Bar Confederation

War of the Bar Confederation

The Bar Confederates pray before the Battle of Lanckorona. Painting by Artur Grottger.

Russian victory:

 Russian Empire Poland Bar Confederation
 Kingdom of France
Commanders and leaders
Russia Alexander Suvorov
Russia Ivan Karpovich Elmpt
Poland Karol Radziwiłł
Poland Casimir Pulaski
Poland Michał Jan Pac
Poland Count Beniowski
Kingdom of France Charles François Dumouriez
Lanckorona: 4,000 troops Lanckorona: 1,300 troops; 18 cannons
Total: 100,000[1]
Casualties and losses
unknown heavy

The Bar Confederation (Polish: Konfederacja barska; 1768–1772) was an association of Polish nobles (szlachta) formed at the fortress of Bar in Podolia in 1768 to defend the internal and external independence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth against Russian influence and against King Stanisław II Augustus with Polish reformers, who were attempting to limit the power of the Commonwealth's wealthy magnates. The founders of the Bar Confederation included the magnates Adam Krasiński, Bishop of Kamenets, Karol Stanisław Radziwiłł, Casimir Pulaski, Moritz Benyowszki and Michał Krasiński. Its creation led to a civil war and contributed to the First Partition of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.[2] Some historians consider the Bar Confederation the first Polish uprising.[3]


Casimir Pulaski at Częstochowa. Painting by Józef Chełmoński, 1875. Oil on canvas. National Museum, Warsaw, Poland.

International situation

Around the middle of the 18th century the balance of power in Europe shifted, with Russian victories against the Ottomans in the Russo-Turkish War (1768–1774) strengthening Russia and endangering Habsburg interests in that region (particularly in Moldavia and Wallachia). At that point Habsburg Austria started to consider waging a war against Russia.[4][5]

France, friendly towards both Russia and Austria, suggested a series of territorial adjustments, in which Austria would be compensated by parts of Prussian Silesia, and Prussia in turn would receive Polish Ermland (Warmia) and parts of the Polish fief, Duchy of Courland and Semigallia—already under Baltic German hegemony. King Frederick II of Prussia had no intention of giving up Silesia gained recently in the Silesian Wars; he was, however, also interested in finding a peaceful solution — his alliance with Russia would draw him into a potential war with Austria, and the Seven Years' War had left Prussia's treasury and army weakened. He was also interested in protecting the weakening Ottoman Empire, which could be advantageously utilized in the event of a Prussian war either with Russia or Austria. Frederick's brother, Prince Henry, spent the winter of 1770–71 as a representative of the Prussian court at Saint Petersburg. As Austria had annexed 13 towns in the Hungarian Szepes region in 1769 (violating the Treaty of Lubowla), Catherine II of Russia and her advisor General Ivan Chernyshyov suggested to Henry that Prussia claim some Polish land, such as Ermland. After Henry informed him of the proposal, Frederick suggested a partition of the Polish borderlands by Austria, Prussia, and Russia, with the largest share going to Austria. Thus Frederick attempted to encourage Russia to direct its expansion towards weak and non-functional Poland instead of the Ottomans.[4]

Bar Confederation 1768-72

Although for a few decades (since the times of the Silent Sejm) Russia had seen weak Poland as its own protectorate,[6] Poland had also been devastated by a civil war in which the forces of the Bar Confederation attempted to disrupt Russian control over Poland.[4] The recent Koliyivschyna peasant and Cossack uprising in Ukraine also weakened Polish position. Further, the Russian-supported Polish king, Stanisław II Augustus, was seen as both weak and too independent-minded; eventually the Russian court decided that the usefulness of Poland as a protectorate had diminished.[7] The three powers officially justified their actions as a compensation for dealing with troublesome neighbor and restoring order to Polish anarchy (the Bar Confederation provided a convenient excuse); in fact all three were interested in territorial gains.[8]

After Russia occupied the Danubian Principalities, Henry convinced Frederick and Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria that the balance of power would be maintained by a tripartite division of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth instead of Russia taking land from the Ottomans. Under pressure from Prussia, which for a long time wanted to annex the northern Polish province of Royal Prussia, the three powers agreed on the First Partition of Poland. This was in light of the possible Austrian-Ottoman alliance[9] with only token objections from Austria,[7] which would have instead preferred to receive more Ottoman territories in the Balkans, a region which for a long time had been coveted by the Habsburgs. The Russians also withdrew from Moldavia away from the Austrian border.

