Khmelnytsky Uprising

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KHMELNYTSKY UPRISING. The uprising in the Ukrainian territories against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth began in early 1648 under the leadership of Bohdan Khmelnytsky (c. 15951657), a Cossack officer proclaimed hetman. The secret negotiations of King Władysław IV Vasa (ruled 16321648) with the Cossacks to begin a war with the Ottomans against the will of the diet stirred them to action. Initiated because of injustices against Khmelnytsky and discontent among the Cossack stratum with their treatment by the Polish authorities, the revolt rapidly succeeded because it enlisted Crimean Tatar support. The rebels destroyed the Polish standing army, and the confusion and dissension following the death of the king in May 1648 gave them the advantage.

The Cossack revolt turned into a general uprising drawing upon peasant resistance to the imposition of serfdom and manorial duties, Eastern Orthodox anger at discrimination by the Catholic authorities, Ruthenian (Ukrainian-Belarusian) antagonism toward the Poles, and the Ukrainian frontier population's opposition to the magnates and their servitors and leaseholders. In the first months a bloody social war raged with attacks on landlords, Catholic clergy, and Jews. Where they had the means, the magnates took brutal reprisals. The disparate coalition assembled around the Cossack Host did not have a united social or political program, but the Cossack hetman professed to support the monarch against the willful high nobility. Yet negotiations failed with the new king, John II Casimir Vasa (Jan II Kazimierz; ruled 16481668), elected in November, and by early 1649 the rebels had greatly expanded their Cossack Estate demands to a broad political-national program that would have virtually overturned the old order in Ukraine. Certainly by this time the leadership envisaged a break with the commonwealth and entered into negotiations with foreign powers for support. A battle at Zboriv in August 1649 wrung major concessions from the government, but the betrayal of the Crimean khan deprived the rebels of a decisive victory.

By 1649 a new political structure, the Cossack Hetmanate, had emerged out of the Cossack Host in the central Ukrainian territories, but it could not come to an accommodation with the commonwealth's magnate elite, which would not accept sweeping changes in the economic and political order. Defeated at the Battle of Berestechko in 1651, the Cossack authorities, despite subsequent victories, could not fully triumph over the commonwealth in battle, thus leading them to redouble their search for foreign protectors.

Although surrounding states feared the radical nature of the revolt and distrusted the Cossack parvenu elite, they soon sought to take advantage of the commonwealth's distress and the opportunities offered by the revolt. The Ottoman sultan accepted the new polity under his protection in 16501651, but tied down by the War of Candia, he did not provide essential military support. The Porte also found Cossack intervention among its Danubian vassals troublesome, though this Ukrainian policy ended in a fiasco in 1653, offering new opportunity for Polish revanche. The need for military support led the Cossack hetman to accept the sovereignty of the Muscovite tsar, a coreligionist, in January 1654, though from the first the political cultures of the autocratic Russian state and the Cossack Hetmanate, derived from the traditions of the Cossack Host and the Polish monarchical republic, clashed. The commonwealth continued to struggle to regain its control of Ukraine, even coming to an agreement with Muscovy in 1656. The Muscovite officials attempted to assert control in Ukraine, but Hetman Khmelnytsky continued to rule over the new order he had established up until his death in 1657. He sought to change the political position of the Hetmanate and to partition the commonwealth through alliances with Sweden, which had invaded the weakened commonwealth in 1655, and Transylvania.

There is no clear ending to the Khmelnytsky Uprising because the consequences of the rebellion unfolded over decades. Although the commonwealth eventually won back the Ukrainian territories to the west of the Dnieper (1667, confirmed in 1686), the political and social order established by the revolt endured to the end of the eighteenth century. The Khmelnytsky Uprising stands out among early modern revolts for its success in over-turning the social order and in setting up a new polity, thereby motivating some to call it a revolution. It also had great impact in setting off conflicts among the neighboring states and remaking the international order, above all by weakening the commonwealth, transforming Muscovy into the Russian Empire, and inciting the Ottomans' last great thrust into central Europe. It has also served as a focal point for modern Ukrainian identity and relations with Poles, Russians, and Jews.

See also Cossacks ; Khmelnytsky, Bohdan ; Poland-Lithuania, Commonwealth of, 15691795 ; Ukraine.


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Frank E. Sysyn