The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569-1795)


By H. Kozlowski

Maps: A. Andersen / 2003,         

          Putzgers, F.W., Historischer Schul-Atlas, Bielefeld, 1929




1. Jan Kazimierz, Waza Chmielnicki Uprising            


Ukrainian Cossack

In the second part of the 40s King Wladislaw IV begun preparations for the great war with Turks, in which Zaporozye Cossacks were to be the King s important allies. Seym of 1647 blocked the King s plans and ordered to disperse the army. Cossacks awoke and eventually failed hopes resulted in mutiny and they gained a new-distinguished leader – Bohdan Chmielnicki. He signed an alliance with khan of Crimean Tatars Islam Girej. Cossacks-Tatars joint forces ravaged the crown army in 2 battles: at Yellow Waters (16 V 1648) and at Korsuń(26 V 1648). Two crown hetmans were enslaved and uprising spread across Ukraine. Situation got complicated with the death of the King Wladyslaw IV (20 V 1648). The only organized resistance was of civil squads of prince Jeremi Wisniowiecki-a formidable Ukrainian magnate. Both sides acted with unprecedented cruelty. Commonwealth have organized a new army and charged commands with 3 inefficient leaders (with the exception of Jeremi Wisniowiecki) and when 2 armies got into fighting at Pilawce (23 IX 1648 newbes soldiers and Polish nobility insurrection dispersed upon threat of Tatar’s attack. That helped Chmielnicki to proceed towards Lwow and Zamosc (both cities held out siege) and uprising spread over to Wolyn and Bialorus. Military activity was suspended for the time of new royal election, Chmielnicki supported candidacy of King Wladislaw’s younger brother - Jan Kazimierz - who presented amicable position with regards to uprising. After unsuccessful negotiations with newly elected King Jan Kazimierz, Chmielnicki beleaguered Zbaraz, which was strongly defended by small army of Jeremi Wisniowiecki. Kinf Jan Kazimierz have arrived with relief, and after stalemate battle at Zborow (15-16 VIII 1649) (Tatars have retreat after bribery of Poles), so called Zborow agreement was signed in which Cossacks gained many concessions. . The uprising erupted again in 1651. On 28-30 VI 1652 Chmielnicki was defeated at Beresteczko (130 000 Cossack and Tatars against polish forces of about 70 000 soldiers and nobles insurrection) and started looking for assistance from Russia. On 18 I 1654 he broke off relations with Poland and accepted superiority of Russia at Perejeslaw. Tzar granted Cossacks the right to elect hetman; he accepted 60.000 registers and guaranteed property of estates. Hitherto existing Cossacks-Polish conflict evolved into the war between Poland and Russia. (1654-1657).


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2. 1654-1655 Polish-Russian War


Russia took advantage of Chmielnicki uprising and his submission to Tzar at Perejeslaw in 1654 and attacked Poland/stepped out/ against Poland. Moscow forces of 200.00 including Cossacks took control of many cities in Bialorus, Smolensk, and Minsk and Wilno in summer 1655,soon afterwards they moved towards Poland and following unsuccessful attempt to take over Kamieniec they managed to conquer Lublin. Following a new Polish-Swedish war, which broke off in 1655, and a rapid progress of the Swedish army, which alarmed Russia, the involved sides signed armistice at Niemierz (1656).



