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  Historical Background
quoted after Geschichte der Musik by Karl H. Woerner. English translation: Monika Fahrnberger

The Middle Ages

In the middle of the 10th century small tribal states were unified to form one common Polish state. The ruling dynasty of the 'Piasten' trace their origin back to the legendary king Piast of the 'Poloni' (i. e.: 'Inhabitants of the fields'); the family sat on the Polish throne until 1370, reigned in Masowia until 1526 and in Silesia until 1675.

966: Poland accepted Christianity and introduced Latin liturgy.
968: First bishopry in Poznań.
1000: Independent church hierarchy under the arch-bishopry of Gniezno. Foundation of a strong Slavic State under Boleslaw I Chrobry (992 - 1025). The following gradual loss of importance of the Polish state is finalized with the division into part-states in 1138.

1227: Further weakening of the political unity after the abandonment of the principle of Seniorate (the supremacy of the rulers of Cracow).
1320: Re-introduction of kingdom through Wladyslaw Łokietek. His son Kazimierz III, the Great, (1333 - 1370), increased the political influence of the country again and sorted out inner-political relations.
1364: Founding year of Cracow university. A short reign of the Hungarian dynasty of the Anjous was followed by the accession of the dynasty of the Jagiellones to the throne after Jadwiga, daughter of Ludwig from Hungary, wedded the grand prince Władyslaw Jagiełło (1386 - 1434) of Lithuania and in this way introduced the union with Lithuania.
1410: Victory of Tannenberg, war of 13 years duration against the German order of knights and consolidation of Poland's position in the North-West. The Polish-Lithuanian bloque, one of the European great powers of that time, is a support for Bohemia (the Hussites) and Hungary. Kazimierz Jagiellończyk (1447 - 1492) appoints his sons to the Bohemian (1471) and Hungarian (1490) thrones.

Poland in the 16th century   MF

The century brings the reign of the two most important figures of the house of Jagiełło:

These strong rulers cause Poland's political position within Europe to strenghthen and the Polish-Lithuanian union is intensified and deepened as well. The year 1505 is marked through the constitution "Nihil novi" which deals with the relationship of ruling kings, the senate and a chamber and becomes the most important root of Polish parliamentarism.
The Protestant movement is very tolerant, thus keeping the country from religious wars. The Renaissance culture is in full bloom in any and all of ist various fields: literature, sculpturing, architecture, science, music, etc. Foreign influences are being introduced and connected with the Polish elements of the various disciplines.

After the Jagiełło house died out there is free way towards introducing free elections for the king which result in the following rulers:

Both of them help stabilizing the republic of nobles.
Their successor is Sigismund III (1587 - 1632), the first out of three rulers from the house and family of the Wasa; he involves Poland into a whole chain of dynastic conflicts that mark, among other factors, one of the reasons for the loss of political influence of Poland. Apart from that, he tries to rule with absolute power in the field of Polish inner questions which brings about religious intolerance and the like for his people. However, he was an ardent music and and art lover, which means that on the other hand these fields were well represented and suppported during his reign. During his reign the capital is moved to Warsaw, which in turn becomes the most important cultural center of the country.

Poland in the 17th century   MF

The 17th century is characterized through a strong historical decline - two more rulers from the family of Wasa follow Sigismund III. The country is economically ruined through the influence of several wars and the growing power and influence of those people that are in the possession of a lot of the financial funds, the magnates. There are several factors that should be taken into account when thinking about this decline: egoistic interests of foreign rulers (among those especially people from Saxonia), breaking up of governing structures, natural catastrophes, troubles within several dynasties of noble men and more - all of these contribute to the weakening of Poland which finally results in the division of the state.

And that's the way it is... Back to Essays