The Union of Kėdainiai: from Poland towards Sweden

Because of Moscow’s aggression against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth that started in 1654, when the aggressor marvelled at the considerable achievements and successfully continued its marches the following year, Sweden also decided to cut off a slice of the spoils from the collapsing state. In the summer of 1655, the Swedish Armies invaded Poland from the west and threatened to invade Lithuania from the north. Sweden sought to occupy and become established on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea that did not belong to it yet and to make that Sea the internal lake of Sweden, not to allow Russia to become established there and, if favourable conditions formed, it wanted to occupy the whole of or the larger part of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The matters were going towards the latter possibility because it took the Swedes only a couple of months to occupy almost the whole of Poland; its Ruler Jonas Kazimieras (Jan Kazimierz) fled abroad, and a part of the Lithuanians, when the Muscovites were approaching the capital city of Vilnius, declared their desire to negotiate with the Swedes over surrendering to their patronage.

The last straw of the state

The Grand Hetman of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Palatine of Vilnius Duke Jonušas Radvila (Janusz Radziwiłł) and his milieu expecting no help from collapsing Poland (on 25 July 1655 the Polish szlachta of Major Poland surrendered to the Swedes at Ujście without any fight and declared their loyalty to their King; In the autumn of that year Warsaw and Kraków were occupied and nearly all the Polish palatinates surrendered) and seeing no possibilities to save themselves from the occupation of the Muscovites, agreed with the proposals of the Swedes to be taken under their patronage.

On 6 August 1655, in his letter to one of the Polish palatines, Janusz Radziwiłł wrote the following: When weeping because we are being deprived of freedom, from two evils we have to choose the lesser one. Since our simple measures to save ourselves are not enough, guarding against Moscow’s tyranny as the worst of all evils, following the advice of the Bishop of Vilnius, we wrote a letter asking the Swedes for support.

Having started the negotiations with the Swedes Janusz and Bogusław Radziwiłłs sought to achieve that Sweden should assume the greatest burden of the fight with Moscow, that the Grand Duchy of Lithuania should not be drawn into the war with Poland, that all the principles of the society and the state system, as well as religious freedom, should remain valid in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Also, for themselves they demanded small fief states made up of the Radziwiłłs’ estates and some of the palatinates. On this basis the Act of Lithuania’s surrender to Sweden was drawn on 17 August in Josvainiai, which was signed (not in the name of the state) by several hundreds of szlachta. According to the historian Adolfas Šapoka, “according to that act the future congress of the nobility, which Radziwiłł had offered to be crowned with the confederation and the Sejm in Vilnius had to speak on behalf of the entire state”.

The Swedes avoided getting mixed up in a conflict with the Russians at that time because they had too little forces in Livonia, which Janusz Radziwiłł did not know.

The Act of 17 August did not satisfy the Swedes, especially the streamlined reservations laid down therein, which created the possibility to the Lithuanians, when the situation changed, to look for the ways of withdrawing, therefore in September, new negotiations were commenced over the surrender of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to Sweden’s patronage. The Swedes avoided getting mixed up in a conflict with the Russians at that time because they had too little forces in Livonia, which Janusz Radziwiłł did not know. But the Swedes understood Lithuania’s difficult situation very well therefore they spread rumours about the King’s power and his plans that they would take back the lands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which had been occupied by the Muscovites. With discontent of the army of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (with unpaid wages and disagreements between the commanders) and the anxiety of the szlachta about the possibility of the Protestants Radziwiłłs dominating, growing, Janusz Radziwiłł was forced to make concessions to the Swedes. On 20 October, over 1 000 Lithuanian szlchta, mainly from Samogitia, gathered in the Radziwiłł estate in Kėdainiai and solemnly signed (those who were illiterate put crosses) the documents of the so-called Union of Kedainiai in the name of the entire Grand Duchy of Lithuania. While solemn speeches were made, the old ceiling of the first floor could not bear the weight of so many people and broke, and all the people fell downstairs. Nobody was killed, some people were slightly injured, but all that was taken as a bad omen.

