Galicia in the 18th century: Galicia turns Austrian

Around 1700, Poland was a relatively tolerant region with respect to Catholic-Protestant rivalry. It was organised in a federal manner with an elected king. Religious tolerance ended in the early 18th century, when a beginning counter-reformation increased domestic tensions. Life for non-Catholics (mostly Jews, Orthodox and Protestants - see also below) became increasingly difficult, providing grounds for intervention by the three main powers of the region: The Habsburg Empire, Prussia and Russia. Poland was in decline and similar to the properties of the Ottoman Empire on the Balkans and in Eastern Europe, Poland′s lands became attractive targets for foreign expansion.

Prussia, Russia and the Habsburg Empire were at the peak of their Baroque bloom: Reforms in administration, military, law and education led all three of these powers into a period of rapid development and expansionism. Major fault lines between them were Bohemia/Silesia (Prussia-Habsburg); and former Ottoman possessions (Moldavia / Transylvania / Bessarabia) which now fell into the sphere of interest of both Habsburg Austria and Russia.

On the level of individuals, all three powers were ruled by ambitious leaders: King Friedrich the Great (1712 to 1776), Empress Catherine the Great (1729 to 1796) and Empress Maria Theresia (apparently not that great, 1717 to 1780), the latter who was supplemented with her husband Charles of Lorraine, nominally the actual Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and her son (later Emperor) Joseph II (1741 to 1790), who had become prince regent in 1764. The latter played a crucial role in convincing his mother to participate in the First Division of Poland, which Maria Theresia saw as being against the Habsburgs′ interests (see below).

In 1764, Stanislaus Poniatowski was elected King of Poland with the support of Russia and Prussia. He tried to consolidate domestic power with a constitutional reform in 1766; however, the weakness of Poland became obvious when Russia intervened and the Reichstag council had to grant equal legal status and civil rights to all Polish subjects, regardless of Catholics or not. This move was backed and formalised in 1768 upon pressure of Prussia, Great Britain and Scandinavian powers.

In turn, the small Bar Federation declared an independent Poland as inevitable and insisted on Catholic privileges. The Federation was backed by Saxony and the Habsburg Empire as well as the Ottoman Empire, which declared war to Russia at the Balkan. This 1768 war led to a series of defeats of the Ottomans, which alarmed Habsburg Austria: Concerned about the rapid progress of the Russians, the Habsburg and the Ottoman Empire formed an alliance for the protection of Moldavia and Walachia against Russia. The tensions that had built up between the three powers Russia, the Habsburg Empire and Prussia now climaxed. Despite of initial Habsburg reluctance, they led directly to the First Division of Poland at a conference in St. Petersburg in 1772.

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Further Reading

Studentenverbindung: Fraternities and Burschenschaft

Wikipedia on the Habsburg Empire (Habsburg Monarchy)

Wikipedia on Nationalism

Sources for 19th century History (key to nationalism)