Queen Marie Casimire’s Correspondence
Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów

Passage to knowledge

Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów

Queen Marie Casimire’s Correspondence Hanna Widacka
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The little “d’Arquien”, born French and nicknamed Marysieńka [Little Mary] apparently by Polish ladies-in-waiting, had a good command of the Polish language. Undoubtedly, she owned it to her stay and upbringing at the Warsaw-based court of her godmother, Queen Marie Louise Gonzaga, wife of two successive kings from the house of Vasa. Marysieńka soon learned to speak the language of her adopted homeland so fluently that in the words of an anonymous French writer F. de S., “she spoke Polish better than the Poles themselves”. Nevertheless, she revealed no further linguistic skills, as she neither learn Latin nor Italian, despite over a dozen years spent in Italy in her widowhood.

The young, beautiful and exceptionally intelligent miss d’Arquien learned from Marie Louise (also French like herself) not only the arcana of diplomatic games but also the contemporarily popular art of letter-writing. Naturally, Marysieńka s extensive correspondence was composed in French, but even in her native language she showed a highly liberal approach to spelling, to put it mildly. In the course of her long life, Queen Marie persistently made spelling mistakes, typical for a dyslectic (e.g. unfounded splitting of words into smaller units). Occasionally, French texts of her letters would contain individual Polish words or sentences whose spelling clearly exceeded the writer’s skills. An example of a term she found particularly challenging was the word “chorąży” [a state official in Poland, entrusted with the national, court or land ensign], frequently applied in titles. The queen’s many forms of the word included “korąszy”, “korągi”, “koronszi”, “korongi” or “chorąszy”. Typically native terms like “kasza” [groats], “buraki” [beetroots], “kapusta” [cabbage], “karczma” [tavern], “łaźnia” [bath] and “ruszenie” [levy in mass] were spelled by Marie Casimire phonetically in French (“la cacha”, “des bouraky”, “kapousta”, “carczema”, “lasznia”, “rouchenie” respectively). Her letters are abundant in similar examples. Although the queen incessantly contended with the challenging Polish spelling, her correspondence still displays high literary qualities. The writer’s exuberant personality suited all literary styles but refined poetry. Marysieńka had the ability, and clearly enjoyed, to put things bluntly, as exemplified by the following quotes: “...nie będę cie miała za sinka, ale za gnoyka, szfinia ty...” [“…I won’t take you for a son, but for a little shit, you swine…”] – from a letter to Zamoyski, 1658; “Współczuję Wci udrękom, ale i mnie jest bardzo niemiło, że un chłop gruby {mowa o Zamoyskim} śpi na jednej ze mną poduszce” [“I sympathise with your anguish, but I am equally displeased that the fat bloke {referring to Zamoyski} sleeps with me on the same pillow – from a letter to Sobieski, 1662).

The queen’s extant correspondence is enormous (perhaps not fully counted), to a large extent unknown and concealed in archival collections, mostly abroad. The Polish reader is best acquainted with Marie’s letters to her first husband Jan Zamoyski and to Jan Sobieski, meticulously collected and published by Leszek Kukulski in 1966. Regretfully, preserved are only remains, i.e. 60 of her letters addressed to Sobieski, dating back to the time preceding their marriage, and only two letters from their over 30-year-long married life, more specifically from the Vienna campaign. It is worth mentioning that Marysieńka had an equally dynamic exchange of letters with her own family (her aunt – Countess de Maligny in France, her father, her children, her grandchildren, her son-in-law – Elector of Bavaria, her daughter-in-law – Duchess Radziwiłł), and towards the end of the queen’s life with Elżbieta Sieniawska, her friend and plenipotentiary. Marie also wrote letters to Polish magnates, diplomats, ordinary courtiers and doctors. Contrary to the previously discussed, the latter correspondence was of a strictly utilitarian nature.

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