«Res publica» Redefined?

The Polish-Lithuanian Transition Period of the 1560s and 1570s in the Context of European State Formation Processes

by Miia Ijäs (Author)
©2016 Monographs 304 Pages


The union of Poland and Lithuania was ruled by the Jagiellon royal house from 1385–1572, after which a political transition to an elective monarchy was undertaken. This book studies the political transition from the Jagiellon dynasty to an elective monarchy as a political decision-making process in the 1560s and 1570s. It focuses on the Polish-Lithuanian nobility and clergy as ‘king-makers’ and their relationship with the monarchy. In addition, special attention is paid to the issue of transnational influences and the way in which the international state system affected events in Poland-Lithuania. Thus, this particular political transition is considered in the context of the great events of early modern Europe, such as the Reformation and state-formation processes.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of tables
  • Chronology of events
  • 1. Introduction: the alleged outsider of European developments
  • 1.1 Previous research
  • Noble privileges and the structure of the political system
  • Res publica and (Polish) ‘republicanism’
  • Religion and political thought
  • Transition period and royal elections
  • 1.2 Research objective and documentary sources
  • 1.3 Language and terminology
  • 2. Early modern state formation – in theory and practice?
  • 2.1 Theories on state formation
  • 2.2 New transnational history and the early modern period
  • 2.3 Social functions in an early modern state
  • 2.4 Early modern state formation in action: the political decision-making process
  • 3. Identification of the forthcoming change
  • 3.1 Understanding the Polish (-Lithuanian) state and its structure
  • Ideas on hierarchy and authority
  • Ideas on equality and legislation
  • 3.2 The complex concept of libertas
  • Freedom understood as ‘rule by law’
  • Religious freedom – a threat or a possibility?
  • Kings and tyrants
  • Freedom as independence of the state
  • 3.3 Royal presence as continuation of statehood
  • King at the Sejm
  • Royal marriage and the question of heirs
  • The evaluation of the last Jagiellon’s reign
  • 3.4 Conclusions
  • 4. Preparations for the transition
  • 4.1 Domestic politics in the 1560s: from Piotrków to Lublin
  • Early developments of the Polish-Lithuanian state
  • The ‘execution of laws’ in the 1560s
  • The Union of Lublin
  • ‘Restoration’ of the Ruthenian lands to the Kingdom of Poland
  • 4.2 The foreign policy of King Sigismund August
  • Friends and enemies: the Livonian war
  • Balancing with the Habsburgs
  • South and South-East: the Ottomans and their vassals
  • Through war or diplomacy?
  • 4.3 The poor state of the royal treasury
  • 4.4 Before an election
  • 4.5 Conclusions
  • 5. Between alternatives: the royal elections of 1573 and 1575
  • 5.1 The ‘rational election’ of Henry Valois
  • The evaluation of the royal candidates
  • Rejected candidates
  • Negotiations in Paris
  • The runaway king
  • 5.2 The ‘scandalous election’ of Stefan Batory
  • Towards another election
  • The nomination of candidates, part two
  • The double election of 1575 and the problem of legality
  • The aftermath
  • 5.3 International polemics concerning the second election
  • 5.4 Conclusions
  • 6. The confirmation of Polish-Lithuanian statehood
  • 6.1 A deal with a dynasty
  • The Henrician articles
  • The pacta conventa of Maximilian II
  • 6.2 The ‘simple constitution’ of Stefan Batory
  • 6.3 Separation of powers rearranged
  • The rocky start to King Stefan’s reign
  • Battle over religion and jurisdiction
  • Continuity in foreign relations
  • 6.4 Conclusions
  • 7. The Polish-Lithuanian transition period of the 1560s–1570s in the context of European state formation processes
  • Bibliography

← 8 | 9 →


This book is based on my PhD research and thus, I want to thank people who have supported me during my doctoral training. My external reviewers PD Dr. Almut Bues (Deutsches Historisches Institut Warschau), Professor Harald Gustafsson (Lund University) and Professor Markku Peltonen (University of Helsinki) all read my dissertation from the point of view of their own expertise. I want to thank all of them for their comments that have helped me to finish this research. I also want to thank my supervisors Professor Christian Krötzl and University Lecturer Marko Nenonen at the University of Tampere, as well as Professor Jukka Korpela (University of Eastern Finland) and Senior Researcher Sari Autio-Sarasmo (Aleksanteri-institute, University of Helsinki) for all their comments and support. At the early stage of my research, I was able to develop my ideas with Professors Wojciech Tygielski and Michał Kopczyński at the University of Warsaw. I am grateful for the guidance that they gave me.

