Hetman Stanislaw Koniecpolski
By Stanley A. Ciesielski
Stanislaw Koniecpolski was one of a long line of successful military leaders that Poland produced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. His victories and accomplishments rank with Jan Tarnowski, Stanislaw Zolkiewski, Jan Korol Chodkiewicz and Jan Sobieski. For some unfathomable reason, references to Koniecpolski are brief and infrequent. He deserves to be better known.
Born in 1591, Koniecpolski was a youngster when he started his military career under the great Zolkiewski. He fought at Kluszyn (1610) where Zolkiewski won a brilliant victory over a numerically superior army of Muscovy. In 1620, as field hetman, he fought beside Zolkiewski in the defeat at Cecora. One of the few survivors of the tragedy, Koniecpolski was taken prisoner and spent two years in the infamous Black Tower of Constantinople. He returned to Poland in 1623 after being ransomed by Krzysztof Zbaraski, Poland’s ambassador to the Forte.
The young field hetman began a long victorious career by crushing a huge invading Tartar force in June, 1624 at Martynow in southeast Poland. In 1626, he annihilated a Tartar horde at Biala Cerkwa, south of Kiev in the Ukraine.
During this time, Poland and Sweden clashed over control of Inflanti (Estonia). Gustavus Adolphus, the Swedish king, moved against Polish holdings on the Baltic, scoring rapid successes that threatened Polish control of the Vistula estuary.
Koniecpolski was brought to the Baltic from the eastern plains and in 1627 was given command of all Polish forces deployed against the Swedes. He demonstrated his versatility by successfully using a small fleet of war vessels to defeat a Swedish flotilla on November 28, 1627 at Oliwa. His land campaign began with the recapture of Puck and the defeat of a Swedish army sent to aid the garrison at Puck. On June 27, 1629, leading a mounted force of 4,500 men, Koniecpolski crushed Gustavus Adolphus at Trzciana.
In spite of Koniecpolski’s victories, the Treaty of Altmark, signed on September 26, 1629, was highly unfavorable for Poland.
Back on the vast plains of Poland’s border lands, Koniecpolski faced a Cossack revolt. He was able to affect a "compromise" which was formalized by the 1630 agreement of Perejslaw.
Appointed Grand Hetman
In 1632, Koniecpolski was finally appointed Grand Hetman of the Crown. He made his home at Brody in southeastern Poland, on the edge of the "dzike pole." Here was the main line of resistance against the savage hordes that time and again poured out of the Crimea. The Budacz Tartars, in 1633, invaded Podolia but Koniecpolski smashed the horde at Sasowi Rog. A Turkish army invaded Poland in October 1633, but was speedily repulsed by the Hetman. Tartar incursions multiplied in the following decade. A particularly savage invasion in 1644 was crushed by Koniecpolski at Ochmatow, south of Kiev.
A senator of the Commonwealth, as well as the nation’s military leader, he played an authoritative role in shaping military and foreign policy. A realistic soldier, he tried to persuade King Wladyslaw IV to face the Tartar problem. He set forth his strategic concept in a plan he titled "Dyskurs o Zniesieniu Tatarow Krymskich" (A Discourse on the Destruction of the Crimean Tartars). The king cherished the idea of a crusade against Turkey and had no time for the "Tartar Plan".
An astute statesman, Koniecpolski foresaw danger in the discontent of the Zaporoze Cossacks. He pursued a policy designed to accommodate the demands of the Cossack Brotherhood. His untimely death allowed lesser men to commit the stupidities that led to the terrible "Days of Trouble," so vividly described by Henryk Sienkiewicz in his novel, "Fire and Sword".
Koniecpolski died in March, 1646 after a short illness. His death inspired gloom and foreboding. The tragedies that plagued Poland shortly afterwards underscored his greatness as a statesman and a military leader.
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