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Medieval Lithuania

              Chronology:   50-1009 |  1009-1183 |  1183-1283 |  1283-1386 |  1386-1506


Late Middle Ages
Part 1 (1283-1386)

       In 1283 the Crusaders of Prussia overcame the Yatvingians and attacked Lithuania. A continual war began with the Teutonic Order.
       On March 24, 1285 Daumantas invaded lands of the Tver Bishop, and was killed there. Butigeidis became the ruler of Lithuania.
       In 1289 the Prussian branch of the Teutonic Order seized Skalva, and built Ragaine castle at the Nemunas river. The castle became the major buttress in the fight against Lithuania.
       In 1289 Butigeidis and his brother Butvydas made peace with Mstislav, the Duke of Lutsk, renouncing their rule over Volkovysk on his behalf.
       In about 1291 Butvydas, the brother of Butigeidis, became the ruler of Lithuania.
       On June 10, 1294 Vytenis, son of Butvydas, defeated the army of Casimir II, the Duke of Lęczyca, in a battle near Trojanow. Casimir II and numerous knights were killed. The battle was the most significant military victory for Lithuania in Poland.
       In about 1295 Vytenis became the ruler of Lithuania.
       On March 30, 1298 Vytenis entered into alliance with the city and Archbishop of Riga against the Teutonic Order. He promised that Lithuania would accept Christianity, just as it had during the reign of Mindaugas.
       On June 1, 1298 the Lithuanians crushed the Teutonic knights in the battle of Turaida (in Livonia). Livonian Land Master Bruno and 22 knights were killed.
       On June 29, 1298 the joint army of Prussian and Livonian Knights defeated the Lithuanians and the citizens of Riga.
       In 1309 the capital of the Teutonic Order was transferred from Venice to Marienburg in Prussia. This meant that the Order concentrated its main forces for the war against Lithuania.
       In October 1315 the last military raid of Vytenis took place. He died probably soon thereafter. Gediminas, a cousin of Vytenis and son of Skalmantas, became the new ruler of Lithuania.
       In 1317 the Lithuanian Orthodox Christian metropolis in Novogrudok was established. It remained active until 1330. The struggle to retain a separate metropolis was an important part of Lithuanian politics, regarding the East, during the entire XIV century. It was revived from 1354 to 1361, and 1376 to 1389. A metropolis was necessary to solidify the territorial gains made in Ruthenia. Only by developing a strong empire, could Lithuania fortify itself against the Teutonic Order, which had the backing of all Western Europe. Gediminas began laying the foundations for such an empire from the very beginning of his reign. He annexed the territory of Turov-Pinsk. He then had his son Algirdas married, and named him the successor to the Vitebsk Duchy, and its ruler soon thereafter at about 1320. Gediminas entered into an alliance with the Tver Duchy in 1320, which lasted intermittently until 1375. He had Smolensk (prior to 1326), Pskov (1322), Halich-Volynia (about 1320-1324), and Kiev (about 1325) placed under his protectorate. Vilnius became the capital of Lithuania during the reign of Gediminas.
       In 1322, Gediminas sent a letter to the Pope with the Riga townspeople acting as intermediaries. And on May 26th, he sent letters to the Hansa cities, the Franciscans, and the Dominicans. The letters expressed his desire to accept Christianity. He invited church people, crafts artisans, merchants, and farmers to Lithuania, and announced that three churches had already been built in Vilnius and Novogrudok. The Teutonic Order, however, managed to interfere with the plans of Gediminas. Under pressure from the Pagans and Orthodox Christians, who were supported by the Order, Gediminas retracted his decision to be christened. When the envoys of the Pope arrived on November 3rd in 1324, Gediminas stated that he had never intended to be christened, and that the clerk had made an error in the writing. Regardless, he never persecuted the Christians, believing that "we all have one God," and only the worship of God is different. In spite of this, the Pope approved of the retention of a 4-year truce between Lithuania and the Teutonic Order remaining in effect.
       In April 1325 Gediminas entered into an alliance with Wladyslaw Lokietek, the King of Poland. On October 16th, he gave his daughter Aldona in marriage to Casimir, the King's son. Gediminas and Wladyslaw attacked the Brandenburg province early in 1326, causing the Pope to demand that the truce between the Order and Lithuania be again confirmed. At the time, the province was being ruled by the son of Emperor Louis IV of Bavaria, an enemy of the Pope. The alliance with Poland proved particularly useful to Gediminas, when the Order again proceeded to make war with Lithuania, following the ending of the truce in 1328.
       In 1329 a great army of Czech King John of Luxembourg and the Teutonic Order invaded Lithuania, and captured the most important fortresses of Samogitia. These battles were interrupted when Wladyslaw Lokietek, the King of Poland, began to attack areas under jurisdiction of the Order. The war with Poland drew the attention of the Order away from Lithuania for a time. Lithuania went to the aid of Poland between 1330 and 1331. However, during the course of the war, disagreements arose, and the alliance was terminated. Riga, a long-term ally of Lithuania, capitulated to the Order in 1330.
       On February 25, 1336 the huge army of the Teutonic Order and the Crusaders laid siege around Pilėnai Castle in Samogitia. The defence, led by Margiris, made a valiant effort, but once it became clear that they were unable to withstand the attack, they burned everything and committed mass suicide.
