POLAND, in the Middle Ages a State stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea, still retained a considerable territory situated between Russia, Prussia, and Austria. Her military traditions were long and splendid: she had helped to hold back the Turks, and had delivered Vienna itself from them. But in a Europe where the modern reorganisation of industry was beginning, she remained a poor agricultural state, dominated by poor and unruly nobles. There were few towns: trade was carried on by Jews who remained un-Polish. She had an elective monarchy; every candidate for election tended to promise away some of the crown's diminished resources in return for the votes of the nobles who elected the king, and the elected king had no family interest in leaving the kingdom stronger at his death. The Diet of nobles retained control of legislation and a unanimous vote was required for the enactment of laws.
In 1772 the three big neighbours of Poland agreed to annex large areas of her territory, and in 1793 and 1795 the partition was completed. Prussia administered her new territories more successfully than England administered Ireland, where conditions were parallel, and Austrian rule was not unpopular, but Russian unpopularity was increased by the hostility of the Greek and Roman Churches to which Russia and Poland respectively belonged. The annexation can hardly have been either a material or a moral wrong to the Jews and peasants. It was bitterly resented, however, by the ruling class. To do them justice, they had tried towards the end to reform their government, and under Kosciuszko they resisted the final partition with some energy.