AT the end of May 1648, the news of a terrible disaster in the Ukraine reached the Polish capital. Stephen Potocki, with the Polish advance guard of 4000 men, was attacked on the banks of the river Zheltuiya Vodui by Chmielnicki’s countless Cossack and Tatar hordes ; and, after a stubborn three days resistance (May 16, 1819), his little army was annihilated.
A week later, the Hetmans of the Crown, Nicholas Potocki and Kalinowski, were surprised by the Cossack Hetman in the marshy valley of Kruto Balka, near the fortress of Korsun, on which they were retreating. Again Chmielnicki triumphed; 8500 out of the 10,000 Poles perished ; and both the Hetmans, with a few of their superior officers, were sent in chains to the Crimea to be held to ransom. The immediate result of these Cossack victories was the outbreak of a Khlopskaya zloba, or ” serf’s fury.” Throughout the Ukraine, the Polish gentry were hunted down, flayed, burnt, blinded and sawn as under. Every manor house and castle was reduced to ashes. Every Uniate or Catholic priest who could be caught was hung before his own high altar, along with a Jew and a hog. Every one who shaved his head after the Polish manner, or wore Polish costume, was cut down by the haidavzaki, as Chmielnicki’s bands were called. At Polonny, the Jews were cut up into joints and sold as meat by the butchers. At Bar, the Cossacks roasted and ate little children in the presence of their mothers. The remnant of the panic-stricken inhabitants fled to the nearest strongholds ; and soon the rebels were swarming all over the palatinates of Voihynia and Podolia.
Poland was utterly unprepared for a catastrophe which left her without any visible means of defence. The Grand Chancellor, Jerzy Ossolinski, the confidant, some said, the initiator, of the King’s martial projects, at once hastened from Warsaw to Lithuania to find the monarch. Midway, he was met by the tidings of Wladislaus’ death; and the shock deprived him, for a time, of the use of both hands. Nevertheless, in view of the infirmity of the aged primate, the captivity of the Hetmans, and the absence, or sickness, of the principal senators, he represented the executive, and, rising to the level of his difficulties, proceeded, with characteristic energy, to evolve order out of chaos while every one else was exclaiming : actum est de republica !
Jerzy Ossolinski was that rare phenomenon in Polish historya great diplomatist. Born in 1595, his abilities first impressed his Jesuit instructors at Pultusk, who sent him abroad; and, after frequenting, for eight years, the principal European Universities, he returned to Poland one of the most accomplished scholars and orators of the day. Sigismund III employed him on various diplomatic missions, in all of which he acquitted himself brilliantly, and he was responsible for the foreign policy of Poland during the reign of Wladislaus IV, who made him Vice-Chancellor in 1639, and Grand-Chancellor in 1645. It was Ossolinski who concluded the advantageous truce of Stuhmsdorf with Sweden, arranged the lucrative marriage of Wladislaus with the Austrian Archduchess Cecilia, and preserved unbroken the friendship between the Republic and the Roman Curia in the most difficult circumstances. He was initiated in all the secret revolutionary plans of Wladislaus IV, and, convinced that Poland could only be saved from ruin by a reform of the constitution on a strong monarchical basis, devoted himself to the attainment of that noble ambition, often at the peril of his life.
The first thing to be done was to elect a new King. For the moment, the Cossack peril had ceased to be acute. The Porte, ignorant of the death of Wladislaus IV, and alarmed at the prospect of a Polish war while the Venetian War was still undecided, had peremptorily ordered the Tatars back to the Crimea; and, Chmielnicki, weakened by their defection, had retired to Czehryn and opened negotiations with Poland to gain time. Ossolinski, whose policy it was to win the Cossacks for the Crown, at once sent peace commissioners to the Ukraine; while the Szlachta, who knew and feared the Chancellor’s royalist proclivities, determined to crush the Cossacks before they could come to terms with the Government, and so thwart Ossolinski’s plans at the forthcoming Election Diet. Thus, within a few weeks of the death of Wladislaus IV, whom they had steadily refused to assist against the Turks and Tatars, the Polish nobility assembled 40,000 horsemen and 200,000 armed camp followers, with ‘co guns, at Czolhansk in order to promote their electioneering manoeuvres by wiping out the Cossacks. By the time this gorgeous array, in shining armour and flowing, ermine-trimmed mantles, with heron plumes waving from their jewelled caps, their spurs of gold and silver, and their saddles and shabracks ablaze with precious stones, set forth ” to chase away the Cossack rabble with their whips,” the Porte, better informed as to Polish affairs, had permitted the Tatars to rejoin the Cossacks ; and Chmielnicki, after contemptuously dismissing the Polish peace commissioners, was advancing northwards. On September 23, 1648, the two armies encountered near Pilyawa ; and the glittering Polish pageant was easily scattered to the winds. The steppe for miles around was strewn with corpses ; and the Cossacks are said to have reaped 10,000,000 gulden’s worth of booty when the fight was over.
The immediate consequence of this disaster was the assembling of the Election Diet, which both parties, from political motives, had, unconstitutionally, postponed for six weeks beyond the usual time. It met on October 5, 1648; and, chiefly through the influence of Ossolinski, Wladislaus IV’s eldest half-brother, John Casimir, was elected King on October 13, on condition that he espoused his brother’s widow, Queen Maria Ludovika, who paid the expenses of his election out of her immense fortune.
The new King was little known and liked still less in Poland, where he was regarded as an alien adventurer. His career, hitherto, had certainly not been of the sort to inspire confidence in his stability of character. Born in 1609, he had been obliged to seek his fortune abroad because the Sejm had refused to allow him an honourable maintenance at home. After fighting in the Thirty Years’ War on the Imperial side, he set out for Spain, but was arrested en route by Richelieu (1632), and spent the next two years in a French prison. On being released, he proceeded to Rome, where he entered the Jesuit Order and subsequently competed for the dignity of cardinal. On returning to Poland, however, he changed his mind, returned the red hat, which had been sent after him to Warsaw, and was meditating wedlock when the death of his brother gave another direction to his ambition, and made him an aspirant for the Polish crown. Indolent and flighty John Casimir certainly was ; and to these personal defects all the calamities of his unhappy reign have been freely but most unjustly attributed. As a matter of fact, John Casimir was almost the only man in Poland who, guided by fixed political principles, endeavoured to do his duty as he understood it. Though no genius like his brother, he was not without fine qualities. His splendid personal valour was distinctly a national asset ; and, again and again, he demonstrated that not in vain had he learnt diplomacy in the school of Ossolinski. If he frequently submitted to the guidance of robuster intellects than his own, he had at least discrimination enough always to choose the best counsellors available. But we shall never get at the inner meaning of the labyrinthine complications of this distracting reign if we do not steadily bear in mind this cardinal fact : the great but secret aim of John Casimir, as it had been the aim of Wladislaus IV before him, was to curb the Szlachta and reform “the absurd republic” by strengthening the executive at the expense of the legislature. .
