Stanisław Żółkiewski. Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth commander

Hetman. Map of Europe in 17th century (1665) by Joan Bleau, John Overtone, Nicolaes VisscherOriginal Source: POLONA

The beginning of the 17th century turned out to be a turbulent time for the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, a time of wars and internal unrest. In 1587, the nobility elected swedish prince Vasa onto the polish throne, he ruled as Sigismund III Vasa. Soon he also inherited the Swedish throne, but was eventually removed from it - thus began the war between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Sweden, which spilt for over 60 years.
The crisis in Russia caused by the end of the Rurik dynasty and the appearance of False Dmitri in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, claiming to be the son of Ivan the Terrible, seeking support here for his plans to regain the tsarist throne, led the Republic of Poland to war against Moscow (1605-1619).
The relations between the Republic of Poland and the Ottoman Empire, which had been peaceful since 1533, at the beginning of the 17th century became increasingly tense. The reason was mutual invasions and looting in the area of the south-eastern borders of the Republic of Poland. Turkey was invaded by the Cossacks - than subjects of the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth – by the Tatars, Turkish subjects. In 1620, the war broke out, the first battle of Cecora, in which hetman Stanisław Żółkiewski died, was a defeat of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Stanisław Żółkiewski set off for the first war in 1577 not yet being hetman, he fought in the war with Sweden, smashed the anti-royal Zebrzydowski rebellion, conquered Moscow and captured the Szujski tsars. However, the next decades of the 17th century brought again wars with Sweden, Moscow and Turkey. The great-grandson of Stanisław Żółkiewski – king Jan III Sobieski, allied with the Habsburgs, in 1683 repelled the Ottoman Empire's attack on Vienna.

Hetman. Portrait of Stanisław Żółkiewski (1600/1625) by unknownOriginal Source: National Museum in Kraków

Hetman. Stanisław Żółkiewski (1547-1620)

Stanisław Żółkiewski - politician, writer, righteous citizen, commander. His place in the pantheon of national heroes was ensured by measure of his great military triumphs and the capture of Moscow, as well as his death on the battlefield. The memory of the flawless commander and knight survived for posterity. Szymon Starowolski wrote of Żółkiewski in his work Sarmatiae Bellatores: "the fame and glory of his deeds will never be forgotten." During the partitions, Żółkiewski symbolised not only the former greatness of Poland, but also political civic wisdom. The outstanding Polish historian, Tadeusz Korzon, characterised him as being: "the noblest and wisest of Poles, who lived through the better part of two centuries, from the times of Sigismund Augustus to Kościuszko".

Stanisław Żółkiewski believed that fate and extraordinary circumstances had an impact on his life and deeds. According to an ancestral legend, a bird soaring high in the sky shielded tiny Żółkiewski from the sun's heat. A serendipitous incident was also supposed to have saved him from falling into the hands of the Tatars. An ice pick thrown by the Zborowszczyk missed his head by a hair. Of the several hundred bullets fired simultaneously from the Moscow arquebuses near Pskov (6 January 1583), not one even so much as grazed him. His destiny was to become a commander and die on the battlefield.

Hetman. Stefan Batory near Pskov (1872) by Jan MatejkoOriginal Source: Royal Castle in Warsaw

Żółkiewski, aged 41, received (on 7 November 1588) the mace of the field crown hetman. He had not held any other important office up to this date, but his bravery and wound sustained at Byczyna made a significant impression on Jan Zamoyski - Żółkiewski's cousin, protector and teacher. The great hetman endorsed his relative and said: "Don't spoil the blood of this poor Żółkiewski, of which he has shed so much." It quickly became apparent exactly how good a choice this was.
Żółkiewski was one of the Republic of Poland’s most outstanding leaders. He was able to utilise the combat qualities of the Polish army in an extraordinary manner, particularly with regards to the heavy cavalry of the hussars. He acted quickly and decisively. His agility counterbalanced the weakness of his strength to deliver a decisive blow at the time and in the place of his choosing.

The figure in the Hussar armor in the central part of the painting is Stanisław Żółkiewski. Matejko made him one of the most important figures in the background, appreciating Żółkiewski's merits during Stefan Batory's Livonian campaigns.

