Sigismund III Vasa
Sigismund III Vasa by Pieter Soutman
|King of Poland|
Grand Duke of Lithuania
|Reign||18 September 1587 – 19 April 1632|
|Coronation||27 December 1587|
|Predecessor||Anna Jagiellon and Stephen Báthory|
|King of Sweden|
Grand Duke of Finland
|Reign||17 November 1592 – 24 July 1599|
|Coronation||19 February 1594|
|Born||20 June 1566|
Gripsholm Castle, Mariefred, Kingdom of Sweden
|Died||30 April 1632 (aged 65)|
Warsaw, Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth
|Burial||4 February 1633|
|Spouse||Anna of Austria|
Constance of Austria
John II Casimir
John Albert, Bishop of Warmia and Kraków
Charles Ferdinand, Duke of Opole
Anna Catherine Constance, Electress Palatine
|Father||John III of Sweden|
Sigismund III Vasa (Polish: Zygmunt III Waza, Swedish: Sigismund, Lithuanian: Žygimantas Vaza; 20 June 1566 – 30 April 1632 N.S.), also known as Sigismund III of Poland, was King of Poland, Grand Duke of Lithuania and monarch of the united Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth from 1587 to 1632 as well as King of Sweden and Grand Duke of Finland from 1592 until his deposition there in 1599.
Sigismund was the son of John III of Sweden and his first wife Catherine Jagiellon of Poland. Elected monarch of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1587, he sought to unify Poland and Sweden under one Catholic kingdom, and succeeded for a time in 1592 (Polish–Swedish union). After he had been deposed in Sweden by his Protestant uncle, Charles IX, he spent much of his life attempting to reclaim the Swedish throne.
A pious yet erratic ruler, Sigismund attempted to hold absolute power in all his dominions. He suppressed internal opposition, strengthened the power of the Catholic Church and granted greater privileges to the Jesuits. He actively questioned the authority of the Habsburgs in the Holy Roman Empire and interfered in the affairs of neighbouring states; he took advantage of a period of civil unrest in Muscovy, known as the Time of Troubles, and invaded Russia, holding Moscow for two years (1610–12) and Smolensk thereafter. Sigismund's army also defeated the Ottoman forces in Moldavia (1617–21), which systematically led to the demise of Sultan Osman II. However, the Polish-Swedish conflict had a less favourable outcome. After a series of short skirmishes and wars ending in a truce, Gustavus II Adolphus of Sweden launched a campaign against the Commonwealth which resulted in the loss of Polish Livonia (Estonia and Latvia) with Riga and in Sigismund's claim to the Swedish crown.
Sigismund remains a highly controversial figure in Poland. One of the country's most recognisable monarchs, he moved the country's administrative capital from Kraków to Warsaw in 1596. His long reign coincided with the Polish Golden Age, the apex in the prestige, power and economic influence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. On the other hand, it was also during his reign that the seeds of decline surfaced which would lead to the eventual demise of the Commonwealth.
He was commemorated in Warsaw by Sigismund's Column, one of the city's landmarks and the first secular monument in the form of a column in modern history. It was commissioned after Sigismund's death by his son and successor, Władysław IV.
Childhood and election
Sigismund was born on 20 June 1566 to Catherine Jagiellon and the Grand Duke John of Finland at Gripsholm. His parents, at the time, were being held prisoner by King Eric XIV, but despite the Protestant domination of Sweden young Sigismund was raised as a Roman Catholic. His mother Catherine was the daughter of Polish king Sigismund I the Old and Queen Bona Sforza of Milan. In 1567 Sigismund and his parents were released from prison. A year later, in 1568, Erik XIV was deposed and Sigismund's father ascended to the throne of Sweden as John III. From 1568 onward Sigismund was the Crown Prince of Sweden.
In 1587 Sigismund stood for election to the Polish throne after the death of Stephen Báthory. He was supported by his aunt Queen Anna, Hetman Jan Zamoyski and several elite nobles who considered him a native candidate, but was opposed by the nobles loyal to the Zborowski family. With strong support from the people of influence he was duly elected ruler of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth on 19 August 1587 with the blessings of primate Stanisław Karnkowski. His official name and title became "by the grace of God, king of Poland, grand duke of Lithuania, ruler of Ruthenia, Prussia, Masovia, Samogitia, Livonia and also hereditary king of the Swedes, Goths and Wends"; the latter titles being a reference to the fact that he was already the Crown Prince of Sweden, and thus would lawfully succeed to the throne of Sweden upon the death of his father.
Opposition to the throne
The outcome of the election was strongly contested by factions of the Polish nobility that backed the candidacy of Archduke Maximilian III of Austria, who briefly invaded the country. When the news reached Sigismund in Sweden, he passed through the clutches of the Protestants, crossed the Baltic and landed in Poland on 7 October, immediately agreeing to grant royal privileges to the Sejm in the hope of calming the opposition and settling the disputed election. He was proclaimed by the Lesser Prussian Treasurer Jan Dulski as king on behalf of Crown Marshal Andrzej Opaliński, and after arriving in the Royal Capital City of Kraków he was crowned on 27 December at Wawel Cathedral.
Ultimately, Jan Zamoyski defeated Maximilian at the Battle of Byczyna and took him prisoner. At the request of Pope Sixtus V, the Archduke was then released and in turn surrendered his claim to Poland in 1589. Sigismund was also successful in maintaining peace with his powerful southern neighbour by marrying Archduchess Anne of Habsburg in 1592. Simultaneously, he secured an alliance with Catholic Austria against Protestant foes.