The most pressing duty of the newly elected King was to endeavour to come to terms with the Cossacks.
After the rout of Pilyawa, all Poland lay at the feet of Chmielnicki ; and the road to the defenceless capital was open before him. But, after capturing the fortresses of Konstantinow and Zbaraz, and blackmailing Lemberg, he wasted two precious months in the vain attempt to capture Zamosc. Meanwhile, John Casimir privately opened negotiations with him and officially recognised him by sending to him the bâton and other insignia of the Cossack Hetman. The King furthermore promised his “faithful Zaporozhians” the confirmation of all their ancient liberties if they would retire from Zamosc, break off their alliance with the Tatars, and await fresh peace commissioners at Pereyaslavl. The Pans were furious with the King for thus making friends with ” the worst enemy of the Republic”; yet it is hard to say what else could have been done in the circumstances, and Chmielnicki recognised his obligations to the royal House of Vasa by retiring from Zamosc, and consenting to receive the Polish commissioners. They arrived in his camp in January 1649 and found him so intoxicated with success as to be scarcely a reasonable creature. He contemptuously rejected the Polish terms, and was so evidently preparing to invade Poland with the combined forces of the Tatars and Cossacks that the commissioners, at the end of February, returned to Warsaw, and Ossolinski advised the King to proceed to the Ukraine and overawe the rebels by his royal majesty. It seemed, at first, as if this were to be his sole weapon. The Szlachta refused even to prepare for war, despite the alarming fact that the Tatars, supported by a threatening letter from Stambul, haughtily demanded the repayment of tribute ; while Chmielnicki, now styling himself “Prince of Russia,” publicly declared his intention of placing George Rákoczy on the Polish throne. Only at the last moment a piteous appeal from the aged primate Lubienski in the name of religion, induced the train-bands to assemble to the number of 10,000; and John Casimir set off to relieve the Lithuanian magnate Prince Jeremiah Wisniowiecki who was holding the whole Cossack-Tatar host at bay at Zbaraz.
The King encountered the rebels near Zborow, on the banks of the Strypa, the passage of which he forced with irresistible élan. A bloody battle ensued on the other side, in which the valour of the King and the skill of his chief artillery officer, Arciszewski, triumphed against tenfold odds. A few days later, the skilful diplomacy of Ossolinski succeeded in buying off the Tatars, who retired from the field; and, checked in mid career though still unvanquished, Chmielnicki now consented to treat with the chancellor. By the compact of Zborow (August 21, 1649) he was recognised as Hetman of the Cossacks; the whole Starosty of Czehryn was ceded to him as an appanage ; and the number of the registered Cossacks was raised from 6000 to 40,000, who were to be maintained at the expense of thé Republic. The garrison of Zbaraz was ransomed for 400,000 gulden ; a general amnesty was proclaimed ; and it was arranged that, henceforth, all official dignities in the Orthodox palatinates of Kiev, Chernigov and Braclaw should be conferred solely on the Orthodox gentry. In return for these immense concessions, Chmielnicki did homage to the Polish King on bended knee in presence of both armies, kissing the King’s hand; and the chancellor of Lithuania recited his pardon. The Diet, which met at Warsaw on November 22, confirmed the compact of Zborow, after much murmuring, but made no attempt to carry out its provisions. Thus, in spite of all the efforts of the King and Ossolinski, the Cossack question, which, with the exercise of a little tact and equity, might have been adjusted temporarily, continued to be as menacing as before. During 165o, however, the diplomacy of the chancellor greatly improved the position of Poland. He averted a war with Moscovy by threatening her with a Cossack invasion, and, taking advantage of the Venetian victories over the Turks, favourably entertained the project of an alliance between Matthew, Hospodar of Wallachia, the Bulgarians and the Imperial Court. He was about to proceed to Vienna and Rome to consolidate this new league when he died suddenly, leaving none competent to fill his place. Hence-forth John Casimir relied principally on the Queen for the furtherance of his plans. ‘
On the death of Ossolinski, the anti-Cossack party, chiefly represented by the Grand and Vice Crown Hetmans, Potocki and Kalinowski, recently returned from their long Crimean captivity, and burning for revenge, gained the upper hand. Chmielnicki’s own restless ambition precipitated the rupture. At this time nearly all the minor princes and potentates of south eastern Europe were suitors for the hand of the beautiful Rosanda, the daughter of the fabulously wealthy Basil Lupul, Hospodar of Moldavia. Conspicuous amongst the lady’s wooers were some of the most illustrious of the Polish magnates, the Potoccy, the Wisniowiecsy and even the old Vice-Hetman, Kalinowski. Chmielnicki also sought the lady’s hand for his son Tymoszko 1; and, when the Hospodar refused to entertain his proposals, the Cossack Hetman fell suddenly upon him, burnt Jassy, his capital, td the ground and devastated his dominions till the terrified Hospodar gave Rosanda to Timothy. The Polish nobility, enraged to see a low-born adventurer pluck such a prize from their very grasp, were now clamorous for the extirpation of the Cossacks ; the Diet of January 165x voted war subsidies with astonishing alacrity; and, at the beginning of June, John Casimir set out for the Ukraine at the head of 80,000 men. The campaign which ensued was as honourable fo the King as it was discreditable to the Szlachta. On reaching Beresteczko on Styr, the host entrenched itself and awaited the arrival of Chmielnicki. He appeared on June 27 with 200,000 Cossacks and Tatars, and made a vigorous reconnaissance, which was repulsed. On the 29th the Poles offered battle and were defeated. The same night the King held a council of war and, overruling the objections of the Hetmans and Senators, resolved to attack the enemy next morning and stake everything on a single hazard. The result was a great Polish victory, which would have been annihilating but for the disobedience of some of the Polish magnates, notably Prince George Lubomirsky, who refused to obey the royal orders in the crisis of the struggle. Consequently the bulk of the Cossacks, some 90,000, contrived to escape ; and, when the King proposed to pursue them to their fortresses, a general mutiny broke out, due partly to the fear of the magnates that fresh victories would enhance the royal authority, partly to the effeminacy of the Szlachta who were already “longing after their spouses, their firesides and their feather-beds,” and partly to the rage of the Vice-Chancellor, Hieronymus Radziejowski, who had been led, by false rumours, to suspect the King of a liaison with his wife, and revenged himself by making a successful continuance of the campaign impossible. It was due to his insinuations that the train-bands now quitted the King en masse. John Casimir, with only a handful of uartians, or regular border-troops, at his disposal, was therefore obliged to make the best terms he could with Chmielnicki. The compact of Bialocerkiewskso the treaty was calledamounted to a confirmation and extension of the compact of Zborow.
