Polish and Russian Political History – Casimir IV, 1447-1492

THE sudden death of Wladislaus III on the field of Varna (Nov. 1444) had, at first, a paralysing effect on the more northerly of his two kingdoms. The last letter which the Polish Senate despatched to the heroic young King (he was but twenty when he fell), and which never reached him, was full of warnings, entreaties and even threats. If, it declared, he did not return instantly, to repair the dilapidation of the realm, his Polish subjects would feel justified in’ renouncing their allegiance. The ensuing three years interregnum did not improve matters. The most convenient candidate for the vacant throne was Wladislaus’ younger brother Casimir, since 1440 Grand Duke of Lithuania, a precociously sagacious youth of seventeen, who was by no means disposed to exchange an absolute sway in his beloved Grand Duchy, for a relatively limited authority in a kingdom which he had never visited. Only after exasperating negotiations, only after the Poles had threatened him with a rival in Boleslaus, Prince of Masovia, would Casimir give way. Then he stipulated that the disputed border provinces of Volhynia and Podolia should previously be adjudged to Lithuania (Treaty of Brezsc Litewsk, March 23, 1446), and even after his coronation at Cracow (June 1447) he continued to spend the greater part of his time in Lithuania. For the next seven years be quietly but steadfastly resisted all the petitions of the Polish nobles for a confirmation of their ancient privileges, till they threatened to form a confederation against him. Then he yielded his consent (Diet of Piotrkow, 1453)1, but in such general terms as to make it of little or no value. Casimir’s firmness had important political consequences. The Szlachta2 were impressed by his resolution, but they mistrusted him ever afterwards as a pro-Lithuanian, and henceforth made it a point of honour to give him nothing gratis.

A natural partiality for the land of his birth was, no doubt, partly responsible for Casimir’s original reserve towards Poland ; but behind this partiality lay the unshakable conviction that the fate both of the dynasty and the dual state depended on the maintenance of the union. He rightly held that to this fundamental principle everything else must be subordinated. Casimir humoured Lithuania because, at this time, Lithuania was the more restive and uncertain of the two political yoke-fellows. Wild and wayward as Poland might be, she was, nevertheless composed and tranquil as compared with Lithuania. Her population was of one race and religion. Her provincial Sejmiki, or Dietines, exercised some control over her turbulent gentry. She had reached a higher degree of civilisation, such as it was, than the Grand Duchy. In Lithuania, on the other hand, there were different nationalities and more than one religion. Samogitia was still semi-pagan ; Lithuania Proper, thanks to the propaganda from Wilna, was semi-Catholic; but the remainder of the land3, five-sixths of the whole, consisting of subjugated Old-Russian territory, was mostly orthodox. Superadded to these religious and ethnological difficulties were strong national rivalries. Lithuania was too ignorant rightly to appreciate the advantages of a union with Poland, and much too sensitive of her past military glories to tolerate any interference from the Crown’ in her affairs. From the first, strong separatist tendencies asserted themselves. The immense preponderance of her orthodox population drew her rather to the East than to the West, while her geographical position directly exposed her not only to the ravages but to the intrigues of the Moscovite. To keep the two States at one was the problem of the whole Jagiellonic period; and it is the especial glory of the Jagiellos that they did at last succeed in welding them inseparably together. But it was an ungrateful, troublesome task, requiring constant watchfulness and consummate tact. Fortunately Casimir IV possessed both these qualities in an eminent degree.

In February, 1454, Casimir wedded the Archduchess Elizabeth of Austria, in order to perpetuate the dynasty of which he was now the last surviving member. The Princess bore him six sons, four of whom became Kings, and seven daughters, thus earning the title of ” The Mother of the Jagiellos.” Highly gifted, both in heart and mind, she was ever an excellent counsellor as well as a devoted wife and mother. She also warmly identified herself with all the aspirations of her adopted country, for which she was rewarded by an extraordinary popularity.

Casimir shewed as much sobriety and discretion in foreign as in domestic affairs. A prince of a more martial temperament might have endeavoured to profit by the political complications in Bohemia and Hungary during the years 1447-1458. But Casimir, who well understood where the proper interests of Poland lay, remained neutral. On the other hand, when, at the instigation of the Grand Duke Vasily of Moscow, the Tatars fell upon Bransk and Wiezma, Casimir retaliated by devastating Mozhaisk and blackmailing Tver. In 1450 he placed his tributary, Alexander, on the Moldavian throne, and in 1457 he acquired, by purchase, the Silesian Duchies of Zator and Oswiecim.

