Poland is one of the European countries whose peoples have suffered terribly throughout the centuries simply because of the country’s geographical position on the map, or because of their religion (strictly Roman Catholic), or because of hatred of them by the people of neighbouring states. Poland’s last King was a Poniatowsky – Stanislaw II, born in 1732.
When he was just twenty-three, he was working as a diplomat for the British ambassador in Catherine the Great’s St. Petersburg, and he caught the eye of this extraordinary Empress. Through her influence and that of his father, another Stanislaw, he was elected King of Poland in 1764 at the age of thirty-two.
He had reforming ideas and an independent spirit, neither of which made him popular with his Diet or Parliament. He refused to believe in the tales brought to him of the scheming and intrigues of fellow monarchs and their chief ministers. Perhaps he was too good to be true, but he fell foul of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, who was plotting thickly with the Austrian Government in their proposal to partition Poland to their own advantage. Frederick II of Prussia was feared as a good soldier and wicked wit capable of anything, and he persuaded Russia to join with him in a division of Poland for political ends.
The first partition was effected in 1772, and the Polish Government then tried without success to introduce reforms. Polish aristocrats combined together to encourage Russian and Austrian intervention, and much good it did them, as a second partition came into effect in 1793. This time the people decided to take a hand, and under the leadership of someone with an unpronounceable name they rose in 1794 and drove the Prussians right out of Poland, and managed to rout the Russians in a number of conflicts.
Austria interrupted all this success, as per usual, and Kosciuszco (the one with a name difficult to pronounce) and his peasants were defeated. Poor Warsaw the capital was taken and the Polish state and with it the Poniatowsky monarchy came to an end. Stanislaw was forced to abdicate in 1795 and went off to St. Petersburg to die. His life had not been happy, despite a brilliant beginning.