THE abdication of John Casimir once-more exposed Poland to all the inconveniences of “a free election.” For nearly a century the throne had been quasi-hereditary in the Vasa-Jagiello family, for no one had seriously disputed the right of the next heir to succeed Sigismund III and Wladislaus IV. But John Casimir was the last of his race, and all his efforts to establish a new dynasty of foreign origin had failed. His policy was resumed, however, after his retirement, by the principal Senators, headed by John Sobieski, upon whom the late King, a few months before his disappearance, had conferred the grand bâton of the Crown, as a reward for Sobieski’s brilliant victory over the Cossack Hetman Doroshenko and his Turko-Tatar hordes, at Podhajie a victory which, for a brief period, re-established the authority of Poland in the Ukraine. The Grand-Hetman and his friends had been won over by French gold, lavishly scattered with both hands, to support any candidate whom Louis XIV might think it worth his while to produce ; but the mass of the Szlachta was opposed on principle to any and every foreign candidate. These ignorant but well-meaning country gentlemen, when they saw nearly all the dignitaries of the Republic in the pay of foreign Powers (for Austria and Brandenburg, in their efforts to form their own parties, were almost as liberal as France), dimly felt that the Republic was in no good way. Unfortunately their efforts to stay the progress of foreign influence and foreign corruption were so ill-directed, that their intervention, though momentarily successful, did more harm than good to their unfortunate country.
The Convocation Diet, that is the Diet which convoked the Election Diet, assembled on October 16, 1668. Its tone was violently national. Its first demand was that all the foreign ministers should withdraw from the capital ; and one of its members, the starosta Piencanzek, required every member of the Senate to swear that he would accept no .bribe from any foreign Potentate. Even the Primate was suspected. The Bishop of Posen openly accused him of having received 50,000 thalers from the French ambassador. The meeting of the Election Diet was fixed for May 2, 1669, on which occasion 8o,000 electors assembled in full panoply. Sobieski brought 12,000 armed retainers with him, and the other magnates were similarly supported. Once more, as of old, the field of election resembled a field of battle.
Up to the last moment the greatest uncertainty prevailed as to who should be elected. Most of the magnates were the mercenaries of Louis XIV ; but, as the French King vacillated between the Prince of Condé and Philip William Duke of Neuburg, who had married a sister of Wladislaus IV, the French party was uncertain what course to pursue; and, at last, Sobieski went over to the Austrian candidate, Duke Charles of Lorraine. But the Szlachta were determined to elect none but a piast, or native Pole ; and on June 19, the last day of the Diet, to the general astonishment, Michael Wisniowiecki was proclaimed King of Poland.
Michael, the son of Prince Jeremiah Wisniowiecki, the famous queller of the Cossacks, had neither the material resources nor the personal qualities requisite for the exalted position to which a mere caprice had raised him. He had inherited from his father nothing but a ruined estate and an inordinate fondness for eating and drinking, so that his own friends, after the excitement of the election was over, would have found it difficult to explain why they had elected him at all, Nevertheless, his intentions were good enough ; and, as the validity of his election was beyond dispute, the least he had a right to expect from his subjects was loyalty. But the Poles were quite unlike other people. No sooner had the new King been solemnly crowned and affianced by his friends to the Archduchess Eleonora, daughter of the Emperor Ferdinand III, with the view of strengthening his position, than all the great dignitaries of the crown united in a conspiracy to dethrone him. At the head of this conspiracy stood the Primate and the Commander-in-chief, Sobieski.
