(1362 - 1569)


Paul Robert Magocsi

Excerpts from the book ”History of Ukraine”,  Toronto / 1996   





The  […] mid-fourteenth century heralded the beginning of a new era in eastern European history. The Pax Mongolica, which had allowed for a high degree of independence in the old lands of Kievan Rus' under the nominal hegemony of the Golden Horde, was to be successfully challenged for the first time by a new power, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Before the end of the fourteenth century, all the Ukrainian lands that had been part of Kievan Rus' had been incorporated into Lithuania. Unlike the Golden Horde, Lithuania was to undergo a gradual process of internal change that eventually would alter the Rus' lands under its control. Therefore, Kievan Rus' and the Kievan period in Ukrainian history ended not with the invasions of the Mongols in 1237-1241, but with the arrival of the Lithuanians a century later.



The consolidation of the Lithuanian state


The Grand Duchy of Lithuania began its rise to power in the 1230s, at which time a prince named Mindaugas (reigned 1219-1263) succeeded in uniting several Lithuanian tribes and the land called Samogitia into a feudal state. Closely related to though distinct from the Slavs, the Lithuanians had lived since prehistoric times along the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea and in the inaccessible swamps and forests along the valleys of the Western Dvina and Neman Rivers. Although the Lithuanians were in close contact with the neighboring East Slavic tribes, they were outside the orbit of Rus' culture and remained pagans.


Rus' princes, beginning with Volodymyr the Great (983), had fought from time to time against Lithuanian and other Baltic tribes, especially the Iatvigians. The first real threat to the Lithuanians came, however, not from the east, but from the west. In 1226, a Roman Catholic duke of Mazovia, in northern Poland, who felt threatened by a neighboring Baltic tribe, the pagan Prussians, invited German knights and other adventurers returning from the Crusades in the Christian Holy Land to spread their missionary zeal along the shores of the Baltic Sea. The Knights of the Teutonic Order arrived in 1233 along the lower Vistula River, setting up their stronghold at Thorn/Torun. Filled with the fervor of religious fanatics and still smarting from their expulsion from the Holy Land by the Saracens at the end of the twelfth century, the Teutonic Knights turned their energies toward northern Europe. By the 1270s, they had exterminated most of the Prussian population. The knights were now ready to turn to other Lithuanian and Baltic tribes farther east. In fact, they had the Lithuanians almost surrounded, since in 1202 another Germanic knightly order had come into existence in Livonia, just north of Lithuania. In 1237, this Livonian Order became a branch of the Teutonic Knights.


It was the threat posed by the Teutonic and Livonian Knights in the west and north that prompted the Baltic tribes to unite under Mindaugas in the 1230s and to expand toward the south and east. Their expansion brought them into conflict with the Rus' princes of Polatsk, with the Poles, and then with Danylo of Galicia- Volhynia. Like Danylo, the politically astute Mindaugas also negotiated with the pope, adopting (if only temporarily) Roman Catholicism and receiving a crown in 1254. This politically inspired act brought temporary peace with the Christian Teutonic and Livonian Knights - even if the mass of Lithuanians remained pagan - and it allowed Mindaugas to direct his attention further southward. There, how-ever, he was confronted by Danylo, who through military force, diplomatic alli-ances, and dynastic marriages kept Mindaugas from achieving at least one of his goals, the acquisition of Volhynia.





The policy of expansion southward was carried on by the successors of Mindaugas, especially Gediminas (reigned 1316-1341), who became founder of the dynasty of Lithuanian rulers known as the Gediminids. Not only did Gediminas add to the rest of his realm the Polatsk principality, the Brest and Podlachia regions of northwest Volhynia, and the Turau-Pinsk principality (that is, most of present-day Belarus), he also was the first Lithuanian ruler to encroach directly upon the Golden Horde's sphere of influence. As early as the 1330s, a Lithuanian prince ruled in Kiev, although his was a kind of joint stewardship with the Golden Horde, in that he ruled under the supervision of a Tatar official. It soon became evident, however, that from his new capital at Vilnius Gediminas was not content with sharing authority over the lands of old Rus'. In anticipation of future territorial acquisition, Gediminas assumed as his title 'King of Lithuania and Rus" (Lethewinorum et Ruthenorum rex).





