BLESSED BE THE PEACEFUL BECAUSE THEY WILL BE CALLED SONS OF GOD
HISTORY OF POLAND
FALL OF POLAND ; containing an analytical and a philosophical account of the causes which conspired in the ruin of that nation, together with a history of the country from its origin V1
FALL OF POLAND ; containing an analytical and a philosophical account of the causes which conspired in the ruin of that nation, together with a history of the country from its origin V2
THE TRAGEDY OF POLISH JEWRY , OR The Sufferings of the Jews of Poland, and of the Jews of Warsaw in particular, immediately after the German Occupation.
THE NEIGHBOURS OF POLAND
The history of Poland was, to a great extent, rough-hewn by the action of its neighbours. To begin with, in the narrative, so far, frequent reference has been made to “The Empire,” “The Emperor,” “Imperial policy,” and so forth, and it is well to make absolutely dear what was the political entity connoted by such terms. For nearly ten centuries, from the birth of the Middle Ages to the dawn of the nineteenth century, the two words, “The Empire,” are to be found printed across the map of west-central Europe, and a brief explanation of their exact history and significance will not be out of place.
The Empire had its direct origin in Rome, and may properly be said to date from the battle of Actium, fought in 31 B.C. There Mark Antony was completely defeated by Octavius Caesar, and, on his return to Rome, the victor was created Emperor by the senate, and the republic of Rome then ceased to be. Hardly had a generation passed away when a blow was struck at the Roman Empire which was to redound throughout the world. In a.d. 9 Arminius defeated the Roman legions under Varus, and that victory secured at once and for ever the independence of the Teutonic race. Rome sent, indeed, her legions into Germany once again to parade a temporary superiority; but all hopes of permanent conquest were abandoned by Augustus and his successors. And thus Germany, which was, to a great extent, identified with “The Empire” of the Middle Ages, was started on its career. But the point to remember is that, by the beginning of the Christian era, Germany had become separated from, and was indeed, to a great extent, practically independent of, the Roman Empire.
In spite of the loss of its hold over Germany, the expansion of the Roman Empire went on apace, reaching its greatest territorial extent under Trajan, at the end of the first century of the Christian era. Nearly two hundred years later its bulk led to a project of re-organisation and division, but it was reunited under the Emperor Constantine. That monarch was to exert an enormous influence on the history of the world. Rome had become the seat of Christianity, and Constantine was the first Christian emperor; and, in a.d. 330, he transferred the seat of government from Rome to Byzantium, which was thereafter known by its present name of Constantinople. The necessity of dividing the Roman Empire still, however, remained, and, in 395 a.d., a final division was made by the Emperor Theodosius. It was henceforth to form two empires—the Byzantine or Eastern Empire, consisting generally of Syria, Asia Minor, and the Balkan Peninsula; and the Western Empire, made up of the remainder of the original structure, including Rome itself. The Church, no less than the temporal power of the Empire, was likewise divided, the Orthodox or Greek Church having its headquarters at Byzantium, and the Roman Church preserving its connection with the original see of Rome.
The direct influence of the Eastern Empire upon Poland was practically nil, for, as has been already narrated, unlike the other Slavonic nations, Poland accepted Christianity from the south and west, and not from Byzantium in the east. It will, therefore, be convenient to deal with the Eastern Empire within a few words. The old' traditions of order and civilisation were preserved for centuries in that empire, in which such rulers as Justinian were able to some extent to resist the pressure of its barbarian enemies. In spite of invasions by Avars, Bulgarians and Slavs, and in spite of Persian wars and Saracen conquests, the superior civilisation, experience and intelligence of the Eastern Empire managed to avert catastrophe for over a thousand years. The end came in 1453, when Constantinople fell before the Turkish forces of the Sultan Mahomet II. But though, as has been explained, the direct influence of the Eastern Empire on Poland was negligible, its ruin forced Poland to the front. From Constantinople the Turks spread westwards over Europe, and their Ipgions were not shattered till they broke against the Hungarians and the Poles.
To revert once again to the Western Empire, it is needless to do more than mention the attacks made upon it for a century after its formation by Goths, Vandals and Huns. Sufficient is it to say that, though the Huns under Attila were driven off, the Roman Emperors could no longer defend their capital, and, in 476, the line of Roman Emperors in the west came to an end. The central power, with the exclusive rule of Roman law and Roman administration, thereupon disappeared, though the Roman Church and the idea of municipal government still survived. With the fall of the Western Empire, there began the period generally known in history as the Dark Ages, which lasted for just over three centuries. But during this time new nations in Gaul, Italy, Germany, Spain, England, and Scandinavia were gradually, but slowly, imbibing the elements of civilisation. The Teutonic races were gradually embracing Christianity and modelling their laws upon Roman law and government; while, further to the west, the French, Spanish and Italian races were assimilating the culture and language known as Latin. Out of this welter of peoples there stood forth a Germanic nation, which had settled in the north of what is now France some five centuries before the Christian era. These were the Franks, and, of the Franks, Charles the Great—or Charlemagne— became king in the year 768. By a succession of victorious wars he enlarged his dominions. He conquered the Lombards and re-established the Pope at Rome, who, in return, acknowledged Charles as suzerain of Italy. And, in 800, Pope Leo III., in the name of the Roman people, solemnly crowned Charlemagne at Rome as Emperor of the Roman Empire of the West. The year 800 may be said to mark the beginning of modern Europe. The Western Empire, or the Holy Roman Empire—to give it its more formal title—now consisted roughly of the modern kingdoms of France, Germany, and the greater part of Italy.
Charles the Great died in 814, and, some years before his death, he had divided his kingdom among his sons. Evil times began again for Europe, and the ninth century proved disastrous to civilisation and Christianity. Disunion and weakness prevailed upon the Continent. It seemed as if civilised Europe was about to become the prey to barbarism; and, in 887, the kingdom of the West Franks—or France—separated for ever from the Empire, which now lay in a condition of abeyance until Otto the Great, King of Germany, was crowned Emperor of the Romans by the Pope at Rome, in 962, thus reviving the Holy Roman Empire and uniting it to the German kingdom. Henceforth the “Holy Roman Empire of the German nation” was recognised, and the close connection between Italy and Germany continued till the nineteenth century. During the reign of the Emperor Henry III., from 10391056, the Holy Roman Empire reached the zenith of its power; but, thereafter, its influence waned before the rising dominance of the Roman Church. Otto the Great, though working in alliance with the Pope, had always subordinated the ecclesiastical to the imperial power; but, from the middle of the eleventh century, the Papacy began to shake itself free from dependence on the Emperor, and, at the end of that century, Gregory VII—he who hurled the thunders of the Church against the King of Poland—went still higher in his claims. The Papacy began to aim at the lordship of the world. Gregory was resolved that the Papacy should be a universal monarchy, to which should be subordinated all the kingdoms and principalities of the world. The Pope, he wrote, is the master of Emperors.
To such a claim it was only natural that powerful Teutonic monarchs should demur; and, during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the great struggle between the Empire and the Papacy went on. The greatest contestant on the former side was Frederick I, or Barbarossa, who reigned from 1152 to 1190; but even this mighty warrior, in 1177, had to submit—abandoning his Imperial dignity, he threw himself humbly at the feet of the Pope. The victory of the Papacy was supreme, and when the grandson of Barbarossa passed away, although the theory of the Holy Roman Empire continued, the Empire became little more than a German kingship. It held together sufficiently long for the flimsy structure to receive its final blow from Napoleon; but, from about the opening of the thirteenth century, the Holy Roman Empire as such was practically non-existent, and Germany—or The Empire, as it was still called—took its place. Thus, by the irony of history, the race which had thrown off the yoke of the old original Roman Empire, was destined to be the one to retain the shadow of its title until the first years of the nineteenth century.
A brief sketch such as that just given, in which all but the most striking events are omitted, and in which whole centuries are dealt with in a single line, must necessarily be incomplete. But it will serve its purpose if the reader is assisted in realising what the western neighbour of Poland in the Middle Ages actually was. One point is worth bearing in mind. The small State of Prussia was then outside of, and formed no part of, the Empire. Centuries later it was called in as the factor to adjust the encumbered property of Germany, and, by a policy of confiscation and aggrandisement, to exalt itself into the position of the chief proprietor.
On its southern frontier Poland marched with Hungary, where dwelt the Hungarians or Magyars, who belonged to the Mongolian race. These first appeared towards the end of the ninth century, and, under Aipad, their chief, established themselves in Dacia in 889. A strong, virile race, they went so far as to invade Germany, and with such success that, for a time, the Emperors were forced to pay them tribute, until the Emperor Henry the Fowler overthrew them at Merseburg in 934, and Otto the Great defeated them later at Augsburg. But, in spite of these defeats, Hungary still pressed westwards, coming into collision with the Saracens in Provence. Unlike the Saracens, the Hungarians embraced Christianity, and, about 980, Pope Benedict elevated the country into a kingdom, an honour denied to Poland at the time. The growing power of the Empire proved too strong for its lesser neighbours, and during the reign of the Emperor Henry III (1039-1056) Hungary, as well as Poland and Bohemia, became its vassal—a condition which prevailed through the following century.
