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European Kingdoms

Central Europe

 

Poland

Poland occupies a large area of the northern area of Central Europe, bordering the southern Baltic Sea. Its pre-Slavic history is a long one, covering several Bronze Age and Iron Age Early Cultures, the latter of which saw the settlement of various Belgic groups, northern or eastern Celts or Celtic-influenced people with a Germanic influence from southern Scandinavia, while the Vistula Venedi to the east may also have played a part here from their settlements along the river.

In the last two centuries BC Germanic settlement from Scandinavia formed minor (tribal) states on the southern coast of the Early Baltics and west bank of the Vistula. Of these, the Buri and Lugii occupied areas of what is now southern Poland, the Burgundians and Goths were located centrally, while the Gepids and Rugii were on the northern coast. These states were fairly ephemeral, and once outward migration had depleted most of them during the Willenberg phase, they were gradually replaced by Slavic settlements which eventually coalesced into the early Polish states.

The movements of those West Slavic peoples who became the Poles is highly uncertain. That they entered the area thanks to long associations with the neighbouring Balts seems likely, and that they settled alongside some of them along the Vistula also seems likely, as does their assimilation of the Venedi on the Vistula. In the Middle Ages, Slavic peoples came to dominate Poland. As these West Slavic Polish tribes emerged as masters of the region (principally under the command of the Western Polans), they formed petty kingdoms which were unified in the tenth century, when Poland emerged into history at the same time as it accepted Christianity.

Vistula lagoon, Poland

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008), from The Origin and Deeds of the Goths, Jordanes (Dodo Press - and C C Mierow supplies a different translation from this version alongside some dates for early kings), from the Complete Works of Tacitus, Alfred John Church, William Jackson Brodribb, & Lisa Cerrato, from History and Geography in Late Antiquity, Andrew H Merrills (2005), from Topographies of Power in the Early Middle Ages, Mayke De Jong, Frans Theuws, & Carine van Rhijn (2001), from Geography, Ptolemy, and from External Links: Geography, Strabo (H C Hamilton & W Falconer, London, 1903, Perseus Online Edition), and The Balts, Marija Gimbutas (1963, previously available online thanks to Gabriella at Vaidilute, but still available as a PDF - click or tap on link to download or access it).)

Western Polans (Lechia) (Slavs)
5th Century AD - AD 962
Incorporating the Goplans, Lendians, Polans, Slezans, & Vistulans

The Polans were a West Slavic tribe, also known as Polanes, or Polanians. By the eight century AD they were occupying the Warta river basin in the Greater Poland region. They were neighboured to the east by the Masovians (who formed the later eastern central Polish region of Mazovia), to the south-east by the Vistulans (in Lesser Poland) and then the Lendians (in East Lesser Poland, not far from Lviv in Ukraine), to the south by the Slezans (Silesians), to the west by the Sorbs, and to the north by the Pomeranians. There were also Balts in the north-east, and the Venedi along the Vistula, and all of these were either later incorporated into the Polish state, or retreated to Lithuania, or were conquered and largely obliterated by the Teutonic Knights.

The Western Slav Goplans or Goplanes came to be located in today's Kujawy region, possibly making Kruszwica (German Cruswitz) in modern northern-central Poland their tribal capital. Although apparently governed by Polans princes in the ninth century, and theorised as living on the north-eastern edge of Polan territory, they retained some level of identity until they were absorbed by the Polans in the tenth century. The Polan tribe's name appears to originate with the Slavic word for field, 'polje', which defines a wide flat plain in an area of karst, or soluble bedrock such as limestone. They were part of the Lechtic language group of West Slavs which occupied much of eastern and Central Europe, including Poland, eastern Germany, Bohemia, and Moravia. They are not to be confused with the Eastern Polans who occupied territory near Kiev and who participated in the creation of the Rus.

Legendarily, the Polans first formed a state of some kind in the mid-sixth century, under Lech, brother of the equally legendary Czech and Rus, 'founders' of Bohemia and the Rus respectively. Population pressures on the Pontic steppe had been growing, with the invasion of the Huns in the late fourth century providing possibly the first major impetus for Slavic migration northwards to escape. Invasions by the Avars in the early sixth century and then the creation of the Bulgar empire in the early seventh century did the rest. Slav migration by then was in full swing, heading northwards and putting pressure in the Baltic peoples who occupied a large swathe of this territory. The West Slavic tribes largely avoided them by heading further west, while the East Slavic tribes veered off to the east. As for Lech, the dates shown for this early 'duke of Poland' and his immediate, unverifiable successors are rough approximations, and their names are given a lilac backing. In general, where events given below are dated they can be treated as historical fact or general estimates worked out from archaeological evidence, while events without dates relate to traditional, legendary storytelling.

The 'Lechtic' frame of reference used for the West Slav language group is largely assumed to be based on the legendary Lech mentioned above. Sometimes used in history as a name to describe Poland itself, especially by peoples to the east and south of Poland, the word 'Lechia' is more likely a remembrance of the Lendian tribe of East Poland. The Old Norse knew this region as Laesir. Also linked to the Lendian name (or to Lech) is a mythical super-state by the name of the 'Kingdom of Lechia', claimed as existing since at least 700 BC, being in contact with the early Roman emperors, and perhaps extending all the way eastwards to the far edge of Siberia. Unfortunately for its supporters it is a complete fantasy, one which attempts to rope in every empire from the Greeks of Alexander the Great to the Ottomans.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from A History of Poland from its Foundation, M Ross, from Geography, Ptolemy, from The Earliest Icelandic Chronicle of the Norwegian Kings (1030-1157), Theodore Murdock Andersson & Kari Ellen Gade Morkinskinna, and from External Links: The Balts, Marija Gimbutas (1963, previously available online thanks to Gabriella at Vaidilute, but still available as a PDF - click or tap on link to download or access it), and The Forgotten Kingdom of Lechia (the argument for the mythical 'Kingdom of Lechia').)

5th century

Pushed to migrate northwards by the Hunnic empire, Slavs first enter central Poland towards the later part of the century, filling the void left by the greater part of the departed East Germanic tribes in regions such as Galicia, Lusatia, and Silesia. Masuria is also reoccupied, by the West Baltic tribe of the Galindians, after parts of it have been abandoned by the Vidivarii and their preceding Willenberg culture ancestors.

Lech, Czech and Rus
The legendary brothers, Lech, Czech, and Rus, were the eponymous founders of the Polish, Czech and Russian nations, shown here in Viktor Vasnetsov's 'Warriors', 1898

Parts of the Galindians establish the regionally significant Olsztyn group, which includes horse burials along with its dead, and a large array of sophisticated bronze, silver, and gold items gained through extensive trade in all directions. As well as this Balt presence, the new Slav populations are still neighboured to the north by surviving Vidivarii populations.

6th century

The West Slavs of Poland gradually subjugate the remaining Germanic populations in the north of the region. It is in the early part of this century that isolated remains last appear from cultures which have been influenced by Rome, mostly the remnants of Germanic tribes which have traded directly or obliquely with the former empire. Germanic populations survive in Pomerania.

The Polans occupy the central region of Greater Poland, and during this century a dominant kingship appears to emerge. Its early rulers are legendary, probably created by later generations to confirm the royal family's ancient pedigree (these names are shown with a shaded background). The figures from Popiel onwards would seem to represent real rulers.

Lech / Lechus I

Eponymous mid-sixth century founder of the Poles.

Lech is the legendary mid-sixth century figure to whom the title of duke is first given. From him the country derives the name Lechia, by which it is apparently still known in the tenth century (especially in states to the east and south), and which remains in use much later with the Tartars. His people are called Polechia, or the children of Lech. He is credited with founding Gnesa and Posna.

Foundation of Poland
Even more legendary than the brothers who reputedly founded the Polish, Czech, and Rus states is the story of a 'Kingdom of Lechia' which dates back at least to 700 BC and supposedly lasts until the Piasts come to power amongst the Polans

Viscimir

Nephew.

The legendary Viscimir is the probable successor to Lech, although it is also claimed that Lech's son rules after him, or that the most eligible noble is selected (which could easily be Viscimir himself, perhaps after a successional conflict with Lech's son). Viscimir is credited with conquering unrealistically vast amounts of territory, including the heart of Denmark, although he is not mentioned at all by Danish chroniclers.

Cracus / Gracus / Grakch I

Wealthy noble selected to rule. Founded Kraków.

Cracus / Gracus / Grakch II

Eldest son. Elected to rule, but soon murdered by his brother.

8th century

By this century, small Slavic states are beginning to emerge, and these coalesce and expand over the course of the next century. Western Balts also occupy regions of Poland, mostly around the lower Vistula where they probably subsume northern Venedi populations.

Two tribes which are named by Ptolemy in the mid-second century, the Galindai and Soudinoi, survive as the Galindians (in Masuria and the northern fringes of Mazovia), and the Sudovians or Yotvingians into the eleventh century, before being absorbed into Poland. These Western Balts are survived by their kinfolk, the later Old Prussians. Yotvingian territory is largely absorbed into what is now the Polish Podlaskie Voivodeship, although outlying parts now fall within the borders of Lithuania and part of Hrodna province of Belarus.

Olsztyn group window urn
A window urn of the Olsztyn group which was generally located in Masuria in what is now eastern Poland but which was territory belonging to the Balts at this time

c.700 - ?

Lech II 'the Fratricide'

Brother. Deposed when his crime was discovered.

fl c.750

Wenda / Venda / Vanda

Daughter. A 'virgin queen'. Committed suicide.

Wenda successfully defends her country from an invading Teutonic prince named Rudiger who is demanding her hand in marriage. Upon his defeat he falls on his sword, and Wenda is soon overcome with gloom and depression at the loss of such a noble figure. She attends a sacrifice to the gods and immediately throws herself from the bridge into the Vistula (although the suicide is a later addition to the story).

The surrounding country is apparently named Vandalia in her honour, although the name is actually used well before this date (a remembrance of Vandali occupation in this region, perhaps). Rudiger himself is described as an 'Alemann tyrant' which may or may not link him to the Alemanni (the term could be a reference to a broader Germanic heritage to the west of the Polans). A period of division and internecine strife follows.

? - c.760

Lesko I

Premislaus, a 'private soldier'. Died without an heir.

c.760 - 810

Lesko II

A former peasant, and a good and strong ruler.

c.810 - 815

Lesko III

Son.

fl c.830

Popiel I / Pepelek / Pompilius / Osserich

Son. Founded Kruszwica, possible seat of the Goplans.

The (legendary) Popielids rule the Polans during the first half of the ninth century. The last of them is the cruel Popiel II, who is ousted from power owing to his poor rule of the Polans and Goplans, including his failure to defend the land from Viking attacks. He is replaced by Piast, whose name suggests that his family had previously been stewards or mayors of the palace. Like their Frankish counterparts, the Carolingian mayors, the Piasts seize control.

Popiel II, with his wife and son
The legend regarding Popiel and the 'Mouse Tower' to which he retreated is widely known in Poland, especially from the 1876 novel Stara Baśń (An Ancient Tale), adapted for the big screen as An Ancient Tale: When the Sun Was a God, 2003.

fl c.830 - c.842

Popiel (II)

Son. Last of the Popielid rulers of the Polans & Goplans.

c.842

The earliest of the Piasts known in any source is Chościsko. He is mentioned in the first Polish chronicle, Cronicae et gesta ducum sive principum Polonorum (The Deeds of the Princes of Poland) by Gallus Anonymus. It dates to the early twelfth century and is therefore a far from reliable source, although Anonymus may have access to earlier material which has not survived.

Chościsko's son is Piast, who is the first of the early Piast rulers of the tribes of the Polans and Goplans. He and the subsequent three princes of early Poland are of dubious certainty. However, it is they, or their historical counterparts, who begin the process of uniting the other West Slavic tribes in the region into a single state. The village of Giecz is the main centre of this early Polish state.

c.842 - 860

Piast Kolodziej 'the Wheelwright'

Son of Chościsko. Former mayor of the 'palace'?

860 - 892

Siemowit / Ziemowit

Son. Duke of the Polans.

892 - 921

Lesko / Leszek / Lestko IV

Son. Duke of the Polans.

c.930

Although Leszek's existence is debatable, the tribes within later Poland become known as the Lestkowici during this period. Either his name is a fiction to provide an origin for the Lestkowici, or they confirm his historical existence.

921 - 962

Siemomysl / Zeinomislaus

Son. Duke. Died about 960 or 962.

940

Gniezno becomes one of the main fortresses of the early Piasts. It is possible that Siemomysl begins the subjugation of the Masovians who lay to the east of the Polans (although his father can also be credited with this). The task is completed either by him or by his successor, while the Goplans are subsumed around the same time.

Map of Germany AD 962
Germany in AD 962 may have had its new emperor to govern the territories shown within the dark black line, but it was still a patchwork of competing interests and power bases, most notably in the five great stem duchies, many of which were attempting to expand their own territories outside the empire, creating the various march or border regions to the east (competing against Polish interests) and south (click or tap on map to view full sized)

962

The successor to Siemomysl is his son, Mjeczislas, or Mieszko, the first documented ruler of the Polans. He is also the figure who is responsible for completing the task of uniting several of the West Slavic tribes of the region, including the Masovians, as well as the West Slavic-dominated Pomeranians. He forms a duchy which is quickly elevated to a kingdom of Poland.

Duchy & Kingdom of Poland (Piast)
AD 962 - 1370

The Polans were a West Slavic tribe which migrated into what is now Poland in the sixth to eighth centuries AD. Initially they appear to have dominated the neighbouring Goplans, but very soon they had also subjugated the other West Slavic tribes in the region. Legendarily, the Polans first formed a state of some kind in the mid-sixth century. Population pressures on the Pontic steppe had been growing for some time, and various invasions from the east prompted an outwards Slavic migration. They largely avoided the nearby Balt tribes by heading further west.