Gediminas  1316–1341



Algirdas (Olgert) 1341–1377


Lithuania, however, was not the only claimant to the territorial heritage of Kievan Rus'. The northern city of Moscow, which had developed from the Rus' principality of Vladimir-Suzdal' into an independent grand duchy, continued the tradition begun by Vladimir's rulers in the twelfth century of claiming Kiev as their 'patrimony and ancestral property.'1 Yet while ideologically prepared to claim Kiev, Muscovy had not yet consolidated its authority over its immediate Rus' neighbors (Tver' and Novgorod) and so could hardly hope to challenge powerful Lithuania farther south and west.


Unlike the rulers of Lithuania and Muscovy, each of whom claimed to be the legitimate descendants and heirs of the Kievan patrimony, the Golden Horde simply tried to transform the local Rus' princes into vassals who would recognize the ultimate authority of the Tatars in eastern Europe. They were successful until the second half of the fourteenth century, when Mongolo-Tatar authority witnessed ' its first crisis. Beginning in 1357, two decades of internal political crises racked the Golden Horde. They were followed by the arrival in the 1390s of a new threat from the east in the person of Tamerlane. This fierce competitor for leadership throughout the Mongol world destroyed the capital of Sarai in 1396 and almost brought to an end the Golden Horde's existence.


This period of weakness in the Golden Horde coincided with the rule in Lithuania of Gediminas's son Algirdas (reigned 1345-1377), who shared the realm with his brother Kestutis (reigned 1345-1382). During their joint rule, they achieved their father's ambitious goal of conquering all the lands of old Rus'. In the words of Algirdas (1358), 'All of Rus' simply must belong to the Lithuanians.' Volhynia had already been fully secured in the early 1340s, and the other principalities in the southern Rus' or Ukrainian lands systematically followed - Chernihiv between 1345 and 1356, Novhorod-Sivers'kyi in 1355, Kiev and Pereiaslav in 1362, and Podolia in 1363. The region around Chelm and Belz was annexed by Lithuania as early as 1336, but was lost to Poland three decades later before being reannexed in 1382. Hence, by the mid-fourteenth century, all the Rus' principalities on [Belarusian] territory […] had princes of the Gediminid dynasty ruling them. The symbolic moment marking the beginning of the new order in eastern Europe was the decisive victory of the Lithuanian army over the Golden Horde in 1362 at the Battle of Blue Waters. Thus, within a century of the death of Mindaugas, who had first united the Lithuanian tribes of the Baltic region, a vast territory that included the western and southern principalities of Kievan Rus' (much of what are today the republics of Belarus and Ukraine) had come under the political hegemony of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.


What was the secret of this rapid Lithuanian success? The strength of the Lithuanian armies, which were the first to challenge successfully the previously invincible Golden Horde, certainly made territorial expansion possible. But how were the pagan Lithuanians, with their relatively primitive social and administrative structure, able to control lands that had a much higher level of political and cultural development? The most plausible explanation is that at least initially the Lithuanians changed little in the territories they took over, a policy summed up by one grand duke with the phrase 'we're not introducing anything new and we won't disturb what is old' (my novin ne uvodim, a starin ne rukhaem).


While it is true that the Riurykovych princes from Kievan times were replaced by members of the Lithuanian Gediminid dynasty, the territorial integrity of the Rus' principalities was at first maintained, and, most important, the Orthodox faith was left undisturbed and sometimes even promoted. Although the successors of Mindaugas reverted to paganism, which remained the official religion of the realm, many Lithuanians became Orthodox Christians. Moreover, throughout the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, the grand duchy's pagan rulers lobbied hard in Constantinople in an effort to obtain their own Orthodox metropolitanate (and for brief periods it did come into existence) or to have the seat of the metropolitan of Kiev and All Rus' transferred from Moscow back to Kiev after the city had come under Lithuanian control in the 1360s. Finally, the Lithuanians initially left intact the legal and social structures of Kievan Rus' and even adopted Ruthenian, a Belarusan version of Church Slavonic written in Cyrillic, as the grand duchy's official language. As the enactors of such policies, the Lithuanians were in fact welcomed by most of the Rus' princes, who were content to live in what was effectively a Lithuanian-Rus' state, the official name of which was the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Rus', and Samogitia.




The Polish-Lithuanian connection


The height of Lithuanian power was reached at the beginning of the fifteenth century, but even before, there occurred a series of events that was to change profoundly the direction of Lithuanian and [Belarusian] history. The first was the ending of the joint rule of Algirdas and Kestutis. In 1377, Algirdas died. His son and successor, the ambitious Jogaila, was unable to rule with his uncle Kestutis and in 1382 arranged for his relative to be assassinated. The latter's son, Vytautas, who expected to rule at least part of the realm as had his father, fled to the Teutonic Order. At this time, the Teutonic Knights were at the height of their power and were still intent on converting, or, if necessary, destroying, the pagan Lithuanian state. Vytautas persuaded the Knights to join him in a campaign against his cousin Jogaila. Fearing a Teutonic invasion, Jogaila turned to the only other strong power in the region - Poland. But why should Roman Catholic Poland have been interested in the plight of the heathen Lithuanian Jogaila on its eastern frontier? The answer calls for a review, however brief, of developments in Poland.


