John II Casimir Vasa

For other monarchs with similar names, see John of Poland (disambiguation).
John II Casimir

Portrait by Bacciarelli
King of Poland
Grand Duke of Lithuania
Reign November 1648 – 16 September 1668
Coronation 19 January 1649
Predecessor Władysław IV Vasa
Successor Michael I
Born (1609-03-22)22 March 1609
Kraków, Poland
Died 16 December 1672(1672-12-16) (aged 63)
Nevers, France
Burial 31 January 1676
Wawel Cathedral, Kraków
Spouse Marie Louise Gonzaga
Claudine Françoise Mignot
Issue John Sigismund Vasa
Princess Maria Anna
House Vasa
Father Sigismund III Vasa
Mother Constance of Austria
Religion Roman Catholic

John II Casimir (Polish: Jan II Kazimierz Waza; German: Johann II. Kasimir Wasa; Lithuanian: Jonas Kazimieras Vaza; 22 March 1609 – 16 December 1672) was King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania[1] during the era of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Duke of Opole in Upper Silesia, and titular King of Sweden 1648–1660. In Poland, he is known and commonly referred as Jan Kazimierz. His parents were Sigismund III Vasa (1566–1632) and Constance of Austria (1588–1631). His older brother, and predecessor on the throne, was Władysław IV Vasa.[2]

In 1638 he embarked at Genoa for Spain to negotiate a league with Philip IV against France, but suffering shipwreck on the coast of Provence, he was seized and by order of Cardinal Richelieu imprisoned at Vincennes, where he remained two years, and was only released on promise of his brother the king of Poland never to wage war against France. He then travelled through various countries of western Europe, entered the order of Jesuits in Rome, was made cardinal by Innocent X, however, after his return to Poland he again became a layman, and, having succeeded his brother in 1648, married his widow, Queen Marie Louise Gonzaga. His reign commenced amid the confusion and disasters caused by the great revolt of the Cossacks under Chmielnicki, who had advanced into the very heart of Poland. The power of the king had been stripped of almost all its prerogatives by the growing influence of the nobles.

Russia and Sweden, which had long been active enemies of Poland, availed themselves of its distracted condition, and renewed their attacks. George II Rakoczy of Transylvania too, invaded the Polish territory, while diet after diet was dissolved by abuses of the liberum veto. Charles X Gustav of Sweden triumphantly marched through the country, and occupied Kraków (1655), John Casimir having fled to Silesia. Before Częstochowa, however, the Swedes met with an unexpected check, and a confederation of the nobles against all enemies of the country having been formed, Stefan Czarniecki won a series of victories over the Swedes, Transylvanians, Cossacks, and Russians. The wars with the Swedes and Russians were terminated by treaties involving considerable cessions of provinces on the Baltic and the Dnieper on the part of Poland, which also lost its sway over the Cossacks, who put themselves under the protection of the czar. During these long disturbances John Casimir, though feeble and of a peaceful disposition, frequently proved his patriotism and bravery.[3]

The intrigues of his wife in favor of the duke of Enghien, son of the prince of Condé, as successor to the throne, having brought about a rebellion under Hetman Jerzy Sebastian Lubomirski, and a bloody though short civil war, the king finally resolved upon abdication, and resigned his crown at the diet of Warsaw on September 16, 1668. In the following year he retired to France, where he was hospitably treated by Louis XIV. His wife had died without issue before his abdication.[3]

John Casimir's reign was one of the most disastrous in the history of Poland, whose dismemberment by the houses of Moscow, Brandenburg, and Habsburg, as it took place 100 years after his death, he predicted in a memorable speech to the diet of 1661.[3]

Related to the Habsburg rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, he was the third and last monarch on the Polish throne from the House of Vasa. He was the last ruler of Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth bearing a blood connection to the Jagiellon dynasty.

Royal titles


Early life, family and rise to power

Portrait of Prince John Casimir of Poland by Anthony van Dyck, ca. 1640

John Casimir was born in Kraków on 22 March 1609.[4] His father, Sigismund III, the grandson of Gustav I of Sweden, had in 1592 succeeded his own father to the Swedish throne, only to be deposed in 1599 by his uncle, Charles IX of Sweden. This led to a long-standing feud wherein the Polish kings of the House of Vasa claimed the Swedish throne, resulting in the Polish–Swedish War of 1600–1629. Poland and Sweden were also on opposite sides in the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), although in that conflict Poland for the most part avoided taking part in any major military actions and campaigns, instead supporting the Austrian Habsburg and Catholic fraction.[5] His mother, Queen Constance, was the daughter of Charles II of Austria and Maria Anna of Bavaria and also the younger sister of Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor.

