galiciae et
Lodomeriae in the titles o f the crown o f St Stephen since the early thirteenth
century, while Casimir’s claim rested on the fact that Boleslaw/Iurii had designated
him his successor.25 During the 1340s Casimir occupied much o f Red Ruthenia;
concerned at possible conflict with the Angevins, he signed an agreement with
Louis in April 1350 in which both sides gambled: Louis signed away his rights to
the territory for Casimir’s lifetime; if Casimir had a male heir, it would be sold to
Hungary for the knockdown price o f 100,000 florins. If, however, Louis or another
Angevin should inherit the Polish throne, it would remain Polish. Louis thereafter
supported Casimir’s military campaigns against the Lithaunians, and in 1366 they
agreed to divide the principality between Poland and Hungary.26 On his accession
Louis ignored these agreements, treating Halych-Volhynia as a Hungarian posses­
sion. By his death in 1382 he had recovered lands seized by the Lithuanians after
1370 and had put Hungarian garrisons into its major cities.
Louis’s Ruthenian policy drove a wedge between him and the Malopolskan
lords, who had long supported Casimir’s Ruthenian ambitions, foreseeing rich
pickings for themselves. They had, however, a powerful incentive to support the
candidacy o f one o f Louis’s daughters: according to the 1350 treaty, under an
Angevin ruler Ruthenia would legally belong to Poland. As the Hungarian garrisons
streamed home in 1382 to fight in the bitter struggles over the Hungarian throne,
Jadwiga’s claim as Louis’s heir was asserted. Following her coronation Polish
control was gradually re-established.
Whatever the arguments in favour o f Jadwiga, it was the way in which the
succession was settled that was to have the greatest significance for the future. In the

24 M oszczeriska,‘Rola’, 7 1 -2 , 98 .
25 Wyrozumski, Jadw iga, 70.
26 Knoll, ‘Louis’, 110; Wyrozumski, Jadw iga, 7 0 -1 ; MaTBeft JIioSaBCKHH,

06.mcmnoe denenue u
Mecmnoe ynpaenenue JlumoecKo-Pyccmzo zocydapcmea m epmern U3damin nepeozo JI htobcmro cmamyma (Moscow, 1892), 38 -9 .


Towards Union

name o f the corona regni, decisions over the vacant throne were taken at substantial
assemblies o f—to use Reynolds’s term— the ‘community o f the realm’. The most
important were at Radomsk (25 November 1382), Wislica (6 December 1382),
and Sieradz (27 February and 22 March 1383).27 These assemblies marked an
important stage in the development o f the Polish political system. The setting aside
o f Casimir’s testament marked the end o f patrimonial dynasticism in Poland.
Memory o f the fragmentation o f the realm between 1138 and 1320 was still
fresh, while under Louis the principle that the monarch must consult with the
community o f the realm over the succession had been firmly established. What is
remarkable, given the experience o f other European states facing disputed succes­
sions, is the relative lack o f bloodshed, despite the existence o f several potential
candidates in both 1370 and 1382-4. In part this was due to the fact that
Polish succession law did not privilege male primogeniture. As in other Slavic
societies, Polish custom allowed considerable latitude to the ruler to decide his
successor, but Casimir’s promise o f the succession to the Angevins had required the
consent o f leading figures in the realm. Louis was a Piast on the distaff side, but
given the lack o f support for succession in the female line in Polish customary law
he was already in a weak position before his lack o f a male heir ensured that he had
to make further concessions to secure the throne for one o f his daughters. In 1384
those agreements were honoured, at least in spirit. Despite strong support in
Wielkopolska for a Piast, which led to a short-lived armed conflict that never
quite degenerated into full-scale civil war, general opinion, particularly in Malopolska, was in favour o f remaining true to the oaths sworn to Louis. The fact that it
was the community o f the realm, not the dynasty that would ultimately decide
helped contain the violence and established an important precedent.
In his classic history o f the institution o f confederation in Poland, Rembowski
singles out the assemblies o f 1382 as being o f particular significance for the
development o f what became a distinctively Polish form o f political organization.28
While they were not the first Polish assemblies to use the concept o f confederation,
they were the first with such broad aims, and which so manifestly acted in the name
o f the whole political community: the regnicolae regni Poloniae. The concern for
legality was underlined by a strong attachment to procedure throughout the
interregnum, and a determination to reach decisions collectively. After the initial
rejection by the Wielkopolskans o f Sigismund’s candidature, a general assembly for
Wielkopolska and Malopolska was summoned to Radomsk on 25 November
1382. It formally confederated itself to provide a legal basis for its actions, before
deciding ‘unanimously’ to honour the promises concerning the accession o f one of
Louis’s daughters. There was initial opposition from Bodz^ta and Domarat of
Pierzchna, yet two o f the most powerful political figures in the kingdom could
not shake the consensus. The community o f the realm had taken charge o f the