The Russia which formed the eastern neighbour of Poland was far different in extent and power from the great nation that bears the name today. From the vague indications of Slavonic chronicles it would seem that what is now, roughly speaking, Russia was then divided between two races—a north-western race, paying a tribute of pelts to the Northmen; and a south-eastern race, paying a similar tribute to the Chazars, a nomadic people whose habitat was chiefly along the Volga. Somewhat later the northern tribes invited the northern chieftain Rurik to come and rule over their hopelessly distracted communities, and, with the coming of Rurik, about 862, Russian history may be said to begin. His successor, Oleg, extended his dominions southwards at the expense of the Chazars and made Kieff his capital. From here expeditions were launched against Constantinople; but these met with no lasting success, and, in 945, a perpetual peace was made with the Greeks, or, in other words, the Eastern Roman Empire. About the middle of the tenth century the term, “ the land of Rus,” is first met with, and, almost at the same time, Christianity was introduced; though, unlike Poland, Russia received the faith from Constantinople, and was formally received into the Orthodox Eastern Church. Thus the narrow strip of territory from Kieff to Novgorod became the nucleus of a new Christian State and the origin of the later Russian Empire. It had a hard struggle to survive, for, in addition to the incursions of a Mongolian race which had supplanted the Chazars, another enemy had arisen in the west beyond the Bug, in the shape of the young kingdom of Poland. These two nations first came into serious collision on the death of Vladimir the Great, when Bolesas intervened in a dynastic quarrel, and the struggle between the two was of long duration. In the west, however, Russia obtained a temporary relief. For the great national hero, Vladimir Monomakh, by a decisive victory beyond the Don in 1109, freed Russia from the yoke of various Mongolian tribes, till these latter were supplemented by the terrible Tatars of the Middle Ages.
Little need now be said of Poland’s immediate neighbours to the north-east, the wild Prussians. This small Slavonic race had not yet received civilisation from the Teutonic Knights, a process which largely took the form of a war of extermination, and as yet exerted but little influence on the fortunes of the Polish kingdom. Beyond them, and stretching along the Baltic littoral to the Gulf of Finland, lay the Lithuanians. This interesting people originally dwelt among the impenetrable forests and marshes of the Upper Niemen, where they were able to preserve their primitive savagery longer than any of their neighbours, and to foster a valour which made them formidable enemies to the surrounding States. Till the year 1000 the history of Lithuania is almost entirely mythical, and, by the twelfth century, all that can be said of its inhabitants is that they were gradually spreading south, fiercely holding their own in their national struggle for existence, and still outside the pale of Christian nations. Although by the middle of the twelfth century Lithuania and Prussia had not yet exerted any appreciable influence on the history of Poland, they were later to be intimately connected with it—Lithuania by a union under the same sceptre, and Prussia as the robber of a third part of the kingdom.
EARLY HISTORY OF POLAND
FOR a hundred and twenty years Poland has ceased to figure on the map of Europe, and, indeed, the very name has come to convey but a vague geographical impression, like Wessex or Navarre. Yet the national history of Poland had been long and glorious. For a whole century it had been the warden of Europe against the Turks; it had saved Vienna and Christianity; and, so late as the seventeenth century, it was geographically one of the largest States of Europe. Even as late as 1770 Poland was a vast country extending from the Baltic almost to the Black Sea, and lying between Russia and Germany, with an area of about 280,000 square miles and a population roughly estimated at eleven and a half millions. It stood third in the list of European countries as regards extent, and fifth in population. And today, in spite of national disasters, Poland still represents an ethnographic group of more than twenty millions; in point of population it is seventh amongst the nationalities of Europe, and stands immediately next the Great Powers—Russia, Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy and Spain. The political and military causes which led to the blotting out of a nation with such vitality and such a history may well attract the attention of the most incurious; and, not least, at a moment when all Europe is in the crucible and the recasting of a whole continent is in progress.
The early history of Poland is wrapped in obscurity, and amidst the incessant influx of the Asiatic nations into Europe during the slow decline of the Roman Empire it is almost impossible to trace the descent of the Poles. All that is known is that, in the wide plains extending from the Black Sea to the Baltic, and from the Oder to the Dwina, there roamed of old various uncouth tribes, who were later included in the wide generic term of Slavs. The actual ancestors of the Poles appear to have been the Sarmatians—a tribe located more particularly on both banks of the Vistula—who revolted against the Roman legions led by Varus; and it is from the captured insignia of the legionaries that the Polish emblem of the white headed eagle is said to date its origin.
Another legend supplies a more commonplace origin for the national emblem. According to it King Lech I, who lived about the middle of the sixth century, was one day clearing away the ground which he had marked out for the site of a residence, when he found an eagle’s nest. Hence he called the place Gnesna, from the Slavonic word gniazda, a nest, and adopted the representation of an eagle as the national crest. It may be stated that the eagle does not figure in the national arms until the twelfth century.
The actual word Pole is not older than the tenth century, and seems to have been applied not so much to the people as to the region they inhabited; polska, in the Slavonic tongue, signifying a level field or plain.
As a nation the Poles are not of ancient date, for, prior to the ninth century, they were split up into a multitude of tribes independent of each other and governed by their respective chiefs. No general head was known, except in case of invasion, when combination alone could save the country from the yoke; and the geographical limitation of the country was unsettled and obscure. During this era the history of Poland is to some extent legendary, and frequently touches the domain of unquestioned fable, so that it is unnecessary to record any but incontrovertible incidents. The greatest danger threatening the growing nation was from its western neighbour, Germany, in which Otto the Great revived the Imperial dignity in 962, and, inspired by visions of universal dominion, extended his domination over Denmark, Norway, and the Czeches. Some ten or twelve years earlier Germanic influence had made itself felt along the Oder, and threatened to spread eastwards; but it was at this moment that Poland asserted its national existence and stepped into the arena of history. To the great racial question whether the growing Slav civilisation was to be absorbed and assimilated by Teutonic influence one Polish family offered an uncompromising negative. This was the family of the Piasts, who founded the dynasty of that name; made history for Poland; and under whose sway Poland was to become the greatest Slav State in Europe.
Though but of lowly origin the original Piast had been unanimously elected as the chief of Poland in the year 842, and a complete absence of foreign wars and internal commotions had signalised his wise, firm and paternal administration. His reign is often spoken of as the Golden Age of Poland. The reign of his successor, Ziemowit, was no less glorious, and is marked by military reforms which contributed to the distinction which Poland subsequently enjoyed as the nursery of a fighting race. He was the first chief who introduced regular discipline into the Polish armies. Before his time they had fought without order or system, and, like all brave but undisciplined races, their tactics, though distinguished by an impetuous onset, were constantly marred by a no less precipitate retreat. Ziemowit, however, marshalled his warriors in due array; taught them to surrender their will to that of their officers; and, when fortune was adverse, to consult their safety, not in flight, but in a more stubborn resistance. These military reforms, when backed up by the unquestioned bravery of the Poles, quickly contributed to the growth of the young nation. Victory shone on the Polish arms, and the Hungarians, the Moravians and the Russians, who had hitherto insulted the country with impunity, were beaten in the field and forced to sue for peace.
Side by side with military success the internal condition of the country steadily progressed. In their infancy the Poles, like other branches of the great Slavonic family, were split up into independent tribes, each governed by its own knyaz or judge. But the attributes of this authority were entirely of a civil nature, for military command was confided to another dignitary whose authority, however, was only for the continuation of actual war. These judges and generals, forming a semi-military hierarchy, were, during the period now under review, practically the only officers of State. In the general assemblies of the tribes, convoked to deliberate on peace or war, they acted as the duly elected representatives of their countrymen. Such assemblies were, at this time, of frequent occurrence, and, as they were attended by all who bore arms, they were numerously attended, for the cultivation of the soil was abandoned almost entirely to slaves and captives. The need of a small executive body, roughly corresponding to a modem Cabinet, was, therefore, imperative.
Such, in rough outline, were the general features of Poland prior to the accession of Miecislas I, the first Christian Duke of Poland, with whom opened the really authentic history of the country.
The entry of Poland into the domain of history synchronises with, and, indeed, is possibly due to, a significant event which occurred in the middle of the tenth century. When the Duke Miecislas assumed the reins of sovereignty both he and his subjects were strangers to Christianity even in name. At that time almost all the kingdoms of the North were shrouded in idolatry; a small portion of the Saxons had indeed just received the light of the Gospel, as had also some of the Hungarians; but the beams were feeble and scarce able to pierce the general blackness of paganism. It so happened that the Duke of Poland sought the hand of Dombrowka, daughter of Bolesas, King of Hungary, both of whom had embraced the Christian faith; but so abhorrent to father and daughter was the prospect of Christian mating with unbeliever that the proposal was rejected save on the condition that the wooer should acknowledge himself as of the true faith. After some deliberation he consented; he procured instructors, and was soon made acquainted with the doctrines which he was required to believe, and the duties he was bound to practise. The royal maiden was accordingly conducted to his capital in the year 965; and the day which witnessed his regeneration by the waters of baptism beheld him also receive the other sacrament of marriage.
