John III (Portugal)

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John III

John III (1629-1696), King of Poland, also called John Sobieski, saved the country from Turkish and Tatar invasions, becoming the hero of Europe by raising the siege of Vienna in 1683.

John, or Jan, Sobieski was born at Olesko near Lvov, Poland, on Aug. 17, 1629, the eldest son of Jakób Sobieski, commander of the Cracow fortress. He began his education at home, continued it at Cracow, and completed it with a tour of Germany, Holland, France, and England. His powerful physique and keen intelligence quickly earned him the reputation of a good soldier, and his amorous exploits proclaimed him an extraordinarily successful lover. Typical of the arrogant and unruly Polish aristocracy, he pursued his own fortunes, often at the expense of his country. He firmly opposed the non-Christian Tatars and Turks, serving in wars against the Cossacks and Tatars, and became commander in chief of all Polish forces in 1668.

Much of his political ambition he owed to his wife, Maria Kazimiera d'Arquien, whom he married in 1665. Tied by her connections to the pro-French faction in the Polish Diet, Sobieski plotted to overthrow the weak king, Michael Wisniowiecki, in 1669. His plot discovered, Sobieski redeemed himself in a brilliant campaign against the Turks, culminating in the victory of Khotin on Nov. 11, 1673.

At the moment of Sobieski's triumph, King Michael died. The victorious general hurried to Warsaw seeking the throne; with a force of 6,000 veterans he overawed the elective Diet and was proclaimed king in 1674. He immediately began clearing Poland of Turks and Tatars, a task accomplished before his triumphant coronation at Cracow on Feb. 2, 1676.

In 1682 John III overcame his distrust of the Hapsburgs and, against the wishes of French supporters, allied with Austria against the Turks. Cooperating with Duke Charles of Lorraine, his former rival for the Polish throne, he led the combined imperial and Polish forces at the battle of the Kahlenberg on Sept. 12, 1683, crushing the Turkish armies besieging Vienna. It was Sobieski's finest hour; he was hailed as a hero throughout Europe.

After Sobieski's campaigns to conquer the Danubian province of Moldavia failed, he returned to Poland in 1690 in broken health. Bitterness and humiliation filled his last years as he tried to secure the royal succession for his ambitious but inept and treacherous son Jakób. Poland's aristocratic constitution, which could turn any conspiracy into an occasion for civil war, frustrated his efforts to create a strong hereditary kingdom, opening the way for foreign intervention in Polish affairs. Although Poland's most popular monarch, Sobieski failed, as others had, to overcome the disruptive power of his own noble caste. He died on June 17, 1696, leaving the Polish throne a pawn of European power politics.

Further Reading

There is a wide literature on John Sobieski in many languages. The best scholarly biographies are by O. Laskowski, Sobieski, King of Poland (1944), and O. Forst de Battaglia, whose original German work appears in a much-condensed English version in the first volume of the Cambridge History of Poland (1947). J. B. Morton, Sobieski, King of Poland (1932), is a popularized account. □

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John III (John Ducas Vatatzes) (dŏŏ´kəs vətăt´zēz), d. 1254, Byzantine emperor of Nicaea (1222–54), successor and son-in-law of Theodore I. He extended his territory in Asia Minor and the Aegean islands but failed (1235) to take Constantinople from the Latins, although he was aided by Ivan II of Bulgaria. Subsequently Ivan, the Cumans, and the Latins of Constantinople allied themselves against John, who held his own. John joined the Turks against the Mongol invaders. He annexed Salonica (Thessaloníkai) in 1246 and reduced the despotat of Epirus to vassalage, thus nearly recovering the territories of the Byzantine Empire. He maintained close relations with the German emperor, Frederick II, whose daughter he married. During his reign the empire flourished. He was succeeded by his son Theodore II.

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John III (John the Fortunate), 1502–57, king of Portugal (1521–57), son of Manuel I. His reign saw the Portuguese empire at its apogee. The great Asian possessions were extended by further conquest, and systematic colonization of Brazil was begun. However, in Portugal itself decadence had set in with the decline of both agriculture and the population. Portugal's African exploits were abandoned, but many black slaves were brought into the country. The Inquisition was introduced (1536) by John, who was devoted to the clerical party. The court was corrupt, though the king was not. Literature flourished early in his reign, but Portugal was falling into the stagnation that characterized the disastrous reign of Sebastian, who succeeded him.

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John III (1502–57) King of Portugal (1521–57). John's reign marked the climax of Portuguese expansion, including the colonization of Brazil, but the Empire began to decline by its end. He introduced (1536) the Inquisition into Portugal and generally favoured clerical, particularly Jesuit, interests.