27 Wyrozumski, TWwigtf, 7 6 -7 .
28 Aleksander Rembowski, Konfederacia i rokosz, ed. Jo la Choiriska-Mika, 2nd edn (Cracow,
2010), 264.



interregnum; if there were to be an Angevin succession, it would have to be on
terms negotiated with that community.29
The phrases used in these accounts encapsulate the way in which the community
o f the realm was conceptualized. The Radomsk declaration o f 27 November 1382
was made on behalf o f the ‘lords and the whole community’ o f Wielkopolska,
represented by the barons and the ‘ nobiles and ‘ m ilites , who were individually
named, and representatives o f the communities o f Malopolska, Sieradz, and
t^czyca.30 The documents talk o f ‘inhabitants o f the kingdom’ (regnicolae), or
‘the whole community o f lords and citizens’ (toti com m uniti dom inorum et civitatu m ).31 In these assemblies, the participants stressed that the community o f the
whole realm o f Poland was formally uniting its constituent parts to form an alliance
(foedus) to provide a legal basis for its actions. This represented far more than simply
the coming together o f separate political units for a common aim: the documents
express clearly the concept o f a political community that transcended the local
communities from which it was formed, using phrases such as ‘the community of
this land’ (<communitas ipsius terre) to denote the local communities which, taken
together, formed the ‘the whole community’ (tota communitas) or ‘the whole
kingdom o f Poland’ (universitas regni Poloniae).32
Thus by 1382 there was a strong conception o f the corona regni as a political
community that transcended the various terrae o f which it was composed. Al­
though it was not until 1420 that the term was rendered in Polish as wszystkie
korony pospolstwo (the whole commonality o f the crown), the concept had taken
root by the 1380s. While the monarch was seen as part o f the community o f the
realm, and as necessary for the smooth functioning o f the kingdom, the community
o f the realm was perfectly capable o f running its affairs without a monarch, as it
demonstrated between 1382 and 1386: even after Jadwiga’s 1384 coronation, her
status as a minor meant that she was in office but not in power.
Jadwiga’s coronation represented an important victory for the community o f the
realm over her mother, who fought tenaciously to dictate the course o f events.
Although Elizabeth probably realized that Mary’s claim was unsustainable by the
time her envoys attended the Sieradz assembly in February 1383, she did not give
up, even if her envoys had to promise to send Jadwiga to Poland after Easter.
Jadwiga had not arrived when the assembly reconvened. Bodz^ta asked whether
the community o f the realm wished Siemowit IV to be king. Although this
proposal— which may have been merely a demonstration to Elizabeth that she

29 ‘convenit universa multitudo procerum et primacum regni Poloniae in R ad om sko. . . , ubi
mature de statu suo et Poloniae regni salubriter pertractantes, unanimi voluntate conglobati et
mutuo foedere uniti, fide praestita, promiserunt invicem sibi auxiliari fidemque factam et homagium
praestitum duabus filiabus: Mariae et Hedvigi Lodvici regis praemortui firmiter tenere et observare
Johannes de Czarnkow, Chronicon , 723.
30 Th e docum ent lists the principal Wielkopolskan office-holders and dignitaries present, then adds
‘ceterique nobiles, m ilites totaque communitas M aioris Polonie-, similar formulae are used for M alopolska
and the other territories. CD M P, iii, no. 1804.
31 ‘Conclusiones per dominos regni de unione regni et quom odo regi debetur usque ad regis novi
electionem et coronationem’, CESXV, i, no. 2, 3; Dqbrowski, Korona, 93.
32 Dqbrowski, Korona, 93.