Polish Light Cavalry

3. Polish-Sweden War 1655-1660 –The Deluge Period


Swedish who took advantage of Poland s involvement in war with Russia initiated the war. Swedish army broke in Poland s frontiers from Pomorze and Inflanty. 25 VII 1655 nobles insurrection of Poznan and Kalisz surrendered to Swedish army at Uyscie. The Swedish conquerors made a more spectacular success in Lithuania. According to arrangement in Kieydany (20X1655), most formidable Lithuanian notables Janusz and Boguslav Radziwill’s surrendered to Swedish and broke-off Polish- Lithuanian union, which was to be substituted by tight union with Sweden. Ujscie and Kieydany gave way to series of successes of Swedish army and which enabled Swedish king Karol Gustav to take control of the majority of territory of Poland with the exception of Ukrainian fields and Great Lithuanian Principality occupied by Russian army. 8 IX 1655 Warsaw surrendered, 19 X Krakow. The majority of magnates and Polish nobility joined victorious Karol X Gustaw. .Polish king Jan Kazimierz along with his court and a group of loyal magnates found shelter in Slask. The biggest of the Swedish successes was the treaty signed in Krolewiec on 17 I 1656 between Karol X Gustaw and Fryderyk Wilhelm, Prussian prince and Brandenburg ruler (Kaiser elector). Due to this Fryderyk Wilhelm severed feudal relations with Poland and joined Sweden as a vassal of Karol X Gustaw. Growing anti-swedish attitudes among Polish nobility, successful defense of Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa and Tatar s assistance and a change in position of Russia reversed the fate of the guerilla war. And later on national. guerilla with Stefan Czarniecki as a leader destabilized position of Swedish in Poland. Jan Kazimierz returned from banishment and on 30 VI 1656 recovered Warsaw from Swedish. During a 3-day battle in Warsaw (28-30 VII 1656) Polish army was defeated by Brandenburg-Swedish forces but this fact was not followed by any essential political consequences. Meanwhile Russia made an agreement with Poland. 3 XI 1656 the treaty was signed at Niemiez/Wilno in which Russia in exchange for support in electing tsar Alex for Polish throne, finished war with Poland and created an alliance against Sweden. In this situation Karol X Gustaw admitted that he is not able to held whole the Poland, so he made an attempt to Poland partition. To carry on this plan, he engaged (except elector of Brandenburg), Jerzy Rakoczy prince of Transylvania, Bohdan Chmielnicki (Cossakas leaser) and Boguslav Radziwill. 6XII 1656 at Radnot in Transylvania the try of 1st partition of Poland was established. It has not been carried out though since Austria and Denmark joined the war against Sweden and ally of Karol X Gustaw , Jerzy Rakoczy was severely defeated during retreat from his expedition to Poland. Sweden lost its current ally Fryderyk Wilhelm who had been offered from Poland and its new ally an advantageous treaty/beneficial for Brandenburg. After signing welawa-bydgoszcz treaties (from the names of towns Welawa and Bydgoszcz) Fryderyk Wilhelm freed himself from vassal dependency from King of Poland in Princess Prussia , he left Karol X Gustaw, joined anti-swedish coalition and signed a treaty with Poland, Denmark accessed Austria-Poland-Prussia alliance against Sweden, meanwhile Russia backed off despite the superiority of the coalition, Swedish attack Denmark and they defeated Danish in a rapid campaign.27 II 1658 King of Denmark Fryderik III signed the act of capitulation in Roskilde. Soon after Karol X Gustaw broke off the treaty from Roskilde and initiated a new war with Denmark which have also assisted by Dutch. War campaign 1658-59 carried over in Poland, Lithuania and Denmark was slowly bringing victory to the allied states. In January 1660 in Oliwa, the new peace negotiations were initiated with representatives of fighting states (except from Denmark) and French mediators, resulting with Peace Treaty signed on 3 V 1660. Sweden and Poland kept the state of possession from before the war and Poland promised to surrender pretension for the part of Inflant that had belonged to Sweden before the war. Jan Kazimierz relinquished rights for the throne of Sweden and Fryderyk Wilhelm received the confirmation of decisions from Welawa and Bydgoszcz.




4. Polish-Russian War 1658-1667


When Bohdan Chmielnicki died in 1657 John Wyhowski, the temporary hetman, proceeded immediately to arrange for a return of the Cossacks to Polish sovereignty. In 1658, at Hadziacz, an agreement was to enable Ruthenia to join the Commonwealth on equal terms with Poland and Lithuania. Perceiving this, the Tsar determined to prevent it by force of arms and sent an unexpected expedition into Poland. Though still at war with Sweden the Republic raised an army large enough to deal successfully with Russia despite the fact that a section of the Cossacks under the younger Chmielnicki fought against her. The Polish arms triumphed in battle after battle and after the Peace of Oliva, when the Western armies were released, they forced the Russians to capitulate at Cudnow in Volhynia (1st November 1660). Chmielnicki then declared for Poland. Unfortunately this brilliant military successes could not be properly exploited this time on account of the revolt of the unpaid armies and rebellion of one of her leading magnates, Prince Lubomirsky, which involved Commonwealt in a dangerous civil war, compelled her to open negotiations with the Russia, at Andrussowo, and after protracted negotiations practically to accept the Russian terms. By the truce of Andrussowo (Feb. 11, 1667) Poland received back from Russia Vitebsk, Polotsk and Polish Livonia, but ceded in perpetuity Smolensk, Syeversk, Chernigov and the whole of the eastern bank of the Dnieper. The Cossacks of the Dnieper were henceforth to be under the joint dominion of the tsar and the king of Poland. Kiev, the religious metropolis of western Russia, was to remain in the hands of Russia for two years. Kiev, though only pledged for two years, was never again to be separated from Russia.



