Stanisław August Poniatowski
gigatos | April 2, 2022
Stanislaus II Augustus, born Stanislaus Antoni Poniatowski coat of arms Ciołek (born January 17, 1732 in Wolczyn, died February 12, 1798 in St. Petersburg), king of Poland in the years 1764-1795, the last ruler of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Evaluation of his reign remains a matter of dispute. Appreciated as the initiator and co-author of political reforms carried out by the Four-Year Sejm, one of the main authors of the Constitution of May 3, and as a patron of science and art, Stanislaw Augustus was at the same time criticized as the king elected to the Polish throne thanks to the support of the Empress of the Russian Empire, Catherine II, and for failing to prevent the partition of the Polish Republic and joining the Targowicki Confederation.
From 1755 he was the Grand Master of Lithuania, and then in the years 1756-1764
He was the starost of Przemyśl. In 1755-1758, while staying at the court in Petersburg, he struck up an affair with Duchess Catherine Alexeyevna, the future Empress of Russia. Connected with the Czartoryski Family, he became its candidate for the king of Poland after the death of Augustus III. With the personal support of Catherine II and with the military intervention of Russia he was elected king at the electoral parliament in 1764. Contrary to the expectations of the empress, he tried to modernize and strengthen the Polish Republic which was in a difficult political situation. He began implementing the program of the Familia, that is, strengthening royal power and reforming the state system. In 1765 he established a Knights” School in Warsaw to educate future cadets. He formed a permanent Polish diplomatic service. His reform efforts met with external opposition from Prussia, the Habsburg Empire and the Russian Empire, whose interest was to maintain the weak position of the Republic; as well as internal opposition, mainly from the conservative magnates. The king”s reformist activities led to Russian intervention, ostensibly in defense of the Republic”s system and the rights of dissidents. In response to the Russian army, an anti-royal and anti-Russian confederation was formed in Bar (1768-1772), which intensified the crisis in the state. The consequence of the confederation”s defeat was the First Partition of Poland in 1772.
Since his accession to the throne, Stanislaus Augustus made efforts to strengthen Polish culture. In 1765, he established the National Theater in Warsaw. In the same year, a magazine called Monitor was founded under his patronage. From about 1770, he organized “Thursday dinners. At his request, in 1773, the Commission of National Education was established. The king also founded the palace and garden complex in Lazienki Park. The situation of the king was difficult, because already in the first years of his reign he lost the support of the Czartoryskis, and the opposition of the gentry did not weaken. Subsequent sejms, which were not held under the knot of confederation (as the first ones during the king”s reign), did not give hope for political reforms. From the Sejm of 1776 to 1788 no Sejm acted under the knot of confederation. In the last part of the reign of Stanislaus Augustus, between 1788 and 1792, the Four-Year Sejm made significant reforms of the political system. Russia, focused on the war with Turkey and encouraged by the king”s proposal of an anti-Turkish alliance, agreed to have the Sejm deliberate under the knot of a confederation and to carry out partial reforms, mainly of the army. The Sejm was dominated by the Prussian orientation, to which the king was in favour. As a result, the Sejm gained support and an alliance with Prussia in 1790. The Sejm did not dissolve itself, but only co-opted additional deputies, which further strengthened the reformist party. The result was the adoption of the Constitution of May 3, 1791, of which the king was one of the main authors.
The opposition of the nobility, supported by Russia, formed a confederation at Targowica in May 1792. After the Russian army entered, a war broke out in defense of the Constitution. Despite the moderate success of the new, enlarged royal army, the king, disbelieving in the chances of further resistance and disappointed in the lack of reaction from Prussia, capitulated and joined Targowica, having received a letter two days earlier in which Empress Catherine urged him to do so. In 1793 he took part in the Sejm of Grodno, which reversed the reforms of the Four-Year Sejm and passed the Second Partition of Poland. The king did not play an important role in the Kościuszko Uprising, which he joined despite his reluctance. After the conclusion of the Third Partition (1795), which meant the end of the Republic, the king left Warsaw and went to Grodno, under the care and supervision of the Russian governor, and abdicated on November 25, 1795 in favor of Russia. He spent the last years of his life in exile in St. Petersburg. He died on February 12, 1798.
He was a political writer and speaker, memoirist, translator and epistolographer.
He was born on 17 January 1732 in Wołczyn, to Stanisław Poniatowski, castellan of Cracow (from 1752), politician and political writer, and Konstancja, née Czartoryska. His brothers were Kazimierz, chamberlain of the Crown, Andrzej, Field Marshal of Austria, Michael Primate George, Alexander, and Franciszek; he also had two sisters, Ludwika Maria and Izabella. He was the great-grandson of the Polish poet and treasurer Jan Andrzej Morsztyn. His great-grandmother Catherine Gordon was related to the Stuarts and intermarried with the greatest families of Scotland, Spain, and France.
Since autumn 1733, he and his parents lived in Gdansk, where at the end of the next year, at the time when his father, already for five months, was on the side of King August III, he was kidnapped on the orders of the voivode of Kiev, regimental Joseph Potocki and transported to Kamieniec Podolski. There he stayed for several months under the guard of Wacław Rzewuski. He was taken back to his parents, probably in March 1735, and for the next few years, until 1739, he stayed with his parents in Gdańsk. Initially he was taught by his mother and later by various private teachers. There he also studied with Gotfried Lengnich, a historian who was the personal preceptor of the young Poniatowskis. After returning from Gdansk to Warsaw, he studied at the Theatine College, where he was taught by Antonio Portalupi. In 1746-1747, Stanisław appeared twice as an actor on the stage of the Theatines. In 1744 he was given lessons of logic and mathematics by the Russian deputy in the Republic of Poland, Herman Karl von Keyserling, a former professor of the University of Königsberg. He continued to teach Stanislaus after his return to Warsaw in 1749, at the same time stating that the student had made great progress under the guidance of another teacher. Jerzy Michalski states that some historians overestimated the influence of Keyserlingk”s lessons on S”s personality and views. Beginning in 1749, architecture and engineering lessons were given to the future king by the former Austrian officer Jan Łukasz Toux de Salverte. The confessor chosen by his parents until 1774 was a missionary Piotr Śliwicki. Under the influence of the metaphysics instilled in him by his mother, Stanislaus Antoni Poniatowski had a nervous breakdown at the age of 12.
Thanks to his home education, Stanislaus mastered Polish and French perfectly, had a good command of Latin and German, and a rather passive knowledge of Italian and English. He developed a habit and a fondness for reading. His “warm-hearted upbringing” and lack of the company of his peers (in his memoirs he lamented that he had been deprived of childhood) influenced his self-confidence, even though he was aware of the danger of conceit. He had a strong tendency to self-reflection and to melancholy.
He first left the country at his father”s request to gain military experience. He went with the Russian army to the Rhine, which was coming to the aid of Maria Theresa”s army during the War of the Austrian Succession. His delayed departure (May 1748) occurred just as the hostilities ended. On 10 June he arrived in Aachen, where he was taken care of by the Saxon deputy J.H. Kauderbach. Thanks to his father”s connections he was able to meet many eminent people, among others Maurice Saxon or future chancellor W. Kaunitz. He also saw military camps and fortresses. While visiting the Austrian Netherlands and Holland, he was mainly interested in art, especially painting. He also noticed the enthusiasm of the local people for the ruling Orange dynasty. On 5 September he left for a return trip and returned to Warsaw in mid-October via Kassel and Dresden.
Upon returning to the capital he witnessed the broken off Sejm. From November 1748 (until 1750) he apprenticed in the chancellery of his uncle Michał Czartoryski (at that time sub-chancellor of Lithuania, later Grand Chancellor of Lithuania), first in Warsaw and then in Wołczyn. Thanks to this, he came into contact with the mechanism of the family politics. In his memoirs, Stanislaus considered this period to be barren, and his uncle”s teachings not worth much. At the beginning of October 1749, together with his brother Kazimierz, who led the Czartoryski party, he participated in the broken reassumption of the Tribunal in Piotrków. Then he continued his home education in Warsaw.
On Keyserlingk”s advice, in the spring of 1750, he went for treatment to Berlin with a famous physician J. Lieberkühn. The city and its upper classes made a negative impression on Stanislaus. An important event from his stay was meeting the English diplomat Charles Hunbury Wiliams. A new friend of the future king, seeing the potential in the young man, decided to become his guardian and mentor, and gave him a lot of valuable advice. He was, largely due to C. Rulhière, was recognized as a demoralizer of Stanislaus. The friendship deepened when Williams came to Warsaw in August of that year for an extraordinary Sejm, which was broken off. At the time, Stanisław was a deputy from the Zakroczym area.
In 1751 he was appointed colonel of the łan, and shortly thereafter elected commissioner from the Łomża land for the next year”s Crown Tax Tribunal. A year later (1752) he was elected deputy to the Sejm from the land of Lomza. During the Sejm his father bought for him the cession of the rich Przemyśl castle starosty (over 17 thousand quarters).