Towards Union

risked losing everything— was rejected on the grounds that there was significant
dissent from Malopolska, Elizabeth missed several deadlines for Jadwiga’s arrival in
Poland during 1383, and even mounted a clumsy attempt to send Sigismund into
Poland at the head o f a small army, ostensibly to help put down unrest.33
At Sieradz, legalism and Realpolitik triumphed over sentiment. Siemowit would
have brought little benefit to the realm. While his accession would have reunited his
lands to the Polish crown, he did not even rule over the whole o f Mazovia, which he
shared with his elder brother Janusz I.34 He had few resources to offer, and could
not have challenged the Luxembourgs, who, if Sigismund were to secure the
Hungarian throne, would rule Hungary, Brandenburg, and Bohemia; with the
dynasty’s close links to the Order, Poland would be all but surrounded. Under
Siemowit, the tender young Polish monarchy was likely to wither in their shadow.
Most Poles did not want Sigismund either. He was politely turned back at the
border, and when Elizabeth missed a further deadline in November, the commu­
nity o f the realm took steps to ensure that it had a proper institutional basis for
running its affairs should a rapid resolution o f the succession prove impossible. On
2 March 1384 it was stated that until a king was crowned, authority in the realm
would lie with the ‘community o f lords and citizens’, and would be exercised by the
starostas, the main royal officials in each locality, together with the local lords and
representatives o f the cities, who were ‘joined’ to him. The starosta was to take
decisions with the unanimous agreement o f two consuls selected from the local
community. In naming them, attention was paid to the need for representation of
different regions, and o f the cities. Oaths o f loyalty were to be taken to this
collective leadership; in return, the authorities swore that they would act for the
good o f the ‘community and crown o f this realm’.35
Those who depict authority in this period as ‘feudal’, based on lordship and a
hierarchy o f vertical allegiance to an ultimate suzerain, would do well to study the
documents o f the Polish interregnum o f 1382-4. They do much to substantiate
Reynolds’s assault on the idea that medieval politics can be understood in such
terms, and to demonstrate that, while the early modern debate on the nature o f
sovereignty lay far in the future, political communities had sophisticated ideas
about the nature o f political authority and the relationship between the monarch,
the dynasty, and the community o f the realm.36 In the struggle between the
Angevins and the Polish community of the realm, it was the dynasty that lost.
The Poles stressed their wish to honour their commitments to Louis’s daughters,
who alone possessed hereditary rights to the kingdom. Yet these natural rights were
limited: the claims o f Louis’s daughters ultimately depended upon the oaths taken
by the community o f the realm since 1374 to recognize those rights, and set aside
Piast claims. These oaths were taken in good faith, but it was stressed after Louis’s
33 Wyrozumski, Jadw iga, 7 7 -8 0 ; Nikodem , Jadw iga, 101-10.
34 Siemowit was duke o f Plock, Rawa, Sochaczew, Gostyri, and Plonsk; Janusz was duke o f

Warsaw, Wyszogrod, Ciechanow, Zakroczym, and Liw. Following agreements with their father,
Siemowit III, the duchies o f Czersk and Wizna were transferred from Siemowit to Janusz between
1379 and 1381: Balzer, Genealogia, 8 1 9 -2 0 , table x.
35 CESXV, i/i, no. 2, 2; D^browski, Korona, 92 .
36 Reynolds, Kingdoms, xi—lxvi.



death that while the Poles would honour them, they would do so only if the dynasty
fulfilled its obligations: the community o f the realm reserved the right to set aside
natural rights to the throne, as it had with regard to the Silesian Piasts who, by
swearing loyalty to the crown o f Bohemia, were deemed to have broken with the
corona regni and thereby released the community o f the realm from its obligation
to respect their natural rights.37 The community o f the realm reserved the right to
decide which o f Louis’s daughters it wished to elevate to the throne. It was no
longer to be the exclusive preserve o f the dynasty to decide which o f its members
was most fitted to rule.
Thus although Jadwiga formally exercised royal power from the moment that
she was crowned in regem Poloniae in October 1384, that power could only be
exercised in concert with the community o f the realm and after she reached her
majority.38 The dynasty’s reduced authority was revealed by the annulment of
Jadwiga’s 1378 betrothal. Despite its formal nature— which constituted the basis o f a
Habsburg challenge in the Papal curia— by 1384, Poland’s political leaders were
considering other options. William, born in 1370, was young and inexperienced;
he was from a junior branch of the Habsburgs; and he would bring little with him
to the throne. If the Polish crown was to stand firm alongside the Luxembourg
realms o f Bohemia and Hungary, it would need a different kind o f monarch.
By October 1384, there was an alternative. It is unclear just when Jogaila became
a serious candidate. He was not an obvious choice. Poland’s relations with Lithu­
ania had recently been tense on account o f the struggle over Halych-Volhynia.
The fourteenth century had seen a decline in the frequency of Lithuanian raids, but
Jogaila himself participated in a devastating attack on Sandomierz in 1376 that
resulted allegedly— if implausibly— in the capture o f 23,000 prisoners.39 Yet
circumstances were changing, and there was much to recommend a rapprochement
with Lithuania and its pagan grand duke.

37 Dqbrowski, Korona, 72.
38 Rowell questions the common assertion that Jadwiga was crowned king, not queen, o f Poland in

1384, suggesting that, although some sources do use 1rex’ or: ‘ad regem , they are outnumbered by those
that state ‘a d regnum , ‘regina\ or ‘in reginam . His suggestion that the occasional use o f ‘rex' merely
acknowledged that Jadwiga was queen regnant, not queen consort, is sensible: Rowell, ‘ 1386’, 139-40.
39 Simas Suziedelis, ‘Lietuva ir Gediminaiciai sedant Jogailai j didziojo kunigaikscio sostq’, in
Adolfas Sapoka (ed .), Jogaila (Kaunas, 1935; repr. 1991), 3 6 -7 ; Blaszczyk, D zieje, i, 67.

