Stanislas Leszczynski, King of Poland and Duke of Lorraine

Stanislas Leszczynski, King of Poland and Duke of Lorraine

Stanislas Leszczynski, the King of Poland who opposed the Saxons and the Russians to preserve the independence of his country, remains in our memories as the great-grandfather of three Kings of France: Louis XVI, Louis XVIII and Charles X. Without ceases to flee, he was a philosopher, always in a good mood and knew how to take advantage of the life offered, saying moreover "he who has a lot is not the happiest: he is the one who wants little and who knows how to enjoy what he has ".

First steps in politics

He was born on October 20, 1677 in an influential family belonging to the great Polish nobility since the 16th century, his father being Palatine of Poznanie, great treasurer of the crown, his mother daughter of a great general who defeated the Swedes and the Cossacks . He studied in Leszno in Wielkopolskie, learning science, mathematics, literature and speaks perfectly Latin, German, Italian, French. At the age of 18, his educational journey took him to Vienna, Venice, Rome, Florence, Paris, but he had to cut his journey short in 1696, when King John Sobieski died.

Bearing the title of Count of Leszno, exercising the function of responsible for the province of Poznan, he took his first steps in politics and sat in the senate: Stanislas was elected to the diet which was preparing the final election of the new king. Faced with two tough competitors (the Prince of Conti and the son of the previous king), he withdrew from the final vote and gave way to the King of Saxony, Frederick Augustus, crowned in Krakow in September 1697 under the name of Augustus II. Stanislas, however, has the honor to present the condolences of the assembly to the widow of King Jean Sobieski. He does wonders with his speaking skills.

At the age of 21 in May 1698, Stanislas married the daughter of a Polish magnate Opalinski and the countess Catherine Opalinska, who would give him two daughters Anna in May 1699, and Marie in June 1703. She brought him as a dowry sixty towns and a hundred and fifty villages; he was thus at the head of a huge estate when his father Raphael III died in 1703.

Stanislas Leszczynski Ephemeral King of Poland

Charles XII King of Sweden refuses the alliance that Augustus II signs with Russia and Denmark against him. Conquered by the good-naturedness of Stanislas, he will maneuver as much as he can to prove Augustus II's "inability to reign" and install Stanislas on the throne. What is done on October 4, 1705 in Warsaw, not without difficulty because Augustus II tries to kidnap Stanislas! The new king of Poland can count on his "protector" until 1709 during the great defeat of Charles XII in Russia, who fled to the Turks. With the Russian and Saxon armies advancing on Warsaw, Stanislas had only one solution: to abdicate.

While informing Charles XII, Stanislas takes refuge in Stettin, then in Stockholm. He does not have the victorious temperament and the optimism of the King of Sweden, he knows that Poland would be even more unhappy if he persisted, he lost all his possessions, and the last straw: he lodges a refugee in the foreigner! During this time, Augustus II regains possession of Poland. Despite Charles XII's injunctions to hold out at all costs, Stanislas decided to join him in Turkey in the winter of 1712, disguised as a French officer. After a complicated journey, an arrest on arrival and a quick release, Stanislas pleads with the King of Sweden to accept his abdication. With a burst of understanding, Charles XII offered him the Duchy of Two Bridges in Germany, while waiting to find his kingdom of Poland.

Stanislas returns via Vienna and the Duchy of Lorraine. In Lunéville, in need, he pledged his jewelry and despite the assumed name of Comte de Cronstein, he was recognized by Mr. de Beauvau acquired from the Duke of Lorraine, who left him his jewelry and advanced the estimated amount.

At the beginning of July 1714, Stanislas arrived at Deux Ponts and discovered an old castle; the income is 70,000 crowns, but the four hundred Swedes in the garrison ate a good chunk of it. Being of good composition, Stanislas bowed to this situation and three months later brought his wife and two daughters. He knows how to adapt to this new peaceful life, despite the untimely death of his eldest in June 1717.

In Poland, Charles XII was still maneuvering for Stanislas to take back the crown, although Augustus II tried again to capture Stanislas in August 1717. When the King of Sweden died at the end of 1718, Stanislas was forced to change his domicile: he He first settled near Landau then took refuge in Wissembourg in 1719, thanks to the Regent Philippe d'Orléans who granted him a monthly pension of 4,000 pounds, the Duke of Lorraine granting him a loan of 30,000 pounds. He lacked funds to settle down, Stanislas pledged his jewelry and made a proposal to Augustus II: he was ready to relinquish his crown if he got his property back! Because you have to marry your second daughter who has just turned 18! The suitors are rare in front of the poverty of the family. Stanislas has a reason: he has a happy affair with the wife of a French officer, he philosophizes, hunts, goes for walks and enjoys the quiet pleasures of life.

