In the period following its emergence in the 10th century, the Polish nation was led by a series of strong rulers who converted the Poles to Christianity, created a strong Central European state and integrated Poland into European culture. Formidable foreign enemies and internal fragmentation eroded this initial structure in the thirteenth century, but consolidation in the 1300s laid the base for the dominant Polish Kingdom that was to follow.
The Nihil novi act adopted by the Polish Diet in 1505 transferred all legislative power from the king to the Diet. This event marked the beginning of the period known as "Nobles' Democracy" or "Nobles' Commonwealth" (Rzeczpospolita szlachecka) when the state was ruled by the "free and equal" Polish nobility (szlachta). The Lublin Union of 1569 constituted the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as an influential player in European politics and a vital cultural entity.
Although the majority of the szlachta was reconciled to the end of the Commonwealth in 1795, the possibility of Polish independence was kept alive by events within and without Poland throughout the nineteenth century. Poland's location on the Northern European Lowlands became especially significant in a period when its neighbours, the Kingdom of Prussia and Russia were intensely involved in European rivalries and alliances and modern nation states took form over the entire continent.