Jan III Sobieski of the Janina coat of arms
Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów

Passage to knowledge

Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów

Jan III Sobieski of the Janina coat of arms compiled by the Polish Biographical Dictionary workshop

Jan III Sobieski of the Janina coat of arms (1629-1696), grand hetman, grand marshal of the Crown, the king of Poland. The son of Jakub, castellan of Cracow, and Teofila née Daniłowicz, great grandson of Grand Hetman and Chancellor of the Crown Stanisław Żółkiewski, younger brother of Marek, starosta of Krasnystaw, and older brother of Katarzyna, wife of Michał Radziwiłł. Sobieski was born on 17 August 1629 in Olesko, ”between two and three in the afternoon, on a Friday”, according to a legend – amidst a raging storm, when the castle was being approached by a mounted troop of Tatar horsemen, prowling the area. In 1640, having received elementary education at his family homes in Olesko and Żółkiew, Sobieski and his brother set out – under the tutelage of Paweł Orchowski – to the Nowodworski College in Cracow. Their father drew up an instruction admonishing them to, i.a. diligently study foreign languages, especially Latin and German, as well as French, Italian and Turkish; in addition to recommendations strictly connected with studying, the instruction also included directives about everyday life, i.a. hygiene, which involved taking at least one bath a month and visiting a private bathhouse once every six-eight weeks. Having arrived in Cracow, the Sobieski brothers took private Latin lessons for several months. As a result, in the winter term 1640-1641 they immediately enrolled in the College second class (poetics). Two years later, they graduated from the third class (dialectics), and in the winter season of 1642-1643 signed up for the Philosophy Faculty at the Cracow Academy. After completing their studies and a brief stay in Żółkiew, in February 1646 the brothers set out on a foreign journey to study languages and military architecture. Via Lublin, Kazimierz, Radom, Kalisz and Poznań, on 1 April 1646 they arrived in Berlin, and subsequently visited Wittenberg (admiring, i.a. the Martin Luther chamber), Leipzig and Lützen (a tour of the battlefield where Gustav Adolphus of Sweden fell in 1632); travelling through Brabant, on 6 June they crossed the French border and three days later reached Paris, where they spent almost a year, dedicating themselves to studying and sightseeing. In addition, Jan is said to have briefly joined the royal guard of Louis XIV and conducted an affair of the heart with an official’s wife, which bore fruit in the form of a certain ”monsieur de Brisacier”, who many years later appeared in Poland, causing not only an international scandal, but also serious marital problems for King Jan III. The sojourn in the French capital was not interrupted even by information about the death of the brothers’ father, after which Jan received the starostwo of Jaworów. On 1 May 1647, the Sobieskis left Paris and began their tour of France, which included, i.a. Chartres, Orlean, La Rochelle, Poitiers, Toulouse, Carcasson, Marseilles and Lyon. On 12 October, they sailed out from Calais to England, where they spent more than a month. Upon returning, they travelled across Zealand and Holland, met William II, prince of Orange, and Admiral Cornelius van Tromp and attended lectures on the art of fortification; in June 1648 they learned about the death of King Władysław IV (20 May 1648) and, subsequently, about the outbreak of the Bohdan Chmielnicki insurrection and the defeat of the royal troops at the battle of Korsuń. Having received a letter from their mother, requesting that they return, on 24 July the brothers left Brussels and in September reached the Commonwealth.

In the summer of 1649, Sobieski found himself in the Crown army of King Jan Kazimierz, hastening to help the besieged fortress of  Zbaraż. On 15 August, he fought in the battle of Zborów, leading a Cossack mounted company on the left wing of the Polish army. Sobieski also faced Cossack-Tatar forces at the battle of Beresteczko (28-30 June 1651); on the second day of the hostilities he suffered serious head injuries and was almost taken captive by the Tatars. The next year, Sobieski became severely ill and thus did not participate in the Batog campaign, in which his brother Marek died. In 1653 Sobieski led a Cossack choragiew (banner) in the Zwaniec expedition and found himself among hostages handed over to Khan Islam Giray in the course of the peace negotiations. In spring 1654 Sobieski travelled to Turkey as a member of the Mikołaj Bieganowski diplomatic mission and stayed with the envoy in Istanbul. Back home, he joined the campaign against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and on 29 January 1655 acted as the regiment commander in the victorious battle against Muscovite-Cossack forces at Ochmatów. In the spring of 1655, Sobieski met at the royal court Maria Kazimiera/Marie Casimire d’Arquien, a fourteen year-old lady-in-waiting to Queen Mary Louise Gonzaga, who from then on became his ”unconquered passion”.

At the initial stage of the Swedish Deluge Sobieski participated in battles waged against the Swedes in Żarnów and Wojnich. However, together with the Crown Standard Bearer Aleksander Koniecpolski he soon joined the forces of Charles X Gustav of Sweden, remaining in his service until spring 1656; during this period, Sobieski participated in, i.a. the battle of Gołąb (18 February 1656) against the troops of Stefan Czarniecki. Sobieski returned to the ranks of the Crown army at the end of March 1656. Already on 7 April he distinguished himself at the battle of Warka, followed by a pursuit of the survivors of the conquered army of Margrave Frederic V of Baden-Durlach; in recognition of his efforts, on 26 May 1656 Sobieski was nominated the Crown standard bearer. Later, he fought in the campaign of Greater Poland and the battle of Warsaw (28-30 July), in 1657 took part in battles against the Transylvanian forces of György II Rákóczi (including the battle of Czarny Ostrów) and witnessed Rákóczi’s surrender.

