ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2010 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 56, No.3 - Fall 2010
Editor of this issue: M. G. Slavėnas

Formation and Transformations of Dynastic Ties between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland from 1386–1501.


JŪRATĖ KIAUPIENĖ is Senior Researcher at the Institute of Lithuanian History, Vilnius, Head of the Section on the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Professor of History at the Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas. She published numerous books and articles on this subject.


The first six hundred years of the Lithuanian state are marked by its centuries-long relationship with Poland, known to history as the Polish- Lithuanian Commonwealth. The dynastic link began in 1386 with the marriage of Lithuania‘s Grand Duke Jogaila to Jadvyga of Anjou, heiress to the throne of Poland, thus assuming the Polish throne and henceforth known by his Christian name Wladyslaw Jagiełło. In Polish historiography, the marriage act, known as the Act of Krėva (Krewo), was interpreted as signifying a union which incorporated Lithuania into Poland. In recent Lithuanian scholarship, however, the Krėva Act is viewed as the ratification of a marriage contract rather than an international treaty constituting a union. The author introduces latest research on this subject and discusses subsequent treaties and agreements which illustrate the complex nature of this dynastic link and increasingly divergent interests of the two states which were both partners and rivals. Placing the dynastic union of Jogaila and Jadvyga into a European context, the author also introduces the term “composite monarchy,” the joining of two autonomous states under the same ruler, a concept new to Polish-Lithuanian historiography. The need to resolve the question of union did not become an issue until the power of the Gediminian-Jagiełłonian dynasty began to wane.

The first 600 years in the history of Lithuania include the four-centuries-long relationship with Poland lasting from 1386-1795, historiographically known as the history of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. From the very beginning, the true meaning of this relationship has received varying interpretations by contemporaries and has left differing imprints on the historic memory of Lithuanians and Poles and the historiography of Poland and Lithuania. However, the field of research is continuously widening, and historians find new, previously unexplored or “unnoticed” findings which allow them to expand and change their previous interpretations. At the juncture of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, paving the way for further discussion, new aspects emerged concerning the meaning of the Polish-Lithuanian Union in a European as well as regional context. In the present article, the author deals with one of these aspects and introduces new interpretations proposed by post-1990 Lithuanian historians concerning the beginning of the dynastic ties and the reasons behind the subsequent fluctuations in the period from 1386 to1501.1

1386: The Formation of the Dynastic Union 

A major controversy revolves around the meaning of the first union between the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Known in Polish historiography as the Krewo (Krėva) Union of 1385, it was said to signify the incorporation of Lithuania into the state of Poland. This interpretation was widely disseminated and eventually became entrenched.2 It was more or less accepted in Lithuania during the Soviet period, ignoring arguments by Lithuanian historians of the first half of the twentieth century about the true nature of the dynastic relationship.3 The new impetus for researchers to reexamine this matter was Jonas Dainauskas’s thesis in 1976 that the Krėva Act of 1385 was a falsification; it was translated into Polish by Polish historian Jerzy Ochmański in 1987.4 After 1990, it became possible to revisit and examine Dainauskas’s claim. This topic was formulated and discussed in 2002 at the Lithuanian History Institute in Vilnius, and the results were published in The Krėva Act of August 14, 1385.5 

After a thorough evaluation of the Krėva Act from various standpoints, including the historical circumstances of its genesis, researchers published both the original text of 1385 and the copy of 1445, with accompanying Lithuanian translations, concluding that the manuscript of 1385, preserved in the Cracow Chapter Archive, is indeed authentic and not counterfeit. The act in question was the ratification of the negotiated agreement concerning the marriage of Lithuania’s Grand Duke Jogaila to Jadvyga of Anjou, the heiress to the throne of Poland. Since a marriage contract does not have the weight of an international treaty, there is no basis for referring to it as the Poland-Lithuania Act of Union of 1385. Moreover, among other international treaties entered into between Poland and Lithuania, nothing exists that could be deemed the “Krėva Union of 1385.” 

In 1386, negotiations concerning the marriage and succession to the Polish throne were concluded, and Grand Duke Jogaila of Lithuania, descendant of the line of Gediminas, arrived in Poland, was baptized, married Jadvyga, and, while remaining sovereign of Lithuania, was crowned King of Poland, henceforth to be known by his Christian Polish name Władysław Jagiełło. Thus, in the late Middle Ages, a dynastic union was founded with vast influence throughout East Central Europe. 

