The Last Of The Jagiellos, 1548-1572
( Originally Published 1908 )
ON April 17, 1548, the magnates and prelates of Lithuania assembled at the castle of Wilna to kiss the hand of their new Grand Duke, Sigismund Augustus, on the eve of his departure to Cracow, to bury his father and receive his father's Crown from the hands of the Polish Pans' who had elected him King eighteen years previously. At the first hour after noon, Sigismund entered the crowded hall, mounted the throne, and, after greeting the assembled dignitaries, thus addressed them : " Many reasons, meet and right and even weighty, have constrained me, hitherto, to conceal that which I will this day reveal to you all. Barbara Radziwillowna, Wojewodzina of Troki, is my wife, given to me in holy, Christian, wedlock in the presence of her kinsfolk. Know ye therefore that nought on the earth can sever such a tie lawfully contracted among Christians." After this prelude, the King ordered the doors of the hall to be opened, and introduced Barbara, surrounded by a numerous retinue of Lithuanian Senators. The assembly was thunderstruck by this sudden and emphatic announcement of Sigismund's marriage with a lady who was doubly offensive to the oligarchs as being the daughter of Prince Nicholas Radziwill, commonly called Black Radziwill," the leader of the Calvinists, and herself an ardent Calvinist. But in Lithuania the authority of the semi-absolute Grand Duke prevailed, and no protest was made. Far different was the reception of the tidings in Poland, where Queen Bona, jealous of the beauty and influence of the young bride, used every effort to annul a union " so unequal as to tarnish the King's majesty." As a Lithuanian, Barbara was distasteful to the Poles generally ; as a heretic she was especially offensive to the clergy. Not a voice was raised in her defence ; and when, on October 31, 1548, the Sejm assembled at Piotrkow, the only Senator who stood by the King was the Grand Hetman of the Crown, Jan Tarnowski. During the first debate in the Senate, the Grand Marshal, Kmita, moved that the King should not disgrace his order. Two days later a deputation from the Izba, or lower House, petitioned Sigismund to "withdraw from his intentions and not call that a marriage which was no marriage." " Every man," replied Sigismund calmly, " has the right to choose his own wife ; why cannot the King do the same? Or does the Christian religion allow me to put away her whom I have wedded ? It is for you of the clergy, who know better about such things, to convince your brethren on this head. But I will not desert my wife, though she were stripped of everything but her shift." This simple and manly declaration evoked such a storm of abuse that the King was obliged to enjoin silence. The Primate, Dzierzgowski, a creature of Bona's, then fiercely denounced the marriage; and other bishops and senators followed his example. Kmita's language was so venomous that the King bade him hold his tongue. The whole Chamber revolted at such an unusual rebuke from the throne, but Sigismund was not to be frightened. "What hath been. done cannot be undone," he said. " I have sworn never to forsake my wife and, so help me God ! I mean to keep my oath." Shortly afterwards, Sigismund dissolved the Diet and issued a Universal, or manifesto, in which he appealed to the sense of justice of the nation against the violence and tyranny of the Legislature. He knew that he had won a moral victory, and he proceeded, skilfully enough, to make the most of it. Not till May 4, 1550, was a second Diet summoned. By this time public opinion had so completely veered round that not a word was uttered about the royal marriage. Nay, when the Posen deputy, Nicholas Sienicki, accused the King of despotic designs, the Grand Marshal, Kmita, rebuked him roundly for attempting to circumscribe the royal prerogative.
This episode is worth dwelling upon, illustrating as it does both the character of the new King and the peculiar difficulty of the task before him.
Sigismund II, when he ascended the throne, was in his 28th year. Brought up by and among women, in the exotic luxury of an italianate Court which had absorbed everything, good or bad, which the Renaissance could offer, his frail and elegant figure seemed puny and effeminate to the sturdy, homespun gentry who, for nearly fifty years, had followed, often reluctantly enough, in the footsteps of his burly and downright father. Yet Sigismund II was a true Jagiello. He possessed, in an eminent degree, the patience and tenacity which were the characteristic virtues of his family, and he combined with these useful qualities a perspicacity, an intellectual suppleness, and a diplomatic finesse (doubtless inherited from his mother) which carried him triumphantly over the worst obstacles of the most difficult situations. " The King," wrote the Austrian Envoy, towards the end of the reign, "most easily turns this most indocile of nations whithersoever he will. Things here ever befall according to his wishes." The Papal nuncio Paggieri renders similar testimony?