The rule of the (semi-legendary) Prince Piast in the Polish territories of the mid-ninth century began a process of unification in the region. By the mid-tenth century, under the Piast dynasty, this coalesced into a duchy which on occasions could also refer to itself as a kingdom (more on a personal basis for several rulers rather than in terms of an elevated state, as they needed to be able to claim domination of various, often rebellious, Polish sub-states). Mieszko Piast became the first documented ruler of Poland when he accepted Christianity into the newly created state in 966. At this time, the Polish state encompassed territory which was similar to that of modern Poland, but without many of the northern regions which were still tribal. Mieszko was also termed 'King of the Wends', the name for West Slavs who had come to dominate an earlier melange of groups to the north (see the Pomeranians and Vidivarii for more detail). His son, Bolesław I (born circa 966), temporarily extended the Polish realm over Lusatia, Bohemia, Moravia, and what is now Slovakia (essentially covering the twentieth century's Czechoslovakia, plus territory to its immediate west).

Poland was declared a kingdom on at least two occasions by its great princes, and the throne was occupied for a time by Bohemian kings on a third occasion but, for the most part, the great princes ruled as dukes of Poland in between periods of confusion and counter-claims of possession of the ducal throne. To clearly differentiate between kings, dukes, and pretenders, the kings are shown in green. From 964, there were two capitals, at Gniezno and Poznan, but various others emerged, especially during times of division.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Krzysiek Popończyk, from The Russian Primary Chronicle (Laurentian Text), Samuel Hazzard Cross & Olgerd P Sherbowitz-Wetzor (Eds and translators, Mediaeval Academy of America), from A History of Poland from its Foundation, M Ross, from Geography, Ptolemy, from The Earliest Icelandic Chronicle of the Norwegian Kings (1030-1157), Theodore Murdock Andersson & Kari Ellen Gade Morkinskinna, from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008), and from External Link: The Forgotten Kingdom of Lechia (the argument for the mythical 'Kingdom of Lechia').)

962 - 992

Mjeczislas / Mieszko I Piast

Son of Siemomysl. Founder of the ducal state.

966

Having formed a unified Polish state which includes Mazovia and areas of Pomerania around the Odra (which his son fails to hold onto), Mieszko I accepts baptism, followed by the building of churches and the establishment of an ecclesiastical hierarchy. He sees baptism as a way of strengthening his hold on power, with the active support he can expect from the bishops, as well as it being a unifying force for the Polish people.

The Baptism of Poland by Jan Matejko
The Baptism of Poland, by Jan Matejko in 1888-1889, portrays a romanticised version of the acceptance of Christianity by Duke Mieszko on behalf of his people in 966

972

Mieszko is attacked by Margrave Odo of the Ostmark, one of the border areas between the Polish lands and Saxony. The reasons are unclear, as the Poles are faithful servants of the German emperor and Odo does not have permission to attack them anyway. Odo's initial thrust is apparently successful, or Mieszko fools him into believing in a Polish retreat which suddenly turns into a successful counter-attack. Honours are essentially even at the end.

981

Galicia is mentioned by Nestor, who describes the passage of Volodymyr of the Rus in this year as he enters into Poland and claims this region for his own. This would seem to be the Lyakhs (Lachys, Lechians, the alternative name for early Poland) whom the Russian Primary Chronicle states that he defeats, taking their towns of Peremyshl, Cherven, and others, all of which are subject to the Rus (at least until 1018).

983

The next target for Volodymyr of the Rus is the Radimichs. He meets them River Pishchan' and overcomes them. The Radimichs are counted as a division of the Lyakhs (likely Poles under the name of Lechians). They had migrated eastwards to settle in regions which lay alongside the Rus lands, and now they are forced to pay tribute to the Rus.

At the same time, the Slavic revolt of the Saxon marches sees the Polabian Slavs, plus the Lutici (also a target of Polish expansion) and Obotrite tribes, on the east bank of the Elbe rise up against German overlordship. Faced with a drive to convert them to Christianity as a way of integrating them into the German empire, they take the rare act of organising under Lutici leadership and destroy several churches and settlements. The Saxons are only just able to defend the line of the Elbe, but the march of the Billungs and the North March are lost.

Otto I of Saxony
Otto I accepts the surrender of Berengar of Ivrea in 961 to become undisputed German emperor, shown in this early thirteenth century text called the Manuscriptum Medioalense

992 - 1025

Bolesław I Chobry 'the Brave'

Son. Succeeded 25 May. Elevated to king in 1024. Died 1025.

992

The period in which Bolesław succeeds to the ducal throne is a confused one. Some sources claim that his step-mother and brothers act as his regents for a short time (no longer than 992-995), while others state that in traditional Piast fashion the new ruler sees them as potential rivals and banishes all three of them almost immediately after gaining power.

Either way, he is known to be the undisputed ruler of Poland in 992 (Greater Poland, Galicia, Mazovia, Kuiavia, and parts of Pomerania, forming something close to the modern Polish territory), which is the year in which Holy Roman Emperor Otto III requests his military aid, towards the year's end. However, the Odra area of Pomerania which his father had conquered may have proved to be too difficult to hold onto, as it is lost during Bolesław's reign.

992

Oda of Haldensleben

Step-mother. From North March. Regent or rival? Died 1023.

992

Mieszko Mieszkowic

Son. Half-brother of Bolesław. Regent or rival?

992

Lambert Mieszkowic

Brother. Regent or rival?

992 - 995

Świętopełk Mieszkowic?

Brother. In Pomerania, if still alive (possibly dead by 991).

997

St Adalbert of Prague, sent by the Pope into Prussian lands to convert the pagans, is escorted by soldiers who have been assigned to him by Bolesław. Adalbert is executed by the natives for sacrilege, and Bolesław uses the event as an excuse to begin a series of unsuccessful attempts at conquering the Prussians. He is also able to secure Poland's autonomy from the German empire.

1000

On 7 to 15 March the Congress of Gniezno (the capital of Poland) is held. German Emperor Otto III establishes an archbishopric in Gniezno with three new bishoprics in Kraków (Krakow or Cracow) for Little Poland, Wroclaw for Silesia, and Kolobrzeg for Pomerania. The old bishopric in Poznan is also reaffirmed.

Szybowcowa Hill in Lower Silesia
Szybowcowa Hill in Lower Silesia had been home to many people before the creation of the kingdom of Poland, from the Celtic Naharvali tribe to the Germanic Vandali, and then early Slav immigrants

1002

Upon the death of Otto III of the German empire, Bolesław takes control of Lusatia and the march of Meissen, two border territories which lie between Poland and Thuringia. He opposes Otto's successor, Henry II, during a series of battles until peace is agreed in 1018.

1003 - 1004

Bolesław becomes duke of Bohemia as Boleslav or Boleslaus IV thanks to his familial connection to Boleslaus I (his grandfather). The title brings with it Moravia and the lands which today form Slovakia.

1018

A peace treaty is signed in Budziszyn with Emperor Henry II - ratifying Poland's control over Lusatia and Meissen (as well as Galicia). In the same year, Germany and Hungary support an expedition against Kiev, and Bolesław defeats his son-in-law's enemy there, taking over 'Grody Czerwieńskie'. This is possibly the Cherven towns which include the town of Peremyshl of the Lyachs which had been conquered by St Vladimir the Great of the Rus in 981.

1024 - 1025

FeatureBolesław declares the Polish kingdom on 25 December 1024, with the blessing of Pope John XIX, and is crowned on 18 April 1025 in Gniezno (see feature link for more on Gniezno). Unfortunately he dies just two months after his coronation, on 17 June 1025. The capital remains divided between Gniezno and Poznan while his son inherits the kingship in an undivided Poland.

1025 - 1031

Mieszko II Lambert

Son of Bolesław. Crowned king on 25 December.

1031

Mieszko has angered the German emperor following two devastating raids into Saxony in 1028 and 1030, while also fighting a defensive war against Bohemia and the Rus. Now he is forced to flee Polish lands by the Rus ruler, Yaroslav the Wise, who installs Mieszko's elder half-brother as Poland's ruler. Mieszko finds himself in Bohemia, where Duke Oldrich has him imprisoned.

Hohenstaufen coat of arms
The Hohenstaufen family of Swabia gained a strong foothold on power in the late eleventh century and went on to supply an entire dynasty of German emperors which included Frederick Barbarossa

1031 - 1032

Bezprym

Half-brother. Probably in Kraków or Silesia, Oct-Spring.

1031 - 1033

Otto

Sub-prince, probably in Kraków or Silesia, Oct-Spring.

1032

Mieszko II Lambert

Restored by Bohemia, spring to Jul only.

1032 - 1033

Mieszko makes a return to power in one of Poland's regions in opposition to Bezprym and Otto, but Poland is now partitioned three ways (in 1032), with Otto probably gaining Silesia or Kraków, Dytryk (Deitrich), son of either the Lambert Mieszkowic or Mieszko of 992, probably in Pomerania, and Mieszko II probably in Great Poland, Mazovia, and Kuiavia.

Kiev gains Galicia, while Upper Lusatia is lost along with part of Lower Lusatia, Red Ruthenia, Upper Hungary (modern Slovakia), and probably even Moravia. The partition is brief - Mieszko has restored his control over all of it by 1033. Dytryk is deposed and expelled. Bezprym, having destroyed his own power base, is murdered by his own exasperated subjects, probably at the behest of his own brothers, and Otto is killed by one of his own men.

1033 - 1034

Mieszko II Lambert

Restored, until 10/11 May 1034. Died of natural causes.

1034 - 1038

The rule of Poland becomes confusing and may cease entirely between these dates, leaving no overall authority coordinating the minor duchies. One name is mentioned as a ruler in this period, that of Bolesław Zapomniany, but his existence is doubtful. He could be a later addition simply to plug the gap and show a continuous monarchy. The mention of Kazimierz may be a sign of his first attempt to restore a unified Polish crown.

Mieszko II and Rycheza Lotaryńska
Mieszko II and Rycheza Lotaryńska, reputed parents of the cruel Bolesław Zapomniany 'the Forgotten' whose very existence is doubted

1034?

Bolesław Zapomniany 'the Forgotten'

Son of Mieszko II. Existed?

1034

Kazimierz I / Casimir I 'the Restorer'

Son of Mieszko II. Fled to German lands.

1037/1038

The Polish 'state' collapses into anarchy. The Pagan Rebellion involves many minor princes, none of whose names or territories are known other than Mieclaw of Mazovia. During this period of anarchy, Duke Brestislav I of Bohemia captures, plunders, and destroys the cities of Gniezno and nearby Poznan in 1038. The Polish capital is removed to Kraków in Lesser Poland, certainly not the heart of the former kingdom.

1038 - 1039?

Bolesław Zapomniany 'the Forgotten'

Existed? Reported killed for his cruelty.

1039

In summer 1039, Kazimierz I Karol Odnowiciel, 'the Restorer', returns, with significant German backing and an alliance with his brother-in-law, Yaroslav the Wise of the Rus. He swiftly gains control of Greater Poland and Kuiavia, gaining with it the title of prince of Poland. As a result of the extensive raiding and the destruction of Gniezno by Duke Brestislav I of Bohemia, Kazimierz I moves the Polish capital to Kraków and soon gains control of Lesser Poland.

1039 - 1058

Kazimierz I / Casimir I 'the Restorer'

Restored. Prince of Poland.

1040 - 1050

In 1040 or 1041 Kazimierz gains control of the formerly independent Mazovia. In 1047 he also captures Silesia after driving out the Bohemians, although full control is perhaps only achieved in 1050. Despite these victories, the rule of Kazimierz is still not strong enough amongst his own people that he can crown himself king.

1058 - 1079

Bolesław II Smialy / Szczodry 'the Bold'

Son. King from 1076. Restored Gniezno. Expelled.

1058 - 1065

Mieszko

Brother. Possibly sub-prince in Kuiavia, Sieradz, & Leczyca.

1076 - 1079

A renewed Polish kingdom is declared on 25 December 1076. However, two attempted rebellions take place against what is seen as an increasingly over-powerful king - in 1077 and 1078. Just a year later, in 1079, a full revolt takes place and Bolesław II is overthrown and expelled. He takes refuge in the court of his ally, Ladislas I of Hungary, but is assassinated there thanks to his outrageous behaviour.

Plock Cathedral
The bishopric in Płock was founded about 1075, but the present cathedral was built after 1129, replacing one which existed by 1102

With the personal title of king removed, along with the king, Poland reverts to a duchy. The bewildering array of subsequent claimants to be the senior ruler of Poland during this period makes it very hard to judge just who holds authority in the country.

1079 - 1080

Archbishop Petrus Leczyc

Regent from June onwards.

1079 - 1102

Wladyslaw I Herman

Brother of Bolesław II. King (1085). Abdicated.

1080

The capital is moved to Płock in Mazovia, perhaps in order to better maintain a firm grip on the rebellious territory. This town remains the Polish capital until 1138.

1081

Vratislav / Wratislaw II

Duke of Bohemia and pretender to the Polish throne.

1086 - 1089

Mieszko Bolesławowic

Wladyslaw's nephew & co-ruler. Died (by poison?) 1089.

1093 - 1096

Zbigniew

Illegitimate son of Wladyslaw I. Co-ruler.

c.1096

Nicęa in western Anatolia is the first Islamic town to fall to the Crusaders, who cross the Bosphorus alongside the forces of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus. The Christian soldiers briefly besiege the town before it falls. Islam is divided and in conflict with itself, and neither the ruling Seljuq Turks or the more local Seljuqs of Rum who actually control Nicęa are in any position to offer immediate retaliation.

This event triggers a large-scale migration of Jews from territories in Western Europe into Poland. They are welcomed by the tolerant King Wladyslaw, being allowed to settle without any restrictions. This migration forms the beginnings of what will become the nineteenth century's 'Pale of Settlement', which is when the descendents of the same Jewish settlers beginning to migrate away from Congress Poland, from 1881.

Crusaders
The coming of the Crusaders occurred at a time at which the Islamic world was deeply involved in factional in-fighting, and at first they were dismissed as being a mere Byzantine raid

1097 - 1102

Zbigniew

Co-ruler for the second time.

1097 - 1102

Bolesław III Krzywousty

Son of Wladyslaw I & Judith of Bohemia. Co-ruler.