It is not known whether the Gediminians were the initiators of this dynastic alliance. However, it is clear that Jogaila’s decision was useful for Lithuania’s ruling dynasty and of great importance for the future: it raised the prestige of the Gediminas line, ensured the Christianization of pagan Lithuania, guaranteed an ally against the aggressions of the Teutonic Knights, and opened the door to association with other Central European sovereigns. With Jogaila, the heir of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, becoming the sovereign of two states, the Gediminian dynasty underwent a major transformation that opened new political vistas. 

The manner in which the Polish and Lithuanian dynasties were aligned in 1386 was not exceptional by the European standards of the late Middle Ages. In 1382, the death of Ludwig I ended Poland’s dynastic ties with Hungary through the Anjou dynasty, and the Kingdom of Poland established a new dynastic connection with the line of Gediminas through Jogaila, ruler of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The dynastic nature of this relationship was comprehended by other European rulers of the period and is supported by some mid-fifteenth century iconography. The writings of Eberhart Windecke, a Luxemburg courtier and annalist to Emperor Sigismund, contain illustrations by the famous manuscript artist Loubert Diebolt of Hagenau that portray Jogaila, King of Poland, not with the Polish eagle, but with the Lithuanian mounted knight, the vytis, the coat of arms of the Gediminians.6 

Placing the dynastic union of Jogaila and Jadvyga within a European context, S.C. Rowell introduces the concept of “composite monarchy,” which was new in Polish-Lithuanian historiography and signified the joining of two states under the same ruler.7 In modern historiography, the term “composite state/monarchy“ is used to describe a specific yet variable means for alignment and coexistence between European nations during the late Middle Ages and Early Modern periods.8 The “composite state/monarchy” (of which more than one existed) was comprised of independent states which did not necessarily share a common border. Some of these constructs were short-lived, while others persisted for a long time. This term thus can well be applied to the 1386 affiliation of the Kingdom of Poland with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania under the Crown of Poland. 

In the political usage of the Middle Ages, the concept of the Crown of Poland (Coronae Regni Poloniae) had a number of meanings during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, but in the fifteenth century it began to include all lands governed by Jogaila, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania. The Kingdom of Poland was one entity of the composite whole, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania the other. The prominent placement of the word “Poland” in the name of the composite monarchy is of little significance: in the hierarchical value system of the times, a kingdom ranked above a duchy. That is the reason Jogaila sought the Polish crown and why Vytautas (Witold, Polish; Vitovt, East Slavic) and his successors, as well as the nobility of the 1430s, vigorously pursued the status of kingdom for Lithuania. 

By assuming the Polish throne while remaining Grand Duke of Lithuania, Jogaila clearly demonstrated his intention to rule both states. He entrusted Lithuania to his brother Skirgaila by appointing him viceroy. At about the same time, Vytautas embarked on a quest to secure his own birthright and to obtain the rule of Lithuania for himself. The first stage in his efforts to claim Lithuania culminated in the Treaty of Astrava (Astravas) in 1392. 

This treaty was not meant to affect the terms of the dynastic union of 1386 but to regulate the relationships between the Gediminians (Jogaila, Vytautas, and Skirgaila) and to establish who was to govern Lithuania, the patrimony of Jogaila. In actuality, there were significant changes. Jogaila had to concede that his cousin Vytautas had gained precedence in ruling the Grand Duchy of Lithuania because Jogaila’s brother Skirgaila, the appointed viceroy in Lithuania, had failed to gain sufficient trust and authority there. The Treaty of Astrava did not formally address the exact extent of Vytautas’s jurisdiction in Lithuania, nor its effect on Skirgaila’s administration, but in real terms it did represent Vytautas’s first documented victory in his battle for primacy. 

The treaty had international repercussions too. The territorially ambitious Luxemburgers (Jogaila’s brother-in-law, King Sigismund of Hungary, and Sigismund’s brother Vaclav, King of the Bohemians and the Romans) were disquieted by the apparent formation of a new diarchy with the potential for Jogaila’s large composite monarchy to increase in regional strength. King Sigismund’s position was complicated by the death of his wife Maria, of Luxemburg lineage, which made her sister Jadvyga, the queen of Poland, sole heiress to the Hungarian throne. The entire situation was also observed with great interest by the Teutonic Order, an ally of the Luxemburgers and an enemy of both Poland and Lithuania. 