The Barbara incident enables us, moreover, to gauge, pretty accurately, the force and direction of the quasi-democratic movement whose beginnings we have already noted in the reign of Sigismund I, and whose representatives claimed the right to interfere in everything. This movement was, originally, of a social-political character. It was a revolt of the Szlachta, or gentry, against the usurpations of the Pans. Its fundamental object was the so-called egsekucya praw, or enforcement of all the statutes which had been passed, from time to time, to arrest the aggrandisement of the magnates, or compel them to fulfil their obligations to the State.
But now this movement assumed a religious character owing to the Szlachta's jealousy of the privileged position of the clergy, accentuated by a strong feeling of personal independence which resented the liability of being haled before the ecclesiastical Courts for inquisitorial purposes. In these circumstances, any opponent of the Established Church was the natural ally of the Szlachta. But, although the pride and jealousy of the gentry were the principal, they were by no means the only causes of the early successes of the Reformation in Poland. The scandalous condition of the Polish Church at this time seemed to excuse, and even justify, the far-reaching apostacy which was now to shake her to her very foundations. The bishops, who had grown up beneath the demoralising influence of Queen Bona elegant triflers, for the most part, as pliant as reeds, with no fixed principles and saturated with a false humanism were indifferent in matters of faith, and regarded the new doctrines with philosophical toleration. Some of them were notorious ill-livers. " Pint-pot " Latalski, Bishop of Posen, had purchased his office from Bona for 12,000 ducats ; while another of her creatures, Peter, popularly known as " the wencher," was appointed Bishop of Przemysl, and promised the reversion of the wealthy see of Cracow. Moreover, despite her immense wealth (in the Province of Little Poland alone, she owned at this time 26 towns, 83 landed estates and 722 villages), the Church claimed exemption from all public burdens, from all political responsibilities, although her prelates, sitting as they did in the Senate, and holding many of the offices of the State, continued to exercise an altogether disproportionate political influence. Education was shamefully neglected, the masses being left in almost heathen ignorance ; and this, too, at a time when the middle classes were greedily appropriating the ripe fruits of the Renaissance, and when, to use the words of a contemporary, there were " more Latinists in Poland than ever there were in Latium." The Academia Jagiellonika, or University of Cracow, the sole source of knowledge and enlightenment in the vast Polish realm, still moved in the vicious circle of scholastic formularies. . The principal schools, dependent upon so decrepit an alma mater, were, for the most part, suffered to decay. The sons of the gentry, denied proper instruction at home, betook themselves to the nearest High Schools across the border, to Goldberg in Silesia, to Witten-burg, to Leipzig. Here they fell in with the adherents of the new faith, grave, God-fearing men, who professed to reform the abuses which had grown up in the Church in the course of ages; and they endeavoured, on their return, to propagate these wholesome doctrines, and clamour for the reformation of their own degenerate prelates. Finally, the poorer clergy, cut off from all hope of preferment, and utterly neglected by their own bishops, were also inspired by the spirit of revolt, and eagerly devoured and imparted to their flocks, in their own language, the contents of the religious tracts and treatises which reached them by devious ways, from Goldberg and Konigsberg. Nothing indeed did so much to popularise the new doctrines in Poland as this beneficial revival of the long-neglected vernacular by the Reformers.
Such was the situation when Sigismund II began his reign. The King, too good a Catholic and too wise a statesman to weaken. the conservative elements of the State in a period of acute crisis, adopted from the first, with consummate skill, the office of mediator between the contending confessions. On December 12, 1550, five days after the coronation of Barbara as Queen of Poland 1 by the Primate Dzierzgowski, he issued the celebrated edict whereby he pledged his royal word to preserve intact the unity of the Church and the privileges of the clergy, and to enforce the law of the land against heresy. Encouraged by this pleasing symptom of orthodoxy, the bishops, with singular imprudence, instead of first attempting to put their own dilapidated house in order, at once proceeded to summon before their Courts all persons suspected of heresy. The Szlachta instantly took the alarm ; and at the stormy Diet of Piotrkow, which met in January 1552, even devout Catholics, like Jan Tarnowski, inveighed bitterly against the bishops and questioned their right to summon the gentry before their tribunals. On this head the whole estate of nobles, Catholic and Protestant alike, was unanimously agreed. The bishops, timid and vacillating, bent beneath the storm ; and, when the King proposed, by way of compromise, that the jurisdiction of the Church Courts should be suspended for twelve months, on condition that the gentry continued to pay tithes, the prelates readily sacrificed their convictions to save their revenues.