But it was towards the Teutonic Order that his attention was chiefly directed.

The rout of Grünewald had severely shaken the internal organisation of the Teutonic Order. Everywhere else in Europe, except Byzantium and Moscovy, the nobility, clergy and townsmen possessed some share in the government of the country which they defended, educated, and enriched ; but in the dominions of the Knights these three classes remained without the slightest political influence. So long as the Order was rich and powerful enough to defend its subjects and spare their pockets, the gentry and the towns acquiesced in their political effacement. But, when the burden of taxation began to increase, unaccompanied by any additional benefit, the gentry and citizens began to look with other eyes upon the Swabians, Franconians and Saxons who came from the distant West, in monkish habits, to exploit and dominate them. The discontent was most violent in the province of Kulm, or Chelm, that is, the district lying between the rivers Vistula, Drewenca and Ossa, where the Polish element largely predominated. In 1397 the malcontents formed a league called the Jaszczurczycy or Lizardites, from their adopted emblem, the jaszczurka, or Lizard. At the battle of Grünewald the defection of the Lizards, at the crisis of the struggle, contributed as much as the fury of Witowt and his Lithuanians to the overthrow of the Knights. After the Peace of Thorn the Order recognised the necessity of some concessions to its subjects; and, in 1414, a consultative Rada Krajowa, or Landtag, was formed, which gave them a limited veto they were not slow to exercise. In 1440 this Landtag, more and more dissatisfied with the rule of the Knights, formed the Prussian League, consisting of the Szlachta and all the towns of the Prussian Provinces ; but the Grand Master, Ludwig von Erlichshausen, procured a papal bull threatening the League with excommunication if it did not disperse. In its extremity the League appealed to the Emperor ; but, when the Emperor also pronounced against it, there was nothing for it but to claim the protection of its nearest powerful neighbour, the King of Poland. Hitherto, Casimir had remained strictly neutral, though private negotiations had been proceeding for some time between the Polish Senate and the Prussian League. But when, in the beginning of February, 1454, the League publicly renounced its allegiance to the Grand Master and seized fifty-four towns and strongholds, including Thorn, the King hesitated no longer.

On February 18, 1454, during the celebration of the nuptials of Casimir and Elizabeth of Hapsburg, Jan Bazynski, at the head of an embassy from the Prussian League, appeared at Cracow and formally offered to surrender the Prussian lands to the Polish Crown. He concluded his lengthy oration with these words : ” Your Majesty will not be taking alien possessions. You will but be recovering what the Crusaders, either by force of arms or by treaty, in times passed, took away from Poland.” On March 6 Casimir issued a manifesto incorporating all the Prussian provinces with Poland, confirming the privileges of the Prussian Estates, exempting them from all tolls and taxes, granting them local autonomy, and promising them the same trade privileges already enjoyed by the Polish cities. The deputies, on their part, placed in the hand of the Polish Primate a sealed oath of allegiance to the Polish King; whereupon Casimir divided the Prussian lands into four wojwodschafts, or palatinates Chelm, Pomeria, Elbing, and Konigsberg and appointed Bazynski Governor General. All this was the work of a fortnight; and Casimir IV now prepared, with a light heart, to enter into possession of his new provinces. It did not seem an insuperably difficult task. The Knights were known to be in sore need of money and allies. The majority of the Prussian population was in Casimir’s favour. Then, too, the subjugation of the Knights was vital to the very existence of Poland. It meant the excision of a mischievous, alien element. It meant the recovery, at little cost, of the control of the principal rivers of Poland, the Vistula and the Niemen. It meant the obtaining of a sea-board with the corollaries of sea-power and world-wide commerce. Casimir IV was justified in counting upon the ardent support of the whole Polish nation in such a patriotic enterprise. But all his calculations foundered upon the narrow provincialism of the Poles which hampered him at every step, and retarded the incorporation of the Prussian lands for thirteen years. To understand how this came about, we must first glance back, nearly two hundred years, to the origin of the Polish political system.

