Poland: General Sketch of History, 1569-1815


In preparation for the peace conference that was expected to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section responsible for preparing background information for use by British delegates to the conference. Poland: General Sketch of History 1569−1815 is Number 43 in a series of more than 160 studies produced by the section, most of which were published after the conclusion of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. The book provides an overview of the history of Poland from the 16th century, when the Polish state “comprised at least four or five times as much territory as it does at present,” to the third partition of the country, in 1795, when an independent Poland disappeared from the map, a decision that was confirmed in modified form by the Congress of Vienna (1815). The study divides the subject into four parts: “Period I (1569−1632) The Catholic Reaction;” “Period II (1632−1668) The Cossack Wars;” “Period III (1669−1772) Russian Ascendency to the first Partition of Poland;” and “Period IV (1772−1815) The Partitions and the Settlement of 1815.” Between periods III and IV is a brief discussion entitled “Causes of Downfall,” five of which are suggested: (1) Russian policy; (2) the aggressive policy of Frederick the Great (of Prussia), which “finally robbed Poland of her most vital provinces;” (3) the fact that Polish frontiers, with the exception of the Carpathian Mountains to the south, were strategically weak; (4) imbalances in Polish society; and (5) the state of political organization. With regard to the latter, the study notes that “Poland’s republican tendencies were purely nominal; in reality she was a turbulent oligarchy.” The Paris Peace Conference recreated an independent Polish state out of territory previously seized by Austria, Prussia, and Russia.

Last updated: July 21, 2014