“Decisive loves that have materially influenced the drama of the world” may thus include the ducal affection which opened the gates for the beneficent flood of Christianity into Poland. But it is certain that, in embracing Christianity, Miecislas was influenced by more statesmanlike motives than mere human passion. When he came to the throne the Drang nach Osten of Germany was in full swing, and, in 959, he was forced to acknowledge the supremacy of the Emperor, and to render him annual tribute. Miecislas clearly foresaw that armed opposition to German aggression was beyond his powers, and, realising that the Germans employed the pretext of the diffusion of religion as a cloak to cover their schemes of territorial aggrandisement, he determined to forestall the intruders and to remove all pretext for evangelisation by spontaneously accepting baptism. The result, whatever may have been the motive inspiring it, was immediate and far-reaching. Poland could now claim the powerful protection of the Holy See, and, by acknowledging the faith of civilised mankind, she made her formal entry into the society of European nations. Of scarcely less importance was the fact that, though relegated to the eastern regions of Europe, the Poles definitely became a Western people. Unlike the natives of the Danube and Dnieper plains, who received their Christianity from Byzantium, the Poles took their faith from Rome, and thus participated, from the outset, in Latin civilisation. Not that Germany abstained from her mission of evangelisation, for German priests worked incessantly in Poland; but, if Miecislas accepted them, he counteracted their influence by summoning ecclesiastics from Italy and France. By every method he showed his determination to resist what he believed—rightly or wrongly—to be the interested proselytism of his Teutonic neighbours.
However much Miecislas may have been influenced by statecraft, the zeal with which he laboured for the conversion of his subjects left no doubt as to his sincerity in his new faith. Having dismissed his seven concubines, he issued an order for the destruction of all the idol? throughout the country. In spite of some initial opposition, his wishes were gradually carried into effect, thanks, in a large measure, to the support he received from the nobles. These, to prove their sincerity when present at public worship, half drew their sabres at the intonation of the Gloria tibi, Doming, thereby showing that they were ready to defend their new creed with their blood—a custom which survived in Poland for fully seven centuries. Their example, the devoted labours of the missionaries, and the unswerving sincerity of the duke, produced the desired result; and when Miecislas issued his edict in 980 that every Pole, who had not already submitted to the rite, should forthwith repair to the waters of baptism, he was obeyed without a murmur. Traces of the old Adam, however, still lingered in the land, and, to the disappointment of Miecislas, Pope Benedict refused to erect Poland into a kingdom, although this honour was conferred upon Hungary about this time.
FROM THE INTRODUCTION OF CHRISTIANITY TO THE DIVISION OF POLAND INTO GOVERNMENTS
The introduction of Christianity and the consequent internal progress which it brought about did not, however, render Poland immune from the necessity of struggling for existence against her powerful neighbours. The burning question at the end of the tenth century was still the growing power of Germany. The Emperor had committed the indiscretion of parcelling out his eastern frontier into several margravates, each inferior in strength to Poland; and to Miecislas the favourable moment for an offensive seemed to have arrived. He entered upon a campaign against the Saxons; but, though successful in the field, he was forced to desist from hostilities at the command of Otto, to restore the territory he had seized, and, more serious than all, to acknowledge himself as the vassal of the Emperor. Foiled in his courageous attempt to free himself from the shackles of the west, Miecislas now found himself face to face with peril to the east. The Russian Grand Duke Vladimir the Great, after triumphing over the Greeks, invaded Poland and captured several towns. The Bug now formed the western frontier of the descendants of Rurik, hut, just as the Empire was manifesting a pronounced tendency to spread towards the east, so Russia was slowly but stolidly expanding westwards. Caught between the jaws of this double movement, the position of Poland was unenviable. But the difficulties of concerted action between widely-separated States and the strategic virtue of interior lines possessed by the intermediate nation were more potent even than to-day. Conjoint efforts between Germany and Muscovy were impossible. Several years elapsed between the intervention of Otto and the aggression of Vladimir, and Miecislas was enabled to arrest, if he could not destroy, the torrent of invasion from the east, and to impose a barrier which forced Vladimir to turn to other enterprises. In these operations, the military outlook of the leaders of Poland at this time was of a striking order. Attack was considered the best defence. In 989 Miecislas led an expedition against another troublesome neighbour—Bohemia. His son seized Silesia and the upper Vistula from the Czechs, and tore territory from the Hungarians. That son was Bolesas I, surnamed the Lion-hearted, and called the Polish Charlemagne. By the time he had fairly settled himself on his throne, Poland was a great State, containing 200,000 inhabitants and stretching from the Baltic to the Carpathians.
All Germany was now alarmed at the progress of Polish arms, and the Emperor Otto III, who was then in Italy, resolved to return by a somewhat circuitous route and to pay the Polish duke a visit. He was received with a magnificence which surprised him; and, whether influenced by 'the lavishness of the reception bestowed upon him or guided by the dictates of policy, he granted a boon long craved by Bolesas. Poland was elevated into a kingdom, and the royal crown was placed upon the duke’s head by the Emperor’s own hands.
According to another account, Bolesas in vain importuned both the Emperor and the Pope on the question of his elevation to the royal dignity; and, on Christmas day, 1024, a few months before his death, crowned himself at Gnesna.
The new king, however was not long allowed to wear his new honours unmolested. A succession of wars with the Empire and Bohemia sorely tried the resources of the growing kingdom. The record of these struggles is obscure, and it will be sufficient to observe that what little advantage was gained in them fell to the lot of Bolesas, until the Peace of Bautzen, in 1018, restored peace to the lacerated State. Poland had gained territory at the expense of the Empire; her frontier now marched with the head waters of the Elbe; and the fetters of Germany, though not yet thrown off, had been rendered less galling than before.
Although Bolesas had been thus occupied with his efforts against the Germans, he was forced to guard his eastern frontier against Russian aggression. The Peace of Bautzen set him free to attempt to regain the territory which had been filched by Vladimir from Miecislas, and he marched against the de facto sovereign Yaroslav, whom he encountered on the banks of the Bug. The enemy was powerful and well posted, and Bolesas, for some time, hesitated to force a passage. But a Russian soldier on the further bank, deriding thf corpulency of the Polish king, goaded that monarch into action; and outraged vanity triumphed over tactical considerations. Bolesas plunged into the waters, followed by his more intrepid followers, and the action resulted in victory for the Polish arms. The rich city of Kieff was taken, and Poland stretched eastwards to the Dniester.
Bolesas died in 1025, leaving behind him the reputation of the greatest sovereign of the age. He was the true founder of his country’s greatness. The succession of victories which he had achieved gained for him the title of Chrobri or Lion-hearted. But amid all the cares of war he found time to attend to the interior organisation of his country, and, not least, to carrying out important reforms in its military system. He gradually brought into being a well-organised regular army, divided into fractions of one thousand, one hundred, and ten men respectively, which, so far as the infantry were concerned, corresponded generally with the battalion, company and section of modem days. He also formed two corps of cavalry—the heavy cavalry, which was equipped with cuirasses, and the light cavalry with which Poland was to win imperishable renown. A military college in embryo was also provided in the corps of noble youths by whom he was surrounded, and whose skill in arms and military exercises was to form the model for the army at large.
The manners of this period are thus described by Dlugoss:—“The Polish nobles thirst for military fame; dangers, and even death, they despise; they are lavish of their revenues, faithful to their sovereign, taking pleasure in agricultural pursuits and the breeding of cattle. They are open towards strangers, and afford to other nations the finest example of hospitality and beneficence; but they oppress their peasantry. The country people are much addicted to drunkenness; hence quarrels, wounds, sometimes murder. They are, however, patient and accustomed to the most rigorous labours; they support, without complaining, hunger, cold, and every other privation. They believe in magic, and never scruple at robbery or plunder. They care little about comfort in their dwellings.”
The successor of the Charlemagne of Poland was wholly incapable. Cowardly, dissipated and despicable, he soon showed himself totally unfitted for governing such a turbulent people as the Poles or for repressing his powerful and ambitious neighbours. One internal reform alone stands to his credit: the distribution of the country into palatinates, each presided over by a local judge—a feature which contributed, in a marked degree, to the more speedy and effectual administration of justice. Such was the sole contribution of a prince who died unwept, unhonoured, and unsung, leaving behind him a son of too tender an age to grasp the reins of sovereignty.
This circumstance retarded the advance of Poland in a deplorable fashion. To the Slavs the idea of kingship had never yet been really welcome, and the elevation of Bolesas the Lion-hearted had seemed the negation of the Slav principle of regarding the supreme power as a divisible heritage. To the haughty Polish nobles who despised the sway of a woman, the rule of the young prince’s mother, who was nominated as regent, seemed an added affront, increased by the fact that she was of the hated German race. These discontented aristocrats banded themselves into a confederacy whose ostensible object was to procure the dismissal of all foreigners, but whose real one was to seize the supreme power. The condition of the country was soon one of unrelieved wretchedness. The regent and her son Casimir sought safety in flight. Innumerable parties contended for leadership. There was no authority, no law, and no obedience; the whole country was cursed by the lawless rule of local petty sovereigns; and against such rule was soon directed a general rising of the unfortunate peasants, whose object was to revenge themselves on the intolerable tyrants who oppressed them. In a word, Poland was consigned to a universal debauch of anarchy. Armed bands scoured the country, seizing all that was valuable, and destroying everything which could not be removed. Women were violated. Old and young were massacred. Priests and bishops were slain at the altar. Nuns were ravished in the depths of the cloisters. As might have been expected, the neighbouring States which had felt the heel of Bolesas the Great were not slow to avail themselves of such a favourable opportunity for revenge. From the east came the savage Yaroslav with fire and sword, making a desert of the districts through which he passed. On the other flank, the Duke of Bohemia, aflame with vengeance, sacked Breslau, Posen and Gnesna, anticipating, by his revolting cruelties, the war system of Central Europe of ten centuries later.
