After even a quick scan of the articles on this website it’s easy to see that the connection between Poles and Scots existed on practically every social, economical and cultural level throughout the centuries. It will not be a great surprise when we add a royal link to this already impressive list. There are two big royal names and two big stories linking Scotland and Poland. What is surprising here are the similarities between these two stories.
Let’s start with the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie, famous and beloved by many, and also known as Prince Charles Edward Stuart. Not many people are aware that he was half Polish. We know his story well enough, so instead let’s say a few words about his Polish family. His mother was Maria Clementina Sobieska (Maria Klementyna Sobieska), one of the richest noble women in Europe of the seventeenth century. She was wife of James Francis Edward and the granddaughter of Jan III Sobieski – one of the greatest Polish kings, whose deeds changed the history of the continent. He led the famous Battle of Vienna against the Ottoman Empire in 1683. During two days in September, around 110 000 soldiers from different European countries fought under Sobieski’s command against the Ottoman Empire’s army which numbered about 200 000 – 300 000 . This victory stopped the Turkish invasion of Europe and forced the Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha to step back. As with many battles in those days, the deciding moment was the charge of the Polish Winged Hussars (amongst them one regiment led by Scottish Colonel George Guthry), but that’s another story… The important thing is that the best of Polish royal blood ran in Prince Charlie’s veins.
We can lament the fact that when Bonnie Prince Charlie fought his war with England, there were no more winged Hussars to help, and Poland was on the way to a dramatic downfall.
There is a fascinating story of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the time he spent on the Isle of Skye after he fled from the lost Battle of Culloden. Legend has it that as a show of gratitude to his host Captain John MacKinnon of Clan MacKinnon, Charles presented him with a recipe for a strong honey spirit. After some alterations that drink became the honey liqueur Drambuie. To learn what secret recipe Charles presented to John MacKinnon read this story.
There is a bit of controversy about Charles’ love of dressing up and showing off. Above you can see a portrait of Bonny Prince Charlie in Polish kontusz with a sabre, the typical dress of a Polish nobleman. Some specialists question whether the Prince actually sat for the portrait, given the puzzling official title in the National Portrait Gallery, “Unknown man, formerly known as Prince Charles Edward Stuart”. This is in spite of the text on the actual painting, which states it’s the man himself.
Not much later, in Poland, Stanisław August Poniatowski (1732 – 1798) – the last King and Grand Duke of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth came into play.
He was the grandson of the celebrated Polish lyrical poet from the seventeenth century, Count Andrew Morsztyn, who was also a statesman and held the office of Grand Treasurer of Poland. Morsztyn was married to Catherine Gordon of Huntly, the youngest daughter of George Gordon, 2nd Marquess of Huntly and Lady Anne Campbell, the eldest daughter of the 7th Can of Argyll. She went to Poland with her older brother, Colonel Lord Henry Gordon de Huntly, who served the king of Poland Jan II Kazimierz Vasa (John II Casimir) for several years.
What makes it even more interesting is that the mother of George Gordon, 2nd Marquess of Huntly, was Henrietta from the Stuarts family. That makes the Polish Scottish Royal history a closed circle.
All of that sounds a bit like ‘Games of Thrones’, doesn’t it?
Stanisław August Poniatowski was as controversial and as important a figure in Poland and Europe. Recognized as a great patron of the Polish arts and sciences and a supporter of progressive reforms, he is also remembered as the last king of the Commonwealth, the one who failed to prevent its destruction.
Arriving at the Russian imperial court in Saint Petersburg in 1755, he became the lover Catherine Alexeievna, three years his senior and also the future Empress Catherine the Great. With her support, in 1764 he was elected the king of Poland (yes, at this stage Poland was the only democratic country in Europe. The kings were elected as presidents of the US, sometimes with the help of powerful friends, now called a ‘lobby’). Against Russian expectations, he attempted to reform and strengthen the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth. A great example was the Constitution of May 3 signed in 1791 which is the Europe’s first and the world’s second-oldest (after US constitution from 1789) codified national constitution. His efforts were not appreciated by Prussia, Russia and Austria, who were all interested in keeping the Commonwealth weak, but also not understood by Polish conservatives, who saw reforms as a threat to their traditional liberties and prerogatives.
The defining crisis of his early reign, the War of the Bar Confederation, led to the First Partition of Poland in 1772. That was the moment when Poland, with a little ‘help’ from its previously mentioned neighbours, disappeared for the first time from the map of Europe and lost its independence.
Two stories of two people who were the last hope for their countries’ independence. Surprisingly, both were related to each other in the twisted ways of many a noble family tree, and the connection between powerful European houses. Unluckily, these two gentlemen were not successful in their aims, but both had a significant place in the history of their nations and played a significant role in building the national consciousness. This royal connection adds yet another layer to the Scottish-Polish shared heritage, not only in terms of genealogy, but also national spirit, experiences and aims.
Words: Jarek Gąsiorek
Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh
Dziedzic Sobieskich. Bohater ostatniej wojny o niepodległość Szkocji. Piotr Piniński ISBN: 9788377851883
Historia Polonii w Szkocji na przestrzeni XV-XXI Wieku: Motywy emigracji, Aspekty życia. Magdalena Czarnecka. (POL)