While in Berlin, he met the British MP there, Charles Hanbury Williams. At his invitation, in 1751 he stayed for six weeks in Dresden, where Williams took up a new post. At the urging of his parents, Poniatowski went to Vienna in early 1752. Upon his return, he spent some time in the country, then traveled again, visiting Vienna, from where he left with Williams for Holland. At the end of August he arrived in Paris, where he gained the friendship of his father”s acquaintance who ran a social salon where the intellectual elite of France gathered, Marie Thérèse Rodet Geoffrin (he called her Maman). He was imprisoned in Paris for debt, from where he was rescued by his father”s friends. In late February 1754, he arrived in England. There he traveled and corresponded with Charles Yorke, son of Lord Chancellor Philip Yorke, 1st Earl of Hardwicke. From his stay there he acquired a knowledge of English political and literary culture. He remained an Anglophile, valuing Shakespearean theater above French theater.
He became politically attached to August Czartoryski and supported the Czartoryski Family in their dispute with the court over the illegal division of the Ostrog Ordynacja estates. In April 1755, on behalf of the Czartoryskis, he participated in the defeat of the Main Tribunal of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in Vilnius. With the support of the Familia, he took the post of Lithuanian courtier.
Thanks to the efforts of the Familia, he went to St. Petersburg as private secretary to the British ambassador Charles Hanbury Williams, whom he had met earlier in Berlin. In June he met the wife of the heir to the tsarist throne, Catherine, the future Empress of Russia, Catherine II, and in December of the same year he began an affair with her. Even then, Catherine promised him her support in achieving the Polish crown. Williams, anxious to protect his secretary, sent him back to Poland in August 1756. Catherine required Chancellor Alexei Bestuzhev to request that the Saxon court send Poniatowski again on a diplomatic mission. In 1757 Stanislav returned to St. Petersburg as a Saxon deputy, where he continued his affair with the future tsarina, which resulted in their daughter Anna Petrovna. On 6 July 1758, he was caught in flagranti by Catherine”s husband, Grand Duke Peter; the lovers were then shielded from his wrath by Franciszek Ksawery Branicki.
He was elected a deputy of the Crown from the province of Livonia to the Diet of 1756, which, however, did not take place. He was a Lithuanian deputy to the Sejm of 1758 from the province of Livonia. In 1760 he was a deputy from the Sanok Land for the broken Sejm. He was a deputy from the Bielsko Land at the Extraordinary Sejm of 1761, which was broken off by the Czartoryskis. This Sejm, which was to deal with currency reform, was broken off, among others, with the support of Poniatowski, who as one of 43 deputies signed a manifesto against its legality. After his father”s death in August 1762 he inherited a fortune of nearly 4 million zloty.
A military coup in St. Petersburg on July 9 brought Catherine II to power. On August 2 the Empress assured Poniatowski: I am sending Count Keyserling to Poland to make you king immediately after the death of the current one (August III). Catherine assured Poniatowski of her protection, but forbade him to come to the Russian capital. Blinded by affection, he wrote letters to her in defiance of the prohibitions and assured her that he would rather renounce the crown than his beloved. The threat of marriage between Stanislaus and Catherine and the unification of the two states was seriously feared by the Ottoman Empire. Voltaire made such a wish in verse.
On October 5, 1762, as a member of the Sejm from the Mielnica region, on behalf of the Czartoryski Family he attacked the parliamentary seat of Count Alois Fryderyk Brühl, who, not being a Polish nobleman, unlawfully sat in the parliamentary chamber. This caused a sharp reaction of his father, Henryk von Brühl, a trusted minister of Augustus III, who was forced to break off the session of the Sejm.
In November 1762, in a conversation with the secretary of the Prussian envoy, Gédéon Benoît, he encouraged King Frederick II of Prussia to a general pacification, assuring him that the Prussian and Russian courts could gain unlimited influence in Poland, and that the Poles would more readily accept the conciliation of Prussia than of Russia, for which they had acquired a deep loathing.
The coup d”etat of the Czartoryskis and the election
The great magnate parties played an important role in the country at that time, and the neighbouring powers – Prussia, Austria and especially Russia – had more and more to say. They were interested in imposing limited reforms on the Republic of Poland, undermining the democracy of the nobility.
While Augustus III was still alive, in 1763, the Czartoryski family (Familia) was preparing a coup d”état to install a representative of their camp on the Polish throne with the help of Russian troops. The Czartoryskis wanted to form a confederation that, with Russian assistance, would limit the role of Augustus III and allow them to reform the state. In a letter Anectode historique intended for Catherine, Poniatowski outlined a plan to transform the Republic into a constitutional monarchy. He called for the introduction of a permanent parliament, following the example of the British parliament, with a majority vote. Executive power was to rest in the hands of the king and a twenty-member Privy Council. The plan included the sale of royal estates and the transition of all officials to salaries paid from the treasury. On August 6, 1763 Catherine II received an order to abandon the plans for confederation during the lifetime of Augustus III.
Catherine II, in her letter to Frederick II of October 17, 1763, revealed Poniatowski”s candidacy, writing that of all the candidates for the Polish crown he had the least opportunity to achieve it (…), and therefore he would be most grateful for it to those from whose hands he received the crown.
On April 11, 1764 an agreement was signed between Russia and Prussia to conduct the election of a common candidate in the Republic. The choice fell on Stanislaus Antoni Poniatowski, the Court Master of Lithuania, who, as the former lover of Catherine II and a supporting figure in the Familia, was to guarantee submission to Russia. As the tsarina wrote at the time: “It is indispensable for us to bring to the throne of Poland a man who is convenient for us, useful for our real interests, in a word, a man who would owe his elevation exclusively to us. In the person of Count Poniatowski, the Lithuanian Constable, we find all the conditions necessary to satisfy us, and consequently we decided to elevate him to the throne of Poland.
At the request of the Familia leaders, Andrzej Zamoyski and August Aleksander Czartoryski, the Russian army entered the borders of the Republic of Poland. On April 20, 1764, he signed a letter of thanks to Catherine II for the introduction of Russian troops. Catherine II issued a special declaration in which she indicated that this action was to take care of all the liberties of the Republic. On May 7 the Convocation Sejm began its deliberations in Warsaw, which, acting under the knot of the confederation and taking advantage of the absence of conservative opposition deputies, carried out limited reforms of the political system. He became consul of the Czartoryski confederation in 1764. Poniatowski was elected deputy of the Warsaw region to that sejm. He was a member of the General Confederation of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1764, the General Confederation of 1764. and deputy to the Convocational Sejm (1764) from the Warsaw land.
A few days before the election the chancellery of the Russian envoy issued a proclamation praising Piast”s candidacy: the art of ruling Poland can be learned only in Poland, and who is more capable of achieving it than the one who from childhood has instilled in himself its freedom, laws and statutes and learned to listen to them. The declaration of the Prussian envoy said: Both the benefit and the honour of your nation seem to demand that finally, according to the old custom, a candidate should be elected king who has only Poland as his homeland, who will not mix her interests with foreign ones and will revive the fame of the Jagiellons and the Sobieskis.
On September 7, 1764, with a small participation of the nobility and in the presence of Russian troops (7 thousand soldiers within the borders of the Republic), he was elected king of Poland in a de facto coup d”état. His election was signed by only 5320 people, which was an extremely low number in this case. On September 13 the king swore the pacta conventa, committing himself, among other things, to marry a Catholic woman.
On November 25, 1764, on the name day of the Tsarina, the Archbishop of Gniezno and the Primate of Poland Wladyslaw Lubienski crowned him king of Poland in St. John”s Collegiate Church in Warsaw. To the scorn of the traditionalists he appeared not in the Polish dress, but in the 16th century Spanish dress.
At the end of November at the Coronation Sejm, the Russian deputy Nikolai Repnin demanded that the Republic introduce equal rights for Orthodox and Protestant believers, but Stanislaus Augustus did not openly support these claims. He tried to remain neutral, not wanting to alienate the majority of the Catholic nobility.
The king intended to send envoys to all European courts to inform them of his election. However, France, Austria, the Bourbon courts and the Ottoman Empire were reluctant to recognise the new ruler of the Republic, as they regarded Poniatowski as a tool of Catherine II imposed by Russia on the Republic. This was contributed, among others, by the Great Hetman of the Crown Jan Klemens Branicki, who sought to accept the mediation of the Bourbon and Austrian courts in order to guarantee the rights of the Republic. A joint speech by Russian and Prussian diplomats eventually induced these states to recognize Stanislaus Augustus. In 1764 he was awarded the Russian Order of St. Alexander Nevsky.
In September and October 1765 it was intended to entrust Prince August Sulkowski with the mission of notifying at Versailles of the election and coronation of Stanislaus Augustus, but Russia objected to sending a dignitary of this rank and known name.