The grand duchy o f Lithuania was a remarkable creation. After 1200 its rulers, in
little over a century, welded a cacophony o f feuding Baltic tribes into a powerful,
sophisticated realm that gradually extended its authority over the mixed Baltic and
Slavic populations to its south by means that remain controversial. From their
remote and isolated fastnesses among the network o f lakes, rivers, and marshes that
pierced the great forests o f north-eastern Europe, the Lithuanians harassed and
raided their neighbours, extending their sway in an astonishingly short period after
1240 over much of the vast territory that had been Kievan Rus' before it was
shattered by the Mongols.
The Lithuanian heartland was remote indeed: travelling fifteen leagues from
Dyneburg to Vilnius in 1414, the diplomat Ghillebert de Lannoy entered a vast
forest in which he travelled for forty-eight hours without seeing a trace o f habita­
tion.1 Unlike related Baltic peoples— the Prussians, the Livs, and the Curonians—
who succumbed to the far from tender rule o f the Teutonic Order, their inaccess­
ibility helped the Lithuanians not just to repel their enemies and survive in a hostile
Christian world, but to establish their rule over one o f the largest territorial
agglomerations in European history, about 1 million km12 at its peak around 1430
(see Map 2).2
The grand duchy was a sophisticated power system, under a princely dynasty
that only entered the written record in the thirteenth century. Since Lithuanian— a
member o f the Baltic branch o f the Indo-European family along with Latvian and
several extinct languages, including Prussian— was not a written language until the
sixteenth century, the names o f Lithuania’s rulers— apart from one reference to a
rex Netimer in 1009— are unknown before the semi-legendary Ringaudas, who
died around 1219. Ringaudas’s son Mindaugas (1238-63) launched the spectacu­
lar expansion that— after an interruption following his 1263 assassination—

1 Oeuvres de Ghillebert de Lannoy, Voyageur, Diplom ate et M oraliste , ed. Charles Potvin (Louvain,
1878), 38.
2 Matthias Niendorf, ‘Die Beziehungen zwischen Polen und Litauen im historischen Wandel:
Rechtliche und politische Aspekte in Mittelalter und Friiher N euzeit’, in Dietmar Willoweit and Hans
Lemberg (eds), Reiche und Territorien in Ostm itteleuropa: Historische Beziehungen und politische
H errschaftslegitim ation (Munich, 2006), 129. The best account in English is Stephen Rowell,
Lithuania Ascending: A Pagan Em pire within E ast C entral Europe, 1 2 9 5 -1 3 4 5 (Cambridge, 1994).
For a warning against believing that the forests and lakes o f the region were impenetrable, see Henryk
Paszkiewicz, O genezie i wartosci Krewa (Warsaw, 1938), 130.


— — — - Border of Grand Duchy o f Lithuania 1430


--------------International Borders

Lithuania & Samogitia CXIII
Lands acquired to 1263

Border of Lithuania Propria

Lands acquired to 1341


Lands acquired by Algirdas 1345-77


Lands acqiired by Vytautas 1372-1430


Lands disputed with Poland

M a p 2. T h e G r a n d D u c h y o f L ith u an ia in 1 3 8 5 .


Towards Union

continued in the reigns o f Vytenis (c. 1295-1315) and his brother Gediminas
What is striking is not so much the extent o f that expansion— which was
remarkable enough— but its lasting nature. Initially, the Lithuanians terrorized
their neighbours. Between 1200 and 1236 they mounted regular destructive raids:
twenty-three against the Curonians and Livonians to their north, fifteen against
Ruthenian territories to their south and east, and four into the Polish lands to their
west. In 1219, the Lithuanian political elite appeared in a written document for the
first time, when one duchess and twenty dukes, including five recognized as seniors,
witnessed peace with Halych-Volhynia.3 By 1238 Mindaugas had established himself
as overall ruler, although the term grand duke (didysis kunigaikstis in Lithuanian;
eenuKUU KHM3b in Ruthenian) was not common until its institutionalization by
Gediminas’s son Algirdas after 1345. It is sensible, however, to follow tradition in
using one name for the prince instead o f the varied forms found in the sources.4
The Lithuanians pushed south into lands where the devastating Mongol attacks
that followed their first assault on Riazan in December 1237 exposed the incapacity
o f the squabbling Ruthenian principalities to defend themselves. Kievan Rus/,
united for periods under strong rulers such as Volodymyr the Great (980-1015),
Iaroslav the Wise (1019-54), and Volodymyr Monomakh (1113-25), followed the
Slavic system o f collateral succession, in which the prince o f Kyiv was recognized as
supreme ruler over the numerous Ruthenian principalities. As in Poland after 1138,
this proved more pious wish than practical politics. In the period o f disintegration
that began in 1132, three main power-centres emerged in Halych-Volhynia,
Vladimir-Suzdaf, and Novhorod-Siversky.5 After the razing o f Kyiv in 1240 and
the extension o f Mongol overlordship over the Rushan principalities, any vestigial
political unity was destroyed, leaving Rus' open for infiltration by a more dynamic
and less traumatized political culture.
Lithuania’s extension o f power southwards was a complex process. It was not
based on force alone. Lithuania deployed forces well suited to warfare in the
sparsely populated terrain o f eastern Europe; they were by no means solely Lithu­
anian, rapidly incorporating Ruthenians into their ranks, which indicates the nature
o f Gediminid rule. Although military force was undoubtedly important, it is
insufficient to explain the speed o f expansion, or its consolidation: by 1385
Gediminid rule over much o f the former lands o f Kievan Rus' had lasted well
over a century. Black Ruthenia— the lands along the upper reaches o f the
Niemen— already contained a mixed population. It had been settled by Baltic
tribes before Slavic expansion into the region in the sixth and seventh centuries.
Baltic and Slavic populations had mingled and assimilated ever since. Lithuanian
grand dukes successfully extended their power in part because they faced few
serious rivals. The Lithuanian and northern Ruthenian lands, protected by their
great forests, in which the Mongol armies could not operate, had escaped
the Mongol tsunami. Under Mindaugas, the cities o f Black Ruthenia, including
3 Rowell, Lithuania, 50; Blaszczyk, D zieje, i, 34.
4 Rowell, Lithuania, 50, 6 4 -5 .
5 N ancy Shields Kollmann, ‘Collateral succession in Kievan Rus7’, H U S, 1 4 /3 -4 (1990), 3 7 7 -8 7 .



