On the eastern frontiers of the Holy Roman Empire lay the territories of Poland and Lithuania, stretching from the Oder to the Dnieper, from the Baltic to the Black Sea. As the two states shared a common frontier and were ruled by members of the same family, the Jagiellos, they had agreed in 1413 to work more closely together, but no common institutions had yet been evolved to bring coherence to the government of so vast an area. The principality of Lithuania was ruled by its grand duke, and the kingdom of Poland itself was nothing more than an amalgamation of several duchies, such as Great Poland, Little Poland, Kujawia and so on, from which others such as Mazovia, were to remain separate until as late as 1526. Nor was Poland a kingdom in the usual sense of the word, but a self-styled rcez pospolita or republic in which the nobles elected the king and dominated the national assembly or sejm. A few great families, by virtue of their traditional right to occupy the major offices of church and state, controlled the senate and selected the representatives of the lesser nobility, the szlachta, who sat in the lower house. In the regional assemblies, the sejmiki, however, the szlachta attended freely without selection. Lithuania on the other hand had no sejmiki, its sejm had only limited powers, and political authority lay exclusively with the council which, like the Polish senate, was dominated by a few great families.
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.