Love for Maria Kazimiera brought Sobieski increasingly closer to the court camp and the pro-French party (he actually received subsidies from King Louis XIV of France), which at the time aimed at reforming the Commonwealth: reducing the liberum veto, regulating the manner of holding Sejm sessions, introducing the  election of a king’s successor before the death of the predecessor (electio vivente rege); the reformers intended to loosen ties with the Habsburg dynasty and tighten cooperation with France. Sobieski did not change his attitude towards the court even after the queen arranged the marriage of Marysieńka and Jan ”Sobiepan” Zamoyski, deputy cup bearer of the Crown. In autumn 1658, together with Aleksander Koniecpolski, Sobieski set out to Royal Prussia, where he undertook a siege of Sztum and subsequently harassed the Swedes with sorties launched from his camp near Dzierżgoń. At the beginning of December, Sobieski arrived in Toruń, and after the town’s surrender participated in the Warsaw Sejm of 1659, at which he became a member of a committee established to distribute Orthodox estates between members of the Orthodox Church and Uniates. In March 1660, he was granted the starostwo of Stryi and - summoned by the queen - led a cavalry regiment to Prussia, where peace negotiations were conducted with the Swedes in Oliwa near Gdańsk.

After the Treaty of Oliwa and a brief stay in Jaworów, Sobieski took part in the Ukrainian campaign of 1660. He fought at the battles of Lubar (16 September), Cudnów (27 September and 14 October) and Słobodyszcze (7 October), and signed the treaty of Cudnów (27 September and 14 October) and Słobodyszcze (7 October), pledging the allegiance of the Zaporozhye Cossacks to the Commonwealth and its monarch. Next, Sobieski travelled to Warsaw as one of the twelve military envoys dispatched to the Sejm of 1661 to present the demands of soldiers confederated in the so-called Blessed Union. At the Sejm, he acted in the interest of the court party, trying to convince the gentry about the necessity of electing a new monarch during the lifetime of Jan Kazimierz. On 26 July 1661, along with a group of pro-court magnates, he signed a letter addressed to Louis, prince of Condé, supporting the vivente rege election. After the Sejm session, Sobieski attempted to win over the military to this idea; alas, his efforts, similarly to the royal court’s undertakings, failed. In 1662, at a dietine of the Rus’ voivodeship held in Sądowa Wisznia, Sobieski was elected a parliamentary member, but the efforts of Jerzy Lubomirski, the grand marshal of the Crown who opposed the plans of the court, broke up the dietine assembly, thus nullifying the election. Nonetheless, Sobieski arrived in Warsaw at the head of a strong military regiment prepared to protect the king against a potential Blessed Union confederates’ attack and to face the opponents of the royal court. Confrontations were avoided, but fearing the confederates’ threats the Sejm decided to condemn the king’s election plans.

In August 1663 Sobieski led 6 000 cavalrymen as the advance guard of the Jan Kazimierz Ukrainian expedition. In the course of the march, he suppressed a mutiny of a mounted company composed of foreigners angered by the seizure of the jewels, which they first received as a pledge for their pay.  Having entered territory controlled by the Russians, Sobieski successfully stormed Boryspol and – with the aid of Tatar reinforcements and Paweł Teteria’s Cossacks – started out for the south-west and seized lands all the way to Worskla, without facing any strong resistance with exception of Romny and Przyłuki; by the end of the year, Sobieski captured more than fifty towns and localities. Upon receiving the king’s order to return to the main forces, at that time tackling strong Russian troops in Belorussia, Sobieski made his way back north and on 18 January 1664 joined the army led by Jan Kazimierz in Korop. He participated in the fruitless siege of Głuchów, and then marched together with the king’s forces to Siewsk, where in mid-February they met the Lithuanian army of Field Hetman Michał Pac. In the course of a retreat from left-bank Ukraine, Sobieski led the rear guard, conducting successful battles at Sośnica and Kopyśniki and commanding an offensive against Iwan Brzuchowiecki, whom he managed to steer against the main royal forces at Nowogród Siewiersk; the Cossacks suffered serious defeat, yet successfully defended their tabor formation. Returning to right-bank Ukraine, along with Jan Sapieha, Sobieski advanced towards the region of Kiev in order to observe the Russians; at the end of May, he finally joined the main forces and stayed in Ukraine until the end of July/early August.