While Jogaila was preoccupied with his Luxemburg rivals, Vytautas used the opportunity to strengthen his own position within the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Skirgaila’s death in 1394 eased the process. Having his rival Skirgaila removed, Vytautas continued to amass supporters and began to strive for full control. In 1395, in his dealings with the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, Vytautas began to refer to himself as the Grand Duke of Lithuania, not merely the Palatine of Trakai and Lutsk, as before. 

During the first decade of Jogaila’s rule in Poland, the political elite of Lesser Poland proved ineffective in wielding influence over Jogaila and his legacy – the Lithuanian state – and ended up splintering. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania, meanwhile, continued to operate independently and develop a political elite of nobles who supported Vytautas.9 Tensions between Poland and Lithuania grew progressively worse, becoming open and reaching a critical turning point in 1398. That year, Queen Jadvyga, prompted and supported by the Lesser Poland faction, wrote to Vytautas, as the ruler of Lithuania, to demand the annual tribute Jogaila claimed and had signed over to her. To Vytautas, honoring this demand would have been tantamount to acknowledging his subordination to Poland. His response is well documented. At the signing of an initial treaty with the Teutonic Order in Gardinas (Grodno, Polish) on April 23, 1398, Vytautas disclosed Jadvyga’s demand to the Lithuanian nobles who were present in witness and who rejected it out of hand as injurious to their status as a free people. That same year in October, on the island of Salynas, in further negotiations with the Order, five Lithuanian dukes and delegates of the nobility hailed Vytautas as king. Although this step had no juridical value, it indicated a significant change in relations between Poland and Lithuania. It confirmed that Vytautas sought full rights to the throne of Lithuania. Thus, in the public sphere of international relations, alongside Vytautas, who represented dynastic interests, emerged another force, a political nation in the making, supporting the installation of Vytautas, a Gediminian, as ruler of Lithuania on a par with Poland’s King Jogaila. (Jogaila’s brother Švitrigaila also aspired to the throne of Lithuania, but by the end of the fourteenth century had not yet amassed much support there.) The composite monarchy ruled by the Gediminians moved closer to a diarchy. 

The process was disrupted in 1399 by two events. On June 6, Queen Jadvyga gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth Bonifacia, who became heir to the throne of Poland. Several days later, however, both the newborn and the mother died in short order: Elizabeth Bonifacia on July 13 and her mother Jadvyga on July 17. As a result, the dynastic union with Poland formally ruptured, and the fate of the widower Jogaila then depended on the political will of the Polish nobles. 

On August 13 that same year, Vytautas suffered defeat in the Battle of Vorskla against the Tatars. The loss dealt a blow to Vytautas’s international standing and was felt particularly strongly in the southeastern reaches of Lithuanian-ruled lands, where engagements with the Tatars occurred most frequently. On the other hand, the battle claimed the lives of a number of Gediminian knights, thus reducing potential rivals with dynastic claims. 

Both Gediminians proved able to resolve their respective crises within a rather short time. In August 1399, Jogaila was reconfirmed as the kingdom’s national choice and, having received oaths of loyalty, continued as King of Poland. In the summer of 1400, a year after Jadvyga’s death, to ensure his title to the Polish throne, Jogaila dispatched an official delegation to Ann of Celje to initiate negotiations for marriage. Ann was the sole daughter of William of Celje (of the Holy Roman Empire) and Ann of Piast, the granddaughter of Casimir the Great, the last King of Poland from the Piast dynasty. His bride’s lineage on her mother’s side gave her the right to aspire to the throne of Poland, which further solidified Jogaila’s position. The wedding took place in Cracow on January 29, 1402. However, because of Jogaila’s second marriage, the dynastic connection with Lithuania, as stipulated by the old provisions, no longer applied, and the two nations were now linked solely through the person of Jogaila. 

