(The Inexorable Political Rise of the szlachta)

1180 Wiec of Leczyca (barones & clerus) places Kazimierz Sprawiedliwy on Kraków throne; abolition of seniorate intended to clarify succession.

In the XII century, the mozni increase their influence in the period of fragmentation, as does the higher clergy. "Princely Law" is reduced because of resistance to taxation; growth of "anarchic society" based on local warlords.

1291 Lutomysl. The Bohemian king, Vaclav, recognises distinct divisions into classes: mozni, mieszczanstwo, kler. Period of immense rise of power of the burghers (mid-XIII century to the reign of Wladyslaw Lokietek).

Under Lokietek, a distinct shift in power to his "sponsors", the rycerstwo, who support him against the combined resistance of mozni/mieszczanstwo/kler. In return, Lokietek grants personal privilegia to many individual rycerze.

Kazimierz Wielki

1333-70 Kazimierz Wielki's reign sees the definition of the "Corona" as distinct from a particular king; end of medieval patrinomium, imperceptibly but quickly the equalization of mozni and rycerstwo as the "stan szlachecki" proceeds: they are treated equally by the King, both have a duty associated with the pospolite ruszenie. Elimination of the political influence of the mieszczanstwo.

1355 Buda. Kazimierz Wielki designates Louis of Anjou his successor, and this is confirmed by the "stan rycerski"; they will no longer be required to pay taxes, or pay for military expeditions outside Poland with their own funds.

Louis of Anjou 1370-1384

1374 Ugoda koszycka: Council of Koszyce defines the szlachta and the resentment at distant, "foreign" rule led Elisabeth/Louis to cultuivate an ever wider "constituency": in return for acceptance of the succession of Louis's daughter, the whole stan szlachecki were exempted from taxation, except for reduced poradlne. From now on the "urzedy ziemskie" were reserved for local szlachta only; and no other taxes could be raised without the consent of the szlachta; the King's right to raise taxes was abolished (no resolution yet who should decide).

1382 Interregnum: during the zjazdy of the communitatis at Radomsko & Wislica, the szlachta flexed their newly gained political privileges: by consensus dynastic union with Hungary was rejected by refusing the crown to Maria d'Anjou and consort Sigismund of Luxembourg.

Jadwiga 1384-1386

1384 Assembly of estates in Radomsko produces ultimatum to Jadwiga d'Anjou to accept the Polish throne. Dignitaries refuse chosen consort of Jadwiga (William of Brandenburg) and search for a more useful alliance: with Grand Duke of Lithuania, Jogaila/Jagiello.

1385 Krzewo: site of a "zjazd" of the szlachta, who set conditions for Jogaila's marriage to Jadwiga:

  1. (1) confirmation of the szlachta's privileges,
  2. (2) acceptance of the restrictions upon his role, and
  3. (3) addition of his lands to Poland: Terras suas Lithuaniae et Russiae Coronae Regni Poloniae perpetuo applicare.

Jadwiga & Jagiello 1386-1399

1386 Zjazd szlachecki in Lublin elects Jogaila as King of Poland. His election is followed by his baptism, marriage and coronation.

1387 Jagiello extends the rights his Polish subjects enjoy to his Lithuanian boyars (armigeri), but the change in social/political submission to the chief is extremely slow in the Grand Duchy.

Jagiello 1399-1434

1399 Readjustment of Polish-Lithuanian dynastic union. Jagiello is confirmed as King; the Gd Duchy is specified as a personal domain fiefed to the Jagiellon family, but subject to the Polish Crown, a status confirmed by both the Lithuanian and Polish szlachta (Wilno, January 1401 & Radom, March 1401). Both nations have approved a single constitutional concept. The Lithuanians were permitted to hold conventiones et parlamenta with their Polish counterparts. All these rights were confined to Catholics of the core territories of Lithuania, excluding the Ruthenian Orthodox. Jagiello asked the Royal Council to impose taxes contrary to the provisions of Koszyce; and he called the szlachta to attend and advise his Council’s deliberations: the principle was that the Council (consisting of barones et prelati) argued, presented their conclusions to the massed szlachta, and then with the changes confirmed, held a second session of the Council (which only the wealthier szlachta could attend).

1413 Horodlo was a hugely symbolic event: the Lithuanian boyars were accepted into the Polish "clan" system, and treated as equals.

1422 At Czerwinsk, the szlachta, at a levée-en-masse, exacted further concessions from the King:

  1. (1) confiscation of estates was only permitted upon appropriate verdicts by judges;
  2. (2) the office of starosta was incompatible with the function of district judge;
  3. (3) Council of State now to decide on minting money (i.e. financial policy passed to Council).

