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The Polish Revolt 1830 -31


The Life of H P Blavatsky in the Context of History


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Captain Peter Alexeyevich von Hahn (1798 - 1873), the father of H P Blavatsky was a Russian cavalry officer who saw action in Tsar Nicholas I’s brutal suppression of the Polish uprising of 1830 -31 which took place at the time of HPB’s birth in 1831.



The November Uprising (1830–1831)—also known as the Cadet Revolution—was an armed rebellion against Russia's rule in Poland. It was started on November 29, 1830 in Warsaw by a group of young conspirators from the army's officer school in Warsaw and was soon joined by large part of the Polish society. Despite several local successes, the uprising was eventually defeated by a numerically superior Russian army under Ivan Paskevich and their resistance was crushed.


Poland before the uprising


After the Partitions of Poland, Poland as an independent nation ceased to exist.

However, the Napoleonic Wars and Polish participation in the wars against

Russian Empire and Austria resulted in the creation of a rump Duchy of Warsaw.


Although the Congress of Vienna brought the existence of that state to an end as

well, Poland was not directly annexed by the occupying powers. Instead, the

Prussian and Russian sections were organised into the semi-autonomous Duchy of Poznań and the Congress Kingdom.


Initially, the Congress Kingdom enjoyed a relatively large amount of freedom and was only indirectly subject to Russian rule. United with Russia merely through a personal union, the state could elect its own government and parliament, had its own courts, army and treasury. Over time, however, the freedoms granted to the Kingdom were gradually reduced and the constitution was progressively ignored by Russian authorities. Unlike Alexander I, his brother Nicholas I never went to Warsaw and was never crowned the King of Poland. Instead, he appointed Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich as governor-general of Poland, disregarding the constitution.


Despite numerous protests by various Polish politicians who actively supported

the personal union, Grand Duke Konstantin had no intention of following the

regulations set by the constitution, one of the most liberal in Europe at that

time. He persecuted Polish social and patriotic organisations, the liberal

opposition of the Kaliszanie faction, and replaced Poles with Russians in

important posts in local administrations. Although married to a Pole (Joanna

Grudzińska), he was commonly viewed as an enemy of the Polish nation. Also, his command over the Polish Army led to serious conflicts within the officer corps. This led to various conspiracies throughout the country, most notably within the army.




Revolutionaries fighting the Russian cuirassiers near the palace of Belweder, an

1898 painting by Wojciech KossakThe armed struggle finally started when a group of conspirators led by a young cadet from the Warsaw officers' school, Piotr Wysocki, took the arms from their garrison on November 29, 1830, and attacked the Belweder Palace, the main seat of the Grand Duke. The last spark that ignited Warsaw was a Russian plan of using the Polish Army to suppress the July Revolution in France and the Belgian Revolution, which was a clear violation of the Polish constitution. The rebels managed to enter the residence, but Grand Duke Konstantin managed to escape in woman dress and notified the nearby unit of Cossack cavalry.


The rebels then turned to the main city arsenal, capturing it after a short

struggle. The following day armed Polish civilians forced out the Russian troops

in Warsaw, causing them to flee to the north of the city.


The Uprising


Loyalists in the local Polish government (Administrative Council) led by Prince

Adam Czartoryski initially tried to disarm the revolutionaries and to settle the

issue peacefully. However, the radicals among the rebels vowed for an national

uprising, and soon a Provisional Government was created by adding several

radicals, among them Joachim Lelewel, to the Administrative Council. On December 5, 1830, General Józef Chłopicki was named Dictator of the Uprising.

The first movement of Chłopicki was sending Count Franciszek Ksawery

Drucki-Lubecki to Petersburg to mediate in the conflict. Chłopicki believed that

the Tsar was unaware of the deeds of his brother and that the Uprising could be

ended if only the Russian authorities accepted the Constitution. At the same

time Chłopicki refused to strengthen the Polish Army and to start hostilities.

However, the radicals within the armed crowd in Warsaw pressed for war with

Russia and the complete liberation of Poland. On December 13, the Polish Sejm

pronounced the National Uprising against Russia, and on January 7, 1831, Count

Drucki-Lubecki returned from Russia with no concessions. The Tsar demanded a complete and unconditional surrender of Poland and announced that the Poles

should surrender to the grace of their Emperor. This foiled Chłopicki's plans,

and he resigned the following day.