John Casimir for most of his life remained in the shadow of his older half-brother, Władysław IV Vasa. He had few friends among the Polish nobility. Unfriendly, secretive, dividing his time between lavish partying and religious contemplation, and disliking politics, he did not have a strong power base nor influence at the Polish court instead supporting unfavorable Habsburg policies. He did, however, display talent as a military commander, showing his abilities in the Smolensk War against Muscovy (1633).[6]

Between 1632 and 1635, Władysław IV sought to enhance his brother's influence by negotiating a marriage for John Casimir to Christina of Sweden, then to an Italian princess, but to no avail. In 1637 John Casimir undertook a diplomatic mission to Vienna, which he abandoned to join the army of the Holy Roman Empire and fight against the French. After his regiment was defeated in battle, he spent a year living lavishly at the Viennese court where his strong anti-Cossack interests and political views were greatly shaped under the direct influence of the Austrian Emperor.

Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1660

In 1636 he returned to the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and fell in love with Baroness Guldentern, but his desire to marry her was thwarted by King Władysław. In return, Władysław attempted to make him the sovereign of the Duchy of Courland, but this was vetoed by the Commonwealth parliament (Sejm). Taking offence at this, John Casimir in 1638 left for the Kingdom of Spain to become Viceroy of Portugal, but was captured by French agents and imprisoned by the order of Cardinal Richelieu until 1640. He was then freed by a diplomatic mission of the appointed Voivode of Smolensk, Krzysztof Gosiewski.

In 1641 John Casimir decided to become a Jesuit. In 1642 he again left the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, accompanying his sister to Germany. In 1643 he joined the Jesuits, against vocal opposition from King Władysław, causing a diplomatic rift between the Commonwealth and the Pope. John Casimir was made a cardinal, but in December 1646, finding himself unsuited to ecclesiastical life, he returned to Poland. In October 1647 he resigned as cardinal to stand in elections for the Polish throne. He attempted to gain the support of the Habsburgs and marry an Austrian princess to create and alliance between the nations in case of an unexpected attack, possibly from the east.

King of Poland

In 1648 John Casimir was elected by the Polish Parliament to succeed his half-brother on the Polish throne. The reign of the last of the Vasas in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth would be dominated by the Russo-Polish War (1654–67), followed by the war with Sweden ("The Deluge"), the scene for which had been set by the Commonwealth's two previous Vasa kings. Most of Poland was invaded by the Swedish army during the Deluge without much of a fight, due to the conspiratorial complicity of Polish and Lithuanian governors and nobility. In the course of a few years, the Commonwealth rose to force the Swedes out of Poland, ending the short-lived intrusions and campaigns, however, at a high cost. Most of the cities and towns in the Commonwealth were sacked, plundered and some were burnt to the ground, mostly by the retreating enemy units. Although the reign of John Casimir is remembered to be one of the most disastrous and perhaps most unsuccessful in the history of Poland and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, he is often referred to as the "warrior king" that fought bravely to save his nation and his people.

In 1660 John II Casimir was forced to renounce his claim to the Swedish throne and acknowledge Swedish sovereignty over Livonia and the city of Riga in modern-day Latvia.

John Casimir had married his brother's widow, Marie Louise Gonzaga (Polish: Maria Ludwika), who was a major support to the King. Marie Louise suddenly died in 1667 and this may have caused the monarch's early political decline.

Abdication and death

On 16 September 1668, grief-stricken after the death of his wife in the previous year, John II Casimir abdicated the throne of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and returned to France, where he joined the Jesuits and became abbot of Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris. Following his abdication Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki (Michael I) was elected the new king and was crowned on September 29, 1669. Before his death John Casimir intended to return to Poland, however shortly before the journey in Autumn 1672 he fell dangerously ill to the news of the fall of Kamieniec Podolski, which was seized by the Ottomans. He then turned to Pope Clement X to ask for assistance for the Commonwealth in a defensive war against the Turks. The French, who were secretly in contact with him during his stay in the abbey, were astonished by such a great affection of the king to remember the loss of his kingdom, and so concerned about the loss of only one city. Nevertheless, distressed and seriously ill John II Casimir died shortly after the unexpected Turkish invasion of Poland on December 16, 1672 from apoplexy and was buried inside the Wawel Cathedral in Kraków.[5][7] His heart was interred in the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

The Lwów Oath

Lwów Oath, by Jan Matejko

As almost the whole country was occupied by the Swedish or Russian armies, the reason behind the vow was to incite the whole nation, including peasantry in the first place, to rise up against the invaders. Thus two main issues raised by the king in the vows were primarily - a necessity to protect the Catholic faith, seen as endangered by the Lutheran (and to some point Orthodox) aggressors, secondly - to manifest the will to improve the peasantry's condition.

On 1 April 1656, during a holy mass in Lwów's Cathedral, conducted by the papal legate Pietro Vidoni, John II Casimir in a grandiose and elaborate ceremony entrusted the Commonwealth under the Blessed Virgin Mary's protection, whom he announced as The Queen of the Polish Crown and other of his countries. He also swore to protect the Kingdom's folk from any impositions and unjust bondage.

Today, the Blessed Virgin Mary is known as the Queen of Poland.

After the King, similar vow was taken by the Deputy Chancellor of the Crown and the bishop of Kraków Andrzej Trzebicki in the name of the szlachta noblemen of the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth forces finally drove back the Swedes in 1657 and the Russians in 1661. After the war, promises made by John Casimir in Lwów, especially those considering peasants' lot, were not fulfilled, mostly because of Sejm's objection, which represented the szlachta nobility, not attracted to the idea of reducing serfdom, which would negatively affect their economical interests.