When his father died, Sigismund was granted permission by the Polish Diet to claim his inheritance as the rightful King of Sweden. The Swedes, who previously declared John III a Catholic conspirator and traitor, became lenient when the new monarch pledged to respect Lutheranism as the country's new state religion. Sigismund was eventually crowned at Uppsala on 19 February 1594, but his promise to uphold the Protestant faith in Sweden was a deception, as demonstrated by the presence of a papal nuncio in the royal procession. He appointed his uncle, Duke Charles, to rule as regent on his behalf when he returned to Poland. Tensions grew promptly in Sweden as Sigismund remained a devout Roman Catholic and left the country abruptly, which made the Swedes suspicious. Lutheran firebrands warned that Sigismund had the ultimate intention of reinstating Catholicism by force if necessary. As proof, they pointed to the 1596 Union of Brest which brought the Eastern Orthodox Ruthenian peoples in Polish-controlled Ruthenia into Catholic fold. The union also expressed his friendship with Catholic Austria and his support for the Catholic Reformation, particularly the Jesuits who often acted as agents refuting Protestantism and regaining lost spiritual ground for Rome.
Conflict with Jan Zamoyski
The contest between Sigismund and Chancellor-Hetman Jan Zamoyski began during the first Sejm (parliament) sitting, the so-called Pacification Sejm, which met at Warsaw in March 1589. Zamoyski presented the idea of a purely political union between Poland, Muscovy, and Bohemia, coupled with a somewhat premature suggestion that in case of Sigismund's death only a member of a local native dynasty should henceforth be eligible to the Polish throne. The extravagance of the idea that entailed any union between Catholic Poland, Orthodox Muscovy and semi-Protestant Bohemia caused disbelief and anger among the majority of representatives. It was only explicable as a circuitous attempt to traverse the Habsburg influence in Central Europe, which Zamoyski perceived as a major threat. The parliament immediately rejected the proposal and ruled in favour of Austria, thus also accepting a marriage between Sigismund and Anne of Habsburg. Furthermore, the reestablishment of peaceful relations with Austria was dictated by the Treaty of Bytom and Będzin from March 1589 which was negotiated by Ippolito Aldobrandini, future Pope Clement VIII.
At the subsequent Sejm session, assembled in March 1590, Zamoyski persuaded the gathered deputies and representatives to exclude Archduke Maximilian from future candidacy to the throne by frightening them with the bugbears of Austrian intrigues and Turkish threats. His opponents, headed by Primate Karnkowski, formed an informal confederation immediately after the Sejm rose to protest the decrees. A second Sejm sitting, dominated by the enemies of Zamoyski, occurred at the end of the same year and proceeded to reverse all the decrees of its predecessor and attack the Chancellor. Thus the Grand-Hetmanship was placed in commission, the party of Maximilian was amnestied, the Zborowski family were rehabilitated, and Zamoyski's counterparts and supporters were removed from the royal court. Furthermore, the chief pillars of the Catholic faith in Lithuania, Cardinal Jerzy Radziwiłł and the new prince-convert Janusz Ostrogski, were appointed Bishop and Castellan of Kraków.
Peace settlement and reconciliation
On 1 June 1592, Zamoyski formed a confederation at Jędrzejów (Latin: Andreiow), which was better attended than the wedding feast in honour of Sigismund's young Austrian bride the Archduchess Anne, who made her state entry into Kraków amidst great rejoicings at the end of May. All of the nobility, nearly all the senators of Greater and Lesser Poland, and the majority of Lithuanians acceded to the Chancellor.
At the sitting of the "Inquisition Sejm" in Warsaw (7 August), which was summoned by the King to inquire into all grievances and thoroughly sift the so-called "Austrian cabals", Zamoyski was once more formidable. Sigismund, supported by the Primate of Poland Stanisław Karnkowski, had still enough authority to halt the sitting, but the young Queen's mother, the shrewd and sensible Maria Anna of Bavaria, who had accompanied her daughter to Kraków, decided that Zamoyski was too influential to be set aside. She demanded in the interest of Austria a reconciliation between the King and the Chancellor. This reconciliation was accomplished quietly by Mikołaj Firlej, Voivode of Kraków, and included all the leading men from both parties. The rival cardinals Andrew Bathory and Jerzy Radziwiłł adjusted all their past differences and Zamoyski was fully reinstated in the Grand-Hetmanship; and as Grand Chancellor of the Crown. He presented himself to the Sejm and eloquently defended all the royal propositions, including Sigismund's request for leave to occupy the Swedish throne left vacant after the death of his father John III on 17 November 1592.
The reconciliation lasted for a long period, which established temporary peace in the internal politics for Poland. Zamoyski, no longer distracted by personal ambitions, directed his attention to public affairs and, from 1595 to 1602, achieved some of his most brilliant military and political triumphs.
War against Sigismund in Sweden
After Sigismund had been crowned King of Sweden on 19 February 1594, he decided that no Parliaments (riksdagar) could be summoned without the King's consent. Despite this, Charles summoned a Parliament at Söderköping in autumn 1595, at which he managed to get his will through. The Duke was appointed Regent with "the advice of the Council", meaning that he was to govern Sweden together with the Privy Council during the King's absence from the realm. Soon afterwards, the nobility of Finland, led by Klaus Fleming, the governor appointed by Sigismund, rejected these decisions. They sympathised with the King and considered Charles a rebel. As a counterattack, Charles instigated a rebellion against Fleming, the Cudgel War, among the peasants in Ostrobothnia.
Fleming managed to quell the revolt but died in April 1597. Roughly at the same time, a letter arrived from Sigismund's headquarters in Poland stating that he would not accept Charles as regent. The Duke then used a tactic his father had employed, namely to resign from office. The response, however, was not what Charles had been hoping for: the King accepted Charles' resignation and invested complete power in the Privy Council. Despite the difficult situation, Charles summoned another illegal Parliament the same year, this time in Arboga. Only one of the Privy Councillors showed up. The reason was that Charles' goal of deposing Sigismund had now been revealed, and the men understood that a serious revolt was brewing. When Duke Charles threatened the absent men with severe punishment, some of them lost courage. Erik Gustavsson Stenbock, Arvid Gustavsson Stenbock, Erik Larsson Sparre, Erik Brahe and Sten Banér fled immediately to Sigismund.
