July 01, 2021

The Foreign Foreign Minister

The Foreign Foreign Minister
Portrait of Adam Czartoryski. Felix Nadar (c. 1860)

On July 15, 1861, in Paris, an old man who had occupied a rather remarkable place in European history breathed his last after a life of disappointments and betrayals, a life that embodied the difficult love-hate relationship that has existed between Russia and Poland for centuries.

Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski was born in 1770 into one of Poland’s most distinguished families. He came of age at a time when his country was being gradually erased from the face of the Earth by the neighboring powers. The first partition of Poland by Russia, Prussia, and Austria was carried out when he was two years old, and the third, after which the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth disappeared from the map of Europe, came when he was 25. The young prince, like many Polish nobles, took part in the fight for his country’s independence. After their cause was defeated, in 1795, Catherine II invited Adam and his brother to enter Russian service. This was not an act of altruism. Nobody used the word “hostages,” but that sense of the situation hung in the air.

Judging by Czartoryski’s memoirs, he did indeed feel like a hostage in St. Petersburg. Both during the final years of Catherine’s reign and later, under her son Paul, the young Pole was shunned at court. Despite what might have seemed to be a privileged position, his life there was dreary and lonely. But then Czartoryski suddenly found a friend.

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