King of Poland: 1764-1774
The king changed the custom of holding Senate Councils, convening them twice a week for closed-door sessions. In the first years of his reign he appointed a substitute for a government, the so-called conference of the king with ministers. It consisted of four chancellors, August Czartoryski, Stanisław Lubomirski, Jacek Bartłomiej Ogrodzki and the royal brothers. In September 1764 he began the creation of the royal chancellery, the so-called Cabinet, headed by Jacek Ogrodzki. He made an attempt to create a permanent Polish diplomatic service. However, the Russians made him feel at every step that he was only the executor of instructions sent from Petersburg and that he should not make excessive use of the rights of the royal majesty, not being an independent ruler in his own country. It was then that the political paths of the king and his uncles Czartoryski began to diverge, who only intended to use Russian aid to strengthen their position, which would give them an opportunity to later become independent and throw off external protection. With his actions, the king proved that he did not strive for the independence of the Republic, realizing that being imposed by force, he would not survive without the help of Catherine II.
Soon after his accession to the throne, the king carried out his intention to establish a Catholic synod in the Republic, independent of the Holy See.
Wishing to strengthen the defense system of the state, the king founded the Knights” School on March 15, 1765, which was to be an elite military academy educating future cadres for the army of the Republic. He himself became head of the Corps of Cadets of this institution, for the maintenance of which the revenues from the royal estates were allocated. Stanislaus Augustus allocated for this purpose 1.5 million Polish zlotys from his own coffers, and later paid 600 thousand zlotys a year for its maintenance (200 thousand from the royal coffers and 400 thousand from the treasury of the Republic). This allowed for the education of 200 cadets per year. He also donated his Kazimierzowski Palace in Warsaw to the Knights School.
In 1765 the ruler made an attempt to strengthen the cities by appointing Commissions of Good Order in all provinces. The commissions were responsible for sorting out property rights in urban areas, revindicating illegally seized magistrate property. They also liquidated many magnate jurisdictions, and by streamlining the collection of municipal taxes the cities gained new funds, which were now used for paving streets, among other things.
Fulfilling Article 45 of his obligations signed in pacts conventach, Stanislaus Augustus began to carry out a monetary reform. A minting commission appointed by the king took up the project of introducing new monetary rates. Still in 1765 mints closed in the Republic for three generations were opened. On February 10, 1766 the Grand Treasurer of the Crown Teodor Wessel issued a coinage universal which introduced a new rate of the zloty. From now on 80 zlotys were to be minted from the Cologne fine, and a zloty was divided into 4 silver or 30 copper pennies. The thaler was equal to 8 zlotys and the ducat to 16.75 zlotys. All foreign coins were withdrawn from circulation, as well as the so-called efraimics – minted with the stamps of August III in Saxony by the occupying Prussian army.
On March 21, 1765 the king together with Ignacy Krasicki and Franciszek Bohomolc founded the Monitor. The articles published in it concerned, among other things, the need to improve the lot of the peasants and religious tolerance.
The postulate of supporting Polish dissenters was included as a secret point in all Russian-Prussian alliance treaties since 1730.
The issue of equal rights for dissidents gained importance when in July 1765 the Orthodox Bishop of Mogilev George presented the king with a memorandum on the persecution of the Orthodox population of the Republic. The head of Russian foreign policy, in a rescript for Repnin, pointed out to him that Russia could only count on Stanislav Augustus in the matter of dissidents, as the Czartoryski Familia, who exerted influence on the king, would be firmly opposed to raising this issue. In September 1765 Repnin described in his diplomatic correspondence his conversation with the king, who undertook to support Russian plans to resolve the dissident issue and to conclude an alliance, even foreseeing the possibility of civil war, for which the sovereign was prepared if only to prove his unlimited submissiveness to the will of the Emperor. In his diplomatic correspondence Nikita Panin recommended that the issue of equality of dissenters should become a pretext for future meddling in the internal affairs of the Republic, and the solution of this issue should be the axis of Russian policy in this country. From the letter of the king to Rzewuski, the content of which was learnt by Victor Friedrich Solms, Prussian envoy in Petersburg, it results that Stanisław August advised the Russian side to raise the issue of the equality of dissenters suddenly at the opening of the Sejm so that the king could act as a mediator between the Poles and the Russian court and act as Russia”s proxy. When the king tried to oppose Repnin”s demands, Repnin threatened him with withdrawal of Russian troops to Grodno, what in view of the majority of the nation”s dislike of their monarch could mean his dethronement.
In the summer of 1766 Poniatowski sent to St. Petersburg an envoy, Franciszek Rzewuski, who was to convey to Catherine II the king”s confidential advice that she send Russian officers to Lithuania and the Crown to move the magnates and dissident rights activists indicated by the sovereign. Rzewuski gave them letters of recommendation issued by him on behalf of the king. Rzewuski”s secretary Piotr Maurycy Glayre presented Stanislaw August”s confidential request for cash to the Russians. Nikita Panin ordered to pay the king of Poland 50 thousand rubles in silver.
The king”s plans to send an envoy to France caused concern on the Russian side. At a meeting with Repnin, Poniatowski covered up his loyalty to Catherine II, he said: I lose more than my life and crown, with the loss of the friendship and trust of the Empress. It appears that the Empress does not know me enough if she can doubt my sincerity. The King tried unsuccessfully to obtain Austrian help by sending four memoranda in which he warned that the real intention of Catherine II was to make Poland a Russian province, and that the restoration of the liberum veto was intended to weaken the Republic.
The king took from Nikolai Repnin the sum of 11,000 ducats for the purpose of agitating the assemblies to elect royal supporters. The camp supporting the reforms in the Republic fell apart, and the following parties were to take part in the upcoming Sejm: the royal, the Czartoryski and the old republican camp.
The project of granting equal rights to dissenters was such a revolutionary break with the political tradition of the Republic that at the Sejm of Czaplica even the Familia Czartoryska stopped supporting it. From then on, the lonely Stanislaus Augustus could count only on Russian support. The Sejm of 1766 restored the principle of liberum veto and, against the diplomatic intervention of Russia, Prussia, Britain and Denmark, at the request of the Catholic bishops, confirmed the privileged position of the Catholic Church.During the proceedings of the Sejm, Stanislaw August, listening to the voices of the opposition, fainted on the throne and wept when they tried to dissuade him from leaning on Russia. According to a Prussian diplomat, the lost cause of the majority vote made the monarch ill, so that he was unable to accept congratulations on the anniversary of his coronation. The king reassured Repnin that the law adopted by the Sejm on the night of 29-30 November 1766, introducing majority voting at regional assemblies, was most harmful to the monarch himself, as he would no longer be able to break them so that they would not elect deputies unfavourable to the court.
On December 3, 1766 the king in a letter to Catherine II emphasized compliance with her recommendations in the matter of liberum veto, explained the impossibility of equal rights for dissidents and asked for the evacuation of Russian troops from Poland.
In order to support equal rights for dissenters, also known as dissidents (which, by the way, was only a pretext for the intolerant Orthodox Catherine II), a forty-thousand-strong corps of Russian troops marched in. Under its protection, on March 20, 1767, Nikolai Repnin established two confederations of dissenters: the Slutsk Confederation for Lithuania and the Torun Confederation for the Crown. The king, breaking established state laws, against canon law approved the appointment by the Russian deputy Nikolai Repnin of referendary Gabriel Podoski as Primate of Poland.
The Russian deputy also formed a nationwide confederation in Radom in June in defense of endangered Catholicism and nobility”s freedoms, against “Ciołek” as his opponents called the king. It was supported by Prussia, which wanted to reduce the influence and power of Russia. Repnin took advantage of the dissatisfaction of the conservative Catholic nobility, skillfully directing his blade against the person of the king, thus additionally chessing Poniatowski and forcing him to fulfill the will of Catherine II. The king succumbed to Repnin”s pressure and in his universal message to the pre-sejm assemblies he included demands for a guarantee treaty with Russia, equal rights for dissenters and the restoration of the nobility”s liberties. The monarch, threatened with the loss of the crown, relied entirely on the Russian envoy, whose consent he expected even in less important financial matters, such as the establishment of a tobacco monopoly in the Republic.
The so-called Repnin Sejm in Warsaw, set up under the auspices of the Radom Confederation, dealt with revising the reforms introduced by the Convocation Sejm in 1764. The issue of the equality of rights for dissenters, supported by Poniatowski, remained a bone of contention. In a conversation with the Bishop of Kraków, Kajetan Sołtyk, Repnin made him understand that the King himself was determined to deport the Bishop in order to get rid of the leader of the party opposing the equality of rights for dissenters.
Repnin decided to terrorize the MPs, kidnapping on October 14 the leaders of the Radom Confederation: bishop of Cracow Kajetan Sołtyk, bishop of Kiev Józef Andrzej Załuski, field hetman of the crown Wacław Rzewuski and his son Seweryn. The role of Stanislaus Augustus in these events remains unclear to this day. Contemporaries accused him of having informed Repnin of the preparations made by the conspirators. On October 22, 1767, the king inspected the Russian army, which was holding maneuvers near Wola.