The origin of the Polish constitution is to be sought in the wiece, or council, of the Polish Princes during the partitional period. The privileges conferred upon the magnates, of whom these councils were composed, revolted the less favoured Szlachta, or gentry, who, towards the end of the fourteenth century, combined in defence of their rights, in their Sejmiki, or local diets, of which, originally, there were five, three in Great Poland, one in Little Poland, and one in Posen-Kalisch, the other Provinces obtaining their Sejmiki somewhat later. Thus, at the period we have reached, Poland was a confederacy of half a dozen semi-independent States, with different and even conflicting interests. Little Poland had for some time enjoyed a sort of primacy in this confederation, due partly to the superior wealth and importance of her capital, Cracow, which was both the coronation city and the seat of the Senate, or central executive government, and partly to the fact that her oligarchs had brought in the reigning dynasty and ruled in its name. The pre-eminence of Little Poland excited the jealousy of the other members of the confederacy; but, besides that, no one province was bound by the decision of any other province. All such essential matters as taxation, military service, and so on, were settled by each province in its own Sejmik ; the convocation of a Walny Sejm, or general Diet, to represent the whole nation, being a very unpopular’ and therefore a very unusual expedient.

Casimir IV was now to experience all the inconveniences of this primitive and yet complicated state of things. It had been arranged that the King, after receiving the homage of the Prussian Estates at Thorn and Elbing, should proceed to reduce the cities and fortresses still held by the Knights, beginning with Marienberg and Chojnice. For this purpose the pospolite ruszenie, or militia, was summoned to render its one obligation of military service, and take the field. Difficulties at once began. The only province which willingly responded to the summons was Great Poland, which bordered upon the Prussian lands and hoped to profit largely by the war. But even the Szlachta of Great Poland would not stir a step till the King had first subscribed 35 articles in their camp at Cerekwica, near Thorn (Sept. 15, 1454), confirming and enlarging their privileges. Three days later they were shame-fully routed beneath the walls of Chojnice, so that the King got decidedly the worst of the hard bargain. The process was repeated with the militia of Little Poland. Their assistance was purchased by the articles of Nieszawa (Nov. 1454) whereby the King conferred on the Little Poles privileges similar to those conferred on the Great Poles three months previously. The general effect of all these privileges was to make the local Diets the arbiters of peace and war in future, thus weakening, still further, the executive government which Casimir the Great, alarmed at the centripetal tendency of the Szlachta, had originally set up at Cracow with the Senate as its mouth-piece and the King as its right arm. Immediately afterwards (Jan. 1455) Casimir IV again crossed the Vistula at the head of the militia of Little Poland to besiege the fortress of Laszyna, and again he was compelled to retreat with dishonour, the Szlachta, so strenuous in the extortion of privileges, demonstrating its incompetence to win battles or take strongholds. The natural consequence of this abortive campaign was that many of the Prussian towns returned to their former allegiance, and the King had to look about him for professional soldiers.

The best mercenaries of those days were the Czechs. The genius of Jan Zizka in the Hussite wars had caused a revolution in military tactics. He had demonstrated that dense masses of light-armed, well trained, mobile infantry were more than a match for all the valour of the clumsy, undisciplined feudal chivalry. The Hussite soldiery soon became indispensable in the northern wars. Zizka’s ablest pupils, men like Iskra of Brandeis, for instance, carved out principalities for them-selves and won European reputations. Hussites had fought on both sides at Grünewald, and now both Casimir IV and the Knights eagerly competed for their assistance. But, like all mercenaries, the Czechs could be very troublesome to unpunctual paymasters ; and the Knights, whose treasury was well-nigh depleted, were the first to experience this disagree-able tendency. On August 15, 1456, the Czech captain, Ulryk Czerwonka, unable to obtain his arrears from the Order, offered to surrender to Casimir the 21 towns and fortresses in his hands, including Marienberg, the capital of the Knights, for 436,000 gulden, payable in three instalments. Casimir, who had already expended 1,200,000 ducats on the war out of his private income, was almost as poor as the Knights, and therefore appealed to the generosity of the nation. What next ensued is not very creditable to the Polish Estates. The Szlachta first attempted to lay the whole burden on the shoulders of the clergy, who vigorously protested. Finally, after weeks of wrangling, a Sejm, or Diet, assembled at Piotrkow in September, 1416, proposed a two per cent. property tax, the details of which were left to the decision of the local Sejmiki, to which the King had also to apply in person. The Sejmiki were, as usual, mutinous and obstructive. Only after the King, driven to desperation, had threatened to quit Poland altogether and bury himself in the forests of Lithuania, did they relent. Even when, at last, the subsidy had been grudgingly granted, on condition that it should be placed in the hands of commissioners, it proved so inadequate that Casimir was forced to supplement it by loans from the Cathedral Chapter of Cracow and other private sources. By these means the first instalment was finally paid by the Polish commissioners to Czerwonka; and on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, 1457, a Polish garrison was admitted into the citadel of Marienberg. But Casimir’s humiliations were not yet over. Only a few days after his own triumphal entry, on Wednesday in Holy Week, the burgomaster of Marienberg readmitted the Knights ; and the King had again to go, hat in hand, to the Sejmiki for money to recover it. Great Poland was complacent enough, but Little Poland, which was well able to put 6o,000 men in the field, refused even to pay the wages of the little band of Czech mercenaries encamped around Cracow till they arose and pillaged the city. At a subsequent Sejm, assembled at Cracow in September, 1459, Jan Rytwianski, Starosta of Sandomir, took it upon himself to lecture the King severely for his carelessness, incompetence, and undue partiality for Lithuania. He concluded by exhorting his Sovereign to play the man, and wage the war more successfully. To this blustering philippic, whose naïveté was equal to its impertinence, the King drily replied that no war could be waged without money, and money must be found now if the war was to go on at all. The necessary subsidies were then granted without further demur.