In the meantime, taking advantage of the death of Jogaila’s daughter, the heiress to the Polish throne, Vytautas continued his own quest for the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. He reconstituted his forces after his defeat in Vorskla and in 1401 12 gained acknowledgment of his new status as an independent ruler. With this began a new era in the relationship between Poland and Lithuania. 

The Treaty of Astrava and other experiences of dealing with Lithuanians during the decade of 1386-1392 demonstrated to the Polish ruling elite that to achieve the goals that had originally propelled the formation of the dynastic union was more difficult than anticipated. This became even more obvious when the old territorial dispute over Podolė (Podolia) and Voluinė (Volyń; Volhynia) resurfaced and was resolved in 1396 in Lithuania’s favor. 

1401-1501: A Century of Changes in the Ties between Poland and Lithuania 

At the end of December 1400, Jogaila and Vytautas met in Gardinas to acknowledge the new reality and reach an understanding that was ratified by representatives of both the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. These acts (in Vilnius on January 18, 1401, and in Radom on March 11, 1401) established a new division of rule between the two Gediminians.10 Jogaila, King of Poland and heritor of Lithuania, retained his patrimonial rights to Lithuania and the title of Supreme Grand Duke but conferred on Vytautas the right to govern Lithuania for life with the title of Grand Duke. Vytautas, in turn, took an oath of loyalty to King Jogaila and to the composite monarchy of the Polish Crown. 

Also established was the order of succession to the sovereignty of the two states: should Vytautas die first, Jogaila would become ruler of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and his heirs would have rights. However, should Jogaila predecease Vytautas without heir, the new King of Poland would be selected with the participation of Vytautas and the nobility of Lithuania. Both states agreed to support each other in foreign affairs. 

The Vilnius-Radom Act of 1401 established a new status for the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and created a new model for the two states ruled by Jogaila. For the first time the representatives of the politically emergent Lithuanian state were more than just supporters of Vytautas, and an act was enacted in their name. In other words, the Polish delegation was negotiating with an ally who held juridical rights to speak for Lithuania. This stabilized the situation and strengthened the respective positions of Poland and Lithuania internationally, an important consideration in the conflict with the Teutonic Order. 

The mutual victory over the Teutonic Order in 1410 at the battle of Žalgiris (Grunwald, Polish; Grünwald, Tannenberg, German) altered the international scene as well as the distribution of power in Poland and Lithuania. The Order, although defeated, was not vanquished, and rapidly regained strength. When the Toruń Peace Treaty of February 1, 1411 failed to resolve the Order’s conflicts with Poland and Lithuania, a new war loomed on the horizon. Vytautas solidified his standing in the political arena of Poland and Lithuania by gaining the support of a bloc of Polish nobles. In view of the new developments, the agreements of 1401 had to be revised. Jogaila and Vytautas met in 1413 in Horodlė (Horodło, near the Bug River in Poland), and in the presence of the nobility of both states drew up new agreements stipulating the reorganization of internal affairs in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in alignment with its Polish partner. These consisted of three official records: a joint statement by Jogaila and Vytautas plus two separate documents by Polish and Lithuanian magnates and nobles.11 

Historians have long since debated the true intent of the agreement between Jogaila and Vytautas, which states in the first paragraph that the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was incorporated into the realm of the Crown of Poland. Was this an accepted formula with no effect on sovereignty, or did it signify a factual incorporation? Also open to debate is the document’s Section 12, concerning the process of selecting a ruler after the respective deaths of Vytautas and Jogaila. This document stipulated that upon Vytautas’s death, Lithuania’s nobles shall not select a new ruler on their own, but use a process involving the King of Poland (or his successor) and representatives of the Polish and Lithuanian nobility. Further, should Jogaila predecease Vytautas and leave no legitimate heir, Poles would not select their new ruler on their own, but only with the participation and agreement by Vytautas and the Lithuanian ruling nobility. The phraseology suggests that succession rights were accorded longer duration than the lifetime of the sovereign. This indicates an acknowledgement of Lithuania’s statehood. 