The mutiny of Beresteczko was the first symptom of that general lawlessness which was now to bring the Republic to the verge of ruin. The first phase of this melancholy record was a struggle between the King and his rebellious Vice-Chancellor.
It was. at the court of Queen Cecilia, the first consort of Wladislaus IV, that Radziejowski’s wit, savoir-faire and. agreeable manners had gained him powerful patrons, while his openhandedness and affability made him very popular with the Szlachta. Though a man of notoriously evil character (he had been convicted of rape, and all but tortured his first wife to death) he was already one of the first dignitaries of the Republic ; and his absolute unscrupulousness promised him still greater eminence in a society where corruption and simplicity were so strangely intermingled as in seventeenth century Poland. But he went too far when he accused his second wife, Euphrosina Wisniowiecka, of adultery with the King. She at once quitted his roof for the protection of a royal convent, and instituted divorce proceedings against her slanderous consort. Radziejowski thereupon attempted to kidnap her. But the convent was defended by the royal guards, and for attacking them he incurred the penalty of lèse-majesté, was summoned before the supreme court, and condemned in contumaciam to lose his life, honour and goods. Never was sentence so richly deserved, yet public opinion, indoctrinated by Radziejowski and his creatures who, for months beforehand, had circulated the most infamous libels concerning the King, was almost entirely on the side of the felon. John Casimir, however, did not flinch. He frustrated any attempt at rehabilitation by treating the lesser seal as vacant and bestowing it on one of his own adherents; whereupon the Diet, which had just met, was ” exploded1 ” by Wladislaus Sicinski, deputy from Upick, at the instigation of his patron Prince Janus Radziwill. The liberum veto had frequently been employed before, but this was the first time that the right of a single deputy to explode the Diet was recognised as a matter of principle. Henceforth it was open to any discontented magnate to put up any petty squire, or other dependent, to gag the executive by getting rid, at any time, of an inconvenient Diet. At a later stage, the Sejmiki, or provincial Diets, which elected the deputies to the Sejm or general Diet, frequently included in their mandates to their deputies an express injunction to ” explode ” the Diet in certain contingencies. In the present case the action of Sicinski prevented any further investigation of the Radziejowski affair. The ex-Vice-Chancellor, after vainly attempting, from his exile in Silesia, to negotiate with the King, fled to Stockholm.
Meanwhile both Poland and Moscovy were watching with some apprehension the windings and doublings of the crafty Cossack Hetman, Chmielnicki, who openly interfered in the affairs of Wallachia, Moldavia and Transylvania, assumed the high-sounding and ominous title of ” Guardian of the Ottoman Porte” and, in 1652, inflicted a severe defeat on the Polish chivalry at Batoka on the Moldavian frontier. In 1653 Poland made a supreme effort. The Sejm voted 17 millions of gulden in subsidies ; and John Casimir led an army of 60,000 into the Ukraine. In the course of the same year the Republic commanded Chmielnicki to break off all relations with the Tatars and send his son as a hostage to Warsaw. The Hetman haughtily refused to obey, and declared that henceforth he would serve “the Lord’s anointed, the Tsar of Moscovy.” On August 24 he issued “universals” from Pereyaslavl ordering the whole population to rise against the Poles, and soon gathered a countless host around him ; but the Poles defeated him at Zranto, and, in January 1654, he welcomed the Moscovite envoys at Pereyaslavl. On February 19 the Cossack Hetman took the oath of allegiance to the Tsar. The Cossacks were confirmed in all the privileges they had enjoyed under the Polish Crown, including judicial and administrative autonomy ; and their registered number was fixed at 60,000. The Moscovite commissioners refused, however, to bind the Tsar by oath to keep his promises, as Chmielnicki required. It was an unheard-of, impossible thing, they said, for an absolute monarch like the Tsar to swear to be faithful to his own subjects as if he were the sort of King they had in Poland. Thus was accomplished the transference of the free Cossacks from Poland to Moscovy. It was an important political event, and the first step towards the ultimate subjection of both ” Russia” ” and Poland by the Tsars. But, as yet, it was only a first step ; and its inevitable corollary was the outbreak of the long-deferred struggle between the Tsardom and the Republic. So early as March, 1653, the Tsar’s council had determined upon war with Poland; and, in July, the Moscovite envoys told John Casimir at Lemberg that the Tsar had decided to take the Zaporozhians under his high protection, unless the King of Poland redressed all their grievances forthwith. The Poles refused to treat any longer ” with a thief and a traitor who had already sold himself to the Sultan,” but promised to forgive him if he resigned his Hetmanship. On October 1-12, 1653, a national assembly met at Moscow to sanction the war and find the means of carrying it on. The diminution of the Tsar’s title by the Pans, and their refusal to put to death the author of various books eulogising the exploits of Wladislaus IV, were the alleged gravamina ; but the assembly went to the real root of the matter by declaring that hostilities were necessary because the Polish Government had broken its oath to the Cossacks, and it was to be feared that the Zaporozhians would turn Mussulmans if Moscovy did not help them against Poland. Muskets and powder had already been purchased in large quantities from Sweden and Holland. In May Tsar Alexis, who had succeeded his father Michael in 1645 after weeks of solemn preparation and humble supplication, set out for the front.