The distracted kingdom was to receive assistance from an unlooked-for quarter. The aim of the Duke of Bohemia was to aggrandise himself at the expense of Poland, and to make himself ruler of a mighty Slav State—a project which was by no means acceptable to the Emperor. During the sombre centuries of the Middle Ages, the policy of the Empire, though confusing at times, was, in reality, marked by one guiding principle. That principle was to act as a counterpoise between the neighbouring States, and when one threatened to acquire a position of dangerous stability to throw the weight of the resources of Central Europe into the scale against it. The Empire had resisted, to the full extent of its power, the rise of Poland; but it was now alarmed at its rapid decline, and the Emperor seconded the efforts of the more rational of the Poles to rescue their country from destruction. An assembly was convoked at Gnesna. All, except a few lawless chiefs who wished to perpetuate the reign of untrammelled brutality, voted for a king; and, after some deliberation, an overwhelming majority decreed the recall of prince Casimir.
Casimir “the Restorer” proved himself worthy of the confidence reposed in him by his people. The task which confronted him was immense, but he did not flinch from its solution. He swept back the tide of paganism which was once again submerging the country, and, by reducing the nobles to obedience, he limited the influence of feudalism, which had been introduced by the Germans, and, abhorrent as it was to the genius of the Slavs, had been one of the most fruitful causes of the previous disorders. Of his foreign policy the most outstanding circumstance was the defeat he inflicted upon the pagan Prussians, as a result of which these uncouth savages, who dwelt on the Baltic littoral, were compelled to acknowledge themselves the vassals of Poland and to pay an annual tribute. Casimir, however, had been able to restore his country only by the aid of the Polish aristocracy from within, and by the assistance of the Empire from without. These services were no outcome of patriotism and philanthropy; they were rendered for reward. The Emperor was enabled to re-assert his suzerainty and to demand a substantial tribute, while the aristocratic faction of Poland, in which were comprised not merely the nobles but highly-placed ecclesiastics, was able to extend its influence, and to become a preponderating influence in the- public life of the country. Gradually there grew up around the sovereign a permanent council, in which is discernible the germ of the senate of the republic. Casimir died in 1058, the regenerator no less than the restorer of his country. His memory is still dear to every Pole.
The formation of a regular senate was, however, slow, and was completed only when experience had proved its utility. On the division of the country into palatinates by Miecislas II, the palatines became the privileged advisers of the sovereign, as were also the bishops, who, after the introduction of Christianity, were joined with the temporal barons in the exercise of this privilege. These officials gradually usurped, and then claimed as a hereditary right, the judicial power; so that, however absolute in theory was the authority of the king, he could not but quail before the formidable body he had allowed to come into being. The multiplication of towns, and the increase in their population and wealth, also gave rise to a change in the internal administration; for these, fretting against the feudal laws, purchased exemption from them. Town after town secured, either by the avarice or the favour of the sovereign, charters which empowered them to substitute municipal for feudal law. The result was a legal chaos; and uniformity of laws was practically unknown until the reign of Casimir III.
The succeeding eighty years in the history of Poland are marked by the continuance of the unending struggles with such neighbours as Muscovy, Bohemia and Hungary; the persistent effort to escape from the strangling coils of the Empire; and a conflict with the mighty power of Rome. Separated from Hungary by the Carpathians, and from Bohemia by a no less formidable mountain range, Poland contented herself in general with a defensive attitude towards those rival States. On the other hand, the trouée of the Oder gave the Czechs access to the rich Silesian valley, which was a natural dependency of Poland. This circumstance produced centuries of hostilities between the two nations, which the diplomatists of the Empire did their best to foster. On the other frontier Poland continued to carry out successful operations against Muscovy. The monarch of that country had committed the fatal, but in that period, the common, error of dividing his inheritance among his children, thereby opening the door to the most unnatural of contests. The successor of Casimir (Bolesas II, surnamed the Bold, 1058-1081) took up arms ostensibly to assist one of the rival claimants, but, in reality, to recover the possessions which his predecessors had held in Muscovy, as well as the domains which he conceived he had a right to inherit through his mother and his queen—for, like his father, he had wedded a Russian princess. The Polish sovereign penetrated to Kieff, which he invested and took, thereafter reducing Przemysl, an ancient dependency of Poland. Retracing his steps, he again laid siege to Kieff, which had been wrested from his nominee during his absence, and again fought a victorious battle, still determined to restore the prince whose cause he had espoused, but no less fixed in his intention to make him tributary to Poland.
The energetic manner in which the Polish sovereigns threw themselves into their struggles, with Muscovy has exposed them to the charge of an overweening ambition towards territorial expansion to the east. It has, however, been well remarked that, during this period, although Poland was furnished with natural frontiers to the west, north and south, her territory lay absolutely open and unguarded to the east—a region peopled by unknown tribes, and one from which unexpected dangers might suddenly arise. The instinctive longing for security may well explain enterprises which, at first sight, seem unnecessary and hazardous, but, on reflection, will show themselves to be incidents in a natural struggle to a safe and well-defined frontier. Between the Baltic and the Black Sea, the Dwina and the Dnieper formed an almost continuous river line, which would provide an effective barrier against incursions from the east. It was the attainment of this frontier which was constantly before the eyes of the Polish leaders.
Though Bolesas the Bold could keep the Emperor at arm’s length, and could chastise his other and less powerful neighbours, he was beaten to his knees by the spiritual power of Rome. After his successes in the east a difference took place between the sovereign and the Church. The exact cause of the rupture is obscure; but, whether it was the result of political intrigue, fostered in the Empire, in which the ecclesiastical power sided with the discontented nobles, or whether it was that Stanislas, Bishop of Cracow, took it upon himself to reproach the king for his licentious orgies, one thing is clear. Stanislas excommunicated his sovereign, and was soon afterwards murdered; apparently by the king’s own hand. But neither Bolesas of Poland nor Henry of England could murder an ecclesiastic with impunity. Gregory VII hurled the thunders of the Church against the murderer, whom he deposed from the royal dignity, and, at the same time, placed an interdict upon the whole kingdom. The result was fatal to Bolesas and disastrous to his country. The king fled his dominions, and his end is wrapt in obscurity. For more than two centuries the royal title was withheld, and the rulers of Poland—as dukes—were unable to repress anarchy at home or to command respect abroad so vigorously as had been done by the kings their predecessors.
After the disappearance of Bolesas, Poland remained without a head for almost a whole year, until the incursions of the Russians and Hungarians—the latter of whom reduced Cracow—led the nobles to summon to the vacant throne Vladislas, son of Casimir the Restorer and brother of the unfortunate Bolesas. The mild and benevolent disposition of the new Polish leader induced Gregory VII. to relent, and the interdict was withdrawn. But, as has been already told, the royal dignity was withheld. Vladislas was allowed to reign as duke, but no Polish prelate dared anoint him king. This derogation encouraged his fierce neighbours to revolt, and the Russians recovered the conquests made by Bolesas the Bold while, not long after, the Prussians, a people more savage, though perhaps less stupid, than the ancient Muscovites, prepared to invade his dominions. After some variations of victory and defeat, these barbarians were, however, beaten, and Prussia and Pomerania submitted. The wars of the duke against Bohemia were less decisive, but, on the whole, victory inclined to the Polish arms. These foreign troubles paled before the dissensions caused within the country by a family feud which was to be prolific of misfortune. Before his marriage the duke had a natural son, called Sbiquiew, whose depravity made him a veritable scourge to his country. As not infrequently has been the case with the illegitimate scions of a royal house, Sbiquiew became the head of a discontented faction and took up arms against his sire. The traitor, with his mercenary army of Prussians, was defeated and subsequently pardoned; but quarrels of the most bitter nature broke out between the bastard and the lawful heir, the young Bolesas. Alarmed at the prospect of civil wars which might arise after his decease, Vladislas took the fatal resolution of announcing the intended division of his States between his two sons. But this expedient became the source of the worst troubles, and was to prove dangerous to the existence, and fatal to the prosperity, of Poland.
Bolesas III, the bravest prince of his age, was not the man lightly to endure the aggression of a debauched bastard. Supported by the Russians and Hungarians, he engaged his brother, who allied himself with the Empire, Bohemia and Pomerania, and defeated him; with the result that all Poland was now once again under one sceptre. This, however, did not prevent the Emperor making—indeed, possibly it induced him to make—the most extravagant demands on Bolesas. He required the latter not only to render the homage of a vassal, but even to surrender one-half of his possessions; to which the intrepid Bolesas replied that he preferred to lose Poland in endeavouring to preserve its independence rather than to retain it at the price of what he considered an ignominy. Hostilities were thus again precipitated, and the Emperor Henry V took the field. His Bohemian allies, however, deserted him, and, weakened by their defection, the Emperor slowly retreated, pursued by the Poles to the vast plains before Breslau, where the Emperor turned at bay. Here, in 1110, the arms of Germany went down in disaster on the memorable Field of Dogs, so-called from the pariah legions which devoured the bodies of the German dead. These were to be counted in thousands, for the Poles, unsurpassed in ferocity by any of the fighting races of Europe, had committed horrible carnage on all those unable to flee. Peace was soon dedared, sealed by political marriages, and the incubus of Germanism was once more shaken off.
The career of Bolesas III was one of almost unchequered victory. Until four years before his death, his arms were almost invariably successful. He had repeatedly discomfited the Bohemians and Pomeranians; he had humbled the pride of emperors; and had twice dictated laws to Hungary and gained signal triumphs over Muscovy. But, towards the end of his reign, he was surprised and defeated on the Dniester by a vastly superior force of Russians and Hungarians, and, in 1139, the victor in forty-seven battles and the bravest prince of his age, died a broken man. His very death was pregnant with misfortune for his country. The Slav tradition that supreme power was a divisible heritage, although in direct contradiction to the most elementary principles of good government and political stability, swayed Bolesas before his end. Following the fatal precedent of his father, he divided his dominions among his sons, thus opening a period of over one hundred and fifty years which is distinguished by little more than the dissensions of rival princes and the progressive decay of a once powerful nation.