Historians have used various approaches to resolve the apparent contradictions contained in the above agreement. One way to deal with them is to view them in the context of the above-mentioned “composite monarchy.” As understood in the Middle Ages, the Latin words incorporamus, invisceramus, confoederamus et perpetue anectimus, which appear in the Vytautas- Jogaila agreement, describe the integration under the Crown of Poland of the lands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – the birthright of the Gediminian heirs – as incorporation into a composite monarchy rather than an absorption into the state of Poland. This is why one section in the same document of 1413, agreed upon by both rulers, provides for the incorporation of Lithuania and its lands into a common political body or “composite monarchy” with Jogaila as sovereign, while another section regulates the internal affairs of the two autonomous partner states. The agreement also provided for joint meetings of the Polish and Lithuanian nobility, as needed, in Lublin, Parčev, or some other location. The fact that the joint meetings did not become institutionalized within the framework of a functioning composite monarchy of the fifteenth century and that the nobles of each state continued to meet separately is not a consequence of the Horodle Agreement, but a reflection of increasingly divergent interests developing in the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. 

After 1413, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania underwent intensive internal changes affecting the relationship of the ruler with the emerging political nation. In 1422, the Treaty of Melno confirmed significant changes in Lithuania’s relationship with 15 the Teutonic Order, the most essential of these being the return to Lithuania of Žemaitija (Samogitia), an issue of the highest priority that was unresolved since the Battle of Žalgiris. The treaty lessened Lithuania’s need for alliance with Poland and enabled it to focus on its internal affairs. This resulted in fewer meetings between Vytautas and Jogaila or between representatives of the two states. Lithuanians, in fact, began to view Polish gentry and townspeople as rivals with unwelcome interests in the Grand Duchy. On the other hand, after the Horodle Agreement, Vytautas’s reputation in Poland increased, not only because of his personal qualities as a ruler, but also because of his growing position of strength in East Central Europe. This was evidenced by the fact that Vytautas was invited by the Hussites to assume the throne of Bohemia. 

Attempts to solidify the power of the Gediminians in the Kingdom of Poland for the future were complicated by the fact that after three marriages Jogaila had sired one daughter, Jadvyga, born in 1408, and no male heirs. Vytautas also had no sons. This led to all sorts of political manipulations and power plays. For example, when Jogaila encountered resistance from the Polish nobility to his proposed third marriage to Elizabeth Granovska, who was politically unimportant, he used the argument that since Lithuania was his patrimony, he could at any time relinquish the throne of Poland to his daughter Jadvyga and sever the existing union between the two states, thus creating for Poland the problem of finding a new monarch. 

The situation changed again after Jogaila’s fourth marriage, to Sofija, daughter of the Duke of Alšėnai (Sophia of Holszańska), 1424-1427, who gave birth to two sons, Vladislovas (Władysław, Pol.), in 1424, and Kazimieras (Kazimierz, Pol., Casimir, Engl.), in 1427. In the political arena of East Central Europe, Jogaila ensured the continuation of his dynasty while holding on to his birthright to the Gediminian patrimony of Lithuania. His sons’ positions with respect to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were additionally assured through their mother’s Lithuanian heritage. With the birth of his sons, Jogaila solidified his connection with the Kingdom of Poland and endeav16 ored to secure for his dynasty the formal right of succession to the throne. For this he had to secure agreement by the Polish nobility, which since the second half of the fourteenth century had participated in the selection of the monarch. The right to the throne of Jogaila’s firstborn son, Vladislovas, was debated for several years. While Jogaila, as Lithuania’s inheritor, tried to gain an unconditional right of succession to the throne of Poland, the Polish gentry, in exchange for its support, negotiated for its own privileges and guarantees. Among them was the demand that Vladislovas succeed to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania upon Vytautas’s death, which in essence ensured continued rule of both states by the same monarch. 

The discussions about the rights of Jogaila’s sons to the Polish throne demonstrate conflicting concepts of monarchy that existed in the first half of the fifteenth century. Jogaila represented the concept of strong monarchic rule assured through a dynastic line of succession. The supporters of the Polish nation emerging during the second half of the fourteenth century wanted to strengthen their own political position by installing a monarch controlled by them and bound to cooperate with them. Although internationally Jogaila prevailed in the matter of his son’s accession to the throne and continued to fortify his and the dynasty’s position, domestically he lacked the support for a powerful centralized monarchic model. Meanwhile, with Jogaila’s attention focused on matters of succession, Vytautas gained room for strengthening the sovereignty of Lithuania and attempted to secure for it the status of a kingdom. Jogaila, too, had a vested interested in Lithuania becoming a kingdom, for in the event there was no male heir upon Vytautas’s death, it would become the legacy of his own line. 

