Four Ladies Four
This week’s topic deals with four strong-willed ladies. Although they are not of Polish heritage, they contributed greatly to the history of Poland. . .
CATHERINE OF RUSSIA – Catherine the Great was undoubtedly the most remarkable woman as well as the ablest ruler of her time. At age 15, she met and married Prince Peter (who later became Czar) in 1744 and became the Grand Duchess Katherina Alexeievna. Her husband was considered an idiot. She came from a German principality but soon became more Russian than the Russians themselves. During this time, Russia on one side of Poland supported Orthodoxy and Prussia on the other side of Poland was a leading Protestant power. Poland was, of course, Christian.
In 1755, Stanislaw Poniatowski was sent to St. Petersburg and he became the second of her long list of lovers. In 1757, he was appointed Polish Ambassador to the Russian Court. The death of the Polish King Augustus in 1763 led to Catherine enlisting the aid of Frederick of Prussia to put Poniatowski upon the vacant throne. Catherine and Frederick by pressuring the Poles to vote for a native son, spending money lavishly and placing 15,000 Russian troops on Poland’s border, had Poniatowski elected king on September 7th, 1764. From that point on, a Russian emissary Prince Repnin enforced the will of Catherine on Poniatowski and Poland whenever possible. Poland, in spite of this negative influence, continued to flourish until 1768 when the Confederation of Bar took place.
It was a fight against the Russian occupational forces started by the nobles and led by Casimir Pulaski. The confederates couldn’t prevent the first partition of Poland in 1772. Russia, Austria and Prussia all received pieces of Poland. Nineteen years later in 1791 on May 3rd, Poland passed a new Constitution abolishing the liberum veto – ridding itself of noble power, protecting peasants and limiting serfdom, and establishing full religious tolerance.
Again in 1792, Russia invaded Poland and the small Polish army, under Poniatowski and Kos-ciuszko, was unable to resist. A second partition treaty took place and Poland lost more land. In 1794, Kosciuszko led a peasant’s revolt (Chopin took part) and they withstood Catherine’s cannons initially. In the end, Kosciuszko was defeated at Maciejowice and third partition took place in 1795. The King abdicated and died a guest of prisoner at St. Petersburg in 1798. Poland was broken. Catherine died in 1796. During her reign, Poland lost 275,000 square miles of territory and 11 1/2 million of her people.
It is said that the son of Catherine would not shake his Mother’s hand for fear of losing his own!
GEORGE SAND - George Sand was born Aurore Dupin in Paris in 1804 to a quadrille of music. Frederick Chopin was born in 1810 to itinerant violins in a nearby courtyard called Zelazowa Wola. She was an admired author who had Polish ancestors. She shared Chopin’s life for nine years. Their affair began in Poland in the summer of 1838.
In the autumn and winter of 1838-39, they went to the Island of Majorca staying at a monastery called Valdemosa. He went to the Island to cure his tubercular illness because the climate is warm year round. Their relationship was quite stormy, George, the first historical women’s libber, wore pants and smoked cigars which was quite unusual in those days. At Majorca, the weather was not warm, but rainy and damp. Chopin’s illness became worse. However, under these conditions and Sand’s pressures, Chopin composed Preludes, Sonatas, Etudes, Polonaises and Mazurkas that were excellent musical compositions. They returned to Paris to the countryside of Nohant and continued their romance — he helping her with her manuscripts and she definitely influencing his music. It ended in 1847.
George Sand had been married earlier to Jules Sandeau. Since her husband would not give her money, she took to wearing pants to save on clothes when she lived poorly. She was a turbulent 34 and Chopin a fragile 28 at the beginning of their relationship. It is said that his masterpieces either cry out for the love of his homeland or that of his lover, George Sand.
QUEEN BONA SFORZA (1494-1557) – She was the daughter of Gian Szorza and Isabela of Aragon, Italy, and became the wife of Sigismund I “The Old” and Queen of Poland in 1518. At that time, the Golden Age was starting in Poland with the Jagiellonian Dynasty at the height of its power and the power of the gentry flourishing. Poland was a Central European power to be reckoned with by the Hapsburgs, Hohensolerns and the rulers of Russia and Turkey. But the aspirations of many magnate families undermined the royal throne.
Bona quickly gained influence over her husband and had her say in political matters. She wanted to consolidate the dynasty and bring about the coronation as king of 10 year old Sigismund Augustus — the latest of the Jagiellon. She fought against the Hapsburgs to affirm Polish influence in Hungary and Bohemia and to regain Silesia and Poland. She cut down internal disruptions and was a wise woman. But she was unable to live amicably with the Poles. After her husband died in 1548, she withdrew from governing the country and died, poisoned by the court physician in Bari, Italy.
COUNTESS CONSTANCE MARKIEWICZ (1868-1927) – Although she was not Polish, Countess Markiewicz exhibited that continual sturdy Polish spirit. In 1900, she married Casimir Markiewicz and after living for awhile in the Ukraine, moved to Paris and then onto Ireland. She is best remembered for her willingness to share her life with the poor of Ireland — enduring their hardships. Her husband was a painter and playwright. After setting in Dublin in 1903, her house was always open to the poor. She was very active in the 1916 Easter Rising — even going to jail for her cause. She was always devising reforms and was elected to Parliament in 1918. She was the first woman cabinet member in Western Europe. She died in 1927 in a public ward of St. Patrick Hospital, at her own request. She was 59 years old.
. . . . SEE YOU SOON, GOD BE WILLING . . .