Poland

Stanisław Poniatowski

The wonderfully named Stanisław II August Poniatowski (born Count Stanisław Antoni Poniatowski) was the last King and Grand Duke of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1764-95). His official title was, memorably, Stanisław August, by the grace of God and the will of the people King of Poland, Grand Duke of Lithuania and Duke of Ruthenia, Prussia, Masovia, Samogitia, Kiev, Volhynia, Podolia, Podlasie, Livonia, Smolensk, Severia and Chernihiv. Born in Wolcyn (which today is in Belarus) in 1732, Poniatowski first rose to prominence as an orator in the nascent Polish parliament, the Sejm. Appointed ambassador of Saxony to the court of Catherine the Great in St. Petersburg in 1755, the tall, dashing Poniatowski quickly became a regular lover of the insatiable Russian Empress. When the Polish King August II died in 1763, it was with Russian support that Poniatowski was elected

king, at the age of 32. Opposed from the start by large numbers of the Polish nobility, on first appearances Poniatowski’s three decades on the throne do not look all that impressive. He was powerless to prevent the first partition of the Commonwealth in 1772 and relied heavily for much of his reign on Russian patronage. Yet he is remembered most for his championing of the 1791 Polish-Lithuanian Constitution: Europe’s first and the world’s second (the United States had enacted the first, in 1788) codified constitution.

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