Lithuania was still only a Grand Duchy when Vytautas died in 1430. Acting autonomously and without consulting the Council of the Kingdom of Poland, Lithuanian magnates chose Jogaila’s youngest brother, Švitrigaila, as their new Grand Duke, a decision endorsed by Jogaila, even though this conflicted with the Horodlė Agreement of 1413. Soon tensions mounted between the two states. Acting without Jogaila’s authorization, 17 Polish military units invaded the disputed domain of Podolė and seized Lithuanian castles along the border. In the summer of 1431, further clashes erupted between Polish and Lithuanian forces. 

Švitrigaila continued to strengthen his position by entering into a truce with the Teutonic Order and seeking the support of Emperor Sigismund of the Luxemburgers for the status of kingdom for Lithuania. I n the spring of 1432, the political elite of Poland entered into a compromise with Jogaila, wherein it was agreed that upon Jogaila’s death, his oldest son Vladislovas would be crowned king unconditionally. Švitrigaila was acknowledged as Grand Duke of Lithuania with the proviso that upon his death the seat of state would go to one of Jogaila’s sons. 

In the early fall of 1432, in view of the emerging crisis, Lithuania’s ruling elite attempted to unseat Švitrigaila in a conspiracy in Ašmena. The attempt was only partially successful because Švitrigaila began to marshal support in Ruthenian lands and to seek military assistance from the Teutonic Order. In the meantime, the conspirators chose the brother of Vytautas, Žygimantas Kęstutaitis (Zygmunt, Pol; Sigismund, Engl.), as Lithuania‘s Grand Duke. Thus, two rivals aspiring to the same seat emerged in the domestic political arena of Lithuania. 

Žygimantas appealed to Jogaila to acknowledge him as Grand Duke, and Jogaila dispatched a Polish delegation to Lithuania with a document dated September 30, 1432, wherein Žygimantas was granted rights for life as ruler of Jogaila‘s patrimony, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.12 Žygimantas Kęstutaitis swore an oath of loyalty to Jogaila and the Crown of Poland on October 15, 1432, in Gardinas.13 On January 3, 1433, Jogaila confirmed Žygimantas as Lithuania‘s Grand Duke,14 who, on January 20, 1433, reiterated his oath of loyalty in writing.15  After their meeting in Korčin, in a document dated February 27, 1434, Jogaila reconfirmed Žygimantas, the son of Kęstutis, as ruler of Lithuania and enumerated his rights and responsibilities.16 Žygimantas repeated his oath of loyalty to Jogaila and the Crown of Poland in a declaration which was signed in Gardinas in 1434.17 

Upon the death of Jogaila, his ten-year-old son Vladislovas (1424-1444) acceded to the Polish throne, touching off domestic struggles for influence by various Polish factions. In Lithuania, meantime, political realignment was also underway. In 1435, having lost the Battle of Ukmergė (Pabaiskas, Lith.; Wiłkomierz, Pol.), Švitrigaila gave up his pretensions to the Lithuanian seat of state, strengthening the position of Grand Duke Žygimantas. On December 6, 1437, renewing a treaty with Vladislovas, the new monarch of Poland and Supreme Duke of Lithuania, Žygimantas agreed that upon his death the castles in disputed territories would revert to the Polish king and the Crown of Poland. In a document of the same date, representatives of Poland guaranteed to honor the treaty of the King of Poland with the Grand Duke of Lithuania and to support his cause against Švitrigaila. A year later, in a document dated December 16, 1438, Vladislovas swore to uphold all treaties with Žygimantas concluded by his father, Jogaila. Subsequently, on October 31, 1439, Žygimantas issued a decree confirming all agreements he had entered into with Jogaila and incorporating a summary of the provisions of the February 25, 1434 Declaration of Gardinas. 

The above documents of the 1430s, regulating the relationship between Poland and Lithuania, were grouped by historians of the time under the name of the Gardinas Union papers. The multiple repetitions of the same content and substance by both parties illustrate the complexity of the relations between the two states, which were both partners and rivals. The objective was to settle the divisions of power among the Gediminians in Poland and Lithuania. This was important in view of Jogaila’s advanced years, which necessitated a standardization of the ties between the two states. It even undertook to resolve the contested territorial dispute about Voluinė and Podolė. No less important was the need to resolve the deepening internal political crisis that arose in Lithuania after the conspiracy against Švitrigaila, and to prevent the formation of a diarchy. 

