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Maria Kazimiera - the Queen of Poland

Aleksander Wietrzyk Part I, II, III, IV, V Tr. Anna Witowska - Ritter
Childhood years

Maria Kazimiera - the Queen of Poland Maria Kazimiera is undoubtedly one of the most famous Polish royal figures. She is known to the general public as 'Queen Marysienka' and featured in many historical publications. Some of them present her in a rather superficial way as a wife of famous King and Commander-in-Chief Jan III Sobieski. In that light, Marysienka often appears as a woman who made good use of her beauty, and was attached to her husband, but never honestly loved him. Historians have accused her (often wrongly) of excessive ambition, narrow-mindedness, despotism and more concern for trivia than important matters. Her fame outlived her due to famous "erotic" letters that her royal husband wrote to her. The Queen also left a legacy of extensive correspondence. Only recently have some historians started to express opinions that this beautiful woman had a good heart and amazing intellect.

The family of Maria Kazimiera

Maria KazimieraMaria Kazimiera d'Arquien was born on June 28, 1641 in Nevers, France. This year was the 360th anniversary of her birth. Her parents, Henry de la Grande Marquis d'Arquien and Francois de la Châtre, were married in 1634. Maria's parents belonged to the impoverished nobility, but their family ties were quite impressive.

We know very little about the childhood of Maria Kazimiera. It is known that she had six siblings: two brothers and four sisters. Two of her sisters became nuns but the rest of her siblings, like her, took residence in Poland.

The father of the future queen, Marquis d'Arquien, served as a captain in the army of the Orleans Prince Gaston, the brother of Louis XIII. His wife supervised work for Princess Maria Gonzaga and supervised the ladies of her court in Nevers. Marquis d'Arquien had a rather interesting youth with lots of alcohol and women. Later, this aristocrat lost most of his money and lived on the generosity of various European magnates. He moved to Poland at a rather advanced age and died there when he was over a hundred years old.

Leaving for Poland

In late 1645 Maria Gonzaga took a trip to Poland. She was already married per procura to the Polish King Vladislavus IV and took the name of Luisa Maria. Several dozen young females of the court assisted the Queen on the trip. The intention was that they were to marry powerful Polish magnates in the future. Among them was a four-year old Maria Kazi-miera. The Queen probably took her out of pity and to relieve the girl's mother. The winter trip through the Netherlands and Germany was very exhausting for the child.

It is hard to tell what the girl's life was like in the immediate years that followed the crowning of Maria Luisa as the Queen of Poland. It can be assumed however, that she was raised by one the court ladies. Probably around that time people started to call her "Marysienka". Residing in Poland since her early childhood, she became as fluent in Polish as in her native French.

In 1648 Vladislavus IV died and his widow got very ill. Young Marysienka spent long hours by her bed ardently praying for her patron's recovery. After several months the Queen recovered and supported the election of her brother-in-law Jana Kazimierz to the throne. A year later, she was already married to the new King of Poland.

The times were uncertain and the Queen sent her goddaughter to Nevers, so the girl could advance her education. Little Maria Kazimiera was admitted to the pre-monastery school supervised by the nuns of Saint Ursula. At the same time Marysienka's aunt, Countess de Maligny, taught her good manners and proper court conduct.

The situation in the Republic of Poland

Once powerful, the Kingdom of Poland was declining. It became an object of frequent invasions from the neighboring countries and tribes. The Ukrainian border region and eastern terrains were particularly ill-fated. In 1648 Bohdan Chmielnicki mobilized Cossacks and Ukrainian peasants and led a tremendous uprising against the Polish nobility. Military troops sent against the rebels lost three major battles - at Zólte Wody, at Korsun and the battle of Pilawce. In 1649 Jeremy Wisniowiecki commanded the military defense of the fortress of Zbaraz. Jeremy had very few soldiers and this prompted the King Jan Kazimierz to help him. Unfortunately, the army of the King was stopped at Zborow by joint forces of Cossacks and Tatars. It was only the presence of mind of the King that saved Polish troops from slaughter. Tatars were paid by the Polish King to stay away from this conflict. Chmielnicki signed that agreement with the King, according to which Cossacks were granted numerous privileges.