By the late eleventh century, the Polish Kingdom under the leadership of rul¬ers from the Piast dynasty had come to control most of the territory that is within the present-day boundaries of Poland. The Piasts were the first dynasty and the creators of Poland. Consequendy, the concept of the Polish state and the ruling Piast dynasty was undifferentiated. Piast success in gathering territories under its rule suffered a reverse during the thirteenth century, when Poland lost a signifi-cant portion of its territory: in the northwest, to German principalities of the Holy Roman Empire; in the southwest, to the Kingdom of Bohemia-Moravia; and in the north, to the Teutonic Order. Surrounded by such powerful neighbors, Poland's only outlet was in the east, and when the kingdom revived in the fourteenth cen-tury, it was precisely toward the east that its foreign policies were directed. Under the leadership of Casimir III ('the Great,' reigned 1333-1370), Poland signed accords with Hungary, its only ally in east-central Europe, and, taking advantage of the decline of the Galician-Volhynian Kingdom after 1340, gradually brought under its control Galicia, and from Lithuania annexed the Chelm-Belz region and western Podolia. This territorial expansion in the east was complete by the time of Casimir's death in 1370.


Casimir had no male heir, however, and before his death he chose as a successor his nephew, the king of Hungary, Louis I ('the Great,' reigned 1342-1382). As a member of the Anjou dynasty, Louis ruled southern Italy as well as Hungary, and now in 1370 he added Poland to his family's patrimony. Louis was not really interested in Poland, however, so he proposed that the future husband of one of his three daughters should rule there in his stead. To prepare the Polish nobles for his plans, he summoned them to Hungary (Kosice) in 1373 and 1374. In return for the nobles' support, Louis was forced to make several concessions: (1) renunciation of the king's right to impose upon the nobility an extraordinary levy for troops and war money, (2) perpetual exemption of the nobility from having to pay taxes, (3) agreement that official posts in Polish provinces would be held only by nobles who were natives of the province, and (4) agreement that only a person of Polish and of non-royal blood could become a starosta, or royal governor of one of the twenty-three most important castles.


These concessions, known as the Statutes of Kosice, set the tone for future relationships between the king and the nobles in Poland. Whereas the Piasts had been the founding and, in a sense, a national dynasty whose hereditary right to rule was never seriously contested, after the death of Casimir III the traditional fusion of the identities of state and dynasty was broken. Casimir's successors were considered foreigners; hence, Polish nobles felt they had the right and even the duty to negotiate with their future ruler before pledging allegiance to him. This was the origin of that rather unique system of aristocratic democracy in Poland, whereby the nobility (the magnates and gentry), subsequently represented in a central Diet (Sejm), were to play a decisive - and sometimes destructive - role in Polish political life.


Having reached an accommodation with Poland's nobility, Louis turned to the question of which dynastic arrangement would enable him to continue his essentially absentee rule. Since he had only daughters, the husband of one of them would have to be king. His oldest daughter died in 1378, and after Louis's own death four years later his second daughter decided to remain in Hungary. This left his youngest daughter, Jadwiga. The Polish nobles favored a dynastic connection with the offspring of Louis, but they objected to the fact that the five-year-old Princess Jadwiga was betrothed to an Austrian prince. At this point, the Lithuanian Jogaila entered the picture.

It was precisely during Poland's succession crisis in the 1380s that Jogaila's grand duchy was threatened by his cousin Vytautas, who in alliance with the Teutonic Order was preparing to invade Lithuania to regain his patrimony. For his part, Jogaila was in need of allies and was impressed by the strength and prestige of a Poland that in the recent past had been ruled by the powerful Casimir III and Louis I of Hungary. Being themselves in need of a ruler, the Polish nobles accepted Jogaila's overtures. Through Jadwiga's mother, they persuaded the now eleven-year-old girl to break her promise of marriage to the Austrian prince (with whom she had loved to play as a child) and in the interest of the nation marry instead the thirty-seven-year-old Lithuanian pagan grand duke, Jogaila. As his part of the bargain, Jogaila had to agree to certain demands made by the Polish nobles, which were incorporated into a document known as the Union of Krewo/ Krevo (1385). In return for Jadwiga's hand, Jogaila was to accept both Roman Catholicism, not only for himself but for his whole nation, and the permanent union of Lithuania with Poland. This new Christian monarch was then crowned as Wladyslaw II Jagiello, King of Poland (reigned 1386-1434), and thereby founded a dynasty known as the Jagiellonians.


