Page:EB1911 - Volume 21.djvu/946

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HISTORY]
913
POLAND

while the king and the senate were powerless, every great noble or lord-marcher was free to do what he chose in his own domains, so long as he flattered his “little brothers,” the szlachta. Incredible as it may seem, the expedition to place the false Demetrius on the Muscovite throne was a private speculation of a few Lithuanian magnates, and similar enterprises on the part of other irresponsible noblemen on the Danube or Dniester brought upon unhappy Poland retaliatory Tatar raids, which reduced whole provinces to ashes. Every attempt to improve matters, by reforming the impossible constitution, stranded on the opposition of the gentry. Take, for instance, the typical and highly instructive case of Zebrzydowski's rebellion. Nicholas Zebrzydowski, a follower of the chancellor Zamoyski, was one of the wealthiest and most respectable magnates in Poland. As palatine of Cracow he held one of the highest and most lucrative dignities in the state, and was equally famous for his valour, piety and liberality. Disappointed in his hope of obtaining the great seal on the death of Zamoyski, he at once conceived that the whole of the nobility had been insulted in his person, and proceeded to make all government impossible for the next three years. On the 7th of March 1606 Sigismund summoned a diet for the express purpose of introducing the principle of decision by majority in the diet, whereupon Zebrzydowski summoned a counter-confederation to Stenczyn in Little Poland, whose first act was to open negotiations with the prince of Transylvania, Stephen Bocskay, with the view of hiring mercenaries from him for further operations. At a subsequent confederation, held at Lublin in June, Zebrzydowski was reinforced by another great nobleman, Stanislaus Stadnicki, called the Devil, who “had more crimes on his conscience than hairs on his head,” and was in the habit of cropping the ears and noses of small squires and chaining his serfs to the walls of his underground dungeons for months at a time. This champion of freedom was very eloquent as to the wrongs of the szlachta, and proposed that the assembly should proceed in a body to Warsaw and there formally renounce their allegiance. The upshot of his oratory was the summoning of a rokosz, or national insurrection, to Sandomir, which was speedily joined by the majority of the szlachta all over the country, who openly proclaimed their intention of dethroning the king and chastising the senate, and sent Stadnicki to Transylvania to obtain the armed assistance of Stephen Bocskay. Only the clergy, naturally conservative, still clung to the king, and Sigismund III., who was no coward, at once proceeded to Cracow to overawe the rokoszanie, or insurrectionists, by his proximity, and take the necessary measures for his own protection. By the advice of his senators he summoned a zjazd, or armed convention, to Wis̄lica openly to oppose the insurrection of Sandomir, which zjazd was to be the first step towards the formation of a general confederation for the defence of the throne. Civil war seemed inevitable, when the szlachta of Red Russia and Sieradz suddenly rallied to the king, who at once ordered his army to advance, and after defeating the insurrectionists at Janowiec (in October), granted them a full pardon, on the sole condition that they should refrain from all such acts of rebellion in future. Despite their promises, Zebrzydowski and his colleagues a few months later were again in arms. In the beginning of 1607 they summoned another rokosz to Jendrzejow, at the very time when the diet was assembling at Warsaw. The diet authorized the king to issue a proclamation dissolving the rokosz, and the rokosz retorted with a manifesto in which an insurrection was declared to be as much superior to a parliament as a general council was to a pope. In a second manifesto published at Jezierna, on the 24th of June, the insurrectionists again renounced their allegiance to the king. Oddly enough, the diet before dissolving had, apparently in order to meet the rokosz half-way, issued the famous edict De non praestanda obedientia, whereby, in case of future malpractices by the king and his subsequent neglect of at least two solemn warnings there-anent by the primate and the senate, he was to be formally deposed by the next succeeding diet. But even this was not enough for the insurrectionists. It was not the contingent but the actual deposition of the king that they demanded, and they had their candidate for the throne ready in the person of Gabriel Bethlen, the new prince of Transylvania. But the limits of even Polish complacency had at last been reached, and Źolkiewski and Chodkiewicz were sent against the rebels, whom they routed at Oransk near Guzow, after a desperate encounter, on the 6th of July 1607. But, though driven from the field, the agitation simmered all over the country for nearly two years longer, and was only terminated, in 1609, by a general amnesty which excluded every prospect of constitutional reform.

Wladislaus IV., who succeeded his father in 1632, was the most popular monarch who ever sat on the Polish throne. Wladislaus IV., 1632-1648. The szlachta, who had had a “King Log” in Sigismund, were determined that Wladislaus should be “a King Bee who will give us nothing but honey”—in other words they hoped to wheedle him out of even more than they had wrested from his predecessor. Wladislaus submitted to everything. He promised never to declare war or levy troops without the consent of the sejm, undertook to fill all vacancies within a certain time, and released the szlachta from the payment of income-tax, their one remaining fiscal obligation. This boundless complacency was due to policy, not weakness. The second Polish Vasa was a man of genius, fully conscious of his powers, and determined to use them for the benefit of his country. The events of the last reign had demonstrated the incompetence of the Poles to govern themselves. Any amelioration of the existing anarchy must be extra-parliamentary and proceed from the throne. But a reforming monarch was inconceivable unless he possessed the confidence of the nation, and such confidence, Wladislaus naturally argued, could only be won by striking and undeniable public services. On these principles he acted with brilliant results. Within three years of his accession he compelled the Muscovites (Treaty of Polyankova, May 28, 1634) to retrocede Smolensk and the eastern provinces lost by Sigismund II., overawed the Porte by a military demonstration in October of the same year, and, by the Truce of Stumdorf (Sept. 12, 1635), recovered the Prussian provinces and the Baltic seaboard from Sweden. But these achievements excited not the gratitude but the suspicion of the szlachta. They were shrewd enough to guess that the royal triumph might prejudice their influence, and for the next five years they deliberately thwarted the enlightened and far-reaching projects of the king for creating a navy and increasing the revenue without burdening the estates, by a system of tolls levied on the trade of the Baltic ports (see Wladislaus IV.), even going so far as to refuse for nine years to refund the expenses of the Muscovite War, which he had defrayed out of his privy purse. From sheer weariness and disgust the king refrained from any intervention in public affairs for nearly ten years, looking on indifferently while the ever shorter and stormier diets wrangled perpetually over questions of preferment and the best way of dealing with the extreme dissenters, to the utter neglect of public business. But towards the end of his reign the energy of Wladislaus revived, and he began to occupy himself with another scheme for regenerating his country, in its own despite, by means of the Cossacks. First, however, it is necessary to describe briefly the origin and previous history of these romantic freebooters who during the second half of the 17th century were the determining factor of Polish and Muscovite politics.

At the beginning of the 16th century the illimitable steppe of south-eastern Europe, extending from the Dnieper to the The Cossacks. Urals, had no settled population. Hunters and fishermen frequented its innumerable rivers, returning home laden with rich store of fish and pelts, while runaway serfs occasionally settled in small communities beneath the shelter of the fortresses built, from time to time, to guard the southern frontiers of Poland and Muscovy. Obliged, for fear of the Tatars, to go about with arms in their hands, these settlers gradually grew strong enough to raid their raiders, selling the booty thus acquired to the merchants of Muscovy and Poland. Moreover, the Turks and Tatars being the natural enemies of Christendom, a war of extermination