In 1651 the war broke out again. In Beresteczko the Poles defeated the troops of Bohdan Chmielnicki. In that battle Jan Sobieski, the future King of Poland and the future husband of Marysienka, was wounded.

The peace in Ukraine did not last long. A year later a strong Cossack army fought off Polish troops in the battle of Batoh.

All high-ranking soldiers were taken prisoner and murdered by Tatars according to the orders of Bohdan Chmielnicki. Among the casualties was Marek Sobieski, the brother of Jan Sobieski.

Return to Poland and further education

At the age of 12 Maria Kazimiera returned to Poland, where she competed her education under the supervision of the queen as her fille d'honneur (honor lady at the court). It is worth noting that at that time the position of women at the court increased in importance, as in France. The ladies of the court participated in hunting events, balls, theatre performances and other forms of entertainment. About that time young Maria Kazimiera developed her passion for music, dance and theatre. She learned conversational skills and was introduced to the art of letter writing. While assisting the queen she became familiar with political matters, strategic planning and diplomatic conduct.

In her teenage years her brightness and intelligence made her the most distinguished among all the young ladies at the court. "As a child, she was unusually beautiful - growing up, she shined like a star. People were losing their heads for her".

When she was 13, she got a part in a royal ballet and played a young reaper surrounded by nymphs. Famous poet of the time Andrzej Morsztyn, noticed her and enchanted by her beauty, he dedicated several strophes to her. The poet emphasized that:

Together joined in that angelic body. Humor and brains of unusual quality.

Maria KazimieraWhat the poet wrote was undeniably true. Her beauty was written about and praised even by unbiased people. Not being very tall, she had excellent proportions ("Of medium height, neither plump nor skinny"). Her biggest beauty assets were her dark eyes and thick, dark hair. A few years later one of the secretaries of the French ambassador said about her eyes: "When she looks at you favorably, you cannot resist her eyes".

In 1655, young but already famous Jan Sobieski arrived in the Warsaw court. Soie-ski's military successes made him a great friend of Polish royalty.

However, during his stay in Warsaw he gave all his attention to one person - a 14-year old French girl Maria Kazimiera d'Arquien.


The Times of Swedish Deluge

The spring of 1655 brought misfortunes for the Kingdom of Poland.

Jan SobieskiNevertheless, life in the Royal Court seemed to work at its usual pace. The King's Castle in Warsaw welcomed guests and organized balls to honor them. King Jan Kazimierz appeared to be more interested in the young girls that attended his wife than in political affairs. The Queen Maria Luisa was prone to outbursts of anger and jealousy that stopped, albeit temporarily, the amorous ventures of the King. Wine was consumed in large quantities in the castle. The tables of the dining room could barely hold all the extravagant dishes and exotic fruit.

In May, Jan Sobieski attended the Diet in Warsaw directly upon his return from the battlefield. The occasion attracted many representatives of the noble class and a large number of them were present in Poland's capital. Events such as balls, masquerades, theatre performances and ballets were held to entertain guests. Handsome and known for his military skills, Sobieski broke many hearts at that time. His biographer, Artur Sliwinski, describes him as tall and handsome with lively eyes, impressive mustache and Roman nose.

"With his wealth, youth and good looks, he shined like an example of health and joy of life. (…). He was playful. He could easily get angry and than quickly get over it."

He used his sword very often, liked alcohol, and was very popular with the ladies.

Sobieski played with girls mercilessly until one ball at the King's Castle, when the black eyes of Mary-sienka totally captivated him. The girl was only four-teen years old, but well developed. She made a tremendous impression on the young soldier. Even after many, many years, Sobieski often re-called this special moment, admi-tting that he fell in love with Mary-sienka at first sight, and with a great passion.

He allegedly decided that his life would only make sen-se if it was lived with her.

Why did the future King of Poland fail to ask Marysienka to marry him?