Apart from the treaty delegation, the King together with Primate Gabriel Podoski negotiated with Repnin to divide the issues of domestic policy into three categories: cardinal rights, the immutable principles of the Republic”s political system, internal matters decided in accordance with the liberum veto, and economic matters voted by a majority. In his letter to the Russian MP, Nikita Panin assured him that, with its free vote and such cardinal laws, Poland would remain forever, with its internal disorder, a political zero for us. In a coded appendix he recommended that cardinal rights and rights for dissidents be added to the treaty of guarantee, that the liberum veto be maintained in its entirety, so that ordinary assemblies could be broken in their entirety. This hijacking had the expected effect on the deputies. On February 24, 1768 the Republic signed with Russia the Treaty of Perpetual Friendship, on the strength of which it became a Russian protectorate. Catherine II, for her part, guaranteed the inviolability of the borders and the internal system of the country.
On February 26th, cardinal laws were enacted (including a liberum veto, free election, the right to render obedience to the king, the exclusive right of the nobility to hold office, and the absolute power of the nobility over the peasants, with stricter liability in the case of murder, as well as the headship) along with the inviolable right of equal rights for dissidents. The resolution contributed to the consolidation of the old political order (except for the attitude towards dissenters), whose guarantor was Russia. This significantly complicated the chances of wider reforms of the political system.
During the ratification of the treaty Russians left out the word “Najjaśnieszy” by the king which was the reason for the sovereign”s interpellation to Repnin on April 23, 1768 indicating that it was written in the treaty Grzymułtowski.
Part of the nobility, opposed to actual dependence on Russia, organized the Bar Confederation on February 29, 1768, which initiated a war against Russia in defense of the independence of the Republic and the Catholic faith.
On March 24, 1768, at the Senate Council, even against the majority of senators, he was ready to sign a resolution to call on Russian troops to suppress the Bar Confederation in order to show his zeal and unshakeable loyalty to Russia.
In October 1768, Turkey declared war on Russia and accused the Commonwealth of breaking the Treaty of Carlovich. Repnin proposed to the king a joint action against Turkey. Stanislaus Augustus, however, refused, hiding behind the fact that he could not do so without the consent of the Sejm, and that it could only deepen the hatred of the nation for his person. In June 1769 he received 600 ducats from the Russian embassy”s coffers to maintain a detachment fighting the Bar Confederates in Lithuania. After Barżan lost the battle of Dobra, about 500 captured confederates, stripped of clothing and footwear, were driven through Warsaw to appear before the king.
On February 2 and 17, 1770, the bishop of Poznan, Andrzej Stanislaw Mlodziejowski, inspired by the Russian deputy, issued pastoral letters on the occasion of the opening of the jubilee by the Pope, in which he denounced as traitors of religion and homeland all those who would dare to doubt the good and holy intentions of the king and share the opinion of the confederates of Bar.
On October 13, 1770 in Prešov, the Generalitat of the Bar Confederation issued an act dethroning Stanislaw August Poniatowski and declared an interregnum.
At the beginning of 1771, Mazovian Voivode Paweł Michał Mostowski tried to interest Frederick II of Hesse in the Polish crown.
On May 16, 1771 the king concluded a treaty under which the commander of the Russian army in Poland, general Ivan Weymarn and Franciszek Ksawery Branicki, at the head of the royal court regiments and part of the guard were to fight together with the confederates. The king received financial subsidies from the Russian ambassador Kasper von Saldern for this purpose.
In October 1771 the head of the Generalate Michal Jan Pac authorized Colonel Kazimierz Pulaski to kidnap the king and take him to the fortress in Jasna Gora. Late in the evening of November 3, 1771 at Miodowa Street in Warsaw, the king, returning in a carriage, was attacked by a detachment of confederates. Wounded in the head he was abducted outside the ramparts of the city. There the king managed to arouse remorse in the last of his escorting captors named Kuzma, who escorted him to a mill in Marymont. From there he was taken to the Castle by a detachment of royal guards under the command of Charles Coccei. The assassination was condemned by bishops in their pastoral letters, and commemorative works were written on this occasion by Stanisław Konarski and Adam Tadeusz Naruszewicz, among others. During the trial of the perpetrators of the kidnapping which took place later, the king tried to mitigate the sentences passed on the confederates as far as possible.
The decision to partition Poland was already made in St. Petersburg in mid-1771, but the Russian ambassador Saldern was instructed to keep the Poles in the dark. When the Russian ambassador threatened the king that he would withdraw Russian troops to Grodno, Stanislaw Augustus issued a secret reversal on May 16, 1771, obliging himself to seek Her Imperial Majesty”s advice in everything, to act accordingly, not to reward common friends without her consent, not to grant vacancies and starosties etc. On September 18, 1772, Russia, Austria, and Prussia notified the Republic of the partition, demanding that a parliament be convened to carry out the cession. Resistance was broken by threats and the annoying occupation of the country by the armies of the three powers. The leaders of the new Russian party in Poland formed a confederation under the staff of Adam Poninski in April 1773. The king refrained from joining it until the protest of the Novgorod deputy Tadeusz Reytan ceased. The king”s resistance was sustained by the Apostolic Nuncio Giuseppe Garampi. The king”s persistence in opposition, which according to his contemporaries was only a game aimed at preserving and increasing his power, became a source of ridicule when one of the Sulkowskis said to the ruler: It”s easy for Your Majesty the King to pretend to be a boy while being safe on the throne. Your Majesty, you don”t put in danger neither wealth nor goods, neither honour nor children because you don”t have them… After an ultimatum from the Russian ambassador Otto Magnus von Stackelberg, threatening to ruin the country to the ground, the sovereign joined the confederation, declaring to the senators that he did not want to be guilty of public misfortune.
At the beginning of 1773 the king and the Senate sent notes to all the governments of Europe expressing their opposition to the violation of the rights of the Republic, asking them to intervene. The cession of territory was approved by the Partition Sejm (1773-1775), convened in April 1773 in Warsaw. It appointed the Permanent Council to the king – the prototype of the Cabinet of Ministers. At first the king resisted the annexation demands of the diplomats of the three powers, having a majority among the members of the parliamentary chamber, but in the face of constant attacks from the Russian side prevailing in the Senate he finally gave in.
As a result of the approval of the treaty of partition, the king obtained payment of his debts, the amount of which he gave as largely fictitious. This money was paid to fictitious creditors substituted by him, who were largely his allies. He also received a high indemnity for renouncing the right to distribute starosties. During the partition, Stanislaus Augustus took 6,000 ducats from the joint fund of the courts of Russia, Austria, and Prussia, which had been set up to bribe the deputies of the Sejm delegation. As a compensation for the royal properties seized by the partitioning states, the Sejm delegation granted him and his heirs the starosties of Bialystok, Bohuslaw, Kaniow and Khmelnytsky, which Stanislaw August immediately distributed. Prince Joseph Poniatowski received the Khmelnytsky district, Franciszek Ksawery Branicki the Białystok district, and his son Stanislaw Poniatowski received the Kaniów and Bohuslav districts.
The King did not object when the Partition Sejm (Parliament) silently accepted the cassation breve of Clement XIV Dominus ac Redemptor, liquidating the Jesuit Order in the Republic of Poland. In order to organize the financial affairs of the liquidated order, Distribution Commissions were created in the Crown and Lithuania, with reference to the king. On October 14, 1773, at the request of Stanislaus August Poniatowski and with the approval of the Russian extraordinary deputy and minister plenipotentiary Otto Magnus von Stackelberg, the Commission of National Education was established.
In September 1774, through the Russian extraordinary deputy and minister plenipotentiary Otto Magnus von Stackelberg, the king made a pact with the leaders of the Partition Sejm delegation.
King of Poland: 1775-1791
After political guarantees were imposed on the Republic in 1775, the Russian ambassador Otto Magnus von Stackelberg became the de facto co-ruler of the state. According to Russian intentions all decisions made by the monarch were to be previously consulted with him and approved by him. The Russian diplomat had a great influence on the distribution of offices and on his decisions depended, among others, the orders of the White Eagle and Saint Stanislaus.
The magnate opposition arose against the system of rule of the king and the Russian ambassador as well as the imposed Permanent Council. It included the Czartoryskis, the Potockis, hetmans Branicki, Seweryn Rzewuski and Michał Ogiński. At some sejmiks the resistance of the magnates” supporters was broken by the intervention of the Russian army. In Lithuania the royal party gained an advantage.
Together with Stackelberg, the king tried to limit the number of deputies in the new Sejm of 1776, and opposed the plans to elect deputies from the lands under partition. In 1776 the royal party won a very fierce electoral competition thanks to the assistance of Russian troops sent to the assemblies. In Ciechanow soldiers used firearms and there were fatalities among the nobility. In 1776, with the support of the Russian ambassador, he formed a confederation with the Permanent Council. As a result, with the help of Russian troops surrounding Warsaw, he was able to strengthen his position at the confederated Sejm at the expense of magnate ministers. Among other things, he regained the right to grant all military ranks.