In the Commonwealth

In the late 17th century and early 18th century the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth had declined from the status of a major European power to that of a Russian protectorate (or vassal or satellite state), with the Russian tsar effectively choosing Polish–Lithuanian monarchs during the "free" elections and deciding the direction of much of Poland's internal politics, for example during the Repnin Sejm (1767-1768), named after the Russian ambassador who unofficially presided over the proceedings.[6][10]

In 1767-1768, Russian forces forced the Polish parliament (Sejm) to pass resolutions they demanded. Many of the conservative nobility felt anger at that foreign interference, at the perceived weakness of the presiding government under king Stanisław II Augustus (reigned 1764-1795), and at the provisions, particularly the ones that empowered non-Catholics, and at other reforms which they saw as threatening the Golden Freedoms of the Polish nobility.[11][12] In response to that, and particularly after Russian troops arrested and exiled several vocal opponents (namely bishop of Kiev Józef Andrzej Załuski, bishop of Cracow Kajetan Sołtyk, and Field Crown Hetman Wacław Rzewuski with his son Seweryn), Polish magnates Adam Krasiński, Bishop of Kamieniec, Casimir Pulaski and Michał Krasiński and their allies decided to form a confederatio - a legal military association opposing the government[13][14] in accordance with Polish constitutional traditions. The articles of the confederation were signed on 29 February 1768 at the fortress of Bar in Podolia.[12] Some of the instigators of the confederation included Adam Stanisław Krasiński, Michał Hieronim Krasiński, Kajetan Sołtyk, Wacław Rzewuski, Michał Jan Pac, Jerzy August Mniszech, Joachim Potocki and Teodor Wessel.[12] Priest Marek Jandołowicz was a notable religious leader, and Michał Wielhorski the Confederation's political ideologue.[12]

Civil war and foreign intervention

Marshal of the Bar Confederation Michał Krasiński receives an Ottoman dignitary.

The confederation, encouraged and aided by France, declared a war on Russia.[12] Its irregular forces, formed from volunteers, magnate militias and deserters from the royal army, soon clashed with the Russian troops and units loyal to the Polish crown.[12] Confederation forces under Michał Jan Pac and Prince Karol Stanisław Radziwiłł roamed the land in every direction, won several engagements with the Russians, and at last, utterly ignoring the King, sent envoys on their own account to the principal European powers.

King Stanisław Augustus was at first inclined to mediate between the Confederates and Russia, the latter represented by the Russian envoy to Warsaw, Prince Nikolai Repnin; but finding this impossible, he sent a force against them under Grand Hetman Franciszek Ksawery Branicki and two generals against the confederates. This marked the Ukrainian campaign, which lasted from April till June 1768, and was ended with the capture of Baron 20 June.[12] Confederation forces retreated to Moldavia.[12] There was also a pro-Confederation force in Lesser Poland, that operated from June till August, that ended with the royal forces securing Kraków on 22 August, followed by a period of conflict in Belarus (August–October), that ended with the surrender of Nesvizh on 26 October.[12] However, the simultaneous outbreak of the Koliyivschyna in Ukraine (May 1768–June 1769) kept the Confederation alive. The Confederates appealed for help from abroad and contributed to bringing about war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire (the Russo-Turkish War, 1768-1774 that began in September). The retreat of some Russian forces needed on the Ottoman front bolstered the confederates, who reappeared in force in Lesser Poland and Great Poland by 1769.[12] In 1770 the Council of Bar Confederation transferred from its original seat in Silesia to Hungary, whence it conducted diplomatic negotiations with France, Austria and Turkey with a view to forming a league against Russia. The council proclaimed the king dethroned on 22 October 1770. The court of Versailles sent Charles François Dumouriez to act as an aid to the Confederates, and he helped them to organize their forces. So serious did the situation become that King Frederick II of Prussia advised Tsarina Catherine II of Russia to come to terms with the Confederates. The Confederates also began to operate in Lithuania, although after early successes that direction too met with failures, with defeats at Białystok on 16 July and Orzechowo on 13 September 1769.[12] Early 1770 saw the defeats of confederates in Greater Poland, after the battle of Dobra (20 January) and Błonie (12 February), which forced them into a mostly defensive, passive stance.[12]

