History of Lithuania (1219–1295) - Kingdom of Lithuania

Kingdom of Lithuania

As promised, Mindaugas and his wife Morta were crowned at some time during the summer of 1253, and the Kingdom of Lithuania, proclaimed by the pope in 1251, was soundly established. July 6 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 Gudavičius, who promulgated this date, is sometimes challenged. The location of the coronation also remains unknown.

Pope Innocent IV supported Mindaugas, hoping that a new Christian state could stem the inroads being made by the Golden Horde, a state of Mongol Empire. On July 17, 1251, the pope signed two crucial papal bulls. One of them ordered the Bishop of Chełmno to crown Mindaugas as King of Lithuania, appoint a bishop for Lithuania, and to build a cathedral. The other bull specified that the new bishop was to be directly subordinate to the pope. This was a welcome development to the Lithuanians, since they were concerned that their long-standing antagonists, the Livonian Order, would exert too much control over the new state.

It took some time before a Bishop of Lithuania was appointed because of various conflicts of interest. The Bishop of Gniezno appointed Vito (Lithuanian: Vitas), a monk of the Dominican Order, to this position, but he was not recognized by Mindaugas or accepted by the populace. The activities of Vito in Lithuania are unknown, although he is sometimes associated with Mindaugas' Cathedral. Finally, in 1254, Christian (Lithuanian: Kristijonas) from the Livonian Order was appointed. Mindaugas endowed him with some lands in Samogitia, but not much is known about his activities. Historical sources do not mention any sponsorship of missionaries, education of priests, or construction of churches during that time, and Bishop Christian went back to Germany in 1259, where he died in 1271. The establishment of Mindaugas' Cathedral remains problematic, but recent archeological research found the remains of a 13th century brick building on the site of the present-day Vilnius Cathedral. The general assumption is that the remains are those of Mindaugas Cathedral, built to satisfy the agreement with the pope. However, as later events showed, Lithuanians were not prepared to accept Christianity, and Mindaugas' baptism had only a temporary impact on further developments.

Immediately after his coronation, Mindaugas transferred some western lands to the Livonian Order - portions of Samogitia, Nadruva, and Dainava. There is some discussion as to whether in later years (1255, 1257, 1259, 1261) 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. Whatever the case, relative peace and stability was established for about eight more years. Mindaugas used this opportunity to concentrate on expansion to the east. He strengthened his influence in Black Ruthenia, in Pinsk, and took advantage of the collapsed Kievan Rus' by conquering Polatsk, a major center of commerce in the Daugava River basin. He also negotiated a peace with Galicia–Volhynia, and married a daughter to Svarn, the son of Daniel of Galicia, who would later become Grand Duke of Lithuania. Diplomatic relations with western Europe and the Holy See were also reinforced. In 1255, Mindaugas received permission from Pope Alexander IV to crown his son as King of Lithuania. In the domestic arena, Mindaugas strove to establish state institutions: his own noble court, administrative systems, a diplomatic service, and a monetary system. Silver Lithuanian long coins (Lithuanian: Lietuvos ilgieji) circulated, providing an indice of statehood.

The Livonian Order used this period to consolidate their control over Samogitian lands. They built three castles along the border: Memelburg (Klaipėda), Georgenburg (Jurbarkas), and Doben (Durbe in Latvia). The Samogitians responded by electing Algminas as their war leader, and attacked Courland, as the Order had limited battlefield successes. In 1259, the Livonian Order lost the Battle of Skuodas, and in 1260, it lost the Battle of Durbe. The first loss encouraged a rebellion by the Semigalians, and the later loss spurred the Prussians into an uprising against the Order. The Great Prussian Uprising lasted for fourteen years. Encouraged by Treniota, his nephew, Mindaugas broke peace with the Order. Some chronicles hint that he also relapsed into his former pagan beliefs, but this is disputable. Nevertheless, all the diplomatic achievements made since his coronation were lost.

Mindaugas then formed an alliance with Alexander Nevsky of Novgorod and marched against the Order. Treniota led an army to Cēsis and battled Masovia, hoping to encourage all the conquered Baltic tribes to rise up against the Orders and unite under Lithuanian leadership. He waged successful battles, but did not manage to capture the fortified castles or spark a coalition of Baltic forces against the Order. His personal influence grew because Mindaugas was concentrating on the conquest of Russian 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 Mindaugas expressed the wish to marry Daumantas' wife. Daumantas and Treniota responded to this insult by assassinating Mindaugas and two of his sons, Ruklys and Rupeikis, in 1263. Lithuania lapsed into years of internal instability.

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