1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Witowt

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WITOWT, or Witold (1350-1430), grand-duke of Lithuania, son of Kiejstut, prince of Samogitia, first appears prominently in 1382, when the Teutonic Order set him up as a candidate for the throne of Lithuania in opposition to his cousin Jagiello (see Wladislaus), who had treacherously murdered Witowt's father and seized his estates. Witowt, however, convinced himself that the German knights were far more dangerous than his Lithuanian rival; he accepted pacific overtures from Jagiello and became his ally. When Jagiello ascended the throne of Poland as Wladislaus II. in 1386, Witowt was at first content with the principality of Grodno; but jealousy of Skirgiello, one of Jagiello's brothers, to whom Jagiello committed the government of Lithuania, induced Witowt to ally himself once more with the Teutonic Order (treaty of Königsberg, 24th of May 1390). He strengthened his position by giving his daughter Sophia in marriage to Vasily, grand-duke of Muscovy; but he never felt secure beneath the wing of the Teutonic Order, and when Jagiello removed Skirgiello from the government of Lithuania and offered it to Witowt, the compact of Ostrow (5th of August 1392) settled all differences between them. Nevertheless, subsequent attempts on the part of Poland to subordinate Lithuania drove Witowt for the third time into the arms of the Order, and by the treaty of Salin in 1398, Witowt, who now styled himself Supremus Dux Lithuaniae, even went so far as to cede his ancestral province of Samogitia to the knights, and to form an alliance with them for the conquest and partition of Pskov and Great Novgorod. His ambition and self-confidence at this period knew no bounds. He nourished the grandiose idea of driving out the hordes of Tamerlane, freeing all Russia from the Tatar yoke, and proclaiming himself emperor of the North and East. This dream of empire was dissipated by his terrible defeat on the Lower Dnieper by the Tatars on the 12th of August 1399. He was now convinced that the true policy of Lithuania was the closest possible alliance with Poland. A union between the two countries was effected at Vilna on the 18th of January 1401, and was confirmed and extended by subsequent treaties. Witowt was to reign over Lithuania as an independent grand-duke, but the two states were to be indissolubly united by a common policy. The result was a whole series of wars with the Teutonic Order, which now acknowledged Swidrygiello, another brother of Jagiello, as grand-duke of Lithuania; and though Swidrygiello was defeated and driven out by Witowt, the Order retained possession of Samogitia, and their barbarous methods of “converting” the wretched inhabitants finally induced Witowt to rescue his fellow-countrymen at any cost from the tender mercies of the knights. In the beginning of 1409 he concluded a treaty with Jagiello at Novogrudok for the purpose, and on the 9th of July 1410 the combined Polish-Lithuanian forces, reinforced by Hussite auxiliaries, crossed the Prussian border. The rival forces encountered at Grünewald, or Tannenberg, and there on the 14th or 15th July 1410 was fought one of the decisive battles of the world, for the Teutonic Knights suffered a crushing blow from which they never recovered. After this battle Poland-Lithuania began to be regarded in the west as a great power, and Witowt stood in high favour with the Roman curia. In 1429, instigated by the emperor Sigismund, whom he magnificently entertained at his court at Lutsk, Witowt revived his claim to a kingly crown, and Jagiello reluctantly consented to his cousin's coronation; but before it could be accomplished Witowt died at Troki, on the 27th of October 1430. He was certainly the most imposing personality of his day in eastern Europe, and his martial valour was combined with statesmanlike foresight.

See Jozef Ignacz Kraszewski, Lithuania under Witowt (Pol.) (Wilna, 1850); Augustin Themer, Vetera Monumenta Poloniae (Rome, 1860-1864); Karol Szajnocha, Jadwiga and Jagiello (Pol.) (Lemberg, 1850-1856); Teodor Narbutt, History of the Lithuanian Nation (Pol.) (Wilna, 1835-1836); Codex epistolaris Witoldi Magni (ed. Prochaska, Cracow, 1882).

(R. N. B.)