Maria Kazimiera – the Queen of Poland

Maria Kazimiera - the Queen of Poland

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.