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International Conference „Lithuania – Poland – Sweden: European dynastic unions and historical-cultural ties“

In establishing dynastic ties with the ruling family of Sweden, the Vasas, the ruler of Poland and Lithuania hoped to gain an ally in his battle with Muscovy over Livonia.  Sweden also had plans of domination in the Baltic Sea region.  Due to Sweden’s internal problems, this dynastic tie bore fruit only later, after John Vasa’s elder brother, the King of Sweden Eric XIV, was removed from the throne and John Vasa was crowned the King of Sweden as John III Vasa in 1569. Catherine Jagiellon became the Queen of Sweden.

Three years earlier, in 1566, a son named Sigismund had been born to them. His candidacy to the throne of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (i.e. King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania) began to be openly discussed between Swedish and Commonwealth diplomats starting in 1576. One of the most important arguments for his candidacy was Sigismund Vasa’s ancestry and kinship ties with the Gediminid-Jagiellonian dynasty, which was coming to its end. The Swedish Prince Sigimund Vasa’s candidacy was very strongly supported by his aunt, Ann the Jagiellonian, who was the wife of the Commonwealth’s ruler and Prince of Transylvania Stephen Bathory.  The Swedish King John III Vasa himself directed that his son be educated in such a way that in the future he could rule both states – the Kingdom of Sweden and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  After the death of Stephen Bathory in 1587, Sigismund Vasa was elected King of Poland, and in 1588 was also recognized as the Grand Duke of Lithuania.

These dynastic ties between the Jagiellonians and the Vasas were also popular among the gentry. They were the most important arguments when selecting a member of the Swedish Vasa dynasty as ruler of the Commonwealth. St. Casimir’s Chapel in Vilnius Cathedral is another witness to the importance of these ties. It was built under the auspices and with funds appropriated by Sigismund Vasa and Wladyslaw Vasa, and emphasized the dynastic ties between the Gediminid-Jagiellonian and Vasa dynasties through the cult of their common ancestor St. Casimir [Jagiellon]. In Vilnius, John II Casimir Vasa was given his middle name of Casimir – further testimony to the importance placed on their common ancestor and dynastic ties.

 It is important that these events are associated with Vilnius.  It can be said that here, in Vilnius, began the Vasa dynasty’s ties not only with Lithuania but also with Poland and that the dynasty’s representatives strengthened their position not only in Northern Europe but in Central Europe as well. The rule of the Vasa dynasty in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth is associated with the spread of Baroque-era culture and art, with international activism, with military victories and losses that eventually led to a demographic and economic crisis.

For almost 300 years, the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was directly tied to the Lithuanian Gediminid-Jagiellonian dynasty. During the XV-XVI centuries, this dynasty was dominant in Central and Eastern Europe, with representatives in the kingdoms of Poland, Hungary, and Bohemia.

When this dynasty came to an end [1572], the rulers of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth were henceforth elected. That decision was influenced by the growing interest of other European dynasties in the Commonwealth and their increasingly stronger ties with the elite ruling groups in Poland and Lithuania. After 1572, the first to assume the throne of the Polish king and the Lithuanian grand duke was Henri de Valois of France, followed by representatives of the Swedish Vasa dynasty, the Saxon Wettin dynasty as well as local nobles.  Candidates from many European dynasties sought the throne of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, including the Habsburgs of Austria, the Hohenzollerns of Brandenburg-Prussia, the Ruriks and Romanovs of Russia, as well as German, French and Italian grand dukes. Although they were unsuccessful in gaining the throne, their struggle demonstrates the complex condition of state ties and dynastic politics in the center of Eastern Europe from the XVI –XVIII centuries.  It is necessary to emphasize that in these election battles the Lithuanian political nation (nobles and gentry) quite often supported different candidates than Poland, stressing the need to maintain and strengthen the state status of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as an equal of the Polish Kingdom in the Commonwealth. That is why Sigismund Vasa was only recognized as the Grand Duke of Lithuania after he ratified the Third Lithuanian Statute, which in essence became the Grand Duchy of Lithuania’s constitution and even outlived the state itself.

Wanting to better understand dynasty politics of the XVIth and XVIIth centuries, it is important to know the historical tradition of dynastic ties in Europe. In Lithuania’s case, international dynastic ties began as early as the XIIIth century, and later linked its rulers with various European dynasties (e.g. the Piast, the Anjou, the Cilli, the Rurik, the Habsburg, the Sforza, the Wettin, the Zapolya, the Hohenzollern, the Gonzaga and others) from Naples to Moscow.