Hetman. Siege of Smoleńsk (1610) by Georg KellerOriginal Source: National Museum in Kraków

Victory over the Russian and Swedish troops

At the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, the Moscow State plunged into crisis known as the "Time of Troubles." After the end of the Rurik dynasty, False Dimitrii I, the alleged son of Ivan the Terrible, briefly won in the ruthless struggle for the throne, with the support of the Polish magnates. The murder of Dimitrii (also known as Lzedimitrii), the slaughter of Poles in Moscow and the conclusion of the anti-Polish Moscow-Swedish alliance by the next Tsar, Vasili Shuyski, led to the outbreak of open war with the Republic of Poland.

Hetman. Battle under Tsaryovo-Zaymishche and Klushino (1610) by Teofil Szemberg (drawing), Jakub Filip (engraving)Original Source: University of Warsaw Library, Print Room Collection

Żółkiewski was against meddling in the Moscow row. However, he set off with the monarch to Smolensk. Contrary to the king, he did not want to besiege the fortress, but to strike deep into the tsarist state. His voice was not heard. Only following news about relief for the city prompted Sigismund III to agree to Żółkiewski's plan.
The hetman performed a bold maneuver and circled the entire corps of Grigori Valuyev near Tsaryovo-Zaymishche, but he didn’t storm the fortified Russian camp. His target was the main Russian army. Leaving some of his forces to block Valuev, he headed for the advancing army of Dmitrii Shuysky.

Hetman. Detail of decoration of the coffin of Stanisław Żółkiewski, unknown, 1621, Original Source: National Museum in Kraków
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Polish soldiers. Fragment of the decoration of Stanisław Żółkiewski's sarcophagus. In the past, the scene was interpreted as the capture of Tsar Shuyski. However, a card dating back to the 19th century was found affixed to the back of the painting dating back to the 19th century. "This bronze is for Żółkiewski, / Tsar Shuyski lives near Brest! / Who hast thought that with this turn / fortune will return! / Today Moscow has beaten us / Tied disarmed hands, / Shattered the name of Poland! / Learn from this, free countries!"

Hetman. Battle of Klushino (1650) by Szymon BoguszowiczOriginal Source: Borys Voznytsky Lviv National Art Gallery

Żółkiewski left some of his forces near Tsaryovo-Zaymishche and, secretly, headed for the approaching Muskovite army. After an all-night march along forest paths, on the morning of July 4th, 1610, the Poles stopped at the edge of a forest. The enemy camp was right before their eyes, asleep. The view of the vast Muscovite army (approx. 35 thousand Muscovite troops and mercenaries, in comparison to approx. 7 thousand. Poles) was impressive, "a countless number, it was fearful to even look at them in terms of the small number our army boasted!” recalled a diarist.

The victory at Klushino was complete. “Prince Dimitri, though few chased after him, escaped mightily. On the mud, the horse he was sitting on and his shoes were disposed of. Barefoot on a shabby scapine, he came to the monastery near Mozhaysk." - Żółkiewski recalled.

Hetman. XVI century print of map pf Moscow (1575/1618) by Georg Braun, Franz HogenbergPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

Żółkiewski's triumph shook the Moscow state. The Boyars dethroned Tsar Vasili Shuyski and began negotiations with the Polish leader. These resulted in the agreement of August 27, 1610. Under it, Prince Vladyslav was elected tsar. The rights of the Orthodox Church and the social structure of the state were guaranteed, as well as the return of the occupied cities and an alliance against common enemies. Moscow was manned by Poles.

Hetman. Stanisław Żółkiewski presents to King Zygmunt III the captured tsar Shuyski (1611) by Tomaso Dolabella, attributedOriginal Source: Lviv Historical Museum

On October 29, 1611, the field hetman made a ceremonial entry to the capital. The culminating moment of the triumph was the introduction of Tsar Vasili Shuyski to the palace, accompanied by two brothers who bowed down to the king. In the name of the monarch, Feliks Kryski spoke: "There used to be the power of triumphs for the ancestors of His Majesty (...) but to put the Moscow host here, bring the governor of all the land, give the head and government of this state to his lord and his country, it is only wonders, news, only perfect reason hetman, bravery of a knight, happiness of His Majesty (...). The very fame of your love will spread to the far posterity, for you have done it, and beyond strength and beyond all expectations. "

Hetman. The banner of Shuyski tsars, unknown, 1600/1700, Original Source: National Museum in Kraków / The Prince Czartoryski Museum
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The banner which due to the tradition belonged to the Shuyski tsars conquered by Stanisław Żółkiewski in Moscow in 1610.

