Union of Lublin

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Act of the Union of Lublin from 1569 Unia Lubelska 1569 r..jpg
Act of the Union of Lublin from 1569
The Union of Lublin, painting by Marcello Bacciarelli. Two knights hold entangled banners with the coats of arms of both states. A ribbon flutters over them with the inscription: IN COMMVNE BONVM - [COMPL]EXV SOCIATA PERENNI ("For the common good - united forever") Lublin Union.PNG
The Union of Lublin, painting by Marcello Bacciarelli. Two knights hold entangled banners with the coats of arms of both states. A ribbon flutters over them with the inscription: IN COMMVNE BONVM - [COMPL]EXV SOCIATA PERENNI ("For the common good - united forever")
The Union of Lublin, painting by Jan Matejko. King Sigismund II Augustus holds the cross at the centre while surrounded by statesmen, diplomats, the clergy and nobles Lublin Union 1569.PNG
The Union of Lublin , painting by Jan Matejko. King Sigismund II Augustus holds the cross at the centre while surrounded by statesmen, diplomats, the clergy and nobles

The Union of Lublin (Polish : Unia lubelska; Lithuanian : Liublino unija) was signed on 1 July 1569 in Lublin, Poland, and created a single state, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, one of the largest countries in Europe at the time. 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 is seen by some as 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]



Poland and Lithuania in 1526, before the Union of Lublin Poland and Lithuania in 1526.PNG
Poland and Lithuania in 1526, before the Union of Lublin
The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569 Irp1569.jpg
The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1569

There were long discussions before signing the union treaty. 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. Lithuania had been increasingly on the losing side of the Muscovite-Lithuanian Wars, however, and by the second half of the 16th century, it faced the threat of total defeat in the Livonian war and incorporation into Russia.[ citation needed ] The Polish nobility (the szlachta), on the other hand, were reluctant to offer more help to Lithuania without receiving anything in exchange (as much as 70% of the taxes collected in Poland in the 1560s went to support Lithuania in its war with Moscow). [5] [6] The Polish and Lithuanian elites strengthened personal bonds and had opportunities to plan their united futures during increased military cooperation. [7] Sigismund II Augustus, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, seeing the threat to Lithuania and eventually to Poland, pressed for the union, gradually gaining more followers until he felt enough support to evict landowners forcibly who opposed the transition of territory from Lithuania to Poland. [8] A clear motivation for Sigismund was that he was the last Jagiello and had no children or brothers who could inherit the throne. Therefore, 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, which would simultaneously reign over both domains. [8]

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 Voivodeship's Mikołaj "Rudy" Radziwiłł left Lublin on 1 March, the king responded by annexing Podlachie, Volhynian, Bracław, and the Kiev Voivodeships to the Crown (on 6 June), with wide approval from the local gentry. [9] [10] Those historic lands of Rus' are over half of modern Ukraine and were then a substantial portion of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania's territory. The Rus' nobles there were eager to capitalise on the economic and political opportunities offered by the Polish sphere, and by and large, they wanted their lands to become a part of the Polish Crown. [11]

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 from those of Radziwiłł. Though the Polish szlachta wanted full incorporation of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania into the Crown, the Lithuanians continued to oppose that 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. [9]

Attempts at modernisation

The Union of Lublin was superseded by the Constitution of 3 May 1791, under which 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. The constitution was not fully implemented, however, and the Commonwealth was ended with the Partitions of Poland in 1795.



Religions in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1750: mostly Roman Catholic in the west and Eastern Catholic (Byzantine rite) in the east (orange color) Religie w I Rz-plitej 1750.svg
Religions in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1750: mostly Roman Catholic in the west and Eastern Catholic (Byzantine rite) in the east (orange color)

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.[ citation needed ]

By the late 15th century, the Polish language was already making rapid inroads among the Lithuanian and Rus' elites. [9] 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 after the Union of Brest converted to Eastern Catholicism.[ citation needed ]