John Sobieski, the youngest son of James Sobieski, Castellan of Cracow, and Theofila, the grand-daughter of the great Crown-Hetman Zolkiewski, was born at Oleska in Galicia in 1624. He rose rapidly to distinction during the wars of John Casimir with the Cossacks, but was one of the first to desert his sovereign in the hour of misfortune. He materially assisted Charles X of Sweden to conquer the Prussian provinces, but perceiving, a few months later, that the position of the Swedes was unstable, he changed sides again and ‘commanded one of the four armies which all but succeeded in capturing the Swedish King on his retreat from Jaroslaw to Warsaw. Henceforth John Casimir made it worth the capable young general’s while to remain loyal. On the death of Czarniecki, in 1665, Sobieski succeeded him as Vice-Hetman of the Crown. He had already replaced Lubomirsky as Grand-Marshal, and in 1668 he received the grand baton of the Crown likewise. The same year he married his old love Mary Casimiera, the widow of Jan Zamoyski, Palatine of Sandomeria, and daughter of the Margrave Henri de la Grange d’Arquien. Born in France, in 1637, this beautiful and brilliant girl was educated in Poland at the Court of Queen Maria Ludowika, who initiated her into all the mysteries of political intrigue and spoiled her in the process ; for her essentially petty nature was incapable of taking a broad, detached view of politics, and sacrificed everything to the caprice of the moment. Her influence over her second husband was as absolute as it was mischievous ; and the hero of Chocim, whose very name inspired the Turks with terror, was, at home, the obsequious slave of his beloved ” Marysienka.”
It will be plain, from the brief foregoing sketch, that Sobieski stood on a much lower level than the great captains of the two preceding generations, Zamoyski, Chodkiewicz, Zolkiewski, for instance. He had little or nothing of their sobriety, stability, and self-sacrificing devotion to duty. He could fight as well as the best of them, but he fought for his own hand. His patriotism was far less pure than theirs because it was inextricably bound up with egotism and self-seeking. Inestimable were his services to his country after he had mounted the throne, but he nearly ruined her in the process of getting there. As to his statesmanship, the most convincing demonstration of his utter lack of it is to be found in his hasty and ill-conceived combinations against King Michael from 1669 to 1673.
At the end of 1669, Louis XIV sent the Comte de Lionne to Warsaw to congratulate Wisniowiecki on his accession to the throne. Wisniowiecki was now connected by marriage (February 26, 167o) with the Hapsburgs ; and at this juncture the French King, intent on an amicable settlement of the Spanish Succession question, had concluded a secret agreement with the Court of Vienna. Ignorant of this new combination, which ought to have been known to men of their high position, Sobieski and his friends at once jumped to the conclusion that Louis was intriguing against the new King of Poland. They accordingly sent a private memorial to the French King inviting him to assist them to dethrone King Michael, whom, being a friend of Austria, Louis was, as a matter of fact, much more disposed to support. However, he humoured the malcontents at first and even allowed a new French pretender, the Count of Saint Pol Longueville, to send secret agents to Poland to form a party there. At the beginning of 1670 Michael discovered the plot against him, and remonstrated energetically both at Versailles and at Vienna. Louis thereupon repudiated Longueville ; and the disconcerted conspirators sought refuge at Dantzic or Kdnigsberg, counting on the help of the Elector of Brandenburg. But the Elector held aloof; and nothing but the helplessness of the King saved Sobieski and his confederates from the well-deserved penalties of treason. Only one of the royal counsellors, Christopher Pac, Grand-Chancellor of Lithuania, had the courage to advise Michael to summon a ruszenie pospolite and punish the traitors summarily. But Michael, who was no warrior, durst not pit the undisciplined levies of the country gentry against Sobieski’s veterans, and allowed the Diet of September 1670 to effect a reconciliation. The rehabilitated Primate consented to crown the young Queen ; the King’s uncle Demetrius Wisniowiecki married Sobieski’s niece Teofila Ostrogska ; and the Grand-Hetman set out for the Ukraine to wash clean his tarnished honour in Turkish blood.