Power in Poland was now in the hands of the radicals united in the Towarzystwo

Patriotyczne (Patriotic Society) led by Joachim Lelewel. On January 25, the Sejm passed the Act of Dethronization of Nicholas I, which ended the Polish-Russian personal union and was equal to a declaration of war on Russia. Soon a 115,000 strong Russian army under Hans Karl Friedrich Anton, count von Diebitsch crossed the Polish borders. On January 29, the National Government of Adam Czartoryski was established, and Michał Radziwiłł was chosen as the successor of Chłopicki.


The Russo-Polish war


Emilia Plater fighting near Szawle; 1904 painting by Wojciech KossakThe

hostilities started in February and saw the Polish Army completely unprepared

for a confrontation with a strong, numerically and technically superior, enemy.

However, the morale of the Polish troops was high and the field commanders were often skilled veterans of the Napoleonic Wars. The first major battle took place on February 14, 1831, near the village of Stoczek near Łuków. In what became known as the Battle of Stoczek, the Polish cavalry under Brigadier Józef

Dwernicki defeated the Russian division of Teodor Geismar. However, the victory had mostly psychological value and could not stop the Russian advance towards Warsaw. The following battles of Dobre, Wawer and Białołęka were inconclusive.


Finally, on February 25, a Polish Army of approximately 40,000 met a Russian

force of 60,000 in the fields to the east of Warsaw. In what became known as the Battle of Olszynka Grochowska, both armies withdrew after almost two days of heavy fighting and with considerable losses on both sides. General Chłopicki was wounded in the battle and finally withdrew from the uprising. His successor was General Jan Skrzynecki.


A View of the War


KossakAdam Czartoryski said that the war with Russia, precipitated by the conspiracy of the young patriots on November 29, 1830, came either too early or too late. Some writers think that it should have been opened in 1828, when Russia was experiencing reverses in Turkey and was least able to spare any considerable forces for a war with Poland. Many military critics, among them the foremost Russian writer, General Puzyrewski, maintained that in spite of the inequality of resources of the two countries, Poland had all the chances of holding her own against Russia if the campaign had been managed skillfully. Russia sent over a hundred and eighty thousand well trained men against Poland's seventy thousand, twenty thousand of whom were fresh recruits who entered the service at the

opening of hostilities. "In view of this, one would think that not only was the result of the struggle undoubted, but its course should have been something of a triumphant march for the infinitely stronger party. Instead, the war lasted eight months, with often doubtful success. At times the balance seemed to tip decidedly to the side of the weaker adversary who dealt not only blows, but even ventured daring offensives."


When this war ended in the defeat of Poland it was not the fault of the Polish

soldier who does not know fear and who is ever ready to offer his life upon the

altar of his country; it was not the fault of the country which made all

sacrifices in the name of the cause for which the war had been declared and

never tired of giving support in both life and money; it was rather the fault of

the military leaders in whom the people had supreme confidence, and upon whom they bestowed dictatorial power.


It had so long been preached in Poland that anarchy and a lack of concord were

the causes of national downfall that when war came, afraid lest some discord

ruin the new opportunities, the people demanded absolute power for their leaders and tolerated no criticism. The pendulum swung to the other extreme.

Unfortunately the men chosen to lead because of their past achievements were

either senile or utterly incompetent to perform the great task imposed upon

them. And what was worse, they had no faith in the success of the undertaking.

By procrastination they ruined all chance of the victory which might have been

theirs if the line of battle had been summarily established in Lithuania, and if

the Russian forces slowly arriving had been dealt with separately and

decisively. The first clashes of a Polish outpost with a Russian corps under

Paskievich show what feats of bravery the enthusiastic Poles could perform even when fighting against such tremendous odds as in the Battle of Stoczek. Despite a superiority of two to one and of competent guidance the Russians suffered complete defeat. Because of their spirit and temperament the Poles are more adapted to offensive than to defensive warfare. Polish Generalissimo Chłopicki knew this well yet because of his opposition to the war, criminal under the circumstances, and his hope that by negotiations the conflict might be averted, he tarried, allowing the Russians to gain by the delay, to cross rivers

unobstructed and to concentrate large forces at convenient points in Poland

proper. Dilatory tactics characterized the whole preliminary period of the war.

