The Confederation of Warsaw of 28th of January 1573: Religious tolerance guaranteed
Documentary heritage submitted by Poland and recommended for inclusion in the Memory of the World Register in 2003.
“Certainly, the wording and substance of the declaration of the Confederation of Warsaw of 28th January 1573 were extraordinary with regards to prevailing conditions elsewhere in Europe; and they governed the principles of religious life in the Republic for over two hundred years.” (Norman Davies)
The death of the last Jagiellonian King (7 July 1572) took place when the reform of the political system was still incomplete. What made matters worse was the fact that there were no legal measures which would enable the state to function effectively during the interregnum when there was no king. The end of the male line of the Jagiellonian dynasty became a real challenge for the newly strengthened Union of Lublin between Poland and Lithuania. It was feared that separatist trends might prevail, especially in Lithuania, and that the integrity of the state might be threatened. There also existed a threat of two rulers being elected and the election of an unsuitable candidate might have brought about the destruction of religious stability in the country.
The approval of the Confederation of Warsaw prevented a political crisis from happening. In order to maintain the existing legal order it was necessary to make all citizens unconditionally abide by any decision taken in a body. Of such character was the general convention, which took place in Warsaw in January 1573, which approved the confederation. The confederation created a legal basis for a new political system and at the same time secured the unity of the state which had been inhabited for generations by communities from different ethnic backgrounds (Poles, Lithuanians, Russians, Germans, Georgians and Jews) and of different denominations. Religious life in late 16th century Poland, situated between Moscow, Turkey and Western Europe torn by religious conflicts, was of an exceptional character. This country became what Cardinal Hozjusz called “a place of shelter for heretics”. It was a place were the most radical religious sects, trying to escape persecution in other countries of the Christian world, sought refuge. All religious sects in Poland enjoyed tolerance as such was the King’s will. The confederation officially legalized this situation and introduced the rule of peaceful co-existence for nobles of all denominations.