History of Poland (1697-1763)

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Pre-partition Rzeczpospolita

Territorial division of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during the Saxon era

August II in a painting by Louis de Silvestre

Coat of arms of August II the Strong as King of Poland, Grand Duke of Lithuania and Elector of Saxony, royal numeral at the bottom

The first phase of the Third Northern War

Stanislaw Leszczynski during his first reign

Wilanow Palace, the residence of Augustus II the Strong in 1730-1733, side wings added in Saxon times

Polish history (1697-1763), Poland in the Saxon era, Saxon times – in the first half of the 18th century. The Republic was experiencing a period of serious political crisis. These were the times when Poland was ruled by kings from the Saxon Wettin dynasty, August II (1697-1733) and August III (1733-1763). Their reign, however, was punctuated by successive elections and the rule of Stanislaw Leszczynski (1704-1709 and 1733-1736).

Table of contents

1 Political history

1.1 Election of Augustus II the Strong 1.2 Civil war in Lithuania 1700

1.3 Northern War

1.3.1 First election of Stanislaw Leszczynski 1.3.2 Civil war in Poland 1.3.3 Confederation of Tarnogrodzka

1.4 War of the Polish Succession

1.4.1 The second election of Stanislaw Leszczynski 1.4.2 The election of Augustus III of Saxony

1.5 Reign of Augustus III Sas

2 System of government, sejmic rule

2.1 Parliamentarism

2.1.1 Prevalence of the magnates

3 Culture and intellectual life

4 Economy

4.1 Agriculture 4.2 Cities

5 See also 6 Footnotes 7 Bibliography 8 External links

Political history[edit | edit code].

Election of Augustus II the Strong[edit | edit code].

The interregnum following the death of John III Sobieski (1696) was marked by Franco-Habsburg rivalry. Louis XIV was vying for the election of Prince François Louis Conti, who had grown a dangerous rival in the person of the Saxon Elector. The Saxon Elector, who had converted to Catholicism, was crowned at Wawel Castle as August II (1697-1733), known as Saxon or Strong.

At the time of the free election, a corps of Russian troops was drawn near the Lithuanian border by Prince Mikhail Grigorievich Romodanovsky, whose presence was intended to force the resignation of the French candidate[1].

In 1698 Augustus II held a secret conference with Russian Czar Peter I in Rava-Ruska, where the two rulers discussed a plan for a joint offensive war against Sweden and began negotiating a treaty of mutual assistance in the event of a rebellion by his subjects[1].

The election of Augustus initiated a Polish-Saxon personal union. The differences between the participants in the union were fundamental: Saxony – a Lutheran country – economically developed, with a strong bourgeoisie – had a system close to absolutism. August II treated the Polish throne as political capital to strengthen the Vettin position in the Reich and help win the imperial crown. The Third Northern War occurred during his reign.

Civil War in Lithuania 1700[edit | edit code].

Separate article: Civil war in Lithuania 1700.

To break the existing supremacy of the Sapieha family in Lithuania, the local nobility put forward a demand for the coequalization of the rights of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, carried out on June 19, 1697. The equalization of Polish and Lithuanian rights was intended to limit the attributes of the office of Hetman and Sub-Treasurer, placing control of the army and treasury in the hands of the nobility. The coequation was to abolish Lithuania’s political distinctions, giving the magnates an advantage. Faced with a civil war, the leaders of the anti-Sapiens opposition asked for Saxon troops to be sent to Lithuania. Calm came at the end of December 1698 thanks to Saxon mediation, approved by Augustus II. However, new fighting broke out as early as 1700, leading to the defeat of the Sapiehs at the Battle of Olkieniki[2].

Northern War[edit | edit code].

Separate article: The Third Northern War.

Augustus II began his quest for the Baltic acquisitions. Already in the pacts conventa signed, he pledged to regain the lost lands of the Commonwealth. After regaining Podolia for Poland (the Peace of Carlowitz in 1699), he turned his attention to Inflants. The states forming the Northern League were aiming to weaken Sweden’s position on the Baltic Sea. August II hoped to regain Inflants, which was to be the hereditary rule of the Vettin family. With this conquest, the king intended to strengthen monarchical power in Poland[3]. The Saxon Elector entered into an alliance with Denmark and Russia[when?].

