Military Wiki
John II Casimir
Portrait by Bacciarelli
Preceded by Władysław IV Vasa
Succeeded by Michael I
Personal details
Born (1609-03-22)22 March 1609
Kraków, Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth
Died 16 December 1672(1672-12-16) (aged 63)
Nevers, Kingdom of France
Spouse(s) Marie Louise Gonzaga
Claudine Françoise Mignot
Religion Roman Catholic

John II Casimir (Polish language: Jan II Kazimierz Waza

Johann II. Kasimir Wasa; Lithuanian language: Jonas Kazimieras Vaza
22 March 1609 – 16 December 1672) was King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania from 1648 until his abdication in 1668 as well as titular King of Sweden from 1648 until 1660. He was the second son of Sigismund III Vasa and Constance of Austria. His older brother and predecessor on the throne was Władysław IV Vasa.[1][2]

As a prince, John Casimir embarked at Genoa for Spain in 1638 to negotiate a league with Philip IV against France, but was captured by Cardinal Richelieu and imprisoned at Vincennes where he remained for two years. He was released when his brother, Władysław IV, promised never to wage war against France. John Casimir then travelled extensively throughout western Europe and entered the order of Jesuits in Rome. He was made cardinal by Innocent X, however, after returning to Poland, he became a layman and succeeded his brother in 1648. His reign commenced amid the confusion and disasters caused by the great revolt of the Cossacks under Bohdan Khmelnytsky in Ukraine, 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.

The Tsardom of Russia and Sweden, which had long been active enemies of Poland, renewed their attacks. George II Rakoczy of Transylvania also invaded the Polish territory, while the Sejm was continuously dissolved due to abuse of the liberum veto law. Charles X Gustav of Sweden triumphantly marched through the country and occupied Kraków in 1655 forcing John Casimir to flee to Silesia. The Swedes were eventually stopped by Stefan Czarniecki under Częstochowa. 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 placed themselves under the protection of Russian Tsars. During these long battles, 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 as successor to the Polish throne triggered a series of revolts, including a rebellion under Hetman Jerzy Sebastian Lubomirski. As a result, John Casimir abdicated at the Sejm of Warsaw on 16 September 1668. In the following year, he retired to France where he was hospitably treated by Louis XIV. John Casimir's reign was one of the most disastrous in the history of Poland.[3] He was the third and last monarch on the Polish throne from the House of Vasa.

Royal titles

  • Official titles in Latin language: Ioannes Casimirus, Dei Gratia rex Poloniae, magnus dux Lithuaniae, Russie, Prussiae, Masoviae, Samogitiae, Livoniae, Smolenscie, Severiae, Czernichoviaeque; nec non-Suecorum, Gothorum, Vandalorumque haereditarius rex, etc.
  • English translation: John Casimir, by God's grace King of Poland, Grand Duke of Lithuania, Ruthenia, Prussia, Masovia, Samogitia, Livonia, Smolensk, Severia and, Chernihiv; and also hereditary King of the Swedes, Goths and Vandals.


Early life, family and rise to power

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]

A silver ewer from 1640 commissioned by John Casimir

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. 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

Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1648

Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1660

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 language: 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 29 September 1669. Before his death John Casimir intended to return to Poland, however shortly before the journey in Autumn 1672 he fell dangerously ill, his condition exacerbated by alarm at the news of the fall of Kamieniec Podolski, which had been 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 the manner in which the former king still suffered at the defeats endured by his kingdom, and the extent of his concern about the loss of what was, after all, only one city. He died on December 16, 1672 from apoplexy, and his burial took place 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

On 1 April 1656, during a holy mass in the Latin Cathedral in Lwów, conducted by the papal legate Pietro Vidoni, John II Casimir in a grandiose and elaborate ceremony entrusted the Commonwealth under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 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.

As almost the whole country was occupied by Swedish or Russian armies, the vow was intended to incite the whole nation, including the peasantry, to rise up against the invaders. Two main issues raised by the king in the vows were the necessity to protect the Catholic faith, seen as endangered by the Lutheran (and to some extent Orthodox) aggressors, and to manifest the will to improve the condition of the peasantry.

After the King, a 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 objections by the Sejm, which represented the szlachta nobility and was not attracted to the idea of reducing serfdom, which would negatively affect their economic 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 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

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

  • History of Poland (1569–1795)



John II Casimir Vasa
House of 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
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
Władysław IV
King of Sweden
Treaty of Oliva
Brienne claim
Succeeded by
Henri de La Trémoille

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).