1102

Wladyslaw dies without having resolved a somewhat tricky successional issue. The result is that the half-brothers, Zbigniew and Bolesław, are left to fight it out, along with the king's other sons. As per an agreement between them, Zbigniew rules in the north and Bolesław in the south.

1102 - 1138

Bolesław III Krzywousty 'Wry-Mouthed'

Senior prince. Greater Poland, Silesia, & Lesser Poland.

1102 - 1108

Zbigniew

Co-ruler for third time. In Greater Poland, Kuiavia, & Mazovia.

1108

Inevitably, war has broken out between the brothers, primarily due to the fact that Zbigniew as the elder of the two sees himself as the senior prince. Bolesław, however, holds all the cards, with the result that Zbigniew is entirely defeated. He is forced into exile in German lands.

1109 - 1111

Emperor Henry V is defeated by Bolesław in 1109 while invading Polish lands. The excuse for the invasion is an attempt to restore Zbigniew. In 1111, when Bolesław has faced a defeat of his own while trying to defeat Bohemia, he is forced to accept the return of Zbigniew as part of the peace process. Mysteriously, shortly after his return Zbigniew is blinded and soon dies.

1113

Despite the apparently suspicious death of Zbigniew, the peace between Bolesław, Bohemia, and the German emperor allows Bolesław to focus his attention on the tribes and newfound duchy of Pomerania. Now he conquers the northern strongholds along the River Noteć, securing his own northern border in the process.

1122

Bolesław is able to continue his campaigns into Pomerania. The third of his three campaigns allows him to subjugate western Pomerania and incorporate Gdańsk Pomerania into the Polish kingdom. Integration of the newly-annexed lands enables him to build churches and begin the process of Christianising the people. Bishop Otto of Bamberg confirms the Christianisation of Pomerania from 1123 onwards.

Stettin in Pomerania
Stettin in Pomerania was for a brief time controlled by Poland during one of that state's many forays into Pomeranian lands in an attempt to control the pagan natives (and possibly also to block similar German incursions)

1138

The death of Bolesław and the reading of his 'Succession Statute' serves to fragment the Polish kingdom for almost two centuries. On 28 October, Poland is divided into several principalities: Great Poland, Mazovia, Kujavia, Silesia, and Sandomierz. Little Poland is reserved for the senior Polish prince in Kraków, who is nominal overlord for all the principalities until 1180. Initially this is Wladyslaw, duke of Silesia, who acts as overlord and supreme Polish authority. Further subdivisions occur throughout the next two centuries.

1138 - 1146

Wladyslaw II Wygnaniec 'the Exile'

Senior prince of Poland. Duke of Silesia. Fled the kingdom.

1138 - 1146

Bolesław IV Kedzierzawy 'the Curly'

Brother. Duke of Mazovia.

1138 - 1173

Mieszko III Stary 'the Old'

Brother. Duke of Greater Poland.

1141 - 1146

In a growing conflict which turns into open warfare from 1144, Bolesław IV, duke of Mazovia, along with his brothers all rebel against Wladyslaw II. Bolesław's rebellious efforts between 1141-1143, and again from 1144-1146, secure him the position of senior prince. Wladyslaw is forced to flee the kingdom, joined by his immediate family after his wife fails to lead a successful defence of Kraków. He does, however, become the progenitor of the Silesian Piast line of succession (from 1163).

1146 - 1173

Bolesław IV Kedzierzawy 'the Curly'

Senior prince (1146). Duke of Mazovia & Silesia, with Kraków.

1138 - 1166

Henryk of Sandomierz

Brother. Duke of Sandomierz. Killed fighting Prussians.

1147 - 1166

The pagan Prussian tribes along the Baltic coast have been pushing southwards during Poland's troubled period. They now hold several districts in Mazovia, so Bolesław IV conceives of a 'Prussian Crusade' to Christianise them (and of course seize their lands). With the backing of the Pope and the emperor, and with the aid of Rus troops, the crusades continue until final defeat comes for the Poles in 1166.

Map of the Baltic tribes around AD 1000
By about AD 1000 the final locations of the Baltic tribes were well known by the Germans who were beginning their attempts to subdue and control them, although the work would take a few centuries to complete and the Lithuanians would never be conquered by them (click or tap on map to view full sized)

1163

Although Wladyslaw II is now dead (since 1159), his sons have continued to agitate within the German empire for a return of their rightful lands. Bolesław I the Tall and Mieszko IV Tanglefoot find favour with the emperor following the submission of Bolesław IV to the empire. They now find their Silesian heritage being restored to them, allowing them to provide the dukes of Silesia until 1675. (Mieszko even becomes senior prince of Poland in 1210 - see below.)

1163 - 1201

Bolesław I Wysoki 'the Tall'

Son of Wladyslaw II. Duke of Wroclaw & Silesia.

1163 - 1210

Mieszko IV Plątonogi 'Tanglefoot'

Brother. Co-duke of Silesia, Racibórz (1173), & Opole (1202).

1168

With the death in battle of Henryk and the abject failure f the Prussian Crusade, Bolesław has seized Henryk's territory for himself, rather than giving it to his youngest - and landless - brother, Kazimierz II Sprawiedliwy 'the Just'. The other brothers side with Kazimierz, proclaiming the next eldest, Mieszko III, as high duke of Poland. Bolesław avoids the consequences of this rebellion by assigning part of the Sandomierz domain to Mieszko and part to Kazimierz, while keeping the rest for himself.

1172 - 1173

A more serious rebellion against Bolesław IV starts when he blocks Jarosław, son of Bolesław I the Tall, from assuming his rightful place as duke of Silesia. Mieszko Tanglefoot rebels, while the German emperor forces Bolesław to acknowledge the rights of the Silesian Piasts. When Bolesław IV dies of natural causes in 1173, it is Mieszko who succeeds him. Jarosław becomes duke of Opole (part of Silesia) while Mieszko Tanglefoot receives another duchy of his own in Racibórz, another Silesian splinter state.

1173 - 1177

Mieszko III Stary 'the Old'

Senior prince. Duke of Greater Poland.

1173 - 1177

Henryk Kietlicz

Provincial gov for Mieszko III. Later archbishop of Gniezno.

1177

Yet another rebellion, this time by Bolesław the Tall, sees more changes in rule across Poland. Bolesław is defeated by his own brother and son, Mieszko Tanglefoot and Jarosław of Opole respectively, allied to Mieszko III. The situation allows Kazimierz II Sprawiedliwy to be decided upon as the next senior prince and high duke.

Boleslaw I Wysoki 'the Tall'
A son of Wladyslaw II, Bolesław the Tall had just about as good a claim to the title and position of senior prince of Poland as any of his many rivals, but their constant battles destabilised the state

1177 - 1191

Kazimierz II Sprawiedliwy 'the Just'

Brother. Senior prince. Duke of Mazovia (1186).

1181

The authority of Kazimierz begins to crumble. In the first half of the year Mieszko the Old, with the assistance of Mestwin I of Pomerelia, conquers the eastern Greater Polish lands of Gniezno and Kalisz. He also manages to persuade his son, Odon, to submit. At the same time, the young Duke Leszek of Mazovia decides to remove himself from the influence of Kazimierz. He names Mieszko the Younger, son of Mieszko the Old, as governor of Mazovia and Kuyavia.

1191

Mieszko III Stary 'the Old'

Restored after deposing Kazimierz II.

1191

Bolesław

A governor for Mieszko.

1191 - 1194

Upon his return from some involvement in the affairs of the Rus, Kazimierz regains full control without a fight. The last notable act of his life is to conduct a successful campaign against the Yotvingian Balts before he dies somewhat unexpectedly. Whether this is from natural causes or, perhaps, poison is unknown, but it paves the way for the young Leszek the White to gain the position of senior prince.

1191 - 1194

Kazimierz II Sprawiedliwy 'the Just'

Restored. Died unexpectedly.

1194 - 1198

Leszek I Bialy 'the White'

Son. Aged 9 or 10. Senior prince. Prince of Sandomierz.

1194 - 1198

Helena of Znojmo

Regent and mother.

1194 - 1198

Mikołaj Gryfita

Regent. Voivode of Kraków.

1194 - 1198

Pelka / Fulko

Regent. Bishop of Kraków.

1195

Almost as soon as his nephew, Leszek the White, has been acclaimed as senior prince, Mieszko Stary has decided to oppose him. Supporting Leszek is the Polish nobility of Kraków and Sandomierz, along with the Rus Prince Roman Mstislavich the Great, rival for control of Halych-Volynia. Mieszko has the power of Silesia behind him, including that of Mieszko Tanglefoot of Racibórz and Jarosław of Opole. The great battle which decides this phase of the conflict is at Mozgawa, near Jędrzejów, on 13 September 1195. Casualties are great on both sides, but the forces of Leszek hold firm.

Map of Eastern Europe AD 1054-1132
The death of Yaroslav 'the Wise' in 1054 saw the end of the descent of Rurikid power via agnatic seniority. His division of the succession weakened Kiev by creating what soon turned out to be rival principalities for each of his sons (click or tap on map to view full sized)

1198 - 1199

Mieszko Stary agrees to recognise Leszek's rights over Lesser Poland and Mazovia and to hand over Kujavia in exchange for a peaceful handover of the 'seniorate'. Leszek remains a candidate for his eventual replacement however. Some historical references appear to paint Leszek and his regents as direct (hostile?) opponents of Mieszko during 1198 and/or 1199 while others claim that Mieszko rules uninterrupted until his death in 1202.

1198 - 1202

Mieszko III Stary 'the Old'

Restored for a second time. Duke of Greater Poland. Died.

1201 - 1202

Mieszko Stary is briefly expelled from his capital before being restored (for a third or even fourth time). His death in 1202 temporarily ends the contested struggle for dominance, with Leszek the White again becoming senior prince.

1202

Leszek I Bialy 'the White'

Restored at the death of Mieszko.

1202

Mikołaj Gryfita, Leszek's former co-regent, fears his own loss of influence to Leszek's close ally, Voivode Goworek, who had briefly been a captive of Mieszko following the battle of 1195. He demands Goworek be dismissed. When the request is refused, he invites Wladyslaw Laskonogi to become senior prince. Details concerning Wladyslaw as senior prince are confused, with him possibly only in place for a few months, although a span of few years seems to be more widely accepted.

1202 - 1206?

Wladyslaw III Laskonogi 'Spindleskanks'

Son of Mieszko III. Duke of Greater Poland.

1202 or 1206

The death of Mikołaj Gryfita in 1202 has removed a core pillar of support from Wladyslaw Laskonogi. Kraków's nobility invites Leszek to become senior prince (for at least the third time).

1206 - 1210

Leszek I Bialy 'the White'

Restored for a second or third time. Deposed by the Pope.

1209 - 1222

Under Prince Konrad I of Mazovia, attempts to conquer the Prussians are intensified, with large battles and crusades taking place in 1209, 1219, 1220, and 1222.

Prince Konrad of Mazovia
Prince Konrad of Mazovia challenged continually for control of Poland, finally achieving his purpose in 1241. He was also responsible for inviting the Teutonic Knights into Prussia

1210

On 9 June 1210 a papal bull is decreed by Pope Innocent III. All of Poland's 'seniorate' rulers up to and including Leszek the White are deposed and excommunicated for not maintaining the testament of Bolesław III Wrymouth in ensuring that the most senior of the Piast dukes is the ruler in the 'seniorate'. Only the the duke of Silesia is excluded from the ban.

Mieszko IV takes full advantage of the lack of a recognised ruler to march his army into Kraków, taking control without having to shed any blood. He is the senior price by right of arms, although he dies the following year. This allows Leszek to regain his hold on the position of senior prince.

1210 - 1211

Mieszko IV Plątonogi 'Tanglefoot'

Former duke of Silesia (1163). Died.

1211 - 1227

Leszek I Bialy 'the White'

Restored again. Assassinated. Last senior prince.

1227

The position of senior prince is abandoned upon the murder of Leszek the White, while the troublesome Świętopełk II of Pomerelia uses the opportunity to declare his independence from Polish overlordship. The prince of Kraków, constant seat of the senior prince, now holds nominal control of Poland, but various princes contest this until 1232.

1227 - 1228

Bolesław V Wstydliwy 'the Chaste'

Son of Leszek I. Aged 1 year.

1227 - 1228

Grzymislawa

Mother and regent. Died 1258?

1228 - 1231

Wladyslaw III Laskonogi 'Spindleskanks'

Agreed successor to Leszek. Now prince of Greater Poland.

1228 - 1229

Henryk I Brodaty 'the Bearded'

Duke of Silesia. Governor of Kraków for Wladyslaw III.

1228

While continuing to oppose Wladyslaw Laskonogi, Prince Konrad of Mazovia invites the Teutonic Knights to settle the Lower Vistula. This is on the border with the Prussians who have been ravaging Mazovia, which straddles the Vistula between the heartland of Poland and Prussia (and occasionally includes the Prussian region of Chełmno). The Order attempts to Christianise the pagan Prussians and form its own military-religious state (known as the Ordenstaat) which it governs for the next three hundred years.

Teutonic Knights
Already veteran soldiers from their time in the Holy Land, the Teutonic Knights would have presented a fearsome spectacle to the Prussians - and a deadly opponent

1229 - 1241

Konrad I Mazowiecki

Prince of Mazovia. In opposition to Wladyslaw III & Henryk.

1229 - 1230/31

Marek Gryfita

Governor of Kraków for Wladyslaw III.

1229 - 1241

Prince Konrad of Mazovia continues to opposes Wladyslaw III, with open warfare breaking out in 1229 and 1231. Despite not having the strength or alliances necessary to complete the task, he continues to oppose Wladyslaw's successor, Henryk Brodaty, in 1233. Only in 1241 is he finally successful in becoming the senior ruler in Poland.

1230/1231

Teodor (Czader) Gryfita

Governor of Kraków for Wladyslaw III.

1231 - 1238

Henryk I Brodaty 'the Bearded'

Previously a provincial governor (1228).

1238 - 1241

Henryk II Pobozny 'the Pious'

Son. Duke of Silesia. Killed in battle.