In 1700, the Saxon attack on Inflants began the Third Northern War. August II entered the war without the consent of the Sejm. The Commonwealth was not officially a party to the conflict. King Charles XII of Sweden very quickly beat the Danes and turned against Russia, which he defeated at the Battle of Narva. In 1701, the Swedish army entered the borders of the Republic.

First election of Stanislaw Leszczynski[edit | edit code].

The Crown nobility divided into two hostile camps – in early 1704, Augustus’ opponents formed the Warsaw Confederation and declared an interregnum, and a little later Saxon supporters formed a general confederation in Sandomierz. In July, a group of opponents of August II, under military pressure from the Swedes, elected Stanislaw Leszczynski, the governor of Poznan, as king.

Civil war in Poland[edit | edit code].

Separate articles: Civil War in Poland 1704-1706 and Treaty of Narew.

The civil war had actually begun. In August 1704, at Narva, Augustus, on behalf of the Republic, concluded an alliance with Russia. This meant that Poland officially entered the war with Sweden, on the side of Russia. Unfortunately, the occupation of the Electorate of Saxony by the Swedes forced August to abdicate in the Peace of Altranstädt 1706. When Peter I defeated the Swedes at the Battle of Poltava in the summer of 1709, Leszczynski, deprived of Charles XII’s assistance, fled to Stettin. Although the Northern War did not deplete Polish territory, it brought terrible devastation, compounded by epidemics. August II regained the Polish throne, and attempted to strengthen royal power, taking advantage of the presence of Saxon troops in the Republic. This resulted in anti-royalist speeches.

Tarnogrod Confederation[edit | edit code].

Separate articles: Tarnogród Confederation and the Silent Sejm.

The behavior of the stationed Saxon troops in the crop-stricken Commonwealth led to disputes with the nobility, which began to form local confederations against the Saxons from 1714. In November 1715, the Tarnogród Confederation was formed with the aim of removing the Saxon army and August II from Poland. Thanks to Russian mediation, an agreement was reached in Warsaw on November 6, 1716, confirmed by the silent Sejm on February 1, 1717. The king and the nobility firmly rejected Peter I’s attempt to place the provisions of the Warsaw Agreement under Russian guarantee[4]. The Sejm’s provisions regulated Polish-Saxon relations on the basis of a personal union. Polish officials and Saxon ministers were allowed to decide only on matters of their own country, without interfering in the politics of their neighbor:

the king was forbidden to leave the country for an extended period constitutions of the mute Sejm introduced moderate reforms limited powers of hetmans in foreign policy reforms of treasury independence of sejmiks enacted state budget the king could not start a war without the consent of the Sejm a standing army of 24,000 was established

The 1717 Silent Sejm was followed by a 15-year period of peace.

War of the Polish Succession[edit | edit code].

Separate article: War of the Polish Succession.

Second election of Stanislaw Leszczynski[edit | edit code].

Campaign on the fields of Czerniakow in 1732

After the death of Augustus II the Strong in 1733, the nobility voted against appointing a foreigner to the Polish throne, and then in September the assembled people elected Stanislaw Leszczynski, who was supported by France, as king. He had been on the throne twice before (1706-1709 and only formally in 1733). He concluded (1705) an unfortunate treaty with Sweden, making Poland dependent on it until the Battle of Poltava. An ardent admirer of art and patron of artists, progressive political writer, opponent of the liberum veto, supporter of strengthening royal power and important institutions. He did not accept the personal serfdom of peasants, and wrote respectfully about their labor.

Election of Augustus III Sas[edit | edit code].

Portrait of King August III in Polish attire

Leszczynski’s election worried Russia and Austria. Russian and Saxon troops entered Poland in October 1733 and led to the election of August III as king. This led to France declaring war on Austria and thus beginning the War of the Polish Succession. In 1734, Leszczynski’s supporters formed the Dzików Confederation, which offered armed resistance to the Russians and Saxons until 1735.

Reign of Augustus III Sas[edit | edit code].

The reign of Augustus III brought an almost permanent paralysis of the Sejm, during his reign only 1 of the 14 Sejms came to a conclusion (the 1736 pacification Sejm) in view of the liberum veto rule commonly used by the magnate coterie (mainly the Czartoryskis).