The war opened favourably for the Moscovites. In Lithuania, Prince Alexander Trubetskoi, aided by 20,000 of Chmielnicki’s Cossacks, easily prevailed over the weak and scattered forces of the Poles, though much hampered by a terrible outbreak of plague which depopulated the whole Tsardom and made Moscow a desert during the summer and autumn months of 1654. In the course of June and July the towns of Dorogobuzh, Byelaya, Polock and Mstislavl fell into Trubetskoi’s hands ; in August he defeated Prince Janus Radziwill at Szepielwica; and Mohilew surrendered to Polklowski, who hesitated to accept the allegiance of the Catholic inhabitants ” because they were not Christians.” The ill-provided fortress of Smolensk, whose feeble garrison of 2000 men found it impossible to defend the immense circuit of the walls for more than a couple of months, opened its gates on October 4. Towards the end of the year Witebsk also accepted a Moscovite garrison. In the Ukraine, Theodore Buturlin, sent thither to co-operate with Chmielnicki against the Khan of the Crimea, who had definitely broken with the Cossacks after their surrender to Moscovy, could do little, owing to the friction between his troops and the Zaporozhians. Moreover the barbarities of the Moscovite soldiers so revolted the Lithuanians that many of the surrendered towns returned to their former allegiance. In January 165 5 occurred the first Moscovite disaster, when a combined Polish-Tatar host almost annihilated Sheremetev’s army at Ochmatow ; whereupon the pious Tsar, who had done his utmost to preserve the discipline and punish the excesses of his troops, deemed it expedient to return to Moscow to pray before the ikons of the Mother of God, visit the relics of the saints, and comfort the Boyars and people by his presence. By the time he returned to Smolensk the Poles were no longer dangerous.
In the summer of 1655, Charles X of Sweden, from sheer lust of conquest, forced a war upon reluctant and inoffensive Poland. There was no real cause of quarrel between the two countries. The truce of Stuhmsdorf had still six years to run ; and, since its conclusion in 1635, Poland had carefully avoided committing any act of war against Sweden. The religious pretext was absurd and hypocritical. Poland never showed the least disposition to join any Catholic league except for the purpose of fighting the Turks ; and Christians of every shade enjoyed absolute religious liberty within her borders. Charles’s own differences with Poland were insignificant and easily adjustable. He could have converted the truce into a permanent peace practically on his own terms ; but he wanted war, and, after abruptly rejecting equitable conditions for a settlement presented to him by an extraordinary Polish embassy, expressly sent to Stockholm for the purpose, he fell upon Poland, in July 1655, with an army of 6o,000 men, largely composed of veteran desperados, ex-soldiers of fortune, whom the close of the Thirty Years’ War had left without occupation and who rallied with alacrity to the standard of this new condottiere.
Radziejowski’s well-paid emissaries had prepared the way for him. The palatines of Kalisch and Posen, to whom, in the absence of any regular army, the Sejm had committed the defence of the northern provinces, were the personal enemies of the King and therefore the personal friends of Radziejowski. They had raised 247000 men, who occupied a strong position among the marshes of the Netze. At the first summons these treacherous and craven commanders placed themselves beneath the protection of the Swedish King (July 25); and the Swedes occupied Great Poland without opposition. Charles himself, meanwhile, was marching upon Warsaw. At Opoczno, John Casimir courageously attempted to stay his progress ; but the disastrous result convinced him that the Poles were too demoralised to fight, even for their country ; and he fled to Silesia, accompanied by the Queen and a small group of loyal senators. Profiting by the cataclysm which had swept the Polish State out of existence, the Moscovites, unopposed, quickly appropriated nearly everything not already occupied by the Swedes. In July, Wilna was taken ; in August fell Lublin and Kowno ; in September Grodno ; while Chmielnicki devastated Galicia and blackmailed Lemberg, and Volkonski ravaged all that remained to be ravaged in central Poland, burning the towns of Dawuidow, Stalin and Pinsk on his way, and leisurely returning to Moscovy, at the beginning of October, encumbered with booty, without losing a man. By this time, Charles X had captured Cracow, though valiantly defended for two months by Stephen Czarniecki, Castellan of Kiev the only Polish dignitary who did his duty at this crisis who was allowed to march out with all the honours of war (October 17), and joined John Casimir at Glogau. On the other hand, the Lithuanian Grand Hetman, Prince Janus Radziwill, a Calvinist, had already, by the compact of Kiejdani, August 18, acknowledged Charles X as his suzerain in the hope of carving a principality out of the ruins of his country. He now proclaimed himself ” Grand Hetman of the Swedish Crown and of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.” Thus the ruin of Catholic Poland seemed to have been compassed by the unnatural union of Orthodox Moscovites, Calvinists, and Lutherans.
But the end of Poland was not yet ; indeed, before the disastrous year 1655, was out, her deliverance had already begun. The first gleam of hope came from a quarrel between the Moscovites and the Swedes. At the end of August, Tsar Alexis warmly protested against the assumption by Janus Radziwill of titles unknown before. ” Lithuania hath never belonged to Sweden,” the Tsar’s envoy justly observed. But Charles, with characteristic nonchalance, ignored the very existence of the Tsar. Not only did he take away Lithuanian towns from the Moscovites and give them to Radziwill, but he entered into direct negotiations with the Elector of Brandenburg, Chmielnicki, and George Rakoczy II, Prince of Transylvania, for the partitioning of Poland among them. This fantastic project was also a great diplomatic blunder, and excited equal apprehension at Vienna, Moscow and Stambul. Moreover, Austria regarded Charles as the natural ally of her rival France, for the triumph of Charles in Poland meant the triumph of Mazarin. In October, two Imperial commissioners, Allegretti and Losbach, were sent to Moscow, and arranged a suspension of hostilities between Moscovy and Poland. In December the Swedish envoys, who had arrived previously, were detained as prisoners ; and a Moscovite embassy was sent to Copenhagen to make common cause with the Danes against the King of Sweden ” who was known to be aiming at the sole dominion of the Varangian Sea1.” The final results of all this diplomatic activity was a declaration of war against Sweden by Tsar Alexis, at the end of May 1656, and an offensive and defensive alliance between the new Emperor, Leopold I, and John Casimir, on May 27, 1657, Austria placing 17,000 men at the service of the Polish King.
