Marie Casimir (1641–1716)
Marie Casimir (1641–1716)
Queen of Poland . Name variations: Maria Casimira; Marie Casimere d'Arquien; Marie de la Grange d'Arquien; Marie Casimire de la Grange d'Arquien; Marysienka; Marie Kazimiere or Kazimierz; Marie Sobieski. Born in 1641 in Nevers, France; died on January 30, 1716, in Blois, France; daughter of Henri, marquis d'Arquien, and Françoise de la Chatre ; married John Zamoyski (a Polish noble), in 1658 (died 1665); married Jan III also known as John III Sobieski (1624–1696), king of Poland (r. 1674–1696), in 1655; children: Constantine Sobieski; Alexander Sobieski; Teresa Sobieski also known as Cunigunde Sobieska; James Sobieski (who married Hedwig Wittelsbach); grandchildren: Clementina Sobieski (1702–1735, who married James Francis Edward, the Old Pretender).
Marie Casimir, known as Marysienka, was born into the minor French nobility. Her mother served as governess to the princess Louise Marie de Gonzague . When Louise Marie left France for Poland in 1645 to marry the Polish king, four-year-old Marie Casimir accompanied her as part of her entourage. Marie Casimir was thus raised in the Polish royal court at Warsaw, and became the queen's favorite maid of honor. In 1658, the queen arranged a marriage for 17-year-old Marie with John Zamoyski, a 31-year-old wealthy noble and a leader of the Polish army. Zamoyski was highly favored by the king and queen, who encouraged his marriage to the young French noblewoman as a means of showing their desire for friendship with the powerful French king, Louis XIV. The couple moved from the royal palace in Warsaw to Zamoyski's vast estates at Zamosc, but the marriage soon proved to be a failure. Zamoyski was an alcoholic, and was jealous and controlling of his young wife. Marie had three children, all of whom died shortly after birth.
To escape her domestic problems, Marie Casimir often returned for long periods to Warsaw, residing again in the queen's household. There she developed a friendship with John (III) Sobieski, a Polish noble who was quickly emerging as a great military leader. By the time he met and fell in love with Marie Casimir, Sobieski was already regarded as a national hero by the Polish people for protecting Poland from its Swedish, Russian, and Ottoman enemies. Over the course of several years the two developed a close relationship, primarily through an increasingly intimate correspondence.
When John Zamoyski died suddenly in 1665, Marie Casimir quickly agreed to marry Sobieski, who was by now commander in chief of the army. Queen Louise Marie made every effort to hasten the nuptials, because she saw a potential advantage in strengthening the ties between Poland and France through this union between the young French widow and Poland's military commander. Marie Casimir and John Sobieski were married in a secret ceremony only three weeks after Zamoyski's death; they were married again in a public ceremony two months later. The extreme haste of Marie Casimir's second wedding was a scandal at the royal court and brought her the disapproval of her own family, the Polish nobility, and the Polish people, criticism which would follow her throughout her life.
Despite the uproar, neither Marie Casimir nor John Sobieski regretted their marriage. They were in love and shared ambitions for Sobieski's political advancement. Marie Casimir did not hesitate to use her French relatives to try to help her husband's career by seeking support for his endeavors from the French king and nobility. As Sobieski was often away on campaigns, their marital life is preserved in the long letters he wrote Marie (most of her letters have not survived). These letters describe his battles, Marie's political intrigues at the court in Warsaw and abroad, as well as the intimate details of their relationship. It is clear from his letters that Sobieski trusted her political instinct, while depending on her to find support for him from France and to keep him current on events in the capital. Writes historian L.R. Lewitter:
Her beauty and vivacity were to Sobieski and Poland, what Cleopatra's nose had been to Caesar and Rome. Though to explain the whole of Sobieski's conduct from now on in terms of the sublimation of his passion for Marysienka would be a piece of gross over-simplification, it cannot be denied that she was a major and sometimes dominant influence in his life.
With the reigning king John II Casimir aging and his power weakening, Marie and John Sobieski began planning for Sobieski's election as the next king of Poland. Hoping to win important financial and military aid from France, Marie Casimir made several extended journeys back to France in the late 1660s, where she successfully solicited support from Louis XIV. It was on one of these journeys that her first son, James, was born in Paris in 1668.