Taken by surprise at the rapid succession of events during the night of November 29th, the Administrative Council assembled immediately to take the reins of government into their hands and to decide on a course of action. The unpopular ministers were removed from the Council and men like Prince Czartoryski, the historian Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, Joachim Lelewel and General Chlopicki, took their places. Submitting to strong pressure brought to bear upon him, Chlopicki, who condemned the conspirators and considered the uprising an act of madness, consented to command the army temporarily, in the hope that it would be unnecessary to take the field. The perspicacious and farseeing, Maurycy Mochnacki did not trust the newly constituted ministry, fearing that it did not possess sufficient self-reliance and determination for spirited action, and decided to overthrow it and substitute in its place the Patriotic Club, organized by him. On December 3rd a great public demonstration was held in Warsaw. Amid a storm of enthusiasm Mochnacki furiously denounced the dealings that were going on between the Government and Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich who was camped outside the City in a suburb, protected by his guard.


"Negotiations should be carried on not from Warsaw with Constantine, but from

Wilno with Nicholas," Mochnacki shouted to the animated crowd. He advocated the transfer of the campaign to Lithuania and the selection of as remote a field of

operations as possible to spare the country the devastation incident to war, and

to shield the native sources of food supply. The meeting adopted a number of

demands to be communicated to the Administrative Council, among which the most urgent were the establishment of a revolutionary government and the immediate attack upon the forces of Constantine. Intensely dramatic was the scene when the delegation appeared at the session of the Council and demanded action. The ill-boding murmur of the surging crowd outside the building gave grave weight to their demands.


When Prince Czartoryski told the delegates that Constantine was ready to forgive the offenders and that the whole matter was being amicably settled, the

passionate Mochnacki angrily interrupted: These are jests, sir. We did not rise

for the sake of receiving kindness from Constantine! Let the Government not play comedy now. It may end in tragedy for the revolution or for its foes! The city was seething. The Government realized that it had to concede to the demands of the people, but fearing an immediate break with Russia, permitted Constantine to depart with his troops, dragging the unfortunate Lukasinski with him in chains.


It was an unpardonable blunder to allow the Grand Duke to escape instead of

holding him as a valuable hostage, to be released in exchange for some future

political gain and it was nothing short of dastardly crime to allow the

vindictive Russians to lead away with them the unselfish and heroic patriot



After Constantine's departure the Polish army, with all but two of its generals,

Vincent Krasinski and Kurnatowski, joined the people and the uprising of the

young conspirators turned into a regular war between Poland and Russia. The

remaining four ministers of the pre-revolutionary cabinet left the Administrative Council, and their places were taken by Mochnacki and three of his associates from the Patriotic Club. The new body was known* as the Provisional Government.


To legalize its actions the new government ordered the convocation of the Diet and meanwhile proclaimed Chlopicki as Dictator. In his day Chlopicki had been an able and glory bedecked soldier who, because of the chicanery of

Constantine, retired from the army and lived in seclusion. When called upon to lead the nation against Russia he was nearing senility, and did not possess the executive ability and resourcefulness required by the exigencies of the moment.


He overestimated the power of Russia and underestimated the strength and fervor of the Polish revolutionary army. By temperament and conviction he was inveterately opposed to a war with Russia, in the success of which he did not believe, and if he insisted upon a dictatorship and accepted it, it was only because he intended to use his extraordinary powers to maintain internal peace and to save the Constitution. On assuming the great office he sent two delegates to Emperor Nicholas and awaiting a favorable reply, refused to mobilize the forces of the nation and to free Lithuania from the Russian garrisons. The people chafed under his inactivity and their erstwhile enthusiasm turned to restlessness and despair, but their faith in the Dictator was still unshaken.


Meanwhile the deputies to the Diet began to arrive at the capital and at their

first session declared themselves unequivocally for war with Russia. At the same

time, Chlopicki's delegates informed the Dictator that the Emperor did not care

to enter into any negotiations, but. demanded unconditional surrender and

complete submission to his good graces. Whereupon Chlopicki, having

irretrievably wasted valuable time, resigned. On January 25, 1831, the Diet

proclaimed the dethronization of Nicholas I and thus lawfully broke the personal

union which existed between the Kingdom of Poland and Russia by the terms of the Vienna Congress treaty. The bond uniting the two nations was severed. The

proclamation declared that "the Polish nation is an independent people and has a

right to offer the Polish crown to him whom it may consider worthy, from whom it might with certainty expect faith to his oath and wholehearted respect to the

sworn guarantees of. civic freedom." Five men were selected to constitute the

government. They were Prince Adam Czartoryski, Chairman, Vincent Niemoyowski, the famous deputy from Kalisz, who during the preceding decade had fearlessly exposed the Russian machinations to cramp constitutional life in Poland, Theophile Stanislav Barzykowski, and the celebrated Professor Joachim Lelewel of the Wilno University. The new government set itself energetically to work at the great task imposed upon it, and soon a considerable army was mustered and equipped for action.


