- Free election
Free election (Polish: "wolna elekcja") was the
electionof individual kings, rather than of dynasties, to the Polish throne between 1572and 1791, when "free election" was abolished by the Constitution of May 3, 1791.
Actually the first documented election of a Polish king had occurred as early as
1386, with the selection of Władysław Jagiełło, Grand Duke of Lithuania, to be the first king of Poland's second dynasty. However, while the principle of election continued in effect throughout the nearly two centuries of the Jagiellon Dynasty, it actually amounted to mere confirmation of the incoming dynast.
1572Poland's Jagiellon dynastybecame extinct upon the death, without a successor, of King Zygmunt II August. During the ensuing interregnum, anxiety for the safety of the Commonwealth eventually led to agreements among the political classes that, pending election of a new king, supreme authority would be exercised by the Roman Catholicprimate, acting as "interrex" (from the Latin); that confederations (Polish: "konfederacje") of nobilitywould assume power in the country's respective regions; and that, by the " Warsaw Confederation" of 1573, peace would be maintained among the realm's various religions. The most important decision, however, was that the next king would be chosen by election, whose terms were finally established at a convocation sejm("sejm konwokacyjny") in 1573. On the initiative of southern-Polish nobles, supported by the future Crown (i.e., Polish) great chancellorand hetman Jan Zamoyski, the election would be by all male szlachta( nobles) who assembled for the purpose.
The nobles voted by province (
voivodship) in the presence of deputies, who conveyed the votesto the senate: the choice of king was announced by the senate's marshaland solemnized by the primate.
Royal elections were held at Wielka Wola, outside Warsaw (now that city's western,
Woladistrict). The stormiest elections were those of 1575and 1587, when matters came to blows among the divided nobles. Following an election, the king-elect was obliged to sign pacta conventa (Latin: "agreed-upon agreements")--laundry lists of campaign promises, seldom fulfilled--with his noble electors. The agreements included " King Henry's Articles" ("artykuly henrykowskie"), first imposed on Prince Henri de Valois(in Polish, Henryk Walezy) at the outset of his brief reign (upon the death of his brother, French King Charles IX, Henri de Valois fled Poland by night to claim the French throne).
The last of the
Jagiellonkings, Zygmunt August, had in 1529been elected "vivente rege" (Latin: "during the [previous] king's life"); and about 1660 Queen Ludwika Mariaattempted to engineer a similar election. Such elections were meant to enhance the continuity of royal political power.
Beginning in 1697, Polish royal elections ceased to be truly "free" and took place under duress from foreign armies.
The largest number of participating nobles (40,000–50,000) attended the first free election, in 1573. The second such election, in 1575, drew only 12,000.
Free elections weakened the kings' authority, occasioned quarrels among the voting provinces (voivodships) over the candidates for the throne, and encouraged foreign dynasties' meddling in Polish internal politics. Abolition of free elections became one of the major reforms instituted by Poland's "Great" or "
Four-Year Sejm" ( 1788- 1792) in its Constitutionof May 3rd, 1791.
Prior to the abolition of "free elections," 13 were held in Poland, resulting in the elevation of the following kings:
Henryk Walezy(French, 1573- 1574).
Anna Jagiellon( 1575- 1596).
Stefan Batory(Hungarian, 1576- 1586).
Sigismund III Vasa(Swedish, 1587- 1632).
Władysław IV Vasa( 1632- 1648).
Jan II Kazimierz Vasa( 1648- 1668).
Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki( 1669- 1673).
Jan III Sobieski( 1674- 1696).
August II the Strong(Wettin: Saxon, 1697- 1706).
Stanisław Leszczyński( 1704- 1709).
August II the Strong(Wettin: Saxon, 1709- 1733).
Stanisław Leszczyński( 1733- 1736).
August III the Saxon(Wettin: Saxon, 1733- 1763).
Stanisław August Poniatowski( 1764- 1795).
King Henry's Articles.
Polish Constitution of May 3, 1791.
*pl icon Sebastian Adamkiewicz " [http://histmag.org/?id=1661 Skąd się wzięła elekcja viritim?] "
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