Louis XV's stepfather

In France, after the departure of the Infanta from Spain, who was too young, there remained seventeen contenders for Louis XV's marriage out of the ninety-seven who left: either they were not Catholics, or as poor as the daughter of Stanislas. The Duke of Bourbon, acting after the death of the Regent, proposes to marry Marie, Stanislas is happy with this outcome. He receives the portrait painter of the great of the kingdom who leaves with the portrait of Mary in February 1725. At the beginning of April, the Duke of Bourbon asks him for the hand of his daughter… for the King of France!

As Stanislas passes out, there is consternation in France. But Louis XV is satisfied with the portrait "neither beautiful nor pretty, but fresh complexion, lively eyes, cultivated, gentle in character, great kindness like his father". Stanislas, recovered from his fainting, will recover his pledged jewelry, thanks to a loan of 13,000 pounds granted by the government in Strasbourg.

The marriage takes place by proxy on August 15, Stanislas receives good news at the beginning of September and then thinks "I have lost the throne of Poland, but my future grandson will ascend the throne of France": he was beaming with happiness. In 1729, Louis XV moved his parents-in-law to Chambord with a small pension, but the castle was empty. Used to having little, Stanislas manages his funds and does not furnish everything; life is quietly organized between his devout wife, his mother who stuffs herself and stuffs herself, her walks in the forest, her readings "we live in great tranquility which is the sweetness of my life", making a cross on his throne of Poland, because no one moves in France while Augustus II is alive.

Stanislas Leszczynski regains his throne of Poland ...

Auguste II died in February 1733, several candidates presented themselves including his son Auguste III and Stanislas Poniatowski, former faithful of our Stanislas. The Marquis de Monti, French Ambassador to Poland, will do everything to ensure that Stanislas regains his throne despite exile. Helped by the sympathizing party, he spends without counting, explaining that Stanislas is supported by the King of France, that he would never invade Poland while the neighbors threatened (Austria, Prussia, Russia), that he is even ready to defend them in the event of an invasion of one of the members of the Treaty of the Three Black Eagles (Germany, Russia and Prussia to remove any Polish pretender to the crown).

In March 1733, Monti asked France to send him Stanislas… who did not move. Stanislas hesitates: he is sure of regaining his throne, but not at all sure of the welcome of the Poles; Courageous and lucid, he saw that he did not have the support of the French prime minister: if war was to break out, he could not count on France. Stanislas embarked in Brest in August 1733, then was arrested in Copenhagen by the Czarina who closed the roads ... Finally, he took a post chair, disguised as a German merchant's clerk. He arrived safely on September 8, with the election taking place on the 11th. The whole expedition had been organized by Monti, the Secret action department was functioning well. On September 10, Stanislas leaving the embassy is recognized, the population is in turmoil, no one had expected his presence! The next day, he was elected unanimously, minus three abstentions. At the same time, 5,000 Poles were deserting!

A regular at escapes

Barely elected, knowing that the Russian army was advancing, Stanislas then engaged in two glorious battles; faced with the number of attackers, having no regular army, he left Warsaw on September 22, joined Danzig and awaited assistance from France.

This help will never come, Louis XV having decided to declare war on Emperor Charles VI (an ally of the Russians invading Poland), by installing his army on the German border near Italy. This is the start of the war of "Polish succession". Augustus III was crowned on October 5, 1733 with the support of 40,000 Russians, 20,000 Saxons ravaging the country and 36,000 soldiers advancing on Danzig!

Help finally arrived in April 1734, but only with 1950 men and 20 rifle bullets each! They quickly turned back using "common sense" in the face of the size of the enemy troops. Faced with the ultimatum posed by the Russians "for the freedom of Danzig, the King of Poland must be delivered, or he succeeds in fleeing", the city is still fighting despite the exhaustion of the soldiers and the ambassador decides to an evacuation plan at the end of June: pass between enemy posts, on the canals, cross the Vistula and reach Prussia.

After being deeply indignant that Cardinal Fleury did not want to send help, Stanislas fled again while remaining in a good mood, helped by a Swedish general, both disguised as peasants. The journey does not always go as planned, Stanislas is "put back in place" by the guides, he the King of Poland, father-in-law of the King of France! You must not be difficult, it is no longer a question of keeping your throne, but of saving your skin, the enemy is everywhere and a price for his head is "a great reward to whomever will bring him back dead or alive"! The expedition lasted more than a week, through the canals, from farm to farm, in wagons covered with goods, until he was rescued, welcomed by the King of Prussia in Koenigsberg in early July. Frederick William I offered him a guard of honor and a decent pension. A few days later, Danzig surrendered, the small group of Stanislaus believers was imprisoned in a castle near Marienburg by the Russian army.

