The End of the Polish-Muscovite War and the Treaty of Deulino

11 December 1618, the Polish-Muscovite War ended after 13 years with the Treaty of Deulino.

“And said Poland: "Whoever comes to me, will be free and equal, because I am FREEDOM." (Adam Mickiewicz)

Jan Matejko: Golden Liberty -The Republic at the Zenith of Power (1889)

When the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania entered into a personal union under the former Grand Duke Jogaila in 1385 and the days of the Jagiellonian kings began, the region had suffered from centuries of turmoil and wars, against the Teutonic Knights, the Kievan Rus, the Mongols and what not. The place was, in fact, part of all the major upheavals to speak of that ranged from the east of Europe to the mighty Holy Roman Empire in the west. The union, though, had created one of the largest political entities in Europe, based on a continuous agricultural expansion that made most of the land-owning Polish nobility, the szlachta, quite rich. A development that furthered not only the patronage of burghers, artisans and artists, climaxing in a Golden Age of Polish culture during the late 15th and 16th century, but a rising political self-awareness of the szlachta as well, up to a point that was unique all over Europe: By 1505, most of the legislative power of the king was transferred to the Sejm, the parliament of the “free and equal” nobles, and when the last Jagiellonian king died without a heir, the szlachta elected their own kings as the rzeczpospolita szlachecka, the "Nobles' Commonwealth".

Jan Matejko (1838 - 1893) "The Union of Lublin (1883), signed in 1569 and creating a single state out of the personal union of the crown of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania

The "Nobles' Commonwealth" was, in regards to foreign affairs, expanding at the cost of its neighbours as good as it could. And when the last Rurikid Russian Tsar died in 1598 and the Time of Troubles began in Russia, the szlachta saw their opportunity to pay them back for threatening the Lithuanian part of their commonwealth for centuries. In 1605 war broke out and the elected King of Poland Sigismund III expressed the goal to win the crown of the tsars for himself from the “false tsars” during the civil war that raged through Russia. With the support of pro-Polish Russian nobles after several decisive Polish victories, most notably at Klushino in 1610, Sigismund entered Moscow and had his son crowned. When he decided to pursue his original plan to become tsar himself and unite Russia with the Commonwealth, the Russian support quickly ebbed away however. And while the Commonwealth suffered from internal conflict as well, the Sejm nevertheless voted to raise the funds to renew the war efforts after the Poles had to quit Moscow in 1612. The war raged to and fro, seldom with clear frontlines and nobody knew exactly anymore who was actually supporting whom until all sides, war-weary, decided to end the Polish-Muscovite War. The Commonwealth could achieve a considerable territorial gain, reaching its greatest expansion by 1619 with the occupation of large areas around Smolensk and Novgorod. But Russia had successfully defended her independence and would come back to Poland with a vengeance, a few generations later when the Commonwealth had finally decayed.

Jan Matejko showing an episode from the war, when the Russian Tsar Vasili IV Shuyski was compelled to kneel before Sigismund III Vasa at the Sejm in Warsaw on 29 October 1611

The so-called Golden Liberty of the szlachta and the days of the Commonwealth might indeed seem like a golden age in Polish history, but all that glitters is not gold, as the saying goes. While the nobility formed a precursor of modern democracies, the majority of the Polish and Lithuanian population had to suffer under the uncurbed despotism of the szlachta and the times were soon known as the “Purgatory of Burghers” and “Hell for Peasants” after the last Jagiellonian was dead, even though claims exist that Russian serfs fled to Commonwealth territory to escape their probably even sadder fate. The political results of the “Golden Liberty”, in contrast to most other centralised European states, was a generally quarrelling parliament with everyone protecting his own interests and unable to make lasting decisions. After two hundred years, the system finally collapsed under the pressure of its absolutistic neighbours and soon after the Truce of Deulino, a new deluge of wars descended upon the rzeczpospolita szlachecka.