Marienberg was ultimately recovered, whereupon the war became a guerilla of raids, petty skirmishes and tedious sieges, which did infinitely more damage to the land than half a dozen regular campaigns. By this time the military incompetence of the Szlachta had become so manifest, that they themselves willingly voted a five per cent. land tax in commutation of military service, which enabled Casimir to enlist 2000 extra mercenaries for the relief of Danzig, then hardly pressed. The turning point of the war was marked by the battle of Puck (Sept. z 7, 1462), when the Czechs severely defeated the Knights, whose resistance, henceforth? visibly slackened. On September 26, 1466 the oft-besieged fortress of Chojnice fell, at last, into the hands of the Polish King. The superior diplomacy of Casimir also contributed materially to the. termination of the struggle. The Curia had hitherto been on the side of the Knights. But, now (despite a serious quarrel between the King and the Pope as to the filling up of the See of Cracow, 1461-1463, when Casimir roundly declared that he would rather lose Poland altogether than submit to papal dictation), the Holy Father, from political motives, was inclined to look benevolently upon so considerable a Prince as Casimir was, evidently, becoming. The Order also sought an agreement with its adversary through the mediation of the Hanseatic League ; and a peace Congress was accordingly opened at Thorn in 1463. The Knights were now willing to surrender the provinces of Chelm, Thorn and Michailowo, and render tribute and military service for the rest. The King, however, claimed the whole territory as old Polish land, and offered to settle the Knights in Podolia, where, he added, with a touch of irony, they would still be able to perform their original mission of defending Christendom against the Tatars’. But the Knights, by no means relishing this proposal to exchange their comfortable quarters for the naked steppes, broke off the negotiations and the war was resumed for three years, when the Order, utterly exhausted, again sued for peace.

A second Congress, under the mediation of a papal nuncio, thereupon met at Thorn on September 23, 1466 ; and on October 14 the second Peace of Thorn was signed. By this treaty the provinces of Pomerelia, Michailowo, Warmia, Elbing and Marienberg passed to Poland. The remainder of the Knights’ territory, roughly corresponding to the modern East Prussia, with its capital at Königsberg, was to be an inseparable but autonomous portion of the Polish realm, united thereto in much the same way as was Lithuania, with this difference : that, whereas the Grand Duke of Lithuania was the equal, the Grand Master was to be the subject, of the Polish King, holding his lands by military tenure and bound, six months after his election, to render homage to his suzerain. In all other respects he was to be a quasi-independent Prince. He was to occupy the first place in the Royal Council after the King. No war was to be declared or peace signed without his consent. His territories were to be exclusively under his jurisdiction. The amount of his military service was left, practically, to his own discretion.

It was a proud moment for Casimir IV when, amidst the peals of the church bells and salvoes of artillery, and surrounded by the dignitaries of Poland and Lithuania in full panoply, he received in the market-place of Thorn the homage of the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order kneeling before the throne. In the hour of his triumph Casimir treated the vanquished with princely generosity. To the Grand Master he gave a largess of 15,000 ducats, from his privy purse, to pay his starving mercenaries ; and, in view of the general misery of Prussia, he exempted the Order from the obligation of military service for 20 years. The condition of the land was, indeed, pitiable. It is estimated that, during the course of the war, 1000 monasteries and churches were ruined, 18, 000 out of 21,000 villages were reduced to ashes, and 270,000 of the inhabitants, not including 170,000 mercenaries, perished miserably.

