Czartoryski, Adam

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CZARTORYSKI, ADAM (1770–1861), Polish general and statesman.

Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski came from a distinguished family of Polish aristocrats. His grandfather August (1697–1782) and his father, Adam Kazimierz (1734–1823), were both leading politicians in eighteenth-century Poland, and the Czartoryski family estate in the town of Pûawy served as the informal headquarters for a cultural and political reform movement devoted to the spread of Enlightenment ideals. The last king of Poland, Stanisaw II August Poniatowski (1732–1798), was affiliated with the Czartoryski clan, and during his reign they were probably the most influential family in the country. This came to an abrupt end with the conquest and partition of Poland in 1795, which left the Czartoryskis in a very precarious position. In an attempt to demonstrate loyalty to the new ruler and thus preserve the family's property and social standing, Adam and his brother Konstanty were sent in 1795 to serve at the court of Catherine II in St. Petersburg.

Because of his family's wealth and prestige, Czartoryski was able to gain entry into Petersburg's aristocratic high society, and within a year he had established a close personal friendship with Catherine's grandson, the Grand Duke Alexander. He also became quite fond of Alexander's wife, Elizabeth, with whom he had an affair that led to the birth of a daughter in 1799. Faced with the ensuing scandal, Tsar Paul I (who had succeeded his mother in 1796) got Czartoryski out of the country by sending him on a spurious mission to the king of Sardinia. Curiously, the episode did not weaken Czartoryski's bond with Alexander, and when the latter rose to the Russian throne in 1801, he welcomed the Polish prince back to Petersburg with honors.

In those years Czartoryski was part of a tight circle of the young tsar's friends committed to the systemic reform of the Russian state along constitutional lines. Czartoryski believed that a new Russia was about to be born, and that the interests of Poland could best be served within a reconstituted empire. He has often been described as a "conservative liberal," similar to such thinkers as Edmund Burke or Alexis de Tocqueville. He had an Enlightenment faith in universal reason, a moderate anticlericalism (he was a lifelong Freemason), and a belief that society was equally threatened by the stagnation of entrenched despotism and the chaos of unchecked revolution. The ideal state, for Czartoryski, would be respectful of tradition and legitimacy but governed by a constitutional order and the rule of law. He supported legal and economic reforms that would take Poland beyond the serf-based system that seemed to be holding back the country's development, but only if such changes could be introduced without seriously upsetting the existing social order. His commitment to the Polish cause was framed (his critics would say constrained) by this quest for an ideological golden mean.

In 1803 Czartoryski was placed in charge of the newly created Wilno (Vilnius) educational district encompassing most of the territory recently taken from Poland by Russia, and in this capacity he built a network of Polish primary schools (in a region that had experienced only very limited Polonization under the old Polish-Lithuanian republic). He also supervised the creation of the University of Wilno, which flourished in the first decades of the nineteenth century as a leading center of Polish culture. Czartoryski's growing importance at the Russian court was demonstrated in 1804, when he was named minister of foreign affairs, and a year later with his appointment to the Senate and the Council of State. But as quickly as he had risen to prominence, he fell again with the start of the War of the Third Coalition (1805–1807), which he had opposed. He was dismissed as Foreign Minister in 1806, and he fell into deeper disfavor after the creation of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw a year later. Although Czartoryski himself continued to advocate the restoration of Polish independence alongside or within the Russian Empire, the fact that the overwhelming majority of Poles (including many members of Czartoryski's own family) were enthusiastically supporting the French-sponsored duchy made the prince suspect in Petersburg. This situation became even worse in 1812, when Polish troops joined Napoleon's Grand Army in the invasion of Russia.

The defeat of Napoleon brought Czartoryski back into Tsar Alexander's inner circle, as the prince became Russia's chief negotiator at the Congress of Vienna (1814–1815). The dream Czartoryski had cultivated for so long was finally realized: an autonomous, constitutional "Polish Kingdom" was created, and linked to Russia in a dynastic union. Czartoryski himself played a leading role in writing a constitution for the kingdom, but after the new state was established he was once again marginalized. Alexander was already turning away from the more liberal ideals of his youth, and in any case he preferred to surround himself with aides who would be more subservient than the strong-willed Czartoryski. For the final decade of Alexander's reign, the prince withdrew to his private estate in Pulawy.

The political climate in the kingdom deteriorated steadily after Alexander's death in 1825 and the elevation to the throne of the more authoritarian Nicholas I (1796–1855). As long as Alexander was alive, Czartoryski's personal loyalties kept him from engaging in any open opposition, but he felt no such constraints with Nicholas as tsar. Moreover, under Alexander there had been hope that Poland's constitutional regime would gradually spread to the entire Russian Empire; under Nicholas it quickly became evident that, instead, the empire's autocratic politics would tightly limit Poland's parliamentary system. In the late 1820s Czartoryski became a leading voice for the moderate opposition in the Polish Senate, and for the first time in his life he enjoyed widespread respect and authority among his compatriots.

In November 1830, a group of young radicals in Warsaw launched a rebellion against Russian rule, much to the surprise and displeasure of Czartoryski. Tsarist troops were withdrawn momentarily from the Polish capital, and a group of (mostly conservative) politicians formed a provisional government, led by Czartoryski, to negotiate an end to the crisis. The Russians, however, had no interest in any compromise resolution, and in early 1831 the Polish parliament formally dethroned Nicholas and named Czartoryski the president of a new five-man governing council. Militarily, the revolt was a disaster, and within a year the Poles had been utterly defeated. All of Czartoryski's property was confiscated, and he was sentenced to death—a fate he avoided only by escaping abroad. He would remain an émigré the rest of his life.

Settling in Paris, Czartoryski purchased a residence known as the Hôtel Lambert, which would serve as the informal headquarters for more conservative Polish émigrés during the coming decades. The Hôtel Lambert was in part a cultural center: the Polish Library that Czartoryski opened there still functions today, and the Hôtel's salons and concerts made it a prestigious address for artists, musicians, and poets. But the primary function of the Hôtel Lambert was political and diplomatic. From this base, Czartoryski dispatched agents to all the courts and governments of Europe in an attempt to persuade Great Britain, France, and other states to use their influence on behalf of the Polish cause. He understandably abandoned his previous support for Russia, but his belief in the efficacy of traditional institutions of power and influence remained. Thanks to the prince's reputation, his aristocratic lineage, and his many years of diplomatic service, he was able to win audiences for his emissaries and thus keep the "Polish question" alive among diplomats throughout the mid-nineteenth century. Indeed, he came to be known as the "Uncrowned King of Poland" because of his ability to sustain a Polish presence in the halls of power across the Continent. On the other hand, Czartoryski never received anything more than token rhetorical support from the governments of Europe. When he died in 1861, public demonstrations and conspiratorial activities were again stirring unrest in Poland, but the Hôtel Lambert had little influence over the course of events to come.

See alsoAlexander I; French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars; Nationalism; Poland; Revolutions of 1830.


Czartoryski, Adam. Memoirs of Prince Adam Czartoryski. Edited by Adam Gielgud. London, 1888. Reprint, New York, 1971.

Skowronek, Jerzy. Adam Jerzy Czartoryski, 1770–1861. Warsaw, 1994.

Zawadzki, W. H. A Man of Honour: Adam Czartoryski as a Statesman of Russia and Poland, 1795–1831. Oxford, U.K., 1993.

Brian Porter