In autumn 1664 Sobieski – escorted by 600 cavalrymen – acted as a royal envoy at a number of pre-Sejm dietines in Rus’; the assembly in Sądowa Wisznia elected him deputy for the Warsaw Sejm, simultaneously advising to defend Lubomirski, accused of high treason. At the Sejm session Sobieski supported the monarch, thus acting against the dietine instruction, but did not take part in the Sejm court trial. Once a verdict was passed, sentencing the marshal to infamy and property confiscation (Sobieski perceived this decision as unfair), he initially sought the titles of field hetman and grand marshal of the Crown, taken from the infamis. However, when in January 1665 he was offered the marshal’s staff, Sobieski agreed to accept it only under the condition that Marysieńka and Zamoyski were divorced; ultimately, he also refused to accept the field marshal’s baton. Due to Marysieńka’s insistence, Sobieski became increasingly inclined to accept the marshal’s office; finally, Zamoyski’s death on 7 April 1665 broke down his resistance. Already on 14 May Sobieski married Marysieńka in a secret (in view of the mourning) ceremony, repeated in grand style on 5 July. On 18 May Sobieski accepted the once again offered rank of grand marshal; two weeks later, along with other dignitaries, he signed a declaration supporting Henri d’Enghien, prince of Condé, or his father, Louis, as candidates to the Polish throne. On 12 July he set off against Lubomirski. After the royal court signed the Palczyn settlement (6 November 1665), Sobieski agreed to relinquish the marshal’s staff so as to facilitate reaching an actual agreement with the leader of the rokosz (rebellion), but simultaneously declared his readiness to enlist, at his own expense, 2000 Walachian cavalrymen, whom he planned to deploy in several strategic locations throughout the country that could serve as potential meeting sites of the Lubomirski followers, gathering anew. Concerned about being insulted by hostile representatives of the gentry, Sobieski arrived at the spring Sejm session of 1666 only after the queen demanded his presence, supported by Marysieńka. Despite being affronted by the gentry and the military (who refused to recognise his status as  marshal), Sobieski ultimately declined to relinquish the office and, additionally, finally decided to accept the baton of Czarniecki, who died more than a year earlier. Consequently, on 30 April 1666 Sobieski became the field hetman of the Crown. His opponents’ attacks did not cease also after the Sejm debates were disrupted and were expressed in numerous lampoons circulating around the country. Weary, Sobieski seemed to be considering leaving the Commonwealth for France. The situation was made even worse by the poor state of his finances, caused by involvement in the civil war and an ongoing dispute with the heirs of Jan Zamoyski. Even though a Sejm court verdict of 25 April 1666 announced that Sobieski should receive 800 000 zlotys, only a settlement made in September with Gryzelda Wiśniowiecka and Stanisław Koniecpolski, heirs of the deceased ordynat, made it possible to collect the sum, reduced to a half.

After the military actions against Lubomirski were resumed in the summer of 1666, Sobieski once again stood at the side of Jan Kazimierz, but his participation in the civil war cannot be considered successful. At the battle of Mątwy he contributed to the defeat of the royal forces by deploying some of the cavalrymen in front of his own dragoons, thus preventing the latter from firing and, subsequently, causing them to be trampled by the fleeing cavalry. Sobieski himself barely managed to escape from the battlefield: when crossing a bridge over the Noteć he plunged into the river and lost his sabre, misiurka hemlet, bow and vambraces. These failures and the fact that he was held responsible for the defeat inspired Sobieski to reassume his negotiations with Versailles. On 6 October 1666, Louis XIV issued a special document, in which he took upon himself to grant Sobieski (after his arrival to France) the title of marshal, a hereditary duchy and the Order of the Holy Spirit; Marysieńka’s demands to distinguish also her family, which did not enjoy the king’s favours, were ignored. Ultimately, the couple decided to stay in the Commonwealth.

At the time, Sobieski was embarking upon a new range of activity. The peace negotiations conducted by representatives of the Commonwealth and Russia in Andruszów, and especially the truce reached on 30 January 1677, deteriorated relations with Muslim countries. Although the threat of a war with Turkey had been averted by sending a legation headed by Hieronim Radziejowski to Istanbul, recurring Tatar invasions called for counteractions. Already in the autumn, Sobieski located komputowe (supplemental) units along the Orynia and the Dniester, and in the middle of the following year he continued to warn the gentry about an imminent Turkish invasion, but failed to win support. In June, Sobieski began a campaign against the still relatively few czambuł units marauding in the voivodeships of Rus’, Volhynia and Podolia. In August, the horde’s main forces commanded by Kalga Adil Giray and aided by Piotr Doroszenko’s Cossacks – a total of about 30 000 riders, against whom Sobieski could deploy not more than 9 000 men - crossed the borders of the Commonwealth. This explains why Sobieski decided not to wage a general battle against the enemy and instead adopted the concept of dividing the army into several large cavalry groups, operating in select areas and supported by strongholds; the groups in question were to constitute an operational basis for smaller units composed of several hundred people engaged in direct combat against the czambuł units. The infantry was mainly assigned to man Lwów, Biała Cerkiew and Kamieniec Podolski. This plan successfully halted the Tatar invasion; along all routes, the enemy encountered mobile Polish units, which made further plunder impossible. On 4 October 1667, Sobieski himself stood at the head of 3 000 soldiers in a fortified camp near Podhajce, posing a threat to the Tatar-Cossack communication lines; he forced the assailants to attempt storming the camp (6 October) and subsequently to begin a siege concluded with signing treaties with the Tatars (16 October) and the Cossacks (19 October). The settlements restored peace between the Crimean khan and the king (including donations to the Tatars and military aid for the Crown army) and guaranteed that the Cossacks would once again be ruled by the Commonwealth; at the same time, the Tatars were allowed to capture slaves into jasyr in Crimea. Halting the invasion led to Sobieski’s considerable popularity among the up to then inimical gentry. The very same year, Sobieski received the profitable starostwo of Gniew, which he had tried to obtain for the past two years.

