William Richard Morfill.

Poland online

. (page 11 of 23)
Online LibraryWilliam Richard MorfillPoland → online text (page 11 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

that a marriage could take place at Montefiascone.
A medal was struck to commemorate this event, one
of the inscriptions upon which was : " Deceptis cus-
todibus, A. 17 19." Clementina had two sons, one
of whom was the celebrated Young Pretender ; an
historian of that memorable insurrection has said
with truth that there was a great deal of the spirit of
Sobieski in the gallant and chivalrous young prince.
Clementina died on the i8th of January, 1735, aged
thirty-three. Two years later her father James, once
a competitor for the Polish throne, who had shared
the dangers and honours of the great siege with his
father, died at Zolkiew. Three years afterwards, in
1740, died the last of the three daughters.

The princess Clementina, who had enjoyed the
airy honours of titular queen of England, does not
seem to have lived happily with her husband. She
finally separated from him and her death is said
to have been partly occasioned by her religious
abstinence and too severe mortifications. Her


remains were interred with great pomp in St.
Peter's, where there is a monument to her memory.
We have already spoken of the eldest son, Charles
Edward. As is well known, he died without heirs,
and his brother Henry became a cardinal and sur-
vived to the present century.

At the close of the reign of Stephen Batory, we
halted for a time and surveyed the situation, because
it was a turning-point in the history of Poland ;
at that time it may be said with truth that its
decadence begins. Its decadence it certainly is,
but for one short period the gloom of the history
is lit up by glorious achievements, and that period
is the reign of Sobieski. Before commencing the
dull gloom of the rule of the Saxon kings, we
will take a final survey of the real old Poland,
as it has been handed down to us in the curious
narrative of a certain French Abb^, F. D. S., an
unknown person, whose manuscript has been pre-
served for some time in the Bibliotheque Mazarine,
and was first published at Paris in 1858. In this
curious work we shall be able to get glimpses both of
the king and queen and the chief Polish customs and
institutions. He sets out for Poland on the 30th of
July, 1688. We will omit the preliminaries of his
journey, and begin with his arrival in Silesia and his
crossing the Polish frontier at Lublinist. " From
this town to Warsaw," says our traveller, " I have not
found a single town, which in France would deserve
the name of a village, whether on account of its
poverty, dirt, or coarseness, which seem essential
ingredients in the Polish nation." He is attacked


by a terrific storm just as he nears the capital,
Warsaw, at which he arrived at eight o'clock at
night. The queen was then at Willanow [the
Frenchman writes it phonetically Villanouf, and
indeed most of the places in the same way, as
the French are in the habit of doing with foreign
names]. He was told that she rarely came to
Warsaw except on the great festivals ; but he was
met by one of her officers who had been told to
take care of him, and is conducted to Willanow on
the following day. The queen was going to mass,
but gave him a hearty welcome ; the king he did not
see till the evening, as he had gone hunting. On his
return he welcomed M. I'Abbe and asked him many
questions about France and the king his master.
The Frenchman stayed at Willanow a month. He
gives a complete description of Sobieski's favourite
palace which was a tolerably handsome building, but
only one story high ; the gardens were poor. There
were some good orchards, however, a thing rare in
Poland, he remarks, on account of the coldness of the
climate. There were some tame wolves in the court
of the castle, who were kept with the hunting dogs
and went to the chase with them ; they agreed very
well except that they always wished to have the
mastery over the dogs ; there were also tame bears.
The Abb6 tells us that the country was full of these
animals, which were to be found in the forest, but
fled at the approach of a human being. The houses
in the village of Willanow were poorly built, and
there was only a mean looking church, the priest of
which received a paltry pittance.


He next describes Gora, whither he went with the
Court. This town, he tells us, was built by a bishop
of Kiew. At his death he bequeathed it to Prince
James, the son of Sobieski. The castle occupied by
the prince was fine, and situated near the Vistula.
From Gora he went to Zolkiew, which had a fine
church with two pictures representing the victories of
Sobieski over the infidels. His father and mother
were buried in the church in tombs of black and
white marble with ornaments of gilded bronze. The
castle belonging to the king was very fine, of semi-
oriental architecture. There was a pleasant garden
with a summer-house, which afforded a delightful
view over the surrounding country. Here the king
was in the habit of dining with his most familiar
friends. Besides the buildings already mentioned
there were a Dominican convent, a church of the
Uniates, a monastery, and a handsome synagogue.

