Union of Lublin

The Union of Lublin. Painting by Jan Matejko.
Poland and Lithuania in 1526, before the Union of Lublin
The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569

The Union of Lublin (Polish: unia lubelska; Lithuanian: Liublino unija) was signed July 1, 1569, in Lublin, Poland, and created a single state, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. It replaced the personal union of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania with a real union and an elective monarchy, since Sigismund II Augustus, the last of the Jagiellons, remained childless after three marriages. In addition, the autonomy of Royal Prussia was largely abandoned. The Duchy of Livonia, tied to Lithuania in real union since the Union of Grodno (1566), became a Polish–Lithuanian condominium.[1]

The Commonwealth was ruled by a single elected monarch who carried out the duties of King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, and governed with a common Senate and parliament (the Sejm). The Union was an evolutionary stage in the Polish–Lithuanian alliance and personal union, necessitated also by Lithuania's dangerous position in wars with Russia.[2][3][4]

Constituting a crucial event in the history of several nations, the Union of Lublin has been viewed quite differently by many historians. Sometimes identified as the moment at which the Szlachta (including Lithuanians/Ruthenians) rose to the height of their power, establishing a democracy of noblemen as opposed to absolute monarchy. Some historians concentrate on its positive aspects, emphasizing its peaceful, voluntary creation, inclusive character and its role in spreading of economical welfare and good laws; other see there a possible cause of social and political instability that led to the Partitions of Poland about 200 years later. Some Lithuanian historians are more critical of the Union, pointing out that it was an effect of domination by Polish nobles.



There were long discussions before signing the treaty, as Lithuanian magnates were afraid of losing much of their powers, since the union would make their legal status equal to that of the much more numerous Polish lower nobility. However Lithuania had been increasingly on the losing side of the Muscovite-Lithuanian Wars and by the second half of the 16th century it faced the threat of total defeat in the Livonian war and incorporation into Russia. The Polish nobility (the szlachta) on the other hand were reluctant to offer help to Lithuania without receiving anything in exchange. Still, the Polish and Lithuanian elite strengthened personal bonds and had opportunities to plan their united futures during increased military cooperation in the 1560s.[5]Sigismund II Augustus, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, seeing the threat to Lithuania and eventually to Poland, nonetheless pressed for the union, gradually gaining more followers until he felt enough support to forcibly evict landowners in Ukraine who opposed its transition from Lithuania to Poland.[6] A clear motivation for Sigismund is that he was the last Jagiello and had no children nor brothers who could inherit the throne. So the Union was an attempt to preserve the continuity of his dynasty's work since the personal (but not constitutional) union of Poland and Lithuania at the marriage of Jadwiga of Poland and Wladyslaw II Jagiello. The Union was one of the constitutional changes required to establish a formal elected monarchy that would simultaneously reign over the two domains.[6]

Sejm of 1569

The Sejm met in January, 1569, near the Polish town of Lublin, but did not reach an agreement. One of the points of contention was the right of Poles to settle and own land in the Grand Duchy. After most of the Lithuanian delegation under the leadership of Vilnius voivod Mikołaj "Rudy" Radziwiłł left Lublin on 1 March, the king announced the incorporation into the Crown of Podlachia, Volhynia and the Kiev palatinate (on 6 June), with wide approval from the local gentry.[7][8] Bratslav and eastern Podolia were also transferred to Poland.

These historic lands of Rus' comprise over half of modern Ukraine, and were at that time a substantial portion of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania's territory. The Rus' nobles there were eager to capitalize on the economic and political opportunities offered by the Polish sphere, and by and large wanted their lands to become a part of the Polish Crown.[9]

The Lithuanians were forced to return to the Sejm under the leadership of Jan Hieronimowicz Chodkiewicz (father of Jan Karol Chodkiewicz) and to continue negotiations, using slightly different tactics than Mikołaj "the Red" Radziwiłł. Though the Polish szlachta wanted full incorporation of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania into the Crown, the Lithuanians continued to oppose this and agreed only to a federal state. On 28 June 1569, the last objections were overcome, and on 4 July an act was accordingly signed by the King at Lublin Castle.[7]

Attempts to modernise the state

The Union of Lublin was superseded by the Constitution of May 3, 1791 from 1791, when the federal Commonwealth was to be transformed into a unitary state by King Stanisław August Poniatowski. The status of semi-federal state was restored by the Reciprocal Guarantee of Two Nations.

However, the constitution was not fully implemented and the Commonwealth was ended by the late 18th century Partitions of the Commonwealth, with the last one in 1795.