Eruption of a civil war
Thus, in 1597, civil war erupted, and Duke Charles was able to assume control over a large share of the powerful castles in the country, and in this manner achieved control over almost all the realm. The problem was Finland, where Klaus Fleming's widow guarded Åbo castle. But after psychological warfare, Charles and his followers managed to take the castle in Turku (Swedish: Åbo). It is said that when the Duke entered the castle chapel he saw Klaus Fleming's body lying in a coffin. He is said to have said: "Hadst thou now been alive, thy head would not have been in great safety." Then Fleming's widow Ebba Stenbock is said to have approached the Duke and responded: "If my late husband had been alive, Your Grace would never have entered herein."
When Sigismund found out about what had happened in Finland he lost his patience. The King could not accept Duke Charles' disrespectful actions and decided to use force. This decision eventually would cost him the Swedish crown. In February 1598 Sigismund assembled an army consisting of merely 5,000 men, mostly Hungarian and German mercenaries. A larger army had been proposed but had been dismissed because Sigismund expected Swedish forces to join him, and he also wished to avoid conflict with them. The advisers and the King expected military support from Finland and Estonia (homes of the Swedish gentry formerly commanded by Fleming). They also wanted help from Denmark–Norway and pro-Sigismund parts of Sweden. The diplomat Laski was dispatched, but Denmark did not show any interest. In May, Sigismund's men started to advance northwards. The army gathered in Marienburg (Malbork), where the Livonian Jürgen Farensbach was appointed commander. The army was to be transported from Danzig (Gdańsk) to Sweden on Swedish ships, but the Swedish Estates declined. They refused to lend him ships as long as he stayed with a foreign army. There was widespread suspicion against Sigismund and his Catholic warriors. Thus the Estates promised to protect Duke Charles and the others who rebelled against the King.
Military actions and campaign
At the end of May 1598 Sigismund landed on Swedish soil at Avaskär. The King opened peacefully by sending the diplomat Samuel Łaski to Kalmar for negotiations. His task was to convince the city's commanders to open the gates. However, the negotiations led nowhere. Instead, the King took his soldiers and marched on Kalmar. The army halted just outside the city. The plan was to frighten the commanders into opening the gates. To make his message even more terrifying, Sigismund threatened the city with severe punishments and to withdraw the nobility of all children in the city. The propaganda worked well and Sigismund was able to make his long-desired entry on 1 August. After the fall of Kalmar, Duke Charles found himself with major trouble on his hands. The Polish Crown army attracted Swedish followers, and Stockholm, lacking military defence, was easily taken with the help of the nobility and officers of Götaland. After this event, the cavalry of Uppland joined up, and new forces were mobilised in Finland and Estonia.
The morning of 25 September 1598 the armies clashed in a major engagement at the Battle of Stångebro. Charles offered talks again but attacked in a mist while Sigismund's men were withdrawing to their camp, which resulted in only the mercenaries fighting since his Swedes refused to fight. Duke Charles won a decisive victory that forced Sigismund to agree to harsh terms. Charles demanded that the King send home his entire army but that he himself was to stay and await a Parliament. Also, a number of Swedes who had sided with Sigismund, including his Council supporters, were captured. These were later executed in the Linköping Bloodbath of 1600.
The peace agreement was sealed with a dinner between Charles and Sigismund at Linköping Castle. The King, who was under pressure, fearing for his life without his army and having realised that he had lost the political battle, fled during the coming days to Poland in late 1598. At the same time as the peace treaty was being signed in Linköping, conflicts were taking place in Dalarna. There, a pro-Sigismund bailiff, Jacob Näf, had tried to raise up the Dalecarlians against Duke Charles. Chaos ensued, Näf was executed, and the Dalecarlians set out on the so-called Neaf Campaign (1598), burning and killing down to Brunnbäck ferry. In Västergötland, Carl Carlsson Gyllenhielm, illegitimate son of Duke Charles, defeated the rebellion.
Aftermath and peace
Sigismund was officially deposed from the throne of Sweden by a Riksdag held in Stockholm on 24 July 1599. He was given six months to say whether he wanted to send his son, Prince Władysław Vasa, to Sweden as his successor, under the condition that the boy would be brought up in the Evangelical faith. Otherwise the Estates would look for a new king. In February 1600, Duke Charles summoned the Estates of the Realm to Linköping. Since Sigismund had not provided a reply, the Estates elected Duke Charles as King Charles IX of Sweden. The consequences for those who had supported Sigismund were devastating. The most prominent among them were killed by the new King in the Linköping Bloodbath. During the winter and spring of 1600, Charles also occupied the Swedish part of Estonia, as the castle commanders had shown sympathies towards Sigismund. Charles' invasion of Livonia led to a series of wars with Poland, starting with the Second Polish–Swedish War.
Brief clash with England
The Muslim Ottoman Empire and Christian England were allies of convenience against Spain. While Elizabeth's armies were fighting Catholic forces in the Low Countries to prevent the Spanish from gaining secure harbours on the Channel coast to stage an invasion, England also served Turkish interests by diverting Spain from focusing on domination of the Mediterranean. In 1580, the Turks threatened to invade Poland from lands located north of the Black Sea. The good will of Poland was crucial to England because trade with countries bordering the Baltic was the source of grain and the all important forest products needed to maintain the navy. Furthermore, English merchants enjoyed preferential trading privileges within the borders of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Elizabeth's intercession with the Caliphate was credited with cancelling the invasion, and she received letters of praise from then reigning Polish king, Stephen Báthory.