1241 - 1242

The Mongols of Batu Khan's Golden Horde, aided by Subedei, turn their attention to Poland and Hungary. Both are conquered, with European defeats at Liegnitz and the River Sajo (the Battle of Mohi). The former results in the death of Henryk II at the head of a scratch force of Poles, Bohemians, and the Knights Templar.

Austria, Dalmatia, and Moravia also fall under Mongol domination, and the tide seems unstoppable. However, the death of Ogedei Khan causes the Mongols to withdraw, with Batu Khan intent on securing his conquests in the lands of the Rus. Silesian integrity crumbles as a result of Henryk's death, with Bohemia coming to dominate there.

1241

Bolesław II Rogatka 'the Horned'

Son. Duke of Silesia. High duke between Apr-Jul only.

1241

Klemens z Ruszczy Gryfita

Provincial governor for Bolesław II.

1241

Prince Konrad of Mazovia is finally strong enough to force the nobles to accept him as prince in Kraków. Bolesław Rogatka does not particularly oppose him, returning instead to Silesia.

Batu Khan
Batu Khan extended the borders of Mongol power into the lands of the Rus, bringing them under the domination of the Golden Horde for a century

1241 - 1243

Konrad I Mazowiecki

Prince of Mazovia. High duke of Poland. Forced to yield.

1243 - 1279

Bolesław V Wstydliwy 'the Chaste'

Restored under a better claim to the throne. Died.

1279 - 1288

Leszek II Czarny 'the Black'

Piast duke of Sieradz, Łęczyca, Inowrocław, & Sandomierz.

1282/1285

Konrad (II) Czerski

Pretender.

1288 - 1289

The death of Leszek Czarny results in an eruption of further warfare between the Polish duchies as the various Piast houses vie for supremacy. Bolesław II of Płock in Mazovia initially seems to be successful, but then the nobles refuse to recognise him and he is quickly superseded by Henryk Prawy.

1288 - 1288/89

Bolesław (II) Płocki

Duke of Mazovia. High duke, Oct 1288 to end 1288/start 1289.

1288 - 1289

Henryk IV Prawy 'Probus'

Duke of Wrocław in Silesia. Overcame Bolesław Płocki.

1289

With Bolesław stepping back from his kingdom-building ambitions, Wladyslaw restores the fragmented Polish monarchy. As such he is often numbered as the first Wladyslaw by later historians, ignoring the first three, while others include them by numbering this Wladyslaw as the fourth. Both sets of numberings are shown here from this point onwards.

In 1289, Wladyslaw gains power for the first time, albeit briefly. Between April and 13 October 1292 he is a pretender, and is styled 'Heir of Kraków' from January 1293. From 10 March 1296, this changes to 'Duke of the Polish Kingdom'. He is pretender to Kraków until 18 November 1297 and in 1305 gains the throne again, for just two months. Two further periods of rule follow, in 1306-1311 and 1312-1320, until finally, in 1320, he is proclaimed king.

1289

Wladyslaw I (IV) Lokietek 'the Short'

Half-brother of Leszek II. Feb-Oct only. Lost Kraków.

1289 - 1290

Henryk IV Prawy 'Probus'

Senior prince again after seizing Kraków. Died suddenly.

1290 - 1296

The capital is moved briefly back to Płock in Mazovia until 1296, when Poznan takes over. Wenceslas II of Bohemia conquers Kraków in 1291, neutralising the claim of the duke of Płock to be senior prince of Poland. His own claim, though, is strong enough as he is a member of the Greater Poland branch of the Piasts through his late father.

Royal Castle in Mazovia
The first royal castle in Mazovia was built as a wooden fortress in the fourteenth century but this was replaced by the present building by later kings of Poland

1291 - 1305

Waclaw II

Wenceslas II of Bohemia (1283-1305). King from 1300.

1292 - 1296

Wladyslaw I (IV) Lokietek 'the Short'

Pretender, styled 'Heir of Kraków'.

1293 - 1294

Kazimierz (II) Leczycki

Pretender, styled 'Heir of Kraków'.

1294

Upon the death of the heirless Konrad II, Czersk is probably merged into other Mazovian territories, although Mazovia as a whole is now dominated by Bolesław II of Płock.

1296 - 1297

Wladyslaw I (IV) Lokietek 'the Short'

Pretender, styled 'Duke of the Polish Kingdom'.

1301 - 1309

Henryk I (III) Glogowczyk

Pretender, styled 'Heir to the Polish Kingdom'.

1305

Wladyslaw I (IV) Lokietek 'the Short'

Restored, Jun-Jul only following the death of Waclaw II.

1305 - 1306

Waclaw III

Son of Waclaw II. Briefly reclaimed Poland. Assassinated.

1306 - 1311

Wladyslaw I (IV) Lokietek 'the Short'

Restored again upon the murder of Waclaw.

1312

Bolesław I

Rebelled, Apr-Jun only. Died 1313.

1312 - 1333

Wladyslaw I (IV) Lokietek 'the Short'

Restored for a third time. Crowned king (1320).

1320

On 20 January, all of Poland (except for Silesia, Polish areas of Pomerania, and Mazovia) is reunited as a single Polish kingdom with the coronation of Wladyslaw. The coronation takes place with the support and cooperation of Pope John XXII at Avignon, who also needs to placate Jean of Luxembourg, known as 'the Blind', king of Bohemia and son of Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII. Jean (or John) has his own claims to Poland.

City of Luxembourg 2014
Modern Luxembourg, and the City of Luxembourg pictured here, is a wealthy, peaceful state which serves as a significant financial and service centre

1323

The brothers Andrei and Lev, rulers of Halych-Volynia, die together in battle against the Mongols of the Golden Horde, leaving no heir. Their sister, Maria, becomes the heiress of Galicia-Lvov. As she is already married to Trojden I of Mazovian Czersk, the duchy is drawn closer to the Polish crown. The boyars invite her son, the Polish prince of Mazovia, Bolesław, to rule Halych-Volynia. He converts to Orthodoxy and assumes the name Yuri II.

1333 - 1370

Kasimierz / Casimir III Wielki 'the Great'

Son. King of Poland. The last senior Piast.

1335

Kasimierz renounces all claims to Silesian lands which now remain under the direct control of the Silesian Piasts until 1675. Kasimierz has inherited Lesser Poland, Sandomierz, Greater Poland, Kuyavia, Łęczyca, and Sieradz but does not presently control Lubusz Land to the west, or Gdańsk Pomerania, Western Pomerania, and Mazovia.

1349

Halych-Volynia (and all of Red Ruthenia) is finally reclaimed by Kasimierz III when the kingdom is partitioned by him and Lithuania. 'Ruthenia' is a Latinisation of 'Rus', the Lithuanian-controlled Slavic lands to its south, which now form parts of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, with minor extensions into Poland and Slovakia. 'Black Ruthenia' is used for lands which are inhabited by Balts, and 'White Ruthenia' for the Slavs of Belarus ('belaya' or 'white' Rus). Much of Ruthenia is otherwise contained within the weakening state of Halych-Volynia. The region remains tied to the Polish crown until 1772.

River Dniester at Halych
The Dniester in Galicia was where the city of Halych was founded (now in Ukraine), gaining its name from the region as a whole and therefore preserving the memory and probable integration of Celtic people into the later Slavic population

1370

Kasimierz dies leaving only female issue and a grandson: Louis the Great of Hungary. The succession has already been agreed in advance, so Louis is able to claim the throne to initiate the Anjou-Hungary dynasty.

Kingdom of Poland (Anjou-Hungary)
AD 1370 - 1386

The Piast king of Poland, Wladyslaw I 'the Short', managed to reunite all of the disparate Polish regions into a single body in 1320. His son, Kasimierz 'the Great' signed away his claim to Silesia in 1335, a region which previously could have been claimed as one of the most independently-minded anyway. This sacrifice was recompensed in 1349 when Kasimierz shared the partitioned Halych-Volynia between himself and Lithuania. Poland was thereafter largely at peace with itself after several centuries of intermittent internecine strife. This was a Poland, though, whose borders still did not extend as far north as the Baltic Sea.

Upon Kasimierz's death and the extinction of the main Piast line as far as an eligible male claimant for the throne was concerned the transfer of power was peaceful. The daughter of Wladyslaw I was Elizabeth of Poland. Her son, Louis the Great of Hungary, was able to establish his claim to the Polish throne through her connection. Elizabeth, however, remained the dowager queen of Hungary until her death in 1380, and was largely able to retain power. She was also made regent of Poland by Louis, while he concentrated his time on Hungary. Under Hungarian rule, the kingship there became elective, but de facto the Hungarian diet selected kings in hereditary order until 1572.

Something which had emerged in Poland from around the tenth century onwards was a sense of relative liberalism. The state had ensured a stable period of religious tolerism and social autonomy which encouraged the settlement within the kingdom of a sizable Jewish population. Jewish migration from Western Europe into Poland increased greatly following the start of the Crusades in 1096. The country's Jewish population increased along with the kingdom's borders, especially during the Poland-Lithuania commonwealth period. Poland became the European centre of Jewish culture, while England and Spain were expelling their own Jews (in 1290 and 1492 respectively).

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from A History of Poland from its Foundation, M Ross, from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008), and from The Annals of Jan Długosz (English abridged version by Maurice Michael, with commentary by Paul Smith, IM Publications, 1997).)

1370 - 1382

Louis / Ludwik I Wegierski 'the Great'

King of Hungary (1342-1382).

1370 - 1377

Elzbieta / Elizabeth of Poland

Wife & regent, with a break between 1375-1376. Fled.

1374

Like his late father-in-law, Louis has no sons to succeed him. Instead he issues the 'Privilege of Koszyce' which spells out the liberties of Polish noblemen, as part of his strategy to enforce the recognition of the right of his daughters to succeed him. Even without this, his rule remains unpopular in Poland. Still, steps are taken over the next few years to centralise Poland's governance and reduce the risk of division or rebellion.

Louis I of Hungary
Louis I of Hungary was a Piast descendent on his mother's side, and therefore a rightful claimant to the Polish throne

1376 - 1377

A Lithuanian raid into Polish lands almost reaches Kraków itself in November 1376. The town's residents subsequently riot against the unpopular queen mother, Elizabeth. As many as a hundred and sixty of her servants are murdered during the December riots, and she flees to Hungary. Vladislaus of Opole (Wladyslaw Opolczyk) is appointed as her regency replacement.

1377 - 1378

Wladyslaw Opolczyk

Regent, winter 1377 to 28 Mar 1378. Died 1401.

1378 - 1380

Elzbieta / Elizabeth of Poland

Regent, 28 Mar 1378 to 29 Dec 1380.

1380 - 1382

Zawisza Kurozweki

Regent, 29.12.1380-12.01.1382. Bishop of Kraków. Died 1382.

1380 - 1382

Dobislaw z Kraków

Acting regent, 29 Dec 1380 to 11 Sep 1382.

1380 - 1382

Sendziwog Szubin z Kalisz

Acting regent, 29 Dec 1380 to 11 Sep 1382.

1382

Louis the Great dies, having largely ensured the succession in favour of two of his daughters. Mary and her husband, Elector Sigismund of Brandenburg (Zygmunt Luksemburski to the Poles), a scion of the house of Luxembourg, accede in Hungary, with Mary becoming the state's first female 'king'. Sigismund, though, attempts to take control of Poland too.

1382 - 1383

Zygmunt Luksemburski

Elector Sigismund of Brandenburg, pretender, 12 Jan- Oct?

1382 - 1384

Dobislaw z Kraków

Regent, 11 Sep 1382 to 16 Oct 1384.

1382 - 1384

Sendziwog Szubin z Kalisz

Joint regent, 11 Sep 1382 to 16 Oct 1384.

1383

Sigismund's attempt to secure Poland is rebuffed by the nobility. They will only accept a successor who will settle within Poland itself. Elizabeth of Poland nominates another daughter, Jadwiga. Ziemowit IV the Elder, duke of Mazovia, lodges his own claim to the throne, but the nobility encourage Elizabeth of Poland to send Jadwiga so that she can confirm her own claim.

Queen Jadwiga of Poland
Queen Jadwiga of Anjou (sometimes Jadwiga of Poland) sacrificed a potential marriage to her childhood fiancée, William of Austria, in order to seal the personal union of crowns between Poland and Lithuania

1383 - 1384

Siemowit / Ziemowit (IV) 'the Elder'

Duke of Mazovia. Pretender, 28 Mar 1383 to 6 Oct 1384.

1383

Jadwiga is the daughter of Louis the Great, but she is also the granddaughter of Wladyslaw I (IV), and thereby a Piast descendant on the female side. Now, finally, in Kraków she is crowned 'King of Poland'. With her mother's permission, her advisors begin negotiations regarding a union of marriage with the pagan Jagiello, grand duke of Lithuania.

1383 - 1386

Jadwiga of Anjou

Dau of Louis the Great. m Jagiello of Lithuania.

1385

The Union of Kreva (Krewo) is agreed, by which Jagiello of Lithuania consents to convert to Catholic Christianity and undertake to convert his subjects in return for the hand in marriage of Jadwiga. Jagiello adopts the Polish baptismal name of Wladyslaw, founding the Polish Jagiellan dynasty and initiating a personal union of the Polish and Lithuanian crowns.

Kingdom of Poland (Jagiellan)
AD 1386 - 1569

Upon the death of Kasimierz the Great in 1370 and the extinction of the main Piast house in the male line, the transfer of power to his Hungarian son-in-law was peaceful. The sister of Kasimierz was Elizabeth of Poland. Her son, Louis the Great of Hungary, was able to establish his claim to the Polish throne through her connection. Elizabeth, however, remained the dowager queen of Hungary until her death in 1380, and was largely able to retain power. She was also made regent of Poland by Louis, while he concentrated his time on Hungary. Upon the death of Louis, his holdings were divided between his surviving daughters, with Jadwiga gaining Poland in 1383.