On 5 February 1668 Sobieski received the grand baton of the Crown (with the title of field hetman going to the unfriendly Dymitr Wśniowiecki). On 1 March he arrived in Warsaw to attend a Sejm, which broke up week later; although Sobieski’s conciliatory speech did not prevent anti-French deputies from disrupting the parliamentary debates it did contribute to his rising popularity. Further support for the French candidacy, however, caused him to once again lose the approval of his peers. Following the abdication of Jan Kazimierz (16 September 1668), Sobieski conducted campaign in favour of the prince of Condé, but was unable to oppose the gathered gentry, who during the election of 19 June 1669 chose Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki. Sobieski, who as the speaker of the house was compelled to announce the new monarch, opposed him from the very beginning: he was absent at the ceremony of swearing allegiance to Wiśniowiecki and did not sign the election act, but supported the protest of Marcin Zamoyski, who on 1 July attempted to break up the election Sejm because he was dissatisfied with the resolution of a dispute with Gryzelda Wiśniowiecka. On the next day, Sobieski left Warsaw to participate in a coronation Sejm session held in Cracow, and on 30 September 1669 – together with other senators – took an oath of allegiance to Michał Korybut. At the same time, as a result of long-lasting negotiations with Stanisław Radziejowski, he received the starostwo of Solec.

Despite his apparent resignation, Sobieski did not resign from the anti-royal campaign. Together with the other opponents of Wiśniowiecki, the so-called malcontents, already in November 1669 he participated in a conspiracy set up to dethrone the king and introduce a French candidate - Count St. Paul de Longueville, a nephew of Louis XIV. He also attempted to prevent the king from marrying Eleonore Maria Josefa Habsburg of Austria (which could reinforce the throne); he did not have a poor opinion about the queen (and described her as ”not ugly and of unmatched goodness”), yet perceived the marriage as unfavourable for the Commonwealth. As a result, he did not attend the royal wedding in Częstochowa (February 1670), where he was represented by Marysieńka. Attacked by the gentry (the Sieradz dietine postulated to deprive him of the field marshal’s baton, supposedly owing to his poor health) and by Hetman Wiśniowiecki, who suspected him of intentionally provoking the Tatar invasion, Sobieski gained the support of a majority of the military, who at a general assembly held near Trembowla in September 1670 voiced their approval for the commander. Sobieski tried to secure peace with the Cossacks, but in the face of the appointment of the pro-Polish but by no means influential Michał Chanenko as the Cossack hetman, he was incapable of preventing the advancement of Doroszenko, a Tatar ally. When in July 1671 Cossacks began the siege of Biała Cerkiew, Sobieski repeated his 1667 manoeuvre: he located some of the men along the route of predicted Tatar attacks and in strongholds, and led lesser troops in the direction of Peczora on the Boh, where considerable Tatar forces were gathering, awaiting reinforcements from Crimea. Learning about Sobieski’s advance, the Tatars retreated to Bracław, occupied by Doroszenko’s Cossacks; on 26 August the hetman drove them out of the town and subsequently pursued them all the way to the Boh, causing severe losses. After resting in Bar, in October Sobieski undertook a new campaign against the czambuł units, winning the battles of Mohylów and Kalnik, and forcing Doroszenko’s units to retreat; Polish rule over the right bank of the Dnieper was briefly reinstated. He was unable, however, to prevent the threat of war with Turkey and when in November Lithuanian units, instigated by Pac, refused to continue fighting, Sobieski was compelled to conclude the campaign. Due to a growing conflict between the king, his gentry supporters and the “malcontents”, in the following year both Sejm sessions were broken up, making it impossible to implement a plan of forcing the deputies to agree to the king’s abdication (the main role was to be played by pro-Sobieski units, brought especially for this purpose to Warsaw); the Commonwealth was almost defenceless in the face of the advancing army led by the sultan. On 1 July 1672 Sobieski and other “malcontents” signed an anti-royal confederation, turning to Louis XIV for help and asking him to send a candidate for the Commonwealth throne.

In the middle of July the hetman left Warsaw and began preparing the country’s defence. After the fall of Kamieniec, Sobieski and several thousand cavalrymen left Jaworów in mid-September and at the beginning of October set off for Zamość, on the way decimating Tatar units engaged in plundering. At the battle of Niemirów (7-8 October) Sobieski smashed the kosz camp of Jambet Gerey, on 9 October he defeated yet another kosz in Komarne, and on 14 October wiped out a strong Tatar unit in Kałusz – in the course of the entire famous ten-day ”czambuł expedition” Sobieski travelled more than 300 kms, set free about 44 000 captives and took numerous prisoners of war. Nonetheless, all those efforts did not reduce the hatred of the gentry, who on 16 October established in Gołąb a pro-royal confederation demanding that the “malcontents” be court tried, and then began plundering the estates of the hetman, accused of treason, and his relatives, including Sobieski’s aunt, Dorota Daniłowiczówna, a Benedictine nun. In November, envoys of the gentry travelled to the hetman’s units near Zamość, urging the soldiers to join the confederation; the reaction was so hostile that only Sobieski’s personal intervention managed to save them. In response, a military confederation was established on 23 November in Szczebrzeszyn to protect the rights of the Commonwealth, with particular emphasis on the hetman prerogatives violated by the Gołąb confederates. Once the confederation was founded, Sobieski departed for Łowicz to defend Primate Mikołaj Prażmowski against the gentry; in the course of the negotiations, the “malcontents” returned to the idea of dethroning Michał; as a result, on 30 December 1672, Sobieski wrote to Louis XIV suggesting that a French prince should mount the Polish throne. Ultimately, dethronement did not take place and in the face of the looming threat of a Turkish invasion both parties began striving towards a compromise.

