The foundation of Poland

Although the name of one Piast is remembered as the supposed founder, the first historical king of Poland is one Mieszko, who became recognised as leader of the Polanian tribes around the year 962, was baptised in 966, and obtained formal recognition from the Papacy in 990. Following his death in 992, his son Boleslaw the Brave and successor kings successfully extended the boundaries of Poland. (Boleslaw the Brave even managed to conquer Bohemia although that did not last, and penetrated as far east as Kiev).

Taking their name from the semi-legendary Piast the House of Piast, Mieszko's descendants were to establish this kingdom called Poland centred on their capital at Krakow.

The Seniorate

On the death of Boleslaw III in 1138 the kingdom of Polandwas divided up amongst Boleslaw's various and numerous sons and the kingdom dissolved into a number of minor duchies or states. Consequently the Poles evolved a system known as the Seniorate, whereby the oldest son was supposedly recognised as the chief prince of the territory of Poland as a compromise measure and a way of continuing with the traditional practice of equal inheritance shares whilst preserving some kind of political unity.

Then and now, this was naturally a recipe for confusion and no two lists appear to agree on who was supposed to be in charge of Poland at any one time during the period of the Seniorate. Neither did it help that the Mongol Hordes devastated a good deal of Poland in their raids in the years 1241, 1259 and 1287.

The Restoration of the kingdom

The confusion continued until one Wladyslaw Lokietek succeeded in uniting the duchies of Greater and Lesser Poland and establishing sufficient control to be crowned as king Wladyslaw I in 1320.

After his defeat of the Teutonic Knights at the battle of Plowce in 1332, he and later his son Kazimierz the Great introduced a whole series of administrative and economic reforms and effectively re-created Poland as a single kingdom.

The Angevin Monarchs

Kazimierz had no sons and on his death bequeathed his kingdom to one Louis the Great, who was also the king of Hungary, as well as a few other places and ruled an empire that sprawled over most of central Europe.

Louis neglected to produce any sons either, with the result that Poland was plunged into civil war on his death in 1382. Eventually the Poles decided to accept his daughter Jadwiga as queen and she was duly crowned in 1384.

Naturally with the kingdom still divided internally and under threat from the Teutonic Knights the Poles preferred to see a king on the throne and so began to search around Europe for a suitable partner and decided on Jagiello the Grand Duke of neighbouring Lithuania.

The Union of Poland and Lithuania

At the time Jagiello, along with the rest of Lithuania was a pagan, but in furtherance of this dynastic alliance he converted to Catholicism and was formally baptised taking on the name of 'Wladyslaw' and was crowned as Wladyslaw II in 1386. (Krakow was presumably worth a mass as well.)

The driving force behind this alliance was to counter the threat posed by the Order of Teutonic Knights, and in this it was successful as the unified Polish and Lithuanian forces were able to achieve a significant victory at the battle of Grunwald in 1410, and thereby bring an effective end to the Knights activities.

The union of 1386 was however essentially a union of crowns with Poland and Lithuania continuing to exist as separate states under one ruler. Wladyslaw II and his successors in the House of Jagiello continued to reign over the two nations, simultaneously performing their duties as kings of Poland and grand dukes of Lithuania for almost the next two centuries.

The Union of Lublin and the Commonwealth of Both Nations

The Union of Lublin, established in the year 1569, was essentially the work of the last Jagiellonian king Sigismund Augustus who, in the face of Lithuanian opposition, unified both nations into a single state known formally as the Commonwealth of Both Nations, but informally known simply as Poland. (Much to the annoyance no doubt, of the Lithuanians)

Under the terms of the Union there was to be a single representative Diet which was given the power of electing the king for the now united realm. This solved the problem of the succession, as Sigismund Augustus was childless, and on his death the Poles selected one Henry of Valois as king. They also took the opportunity of adopting the Henrican Articles, which technically transformed the Commonwealth into a 'rzeczpospolita' or a republic with an elected chief magistrate. This, together with other restrictions adopted in the articles (such as those on his choice of wife) so disgusted Henry of Valois that he simply abandoned the throne.

In his place Stefan Batory a Hungarian was selected in a contested election against the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian and following him a Swede by the name of Sigismund Vasa. Generally speaking the Commonwealth continued to prefer foreigners as rulers as this avoided charges of undue favouritism from either the Polish or Lithuanian side, and despite being technically the chief magistrates of a republic they continued to style themselves as, and were known as kings.

The last king of the Commonwealth

This state of affairs continued down to the reign of Stanislaw Poniatowski, who was to turn out to be the last king of the Commonwealth.

Poland and Lithuania found themselves in the unfortunate position of being surrounded by three great and greedy powers namely Prussia, Austria, and Russia and in a series of partitions in the years 1772, 1793 and 1795 these three nations carved up Poland-Lithuania between themselves and the entire nation disappeared.

Despite the odd Nationalist uprising (1830 and 1863) Poland did not re-emerge as an independent nation again until 1918 when they decided to dispense with the monarchy.


There appears to be some confusion as to whether the numbering of Polish monarchs should include or exclude the period of the Seniorate, which becomes doubly confusing as it is not exactly clear which rulers should be included in the first place. I have followed what appears to be the consensus in according to the 'Wladyslaw' who ruled between 1306 and 1333 the title Wladyslaw I in defiance of all the previous 'Wladyslaws'.

Wherever possible I have also removed the ordinals from the names of the rulers recorded during the period of the Seniorate in order to avoid further confusion.


MONARCHS OF POLAND

1. Early Kings of Poland

House of Piast

Civil war between 1034 and 1035

2. Chief Princes of the Seniorate

3. Later Kings of Poland

House of Piast

House of Anjou

Civil war between 1382 and 1384

4. Joint Kings of Poland and Grand Dukes of Lithuania

House of Jagiellon

Interregnum 1444-1446

5. Elected monarchs of the Commonwealth of Both Nations


SOURCES

Details of Polish monarchs rationalised from information at,
polishproject.hypermart.net/polish_kings.htm
baronmorgan.gallowglass.org/ruling_nobles/ kings_of_poland.html
Rulers during the period of the Seniorate from
http://wojciulewicz.org/history/HistoryLitPol.htm

Historical information from;
Notes On Polish History Collected by Leszek z Szczytna at http://slavic.freeservers.com/Poland1.html
1911 Encyclopedia Britannica entry for Poland http://7.1911encyclopedia.org/P/PO/POLAND.htm

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