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John III Sobieski, King of Poland


Reigned 1674 to 1696; b. Olesko, Galicia, June 2, 1624; d. Wilanow, June 17, 1696. Through his mother, he inherited the Zolkiewski fortune; through his father, the enormous Sobieski estates. He was one of the wealthiest nobles in Poland. Later, he augmented his fortune through his marriage to Marie Kazimiera d' Arquien, the widow of John Zamoyski. After completing his education on his family estates and at the University of Cracow, he traveled widely in western and southern Europe. He fought in the Cossack insurrection (1648) and helped expel the Swedes from Poland. He was rapidly advanced in the army for his services to King John Casimir and in 1665 became the commander in chief. His first exploit in the latter capacity was, with an army raised chiefly at his own expense, to suppress an insurrection of the Cossacks who were assisted by the Turks and Tatars. Later he led the Poles against a Turkish invasion, which he turned back with a crowning victory at Chocim (1673) in which the Turks lost some 20, 000 men and a great many guns. The coincidental popularity of his victories at the time of King Michael Wisniowiecki's death contributed greatly to his election as king.

Sobieski attempted to strengthen the power of the monarch and to transform Poland into a hereditary monarchy as a way of stemming the decline of the state. He was encouraged in this by his wife, who sought to recast the Polish constitution according to the patterns set by Louis XIV. However, the opposition of the nobility proved too strong for them to overcome. In the end Sobieski failed in his program to reform the constitution.

Sobieski was more successful in his foreign policy. One of his greatest ambitions was the union of Christian Europe in a crusade to drive the Turks out of Europe; he partially realized this through the organization of the Holy League and to this he sacrificed other more specifically Polish interests. When in 1683 the Turks laid siege to Vienna, which the Emperor Leopold had abandoned, Sobieski, at the request of the papal nuncio, gathered a force of some 25, 000 Poles and marched to the relief of the city. These troops were joined by some 28, 000 troops from the Holy Roman Empire and some 23, 000 men raised among the peoples of the Austrian Empire, to form a combined Christian force of some 76, 000 men led by Sobieski against the Turks, who were led by Kara Mustapha and whose forces numbered from 115, 000 to 210, 000 men. On Sept. 12, 1683, he personally led his Polish cavalry in the charge that decided the battle. The resulting relief of Vienna and the liberation of Hungary were the crowning achievements of his career. Henceforth Turkey ceased to be a serious threat to Christian Europe. Sobieski did not see the culmination of the war, however, since he died three years before the Treaty of Karlowitz was signed.

A devout Catholic and a stanch defender of the Church, Sobieski promoted the cause of the Eastern Catholic Church within his realms. At the same time, he spurred on the reform of the Orthodox Church, assisted the Protestants and scrupulously protected the rights of the Jews. After his reign began the long decline that culminated in Poland's partition.

Bibliography: j. b. morton, Sobieski, King of Poland (London 1932). o. halecki, A History of Poland (3d ed. New York 1961). Cambridge History of Poland, v.1., ed. w. f. reddaway et al. (Cambridge, Eng. 1941). r. dyboski, Ten Centuries of Poland's History (Warsaw 1937). a. tamborra, Enciclopedia cattolica, ed. p. paschini et al. (Rome 194954) 6:598599.

[e. kusielewicz]

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