At this time, the Turkish Empire, after a period of declension and disintegration lasting, roughly speaking, for .i o0 years, was once more directed by a man of genius in the person of Achmet Koprili, the most illustrious member of a family of soldier-statesmen, sprung from a hardy Albanian stock. From the moment when, at the unprecedently early age of 26, he succeeded his aged father Mohammed as Grand Vizier (1656), it was his ambition to re-establish the glory and prosperity of his country ; and all Europe was, speedily, to feel the effects of that ambition. After reducing Transylvania to the rank of a Turkish fief, and adding five counties and as many first class fortresses to Turkish Hungary (Peace of Vasvár, August 1664), Koprili turned his arms against Venice, and began the memorable siege of Candia (1667-1609), which, for the next two years, was to tax to the uttermost the resources of both belligerents, at the same time employing the Tatars and Cossacks to keep Poland occupied till he himself had the leisure to take the field’ against her. At his command the Cossack Hetman Doroshenko invaded the Ukraine, but was routed at Kalniki by Sobieski, who, at the same time, recaptured Bar, Mohilew and other places. Instead, however, of following up his victories, the Grand-Hetman, with criminal recklessness, returned to Poland to plot once more against King Michael and put De Longueville on the Polish throne. The death of his candidate in the Dutch War and the indifference of Louis XIV, who replied coldly and evasively to Sobieski’s urgent letters for assistance, caused the whole conspiracy to end in a fiasco.
While the unhappy Polish King was painfully endeavouring to re-establish law and order, by force of arms, against his own commander-in-chief, Koprili burst suddenly into the territories of the Republic. During the spring of 1672 he collected a host “like the sands of the sea for number and like the stars of heaven for splendour “in plain prose about 300,000 men and carrying Sultan Mohammed along with him, to give prestige to the enterprise, invaded Podolia. As something very like civil war was, at that very moment, prevailing in Poland, and as, moreover, the last two Diets had refused to contribute a farthing towards the defence of the country, the issue of the struggle was never doubtful. After defeating Luzecki, Castellan of Podlesia, who commanded the Polish army during the absence of Sobieski, at Czetwertynowka, the Grand Vizier sat down before the great fortress of Kamieniec, the key of Podolia, which had been left with a small garrison of 1000 men and only four gunners to serve 400 guns. Within ten days (August 27) the keys were surrendered ; and the Sultan attended a thanksgiving in the cathedral, now converted into a Mosque. Lemberg was only saved by the heroism of its commandant, Elias Lancki. Six weeks later (October 17, 1672), the Republic, by the treaty of Budziak, ceded the Polish Ukraine and Podolia, including Kamieniec, to the Turks, and agreed to pay them an annual tribute.
Without doubt Sobieski was primarily responsible for this shameful treaty. Judging from later events, we may safely infer that, if only he had been in his proper place at the proper time, Kamieniec would never have been taken nor Podolia surrendered. In any other country but Poland a commander-in-chief who had deserted his post, in the hour of utmost danger, in order to play at treason, would have been promptly and justly executed. Even in Poland popular opinion strongly condemned the Grand-Hetman ; and it was with the consent of the majority of the nation that the King now formed a Confederation at Golenbi which deposed the Primate Prazmowski, condemned the other malcontents, and introduced some slight constitutional reform by limiting the operation of the liberum veto. Unfortunately, Sobieski was now far too strong, far too indispensable, to be restrained by any constitutional curb. From the 3rd to the 14th October he undertook his famous raid into the Ukraine against the Tatars whom he defeated four times in eleven days. This exploit was generally regarded as “an expiation ” of his former misdeeds, and made him so popular that, cm his return, he was permitted to do pretty much what he liked. First he formed a Confederation of his own at Szczebrzeszyn, which undid all the work of the reforming Confederation of Golenbi. Next he hastened to Lowicz to the assistance of the Primate, scattering the royal troops on his way, and fixed his head-quarters at the Primate’s residence, in threatening proximity to Warsaw.
In the midst of extreme tension the Diet assembled on January 4, 1673. Again the King was obliged to give way. The decrees of the Confederation of Golenbi were revoked ; the full authority of the Grand-Hetman over the troops was officially recognised; and the Lithuanians, who had steadily supported their countryman, King Michael, were appeased by the distribution of ” gratifications ” and the passing of an Act to the effect that every third Diet should be held at Grodno under the presidency of the Grand-Marshal of Lithuania. The last obstacle in the way of a reconciliation was finally removed by the convenient death of the turbulent Primate Prazmowski, who was succeeded by the learned Floryan Czartoryski, the founder of the fortunes of that illustrious house.
