Historical story

Stanisław August Poniatowski. Europe's most indebted king?

Debts were an everyday routine for most monarchs, which they had to get used to quickly. Among the many crowned debtors, the most pathological case was probably the last elected king of Poland, Stanisław August Poniatowski.

The future king began his unhealthy relationship with the world of finance during his youthful journey through Europe. Even though his family guaranteed him considerable sums for all expenses, he soon found himself in a Paris prison - just too long. Only the ties of the Czartoryski family made him regain freedom.

Later brilliancy in salons and numerous romances also did not have a positive effect on Stanisław August's finances. Even more expensive was the ambitious (primarily cultural) policy of the new king of Poland. Poniatowski did not seem to care that his income did not allow him to fulfill his wild dreams. After all, he could always accept gifts from foreign dignitaries representing the future partitioners ...

The king had to surround himself with splendor and splendor. Here during the military revue.

A king without a throne… and money

The real problems began after the third partition of Poland. When the world fell to pieces for Poles, the deposed king was worried whether the invaders would cover his property obligations! They reached the astronomical amount of PLN 40 million .

With that kind of money it was possible to maintain an army of 120,000 for a whole year. Meanwhile, during the war in defense of the Constitution of May 3, the combined forces of the Russians and the Targowicz residents amounted to less than 98,000 soldiers! It was the promise to repay the debts that caused the king to voluntarily, in writing, renounce the Polish crown.

Where did such a large amount come from? According to Jan Wróbel, the author of the book "Polak, Rusek and Niemiec, or How We Broken Our Neighbors' Plans", Poniatowski did not like alcohol, did not smoke, and parties in a typical noble style bored him, because he did not like gluttony. It wasn't about gambling either.

The fortune was consumed by the family, for the king was never able to deny anything to his loved ones. A lot of money was also going to pay for adventurers and blackmailers. First they obtained valuable secrets from the gullible king and then threatened with disclosure.

However, the biggest problem was the king's love of beautiful clothes, works of art and knick-knacks. Even after his abdication, he walked around the galleries and antique shops of St. Petersburg, buying up the most beautiful monuments and works. His treasurers, who were still doing business in Warsaw, only wrung their hands.

It was here that Stanisław August Poniatowski lived after his abdication. Not bad for a fallen king (photo A. Savin, CC BY-SA 3.0).

As if that was not enough, Stanisław August was happy to hand out the purchased rarities to his aristocrats' friends and even Tsar Paul. Information about the life of the deposed king of Poland reached public opinion on the Vistula River and aroused general disgust.

Living like Madrid?

The former king of Poland still paid his family members several hundred ducats a year. He maintained a marble palace in St. Petersburg, where he held events in honor of the tsar, paid for the best doctor in St. Petersburg, an outstanding Italian dentist and the famous chef Paul Tremo. He brought himself water from Bristol to drink and bread was baked for him from Warsaw flour. It all cost a lot.

The invaders promised Poniatowski not only to pay his debts, but also an annual salary of 200,000 ducats. It was worse with the implementation of these obligations. When the Commonwealth was scratched, the Austrians stopped worrying about the payment of these debts, while the Prussians were still late. Only the Russians paid as they should thanks to Tsar Paweł, who was favorable to Stanisław August.

How long was that enough? In January 1795, Poniatowski received 50,000 ducats, but his money ran out in August, although it was supposed to last for the whole year. Even so, the ex-king has consistently refused to strike anyone off his payroll. The constant stress of commitments was destroying the health of the former king, who had learned nothing and was constantly living on the line.

The last king of Poland was dying drowning in humiliating debts.

A man who said in his youth that "it should be a point of honor for every man to pay his personal obligations" he could not follow this maxim. He died on February 12, 1798 in St. Petersburg, leaving no will - how inconvenient for potential successors - left behind. The former monarch at least wanted to spare the family trouble.

Part of the debts was still forced to take over by Prince Józef Poniatowski in order to "save the memory of the late Stanisław August from the shame of bankruptcy ”. Only 123 ducats and 55 rubles were found in the drawer of the deceased's desk.

Editor:Roman Sidorski; photo edition:Roman Sidorski