Hrodna, Navahrudak, Vaukavysk, and Slonim, were absorbed gradually without
any reference in the sources to their being taken by force.6 The Lithuanian grand
dukes emerged over the next half a century as the most effective force for resistance
to Mongol domination, as they did not, like the shattered remnants o f the already
splintered Rurikid dynasty, have to bend their knee to the Mongol khan.7 Where
force was used, as in the wars over Halych-Volhynia after 1340, or in the capture o f
Kyiv in the 1360s, it was directed primarily against rivals for control: the kings o f
Poland and Hungary. This was not a conquest by a foreign national group— the
‘Lithuanian occupation’ as Hrushevsky terms it— but a complex process in which
force, accommodation, and assimilation all played their part.
Lithuanians and Ruthenians already traded with one another; penetration o f the
trade routes o f White Ruthenia and other more easterly territories soon followed.
By 1307 the grand dukes controlled Polatsk, while Vitsebsk— intermittently under
their control— was secured when Algirdas, Gediminas’s son, married the heiress of
its last Ruthenian prince. Kyiv was first occupied by the Lithuanians in 1323; in
1332 there is evidence o f a Lithuanian prince ruling there in a Lithuanian-Tatar
condominium, although it was not until after the great Lithuanian victory at the
Blue Waters in 1362 that it came under unchallenged Lithuanian control.8
The expanding dynasty was central to the extension o f Lithuanian power. In
contrast to Poland and Kievan Rus', where collateral inheritance promoted political
fragmentation, the Gediminids largely contained and channelled the potential for
disintegration posed by their staggering fecundity. Despite a system o f succession
similar to the Slavic communities surrounding them, in Lithuania the dynasty’s
rapid growth proved a spur to expansion, not fragmentation. Even ignoring the
children o f his brothers and cousins, Gediminas himself had eight sons and five or
six daughters (see Fig. 1. Genealogy l).9
Several o f his sons were just as fertile, none more copiously than Algirdas, who,
together with his younger brother Kestutis, ousted their brother Jaunutis as grand
duke in a coup in 1345. Although the details o f the order and the number o f his
offspring are unclear, with his two wives Algirdas produced twelve or thirteen sons
and nine or ten daughters (see Fig. 2. Genealogy 2 ).10

6 reH atpb CaraHOBin, H a p u c zicm opii E exapyci ad cm apaoK bim m ciii d a m n tfa X V III
cm azodd3X (Minsk, 2001), 6 0 -1 ; Michal Giedroyc, ‘The arrival o f Christianity in Lithuania: Early
contacts (thirteenth century)’, O SP, 18 (1985), 15-16.
7 Jaroslaw Pelenski, ‘The contest between Lithuania and the Golden H orde in the fourteenth
century for supremacy over eastern Europe’, in The Contestfo r the Legacy o f Kievan R u l (Boulder, C O ,
1998), 1 3 1-50.
8 Rowell, Lithuania, 83—4; Pelenski, ‘C ontest’, 134.
9 Blaszczyk, D zieje, i, 110. T^gowski suggests eight sons and six daughters: Jan Tqgowski Pierwsze
pokolenia Giedyminowiczow (Poznan, 1999), table 1, 3 0 4 -5 ; Rowell has seven sons and six daughters:
Lithuania, genealogical table 2.
This is based on Darius Baronas, Arturas Dubonis, and Rimvydas Petrauskas, Lietuvos Istorija, iii:
X IIIa .-1 3 8 5 m . (Vilnius, 2011), 3 3 8 - 9 ,3 5 6 - 9 ; Rowell, Lithuania, genealogical tables 1-4, T^gowski,
Pierwsze pokolenia, table 1, 3 0 4 -5 ; and Tadeusz Wasilewski, ‘Daty urodzin JagieHy i Witolda:
Przyczynek do genealogii Giedyminowiczow’, PW , 1 (1991), 15-34. It is largely, informed,
however, by N ikodem , ‘Data urodzenia Jagielly: Uwagi o starszeristwie synow Olgierda i Julianny’,
Genealogia, 12 (2000), 2 3 -4 9 , the most convincing analysis: see Ch. 8 , 7 4 -5 .