Union of Lublin by Marcello Bacciarelli


After the Union, the Lithuanian nobles had the same formal rights as the Polish to rule the lands and subjects under their control. However, political advancement in the Catholic-dominated Commonwealth was a different matter.

By the late 15th century, the Polish language was already making rapid inroads among the Lithuanian and Rus' elites.[7] The Lublin Union accelerated the process of Polonization. In culture and social life, both the Polish language and Catholicism became dominant for the Ruthenian nobility, most of whom were initially Ruthenian speaking and Eastern Orthodox by religion. However the commoners, especially the peasants, continued to speak their own languages and to practise the Orthodox religion.

This eventually created a significant rift between the lower social classes and the nobility in the Lithuanian and Ruthenian areas of the Commonwealth.[9] Some Ruthenian magnates resisted Polonization (like the Ostrogski) by adhering to Orthodox Christianity, giving generously to the Ruthenian Orthodox Churches and to the Ruthenian schools. However, the pressure of Polonization was harder to resist with each subsequent generation and eventually almost all of the Ruthenian nobility was Polonized.

The Cossack uprisings and foreign interventions led to the partitions of the Commonwealth by Russia, Prussia and Austria in 1772, 1793, and 1795. The Union of Lublin was also temporarily not active while the Union of Kėdainiai was in effect.

Many historians like Krzysztof Rak consider the Union of Lublin to have created a state similar to the present-day European Union,[10] thus considering the Union (along with the Kalmar Union, the several Acts of Union in the British Isles and other similar treaties) to be a predecessor of the Maastricht treaty. The former, however, created a state of countries more deeply linked than the present-day European Union.


The union brought about the Polish colonization of Ruthenian lands and enserfment of Ruthenian peasantry by the szlachta.[11][12][13][14] Despite the situation of peasants in the Commonwealth being pretty dire compared to the West (see second serfdom), the peasants in the Commonwealth had more freedom than those in Russia; hence peasants (as well as to a lesser extent nobility and merchants) escaping from Russia to the Commonwealth became a major concern for Russian government, and was one of the factors leading to the partitions of Poland.[15]

A common coin (złoty) was introduced.

Execution of crown lands was not extended to the Grand Duchy.


The Union created one of the largest and most populous states in 17th-century Europe (excluding the states not completely in Europe, i.e. the Russian or Ottoman Empires).[16]

Within the Union Lithuania accepted the loss of Podlaskie, Volhynia, Podolia and the Kiev regions, former territories of the Grand Duchy that were transferred to the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland.


Under the Union, the legal systems of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were to be unified, but this never happened.

The drafters of the Union of Lublin expected that Lithuania and Poland would be linked together more closely than they actually were. The 1566 Second Statute of Lithuania had not lost its power, and some of its provisions substantially differed from the acts of the Union of Lublin. Eventually the Third Statute of Lithuania was adopted in 1588, but this still contradicted the Union of Lublin on many points.

The Polish nobility viewed the Statutes of Lithuania as unconstitutional, because at the signing of the Union of Lublin it was said that no law could conflict with the law of Union. The Statutes, however, declared the laws of the Union that conflicted with them to be unconstitutional. The First Statute of Lithuania was also used in the territories of Lithuania that were annexed by Poland shortly before the Union of Lublin (except for Podlaskie). These conflicts between statutory schemes in Lithuania and Poland persisted for many years, and the Third Statute of Lithuania remained in force in territories of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania even after partitions, until 1840.

Attempts to limit the power of Lithuanian magnates (especially the Sapiehas' family) and unify the laws of the Commonwealth led to the koekwacja praw movement, culminating in the koekwacja reforms of the election sejm of 1697 (May–June), confirmed in the general sejm of 1698 (April) in the document Porządek sądzenia spraw w Trybunale Wielkiego Księstwa Litewskego.[17]


Poland provided military aid in the war after the union of the two entities, which was crucial for the survival of the Grand Duchy.[3]

Poland and the Grand Duchy were to have separate military but common defense policies.


The Union of Lublin provided for merger of the two states, though each retained substantial autonomy, having its own army, treasury, laws and administration.[8] Though the countries were in theory equal, the larger Poland became the dominant partner. Due to population differences, Polish deputies outnumbered Lithuanians in the Sejm by 3:1.[8]

There was to be a single ruler for both Poland and the Grand Duchy, freely elected by the nobility of both nations and crowned as King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania in Wawel Cathedral, Kraków.

A common parliament, the Sejm, held its sessions in Warsaw; it had 114 deputies from the Polish lands and 48 from Lithuania. The Senate had 113 Polish and 27 Lithuanian senators.

Poland and the Grand Duchy were to have a common foreign policy.