The Union of Kreva (Krewo) was agreed between Jadwiga and Grand Prince Jagiello of Lithuania as the only certain way to halt the crusading attacks on Lithuania by Poland, the Teutonic Knights, and Moscow. The union included the offer of the Polish throne in return for the Christianisation of the Lithuanians, and would have the additional benefit of diminishing the power of the Teutonic Knights. In 1386 Jagiello became king of Poland under the name Wladyslaw Jagiello. His marriage to Queen Jadwiga sealed the union between the two countries, beginning four hundred years of Polish-Lithuanian cooperation. Jadwiga, though, had been forced to sacrifice a possible marriage to William of Austria, her childhood fiancé, who was turned out of Poland when he attempted to interpose.

The father of both Kasimierz and Elizabeth, Wladyslaw I (IV), had restored the fragmented Piast Polish monarchy, and as such he is often numbered as the first Wladyslaw by later historians, ignoring the first three. Others include them, numbering this Wladyslaw as the fourth in sequence. Both sets of numbering are shown here for all subsequent Wladyslaws.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from A History of Poland from its Foundation, M Ross, from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008), and from The Annals of Jan Długosz (English abridged version by Maurice Michael, with commentary by Paul Smith, IM Publications, 1997).)

1386 - 1434

Wladyslaw II (V) Jagiello / Jogaila

Grand duke Jagiello of Lithuania. Dynasty founder.

1386 - 1399

Jadwiga of Anjou

Wife and co-ruler. Inheritor of the Piasts. Died.

1387

With Jagiello's conversion to Christianity, Lithuania becomes the last state in Europe to end its pre-Christian paganism (although the Lithuanian Zemaitija - the Samogitians - are not converted until after 1410). As he is now king of a far larger domain than just Lithuania, Jagiello appoints governors to handle Lithuania's day-to-day affairs but, unhappy with the situation, one of them by the name of Vytautas is supported by the nobles in his fight for power. In the same year Jagiello attacks Polotsk to the east and the Livonian Knights do not protect it, virtually gifting it to its attackers.

Jagiello of Lithuania and Poland, Central Park statue, NY
Jagiello of Lithuania, king of Poland, is memorialised in statue form in New York's Central Park, NY, USA (External Link: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International)

1392 - 1399

Vytautas is successful in gaining Jagiello's concession of power in Lithuania, and rules the country as great prince from 1392, while Jagiello concentrates on his Polish domains. In 1399 his wife and co-ruler dies following childbirth, with the infant daughter also dying. Jagiello goes on to marry Anne of Celje, as per his late wife's instructions.

1410

The Teutonic Knights of eastern Prussia are crushed at the Battle of Tannenberg by Polish and Lithuanian forces under Jagiello's leadership, halting the eastward expansion of the Knights. The Polish-Lithuanian union has borne a much greater level success than could have been expected in terms of limiting the Knights. After this defeat, the associated Livonian Order begins to weaken and disintegrate while Vytautas is quickly able to extend Lithuania's eastern borders to an equivalent size of fifteen modern Lithuanias, by taking Smolensk.

1429 - 1430

At the assembly of eastern and Central European leaders, held in Lutsk, Ukraine, Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund von Luxembourg offers Lithuania a crown. In 1430, protests are made by the Polish Royal Council in their efforts to deny Lithuania crown status which would divide the union and take away half of Jagiello's holdings. Poland refuses passage to the emperor's envoys and their offering of a crown to Lithuania. The coronation of Vytautas in Vilnius fails and he dies very soon afterwards.

1434 - 1444

Wladyslaw III (VI) / Vlaidslav I Jagiello

Son of Jagiello. Wladyslav VI of Hungary (1440).

1444 - 1446

Following the death without offspring of Wladyslaw, there is an interregnum in the rule of the country until Grand Duke Casimir of Lithuania gains the throne of Poland as Kazimierz IV, as well as retaining command of the grand duchy. The union of two thrones is renewed on a personal basis (except between 1492-1501 under King John).

Veiselga Monastery
Veiselga Monastery in Lithuania, shown here in oils by Napoleon Orda, was apparently founded by Vaisvilkas, second grand duke, who twice retired to live a monastic life

1446 - 1492

Kazimierz / Casimir IV

Grand duke of Lithuania (1440-1492).

1454 - 1466

As a Lithuanian, Kazimierz is well aware of the part that the Teutonic Knights have played in continued attacks against his homeland up until the start of the fifteenth century, and perhaps this now partly motivates him in pursuing the Thirteen Year War against them. Ostensibly the reason for the war is the domination of Prussia, which Poland is determined to control. During the war, Poland takes Pomerania and Danzig (modern Gdansk), and the Knights end up as their vassals.

1462

Internally the duchy of Mazovia has been consolidating its territory. Belz had been gained by Płock in 1442. Rawa had been similarly gained in 1459 while its constituent region of Gostynin had gone to Margareth of Raciborz as her dowry. Now all three regions are annexed by the Polish crown. Further Mazovian territories follow over the course of the next half century or so as Kazimierz consolidates his hold over the Polish lands.

1471

The Lithuanian Jagiello dynasty gains control of Bohemia in the form of Ladislas II. His successor is a member of the same dynasty, his son, Louis. Kazimierz' own son, John, succeeds him in Poland while his brother, Alexander, succeeds in Lithuania. John is supported by another brother, Fryderyk, archbishop of Gniezno, who also stands in as interrex following John's unexpected early death.

Modern Prague
Modern Prague, capital of Bohemia, is focussed around the broad span of the River Vltava which divides the city in two - the labyrinthine Old Town behind the camera and Hradcany, the home of Prague's imposing hilltop castle

1492 - 1501

John / Jan I Albert

Son. Lost Lithuanian cooperation. Died.

1501

Fryderyk Jagiellonczyk

Jun-Oct. Archbishop of Gniezno, & interrex (senate chair).

1501 - 1506

Alexander

Brother. Also grand duke of Lithuania.

1505

The constitution of 31 May - the Nihil novi - eliminates royal legislative powers. The king is no longer allowed to issue laws which regard matters that are not directly related to the king's interests, his estates, or his own servants or staff (plus the country's Jewish population), without the approval and agreement of the nobility who are to be represented through two legislative chambers.

1507 - 1548

Zygmunt I Stary 'the Old' / Sigismund I

Brother. Grand duke of Lithuania.

1525

The monastic state of the Teutonic Knights is secularised during the Protestant Reformation and replaced with a duchy in East Prussia. The last grand master of the Teutonic Knights agrees to resign his position, convert to Lutheran Protestantism, and submit to Polish suzerainty in order to govern his new state, which becomes the first Protestant state in Europe.

1526

Following a devastating defeat at the Battle of Mohįcs and the death of Louis II, the Jagiellos lose Hungary and Bohemia to the Habsburgs. The defeat effectively destroys the dynasty's dream of effecting the 'Jaigello dynasty idea' wherein Lithuania, Poland, Bohemia, and Hungary are drawn together in union. The dream lives on in a more modest form for some years but is never realised.

Maximilian I of Austria and the Holy Roman empire
Maximilian of Austria became Holy Roman emperor in 1493 while also personally ruling Belgium, Burgundy, the Netherlands, and Austria - the ambitious Habsburgs had become a true power across Europe

1548 - 1569

Zygmunt II / Sigismund II Augustus

Son. Grand duke of Lithuania. Commonwealth king (1569).

1561

The Livonian Knights are dissolved and the Polish-Lithuanian king gains all of their lands: the southern regions of Estonia and the rest of Old Livonia. North Estonia surrenders voluntarily to the Swedes.

1563

Duke John of Finland has opposed the reign of his half-brother, Eric XIV of Sweden. For this he is imprisoned in this year, only to be subsequently released, probably due to Eric's increasing insanity. John rejoins the opposition and deposes Eric, becoming king himself in 1568. Princess Catherine, daughter of Zygmunt I Stary, becomes queen consort of Sweden and grand princess of Finland.

1569

The union of Poland and Lithuania, the Lublin Union, already existing in fact if not name for over a century, is formalised. Sigismund becomes king of Poland-Lithuania. The 'United Commonwealth of the Two Nations', or Rzeczpospolita, forms a golden age of joint Polish and Lithuanian governance of a huge swathe of Eastern Europe, stretching as far as Kiev to the south-east (despite Russian claims that the city belongs to them).

Kingdom of Poland & Lithuania / The Commonwealth
AD 1569 - 1795

The Union of Kreva (Krewo) had been agreed between Queen Jadwiga of Poland and Grand Prince Jagiello of Lithuania as the only certain way to halt the crusading attacks on Lithuania by Poland, the Teutonic Knights, and Moscow. The union included the offer of the Polish throne in return for the Christianisation of the Lithuanians. In 1386 Jagiello became king of Jagiellan Poland under the name Wladyslaw Jagiello. His marriage to Queen Jadwiga sealed the personal union of crowns between the two countries.

Nearly two centuries later, the Union of Lublin (otherwise referred to as the Accord of Lublin), was a formal joining together of Poland, Lithuania, and Ruthenia (a Latinisation of 'Rus', the Lithuanian-controlled Slavic lands to the east, which now form parts of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, with minor extensions into Poland and Slovakia), plus Livonia, Polotsk, and Samogitia. The union was ratified on 4 July 1569 by Sigismund II Augustus, king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania.

Bringing into practice the terms of the union meant establishing what is generally known as the 'Commonwealth of Poland', although its more technically-correct name would be the 'United Commonwealth of the Two Nations', transposed into Polish as Rzeczpospolita, or Rech Pospolitaya. This era is largely seen as a golden age in Polish history, while marginally less so to a Lithuania which became increasingly sidelined in terms of importance in the union. Sigismund II became the first ruler of a fully united Poland and Lithuania, although the form of the union was more that of a federal state, with a jointly elected leader who would be crowned in Kraków. This state would have a joint senate and unified international politics. Lithuanian landowners received the right to own land in Poland, and vice versa. Both states preserved their own treasuries, state officials, separate armies, and military hierarchy.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from A History of Poland from its Foundation, M Ross, from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008), from The Formation of Muscovy 1304-1613, Robert O Crummey, and from The Annals of Jan Długosz (English abridged version by Maurice Michael, with commentary by Paul Smith, IM Publications, 1997).)

1569 - 1572

Sigismund II Augustus

King of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania. Died childless.

1572

With the death of Sigismund II, last of the Jagiellans apart from his sister, Anna, who dies in 1596, the power to elect the king moves from the diet to the nobility in its entirety. The election of a king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania is carried out jointly, but the management of any interregnum is still a local matter.

The death of Sigismund II
The death of Sigismund II Augustus, the last hereditary Lithuanian ruler of Poland as depicted by Jan Matejko, which signalled the end of Lithuania's independence from Poland

1572 - 1576

The kingdom occupies (or at least heavily influences) the principality of Transylvania. Poland's precise level of control or influence seems to be unclear, while Transylvania itself is emerging from its civil war to eject Habsburg influence.

1573 - 1574

Henry of Valois

Non-dynastic. Became king of France (1574-1589).

1575

Stephen Bįthory, the voivode of Transylvania under the Polish aegis, is elected king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania to replace the departed Henry of Valois, who has returned to France to claim its empty throne following the death of his brother. Stephen's new position includes marriage to Anna Jagiellon, the last of the dynasty, while his brother becomes voivode in Transylvania and he himself adopts the title of prince of Transylvania.

1575 - 1586

Stefan / Stephen Bįthory

Non-dynastic. Prince of Transylvania.

1582 - 1583

An armistice agreement is concluded between Russian czar Ivan the Terrible and the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom. Livonia is proclaimed a Polish possession (which it has been anyway, since 1561). In 1583, Russia concludes a similar agreement with Sweden, acknowledging its supreme power in North Estonia. These acts serve to conclude the Livonian Wars in which Russia strived for much and gained little.

1585

The duchy of Courland has officially remained a possession of the Danes until now, when it is sold to Poland-Lithuania. Gotthard Kettler, the last grand master of the Livonian Knights, remains governor of Livonia and duke of Courland until his death in 1587.

Bauskas Castle in Courland
The former Bauskas Castle, a stronghold which had been built by the once-dominant Livonian Knights, had a Mannerism style residence built into the forepart in 1596 by the duke of Courland, Friedrich Kettler

1587 - 1632

Zygmunt III / Sigismund III Vasa

Son of King John III of Sweden. King of Sweden (1592-1604).

1592

Sigismund III inherits the Swedish throne from his late father, but his inflexible politics and passionate Catholicism causes opposition from the Swedish Protestant population, forcing the king to return to Poland. He does not relinquish his claim to the throne, however, which leads to conflict.

1599 - 1604

In the absence of Sigismund III, the Swedish diet elects his uncle, Karl, duke of Södermanland, to be the new ruler. In 1604 he is crowned, but by then hostilities are already underway between Sweden and Poland-Lithuania. The First Polish-Swedish War (1600-1629) sees Swedish troops assembled in Tallinn in order to attack Livonia, but instead the army suffers significant losses at Cesis and Koknes in spite of the fact that Poland-Lithuania's main forces are fighting the Ottomans. The Swedes are driven out of Livonia in 1601. Further attacks on Riga in 1604 and Courland in 1605 also fail.

1605 - 1618

The Polish-Muscovite War is triggered (also known as the Polish-Russian War or, in Poland, the Dimitriads). It forms an eastwards extension of the ongoing struggle of wills with Sweden, as both sides make the most of the dynastic problems of the Russian czarate that are known internally as 'The Times of Troubles'. The fighting is not continuous, and the sides switch constantly as objectives and opportunities evolve. The Russians themselves spend a good deal of the conflict fighting one another, both with and without Swedish or Polish allies, and the aristocracy of the Polish commonwealth also lead their own private or mercenary armies against targets of their choosing as they attempt to expand into czarate territory.

The war is not formally declared by Poland until 1609, with Sweden's formal involvement taking place as part of the Ingrian War (1610-1617). With Sweden seemingly allied more closely to Russia, Sigismund is invited to 'capture' Moscow and Smolensk in 1610 by the Seven Boyars (seven nobles who had only just deposed Czar Vasili VI). His son, Wladyislaw, is elected czar of the Russias by the Seven Boyars but he does not take up his position due to opposition by Sigismund. Resistance by the population of Moscow eventually forces the invading army out, but the fighting rumbles on until 1618, when an armistice is agreed in the village of Deulino.