The question of the Turkish war was now seriously taken in hand. The treaty of Budziak was repudiated ; and, on the motion of Sobieski, an offensive war against the Turks was resolved upon. Subsidies, sufficient to place 60,000 men in the field, were voted, and an ultimatum was sent to Stambul. In August the King reviewed the forces assembled at Gliniani, near Lemberg, and entrusted the supreme command to Sobieski. Sending Nicholas Sieniawski against Doroshenko and the Cossacks, and the Lithuanian army against Halil Pasha, who had reached Jazlowiec in Galicia, the Grand-Hetman himself advanced with 30,000 men to the Dniester, and, hastening through the forests of the Bukowina, united with the Lithuanians at Chocim, already occupied by the Turkish commander Hussein Pasha. At dawn on November 11, 1673, Sobieski advanced with all his forces against Chocim. The Polish artillery, well directed by Marcin Kontski, prepared the way ; and then the assaulting columns, led by the Grand-Hetman in person, sword in hand, fell furiously upon the fortress. After an hour’s hard fighting, Chocim was in the hands of the Poles and Hussein Pasha in full retreat upon Jassy. But Sobieski pursued and cut him off; and drove him into the flooded Dniester, where he perished with nine-tenths of his host. The whole of his baggage, more than 12o guns, and immense treasures, were the spoil of the victors.
At the moment when the Polish chivalry was singing a Te Deum for the victory of Chocim in the tent of Hussein Pasha, King Michael had ceased to reign. He had long been ailing, and on November 10, 1673, he expired, in his thirty-third year. There could be no doubt as to his successor. The Convocation Diet (January 1674), enthusiastically supported the candidature of the hero of Chocim ; and, though the Lithuanians favoured Tsar Theodore III, and the Primate would have set up the Austrian candidate, the Duke of Lorraine, against him, all opposition collapsed when Sobieski himself appeared on the field of election with 6000 veterans and a multitude of Turkish captives. On May 21, 1674, he was elected King of Poland under the title of John III.
The Turkish peril was still so urgent that the new King postponed his coronation and hastened to the frontier immediately after his election. Materially assisted by the diplomacy of Louis XIV, who, anxious to reserve Poland for his anti-Hapsburg plans, persuaded the Sultan to raid Moscovy instead of the Republic during the remainder of 1674, Sobieski employed this welcome respite in efforts to divide his enemies by detaching the Cossacks from the Tatars. He persuaded a considerable section of the Cossacks to garrison the Ukraine fortresses, while he, with his regulars, quickly recaptured Bar, Niemerov and Braclaw, and might even have recovered Kamieniec but for the unwillingness of the Lithuanians to co-operate with him, and the inveterate niggardliness of the Poles, whose martial ardour was already cooling rapidly. Ir. fact the obstinate parsimony of the Szlachta defeated all his plans and hampered all his movements, so that when, at the beginning of 1675, he found himself face to face with another Turkish invasion, he was all but helpless. With only 3000 regular troops at his disposal, he could not prevent the junction of Ibrahim Sisman and his 6o,000 Turks with the Tatar Khan; but, fortunately, the heroic defence of the fortress of Trembola by Samuel Chrzanowski, an officer of Jewish origin, enabled the King, at the last moment, to collect reinforcements sufficient to compel the Turks to retreat. On October 16, the same year, peace was concluded at Zorawno (heroically and successfully defended by Sobieski from August 28 to October 16), when the Turks retroceded two-thirds of the Ukraine, but retained Kamieniec, which was worth the whole of it. It was after all but a semi-triumph, and for this the nation, not the King, was to blame. ” Those who have the greatest stake in this country do the least for it,” was Sobieski’s sorrowful commentary on the selfish backwardness of his subjects.
But still worse was to come. Sobieski was now to reap to the full the bitter harvest of treachery and treason, the seeds of which he himself had recklessly sown during the reign of his predecessor. The Szlachta, which had done nothing to help the King to recover Kamieniec, protested violently against the Treaty of Zórawno, yet almost with the same breath they prevented Sobieski from pursuing a more profitable policy in the future by reducing the army from 30,000 to 12,000 men., In his extremity John III hit upon the desperate, but, in the circumstances, only effectual remedy for existing evils the establishment with French assistance of an absolute monarchy. He communicated his views through Bethune, the French ambassador, but Louis XIV replied that he did not see how such a change would suit his own views. Shortly afterwards (1667) Maria Casimiria brought about an open rupture between the Courts of Versailles and Warsaw because the French King refused to exalt her father to princely rank, and the French influence in Poland was superseded by the Austrian.