This eventually created a significant rift between the lower social classes and the nobility in the Lithuanian and Ruthenian areas of the Commonwealth. [11] Some Ruthenian magnates resisted Polonization (like the Ostrogskis) 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.[ citation needed ]

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 inactive while the Union of Kėdainiai was in effect.[ citation needed ]

Many historians like Krzysztof Rak consider the Union of Lublin to have created a state similar to the present-day European Union, [12] 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.[ citation needed ]


The union brought about the Polish colonization of Ruthenian lands and increasing enserfment of Ruthenian peasantry by the szlachta. [13] [14] [15] [16] Although the conditions for peasants in the Commonwealth was quite 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 the Russian government, and was one of the factors ultimately leading to the partitions of Poland. [17]

A common coin, the złoty, was introduced.[ citation needed ]

Execution of crown lands was not extended to the Grand Duchy.[ citation needed ]


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 and Ottoman Empires). [18]

As part of the Union, Lithuania lost Podlaskie, Volhynia, Podolia and Kiev voivodeships to the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland.[ citation needed ]

Coat of arms of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Herb Rzeczypospolitej Obojga Narodow.svg
Coat of arms of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth

The Statutes of Lithuania 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 Sapieha 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. [19]


Poland provided military aid in the wars 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.[ citation needed ]


The Union of Lublin provided for merger of the two states, though each retained substantial autonomy, with their own army, treasury, laws and administration. [10] 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. [10]

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.[ citation needed ]

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.[ citation needed ]

Poland and the Grand Duchy were to have a common foreign policy.[ citation needed ]


Memory of the union lasted long. Painting commemorating Polish-Lithuanian union; circa 1861. The motto reads "Eternal union." Unia w Krewie.JPG
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 his greatest failure. Although it created one of the largest states in contemporary Europe, one that endured for over 200 years, [20] 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 to balance the power of lesser nobility and magnates. However, while all the nobility in the Commonwealth was in theory equal under the law, the political power of the magnates was not weakened significantly, and in the end they could too often bribe or coerce their lesser brethren. [9] 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. [21]

Today's Republic of Poland considers itself a successor to the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, [22] whereas the interwar Republic of Lithuania viewed the Commonwealth's creation in mostly negative light. [23]

The original act document was included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2017. [24]

See also

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The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, formally known as the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and, after 1791, the Commonwealth of Poland, was a country and bi-federation of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch in real union, who was both King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania. It was one of the largest and most populous countries of 16th to 17th-century Europe. At its largest territorial extent, in the early 17th century, the Commonwealth covered almost 1,000,000 square kilometres (400,000 sq mi) and as of 1618 sustained a multi-ethnic population of almost 12 million. Polish and Latin were the two co-official languages.

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Crown of the Kingdom of Poland

The Crown of the Kingdom of Poland, known also as the Polish Crown, is the common name for the historic Late Middle Ages territorial possessions of the King of Poland, including the Kingdom of Poland proper. The Polish Crown was at the helm of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth from 1569 to 1795.

Polish Golden Age period of Polish history

The Polish Golden Age was the Renaissance period in Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, lasting from the late 15th century to the death of King Sigismund II Augustus, the last of the Jagiellonian Dynasty monarchs, in 1572. Some historians reckon the Polish Golden Age to have continued to the mid-17th century, when the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was ravaged by the Khmelnytsky Uprising (1648–57) and by the Swedish invasion. During its Golden Age, the Commonwealth became one of the largest kingdoms of Europe, stretching from modern Estonia in the north to Moldavia in the east and Bohemia in the west.

Lithuanian nobility

The Lithuanian nobility was historically a legally privileged class in the Kingdom of Lithuania and Grand Duchy of Lithuania consisting of Lithuanians, from the historical regions of Lithuania Proper and Samogitia, and, following Lithuania's eastern expansion, many Ruthenian noble families (boyars). Families were primarily granted privileges for their military service to the Grand Duchy. The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth had one of the largest percentages of nobility in Europe, close to 10% of the population, in some regions, like Samogitia, it was closer to 12%. However, the high nobility was extremely limited in number, consisting of the magnates and later, within the Russian Empire, of princes.