Jagiello also had to promise to work for the recovery of all Lithuanian and Rus' lands that supposedly had once belonged to Poland (terras suas Lithuanae et Russiae coronae Regni Poloniae perpetuo applicare). It is interesting to note that at the negotiations at Krevo, the Polish nobility claimed as its ancient patrimony not only Galicia but all the other Belarusan and Ukrainian lands of Kievan Rus'. Thus, in 1385 the Polish nobles not only reasserted their power vis-a-vis their future king, but also set the foreign policy he was expected to follow.


After assuming the throne, Jagiello carried out his side of the bargain. Immediately following his coronation in early 1386, he returned to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius and, like Volodymyr the Great of Kievan Rus' 400 years before, destroyed pagan statues and promoted mass conversions. While Jagiello's policy would have favorable results for members of the Lithuanian nobility who converted to Roman Catholicism, it would have negative repercussions for the vast numbers of inhabitants living in the grand duchy - namely, the Orthodox Rus' population (Belarusans and Ukrainians). Almost immediately after taking power, Jagiello agreed (1387) that all Roman Catholic princes of Lithuanian origin could remain in the Rus' lands they ruled as long as they pledged themselves vassals of the king.


Such a policy was, not surprisingly, met with opposition by Jagiello's brethren in Lithuania, who were always jealous of their rights and wary of any infringement of them. But even before their discontent could lead to serious consequences, the whole Polish-Lithuanian relationship was altered by the untimely death of Jadwiga (by then only twenty-four) in 1399. The queen's death automatically abrogated the Union of Krewo, and in the absence of any offspring of her marriage to Jagiello, the union of the two countries based on the crown no longer had validity. In 1401, Vytautas, who had broken his alliance with the Teutonic Order, was recognized by Jagiello as the acting grand duke of Lithuania, and from the beginning of the fifteenth century Polish lords and Lithuanian boyars met to work out a new political relationship. Their meetings culminated in a pact signed at Horodlo in 1413. At Horodlo, Vytautas was confirmed as grand duke for life, and Poles and Lithuanians agreed that the future political relationship between their countries could be determined only as a result of periodic consultation and by mutual agreement. When Vytautas died in 1440, the dynastic link with Poland was restored, since Jagiello's son by a later marriage, Kazimierz, was chosen by the Lithuanian boyars as their grand duke. Kazimierz retained that tide even after he became king of Poland (1445), and he issued a charter in 1447 that reiterated the rights and privileges of the grand duchy. Thus, Lithuania remained united with Poland through the person of its ruler and at the same time maintained its independence.


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Although Jagiello and Vytautas continued their personal and political rivalry, they agreed on certain policies. For instance, during their period of joint rule the Rus' principalities were disbanded and replaced by smaller territorial entities ruled by boyars of the Roman Catholic faith, who were required to pledge their loyalty as vassals of the Lithuanian grand duke. In return, the Lithuanian Catholic boyars were granted certain judicial and political privileges (1387 and 1413) which gave them a sense of superiority to the Orthodox Rus' boyars, whom they called by the pejorative Lithuanian term gudai. Even after 1434» when the Orthodox church was officially recognized in Lithuania and its adherents promised juridical and social equality with Roman Catholics, it was clear that social and political advancement would be severely limited for non-Roman Catholics.


The status of the vast majority of the Orthodox Rus' population who remained under Lithuanian rule varied during the fifteenth century. For instance, the old Rus' principalities under hereditary Gediminid princes were restored for a while in the 1440s. But three decades later they were eliminated for the last time, and in each the prince was replaced by a limited-term appointee (the voievoda) responsible directly to the central government in Vilnius. The end of the old Kievan Rus' political order combined with intermittent discrimination against Orthodox lay and religious leaders gave rise to a new phenomenon: emigration eastward to Muscovite lands. The sixteenth century, in particular, was characterized by the flight of numerous Rus' nobility, clergy, townspeople, and even peasants from Belarus and Ukraine, who moved from what they considered an oppressive Roman Catholic environment in Lithuania to a more hospitable one in lands under the control of Orthodox Muscovy.



