Poland

Poland, formerly a kingdom larger than modern Austro-Hungary, with a population of 24 millions, lying between the Baltic and the Carpathians, with Pomerania, Brandenburg, and Silesia on the W., and the Russian provinces of Smolensk, Tchernigoff, Poltava, and Kherson on the E.; the Dwina, the Memel, and the Vistula flowed through its northern plains; the Dnieper traversed the E., the Dniester and the Bug rose in its SE. corner. The country is fertile; great crops of cereals are raised; there are forests of pine and oak, and extensive pasture lands; vast salt-mines are wrought at Cracow; silver, iron, copper, and lead in other parts. Poland took rank among European powers in the 10th century under Mieczyslaw, its first Christian king. During the 12th and 13th centuries it sank to the rank of a duchy. In 1241 the Mongols devastated the country, and thereafter colonies of Germans and Jewish refugees settled among the Slav population. The first Diet met in 1331, and Casimir the Great, 1333-1370, raised the country to a high level of prosperity, fostering the commerce of Danzig and Cracow. The dynasty of the Jagellons united Lithuania to Poland, ended two centuries' contest with the Teutonic knights, and yielded to the nobles such privileges as turned the kingdom into an oligarchy and elective monarchy. At the time of the Reformation Poland was the leading power in Eastern Europe. The new doctrines gained ground there in spite of severe persecution. Warsaw became the capital in 1569. The power and arrogance of the nobles grew; the necessity for unanimity in the votes of the Diet gave them a weapon to stop all progress and all correction of their own malpractices. Sigismund III. made unsuccessful attempts to seize the crowns of Russia and Sweden. In the middle of the 17th century a terrible struggle against Russia, Sweden, Brandenburg and the Cossacks ended in the complete defeat of Poland, from which she never recovered. Wars with the Turks, dissensions among her own nobles, quarrels at the election of every king, the continuance of serfdom, and the persecution of the adherents of the Greek Church and the Protestants, rendered her condition more and more deplorable. Austria, Russia, and Prussia began to interfere in her affairs. She was unfortunate in her choice of kings, and in the second half of the 18th century she was without natural boundaries, and Frederick the Great started the idea of partition. The first seizure of territory by the three interfering powers took place in 1772. A movement for reform reorganised the Diet, improved the condition of the serfs, established religious toleration, and promulgated a new constitution in 1781; but a party of unpatriotic nobles resented it, and laid the country open to a second seizure of territory by Prussia and Russia in 1793. The Poles now made a desperate stand under Kosciusko, but their three powerful neighbours were too strong, and the final partition of Poland between them took place in 1795. The Congress of Vienna rearranged the division in 1815, and reconstituted the Russian portion as a kingdom, with the Czar as king; but discontent broke into rebellion, and led to the final repression of independence in 1832.

Definition taken from The Nuttall Encyclopædia, edited by the Reverend James Wood (1907)

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