I am grateful for the help that I have received during the years of research concerning the various languages of my documentary sources. The following colleagues especially have offered me their help and insight in interpreting different languages when I was in doubt: Dr. Jussi Jalonen with the Polish language, Professor Kirsi Salonen with Italian and Adjunct Professor Juhani Sarsila with Latin. I am grateful for their help, although I take full responsibility for the translations which appear in this study. In addition, my dear friends Magdalena Wojewoda and Katarzyna Brzozowska have always been ready to help me when I have felt ‘lost in translation’. I would also like to thank Philip Line for doing the language proof reading for correct English for me.

Several archivists and librarians in Warsaw, Kraków, Vatican, Rome, Stockholm, Helsinki and Tampere have done their very best to make my life easier. I would also like to thank the staff of the Finnish Institute in Rome (Institutum Romanum Finlandiae) as they have offered me their help and hospitality during my visits to Rome and Villa Lante.

During my doctoral training in 2010–2013, I have had the privilege to be a member of the Finnish Graduate Programme for Russian and East European Studies, coordinated by the Aleksanteri-institute (University of Helsinki). I want to thank Professor Markku Kivinen as the director of the Aleksanteri-institute and the doctoral programme, as well as all my friends and colleagues related to the institute and the doctoral programme. In addition, the Department of History at the School of Social Sciences and Humanities (University of Tampere) ← 9 | 10 → has provided a comfortable academic home and inspiring setting for research. Friends and colleagues at the University of Tampere have always been helpful and inspiring people to work with.

I would also like to thank Peter Lang International Academic Publishers and series editor Professor Christian Gastgeber for accepting my manuscript in their series Eastern and Central European Studies.

Finally, I want to thank my family and friends for their continuous support: thank you, kiitos, dziękuję.

September 29, 2015

Miia Ijäs

← 10 | 11 →

List of tables

Table 1:  Different definitions of libertas according to the negative and positive concepts of liberty

Table 2:  Comparison of the three pacta conventa of 1573–1576 ← 11 | 12 →

← 12 | 13 →

Chronology of events

← 14 | 15 →

1.  Introduction: the alleged outsider of European developments

The Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania had been united by the Jagiellon royal house since 1385 when the Lithuanian Grand Duke Wladysław Jagiełło was elected as king of Poland. The Jagiellon dynasty came to an end some two centuries later, when King Sigismund II August died in July 1572. By this time, Poland and Lithuania had been united in a political union, which stated that the Polish-Lithuanian estates would jointly elect their future monarch. From the beginning of the first interregnum, the Austrian Habsburg and French Valois candidates, as representatives of the two most powerful dynasties of sixteenth-century Europe, were the favored candidates in the election. Finally, the election of Henry Valois took place in May 1573 and he was crowned in February 1574. However, the Polish-Lithuanian Res publica faced another interregnum in summer 1574, as King Henry left Kraków to claim the French throne after the death of his brother, King Charles IX.

The second interregnum brought great turmoil to Poland-Lithuania. The Polish-Lithuanian estates were gravely divided and at the same time, foreign interference in the realm grew stronger. Because of serious fractures within the Polish-Lithuanian estates, the royal election in December 1575 concluded in a double-election: the majority of the nobility present chose Anna Jagiellon, sister of the late King Sigismund August, and the Transylvanian prince Stefan Batory as their future monarchs, but simultaneously another party led by the Polish Archbishop Jakub Uchański announced the election of Emperor Maximilian II from the house of Habsburg. Thus, the year 1576 began with a struggle for power between the ‘cesarians’ and ‘batorians’. Finally, the wedding and coronation of Anna and Stefan took place on May 1, 1576.

This study focuses on the political transition from the Jagiellon dynasty to elective monarchy as a political decision-making process. I shall analyze the contemporary understanding of the political change and the preparations that were conducted before the death of the last dynastic king and a royal election. Furthermore, I will look at the reasons and arguments behind the royal elections of 1573 and 1575. I will conclude with an analysis of the way in which Polish-Lithuanian statehood was confirmed under the new reign. This study contributes to the scholarly discussion on the development of early modern state formation processes during the sixteenth century. I will focus especially on the issue of transnational influences and the way in which the international state system ← 15 | 16 → affected political decision-making in Poland-Lithuania. As the political transition of Poland-Lithuania took place during the era of the Reformation, this study also analyzes how religious conditions and the growing religious pluralism were handled in political decision-making. Before laying out the research objective of this study more thoroughly, however, I shall examine the main lines along which previous research has been conducted on the political history of early modern Poland-Lithuania. It is hoped that by reviewing earlier research first the issues of this study and its context will become clearer to the reader. The outline of the previous research will also work as an introduction to the history of Poland-Lithuania for readers who are less familiar with the history of the Res publica.