At the request of Stanislaus Augustus, Pope Pius VI abolished certain church holidays through a breve issued to Polish bishops on May 23, 1775.
The Sejm of 1776 strengthened the power of the Indolent Council over the ministers, abolished the Military Commissions, limited the powers of the hetmans, gave supremacy over the army to the Military Department of the Indolent Council, and gave the Commission of National Education complete control over the Jesuit estates. At this Sejm the king declared that he was a friend of Catherine II because he was a Polish patriot. In 1776 the King”s Military Chancellery was created, the executive body of the monarch, in fact superior to the army and the Military Department of the Permanent Council, thanks to which Stanislaus Augustus strengthened his position.
In the second half of 1777, the Russians demanded that the king recall the deputy to Turkey, Charles Boscamp-Lasopolsky, and the envoy in Paris, Peter Maurice Glayre. Catherine II did not allow the 1778 Diet to be confederated, but most of its deputies were supporters of the king. In 1780 the Russian occupation corps left the territory of the Republic. Despite the fact that at subsequent sejms the king had a majority of deputies each time, he was not able to make even such minor changes as establishing funds for salt prospecting, establishing officers” pensions, etc. In 1784 the king fell victim to the intrigue of the so-called Maria Dogrumova affair, which at the Diet of 1786 divided him with influential magnate families.
The annual income of Stanislaus Augustus”s treasury, amounting to 7 million Polish zlotys, was far from sufficient to cover his large-scale artistic projects. The king never counted his expenses, including the so-called gratuitous salaries or dowries for his ballerinas, so from the beginning of his reign he was forced to seek loans. They were given to him by his rich relatives, foreign, Warsaw and Cracow bankers and usurers. The king was not ashamed of taking debts from his own courtiers and servants.
In 1766 a state mint was opened in Warsaw. Monetary reforms were carried out twice more in 1788 and 1794, when official weights and measures were introduced. In 1766, internal duties were abolished, and in 1775 a uniform general duty was introduced. Many textile, cloth and leather manufactories, glassworks, tanneries, mills, breweries, brickyards, carriage, furniture, faience and weapon factories were built. In 1783, Prot Potocki founded the Black Sea Trade Company, which, in the face of the Prussian blockade, took care of Polish exports across the Black Sea. A government woolen manufactory company was also founded at that time. In 1787, the King”s brother, Primate Michał Poniatowski, established the National Linen Factory. The largest investments were the construction of the Oginsky Canal, connecting the rivers Dnieper and Niemen, and the Royal Canal, connecting the Pripyat with the Bug River. There was also rapid industrialization of the Grodno area by the Lithuanian treasurer Tyzenhauz. Warsaw was enriched by the Łazienkowski Palace built in classical style, the Stanislaus Axis, the Królikarnia, the Royal Castle was rebuilt. Palaces were built in Szczekociny and Natolin. Some magnates voluntarily abolished serfdom, replacing it with rent (Andrzej Zamoyski). Warsaw was also encircled by a network of newly created royal manors, which were supposed to economically revive the capital and supply it with food products. An example of such a grange established on the initiative of Stanisław August Poniatowski is the Sielce Grange, which still exists today.
Stanislaus Augustus advised Poles who were sending their sons abroad for further education to send them to St. Petersburg, where at the enlightened court of Catherine II they could acquire refinement and complete their education.
In 1765 the king founded the first Polish secular university, the Knights” School, educating future cadres for the army of the Republic, and was its head until 1794. In 1766 on his initiative the School of Oriental Languages was founded in Istanbul to educate Polish diplomatic staff. In 1773, thanks to the consent of the Russian ambassador Otto Magnus von Stackelberg, the Commission of National Education was established – the world”s first central institution dealing with education, which took over the staff and buildings of the cancelled Jesuit schools. In 1775 the Society for Elementary Books was founded to compile textbooks. In 1777 the Polish astronomer Marcin Poczobutt-Odlanicki created a new (no longer existing) constellation named Ciołek Poniatowski to commemorate the king.
The Age of Enlightenment was a period of great development of culture and art in Poland. The king was a great patron of science, art and literature; he organized Thursday dinners, to which he invited scholars, writers and poets. The royal art collection was supervised by the painter Marcello Bacciarelli. The king was the initiator of the “Monitor” magazine, which was published starting from March 21, 1765. Several months later (on November 19, 1765), he initiated the creation of a public national stage. The poet and historian Adam Tadeusz Naruszewicz, the poet Stanisław Trembecki, the satirist and comedian Franciszek Zabłocki, the founder of the national theater Wojciech Bogusławski, and others were frequent guests of the king. Among the most prominent representatives of the Age of Enlightenment were: Bishop Ignacy Krasicki, priest Stanisław Staszic, Hugo Kołłątaj, Stanisław Konarski.
The king left behind one of the largest, third most valuable cartographic collections in Europe. Cartographer Charles de Perthées worked for 20 years on detailed maps of the Republic of Poland.
During his reign, the king built up an outstanding painting collection of 2289 paintings, including works by Rembrandt van Rijn (13 items including “The Scholar at the Desk” and “The Girl in the Picture Frame”), Leonardo da Vinci, Rubens (3 items), van Dyck (3), Bruegel (14), Cranach, Holbein (3), Teniers (5), Titian, Guido Reni, Veronese, Per Krafft, de Largillière, Angelique Kauffmann, Bacciarelli, Anton Raphael Mengs, Jacob Jordaens (“Satyr Playing the Flute”), Fragonard, David, Gabriël Metsu. The collection also included 700 sculptures (including 176 marble ones), 1,800 drawings, 70,000 engravings, and porcelain, furniture, and miniatures. This collection was sold or looted after his abdication and the Third Partition. Tsar Nicholas I had some of the paintings connected with Polish history burned in 1834. 39 most valuable works from the King”s collection became the beginning of one of the best collections of paintings in the British Isles – Dulwich Picture Gallery in London. To this day, about 600 paintings from the king”s collection have been located, of which only about 260 are in Polish collections (Łazienki – 116, the Castle in Warsaw – 106, the National Museum in Warsaw – 54).
On the king”s order, in the years 1779-1783 Dominik Merlini built a new building of the royal library near the castle in Warsaw, which housed the king”s collection estimated in 1798 at 15,000-20,000 volumes. After the king”s death, the collection became the property of Duke Józef Poniatowski, who sold the books together with astronomical and mathematical instruments, medals (54 thousand pieces), minerals and ancient monuments to Tadeusz Czacki. The latter donated them to the library of the Krzemieniec High School. After the November Uprising by order of Tsar Nicholas I these collections were seized by the Russians and taken to Kiev, where they became the nucleus of the Kiev University Library.
Stanislaus Augustus was admitted as a member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences in June 1778, and in October 1791 he was admitted to the Academy of Sciences in Berlin.
During his educational trip to the West in 1753-1754, he came into contact with the freemasonry movement. After his accession to the throne, Western freemasonry circles treated him either as a member of a lodge or as an exponent of its ideas.
Since September 1768 he participated in the meetings of the lodge Cnotliwy Sarmata. On 24 June 1770 he paid 2000 zloty for the official opening of the seat of this lodge (installation) in the jurydyce Bielino. However, it was not until 1777 that he was formally admitted to Freemasonry of the Strict Observance rite in Charles Lodge under Three Helmets. He obtained all degrees of initiation at once, including the highest one, the eighth, for which he paid 66 and a half thalers in gold. He took the religious name Salsinatus (an anagram from Stanislaus) Eques a Corona vindicata. His accession to freemasonry was kept in strict secrecy, only a few freemasons of the seventh and eighth degree in the Republic of Poland knew about it. The king signed, among others, a pledge of obedience to the head of the Strict Observance, prince Ferdinand Brunswick. The king also took active part in the work of the Warsaw Rosicrucian circle. On May 8, 1788 Catherine”s lodge under the North Star changed its name in his honour to Stanislaus Augustus under the North Star.
In 1780 Russian troops left the Republic of Poland, only ambassador Otto Magnus von Stackelberg stayed. The magnates were still in fierce opposition to the king. The king sent to Catherine II a project of a Polish-Russian alliance, which he worked out in the form of the so-called Souhaits du Roi (King”s Desires). It provided for a joint action of the Republic of Poland and Russia against Turkey. The compensation for the Polish participation in the war was to be territorial acquisitions in the form of Bessarabia and some port on the Black Sea. In order to start direct negotiations, the king started making efforts to meet with Catherine. The opportunity soon presented itself when the Empress went to meet Emperor Joseph II in Kherson. On the way she stopped in Ukraine. Therefore, the King set out to meet Catherine with a retinue of 350 people visiting about 400 towns along the way. However, the King had to wait for seven weeks for a one-day meeting with the Empress of Russia, in the meantime in Kiev she had a conference with the leaders of the magnate malcontents led by Stanislaw Szczęsny Potocki. During a meeting with Tsarina Catherine II on May 6, 1787 in Kaniów on a galley moored on the Dnieper, the King proposed a close alliance of both countries in the war with Turkey. Forty-five thousand troops of the Republic of Poland, rearmed by Russia, were to take part in it. Catherine partially agreed. After some time a twelve-thousand strong Polish-Lithuanian corps was formed under the command of the Great Hetman of the Crown Franciszek Ksawery Branicki. The Young Poland writer Tadeusz Miciński based the plot of his novel Wit.