After Sigismund III was elected in 1587, Elizabeth's intelligence service gave notice that an ambassador was in transit and that the deputation was one of amity. On 23 July 1587, the Privy Council instructed the Lord Mayor of London to arrange housing for the diplomat, preferably with a merchant prominent in the Baltic trade. To ensure Elizabeth would not find fault with the preparations, the Lord Mayor was to report the arrangements made. Two days later a Polish envoy, Paweł Działyński, arrived at the palace in Greenwich. Brought to the reception hall, he found Elizabeth sitting on the throne under the canopy of state with all her nobles in attendance. The ambassador presented his credentials, and kissed the Queen's hand extended to him―a gesture of royal favour. Działyński then strode to the centre of the chamber without any forewarning of what he was about to say, and, instead of the oration of a legate that everyone anticipated, he couched in respectful words to flatter the monarch being addressed and spoke as a herald. In Latin, he hectored, admonished and criticized the queen, and declared an ultimatum of capitulation to terms or hostile action.
Działyński informed Elizabeth that Sigismund was intending to marry a Catholic member of the Austrian royalty and was sympathetic to the Spanish Crown. The reason for his mission was to complain about Elizabeth's policy of having her navy capture ships of Polish and Hanseatic League merchants trading with Spain. This was intolerable to his sovereign. Hostilities would have commenced if Elizabeth had not rescinded her orders to interdict trade, release the captured ships, and restore the confiscated cargo or make restitution.
The Zebrzydowski Rebellion, or Sandomierz Rebellion, was a semi-legal revolt against King Sigismund, formed in August 1606 by Hetman Mikołaj Zebrzydowski, Jan Szczęsny Herburt, Stanisław Stadnicki, Aleksander Józef Lisowski and Prince Janusz Radziwiłł in Stężyca and Lublin. It was primarily caused by the growing dissatisfaction with the King among the Polish szlachta and wealthy magnates. In particular, the rebels disapproved of the King's efforts to limit the power of the nobles, his attempts to weaken the Sejm, and to introduce a hereditary monarchy in place of the elective one. The rebellion (1606–08) ended in the defeat of the rebels. Despite the failure to overthrow the King, the rebellion firmly established the dominance of the nobility over the monarch in the Polish political system.
The Polish nobles gathered at the rebellion formed a council and outlined their demands in 67 articles. They demanded the dethronement of Sigismund III for breaching the Henrician Articles and the expulsion of the Jesuits from the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. They further demanded that the Sejm was to appoint state officials instead of the king; that local officials should be elected and not appointed; and that the rights of Protestants should be expanded and protected. The 1607 Parliament rejected the demands. Meanwhile, the rebel nobles gathered in the town of Guzów. In 1607 the Polish Royal Army, led by Hetman Jan Karol Chodkiewicz, was sent to pacify the rebels. A full-scale battle ensued on 5 July, with 200 casualties, which resulted in the victory of the Royalist forces. By 1609 the rebellion was over. Two years after the start of the revolt, the rebellious nobles formally surrendered to the king at the 1609 meeting of the Sejm, which became known as the Pacification Sejm. In return for their surrender the rebels were granted leniency. Many royal supporters, including Hetman Chodkiewicz, had successfully argued for amnesty for the rebels. Despite the failure of the rebellion, it nevertheless ruined any chance that Sigismund III had to strengthen his role in the government.
After the rebellion, King Sigismund attempted to funnel the restless energy of the nobles into external wars. This, combined with other factors, led to the Commonwealth's official involvement in the Polish–Muscovite War, which followed the early Dimitriads and invasions (1605–1609).
The first rebellion in Polish history had sinister consequences. Royalty lost, to great extent, the moral prestige it had enjoyed... The Polish constitution was henceforth regarded as sacrosanct and the king had to renounce not only the idea of making any far-reaching changes in it, but even any reform.
Sigismund's invasion of Russia (1605–1618)
Combating heresy and giving Poland a strong and stable government were the primary goals of Sigismund. In the time of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Poles were a force to be reckoned with, especially their elite, heavy cavalry, most notably the Winged Hussars. While the Russians were fighting among themselves in a civil war (Time of Troubles), Sigismund saw an opportunity to invade and take power, as did Sweden though they were never firmly on one side or the other.
The "Time of Troubles" was a dark period in Russia's history; it began when Tsar Feodor I died in 1598, which caused internal instability and a succession crisis upon the extinction of the Rurik dynasty. Further setbacks that contributed to the escalation of violence was the famine of 1601 to 1603 which killed approximately 2 million Russians. As the situation in Russia deteriorated, Sigismund enhanced Polish nobles and magnates to influence Russian boyars. The new Tsar, Boris Godunov, proved to be an ineffective ruler and died after a lengthy illness and a stroke in April 1605. He left one son, Feodor II, who succeeded him and ruled for only a few months, until he and Boris' widow were murdered by the enemies of the Godunovs in Moscow in June 1605. Rumours circulated that they were murdered on the orders of king Sigismund but no real evidence of that exists. Simultaneously, various pretenders to the Russian throne appeared claiming to be Tsarevich Dmitry Ivanovich, the youngest son of Ivan the Terrible. In fact, the real Tsarevich died at the age of eight in 1591. After the fall of impostor False Dmitry I and his Polish wife Marina Mniszech (known in Russian historiography as Marinka the Witch), Vasili Ivanovich Shuysky was crowned as Vasili IV of Russia.