Neighboring countries and France allocated considerable sums of money to pay Polish politicians acting on behalf of foreign courts. Polish magnates willingly took money from foreign countries, as the expectations of the courts were in line with their interests – to prevent the strengthening of monarchical power, to increase their influence and wealth. The powers influencing the fate of Central Europe wanted to keep Poland internally and internationally weak. As foreign influence balanced the nobility believed that this constituted a guarantee and inviolability of borders. The slogan Poland stands ungoverned expressed the fatal conviction that neighbors would tolerate the existence of a weak Republic that did not threaten their interests. Poland’s military weakness caused foreign armies to pass through its territories, behaving as if they were in a conquered country.

The court of a Polish magnate on the road during the reign of Augustus III

After the Pacification Sejm, the Czartoryskis and the castellan of Krakow, Stanislaw Poniatowski, the king’s father, tied up with Russia, hoping that this would make it easier for them to regain influence lost after the election of August III. The Potocki family maintained contacts with France and Prussia. The Czartoryskis were in favor of treasury-military reform (auction – enlargement of the army). At the Sejm in Grodno (1744) the Pototts, paid by the King of Prussia, blocked the reforms. The situation was similar at subsequent assemblies.

At the end of the reign of August III, there were voices calling for total reforms. Earlier, the Czartoryskis, like the Potockis, had formulated programs of change, but effectively prevented their rivals from implementing them.

As early as 1749, a journalistic work attributed to Stanislaw Leszczynski, Voice of Freedom Insuring Freedom, was published. The author proposed levying taxes on peasants and granting them personal freedom. He recommended streamlining the work of the Sejm, limiting the liberum veto, reforming taxes. Stanislaw Konarski’s journalism was of particular importance. In the work O skutecznym rad sposobie, he proposed abolishing the liberum veto, reforming the manner of the Sejm, and appointing a permanent government (a council of deputies and senators). In addition to systemic and political issues, the economy occupied a lot of space in his work. Konarski stressed the need to launch manufactures, heal the financial system, and better educate young people. To the cities depopulated after the Northern War, colonists began to settle under rent law. A rent economy – is one in which the peasant paid the lord a certain amount of money for the land he cultivated. Elements of the rent economy increased monetary turnover and revived demand for artisanal products.

Operations of the Russian army from the territory of the Republic in 1756-1762, during the Seven Years’ War

Saxon rule, which lasted more than half a century, intensified the state’s crisis, which had been evident since the mid-17th century. The magnate oligarchy triumphed, and the Republic went from being a strong state aspiring to become a regional power to a country with limited sovereignty, fully dependent on its neighbors.

System of government, sejmic rule[edit | edit code].

Parliamentarism[edit | edit code].

During the reign of the kings of the Saxon dynasty, 4 of the legally stipulated sejms were not held at all. Of the remaining 35 that managed to convene, 15 broke off, 8 dissolved without passing a constitution, 4 were limited, and only 8 assemblies were held that ended with the passing of a constitution[5]. The role of the Sejm was taken over by the Crown Tribunal and the Main Tribunal of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The tribunals were in charge of setting the exchange rate of coins, and took over matters of granting ennoblement and indigeneity. Many of the decisions usually made by the Sejm were decided in the councils of the Senate[6].

Prevalence of the magnates[edit | edit code].

Separate article: Polish magnates.

Since royal power was very weak, the country was ruled by magnates, who made the nobility, who formally had the same political rights, dependent on them. In addition to huge estates and magnificent palaces, the magnates also had their own military troops, and the nobility, which constituted their clientele, voted in accordance with their will at sejmiks and sejms. In the second half of the 17th century, the custom became established that when a deputy at the sejm cried “veto” the sejm was invalid. The first liberum veto occurred in 1652, when, at the urging of the magnates, MP Władysław Wiktoryn Siciński of Upita prevented the session from being extended. Under Augustus, the Sejm was broken off approximately every other session. When the nobility did not like the king’s policies, they rebelled against his authority and formed armed unions, called rokosze and confederations. Since there was no strong authority in the country, it was very difficult for the king and central officials to watch over the entire state.

