Cover of the book 'Poland' by James A. Michener.

Bedlam in Poland

The ups and downs of three Polish families bring to life eight centuries of the country’s history: the Tatar attack in the 13th century, the war against Sweden, the tragic Polish Partitions, and the horrors of the second World War up to the creation of the Solidarity.

Poland’s throne was never hereditary. The parliament, consisting of representatives of the most influential noblemen, had immense power. The king could not decide to wage war or levy taxes without their permission. Moreover, every member of the parliament had the power of veto, which meant that hardly any decisions were made.

The same parliament had the right to choose a new king from the candidates that were put forward. They usually selected someone from another country, which they preferred to granting someone from their own circle royal power. What’s more, foreign powers would reward them well if they voted for their candidate. In this way, they selected a king from Sweden three times in a row: in 1587, in 1632 and in 1684.

The last king of Poland was elected in 1764. It was a Polish one, too: Stanislaw Poniatowski. He obtained the throne through his affair with Catharine the Great who sent an army to Poland and forced the parliament to vote for her candidate.

In 1795, Austria, Prussia and Russia decided to abolish Poland altogether, having already seized various sizeable parts of it. Only after the first World War does Poland appear on the map again. As a buffer between the East and the West.

James A. Michener, in his historical novel 'Poland', paints a splendid picture of the history of nobility, farmers, and peasants; always at the mercy of the politics of the larger European countries using Poland as a pawn in their own strategic interests.

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