John II Casimir Vasa

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For other monarchs with similar names, see John of Poland (disambiguation).
John II Casimir
Bacciarelli - Jan Kazimierz.jpeg
Portrait by Bacciarelli
King of Poland
Grand Duke of Lithuania
Reign November 1648 – 16 September 1668
Coronation 19 January 1649
Predecessor Władysław IV Vasa
Successor Michael I
Spouse Ludwika Maria Gonzaga
Claudine Françoise Mignot
Issue John Sigismund, Crown Prince of Poland
Princess Maria Anna
House House of Vasa
Father Sigismund III Vasa
Mother Constance of Austria
Born (1609-03-22)22 March 1609
Kraków, Poland
Died 16 December 1672(1672-12-16) (aged 63)
Nevers, France
Burial 31 January 1676
Wawel Cathedral
Signature

John II Casimir (Polish: Jan II Kazimierz Waza; German: Johann II. Kasimir Wasa; Lithuanian: Jonas Kazimieras Vaza; 22 March 1609 – 16 December 1672) was King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania[1] during the era of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Duke of Opole in Upper Silesia, and titular King of Sweden 1648–1660. In Poland, he is known and commonly referred as Jan Kazimierz. His parents were Sigismund III Vasa (1566–1632) and Constance of Austria (1588–1631). His older brother, and predecessor on the throne, was Władysław IV Vasa.[2]

Related to the Habsburg rulers of the Holy Roman Empire he was the third and last monarch on the Polish throne from the House of Vasa. He was the last ruler of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth bearing a blood connection to the Jagiellon dynasty.

Royal titles[edit]

  • Official titles in Latin: Ioannes Casimirus, Dei Gratia rex Poloniae, magnus dux Lithuaniae, Russie, Prussiae, Masoviae, Samogitiae, Livoniae, Smolenscie, Severiae, Czernichoviaeque; nec non-Suecorum, Gothorum, Vandalorumque haereditarius rex, etc.

Biography[edit]

Portrait of Prince John Casimir of Poland by Anthony van Dyck, ca. 1640

John Casimir was born on 22 March 1609.[3] His father Sigismund, grandson of Gustav I of Sweden, had in 1592 succeeded his own father to the Swedish throne, only to be deposed in 1599 by his uncle, Charles IX of Sweden. This led to a long-standing feud wherein the Polish kings of the House of Vasa claimed the Swedish throne, resulting in the Polish–Swedish War of 1600–1629. Poland and Sweden were also on opposite sides in the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), although in that war Poland for the most part avoided taking part in any major military actions.[4]

John Casimir for most of his life remained in the shadow of his brother, Władysław IV Vasa. He had few friends among the Polish nobility (szlachta), as he openly sympathised with Austria and showed disregard and contempt for Polish culture. Unfriendly, secretive, dividing his time between lavish partying and religious contemplation, and disliking politics, he did not have a strong power base nor influence at the Polish court. He did, however, display talent as a military commander, showing his abilities in the Smolensk War against Muscovy (1633).[5]

Between 1632 and 1635, Władysław IV sought to enhance his brother's influence by negotiating a marriage for John Casimir to Christina of Sweden, then to an Italian princess, but to no avail. In 1637 John Casimir undertook a diplomatic mission to Vienna, which he abandoned to join the army of the Holy Roman Empire and fight against the French. After his regiment was defeated in battle, he spent a year living lavishly at the Viennese court.

Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1660

In 1636 he returned to the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and fell in love with Baroness Guldentern, but his desire to marry her was thwarted by King Władysław. In return, Władysław attempted to make him the sovereign of Courland, but this was vetoed by the Commonwealth parliament (Sejm). Taking offence at this, John Casimir in 1638 left for Spain to become Viceroy of Portugal, but was captured by French agents and imprisoned by order of Cardinal Richelieu until 1640. He was then freed by a diplomatic mission of the Voivod of Smolensk, Krzysztof Gosiewski.