Simultaneously, an extraordinary reaction had begun in Poland itself. On October 18, the Swedes invested the fortress monastery of Czenstochowa, which was to Poland what the Troitsa Monastery was to Moscovy. The place was defended as valiantly by the prior Augustin Kordecki, as the Troitsa had been, half a century before, by the Archimandrite Dionysius; and the result was the same victory and a national uprising. For seventy days Czenstochowa defied all the efforts of Swedish skill and courage ; and, on December 27, the besiegers were obliged to raise the siege after suffering very heavily. This success, so astounding that it was popularly attributed to divine intervention, sent a thrill through Poland, and elicited a burst of popular enthusiasm which spread through all ranks of the population and gave the war a national and religious character. The tactlessness of Charles, the rapacity of his generals, the barbarity of his mercenaries, his refusal to legalise his position by summoning a Sejm, his negotiations for partitioning the very State he affected to befriend, and the ruinous contributions levied upon the gentry, awoke the long slumbering spirit of the country. The first visible sign of this general reaction was the Confederation of Tyszowiec (Dec. 29) formed by the Hetmans, Potocki, and Lanckoronski, for the defence of ” the King, the Faith, and Freedom.” Another similar Confederation, in Lithuania, under Paul Sapieha and Gonsiewski, besieged and captured Janus Radziwill in his castle at Tychocin, where he died on the last day of 1655. Thus when, at the beginning of 1656, John Casimir returned from his Silesian exile, he was able to attract all the patriotic elements in the country to his standard. On April 1, 1656, he entered Lemberg in triumph, and, at a solemn service in the cathedral, placed himself and Poland beneath the protection of the Blessed Virgin, vowing publicly to use every effort to re-establish and reform the Republic and make it a strong and stable State.
Against such a national resurrection all the military genius of Charles X could avail little. Only by a series of more and more disadvantageous alliances with the Great Elector was he able to make head against the Poles at all. The heroic campaign of 1656, memorable for the capture of Thorn and Elbing, the victory at Golenba over Czarniecki, the miraculous retreat from Jaroslawl to Warsaw amidst three converging armies, and the great three days’ battle of Warsaw ( July 18-2o), when Charles with only 18,000 Swedes and Prussians defeated John Casimir’s army of 100,000, was altogether fruitless. The subsequeut victories of the indefatigable Czarniecki at Radom and Rawa, and the suspicious attitude of Frederick William, compelled the Swedish King at last to open negotiations with Poland through the French ambassador Des Lumbrès. But the Poles were now confident enough to refuse Sweden’s terms, and the war was resumed. In the spring of 1657, George Rakoczy, with a horde of 60,000 semi-barbarians, joined 17,000 Swedish veterans at Sandomir; but the solitary success of the raid was the capture of Bresc Litewsk ; and, on the departure of Charles, Rakoczy was driven headlong out of Poland by Czarniecki and forced to pay a war indemnity of 1,200,000 gulden to the Republic. On August 15, died Chmielnicki, thus removing for a time the Cossack peril. Finally, Brandenburg was detached from the Swedish alliance by the compact of Wilawa, releasing the Elector from the obligation of doing homage to the Polish Crown for East Prussia, which was henceforth to be independent of the Republic. By the subsequent compact of Bydgoszcz he agreed to place 5000 men at the disposal of John Casimir in return for a small cession of territory, and the temporary mortgage of Elbing. With the Cossacks, also, a better understanding was arrived at. The Cossack officers, accustomed to boundless licence under the loose Polish rule, had already begun to chafe at the more stringent discipline of the Moscovites ; and, on the death of Chmielnicki, they elected as their Hetman a Lithuanian gentleman, Wyhowski, who concluded with the Republic the compact of Hadziacz (Sept. 11, 1658). By this compact, the palatinates of Braclaw, Kiev and Chernigov were created into a semi-independent principality, under Polish suzerainty, with Wyhowski as its first ruler; a general amnesty was proclaimed ; and the Metropolitan of Kiev and his diocesans were recognised de jure as Polish senators. But the rank and file of the Cossacks, together with the orthodox clergy, opposed the arrangement; and, though Wyhowski routed them and their Moscovite allies at the bloody battle of Konotop (July 8, 1659), he was ultimately obliged to resign the Hetmanship and retire to Poland.
Step by step the Republic was emerging from its difficulties. On May 3, 1660, Poland accepted the mediation of Louis XIV and composed her differences with Sweden by the Peace of Oliva, whereby Sweden renounced all her conquests except northern Livonia. Simultaneously, the long-pending negotiations with the Moscovites, whose minimum demands were Lithuania and war expenses, came to an end, and the war was resumed. During 166o and 1661, the Poles were everywhere victorious. In the north Czarniecki and Sapieha routed the Moscovites at Lachowicz and Bazya and advanced as far as Polock ; while, in the south, Stanislaus Potocki and George Lubomirsky routed the Cossacks at Slobodyszcz, and captured the Moscovite general Sheremetev and his whole army in their entrenched camp at Chudnow. The Moscovites thereupon hastily abandoned Kiev, Pereyaslavl, Chernigov and all their other conquests in the Russian provinces of Poland. In the autumn of 1661, the Tsar’s army was seriously defeated at Zeromsk, with the loss of 19,000 men, 10 cannons, and all its standards. Before the year was out, Grodno, Mohilew and Wilna were recovered by the Poles ; and Lithuania was almost swept clear of the invader. In the course of 1662, the Moscovites, now in sore distress, sued for peace, but their terms were curtly rejected. However, both Powers were now becoming exhausted by the interminable strife ; and, in the course of 1663, Poland reopened negotiations. On June 12, 1664, a peace congress met at Durovicha, when the Poles demanded the restitution of all the Russian conquests and the payment of a war indemnity of ro millions of gulden, terms which the Moscovite plenipotentiaries refused to entertain. At the end of 1666, a second peace congress met at the village of Andrusovo, between Smolensk and Mstislavl ; and, on February 11, 1667, a truce for thirteen years was finally agreed to. Witebsk, Polock, and south Livonia were restored by Moscovy, which was to retain Smolensk, Siewerz, Chernigov, and Kiev for two years, and the whole eastern side of the Dnieper, the territory thus acquired including not only the land lost by the treaty of Deulino, but a large tract north of Chernigov, between the Dnieper and the affluents of the Don, containing the towns of Konotop, Gadyach, Pereyaslavl, Novgorod Syversk, Poltava and Izyum, adding ten millions of rubles to the annual revenue of the Tsar. The Cossacks of the Dnieper were to be under the joint dominion of the Tsar and the King of Poland, whose territories they were to defend. The two Powers also covenanted to restrain the Cossacks from rebelling against either of them, or engaging n piracy on the Black Sea, and to repel any invasion of the Ukraine by the Khan of the Crimea.
