Jan Janina-Sobieski and Marie Casimire de la Grange d'Arquien
A love story
By Mike Subritzky
John Sobieski was born during a violent thunderstorm on the 17 August 1629 in the family castle at Olesko. From the moment he could walk he and his older brother Mark were given small versions of the curved Polish sabre and were taught the art of war by their father. Whenever they went to Mass at Zolkiew their mother would take them to the tombs of their ancestors so that they could say prayers for their forbears who had died in battle, defending Poland against the ungodly hordes.
At the age of 11, John and his brother were sent to study at a school in Krakow and there they learnt maths, history, Polish studies and languages, including Latin. John was a serious student, whilst Mark took the schooling in his stride; his results being decidedly average. On completion of their studies they returned to the family estate at Zolkiew and in 1646 their father sent them on a tour of Europe to round off their education. Accompanied by two trusted Szlachta (nobles) they toured Europe and England and spent a considerable time in France where they were introduced to the Stuart family who were exiles from Scotland.
In 1648 the Cossacks revolted and John and Mark were forced to fight their way home through the Cossack lines to learn that their father James had been killed and then their mother kissed them and told them that it was their duty to defend Poland ! (John Sobieski was about 18 at the time)...before they left for battle their mother reminded them that their lives was the apogee of two great Polish families, the Zolkiewski's and the Sobieski's, and they were duty bound to continue these traditions. Lastly she gave both boys a warning, that should they ever disgrace themselves on the field of battle she Theophila Janina-Sobieski would disown them forever ! Both brothers were to cover themselves in glory on the field of honour and peace was eventually restored.
Now in 1651, Poland again went to war; on this occassion against the combined forces of the Cossacks and the Tartars, both brothers fought with distinction in the Battle of Beresteczko where John was badly wounded in the head. The Cossacks and Tartars were defeated and withdrew from the field. John was taken back to Lwow where eventually his wound healed and he was nursed back to health. Whilst in Lwow he fell in love with a beautiful woman (unnamed) who was being courted by a Lithuanian noble, a Szlachta by the name of Michael Pac. Things came to a head and the two young men fought a duel with swords over the love of the young lady; both men were badly wounded and the issue itself was undecided, but it left a bitter hatred between the two young men which lasted until the day they died.
The next battle that was fought between the Poles and the Cossacks was at a place called Batoh in early 1652 but John Sobieski was missing from the battle as he was still nursing his injuries received from the duel...His mother, on hearing of his injuries was both horrified and angered...in Polands hour of need her son had been engaged in common brawling. Worse was to follow for at Batoh the Poles were soundly defeated, leaving that whole area of the country unprotected from the Cossack and Tartar hordes, and to make matters even worse Mark Sobieski was killed in the battle and his head was taken...Many years were to pass before John's mother was again to speak to him.
John Sobieski married in 1655, his courtship and marriage being in themselves something of a mystery. It is not known when John first met the woman that he was eventually to marry but it was probably some time in the mid-1650s when she was but a young girl. Her name was Marie Casimire de la Grange d'Arquien, a Frenchwoman born in Nevers (France) in 1641. Her father, Henri, was a Marquis and a Captain of the Swiss Guard of the Duke of Orleans, and her mother Francoise (nee: de la Chatre) had been the governess of Louise-Marie, the first French Queen of Poland. Marie Casimire as a young woman was described as "strong willed and precocious". She was Maid of Honour of the Queen of Poland and it is said that from the moment that she and JohnSobieski met they fell in love; however as she was French and he Polish he was frightened to ask for her hand in marriage and once again suffer the fury of his mother who had not forgiven him for missing the battle in which his brother died.
As happened, Marie Casimire married another Polish nobleman and soldier by the name of Zamoyski in 1658. This marriage was a disaster and lasted only seven years during which time Marie Casimire gave birth to three sickly children who died as babies. Zamoyski although rich and a fine soldier was a hard drinker and treated her badly. Throughout her first marriage John and Marie Casimire wrote to each other constantly, while John's fame as a soldier grew to a point where on 24 April 1665 he was appointed 'Hetman' (Commanding General) of all of Poland's Armies.