Individual provinces were governed by sejmiks, which took care of the needs of the nobility from a particular area, and were not interested in the affairs of the entire state. This state of affairs was called “golden freedom” by the nobility. It was proud of this freedom and believed that Poland, of all countries, had the best laws. Hence was born the nobility’s pacifism, the belief that a weak state, not posing a threat to its neighbors, could defend its independence by not getting involved in armed conflicts. The nobility was convinced that the state was not threatened by anything except the rulers’ desire for absolutism. Therefore, the state was not assured of defense. The standing army was still few in number. Since the nobility paid very low taxes, there was no money to maintain the army. Afraid of the Wettin absolutism, with the help of Russia, the nobility required Augustus II to limit the number of the Republic’s army (silent sejm 1717). In the first half of the 18th century, the Polish army did not exceed 12,000, at which time the Prussian and Russian armies each numbered more than 100,000 soldiers.

Buczacz town hall from 1751

Culture and intellectual life[edit | edit code].

Separate articles: Rococo architecture in the borderlands of the former Republic, Sarmatism and Vilnius Baroque.

Royal castle – Saxon facade

Collegium Nobilium of the Piarists in Warsaw

Załuski Library

Prince Józef Aleksander Jabłonowski, historian, bibliographer, patron of the arts, founder of the Jabłonowski Scientific Society in Leipzig

The level of intellectual and cultural life in Poland was very low from the beginning of the reign of Augustus II the Strong until the 1840s[footnote needed] as a result of civil war and anarchy, as shown by the great stagnation in the field of scientific work that prevailed during this period, a very small number of literary translations – a complete lack of reprints of works of Polish poetry (for example, Kochanowski’s works were not reprinted from 1639 until the reign of Stanisław August Poniatowski)[7] or even a very small number of editions of artistic secondary literature[8]. Only a few authors from this period are worth mentioning, such as Jozef Baka, Jan Damascen Kaliński, Jan Skorski, Jan Stanisław Jabłonowski, Wacław Piotr Rzewuski, Wojciech Stanisław Chrościński and Elżbieta Drużbacka. Of the prose writers of the period, the diarist Jędrzej Kitowicz stood out. In response to the crisis of the state in Saxon times, such works as O skutecznym rad sposobie by Stanisław Konarski and Głos wolny wolność ubezpieczający attributed to Stanisław Leszczyński were written.

August II the Strong brought French ensembles to Dresden and Warsaw, performing the classicist repertoire, and built 7 theater halls in the Polish capital. August III Sas in 1748 erected the Operalnia in the Saxon Garden in Warsaw, a theater building richly equipped with machinery and decorations. He engaged excellent ensembles of Italian commedia dell’arte, opera and ballet. The activity of the royal stage stimulated the theatrical interests of magnates. In imitation of the court, they established theaters in their residences and brought soloists and acting troupes from abroad. The highest level was represented by the theaters of Ursula Radziwill in Nesvizh and Waclaw Rzewuski in Podhorce, where Polish works written by the theater owners themselves were performed alongside plays performed by French and Italian ensembles[9].

It is only since the 1840s that the first symptoms of cultural revival are noticeable. In view of the collapse of the Cracow Academy, the burden of higher education is taken over by the Jesuit and Piarist colleges. There is an increase in the number of Catholic orders and the works they run. In 1720, the Enlightenment scientific society Societas literaria was founded in Gdansk. In 1743 another scientific society, societas physicae experimentalis, with its own library and laboratory, was established. It was sponsored by Jozef Aleksander Jablonowski. More printed presses were published than in the 17th century, but these were publications focused mainly on devotional and rhetoric (calendars, religious literature, speech patterns, advice).

In 1740 Stanislaw Konarski founded the Collegium Nobilium in Warsaw, an elite school educating the youth of the nobility. After 1754, the Piarists, later the Jesuits, reformed monastic education. The Jesuits established nobility colleges, preparing the sons of the nobility and magnates for important state functions. A Jesuit college of nobility was established in Kalisz in 1746, in Lviv in 1749, in Vilnius and Ostrog in 1751, in Warsaw in 1752, in Lublin in 1753 and in Poznań in 1756. They brought together outstanding educators (such as: Jan Chrzciciel Albertrandi, Jan Bielski, Franciszek Bohomolec, Józef Boreyko, Józef Karsznicki, Adam Tadeusz Naruszewicz, Józef Feliks Rogaliński, Karol Wyrwicz, Franciszek Paprocki, Michał Kociełkowski, Tomasz Skierzyński)[10].