An evaluation of the Gardinas treaties with regard to the statehood of Lithuania shows that, despite internal turmoil and power struggles, the institution most essential to Lithuania’s sovereignty was preserved and never in jeopardy: the office of the Grand Duke, established during the reign of Vytautas, was recognized by various subsequent treaties. In fact, the organizers of the March 20, 1440 conspiracy against Žygimantas used it as a basis for their right to act unilaterally. On June 29, 1440, a faction led by Jonas Goštautas, without consultation with Poland’s king Vladislovas or the Polish royal council, proclaimed Jogaila’s youngest son, thirteen-year-old Kazimieras, Grand Duke of Lithuania. This, in effect terminated the union between Poland and Lithuania.

The situation changed again in 1444 when King Vladislovas died in battle against the Turks near Varna and Kazimieras, Jogaila’s second son and Grand Duke of Lithuania, became heir to the throne of Poland. New reasons emerged in favor of a union of the two states, touching off several years of complicated negotiations. In 1446, Lithuania‘s highest officials, led by Jonas Goštautas, formulated their concept of the future relationship of the two states: upon Kazimieras’s accession to the Polish throne, they envisioned two autonomous states in a permanent partnership based on equality and friendship, sharing the same allies and foes, and ruled by a common sovereign. However, after Kazimieras died, there would be the choice to share a common ruler or elect separate sovereigns, albeit with the participation of representatives of the partner states. 

In 1447, Kazimieras Jogailaitis (Kazimierz IV Jagiełłończyk) became King of Poland while retaining his title of Grand Duke of Lithuania. Once again, the two autonomous states were linked under a common ruler through the person of the monarch. Nevertheless, the compromise agreement and the reinstatement of the affiliation between the two states did not resolve political and territorial conflicts and other issues that surfaced during the long reign (1447-1492) of Kazimieras Jogailaitis. The question of a union was left unresolved. The Polish and Lithuanian societies had also developed in different directions: in Poland, the gentry continued to gain influence over the nobility in the public life of the nation; in Lithuania, with Kazimieras residing in Cracow, the powers of state rested with a council comprised of the highest officials of state. 

The death of Kazimieras in June of 1492 once again severed the linkage between Lithuania and Poland resting in the person of the monarch. His last will and testament expressed the wish that the two states would be ruled separately by two of his sons. In July of the same year, without consultation with Poland, his son Aleksandras was declared Grand Duke of Lithuania. In August, the deceased monarch’s other son, Jan Olbracht, was elected King of Poland. The Gediminian-Jagiełłonian dynasty now reigned over both states. Additionally, Vladislovas Jogailaitis, Kazimieras’s oldest son, became King of Bohemia in 1471 and King of Hungary in 1490. A fourth brother, Fryderyk, chose the priesthood and in 1493 became archbishop of Gniezno, the highest spiritual office in the Kingdom of Poland. Pope Alexander VI elevated him to cardinal that same year. At the crossroads of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, only the Habsburgs rivaled Jogaila’s grandsons dynastically in Central Europe. 

The Jagiełłonian brothers, working for a common goal, endeavored to resolve internal conflicts and previously existing interpersonal rivalries among themselves. This is well illustrated by the 1494 meeting in which the five brothers – Vladislovas, the King of Bohemia and Hungary; Jan Olbracht, King of Poland; Aleksandras, the Grand Duke of Lithuania; the young Žygimantas, who did not yet have a throne, and Cardinal Fryderik – discussed ways to strengthen their dynastic influence in the region. 

In 1498, in view of Lithuania‘s heightening tensions with Muscovy and the fear of an impending threat to both Poland and Lithuania from the Ottoman Empire, King Jan Olbracht of Poland and Grand Duke Aleksandras of Lithuania, with the participation of their respective state’s representatives, once again discussed strengthening their ties. On July 24, 1499, acting in the name of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the parliament in Vilnius passed an act concerning the mutual agreement of two equal partner states to enter into a union.18 The Jagiellonians retained hereditary rights to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, as indicated by the title of Supreme Duke of Lithuania retained by the King. The Lithuanian Council ratified the union on the basis of the 1413 Horodlė agreements stipulating that Lithuania’s Grand Duke would be selected with Poland’s consent and approval and that, likewise, Lithuania’s representatives would participate in the selection of the King of Poland. 