On 7 April 1665 Zamoyski died. John and Marie Casimire were in each others arms finally. However, unbeknown to him their secret lover's rendezvous had in fact been arranged by Marie Casimire and the Queen (of Poland). In the midst of their passion the Queen had stumbled in on them and finding her Maid of Honour's 'honour' being compromised, she ordered them to marry. Owing to the short space of time that had elapsed since the death of Zamoyski their marriage took place in secret some time in mid-April.
A second marriage took place after a decent interval between John and Marie Casimire - this time a nuptial mass was held in the Palace Chapel in Warsaw, occurring probably on the 16 July 1665. At the time of his marriage John Sobieski was 36 and his wife just 24. He is described as being "very well made, of great height and heavy build (in his later years he became rather corpulent); with a fresh ruddy complection, large blue eyes, aquiline nose, a full fine mouth, admirable teeth, affable, generous, just, prudent, excessively devout (he was a Catholic); a man of parts - theologian, philosopher, mathermatician, historian, possessing a remarkable good memory; speaking to perfection Latin, Polish, French, Italian, German, Turkish and Tartar; quick to attend to trifling matters, but more cautious in affairs of consequence. His hair was tonsured, his clothing plain in character and he wore at his side a bejeweled Turkish scimitar".
Marie Casimire was described as "being very beautiful, of middle height, neither fat nor thin, with a white rose complexion, black eyes, aquiline nose, small red mouth, regular teeth; virtuous, liberal, charitable, fond of display, strong willed and precocious - she loved to walk in the rain, even in her finest clothes".
In 1673, a bedraggled Polish army of about 30, 000 Polish Knights knelt in the snow and prayed to the Blessed Virgin of Czestochowa and then mounted their horses and defeated a Turkish army of more than 70, 000 men. In just 3 hours more than 40, 000 Turks were slain, Sobieski's victory being swift, savage and complete and Sobieski returned to Krakow where he had been summoned by the Primate of Poland after the death of King Michael. Enroute Sobieski halted his army at Zolkiew where he spent time with his wife who had been ill. He then rode at the head of his armies towards Krakow, the ancient seat of the Kings of Poland. As he approached at the head of his army he was greeted as a folk hero in every village he passed. Women held up their babies so that they could tell their children and grandchildren that they had once seen the great Hetman of Poland, John Sobieski. Amongst his cavalry were carried 60 Turkish battle flags that had been captured and as well large ammounts of booty.
On the 21 May 1674, John Sobieski was crowned King of Poland. Poland had a unique system of chivalry in which all nobleman were equal, there being only one title, that of 'Pan' (which translates as Great Lord); meaning that any single Polish nobleman could be elected to the appointment of King...the first among equals and due to his prowess in battle this is what happened to John Sobieski. He is known to history as King John III of Poland.
Sobieski and his family now spent a great deal of time at their Palace at Wilanow in Warsaw; it was his favourite residence and is today a museum. Once she became Queen of Poland Marie Casimire became involved in all sorts of political intrigues too numerous to mention. John Sobieski loved his wife deeply and even whilst away in the field on his many campaigns he wrote to her constantly. He always began his letters with the phrase "My Dear Marie Casimire" and was once asked by another nobleman why he began his letters in this fashion. Sobieski's reply went thus: "I begin my letters to her in that fashion for two reasons. One: she is the love of my life and very dear to me. And two, her extravagances cost me a great deal of money". They say that Sobieski's phrase "my dear" or "dear" at the beginning of a letter became popular, so much so that today the phrase is the norm in most countries for beginning a correspondence.