At Versailles, no one dares to tell the Queen of France everything, so much so that special pamphlets favorable to Stanislas are printed! During this time, the King of France signs a famous treaty called Pragmatique Sanction: François III duke of Lorraine marries Marie-Thérèse of Habsbourg putting an end to the war of Succession of Poland, France recovering the duchies of Bar and Lorraine, in thinking of installing Stanislas there!

Stanislas Leszczynski reigns over the duchies of Bar and Lorraine

The negotiations having lasted two years, Stanislas signed his abdication to the throne of Poland on January 27, 1736, harassed and forced by Versailles. Even her daughter pushes her father by showing him that Lorraine is not far away, that in the absence of Poland this new duchy would be just as good, and at least he would not be a king without a throne! Forced to sign the "secret declaration of Meudon" at the beginning of June with a condition "his Polish Majesty, not caring to take care of the embarrassments which concern the administration of finances and revenues of the duchies of Bar and Lorraine, abandons the concern to the King of France, now and forever ”, he receives an income of 2,000,000 pounds per year, a steward bearing the title of Chancellor, and the honorary title of King of Poland. Stanislas would reign without governing! And as he knows how to do it on all occasions, he takes it with philosophy.

Antoine Chaumont de la Galaizière, pushed by Cardinal Fleury takes possession of the duchies in February and March 1737, having all the powers. Stanislas made his entry into Lunéville on April 3 in front of a recalcitrant people, but found Mr de Beauvau an old acquaintance who had crossed his path 23 years earlier and who settled him in his mansion. Stanislas is happy, he will take care of rehabilitating the castle of Lunéville, which is uninhabitable, and that of Bar, which is unfurnished. Who could think that he will reign 29 years over his duchies and especially that he will be loved?

Stanislas "the Beneficent"

As soon as he arrived, Stanislas, who was unwanted, set to work by constituting his Council of State, Finance and Commerce; he puts his money into work, fights against famine, constitutes a kind of social security to deal with unforeseen events such as accidents, illness or infirmity, establishes free consultations with lawyers for the poor, establishes an order of the Congregation of the Brothers of the Schools in 1748 and participates in the maintenance of schools to obtain free admission to several schools in Nancy. This good man "rounded corners" when his chancellor imposed French laws.

Everything went well until 1740, when the War of the Austrian Succession began. Three years later, despite the French armies stationed in Strasbourg and faced with the advancing Germans, Stanislas left Lunéville to take refuge in Metz. In 1746, he returned to Lorraine, took care of his castle which had burned down in 1744. Queen Catherine died in March 1747, the Marquise de Boufflers nicknamed "the Lady of Volupté" became his mistress, Stanislas took advantage of life and grace to his passion for desserts he invents "the baba": finding that the kouglof is too dry, he soaks it in rum. He found all the faithful of his escapes: Thyange, the knight of Solignac, Tercier and welcomed Montesquieu in 1747 and Voltaire in 1748-1749. Its courtyard is "more breathable" than that of Versailles, it is a haven of peace with a taste for things of the mind!

Architect of Lunéville and Nancy

Major works are undertaken in the castle of Lunéville, where he even created a throne room. He redesigned the gardens, had a Turkish-inspired kiosk installed there, a pavilion in Chinese fashion, a series of 88 automatons at the “Rocher” in 1742, had “the Chartreuses” built for the favorite courtiers so that they could hold a living room. . Visitors come from far away to appreciate these wonders of Lunéville. Everything will be gradually destroyed by Louis XV on the death of Stanislas because the king wants to transform the castle into a military barracks!

In Nancy, he had the Church of Notre Dame de Bonsecours built in 1738, he reunited the medieval Old Town and the New Town, built with his own funds the Place Royale (future Place Stanislas) inaugurated in 1755, created a large public library and a Royal Society of Sciences and Belles Lettres in 1750 as well as the Royal College of Medicine in 1752.

Fatal day for Lorraine

On February 5, 1766, Stanislas got too close to the fireplace and his fur dressing gown was caught on fire (a gift from his daughter). He tries to put out the start of the fire, but falls into the blaze. When the guard manages to enter the room, it is too late: an entire side of Stanislas's body is burned and one of his hands is charred.

Stanislas died seventeen days later, on February 23, 1766, at the age of 88. His remains rest in the vault of the Notre Dame de Bonsecours church, with his wife Catherine Opalinska.

Following the agreements made with Louis XV, Nancy became French and in 1831, the population installed a statue in her honor in the center of the Place Royale with the inscription " To Stanislas le Bienfaisant, grateful Lorraine ».


- Stanislas Leszczynski, biography of Jacques Levron. Perrin, 2009.

- When Stanislas reigned in Lorraine, by Guy Cabourdin.

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