On 4 January 1673, Warsaw became the seat of a general council of the Gołąb confederation. On 12 February, Sobieski – on behalf of all the “malcontents” – signed a declaration of consent to take the oath of allegiance to the king; after its acceptance by Michał Korybut, Sobieski arrived in Warsaw on 28 February. In March, after the Gołąb confederates and the “malcontents signed an agreement, the confederation council was transformed into a pacification Sejm. In the course of its sessions, Sobieski presented a project of defending the country against the expected attack launched by the sultan, and demanded: concluding an anti-Turkish alliance with the tsar of Muscovy, the Christian emperor and the shah of Persia, recognising Doroszenko as the Cossack hetman and winning him over to the Polish side, gaining the support of the Walachians and, finally, establishing a well-equipped and regularly paid army of 60 000 soldiers, half being infantry, with 60-80 cannons. Despite the Sejm’s approval, expressed in, i.a. granting the hetman a gratuity of 150 000 zł, repaying Sobieski the sum of 63 165 zł he had spent on the army and envoy missions, as well as levying high taxes, the army enlisted for the needs of the new campaign did not achieve the size planned by Sobieski, who ultimately had 46 500 soldiers and 65 cannons under his command. In addition, he failed to win Doroszenko’s support, despite the mission carried out by of Józef Szumlański, the Orthodox bishop of Lwów; more, after a quarrel with Colonel Jan Piwo, Chanenko, supported by the king, went over to the Muscovite side, thus depriving the Commonwealth of the support of his Cossack units.

Sobieski left Warsaw on 12 August 1673. Travelling through Pielaszkowice and Jarosław, by 1 September he reached Jaworów, and on 12 October advanced against the 30 000-strong army of Hussein Pasha, the Beylerbey of Silistra, gathered near Chocim. At the beginning of November, Sobieski joined forces with the Lithuanian army of Michał Pac as well as those Moldavian and Walachian units that went over to the Polish side. On 9 November, the united armies reached the fortress occupied by the Turks. In the course of a two-day battle waged on 10-11 November, Sobieski succeeded in completely crushing the Turkish forces and drove them from Chocim; the few survivors took shelter in Kamieniec. The victorious hetman intended to march southwards and distribute his forces for the wintertime along the Danube, but he was compelled to cancel his plans: desertion was becoming widespread due to a lack of funds, Pac – at odds with Sobieski – refused further involvement in the war, and the forthcoming election (Michał Korybut died on 10 December) induced the magnates to return home. On 30 November, the hetman departed for Kałusz, leaving Hieronim Sieniawski in Moldavia in command of several thousand cavalrymen and dragoons.

Sobieski arrived in Lwów in December 1673. During the approaching election, he intended to support the candidacy of the prince of Condé, yet in view of the indecisiveness of Louis XIV, who backed the prince of Neuburg, unpopular in Poland, it seemed that the candidate of the pro-Austrian party, Prince Charles of Lorraine, would be most likely to win.  The Sobieski candidacy was mainly considered by the adverse Pac family, who at the convection Sejm (15 January–22 February 1674) achieved an oral exclusion of a ”Piast” candidate. As the position of the duke of Lorraine was becoming stronger Sobieski probably began thinking about his own candidature; he was gradually winning broader support among the gentry (including, i.a. Andrzej Maksymilian Fredro, Stanisław Jabłonowski, Stefan Czarniecki) and at Marysieńka’s instigation was also espoused by the French envoy Forbin-Jason, who assigned 9 000 livres for the campaign. The election was inaugurated on 19 May; from the very first day, Sobieski gained the largest popularity among the gentry, whose representatives – despite the fact that a formal choice had not yet been made – already on 20 May began offering their congratulations. The efforts of the followers of the Lotharingian did not generate any noteworthy results, and the support enjoyed by the hetman was on the rise - even a majority of the hostile Lithuanians agreed to his election. On 21 May the gathered gentry began cheering King Jan, the protests of Michał Pac and his camp were obliterated, and Andrzej Trzebicki, the bishop of Cracow standing in for the deceased Primate Kazimierz Florian Czartoryski, declared Jan Sobieski to be king.

