First Republic of Poland

The 550th Anniversary of the Polish Parliamentarism Exhibition

The nobility in voivodship uniforms in the election field (after 1776)The Sejm - Polish Parliament

Parliamentarism in the Kingdom of Poland and in the Commonwealth of Both Nations

Poland can boast one of the oldest parliamentary traditions in Europe. The origins of the Sejm go back as far as the 14th century. Renaissance chroniclers Marcin Bielski and Marcin Kromer considered the Sejm convened in Piotrków in 1468 to be the first Sejm with the participation of envoys elected by provincial sejmiki (dietines).

Legislative gathering in the times of Casimir the Great (1883) by Adam PilińskiThe Sejm - Polish Parliament

The foundation of the political system in the Kingdom of Poland and in the Commonwealth of Both Nations was parliamentarism...

and the foundation of the state was the principle of the sovereignty of the szlachta (gentry) nation.

The Polish Sejm during the reign of King Sigismund August (ca. 1570) by Wendelin ScharffenbergThe Sejm - Polish Parliament

The political will was shaped in parliamentary institutions: in the Dietines (Sejmiki), in the Senate and in the General Sejm. It was the fruit of collective debates and the result of political dialogue between the ruling and the ruled.

The Polish Sejm under King Sigismund III Vasa (1609/1609) by Giacomo LauroThe Sejm - Polish Parliament

However the proper functioning of the parliamentary system of the Commonwealth of Both Nations depended on the moral standards of people involved in its organization and operation, i.e., those of the king, senators and deputies - members of parliament.

Sejm - allegory of the Commonwealth of Both Nations (1652/1652) by Jeremiasz FalckThe Sejm - Polish Parliament

In the 15th and 16th centuries, parliamentarism gave unusual strength and capacity for development to the Commonwealth which became a great community of Poles, Lithuanians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Jews and many other nations.

The election of King August II in Wola near Warsaw in 1697. (after 1697)The Sejm - Polish Parliament

The election of Henry of Valois in 1573 began the two-century period of the elective monarchy, when each ruler was elected by the nobles at a special elective sejm in which all nobles could participate and which was held in the fields of Wola, near Warsaw.

The Polish Sejm during the reign of King Jan III Sobieski (1700/1700)The Sejm - Polish Parliament

In the mid-17th century, the Commonwealth was shaken by grave events, such as the civil war in Ukraine, the Swedish invasion ("deluge") in Western and Central Poland, and Muscovy invasion in Lithuania. Achieving the agreement of the political elite, and thus making it possible for the sejm to function effectively, became increasingly difficult, in particular in the face of the fierce rivalry between magnate coteries. In the second half of the 17th century and in the first half of the 18th century, it became common for sejms to dissolve.

The nobility in voivodship uniforms in the election field (after 1776)The Sejm - Polish Parliament

The Sejm Acts of 1776 and 1780 demanded that the gentry should wear the so-called provincial uniforms made of domestic-made cloth.

Their specific colours would identify deputies from particular regions. Wearing this costume was also associated with the manifestation of the equality of gentry and the preservation of Polish tradition.

View of Grodno (1618/1618) by Abraham HogenbergThe Sejm - Polish Parliament

Venues for Sejm Debates

In the history of the Sejm of the former Republic of Poland, that most important institution of the political system had no single, permanent venue for debates. Sejms were convened by rulers in various towns and cities and there were no buildings that were reserved for the exclusive use of the deliberating estates.

View of Piotrków Trybunalski - View of the castle in Janowiec (1696/1696)The Sejm - Polish Parliament

The first and most important sejm town in the history of the Polish parliament was undoubtedly, already in the 15th century, Piotrków.

During the reign of Casimir IV Jagiellon, when the foundations of the modern Polish parliamentary system were emerging, the sejm assembled as many as 53 times, in most cases - in Piotrków.

Panorama of Kraków (1493/1493) by Wilhelm Pleydenwurff and Michael WolgemutThe Sejm - Polish Parliament

A total of 30 sejms took place in Cracow.

View of Kraków (ca. 1618) by Frans HogenbergThe Sejm - Polish Parliament

Ordinary sejms were held there already in the Jagiellonian era, especially in the times of Sigismund I the Old. Sigismund II Augustus used Cracow for this purpose much more rarely.

Panorama of Lublin (1657/1657)The Sejm - Polish Parliament

Lublin is another town that had a chance of playing a major role in the earliest period of the Polish parliamentary system.

Doubtless, particularly noteworthy is one of the most famous sejms in the Republic, namely the Lublin Sejm of 1569, during which the real union between the Crown and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was created.

View of Grodno (1618/1618) by Abraham HogenbergThe Sejm - Polish Parliament

In 1673, it was agreed that every third ordinary Sejm would take place in Grodno. This was to emphasize the fact that the Commonwealth consists of the Crown and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

The city of Grodno thus gained the unofficial status of the third capital of the Commonwealth.

Panorama of Warsaw from the side of Praga in 1656. (1696/1696) by Nicolas Perelle and Eryk Jönsona DahlberghThe Sejm - Polish Parliament

A turning point for the city and its role in the functioning of the old Polish parliamentary system was the Union of Lublin. After lengthy negotiations between representatives of the Polish Crown and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, it was finally decided that joint sejms of the Polish-Lithuania Commonwealth would be held in Warsaw.

Following that decision, as many as 143 sejms were held in Warsaw from the creation of the Union of Lublin to the fall of the Republic.

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