Augustus II

views updated Jun 27 2018

Augustus II

Augustus II (1670-1733), called Augustus the Strong, was elector of Saxony and king of Poland. Better known for his extravagance and promiscuity than for political shrewdness, he failed in his modest attempts to create a strong and independent Poland.

On May 12, 1670, Augustus was born Frederick August of Wettin, in Dresden, the second son of the Saxon elector John George III. He was trained for a military career. His powerful physique and apparently insatiable sexual appetite earned him the title "the Strong." He succeeded as elector of Saxony when his older brother, John George IV, died without heirs in 1694. The next 2 years he spent commanding the armies of the Hapsburg Empire against the Turks in Hungary. He proved an inept and unimaginative commander.

When King John III Sobieski of Poland died in June 1696, Frederick August entered the international competition for the Polish throne. He renounced his Protestant faith, to the displeasure of his Saxon subjects, and with Hapsburg support and judicious bribes he was elected king on June 27, 1697. He entered Poland a month later as Augustus II and promised to uphold that nation's aristocratic constitution. Although the union of Saxony and Poland brought real economic advantages to both states, the absolutist tendencies of Augustus gained him bitter enemies.

Allied after 1699 with Denmark and Russia, Augustus provoked a disastrous war with Sweden, whose young king, Charles XII, captured Vilna, Warsaw, and Cracow in 1701. The Polish kingdom split apart. Some of the nobles supporting Augustus prepared to fight on with Russian help, while others accepted Sweden's leadership and elected Stanislas Leszczynski king in 1704. In September 1706, after occupying Poland and invading Saxony, Charles XII forced Augustus to renounce the Polish crown and recognize Stanislas in the Treaty of Altranstädt. The displaced king went back to soldiering and spent 2 years in Flanders fighting under the English general Marlborough against France.

When Peter I of Russia defeated Charles at Poltava in July, 1709, Swedish domination of the north collapsed. Augustus was then able to return to Poland, while Stanislas fled to Sweden. Led astray by the apparent popularity of his restoration, Augustus tried briefly to rule Poland without the Diet. Even his firmest supporters, however, demanded that he adhere to the constitution. The remainder of his reign was taken up largely by his unsuccessful efforts to subdue aristocratic factions supported by foreign powers. After finally making peace with Sweden in 1719, he tried to create an alliance with Austria and England to balance increasing Russian influence, but the plan was foiled by aristocratic rebellion. He spent his last years attempting to secure the succession of his apathetic son, Frederick August, and enjoying the pleasures of wine and his large, cosmopolitan retinue of mistresses. He died on Feb. 1, 1733, leaving Poland fragmented by aristocratic factions, and a potential victim of the rapacity of its powerful neighbors.

Further Reading

The most accessible study in English on Augustus II is the chapter by Prof. W. Konopczynski in the second volume of W. F. Reddaway, ed., Cambridge History of Poland from Augustus IIto Pilsudski (1697-1935) (1941). The most substantial biographies are in German. □

Augustus II

views updated May 21 2018

Augustus II ( the Strong) (1670–1733) King of Poland (1697–1704, 1709–33) and, as Frederick Augustus I, Elector of Saxony (1694–1733). He was elected by the Polish nobles in order to secure an alliance with Saxony, but the result was to draw Poland into the Great Northern War on the side of Russia. In 1704 Augustus surrendered his crown to Stanislas I Leszcyński. Civil war (1704–09) and invasion by Charles XII of Sweden weakened the Polish state. Augustus regained the throne after Tsar Peter I (the Great) defeated Sweden at the Battle of Poltava in 1709, but at the cost of growing Russian dominance in Polish affairs

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Augustus II

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