Memory of the union lasted long. Painting commemorating Polish–Lithuanian union; circa 1861. The motto reads "Eternal union."

The Union of Lublin was Sigismund's greatest achievement and greatest failure. Although it created one of the largest states in contemporary Europe, one that endured for over 200 years,[18] Sigismund failed to push through the reforms that would have established a workable political system. He hoped to strengthen the monarchy with the support of the lesser nobility, and balance the power of lesser nobility and magnates. However although all the nobility in the Commonwealth was in theory equal under the law, the magnates' political power was not weakened significantly and in the end they could too often bribe or coerce their lesser brethren.[7] In addition, the royal power continued to wane, and while the neighbouring states continued to evolve into strong, centralized absolute monarchies, the Commonwealth slid with its Golden Liberty into a political anarchy that eventually cost it its very existence.[19]

Today's Republic of Poland considers itself a successor to the Commonwealth,[20] whereas the pre-World War II Republic of Lithuania saw the creation of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth mostly in a negative light.[21]

See also


  1. Dybaś, Bogusław (2006). "Livland und Polen-Litauen nach dem Frieden von Oliva (1660)". In Willoweit, Dietmar; Lemberg, Hans. Reiche und Territorien in Ostmitteleuropa. Historische Beziehungen und politische Herrschaftslegitimation. Völker, Staaten und Kulturen in Ostmitteleuropa (in German). 2. Munich: Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag. pp. 51–72,109. ISBN 3-486-57839-1.
  2. Dvornik, Francis, The Slavs in European History and Civilization, Rutgers University Press, ISBN 0-8135-0799-5, Google Print, p.254
  3. 1 2 Norman Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland in Two Volumes, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-925339-0, Google Print, p.50
  4. W. H. Zawadzki, A Man of Honour: Adam Czartoryski as a Statesman of Russia and Poland, 1795-1831, Oxford University Press, 1993, ISBN 0-19-820303-9, Google Print, p.1
  5. Norman Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland in Two Volumes, Oxford University Press, p.151
  6. 1 2 Norman Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland in Two Volumes, Oxford University Press, p.153
  7. 1 2 3 4 Lukowski, Jerzy; Zawadzki, Hubert (2001). A Concise History of Poland (1st ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 63–64. ISBN 9780521559171.
  8. 1 2 3 Riasanovsky, Nicholas V. (1999). A History of Russia (6th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195121797.
  9. 1 2 Magocsi, Paul Robert (1996). A History of Ukraine (1st ed.). Toronto University Press. p. 149. ISBN 9780295975801.
  10. Federalism or Force: A Sixteenth-Century Project for Eastern and Central Europe
  11. Ukraine, Encyclopædia Britannica.
  12. Nataliia Polonska-Vasylenko, History of Ukraine, "Lybid", (1993), ISBN 5-325-00425-5, Section: Evolution of Ukrainian lands in the 15th-16th centuries
  13. Natalia Iakovenko, Narys istorii Ukrainy s zaidavnishyh chasic do kincia XVIII stolittia, Kiev, 1997, Section: 'Ukraine-Rus, the "odd man out" in Rzeczpospolita Obojga Narodow
  14. Orest Subtelny. Ukraine: A History, University of Toronto Press, ISBN 0-8020-8390-0, pp. 79-81
  15. Jerzy Czajewski, "Zbiegostwo ludności Rosji w granice Rzeczypospolitej" (Russian population exodus into the Rzeczpospolita), Promemoria journal, October 2004 nr. (5/15), ISSN 1509-9091 , Table of Content online, Polish language
  16. Heritage: Interactive Atlas: Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, accessed on 19 March 2006: At it. apogee, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth comprised some 400,000 square miles (1,000,000 km2) and a multi-ethnic population of 11 million. For population comparisons, see also those maps: "Archived copy". Archived from the original on February 17, 2013. Retrieved August 18, 2015., "Archived copy". Archived from the original on February 17, 2013. Retrieved August 18, 2015..
  17. Jerzy Malec, Szkice z dziejów federalizmu i myśli federalistycznych w czasach nowożytnych, "Unia Troista", Wydawnictwo UJ, 1999, Kraków, ISBN 83-233-1278-8, Part II, Chapter I Koewkwacja praw.
  18. As stated, for instance, in the preamble of the 1997 Constitution of the Republic of Poland.
  19. Eidintas, Alfonsas; Žalys, Vytautas (1999). Tuskenis, Edvardas, ed. Lithuania in European Politics: The Years of the First Republic, 1918–1940. Afterward by Alfred Erich (1st pbk. ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 78. ISBN 0-312-22458-3.

External links

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