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King Mindaugas

Mindaugas was the first known Grand Duke of Lithuania, a title he gained ca. 1235, and was crowned King of Lithuania in 1251. He is generally considered the founder of the Lithuanian state, and the first leader to unite the Balts In 1250 or 1251, during the course of internal power struggles, he was baptised as a Roman Catholic; this action enabled him to establish an alliance with the Livonian Order, and on June 29 or July 6, 1253, he was crowned King of Lithuania. However, in 1261 Mindaugas, along with the rest of the Lithuanian state, returned to paganism, breaking Lithuania's peace with the Teutonic Order for a very long time.

The first conclusive evidence that the Baltic tribes in the area were uniting is usually considered to be Lithuania's treaty with Galicia-Volhynia, signed in 1219. The treaty's signatories include 21 Lithuanian dukes; it specifies that five of those were elder and thus took precedence over the remaining 16. Mindaugas, despite his youth, and men presumed to be his brothers are listed among the elder dukes, implying that they had inherited their titles.

Duke Mindaugas, who primarily governed the Duchy of Lithuania (eastern Lithuania), is referred to as the ruler of all Lithuania in the Livonian Rhymed Chronicle in 1236. The means by which he managed to acquire this title are not well known. Ruthenian chronicles mention that he murdered or expelled various other dukes, including his relatives. In about 1239 Mindaugas appointed his son Vaišvilkas govern Black Ruthenia.

During the 1240s, Mindaugas strengthened and established his power in various Baltic and Slavic lands. In 1248, Mindaugas sent his nephews Tautvilas and Edvinas, the sons of his brother Dausprungas, along with Vykintas, the Duke of Samogitia, to conquer Smolensk, but they were unsuccessful. In 1249, an internal war erupted as Mindaugas sought to seize his nephews' and Vykintas' lands.

Tautvilas, Edivydas, and Vykintas formed a powerful coalition in opposition to Mindaugas, along with the Samogitians, the Livonian Order, Daniel of Galicia (Tautvilas and Edivydas' brother-in-law), and Vasilko of Volhynia. The princes of Galicia and Volhynia managed to gain control over Black Ruthenia, an area ruled by Vaišvilkas. Tautvilas travelled to Riga, where he was baptized by the Archbishop. In 1250, the order organized a major raid through the lands of Nalšia into the domains of Mindaugas in Lithuania proper, and a raid into those parts of Samogitia that still supported him. Attacked from the north and south and facing the possibility of unrest elsewhere, Mindaugas was placed in an extremely difficult position, but managed to use the conflicts between the Livonian Order and the Archbishop of Riga to further his own interests. He succeeded in bribing Andreas von Stierland, the master of the order, who was still angry at Vykintas for the defeat at the Battle of Saule in 1236.

King Mindaugas statue in Vilnius

In 1250 or 1251, Mindaugas agreed to receive baptism and relinquish control over some lands in western Lithuania, in return for an acknowledgment by Pope Innocent IV as king. During the spring or summer of 1251, Tautvilas and his remaining allies attacked Mindaugas' warriors and the Livonian Order's crossbow-men in Voruta Castle. The attack failed and Tautvilas' forces retreated to defend themselves in Tviremet Castle (presumed to be Tverai in Samogitia). Vykintas died in 1251 or 1252, and Tautvilas was forced to rejoin Daniel of Galicia. Daniel reconciled with Mindaugas in 1255; the Black Ruthenian lands were transferred to Roman, son of Daniel. After this event Mindaugas' son Vaišvilkas decided to join a monastery; Tautvilas recognized Mindaugas' superiority and received Polatsk as a fiefdom.

After establishing the Kingdom of Lithuania on July 17, 1251, Mindaugas and his wife Morta were crowned during the summer of 1253. July 6th is now celebrated as "Statehood Day" (Lithuanian: Valstybės diena); it is an official holiday in modern Lithuania. However, the exact date of the coronation is not known; the scholarship of historian Edvardas Gudavicius, who promulgated this date, is sometimes challenged. The location of the coronation remains unknown. However, as later events showed, Lithuanians were not prepared to accept Christianity, and Mindaugas' baptism had little impact on further developments.

Immediately after his coronation, Mindaugas transferred some western lands to the Livonian Order - portions of Samogitia, Nadruva, and Dainava. There has been much discussion among historians as to whether in later years (1255, 1257, and 1259) Mindaugas gave even more lands to the order. The deeds might have been falsified by the order; the case for this scenario is bolstered by the fact that some of the documents mention lands that were not actually under the control of Mindaugas. In any case, relative peace and stability were established for about eight years. Mindaugas used this opportunity to concentrate on expansion to the east, and to establish and organize state institutions. He strengthened his influence in Black Ruthenia, in Polatsk, a major center of commerce in the Daugava River basin, and in Pinsk. He also negotiated a peace with Galicia-Volhynia, and married his daughter to Svarn, the son of Daniel of Galicia, who would later become Grand Duke of Lithuania. Lithuanian relationships with western Europe and the Holy See were reinforced. In 1255, Mindaugas received permission from Pope Alexander IV to crown his son as King of Lithuania. A noble court, an administrative system, and a diplomatic service were initiated.

The Livonian Order used this period to gain control over Samogitian lands. However, in 1259 it lost the Battle of Skuodas, and in 1260 it lost the Battle of Durbe. The first defeat encouraged a rebellion by the Semigalians, and the later defeat spurred the Prussians into an uprising, the Great Prussian Rebellion, which lasted for 14 years. Encouraged by these developments and by his nephew Treniota, Mindaugas broke peace with the order. Some chronicles hint that he also relapsed into his former pagan beliefs; this has been disputed, but all the diplomatic achievements made after his coronation were lost. Treniota led an army to Cesis and battled Masovia, hoping to encourage all the conquered Baltic tribes to rise up against the Christian orders and unite under Lithuanian leadership. His personal influence grew while Mindaugas was concentrating on the conquest of Ruthenian lands, dispatching a large army to Bryansk. Treniota and Mindaugas began to pursue different priorities. In the midst of these events Mindaugas' wife Morta died, and he expressed the wish to marry Daumantas' wife. In retaliation, Daumantas and Treniota assassinated Mindaugas and two of his sons in 1263. Lithuania lapsed into years of internal disorder. Stability did not return until the reign of Traidenis, designated Grand Duke in 1268 or 1269. While most of the Lithuanian Grand Dukes from Jogaila onward also reigned as Kings of Poland, the titles remained separate, and Mindaugas was the only crowned King of Lithuania.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 

 

Updated on: 2014-03-14
Sprendimas: Fresh Media