It was no fault of Casimir IV’s that his victory after all was but a half-victory. It had been his intention to incorporate all the Prussian lands with the Polish State, but the stress of circumstances had compelled him to acquiesce in an unnatural and purely mechanical union with the secular enemies of the Polish nation. There could be no lasting fellowship, no community of political interests, between the two peoples; and presently religious differences were superadded, and the chasm between them became unbridgeable. Nevertheless, one half of the Prussian lands had been incorporated ; and the economical advantages derived therefrom by Poland were not inconsiderable. She had now, moreover, a sea-board which placed her once more, after an interval of 300 years, in direct commercial communication with the West. She might reasonably hope to secure, in time, her proper share of the lucrative Baltic trade and lay the foundations of a Sea Power.

The Peace of Thorn had scarce been concluded when Pope Paul II offered Casimir the throne of Bohemia on condition that he drove out the reigning heretic King, George Podiebrad. But Casimir, well disposed to George as being a faithful ally, unable to pay the Szlachta the covenanted five marks per lance for foreign expeditions, and unwilling to be the tool of the Curia, remained immovable. ” I cannot understand,” he said to the importunate papal legates, ” how a crowned and anointed King can be deposed after this sort.” The ambitious young King of Hungary, Matthias Hunyadi, though bound to Podiebrad by ties of kinship and gratitude, was less particular. On May 3, 1469, after winning Moravia by the Battle of Trebicza, he was proclaimed King of Bohemia in the castle of Olmutz; whereupon Podiebrad offered the Bohemian crown to Wladislaus, the eldest son of Casimir IV, on condition that he wedded his daughter Ludomilla and reconciled the Utraquists with the Pope. At the same time, the Emperor Frederick IV’s dread and jealousy of Matthias induced him to form an anti-Hungarian League with Casimir (Congress of Willach, 1470). On March 22, 1471, George Podiebrad died, and all eyes were instantly fixed upon the vacant throne of Bohemia. On May 27, 1471, the Utraquist majority of the Bohemian Diet, assembled at Kuttenberg, elected Wladislaus King; and he was crowned at the Cathedral of St Vitus, at Prague, on August 22. But Matthias, who had already been anointed King of Bohemia at Erlau, in Hungary, by the papal legate, Roverella, and now held Silesia (then generally regarded as a part of the Bohemian Empire) as well as Moravia, refused to withdraw his claims. A league was immediately formed against him, consisting of Casimir IV, the Emperor, the Bohemian Utraquists and the Hungarian malcontents ; and it seemed, at first, as if he must inevitably be crushed beneath the sheer weight of it. But the subtle genius of Matthias, ever inexhaustible in resources, extricated him out of all his difficulties. It is true that he did not succeed in ousting Wladislaus from Bohemia proper, but he compensated himself by seizing all the hereditary States of the Emperor. His chief weapon against Casimir was the Teutonic Order, which he took under his protection, and twice incited to rebel against its suzerain. He also stirred up the Moscovite and the Tatar against Lithuania. Wherever Casimir had an enemy, Matthias was sure to be behind him. Finally, after a desultory, intermittent war, lasting eight years, in the course of which Casimir tried to place his second son, John Albert, on the Hungarian throne, all the parties to it grew weary of the struggle; and peace, as far as Poland was concerned, was concluded at the Congress of Olmütz, July, 1479, on a uti possidetis basis.