Hetman. The Cecora battle (1878) by Witold PiwnickiOriginal Source: National Museum in Warsaw

Fight against Ottomans

It was not following
his greatest successes, but towards the end of his life, that the hetman
obtained the recognition of the monarch, who offered him the office of
chancellor and grand hetman of the crown. The struggle to fend off Tatar
invasions was becoming increasingly difficult for the aging leader. 

At the behest of Sigismund
III, the hetman set off to Moldova in order to consolidate Polish
influence. The Polish commander, standing in the camp near Cecora, thought
that a demonstration of arms would induce the Turks and Tatars to form an
agreement. This did not come to pass. Following initial failures, the
army panicked and its commanders almost lost control over their troops. A
retreat in war wagon formation gave the army a chance to recover. Breaking
through the burning steppe, fighting off enemy assaults, the Poles pushed
towards the border. 

When salvation was within reach, turmoil erupted. The war wagon formation was torn apart and the soldiers rushed to flee. The hetman with a group of officers was not able to bring order, particularly since the Tatars had also launched an attack. Slaughter ensued. Żółkiewski rejected an offer of escape: "A shepherd should be where his sheep die, so he could be asked what he had done with the sheep” – he replied and fought to the end.

Hetman. Portrait of Stanisław Żółkiewski (1600/1700) by unknownPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

The day following the battle, the bloody corpse of the hetman were found. A wound to the temple, numerous to the body, and a severed right hand showed that the old man fought to the end. The severed head was sent back to Istanbul by Skinder Pasha and impaled in front of the Sultan's palace. The headless body was returned to Żółkiew.
The funeral was modest. This was as the hetman desired.

Hetman. Tombstone of Stanisław Żółkiewski and his son in collegiate church in Żółkiew (1620) by unknownPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

Memory of Hetman

The beginning of the cult-like following of Żółkiewski began shortly after his death. The words of Tomasz Zamoyski at the Sejm in 1620 resounded strongly: "a hetman should die, not in bed, not in a corner, but in a field on his feet, and [Żółkiewski] did this." He continued: "They will resound this glory to the hetman forever and ever." He was not mistaken. The appearing descriptions of the battle and a number of atoning works presented the hetman as an unblemished knight who gave his life in defense of his homeland and faith.

Żółkiew was the center of hetman's following. In the unchanged castle chamber, above the bed, was a picture of Our Lady of Częstochowa and an oil lamp that the leader used during his expeditions. Next to it were: the hetman's bloody and hacked cloak, mace, sword and hunting ornaments. Special Friday services were held for the soul of the hetman and those who died in the fight against the Turks and Tatars, and for the release of prisoners from captivity.

Hetman. Teofila Sobieska with her sons in front of Żółkiewski's grave (1866) by Walery Eliasz RadzikowskiOriginal Source: National Museum in Warsaw

The words "An avenger will rise someday from our bones" carved on the tomb became the motto of the hetman's great-grandsons. The future King Jan Sobieski and his brother Marek were brought up in Żółkiew in the cult of admiration of their great-grandfather. "We had this since we were young - wrote Sobieski ーso that we weren’t the degenerates of our ancestry, exposing us (...), great fame their courage and the aim to gain the honor of the church of God and the homeland, bidding us immediately to learn while learning the alphabet this line from the tombstone of our great grandfather: O quam dulce et decorum est pro patria mori! (Oh, how sweet and glorious it is to die for the motherland).”
This education influenced Jan Sobieski, who went down in history with victories over the Turks and Tatars. They have been vividly immortalized on battle canvases once hung in the collegiate church in Żółkiew.

Hetman. Gothic House in Puławy (1830) by Joseph RichterOriginal Source: National Museum in Kraków

Izabella Czartoryska built the Temple of the Sibyl and the Gothic House on her estate in Puławy. Here, she collected mementoes of national heroes. Żółkiewski held a prominent place within the shrine of great Poles. The Duchess dedicated an entire wall of the Gothic House to him, embedded in which was a "small figure representing Żółkiewski in armor." Memorabilia of national significance, including mementoes from Cecora, were transferred from Puławy to Paris during and after the November Uprising. They are currently housed in the Princes Czartoryski Museum in Krakow.