Despite her efforts and Sobieski's national status, however, in 1669 the Polish nobility elected another candidate, Michael II Wisniowiecki, as king. Even so, Marie Casimir and John Sobieski continued their campaign in Poland and abroad for Sobieski's advancement, and when the new king died in 1673, Sobieski was chosen king of Poland. Aid from the French in money and troops was important in determining the outcome of the election, for which Marie Casimir deserves some of the credit.
As with most foreign-born queens, Marie Casimir was never popular with her subjects, although her husband enjoyed great popularity. At the time, France and its powerful army were viewed with suspicion by Poles, and a French queen was easily suspected of disloyalty to her adopted country. Marie Casimir was criticized for extravagant spending and accused of wasting the national treasury, and her subjects feared she would influence the king to allow France to dominate Polish affairs, even that she would help Louis XIV take control of Poland. It is true that Marie Casimir made every effort to win Louis' favor, but not with the intention of giving him power in Poland; instead, she wanted him to raise her family's status in France. She petitioned King Louis frequently, and often successfully, for grants of estates and titles for her parents and siblings.
The queen also figured frequently in Louis XIV's correspondence with his diplomats in Warsaw, as he encouraged them to keep themselves in her favor because of her political influence. Yet by 1683 the Polish-French alliance had foundered, as John III and Marie Casimir came to prefer an alliance with the Habsburg rulers of Austria—France's enemy—for Poland's protection against the Ottoman Empire and Russia. The French alliance was later revived, but Marie Casimir shrewdly negotiated the marriage of her eldest son James Sobieski with a Habsburg princess, Hedwig Wittlesbach , to maintain Austria's friendship.
After 1692, John Sobieski's age and declining health forced him to withdraw from active military and governmental leadership. As his efforts to unite the Polish aristocracy and strengthen the monarchy had for the most part failed, there was increasing instability within the kingdom during his final years, although his military achievements had made it safe from foreign invasion. There was also growing discord within the Sobieski family, as the king's three sons each hoped to be the new elected ruler; in particular, Marie Casimir promoted her son Alexander against her eldest son James.
With the king incapacitated, the queen acted as unofficial regent of Poland from 1692 until his death in 1696. She reaffirmed relations with France and arranged for a treaty of aid from Louis XIV; with Louis' support she was gratified to see her father named a cardinal by the pope in 1695. Marie Casimir also negotiated the marriage of her only daughter, Cunigunde Sobieska , with the elector of Bavaria. However, Marie was unable to achieve a lasting peace with the Ottoman Empire, though it had been much weakened by the Polish king's military victories.
King John III died in 1696, leaving a kingdom uncertain of its future and a family divided in its political ambitions. The election of the new king was violently contested. Marie Casimir initially hoped to arrange for the election of her favorite son, Alexander, as the next king; her oldest son James also wanted the throne, and the French king was backing a French candidate. Marie Casimir eventually came to question Alexander's chances, and alternately favored James and her son-in-law Maximilian II Emmanuel, elector of Bavaria. In June 1697, a fifth candidate was finally chosen by the Polish nobility.
Defeated in her attempts to promote the Sobieski dynasty, Marie Casimir moved to Rome with her son Alexander in 1698, leaving her sons James and Constantine in Poland. She was welcomed in Rome, honored as the widow of the celebrated warrior who had conquered the Turkish threat to European security. She participated actively in the court life of Rome's elite and was often at the Vatican, where she enjoyed the friendship of Pope Clement XI. After her father's death in 1707, Marie Casimir successfully petitioned Louis XIV for permission to return to France, although seven years were to pass before she actually left Rome. In 1714, she settled in the royal château at Blois, which had been lavishly redecorated and furnished at King Louis' expense to make it suitable for a widowed queen. In her final years at Blois, she was reconciled with her sons James and Constantine.
Marie Casimir died at Blois on January 30, 1716, at age 75. The French king ordered a state funeral to be held, but conflicts arose over where she should be buried. Finally, in December 1716 James Sobieski arranged for her body to be taken to Warsaw and interred near King John III, in accordance with her final wishes.
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Laura York , freelance writer in medieval and women's history, Riverside, California