In secondary schools, modern languages appeared alongside Latin (however, Polish was still not taught), science teaching was increased. In 1747, the Załuski brothers established the Załuski Library in Warsaw, open to the general public (a collection of 400,000 volumes, 20,000 manuscripts and 40,000 engravings[11] – one of the largest in Europe), which gave rise to the National Library.

The Saxon times were the last stage of the development of Baroque construction, which, after a regression associated with the Civil War and anarchy, began to develop again from the 1840s. In addition to court investments, such as the Saxon Axis and the façade on the Vistula side of the Royal Castle in Warsaw, numerous Baroque magnate residences were built (e.g. the Branicki Palace in Białystok, the Brühl Palace in Warsaw, the Cracow Bishops’ Palace in Warsaw, the Palace in Radzyń Podlaski, the Palace in Rydzyń, the Bishop’s Palace in Ciążenie). Rococo elements appeared in many of them. Warsaw (Church of the Visitation Sisters in Warsaw) and Vilnius, where the Emotional Baroque dominated (current – Vilnius Baroque), were the leaders in religious construction. Outstanding examples of Baroque architecture created during the Saxon era were the Dominican Church in Lviv, the City Hall in Buczacz and the Church in Berezwecz. The Piarist Church on Skalka in Cracow and in Swieta Lipka were also rebuilt during this period. Lviv rococo sculpture also developed at that time. Among sculptors, Jan Jerzy Plersch, Antoni Frąckiewicz, Wojciech Rojewski, Jan Henryk Meissner, Jan Chryzostom Redler, Maciej Polejowski, Jan Jerzy Pinzel made their mark.

Economy[edit | edit code].

The field in which most was invested was construction. Polish cities were enriched with new rococo churches and palaces. In Warsaw, new hospitals, an opera house, the first public library (given to the nation by the Załuski family) and a higher school for the youth of the nobility, the Collegium Nobilium, founded by Stanisław Konarski, were built. On the other hand, secular and clerical magnates indulged in profligate consumption. The nobility even often said: during the reign of King Sas, eat, drink and indulge! During the Seven Years’ War, Frederick II came into possession of the original Polish mint stamps captured in Saxony, which allowed him to flood the Commonwealth with worthless coinage of the so-called efraim, minted by Veitel Heine Ephraim, which caused an outflow of valuable bullion coinage from the Commonwealth and a huge increase in prices[12]. On the basis of the ordinance of July 20, 1750, King August III succeeded in expanding the scope of royal authority in Danzig.

Agriculture[edit | edit code].

In the second half of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century, the economy was in decline, as the Republic was constantly destroyed by enemy armies. Much of the land lay fallow for many years, and peasant farms often lacked the livestock necessary to cultivate the land. Much land was seized by the nobility by enlarging their manors, which increased the number of landless and smallholder peasants. The enlargement of manors resulted in an increase in serfdom. On the other hand, there was an increase in the profitability of the royal estates, thanks to the application of the latest Saxon cameralism in administration. Toward the end of the reign of Augustus III, the latest economic current – physiocratism – penetrated Poland, seeing large farms as the basis of the country’s economy.

Around 1740, an attempt was made to reform peasant relations in the modern spirit in the great magnate latifundia of the Jabłonowski, Zamoyski, Lubomirski, Czartoryski and Poniatowski families[13].

Cities[edit | edit code].

The plight of the countryside also reflected negatively on the cities. Peasants did not buy craft products because they had no money, the nobility imported the goods it needed mostly from abroad. In the 16th century, the parliament passed many laws unfavorable to the townsfolk. Wars, especially the Swedish ones, devastated the country to the core. Towns that were thriving later began to depopulate. In many, the population was halved. A new phenomenon was the emergence of magnate manufactories. Production based on the labor of serf peasants guided by professional supervision produced luxury goods (kontusz/slutsk belts, tapestries), products for the needs of the army and magnate estates. There was also an agrarianization of the cities, the bourgeoisie broke away from crafts and took to cultivating the land while still living in the city.

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