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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: May 2010

6 - Orthodoxy and Revolt: The Role of Religion in the Seventeenth-Century Ukrainian Uprising against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth


The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were an age of wars of religion. From the Catholic-Huguenot struggle in France to the Defenestration of Prague (1618), religious differences both caused and justified numerous civil and foreign wars. In one case – the English Civil War – political and social radicalism grew out of religious disputes. Although modern historians have come to question religious motives and justifications as the principal catalysts in struggles such as the Dutch war of independence, they have not questioned the importance of religious divisions within societies and monarchs' attempts to impose religious uniformity as major issues in early modern struggles. The European phenomenon stretched from the Urals to the Atlantic. In Russia, religious disputes and millenarianism played a major role in all revolts after the Old Believer schism of the late seventeenth century.

Few events in early modern Ukrainian history drew such widespread contemporary attention as the Khmel'nyts'kyiuprising against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Rumors of the slaughter of landlords, Jews, and Catholics in 1648 reverberated in the grain ports on the Baltic, in the Jesuit houses in central Europe, and in Jewish communities on the Mediterranean. The destruction of the armies of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth led Sweden, the Habsburgs, France, and many other powers to reevaluate their view of the balance of power. The Cossack leader Bohdan Khmel'nyts'kyi had upset this balance by his alliance with the Crimean khan in early 1648.