The king, seeing the growing sympathies of Poles for Sweden and Turkey, strove to stoke anti-Turkish sentiments, which was to be achieved by founding the Jan III Sobieski Monument in Warsaw in September 1788. However, his propaganda did not bring any results.
On October 6, 1788 the Sejm, later called the Great Sejm, was convened in Warsaw with the consent of Russia. It began the thorough work of reforming the political system.The king drew up a preliminary draft of a Polish-Russian alliance at the request of Stackelberg, hoping that by acting jointly with Russia against Turkey he would obtain from Catherine II a margin of freedom in deciding the internal affairs of the Republic. However, Russia did not want to tease Prussia at the time when it was engaged in wars with Turkey and Sweden, and it was undoubtedly against the interests of the Russian Empire to make the Republic active on the international arena. As early as September 28, 1788, the Russian ambassador notified Stanisław August that the Polish-Russian alliance project was unrealistic in the current situation.
On October 13, a declaration by the Prussian deputy Ludwig Heinrich Buchholtz was read out at the session of the Sejm, in which he warned the assembled against tying themselves to a military alliance with Russia against Turkey, offering instead a Polish-Prussian alliance guaranteeing the wholeness and independence of the Republic, formally agreeing to the country”s internal reforms.
In the face of fierce opposition from the deputies, the king was forced to withdraw his draft alliance from the marshal”s staff. When the Russian ambassador Stackelberg threatened the Sejm that overthrowing the system guaranteed by Catherine II would be tantamount to breaking the treaty of 1775, the king addressed the Sejm, where he warned against breaking with Russia you have no potency of any kind whose interests are less in dispute with ours than those of Russia.
Deputies of the Patriotic Party, supported by Prussian diplomacy, began to eliminate the instruments of Russian rule over the Republic. On January 19, 1789 the Sejm abolished the Permanent Council. Stanislaw August Poniatowski thus lost any real influence over the executive power in the Republic, which he exercised in consultation with the Russian ambassador through this body. The opposition supported by Prussia deprived the king of the right to appoint officers and the direction of diplomacy, entrusting these to the Deputation of Foreign Interests elected by and responsible to the Sejm. The king tried to save the remnants of Russian influence by proposing a military alliance between Russia and Austria. Catherine II was not yet interested in a war with Prussia, and Austria wanted by such an alliance to secure only the possession of Galicia. The king tried unsuccessfully to sabotage the conclusion of the Polish-Prussian alliance, trying to get the Sejm to first sign a trade treaty with Prussia, on more favorable terms than those of 1775. In the end he followed the opinion of the majority and supported the conclusion of this alliance. In March 1790 the Polish-Prussian alliance against Russia was signed. As a result, the king came closer to the Patriotic Party camp and began working together on the Basic Law. On September 13, 1790 the Four-Year Sejm passed a resolution to restore the king”s right to grant offices, which had been taken away from him in 1775.
From 1789 the king was consulted on matters of changing the state system. The leaders of the Patriotic Party presented him with drafts prepared in the Deputation for the Form of Government, the so-called Principles for the Form of Government, but they were an expression of Ignacy Potocki”s republican ideology, therefore Stanisław August, being a supporter of constitutional monarchy, accepted them with reluctance. From May to July 1790 the Italian Scipione Piattoli, who was in the service of the king, submitted to him legislative drafts prepared by Ignacy Potocki, to which the king introduced amendments, which were, however, hardly taken into account. In November 1790 a second set of deputies was elected, which increased the number of royal supporters in the Sejm. In December 1790 Stanislaus Augustus undertook to draft changes in the political system of the Republic. Until March 1791 the king, through Piattole, presented successive versions of the new Government Act to Ignacy Potocki, Stanisław Małachowski and Hugo Kołłątaj. At the end of March Kołłątaj drafted a compromise text, which became the basis for the Government Act of May 3, 1791.
On May 3, 1791 the Sejm passed a new state constitution. According to the provisions of the constitution, the king stood at the head of the Guard of the Laws, thus gaining leadership of Polish diplomacy and the state”s foreign policy, as well as control over the activities of the executive authorities.
On April 13, 1792, Piattoli presented Stanislaus Augustus with a plan to establish a dictatorship on the first anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution of May 3, which was to strengthen the power of the monarch, in accordance with a note from the Elector of Saxony, who advocated increased powers for the king as a condition for his assumption of the Polish throne. However, these plans were abandoned. Rumors circulated in the capital that an assassination attempt on the king was being prepared in Warsaw on May 3, 1792.
On May 14, 1792 a small group of magnates from the Crown and Lithuania formed the Targowica Confederation, which called for the overthrow of the monarchical system of the Republic, introduced by the provisions of the Constitution of May 3. The confederates turned for military assistance to Catherine II, who, still treating Poland as a Russian protectorate, decided on May 18 to invade the Polish Republic without declaring war. Stanislaus Augustus was the main author of the text of the May 3 Constitution.
King of Poland: 1792-1795
Despite warnings from the Polish envoy in Petersburg, Antoni Augustyn Debola, about the hostile intentions of Empress Catherine II towards the Polish Republic, the king did not allow himself to think about the possibility of Russian intervention. The king”s attempts to establish negotiations with the Russian side ended in failure. On May 18, 1792 the Russian army entered the Republic of Poland. The Four-Year Sejm entrusted Stanislaus Augustus with the supreme command of the army, and on May 29 it adjourned its sessions. The Sejm granted the king 2 million Polish zlotys for the war expedition. Of the 600,000 zloty given to him, which the ruler did not manage to use for military purposes, only 327 red zlotys were returned after the war.
The Polish-Russian war began, which lasted from May almost to the end of July. King Stanislaw August Poniatowski became Grand Master of the Order of Virtuti Militari, which he had established, and by law a Knight of the Grand Cross of that Order. The Crown army, struggling against a vastly superior enemy, achieved some successes (especially on the Ukrainian front, where the king”s nephew, Prince Józef Poniatowski, was in command), while the Lithuanian army, due to the treachery of its leader (Prince Louis Württemberg), offered practically no resistance to the Russians. Taking into account the disproportion of the forces and practical impossibility of a defensive campaign, the king (as commander-in-chief), in accordance with the opinion of the Guard of Rights, decided to abandon the resistance and join (by signing the accession) the Targowicki Confederation on July 23, 1792. He repeated the accession 5 weeks later (August 25, 1792).
In his private correspondence with Catherine II the sovereign had in mind that further continuation of military resistance might result in the Empress demanding repayment of the King”s private debts of about 30 million zloty, paid by the Empress into the monarch”s private coffer. Deprived of the armed assistance of his Prussian ally, the king turned to Catherine II by letter, proposing to her a perpetual alliance and possibly his abdication in favor of the tsarina”s grandson, Konstantin. In response, the Empress maintained her support for the Targowice confederates and demanded that the king join the confederation. On July 24, the ruler submitted the demanded accession to the Targowitz confederation to the Russian deputy Yakov Bulgakov.
Stanislaus August Poniatowski, through the intermediary of the Lithuanian sub-chancellor Joachim Litawor Chreptowicz, had already secretly negotiated the terms of the cessation of hostilities with the Russian deputy Yakov Bulgakov, who remained in Warsaw. Following the new instructions of the Vice-Chancellor of the Russian Empire Ivan Andreevich Ostermann, the Russian deputy edited the final version of the act of the king”s joining the confederation. The king, complying with the demand of the St. Petersburg court, did not convene the Guard of Rights, the constitutional organ of the state, but presented his decision at the meeting of ministers of the Republic on July 23, 1792.
Upon hearing this, Prince Jozef Poniatowski sent him back his Orders of the White Eagle and Saint Stanislaus. The monarch”s decision met with opposition and outraged the citizens of Warsaw. On July 24 and 25 demonstrations of patriotic bourgeoisie and nobility took place in the Saxon Garden, where people shouted “Constitution even without a king! On July 25 Marshals of the Sejm, Stanisław Małachowski and Kazimierz Nestor Sapieha, filed a solemn protest against the recognition by the king of the Targowicki Confederation as the legitimate authority of the Republic.
At the same time the king started a correspondence with Russian generals Mikhail Kakhovsky and Mikhail Krechetnikov, asking them to take Warsaw as soon as possible. Fearing the resistance of the Warsaw garrison against the encroaching Russian army and the troops of the haggard rebels, on August 1 the king ordered Eustachy Sanguszko to lock up the heavy weapons in the Warsaw Arsenal.