Henceforth the Reformers began to propagate their opinions openly, and even molested the Catholics. Those of the Protestant gentry who had the right of presentation to benefices began bestowing them upon chaplains and ministers of their own persuasion, in many cases driving out the orthodox incumbents and substituting Protestant for Catholic services. Presently Reformers of every shade of opinion, even those who were tolerated nowhere else, poured into Poland, which speedily became the battle-ground of all the sects of Europe. Most of them now became numerous enough to form ecclesiastical districts of their own. In the Sejm itself the Protestants were absolutely supreme ; and they invariably elected a Calvinist, or even a Socinian, to be their marshal or president. At the Diet of 1555 they boldly demanded a national Synod for the cleansing and reforming of the Church, and presented nine points for the consideration of the King and Senate, amounting to a demand for absolute toleration. The bishops naturally refused to entertain this revolutionary programme ; and, the King again intervening as mediator, the existing interim was, by mutual consent, indefinitely prolonged. The violent and unscrupulous proceedings of the bigoted Roman Nuncio, Ludovico Lippomano, on this occasion, still further damaged the Catholic cause by provoking universal indignation, even the bishops refusing to obey him. At the subsequent Diet of Warsaw (1556), the whole of the Izba, or Lower Chamber, clamoured furiously against " the Egyptian bondage of the Prelacy," and demanded absolute freedom of discussion in all religious questions. Again, however, the King adopted a middle course ; and, by the Edict of Warsaw (Jan. 1557), it was decreed that things should remain as they were till the following Diet. At that Diet, which assembled at Piotrków on November 20, 1558, the onslaught of the Szlachta on the clergy was fiercer than ever ; and a determined attempt was even made to exclude the bishops from the Senate on the principle that no man could serve two masters. True loyalty and patriotism, it was urged, could not be expected from prelates who were the sworn servants of a foreign potentate the Pope. But the King and the Senate, perceiving a danger to the Constitution in the violence of the Szlachta, not only took the part of the bishops but quashed a subsequent, reiterated demand for a national Synod. On February 8, 1559, the Diet dissolved without coming to any resolution. The King, in his valedictory address, justly threw all the blame for the abortiveness of the session upon the interference and injustice of the Szlachta.
The Sejm of 1558–1559 indicates the high-water mark of Polish Protestantism. From henceforth, it began, very gradually, but unmistakably, to subside. The chief cause of this subsidence was the division among the Reformers themselves. The almost absolute religious liberty which they enjoyed in Poland proved, in the long run, far more injurious to them than to the Church which they professed to reform. From the chaos of creeds resulted a chaos of ideas on all imaginable moral and social subjects, which culminated in a violent clashing of the various sects, each one of which naturally strove for the mastery. An auxiliary cause of the decline of Protestantism in Poland was the beginning of a Catholic reaction there. Not only the far-seeing, statesmanlike, monarch himself but his chief counsellors also could no longer resist the conviction that the project of a National Church was a mere Utopia. The bulk of the population still held languidly yet persistently to the faith of its fathers ; and the Holy See, awakening at last to the gravity of the situation, gave to the slowly reviving zeal of both clergy and laity the very necessary stimulus from without. There can be no doubt that, in the first instance, it was the papal Nuncios who re-organised the scattered and faint-hearted battalions of the church militant in Poland and led them back to victory. The most notable of these reconstructing Nuncios was Berard, Bishop of Camerino, who arrived in 156o and persuaded the King to send delegates to the council of Trent. He was less successful at the Diet of 1562. On this occasion Sigismund completely won the susceptible hearts of the Szlachta, by appearing in the grey coat of a Masovian squire. Needing the subsidies of the Deputies for the incorporation by Poland of most of the territories of the defunct Order of the Sword had excited the jealousy of Moscovy and the Scandinavian Powers Sigismund was prepared, as the lesser of two evils, to sacrifice the clergy ; and, with his consent, the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical Courts was practically abolished, it being declared that hence-forth no confiscations consequent upon condemnations for heresy could be executed except by the secular Courts as administered by the Starostas or Lord Justices, many of whom were Protestants. The bishops protested, but the King was inexorable. " You must," he said, " take the plunge."