FROM THE DEATH OF BOLESAS III TO THE RESTORATION OF THE MONARCHY
The will of the Duke Bolesas III, Poland was divided among his four elder sons. There remained a fifth and youngest son, Casimir, to whom nothing was bequeathed. When asked why the best beloved of his children should have been thus passed over, the Duke is said to have replied that a four-wheeled chariot must have a driver—a homely prophecy which was, in due time, to be fulfilled. The fatal effects of the division were soon apparent, and, although the eldest brother was nominally in the position of a mere suzerain, he soon showed that he was aiming at nothing less than absolute monarchy, and a fierce fratricidal struggle was the result, in which the clergy espoused the cause of the younger princes, and the elder was put to flight. The eldest of the remaining brothers was elected to the vacant dignity, and his reign is distinguished by the efforts he made to avoid the Germanisation of his kingdom by measuring his strength against an overwhelming force of Imperialists and Bohemians, not without success. An expedition against the Prussians, who had now renounced Christianity and returned to their ancient idolatry, was successfully carried out; but, in a second expedition, the Polish troops were drawn on into a marshy country and, surprised by the fierce natives, were almost annihilated. A third brother mounted the throne when death had claimed the second, but the condition of the country had become so unsettled—the nobles, the clergy, and the people were so openly in revolt, and the desire for a ruler, untrammelled by the hateful testament of Bolesas III., was so marked—that the youngest brother, Casimir, was almost unanimously elected as Duke of Poland in 1178. Until the restoration of the monarchy, over a century later, a bare recital of the reigns of the various ducal occupants of the throne is merely a record of incompetence, dissension and decay. It is more profitable to turn to a survey of the influences, both internal and external, which were shaping the destinies of the country.
About 1230 the Prussians penetrated into the very heart of Poland, exceeding, if possible, their former ferocity. The result was disaster for the Poles; but the remedy by which they hoped to free themselves from the threatening danger was, if possible, more harmful in the end. The fatal remedy was to call in the aid of the Teutonic Knights to repel the pagans.
Like the Knights Templars and the Knights of St. John, the Teutonic Knights owed their origin to a charitable endeavour to mitigate the sufferings caused by the Crusades. During the siege of Acre eight Germans, shocked by the agonies of the wounded, of which they were helpless spectators, banded themselves into a small organisation to relieve the wants of the sufferers. On the reduction of Acre a church and hospital were built for them within the city, and subsequently similar buildings were erected at Jerusalem. The Order was at first distinguished for humility, and was approved, in 1191, by the Emperor Henry VI and Pope Celestine III. By the statutes of the Order the knights were bound to be of noble descent, and were sworn to celibacy and the defence of the Christian Church; and, for some time, they were distinguished by the austerity of their lives. But, as was to happen with other Orders of a monastic-military organisation, the cult of asceticism gave way in time to indulgence and aggrandisement. On their expulsion from the Holy Land the knights first settled in Venice, ready to act as evangelising free-lances wherever their services might be required, and td them Conrad, who was acting as regent for the King of Poland, then of tender years, applied for assistance against the Prussians—an offer which was readily accepted.
A deputation of seven of the knights proceeded to Poland to receive instructions as to the task which lay before them. They were required, in return for a territorial reward, to complete the subjugation of Prussia, and to compel the perverts of that nation to re-embrace Christianity. The knights carried out their mission in a manner little distinguished from a war of extermination, and Prussia and Eastern Pomerania were quickly overrun. Both the Emperor and Pope Gregory IX regarded the war which' the knights were waging in the light of a crusade, and saw with pleasure the rapid Germanisation of Prussia. The conquering knights were quickly followed by pioneers of commerce, and all along the shores of the Baltic there was a steady advance of German traders. So successful were the efforts of the Teutonic Knights that the grateful Conrad surrendered to them the territory of Culm and all the country between the Vistula, the Mokra and the Druentsa. The cession of so considerable a portion of Polish territory was apparently to be only of a temporary nature, and the knights were eventually to receive merely a portion of such possessions as they might wrest from the Prussian pagans. But to compel these monkish soldiers to surrender lands once occupied by them was to prove a difficult task, and, on the restoration of the monarchy, the long reign of Vladislas IV. was to prove a continuous struggle with the Teutonic Knights. By that time the knights had Germanised almost the whole of Prussia to the Niemen, and, in 1283, the last Prussian chief had taken refuge in Lithuania, with the fragments of his race. But Poland had now, on its north-eastern borders, a formidable State, half ecclesiastics and half soldiers, who were to act as determined pioneers of Germanisation.
Rumours of the thorough-going evangelisation waged by the Teutonic Knights against their near kinsfolk, the wild Prussians, first woke the inhabitants of Lithuania to a sense of impending danger. They immediately abandoned their loose tribal system of government and, under exceptionally able rulers, extended their dominions mainly at the expense of Russia, which was at the time hard pressed by the Tatars. One of the Lithuanian princes, Mendovg by name, extended his empire from the Niemen and the Bug almost to the Dwina and the Beresina. In 1251 he embraced Christianity and assumed the royal dignity; and Lithuania henceforth became an important factor in Eastern Europe. Indeed, at one time, it seemed as if this new and aggressive State was about to absorb the nations east and west of her. Poland just then seemed to be dropping to pieces; and, with the possibility of being cut off from the Baltic by the growing power of the Teutonic Knights, there was now the very real danger for Poland that she might be immured between the strong empire of Germany on the west and the young and aggressive kingdom of Lithuania on the east.
Added to this danger were the terrible Tatar invasions (1224-1242), which profoundly influenced the fate of the Slav countries. The Tatars, whom Ghengis Khan had so often led to victory and plunder, after subduing Russia and making it a desert, carried their terrific depredations into more western countries. Poland, tom by internal factions and weakened by the dissensions of rival princes, became an easy prey, and Cracow, the capital of the kingdom, was taken and destroyed. The Polish nobles offered what resistance they could, but it was not till 1241 that the onrush of the invaders was stayed, when Henry the Pious, of the royal house of the Piasts, rallied the fragments of the Polish army and gave battle at Lignica. The duke was killed, and with him fell more than ten thousand of the Polish chivalry. The Tatars carried off many prisoners and much plunder, and we are told that nine sacks were filled with the ears of the slain. But although the Tatars were nominally victors in the battle, their dlan was destroyed. The tide of destruction rolled on to Silesia and Moravia or diverged to Hungary, where it quietly subsided; but it left effects behind it which not a century could repair.
The influence of the Tatar invasions upon Poland was far-reaching, and, on the whole, highly beneficial. In the first place the Tatars had dealt roughly with the Teutonic Knights; and although the invaders contented themselves with setting up a kingdom at Kazan, on the Volga, the rise of Russian power was checked, and thus two of Poland’s aggressive neighbours had their claws pared. Further, the mission thrust upon the kingdom of acting as the bulwark of Christianity and civilisation towards the savage and unknown east was to endow it with a prestige which increased in the centuries which were yet to come. It cemented, too, the union between the Papacy and Poland, and quickened the Latinising of the Polish people, while it provided the basis for the coming union between Poland and Lithuania, especially as the latter State soon began to feel the civilising influence of its western neighbour. The internal life of the kingdom was also influenced by the wars against the Tatars. Such towns as existed were without fortifications fit even to resist the unscientific attacks of that day, and the castles of the nobility were similarly undefended. The urgent necessity of defending themselves against the Mongolian invaders turned the attention of the Poles to the construction of ramparts and battlements; and, for this technical work, as well as for repairing the damage done by the barbarian invaders, it was found necessary to call in the assistance of trained foreign craftsmen, particularly Germans and Italians. The work of the latter appears to have given the greater satisfaction, and the impress which Italian architecture left upon the country was to augment the Latin spirit which forms, even to-day, such a remarkable characteristic of Poland.
The dangers to be apprehended by Poland from the Teutonic Knights, the Lithuanians and the Tatars were those associated with war; but, from the west, a peaceful penetration was in progress from across the German frontier fraught with almost equal menace. The movement is first discernible to an appreciable extent during the twelfth century; and it was largely due to discontent within the Empire, which forced the more virile portion of the population to seek their fortune towards the east. The fertility of Poland and the comparative sparsity of its population induced the Germanic emigrants to settle within the kingdom, and, by the dose of the twelfth century, at a period when Poland was a prey to domestic anarchy, they overflowed Silesia, and, before the succeeding century had closed, Little Poland was, to a great extent, colonised by them. These colonists brought with them the language, customs and industries of Germany, and grouped themselves into rural and urban communities, to which the Polish Government, with impolitic generosity, granted a species of autonomy, permitting the existence of burgomasters, town councils, and all the municipal machinery then to be found within the Empire. From this German colonisation sprang, in part, a class hitherto practically unknown in Poland—a bourgeoisie—and this new element was strengthened by the craftsmen brought in, as already mentioned, to repair and guard against the ravages of the Tatars. These skilled artisans, not unnaturally, demanded certain terms from their Polish employers; and, by the privileges granted them, they helped to form an important factor of the State, balancing, to some extent, the influence of the nobles and clergy, and developing into a stratum of society capable of offering a far more stubborn resistance to oppression than the peasants.
