1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/John III. Sobieski
JOHN III. (Sobieski) (1624-1696), king of Poland, was the eldest son of James Sobieski, castellan of Cracow, and Theofila Danillowiczowna, grand-daughter of the great Hetman Zolkiewski. After being educated at Cracow, he made the grand tour with his brother Mark and returned to Poland in 1648. He served against Chmielnicki and the Cossacks and was present at the battles of Beresteczko (1651) and Batoka (1652), but was one of the first to desert his unhappy country when invaded by the Swedes in 1654, and actually assisted them to conquer the Prussian provinces in 1655. He returned to his lawful allegiance in the following year and assisted Czarniecki in his difficult task of expelling Charles X. of Sweden from the central Polish provinces. For his subsequent services to King John Casimir, especially in the Ukraine against the Tatars and Cossacks, he received the grand bâton of the crown, or commandership-in-chief (1668). He had already (1665) succeeded Czarniecki as acting commander-in-chief. Sobieski had well earned these distinctions by his extraordinary military capacity, but he was now to exhibit a less pleasing side of his character. He was in fact a typical representative of the unscrupulous self-seeking Polish magnates of the 17th century who were always ready to sacrifice everything, their country included, to their own private ambition. At the election diet of 1669 he accepted large bribes from Louis XIV. to support one of the French candidates; after the election of Michael Wisniowiecki (June 19, 1669) he openly conspired, again in the French interest, against his lawful sovereign, and that too at the very time when the Turk was ravaging the southern frontier of the republic. Michael was the feeblest monarch the Poles could have placed upon the throne, and Sobieski deliberately attempted to make government of any kind impossible. He formed a league with the primate Prazmowski and other traitors to dethrone the king; when (1670) the plot was discovered and participation in it repudiated by Louis XIV., the traitors sought the help of the elector of Brandenburg against their own justly indignant countrymen. Two years later the same traitors again conspired against the king, at the very time when the Turks had defeated Sobieski’s unsupported lieutenant, Luzecki, at Czertwertyworska and captured the fortress of Kamieniec (Kamenetz-Podolskiy), the key of south-eastern Poland, while Lemberg was only saved by the valour of Elias Lancki. The unhappy king did the only thing possible in the circumstances. He summoned the tuszenia pospolite, or national armed assembly; but it failed to assemble in time, whereupon Michael was constrained to sign the disgraceful peace of Buczacz (Oct. 17, 1672) whereby Poland ceded to the Porte the whole of the Ukraine with Podolia and Kamieniec. Aroused to duty by a series of disasters for which he himself was primarily responsible, Sobieski now hastened to the frontier, and won four victories in ten days. But he could not recover Kamieniec, and when the tuszenia pospolite met at Golenba and ordered an inquiry into the conduct of Sobieski and his accomplices he frustrated all their efforts by summoning a counter confederation to meet at Szczebrzeszyn. Powerless to oppose a rebel who was at the same time commander-in-chief, both the king and the diet had to give way, and a compromise was come to whereby the peace of Buczacz was repudiated and Sobieski was given a chance of rehabilitating himself, which he did by his brilliant victory over an immense Turkish host at Khotin (Nov. 10, 1673). The same day King Michael died and Sobieski, determined to secure the throne for himself, hastened to the capital, though Tatar bands were swarming over the frontier and the whole situation was acutely perilous. Appearing at the elective diet of 1674 at the head of 6000 veterans he overawed every other competitor, and despite the persistent opposition of the Lithuanians was elected king on the 21st of May. By this time, however, the state of things in the Ukraine was so alarming that the new king had to hasten to the front. Assisted by French diplomacy at the Porte (Louis XIV. desiring to employ Poland against Austria), and his own skilful negotiations with the Tatar khan, John III. now tried to follow the example of Wladislaus IV. by leaving the guardianship of the Ukraine entirely in the hands of the Cossacks, while he assembled as many regulars and militiamen as possible at Lemberg, whence he might hasten with adequate forces to defend whichever of the provinces of the Republic might be in most danger. But the appeal of the king was like the voice of one crying in the wilderness, and not one gentleman in a hundred hastened to the assistance of the fatherland. Even at the end of August Sobieski had but 3000 men at his disposal to oppose to 60,000 Turks. Only his superb strategy and the heroic devotion of his lieutenants—notably the converted Jew, Jan Samuel Chrzanowski, who held the Ottoman army at bay for eleven days behind the walls of Trembowla—enabled the king to remove “the pagan yoke from our shoulders”; and he returned to be crowned at Cracow on the 14th of February 1676. In October 1676, in his entrenched camp at Zaravno, he with 13,000 men withstood 80,000 Turks for three weeks, and recovered by special treaty two-thirds of the Ukraine, but without Kamieniec (treaty of Zaravno, Oct. 16, 1676).
Having now secured peace abroad Sobieski was desirous of strengthening Poland at home by establishing absolute monarchy; but Louis XIV. looked coldly on the project, and from this time forth the old familiar relations between the republic and the French monarchy were strained to breaking point, though the final rupture did not come till 1682 on the arrival of the Austrian minister, Zerowski, at Warsaw. After resisting every attempt of the French court to draw him into the anti-Habsburg league, Sobieski signed the famous treaty of alliance with the emperor Leopold against the Turks (March 31, 1683), which was the prelude to the most glorious episode of his life, the relief of Vienna and the liberation of Hungary from the Ottoman yoke. The epoch-making victory of the 12th of September 1683 was ultimately decided by the charge of the Polish cavalry led by Sobieski in person. Unfortunately Poland profited little or nothing by this great triumph, and now that she had broken the back of the enemy she was left to fight the common enemy in the Ukraine with whatever assistance she could obtain from the unwilling and unready Muscovites. The last twelve years of the reign of John III. were a period of unmitigated humiliation and disaster. He now reaped to the full the harvest of treason and rebellion which he himself had sown so abundantly during the first forty years of his life. A treasonable senate secretly plotting his dethronement, a mutinous diet rejecting the most necessary reforms for fear of “absolutism,” ungrateful allies who profited exclusively by his victories—these were his inseparable companions during the remainder of his life. Nay, at last his evil destiny pursued him to the battlefield and his own home. His last campaign (in 1690) was an utter failure, and the last years of his life were embittered by the violence and the intrigues of his dotingly beloved wife, Marya Kazimiera d’Arquien, by whom he had three sons, James, Alexander and Constantine. He died on the 17th of June 1696, a disillusioned and broken-hearted old man.
See Tadeusz Korzon, Fortunes and Misfortunes of John Sobieski (Pol.) (Cracow, 1898); E. H. R. Tatham, John Sobieski (Oxford, 1881); Kazimierz Waliszewski, Archives of French Foreign Affairs, 1674-1696, v. (Cracow, 1881); Ludwik Piotr Leliwa, John Sobieski and His Times (Pol.) (Cracow, 1882-1885); Kazimierz Waliszewski, Marysienka Queen of Poland (London, 1898); Georg Rieder, Johann Sobieski in Wien (Vienna, 1882).
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