The Standard of the Bar Confederates
View on Old Bar Fortress Walls Designed by Guillaume Levasseur de Beauplan in Bar, Ukraine
View on Old Bar Fortress Walls Designed by Guillaume Levasseur de Beauplan in Bar, Ukraine
View on Old Bar Fortress Walls Designed by Guillaume Levasseur de Beauplan in Bar, Ukraine
View on Tower Walls of Old Bar Fortress Designed by Guillaume Levasseur de Beauplan in Bar, Ukraine
Panoramic View on Old Bar Fortress Designed by Guillaume Levasseur de Beauplan in Bar, Ukraine

In the meantime, taking advantage of the confusion in Poland, already by 1769—71, both Austria and Prussia had taken over some border territories of the Commonwealth, with Austria taking Szepes County in 1769-1770 and Prussia incorporating Lauenburg and Bütow.[7] On 19 February 1772, the agreement of partition was signed in Vienna.[9] A previous agreement between Prussia and Russia had been made in Saint Petersburg on 6 February 1772.[9] Early in August Russian, Prussian and Austrian troops simultaneously entered the Commonwealth and occupied the provinces agreed upon among themselves. On 5 August, the three parties signed the treaty on their respective territorial gains on the Commonwealth's expense.[4]

An attempt of Bar Confederates (including Casimir Pulaski[15]) to kidnap king Stanisław II Augustus on 3 November 1771 led the Habsburgs to withdraw their support from the confederates, expelling them from their territories.[16] It also gave the three courts another pretext to showcase the "Polish anarchy" and the need for its neighbors to step in and "save" the country and its citizens.[12][17]

The king thereupon reverted to the Russian faction, and for this act targeting their king, the Confederation lost much of the support it had in Europe.[18] Nevertheless, its army, thoroughly reorganized by Dumouriez, maintained the fight. 1771 brought further defeats, with the defeat at Lanckorona on 21 May and Stałowicze at 23 October.[12] The final battle of this war was the siege of Jasna Góra, which fell on 13 August 1772.[12] The regiments of the Bar Confederation, whose executive board had been forced to leave Austria (which previously supported them) after that country joined the Prusso-Russian alliance, did not lay down their arms. Many fortresses in their command held out as long as possible; Wawel Castle in Kraków fell only at on 28 April;[9][19] Tyniec fortress held until 13 July 1772;[20] Częstochowa, commanded by Casimir Pulaski, held until 18 August.[9][21] Overall, around 100,000 nobles fought 500 engagements between 1768 and 1772.[1] Perhaps the last stronghold of the confederates was in the monastery in Zagórz, which fell only on 28 November 1772. In the end, the Bar Confederation was defeated, with its members either fleeing abroad or being deported to Siberia by the Russians.[22]

Bar Confederates taken as prisoners by the Russians, together with their families, formed the first major group of Poles exiled to Siberia.[22] It is estimated that about 5,000 former confederates were sent there.[12] Russians organized 3 concentration camps in Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth for Polish captives, where these concentrated persons have been waiting for their deportation there.[23]


Until the times of the Bar Confederation, confederates, especially operating with the aid of outside forces, were seen as unpatriotic antagonists.[24] But in 1770, during the times that the Russian Army marched through the theoretically independent Commonwealth, and foreign powers forced the Sejm to agree to the First Partition of Poland, the confederates started to create an image of Polish exiled soldiers, the last of those who remained true to their Motherland, an image that would in the next two centuries lead to the creation of Polish Legions and other forces in exile.[24]

The Confederation has generated varying assessments from the historians. While none deny its patriotic desire to rid the Commonwealth from the outside (primarily Russian) influence, some such as Jacek Jędruch, criticize it for its regressive stand on the civil rights issues, primarily with regards to the religious tolerance (Jędruch writes of "religious bigotry", "narrowly Catholic" stand) and assert it contributed to the First Partition[2][14] while others such as Bohdan Urbankowski applaud it as the first serious national military effort trying to restore Polish independence.[24]

The Bar Confederation has been described as the first Polish uprising,[3] and the last mass movement of szlachta.[14] It also is commemorated on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Warsaw, with the inscription "KONFEDERACJA BARSKA 29 II 1768 – 18 VII 1772”.

