Poland/History

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Little is known of Poland's history until 966, when its rulers were baptised. In the following period the country, initially a duchy, maintained a loose relation with the Holy Roman Empire, sometimes as a vassal, sometimes as an ally.

Foundation Of The Polish Crown[edit]

In 1025 Duke Boleslaw the Brave was crowned Poland's first King, establishing the Polish nation as a unified polity, but barely a century afterward, the kingdom was plunged back into civil war. Boleslaw III thought a more lasting peace could be achieved by dividing his kingdom between his male heirs: instead, the Kingdom fell apart in four different pieces that essentially became independent duchies when he passed away in 1038.

Poland remained fractured until the end of the 13th century. By then, two major events had taken place. Firstly, the Mongol invasion had devastated the Polish countryside after the defeat of the Polish army at Liegnitz. The severity and extent of the destruction is still debated, but it was most likely responsible for the second event: the German Ostsiedlung. In the wake of the Mongol invasion, parts of Poland was depopulated, and many German settlers moved east. These migrants hoped to turn from serfs in Germany to respectable freemen beyond the Empire's borders, and they helped revive agricultural production and crafts in some areas, as well as creating (or re-populating) Polish cities. German institutions and town laws influenced many aspects of Polish urban life, as German laws were often held to be more advanced and subsequently adopted. It is thus not easy to differentiate between Germans and Germanised Poles. Joining the Germans were Jews, who were banished from England by Edward I.

Consolidation of the Kingdom[edit]

Wladyslaw I became King in 1320 and spearheaded another period of unification, partly with foreign assistance. His son Kazimierz (Casimir) III 'the Great' made even more of an impression. He founded an important and lasting university, at Krakow in 1364, making it one of the first of such centres of learning north of the Alps. The king too was an adept military leader: despite facing at the beginning of his reign threats from both Bohemia and the Teutonic Order, the King not only managed to keep them at bay, but also managed to expand his Kingdom by the time of his death.

The Union of Krewo and Conflict With the Teutonic Order[edit]

Kazimierz, however, left no male heir. Yet his daughter, 'King' Jadwiga, cancelled her engagement with Sigismund of Luxembourg, who would later become Holy Roman Emperor, and married the Lithuanian Grand Duke Jagiello instead. This arrangement ensured independence from the Empire and served to strengthen Poland's military with the expertise of the Lithuanians who specialised in light raiding tactics inspired by the Mongols. Together, the two countries fought against the Teutonic Order and inflicted a very major defeat on it in 1410 at Grunwald (or Tannenberg). Initially, the battle had no direct political repercussions, although it coincided with the beginning of a permanent drop in western volunteers flocking to the Order. Yet, by the end of the 15th century the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order was now a mere vassal of Poland.

Poland thus had successfully neutralised its most important enemies: the Empire was no longer encroaching on her borders; the Teutonic Order had ceased to exist; the Lithuanian Grand Duchy in the east was a close ally in a dynastic union; and the Mongols were gone for good. She had survived the Middle Ages, but the future was to offer many more crises to be overcome.

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References[edit]