The death of False Dmitry proved as an excuse for Sigismund to prepare an invasion. Prior invasions and raids between 1605 and 1609 were conducted by Polish nobles with the help of hired Cossacks and foreign mercenaries. Sigismund's primary intention was to destroy the Russian state in total and impose Catholicism under any condition, with the use of force if necessary. Lew Sapieha, Grand Chancellor of Lithuania, who sought neutrality proposed to Boris Godunov an alliance or "eternal peace" treaty between Russia and Poland, but the idea did not gain wide support and was declined.
The Commonwealth army under the command of Hetman Stanisław Żółkiewski, who initially opposed to this conflict but could not disobey Sigismund's orders, crossed the border and on 29 September 1609 laid siege to Smolensk. On 4 July 1610, at the Battle of Klushino, the outnumbered Polish force achieved a decisive victory over Russian troops, mostly due to the tactical competence and skill of Żółkiewski as well as the military prowess of Polish hussars. The battle was a major blow to the Russians; Tsar Vasili IV was subsequently ousted by the Seven Boyars and Żółkiewski entered Moscow beginning the two-year tyrannical occupation of the Kremlin. Seven Boyars proclaimed Polish prince Władysław, Sigismund's son, as the new Tsar of Russia. In June 1611 Smolensk finally fell to the Poles. Former Tsar Vasili Shuysky was transported in a wagon to Warsaw, where he paid tribute (Shuysky Tribute) to Sigismund and the Senate at the Royal Castle on 29 October 1611. He eventually died in Gostynin as prisoner; he was most likely poisoned as his brother died soon after. The Polish army also committed numerous atrocities while stationing in Moscow.
In 1611, Kuzma Minin and Prince Dmitry Pozharsky formed a new army to launch an uprising against the Polish occupation. Sigismund's forces withdrew from ruined Moscow in September 1612. News of the capitulation reached Sigismund on 8 December at Volokolamsk. The war continued with little military action until 1618 when the Truce of Deulino was signed, which granted Poland new territories, including the city of Smolensk. The agreement marked the greatest geographical expansion of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (0,99 million km2) until the loss of Livonia in 1629. However, Russia was able to retain independence and Michael Romanov was crowned Tsar in 1613. This established the Romanov dynasty which ruled Russia until the February Revolution in 1917.
Sigismund's personal ambition of ruling the vast lands in the east as well as converting the populace to Catholicism ended in a fiasco. The conflict had a strong impact on Russian society and, as a consequence, the Polish-Russian relations remain tense even today.
Thirty Years' War (1618–1648)
Sigismund III would have intervened in the Thirty Years' War, on the Catholic side, but for the determined opposition of the Parliament (Sejm), expressing itself in fresh insurrections and the refusal of supplies. His intervention would have taken the form of an invasion and, possibly, an occupation of Transylvania, which, under the energetic and ambitious Princes of the Protestant Houses of Bethlen and Rákóczi, was the active ally of the Sultan and equally dangerous to Habsburg Monarchy and Poland. This would result in a war that would devastate the eastern borderlands of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, known as the Kresy, and Sigismund was aware that he would not stand a chance against the Ottoman Empire, stretching from the Middle East to the Balkans.
The chief pillars of military strength in Poland, including Hetman Stanisław Żółkiewski, warmly approved of the King's policy in this respect, but it proved to be impracticable. The Parliament's mania for non-intervention went so far that it refused to grant any subsidies for the Swedish War with the disastrous consequences already recorded. Sigismund eventually decided that joining the Thirty Years' War would diminish the country's national prestige and power in the region. This, however, weakened the alliance between the Habsburg states and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Polish–Ottoman War (1620–21)
The Principality of Moldavia was a Polish fief since the Middle Ages and Sigismund aimed at securing that despite the growing threat from the south. With the Ottoman influence and power on the rise, the Sultan aimed at expanding the Ottoman Empire westward. Furthermore, the Ottomans favoured the fertile steppes of Moldavia, Ruthenia and "Polish Ukraine". The Ottoman–Habsburg wars, which lasted almost two centuries, were also a sign of the Sultan's desperation to rule mainland Europe. Sigismund was anxious to help Habsburgs and was promised territorial gains for Poland in return for his assistance. He sent in an army consisting of mercenaries from the wars in Russia to the Principality of Moldavia, which sparked the Polish–Ottoman War.
In 1620 the Polish forces were defeated at Cecora and Hetman Żółkiewski perished during the battle. In 1621 a strong army of Ottomans, led by Osman II, advanced from Edirne towards the Polish frontier. The Ottomans, following their victory at Cecora, had high hopes of conquering southern part of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, including Podolia, Volhynia and parts of Lesser Poland. Approximately 160,000 men besieged the Khotyn Fortress in September 1621 but were defeated at the Battle of Khotyn by a Polish garrison counting no more than 50,000 soldiers. During the siege Hetman Jan Karol Chodkiewicz died of exhaustion and illness in the camp.
The Treaty of Khotyn was signed on 9 October 1621 which resulted in no territorial gain or loss, but Sigismund was to relinquish his claims on Moldavia and the Ottoman Empire was prevented from marching deep into Poland. Sultan Osman himself was not fully satisfied with the war's outcome and blamed the janissaries. His wish and plans to modernize the army, which was blamed for the defeat, were however opposed by the tradition-minded janissary units. That opposition resulted in the 1622 rebellion in which Osman II was deposed and strangled.
Polish–Swedish War (1626–1629)
Following a series of conflicts between Poland and Sweden in 1600–11, 1617–18 and 1621–1625, all of which ended in a stalemate, Gustavus Adolphus invaded in 1626 to gain control over Livonia and Ducal Prussia. Sigismund, already in advanced age, continued his long-term ambition of reclaiming Sweden, which gave Gustavus Adolphus a reasonable casus belli and justification for war. Though the Polish army achieved major victories in the previous battles against Sweden, particularly at Kircholm in 1605, the very end proved to be catastrophic.
