A Survey of Polish Literature and Culture

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

CHAPTER V
THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

THE SAXONIAN PERIOD

The Saxonian Period is rightly considered to be the most bitter epoch in the history of the Old Republic. The political conditions of the country at this time are largely accountable for the decline in national prosperity. After Jan Sobieski's death the election of the new king took place under strong pressure from Prussia and Russia. Despite the wishes of the majority of the gentry, the Saxonian candidate was elected to become August II ( 1697-1733). From the beginning he pursued a policy contrary to the interests of Poland and in alliance with Peter the Great involved Poland in the so-called Northern War against Charles XII of Sweden, a war which provoked a new Swedish invasion of Poland. After some initial successes, Charles XII was defeated by the Russians in the battle of Poltava in 1709. The victorious Peter the Great now considered himself all the more authorized to meddle in Poland's internal affairs; he not only supported August the Strong but discussed with him plans to divide Poland and forced the Diet of 1717 to reduce the Polish army to 24,000 men. Such steps, impelled by Augustus's ambition to establish an absolute form of government in Poland could not contribute to his popularity.

The death of August gave rise to new riots and wars. The gentry elected Stanislaw Leszczyfiski, whose candidacy was supported by France. Prussia and Russia, however, objected and forced the cause of their own candidate, the son of Augustus the Strong, August III ( 1733-63). The new king neglected Poland completely, spending the larger part of his time in Dresden and leaving the cares of government to his ministers. Poland weakened quickly, while Prussia and Russia gained in strength during the War of the Austrian succession and the Seven Years War.

These few details indicate how Poland began to lose her sovereignty and independence in this period, partly as a result of the blindness of the

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