A konfederacja (Polish: [kf?d?'rat?sja] , "confederation") was an ad hoc association formed by Polish-Lithuanian szlachta (nobility), clergy, cities, or military forces in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth for the attainment of stated aims. A konfederacja often took the form of an armed rebellion aimed at redressing perceived abuses or trespasses of some (e.g. royal) authority. Such "confederations" acted in lieu of state authority or to force their demands upon that authority. They could be seen as a primary expression of direct democracy and right of revolution in the Commonwealth, and as a way for the nobles to act on their grievances and against the state's central authority.
History and function
In the late 13th century, confederations of cities, aiming to support public safety and provide security from rampant banditry, appeared, with the first confederation being that of several towns (Pozna?, Pyzdry, Gniezno and Kalisz in Greater Poland) in 1298. In the mid-14th century, confederations of nobility, directed against the central authorities, emerged, with the first such confederation being that of 1352. During interregnums, confederations (essentially vigilance committees) formed to replace the inactive royal court, protect internal order, and defend the country from external dangers. The confederations, as a right of revolution, were recognized in Polish law through the Henrician articles (1573), part of the pacta conventa sworn by every Polish king since 1576. They stated (in the articulus de non praestanda oboedientia, a rule dating to 1501 from Privilege of Mielnik) that if the monarch did not recognize or abused the rights and privileges of the nobility (szlachta), the nobles would no longer be bound to obey him and would have the legal right to disobey him.
With the beginning of the 17th century, confederations became an increasingly significant element of the Commonwealth's political scene. In the 17th and 18th centuries, confederations were organized by magnates, and were either pro- or anti-royal. A confederation not recognized by the king was considered a rokosz ("rebellion"), although some of the rokosz would be eventually recognized by the king, who could even join them himself. Most pro-royal confederations were usually formed as a response to an anti-royal one, and some would take a form of an extraordinary session of the parliament (sejm), as happened in 1710, 1717 and 1735.
Each confederation had a key document explaining its goals, known as the act of the confederation, which was deposited with the court (usually the local court for the region the confederation was formed). Additional resolutions of the confederates, known as sanctia, would also be deposited with the court. Membership of the confederation was voluntary, and required an oath. The executive branch of a confederation was headed by a marshal, and a group of advisers, each known as konsyliarz konfederacji. A marshal and associated konsyliarze were known as a generality (generalno). A confederation would also have a larger council, similar to a parliament (walna rada), which made decisions by majority vote. Until around the mid-18th century, resolutions of the council had to be unanimous, but afterwards, majority voting became more common. The chief military commanders of confederations were known as regimentarze.
Also in the 18th century an institution known as a "confederated sejm" evolved. It was a parliament session (sejm) that operated under the rules of a confederation. Its primary purpose was to avoid being subject to disruption by the liberum veto, unlike the national Sejm, which was paralyzed by the veto during this period. On some occasions, a confederated sejm was formed from the whole membership of the national Sejm, so that the liberum veto would not operate there.