Michael Romanov
Michael Romanov was the first Russian czar of the House of Romanov during 'The Times of Troubles', but it would be his successors who turned the czarate of the Russias into an empire

1621

Poland-Lithuania defeats a major attempt by the Ottoman empire to enter and conquer its territory when former elder of Samogitia, Jonas Karolis Kotkevicius, holds the fortress of Chocim in the path of the advancing 200,000-strong Turkish army. The first snows of winter force the Ottomans to withdraw in defeat.

1629

The First Polish-Swedish War ends with the Treaty of Altmark. The kingdom tacitly accepts the loss of most of its Livonian territories to Sweden. The remainder, the eastern part of Livonia, named Latgallia, remains in Polish hands as Inflantia or the Inflanty Voivodeship (the principality of Livonia).

Poland is also forced to temporarily cede the port cities of Braunsberg (Braniewo in Ermland), Elbing (Elblag), Memel (Klaipeda), and Pillau (Baltiysk). The territory is termed Swedish Prussia, but it is regained in 1635.

1632 - 1648

Wladyslaw IV (VII)

Son. Titular czar of Russia (1610-1612).

1648 - 1668

John Kazimierz / Jan II Casimir

Lost partial control of the kingdom to Sweden.

1654 - 1655

Poland is dragged into the Russo-Polish War over control of Ukraine, in the Polish Commonwealth's far eastern territories. Russian troops seize the most important centres of the Lithuanian grand duchy - Smolensk, Vitebsk, Mogilev, and Minsk - and for the first time in Lithuanian history Vilnius is occupied, followed shortly afterwards by Kaunas and Grodno. The king is exiled between September and November in 1655.

1655 - 1660

Seeing a golden opportunity following the Russian capture of large areas of Lithuania in 1654, Swedish troops enter the duchy of Courland, triggering the Second Polish-Swedish War. Karl X of Sweden declares himself 'Protector of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth'. The occupation period ends when Livonia is officially ceded to Sweden following Poland-Lithuania's signing of the Treaty of Oliva.

1655 - 1660

Karol X Gustaw / Karl X Gustaf

King of Sweden. Opposed John Kazimierz.

1669 - 1673

Michał Korybut Wisniowiecki

Son of Prince Jeremi Wiśniowiecki of Poland.

1672 - 1699

Michał Korybut Wisniowiecki's less than successful reign sees Podolia occupied by the Ottoman empire. During this period, regional Ottoman governors are appointed to administer the territory, although the life expectancy of each holder of the post is relatively short.

Kamianets-Podilskyi Fortress
The medieval fortress at Kamianets-Podilskyi in Podolia was under Ottoman control in the seventeeth century

1674 - 1696

John / Jan III Sobieski

Grand hetman of the crown (commander-in-chief).

1677

Jan Sobieski is far more successful in the various wars against Poland's enemies, especially against the Ottomans. Latgallia is now formally made a province of the commonwealth, and is administered as part of Lithuania while remaining a common possession of both nations.

1683

Jan Sobieski and Charles V of Lorraine lift the siege of the Austrian capital of Vienna on 12 September, ending Ottoman expansion in Europe by drawing a metaphorical line in the sand. The Ottomans refer to John as the 'Lion of Lechistan', a reference to the widespread Eastern European tradition of referring to Poland as Lechia.

1697

With the death of Jan Sobieski to a heart attack, Poland is joined with Saxony in personal union under Augustus II. This is a union which establishes a precedent that is followed when the grand duchy of Warsaw is established in 1806.

1697 - 1706

Augustus II 'the Strong'

Frederick Augustus I of Saxony.

1700

Sweden finds itself attacked by Russia, Poland, and Denmark in the Great Northern War (alternatively entitled the Second Northern War) which lasts until 1721. Sweden's expansion at the end of the Livonian Wars had antagonised several states, notably those on the receiving end of defeats such as Russia and Denmark. The latter state takes the opportunity presented by the death of Charles XI of Sweden to organise an anti-Swedish coalition.

Capture of Malmo 1709
The capture of the town of Malmo in 1709 by Count Magnus Stenbock, probably one of the last Swedish victories of the Great Northern War as Russia and her allies defeated the Swedes later the same year

1702 - 1704

Sweden moves fast to try and knock Saxony and Poland out of the war by occupying large areas of Poland. Warsaw is captured on 14 May 1702, and a Polish-Saxon army is again defeated, this time at the Battle of Kliszów in July 1702. Following this disaster, Kraków falls to the invaders. The Swedes force through the election of their candidate to the Polish throne, the ineffectual Stanislas Lesczynski, while Augustus marshals his forces in Saxony.

1704 - 1709

Stanislas Lesczynski

Swedish candidate and vassal.

1709 - 1733

The personal union between Saxony and Poland is renewed on 8 August 1709 when Augustus II regains the throne. His victory at the Battle of Poltava has made it impossible for Stanislas Lesczynski to retain any pretence at kingship of Poland. Instead he retreats with his Swedish masters to Swedish-controlled Pomerania.

Victory in the Great Northern War goes to Russia, Poland, and Denmark in 1721, when the Treaty of Nystad effectively terminates the Swedish Scandinavian empire. The Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, though, has been greatly weakened. Russia gradually increases its influence within the state until the commonwealth is almost a Russian protectorate.

1709 - 1733

August II Mocny / Augustus II 'the Strong'

Restored to a weakened throne. Died.

1733 - 1735

The Polish War of Succession erupts, with Stanislas Lesczynski being supported by his son-in-law, Louis XV of France and Philip V of Spain. France grabs Lorraine, fearing that its pro-Habsburg bias will see it used as a base from which to attack France itself. The fighting ceases in 1735 and is concluded by the Treaty of Vienna in 1738. It stipulates that Stanislaw Lesczinski will receive Lorraine in settlement for being deposed as Poland's king, while Duke Francis of Lorraine receives the grand duchy of Tuscany in compensation for the loss of his family's ancient lands.

The siege of Danzig in 1734
Danzig was besieged by the Russians and, despite an attempted (and not particularly forceful) French relief attempt in support of Saxon forces, it fell in 1734

1733

Stanislas Lesczynski

Restored briefly. Became duke of Lorraine (1737-1763).

1733 - 1763

Augustus III

Frederick Augustus II of Saxony. Son of Augustus the Strong.

1764 - 1795

Stanislas August Poniatowski

Polish noble. Last king of Poland-Lithuania.

1768 - 1769

The Russo-Turkish War is part of Catherine the Great's move to secure the conquest of territory on Russia's southern borders. Following the repression of revolts in Poland, Russia becomes involved in chasing rebels across the southern border into Ottoman territory. The Ottomans imprison captured Russian forces, effectively declaring war and distracting Russia from its desire to control Poland.

1769 - 1770

Austria occupies the county of Zips (or Spisz in Polish) which is an area which has been settled by Germans. In the following year, Austria annexes the county.

1772

The First Partition of Poland-Lithuania takes place on 5 August, removing large swathes of the commonwealth from Polish control. Royal Prussia together with Warmia and parts of Great Poland (Wielkopolska) are taken by Prussia (as West Prussia). Parts of Little Poland (Malopolska) and Red Ruthenia (Rus Czerwona) are taken by Austria, which forms the kingdom of Galicia & Lodomeria. Polish Livonia (Latgallia) and Lithuania are taken by Russia.

Allenstien's Old Town
The city of Olsztyn (or Allenstein in German) was seized by Prussia in the 1772 partition of Poland-Lithuania, but Russia and Austria also seized their own prizes

1791

On 3 May, the constitution gives formal sanction to the union with Lithuania, removing the process of electing kings and making the crown hereditary again under the Saxon dynasty. The commonwealth is rapidly dying though, so the sanction has little real effect.

1793

The Second Partition of Poland-Lithuania is carried out on 23 January. Great Poland and parts of Mazovia go to Prussia while Russia gains Podolia (which is attached to Ukraine), Volhynia, and more of Lithuania.

From 1791, Russia has operated an area known as the Pale of Settlement. Initially this had been small, but it increases greatly from 1793 and the Second Partition. By the mid-nineteenth century it incorporates modern Belarus (eastern Poland at the time), eastern Latvia, Lithuania, the province of Bessarabia (modern Moldova), and western Ukraine. Having formerly been citizens of the defunct commonwealth, the Jewish population of the 'Pale' is restricted from moving eastwards into Russia proper.

1794

Between March and September, the Polish fight a rebellion termed the 'war of independence' or Kościuszko Uprising against Russian and Prussian hegemony, led by Tadeusz Kosciusko, a Polish-Lithuanian military engineer and veteran of the USA's American Revolutionary War. Also termed the Polish Uprising of 1794 or even the Second Polish War, the forces of the uprising are defeated and broken, leading to the events of 1795.

1795

FeatureThe Third Partition of Poland-Lithuania is enacted on 7 January. It removes both states entirely from the map. Russia grabs the rest of Lithuania and almost all of Belarus as well as replacing the duchy of Courland with a governorship. Prussia takes the rest of Mazovia (as New East Prussia) and Warsaw, while Austria gains Kraków and Little Poland, which are added to Galicia & Lodomeria.

Map of Scandinavia AD 1721
The Great Northern War of 1700-1721 was Sweden's undoing as it had stretched itself too far - Russia and Prussia were greatly strengthened and Poland-Lithuania was just as greatly weakened (click or tap on map to view full sized)

1795 - 1806

Neither Poland nor Lithuania exist as identifiable states until 1806, when Napoleon I of France liberates Prussia's Polish territory and forms an imperial satellite state by the name of the grand duchy of Warsaw. It is directly administered as part of the kingdom of Saxony. Poland's elective monarchy means that no particular royal house can claim to be the hereditary king of Poland, although the Saxon Wettins are the most likely candidates should a Polish kingship ever be considered.

Grand Duchy of Warsaw
AD 1806 - 1814

The Union of Lublin was a formal joining together of Poland, Lithuania, and Ruthenia, plus Livonia, Polotsk, and Samogitia. The union was ratified on 4 July 1569 by Sigismund II Augustus, king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania. It brought to an end a period of personal union under a shared monarch and grand duke, and began the era of 'The Commonwealth', in which Poland and Lithuania fully integrated to share their resources.

A golden age between 1569 and 1700 was brought to an end by the Great Northern War and then the Polish War of Succession, both of which greatly weakened the commonwealth and left it vulnerable to the vultures circling it. Austria pounced in 1770, annexing a Polish county. In 1772, seeing how little Poland-Lithuania was able to resist, the First Partition of Poland-Lithuania took place on 5 August. Austria, Prussia, and Russia all benefited, as they did from the second partition in 1793. The third and final partition in 1795 removed Poland and Lithuania entirely from the map for the next eleven years.

The success of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte of France in several battles against Austria, Russia, and Prussia greatly encouraged the Poles to hope that he would be their saviour in throwing off occupation and recreating an independent Polish state, or at least an autonomous state which was a vassal of France. What they actually got was a lot less than this, as Napoleon was reluctant to create a fully-fledged state. Instead, he opted for the compromise duchy of Warsaw which was formed from territory which had formerly been occupied by a now-humbled Prussia. The duchy was created in personal union with Saxony, reviving the eighteenth century relationship between the two countries, meaning that the king of Saxony was also grand duke of Warsaw. The captured territory of Galicia & Lodomeria continued to exist as an imperial Austrian possession (following the termination of the German empire in 1806).

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from A History of Poland from its Foundation, M Ross, from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008), from The Campaigns of Napoleon, David Chandler (Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd, London, 1996), from Napoleon 1812, Nigel Nicolson (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1985), from Battle Tactics of Napoleon and his Enemies, Brent Nosworthy (Constable, London, 1995), from The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier, Jakob Walter (Marc Raeff, Ed, Doubleday, 1991), from Warfare in the Age of Bonaparte, Michael Glover (Cassell History of Warfare series, Guild Publishing, 1980), and from External Link: The Napoleon Series.)

1806 - 1813

Frederick Augustus (III)

King of Saxony (1763-1827), and grand duke of Warsaw.

1809

Napoleon Bonaparte continues to dominate the battlefields of Europe, and a further disastrous Austrian defeat occurs in this year, at the Battle of Wagram. One result is that western Galicia is ceded from Galicia & Lodomeria to the grand duchy, but previous annexations of Polish territory remain within the Austrian empire.

1813 - 1814

In March 1813, the grand duchy is occupied by Russia while the allies continue to push the French army ever further westwards. The Battle of Leipzig in Saxony in October of the same year frees Germany from French influence, setting up a climax to the war in 1814. The Congress of Poland is formed by the victorious powers at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, and Polish territory is effectively re-partitioned.

French defend against Prussians. Leipzig 1813
French grenadiers of the line defend against an attack by Prussian infantry in the three-day Battle of Leipzig in October 1813, dubbed the 'Battle of the Nations' due to the number of states involved, in this 1914 painting by Richard Knötel

Polish Kingdom
AD 1815 - 1918
Incorporating Congress Poland, the Kraków Republic, & the Vistula Country

The Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth had been formed in 1569 by the Union of Lublin. It was terminated in successive phases between 1770 and 1795, having been fatally weakened by the Great Northern War and then the Polish War of Succession. Austria annexed a Polish county in 1770, paving the way for a wholesale dismemberment of the state in three 'partitions' of 1772, 1793, and 1795, with Austria, Prussia, and Russia all willing participants.

Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte of France, having defeated all three states in his conquest of mainland Europe outside of Russia, greatly encouraged the Poles to hope that he would be their saviour. The popular feeling was that he would recreate an independent Polish state, or at least form an autonomous state which was a vassal of France. Napoleon, though, was reluctant to go so far, instead forming a compromise duchy of Warsaw which was created out of Prussian-controlled territory. This was controlled in personal union with Saxony, reviving the eighteenth century relationship between the two countries. Napoleon's defeat and fall in 1813-1814 meant that the duchy disappeared, swallowed up again by its more powerful neighbours.