An opportunity to do so arose upon the death in 1501 of King Jan Olbracht, with Lithuania’s Grand Duke Aleksandras invited to become King of Poland. The political elite of Poland were as anxious to revive ties between the two states as Aleksandras was actively questing after the throne of Poland. On October 23, 1501, in Melnik, Aleksandras, Grand Duke of Lithuania and the selected King of Poland, issued a decree confirming that Poland and Lithuania would be ruled by a common monarch to be elected in Poland, that a joint parliament would be convened, a common army instituted, and a unified monetary system maintained. This grandson of Jogaila, unlike his grandfather, agreed to abdicate his dynastic patrimonial rights as Grand Duke of Lithuania to become King of Poland. The Act of Melnik no longer provided for a separate selection of Lithuania’s Grand Duke; the original title was to be used as a part of the royal title. The act was intended to harness the dynasty’s patrimony to Jagiellonian political aims in Central Europe. However, the Jagiełłonians failed to gain support in Lithuania except for Jonas Zaberezinskas, the Palatine of Trakai, and a small faction of peers led by Albertas Taboras. The Lithuanian parliament never ratified the agreement and it remained a declaration with no legal power. Poland’s politicians, on the other hand, were planning to ratify the Act of Melnik at a meeting of the parliament in 1505 to be held at Radom where representatives from Lithuania would be in attendance. Lithuanian supporters of the act who arrived in Radom voted in favor of the union as formulated in the act, albeit without the consent of the Lithuanian Council. Consequently, the parliament at Radom was not able to place the topic of union on the agenda. 

Summing up the relations between Lithuania and Poland during the period 1386-1501, we observe a number of interrelated and simultaneously occurring political and social developments in both countries. In Poland we see what could be called a transitioning of the Gediminians into the Jagiełłonians, for whom regional dynastic concerns overshadowed the state interests of their patrimony, Lithuania. The Polish political stratum supported this effort. In Lithuania, on the other hand, beginning with the reign of Vytautas, there was a consistent tendency to establish and maintain a separateness from Poland. This position was supported by the Council, which consisted of the highest officials of the state, and by the maturing political stratum. The divergence in interests resulted in the almost simultaneous emergence in the first half of the sixteenth century of two competing conceptions – one Lithuanian, the other Polish – on the establishment of two separate centralized states in East Central Europe. However, in the course of the sixteenth century, as the power of the Gediminian-Jagiełłonian dynasty began to wane, representatives of the two states again shifted the focus of discussion toward resolving the question of a union. 

Translated by Z. Petkus

1 Cf. the discussion of unions in the context of the Middle Ages and in the historiography of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Kiaupienė and Petrauskas.
2 For a historiographical survey see Błaszczyk, , vol. I and II .
3 Dainauskas, „Kriavo akto autentiškumas“, 51-71. Dzieje stosunków polsko-litewskich
4 Dainauskas, „Autentyczność aktu krewskiego“, 125-144.
5 Čapaitė, R.E. Rimša, S.C. Rowell, J. Kiaupienė, and E. Ulčinaitė, eds.
6 Windecke. See also Kiaupienė, „Lietuvos valdovų profiliai,“ 323- 350.
7 Rowell, „Krėvos aktas,” 77.
8 Koenigsberger, 6-21
9 Petrauskas, Lietuvos diduomenė XIV a. pabaigoje – XV a. Sudėtis – struktūra – valdžia. 
10 The contents of the treaties have been published in: Akta unji, No. 37-39, 33-41; No. 44, 44-47.
11 Akta unji, No. 49-51, 50-72.
12 Akta unji, No. 54, 76-77.
13 Ibid., No. 55, 77-81.
14 Ibid., No. 58, 84-90.
15 I bid., No. 59, 90-94.
16 Ibid., No. 60, 94-99.
17 I bid., No. 61, 100-105.
18 Akta unji, No. 76, 126-130.

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