The nominal ” truce ” of Andrusovo proved to be one of the most durable peaces in history, though, but for the persistent ill-luck of Poland, at this period, it is doubtful whether it would ever have been signed at all. While the negotiations were still proceeding with Moscovy, the new Cossack Hetman, Doroshenko, the nominee of the Turks, ravaged Poland as far as Lemberg and Lublin with bestial ferocity, carrying off more than 100,000 captives, while the simultaneous warlike preparations of the famous Grand Vizier, Achmet Koprili, drove the Republic to solicit help from all the Western Powers. Yet these were but transient dangers. At the root of the collapse of Poland was the ceaselessly gnawing worm of aristocratic lawlessness. The Szlachta, untaught by the most terrible experiences, were now wilfully to reject a last opportunity of putting their house in order, rather than part with the most mischievous of their inordinate privileges.
John Casimir never abandoned the idea of reforming the Constitution. The thirteen years’ war with the Moscovites had taught him, however, that the Cossacks were useless for his purposes. Henceforth he meditated carrying out his plan by diplomatic and legislative methods. The first step was to make the Crown hereditary instead of elective and thus obviate the anarchy which prevailed, more or less, during every interregnum.
At first, indeed, the Polish dignitaries themselves, appalled at the sight of the abyss to the edge of which the Swedish war had dragged them, took the matter of constitutional reform seriously in hand. The Diet of 1658 appointed a commission to report upon the expediency of limiting the liberum veto and deciding all matters by a plurality of votes. The commission reported to the Diet of 1659 that such reforms were indispensable; and the Diet of 1660 was preparing to carry them out when, through the intrigues of the Austrian Minister Lisoli, the whole matter was referred to the following Diet.
It was now that ” the succession question ” came to the front. The Queen proposed to marry her niece to the Duke d’Enghien, son of the great Condé, who, supported by all the influence of France, was to be the last elective and the first hereditary King of Poland. Maria Ludovika had already persuaded many of the leading magnates to join “the French Party,” which included such names as Stephen Czarniecki, John Sobieski, now rising to eminence, the royal referendary, Andrew Morsztyn, the leaders of the Lithuanians, Christopher and Michael Pac, and many more, when the project was ruined by the Lord-Marshal and Vice-Hetman of the Crown, Lubomirsky.
George Lubomirsky was a much more respectable mal-content than Hieronymus Radziejowski. He had rendered such eminent services to his country during the Swedish and Russian Wars as to justify the Grand-Chancellor acclaiming him as “Father of the Fatherland” in full Diet. At first he acceded to ” the French Party,” hoping to be able to control it absolutely ; but, jealous of the superior influence of Czarniecki and Sobieski, he as quickly turned against the d’Enghien election project, though it had already received the sanction of the Senate (1661). By dint of the most unscrupulous agitation, Lubomirsky and his partisans easily persuaded the Diet to condemn any alteration of the existing mode of election and inspired the Szlachta with such a suspicion of the Court, that it refused to contribute a penny to avert the threatened economical ruin of the country caused by a war which had reduced the best part of Poland to a wilderness. Not one penny would the 500,000 landed proprietors, pleading their privileges as noblemen, consent to pay out of their own pockets ; but they levied a poll-tax on the poorest sections of the community, the townsmen, artisans, shepherds, millers and yeomen, to meet the demands of the unpaid and starving army, which claimed 26,000,000 gulden of arrears. The wretched taxpayers broke down under the strain, and the result was a dangerous military mutiny which took the form of Confederations in Poland and Lithuania, levying blackmail on the estates of the bishops and clergy throughout the realm, and refusing to disperse until their claims had been satisfied. Far from attempting to mend matters, the Diet of 1662 re-affirmed the right of free election, condemned as traitors all who should dare to elect a future King during the lifetime of the reigning sovereign, levied a fresh poll-tax on the plebeian classes, and actually took measures to rehabilitate the scoundrel Radziejowski. A period of bewildering confusion ensued. Fresh Confederations were formed ; Lubomirsky pretended to mediate between the Court and the rebels, while forming a host of his own ; and the King, driven to desperation, took the field against him. The rival armies were already face to face at Buichnal, near Jaworow, when the Bishops intervened and brought about a formal reconciliation ; but, at the Diet of 1664, the King demanded the impeachment of Lubomirsky for lèse-majesté, and he was sentenced to loss of life, honour and goods by a tribunal appointed by the Sejm itself. But it was a long way from sentence to execution. Lubomirsky fled to Breslau, which he made a centre of rebellion ; and when, at the second extraordinary Diet of 1664, the King was proceeding to distribute the ,vacated dignities of Lord-Marshal and Vice-Hetman of the crown to Sobieski and Stanislaus Jablonowski respectively, Pan Los, the deputy for Plock, interposed his veto and exploded the Diet. The ex-Vice-Hetman thereupon left Breslau, established himself in Lithuania, and collected a fresh army. John Casimir marched against him, and a civil war ensued in which the unlucky King was almost invariably worsted, till the bishops again intervened. By the compact of Lengonice, July 31, 1666, Lubomirsky and his adherents obtained a full amnesty, the discomfited monarch undertaking to pay the troops.
The sudden death of Lubomirsky from apoplexy (January 31, 1667), came too late to improve the situation. The Diet of 1667 rejected all the proposals of the King, who, shortly afterwards, lost his energetic and resourceful consort. Since 1658, Maria Ludovika had been the soul of the French party, which collapsed at her death. John Casimir never recovered from the crushing blow. On September 16, 1668 he abdicated and retired to France, where he died on December 16, 167 2. His valedictory address to his subjects rightly threw the responsibility for his failure on their lawlessness, and mourn-fully predicted the speedy ruin of the Republic which he had done his best to save.
Moscovy had suffered almost as much as Poland from the horrors of the thirteen years’ war, but her troubles were not yet over. Barely six months after the conclusion of the truce of Andrusovo, which brought some respite to the Republic, the Tsardom had to encounter a terrible rebellion of the Cossacks of the Volga and the Don, a rebellion which might have been as damaging to Moscovy as Chmielnicki’s rebellion had been to Poland but for the lucky accident that it devastated her eastern instead of her western borders. Here, unlike Poland she had no powerful neighbours to take advantage of her distress.