Berard was thereupon superseded by Giovanni Francisco Commendone, one of the most experienced and devoted of the Roman diplomatists. His earlier despatches to Rome (1563–1564) are gloomy enough. He reported that the higher Catholic clergy were disunited and disaffected ; that the Protestants were guilty, almost daily, of outrages against Catholic ceremonies ; and that the childless King seemed intent on a divorce from his third wife (his first wife's sister) the Archduchess Catharine of Austria, whom he had married, for purely political reasons, in 1553, and who was now living apart from him at Radom, an incurable invalid. Nevertheless, the tact and energy of the capable and courageous Nuncio soon worked wonders. The King, despite the strong influence of the Calvinistic Radziwills, and the alluring precedent of Henry VIII, did not press to an issue the much dreaded question of the divorce. In 1564 Commendone persuaded him to accept and promulgate the Tridentine Decrees and issue an edict banishing all foreign heretics from the land. At the Diet of 1565 the Protestants presented a petition for a national pacificatory Synod ; but the King rejected it as unnecessary, inasmuch as the Council of Trent had already settled all religious questions. He declared, at the same time, that he was resolved to live and die a Catholic. But the most re-assuring feature of this Diet, from a churchman's point of view, was the presence in the izba of a zealous Catholic minority which, while willing enough to keep the clergy within bounds, energetically protested against any attack upon the Church's ceremonies or dogmas. It was quite a new thing to see the Polish gentry marshalled round a papal Nuncio and drawing their sabres, in full session, 'against the gainsayers of Catholic truth. At the same Diet, Sigismund consented to the introduction into Poland of the most formidable adversaries of the Reformation, the Jesuits. Noskowski, Bishop of Plock, had already installed them at Pultusk ; and, after the Diet had separated, the Society was permitted to found establishments in the dioceses of Posen, Ermeland, and Wilna, which henceforth became centres of a vigorous and victorious propaganda.
Unfortunately, this very Diet, in many respects so salutary, marks the mischievous victory of the Szlachta over their old enemies the burgesses. A death-blow was struck at the prosperity of the towns by the statute which made export trade, henceforth, the exclusive privilege of the Szlachta, and at their liberty by the statute which placed them under the jurisdiction of the provincial Starostas. Henceforth, the Polish towns count for nothing in Polish politics.
The Catholic revival gained in strength every year, although the King continued, judiciously, to hold the balance between the opposing parties and preserved order by occasionally nominating Protestants to the highest offices of the State, and always preventing persecution. Moreover, a new order of bishops, men of apostolic faith and fervour, were gradually superseding the indolent and corrupt old prelates of Bona's creation. Many of the magnates, too, were, about this time, re-converted to the Catholic religion, notably Adalbert Laski, and Jan Sierakowski whom the Protestants could ill afford to lose. In the Sejm itself, the attacks of the Protestants upon the Catholics grew feebler every year, ceasing at last altogether. Nay, at the Diet of 1569, the Protestants actually made overtures for a union with the Catholics, which the latter postponed till the reformed sects should have become " quite agreed among themselves as to what they really believed." At the Diet of 1570 Sigismund, strong in the support of a small but zealous Catholic majority, rejected a petition of the Protestants that their confession should be placed on a statutory equality with Catholicism. Henceforth, all the efforts of the Protestants were directed towards holding the ground they had actually won.
By his wisdom and equity, Sigismund II had saved Poland from the horrors of a religious war in the very age of the Wars of Religion. At the same time, his statesmanship, always circumspect yet profiting by every favourable contingency, was increasing the prestige of Poland abroad, and enlarging her boundaries, just where territorial accretions promised to be most useful to her.