The new monarch decided to postpone the coronation from July 1674, the date appointed by the election Sejm, to a later one. He intended to use this time to reinforce his influence in the Commonwealth, and – by not appointing a successor for the office of the grand hetman – to maintain his position with the military in the face of the imminent war against Turkey. In autumn 1674, Sobieski proceeded to Podolia and the Polish forces managed to win back Niemirów, Bracław and Kalnik. Michał Kazimierz Pac, the grand hetman of Lithuania, withdrew part of the Lithuanian army without Jan III’s consent. In 1675 Sobieski managed to halt a Turkish-Tatar offensive, on 22 August he crushed the Tatar forces at Lwów and the enemy army retreated beyond the Dniester. The European political configuration offered an opportunity to reorient the Polish foreign policy. France under Louis XIV, traditionally allied with Turkey and Sweden, attached importance to obtaining Polish assistance against the coalition of, i.a. the house of Habsburg, Brandenburg and Denmark. On 11 June 1675, Jan III signed in Jaworów a confidential treaty with Louis XIV, planning a reclamation of the Duchy of Prussia by the Polish monarch. In addition, France committed herself to, i.a. subsidise the war against Brandenburg and to use her diplomatic means to help the Commonwealth sign a peace treaty with Turkey. According to some historians, the king intended the Duchy of Prussia to be ruled by the Sobieskis as the vassals of the Commonwealth.

The coronation of Jan III and Maria Kazimiera was held in Cracow on 2 February 1676, with the king awarding batons at the coronation Sejm – the grand marshal’s to Dymitr Wiśniowiecki and the field marshal’s to Stanisław Jabłonowski. Plans of considerably enlarging the army failed, since even though the Sejm passed adequate taxes the gentry refused to pay the fixed sum. Forced to once again face a Turkish offensive, the king entrenched himself with the Crown and Lithuanian army in a camp near Żurawno by the Dniester, and from 29 September to 14 October 1767 tackled Turkish-Tatar forces. Although the truce of 17 October repeated the conditions of the peace of Buczacz, it no longer mentioned a tribute. Moreover, Poland regained Biała Cerkiew and Pawołocz. The truce could have been the first step towards implementing the Jaworów treaty. However, royal plans were thwarted by the opposition, which supported the emperor and the elector of Brandenburg and resisted reinforcing royal authority. Against Jan III’s will, the Sejm of 1677 renewed heretofore agreements with the Empire and Brandenburg and reduced the size of the army. Consequently, Sobieski used his own funds to pay some of the soldiers and – in accordance with an agreement with France - dispatched them to help Hungarian insurgents battling the Habsburgs. After the Sejm session ended, Jan III left for Gdańsk, planning to make use of the opportunity for mediating in local conflicts in order to reinforce his own influence. Without resigning from the Baltic plans, on 4 August 1677 he contracted an alliance with Sweden (at the time in the middle of a war against Brandenburg) to jointly attack the Duchy of Prussia; planning the campaign, Sobieski used French money to enlist new units. He waited in vain for the Swedish army to invade the Duchy of Prussia from Livonia - Michał Kazimierz Pac prohibited the Swedes to march through Samogitia and threatened armed resistance. The Swedes suffered defeat in Szczecin Pomerania and the European balance of forces, favourable for the Commonwealth, changed. In the summer of 1678 France negotiated the Treaty of Nijmegen with the Dutch Republic and ceased being concerned with Sobieski’s plans. The envoys sent by the Sejm of 1677 also failed – the peace treaty signed by Jan Gniński in Istanbul in 1678 only repeated the conditions of the truce of Żurawin, while Michał Czartoryski and Kazimierz Jan Sapieha in Moscow prolonged the truce of Andruszów by 13 years. The opposition (which included Andrzej Trzebicki, bishop of Cracow, and Hetman D. Wiśniowiecki) was devising plans of dethroning Jan III. In this situation, at the Sejm of 1678-1679 Sobieski had to accept a compromise with the opposition and ultimately relinquish his Baltic plans and French assistance. Instead, he gained support for an anti-Turkish policy and attempts at gaining allies against Turkey. The emperor, busy competing against France, was uninterested in undertakings targeted at Turkey, while Muscovy had just signed a truce with the sultan (1681).

The king’s isolation on the international forum was accompanied by a lack of domestic support. Previous followers of France had joined the opposition, and the king failed to win over the adherents of the emperor and the elector. Historians noticed that Jan III, contrary to Jan Kazimierz or even Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki, did not have his own party among the magnates. In Lithuania he supported the Sapiehas against the Pac family, but having gained dominance in the Grand Duchy the former joined the opposition. The Crown opposition was led by Stanisław Jabłonowski, Jan Andrzej Morsztyn, grand treasurer of the Crown, and Krzysztof Grzymułtowski, voivode of Poznań. At the Sejm of 1681, the opposition accused Jan III of violating the Commonwealth laws and the queen of interfering in state affairs; the parliamentary session was broken up at the insistence of French diplomats.