The Cossacks, as we have seen, were a perpetual trouble both to the Polish Republic and the Moscovite Tsardom, principally because of their proximity to Mussulman territory which these orthodox vikings, despite the warnings and prohibitions of King and Tsar, regarded as their natural prey. The usual mode of procedure of the Moscovite Cossacks was to sail down the Don into the Sea of Azov, and thence into the Black Sea ; but when, in the middle of the 17th century, the Khan of the Crimea closed this outlet by building forts on the lower Don, the Cossacks took to sailing down the Volga into the Caspian Sea instead. When the Moscovite Government attempted to put a stop to these raids by guarding the mouths of the Volga, the Cossacks dispersed inland, established themselves in a fortress amidst the marshes of the upper Don, inaccessible except in winter, which they called Riga, and plundered all the vessels sailing down the Volga, along 170 miles of its course, from Tsaritsuin to Saratov. This went on from 1659 to 1665, when the local governors prevailed over the robbers, and the new Riga, which had become a vast depository for stolen property, was attacked and destroyed.
But, in the summer of 1667, a much more formidable malefactor suddenly appeared on the scene. This was the Cossack Stenka1 Razin, whom we first hear of, in 1661, on a diplomatic mission to the Calmuck Tatars, and whom we meet, in the autumn of the same year, on a pilgrimage of a thousand miles to the Solovetsky monastery on the White Sea. After that all trace of him is lost for six years ; but, in 1667, the governors of Astrakhan received a warning from the Tsar that a multitude of Cossacks, well provided with arms and ammunition, had settled in the district. The leader of this robber community was the ex-pilgrim Stenka. Fixing his head-quarters at the village of Panshinskoe, between the rivers Tishina and Ilovla, amidst an inaccessible waste of waters, he deliberately set himself to levy blackmail on all the vessels passing up and down the Volga. His first exploit was to attack, overwhelm, and disperse the ” Water-Caravan” consisting of the Government treasury-barge, the barge of the Patriarch, and the corn-barges of the rich Moscovy merchant Svorin which were sailing down the river to Astrakhan. Next, he sailed down the Volga himself with a flotilla of 35 strugi1 levying blackmail, as he passed, on the fortress of Tsaritsuin, devastating the country far and wide, and capturing the fortress of Yaitsk by a stratagem. In November, the same year, he scornfully rejected an offer of a free pardon from the Tsar if he would lay down his arms. At the beginning of 1668 he defeated the Tsar’s general, Yakov Bezobrazov, and, in the spring of the same year, he embarked on an enterprise which relieved Moscovy of his presence for eighteen months. Sailing into the Caspian, he ravaged the Persian coasts from Derbend to Baku. On reaching Resht he offered his services to the Shah ; but an act of treachery of the people of Resht, who surprised and slew four hundred of his followers, induced him to extirpate the defenceless and unsuspecting inhabitants of the wealthy town of Farabat and establish himself, during the spring of 1669, on the isle of Suina, whence he could conveniently raid the mainland. Here, in July, a Persian fleet, with 4000 men on board, attacked Razin but was annihilated, only three ships escaping.
Stenka was now a potentate with whom monarchs need not disdain to treat. In August, 1669, he appeared in Astrakhan, and magnanimously accepted a fresh offer of pardon from the Tsar. Stenka then remained at Astrakhan and speedily became the hero and the marvel of the city. The common people, whose dull, monotonous life was one ceaseless round of bitter toil, were fascinated by the sight of this fairy-tale paladin and his comrades, fresh from their romantic, oriental adventures, swaggering about the bazaars, arrayed in atlas caftans and jewelled caps, scattering their sequins broadcast, and selling priceless oriental silks at 9a’. a pound. He was so different from the officials of the Tsar who lived on the sweat and blood of the people and treated them like dirt. He had a good word for every one and feasted the people night and day like a Prince. What booty might not be won at next to no risk under such a batyushka1 ? If, as we are told, prosperous merchants on the Don frequently cast their ordinary pursuits to the winds to join in the more lucrative speculation of an ordinary Cossack raid, how much greater must have been the fascination of an expedition under a chieftain who levied blackmail on Shah and Tsar alike ? Such an adventurer could always count upon the peasantry, who were of the same stock as himself, as well as upon the ordinary Cossack. Finally, we must remember that the semi-Asiatic Kingdom of Astrakhan2,” where the whole atmosphere was predatory, and nine-tenths of the population were nomadic, was the natural milieu for such a rebellion as Stenka’s.
In the circumstances, the Moscovite government should have rid itself of Stenka at the first opportunity, but they took no active measures against him till he had committed several flagrant acts of rebellion, such as the looting of Tsaritsuin, the building of the fortress of Kagalnik on the Don, and the wholesale massacring and plundering of the districts of Tula and Voronezh. The peasantry now flocked to him from every quarter; and in 1670 he was strong enough to capture both the fortress and the town of Tsaritsuin and defeat the Government troops in two engagements. He then proceeded against Astrakhan ; and on January 24, 1670, the Volgan capital was in his hands.
Master of Astrakhan, Razin at once converted it into a Cossack Republic, dividing the inhabitants into thousands, hundreds and tens, with their proper officers, all of whom were appointed by a Vyeche, or General Assembly, whose first act was to proclaim Razin their Gosudar. The better classes were then hunted out and massacred, and their widows and daughters given in marriage to the Cossack rabble, Razin’s official seal serving in lieu of the blessing of the Archbishop.
After a three weeks’ carnival of blood and debauchery, Stenka turned his attention to affairs of State, and, leaving his lieutenant Vaska Us in charge of Astrakhan, set out with zoo barges, escorted by 2000 horsemen, to establish the Cossack Republic along the whole length of the Volga, as a preliminary step toward advancing against Moscow. Saratov and Samara were captured, and the Cossack rule was inaugurated, with the usual ceremonies; but at Smolensk, the Boyar, Ivan Miloslaysky, held Stenka at bay for twenty-four hours, thus enabling the Government to rally its forces ; and, on the banks of the Sviyaga, after two bloody encounters (October 1 and 4), Prince Yury Baryatinsky routed Razin, who fled away down the Volga, leaving the bulk of his followers to be extirpated by the victors.