The traveller goes on to describe other towns ; of
Warsaw he speaks very depreciatingly. He calls it a
little city, surrounded with stone walls. He admires
the king's castle, situated on the banks of the Vistula.
The apartments had very rich tapestries, which were
given to the Poles by Cromwell, according to our
author's testimony. There was a room in the palace
for acting comedies, the actors being Italians.
Although the actual city of Warsaw was small, the
suburbs were large.

The king has been already described in the account
which we have borrowed from Dr. South ; we will
therefore omit our author's description and take that
which he has given us of the queen, who plays so


large a part in Polish history. He thus writes : " This
queen at present is about fifty years of age, she is still
a very handsome woman, of moderate stature, neither
fat nor thin, very fair and with a charming colour.
She has black eyes, an aquiline nose, a small and red
mouth with plenty of wit, she is very virtuous, good,
liberal, magnificent ; excessively charitable to the
monasteries, the hospitals, and the poor ; she is so
captivating that when she looks upon any one with
favour, it is impossible to resist her gaze ; but when
she stands upon her dignity, she disconcerts the very
haughtiest. Her greatest devotions are to the Holy
Sacrament, the Holy Virgin, and St. Anthony of
Padua. Her manner of passing her day is as
follows : — She rises at ten o'clock in the morning,
her book of hours is brought to her when in bed,
and she there prays for a short time. Afterwards
she receives the visits of her servants and the officers
of her household, who converse with her and put any
questions to her. At eleven o'clock she goes to mass
in the chapel of the palace, after having partaken of
refreshment. She then carefully dresses herself and
sits down to dinner about two o'clock. When dinner
is ended, she receives visits and sometimes plays at
ombre [readers of Waller and Pope will remember
how much this game used to be played in England] :
in summer she goes for a walk about nine o'clock in
the evening : one of her amusements is to let herself
be drenched by the rain, although magnificently
dressed. I remember," our Abbe continues, " that
one day Monsieur le Comte de Teil, Counseiller du
parlement de Paris, who had been sent to Poland by


the King of England (j/<:), being near the queen when it
rained agreatdeal, she said to him, ' Monsieur I'envoi,
let us take a walk ; ' he, not daring to refuse her.
He wore on that day a fine wig ; nevertheless he
endured the rain for some time, and then said to her,
' Madam, your Majesty is getting wet.' ' Say, rati cr,'
answered the queen, ' that you are learning how to
spoil your fine wig,' and she continued in the rain
maliciously a full half hour. She is very sportive,
although dignified and proud. It is she who governs
the state ; the Royal Council being only composed
of the king, the queen, and one of her women (!),
v.'ho is generally no more than \\^x feinnte de chambre.
At ni_;ht the queen goes to the comedy, has suj)per
about eleven o'clock, and retires to rest about two
hours after midnight. Her suite consists of twelve
ladies-in-waiting, all daughters of palatines, and the
great lords of the kingdom. She speaks Polish better
than the Poles themselves (!), and with so much
elegance, if there is any in that language, that she is
an object of admiration. She has been quite long
enough in Poland to learn it, for she has been there
since she was nine years of age ; T believe," continues
the Abbe, " you know why she came into Poland so
young and the progress of her fortunes."

" The Princess Louise Marie having been chosen
wife of the King of Poland, the ambassadors from
that power came to Paris to conduct this princess
to her new home. Luckily Mdlle. d'Arquiens was
known to the new queen. She pleased her very
much by her beauty and spirit. She a^^ked M. d'
Arquiens, her father, if he would permit her to take

t84 the reign of yoHN sobieskt.