There can be little doubt that Casimir’s Bohemian-Hungarian adventure was a mistake. For once he seems to have been guided by dynastic rather than by patriotic considerations. Hungary and Bohemia, even under a Jagiellonic sceptre, could not benefit Poland, as subsequent events were to demonstrate. Yet this eccentric excursion did not divert Casimir’s attention from pressing matters nearer home. In particular the separatist tendencies of Lithuania were a constant source of uneasiness. For instance, so irritated were the Lithuanians at the provisional annexation of Podolia to Poland that, for a time, they meditated superseding Casimir by Simon, Prince of Kiev, a feudatory of the Grand Duchy. After Simon’s death, in 1471, Casimir prevented any such contingency in the future by converting the principality of Kiev into an ordinary woiwodschaft, or palatinate. But the chief danger to Lithuania, though still but a remote one, lay in the proximity of Moscovy; and Casimir did his utmost to counteract it by promoting the Catholic propaganda in the Grand Duchy. From a purely political point of view .this was wise and just, for the complete union of Lithuania with Poland could only be brought about by gradually permeating the Grand Duchy with the superior civilisation of the West. Such a policy logically excluded the counter-influence of the Greek Church, and was therefore likely to be very unpopular in Lithuania. But here Casimir, naturally tolerant and inclined to indulge the prejudices of the Lithuanian boyars, proceeded very warily. He would not hear of the persecution of the Orthodox. But he favoured the Uniate Churches, established in Lithuania since 14431 by placing them on a footing of perfect equality with the Catholics, a position unattainable by the Orthodox. The same care for centralisation and unity is the explanation of Casimir’s constant refusal to appoint a viceroy over Lithuania. He always kept the government of the Grand Duchy in his own hands. Even in his old age he would not suffer his sons to represent him there.

With Moscovy Casimir’s relations were friendly enough during the latter years of the Grand Duke Vasily, who, on his deathbed in 1462, confided the care of his children to the Lithuanian Prince. This fatherly solicitude was quite superfluous, as the new Grand Duke of Moscovy, Ivan III, was eminently capable of taking care of himself, and proved to be a troublesome neighbour’. Casimir is sometimes accused of regarding the growth of Moscovy with indifference because he did not seriously dispute with her the possession of Great Novgorod. But the distant north did not really fall within Casimir’s proper sphere of influence. Besides, what reason had he for apprehending the serious rivalry of an infant State which actually paid tribute to the very Tatar Khans, whom he, himself, from time to time, set upon their unstable thrones in the Crimea?

Casimir IV was frequently exhorted by the Popes to form or join a general league against the Turks, with whom Poland had not yet come into direct collision’. It was not, however, till the latter years of his reign that Casimir was able to turn his attention to the south, and when he did so it was more from political than from religious motives. Moldavia was the object which attracted him thither. The relations of this principality with Poland were peculiar. Poland had established a sort of suzerainty over Moldavia as early as the end of the fourteenth century, but, at best, it was a loose and vague over-lordship which the Hospodars repudiated whenever they were strong enough to do so. The Turks were too much occupied elsewhere to pay much attention to the Danubian Principalities till the middle of the fifteenth century. Mohammed II had indeed attempted their subjection, with indifferent success, in 1478, but it was not till 1484 that the Ottomans became inconvenient neighbours to Poland. In that year a Turkish fleet captured the strongholds of Kilia and Akkerman, commanding respectively the mouths of the Danube and Dniester. This aggression seriously threatened the trade of Poland, and induced Casimir IV to accede to a general league then in process of formation against the Porte. In 1485, after driving the Turks out of Moldavia, the Polish king, at the head of 20,000 men, proceeded to Kolomya, on the Pruth ; but Bajazid III, embarrassed by the Egyptian War, offered peace. As, however, no agreement as to the captured fortresses could be arrived at, the Turks would only consent to a two years’ truce. Mean-while, the projected anti-Turkish league was frustrated by the intrigues of Matthias of Hungary, who himself had designs upon Moldavia. It is generally supposed that it was at his instigation that a motley host of Wallachians, Cossacks, Tatars and Magyars now fell suddenly upon Polish Russia'; but they were encountered and utterly overthrown by the Polish chivalry under the Krolewicz, or Crown Prince, John Albert, at Koposztyna (Sept. 8, 1487). In 1490 the Tatars a second time ravaged Russia, apparently impelled thereto by Matthias, so that the tidings of his sudden death on April 6, the same year, were hailed with relief at the Court of Cracow.