Generally speaking, Sigismund was true to the traditional political watchword of the Jagiellos : friendship with the Empire and peace with the Porte. Sigismund was, indeed, well aware of the acquisitive tendencies of the House of Hapsburg. "They mean us no good," he used frequently to say to his diplomatic agents, who were always busy counter-acting real or imaginary intrigues at Rome and elsewhere. But, on the other hand, he regarded Austria as the natural counterpoise to a still more formidable potentate, the Turkish Padishah, with whom he was especially anxious to avoid a collision. Sigismund could always frighten the Court of Vienna into subservience by pretending to espouse the cause of his own nephew, John Sigismund, Prince of Transylvania, a claimant of the Magyar throne, and the semi-feudatory of the Ottoman Empire. The relations between Sigismund and the Emperor Maximilian were, therefore, generally civil though never very cordial ; and the unfortunate marriage between Sigismund and the Archduchess Catharine in 1553 was meant to be an additional confirmation of a political alliance which was, at the same time, a guarantee against any league between Austria and the Moscovite.
It was not so easy for Poland to preserve friendly relations with the Porte. Moldavia and Wallachia were the points of contact and peril. Nominally subject to the Turk, the Hospodars of these States were little better than freebooters on a grand scale ; and their violations of Polish territory constantly called for reprisals. The Jagiellonic Kings were, however, very careful to stop short at repressing these desperadoes. So late as 15521
when Sigismund found it necessary to depose Stephen VIII of Wallachia and enthrone Peter Lepusnano in his stead, the Vice-Hetman entrusted with this police duty was strictly charged to evacuate the principality immediately afterwards. The King could control the Hetmans, but he was powerless to check the frequent raids into Moldavia and Wallachia of the Pans or great lords. From time immemorial the Wallachs had sought a refuge in Poland from the tyranny of their Hospodars ; there was a large Wallach population in the south-eastern Polish provinces ; and the trade between the two countries was lively and lucrative. From about the middle of the sixteenth century onwards, the Lord Marchers of Poland took it upon themselves to interfere freely in Wallachian and Moldavian affairs without even consulting the Polish Government. In 1558 Adalbert Laski assisted the fantastic polyglot adventurer calling himself "Heraclides, Prince of Samos," to drive Peter Lepusnano from Moldavia and establish himself there. Heraclides, however, was speedily expelled by the Turks ; and there matters would have rested had it not occurred to another Polish Pan, Prince Demetrius Wisniowiecki, to reinstate Heraclides by force of arms. The adventure ended most disastrously. Heraclides was defeated and tortured to death by the rival candidate ; Wisniowiecki perished miserably at Stambul ; and those of the Polish captives who were not massacred on the spot, were sent home minus their ears and noses. Fortunately for Sigismund, the contemporary disasters of the Turks in Hungary, which led to the truce of Erlau (1562), disinclined the Sublime Porte to embark in a war with Poland on this occasion.
These so-called Kozakowania 1, always inconvenient and disquieting, were doubly so at this period, when Sigismund II was about to embark upon an enterprise which must infallibly lead to a fresh war with the Moscovite.
At the beginning of the sixteenth century, the dominion of the ancient Knights of the Sword, which extended, roughly speaking, from the Gulf of Finland to a little beyond the Northern Dwina, and from Lake Peipus to the Baltic, was about to fall to pieces from sheer caducity. Inflanty, or Livonia, as it was generally called, had long been one of the principal markets of Europe, where English, Dutch, and Scandinavian merchants jostled each other in search of corn, timber, hides and the other raw products of Lithuania and Moscovy. Originally a compact, self-sufficient, unconquerable military colony in the midst of savage and jarring barbarians, the Order had, in the course of ages, sunk into a condition of confusion and decrepitude that tempted the greed of the three great monarchies Sweden, Moscovy and Poland which had, in the meantime, grown up around and now pressed hard upon it. The Gulf of Finland still separated the Livonian lands from Sweden, but the Moscovite had only to cross the Narowa, the Polack, the Dwina, to strike at the very heart of the crumbling realm. Livonia was to be an apple of discord between the three northern Powers for generations to come. Each of the three aimed at the domination of the Baltic, and the first step towards the domination of the Baltic was the possession of Livonia.