this young girl with her to Poland. He readily
consented. When she arrived at Warsaw the queen
made her one of her ladies-in-waiting; her great
gifts of mind and person soon attracted the attention
of the chief men of the kingdom." Our author then
goes on to say how Sobieski fell in love with her,
but was put off by Queen Marie Louise, who married
her favourite to le prince des Amoches " [Zamojski —
this is an astonishing corruption of the name]. After
his death, however, Sobieski renewed his suit^ and
was successful. M. I'Abb^ winds up his account of
the royal pair by saying that many of the Poles did
not love thtir king and queen, the former for his
avarice and the latter for her pride ; they treat them,
however, he adds with great respect. Of Prince
James, the eldest son, he says : " The first eight or ten
years of his life gave much hope, but these expecta-
tions have not been fulfilled ; he is short, very lean,
ugly in face, hunch-backed. He is effeminate,
although he knows his military exercises perfectly.
vBesideshe knows a good deal of divinity, philosophy,
and history, is very skilful in dancing, and sings
tolerably. He leSds a life but little in accordance
with his rank. He is only allowed a very small
retinue and very little money, but dresses handsomely
in the French style. His fine dress he owes to his
mother, who is very fond of him. At one time the
king wished to have him sit beside him under his
canopy at the diet, but the palatines and the senators
would not permit it, so that he was obliged to retire
with shame, and has never appeared there since. The
Abbe in conclusion says the Prince that the general


Opinion is that he will not succeed his father, because
he is unpopular and being poor cannot entertain."

M. I'Abbe now describes the princess. "This prin-
cess, who is called Madame Royale, takes precedence
of her two younger brothers, Alexander and Con-
stantine, as is the custom of the country. She is now
fourteen years of age ; small, and will never be of good
stature ; fat, but rather pretty. She has plenty of
sense, sings nicely, speaks Latin to perfection, and
French also. She is proud, and loves to thwart
those who do not please her. She has a great
dislike to the French nation, so that she once said
to me, ' M. I'Abbe, I like you very well, but I
should like you better if you were not a French-
man.* She is passionately fond of the king her
father, and the king loves her also, and cannot bear
her long out of his sight. If they allowed this young
princess to follow her own inclinations, she would
be dressed in the Polish fashion, as she has a great
dislike to the French style. She dresses very hand-
somely. Her governess is the wife of a palatine,
and she has a suite of four ladies-in-waiting and
some attendants."

We shall omit his descriptions of the other two
princes and borrow some of his remarks on Polish

Of the senate he says : " It is composed of the
king, the bishops, the palatines, the senators, the
castellans, and the nuntii. They sit in arm-chairs on
each side of the king according to their rank and
dignity: those of the crown (Corona) on the right,
and the Lithuanians on the left The nuntii are


behind, seated on benches covered with Turkey

The Abbe was witness of an instance of the exercise
of the liberum veto, which he calls " tine fort mechatite
politique'' " The day on which the diet was to close,
being Friday before Palm Sunday, the assembly
continued in session till two hours after midnight,
which was extraordinary ; for they had resolved
several years previously that no lights should be
brought into the senate, and that they should retire
at the close of each day. As this was the last day of
the diet, twelve pages holding torches in their hands
entered the hall of the senate. A nuntius from
Lithuania, gained over by the Imperialists [i.e., the
German Court], with the view of breaking up the
diet, rose, and after having made many objections,
had the rashness and boldness to abuse the king
at great length calling him a miser and unfit to rule.
A bishop, friendly to the king, who sat near the
nuntius, arose and demanded from the senate punish-
ment for the insults offered to his Majesty. The
nuntius thereupon struck the bishop violently in the
stomach with his elbow, crying out that he was
fitter to live in an alley than to be seated in an
episcopal chair, and finally half drew his sabre from
its sheath. The king, apprehending a riot, rose from
the throne, took his sabre in his hand, and called
out to his soldiers and guards, who entered in great
number. The senate at this time appeared more
like an assembly of rioters than a body of dignified
senators and palatines. In the midst of this tumult
the nuntius, who had been the aggressor, declared the


diet at an end, and insisted that whatever was
determined upon would be null and void. At the
same time, trusting to the darkness, he made his
escape unperceived from the assembly. Seeing that
he had gone out, several ran after him, but he had
ordered his servants to have a boat in readiness so
that he might cross as quickly as possible to the other
side of the Vistula. Thus an end was put to the
proceedings of that diet. All the churches in War-
saw were laid under an interdict on Saturday in
consequence of the insult offered to a bishop. This
interdict was removed early on Palm Sunday, so as
not to prevent the ceremonies of Holy Week."