       In 1337 the Crusaders built the castle of Bayerburg (or Bavarian Castle) on the Nemunas River, with the intention of making it the capital of a defeated Lithuania. Emperor Louis IV of Bavaria handed over Lithuania to the Order. Nevertheless, the Lithuanians managed to destroy Bayerburg, and ruin the plans of the Order.
       On April 7, 1340 the nobility poisoned the childless Duke of Halich-Volynia Boleslaw George II. Liubartas, the son of Gediminas, became the heir to this Duchy, as the son-in-law of the earlier Duke.
       In December 1341 Gediminas died, leaving the state to his 7 sons. The capital of Vilnius was designated for Jaunutis, but Algirdas was more powerful. He had inherited Vitebsk and Kreva, and soon thereafter, delegated his son Andrew to rule Pskov. Kestutis, who had inherited the Trakai Duchy from his father, had to defend Lithuania from the Order. He was displeased with the weak Duke of Vilnius, who was unable to provide him with necessary support.
       In winter 1344-1345 Kestutis, having learned of the plans for a large-scale invasion of Lithuania by the Order with the Czech and Hungarian Kings, took control of Vilnius, and handed the rule over to Algirdas. The friendship and accord between Algirdas and Kestutis lasted a lifetime. Immediately after the Vilnius overthrow, they spread a rumour, that they were about to attack Sambia. Once the Grand Master of the Order had moved all his forces to Sambia, the brothers raided Livonia. The invasion, planned by the Order, failed.
       On February 2, 1348 the Lithuanian army blocked the return path for the Teutonic Knights of Prussia, who had plundered Lithuania, by the Streva stream. Unfortunately, the army met with total defeat. The members of the Gediminid family, Narimantas and, supposedly, Manvydas, were killed. It proved to be one of the worst military defeats of Lithuania during the entire XIV century.
       In autumn 1349 the King of Poland Casimir III the Great seized Halich, then dependent on Liubartas. A long war erupted between Lithuania and Poland for Volynia. Poland captured the western part of Volynia in 1366. Nevertheless, the greater part of Volynia remained under the rule of Lithuania.
       On April 18, 1358 Emperor Charles IV offered baptism to Algirdas and Kestutis. Algirdas demanded that the Crusaders retreat from Baltic lands, as a condition. With that, the negotiations failed.
       On March 13 - April 16, 1362 the Crusaders destroyed the brick castle of Kaunas and began the most violent period of battle against Lithuania, which lasted nearly 20 years. They attacked Lithuania some 70 times during that period.
       In autumn 1362 taking full advantage of the internal fighting of the Golden Horde, Algirdas defeated the Tartars near the Blue Waters (Siniye Vody), and captured Podolia and Kiev.
       In 1368-1372 Algirdas organised 3 military raids (1368, 1370 and 1372) on Moscow in support of his father-in-law, Duke Michael of Tver. He was unable to take control of Moscow. Tver was forced to accept the rule of Moscow and renounce its alliance with Lithuania in 1375. Smolensk also fell under the influence of Moscow temporarily.
       On May 24, 1377 Algirdas died, leaving his son Jogaila as successor. Kestutis supported Jogaila, but Duke Andrew of Polotsk, the oldest son of Algirdas caused an uprising, believing that he had the superior right to the throne. Andrew was supported by two of his other brothers and Dmitriy, the Grand Prince of Moscow. The Prince found himself engaged in a war with Khan Mamay of the Golden Horde, thus Jogaila decided to support the Khan.
       On May 31, 1380 Jogaila entered into a secret peace treaty with the Teutonic Order at Dovydiškės. By virtue of this treaty, he was obliged to withhold support from Kestutis in the event that the Order were to attack his holdings. Jogaila then hurried to aid Khan Mamay. However, he did not reach the battle, fought on September 8th at Kulikovo Field, in time. The Moscow Prince had crushed the forces of the Horde. In the meantime, Kestutis learned of the betrayal by Jogaila, and decided to expel him from Vilnius.
       In November 1381 Kestutis took control of Vilnius, and sent Jogaila to Kreva and Vitebsk, his patrimonial lands.
       On June 12, 1382 the supporters of Jogaila enacted an overthrow in Vilnius. In a short time Jogaila had also taken control of Trakai. Kestutis and his son Vytautas arrived at Trakai with an army. They went to Jogaila's camp for the negotiations as proposed by Jogaila. However they were taken prisoners there. Servants of Jogaila assassinated Kestutis at the Kreva Castle, where he had been held prisoner. Vytautas was able to escape soon thereafter, and fled to the Teutonic Knights, to Prussia.
       On July 30, 1383 the Teutonic Order declared war on Jogaila. The army of the Teutonic Knights, being led by Vytautas, captured Trakai and laid siege to Vilnius on August 12th. Skirgaila recovered Trakai on November 3rd, but the peninsular brick castle was destroyed, and Trakai lost its significance for the next 25 years.
       In 1384 Jogaila extended a peace offering to Vytautas, and promised to return his patrimonial lands to him. Vytautas burned down three Teutonic castles and returned to Lithuania on July 9th. At first he was granted the rule of Grodno and Podlachia, and in 1387 - Volynia.
       On August 14, 1385 by virtue of the Act of Kreva Jogaila announced his intention to marry Queen Jadwyga (Hedwig) of Poland, and to accept Christianity along with his brothers and subordinates, who had not yet been baptised. Jogaila swore, that once he became the King of Poland, he would use all of his property for the needs of both kingdoms, as much for Lithuania, as for Poland. He also swore to release Polish prisoners, and to unite "his own Lithuanian and Russian lands to the Kingdom of Poland forever."

       Tomas Baranauskas

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