But, in spite of the growing power of the bourgeoisie, the unchecked progress of the aristocratic and clerical elements was the dominant feature of Poland in the thirteenth century. It was the aristocracy which had brought to an end the fratricidal struggle between the sons of Bolesas III, and had placed the youngest brother, Casimir, on the throne in 1177. Three years later, the first national Diet of Poland took place at Lenczyca, and, at this assembly of nobles and clergy, which is regarded as the first attempt at Polish legislation, the former were relieved from some heavy compositions hitherto sanctioned by Canon Law; but, in return, they decreed the abrogation of the testament of Bolesas III, and declared the sovereignty of Poland hereditary in the descendants of the reigning duke. This important enactment was submitted to, and received the assent of, the Holy See; but it seems that it contained some legal defects, for the minor dukes were apparently confirmed in their respective appanages, and the succession vested, by implication, in their descendants. And thus the existence of four or five hereditary and almost independent governments was condoned, even if it was not openly acknowledged.
The growing power of the nobles is well shown by the fact that, apparently without even a protest from the supreme ruler, they took it upon themselves to arrange the succession to the throne. At the same time, however, Casimir restricted their arbitrary domination to some extent, for one of his first acts was to procure the abolition of an abuse which had inflicted terrible hardships on the poorer portion of the landed proprietors. For centuries there had prevailed a custom by which the monarchs of the country, in journeys of state or ceremony, had been furnished with horses, food, lodging and every other necessity by the inhabitants of the districts through which they passed. This system pressed heavily at times on the peasants and lesser gentry; but it grew to be intolerable when every noble imitated the state of his sovereign, and insisted on the provision of the same supplies, no matter what was the occasion of his journey, and even when engaged in one of the perpetually recurring feuds with rival aristocrats. It needs little imagination to conceive to what condition the poorer and more peaceable inhabitants were reduced by having to house and feed the ruffians and bullies who formed the armies of some of the more belligerent aristocracy. A deeply-rooted feeling of discontent was engendered in the country, and, at the assembly of Lenczyca, Casimir felt himself strong enough to terminate the abuse. The suppression of the obnoxious privilege was solemnly decreed; the peasants were declared exempt from the claims which had reduced them to wretchedness; and a dreadful anathema was pronounced on those who should disturb the inhabitants of the country in their possessions.
The struggle between the Empire and the Papacy continued with accumulated defeat to the secular power. In 1177 the Emperor was forced to mate abject submission to the Holy Father, and the election of Innocent III. was the signal for a more intensive warfare. He claimed, as lord of the world, universal authority, and a later successor, Innocent IV, deposed the Emperor, whose death in 1250 signalised the complete triumph of the Papacy. With Rome putting forward such claims, it is not surprising that the clergy of Europe had become a powerful class. By the middle of the thirteenth century they were, in Poland, the greatest social factor of the age. Religious sentiment, too, was exalted by the frightful calamities which were sweeping over Poland, more particularly the Mongolian invasions, and this fact tended to exalt ecclesiastical pretensions still higher. The power to which the Church in Poland had risen, in the middle of the thirteenth century, is shown by the canonisation of the bishop Stanislas, the victim of Bolesas II—a reminder to the common people that expiation was demanded by the Church when sacrilege had been committed, even if the wrongdoer was the monarch of the land. But at this time the corruption of morals appears to have reached a fearful height, and the clergy showed but a poor example to their flocks. Ignorance, luxury and incontinence are said to have been rife among them. Some were openly married, others had concubines, and, in both cases, their offspring were admitted to the rights of inheritance. These abuses reached the ear of Pope Celestine III, who dispatched a legate to apply the canonical remedies. The cardinal acquitted himself well of his task, and the decree of terrible punishments purged the Polish clergy of many of their immoral practices.
In the period of internal anarchy which prevailed from 1139 to the beginning of the fourteenth century, a new Germanic peril was arising to threaten Poland. Almost at the moment when the unfortunate parcelling out of Poland into minor governments had taken place the Northern Mark of Germany fell to Albert the Bear, and that prince made of his dominions a State which, as the electorate of Brandenburg, and later, as the nucleus of the Kingdom of Prussia, was to become one of the most dangerous enemies of Poland. While the sons of Bolesas Wrymouth were engaged in their senseless and unpatriotic quarrels, Albert the Bear and Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony, were attacking with a methodical ferocity the Slavs of the lower Oder and Elbe. In 1181 the Duke of Stettin entered the German confederation, and, within a short time, the chieftains of Brandenburg had crossed the Oder and set foot on Polish soil. Fortunately for Poland, the Empire, as a whole, was in no position to carry out the Germanisation of its eastern neighbour. The causes which led to the inactivity of Germany at this time were many and complex. The Crusades were occupying the attention of the civilised world, and, in common with the remainder of Europe, the eyes of Germany were turned towards them. Further, the Crusades had a more direct influence on Germany, for the second Crusade, in 1147, was accompanied by other crusades in the north of Germany against the heathen; and the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa himself set forth on the third Crusade of 1190.
While these struggles were affecting history in numberless ways—one of them being the easing of pressure on Poland—the great contest between the Empire and the Papacy never ceased. In this contest the Crusades told heavily in favour of the ecclesiastical power, for the movement had its inspiration in the Popes and not in the Emperors, and the German clergy not unnaturally lent the weight of their Order to the Holy See. With their attention fixed upon the Crusades, and with their genuinely religious interest in these expeditions, by a curious paradox, undermining their strength in the struggle against Rome, the Emperors were naturally not in a position to carry out any serious aggression against Poland. Other causes which stayed the hand of Germany were the growth of the towns within the Empire, and the bitter struggles between the feudal barons and the throne. The towns were, on the whole, anti-papal in sentiment, and were thus a support to the Emperors in the struggle with Rome; on the other hand, the Holy See found an ally in the feudalism of the Empire, if for no other reason than that the barons were bitterly hostile to the sovereign. The growth of the towns, in which the Emperors were deeply interested, turned the thoughts of the latter to peace, instead of war; while the power and turbulence of the nobles caused aggressive action to be confined within the Empire, instead of directed across its borders. It was fortunate for Poland that, in her days of dismal dismemberment and decay, the strength of her powerful and aggressive neighbour was thus weakened.
During the period now under review, the population of Poland was diluted by the entry of alien immigrants. The peaceful penetration of the Germans has already been alluded to. These formed, for the most part, burghers of the cities, and early obtained great influence in the country, one of the Polish rulers being so partial to German fashions that he affected their habits, dressing like a German and wearing his hair after their style. In addition to the Germans, were the Armenians and Jews. The former came for the purposes of trade, and, as early as the thirteenth century, a considerable number had settled in the country; while the Jews, also attracted by the prospect of making money, had begun to filter into Poland from very early times. A great portion of the trade of the country was carried on by them. In all probability the oldest Jewish immigrants reached Poland from the countries on the Lower Danube and from the kingdom of the Khazans, who had embraced the Jewish faith. At the end of the eleventh century, another stream of Jewish immigrants flowed from Germany, and, in 1264, Bolesas V granted them certain privileges. The Jews, however, never became really assimilated, and to this day, to a great extent, use the German in preference to the Polish tongue.
FROM THE RESTORATION OF THE MONARCHY TO THE DEATH OF CASIMIR IV
AFTER more than a century of disorder, the death of Lesko the Black, in 1289, plunged the country into a state of anarchy, rare even in Poland. The struggles of the rival candidates for the supreme power, among whom were Wenceslas, King of Bohemia, and Vladislas, the late duke’s brother, continued for several years, and the former did not scruple to call in the Lithuanians to his aid. When to these troubles were added new invasions by the Tatars and the Prussians the Polish nobles at last recognised that, unless they could contrive a speedy settlement of their differences, the nation’s fate was sealed. They, therefore, united in choosing Prezymislas, the Duke of Great Poland and Pomerania, and this prince resolved that with the authority he would assume also the title of king. Without troubling to obtain the Pope’s sanction he received the crown from his nobles and clergy at Gnesna. He seemed likely to prove a strong and successful ruler, but within eight months he was murdered and domestic strife raged again.
After a few years Wenceslas, with, the support of the great nobles, obtained the throne of Poland, but his preference for his other kingdom of Bohemia, which he made no effort to conceal, aggravated the discontent of his new subjects, who very soon regretted their choice of one whose ancestors had been among the bitterest enemies of their country. It was not long before he became engaged in wars with the Empire and with Hungary, and these gave to Vladislas the opportunity of renewing his attempt to win the Polish crown. He quickly gained the support of Little Poland and Pomerania; but, even after the death of Wenceslas and the murder of Wenceslas’s son, he found himself opposed by the nobles of Great Poland, who had experienced his cruelty in the past, and by the German burghers of Cracow. The prince of Great Poland, however, died four years later, and that province made its submission to Vladislas, who was forthwith proclaimed at Gnesna “King of all Poland,” although his coronation, sanctioned by the Pope—the first to take place at Cracow—was delayed until 1320.