When in 1682 anti-Habsburg Hungarian insurgents seized Upper Hungary and declared their leader, Imre Thököly, king (who, in turn, announced that he was to be the sultan’s vassal), Emperor Leopold I changed his heretofore policy as regards an alliance with the Commonwealth. This turn of events provided Jan III with an opportunity to conclude a military alliance with Austria in order to regain lost lands. To win the support of the pro-French party, the king presented its leading members with offices: S. Jabłonowski became the grand hetman of the Crown, Hieronim Lubomirski – the court treasurer of the Crown, and in Lithuania Kazimierz Jan Sapieha received the office of grand hetman, and his brother Benedykt – the title of grand treasurer. The Sejm court of March 1683 tried Treasurer Morsztyn, accused of treason on the basis of his correspondence with France, intercepted by royal Intelligence. Morsztyn used a recess in the trial to escape to France, and the French ambassador was deported from the Commonwealth. Sobieski succeeded in levying new taxes for the army and the Sejm accepted the alliance with the emperor, signed on 1 April 1683. The treaty involved, i.a. joining forces for waging wars and concluding peace treaties, providing assistance in the case one of the capitals was threatened, imperial subsidies for Poland, creating a 40 000-strong army of the Commonwealth (60 000 in the Empire) and seeking new allies for the war against Turkey. When in July 1683 the Turkish army under Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa began the siege of Vienna, the Commonwealth became the site of intense mobilization and Jan III personally led a 21 000-strong reinforcement army. After the allied forces – imperial, Reich princes and Polish (the latter comprising one-third of the entire army) – met in Moravia, Sobieski took over the supreme command as the only sovereign ruler among all the commanders in the emperor’s absence. The battle of Vienna (12 September 1683) liberated the capital of Austria, but did not completely shatter the Turkish army. A further offensive against the Turks, if successful, would have been in the interest of Jan III, who would in this manner reinforce his position, especially in view of his plans of Prince Jakub ascending the throne of Hungary. However, the battle of Parkany (7 October 1683) ended with a defeat of the Polish army, forced to make a hasty retreat, and Sobieski found himself in serious danger. The second battle of Parkany of 9 October was victorious, but this time the Polish army was joined by allied forces. Having captured the Estergom fortress in Hungary, the Poles returned to the Commonwealth.

At the same time, there appeared a new opportunity to seize lands that could become a Polish fief ruled by the Sobieskis. Inspired by the temporary successes of the Cossack Hetman Stefan Kunicki, who in autumn 1683 reached the shores of the Black Sea with only an advanced detachment, Sobieski made Moldavia and Wallachia the new target of his policy. In the meantime, Jan III forged a closer alliance with the emperor by joining the Holy League, founded on 5 March 1684 in Linz and composed of the Commonwealth, the Empire, the papacy and the Venetian Republic. The war campaign of 1684 in Podolia did not seize Kamieniec Podolski, but set up a fortified camp in its proximity, later known as the Trenches of the Holy Trinity. The Sejm of 1685 ratified the Holy League treaty and raised taxes for the army. Wishing to isolate Kamieniec Podolski, the king was preparing an expedition to Moldavia as well as considering dynastic plans. He was counting on the approval of the Moldavian and Walachian hospodars and had the support of the emperor, fighting in Hungary. Parallel to the expedition preparations, Polish-Russian perpetual peace negotiations were being conducted in Moscow, imposed by the Holy League so that Russia would join the anti-Turkey coalition. In March 1686, envoys of the Commonwealth - Krzysztof Grzymułtowski and Marcjan Ogiński, grand chancellor of Lithuania – signed a peace treaty confirming the conditions of the 1667 truce of Andruszów. Perceiving the treaty as unfavourable for the Commonwealth, Jan III was planning to achieve success in Moldavia, thus reinforcing his own position without being obligated to ratify the peace. However, the Moldavian expedition – commenced in July – ended in a fiasco. The Turkish forces resorted to hit-and-run tactics thus avoiding a general battle, and the hospodars remained at the Turkish side. In the wake of this failure, Jan III signed the treaty achieved in Moscow by Grzymułtowski.

At the same time, the king did not resign from attempts to guarantee the succession of Prince Jakub and try to accustom his subjects to the prince’s involvement in state matters, so that Jakub’s election after his father’s death would be regarded as natural. He received the senators’ approval for Jakub’s participation in sessions of the Senate council in Lwów in December 1686, and in 1687 appointed him supreme commander during the siege of Kamieniec Podolski. In 1687 Sobieski managed to arrange the engagement of the prince with Ludwika Karolina, heiress of the family fortune of the Radziwiłłs of Birże, daughter of Bogusław and widow of Ludwig Hohenzollern. The Sobieskis were unexpectedly insulted by the Habsburgs - Radziwiłłówna married Charles Philip, count of Palatinate-Neuburg and brother-in-law of Emperor Leopold I. Consequently, Jan III began to once again consider the option of turning to France, especially since the Holy League alliance did not yield Poland the expected benefits. At the turn of 1687, the king became severely ill and the possibility of death loomed, but ultimately he regained his health. Royal dynastic plans and an inclination to focus on France resulted in a violent attack of the opposition led by S. Jabłonowski, S. H. Lubomirski and the Sapiehas. The opposition protested against Prince Jakub sitting together with the king under a canopy at the Grodno Sejm of 1688. Sobieski was accused of planning a vivente rege election, and even though the royal court openly denied these charges, for the very first time in the history of Polish parliamentarianism the opponents managed to break up the Sejm debates before the marshal was elected. At the post-Sejm council of the Senate, Jan III made a harrowing speech, regretting that ”We have suffered (…) perpetual dishonour and irreparable loss, being deprived of all measures and almost helpless or unable to debate”. The king also promised that he would never encroach upon the gentry freedoms. Although his stance gained the recognition of the noblemen, Jan III did not decide to turn to the gentry masses and summon a Sejm aimed against members of the opposition planning his dethronement. His struggle against the opposition was intensified at the Sejm of 1689-1690, when the king intended to discredit his enemies by revealing documents accusing leading opposition members and involving, i.a. S. H. Lubomirski plotting with Austrian diplomats. The activity of the investigating committee headed by Primate Michał Radziejowski was paralysed by the nuncio and imperial diplomacy. After the opposition prematurely disrupted the Sejm and the threat of a civil war loomed, Jan III refrained from a military confrontation with his opponents.