1425 Conflict between Jagiello and szlachta over succession: sons with Zofia Holzanska were not deemed "Polish" (i.e. Piast enough): the sejm at Brzesc Kujawski demanded the right to elect" Jagiello's successor, and even the right to demand confirmation of their rights from any successor. The szlachta also secured the first concessions on personal immunity. Opposition headed by Bishop Olesnicki of Kraków, the leader of the magnates. This dispute was not solved until Jagiello conceded the szlachta's demands at Jedlno in 1430. Jagiello intended to create a separate Lithuanian Kingdom, but his cousin Witold died before he could be crowned.

1433 At Kraków the principle that was to dominate the ideology of the szlachta for the next 300 years, that a member of the estate could not be imprisoned without a warrant issued by a competent court of justice, was established: "nullum terrigenam possessionatum capiemus, nisi judicio rationabiliter fuerit convictus", known more popularly as neminem captivabimus.

Wladyslaw Warnenczyk 1434-1444

Wladyslaw's reign was under the shadow of Zbigniew Olesnicki, head of the Royal Council that ruled in his minority, and then in his absence when he was elected King of Hungary. In the uncertain situation, no one could change the dispensations granted earlier under Jagiello.

Kazimierz Jagiellonczyk 1446-1492

1454 When the King called a pospolite ruszenie of the szlachta of Wielkopolska, these massed at Cerekwica, they decided to demand further rights from the King. Statute of Nieszawa granted to the szlachta as the King again called for the pospolite ruszenie of the whole Crown: this time separate charters were granted to the szlachta of each province (omnium terrigenarum, totius communitatis); but essentially this clarified the constitutional basis of the local sejmiki (conventus particulares), and as the King tried to raise taxes for the 13 year war against Prussia & Teutonic Order, he conceded:

  1. (1) the King could raise taxes or call for the levée-en-masse only with the consent of the sejmiki;
  2. (2) the szlachta were protected from abuse in the law courts; and
  3. (3) the magnateria were classed as part of the szlachta.
Essentially the King allied himself with the szlachta against the magnateria and Olesnicki's party (Olesnicki died in 1455). Vacant judicial posts were filled by the King selecting one of four candidates suggested by the szlachta; and higher office holders (wojewodowie, kasztelanie who automatically had a seat in the Council, later the Senate) had to nominated during the sessions of the Sejm.

1468 First meeting of the assemblies of Wielkopolska and Malopolska at a joint session in the border town of Piotrków, the first instance of the sejm meeting, at what becomes its traditional location.

Jan Olbracht 1493-1501

1492 First "free election": other candidates included Ks. Janusz z Mazowsza, King Wladyslaw of Hungary & Bohemia, and Zygmunt Jagiello. Only Senators voted but the szlachta took part in the preceding discussion. Followed by the "acclamatio nationis". Privilege of Wilno. Alexander confers rights of regency on the Lithuanian Council (Rada) and the conceded commoveri non debemus to Lithuanian boyars. Led to a particular foreign policy distinct from that of the Crown.

1493 Establishment of two distinct bodies: the Senate (81 bishops and dignitaries) and the Sejm (54 deputies representing the local dietines/sejmiki). These as “ordeines” rule in conjunction with the King.

1496 KONSTYTUCJA PIOTRKOWSKA. Socially and politically a turning point for the szlachta. The new statute

  1. (1) bound the peasant to the land: only one, and not the eldest, son was permitted to study, enter the priesthood or learn a trade;
  2. (2) the mieszczanstwo were forbidden to own land;
  3. (3) only the szlachta were to be given significant positions in the Church hierarchy.
This, the first proper sejm, was consolidated as the central authority "with full powers from those absent" and ultimate forum (no longer the sejmiki), though the deputies are bound by the instructions made at the sejmiki.

Alexander 1501-1505

1501 At Mielnik, the tradition of the sejm koronacyjny is founded. Alexander makes crucial concessions to secure his election to the throne of Poland (Zygmunt and Wladyslaw Jagiellonczyk of Hungary & Bohemia were also candidates): it included a definition of the borders of Lithuania, and the concession of the right to elect the Gd Duke by the Lithuanians as well as King at a joint sejm in Piotrkó:w. At the first sejm of Piotrków, the szlachta turned their attention to restricting the powers of the magnateria, who were to become impeachable for malpractice in the recently ccreated Senate. The King is described merely as princeps in the Senate, and his powers of appointing the starostas is limited, while the szlachta are even conceded the right to refuse to obey the King or his representatives: non praestanda oboedentia.

1505 Sejm at Radom gains concessions from the King in statute of Nihil novi, by which the King attempts to cancel the changes of Mielnik, and overturn the privilege of Wilno: Chancellor Jan Laski presents a collection of updated Constitutional Laws, never enacted.

Zygmunt I 1505-1548

1506 Coronation Sejm. Senate proposes tax and service assessment of all subjects (szlachta, kler, mieszczanstwo & chlopi) and this issue dominates over the next sessions of the sejm: 1512, 1525, 1527, 1538. The dominant issue becomes Zygmunt's flaunting of the provisions of Nihil novi and granting royal lands to the magnateria on fixed-term tenures and mortgages. These estates with time became hereditary domains; and the szlachta demanded their restitution to the Crown: this was one of the key issues of the demand for the egzekucja praw (Executionist movement).