The reign of Vladislas, who was known as Lokietek or the Dwarf, lasted from 1306 to 1333, and was important in both the foreign and domestic history of his country. Soon after his accession Pomerania was lost to Poland, and in spite of a struggle which lasted almost continuously until his death, the king failed to recover the province. At the outset, the enemy was Waldemar, Margrave of Brandenburg, who, on being appealed to by a disaffected Pomeranian family, had closely invested the town of Dantzig. Lokietek summoned the Teutonic Knights, whose headquarters had, in 1308, been moved to Marienburg on the Vistula, to relieve the town; but no sooner had their efforts compelled the Brandenburgers to raise the siege than they attacked the Polish garrison in their turn and captured the city, as well as the whole province, for their Order. The king’s expostulations and menaces were alike in vain; he was kept busy at the time in putting down a revolt of the burghers in Cracow, and could not put his threats into execution. He laid his case, indeed, before the Pope, who appointed a commission of inquiry, as the result of which the Order was excommunicated and condemned to pay a heavy fine. The excommunication was ignored and the indemnity was not paid. But towards the end of his reign, Lokietek found himself strong enough to conduct several expeditions against the knights, in which his Polish troops had the support of auxiliaries from Hungary and Lithuania.
These auxiliaries were available as the result of alliances which the Polish king had effected by the marriage of his daughter with the king of Hungary, and that of his son Casimir with the daughter of Gedymin, Grand Prince of Lithuania. In the latter case events had for some time been tending in such a direction as would make a rapprochement between the two countries likely. Nearly twenty-five years before Conrad’s invitation to the Teutonic Knights to undertake the subjugation and conversion of the Prussians, another Order, that of the Sword-bearers, whose vows and constitution closely resembled those of the Templars, had entered upon the task of evangelising Livonia. They united with the Teutonics in 1238, and thereafter were governed by a provincial master deputed by the chapter in Culm. As the power of the knights steadily increased both Lithuania and Poland suffered from their aggressive policy, and, as we have seen, the danger in which it stood furnished Lithuania with the incentive to unite its hitherto independent tribes and to consolidate its forces. The work of Mendovg, who in 1260 asserted his independence of the Livonian Knights, has been referred to above; his success was carried still further in the next century by Gedymin, who not only extended the boundaries of Lithuania far towards the south, but also by his wise rule greatly improved the internal condition of the country. A Polo-Lithuanian alliance, on the ground of common hostility to the Military Orders, was thus a natural act of policy on both sides, besides being the best protection that Lokietek could find against an attack upon his kingdom by the powerful Duchy on his eastern border, where natural frontiers were lacking.
The war against the knights was waged by Lokietek with the utmost savagery, although, as often happened in such cases, it was the innocent peasants of Pomerania rather than the military monks themselves who suffered most from the excesses of his troops. After two expeditions of this kind, he convened, in 1331, a great assembly—the first Polish Diet to be attended by the smaller as well as the greater nobles—to consider what measures should next be taken. But the treachery of Samatulski, a wealthy and powerful noble whom the king had just replaced by his son Casimir as governor of Great Poland, and who sought to revenge himself by joining his country’s enemies, enabled the latter to invade the kingdom instead of merely defending themselves in their Pomeranian fortresses. They penetrated into Great Poland, laid waste the country and even captured the city of Gnesna. The king, however, induced Samatulski to return to his allegiance, and as a result the knights were heavily defeated. To escape utter destruction they appealed to John, the King of Bohemia, who had already lent them some support, and who himself laid claim, in right of his wife, to the crown of Poland, to make a diversion on the west. John was willing enough, and the consequent hasty departure of Lokietek to raise the siege of Posen gave the knights time to recover, and hostilities continued until the king's death in 1333.
In addition to Pomerania, Silesia was also lost to Poland during this reign. From the time of the Tatar invasions the immigration of German colonists into the province had been encouraged by the Poles themselves, and now John of Bohemia had little difficulty in procuring the recognition of his authority from the princes who, while nominally subordinate to Poland, had contrived, for nearly two centuries, to be practically independent.
If the wars of Vladislas Lokietek were hardly successful, at least his internal rule resulted in a great increase of prosperity and order. By freeing the public roads from the brigands who infested them, and by reorganising the administration of justice, he made possible the rapid development of commerce and the consequent growth, both in population and importance, of the towns; from his time the burghers began to exert a power in the country which could not be ignored. On the other hand, the arrival of certain heretics during his reign occasioned the establishment of a mild form of the Inquisition—a fact which deserves a passing notice in the case of a country where religious strife was to play a large part in shaping its later history.
Casimir, known as the Great, succeeded his father on the throne, and during his long reign of thirty-seven years his efforts were continually directed to the task, which Lokietek had begun, of improving the internal condition of his country. It was evident that no permanent development of prosperity was possible so long as Poland continued to be at war with her neighbours, the King of Bohemia and the Teutonic Knights. With the former, therefore, he purchased peace by assenting to the incorporation of Silesia in the Bohemian kingdom—which, as we have seen, his predecessor had been powerless to prevent—in return for the surrender of all claim to the Polish crown by John and his successors. An agreement with the knights was more difficult to arrange, and the terms finally agreed upon were bitterly opposed by the Polish nobles, and nothing less than his urgent need of tranquillity for the sake of his proposed internal reforms could have induced even their king to consent to them. By a treaty signed in 1343, Pomerania and Culm were ceded to the Teutonic Order, which, on its side, restored other territory to Poland. By this arrangement Poland was cut off from all access to the Baltic.
In another direction, however, Casimir was able to effect his country's expansion. The last independent duke of Red Russia died in 1339, eagerness of both Poland and Lithuania to annex it led to a renewal of hostilities between the two states. But the motives which had induced them to form an alliance in the preceding reign were still powerful, and, on the intervention of the King of Hungary, who had married Casimir's sister Elizabeth, the rivals agreed to a partition of the duchy, by which Poland received East Galicia as its share.
As the essential foundation of all improvement in the social condition of his people, Casimir took measures for the establishment of public order and security. The highways were once more made perilous by the activities of brigands, who were in many cases, it is said, disbanded soldiers carrying on their new profession with the connivance of the great nobles, and against them and their protectors the king prosecuted a vigorous and successful campaign. The natural result was seen in the growth of industry and commerce; German traders and artisans settled in the country in large numbers ; handsome public buildings were erected; and towns were built and fortified.
It is, however, on another achievement than these that the fame of Casimir the Great chiefly rests. Before his time the laws of his country were barbarous, depending for their sanction on custom only, and differing widely in the various parts of the kingdom. This state of things was changed by the work of two Diets which fixed and elaborated in two codes the laws of Little and Great Poland respectively, and the two were united into a single code in 1368. The general tendency of its provisions was to improve the status of the peasants; the possession and the rights of property were secured to them ; their lords were no longer permitted, as hitherto, to exercise over them the power of life and death; and methods were prescribed by which they might acquire their freedom. The effect of these laws, it is true, was considerably curtailed in the reign of Casimir’s successors; but it was no wonder that he himself was called the “Peasants’ King.” In his reign, too, were enacted several statutes to improve the condition of his Jewish subjects, in consequence of which the Jews have ever regarded Poland with especial affection. But it was not only the lack of uniformity and the repressive character of the laws which needed redress, but also their corrupt administration; and the king, therefore, effected also a reorganisation of the courts of justice. Moreover, in 1364, with the object of breaking a link which bound the German settlers to the country of their birth, he abrogated the Jus Magdeburgicum, which conceded to them the right of appeal to the German court at Magdeburg.
One other act of Casimir’s must be mentioned, inasmuch as it originated a practice which proved disastrous in subsequent reigns. He had no son, and was anxious to secure the succession for his nephew Louis of Hungary, whom he considered strong enough to win back some of the territory that had been ceded to the Teutonic Knights, and to keep in check the power of his turbulent nobles. He therefore, in 1339, proposed him as .his successor to a Diet convoked at Cracow. The nobles were not slow to take advantage of the unaccustomed privilege conceded to them; and, a few years later, they laid certain terms before Louis to which they demanded that he should assent as the price of their support. This was the origin of the pacta conventa, always made henceforth between the nobles and the new king, and framed for their own exclusive benefit and the detriment of king and peasantry. On this occasion, in return for his election, Louis undertook, among other things, to exempt the nobles from taxation and to support their retinues in all military operations beyond the frontier.
When, therefore, he succeeded to the throne of Poland in 1370, he found the monarchical power greatly reduced; and in order to deal with a situation for which his own previous action was mainly responsible, he endeavoured to win the support of the nobles of Little Poland by special favours. An insurrection by the nobles of Great Poland was the inevitable, though not immediate, result. An additional cause of anger was supplied by his arbitrary incorporation of Red Russia in his Hungarian dominions; and meanwhile the people soon came to dislike and distrust a ruler who was unable to speak or to understand their language. It was not long before Louis returned to his kingdom of Hungary, handing over to his mother as regent the government of his new subjects. Only once did he visit Poland again in person, and then, in 1374, he proposed to the Diet that the succession should be secured to his eldest daughter Maria, since he had no son. True to the precedent that had been set in Casimir’s reign, the nobles proceeded to make terms; ultimately, in return for further exemption from the performance of State services, they accepted the king’s proposal. They did not hesitate, however, when his death took place in 1382, to reopen the question; and the fact that their choice finally rested on his youngest daughter Hedwig was due less to any sense of obligation to fulfil their earlier pledges than to their dissatisfaction with the other candidates.
Hedwig was betrothed to William, Duke of Austria; but the Polish nobles, anxious to renew the alliance with Lithuania which had been practically shattered during the reign of Louis, stipulated that she should marry Jagello, the grandson of Gedymin, and the young queen reluctantly consented. The resulting union of the two peoples under a single ruler is one of the most important events in the history of Poland.