In view of the constant peril from the Turks, the political interests of Austria and Poland were, at this time, identical ; and an alliance between them was equally profitable to both. Moreover Innocent XI, the greatest of the later Popes, who ascended the papal throne in 1676, was using all his efforts to form a league of Princes to expel the Turks from Europe ; and it was mainly due to his initiative and enthusiasm that they were expelled at least from Hungary. His noble ambition was opposed à outrance by Louis XIV, with whose anti-Hapsburg plans it directly clashed ; and, for the next thirteen years, the diplomatical battle was fought out at all the Courts of Europe. In 1678, the papal nuncio, Martelli, preached the coming Crusade in Poland ; and the impressionable Diet, which assembled in December of that year, raised the army to 43,000 men and granted subsidies comparatively liberal, but falling far short of actual requirements1. The intrigues of Louis XIV did the rest, and the whole scheme was abandoned. The French King next proceeded to undermine the position of Sobieski Between 1679 and 1681, Louis is said to have expended no less a sum than fifty millions of livres in efforts to dethrone John III. Most of the great dignitaries of Poland were already in the French King’s pay ; many of them boasted openly that they were his friends and even his subjects ; so 1T1 e of them took their orders direct from him.
The Turkish question became acute, when, in the course of 1682, Emerich Tokoly, the leader of the Magyar malcontents, who had long been subsidised by Louis XIV, was proclaimed King of Hungary by the Sultan. Invading that realm at the head of a Hungaro-Turkish army, he captured fortress after fortress, and extended his dominions as far as the Waag. In the spring of 1683 he was joined by the new Grand Vizier, Kara Mustafa, with more than 100,000 men. Sobieski hesitated no longer. The French agent was dismissed from Poland ; the French. couriers were intercepted ; the correspondence of the Polish malcontents with the Elector of Brandenburg, who supported. the French policy in Poland, was seized; and, when the partizans of France attempted to explode the Diet by means of the liberum veto, the King threatened to form a ” Diet on hors’-back,” or Confederation of all the noblemen in the kingdom, and deliver every traitor into its hands. The French faction thereupon collapsed; and, on March 31, 1683, an offensive: and defensive alliance was signed between Poland and Austria., whereby Sobieski agreed to co-operate against the Turks with 40,000 men. Louis XIV exhausted all the resources of diplomacy to prevent John III from succouring the distressed Emperor. John III thereupon, very pertinently, enquired of Louis XIV whether, in case Poland should refuse to help Austria, France would engage to hasten to the assistance of Poland, “when the Turks, after taking Vienna, sit down before Cracow”? In Poland itself, indeed, politicians were by no means agreed as to the expediency of relieving Vienna. At Sejm of 1683, many of the deputies protested against fighting the battles of Austria. ” What is it to us,” they cried, ” if the Turks do extend their empire to the Danube? Ten years ago did the Emperor move a step when the Turks threatened the Vistula? ” There was some truth in this, no doubt ; but Sobieski, well aware that the danger was pressing, and that his Polish critics had, as usual, no alternative policy, wisely resolved to minimise his risks. The alliance with Austria had been concluded in May. In September he drove the Turks from Vienna. In October he pursued their retreating forces through Hungary and severely defeated them at Parkány. Still there was no sign of surrender at Stambul ; and, in September 1684, a Holy League was formed between Poland, Austria, Venice and the Pope, to which “the most serene Tsars of Moscovy ” were invited to accede. In the spring of 1685, the Polish and Imperial plenipotentiaries appeared at Moscow.