5. Lubomirski rokosz (rebellion) 1665-1666


Rokosz was led by Jerzy Lubomirski, the Grand Marshal of Poland and Field Hetman of the Crown, the issue was the attempt to settle ahead of time the question of succession, in particular to promote the election 'vivente rege' (during live of king) of Duc d'Condé. When Lubomirski started a movement of opposition, the King countered by having Lubomirski impeached in absentia by the Seym Tribunal of 1664. When Lubomirski returned from exile and started arming his supporters, Jan Kazimierz decided to take the matter to the battlefield, nonconsidering the fact that Lubomirski was one of the ablest Generals of the Commonwealth. The King's army was heavily defeated at Matwy in (13 th July 1666), but the rokosz was finally concluded by negotiation and the submission of Lubomirski. King promised to abandon his plan about an election of his successor. Lubomirski died in 1667.


The rebellion prevented the development of sufficient strength to support the loyal Cossacks. Disheartened, they turned, under new leader - Doroszenko, to Turkey. Tartars and Cossacks made their appearance on the frontiers. Jan Sobieski, then Field Hetman, met them and with small forces; and though battling against great odds was able by superior strategy to achieve victory and compel their retreat. (Podhajce 4-17 th November 1668)


Jan Kazimierz whom people consider responsible for the misfortunes which had befallen the country during his reign, decided to resignate and abdicated on September 16, 1668. He left for France where he died three years later in the Abbey of St. Germain near Paris.



6. Michał Korybut Wisniowiecki


Dissatisfied with the Waza's dynastic policies, which they saw as contrary to the interest of the Polish-Lithuanian state, the gentry decided to elect a native Pole, to the throne. Michał Korybut was the son of Jeremi Wisniowiecki, a military commander who won fame during Chmelnitski's rebellion, He proved to be largely ineffective and became a tool of the magnate.



7. Polish-Turkish War 1672-1676


In 1672 the Turks invaded the Commonwealth and after besiege of fortress Kamieniec Podolski, imposed the treaty of Buczacz on the Poles by which Poland ceded to Turkey the provinces of Podolia and Ukraine paid a heavy war tax of 80,000 thalars and promised an annual tribute of 22,500 thalars. In 1673, an expedition was sent against the Turks under Sobieski and at Chocim, Poles scored a splendid victory over the Porte army (). The Turkish army was almost entirely annihilated, and 120 mortars, 400 standards and the entire supply store fell into Polish hands. The fruits of this victory were not fully gathered because of the death of the King Michal Korybut who expired on November 10, 1673.



8. Jan III Sobieski


Jan III Sobieski

In gratitude for his glorious victory, after the death of Wisniowiecki, Jan Sobieski was elected king.


Almost immediately after the election, the King left with the army to halt a new Turkish invasion, postponing the coronation until a later date. After two years of brilliant campaigning in the course of which the Turks were thrown across the Dniester and a great many towns (except that of Kamieniec Podolski) were retaken, Sobieski returned to Cracow for the coronation, and at the Diet immediately following the ceremony asked for adequate appropriations to continue the war. He was soon in the field again. After the famous siege of Zoravno, where nearly hundred thousand Turks in vain endeavored to surround the small forces of the, Polish King, by the aid of French mediation, peace was established, the terms of which superseded the Buczacz treaty. Many other advantages were gained by Poland, among them the restoration of two-thirds of Ukraine (1676).


Sobieski, realizing that the struggle against the Ottoman power had to be postponed, proved equally interested in the problems of the Baltic. Here the general European situation seemed to favor an attempt at recovering East Prussia from Hohenzollern rule. After Poland’s reconciliation with Sweden in 1660, cooperation with that country, against the common enemy, seemed quite possible. But Sobieski’s plan to occupy East Prussia with Swedish cooperation and French support was doomed to failure because of the skillful policy of the Great Elector and the frequent shifts of alliances among the Western powers. From 1678 Frederick William, after defeating the Swedes, was himself in the French camp, and the Peace of Nimwegen, in the following year, made a necessarily isolated Polish action completely hopeless.