The first skirmish took place in January 1626 near Wallhof, in present-day Latvia, where the Swedish army of 4,900 men ambushed a Polish force of 2,000 men commanded by Jan Stanisław Sapieha, son of Lew Sapieha. Polish casualties were estimated at between 500 and 1000 dead, wounded and captured. According to historians, the Polish-Lithuanian commander later suffered a nervous breakdown.
In May 1626 the Swedes launched an invasion of Polish Prussia. Escorted by a fleet of 125 vessels, the Swedish army of over 8,000 soldiers (including 1,000 cavalry) disembarked in Ducal Prussia near the town of Piława (Pillau). The landings were a complete surprise to the Commonwealth's defences, and despite a relatively small Swedish force, Gustavus Adolphus quickly captured 16 coastal towns, almost without a fight. Many of these towns were inhabited by Protestants who opposed devoutly Catholic Sigismund. Some towns opened their gates to the Lutheran Swedish forces whom they portrayed as liberators. The Swedish king, however, failed to capture Danzig (Gdańsk), a large and wealthy port city which maintained its own army and fleet. In preparation for his major attack on Danzig, he increased his forces to over 22,000 men. Sigismund received little to no support from his vassal, George William, Elector of Brandenburg and Duke of Prussia. Sigismund deployed an army of approximately 14,500 soldiers to fight at the Battle at Gniew against the Swedish force of 12,100 men. The fighting continued for several days until 1 October 1626 when Sigismund ordered the withdrawal of his army, and called on reinforcements from around the country. The battle, despite a tactical victory for Sweden, was a strategic blow to Gustavus Adolphus, who was unable to besiege Danzig, thus only securing the town of Gniew.
At Dirschau in summer 1627 Gustavus Adolphus was seriously wounded and the Prussian campaign was suspended. The wound forced the king to stay in bed until autumn, and his right arm was weakened with some fingers partially paralyzed. As the major trade ports on the coast of the Baltic Sea were blocked by Swedish vessels, Sigismund decided to send a fleet of 10 ships under Arend Dickmann from Danzig to engage the Swedes at the Battle of Oliva. It was the largest naval battle fought by the Polish royal navy, which successfully defeated the enemy fleet and broke the Swedish blockade.
Although Poland emerged victorious in the final battle at Trzciana, Sigismund accepted a peace offer. The Truce of Altmark was signed on 26 September 1629 (16 September O.S.). The conditions of the truce allowed Sweden to gain control of Livonia as well as the mouth of the Vistula river and some coastal towns. The greater part of Livonia north of the Daugava River was ceded to Sweden, though Latgale, the southeastern area and Dyneburg remained under Polish rule. The Swedes received the right to the shipping tolls at ports of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, which financed Sweden's involvement in the Thirty Years' War.
By the end of the 30-year Polish-Swedish conflict, Sigismund became heavily ill and was incessantly blamed for the loss of Livonia.
Synopsis of Sigismund's politics
Many historians[who?] agree that Sigismund considered Poland as a tool to eventually regain the throne of Sweden. To this end he tried to strengthen his royal power and allied himself with Habsburgs and Counter-Reformation forces. His policies were opposed by many within the circles of the wealthy Polish nobility (the szlachta), most notably the chancellor Jan Zamoyski. This led to a semi-legal rebellion against the king (rokosz), known as Zebrzydowski Rebellion (1606–08), which was a response to Sigismund's attempt to introduce majority voting in place of unanimity in the Sejm. Eventually Sigismund's forces were victorious, but the rebels went unpunished. Partially in order to pacify the restless szlachta, Sigismund supported war with Muscovy (the Dimitriads, 1605–18). Although Commonwealth forces were almost constantly shuffled between wars in the East (with Muscovy), north (with Sweden) and South (with Ottomans in the Polish–Ottoman wars), Sigismund took advantage of the civil war in Russia (the Time of Troubles) and secured temporary territorial gains for the Commonwealth.
While Sigismund never managed to regain the Swedish throne, his personal ambition to do so did succeed in provoking a long series of conflicts between the Commonwealth and Sweden, which was temporarily allied with Muscovy. While the Sejm managed to thwart many of the plans of Sigismund (and later of his son, Władysław), the Vasa dynasty nonetheless succeeded in partially drawing the Commonwealth into the Thirty Years' War. The conflict with Sweden, combined with wars against Ottomans and Muscovy, culminated well after Sigismund's death in the series of events known as the Swedish Deluge, which ended the Golden Age of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth that spanned almost a century.
During his reign Sigismund permitted the Brandenburg Hohenzollerns to inherit Ducal Prussia. This decision later greatly strengthened the Duchy. The Commonwealth suffered a major military defeat in the Second Northern War, during the reign of Sigismund's younger son, John II Casimir. Under the terms and conditions of the Treaty of Oliva, Prussia became a sovereign state and would eventually Partition Poland, together with Austria and the Russian Empire, in the late 18th century.
Sigismund's relationship with the jesuit Piotr Skarga, the royal chaplain from his accession, and other religious leaders, served as a basis for his depiction in the famous painting by Jan Matejko, illustrating the preaching of Piotr Skarga in the presbyterium of Wawel Cathedral.
Gentry, nobility and privileges
The Polish nobility of the Commonwealth had become excessively dominant, and its primary aim was to remain in power. The lower and middle classes were often exploited and heavily taxed by wealthy or influential families of that era. This created a sense of fear among citizens of towns and villages that were privately owned by nobles. Sigismund, as the Head of State, always sought to restrict the privileges of the upper classes and decrease the nobility's influence over the parliament in order to personally gain control. This caused disdain for the monarch and many rebellions occurred during his reign. These revolts, however, were all crushed by Sigismund and the nobles eventually surrendered, having achieved little. Furthermore, one of Sigismund's desires was to be admired and idolized by his subjects; the unsuccessful rebellions were significant in strengthening his influence over the people and the country's politics. The Sejm, however, was still directly responsible for the majority of the Commonwealth's affairs, most notably declaring wars and suing for peace.
