The Grand Duchy of Lithuania (13th to 16th century)



Lithuania was first mentioned in 1009, formed a state ca. 1183, and developed into a powerful empire in the 14th century. It survived and gained power in the constant fight with the Teutonic Knights, supported by almost the whole of Catholic Europe, the Tartar hordes and Muscovite Russia. In 1386, Polish nobles had elected a pagan ruler of Lithuania – Jogaila (Jagiello), King of Poland, who was christened then.

He converted Lithuania to Christianity one year later. This laid the foundation for the future Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania. Jogaila’s successors went on to successfully expand their political influence all throughout the 15th Century.

Mindaugas

At the end of the Middle Ages almost the whole of Central Europe was ruled by the dynasty of Lithuanian origin – the Jagiellonians. The lands of the three Jagiellonian brothers (Wladislas, the King of Bohemia and Hungary; John Albert, the King of Poland; Alexander, the Grand Duke of Lithuania) formed a Jagiellonian political system, which existed from 1492 to 1526.

The roots of Lithuanian diplomacy could be traced to the times of Lithuania’s first king Mindaugas (1236-1263) – after all, you can’t get a crown from the Pope himself without proper connections – while diplomacy was carried out even more intensely under Grand Duke Vytautas (1392-1430).

Vytautas the Great

House of Mindaugas (1236 – 1285)

1236 – 1263             Mindaugas     (initially Grand Duke, since 1253 King of Lithuania)

1263 – 1265              Treniota

1265 – 1268              Vaišvilkas      (son of Mindaugas)

1268 – 1269              Shvarn

1270 – 1282             Traidenis

1282 – 1285              Daumantas

House of Gediminas (1285 – 1440)

Kęstutis resumed war with the Teutonic Knights

1285 – 1291             Butigeidis

1291 – 1295             Butvydas      (brother of Butideidis)

1295 – 1316             Vytenis     (son of Butvydas)

1316 – 1341             Gediminas     (son of Butvydas)

1341 – 1345             Jaunutis     (son of Gediminas)

1345 – 1377            Algirdas     (son of Gediminas)

1377 – 1381            Jogaila     (son of Algirdas, crowned King of Poland in 1386)

1381 – 1382             Kęstutis     (son of Gediminas)

1382 – 1392             Jogaila

1392 – 1430             Vytautas the Great     (son of Kęstutis)

1430 – 1432             Švitrigaila     (son of Algirdas, brother of Jogaila)

1432 – 1440             Sigismund Kęstutaitis     (son of Kęstutis, brother of Vytautas)

House of Jagiellon (1440–1569)

The act of personal union with Poland was signed as early as 1385, however, continuous line of common rulers of the two countries started only with Casimir IV (even then Polish and Lithuanians twice selected different rulers following earlier common monarch’s death, but the Lithuanian one always eventually assumed Polish throne). The monarchs retained separate titles for both parts of the state, and their numbering was kept separately. The Jagiellon dynasty was a direct continuation of the Gediminids.

Sigismund the Elder

1440 – 1492   Casimir IV Jagiellon  (son of Jogaila, King of Poland after Wadislaw III)

1492 – 1506   Alexander I  (son of Casimir IV, King of Poland in 1501 after John I  Albert)

1506  – 1548  Sigismund I the Elder (son of Casimir IV)

1548 – 1569   Sigismund II  (son of Sigismund I the Elder, factual ruler since 1529)

Casimir IV Jagiellon

Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569–1795)

The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was established by Union of Lublin in 1569. The elected King of Poland was to be elected by Lithuanian noble families as a Grand Duke of Lithuania (until then Lithuanian dukedom was hereditary). The first ruler of the common country was Sigismund II Augustus.

Sigismund II Augustus, King of Poland, Grand Duke of Lithuania

Following the partitions in 1772, 1793, and 1795, the commonwealth ceased to exist and Lithuania became part of the Russian Empire for 123 years. There are some gaps in the timeline as it took a while to elect a new king. The first Grand Duke elected after the Gediminyds line went extinct and after the Valois fled back to France was Stephen Báthory, who had made an effort to be recognized as Grand Duke of Lithuania by establishing Vilnius University.

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