While in Western Europe France was involved in a campaign against the so-called League of Augsburg (since 1688), Poland temporarily revived the idea of an alliance with Louis XIV. However, it soon turned out that France had nothing attractive to offer in exchange for leaving the Holy League. A realistic solution suggested once again drawing closer to the emperor and a joint anti-Turkey policy. Imperial diplomats in Poland did their best to guarantee the success of the Sejm of 1690, which was to levy army taxes for continuing the war against Turkey. French political emissaries, who tried to interrupt the Sejm sitting, were deported from the Commonwealth. The sessions were a success, marking the last fruitful Sejm during Jan III’s reign and enacting a komput army of 30 000 men for the Crown and 8 000 for Lithuania. The improvement of relations with the Empire resulted in the marriage of Prince Jakub and Hedwig Elisabeth, the empress’ sister (March 1691). While devising a plan of the Moldavian campaign of 1691, Sobieski counted on Muscovite diversion in Crimea and the help of the imperial infantry in capturing Turkish strongholds. Even though he was initially successful, the Polish monarch was forced to retreat due to the total lack of support. With a prematurely severe winter setting in, the retreat of the Polish army through the Bukovina forests turned out to be a grave failure. From that time, the king no longer had direct command over the army and handed over all military issues to hetmans, who in 1692 and 1694 undertook futile attempts at seizing Kamieniec Podolski. The fiasco of the Moldavian expedition dealt a heavy blow to the increasingly ill Sobieski, who did not resign from the political life, but was becoming increasingly less active. Father Forst de Battaglia, Jan III’s biographer, was of the opinion, later shared by Zbigniew Wójcik, that Queen Maria Kazimiera assumed the role of ”Poland’s regent”, whose dynastic plans were already focused on Prince Aleksander. Together with Marquis F. de Béthune, a representative of Louis XIV, in July 1692 Marysieńka prepared and signed a project for a future Polish-French treaty. The document would render the Polish court dependent upon France as regards international and domestic matters, but could have helped the Commonwealth to obtain a stronger position in relation with her neighbours and the king to implement his dynastic plans. Sobieski was aware that spreading the news about the treaty would discourage the gentry from supporting the monarch. In addition, it became obvious that Turkey would not conclude a peace treaty with the Commonwealth on terms favourable for Poland, an issue in which – according to the project – France was supposed to assist. As a result, Jan III did not sign the treaty, but even this  decision did not reduce the anti-court mood of the opposition, especially among the Sapiehas. 

Since the king’s health was steadily deteriorating, Maria Kazimiera , anticipating his inevitable demise, wished to win over the Sapiehas with the intermediary of a new French ambassador, M, de Polignac, but to no avail. The Sapiehas began setting up a new anti-court conspiracy and drew Primate Michał Radziejowski and Jerzy Albrecht Denhoff, grand marshal of the Crown, into the opposition. At the Grodno Sejm of 1693 Sobieski wanted to, i.a. present a plan of resigning from the Turkish wars but the opposition broke up the sessions, thus creating an impasse – new taxes for the army were not levied, making it impossible to continue the war. Lithuania faced a growing conflict between the despotic Sapiehas and the gentry unsatisfied with their rampant attitude. Konstanty Brzostowski, the bishop of Wilno, apparently encouraged by the court, stood up against the lawlessness of Hetman K. J. Sapieha, who quartered his forces on Church estates. The Sapiehas were preparing for a counteraction at the Sejm summoned for the end of December 1693, but the ailing king could not travel from Żółkiew to Warsaw and the Sejm dispersed. The situation in Lithuania was becoming increasingly tense, with Brzostowski putting a curse on the hetman in April 1694. Sapieha reacted in a derisive and disrespectful manner, and gained the support of Primate Radziejowski, who suspended the anathema. Jan III wanted the Sejm of 1695 to consider the problem of the Sapiehas and bring up the issue of waging an effective war against Turkey. Once again, the sessions were disrupted by the Sapiehas. In face of the aggravating situation in Lithuania, at the turn of 1695 the family started looking for ways to reach a compromise with the king. Maria Kazimiera decided to negotiate, hoping to reinforce her own position with the coming interregnum in mind. Jan III unexpectedly opposed any attempts at an agreement. In the last months of his life, the increasingly ill monarch was insufficiently supported by his wife, whose future marital plans inspired rumours spreading throughout the country. Jan III died in Wilanów on 17 June 1696. He was temporarily buried in the Capuchin church in Warsaw; after the death of Augustus II in 1733, the bodies of the two monarchs were transported to Cracow and in January 1734 laid to rest in Wawel cathedral.

Jan III was survived by his daughter Teresa Kunegunda, in 1694 married to Maximilian II Emanuel, elector of Bavaria, and sons Jakub, Aleksander and Konstanty.

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