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History of Poland
In the period following its emergence in the 10th century, the Polish nation was led by a series of strong rulers who converted the Poles to Christianity, created a strong Central European state and integrated Poland into European culture. Formidable foreign enemies and internal fragmentation eroded this initial structure in the thirteenth century, but consolidation in the 1300s laid the base for the dominant Polish Kingdom that was to follow. The Jagiellon dynasty 1385–1569 formed the Polish-Lithuanian union beginning with the Lithuanian grand duke Jogaila. The partnership proved profitable for the Poles and Lithuanians, who played a dominant role in one of the most powerful empires in Europe for the next three centuries. The Nihil novi act adopted by the Polish Sejm (parliament) in 1505 transferred most legislative power from the monarch to the Sejm. This event marked the beginning of the period known as "Nobles' Commonwealth" when the state was ruled by the "free and equal" Polish nobility (szlachta). The Lublin Union of 1569 established the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as an influential player in European politics and a vital cultural entity. By the 18th century the nobles' democracy had gradually declined into anarchy, making the once powerful Commonwealth vulnerable to foreign influence. Eventually the country was partitioned by its neighbors and erased from the map in 1795. Although the majority of the szlachta were reconciled to the end of the Commonwealth in 1795, the idea of Polish independence was kept alive by events inside and outside of Poland throughout the 19th century. Poland's location in the very center of Europe became especially significant in a period when both Prussia and Russia were intensely involved in European rivalries and alliances and modern nation states were established over the entire continent. Poland regained its independence in 1918, but the Second Polish Republic was destroyed by in the Polish September Campaign at the beginning of the Second World War. Nonetheless the Polish government in exile never surrendered and managed to contribute significantly to the Allied victory. Nazi Germany's forces were forced to retreat from Poland as the Soviet Union Red Army advanced, which led to the creation of People's Republic of Poland, a Soviet satellite state. By the late 1980s a Polish reform movement, Solidarity, was able to enforce a peaceful transistion from communist state to democracy, which resulted in the creation of the modern Polish state. Over the past millennium, the territory ruled by Poland has shifted and varied greatly. At one time, in the 16th century, Poland was the second largest state in Europe, after Russia. At other times there was no separate Polish state at all. Poland regained its independence in 1918, after more than a century of rule by its neighbours, but its borders shifted again after the Second World War.
Early history of Poland (966-1385)
The Polish state was born in 966 with the baptism of Mieszko I, duke of the Slavic tribe of Polans and founder of the Piast dynasty. His conversion from Paganism to Christianity was Poland's first recorded historical event. By 990, when Mieszko officially submitted to the authority of the Holy See, he had transformed his country into one of the strongest powers in Eastern Europe. Mieszko's son Bolesław the Brave built on his father's achievements, for the first time uniting all the provinces that subsequently came to comprise the traditional territory of Poland. In 1025 he became the first king of Poland. After his death the country entered a period of instability, but was unified under the reign of Bolesław the Wrymouth. After he died in 1138, however, the kingdom was divided among four of his sons, ushering in a period of fragmentation. For two centuries, the Piasts sparred with each other, the clergy, and the nobility for control over the divided kingdom. The civil strife and foreign invasions, such as that of the Mongols in 1241, weakened and depopulated the small Polish principalities.

In 1226, Konrad I of Masovia invited the Teutonic Knights to Poland to help him fight the pagan Prussians on the border of his lands. After exterminating the Prussians, the Knights turned their attention to Poland and Lithuania, waging war with them for most of the 14th and 15th centuries.

In the middle of 14th century Poland started to expand to the East and annexed Galich Rus'.

The regional division ended when Władysław the Elbow-high united the various principalities of Poland. His son Kazimierz the Great, the last of the Piast dynasty, considerably strengthened the country's position in both foreign and domestic affairs. Before his death in 1370, the sonless king arranged for his nephew, the Andegawen Louis of Hungary, to inherit the throne.

In 1385, the Union of Krewo was signed between Louis' daughter Jadwiga and the Lithuanian Grand Duke Jogaila (later known as Władysław II Jagiełło), beginning the Polish-Lithuanian Union and strengthening both nations in their shared opposition to the Teutonic Knights and the growing threat of Muscovy.
The Jagiellon Era (1385-1572)
The personal union with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to the North-East, paved the way for the extension of Polish power far to the East and the creation (by the Union of Lublin in 1569), of a unified Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita), stretching from the Baltic Sea and the Carpathians mountains, to present-day Belarus and Western and Central Ukraine (which earlier had been Kievan Rus' principalities).

In the north-west, the Teutonic Knights, in control of Prussia since the 13th century, were forced after their defeats by a combined Polish-Lithuanian force in the Battle of Grunwald (1410), and in the later Thirteen Years War, to surrender to the Polish crown the Western half of the territory they had controlled (the areas known afterwards as Royal Prussia), and to accept Polish-Lithuanian suzerainty, over the remainder (the later Ducal Prussia) in the 1466, Second Treaty of Toruń.