Volhynian Voivodeship (1569–1795)

Volhynian Voivodeship was a unit of administrative division and local government in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from 1566 until 1569 and of the Polish Crown within the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth from the 1569 Union of Lublin until the Third Partition of Poland in 1795. It was part of the Ruthenian lands in the Lesser Poland Province.

Polish–Lithuanian union Former union of European states

The Polish–Lithuanian Union was a relationship created by a series of acts and alliances between the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania that lasted for prolonged periods of time from 1385 and led to the creation of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, or the Republic of the Two Nations", in 1569 and eventually to the creation of a unitary state in 1791.

Bracław Voivodeship

The Bracław Voivodeship was a unit of administrative division of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Created in 1566 as part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, it was passed to the Crown of Poland in 1569 following the Union of Lublin. After partitions of Poland in 1793 the voivodeship was taken by the Russian Empire and replaced with the Bratslav Viceroyalty.


Polonization involves the acquisition or imposition of elements of Polish culture, in particular the Polish language. This happened in some historic periods among the non-Polish populations of territories controlled or substantially under the influence of Poland. Like other examples of cultural assimilation, Polonization could either be voluntary or forced; it is most visible in the case of territories where the Polish language or culture were dominant or where their adoption could result in increased prestige or social status, as was the case for the nobility of Ruthenia and Lithuania. To a certain extent political authorities have administratively promoted Polonization, particularly in the period following World War II.

Statutes of Lithuania

The Statutes of Lithuania, originally known as the Statutes of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, were a 16th-century codification of all the legislation of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and its successor, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Statutes consist of three legal codes, all written in Ruthenian language, translated into Latin and later Polish. They formed the basis of the legal system of the Grand Duchy. One of the main sources of the statutes was Old Russian Law.

Polish–Lithuanian–Muscovite Commonwealth

The Polish–Lithuanian–Muscovite Commonwealth was a proposed state that would have been based on a personal union between the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Tsardom of Russia. A number of serious attempts, by various means, to create such a union took place between 1574 and 1658, and even as late as the latter part of the 18th century, but it has never materialized due to incompatible demands from both sides.

Kingdom of Poland (1385–1569) Jagiellon kingdom of Poland, 1385–1569

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Podlaskie Voivodeship (1513–1795)

The Podlaskie Voivodeship was formed in 1513 by Sigismund I the Old as a voivodeship in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, from a split off part of the Trakai Voivodeship. After Lithuania's union with the Kingdom of Poland in 1569 and formation of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, the voivodeship was transferred to the Polish Crown, where it belonged to the Lesser Poland Province of the Polish Crown.

Ruthenian nobility

Ruthenian nobility refers to the nobility of Kievan Rus and Galicia–Volhynia, which found itself in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Ruthenia, Samogitia, Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and later Russian and Austrian Empires, and became increasingly polonized and later russified, while retaining a separate, cultural identity.

History of Poland in the Early Modern era (1569–1795)

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History of Poland during the Jagiellonian dynasty

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History of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569–1648)

The history of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569–1648) covers a period in the history of Poland and Lithuania, before their joint state was subjected to devastating wars in the middle of the 17th century. The Union of Lublin of 1569 established the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, a more closely unified federal state, replacing the previously existing personal union of the two countries. The Union was largely run by the Polish and increasingly Polonized Lithuanian and Ruthenian nobility, through the system of the central parliament and local assemblies, but from 1573 led by elected kings. The formal rule of the proportionally more numerous than in other European countries nobility constituted a sophisticated early democratic system, in contrast to the absolute monarchies prevalent at that time in the rest of Europe.

Magnates of Poland and Lithuania

The magnates of Poland and Lithuania were an aristocracy of Polish-Lithuanian nobility (szlachta) that existed in the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland, in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and, from the 1569 Union of Lublin, in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, until the Third Partition of Poland in 1795.


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  7. Norman Davies, God's Playground: A History of Poland in Two Volumes, Oxford University Press, p.151
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  24. "The Act of the Union of Lublin document | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization". www.unesco.org.

Further reading