Poland was the first to intervene. In June, 1556, Wilhelm of Brandenburg, Archbishop of Riga, appealed to Sigismund for help against the Grand Master, Wilhelm von Fürstenberg. Sigismund sent his ambassadors to mediate between the rivals; but, in the meantime, Fiirstenberg had besieged and captured the Archbishop in Kokenhausen ; and Lancki, one of the Polish envoys, was murdered by the Grand Master's son. This outrage gave Sigismund an excellent excuse for intervening-directly. He invaded south Livonia with an overwhelming force of 8o,000 men, forcibly reconciled the Archbishop and the Grand Master in his camp at Pozwole (Sept. 1557), and compelled the Order to contract an offensive and defensive alliance with Poland directed against Moscovy. In 1558, when Ivan IV invaded Livonia', Fürstenberg fled to Poland, leaving Gotthard von Kettler Grand Master in his stead. In June, 1559, the Estates of Livonia, in terror of the Moscovite, formally placed themselves beneath the protection of the Polish Crown, to which they at the same time ceded their southernmost provinces, Courland and Semigallia (Treaties of Wilna, August 31 and Sept. 15). It is worthy of note that Sigismund concluded these important treaties not as King of Poland but as Grand Duke of Lithuania, the Polish Sejm refusing all cooperation and responsibility for an affair which, they said, concerned Lithuania alone. The almost simultaneous occupation of Oesel by the Danes and of Esthonia by the Swedes, and the horrible devastation of central Livonia by Ivan IV, accelerated the incorporation of Livonia with Lithuania. In 1561 the Lithuanian Hetman, Prince Nicholas Radziwill, received the submission of the Grand Master and the Archbishop in his camp before Riga. In September of the same year a great Livonian deputation proceeded to Wilna to render homage to Sigismund, and, on November 28, the incorporation of Livonia was accomplished ; though the compact of subjection was not signed till February, 1562. Sigismund swore to confirm all the privileges of the Livonian nobility, to relieve them from all military burdens, to recognise the Augsburg Confession in his new domains. Kettler thereupon exchanged Catholicism for Lutheranism, and became a feudatory of Poland under the title of Duke of Courland, which dignity was to be hereditary in his heirs male. Simultaneously, Sweden was disarmed by a compact made with Duke John of Finland who, on October 4, 1562, arrived at Wilna, and was there married to Sigismund's third sister Catharine. Thus the tact and tenacity of Sigismund II had succeeded in excluding Moscovy from the sea. For the first time in her history, Poland had the opportunity of establishing herself as a naval Power. The ablest of Sigismund's counsellors fully understood the importance of the newly acquired provinces. " Methinks," observed the Polish Vice-Chancellor Myszkowski, " that Polish fleets will soon be sailing on the sea, and that the King of Denmark will be more straitened thereon than heretofore."
The last and greatest service which Sigismund II rendered to his country was the amalgamation of Poland and Lithuania.
All the Princes of the House of Jagiello had aimed at this ; and Sigismund II, taught by their and his own experience, recognised the necessity of such an amalgamation more clearly than any of them. The present loose, weak confederacy included within it all the elements of disruption. The Polish State could never subsist as a great power so long as it was divided into two semi-independent principalities with strong centrifugal tendencies. In Poland itself men were of one mind as to the desirability of a complete and absolute union ; but the Lithuanian magnates, who still exercised absolute authority over the gentry, obstinately opposed a union the first effect of which would be to swamp their comparatively insignificant numbers amidst the countless masses of the Polish gentry. Only the fear of the Moscovite, with whom they were always, more or less, at war, induced the Lithuanians to entertain the proposal at all. The project of a closer union was first debated at the Diet of Warsaw (Nov. 1563--June 1564) to which the Lithuanians sent delegates. The discussion was warm on both sides and ultimately came to nothing ; but the King judiciously prepared the way for future negotiations by voluntarily relinquishing his hereditary title to the throne of Lithuania, so as to place the contending nationalities more on a level to start with. In 1565 died Black Radziwill, the principal opponent of the Union in Lithuania; and the negotiations were reopened, under far more favourable conditions, at the Diet which met at Lublin on January 10, 1569. Nevertheless, in a memorial presented by their Vice-Treasurer, Naruszewicz, the Lithuanians refused to go beyond a personal union, and, on the rejection of