The King was unable to officially declare a war if the decision was not fully approved or supported by the Sejm and the Senate. The Sejm usually consisted of approximately 600 nobles, diplomats and most influential politicians, who met annually at Warsaw or elsewhere, in order to contribute as little as possible to public needs and protest vehemently against everything they did not like or could not understand. The nobility was also in favour of absolute non-intervention in foreign affairs, as the cheapest and least troublesome policy to pursue.
The unwillingness of the Polish gentry to part with their money, especially for armaments, was entirely due to the fear that a popular monarch might curtail their privileges. Rather than run that risk, they avoided every advantageous alliance, forgoing every political opportunity, stinted their armies, starved and abandoned their generals, and even left the territories of the Commonwealth unguarded and undefended. This was the case of Livonia, with its fine seaboard and hundreds of towns and fortresses, which had temporarily fallen into the lap of Poland. It was later retaken by Sweden due to poor organization of the army and disinterest of the nobles to finance any military actions or campaigns. The regular army, on the other hand, was very effective against enemy troops, especially in Polish-occupied Ukraine (Ruthenia), where it had an almost unlimited reserve of the best raw military material. Moreover, the army was led by notable military commanders like Zamoyski, Żółkiewski, Chodkiewicz and Stanisław Koniecpolski.
Assassination attempt in Warsaw
Sigismund was to arrive by crossing a corridor or passage that linked the Royal Castle with the temple. When the royal procession reached the end, hidden in a nearby portal was petty nobleman Michał Piekarski armed with a war hammer. The assassin previously killed a Hungarian mercenary who was standing guard and the royal cook. When the monarch reached the final steps, Piekarski leaped out and threw himself on the king, stabbing him twice, firstly in the back and then in the cheek, and striking him in the arm. However, he was not able to deliver a fatal blow due to the intervention of royal guardsmen as well as Court Marshal Łukasz Opaliński who shielded the king. Concurrently, Prince Władysław wounded the assassin on the head with a sabre. Other accounts state that no guards were present; the cortege had a casual character and the assassin was most likely overpowered by the attendees.
Parishioners gathered around the pale and lifeless king, who collapsed to the ground after the incident. The guards or other attendants were able to revive him and after a medical examination the wounds were found to be non-life-threatening. Chaos erupted when false rumours spread that the king had been murdered as his clothes were stained in blood. Initially, it was thought that the city was invaded by the Tatars.
The circumstances of this attack and the assassin were known exceptionally well after the attempt, as pamphlets soon appeared on the Market Square reporting three different viewpoints on the subject, published in a total of five editions. The assassin was indeed Michał Piekarski, widely regarded as a mentally unstable melancholic, unrestrained in deeds, who as a child had suffered a head injury. Piekarski's most probable cause for the assassination was fame and recognition; the successful assassination of Henry IV in Paris (1610) by François Ravaillac served as motivation for his actions. For the appropriate moment Piekarski waited patiently 10 years. At trial he did not deny the crime he committed and heavily insulted the jury, the Court Marshal, and the monarch. He was executed in a similar manner as Ravaillac on 27 November 1620 in Warsaw, in a torture area called Piekiełko (Devil's Den or Devil's Place). He was publicly humiliated, tortured and his body torn apart by horses.
Relationship with the Mennonites
Sigismund confirmed the contracts of lease made with the Mennonites and, on 20 October 1623, accorded special privileges to the Mennonite lace-makers originating from Scotland. He refused, however, to grant them any new rights or liberties. A complaint was lodged by the city council of Elbing (Elbląg) which confirmed that the Mennonites broke up marriages without having previously informed the authorities, married one another, and divided property at their pleasure. It was forbidden for the Mennonites to marry without the foreknowledge of the authorities and a penalty fine of 100 guilders was to be paid for misconduct. Nevertheless, when the Mennonites requested release from all civil handicaps, especially from military defense of the city and the court oath, he decreed on 26 April 1615 that they should perform their usual duties without interfering into the life of locals. The ruling was not enforced.
On 26 April 1626 Sigismund sent the decree orders to the magistrate of Elbing as he heard that the city eventually accepted Anabaptists and Mennonites and gave them certain privileges. Without paying tribute to the king nor obeying the decree, they carried on trade, crafts and bought properties and food from local citizens. A substantial number of residents began converting which gravely worried the Sejm. Sigismund was forced to place an army of Poles and German mercenaries at the disposal of his brother-in-law, Ferdinand II of Austria, who burned and sacked the Mennonite and Hutterite villages, killing thousands of people.
Decline and death
Throughout these wars King Sigismund tried to stabilize and streamline the Commonwealth government. The electoral monarchy in Poland had created a nobility with extensive powers and a great deal of division. Sigismund worked to gain more power for the king as well as to allow government business to pass with a majority of votes of the parliament rather than unanimity, which was extremely hard to achieve and meant that things often did not get done. All these actions led to a rebellion, but the King was ultimately victorious and, despite the criticism from historian Paweł Jasienica, his reign marked a period of Polish greatness.