It was during the reign of Casimir IV that the Szlachta, or gentry, began to dominate the Sejmiki, or local Diets, and impose their will on the country at large. As already indicated, they had added to their original privilege of freedom from every obligation except that of military service, the right of deciding all questions of peace or war and controlling the military levies. As, moreover, they held the power of the purse, they could hamper the executive at every step. Their distrust of the King was fully equalled by their jealousy of the towns. At this time the municipalities of Poland still played a not unimportant part in her history. These cities, notably Cracow, had obtained from the Crown their privileges (such as self-government and freedom from tolls) in return for loans to impecunious Kings, or important public services, such as warding off Tatar raids. The cities of German origin were also protected by the Magdeburg Law. Furthermore, Louis the Great (1370—1382) had placed the burgesses of Cracow on a level with the gentry by granting to the town council jurisdiction over all the serfs in the extra-mural estates of the citizens. Henceforth, deputies from all the chief cities were usually summoned to the Sejmiki on all important occasions, e.g. the ratification of treaties a right formally conceded to them by the Sejmik of Radom in 1384. But, as the Szlachta grew in power and pride, they chafed against their political partnership with the wealthy plebeian burgesses, though ready enough to claim their assistance in case of need, as when the Szlachta of Red Russia combined with the burgesses of Lemberg, in 1464, against the tyrannical Starosta-General, Piotr Odrowanz. Such combinations were, however, very exceptional. Generally speaking, the Szlachta was more disposed to injure the towns than to co-operate with them. A memorable instance of patrician arrogance and vindictiveness occurred in 1461.

Andrzy Tenczynski, brother of the Castellan of Cracow, one of the highest dignitaries in the realm, on the eve of his departure for the Prussian War, quarrelled with Klemens, a smith of the city, about the price of repairs to a suit of armour. Tenczynski sent the smith 18 groats. Klemens demanded two gulden, or four times as much. Then Tenczynski first gave Klemens a sound drubbing and afterwards complained of his insolence to the town council. The town council promised to make amends; but, in the meantime, Tenczynski, with a numerous armed retinue, encountered the injured smith in the street. High words ensued on both sides. Finally, Tenczynski’s retainers drew their swords upon Klemens, and so wounded him that he was carried home half-dead. The tidings of this outrage quickly spread through the city; and the same day Tenczynski was murdered in the church of the Franciscans, where he had taken refuge, by an infuriated mob of artisans and citizens. All this took place on July x6, when the militia of Little Poland were encamped round Cracow. The nobility at once clamoured for redress ; but Casimir prudently postponed the consideration of the matter to the end of the year, when he should have returned from the Prussian campaign. The case was accordingly brought before the Sejmik of Kosczyn on December 6. The town council, through their advocate, questioned the competency of the tribunal, and claimed the privileges of the Magdeburg Law, conferred upon the city by Casimir the Great in 1318. Tenczynski’s friends appealed to the recently enacted articles of Nieszawa, which enjoined that a plebeian assaulting a gentleman should answer for his offence before the local Diet, in other words before a tribunal of gentlemen. The King, who was absolutely dependent on the Szlachta for the subsidies necessary to continue the war, decided in their favour ; the local Diet tried the case in its own way; and, on January 4, 1462, seven of the town councillors of Cracow were publicly executed for refusing to hand over the prisoner, who, apparently, had made his escape in the meantime. When, however, the Tenczynskis, not content with this summary art of vengeance, demanded the imposition of the enormous fine of 8o,000 marks upon the town council, Casimir intervened and reduced the amount to 2000.

Yet, like all the Jagiellos, Casimir IV, as a rule, both respected and defended the privileges of the towns. The following case may be taken as typical.

A szlachcic1, Piotr Bostowski, had attacked the house of Adam Solcz, a citizen of Cracow, broken open the doors, killed two of Solcz’s servants and done other mischief. The city consuls thereupon arrested and brought the culprit before the town council. He was duly tried, according to the Magdeburg Law, condemned to death and publicly executed, confessing the justice of his sentence. Immediately afterwards the Bostowskis summoned the consuls and town council before the local Diet for the slaying of their kinsman. The town council refused to admit the jurisdiction of the provincial court and appealed to the King for protection. Casimir summoned the parties before him at the castle of Cracow, and, after a careful consideration of the case, decided that the consuls had acted in strict conformity with the privileges of the city, as guaranteed by the Magdeburg Law, and were worthy rather of praise than of blame.

Casimir IV died at Troki, in Lithuania (June 7, 1492), while on his way from Wilna to Cracow, in his 65th year. A Prince of little learning, simple tastes (he always drank water, and his one recreation was the chase) and pacific temperament, he was not, perhaps, the, man to inspire the enthusiasm of an essentially martial people. Yet no other Polish King ever did so much for Poland. It was his wisdom, judgment, moral courage, infinite patience, and inexhaustible tenacity which raised Poland to the rank of a great Power. His task was a difficult one ; and he pursued it, from first to last, with a rare devotion and conscientiousness which deserved to the full the respect and gratitude freely rendered to his memory after his death by a nation which was unable to appreciate him during his life-time.