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Grand Duchy of Lithuania

European state from c. 1236 to 1795 / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a European state that existed from the 13th century[5] to 1795,[6] when the territory was partitioned among the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia, and the Habsburg Empire of Austria. The state was founded by Lithuanians, who were at the time a polytheistic nation born from several united Baltic tribes from Aukštaitija.[7][8][9]

Quick facts: Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Status, Capital, Co...
Grand Duchy of Lithuania
c. 1236–17951
Flag of Lithuania
Supposed appearance of the royal (military) banner with design derived from a 16th century coat of arms[1][2]
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania at the height of its power in the 15th century with claimed territory shown in light green
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania at the height of its power in the 15th century with claimed territory shown in light green
Common languagesLithuanian, Ruthenian, Polish, Latin, German, Yiddish, Tatar, Karaim (see § Languages)
Grand Duke 
 1236–1263 (from 1251 as King)
Mindaugas (first)
Stanisław August Poniatowski (last)
 Privy Council
Council of Lords
 Consolidation began
14 August 1385
1 July 1569
24 October 1795
1260[3]200,000 km2 (77,000 sq mi)
1430[3]930,000 km2 (360,000 sq mi)
1572[3]320,000 km2 (120,000 sq mi)
1791[3]250,000 km2 (97,000 sq mi)
1793[3]132,000 km2 (51,000 sq mi)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Blank.png Kingdom of Lithuania
Kingdom of Prussia Blank.png
Russian Empire Blank.png
West Galicia Blank.png
1. Unsuccessful Constitution of 3 May 1791 envisioned a unitary state whereby the Grand Duchy would be abolished; however, an addendum to the Constitution, known as the Reciprocal Guarantee of Two Nations, restored Lithuania on 20 October 1791.[4]

The Grand Duchy expanded to include large portions of the former Kievan Rus' and other neighbouring states, including what is now Lithuania, Belarus, most of Ukraine as well as parts of Latvia, Poland, Russia and Moldova. At its greatest extent, in the 15th century, it was the largest state in Europe.[10] It was a multi-ethnic and multiconfessional state, with great diversity in languages, religion, and cultural heritage.

The consolidation of the Lithuanian lands began in the late 13th century. Mindaugas, the first ruler of the Grand Duchy, was crowned as Catholic King of Lithuania in 1253. The pagan state was targeted in a religious crusade by the Teutonic Knights and the Livonian Order, but survived. Its rapid territorial expansion started late in the reign of Gediminas,[11] and continued under the diarchy and co-leadership of his sons, Algirdas and Kęstutis.[12] Algirdas's son Jogaila signed the Union of Krewo in 1386, bringing two major changes in the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania: conversion to Christianity of Europe's last pagan state,[13] and establishment of a dynastic union between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland.[14]

The reign of Vytautas the Great, son of Kęstutis, marked both the greatest territorial expansion of the Grand Duchy and the defeat of the Teutonic Knights in the Battle of Grunwald in 1410. It also marked the rise of the Lithuanian nobility. After Vytautas's death, Lithuania's relationship with the Kingdom of Poland greatly deteriorated.[15] Lithuanian noblemen, including the Radvila family, attempted to break the personal union with Poland.[16] However, unsuccessful wars with the Grand Duchy of Moscow forced the union to remain intact.

Eventually, the Union of Lublin of 1569 created a new state, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. In the Federation, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania maintained its political distinctiveness and had separate ministries, laws, army, and treasury.[17] The federation was terminated by the passing of the Constitution of 3 May 1791, when it was supposed to become a single country, the Commonwealth, under one monarch, one parliament and no Lithuanian autonomy. Shortly afterward, the unitary character of the state was confirmed by adopting the Reciprocal Guarantee of Two Nations.

However, the newly reformed Commonwealth was invaded by Russia in 1792 and partitioned between neighbouring states. A truncated state (whose principal cities were Kraków, Warsaw and Vilnius) remained that was nominally independent. After the Kościuszko Uprising, the territory was completely partitioned among the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia and Austria in 1795.