In 1641 John Casimir decided to become a Jesuit. In 1642 he again left the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, accompanying his sister to Germany. In 1643 he joined the Jesuits, against vocal opposition from King Władysław, causing a diplomatic rift between the Commonwealth and the Pope. John Casimir was made a cardinal, but in December 1646, finding himself unsuited to ecclesiastical life, he returned to Poland. In October 1647 he resigned as cardinal to stand in elections for the Polish throne. He attempted to gain the support of the Habsburgs and marry an Austrian princess.

In 1648 John Casimir was elected to succeed his half-brother on the Polish throne. The reign of the last of the Vasas in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth would be dominated by the Russo-Polish War (1654–67), followed by the war with Sweden ("The Deluge"), the scene for which had been set by the Commonwealth's two previous Vasa kings. Most of Poland was invaded by the Swedish army during the Deluge without much of a fight, due to the conspiratorial complicity of Polish and Lithuanian governors and nobility. In the course of a few years, the Commonwealth rose to force the Swedes out of Poland, ending the short-lived intrusions and campaigns.

In 1660 John II Casimir was forced to renounce his claim to the Swedish throne and acknowledge Swedish sovereignty over Livonia and the city of Riga.

John Casimir had married his brother's widow, Marie Louise Gonzaga (Polish: Maria Ludwika), who was a major support to the King. Marie Louise died in 1667.

On 16 September 1668, John II Casimir abdicated the Polish–Lithuanian throne, and returned to France, where he joined the Jesuits and became abbot of Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris. Following his abdication Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki (Michael I) was elected as the new king. Before his death John Casimir intended to return to Poland, however shortly before the journey in Autumn 1672 he fell dangerously ill to the news of the fall of Kamieniec Podolski, which was seized by the Ottomans. He then turned to Pope Clement X to ask for assistance for the Commonwealth in a defensive war against the Turks. The French, who were secretly in contact with him during his stay in the abbey, were astonished by such a great affection of the king to remember the loss of his kingdom, and so concerned about the loss of only one city. Nevertheless distressed and seriously ill John II Casimir died shortly after the unexpected Turkish invasion of Poland on December 16, 1672 from apoplexy and was buried inside the Wawel Cathedral in Kraków.[6][7] His heart was interred in the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

The Lwów Oath[edit]

Lwów Oath, by Jan Matejko

As almost the whole country was occupied by the Swedish or Russian armies, the reason behind the vow was to incite the whole nation, including peasantry in the first place, to rise up against the invaders. Thus two main issues raised by the king in the vows were primarily - a necessity to protect the Catholic faith, seen as endangered by the Lutheran (and to some point Orthodox) aggressors, secondly - to manifest the will to improve the peasantry's condition.

On 1 April 1656, during a holy mass in Lwów's Cathedral, conducted by the papal legate Pietro Vidoni, John II Casimir in a grandiose and elaborate ceremony entrusted the Commonwealth under the Blessed Virgin Mary's protection, whom he announced as The Queen of the Polish Crown and other of his countries. He also swore to protect the Kingdom's folk from any impositions and unjust bondage.

Today, the Blessed Virgin Mary is known as the Queen of Poland.

After the King, similar vow was taken by the Deputy Chancellor of the Crown and the bishop of Kraków Andrzej Trzebicki in the name of the szlachta noblemen of the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth forces finally drove back the Swedes in 1657 and the Russians in 1661. After the war, promises made by John Casimir in Lwów, especially those considering peasants' lot, were not fulfilled, mostly because of Sejm's objection, which represented the szlachta nobility, not attracted to the idea of reducing serfdom, which would negatively affect their economical interests.

Social and economic changes[edit]

John II Casimir, by Daniel Schultz

The two decades of war and occupation in the mid-17th century, which in the case of Lithuania gave a foretaste of the 18th-century partitions, ruined and exhausted the Commonwealth. Famines and epidemics followed hostilities and wars, and the population dropped from roughly 11 to 7 million. The number of inhabitants of Kraków and Warsaw fell by two-thirds and one-half, respectively. The city of Wilno, the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was completely burned down and destroyed by the invaders. The Khmelnytsky uprising decimated all the Jews in Ukraine, even if they recovered fairly rapidly demographically. The productivity of agriculture diminished dramatically owing to labour shortages, the destruction of many farm buildings and farming implements, and the loss of numerous cattle. The dynamic network of international trade fairs also collapsed. Grain exports, which had reached their peak in the early 17th century, could not redress the unfavourable balance of trade with western Europe. Losses of valuable and significant art treasures - the Swedes engaged in systematic looting - were irreplaceable.

