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Apr 18, 2024

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Time Now


Poland’s Early Kings – Part 7

A series focusing on the Poland of old, when warring tribes were common and kings were really tested by the mettle in their swords, the strength in their words, the philosophy of their politics, and the honor in their hearts…..



  The first king to be elected by the gentry in a free election was Henry of Valois, Prince of France. Elected in May 1573 he arrived in Poland in February 1574. Three months later, he left the country on receiving news of the death of his brother, Charles IX of France.

  The second election was held in December 1575 and ended in a dual result. The majority elected Stephen Bathory, Prince of Transylvania, but a strong minority voted for the Emperor Maximilian II. The race top the capital, Cracow, was won by the Bathory party. King Stephen reigned from April 1576 to December 1586. Almost the whole of his reign was spent in wars, first against Gdansk and later Russia.

  The third election, held in August 1587, also brought a dual result, part of the vote going to Sigismund Vasa, Crown Prince of Sweden, and part to Archduke Maximilian of Habsburg. This led to a short-lived civil war between two magnate parties, one headed by Zamoyski, the other by the Zborowski family, and to military intervention by Archduke Maxi-milian. Zamoyski and Prince Sigismund were victorious. During the reign of Sigismund III Vasa (from 1587 to 1632) the magnates gained decisive sway in the realm, and the Counter-Reformation spread under the leadership of the Jesuits.

  In France, the bloody persecution of the Hugenots who professed Calvinism began in 1572. At the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries under the reign of Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII, England gained mastery of the seas.

  During ceremonies held on the occasion of the coronation of Henry of Valois, a magnate, Samuel Zborowski, provoked a brawl within the precincts of the royal Castle of Wawel in which he mortally wounded the Castellian Andrzej Wapowski.

  The crime committee in the royal presence called for the most severe punishment, but King Henry meted out the relatively mild sentence of banishment for Zborowski. Zborowski left the country only to return soon after the next election. Counting on impunity as member of a powerful family, he plotted openly against King Stephen and his Chancellor, Zamoyski. In 1584, Zamoyski had him apprehended and executed for openly flouting the order of banishment.

  In 1595 part of the Royal Castle of Wawel was destroyed by fire. As a result, the king decided to transfer the permanent residence to Warsaw, the site of the Election Seym and since 1570 usually also of the General Seym, the town where all of the principal routes of communication in the Realm met.

  At the beginning of the 17th century a rebellion broke out against the king, led by a magnate, Voivode Mikolaj Zebrzydowski. The rebellion was put down by royal troops, but the insurgents scored a political success, preventing the court party from carrying out the reform of the Seym and the army.

  The end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th century was noted in Polish military history as a period of great military commanders. The Union between Poland and Lithuania concluded in Lublin opened wide the road to expansion in eastern Ruthenia (Volhynia and the Braclav and Kiev regions were incorporated into the Polish Crown in 1569) and Byelorussia. Polish troops not only defended the frontier against incursions by Tartars and Turks but also pacified the Ukraine in the interest of magnates whose lands lay along the eastern borders. Trouble broke out also in the North, in Pomerania and Livonia. That was where the talents of great hetmen shone out: Stanislaw Koniecpolski successfully defended Pomerania and Jan Karol Chodkiewicz was victorious at Kirkholm. But war with Russia was the greatest military enterprise in the reign of Sigismund III. This war was provoked by magnates, mostly Lithuanian, eager to recapture the Smolensk region.

  Jan Zamoyski (1542-1605), a representative of the middle gentry, attained the highest dignities in the realm and built up a vast fortune, which placed him among the magnates. Universally educated (he obtained the degree of doctor of sacred and secular laws at Padua University), he became Chancellor and Grand Hetman of the Crown (the Grand Hetman was supreme commander, minister of war and defence combined). In the 1580-81 war with Moscow, he distinguished himself as a military commander and organizer. His victory over Archduke Maximilian at Byczyna in 1588 ended the war of the Polish succession. He routed Michael the Brave, Hospodar of Moldavia and Wallachia, and temporarily established Poland’s supremacy over these territories. In 1602 he conquered and took Livonia from the Swedes.

  Stanislaw Zolkiewski (1547-1620), like Zamoyski, became Grand Hetman and Chancellor of the Crown. In 1607, he defeated Zebrzydowski’s rebellion at Guzow. In the 1610 campaign against Russia he utterly defeated Tsar Vasili Shuiski at Klushino and entered Moscow. He died a hero’s death in 1620, defending the fortified camp at Cecora on the Prut river, against an over-whelming Turkish army, leading his troops to the last.

  Jan Karol Chodkiewicz (1560-1621), son of the Grand Marshal of Lithuania, became Grand hetman of Lithuania and Voivode of Vilna. He fought a victorious campaign against the Sweds in Livonia, winning the brilliant victory of Kirkholm, where at the head of 4,000 troops he routed a Swedish army of 14,000. In 1621, Chodkiewicz successfully defended Poland’s southern border, repulsing a mighty Turkish army at Chocium.

  Stanislaw Koniecpolski (c. 1575-1646), son and grandson of senators, became Grand Hetman of the Crown and Castellan of Cracow, which latter dignity gave him first place in the Senate. He successfully defended Pomerania against the Swedes in the 1626-29 war, repulsed the Turks in 1633, and inflicted a crushing defeat on a Tartar army under Tuhay Bey at Ochmatow in 1644. As the closest military adviser to King Ladislaus IV Vasa, he reorganized the Polish army.

      . . . . SEE YOU SOON, GOD BE WILLING . . .