The fourth painting depicts the next step in this history of freedom: the Union of Lublin, from the year 1569.
Poland had been united with Lithuania since 1385. The capstone of this union was that of the rulers: the hereditary grand dukes of Lithuania, and Jagiełło and his successors – the Jagiellonians. In Poland, they were elected by noble citizens as the country’s subsequent kings. The great-grandson of Jagiełło, Zygmunt August – crowned in 1530 via the consent of the Sejm of the Kingdom of Poland – in 1569 still did not have a male descendant and could no longer count on his lineage remaining on the throne. What would happen to the Polish-Lithuanian Union when the Jagiellonians were gone? This question loomed on the political horizon. Its dramatic import was intensified by the war then being waged against Lithuania by the powerful Muscovite empire of Ivan the Terrible. In this war (underway since 1562), Lithuania could not defend itself without the help of Polish forces. The very mature political movement of the Polish nobility, called the execution movement, which sought to repair and strengthen the state, set as one of its most important goals the consolidation of the union with Lithuania on a new, more stable legal basis. King Zygmunt August, losing hope for a natural heir of Lithuania in his family, accepted the aspirations of the execution movement. He was opposed by the great Lithuanian lords – headed by the Radziwiłł family – who wanted to preserve their dominant position in the Grand Duchy and prevent a closer union with Poland. A large part of the Lithuanian and especially Ruthenian nobles had nothing against a new union, hoping it would strengthen their legal and political position to such an exceptional level as the Polish nobility enjoyed. The negotiations on the new union accelerated at the beginning of the year 1569. The king convoked a Sejm in Lublin, and the Lithuanian government did so in Volhynia, from where deputies and senators were to eventually arrive in Lublin. The king gave a direct incentive to settling the negotiations. As the hereditary lord of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, he announced decrees on the incorporation of his lands – first Podlasie, and then the three great Ukrainian provinces: Volhynia, Braclaw, and Kiev – to the Polish Crown. The Lithuanian magnates were irritated by this shrinking of the Grand Duchy, but – as it turned out – the nobles in the lands awarded to the Crown strongly supported the decision of the king. For they kept all their rights, and the official language remained Ruthenian in their lands.
Further resistance to the new, deeper union of Lithuania with Poland did not make any sense. All the more so because the proposed shape for the Union was a wise compromise. The negotiations at the Sejm in Lublin, lasting three weeks from June 7, were crowned with the conclusion of a union of “the free with the free, the equal with equals”. This was sworn to on July 1 by the members of the Crown and Lithuanian Sejms, and in the presence of the monarch. This is the moment captured in the painting by the Lukians.
According to the provisions of the Union, the existence of both countries – Poland and Lithuania, as well as their separate offices – the chancelleries, the treasury and the army – were preserved. The judicial and legal systems in both countries, along with their official languages (Ruthenian in Lithuania), were also separate. This protected the Lithuanian sense of independence and the dignity of their own state. At the same time, the principle for jointly electing the common ruler was established. The Sejm, consisting of the chamber of deputies and the senate, was also to be joint. This cemented the final construction of a single political nation – from now on, that of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Defense and foreign policy was also common, as was the currency (though minted separately, in Lithuania and in Poland). Citizens of both countries were able to acquire property throughout the Commonwealth, which henceforth created a single free-trade zone. If this union, one based on compromise, not on violence, had not suited both states, or rather the citizens of these countries, the Polish-Lithuanian Union would not have lasted for over another two centuries. From the Union in Krewo (1385) to the Third Partition, which put an end to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, is a period of 410 years. No political union in Europe lasted for a longer time. The Lublin Union poised at the heart of this phenomenon is the most beautiful symbol of the federal idea, and was ahead of the ideas for organizing a free European community by almost four centuries. And how different it was from the project for the “unity of Europe”, which, under the jackboot of the Third Reich, Hitler began to carry out in 1939 with unprecedented violence…