The Commonwealth never fully recovered, unlike Muscovy, which had suffered almost as much during the Time of Troubles and during several Polish invasions. Twentieth-century historians blamed the manorial economy based on serf labour for pauperising the masses and undermining the towns, yet the Polish economy was not unique in that respect. Moreover, some attempts to replace serfs with rent-paying tenants did not prove to be a panacea. The economic factor must therefore be treated jointly with other structural weaknesses of the Commonwealth that militated against recovery.

The 17th-century crisis - a European phenomenon - was basically a crisis of political authority. In the Commonwealth the perennial financial weakness was the central issue. The state budget in the second half of the century amounted to 10–11 million złotys. About nine-tenths of it went for military purposes, compared with half in Brandenburg and more than three-fifths in France and Russia. Equating a large army with royal absolutism and extolling the virtue of noble levies, the szlachta (nobility) was unwilling to devise defensive mechanisms. This was true even after the chastising experience of the Swedish "Deluge". Most nobles contented themselves with invoking the special protection of St. Mary, symbolically crowned queen of Poland, as a sufficient safeguard.[8]

Legacy[edit]

John Casimir left no surviving children. All his brothers and sisters having predeceased him without surviving issue, he was the last of the line of Bona Sforza. With him, all the legitimate issue of Alfonso II of Naples died out. His heir in Ferdinand I of Naples and in the Brienne succession was his distant cousin, Henry de La Tremoille, Prince of Talmond and Taranto, the heir-general of Frederick IV of Naples (second son of Ferdinand I of Naples and Isabella of Clermont), who also was the heir-general of Federigo's first wife, Anne of Savoy.

John Casimir was, after his brother, the head of the genealogical line of St.Bridget of Sweden, descending in primogeniture from Bridget's sister. After his death, the headship was offered to his second cousin, the already-abdicated Christina I of Sweden.

Patron of the arts[edit]

Portrait of a Bearded Man in Black Beret
A silver ewer from 1640 commissioned by John Casimir

The collection of the Polish Vasas was looted by Swedes and Germans of Brandenburg who brutally sacked Warsaw in the 1650s, during the Deluge.[9] Though some of the works survived hidden in Opole like The Rape of Europa by Guido Reni.

The most important additions to the royal collection were made by John II Casimir, a passionate collector of Dutch paintings, and a patron of Daniel Schultz (who painted a famous portrait of a son of Crimean Aga Dedesh, and was made Royal falconer in reward for his father's contribution during the war with Russia in 1663[10]). A major part of the king's painting collection was acquired in 1660s, by way of Hendrick van Uylenburgh, an agent in Amsterdam, and later his son Gerrit van Uylenburgh. These were mainly Dutch paintings and works by Rembrandt. The collection also included works by Rubens, Jordaens, Reni, Guercino, Jan Brueghel the Younger, and Bassano, among others.[9]

When John Casimir abdicated the Polish–Lithuanian throne, he brought many of his paintings with him to France. The collection remaining at Royal Castle in Warsaw was looted during the Great Northern War or appropriated in 1720 by Frederick Augustus I, Elector of Saxony, like two paintings by Rembrandt – Portrait of a Bearded Man in Black Beret (1657 also known as the Portrait of a Rabbi) and Portrait of a Man in the Hat Decorated with Pearls (1667), today displayed in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden, Germany.[9]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Ancestors[edit]

John II Casimir Vasa
Born: 22 March 1609 Died: 6 December 1672
Regnal titles
Vacant
Title last held by
Władysław IV
King of Poland
Grand Duke of Lithuania

1648–1668
Vacant
Title next held by
Michael I
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
Władysław IV
— TITULAR —
King of Sweden
1648–1660
Reason for succession failure:
Father deposed in 1599
Treaty of Oliva
Brienne claim
1648–1672
Succeeded by
Henri de La Trémoille