The Polish Seym of 1679-1680 was a turning point in Sobieski’s policy which also affected the European situation. The missed opportunity on the Baltic contributed to a cooling off in John III’s French sympathies. In spite of the intrigues of the French ambassador and his partisans in Warsaw, the king decided to turn again to the main task of his life, the defense against the Muslim danger. From the beginning of the year 1683 it was apparent that the Turks, under the influence of Grand Vizier Kara Mustapha, were planning a new war. It was uncertain, however, whether their main onslaught would be directed against Austria or against Poland. In any case a formal alliance between both threatened powers now became urgent, and with the papal nuncio in Warsaw acting as mediator, it was concluded there on March 31. The treaty provided that sixty thousand men would be mobilized by the emperor and forty thousand by the king of Poland, and that in case of a siege by the Turks of either Vienna or Cracow, all efforts would be made by the ruler of the other country to liberate the capital of his ally.



9. Polish-Turkish War (1683-1699)


Battle Against the Ottoman Turks

At that time it was already easy to foresee that Vienna, easy to reach from the Turkish-controlled part of Hungary whose other part was in open rebellion against Habsburg rule, would be the goal of that last Ottoman attempt to penetrate deep into Central Europe. Warfare also continued, however, on the Podolian front where part of the Polish forces, supported by loyal Cossacks, had to be kept during the whole campaign. Nevertheless, as soon as Sobieski was informed that the siege of Vienna had started, he rapidly moved with an army of twenty-five thousand through Silesia and Moravia to Austria’s assistance, while a Polish auxiliary corps of six thousand, under Hieronim Lubomirski, had already joined the imperial forces before the king’s arrival.


The question as to who would be the commander in chief of the allied armies, which included contingents from most German states with the exception of Brandenburg-Prussia, was decided in favor of the King of Poland, since the emperor was not present in person. The main leader of the imperial forces of seventy thousand men, Charles of Lorraine, agreed to place himself under the orders of Sobieski whose unique experience in fighting the Turks was universally recognized. It was the King of Poland who, after the junction of both armies, drafted the plan of the battle which was fought before Vienna on September 12, 1683, and was to be one of the decisive battles in European history.


The Christian forces occupied the mountain range west of the city, which in spite of the heroism of its defenders under Rudiger von Starhemberg was already in a desperate position, and from these heights they launched their attack against the Muslims. The fighting started at the left wing near the Danube, where the imperial regiments distinguished themselves, but according to all witnesses the battle was decided through a brilliant assault of the Polish cavalry at the right wing, which under the king’s personal leadership penetrated into the camp of the Turks and broke their resistance.




Winged Hussar

The victory was so complete that the liberation of Vienna could be followed immediately by an advance far into Hungary. But while the population of the Austrian capital welcomed Sobieski with grateful enthusiasm, misunderstandings between the two monarchs arose at the arrival of the emperor. Leopold I resented the fact that the king had not waited for him to enter Vienna and at once he wanted to discourage Sobieski’s hopes that his eldest son James, who had also fought bravely in the great battle, would receive an archduchess in marriage. In spite of his disappointment, the king, with all Polish forces, joined in the Hungarian campaign, and after a setback in the first battle of Parkany, where he himself was in mortal danger, he won another important victory near that place and also participated in the taking of Esztergom, Hungary’s ecclesiastical center.


That war was to continue for sixteen years. Though Sobieski and his army returned to Poland at the end of 1683, he remained resolved to participate in the struggle against the Ottoman Empire and to eliminate the Muslim danger to his own country and to the whole of Christendom once and for all. Therefore in 1684 he joined the so-called Holy League which included, besides Austria and Poland, the Republic of Venice, eager to regain its possessions in the Levant, and Pope Innocent XI, who from the very beginning had inspired the joint action in defense of Christendom.


Now, however, the forces of Austria and those of Poland were concentrated on two different fronts. For Leopold I, the main objective was the occupation of all Hungary. Sobieski wanted to regain Podolia with Kamieniec and, advancing in the direction of the Danube, to bring Moldavia and possibly also Wallachia under Polish suzerainty again. In spite of all his efforts, these campaigns ended in failure. Only one of them, undertaken in 1686, parallel to the Austrian advance to Buda, had any chance of success. The immediate reason why the Polish forces, after advancing far into the Danubian principalities, had to retreat, as they also had to in subsequent expeditions until 1691, was the lack of support from the native Rumanian population.


For even in Poland there was a suspicion — one more reason for the king’s failure —that he wanted to turn the conquered territories into a private domain for one of his sons, thus strengthening his own power and securing the future election of his descendants to the Polish throne. The result was, on the contrary, a growing opposition to Sobieski which disregarded all his outstanding achievements and troubled the end of his otherwise so glorious reign until his death on June 17, 1696. With the death of Sobieski, ended the glory of old Poland. He was the only man, who if he could not revive the country, could at least prevent Poland's speedy destruction.



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