Although Poland-Lithuania escaped the ravages of the Thirty Years' War, which ended in 1648, the ensuing two decades subjected the country to one of its severest trials. This colorful but ruinous interval, the stuff of legend and the popular historical novels of Nobel laureate Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846-1916), became known as the potop, or deluge, for the magnitude of its hardships.

The emergency began with an uprising of Ukrainian Cossacks that persisted in spite of Warsaw's efforts to subdue it by force. After the rebels won the intervention of Muscovy on their behalf, Tsar Aleksei conquered most of the eastern half of the country by 1655. Taking advantage of Poland's preoccupation, Charles X of Sweden rapidly overran much of the remaining territory of the commonwealth in 1655. Pushed to the brink of dissolution, Poland-Lithuania rallied to recover most of its losses to the Swedes. Swedish brutality raised widespread revolts against Charles, whom the Polish nobles had recognized as their ruler in the meantime. Under Stefan Czarniecki, the Poles and Lithuanians drove the Swedes from their territory by 1657. Further complicated by noble dissension and wars with the Ottoman Turks, the thirteen-year struggle over control of Ukraine ended in the Truce of Andrusovo in 1667. Although Russia had been defeated by a new Polish-Ukrainian alliance in 1662, Russia gained eastern Ukraine in the peace treaty.


Despite the improbable survival of the commonwealth in the face of the potop, one of the most dramatic instances of the Poles' knack for prevailing in adversity, the episode inflicted irremediable damage and contributed heavily to the ultimate demise of the state. When Jan II Kaziemierz abdicated in 1668, the population of the commonwealth had been nearly halved by war and disease. War had destroyed the economic base of the cities and raised a religious fervor that ended Poland's policy of religious tolerance. Henceforth, the commonwealth would be on the strategic defensive facing hostile neighbors. Never again would Poland compete with Russia as a military equal.


Source: U.S. Library of Congress


The Deluge, 1648-67

by Peter K. Gessner


A few years before the Polish Rzeczpospolita or Commonwealth became inundated by the Swedish Deluge, the thirty years war came to an end in Europe. The Peace of Westphalia which terminated it in 1648, gave Poland's northern neighbor territorial new gains on the shores of the Baltic Sea. In Sweden reemerged the idea of making the Baltic Sea a Swedish lake.
The Lithuanian Prince, Janusz Radziwiłł

Already in 1648, Poland position was a difficult one, with a revolt brewing in the Ukraine and during the course of it an attack by Russian troops. At the peak of the conflict with Russia, on the 25th of July, 1655, breaking the 1635 truce, Swedish troops crossed Poland's borders.

Two columns of Swedish troops made their way across Poland. The first one, under the command of Marshal Wittenberg, marched in the direction of Greater Poland, where on the 25th of July, 1655, the Polish nobles and magnates placed themselves under Swedish protection without a fight. The second column under the command of Pontus de la Gardie, occupied Lithuania, where also without a fight, on the 8th of September, the Lithuanian Prince, Janusz Radziwiłł, Grand Hetman of Lithuania, i.e. the Commander in Chief of the Polish forces in Lithuania, broke the Union with Poland and surrenderead the suzerainty of Lithuania to Carl Gustav, the Swedish King. The nobility of sequentially occupied lands also recognized the suzerainty of Carl Gustav, and even the Royal Polish troops of Hetman Koniecpolski followed suit. In September, again without a fight, Warsaw found itself in Swedish hands, and in October Krakow, defended by Czarniecki fell. The will to fight was absent among the nobility and this in great part decided the initial success of Carl Gustav's strategy.

The Polish King, Jan Kazimierz Vasa, escaped from Warsaw and via Krakow and then Czorsztyn made it to Silesia, part of the Czech Kingdom, whence in November 1655 he addressed a writ to the nation in which he called upon "people of every condition and station" to fight for freedom. The majority of the population was quite prepared to accept Carl Gustav as King, but the Swedes quickly proved not nearly as nice as they had promised to be, and rapes and robberies of the possessions of the nobility were taking place. In Lithuania, Prince Pawel Sapiecha did not surrender.

From November 19 till December 25, 1655, the monastery of Pauline Fathers on Jasna Gora resisted a Swedish siege. News of the impudent attack of the Swedes on the monastery had an electrifyng effect. The invaders respected neither their own promises, nor Polish religious feelings, and a national uprising ensued. In Tyszowace, a confederation of Polish Hetmans - Mikołaj Potocki and Stanislaw Lanckoronski with the Lithuanians of the Governor of Witebsk, Pawel Sapiecha - came into being. The Uprising enveloped Greater and Lesser Poland as well as Podlasie.



Yellow arrows - Swedish movement.   Red arrows - Polish movement.   Yellow circles - Swedish siege.   Red circles - Polish siege.
Broken black line - area of furthest Swedish control.    Red hatched area - area of action of Polish guerrillas


At the beginning of 1656, Jan Kazimierz returned to Poland. In Lwów's cathedral (now Lviv in the Ukraine) he took a vow, which was an announcement of relief to the lots of the peasants who took part in the Uprising.

During the same year, Stefan Czarniecki, a master of guerilla warfare, took command of the anti-Swedish forces. Together with the Lithuanians, he encircled Carl Gustav in the fork of the San and Vistula Rivers, though Carl Gustav managed to get away. At the same time the partisans, supported by regular troops, helped liberate Lesser Poland, though without Krakow or Greater Poland.