Polish lands which were under Russian control between 1815-1916 were collected into what became known as the 'Polish Kingdom'. Nominally it was in personal union with the Russia czar, but in reality it occupied a subordinate position, as established by the Congress of Vienna. Due to this it is often referred to by scholars as 'Congress Poland', with the Russian czar remaining its head of state. Warsaw and western Galicia also fell under Russian control. The 1830 insurrection changed things, once the Poles were safely back under Russian control. The newly-created Vistula Country removed any traces of Polish autonomy. The czar remained the head of the Polish state, but general control was exercised through representatives, or viceroys.

The 'Free, Independent, and Strictly Neutral City of Kraków with its Territory', often styled the 'Kraków Republic', fell under the 'protection' of now-imperial Austria, plus Prussia and Russia. It was administered by a government senate but was absorbed by Austria in 1846, after which it was termed a grand duchy with the Austrian emperor himself holding the title.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from A History of Poland from its Foundation, M Ross, from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008), from The Campaigns of Napoleon, David Chandler (Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd, London, 1996), from Napoleon 1812, Nigel Nicolson (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1985), and from External Links: The Napoleon Series, and The November Uprising - what were the Poles fighting for and why? (Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs).)

1815 - 1826

Józef Zajączek

Viceroy/first representative (namestnik). 'Prince of Poland'.

1815 - 1831

From 1815 onwards, Congress Poland remains a subordinate territory of the Russian czar until the period between 25 January to 26 September 1831. The position of viceroy is unfilled after 1826 and the death of Józef Zajączek. During this same period, the First (November) Insurrection is sparked by growing discontent across large areas of Poland at Russian rule. The Poles appoint their own leadership from 1830 to head the rebellion against the Russians (shown below in green).

Polish-Russian War of 1830-1831
The Polish kingdom of Poland was created as a result of agreement between the partitioning powers of Austria, Prussia, and Russia, rather than being the sovereign decision of the Polish people themselves, so there was always going to be resistance against a Russian king of the Poles - which led to the outbreak of open warfare in 1830

1830

Józef Grzegorz Chlopicki

Dictator in rebellion against Russia, Dec.

1830

Józef Gabriel Lubowski

Marshal of the diet of the rebellion, Dec.

1830 - 1831

Józef Grzegorz Chlopicki

Restored dictator in rebellion against Russia, Dec-Jan.

1831

Count Wladyslaw Tomasz Ostrowski

President of the national government of the rebellion, Jan.

1831

Count Wladyslaw Tomasz Ostrowski

Marshal of the diet of the rebellion, Jan.

1831

Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski

President of the senate of the rebellion, Jan-Aug.

1831

Jan Stefan Krukowiecki

President of the senate of the rebellion, Aug-Sep.

1831

Bonawentura Niemojowski

President of the senate of the rebellion, Sep.

1831

Russian control is restored on 26 September 1831 after a great deal of hard fighting by the Poles during the First Insurrection or Polish-Russian War of 1830-1831. Many Polish soldiers who are involved in the uprising chose to seek protection in Prussia, where they are disarmed and are not particularly welcome. When Russia offers the Polish troops amnesty, Prussian treatment of the rapidly dwindling number of surviving Poles becomes increasingly harsh.

Eventually, the surviving 212 Poles are placed on board a ship at Gdansk and are deported. The ship is bound for the USA, but a storm forces it to seek shelter in Portsmouth in Britain. The Poles settle, mainly in London where they form the country's first Polish community (Lennard Goodman, a judge on the BBC tv show, Strictly Come Dancing, between 2004-2016 descended from one of their number).

On 22 February 1832, the 'New Statute' (the constitution of the insurrection) abolishes the last remnants of autonomy, and the area becomes known simply as Vistula Country (Privislyansky kray). The czar remains the head of the Polish state, but general control is exercised through the representatives, or viceroys.

1831 - 1856

Ivan Fyodorovich Paskevich

Russian viceroy (namestnik). Prince of Warsaw.

1846

Having been administered by a government senate since 1815, the 'Kraków Republic' is now absorbed into the Austrian empire. Its official designation becomes that of a grand duchy, with the Austrian emperor himself holding the title. This arrangement remains in place until 1918.

Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph
Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph enters his possession, the grand duchy of Kraków, in 1880, having benefited from the territory's enforced acquisition by his father in 1846

1856 - 1861

Mikhail Dmitriyevich Gorchakov

Russian viceroy. Died in office.

1861

Nikolay Onufrievich Sukhozanet

Russian 'Minister of Land Forces'. Acting viceroy.

1861

Count Karl Karlovich Lambert

Russian viceroy. Aug-Oct only. Resigned from office.

1861

Lambert's one act of note during his brief tenure as viceroy of Poland is to institute marshal law in October 1861. Following that he promptly resigns from office, leaving his duties in the care of General Sukhozanet.

1861

Nikolay Onufrievich Sukhozanet

Acting viceroy for the second time.

1861 - 1862

Count Aleksey Nikolayevich Lüders

Viceroy. Withdrew following assassination attempt.

1862 - 1863

Grand Duke Konstatin N Romanov

Viceroy. Liberal, but too late. Recalled.

1863

The period between 22 January 1863 to April 1865 witnesses the 'Second (January) Insurrection', or January Uprising. It owes a great deal to Count Lüders for its triggering, thanks to his brutal repression of Poles and the Catholic Church in Poland. The far more liberal hand of Grand Duke Konstatin Romanov arrives far too late to change the course of events.The uprising takes place across much of the former Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, including Poland, Lithuania, the Baltic Provinces, Latgallia, and Livonia. Following this, Poland is administered as an integral part of Russia.

January Uprising 1863
The January Uprising of 1863 took place in Poland, but it disrupted Russian governance much further afield and caused the policy of Russification to be firmly enforced

1863 - 1874

Friedrich Wilhelm Rembert von Berg

Acting viceroy until Oct 1863, then final viceroy. Died.

1874

The position of viceroy of the Polish territories is terminated upon the death of the Graf von Berg, formerly acting governor of Finland at various times between 1855-1861. Governors-general are appointed to control the newly-established 'Warsaw Military District'.

1874 - 1880

Paul Demetrius Graf von Kotzebue

First governor-general of the Warsaw Military District.

1880 - 1883

Pytor Pavlovich Albedinsky

Former governor of Vilnius. Died in office.

1881

The first modern-era wave of Jewish migrations back to Palestine begins with an event known as the First Aliyah. The Jews are fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe, most notably in the territories of the Russian empire under Alexander III and his imposition of anti-liberalisation reforms. These may be partially the result of the January Uprising of 1863 (see above).

Russia operates an area known as the Pale of Settlement, largely territory to the west which has been acquired from the former Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. Today this forms Russia's western border region, and from 1791-1793 it has incorporated modern Belarus (eastern Poland at the time), eastern Latvia, Lithuania, the province of Bessarabia (modern Moldova), and western Ukraine. The Jewish population of the 'Pale' (who had first settled here from about 1096 in what was then the duchy of Poland) are restricted from moving eastwards into Russia proper and are now being discouraged from remaining in the western border regions of the empire.

1883 - 1894

Iosif Vladimirovich Romeyko-Gourko

Belarusian. Enforced Russification on Poles. Died 1901.

1894 - 1896

Count Pavel Andreyevich Shuvalov

Retired from office.

1897 - 1900

Aleksandr K Bagration-Imeretinsky

Georgian prince of Imeretia. Replaced for being liberal.

1900 - 1905

Mikhail Ivanovich Chertkov

Died in Paris, still in office.

1903 - 1914

The Second Aliyah to Palestine is triggered in 1903 by an anti-Jewish riot in the city of Kishinev (modern Chişinău), the capital of the province of Bessarabia (modern Moldova), part of the Russian empire. Something like 40,000 Jews settle in Palestine, although only half remain permanently. Many others, evicted from their settlements in the 'Pale' head towards western Polish territories or to the USA (something which is dramatically highlighted with a touch of artistic licence in the film musical, Fiddler on the Roof, 1971, which has its final scenes set in 1905).

Rundāle Palace in Courland
When the duchy of Courland was handed over to the Russian emperor in 1795, Rundāle Palace first became the property of Count Valerian Zubov, then passed into the hands of the Shuvalov family (see Count Pavel Shuvalov, Polish governor in 1894-1896), and was effectively nationalised in 1920 (click or tap on image to view full sized)

1905

Konstantin Klavdievich Maksimovich

Mar-Aug only.

1905 - 1914

Georgy Antonovich Skalon

Survived two assassination attempts post-1905.

1905

Russian troops fire on protestors in St Petersburg (an event dubbed 'Bloody Sunday'), sparking the 1905 Russian Revolution. The outcome of the revolution is especially noticeable in Finland, which makes a great leap forwards in the application of democratic governance, and in Armenia and Azerbaijan, which gain considerably more freedom as a result. The Poles fare less well, facing brutal repressions under Georgy Antonovich Skalon.

1914

Yakov Grigoryevich Zhilinskiy

Acting gov-general. Removed for Eastern Front failures.

1914 - 1915

Russia supports its allies by joining the First World War against imperial Germany and Austria-Hungary. However, the Russian army advancing into Eastern Europe is routed by the Germans at the Battle of Tannenberg, and Russian Poland is lost. Yakov Grigoryevich Zhilinskiy appears to be one of those at fault for poor military planning. German and Austrian governors are appointed to the region (shown here in green and red respectively).

1914 - 1915

Prince Pavel Nikolayevich Yengalychev

Last Russian governor. In exile from Aug 1915.

1915 - 1918

Hans Hartwig von Beseler

German governor-general in Warsaw.

1915 - 1916

Erich Freiherr von Diller

Austria-Hungarian governor-general in Lublin.

1916 - 1917

Karl von Kuk

Austria-Hungarian governor-general in Lublin.

1916 - 1917

Poland is granted autonomy by the occupying powers on 5 November 1916, and the situation is confirmed by the 1917 Brest-Litovsk treaty, which gives much of Eastern Europe to Germany. On 14 January 1917 a Polish kingdom is declared which includes Galicia. Also known as the 'Regency Kingdom of Poland', it exists only on paper and is superseded by the formation of the republic of Poland in 1918.

Galicia during the First World War
Galicia was incorporated into Poland's eastern territories during the First World War, restoring a traditional connection with at least part of that region

1917 - 1918

Stanislaw Maria Graf Szeptycki

Austria-Hungarian governor-general in Lublin.

1918

Anton Liposcak

Austria-Hungarian governor-general in Lublin. Feb-Nov.

1918

On 6 November 1918 a Polish state is declared. With Germany close to collapse and Austria-Hungary dismantling itself, on 7 November, the Habsburg Poles unite with the former Russian and German-ruled Poles to declare a free and independent Poland.

Polish Republics
AD 1918 - 1991

The commonwealth of Poland & Lithuania had been partitioned by Austria, Prussia, and Russia in the eighteenth century. Polish lands largely remained that way until the collapse of all three great powers at the end of the First World War, although the Russian section did at least gain a degree of local governance in the form of Congress Poland. After having suffered over a century of division and occupation, the Polish people united to declare a free and independent Poland on 7 November 1918, incorporating Galicia & Lodomeria and Pomerania into the new state.

However, in a Europe which was riven by post-First World War territorial and civil wars, this was not a stable and secure Poland. It had to fight off German irregular troops in the west, and had to fight for its life against Bolshevik Russian troops in the east during the Russo-Polish War, as it tried to push its borders as far east as historical claims would allow. In the end, those borders went too far. Under the terms of the 1921 settlement, White Russia, or Belarus, was partitioned between the Belarussian Soviet Socialist Republic and Poland. Poland itself was burdened with a collection of minorities, mostly Ukrainian, which reduced the Polish majority to just sixty per cent. Furthermore, East Prussia was still in German hands, but Poland now cut it off from direct land access.

The Nazi German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 not only triggered the Second World War, it also eventually resulted in Soviet occupation in 1944-1945 as the German forces were pushed back. In the territorial settlements that followed, Poland benefited from the addition of the southern half of former East Prussia to its territory, including the regions of Pomesania, Culm, and Warmia, once the seats of medieval bishops. Poland's western border was also extended farther west, to the Oder-Neisse line, but its eastern border was greatly compressed, losing it a vast swathe of eastern territory to Byelorussia, most of Galicia to Ukraine, and Vilnius to Lithuania. As a result, Poland's total territory fell by twenty per cent and the country remained an occupied satellite state of the Soviet empire, known as the 'People's Republic of Poland'.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Karl-Heinz Gabbey, from God's Playground, Norman Davies (Columbia University Press, 1979), from A History of Poland from its Foundation, M Ross, from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008), and from External Links: Józef Piłsudski (Encyclopaedia Britannica), and The Life and Ideology of Józef Piłsudski (San José State University Department of Economics), and PWN Encyclopaedia (in Polish).)

1918

The Second Polish Republic (or Second Commonwealth) is formed on 7 November with the declaration of a free and independent state in the face of the collapsing great powers that had previously occupied it between them. Austria, Germany, and Russia are in no state to argue. Polish general and nationalist figure Józef Piłsudski is asked to take control of the new state, which also includes Galicia & Lodomeria (now almost entirely within Ukraine, except for its westernmost edge).

Polish-Lithuanian War
A parade of Polish uhlans at Sejny, a town in Poland today, but initially Lithuanian (after 1915), which swapped hands several times in the Polish-Lithuanian War of 1919-1920

Byelorussia experiences its first attempt at creating its own state out of the post-war chaos, known as the Belarusian People's Republic (BPR) amongst other names. The Lemko-Rusyn republic that is formed in western Galicia tries to link up with Russia, while eastern parts of Galicia are claimed as the West Ukrainian People's Republic, and the competing claims lead to war between Poland, Russia, and Ukraine.

1918 - 1922

Marshal Józef Piłsudski

Chief of state over ten prime ministers.

1919

The Russo-Polish War is ignited between Poland and Ukraine on one side and Soviet Russia on the other over the creation of the Second Polish Republic and the somewhat uncertain borders on its eastern flank. Józef Piłsudski considers this the best opportunity to restore Poland to its former greatness, and he leads his troops into both Lithuania's Vilnius (part of the fairly brief Polish-Lithuanian War) and Kiev, occupying a welcoming western Ukraine (part of the former Polish Commonwealth). The latter move also sees Byelorussia occupied and its independent republican government extinguished.

