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A people who know well the primeval forests of the continent, the Poles understand that the shadows offer both shelter and threats, and only military strength underpins security.

The “Polish Golden Age” is generally considered to coincide with the late 14th-century rise of the Jagiellonian dynasty, whose rulers would transform Poland into a major Central European power and rule for nearly two hundred years over a huge territory spread between the Baltic, the Adriatic, and the Black Sea.

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Casimir III initiated a period of reform and consolidation of monarchical power that would benefit the new Jagiellonian dynasty when he died without an heir. This is how Wladyslaw II Jagiello of the Lithuanian Gediminid dynasty became King of Poland from 1386 to 1434. These ties with Lithuania were cemented over the century and made it possible to halt the onslaught of the Teutonic Knights at the Battle of Grunwald (1410), thereby consolidating Poland’s position in the region. Wladyslaw’s successor, the young Wladyslaw III (also crowned King of Hungary in 1440), was tragically killed at the Battle of Varna (1444) in a disastrous final battle in the crusade against the Ottomans. Casimir IV would subsequently fight the Teutonic Order and emerge victorious in the Thirteen Years’ War (1454–1466), adding the territories of West Prussia and Pomerania to his kingdom. Later sovereigns would continue to expand the borders of Poland as they annexed provinces such as Livonia and Courland. The Union of Lublin (1569) consecrated the fusion of the kingdoms of Poland and Lithuania for good, and marked the end of the Jagiellonian dynasty three years later with the death of Sigismund II Augustus. The consolidation of Poland’s power in Central Europe supported a period of unequaled economic and cultural prosperity, known as the “Polish Golden Age.” This period saw developments in science, the arts, architecture, and printing, which, combined with religious tolerance, gave rise to great thinkers, such as Nicolaus Copernicus.

Did you know?

At a time when Europe was being torn apart by the wars of religion, the religious tolerance of the Polish sovereigns contributed to the kingdom’s prosperity. Poland, which sheltered a number of religious exiles, presented the King of France, Charles IX, with the Postulata Polonica, calling for greater tolerance toward the Huguenots.