Prince Vasily Golitsuin, who, during the Regency of the Tsarevna Sophia1, directed the Moscovite Foreign Office, clearly recognised that, in regard to the Eastern Question, the interests of Moscovy and Poland were identical. Moreover, Moscovy possessed an excellent pretext for a rupture with the Porte, in the prevalence of the Tatar raids into the Ukraine. Every year, thousands of captives and tens of thousands of cattle were carried off and sold at Kaffa, despite the fact that a regular tribute was paid to the Khan of the Crimea as a sort of insurance against such depredations. But Golitsuin was much too good a diplomatist to sell the Moscovite alliance cheaply. The negotiations with Poland were protracted till the growing distress of the Republic constrained her to sacrifice everything for the co-operation of the Moscovites. Finally, on April 21, 1686, a ” perpetual peace was signed at Moscow, by the terms of which Kiev was surrendered to Moscovy in exchange for 146,000 rubles. But Poland lost much more than Kiev by this treaty, for it contained a provision binding her to maintain the liberties of the Dissidents, thus opening the door to the interference of Russia in the domestic affairs of the Republic. Later in the same year, Sobieski, who, after capturing Jassy, had been obliged, from want of money and supplies, to lead his sick and starving army back to Poland, tearfully ratified at Lemberg a treaty from which the eclipse of Poland may be definitely dated.
The Porte had done its utmost to prevent the conclusion of the Russo-Polish alliance. The Patriarch of Constantinople had even been employed by the Divan to dissuade the Tsars from embarking on a war which would, he warned them, call down the vengeance of the Sultan on the Orthodox population of his domains. But neither blandishments nor menaces could avail. Russia had gone too far to retreat ; and, in the autumn of 1687, 100,000 Moscovites under Prince Vasily Golitsuin, set out to reconquer the Crimea. At Samara, Golitsuin was joined by the Cossack Hetman Samoilovich, with 50,000 men ; and the army then plunged into the steppe. There was no sign of the Tatars, but Golitsuin soon encountered a far more terrible enemy in the steppe fires, which destroyed all the grass and make further progress impossible. After traversing eight miles in forty-eight hours, he decided to turn back, and leaving 30,000 men on the lower Dnieper, retired with the rest of his army across the Kolomak, not far from Poltava. According to Patrick Gordon, who accompanied the expedition, Samoilovich was strongly suspected of firing the steppe to compel a retreat, foreseeing that the subjection of the Crimea must inevitably lead to the suppression of the free Cossacks. The Moscovite Government shared this suspicion; and, on July 25, Samoilovich was deprived of his Hetmanship and Ivan Mazepa was then elected unanimously in his stead. Golitsuin solemnly invested him with the usual insignia of office, for which the new Hetman privately paid the prince 10,000 rubles.
At the very time when Golitsuin was ingloriously retreating from the wasted steppe, Sobieski had failed to retake Kamieniec because the Sejm would not provide him with an adequate army ; but everywhere else the members of the Holy League were brilliantly successful. Defeated in Hungary, Dalmatia and the Morea, the Turks could with difficulty defend themselves even within their own territory. Sultan Mahommed IV fell a victim to an outburst of popular fury which placed Solyman III on the throne (1687), and so great was the confusion that the collapse of the Turkish Empire was confidently anticipated. But, in 1689, the Sultan made Mustafa Koprili, the brother of Achmet (who had died in 1676), Grand Vizier ; and the Turkish Empire was saved once more. By Koprili’s advice, the dashing Tokoly was released from prison and proclaimed Prince of Transylvania ; and the victory of Zernyest (Sept. 1690) established the pretender for a time on his unstable throne. Simultaneously Koprili recovered the southern portions of Servia and Bosnia, and replanted the crescent standard on the ramparts of Widdin, Nish, Galambocs, Semlin and Belgrade. In the following year (1691), he resumed the war with redoubled vigour, but perished with the greater part of his army at Zalânkemén (Aug. 9, 1691). Nevertheless, his exploits had given the Turks time to rally and enabled them to carry on the war, with ever diminishing prospects of success, for eight years longer.