The attraction between the two of them was already mutual. Perhaps the young man did not find the courage to reveal his feelings about the girl to his own mother. Sobieski's mother did not love her younger son as much as his older brother, who was decapitated by Tatars in the battle of Batoh, some three years earlier. She could, out of bitterness, prevent this marriage. Further, the Queen might have not been enthusiastic about giving her favorite girl to Sobieski, whose mother held most of his finances and whose military career was not advanced yet.


MarysienkaIt is worth mentioning that Marysienka was not the first and only love of Sobieski. He did not waste time with women, even in his youth. While in Paris, he became involved with an impoverished French- woman and had a son with her. The boy, named Brisacier, was born in 1647 and as an adult earned a reputation as a troublemaker. Soon upon returning to Poland, Sobieski got interested in another woman who, despite her belonging to the noble class, was rather poor. 'Handsome Jan' wanted to marry her, but his mother altered his plans. To avoid a scandal, she persuaded some rich friend of hers to marry the girl. Jan was very upset about the whole thing and never quite forgave his mother.

The courtship between magnate Sobieski and little Maria Kazimiera did not last long. The young couple, who had just fallen for each other, were quickly separated by the war.

The war epopee of Sobieski

Led by King Charles Gustav, the Swedish army invaded Poland at the end of July. Polish troops in Wielkopolska signed an act of capitulation in Ujscie upon Notec, as advised by the Chancellor of the Crown, Hieronim Radziejowski. Soon after that, in a fashion similar to the biblical deluge, the Swedes inundated Poland. Only a few Polish cities, such as Czestochowa and Zamosc, defended themselves successfully.

Mathhisen 1666The King and the court were exiled to Silesia. A large number of high-ranking Polish military, including Sobieski, recognized Swedish rule. Today such conduct would be seen as betrayal. At that time it was understood as favoring one king over another. Both monarchs, Jan Kazimierz and Charles Gustav, were both from the Waza dynasty of Sweden. They could potentially compete for the Swedish throne. Why should they not compete for the Polish one? A large section of the noble class was dissatisfied with the rule of Jan Kazimierz because he did not keep his pre-election promises. His Swedish relative Gustav assured him that the Polish noble class would receive more liberties, general amnesty and freedom of religion under his rule. The Poles were soon to find out that these were empty promises. He treated Poland as an occupied land, where the Swedes were free to do whatever they wanted.

At the end of 1655, the legitimate King of Poland returned to Lvov, and more and more Poles gave him their support. Under the command of Stefan Czarniecki, Polish peasants and highlanders fought on the side of Jan Kazimierz. Soon, the noble class followed their example. Among the noblemen most loyal to the Polish King was Jan Zamoyski. In February 1656, he organized the defense of the city of Zamosc. The victory in this battle was strategically important.

Very little is known about Sobieski's service to Charles Gustav. He soon realized his mistake, left the side of the Swedish monarch in March 1656 and joined the Czarniecki troops. As ironic as it sounds, Sobieski benefited from the time spent on the side of the enemy. He saw a modern army in action and became familiar with the efficient way of using various types of troops in the battlefield. He later utilized this experience for the sake of Poland. It took him several years to erase the label of the 'traitor' and earn the rank of lieutenant. In the battle of Warsaw, Sobieski was able to display his military skills and proved his ability as a commandant.

The traveling royal court

When the young soldier fought with the enemies, the object of his affection was safe in the territories of the German Empire. The royal couple and the court left Warsaw in August to avoid confrontation with the Swedes. For a while, the royals stayed in Krakow at the Wawel Castle, but did not feel safe enough there. They decided to cross the German border and stay in Silesian Glogowek in the castle of Count Oppesdorff. Although the host was very hospitable, the Polish guests felt miserable. The King was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and considered signing an agreement with the Swedes, but his sharp-minded wife prevented this political suicide.

