Dynastic Union under the Jagiellonian Dynasty Nobles' Republic, 1505-1652

Reformation and Counterreformation in Poland

A.) Reformation and Tolerance

Under King Sigmund II. (1548-1572), the teachings of Martin Luther, Jean Calvin and of the Bohemian Brethren found followers throughout Poland. The diet of 1555 introduced FREEDOM OF CONFESSION (TOLERANCE); Poland discontinued to pay St. Peter's Penny. Protestantism had it's most ardent followers in the cities of Danzig, Thorn and Elbing, which still were German in character. The majority of Poland's nobility had converted to protestantism. Poland's tolerance policy attracted those who were persecuted because of their confession, from the Netherlands, France, Silesia.
The policy of tolerance resulted in political gains : Lutheran LIVONIA (with Courland) in 1561 asked for Polish protection (against Russian incursions) and became an autonomous region within the Kingdom of Poland. In 1569, the Estates of Catholic/Protestant Poland and Catholic/Greek Orthodox Lithuania established the UNION OF LUBLIN, merging the two countries and their institutions. Religious tolerance was a necessary precondition for the formation of the Polish-Lithuanian state. The nobility of Poland and Lithuania, over the following decades, merged to form a unit, a Polish-Lithuanian nobility speaking Polish. On West Prussia's diet, German language was discontinued ca. 1590, replaced by Polish.

B.) The Counterreformation

STANISLAS HOSIUS, bishop of Ermland, was one of the presidents of the COUNCIL OF TRENT, where a thorough reform of the Catholic Church as well as steps to regain the population of territories lost to protestantism was decided upon. Hosius became the driving force of the COUNTERREFORMATION in Poland. In 1564 he convinced King Sigmund II., who previously tended toward protestantism. The Jesuits were called in, they established a college in Braunsberg (Ermland) and an academy in Vilnius. Most of Poland and Lithuania returned to Catholicism; only the autonomous territories of Livonia, Courland, the Duchy of Prussia and the cities of Riga, Danzig, Thorn and Elbing remained protestant. In 1589, Moscow's metropolit had seceded from Constantinople, had declared himself PATRIARCH OF ALL RUSSIA, a claim including the Orthodox communities within Lithuania, a claim Poland could not accept. In 1596, King Sigismund III. Vasa and his chancellor Zamoyski established the CHURCH UNION OF BREST-LITOWSK, the merger of Poland-Lithuania's Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches. The orthodox church provinces of Lithuania had been integrated in the Catholic church organization, but continued to follow their traditional rites. However, a part of the Greek-Orthodox clergy rejected the union. So, a Greek unified church and a traditionally independent Greek Orthodox church coexisted in the Eastern Provinces.
After the Counterreformation, the Greek Orthodox and Protestant Church continued to be a factor. However, they had been marginalized, reduced to fairly autonomous territories in the north respectivelly to provinces on the eastern fringe. The Counterreformation had changed the quality of religious tolerance into a mere toleration; Catholicism had forcefully been reestablished as the dominant religion. Formally, Protestantism and the Orthoidox were tolerated, but the Jesuits actively pursued a policy of converting souls to Catholicism. When Poland and Sweden agreed on the border in Livonia, leaving the Daugavpils area in Polish hands (1635, Polish Livonia), it was recatholicized. The Jesuits also were active converting the Cossacks, and the Cossack uprising of 1648 was directed as much against the Jesuits as against the Polish state.
In 1655 the 1ST NORDIC WAR broke out. The Swedish army advanced, but was unable to take the small monastery JASNA GORA. In commemoration of this event, an icon kept there, the BLACK MARY OF CZESTOCHOWA, was declared the (symbolic) Queen of Poland (1656). Ever since, Poland has been identified with Catholicism.

Via Crucis. 450 Years of Protestantism in Belarus, in English / Belarussian / Russian
Nisbet Bain, The Catholic Reaction, and the Valois and Bathory Elections, in Poland, posted by MATEO
DOCUMENTS Portrait of King Sigismund Wasa, of Cardinal Georg of Radziwill, Bishop of Cracow, of Archduke Maximilian, Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, elected King of Poland, of John of Zamoyski, high chancellor of Poland and commander of the Polish army, of Sigismund August II., King of Poland, of Stephen Bathory King of Poland, from Dominicus Custos, Atrium heroicum Caesarum, regum, [...] imaginibus [...] illustr[atum]., Augsburg 1600-1602, posted by MATEO, Univ. Mannheim
Maps of The Baltic Lands 1563, The Baltic Lands 1617, from Freeman's Historical Geography 1903, posted by Perry Castaneda Library, UTexas
Maps : Europe around 1560, Religious Situation of Central Europe around 1618, from The Historical Atlas by William R. Shepherd, 1923. posted by Perry Castaneda Library, UTexas
Historical Polish maps from Cartographia Rappersviliana Polonorum (Polish Museum Rapperswil, CH), has map scans by Mercator etc. 1696 featuring Poland 1607-1651, and by Grodecki 1576-1579
Image from Chronik 2000 Bilddatenbank : Sigismund II. August, King of Poland
REFERENCE Enno Meyer, Grundzüge der Geschichte Polens (Main Features of Polish History),
Darmstadt : Wissenschaftliche Buchgemeinschaft 1977

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 11th 2004

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