Since the death of Gedymin, the expansion of Lithuania had continued—eastwards at the expense of Muscovy and southwards at the expense of the Tatars; between the Dniester and the Dnieper its southern frontier was now the Black Sea. At the same time, contact with the Ruthenian peoples whom they subdued had brought to bear upon the Lithuanians the influences of civilisation, and the change from paganism to Christianity, though by no means accomplished as yet, was being steadily carried on. In any attempt to understand the subsequent relations between this state and Poland, it is important to remember that the Christian faith reached it, not through the fire and sword methods by which the knights of the north tried to enforce its conversion—methods which had, in fact, the opposite effect of prejudicing the pagans against the Gospel so proclaimed—but through the more peaceful influence which we have just described, with the significant result that Lithuanian Christianity was Orthodox and not Roman. Jagello himself was still pagan at the time when his marriage with Hedwig was arranged, but he consented to be baptised as a Catholic before the ceremony, and afterwards to complete the conversion of his subjects.
Common opposition to the Teutonic Knights had already proved itself an adequate basis for an alliance between Poland and its powerful eastern neighbour, but it hardly sufficed by itself to reconcile the Lithuanians to what they regarded as the loss of their independence; and the union of 1386, though it paved the way for a more stable union in the future, was not itself lasting. In social and political institutions, as well as in religion, the line of cleavage between Poles and Lithuanians was deeply marked; and the fear of the nobles of the Duchy that their feudal authority would be diminished, backed up by the dread of Catholicism felt by the common people, speedily sowed the seeds of rebellion. The intrigues of the Teutonic Knights worked in the same direction, for they conceived that their only chance of safety from an overwhelming attack lay in the dissolution of the bond which united the two countries. The disaffected elements found a leader in Witowt, a cousin of Jagello’s, whose father Jagello had himself caused to be murdered, and who thought he saw the opportunity of raising Lithuania into an independent kingdom with himself as its first king. Jagello, or, to give him the name by which he was crowned king of Poland, Vladislas II, was, however, awake to the danger that impended; and, in order to avert hostilities between the two parts of his dominions, he took the step, in 1401, of surrendering to Witowt his own rights in the Duchy, insisting only that the two states should in future elect their rulers jointly, and follow a common policy in relation to their neighbours. Twelve years later, the ties were drawn closer, and the relations more carefully defined, by the union of Horodlo, which decreed that the legislative and administrative institutions of Poland and Lithuania should be organised on the same plan, and extended to the nobles in the latter country all the privileges enjoyed by those in the former, on the sole condition of their professing the Catholic form of Christianity. Membership of the Orthodox Church was thus constituted a bar to political privileges, on the ground, no doubt, that it was naturally associated with a leaning towards Muscovy.
Meanwhile, war with the Teutonic Knights had once more broken out in 1391. Actually it was begun by their aggression, but, in any case, it was inevitable sooner or later, for it was the obvious policy of Vladislas to try to recover control of some part of the Baltic seaboard. At first he met with small success; Witowt was engaged in an attempt to subdue the Tatars of the south Russian plains, and was unable to give his cousin much support, while the knights had as their ally Sigismund, King of Hungary, who had never forgiven the Poles for their exclusion of his wife Maria from the throne. In 1399, however, the Tatars inflicted a crushing defeat on Witowt, and, by putting an end to his hopes of Lithuanian expansion to the south-east, convinced him of the necessity of co-operating with Poland. A few years more, and Hungary found itself threatened by the advancing power of the Turks, with the result that Sigismund withdrew from the war against the Poles and the knights were glad to make terms. By the treaty of Raciaz in 1404 they restored Dobrzyn to Poland, but obtained in return a money indemnity and the surrender of Samogitia.
It was impossible that Jagello should regard such a peace as final, and the war was soon renewed, this time more successfully. In 1410 a combined force of Poles and Lithuanians met the knights in a great battle near Tannenberg and won a decisive victory. But almost immediately Witowt received news of a Tatar invasion of Lithuania, and hurriedly withdrew his troops to oppose it. Deprived of his help, the king was unable, or perhaps too cautious, to take full advantage of his success, and his enemies were allowed time to recover from their defeat. At the beginning of the following year peace was signed at Thom, and Poland received back Samogitia, as well as an indemnity of 100,000 marks.
The knights continued to be troublesome throughout the remaining years of Jagello’s reign, and made more than one attempt to bring about the separation of Lithuania from Poland. Their efforts failed; and after the death of Witowt the intrigues of his successor with the Emperor Sigismund met with no better success in 1432. Two years later Jagello himself died. His reign of forty-eight years is the longest recorded in Polish history, and throughout it he had striven before all else to consolidate the union of the two Slav peoples. At his death Poland was established as one of the Great Powers of Europe.
The ten years that followed his death were marked by a further development of aristocratic power in Poland, as well as of a tendency towards separation in Lithuania, for his son and successor, Vladislas III, was only nine years old when he came to the throne, and after his minority was over he was continually absent from the country, hi 1439 the throne of Hungary became vacant by the death of the Emperor Albert; the young King of Poland was chosen to fill it, and, after many months of dispute and civil strife, his coronation took place. He found his new kingdom engaged in a struggle with the Turks; and, at the age of eighteen, he crossed the Danube and advanced into Bulgaria at the head of a combined force of Poles and Hungarians. So brilliant was his success in this first expedition that the Sultan Amurath II. offered advantageous terms of peace, which were accepted, and a suspension of hostilities for ten years was agreed to. But the Pope absolved Vladislas from his oath, and, in less than five months, he renewed the attack. This time fortune failed him; and on the field of Varna, 1444, his forces were almost annihilated and he himself was killed. His death, bitterly deplored by his subjects, was the occasion for Poland and Lithuania to be once more united under a single ruler, for the Poles offered the crown to Casimir, the younger brother of the late king, who had been for four years the practically independent grand duke of the latter state. His nobles were opposed to his accepting the offer, and he was himself unwilling to exchange the despotic authority which he wielded already for that of a king hampered and thwarted by the power of turbulent nobles. For more than two years the interregnum continued; and when at length he agreed to his election, he still firmly refused to confirm the pacta conventa, until, seven years later, he yielded to the urgency of his military necessities, combined, as they were, with the danger of deposition.
From the outset of his reign, Casimir resolved that the maintenance of the union between the two states should be the paramount aim of his policy, and he always steadily refused to allow the government of his old subjects to pass into any other hands than his own. In consequence he was regarded by the Poles as unduly favourable to Lithuanian interests, and most of the troubles with his nobles arose from the mistrust which this opinion engendered. Their shortsighted provincialism, too, prevented their sharing his conviction of the importance of crushing the power of the Teutonic Knights, and caused the struggle against these ancient foes to be needlessly prolonged through a dozen years.
Since their defeat at Tannenberg in 1410, the Teutonic Order had become more corrupt and tyranical than ever. As early as 1397 some of its subjects had formed a league to oppose it, called, from their emblem, the Lizardites; and, during the reign of Vladislas III, a further step had been taken by the formation of a new league in which all the nobles and townsmen of the Prussian provinces took part. This Prussian League found itself at last compelled to appeal to the King of Poland for protection; and, in 1454, at their invitation, Casimir proclaimed the incorporation of the provinces in his kingdom, and war began.
In order to obtain men and money, the king had to apply to each of the five local Diets, and, in every instance, the occasion was utilised as a means of exacting from him the confirmation of ancient privileges as well as the granting of new ones. His pledges were afterwards embodied in the Statute of Nieszawa, 1454, which made the consent of the szlackta or lesser nobles necessary before new laws could be enacted or war declared. The opening of the war was disastrous, and Casimir was forced to purchase the help of Bohemian mercenary troops—a, proceeding, however, which could not be executed without fresh conflicts with the Diets over the raising of funds. After a protracted struggle and an abortive conference in 1463, exhaustion at length drove the knights to agree to the second Treaty of Thom (1466), by which the western provinces of Prussia, including Dantzig and other important towns, were restored to Poland, while eastern Prussia was to be held by the Teutonic Order as a fief of the crown.
Poland thus recovered access to the Baltic, and with it the opportunity of acquiring a maritime trade. Her rich arable lands had never yet been fully developed, but from this time more attention was given to agriculture, and wheat began to be exported to the western European states. The result appeared, socially, in the further oppression of the peasants, and laws were passed to bind them more closely to their masters. Casimir the Great had allowed a peasant to leave his lord on the ground of ill-treatment, but now even this humane law was repealed, and the harbouring of a fugitive serf was constituted a serious offence.
The war with the Teutonic Knights was not the only one which disturbed Casimir’s reign. A disputed succession to the throne of Bohemia involved him in a struggle with Hungary which lasted, with intervals, for eight years; and the King of Hungary was ever after his implacable foe, ready at all times to give encouragement and helj to Poland’s enemies. More important, though of shorter duration, was the war against the Turks, who had captured Constantinople in 1453, and were becoming more and more dangerous to their European neighbours. In 1484 Poland came within the scope of their activities; for their seizure oi two strongholds in Moldavia, situated at the mouths of the Danube and the Dniester, threatened to interfere with its trade passing down those rivers. For nearly a century the kings of Poland had been recognised—somewhat vaguely—as suzerains over Moldavia, and Casimir was successful in getting this relation reaffirmed; but otherwise the operations led to no decisive result. Lastly, the growing power of Muscovy was seeking to expand at the cost of Lithuania, and was thus an additional source of trouble.
Casimir died in 1492. His character has been variously estimated by historians, but his reign was one of the most important in the history of Poland. It was certainly due to his clear-sighted judgment, his courage and his patience that the union with Lithuania was so closely maintained during the forty-five years of his reign—a union on which the strength and greatness of the kingdom wholly depended.