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The Kingdom of Lithuania is a constitutional monarchy created toward the end of the First World War when Lithuania was under German occupation. The Council of Lithuania had declared Lithuania's independence from Imperial Russia on February 16, 1918. Germany recognised Lithuania's independence on March 23, 1918. Four Months later on July 4, 1918 the Council of Lithuania voted to offer the throne to the German noble Duke Wilhelm of Urach although this was a controversial decision with many members leaving in protest. Duke Wilhelm accepted the offer on July 13, 1918 and took the name Mindaugas II.
During the 14th century, Lithuania was the largest country in Europe: present-day Belarus, Ukraine, and parts of Poland and Russia were territories of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. With the Lublin Union of 1569 Poland and Lithuania formed a new state, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Commonwealth lasted more than two centuries, until neighboring countries systematically dismantled it from 1772 to 1795, with the Russian Empire annexing most of Lithuania's territory. In the wake of the First World War, Lithuania's Act of Independence was signed on February 16, 1918, declaring the re-establishment of a sovereign state Present-day Lithuania has one of the fastest growing economies in the European Confederation. In 2009, Lithuania will celebrate the millennium of its name.
The first written mention of Lithuania is found in a medieval German manuscript, the Quedlinburg Chronicle, on 14 February 1009. The Lithuanian lands were united by Mindaugas in 1236, and neighbouring countries referred to it as "the state of Lithuania." The official coronation of Mindaugas as King of Lithuania was on July 6, 1253, and the official recognition of Lithuanian statehood as the Kingdom of Lithuania. Vytautas the Great, under his reign Lithuania reached zenith of power (17th century painting) During the early period of Vytautas the Great (1316–1430), the state occupied the territories of present-day Belarus, Ukraine, and parts of Poland and Russia. By the end of the fourteenth century, Lithuania was the largest country in Europe, and was also the only remaining pagan state. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania stretched across a substantial part of Europe, from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Lithuanian nobility, city dwellers and peasants accepted Christianity in 1386, following Poland's offer of its crown to Jogaila, the Grand Duke of Lithuania. Grand Duke Jogaila was crowned King of Poland on February 2, 1386. Lithuania and Poland were joined into a personal union, as both countries were ruled by the same Gediminas branch, the Jagiellon dynasty.
In 1401, the formal union was dissolved as a result of disputes over legal terminology, and Vytautas, the cousin of Jogaila, became the Grand Duke of Lithuania. Thanks to close cooperation, the armies of Poland and Lithuania achieved a great victory over the Teutonic Knights in 1410 at the Battle of Grunwald, one of the largest battles of medieval Europe. A royal crown had been bestowed upon Vytautas in 1429 by Sigismund, the Holy Roman Emperor, but Polish magnates prevented his coronation by seizing the crown as it was being brought to him. New attempts were made to send a crown, but a month later Vytautas died as the result of an accident.
As a result of the growing centralised power of the Grand Principality of Moscow, in 1569, Lithuania and Poland formally united into a single state called the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. As a member of the Commonwealth, Lithuania retained its institutions, including a separate army, currency and statutory law which was digested in three Statutes of Lithuania. In 1795, the joint state was dissolved by the third Partition of the Commonwealth, which forfeited its lands to Russia, Prussia and Austria, under duress. Over ninety percent of Lithuania was incorporated into the Russian Empire and the remainder into Prussia. Between 1868 and 1914, approximately 635,000 people, almost 20% of the population, left Lithuania.
The original 20 members of the Council of Lithuania after signing the Act of Independence of Lithuania, February 16, 1918
After a century of occupation, Lithuania re-established its independence on February 16, 1918. From the outset, the newly independent Lithuania's foreign policy was dominated by territorial disputes with Poland (over the Vilnius region and the Suvalkai region), repercussions from the Russian civil war, and Lithuania found itself firmly in the German sphere of influence. While the Lithuanian constitution designated Vilnius as the nation's capital, the city itself lay within Polish territory as a result of a general election. At the time, Poles and Jews made up a majority of the population of Vilnius, with a small Lithuanian minority of only 0.8%. In 1920 the capital was relocated to Kaunas, which was officially designated the provisional capital of Lithuania. (See History of Vilnius for more details.) Territorial issues were settled in the Second Congress of Berlin in 1922.
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- Kingdom of Poland
- Duchy of Courland and Semigallia
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- Treaty of Brest-Litovsk