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Stanislaus II

Stanislaus II, 1732–98, last king of Poland (1764–95). He was born Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski. His mother was a member of the powerful Czartoryski family, which furthered Stanislaus's career. He was (1756–58) Polish ambassador to St. Petersburg, where he became a lover of Czarina Catherine II. Catherine, with Frederick II of Prussia, secured Stanislaus's election to the Polish throne after the death of Augustus III. Russian influence thus became paramount in Poland; the Russian ambassador at Warsaw virtually ruled the land. In 1768 anti-Russian members of the Polish nobility united (see Bar, Confederation of) and in 1770 declared Stanislaus deposed. The rebellion was crushed by the Russians, and in 1772, Russia, Prussia, and Austria took vast territories from Poland in the first Polish partition (see Poland, partitions of). Although Stanislaus largely owed his throne to foreign powers, he sincerely sought to bulwark the decaying Polish state by internal reforms. In 1773 a national commission began the complete reorganization of Polish education. In 1791 the diet adopted the May Constitution, which abolished the liberum veto, a procedure that enabled a deputy to dissolve the diet and annul its previous decisions; strengthened the central administration; and opened public offices to the burgher class. The peasants' lot was ameliorated; serfdom, however, was not abolished. The throne, after the death of Stanislaus, was to be hereditary in the electoral branch of the house of Saxony. Russia, seeing its hold on Poland threatened, fostered the creation (1792) of the Confederation of Targovica, which sought to restore the old constitution. Russian troops, soon joined by Prussian forces, again invaded Poland. Stanislaus halted military resistance and, seeking a reconciliation with Russia, joined the Confederation of Targovica. The second Polish partition (1793) was the result. It left a truncated kingdom and made Stanislaus a vassal of Russia. The national uprising of 1794, led by Kosciusko, was defeated by Russian and Prussian troops, and in 1795 the third partition completed the liquidation of Poland. Stanislaus, who had taken no firm stand in 1794, abdicated at Grodno and went to live in Russia. Although weak in politics, he was a generous patron of art, science, and—especially—literature.

See study by A. N. Bain (1909, repr. 1970).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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