Muscovy and the Polish-Lithuanian union


This movement of people to the east, as well as Muscovy's expansion westward, prompted increasingly frequent conflict during the sixteenth century, as a result of which Lithuania lost some of its eastern lands, including the cities of Chernihiv, Novhorod-Sivers'kyi, Starodub, and Smolensk. The situation became especially serious during the 1560s, when the aggressive tsar of Muscovy, Ivan IV ('the Dread,' reigned 1547-1584), turned his attention westward and, in 1562, captured Lithuania's stronghold of Polatsk. Faced with this Muscovite threat, the

Lithuanians turned to the Polish king, Zygmunt II Augustus (reigned 1548-1572), for military aid. They also realized the desirability of closer union with Poland. For his part, Zygmunt came to the aid of the Lithuanians, since in a sense the attacks from the east represented part of a larger struggle between Muscovy and Poland, both of whom claimed the lands that had formerly been part of Kievan* Rus'.


In order to further their goals in the east, Zygmunt and the leading Polish magnates favored some fusion with or perhaps the incorporation of Lithuania, which until then had been in only personal dynastic union with Poland. Representatives of both sides met in 1569 in the city of Lublin. Some Lithuanian nobles rejected the maximalist position proposed by the Poles, which advocated full incorporation, and negotiations dragged on for several months. The deadlock was finally broken when Zygmunt II unilaterally ordered the incorporation into the Polish Kingdom of the contested borderland region of Podlachia as well as of the Ukrainian-inhabited lands farther south, which were thereupon transformed according to the Polish administrative pattern into the palatinates of Volhynia, Bratslav, and Kiev (including the former Rus' principality of Pereiaslav). A segment of the local Orthodox Rus' nobility in these three palatinates welcomed annexation by Poland, notably the gentry, who acquired thereby all the privileges of their Polish brethren. These included freedom from military service and most forms of taxation, the right to use state lands for life and manage them as personal estates, and the right to elect government officials and to hold political or ecclesiastical office. The new Polish palatinates of Volhynia, Bratslav, and Kiev were also allowed to retain certain rights, including the full legal protection of the Orthodox church, the use of Ruthenian as the administrative language, and Lithuanian law according to the Second Lithuanian Statute of 1566 (popularly known as the 'Volhynian Statute'), among other rights.


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Pol-Lit C 1570



Although Volhynia, Bratslav, and Kiev entered Poland as distinct territorial entities, each governed by its own provincial dietine, or noble assembly, in a sense they functioned together as a unit. The nobility in all three palatinates retained a sense of common purpose, which derived from the fact that their allegiance to Poland was not the result of territorial annexation, but a voluntary union following a negotiated settlement. That settlement, moreover, assured them of local privileges - including laws embodied in the Second Lithuanian ('Volhynian') Statute - which in large part were based upon and helped to define their distinct Rus' political, religious, and cultural heritage. The estimated number of inhabitants in the Ukrainian territories annexed by Poland in 1569 was approximately 937,000. To this number can be added the approximately 573,000 inhabitants of the western, largely Ukrainian-inhabited palatinates of Rus' (Galicia), Belz, and Podolia, which were already part of Poland, with a Polish legal system and Polish as the official language.


Faced with the loss of its southern regions, the Lithuanian nobles agreed to what became known as the Union of Lublin. According to this covenant, signed on 1 July 1569, Poland and Lithuania would henceforth be united in a 'common republic' (Rzeczpospolita) with a king elected by both regions and represented by one Diet (Seym). While it is true that after Lublin Lithuania retained its own army, treasury, law code, and local administration, in subsequent decades the grand duchy's particularities were brought more and more in line with the character of the rest of Poland. In foreign affairs, the new state acted as a single entity known as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In short, the Union of Lublin transformed the relationship between Poland and Lithuania from that of a personal dynastic union into that of a federal union.





Thus, during the nearly two hundred years from the second half of the fourteenth century, […] Poland succeeded in steadily bringing the Grand Duchy of Lithuania within its political and cultural orbit. This effort culminated in the Union of Lublin in 1569, as a result of which Poland replaced Lithuania as the principal rival of Muscovy for control of the heritage of Kievan Rus'. In the case of Ukrainian lands, the former principality of Galicia (since 1387 the Polish palatinate of Rus Czerwona, or Red Rus') and the palatinates of Belz and Podolia were joined, after 1569, by Volhynia, Bratslav, and Kiev, all of which became integral parts of the Polish Kingdom.






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