See also


  1. 1 2 Dominic Lieven. The Cambridge History of Russia: Volume 2, Imperial Russia, 1689-1917. Cambridge University Press. 2006. p. 171.
  2. 1 2 "Confederation of Bar". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2010-04-29. Its activities precipitated a civil war, foreign intervention, and the First Partition of Poland.
  3. 1 2 Alicja Deck-Partyka (June 2006). Poland, a Unique Country & Its People. AuthorHouse. p. 35. ISBN 978-1-4259-1838-5. Retrieved 24 August 2011.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Poland, Partitions of. (2008). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 28 April 2008, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  5. Little, Richard. The Balance of Power in International Relations. Cambridge University Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-521-87488-5
  6. 1 2 Jerzy Lukowski; Hubert Zawadzki (20 September 2001). A Concise History of Poland. Cambridge University Press. p. 84. ISBN 978-0-521-55917-1. Retrieved 24 October 2012.
  7. 1 2 3 Poland. (2008). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 5 May 2008, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: . Section: History > The Commonwealth > Reforms, agony, and partitions > The First Partition
  8. Sharon Korman (5 December 1996). The Right of Conquest: The Acquisition of Territory by Force in International Law and Practice. Oxford University Press. p. 75. ISBN 978-0-19-828007-1. Retrieved 24 October 2012.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 Lewinski Corwin, Edward Henry (1917), The Political History of Poland, Google Print, pp. 310–315
  10. H. M. Scott (15 November 2001). The Emergence of the Eastern Powers, 1756-1775. Cambridge University Press. pp. 181–182. ISBN 978-0-521-79269-1. Retrieved 24 October 2012.
  11. Jacek Jędruch (1998). Constitutions, elections, and legislatures of Poland, 1493–1977: a guide to their history. EJJ Books. p. 159. ISBN 978-0-7818-0637-4. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 (Polish) Barska konfederacja, WIEM Encyklopedia
  13. William Richard Morfill (1893). The story of Poland. G. P. Putnam's sons. p. 215. Retrieved 24 August 2011.
  14. 1 2 3 Jacek Jędruch (1998). Constitutions, elections, and legislatures of Poland, 1493–1977: a guide to their history. EJJ Books. p. 160. ISBN 978-0-7818-0637-4. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
  15. AnnMarie Francis Kajencki (August 2005). Count Casimir Pulaski: From Poland to America, a Hero's Fight for Liberty. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 23. ISBN 978-1-4042-2646-3. Retrieved 4 December 2011.
  16. Daniel Stone (1 September 2001). The Polish-Lithuanian state, 1386-1795. University of Washington Press. p. 272. ISBN 978-0-295-98093-5. Retrieved 4 December 2011.
  17. David Pickus (2001). Dying with an enlightening fall: Poland in the eyes of German intellectuals, 1764-1800. Lexington Books. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-7391-0153-7. Retrieved 4 December 2011.
  18. Daniel Stone (2001). The Polish-Lithuanian State, 1386-1795. University of Washington Press. p. 272. ISBN 978-0-295-98093-5. Retrieved 5 June 2012.
  19. (Polish) Halina Nehring Kartki z kalendarza: kwiecień
  20. (Polish) Tyniec jako twierdza Konfederatów Barskich
  21. Norman Davies (24 February 2005). God's Playground A History of Poland: Volume 1: The Origins to 1795. Oxford University Press. p. 392. ISBN 978-0-19-925339-5. Retrieved 24 October 2012.
  22. 1 2 Norman Davies (1996). Europe: A History. Oxford University Press. p. 664. ISBN 978-0-19-820171-7. Retrieved 24 October 2012.
  23. Władysław Konopczyński, Konfederacja barska, t. II, Warszawa 1991, pp. 733-734.
  24. 1 2 3 (Polish) Bohdan Urbankowski, Józef Piłsudski: marzyciel i strateg (Józef Piłsudski: Dreamer and Strategist), Wydawnictwo ALFA, Warsaw, 1997, ISBN 978-83-7001-914-3, p. 155

Further reading

External links

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