The confederates of Targowica occupied all provinces of the Republic of Poland. Prussians, breaking the alliance, entered Great Poland in January 1793.
Even before the Second Partition, the whole of Poland was occupied: Greater Poland was occupied by Prussia, Warsaw by Russia. The military occupation by foreign powers and the rule of the hagglers (mainly representatives of the Hetman”s party at the Great Sejm) were very oppressive, so dissatisfaction and rebellion quickly grew among the population. Conspiracies against the occupants were formed.
On January 23, 1793 the Second Partition of Poland was signed in St. Petersburg by Prussia and Russia. Austria did not take part in the Second Partition of Poland because it was preoccupied with war with its neighbors (particularly France, which was engulfed in revolution). Prussia wanted to make up for losses suffered in the battles with France, while Russia in the battles with Turkey. On May 12, 1793, the king sent a letter to Catherine II in which he reiterated his desire to abdicate because he saw no way to serve his country with honor. The Empress, in a letter to the Russian deputy Jakob Sievers, made the arrangement of abdication in accordance with the King”s wishes conditional on the end of the present crisis. The king tried unsuccessfully to make an agreement with Sievers behind the backs of the leaders of the Targowica confederation. Stanisław August”s goal was to return to the Polish-Russian alliance and therefore, in his talks with the Russian diplomat, the ruler justified himself that during the Four-Year Sejm, he was forced to take steps against this political line.
In the face of a banking crisis in Poland in 1793, the king, being in debt for over 30 million zloty, lost his ability to obtain new credit. After a month of hesitation, Stanislaus Augustus, urged by Sievers, finally agreed to go to Grodno (he left Warsaw on April 4, 1793), accepting from the hands of the Russian envoy 20 thousand zlotys for the costs of the journey. The monarch then told one of his trusted courtiers that he would certainly sign the partition treaty presented to him, not stopping to publicly proclaim that he would never do so.
In June 1793 the last sejm was convened in Grodno. The Russian deputy forced the king to issue universals for the sejmiks on May 3, 1793. On July 12, the king was forced to appoint 31 members of a parliamentary deputation whose task was to undertake negotiations with Sievers.
In order to carry out the partition treaties efficiently, on September 15, 1793, on the initiative of the Russian deputy Jakob Sievers, the Grodno Confederation was formed under the majesty of Stanislaw August. The Sejm, after appointing treaty deputies to carry out the Second Partition, ceded Polish territory to Russia on July 22, and to Prussia on the night of September 23-24, 1793. The Grodno Sejm also took up the matter of royal debts, which were estimated at 33 million Polish zlotys. Sievers imposed on the Sejm a resolution in which the treasuries of the Crown and Lithuania undertook to satisfy the monarch”s creditors in instalments. At the Sejm the king opted for setting only the lower limit of the number of the Republic”s army. As he argued: put it out of your mind so that we could maintain such an army as would be able to resist the power of our neighbors. Stanislaus Augustus returned to Warsaw on December 3, 1793.
As a result of the collapse of the Warsaw banks in 1793, the indebted king was deprived of credit and forced to accept a donation from the Russian embassy”s coffers of 400,000 zloty in cash. After signing the imperial treaty with Russia the king hugged Sievers twice, cuddled him to his chest and shed tears of joy.
On January 7, 1794, under pressure from Catherine II, the king issued a universal which prohibited the wearing of badges of the Order of Virtuti Militari, ordering the holders to return them with diplomas to the Permanent Council. At the same time he announced that he would send an envoy to the tsarina with expressions of deepest regret that the unhappiest of Polish sentiments of no independent variety, accompanied by the most exacting confidence in the great Catherine”s love and protection, could accede even for a moment.
In March 1794 a national uprising against Russia and Prussia broke out, led by General Tadeusz Kościuszko, who in 1775-1783 participated in the American War of Independence, and in 1792 commanded in the Battle of Dubienka.
Stanislaus Augustus, in a letter to Prince Józef Poniatowski dated March 19, considered it his duty to stick with the Russians. Having learned of Kościuszko”s actions, he considered him a rebel whom he must fight as Russia”s ally. On April 2 the king signed a universal against the uprising, prepared by the Department of Justice of the Indolent Council. In this act the king condemned the French revolution, called on the nation to come to its senses, and warned against believing in French aid.
After the Warsaw uprising, when the Russian embassy in Warsaw was captured and documents proving that Stanisław August”s entourage received a permanent Russian salary were seized, the king became in fact a hostage of the insurgents and locked himself in the castle.
Kościuszko ordered that the king”s mint be taken away from him and that the image of the ruler be removed from the coins minted; he also declared that he could not enter the authorities of the uprising.
On May 8, 1794 the king went to Praga to see the fortification works. At the same time a rumor was spread in Warsaw that the king was fleeing the capital and that Russian and Prussian troops were approaching the city. The crowd took over the Arsenal and captured weapons. It was feared that Stanislaus Augustus like Louis XVI was preparing an escape to the enemy. Having been warned, the ruler returned to the castle, but before entering he met with the crowd”s agitation. Among the shouts Long live the king, but let him not flee! and Let the traitor die! someone fired inaccurately at the monarch. At the last moment Onufry Kicki picked up the rifle. From now on the ruler was assigned an assistant consisting of townsmen. Under the pressure of the street, the event hastened the trial of the hagglers and their execution on May 9.
After the massacre of Prague he entered into capitulation negotiations with Alexander Suvorov, who let the king keep his 1,000-strong guard. On December 1, 1794 he abolished the Knights School. Catherine II demanded his departure to Grodno. On January 7, 1795 the sovereign left Warsaw under Russian military escort. On January 12 he arrived in Grodno, where he was directly supervised by general Bezborodko.
After the collapse of the uprising, on October 24, 1795 the Third Partition of Poland was signed by Russia, Austria and Prussia. The First Polish Republic ceased to exist as a state. The Tsarina Catherine II demanded that Poniatowski abdicate, which, after some changes, he signed on November 25, 1795 (on Catherine II”s name day) and on the 31st anniversary of his coronation. He received a fixed salary from the tsarina. On January 15, 1797, the partitioning powers concluded a convention under which Russia and Austria each took 2
After the abdication (1796-1798)
After the death of Empress Catherine II (November 17, 1796), the Russian throne was taken over by Emperor Paul I Romanov, who invited Poniatowski to St. Petersburg. He arrived there on March 10 and settled in the Marble Palace. This was a residence built between 1768 and 1785 for Grigory Orlov, a favorite of Catherine II. Its builder was Antonio Rinaldi. The palace was finally finished after the death of Orlov, who never had the chance to live in it. Pink Siberian marbles were used to decorate the interior and facade of the building. At the time of its construction Marble Palace was inferior in splendor only to the Winter Palace, but after the arrival of Stanislaw August it turned out that the residence required extensive internal repairs due to the prevailing humidity and lack of appropriate furniture and equipment. The Marble Palace was the king”s residence during the winter months. In the summer, he moved to the Stone-Oster Palace on Stone Island.
The king was quickly drawn into St. Petersburg court life. In his residence he received the aristocracy, court dignitaries, representatives of the diplomatic corps and numerous Polish guests, including participants of the Kościuszko Uprising released by the tsar, whom he supported financially. He took part in the coronation ceremony of Paul I in Moscow. He died in Petersburg on February 12, 1798 by sudden death after drinking the contents of a cup. The cause of death was an apoplectic attack. At the time of his death he was heavily in debt. He was buried in St. Catherine”s Church in St. Petersburg, where his sarcophagus was kept until the church was closed in 1938. Then he was handed over by the Soviet authorities to Poland and buried in secret in July of the same year in the crypt of the Holy Trinity Chapel in his hometown Volchin. This place, now on the territory of Belarus, was chosen due to the fact that the future monarch was baptized there. The fact of placing the sarcophagus in the Volchin chapel was soon made public because the Soviet authorities officially informed the Polish side about the transfer of the body.
Fate of mortal remains
In September 1939, after the Red Army entered the town, the tomb was plundered and the sarcophagus destroyed. It remained in this deteriorating condition until 1987, when conservators from the museum in Hrodna cleaned the ruins. In 1988 alleged fragments of the remains of the coffin of Stanislaw August and his vestments collected in the chapel were once again transferred to Poland by the Soviet authorities. On December 15, 1988 they were brought from Minsk by a delegation headed by Aleksander Gieysztor. They were initially exhibited at the Palace on the Island in the Royal Łazienki Park, and then placed at the Royal Castle in Warsaw. The proposal of burying the king in the Archcathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist in Warsaw met with the opposition of the church hierarchy due to his membership in freemasonry.
Finally, his funeral ceremony at St. John”s Cathedral took place on February 14, 1995. The remains, brought from Belarus, were buried in a symbolic tomb in the cathedral”s basement. The author of the design of the tomb was Robert Kunkel.