c. 1275-1341 x 1342

Grand Duke
1315-41 x 1342
d. of
t 1348
1. Semen
f after 1386
2. Patryk
= Helena of
t 1383 x
2. Alexander
t after 1386
3. lurii, d. o f
f 1392
4. Nikolai
d. of Pinsk

= (1316)
d. of Plock
t 1364

(?), d. of
T rakai,
t 1336

Grand Duke
t 1377

For children see Fig 2.
Genealogy 2

d. of
f 1349

d. of
t 1365



d. of
1 1366

d. of
= (c. 1344)

1. Iurii, d. of
t 1374/5
2. Dmitrii
- (1356)
Anna, dtr of
Ivanovich, d.
of Mascovy
t 1399
3. Alexander
Duke of
(1366) &
t 1386 x 1388

1. Mikhail,
d. of
t 1399

see Fig. 3.

= 0325)
III, king of
t 1339

2. Hryhory
3. Semen

4. Kosriantyn
d. o f Podolia
t 1388 x 1392
5- Fedor, d. of
Podolia, t
1409 x 1416
6. Vasyl, d. of
7. Anastasia
- (r. 1370)
Roman I of
f 1408

Fig. 1. Genealogy 1. The Gediminids.

d. of Lutsk
1. Fedor d.
o f Lutsk
(1383r. 1392); d.
(c.13921431); d. of
t 1431
2. Lazar
3. Semen
4. Anna
= (pre
Premek, d.
of Opava
f 1404 x

d. of
Kernave &
t 1348

= 0331)
lurii, d.of
t 1341

= (1333)
duke of
1 1345

= Andrei
of Kozelsk

Maria, dtr o f duke
f before 1350

duke of
t 1399


Grand duke

King of Poland

duke of
t 1399

t 1367
= r.!359
Kazko of

f 1353

duke of
c. 1367-94

t 1405/6
= Oleg,
duke of

duke of Ratno
t 1400

duke of
t 1394

duke of
f after


f 1377
Grand Duke

(f. 1318)

= (c.1370)
Ivan of

= (£•-1354)
Boris of


duke of
f 1431


t 1437
= Vladimir

= ( 2)

2. David

Juliana, dtr of
duke o f Tver
t 1392

Duke of
t 1390

f c.1382

t 1434
= 1387
IV of

= Johann,
duke of


Fig. 2. Genealogy 2. The descendants o f Algirdas.
Notes: T^gowski and Lietuvos Istorijos regard Fedor o f Ratno as the eldest son o f Algirdas’s first marriage. For a discussion o f the problem o f the order and birthdates o f

Algirdas’s children, see Ch. 8, 74—5.

t 1392
duke of
= 1389 dtr
o f Oppeln


Grand duke


Towards Union

Unlike Poland, hemmed in by the Holy Roman Empire to its west and Hungary
to its south, Lithuania could expand to satisfy— for the most part— the ambitions
o f Gediminas’s progeny. Daughters were married to Ruthenian princes, giving the
Gediminids claims to Ruthenian territory when local dynasties died out.11 Algirdas’s first marriage to Maria/Anna o f Vitsebsk opened the way to the absorption o f
a vital centre on the trade routes o f northern Eurasia, while the marriage o f his
brother Liubartas to a Volhynian princess provided the basis o f the Lithuanian
claim to part o f the kingdom o f Halych-Volhynia.1112 Yet if dynastic manoeuvres
played a significant role, it was the Gediminids’ successful resistance to Mongol
domination that ensured the loyalty o f many Ruthenians.13
The results were impressive. By Algirdas’s death in 1377 his sons ruled duchies
across the Ruthenian lands. O f the sons o f his first marriage, Andrei held Polatsk,
Dmitry was established in Briansk, Fedor held Ratno, and Volodymyr ruled Kyiv.
Gediminas’s other sons and their descendants were not neglected. Narimantas was
duke o f Pinsk and Polatsk, and governor o f Novgorod for the brief period after
1333 when it swore allegiance to Lithuania. Four o f Narimantas’s five sons
acquired Ruthenian duchies, while the sons o f Karijotas, duke of Navahrudak,
ruled Podolia.
Gediminid retention o f Ruthenian duchies depended on the dynasty’s rapid
acculturation based on its adoption o f Ruthenian as the language o f government.
A sophisticated written language, it was ideal for the purpose o f building Gedimi­
nid authority, while its use meant that Ruthenians could integrate successfully into
the Gediminid system. The Gediminids who held Ruthenian principalities, and the
daughters who married into Ruthenian princely families, were baptized into the
Orthodox faith and took Ruthenian names: Narimantas became Hleb and Kari­
jotas was baptized Mykhailo; their children bore Slavic names.
The Gediminids fused Lithuanian and Ruthenian elements into a composite,
dynastic system. The long argument between nationalist historians o f Lithuania,
Belarus, and Ukraine over whether this process produced a Lithuanian state, or a
Ruthenian-Lithuanian state, in which the leading role was played by the more
advanced culture o f the Ruthenians, rather misses the point by concentrating on
state power and projecting back an image o f statehood that owes more to the
nineteenth than the fourteenth century. The grand duchy was not a unitary
modern state, but a successful dynastic condominium built on family loyalty. Its
decentralized, composite nature explains its expansion and survival. Long before
1386 the Lithuanians and Ruthenians developed a system that allowed pagan and
Orthodox cultures to survive and prosper alongside each other. Ultimate control lay
with the pagan grand duke in the Lithuanian heartland, but paganism was no