1520 Statut Bydgoski. King concedes the right of the sejm to deliberate at least once every four years.

Zygmunt II (August) 1548-1572

1548 First call by szlachta at Sejm for a common parliament of the Union, thus effectively to incorporate Lithuania into Poland. Stormy scenes at the 1548 Coronation Sejm on the accession of of ZA initiated with the conflict regarding the King’s secret marriage to Barbara Gasztoldowa z Radziwillów. Young King succeeded in convincing the Sejm, and Barbara was crowned on 7 December 1550. She died only months later on 5 May 1551.

1562 Piotrków Sejm at which he openly declared himself in favour of the szlachta's reforms, and granted the "execution of rights" in so far as it pertained to the restitution of crown lands given to magnates since 1504 (before Nihil novi), which were returned without compensation, and one fifth of their revenue was used to create a standing army.

1562-69 Boyars of Lithuania were at the forefront of the struggle against Muscovy, and they, in 1562, made a personal, direct representation to the King to effect union quickly, and guarantee the same rights to boyars as to the Polish szlachta. Z August addressed the massed Lithuanian boyars at a camp in Witebsk, to raise further taxes, and in return the "sejm polny" elaborated a programme for union: based on joint royal election, joint sejm, with a separate administration for the Gd Duchy maintained. On the Lithuanian side, this was introduced from about 1564 onwards, and led to the final negotiations at the Union of Lublin in 1569. The Polish-Lithuanian Union was the result of the threat presented by Muscovy. These approaches varied according to the political situation, as when Michal Czerwony won a victory against Muscovite troops in 1566, which encouraged the Lithuanians to withdraw their concessions.

1564 Z August renounced his hereditary rights in Lithuania, thus requiring his successors to seek election in the Gd Duchy as well: the "election" of GdDuke since 1440 was limited to candidates from the Jagiellon family. This was an indication of the King’s view that defence of the entire realm now took precedence over local particularism, and regional tradition. The Lithuanian szlachta/boyars' determination to reform at the very least the Lithuanian sejm led to decrees of July 1564 and December 1565: the sejmiki were instituted in each Lithuanian wojewodztwo, selecting two deputies for the national sejm; and it was conceded that only a bill approved by all estates (particularly the Lithuanian szlachta, no longer boyars) could become law.

1566-68 The Lithuanian magnates hoped that the Lithuanian szlachta would abandon the demand for union with Poland after such concessions, but since there was now no need to acquiesce to the wishes of their former legal superiors, the Lithuanian szlachta pushed on with their demands for a single Polish-Lithuanian sejm. So the King eventually called the

1569 "Joint" Sejm session at Lublin, "or rather negotiations between the Polish and Lithuanian sejms through the mediation of their deputies". The Lithuanians walked out of the chamber on 1 March; this allowed the Poles to draw up a constitution more in the Crown's favour, though still respecting Lithuania's peculiarities and separate offices, but notably taking and incorporating the ever disputed land of Podlasie and Wolyn into the Crown. In the final documents the lands of Kiev and deeper Ruthenia was also included in designated Crown territory, thus bringing Poland a direct border with Muscovy. New Lithuanian deputies were elected and appeared in Lublin at the beginning of June, and on 1 July 1569 an oath was sworn by all sides to maintain the union, now based on a joint King and Sejm. Warsaw was chosen as a central and relatively neutral seat of the joint Sejm's deliberations; the King now only required coronation in Kraków as King and GdDuke, no longer a separate "elevation" in Wilno. But law and administration remained entirely separate, and only the magnates really resented this solution; the rest of Lithuania approved of the new constitutional basis of its close union with Poland.

Unanimity The Sejm presented its proposed legislation to the deputies of the Sejm, who would then retire to their own chamber and seek for a unanimous decision. The Senate did not pass decisions; the King heard its counsel and "concluded" the matter one way or another, his power being restricted if all the speakers opposed the royal proposal. But if the views were conflicting, he was bound to favour the existing law. On the other hand, the Marshal (or Speaker) of the Sejm "concluded" the debates, but he was bound to ask the members whether his understanding of the chamber's views was unanimously accepted by it. If anyone declared his opposition (contradictio), the debate would be reopened and continued until the opponents of the measure abandoned their opposition at the next attempt to reach a "conclusion". Unanimity therefore had a negative character: it was enough if no formal exception was taken by anyone, or if such opposition at all existed, if it was not upheld in the face of the sometimes menacing persuasion from the majority group. If, however, the deputies could not attain even such passive unanimity. or if the chamber's negotiations with the King proved futile (no single person or small group dared to hold up proceedings in the sixteenth century), then after six weeks (the upper time limit of its sittings) had elapsed, the deliberations as a whole were declared null and void.


Donald P.A. Pirie (1995)

Donald Pirie Memorial Conference