During this period Poland became the home to Europe's largest Jewish population, as royal edicts guaranteeing Jewish safety and religious freedom, issued during the 13th century, contrasted with bouts of persecution in Western Europe. This persecution intensified following the Black Death of 1348–1349, when some in the West blamed the outbreak of the plague on the Jews. Much of Poland suffered relatively little from this disease, while Jewish immigration brought their valuable contributions and abilities to the rising state. The greatest increase in Jewish numbers occurred in the 18th century, when Jews came to make up 7% of the population. Generally speaking, the Kings of Poland, and the szlachta (nobles), were friendly to the Jews, while the peasants and the Catholic church were not.
The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1572-1795)
Main articles: History of Poland (1569-1795), Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
During the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, in the 16th century, Poland became the only country to ever elect a king. This king would serve as the monarch until he died. At that time the country would have another election.

In 1572 CE, the Polish king Zygmunt August died without any heirs. At the time, Poland didn’t have any method of choosing a king if such a thing happened. It took a long time for the Poles to decide how to elect their king. Finally, after much debate, they decided to let the entire nobility of Poland decide who the king was to be. The nobility were to gather near Warsaw and vote in a “free election”. However, they did not have elections every two or four years like most countries do today. Instead, they voted after the death of the old king.

The first Polish election was held in 1573. There were four men running for king in this election. These men were; Henryk Walezy, who was the brother of the king of France, the Russian tsar Ivan IV "the Terrible", Archduke Ernest from the Austrian Habsburg dynasty, and the king of Sweden, Johan Vasa III. Walezy was the winner in a very disorderly election. The reason for so much disorder was that a huge amount of people came to elect the new king. Walezy only served as king for four months. After four months as Polish king, he received news that his brother had died. He then went to France and claimed the throne as Henry III. This surprised much of the country because Poland had a better economy at the time.

Poland stopped electing kings in 1795, when Russia took over, after the death of Stanislaw August Poniatowski. The elected kings in order of when they were elected were: Henryk Walezy, Stefan Batory, Zygmunt Waza III, Wladyslaw Waza IV, Jan Kazmierz Waza, Michal Korybut Wisniowiecki, Jan Sobierski III, August II “The Strong”, Stanislaw Leszczynski, August III and, last, Stanislaw August Poniatowski.

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, following upon the Union of Lublin, became an interesting counterpoint to the absolute monarchies gaining power in Europe. Its quasi-democratic political system of Golden Liberty, albeit limited to nobility (szlachta) was mostly unprecedented in the history of Europe.

However the series of power struggles between the lesser nobility, the higher nobility (magnates) and elected kings undermined citizenship values and gradually eroded the government's function and authority. After the series of devastating wars in the middle of the 17th century (most notably the Chmielnicki Uprising and The Deluge) Poland-Lithuania stopped being an influential player in the European politics. Its economy and growth was further damaged by the nobility's reliance on agriculture and serfdom, delaying the industrialization of the country. By the beginning of the 18th century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commownealth, the largest European country, was little more then a pawn of its neighbours (Russian Empire, Prussia and Austro-Hungary) who interfered in its domestic politics almost at will.

With the coming of the Polish Enlightenment in the second half of the 18th century, the movement for reform and revitalization of the country made important gains, culminating in the adoption of the Constitution of May 3, the first modern codified constitution on the European continent. However the reforms, which transformed the Commonwealth into a constitutional monarchy were viewed as dangerous by Poland's neighbours, who didn't want the rebirth of the strong Commonwealth. Before the Commonwealth could fully implement and benefits from its reforms, it was invaded by its neighbours.
Partitioned Poland (1795-1918)
Polish independence ended in a series of partitions (1772, 1793 and 1795) undertaken by Russia, Prussia and Austria, with Russia gaining most of the Commonwealth's territory including nearly all of the former Lithuania (except Podlasie and lands West from the Niemen river), Volhynia and Ukraine. Austria gained the populous southern region henceforth named Galicia–Lodomeria, named after the Duchy of Halicz and Volodymyr (The Duchy was briefly occupied by Hungary between 1372 and 1399, and the Habsburgs claimed to have inherited it from the Hungarian Kings, despite the fact that Volodymyr was not a part of Galicia). In 1795 Austria also gained the land between Kraków and Warsaw, between Vistula river and Pilica river. Prussia acquired the western lands from the Baltic through Greater Poland to Kraków, as well as Warsaw and Lithuanian territories to the north-east (Augustów, Mariampol) and Podlasie. The last heroic attempt to save Poland's independence was a national uprising (1794) led by Tadeusz  [...]
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