The winner dictates the conditions for surrender…

Eleven points of the new agreement stated that the estates of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania declare to everyone who will see this documents and for ever the following: I. It is indicated that due to the fatal circumstances formed they are forced to surrender to the patronage, loyalty and obedience of the King of Sweden and his successors as of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania…, at the same time accepting the eternal, holy and indissoluble union with the Swedish Kingdom, leaving all their own rights intact; II. They ask to be allowed to participate in the elections of the Ruler together with the Swedish estates; III. The estates of Sweden and Lithuania will be equal but the rights, statutes and privileges of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania shall be preserved, and if the Ruler sees the necessity to change something, both nations shall be convened and the amendments shall be adopted by the majority of votes, however, freedom of conscience and religion shall have to be preserved inviolably and unchangeably; IV. Freedom of all faiths shall be guaranteed; V. If the Swedes manage to take back the lands torn away from Lithuania during this war those land shall be returned to their lawful owners who have sworn to the Swedish Ruler; VI. All military forces of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania shall be transferred to the disposal of the Ruler of Sweden, the right to decide peace and military matters shall be left to him; VII. The Ruler of Sweden and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania shall be able, according to the old laws, grant spiritual favours (offices) and secular duties and estates, and the Ruler himself shall have the right to reside beyond the borders of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania having left his deputy here; VIII. The szlachta of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania shall have the right to own the estates that they have in Poland; IX. If war and a conflict with the Kingdom of Poland break out, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Sweden shall have to support each other; X. The King of Sweden shall have the right to grant the status of the szlachta to the Swedes in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and vice versa; XI. Only the King of Sweden shall have the right to change these provisions.

At the same time another act was signed thereby the szlachta of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania stated that they refused to obey Jonas Kazimieras (Jan Kazimierz) and surrender to the patronage of King Karl X Gustav, recognise him and his successors as Grand Dukes of Lithuania, will always support them, will conclude no agreements without their knowledge, refuse all old relations, and neither the Pope nor anyone else will interfere with the implementation of this agreement.

What did the Union of Kėdainiai bring?

According to Adolfas Šapoka, the szlachta of Lithuania “were not opposed to the surrender because actually there was no other way out. The larger part of the State of Lithuania was occupied by the Tsar’s army, the Swedish army threatened that they would behave as in the land of enemies if the Lithuanians refused to surrender. (… ) Resistance would have meant suicide.”

This agreement was not even an equal agreement of two partners as was the case with the Union of Lublin.

It was already known that Poland surrendered to the patronage of the King of Sweden before Lithuania did. The main initiator of this agreement Janusz Radziwiłł actually got nothing out of it. This agreement was not even an equal agreement of two partners as was the case with the Union of Lublin. This was the surrender of a weaker partner (the Grand Duchy of Lithuania) to the stronger one (Sweden). Janusz Radziwiłł and the szlachta hoped that the Swedes would liberate the lands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from the Muscovites but this did not happen because the Swedes were, first of all, concerned with as small as possible expenditures to become established (peacefully) in the lands of Lithuania and to block the way to Moscow, and later, when favourable circumstance formed, to take away the occupied lands from it. In the lands that they acquired in a peaceful way the Swedes behaved as if they were conquered territories therefore half a year later they were faced with an uprising.

One should agree with Adolfas Šapoka’s statement that “from the international point of view the Acts of Kėdainiai, one can say, had no significance altogether”. Their importance was too exaggerated and popularised by the Polish writer of the 19th century Henryk Sienkiewicz in his novel “The Deluge” and other Polish and Lithuanian historians who, without any grounds, looked for the signs of separatism of Lithuanians in these events. But the Union of Kėdainiai played a positive role in the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania: Samogitia and Northern Lithuania remained unoccupied by the Muscovites, and when in 1656 the Lithuanians got rid of the Swedes there, according to the historian Antanas Tyla, those lands became the support in the fight of liberation from the yoke of the Muscovites.

Elmantas Meilus

Literature: A. Šapoka, 1655 metų Kėdainių sutartis, arba švedai Lietuvoje 16551656 metais, Vilnius, 1990.