A Survey of Polish Literature and Culture

By Manfred Kridl; Olga Scherer-Virski | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY: BAROQUE LITERATURE

During the interregnum which followed the death of Stefan Batory a military conflict developed between the followers of the Archduke Maximilian of the Habsburg line and those of the Swedish candidate of the Vasa dynasty. The 'Swedish' party won, led by Jan Zamoyski, and the Swedish prince was elected king of Poland as Zygmunt III ( 15881632), thus establishing the Vasa dynasty in Poland. This king was unpopular among the gentry, both because of his dealings with Austria and because of his attempts to strengthen the power of the monarchy in Poland. These political attempts led to an open rebellion instigated by the magnate Zebrzydowski. Furthermore, a few ambitious overlords involved Poland in the entanglement with 'the false Dmitri,' one of the pretenders to the throne of Muscovy who claimed to be a son of Ivan the Terrible. This resulted in war with Muscovy and the unsuccessful attempt to unify Muscovy with Poland by placing King Zygmunt's son, Wladyslaw, on the Muscovite throne. Poland's only profit from this war was the recapture of Smoleńsk and Czernichow. The plan of Zygmunt III, who in 1592 also became king of Sweden, to unify Sweden and Poland through a personal union also failed, because of Swedish opposition which drew Poland into a new war that effected the loss of practically all of Livonia. In 1620 another war broke out, this time against Turkey, during which Stanislaw Żókiewski, an excellent military leader and statesman, perished.

Zygmunt's successor, Wladyslaw IV ( 1632-48), managed to stabilize Polish relations with Muscovy and Sweden, and thus brought the country a few years of peace. But, in the year of his death the alarming rebellion of the Cossacks broke out under the leadership of Bohdan Chmielnicki. The ensuing war was long and costly, and its outcome was often in doubt; but it finally ended with victory for the Poles in 1651. Chmielnicki had

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