Hetman. A casket with a fragment of Stanisław Żółkiewski's burial robes., unknown, 1820/1825, Original Source: National Museum in Kraków / The Princes Czartoryski Museum
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A casket with a fragment of Stanisław Żółkiewski's burial robes, National Museum in Krakow / Princes Czartoryski Museum

Hetman. Padded combat zupan attributed to Stanisław Żółkiewski, unknown, 1600/1620, Original Source: National Museum in Kraków / The Princes Czartoryski Museum
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Padded combat zupan attributed to Stanisław Żółkiewski. It was kept in the Temple of the Sybil in Puławy, along with other hetman mementoes.

Hetman. View of Żółkiew (1820) by Emanuel KronbachOriginal Source: Lviv Histroical Museum

Żółkiewski's own town

"Zamoyski was a thin nobleman, so was Żółkiewski, they became but lords, and powerful from hetmanhood," wrote Zofia Chodkiewiczowa. This opinion shows the life path of both hetmans, who independently climbed to the top of the social ladder and had a similar way of gaining and managing wealth.

The center of Żółkiewski's extensive wealth was founded by him in 1597 - Żółkiew (town rights from 1603). This ideal city, in concept was to provide residents with both security (fortifications) and maximum comfort of life. Already in the times of Żółkiewski, a castle was erected and the construction of the parish church commenced, proving the owner's cultural horizons.

Hetman. View of town Żółkiew (1875) by Napoleon OrdaOriginal Source: National Museum in Warsaw

The hetman was a devout Catholic, but he was very tolerant. So he allowed an Orthodox church to be erected. The two main nationalities inhabiting the city - Poles and Ruthenians - were to live "in harmony and mutual love, without any turmoil." He also allowed Ruthenians to hold the office of voyt and the soviet. Jews also began to settle in the new town without any problems, and in 1600 they received Żółkiewski's consent to build a house of prayer.
After the Żółkiewski family, the town passed into the hands of the Daniłowicz family, then the Sobieski and Radziwiłł families.

The Żółkiew parish church, later the collegiate church of Queen of Heaven and Saints Lawrence Deacon and Stanisław the Bishop the Martyr was erected in the years 1606-1618 by Italian architects: Paolo the Lucky, Ambrosius Simonis and Paolo of Rome. It was conceived as a monument to the glory of the Polish knighthood. Therefore, in addition to the typical sacred furnishings, the temple was decorated with secular works of art, and those with battle in character. From the outside, this character was emphasized by the frieze with metopes surrounding the temple, in which the figures of Saint Martin and George, equestrian hussars, archers, wounded soldiers, elements of armament and the coat of arms of Żółkiewski - Lubicz family, were placed. The frieze, whose corners are guarded by sumptuous eagle figures, alluding to the victorious battle of kyolushin, is the work of Stanisław Żółkiewski himself. The interior was decorated with the tombstones of the hetman and his son Jan, as well as his wife Regina and daughter Zofia Daniłowiczowa, supplemented in time with new tombstones, epitaphs and paintings related to the town's owners.

Hetman. Żółkiew town on postcard (1914) by unknownOriginal Source: POLONA

After the Second World War, Żółkiew became part of the USSR. The wonderful collegiate church was desecrated and turned into a warehouse. The relics of the past and works of art that were there were plundered or destroyed. Some of them are in the Lviv National Gallery of Art.

Hetman. Żółkiew collegiate church, interior (1606/1618) by Paweł Szczęśliwy, Ambroży Przychylny, Paweł RzymianinPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

A long time passed before the temple was recovered by the faithful. The arduous reconstruction process began and continues to this day. It would not be possible without the financial and substantive support of the Republic of Poland. Although not all works of art have returned to their place, the church in Żółkiew is regaining its former splendor.
These activities were possible thanks to the financial support provided by the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, the Senate of the Republic of Poland, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the POLONIKA Institute and private donors. The vast majority of works have been carried out by Polish non-government organizations thanks to the funds of the program of the Minister of Culture and National Heritage "Protection of cultural heritage abroad."

Credits: Story

text: Wojciech Kalwat
translation: Eva Piotrowska

editor: Anna Ekielska

© copyright: Narodowy Instytut Polskiego Dziedzictwa Kulturowego za Granicą POLONIKA
Supervisory Institution: Ministerstwo Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego RP

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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