Neither Moscovy nor Poland, however, contributed much to the ultimate triumph of the allies. In February, 1689, Golitsuin, for the second time, led more than 10,000 Moscovites into the steppe ; but the march was delayed by snowstorms and lack of provisions, and it was not till the middle of May that he encountered the Khan near Perekop. The lightly armed Tatars were easily beaten off; but, with the Crimea open before him, Golitsuin suddenly discovered that there were waterless steppes beyond as well as before Perekop. This fact had never entered into his calculations ; and as, moreover, his beasts of burden now began to die off in such numbers as to make him fear for the transport of his baggage, there was nothing for it but to turn back a second time. Yet Moscovy’s share in the war had not been altogether useless, for she had prevented the Tatars from co-operating with the Turks ; and the very appearance of a Russian army at the gates of the. Crimea was a significant sign that the steppe was no longer an insuperable barrier to Russia’s progress southwards.
Still more unlucky was Sobieski. His last campaign, in 169o, undertaken to place his eldest son James on the throne of Moldavia and Wallachia, was an utter failure. But this was but a small part of his misfortunes. Ill-luck persistently dogged him everywhere during the last seven years of his life. Nothing that he put his hand to prospered. Allies and neighbours proved treacherous and ungrateful ; his domestic happiness was ruined by the caprices of his wife and her ceaseless quarrels with her own sons ; and, above all, towered the evil spirit of political discord which he had raised so lightly in his younger days, but was powerless to lay in his miserable old age. Rarely has Nemesis pursued its victim so remorselessly.
Twice his matrimonial projects for the benefit of his son Prince James were frustrated by the Court of Vienna ; and, when John III, revolted by the ingratitude of the Emperor, would have turned to Louis XIV, he found Versailles closed against him. His attempts to convert Poland into a constitutional monarchy, hereditary in his family certainly the best thing that could have happened foundered on the determined opposition of the Sejm. He had some hopes of success in this respect at the Diet which was to meet at Grodno in r688 ; but no sooner did his plans get wind, than a Confederation, headed by the chief dignitaries of the Republic, most of whom were under deep obligations to the King, was formed to prevent any such design. The parrot-cry of “the Republic is in danger!” resounded everywhere ; and the application of the liberum veto exploded the Diet at the very beginning of the session. At the meeting of the Senate, held immediately afterwards, such a shameless attack was made upon the King that he was provoked to the uttermost and replied in a fulminating address, which concluded with these prophetic words : ” Posterity will be stupefied to learn that the only result of so many victories and triumphs, shedding an eternal glory on the Polish name throughout the world, was God help us ! irreparable ruin and damnation. Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be destroyed.”
Yet his worst enemies were the Lithuanians, who could never forgive him for his conduct to their fellow-countryman, King Michael. It was they, represented by the Sapiehas, the Radziwills, and the Pacowe, who perpetually traversed his dearest hopes. Thus they prevented the marriage of his son James with the wealthy young widow Ludowika Radziwill with the result that she married a relative of the Elector of Brandenburg, and her immense fortune passed into German hands. The Diet, on this occasion, was inclined to support the King, whereupon it was exploded by one of the hirelings of the House of Sapieha. Anarchical was the state of Lithuania at this time. Casimir Sapieha, Grand-Hetman of Lithuania, preyed upon his neighbours, lay and clerical, like a feudal baron of the worst type. In his private quarrel with Brzostowski, Bishop of Wilna, he devastated the whole diocese and burnt dozens of churches. When the bishop excommunicated him, Cardinal Radziejowski, Primate of Poland, promptly removed the ban and blamed the bishop. Twice, in 1693 and 1695, the King, indignant at this outrage, summoned Sapieha to answer for his misdeeds before the Diet. On both occasions Sapieha’s partisans exploded the Diet before it had time to consider the case. The liberurn veto had now sunk so low that its principal use was to shelter high-placed felons from the pursuit of justice. With the Grand-Hetman of Lithuania a freebooter and a traitor, there was nobody left to defend the Grand-Duchy from its natural enemies, the Tatars, who raided it every year with perfect impunity. During 1695 they even penetrated as far as Lemberg.
On June 17, 1696, John III expired, in his 72nd year, utterly broken-hearted. His reign had been a failure, and he foretold, on his deathbed, the ruin of his country. Three years later, at the Peace of Karlowitz, which ended the long war between Austria and Turkey, Kamieniec, which the Republic had been unable to recover with her own sword, was restored to her by the generosity of the Holy League.