1.1  Previous research

Scholars of early modern Polish-Lithuanian political history have concentrated especially on three interconnected features. These are: (1) the development of noble privileges and structure of the Polish-Lithuanian political system; (2) noble political thought, and; (3) the influence of religious pluralism in the political negotiations. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, historiography of the Polish-Lithuanian political system and noble political thought has shifted from the idea of ‘noble anarchy’ to ‘noble democracy’, and most recently to ‘noble republicanism’. In this literary review, I classify previous research by its subject into four types. Firstly, I take a look at research which has focused on noble privileges and the structure of the political system. Secondly, I scrutinize how previous studies have understood the nature of the Polish-Lithuanian union and how it has influenced (Polish) political thought. Thirdly, I introduce research, which has been conducted on the history of religion and its influence on political thought and agency within early modern Poland-Lithuania. Fourthly, as a special comparison to this book at hand, I introduce those studies which have focused especially on the transition period of the 1560s–1570s and on the first two royal elections.

Noble privileges and the structure of the political system

In the Polish – after 1569 Polish-Lithuanian – parliamentary system there were three estates which took part in the political decision-making process. These were the three bodies of the national Sejm: king, senate and chamber of envoys.1 ← 16 | 17 → The Polish term for estate (stan; in plural stany) was used primarily to refer to the estates at the Sejm, not to the social estates as a whole.2 The national Sejm as an official forum of political negotiation was divided into two chambers in 1493. The senate (pany rady) is also known as the upper chamber of the Sejm, which consisted of bishops, high officials of the realm and ministers of the royal chancery.3 Hence the members of the senate were usually from the wealthier nobility, that is, the magnates. Since 1505, the role of the senate was first and foremost advisory and it could not make decisions on its own. The lower chamber or chamber of envoys (izba poselska) consisted of representatives of the nobility who were elected and sent by their provincial assemblies, called sejmik (in plural, sejmiki). For this reason, at the chamber of envoys the noble representatives were called envoys or provincial legates (posłowie ziemscy, nuntii terrestres, legati provinciales).4

A great part of the earlier Polish historiography has concentrated on the question of the highest authority in the realm and thus on the ‘battle for power’ between the nobility and monarch. Here two different disciplines can be identified. One group of scholars sees the development of noble privileges as linear, involving a progressive decrease in royal power. For example, Jerzy Lukowski, Janusz Ekes, Paweł Jasienica, as well as many Polish historians outside modern Poland, have emphasized the steadily growing powers of the nobility and the chamber of envoys at the expense of the senate and monarch.5 This paradigm was popularized as early as 1918 in the study on liberum veto by Władysław Konopczyński. In particular, the French edition of Konopczyński’s study (published in 1931) led ← 17 | 18 → historians both inside and outside Poland to concentrate on the negative aspects of the early modern Polish-Lithuanian political system.6

Consequently, Polish historiography often adopts a periodization that labels the sixteenth century as the ‘golden age’ or ‘apogee of noble democracy’, after which there is a general decline as the noble democracy turns into ‘noble anarchy’.7 Following this paradigm, noble libertas has even been considered the main reason for the partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Res publica at the end of the eighteenth century. According to this interpretation, the nobility were no longer able to govern themselves or the Polish-Lithuanian state.8 Echoes of this idea of ‘noble anarchy’ are still often heard in historiography concerning Poland-Lithuania, especially in books of general European history. Consequently, Eastern Europe in general and Poland-Lithuania in particular has often been labelled a region of ‘backwardness’ and ‘outsiders’, which was ‘lagging behind’ Western Europe.9 Recently, however, scholars have started to notice parallels and interactions in European history and as a result comparisons have been drawn especially between the history of Poland-Lithuania and the Holy Roman Empire.10 ← 18 | 19 →

On the other hand, scholars have emphasized that noble privileges did not always favor only the nobility, as the privileges could ensure noble support for the king since they always included the whole Polish noble estate after 1374. This has been seen as important because the king’s status was also challenged by magnates and the Catholic Church. Within this discipline, Andrzej Wyczański has been an especially important figure.11 In addition, Antoni Mączak has emphasized that systems of power and governance were not yet clearly defined in early modern states, which were characterized by different relationships between those who govern and the governed.12 Recently, Felicia Roşu has stated in her academic dissertation on ‘contractual majesty’ that the royal elections as such did not diminish the political authority of the Polish-Lithuanian monarch. On the contrary, Roşu argues that after 1572 the king was elected precisely because his role and status was so important for the Polish-Lithuanian political system.13 This study at hand is closer to the perspective of Mączak, Roşu and Wyczański, who hold that power relations within the Polish-Lithuanian Res publica were a more complex matter than mere confrontation between the nobility and a monarch.