Chlopicki was persuaded to accept the active command of the army and Prince

Michael Radziwill was made Dictator. It was too late to move the theatre of

hostilities to Lithuania. By the end of January Russian forces appeared in

Poland commanded by Field Marshal Deebitch. After a series of minor battles in

which Dwernicki and other generals distinguished themselves, the Polish forces

assembled on the right bank of the Vistula to defend the capital. On February

25th the famous battle of Grochov took place, noted for the dogged determination of the adversaries. Over seven thousand Poles fell on that field.


The number of killed in the attacking army was considerably larger. The increasing assaults of the doubly strong Russian army were repeatedly repulsed and Deebitch was forced to retire to Siedlce. Warsaw was saved, and the Polish army remained triumphant and confident. Chlopicki, whose soldierly qualities reasserted themselves at the sound of battle, was wounded in action and his place taken by John Skrzynecki who, like his predecessor, had won distinction under Napoleon for personal courage and had been general of the line in the Polish army. Disliked by Grand Duke Constantine, he had retired from service and had spent his advancing years in lazy speculations over transcendental questions. He shared with Chlopicki the conviction of the futility a war with Russia, but with the opening of hostilities took command of a corps and fought creditably at Grochov. When the weak and indecisive Michael Radziwill surrendered the dictatorship, Skrzynecki was chosen to succeed him. Unfortunately, he also lacked the qualities of firmness and high generalship essential to meeting a difficult situation. He endeavored to end the war by negotiations with the Russian Field Marshal, and, in his political artlessness, hoped for benign foreign intervention. Sympathetic echoes of the Polish aspirations reverberated throughout Europe, and the astounding heroism of the Polish army won popular admiration for the country and her endeavors to free herself from oppression. Under Lafayette's presidency, enthusiastic meetings had been held in Paris. Some money for the Polish cause was also collected in the United States and flags sent to the Polish heroes. The chancelleries of France and England, however, did not share in the feelings of their people. Louis Phillippe, elevated to royal dignity by a revolutionary tide, thought but of securing for himself recognition on the part of all European governments, and Lord Palmerston was in too friendly relations with Russia at the time even to listen to Polish entreaties.


Moreover, England regarded with alarm the reawakening of the French national spirit and had come to the conclusion that its policy ought to be not to weaken Russia, "as Europe might soon again require her services in the cause of order, and to prevent Poland, whom it regarded as a national ally of France, from becoming a French province of the Vistula."* Austria and particularly Prussia adopted a most hostile attitude and hampered the cause of Poland by a benevolent neutrality toward Russia. They closed the Polish frontiers and prevented the transportation of munitions of war or supplies of any kind. Under such circumstances the war with Russia began to take on a somber and disquieting aspect.


No amount of devotion and sacrifice could avert the impending catastrophe. The Poles fought desperately and attempts were made to rouse Volhynia, Podolia, Zmudz and Lithuania. With the exception of the Lithuanian uprising which took on a serious aspect under ardent leadership, in which the youthful Countess Emily Plater and several other women distinguished themselves, the guerilla warfare carried on in the frontier provinces was of minor importance, and served only to give the Russians an opportunity of wreaking their vengeance on the peaceful population.


Notorious was the slaughter of the inhabitants of the small town of Oszmiana in

Lithuania. Meanwhile, new Russian forces under Grand Duke Michael arrived in

Poland but met with many defeats. They were frequently out-manuvered by superior Polish strategy. Constant warfare, however, and bloody battles such as that at Ostroleka in which eight thousand Poles lost their lives, considerably depleted the Polish forces and cast despondency over the country. Regrettable mistakes on the part of the commanders, constant changes and numerous resignations and above all the indolence of the Generalissimo who had not ceased to count on foreign intervention, added to the feeling of despair. The more radical elements of the community severely criticized the government for its inactivity, its lack of land reforms and the recognition of the peasants rights to the soil they tilled.