Sigismund made the Commonwealth the dominant power of Central and Eastern Europe and ensured that Poland remained a solidly Catholic country in the face of Protestant incursions. He was considered a bold and an enlightened monarch with the qualities of a Renaissance man, as is evidenced by his devout faith and his artistic talent. Sigismund was a gifted artist, painter and goldsmith; only one of his three paintings survived – one was for centuries erroneously attributed to Tintoretto. From his personal workshop came the main part of the famous silver coffin of St. Adalbert of Prague at the Cathedral in Gniezno. Sigismund was also immensely passionate about alchemy and ancient methods of turning metals into gold; he often cooperated with the famous alchemist and philosopher Michael Sendivogius (Polish: Michał Sędziwój).
Towards the end of his reign, Sigismund III withdrew altogether from politics and devoted himself exclusively to family matters and his interests in performing arts. Shortly after the sudden death of his second wife, Constance of Austria, Sigismund fell dangerously ill and experienced severe mental and psychological problems. He became bedridden due to gout and joint pain, an affliction which was likely inherited from his grandfather Sigismund I the Old. The king eventually died of a stroke on 30 April 1632 at the age of 65 in the Royal Castle in Warsaw. His body was interred inside Wawel Cathedral in Kraków and he was succeeded by his son, Władysław IV.
Opinion of reign and legacy
The reign of King Sigismund III of Poland is often spoken of as the beginning of the end of the Polish Golden Age. In terms of worldly success he certainly met with many defeats and setbacks. Yet, he was also one of the great Catholic leaders of Europe and his reign can also be seen as one of many opportunities for an even greater Poland. He was stubborn, but a man of principle who would follow the hard but upright path rather than compromise his values for a more sure chance at success. As a monarch who reigned during the Counter-Reformation he constantly worked to see the restoration of all of his subjects to the true faith embodied in the Church of Rome headed by the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church.
Sigismund's almost 45-year rule is often criticized in Poland for his unsuccessful decisions that negatively affected the diplomatic and financial situation of the country. However, especially by nationalists, he is widely praised for the capture of Moscow and for gaining new territories, thus creating the largest country in Europe of the 16th and 17th century that lasted until its final partition in 1795. Despite being a recognizable and significant monarch in historiography, the contemporary Polish society tends to remember Sigismund primarily for transferring the capital from Kraków to Warsaw in 1596.
Apart from being a devout Catholic, a painter and having an interest in alchemy, Sigismund was also an avid sportsman. He participated in tournaments, enjoyed ice skating and played football. The king often placed entertainment and recreational activities above those concerning the matters of state. Bored by extensive politics and diplomacy, he was reluctant in participating in conferences with the magnates or representatives of the Sejm. For instance, during one meeting with the Chancellor and an Archbishop, Sigismund decided to draw an owl in the notebook which was provided for noting important advice. However, there is uncertainty as to whether this has ever occurred. The monarch also enjoyed instructing or admonishing architects and emphasizing on their incompetence. During a visit to the Bernardine Church of Lviv (then Lwów) in 1621 he scolded the chief architects for making the temple seem disproportionate.
Throughout his reign, Sigismund was known for his etiquette and manners. On the other hand, he hosted balls and held masquerades during which he would dance together with the hired servants and dress as a jester. This was negatively perceived by the members of the royal court, who found such behaviour 'improper' and not worthy of a monarch. The king was also noted for his dancing skills and performed Polish folk dances as well as Italian dances like the saltarello and passamezzo. Upon the marriage to his first wife, Anne of Austria, on 25 November 1592 he organized a themed masquerade on Kraków's Main Market Square and, to the disbelief of his subjects, danced "fourteen times" for the public. Much later in life he would become a more secluded man who preferred spending time with close family and advisers.
Equestrian portrait of king Sigismund III Vasa by Peter Paul Rubens
Statue of King Sigismund III on top of Sigismund's Column in Warsaw
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|Ancestors of Sigismund III Vasa|
Marriages and descendants
Sigismund married twice. Firstly, on 31 May 1592, to Anna of Austria (1573–1598), daughter of Archduke Charles II of Austria (1540–1590) and his wife Maria Anna of Bavaria (1551–1608). They had five children:
- Anne Marie (Polish: Anna Maria; 23 May 1593 – 9 February 1600)
- Catherine (Polish: Katarzyna; 9 May 1594 – 5 June 1594)
- Vladislaus (Polish: Władysław; 9 June 1595 – 20 May 1648), reigned 1632–1648 as Władysław IV Vasa of Poland
- Catherine (Polish: Katarzyna; 27 September 1596 – 11 June 1597)
- Christopher (Polish: Krzysztof; 10 February 1598)
And secondly, on 11 December 1605, to his first wife's sister, Constance of Austria (1588–1631). They had seven children:
- John Casimir (Polish: Jan Kazimierz; 25 December 1607 – 14 January 1608)
- John Casimir (Polish: Jan Kazimierz; 22 March 1609 – 16 December 1672), reigned 1648–1668 as John II Casimir Vasa of Poland
- John Albert (Polish: Jan Albert/Olbracht; 25 May 1612 – 22 December 1634)
- Charles Ferdinand (Polish: Karol Ferdynand; 13 October 1613 – 9 May 1655)
- Alexander Charles (Polish: Aleksander Karol; 4 November 1614 – 19 November 1634)
- Anna Constance (Polish: Anna Konstancja; 26 January 1616 – 24 May 1616)
- Anna Catherine Constance (Polish: Anna Katarzyna Konstancja; 7 August 1619 – 8 October 1651) was the first wife of Philip William, Elector Palatine.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sigismund III of Poland.|
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Sigismund III VasaBorn: 20 June 1566 Died: 30 April 1632
Title last held byAnna and Stephen
| King of Poland
Grand Duke of Lithuania
Title next held byWładysław IV
| King of Sweden
Grand Duke of Finland
Title next held byCharles IX
|Titles in pretence|
| Brienne claim
Władysław IV Vasa
|Loss of title
Deposed by Charles IX
|— TITULAR —|
King of Sweden