During the Glogowek days, Marysienka was introduced to another rich noble man named Jan Zamoyski. He naturally was impressed by her beauty, but did not have time for courtship. When the King decided to return to Poland, Zamoyski assisted him and was very active with organizing the resistance against the Swedes. After the heroic defense of Zamosc, Zamoyski invited the King to his headquarters for a luscious reception. It was then decided that the Queen and the assisting girls should end their Silesian exile.

Smierc Czarneckiego
Henryk Pillati (1832 - 1894)

Another suitor...

Year 1657 was not good for Sobieski in terms of matters of the heart, but quite decent in the area of military successes. Miss d'Arquien was officially adored by Jan Zamoyski, who at the moment enjoyed more respect and privileges than Sobieski. It was not without significance that Zamoyski was always faithful to the King and Sobieski was not. The Queen also favored Zamoyski. Until the battle of Zamosc, he did not mean much in the political life of Poland, but now he did. He liked military campaigns and participated in them quite often. His opponents often joked, however, that he was the last one to go to the war and the first one to come back home.

Ordinate Zamoyski held in his hand 142 villages and 9 towns. The city of Zamosc was the capital of his mini-empire. Another thing that made him famous was his harem, which consisted of several impoverished noble girls and more than a few peasant women. He was not in a hurry to get married, favoring orgies over wedlock. No wonder he caught a venereal disease.

If the Queen wanted him to share his life with Marysienka, she probably focused on his political and economic power and his proven loyalty to the Kingdom. She clearly ignored Zamoyski's lifestyle. In the letter the Queen wrote to her friend Mrs. Choisy, she mentioned that Zamoyski promised Marysienka a wedding gift of one million golden coins of local currency. With every year of their marriage he was to add several thousand. And if she loved him dearly, more benefits were to be bestowed upon her.

Jan Zamoyski

The time of Zamoyski's courtship ran parallel with his most significant military successes. Because of this, Maria Luisa was more than enthusiastic to prepare the wedding for her favorite maiden of the court. No one asked the sixteen-year old bride-to-be if she wanted Zamoyski. What the Queen wanted was far more important. And the Queen wanted Zamoyski to be the next King of Poland.



The wedding celebration

The wedding took place in the spring of 1658. Shortly before her big day, Maria Kazimiera d'Arquien had a horrible toothache, which she described in detail to her admirer. Zamoyski had to liquidate his harem. The girls received some money from him and returned to their parents.

On March 2, 1658, the marriage contract was signed. Miss d'Arquien agreed to be the wife of ordinate Zamoyski, although her heart belonged to Sobieski. The groom gave a huge, expensive ring to the bride. The next day the couple got engaged. This ceremony was followed by the reception. Later, the bride-to-be took a bath in perfumed water assisted by her girlfriends. Then she was led to the chamber of the groom-to-be to accept his gifts. A beautiful dress, generously embroidered with pearls, was among them.

The wedding was well - attended. The royal couple and a large number of senators were present. The Primate of Poland, Andrzej Leszczysnki, gave the newlyweds his blessing. In the evening, the ball for the newlyweds was held by the King. After the ball, the bride and the groom spend the night separately as the contemporary custom had it. The next day, the bride spent four hours receiving gifts and listening to speeches written for the occasion. Finally, she was taken to her husband. Zamoyski welcomed Marysienka with an exquisite dinner followed by another ball. During the few days of wedding festivities, 300 barrels of Hungarian wine were consumed.

After the wedding, the newlyweds spent a few weeks in Warsaw and then went to Zamosc, to spend their peaceful and quiet honeymoon there.

Marriage to Jan Zamoyski

BerłoIn the wartime tumult when the beautiful Marysienka was getting married to Zamoyski, her future husband Sobieski was fighting against the attack of the Magyar prince Rakoczy. Sobieski was advancing very quickly within the military ranks, and in 1658 he was commanding the corps of cavaliers in Prussia and conducting partisan actions against the Swedes.

In 1659 he advanced his political career and became elected as a representative to the Diet. He participated in the Diet commsion on Ukraininan affairs.