Social and economic changes

John II Casimir, by Daniel Schultz

The two decades of war and occupation in the mid-17th century, which in the case of Lithuania gave a foretaste of the 18th-century partitions, ruined and exhausted the Commonwealth. Famines and epidemics followed hostilities and wars, and the population dropped from roughly 11 to 7 million. The number of inhabitants of Kraków and Warsaw fell by two-thirds and one-half, respectively. The city of Vilnius, the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was completely burned down and destroyed by the invaders. The Khmelnytsky uprising decimated all the Jews in Ukraine, even if they recovered fairly rapidly demographically. The productivity of agriculture diminished dramatically owing to labour shortages, the destruction of many farm buildings and farming implements, and the loss of numerous cattle. The dynamic network of international trade fairs also collapsed. Grain exports, which had reached their peak in the early 17th century, could not redress the unfavourable balance of trade with western Europe. Losses of valuable and significant art treasures - the Swedes engaged in systematic looting - were irreplaceable.

The Commonwealth never fully recovered, unlike Muscovy, which had suffered almost as much during the Time of Troubles and during several Polish invasions. Twentieth-century historians blamed the manorial economy based on serf labour for pauperising the masses and undermining the towns, yet the Polish economy was not unique in that respect. Moreover, some attempts to replace serfs with rent-paying tenants did not prove to be a panacea. The economic factor must therefore be treated jointly with other structural weaknesses of the Commonwealth that militated against recovery.

The 17th-century crisis - a European phenomenon - was basically a crisis of political authority. In the Commonwealth the perennial financial weakness was the central issue. The state budget in the second half of the century amounted to 10–11 million złotys. About nine-tenths of it went for military purposes, compared with half in Brandenburg and more than three-fifths in France and Russia. Equating a large army with royal absolutism and extolling the virtue of noble levies, the szlachta (nobility) was unwilling to devise defensive mechanisms. This was true even after the chastising experience of the Swedish "Deluge". Most nobles contented themselves with invoking the special protection of St. Mary, symbolically crowned queen of Poland, as a sufficient safeguard.[8]


John Casimir left no surviving children. All his brothers and sisters having predeceased him without surviving issue, he was the last of the line of Bona Sforza. With him, all the legitimate issue of Alfonso II of Naples died out. His heir in Ferdinand I of Naples and in the Brienne succession was his distant cousin, Henry de La Tremoille, Prince of Talmond and Taranto, the heir-general of Frederick IV of Naples (second son of Ferdinand I of Naples and Isabella of Clermont), who also was the heir-general of Federigo's first wife, Anne of Savoy.

John Casimir was, after his brother, the head of the genealogical line of St. Bridget of Sweden, descending in primogeniture from Bridget's sister. After his death, the headship was offered to his second cousin, the already-abdicated Christina I of Sweden.

Patron of the arts

Portrait of a Rabbi
A silver ewer from 1640 commissioned by John Casimir

The vast collection of paintings, portraits, porcelain and other valuables belonging to the Polish Vasas was mostly looted by the Swedes and Germans of Brandenburg who brutally sacked Warsaw in the 1650s, during the Deluge.[9] Most of them were sold off to wealthy nobles, displayed in other parts of Europe or would eventually belong to private collectors, though some of the famous works survived hidden in Opole like The Rape of Europa by Guido Reni.

The most important additions to the royal collection were made by John II Casimir, a passionate collector of Dutch paintings, and a patron of Daniel Schultz (who painted a famous portrait of a son of Crimean Aga Dedesh, and was made Royal falconer in reward for his father's contribution during the war with Russia in 1663[10]). A major part of the king's painting collection was acquired in 1660s, by way of Hendrick van Uylenburgh, an agent in Amsterdam, and later his son Gerrit van Uylenburgh. These were mainly Dutch paintings and works by Rembrandt. The collection also included works by Rubens, Jordaens, Reni, Guercino, Jan Brueghel the Younger, and Bassano, among others.[9]

When John Casimir abdicated the Polish–Lithuanian throne, he brought many of his paintings and portraits with him to France. The collection remaining at Royal Castle in Warsaw was looted during the Great Northern War or appropriated in 1720 by Augustus II the Strong, Elector of Saxony, like two paintings by Rembrandt Portrait of a Rabbi (1657) and Portrait of a Man in the Hat Decorated with Pearls (1667), today displayed in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden, Germany.[9]

In fiction

John Casimir was a character in Henryk Sienkiewicz's novels With Fire and Sword (Ogniem i Mieczem) and The Deluge (Potop).

See also


Wikimedia Commons has media related to John II Casimir of Poland.


John II Casimir Vasa
Born: 22 March 1609 Died: 6 December 1672
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Władysław IV
King of Poland
Grand Duke of Lithuania

Succeeded by
Michael I
King of Sweden
Treaty of Oliva
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