Polish history – most important events
Poland and its language have more than 1,000 years of documented history. During their education, Polish students spent 12 years learning Polish history from 966 to contemporary times. But in this article, we’ll give you the most important historical dates. And during our Polish language course in Wroclaw, we’ll teach a bit more details.
Polish history – Baptism of Poland (966)
It’s 100% sure that Mieszko I became a Christian in 966. The exact day of his baptism remains a subject of debate. The most common assumption is 14th April 966, a Holy Saturday of that year. It is because, in the Medieval Ages, all candidates were baptized only on that day.
By becoming a Christian Mieszko I saved Poland from forced conversion and subjugation by other countries. Also – he made Poland a modern, European country. He took baptism from Czech bishops, to avoid any dependency on the German Empire.
Polish history – Congress of Gniezno (1000)
In 1000, the young Poland was ruled by Boleslaw The Great, its second monarch. He was a close friend and an ally of Otto III, the German Emperor. The second gentleman had an ambition of uniting all Europe in one confederation. This is why he is seen as the forefather of the European Union. He came to Poland to gain Boleslaw’s support for his plans.
He met with Boleslaw in Gniezno. Two monarchs… exchanged their crowns, as a symbol of recognizing each other as equals. Otto gave Boleslaw two gifts. One of them was a nail from Christ’s cross. Another – St. Maurice’s Spear, a symbol of the emperor’s power.
Also – Otto wanted to pray at the St. Adalbert’s grave. The latter guy was a Czech bishop killed by pagan Prussians for attempting to convert them to Catholicism.
Polish history – Fragmentation of Poland (1138)
Bolesław III Wrymouth had many sons. And, during the Middle Ages, it was common that after a father’s death, his sons fought for his throne. Bolesław wanted to avoid it. In his last will he dictated that each of his sons gain a fragment of realm… but the eldest one, Władysław II The Exile was to rule over his brothers.
Wrymouth’s clever plan failed almost immediately. His sons (and their sons) fought each other against a monarch’s intention. Also – in their last wills they further split their lands, which led to unprecedented fragmentation.
Polish history – the unification of Poland (1320)
Fragmentation was a very hard time in Polish history… But it was ended by Wladyslaw The Short. He was a Duke of Kujawy, Cracow, and Wiślica (among many others). During his pre-royal time, he fought with Brandenburg, Teutonic Order, and internal enemies. And, in 1320, he finally became a king of the re-united Poland.
Polish history – union of Krewo (1386)
In 1370, Casimir the Great of the Piast dynasty died without a legitimate son. After that, the French d’Anjou took the rule. Once Louis the Hungarian died, he was superseded by his daughter Jadwiga. But it was impossible for a woman to rule a country then. So, she was to marry Jogaila, a Grand Duke of Lithuania. He was a pagan, so he had to become a Christian first.
But was Jogaila chosen instead of someone already following the Christian faith? It was because Lithuanian nobles regularly raided Polish lands. So, there was an urgent need for peace!
Source: detail of the Triptych of Our Lady of Sorrows in the Wawel Cathedral. Author uknown.
Polish history – Battle of Grunwald (1410)
We already mentioned that Poland has been fighting Teutonic Knights for centuries. They took many of the Polish lands, including Pomerania through which Poland had the access to sea. Poland took multiple measures to deal with this menace. And they led to fields of Grunwald.
Poland was supported by:
- Lithuanian vassals from Ruthenia,
- Mazovia and Płock (those Polish regions were independent at this time).
On 15th July 1410, the international army crushed their enemies. Teutonic Order has never come back to its full power, but Poles failed to capture their capital in Marienburg. The full victory happened in 1466.
Polish people love to discuss their history. During our Polish language course in Wroclaw, we’ll gladly teach you the vocabulary and facts necessary to participate in such a discussion.
Source: Jan Matejko, The Battle of Grunwald, 1878
Polish history – the union of Lublin (1569)
Union of Krewo was a personal one. Poland and Lithuania had one ruler but remained a separate country. In 1569, under the rule of Zygmunt August II, the nobilities of both countries agreed that they wanted to live in one state. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth lasted until 1795 when Poland was erased from the map.
Polish history – partitions (1772, 1792, 1795)
At the end of the 18th century, Poland was but a shadow of what it used to be. Those sad circumstances were used to Poland’s disadvantage. Prussia, Austria, and Russia decided to disband Poland step by step.
Polish history – independence (1918)
In the Polish history partition period is known for occupants’ attempts to destroy Polish culture and two failed uprisings – The November Uprising and The January Uprising. In 1918 Poland’s occupants failed World War 1, which led to the Polish people disarming withdrawing troops, and founding a new army.
There was also a temporary government whose mission was to ensure stability until the first elections were held. Independence Day is still celebrated as a national holiday on 11h November.
Polish history – September Campaign (1939)
On 1st September 1939, after months of threats, the Third Reich launched a full-scale invasion of Poland. It is known as the September Campaign and lasted from 1st September until 6th October.
World War 2 began with bombing a small city of Wieluń at 4:40 AM. 75% of the buildings were destroyed beyond repair.
5 minutes later, at 4:45 AM, a military base at Westerplatte was attacked by a Schleswig-Holstein battleship. It’s worth mentioning that Westerplatte garrison was supposed to endure just 12 hours. Instead, Polish soldiers have been fighting bravely for 7 days. As a recognition of his courage, Major Henryk Sucharski, the garrison’s commander, was allowed to keep his saber.
Also, on 17th September, USSR joined the Nazis, which ended any hope of winning. Poland was unable to defend itself against two enemies while being outnumbered.
Polish history – Warsaw Uprising (1944)
In 1944 Soviet counteroffensive reached Polish territory. It was obvious that Poland was either to become another Soviet Republic or a satellite state. To prevent this, the National Army and Underground State decided to rebel against the occupants.
On 1st August 1944, at 5:00 PM alarm sirens wailed in the entire city, railing Poles to fight. It’s known as the “W hours”, with “W” being the first letter of the Polish word wolność (freedom). For 63 days Polish soldiers and civilians were fighting, but failed.
It was a hard time in Polish history as the city was grinded into oblivion, and it took a few years in the post-war times to rebuild it.
Polish history – Fall of the Communism (1989)
In 1944 Poland became a Communist country. During those 45 years, Poles never accepted an enforced regime. They protested in:
- 1956 in Poznan, against poverty,
- 1968 at universities, against freedom of speech restrictions,
- 1970 in the Pomerania region, against the increasing prices of basic needs.
But the major change happened in 1980. The “Solidarity” (Solidarność) union was created. Since the iconic strike in the Gdansk Shipyard, it continued to rally Polish people against Communism. Even despite the martial law declared in 1981, despite arresting and killing the activists, they prevailed. In 1989, based on the Round Table Agreement, Communists allowed the first democratic elections. Which they, obviously, failed.
Polish history – Admission into the EU (2004)
Polish history is full of hardships, but there’s always a happy end. Following the fall of the Communism, Poland suffered a major poverty crisis. But in 2004, on 1st May 2004, Poland became an EU member, which led to its development.
In this (rather) brief article we discussed the events most important to Polish history. Of course, if you want to know more, we recommend that you hit the books. Or take our Polish language course in Wroclaw, which starts on 9th October 2023.