their memorial, withdrew from the Diet, leaving two of their dignitaries to watch the proceedings on their behalf. Then the King took a decisive step, and, of his own authority, as ruler of Lithuania, incorporated the border provinces of Volhynia, Podlasia and the Ukraine with the Crown 1, whereupon the Podlasian deputies swore the oath of allegiance to him as King of Poland, and took their seats alongside their Polish colleagues. Their example was quickly followed by the Volhynians. Perceiving that further resistance would be useless, the Lithuanian delegates returned to the Diet and accepted the Union as proposed by the King. On July 1 the Act of Union was solemnly sworn to in the church of the Franciscans, whereupon Sigismund, followed by the Senate, proceeded in the pouring rain to the church of the Dominicans and kneeling on the steps of the Altar intoned a " Te Deum." Henceforth, in the words of the statute confirming this great act, " the Crown of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania is a composite and indivisible body and also one composite and common republic, or the incorporation and welding together of two States into one Nation." They were to have one Pan, or Sovereign Lord, elected jointly, one Sejm, one and the same currency. Every restriction upon the settlement of Poles in Lithuania or of Lithuanians in Poland was abolished. The Prussian and Livonian provinces were to belong to Poland and Lithuania in common. One relic of her former independence still remained to Lithuania. She retained her own separate dignitaries. Thus, to the very end, the Grand Hetman and the Vice-Hetman, the Grand Chancellor and the Vice-Chancellor of Lithuania, etc., continued to officiate side by side with their colleagues of the Crown.
The last years of Sigismund II were comparatively tranquil. The intermittent, indecisive, Moscovite War dragged on for a time', despite the Polish victories at Ula (1564) and Czasniki (1567) ; but in 1571 it was suspended by the usual truce. With all other Powers Sigismund remained friendly. Yet one poignant grief haunted him perpetually : he had no heir to whom to leave the Kingdom he had so ably guarded and consolidated. None of his three wives and neither of his two mistresses, Barbara Gizanka and Anna Zajanczkowska, with whom he successively cohabited in the hope of offspring (which the Diet solemnly engaged to legitimate beforehand), had borne him children. The death of his sickly third wife Catharine (Feb. 28) 1572) released him at last from the bonds of wedlock; and he thereupon declared his intention of wedding Gizanka, but it was too late. At 8 o'clock on the morning of July 9, Sigismund II expired at his favourite château at Knyszyn, in his 52nd year. In his last will and testament he solemnly exhorted the two nations, " whom God hath exalted above all other nations," to live together in peace and harmony and invoked the curse of Heaven on whomsoever should sow discord between them.
The Jagiellonic period of Polish history (1386-1572), which terminates with the death of Sigismund II, is the history of the fusion into one political whole of numerous national elements, more or less akin ethnologically, but differing widely in language, religion, and, above all, in degrees of civilisation. Out of the ancient Piast Kingdom, mutilated by the loss of Silesia and the Baltic shore, arose a confederacy consisting, at first, of various loosely-connected entities, naturally centrifugal, but temporarily forced together by the urgent need of combination against a superior foe who threatened them, separately, with extinction. Beneath the guidance of a dynasty of Princes which, curiously enough, was supplied by the least civilised portion of this congeries of nationalities, the nascent confederacy gradually grew into a Power which subjugated its former oppressors and, viewed externally, seemed to bear upon it the promise of Empire. In politics it is always dangerous to prophecy, but all the facts and circumstances before us point irresistibly to the conclusion that had the Jagiellonic Dynasty but endured, this promise of Empire might well have been realised. The extraordinary thing about the Jagiellos was the equable persistency of their genius. Not only were five of the seven statesmen, but they were statesmen of the same stamp. We are disturbed by no such sharp contrasts as are to be found among the Vasas and the Bourbons. The Jagiellos were all of the same mould and pattern, but the mould was a strong one and the pattern was good. Their predominant and constant characteristics were a sober sagacity and a calm tenaciousness. The Jagiellos were rarely brilliant, but they were always perspicacious ; and they alone seem to have had the gift of guiding successfully along the path of prosperity the most flighty and self-willed of nations.