By identification of their interests with the national liberty, the masses of

the people could be gained for further efforts. Such a course of action was

strongly indicated and there should have been no delay in adopting it. There was

no time for academic discussion yet the Diet fearing lest the reactionary

governments of Europe might regard the war with Russia as social revolution

procrastinated and haggled over concessions. The original enthusiasm of the

peasantry became dampened, and the incompetence and ineptitude of the government more apparent. The thundering denunciations of the democrats were unavailing. In the meantime, the Russian army, commanded after the death of Deebitch by General Paskievitch, was concentrating and moving in a huge semi-circle toward Warsaw.


Skrzynecki failed to prevent the juncture of the enemy's forces. Popular clamor

demanded his deposition. The Diet acted accordingly and General Dembinski

temporarily assumed command. The atmosphere was highly charged. Severe rioting tookplace and the government became completely disorganized. Count Jan Krukowiecki was made the President of the Ruling Council. He took everything in hand with much energy and determination, but had no faith in the success of the campaign and accepted the highly responsible position to satisfy his personal ambition. He believed that when the heat of the aroused passions had subsided he could end the war on, what seemed to him, advantageous terms.


After a desperate defense by General Sowiński, Warsaw's suburb of Wola fell into Paskievitch's hands on September 6th. The next day saw the second line of the capital's defensive works attacked by the Russians. During the night of the 7th Krukowiecki capitulated, although the city still held out. He was immediately

deposed by the Polish government and replaced by Bonawentura Niemoyowski.


The army and the government withdrew to the fortress of Modlin, on the Vistula,

subsequently renamed Novo-Georgievsk by the Russians, and then to Plock, where the dramatic climax of the war was reached. New plans had been adopted when the staggering news was received that the Polish crack corps under Ramorino, unable to join the main army, had laid down its arms by crossing the Austrian frontier into Galicia. It became evident that the war could be carried on no longer.


On October 5, 1831, the Polish army of over 20,000 men crossed the Prussian

frontier, and amid scenes of heart rending despair and grief laid down their

arms at Brodnica in preference to submission to Russia. Only one man, a colonel by the name of Stryjenski, won the peculiar distinction of giving himself up to the grace of Russia. All the others chose voluntary exile rather than life under Russian rule. Following the example of Dombrowski of a generation before, General Bem endeavored to reorganize the Polish soldiers in Prussia and Galicia into Legions and lead them to France. The Prussian government frustrated his plans in spite of the sympathy shown by the people. The immigrants left Prussia in bands of from fifty to a hundred, and their journey through the various German lands was a "triumphal march." The population of the principalities through which they passed greeted them with enthusiasm.


Banquets and festivities were given in their honor, cities were illumined, fiery speeches were made, and great hospitality was shown. Poetry vied with prose in extolling Polish heroism and patriotism. Even some of the German sovereigns, such as the King of Saxony, the Princess of Weimar and the Duke of Gotha shared in the general outburst. of sympathy. It was only upon the very insistent demands of Russia that the Polish committees all over Germany had been closed. Meanwhile, "the storm birds of the revolution flew across central Europe and brought with them the breath of freedom, awakening the feelings which were slowly taking hold of the German people and kindling in them the striving for liberty which seventeen years later found expression in deeds which shook the foundations of absolutism and reaction."


In the meantime Russia proceeded "to restore order" in the conquered country,

for the possession of which she never obtained legal title. Neither the Polish

Government nor the powers which signed the treaty of Vienna gave sanction to the incorporation of Poland into the Russian Empire. It was done by force of arms and had no authority under the law of nations. Until the outbreak of the present war [WW1] the country had been held by virtue of military occupancy alone. The importance of this fact should not be underestimated in considering Poland's future status.


After the fall of the November Uprising, Polish women who emigrated to France

used to wear black ribands and jewellery as a symbol of mourning for their lost

homeland. Such images can be seen in the first scenes of the movie Pan Tadeusz, filmed by Andrzej Wajda in 1999, based on the Polish national epic.

The Scottish poet Thomas Campbell who had championed the cause of the Poles in The Pleasures of Hope, was so affected by the news of the capture of Warsaw by the Russians in 1831 as if it had been the deepest of personal calamities. "Poland preys on my heart night and day," he wrote in one of his letters, and his sympathy found a practical expression in the foundation in London of the Association of the Friends of Poland.



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