Towards the end of June, the Royal troops regained Warsaw. The Swedish King began to seek allies so as to regain advantage for his side. The Elector of Brandenberg, Frederyk Wilhelm I, who initially was content to watch events unfold, joined the Swedish side and in a three day battle for Warsaw (which the Swedes won) supported Carl Gustav. The new occupation of Warsaw lasted, however, only a few weeks and could not any longer influence the fortunes of war. At the same time, in Radnot in Hungary, a partition of the Polish Commonwealth between Sweden, Brandenburg, the Hungarian Principality of Transylvania and the Lithuanian Radziwiłłs was signed.


At the beginning of 1657, the troops of the Principality of Transylvania led by George Rakoczy entered Poland, burning and destroying.

The Royal Army did not, however fall apart and it forced Rakoczy to capitulate in Podole in July 1657. The Swedes had to withdraw from Krakow. On December 23, 1658, after a three month siege, the Poles regained Torun.

 By the begging of 1660 only Ebląg and Malbork remained in Swedish hands. Thanks to the diplomatic mediation of France, a peace was signed in 1660 in Oliwa on May 3rd, on the basis of which Sweden and Poland returned to their pre-war frontiers. Poland retained Kurlandia and Livonia, while Jan Kazimierz gave up his claims to the Swedish throne. 

The Siege of the Jasna Góra Monastery






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Additional information extracted from Wikipedia:

 (not necessarily reflecting the views of the administration of this web resource)


Before "The Deluge", the Commonwealth was a Central European power; but during the wars Poland lost an estimated 1/3 of its population (relatively higher losses than during World War II), and its status as a great power.

The misfortunes began in 1648 by the uprising of the Ruthenian feudal lord and Ukrainian Cossack leader Bohdan Khmelnytsky. Khmelnytsky told his people that the Poles had sold them as slaves "into the hands of the accursed Jews", a reference to the Arenda system of renting out serfs to (sometimes) Jewish businessmen for three years at a time. With this as their battle cry, the Cossacks murdered a large number of Jews during the years 1648–1649. The precise number of dead may never be known, but the decrease of the Jewish population during that period is estimated at 50,000 to 200,000.

Although the Cossacks were defeated in the Battle of Beresteczko (1651), their rebellion was used as a pretext by the Russians to invade and occupy the eastern half of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1655. The Swedes invaded and occupied the remaining half in the same year.

Princes Janusz Radziwiłł and Bogusław Radziwiłł began negotiations with the Swedish king Charles X Gustav of Sweden aimed at breaking up the Commonwealth and the Polish-Lithuanian union. They signed the Kėdainiai Treaty according to which the Radziwiłłs were to rule over two Duchies carved up from the lands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, under Swedish vassalage (the Union of Kėdainiai).

Polish-Lithuanian King John II Casimir had few friends among the szlachta, as he sympathized with Austria and was openly contemptuous of the culture of the nobility (see Sarmatism). In addition, Casimir had become a member of the Jesuits in 1643 and received the title of Cardinal. Nevertheless, in December 1646 John Casimir returned to Poland and, in October 1647, resigned his position of Cardinal to stand in elections for the Polish throne. He succeeded to the throne in 1648. However, in the eyes of the nobility, Charles Gustav (Casimir's cousin) was the legitimate heir to the Polish-Lithuanian throne.

Many members of the Polish nobility (szlachta), including Deputy Chancellor of the Crown Hieronim Radziejowski and Grand Treasurer of the Crown Bogusław Leszczyński, thinking that John II Casimir of Poland was a weak king, or a Jesuit-King, or for other reasons, encouraged Charles Gustav to claim the Polish crown.
But Poznań Voivod Krzysztof Opaliński surrendered Great Poland to Charles Gustav, and quickly, other areas surrendered also. Almost the whole country followed suit, but several places still resisted, the most remarkable and symbolic of which was the Jasna Góra resistance. Led by The Grand Prior Augustyn Kordecki, the garrison of the most famous Sanctuary-Fortress of Poland defeated its enemies. Soon, the Tyszowce Confederation supported John Casimir, hidden in Silesia.

Grand Hetman of Poland, (The Crown): Stefan Czarniecki and Grand Hetman of Lithuania: Jan Paweł Sapieha started the counterattack in order to put away those loyal to Charles Gustav. In the end, John II Casimir was solemnly crowned at Lwów Cathedral in 1656 (Lwów Oath).

The Swedes were driven back in 1657 and the Russians were finally defeated in 1662. The War for Ukraine ended with the treaty of Andrusovo (13 January 1667), with the help of Turkish intervention due to their claims in the Crimea. Forces from Prussia and Transylvania were also defeated, but Prussia gained a formal recognition of independence and ceased to be a Polish vassal.

The Deluge also stopped the era of Polish tolerance, since most of the invaders were non-Catholic, with expulsion of the Polish brethren as a clear sign of it. During the Deluge, many thousands of Polish Jews also fell victim to pogroms initiated by rebelling Cossacks.

With the Treaty of Hadiach on September 16, 1658, the Polish Crown elevated the Cossacks and Ruthenians to a position equal to that of Poland and Lithuania in the Polish-Lithuanian Union, and in fact transformed the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth into a Polish-Lithuanian-Ruthenian Commonwealth (Polish: Rzeczpospolita Trojga Narodów, "Commonwealth of Three Nations"). Supported by Cossack Ataman Ivan Vyhovsky and the starshyna, this treaty changed East European history. However, Russia refused to recognize the treaty and maintained its claims to Ukraine.








Arms and map (below) of the Commonwealth,

As per the Treaty of Hadiach