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420th Anniversary of the Birth of Hetman Stefan Czarniecki

Stefan Czarniecki, of the Łodzia coat of arms, was most likely born in the family estate of Czarnca in the Chęciny County in 1599. The exact date of his birth is not known. This is not surprising as the future field hetman of the Polish Crown, victor of the Muscovites and the Swedes, came from the so-called middle nobility. His family was not significant enough for the birth of the subsequent children to capture the attention of its contemporaries. As a result Czarniecki had to earn his place in the history books on his own.

Stefan Czarniecki chose a career in the army early on, and starting from 1626 he fought against the Swedes, the Russians and the Cossacks. His military talent was recognized − in 1651 he was already commanding a hetman’s regiment, and a year later he was promoted to the position of the crown camp leader. In the subsequent years, he was entrusted with the command of independent army divisions that were sent to Ukraine to fight against the Cossacks. However, he gained real fame during the Swedish Deluge. As the only higher-ranked Crown commander, he remained loyal to King John Casimir Vasa, for whom he bravely defended Kraków in the autumn of 1655. After the king returned to the country, Czarniecki was appointed an army commander in the rank of army leader.

He successfully waged war against the Swedes, employing “hit and run” tactics, and in 1657 he defeated the army of George II Rákóczi, the prince of Transylvania who was allied with the Swedes. He achieved further victories one year later, when he was sent to Denmark as the commander of reinforcements for the anti-Swedish coalition. After returning to Poland, he led the campaign against the Russians in Lithuania, defeating them in the battle of Połonka, and forcing them to retreat to the country’s eastern frontiers (1660). One year later, he crushed the Russians again in the battle of Kuszliki.

During the period of military confederations (1661-1663), he remained loyal to the king, supporting the planned election reforms and fighting against the pro-Muscovite Cossacks. In recognition of his merit, near the end of his life he was promoted to the office of the field crown hetman (1665). He was also a senator as the castellan of Kiev (1655), and then the voivode of Ruthenia (1657) and of Kiev (1664). For the subsequent generations he became a symbol of a soldier and a patriot whose name was immortalized in Dąbrowski’s Mazurka.

Dariusz Milewski