But the rebellion was by no means over. The emissaries of Razin, armed with inflammatory proclamations, had stirred up the inhabitants of the modern governments of Nizhny Novgorod, Tambov, and Penza ; and soon, over the whole of the vast region extending between the Volga, the Oka, and the Dwina, a jacquerie was raging. The unspeakable horrors of the interregnum of 1611-1613, and of Chmielnicki’s rising in the northern Ukraine, were repeated and exceeded. In all the villages the sorely oppressed peasantry rose in bands, butchered the land-owners and joined the Cossacks. The surrounding semi-Pagan Finnish tribes, the Mordvinians, the Chuvasses, and the Cheremisses, speedily made common cause with the native Moscovites in such numbers that in one band of 15,000 rebels only 100 were Cossacks. Nizhny Novgorod, which had sent an invitation to the Cossack chief Osipov, was only saved for the Government by the drastic energy of Prince Yury Dolgoruki, who terrorised the mutinous city into obedience by quartering the insurgents inside, and gibbeting them outside the walls. After purifying the north, Dolgoruki moved south-wards, everywhere encountering the most furious resistance, mostly from behind enormous barricades, some of them three miles in length. The effusion of blood was horrible. Driven gradually from lair to lair, the desperate wretches fought like ravening beasts ; and the slow but steady progress of the Tsarist generals was marked by hundreds of burning villages and long lines of wheels and gibbets. One hundred thousand peasants and Cossacks are said to have perished in these parts. In April 1671 Stenka was captured in his fortress of Kagalnik and carried to Moscow. On June 6, after enduring unspeakable torments with dogged bravado, he was quartered alive.
At Astrakhan there was still no thought of surrender. When, at the end of August, 1671, the armada of Prince Miloslaysky appeared before the city, the Cossacks “howled like savage dogs ” at all his offers of mercy. For three months they beat off the besiegers and, in frequent sorties, damaged or destroyed the tall wooden towers from which Miloslaysky attempted to scale the walls. Finally, on November 27, they obtained their own terms, and an absolute amnesty. Not till the following year did the Moscovite Government feel strong enough to hold an enquiry in the city and hang the ringleaders.
Ruffian and freebooter as he was, Stenka, nevertheless, had within him something of the stuff of which enterprising colonists and heroic adventurers are made. Indeed, the Cossack element of the Russian nation, with its pioneering audacity and its restless abandon, when adequately controlled and directed, was to be largely instrumental in extending the Empire of Moscovy over the barbarians of the central Asiatic steppes.
At the beginning of the 17th century, the Calmucks were the nearest of Moscovy’s savage nomadic neighbours. They first penetrated into Siberia in the reign of Vasily Shuisky (1606-1610), and, ultimately, in 1630-1632, settled on the shores of the Volga and the Yaika (though their chief yurt, or encampment, lay beyond the Urals) where their depredations speedily brought them into collision with the Moscovite Government. In 1657 they became nominally Russian subjects. In Siberia proper, during the reign of Michael Romanov, the Moscovites, with the assistance of fire-arms, easily subdued the aborigines, who had only bows and arrows, and compelled them to pay yasak, or a tribute of pelts. But the authority of the Russians in these remote regions was by no means established ; and, from r634. to the end of the century, scarcely a year passed without an attack of the Calmucks and other races upon the thinly garrisoned Russian settlements. In 1663, the Ostiaks attempted to take Tobolsk and drive the Moscovites out of western Siberia. Not till 1 674 were the surrounding tribes brought into something like subjection by Prince Daniel Baryatinsky, who successfully united the forces of the four chief Siberian towns against them.
At the very time when the Moscovite trans-Uralian settlements were fighting for their existence with the Calmucks, Moscovite pioneers were making fresh conquests in the remotest districts of northern Asia. In 1655, after a bloody struggle, the Buriates were subdued by the Cossack Hutman Kolesnikov. In 1661 Irkutsk was founded. From the Yenesei the exploring bands proceeded along the Angora, the Shilka and the Selenga, and round Lake Baikal, conquering and colonising in every direction. In 1648, Simeon Desnev, sailing from the mouth of the Koluimna in search of new lands, was the first. successfully to navigate the north-eastern coast of Asia and sail through the narrow strait separating the Chucotch peninsula from the isle of St Laurence, into the northern Pacific, thus anticipating the navigator Bering by sixty years. Rumours of silver and gold mines, and of corn in abundance, attracted the Moscovites to the Amur. The first explorer of these regions was Vasily Poyarkov, sent from Yakutsk, in 1643, in search of fresh yasak. Sailing down the rivers Shilka, Ziya, Lina, Aldan, and their tributaries, he entered the Amur unwittingly, taking it to be a continuation of the Shilka. After wintering at the mouth of the Amur, he returned to Yakutsk, bringing rich stores of sables with him and recommending the occupation of the Amur district, which he reported to be rich and populous, abounding with corn, pelts, and fat rivers. Another pioneer, Erothei Khabarov, explored the Amur by way of the rivers Lekhma, Tagir and Ukra. He discovered three or four vast deserted cities and reported that the Amur was even richer in fish than the Volga, while round about it lay lush meadows, rich cornfields, and ” large dark forests full of sables.” In 165o Khabarov occupied the fort of Albazin. But the aborigines, who were already the tributaries of China, refused to give yasak to the Tsar; and in 1652 Khabarov was attacked, in his winter quarters at Ashansk, by a large Manchurian army under a Chinese viceroy, and obliged to fight his way back into Moscovite territory. In 1653, Onifry Stepanov was appointed governor of the Amur district, and, in 1654, he undertook an expedition down the river; but, though, in March, 1655, he defeated 10, 000 Chinese on the river Kamara, a southern confluent of the Amur, he was ultimately starved out of the country, the Chinese Emperor having ordered an exodus from Manchuria of the entire corn-growing population.
Diplomatic efforts to bring about intercourse with China proved equally unsuccessful. Theodore Baikov, sent from Tobolsk to Pekin (1654–1656) was refused admittance to the imperial presence because he declined to deliver his credentials except in person. In 1675, the Moldavian Greek, Nikola Gavril Spafari, to whom we owe the earliest Russian account of China, Japan and Corea, was sent to the Bogduichan, or Chinese Emperor, to open commercial relations. He reached Pekin on May 16, 1676, and succeeded, with the assistance of the Jesuits, in obtaining two audiences. Nevertheless Spafari’s mission proved to be as fruitless as Baikov’s. Try as he would, he could not obtain a reply from the Bogduichan to the Tsar. His presents were accepted as “tribute,” and he was told not to be surprised thereat, as this was the ancient and immutable custom of the Chinese Court.