King John Sobieski's greatest legacy to history must surely be the battle for the relief of Vienna in 1683. In May of that year a vast Turkish army of more than 400, 000 men under the command of Kara Mustapha entered Europe through what is now Jugoslavia (remember the Serbs and Moslems in the recent Bosnian war, well this is the history) and, destroying and burning all before it, very swiftly lay siege to the city of Vienna. Poland and Austria had an alliance and now all eyes in Europe turned towards Poland and King John Sobieski. He was now 54, past his prime and grossly overweight. His health over the last four years had deteriorated and the Turks believed he was unable to mount a horse. They were about to be proved very wrong. Vienna as a city was designed as a fortress, the Turks believed that if they could crack Vienna, then the rest of Europe would rapidly be infested by the forces of Islam and the word of 'Allah' would be spread far and wide. The Turks pitched their gaily coloured tents outside the city walls; the diameter of their encampment was between four and five miles. Inside Vienna, the actual garrison was defended by 1000 men of the Kaiserstein Regiment and a hastily armed irregular force of about 4000 citizens.
Meanwhile Sobieski and his army made a pilgrimage to Czestochowa and there Sobieski placed his army under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary...en-route to Vienna he made the 'stations of the cross' in every single church in Krakow.
On 11 August 1683 Sobieski and his army closed on the outskirts of Vienna. Here he halted his army and with a number of his officers he climbed a high feature and carried out a detailed reconnaissance of the whole of the surrounding countryside...Vienna and the entire Turkish army lay before them. The following morning with prayers to Our lady of Czestochowa Sobieski's army mounted their war horses. The combined army of Sobieski (which also contained Poles, Austrians, and Germans) moved forward in column, and in a great wheeling movement pivoting on the Duke of Lorraines position, advanced into line and into the sunlight. Dazzling bright sunlight reflected off thousands of pieces of metal and jewelled accoutrements, and then Sobieski himself with his personal banner advanced to the front of his army...The Turks were thunderstruck! Even their lowiest Turkish infantryman had heard the tales of the Polish King's prowess in battle. Their Commanders had lied to them. They had believed that the King of Poland was too ill to even mount a horse and yet here he was at the forefront of his army coming down at them from on high...almost at the same time the battle cry "Vivat Sobieski" (Sobieski Lives!) was shouted from the mouths of the Polish Knights and this sent the Turks reeling in shock...At a slow walk the Christian army moved forward, metal jingling, armour clinking, dust rising from beneath the many thousands of hooves and boots marching steadily forward. Then the brilliant flash of silver ran along the forward ranks as sabres and swords were drawn , and then Lorraine on the left flank gave the command and the whole of his line thundered forward into the assault...fighting broke out along the whole of the front rank, almost two miles in length. Blood spilled everywhere ! The body count for the battle was enormous, the Turks lost more than 10,000 men, lying in heaps in the dust for many miles, whilst the Christian losses were put as low as several hundred whilst the more accepted figure is about 2,000 killed. This battle is remembered in Polish history as King John Sobieski's finest hour.
King John Sobieski died on the 17 June 1669 at the Palace at Wilanow, he had attended Mass at noon and then suffered a stroke. Marie Casimire sent for a Priest and whilst hearing his confession Sobieski lost consciousness. He later regained his spirits and said farewell to his wife and his family. He died quietly at sunset on that day. After his death there were a number of intrigues amongst his family and they later scattered to the four winds with his wife adopting the title of 'Duchess of Jaroslav' and travelling throughout Europe and later spending a number of years in Rome.
Marie Casimire died in 1716 in Blois, France where history records that she was buried with the honours that befitted her rank. However, later that same year at the monastery of the Capuchins in Krakow a strange event took place. In the dead of night there was a strange knocking at the main gate of the monastery and the servant on duty went out to investigate. On opening the gate the servant was confronted by the hooded figure of a man dressed in black. At the man's feet was a coffin, also black. The man nodded and then walked away - no words were spoken. The servant went back and informed the friars who uplifted the casket and took it into the monastery. Inside with the gates closed they opened the coffin. It was lined in black silk and contained the body of an old woman. She was crowned and held a sceptre in her right hand. Placed inside of her mouth was a medallion with the name "MARYSIENSKA" (Marie Casimire) engraved on it - and so in death King John Sobieski and his wife were once again and finally united.
You will easily find both of their tombs if you should visit Krakow Castle. They lie in tombs beside each other beneath the Royal Cathedral in the crypt and even to this day King John Sobieski's tomb is always covered in fresh flowers.