11 Stephen C. Rowell, ‘Pious princesses or the daughters o f Belial: Pagan Lithuanian dynastic
diplomacy 1 2 7 9 -1 4 2 3 ’, M edieval Prosopography, 15/1 (1994), 3 -7 5 .
12 Rowell, Lithuania, 8 8 ; JIioSaBCKHH, O dnacnw oe, 3 8 -4 0 .
13 Alvydas Nikzentaitis, ‘Litauen unter den Grossfiirsten Gedimin (1 3 1 6-1341) und Olgerd
(1 3 4 5 -1 3 7 7 )’, in M arc Lowener (ed.), D ie ‘Bliite’ der Staaten des ostlichen Europa im 14, Jahrhundert
(Wiesbaden, 2004), 66 - 8 .



missionary faith, and the dynastic system held together well under the powerful rule
o f Gediminas, and then Algirdas and Kestutis.
Lithuania was a formidable construct, suited to its environment. By Algirdas’s
death in 1377 it stretched from the shores o f the Baltic virtually to the Black Sea.
Yet if the Gediminids held the upper hand for much o f the fourteenth century, they
had important rivals in the Orthodox grand dukes o f Muscovy, who were more
attractive to successive patriarchs o f Constantinople than the pagan Gediminids.
Muscovy’s first great success was the transfer of the Orthodox metropolitanate o f all
Rus' from Vladimir-Suzdaf to Moscow in 1325. Algirdas brought Smolensk
precariously into the Lithuanian orbit, but despite his second marriage to Juliana
o f Tver, Tver and Novgorod preserved their independence by playing Lithuania off
against Muscovy, and could not be absorbed. Algirdas led three attacks on Moscow:
in 1368 he turned back after three days; in 1370 he stayed little longer, while in
1372 he refused battle although both armies were drawn up ready. Once intimi­
dation failed, Algirdas was unwilling to risk all-out war against an Orthodox enemy
who might use religion to subvert the loyalty o f his Ruthenian subjects.14 It was a
dilemma that faced all his successors, and Lithuanian-Muscovite rivalry was to
shape the history o f eastern Europe for centuries to come.
By 1377 the very factors that had enabled Lithuania’s rapid expansion were
causing the problems that are inevitable once territorial accumulation reaches its
natural limits. Orthodox Ruthenians now considerably outnumbered pagan Lithu­
anians in the Gediminid realms. Given the rapid cultural assimilation o f so many
Gediminids, the possibility that the whole dynasty would be absorbed into the
Slavic world was starkly apparent: all the children o f Algirdas’s first marriage
accepted Orthodox baptism, and Algirdas’s second wife, Juliana, noted for her
piety, brought Orthodox influences to the heart o f the Gediminid system. Algirdas
and Kestutis were strongly attached to their pagan faith, and too much trust should
not be placed in later Ruthenian chronicles that suggest Algirdas converted to
Orthodoxy on his deathbed and was buried, instead of undergoing the spectacular
traditional pagan funeral by immolation attested by other sources.15
There were good reasons for remaining pagan. Lithuania straddled the great
cultural faultline dividing the Orthodox east from the Catholic west. Its rulers
were adept at playing off west against east and manoeuvring effectively between
the Orthodox and Catholic worlds while avoiding long-term commitment to
either. The dangers o f opting for one side were demonstrated by Mindaugas. In
1251, in order to win the Order’s support for a campaign against the Samogitians,
he accepted baptism in the Latin rite, for which, in 1253 he was sent a royal
crown by Innocent IV. Mindaugas was thus the first— and last— Lithuanian ruler
before 1386 whose title o f rex was recognized beyond its borders: Gediminas
might style himself Gedeminne (D ei Gratia) L etw inorum et ( m ultorum ) Ruthenorurn Rex or Koningh van Lettow en , but if popes might occasionally use the title