Traditionally political historiography has concentrated only on the role of the nobility. Little by little, the study of Polish-Lithuanian citizenship has been widened from the nobility to other groups, such as town representatives.14 However, what has been lacking from the existing historiography is a thorough study of the political role and agency of the (lower) clergy. In comparison, cardinals ← 19 | 20 → and other high-ranking bishops have received much attention from historians.15 In the political structure, both senate and the noble chamber of envoys included members of the clergy. The status of bishops and metropolitans automatically entitled them to a place in the senate.16 In addition, local assemblies of the nobility (sejmiki) would quite often elect members of the clergy as noble envoys to the national Sejm. Thus the division between nobility and clergy in political life, especially in the case of the chamber of envoys, is difficult to make. So far, historians have considered that as members of the chamber of envoys the clergy were treated as representatives of the nobility.17 However, this raises an interesting question: to whom did an envoy owe his loyalty, the Church or his noble brothers? The emphasis of research in this area has been on the disagreements between the bishops and secular nobility and the so-called anticlericalism of the Polish nobility during the mid-sixteenth century.18

Previous historiography has also tended to focus on the division between magnates and lower (petty) nobility, the latter is often referred to by the Polish term szlachta. In general, the magnate families held greater property and lands compared to the lower nobility. In addition, the magnates usually held high offices in the administration almost by inheritance, as the offices often stayed within the most powerful noble families. Henryk Olszewski, for example, has stated that magnates benefited from the socio-economic changes of the early modern period and the ‘democratic’ institutions of the Res publica and they were ← 20 | 21 → thus able to manipulate the election of local envoys according to their own interests. After the end of the sixteenth century, this caused the state to become increasingly oligarchic, while still preserving the ‘democratic ideology’.19 Historians have traditionally held that the magnates (boyars) of Lithuania and Prussia had even stronger control over the lower nobility in respect of political thinking and agency.20 Recently, however, Andrej Kotljarchuk has argued that the status and political power of the magnates in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania has been overestimated. According to Kotljarchuk, the magnates’ status was determined also by other issues, especially by royal policy. Therefore, even though a magnate family had great landed estates and resources, their agency at a national level could be restricted by unfavorable royal policy.21 Henryk Litwin, on the other hand, has suggested that in some respects the magnates were able to form their own social class apart from the lower nobility. Litwin bases his interpretation on the notion that magnates had their own social circles and marriage market; they had far greater resources and they had exclusive information about public affairs and foreign policy.22

Historians of the Polish-Lithuanian Res publica often emphasize that after the strengthening of the union between the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1569, the nobility of these realms became one ‘political nation’. Norman Davies, for example, has stated that “to be ‘Polish’ was to be a citizen of the Polish-Lithuanian state.”23 However, Lithuanian, Prussian and Ruthenian nobility still had their own public institutions, identity and ambitions. Thus, historians concentrating on the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Royal Prussia, the Duchy of Courland (Livonia) and the ‘incorporated lands’ of Ukraine have emphasized that the actual integration of political – not to mention social – life was a slow and tortuous process. It is noteworthy that this trend in historiography has ← 21 | 22 → become more widespread during the twenty-first century as the ‘polonization’ of the history of the Polish-Lithuanian union has loosened.24 Thus historians have noticed that even though acts of union were signed, they did not necessarily change the political reality.

Therefore, although the Union of Lublin in 1569 has been interpreted as the establishment and confirmation of the political union between Poland and Lithuania, it did not mark an end to separatist politics based on local needs and demands by the Lithuanians, Prussians and Ukrainians.25 The question, how to combine the local needs and ambitions with the need for deeper integration of the Polish-Lithuanian union is of high importance. On the other hand, historians have interpreted the early modern noble ideology of ‘Sarmatism’ as an attempt to unify the multiethnic and multicultural nobility of Poland-Lithuania. The ‘Sarmatian ideology’ of late medieval and early modern Polish historians and chroniclers was based on the legend according to which the Polish nobility were descendants of the ancient Sarmatians. As the political culture of the multiethnic ← 22 | 23 → Polish-Lithuanian union developed during the early modern era, nobility of other regions were also included among the ‘Sarmatians’.26


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (November)
State formation Elective monarchy Political decision-making Reformation
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 304 pp., 2 tables

Biographical notes

Miia Ijäs (Author)

Miia Ijäs is a Finnish historian who completed her doctoral degree at the University of Tampere. She is specialized in the political history of Central Eastern Europe and the Baltic Sea area during the modern and early modern periods.


Title: «Res publica» Redefined?