Of the nobility of Poland our author tells us that
they had power of life and death over their serfs, so
that they could put them to death whenever they
pleased. He also narrates some scandalous stories
of their treatment of the peasant women on their

. The chief faults he finds with the Polish nation are
a general inclination to avarice, and the want of any
proper administration of justice throughout the king-
dom. The tribunals were everywhere corrupt.

The nobles were splendid in their dresses, as we
have already seen from the accounts of the gorgeous
embassies which they sent to France. They shaved
their heads with the exception of a tuft on the
top ; they did not wear beards, but long and thick
moustaches, which almost entirely covered their
mouths. The ladies were dressed in the French
style. If one of them left her house to go to church
or to pay a visit at but a distance of twenty paces.


she always went in a carriage drawn by six horses.
The peasants were obliged to work five days a week
on their masters' estates ; if they neglected this
corvee they were liable to personal chastisement.

Of their marriage ceremonies the Abbe tells us
that they were splendid, and lasted generally three
days. He was present on one occasion when one of
the ladies-in-waiting to the queen was married to a
palatine. He also describes the pomp of their
funerals. Here again scenes of great disorder fre-
quently occurred. Towards the conclusion of the
funeral of a Prince Radziwill three cavaliers entered
the church one after the other. The first carried
the sabre of the deceased, the second his javelin,
and the third his lance. They rode into the church
at full speed, and broke the weapons which they
brought against the sides of the bier. The last
of these riders, who carried the lance, after having
broken it against his master's grave, let himself fall
gently from his horse as if he were dead ; at the
same time the priests seized his horse as a perquisite,
and the rider was obliged to redeem it. Many pieces
of money were then thrown on the ground : every-
body hastened to pick them up and get a share. This
very unecclesiastical ceremony caused such tumult
that several bishops, priests, and noblemen were
thrown to the- ground. Confusion reigned supreme.
But when all the ceremony was concluded the
ecclesiastics who had been engaged in it had a great
feast, at which Hungarian wine flowed copiously.

With these remarks on some Polish domestic cere-
monies we leave our anonymous traveller. In cor-


roboration of his observations on the diet, it may be
well to add the very sensible reflections of Bernard
Connor, his contemporary (ii. 105). " Certainly there
is no assembly in Europe more subject to disorders,
more distracted by cabals and factions, and, in fine,
more corrupted by bribery and base practices, which
is the reason that the Diet of Poland seldom* con-
cludes upon what they sit and deliberate about,
though it should be the greatest importance imagin-
able. All these intrigues and mismanagements are
generally fomented by the two powerful factions of
the Houses of Austria and Bourbon. Every one
knows the great advantages the emperors have had,
when they have maintained a good correspondence
or confederation with the Poles against their common
enemy the Turks and Tatars. And on the other side,
it is the French interest to prevent and oppose such
correspondence and endeavour to render all means
ineffectual which might otherwise favour the Emperor
to enlarge his dominions. Hereupon the Poles are so
weak-sighted that they never reflect that neither the
Emperor nor the French king have any kindness for
them, but only make use of them as instruments the
better to accomplish their designs. There is nothing
that can promote or favour foreign factions more than
the unlimited prerogatives of each member of the
diet ; for the king, senators, and deputies have all
equal voices and equal power in their affirmative or
negative votes ; and affairs are not concluded or
agreed upon by plurality of voices, but universal con-
sent of all the three orders, and the free approbation
of every member of the diet in particular ; so that if


but one person only, who has a lawful vote, thinks fit
to refuse his consent to what all the rest have agreed
to, he alone can interrupt their proceedings and
annihilate their suffrages. Nay, what is yet more
extravagant, if, for example, there were thirty articles
or bills to pass, and they all unanimously agreed to
nine and twenty, yet if but one deputy disapproved
of the thirtieth, not only that, but also the other nine
and twenty are void and of no force, and this because
all the articles at first proposed have not passed."