1920 - 1921

The short-lived Galitzian Socialist Soviet Republic is declared at Ternopol in eastern Galicia, and the Polish-Lithuanian War is briefly fought over control of Vilnius. With Poland the victor, the short-lived 'Republic of Central Lithuania' is formed (later to be transformed into a Polish voivodeship). Red Army pressure causes the Poles to fall back temporarily, but Piłsudski leads his forces to a notable victory against the Russians at the Battle of Warsaw.

As the Poles again advance, a ceasefire is agreed with the Soviets in October 1920 and Vilnius is regained (to be held until 1939). The Peace of Riga is signed on 18 March 1921, which formally divides disputed territory between the Soviets and Poles, with the area that forms modern Belarus effectively split in half. Galicia remains within the new Poland (modern western Ukraine), including the now-suppressed Lemko-Rusyn republic, and the easternmost parts of Lithuania also remain part of Poland.

Signatories to the Peace of Riga in 1921
The new Bolshevik Russian state and the leading figures of post-First Wolrd War Poland sign the Peace of Riga which agreed their shared borders for the next twenty years

1922 - 1926

Elections are held for the post of president, with Gabriel Narutowicz winning. He holds onto the post for all of five days before he is assassinated while attending an art exhibition. His successor is Stanisław Wojciechowski, who remains in the post until he is ousted in 1926.

1926

Marshal Józef Piłsudski is at the head of the May Coup d'Etat (12-14 May 1926) which removes the president from office. While he declines the post of president himself, he effectively remains the power behind the 'throne' for the rest of his life.

1926 - 1935

Marshal Józef Piłsudski

'President-elect' and de facto supreme authority. Died.

1935

Following the death of Józef Piłsudski, his 'Sanacja' movement (Sanation in English), which has put national interests ahead of parliamentary democracy since 14 May 1926, begins to flounder. With no clear path to follow, it breaks up into three rival factions, but the movement in general remains in control of Poland until 1939. The minority populations within the republic are hit by a fresh wave of repression.

1939 - 1940

The Nazi German invasion of Poland on 1 September is the trigger for the Second World War. With both France and Britain pledged to support Poland, both countries have no option but to declare war on 3 September, although nothing can be done to alleviate Poland's suffering at the hands of the invaders. As part of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, the Soviets invade Poland from the east on 17 September, and they annexe western Ukraine and west Byelorussia on 28 September.

German troops enter Poland on 1 September 1939
Nazi-led German troops are shown here progressing in good order through a Polish town on the first day of the invasion, 1 September 1939

On 6 October the last Polish troops surrender, but thousands of Poles both military and civilian escape the country to form Polish units with the Allied powers, including Polish Navy vessels that serve in the Atlantic and fighter pilots who help defend Britain during the Battle of Britain (and creating social links that last right up to Polish inclusion in the European Union in 2004). The German-occupied zone of Poland, which includes Danzig, Pozen, Silesia, and West Prussia, is partially annexed to Germany. Six days later, the remaining sections of Poland are formed into the 'General Government for the Occupied Polish Territories' which, on 31 July 1940, is re-titled the General Government.

1941

Germany takes over the Soviet-occupied areas on 21 June 1941. These are divided between the General Government and the Reichskommissariat Ostland and Ukraine. On 1 August, eastern Galicia is added to the General Government. Much of Minsk in Byelorussia is destroyed by the subsequent warfare between Germany and the USSR.

1943 - 1944

The Warsaw Uprising ignites after German soldiers begin the 'liquidation' of the Jewish ghetto. On 1 August 1944, the Polish resistance launches Operation Tempest, partly in response to this, but also to try and secure control of the country against communist elements. The Allies in the west are unable to provide military aid, and the Soviets deliberately withhold it as Stalin is keen on securing Warsaw for his expanded communist empire. The uprising fails after some hard fighting and Warsaw is subjected to planned destruction by the Nazis.

The ruins of Warsaw
The ruins of Warsaw at the end of the Second World War took decades to rebuild, mostly with the Soviet-era concrete which is still visible today

1945

The last German troops surrender on 17 January in the face of the relentless Soviet advance. The conclusion of the Second World War sees Poland benefit from the addition of the southern half of the former East Prussia to its territory, including the regions of Pomesania, Culm, and Warmia, once the seats of medieval bishops. The northern half of East Prussia is annexed to Russia as the district of Kaliningrad. Poland's western border is shifted further west, to the Oder-Neisse line, but it loses a vast swathe of eastern territory to Byelorussia, most of Galicia to Ukraine, and Vilnius to Lithuania.

As a result, Poland's total territory falls by twenty per cent. Many ethnic Poles remain in Vilnius (Lithuania) or Minsk (Byelorussia) to become citizens of those countries, while others move west to remain within Poland's rearranged borders. Poland itself remains an occupied satellite state of the Soviet Russian empire, and is now known as the 'People's Republic of Poland'.

1955

The USSR forms the Warsaw Pact in direct response to the admission of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) into Nato whilst itself being barred from joining. The states involved in the founding of this eastern alliance are Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Russia.

Building the Berlin Wall in 1961
The communist government of East Germany began building the Berlin Wall on 12 August 1961, and it remained in place until late 1989

1970

Former German eastern territories, including Hinterpommern (eastern Pomeriana), do not officially become Polish territory until Chancellor Willi Brand's Social Democratic government of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) now recognises the loss (Willi Brand's 1970 Warsaw speech to the Polish people is available online). The Soviet-dominated East German government which is not recognised by the former western Allies - Britain, France, and the United States - has already recognised Poland's hegemony of Pommern (under duress in 1949) when the Soviet Union had established the German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik), better known as the former East Germany.

1980 - 1981

The 'Solidarity' trade union is formed during a period of increasingly turbulent labour unrest. Lech Wałęsa, a shipyard electrician, becomes Solidarity's leader and the opposition's main figure (and later the country's first democratically-elected president). Martial law is imposed on Poland the following year, but the influence of Solidarity begins to chip away at the influence and authority of the pro-Soviet government.

1989

As expected, or at least hoped for, the influence of the Communist party in Poland has been steadily eroded over the past decade. Free and fair elections that are held in the summer of 1989 usher in Eastern Europe's first post-communist government. The new Polish state is called the Third Polish Republic, and in 1990 Lech Wałęsa becomes its first president.

The Solidarity movement in Poland
The Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s forced the first cracks in communist rule, which led fairly quickly to independence

1991

Thanks to behind-the-scenes manoeuvring by the newly-elected president of the Russian republic, Boris Yeltsin, on Christmas Day 1991 Communist USSR President Gorbachev announces the termination of the Soviet Communist State. The Soviet Republics become independent sovereign states (if they had not already become so since 1989), including Belarus, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, North Ossetia, Poland, Romania, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. Former East Prussia, or Kaliningrad as it now is, remains directly part of Russia, and is now an isolated enclave on Poland's north-eastern border.

Modern Poland
AD 1991 - Present Day

The modern republic of Poland was formed out of the various post-First World War conflicts, and was then further redefined after the Second World War - both on a fairly heavy scale. It is located in eastern Central Europe, with the Baltic Sea forming its northern edge. With a thousand years of history behind it, Poland is bordered to the north-east by Kaliningrad and Lithuania, to the east by Belarus, to the south-east by Ukraine, to the south by Slovakia and Czechia, and to the west by Germany.

The old Polish commonwealth had been partitioned in the eighteenth century. It was not until the end of the First World War that the Polish people could unite to declare a free and independent Poland, on 7 November 1918. With various territorial and civil wars raging across vast areas of Eastern Europe, the Poles had to fight off German irregular troops in the west and Bolshevik Russian troops in the east as they attempted to solidify and even expand their borders. The Nazi German invasion of republican Poland on 1 September 1939 not only triggered the Second World War, it also eventually resulted in Soviet occupation in 1944-1945 as the German forces were pushed back. Poland gained the southern half of former East Prussia to its territory, including the regions of Pomesania, Culm, and Warmia, once the seats of medieval bishops. Poland's western border, though, was drawn farther west, to the Oder-Neisse line. Its eastern border was also moved westwards, losing it a vast swathe of eastern territory to Byelorussia, most of Galicia to Ukraine, and Vilnius to Lithuania. As a result, Poland's total territory fell by twenty per cent and the country remained an occupied satellite state of the Soviet Russian empire, known as the 'People's Republic of Poland'.

On 11 March 1990, Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to declare its renewed independence from the now-decaying Soviet Union. The following year the declaration became fact as Poland, Lithuania, and Belarus finally regained their independence. Thanks to behind-the-scenes manoeuvring by the newly-elected president of the Russian republic, Boris Yeltsin, on Christmas Day 1991 Communist USSR President Gorbachev announced the termination of the Soviet Communist state. The Soviet republics become independent sovereign states (if they had not already become so since 1989), including Belarus, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, North Ossetia, Poland, Romania, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

Since independence, Poland has embraced western culture and technology but in a somewhat uneasy relationship. Still recovering in many ways from the traumas of the twentieth century, it has a deep undercurrent of conservatism which wants to push against the country's newfound trends. The recent re-emergence of right-wing populism (a trend that is not unique to Poland) has seen some steps being taken to turn back the clock, placing the country in the European Union's bad books on occasion. Culturally and architecturally, Warsaw remains the country's capital but is largely a vast collection of post-war concrete constructions which are only more recently being upgraded or replaced. The Second World War left it heavily damaged, and Soviet planned building filled in the vast gaps between surviving buildings. The centre of Kraków, however, is widely acknowledged as one of Europe's greatest surviving examples of a medieval city. The heart of Poland's second city was included on the first list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1978.

Poland does not have any claimants to the lost commonwealth throne. The elective monarchy of the commonwealth meant that no particular royal house could claim to be the hereditary king of Poland, although the Saxon Wettins are the most likely candidates should a Polish kingship ever be considered again. On 3 May 1791, the constitution gave formal sanction to the Polish union with Lithuania, removing the process of electing kings and making the crown hereditary again under the ruling Saxon dynasty. The commonwealth was rapidly dying by this time though, so the sanction had little real effect, and the constitution itself may be of dubious legal status as it was forcibly cancelled in 1792.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Karl-Heinz Gabbey, from God's Playground, Norman Davies (Columbia University Press, 1979), from A History of Poland from its Foundation, M Ross, from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008), and from External Links: Józef Piłsudski (Encyclopaedia Britannica), and The Life and Ideology of Józef Piłsudski (San José State University Department of Economics), and PWN Encyclopaedia (in Polish), and Poland Fascinating Facts (The Telegraph), and Poland: a country getting to grips with being normal at last (The Guardian), and BBC Poland Profile - Timeline, and Elections held in 1993 (POLAND Parliamentary Chamber: Sejm), and Andrzej Duda victory hands populists free rein (The Guardian).)

1991

Poland enjoys its first parliamentary elections since the fall of communism and the formation of the country's 'Third Republic'. A large number of fragmented political parties contest the elections and a coalition government is the result. Even the Polish Beer Lovers' Party gains sixteen seats in parliament. In the same year Soviet troops begin to leave the country.

Lech Walesa
Lech Walesa emerged as a leading figure during the drive for Polish independence, earning the approval and admiration of the nation, but his attempts at leading an independent Poland were somewhat less successful

1993

The Sejm (the Polish 'Diet') is prematurely dissolved on 31 May 1993. Fresh elections see reformed communists enter into a coalition government with the Democratic Left Alliance. They pledge to continue market reforms.

1999

A decade after achieving democratic government, and the subsequent years of turning a planned Soviet economy into a successful free market economy, Poland joins Nato. It has already been part of the Nato 'Partnership for Peace' programme since 1994.

2004

Along with a large selection of former Soviet-occupied Eastern European states, Poland becomes a member of the European Union. The relaxation of borders across Europe leads initially to a large number of people migrating to the west, and Britain especially gains a large Polish population, possibly in part thanks to wartime links.

2010

In April, the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski, and many other senior officials are killed in a plane crash while on their way to a ceremony in Russia to mark the seventieth anniversary of the Katyn massacre during the Second World War. In July of the same year, parliament's speaker and acting president, Bronislaw Komorowski of the centre-right Civic Platform, defeats former prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski in the second round of fresh presidential elections.

Krakow Town Hall
The magnificent town hall building in Kraków is only one of many medieval splendours to have survived into the twenty-first century despite Poland's turbulent history

2013 - 2014

In 2013 Moscow reacts to Ukraine's domestic turmoil by sending troops to annexe Crimea while stoking separatist sentiment in eastern Ukraine. The international reaction does nothing to change the situation, and Crimea remains in Russian hands. However, the minds of various countries which had previously been occupied by Soviet Russia after the Second World War are very much focussed by the act. Of them, Poland knows only too well the cost that can be paid by not keeping an eye on Russian actions. In 2014 it asks Nato to station ten thousand troops on its territory as a visible mark of the alliance's resolve to defend all its members.

2015

In May the 'Conservative Law and Justice' candidate, Andrzej Duda, beats centrist incumbent Bronislaw Komorowski in the presidential election. That October the Eurosceptic, conservative 'Law and Justice' party becomes the first to win an overall majority in Polish democratic elections. President Duda approves a controversial December 2015 reform which makes it harder for the constitutional court to make majority rulings, despite large-scale protests and European Union concerns at the implications for the oversight of government decisions as Poland veers towards the right of the political spectrum.

2016 - 2019

Despite the right-leaning forces now in control of the country, the president remains as a useful counterbalance and a check against the more contentious desires of parliament. In addition, the government itself seems unwilling to act too provocatively against popular opinion when it vetoes a 2016 private member's bill which is intended almost to entirely ban abortion.

President Andrzej Duda of Poland
Andrzej Duda, lawyer, former MEP, and president of Poland from 6 August 2015, has led a divisive right-wing government which has rolled back inclusive democratic legislation

In 2017, President Duda vetoes controversial laws that are intended to give the government extensive power over the judiciary. A change of prime minister that December - albeit still from the Law and Justice party - perhaps sees a weakening of the most influential right-leaning efforts. In 2019 the Law and Justice party maintains its position in the lower house of parliament after general elections, but loses control of the Senate to centre and centre-left parties.