Earlier, in 1989, a small amount of soil from the king”s burial crypt was deposited by Marek Kwiatkowski in Lazienki Park, at the site of the mausoleum planned by the king (north of the western pavilion of the Palace on the Isle). In 1992, a bronze bust of Stanisław August Poniatowski was unveiled in this place (in 2013 moved to the vicinity of the White House). Currently there is a commemorative plaque there.
Stanislaus Augustus was also a political writer and speaker, memoirist, translator, epistolographer, and patron of the arts. In his literary works he usually used one of several pseudonyms: Eques Salsinatus; Miłośnicki; Salisantus Magnus; Un bon citoyen.
Important speeches and works
Stanisław August”s litteraria: the fairy tale Celestyn reformat warszawski and the poem Invocatio Musarum (written in prose divided into verses), as well as a draft of a poem on the abolition of the Jesuit order, from a now nonexistent portfolio of royal litteraria (kept before 1944 in the National Library, reg. no. 262) publish. S. Tomkowicz, Stanisław August as a poet, “Czas” 1879 nos. 83-84 and separately Kraków 1879; repr. Z wieku Stanisława Augusta (bruliony niektórych litteraria preserved in the manuscript of the Czartoryski Library, ref. 938). Other poetic works were also attributed to the king (W. Gomulicki: Poeci na tronie polskim, Kłosy z polskiej niwy, Warsaw 1912).
In addition, Stanislaw Augustus also left official writings: instructions, circular letters, regulations, and universals – see Estreicher XXV (he is credited as the author of No. 46 from 1769 (signed with the pseudonym: Miłośnicki).
Manuscripts of his Sejm speeches and addresses have been preserved, among others: a collection of speeches from the years 1761-1793 in the Archiwum Glowna Akt Dawnych (Archiwum Królestwa Polskiego, no. 207), 12 speeches from the years 1773-1781 with the King”s own comments in the Ossolineum manuscript, no. 5832
Selected letters and materials
The above register of the correspondence of Stanislaus Augustus includes only the more important items that survived and were published in print. A vast collection of official and private correspondence of Poniatowski was gathered in the Royal Archives. After the death of the king a large part of this archive, inherited by Prince Stanislaus Poniatowski, was taken to the castle of Lichtenstein near Vienna – this part is still considered to be irretrievably lost.
Over the years, different judgments have been formulated about the reign of Stanislaus Augustus.
Evaluation of contemporary
His contemporaries repeatedly accused the king of immoral lifestyle, insufficient attention to state affairs, entrusting high functions at court to foreigners, lack of ceremonial dinners staged for senators and dignitaries, falling into debt, submissiveness and weakness of character.
King Gustav III of Sweden, who had himself staged a successful coup d”état in 1772, commenting on events in the Republic in 1768, wrote in his diary Two councils were held in Warsaw; the result was that the king and the senate put themselves under the protection of the Empress. This is a disgrace. Ah, Stanislaus Augustus, you are not a king, not even a citizen! Die in defense of the independence of your fatherland, but do not accept the unworthy yoke in the vain hope of preserving a shadow of power, which one decree from Moscow will abolish.
According to Lars Engeström, Swedish deputy and minister plenipotentiary: he was completely lacking in character and energy. He was wasteful, not knowing how to be great. He did not like giving, but he could not refuse. He was not malicious, but took childish revenge in small things. He was not good, but so weak that he could often pretend to be good. I do not know if he had as much personal courage as his brothers, but he lacked courage of spirit and allowed himself to be led by all those who surrounded him, who approached him, mostly by women, or by the influence of their sex or stronger fortitude. Except only the Prince Primate, who was very energetic. The predilection for women and flirtatiousness was in him the strongest-prevalent passion.
According to some assessments, the king lacked masculine energy and firmness, and in his powerlessness he often cried to convince his interlocutors of his best intentions.
According to Jędrzej Kitowicz, Stanisław August Poniatowski behaved towards Catherine II like a nobleman from Podlasie or Łuków who considers himself equal to the governor and delights in the fact that the governor sometimes says to him “my brother, my brother”, although he is sometimes beaten with a whip by the governor”s assistant or driven to a haul.
Empress Catherine II treated Stanislaus Augustus with contempt. Wanting to remove Stanislaus Augustus from the throne and from the capital, she entrusted the supervision of the interned monarch to Nikolai Repnin, who advised to take him outside the borders of the Republic, arguing that: ”numerous examples have confirmed to us that this ruler has always stood across our interests, no enterprise organized against us has taken place without the king and under his principal guidance.
Russian diplomats had mostly negative opinions about Stanislaw Augustus. The Russian ambassador Kasper von Saldern characterized the king in the following way: cordial, but inconceivably weak… Reason neither encompassing much, nor confident, incapable of judging and taming his imagination. Someone must always lead him, impose on him a decision and urge him to carry it out. Recalling the role that the king played during the Sejm of Grodno in 1793, which approved the Second Partition of Poland, Russian deputy Jacob Sievers wrote that the king was too wicked and greedy for pleasures, that despite all the contrary desires, he would not yield to threats.
According to the eyewitness testimony, the British diplomat James Harris, 1st Earl of Malmesbury, the Russian envoy Repnin publicly humiliated the king. When the sovereign wanted to stop the beginning of the dances, Repnin replied that it could not be so, and if the king did not come to the hall, I would order to start the dances without him. Once when the conversation turned to the fate of the kings of Poland who, driven out of the country, were forced to work in a craft, Stanislav Augustus said that in that case his fate would be hopeless as he did not know any craft. Repnin replied brightly: after all, Your Majesty, you are an excellent dancer. The king wanted to strengthen the position of the Republic by an alliance with Russia. He advised Poles who were taking their sons abroad to send them to the enlightened court of Catherine II, where they could acquire knowledge and complete their education.
During the Kościuszko Uprising, the king refused to give Kościuszko detailed maps of the Republic of Poland from his cartographic collection, but soon afterwards he was forced to give them to the politicians of the partitioning states, who probably used them to precisely delineate the borders of the partitions. At the time of his abdication, the sum of the royal debts reached 40 million Polish zlotys. This was enough to maintain an army of 120,000.
The ruler himself was critical and reflective of himself, his works, and his own hopeless situation. The Earl of Malmesbury quotes a conversation with the sovereign when he tried to convince him of the fruitlessness of his efforts with the words: from all these devices which I wanted to introduce, nothing good will come to the country. …If I had been allowed to leave, I would have made my people happy. During the hospitality of Michał Kleofas Ogiński in 1793 the king cried in front of him saying: Such is my sad fate! I”ve always wanted the good of my country and I”ve done nothing but evil to it.
Evaluation of historiography
Nineteenth-century historians, including Joachim Lelewel and Tadeusz Korzon, were overwhelmingly negative about Stanislaus Augustus, contributing to the popular image of a traitor-targovich. Stanisław August”s critics pointed out that he capitulated prematurely during the Polish-Russian War of 1792, joined the Targowica, and voluntarily abdicated in favor of the main partitioner.
The first partial but significant rehabilitation of the king was done by Walerian Kalinka, who shed new light on the figure of Stanisław August and emphasized his merits, basing his work on reliable research. More sympathy for the king was shown in their works by 20th century historians: Emanuel Rostworowski, Jerzy Michalski and Zofia Zielińska, who pointed out that Stanisław August was in fact a pragmatic and soberly calculating politician, who put the raison d”état above personal interests, determined to reform the Republic, a skilful diplomat, with a good command of languages, displaying great personal culture, a hard worker and averse to parties and alcohol.
Some authors have pointed out that his contribution to Polish culture became the basis for defending national identity during the more than one hundred year period of partition. According to Andrzej Zahorski, the creation of the “black legend” of the king was connected with the need to find a scapegoat after the collapse of the First Republic.
Superior of the Order of the White Eagle since 1764 (awarded in 1756), the Order of St. Stanislaus since 1765 and the Order of the Military Cross (Virtuti Militari) since 1792, and as such awarded its Grand Cross. In 1764 he became a Chevalier of the Prussian Order of the Black Eagle and of the Russian Order of St. Andrew (conferred in 1764, awarded in 1787 already with diamonds, and awarded with a chain in 1797), and in 1797 of the Order of St. Alexander Nevsky (according to the new law of 1797, the Chevaliers of the first Russian order were also awarded the second one counting from the date of receiving the first one).
As early as 1766, when the Czartoryskis tried to bind the Republic of Poland to Austria by marrying the king to an Austrian archduchess, Repnin enforced a pledge on the monarch that he would not enter into any marriage without the advice and consent of Russia. He remained single for the rest of his life.
The natural children of Stanisław August from his relationship with Magdalena Sapieżyna, née Lubomirska, were:
His children from the relationship with Elżbieta Grabowska, née Szydłowska, were:
Stanislav August Poniatowski is a character in the Russian television series Catherine (2014-2019). It depicts images from the life of the Russian Empire during the reign of Tsarina Catherine II the Great. The character of Stanislav August Poniatowski is played by Marcin Stec.