14 Paszkiewicz, O genezie, 126.
15 PSRL, xvii, col. 416. For the evidence see Suziedelis, ‘Lietuva’, 38 -9 .


Towards Union

for politeness’ sake they, like other Catholic rulers, did not recognize his royal
The perils o f conversion rapidly became apparent. The Lithuanian boyars and
non-princely dukes were fiercely wedded to paganism, while Mindaugas’s accept­
ance o f sponsorship from the Order, which was busily subduing the pagan
Prussians, provoked opposition from those who saw it as Lithuania’s deadliest
enemy. Civil strife soon followed. In 1261 Mindaugas returned to paganism and
expelled Catholics from Lithuania, although it was not enough to save him from
assassination by Daumantas o f Nalsia, acting on behalf o f Mindaugas’s nephew
Treniota, who succeeded him, only to be assassinated in his turn, as were his two
immediate successors, one o f whom, Mindaugas’s son Vaisvilkas, murdered in
1267, was a proselytizing Orthodox Christian.17
Order was only restored in the reigns o f Vytenis and Gediminas. The resistance
to Mindaugas’s apostasy gives a tantalizing glimpse o f the role o f the bajorai
(boyars), a word that entered Lithuanian from Ruthenian and that can— if with
reservations— be translated as ‘nobles’.18 Fleeting references in the sources— all o f
them foreign— make it clear that although under Vytenis and Gediminas the
dynasty had firmly established its control, it did consult with its boyars, especially
before mounting military campaigns. The nature o f this consultation is unclear,
and too much should not be read into Peter o f Dusburg’s reference to one such
assembly in 1308 as parlam entum .19 Gediminid Lithuania was a patrimonial
system, but the dynasty’s authority was in practice limited by custom, not least
because o f Lithuania’s rudimentary institutional structure. Authority depended on
the charisma o f the grand duke and his relationship with his brothers, sons, and
boyars. Mindaugas’s assassination was a warning that there were limits to charis­
matic power.
Gediminas learnt from Mindaugas’s fate. He sought to diminish the significance
o f the metropolitan o f Kyiv’s relocation to Moscow by following the lead o f Iurii I,
prince o f Halych-Volhynia, who successfully lobbied in Constantinople for the
establishment o f a separate metropolitanate in 1303. It only lasted five years, but a
separate Lithuanian metropolitanate was established in Navahrudak at some point
between 1315 and 1317. Thus Orthodoxy was more than simply tolerated. It was
actively promoted by the dynasty, partly to ensure the loyalty o f its Ruthenian
subjects, and partly to advance Gediminid ambitions to rule all Rus'. Orthodox
clerics contributed substantially to Lithuanian government and its relations with
the Orthodox world.20 Yet neither Gediminas nor Algirdas was willing to convert.
The dangers o f assimilation and the obliteration o f Lithuanian culture were clear,
paganism was deep-rooted and well organized, and resistance to any such move
among the Lithuanian boyars was fierce.


Catholic sources described Gediminas as rex sive dux\ Rowell, Lith uania, 6 3 -4 .
Rowell, Lithuania, 5 1 -2 ; Giedroyc, ‘Arrival’, 16-20, 2 2 -6 .
18 See Ch. 26, 298.
Peter von Dusburg, Chronica terrae Prussiae, in SRPr, i, 171-2; Rowell, Lithuania, 6 1 -2 .
See Rowell, Lithuania, 149-88.



Lithuania’s relations with western Europe were equally complex. Its acquisition of
Ruthenian lands coincided with rising pressure from the Order, whose conquest
o f the pagan Prussians was complete by the 1280s. The decayed Livonian Knights
o f the Sword were placed under the control o f the Teutonic Order in 1237, giving
the Order a great incentive to seize control o f Samogitia, which divided Livonia
from Prussia. The Samogitians occupied a unique position. The heartland o f the
Lithuanian state lay in Aukstaitija, which contained the principal power-centres of
Vilnius and Trakai. The Samogitian clans were closely related to the Aukstaitijans,
but jealously guarded their separate identity, distinctive culture, and political
autonomy. Samogitia was but loosely integrated into the Gediminid system and
remained strongly pagan: Samogitians had been prominent in the opposition to
Mindaugas’s conversion.
In the fourteenth century, the revitalized Order increased the pressure. The fall
o f Acre in 1291 ended its long commitment to Palestine, while the destruction of
the Templars after 1307 implicitly threatened all the military orders. A new role
was required. In 1309 grand master Siegfried von Feuchtwangen prudently moved
the Order’s headquarters from Venice to the Marienburg in Prussia, which was
reconstructed as a massive fortress-monastery at the centre o f a vast network of
subsidiary houses across the Empire. The Order channelled its considerable re­
sources into the crusade against the remaining pagans o f northern Europe. Its call
for support met an enthusiastic response from across Europe, encouraged by John
o f Luxembourg. From the 1320s, foreign knights swelled the ranks o f the north
Germans who formed the core o f the Order’s recruits. As they came, raids became
more frequent and more devastating.
T o contain this growi