The end of the Swedish deluge in 1660 was simultaneous with the beginning of the war with Russia. Both Poland and Russia wanted to rule Ukraine and Byelorussia. Polish soldiers surrounded Russian knight Szeremetiew in the battle of Cudnow and then brought Cossack leader Jerzy Chmielnicki (son of Bohdan) to surrender. Consequently, the Russians had to give up their pretenses to Ukrainian and Byelorussian territories.

Sobieski proved to be very courageous in battles In one of them, the Russians killed two horses under him. Not only did he survive, but his contribution to the victory was tremendous.

When the war ended, the internal problems escalated and Poland was on the verge of civil war. The reason was the King's willingness to choose the successor to his throne before his own death. The Queen supported the candidature of French prince Condeus. France at the time was an absolute monarchy, so the noble class and magnates naturally feared any application of such a regime in Poland. The whole idea seemed like a direct threat to the electoral freedom and 'golden' liberties that the noble class enjoyed hitherto. The country became divided into two opposite parties. The King's party gained many supporters through generous gifts, blackmails and other tricks.

The plans of Polish King Jan Kazimierz were met with strong protests in Berlin, Vienna and Rome as well as in some political centers in France. Many Poles rose up against the King. Peasant and military rebellions were common. Due to frequent wars, the total area of the Kingdom of Poland decreased from 990 thousand to 730 thousand square kilometers. This was coupled with a dramatic population drop from 10 million to 5 million people.

In the spider web; the Queen and her dame

Sobieski, like other magnates, was more than happy to take French money. At first he received 4,800 livres from the Queen Maria Luisa. Then she added another 8,000 and finally made a generous payment of 20,000 livres. Sobieski's appetite for cash might seem weird, because even before receiving the money, he had a nice, profitable estate worth several million in local currency. It should be explained that the magnates of the time rarely had cash, even if their estates brought tremendous profits, for the profit was mostly in crops and livestock.

The Queen perceived Sobeski as a prominent magnate and outstanding soldier and wanted his support in her plans to improve the economic and social situation of Poland. The Queen also knew about Sobieski's soft spot for Marysienka. She often used her former lady of the court to gain Sobieski's support for a possible alliance between Poland and France.

As it happened, Sobieski took residence in Jaworowo, very close to the Zamoyski estate and started corresponding with Marysienka Zamoyski. Initially, they only exchanged their experiences about estate management and advised each other on agricultural matters. Marysienka wanted to know about the Royal Court and the Queen. For some time, the correspondence between the two was like one between a loving stepmother and her adopted son.

Sobieski, who was not used to any resistance from females, tried to cross the boundaries of friendship. Mrs. Zamoyski ardently protested and did not let him have his way. In one of her letters, she advised him that their friendship should remain "pure and innocent".

In their correspondence dating from 1660 Maria Kazimiera shared her everyday sorrows and joys with Sobieski. She complained about her husband's drinking and his violent behavior. "It has been three days that I have stayed in bed, sick of my husband's drunken brawl" read one of her letters. The rows between the husband and wife were, in fact, quite serious. During one of them, Marysienka did not hesitate to grab a sword and threaten to use it against her husband. She did that in order to save the life of her servant, whom Zamoyski wanted to kill.

Several months after she gave birth to her daughter Kasia, Mrs. Zamoyski shared details on the girl's health with Sobieski. She wrote that the girl was so weak that it was necessary to mix her food with warm beer, to increase its nutritious value.

"Mother" also became a self-acclaimed authority on her "son's" love affairs. When she found out about the fire on Sobieski's estate that destroyed his baths and resulted in horrible deaths of several young sex servants, an upset Marysienka wrote him an angry letter. She reminded Sobieski that poor women took exile at his Jaworowo estate in order to protect themselves from the atrocities of the Ukrainian civil war. Instead of protection, they experienced exploitation and eventual death. "Be careful," - the indignant French beauty wrote - "so they would not sing about you again for taking foreign girls as lovers." Such instructions show clearly that the young magnate had a rather excessive erotic life. Similar to Marysienka's first husband, Sobieski had his own harem, full to capacity. He often exchanged girls - replacing the older ones with younger and more exotic females.