© Muzeum of King Jan III's Palace at Wilanów
Silva Rerum   Silva Rerum   |   04.02.2011

Marek Sobieski – the king’s grandfather

The importance of the Sobieski family of Sobieszyn, bearing the Janina coat of arms, was finally consolidated by the eldest of Jan’s sons, Marek Sobieski (1549/1550–1605), Crown Court Standard-bearer (1580), Castellan, and later Voivode of Lublin. From his youth connected with the Zamoyski family, he was admitted to the court of Stefan Batory (1576), possibly through the intercession of Jan Zamoyski, Crown Deputy Chancellor. From this date onwards Marek Sobieski was among the most loyal and committed of the royal servants. A born prankster and a swashbuckler like no other (he was violent and prone to pick a fight), endowed with a great strength, he feared no enemy. An anecdote has it that he ventured once deep into wild Lithuanian forest in Batory’s company when suddenly a huge bear dashed out of nowhere and threw itself at the king. Sobieski immediately reached for his sword and smashed the beast’s head with one blow. He enjoyed the monarch’s unlimited trust, which was recorded in the family lineage hand-written by Jan III Sobieski years later: “Let me mention but one of my forefathers (…); his good reputation made King Batory often say that should he ever bet the entire Kingdom of Poland on one duel, he would chose [no other man] but Marek Sobieski”.

Sobieski was noted for his participation in the war of Gdańsk, fighting at the Lake of Lubieszów (1577). Wounded in the leg, he chased the escaping enemy so fiercely that he failed to notice a steep bank of the Vistula and burst into the river on horseback with his heavy armour. He also partook in some other of Batory’s expeditions (Wielkie Łuki [Velikiye Luki], Psków [Pskov]), always close at the monarch’s side. At the same time he strengthened his contact with Hetman Jan Zamoyski by becoming “the chancellor’s great confidant” (as observed by nuncio Rangoni). Following the Battle of Byczyna in 1588, Zamoyski entrusted Sobieski with the guard and care of Archduke Maximilian, defeated and imprisoned in Krasnystaw. He also took an active part in Zamoyski’s expedition to Moldova and Valahia (1600).

Sobieski’s appointment to hold the office of the Voivode of Lublin in 1598 resulted in his conversion to the Catholic faith (he was formerly a Calvinist). Subsequent promotions translated to his accruing wealth; apart from hereditary royal estate of Pilaszkowice, in 1598 he purchased in Ruthenia a huge landed property of Złoczów [Zolochiv] (including over 60 villages), and on top of that smaller-size estates located in Podolia and a tenement house in Lublin.

Marek Sobieski’s iconography is rather modest and limited to just a few examples. In the Lviv Gallery of Paintings there is a seventeenth-century oil work on canvas by an unidentified author, depicting the ruler in Polish dress, down to the knee level, directed in ¾ to the right. Since it was never reproduced in graphic form, it is somewhat less known. More popular is the full-size portrait, prior to 1939 in the collection of the Zamoyski family located in the Blue Palace in Warsaw, lost in the course of World War II. An item from a set of paintings (Old Polish portraits) exposed in the Palace interiors, Sobieski’s effigy was recreated by Jan Feliks Piwarski in 1841 as a zincograph, and by an anonymous Warsaw artist as a woodcut based on a drawing by Józef Tadeusz Polkowski; the latter print was published in 1862 in “Tygodnik Ilustrowany” [“The Illustrated Weekly”], no. 156.


Jan Feliks Piwarski, based on a painting from the Blue Palace in Warsaw: Portrait of Marek Sobieski, lithograph, publ. 1841.