Connor bears ample testimony to the efforts
made by the French and Austrians to direct the
policy of the Republic, each weakening them for
their own ends and using them as a means to
carry out their mutual hostilities. In fact, both
the French and Austrians had a number of the
corrupt Polish nobles in their pay. We have already
found the Opalinskis and the Morsztyns, and
they were typical persons. Connor further quaintly
illustrates the disgraceful scene which the Abbe
witnessed in the diet. " Every member of the diet,
after having obtained leave of their marshal, who can
only stop their mouths, has a right to speak and
harangue there as long as he pleases ; nay, can say
what he will, for they often abuse one another and
affront their king to his face, branding him with the
infamous titles of perjured, unjust, and the like.
They often likewise threaten him and his children
when perhaps they have the least reason. The
occasion of this is generally in that they come drunk
into the diet, and consequently talk only as the
spirit moves, either good or bad. Nay, you shall have


seme of these fuddle-caps talk nonsense for two or
three hours together, trespassing on the patience of
the soberer sort with a railing, carping, injurious, and
ill-digested discourse without anybody's ever daring
to interrupt them, though they spin it out never so
long ; for if the marshal himself should then presume
to bid them hold their tongues they would infallibly
dissolve the diet by protesting against the proceed-
ings thereof, so that the prudenter way is always to
hear them out, and moreover to show no dislike to
the impertinent speeches they have made."




Much as Poland had already suffered, she had had
gleams of grandeur and dignity, which had relieved
the gloomier pages of her history; she now entered
upon a period of decay, which was only ended by the
complete annihilation of her independence.

The eldest son of Sobieski, James, who has already
been mentioned as being present with his father in
the glorious campaign of 1683, put himself forward as
a candidate for the vacant throne ;■ but, according to
some authorities, his mother did all she could to
prevent his election, having conceived a dislike to
him. At one time he seemed to have a large party
in his favour, but it gradually dwindled, and the real
contest lay between the Prince of Conti, a nephew of
Louis XIV., and Frederick Augustus, the Elector of
Saxony. Frederick was elected ; in order to qualify
for the Polish throne, he had already abjured Protes-
tantism, and his descendants have remained Roman
Catholics to this day. In 1699. by the treaty of
Carlowitz, the Sultan consented to restore Kaminiec

14 ^93



and all that part of Podolia and the Ukraine which
had been taken from King Michael ; by this settle-
ment the new sovereign gained some favour among
his subjects, but the Elector of Brandenburg got
possession of Elbing as a guarantee for 200,000
thalers, which he declared were owing to him from
the Republic. This able ruler became more than
ever a formidable adversary of Poland on succeed-
ing a short time afterwards in getting himself
recognised as king of Prussia.

The country at this time was rent by the rival
factions of the Oginskis and Sapiehas, who carried on
open war with each other. The king without the
consent of the diet made a secret treaty with Peter,
the Tsar of Russia, with the view of wresting Livonia
and Ingria from the Swedes. But they found a
vigorous adversary in the young Swedish king,
Charles XII., who was destined to make Europe
resound with his exploits. The Russian Tsar was
defeated at Narva in 1700 and both Cracow and
Warsaw were taken by the Swedes, the former
after the victory of Kliszow in 1702. Charles
now established his headquarters at Heilsberg in
Warmia, and declared the throne of Poland
vacant. At his dictation Stanislaus Leszczynski, the
palatine of Posen, was elected king. Stanislaus had
been sent to Heilsberg while Charles was there, in
order to ascertain the views of the conqueror, who by
a series of brilliant successes had all Poland at his
feet. The Pole spoke so sensibly about the condition
of affairs that the Swedish king was charmed, and
said when he had left his presence, " I never saw a


man more fitted to conciliate all parties ; he shall
always be my friend." Stanislaus was at this time
about twenty-seven years of age, having been born
at Lemberg in 1677; his father Raphael Leszczynski
had been grand treasurer of the country. The young
Stanislaus travelled some time in the west of Europe,
and had returned to Poland on the death of Sobieski
in 1696. He presided at the diet which elected
Augustus II., and became palatine of Posen in 1703.
But to return to the embassy. When Stanislaus

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryWilliam Richard MorfillPoland → online text (page 11 of 23)