The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Partitions of Poland

The Partitions of Poland (Polish Rozbiór or Rozbiory Polski) happened in the 18th century and ended the existence of a sovereign state of Poland (or more correctly the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth). They involved Prussia, Russia and Austria dividing up the Polish lands between themselves. The three partitions occurred in:

The term "Fourth Partition of Poland" may refer to any of subsequent divisions of the Polish lands, specifically:



In traditional history one finds the claim that the regional powers partitioned Poland-Lithuania because of the degeneration of the state and because of the inability of the Poles to rule themselves at the time. Nevertheless the darkest period of Polish history and the nadir in the degeneration of the state occurred in the first half of the 18th century, whereas the partitions happened when Poland had started (slowly) to recover — in fact one can see the last two partitions as a direct answer to strengthening reforms in Poland-Lithuania and the threat they represented to its neighbours. In other words, the partitions did not happen because Poland was a degenerate, weak and backward country; rather, Poland suffered partitioning because it was weak, backward, and tried to reform itself.

One could characterise Poland-Lithuania before the partitions as already not a completely sovereign state: in modern terms it would be a Russian satellite state, with Russian Tsars effectively choosing the Polish kings.

The neighbours of Poland, namely Prussia, Austria and Russia, signed a secret agreement in order to maintain the status quo: specifically, to ensure that Polish laws would not change. Their alliance later became known as the "Alliance of the Three Black Eagles", because all three states used a black eagle as a state symbol (in contrast to the white eagle, a symbol of Poland).

The Poles tried to expel foreign forces in an uprising (the Confederation of Bar, 17681772), but the irregular and poorly commanded forces had no chance in face of the regular Russian army and suffered crushing defeat.

First Partition

TODO Why it happened, reforms in Sejm

On February 19, 1772, the agreement of partition was signed in Vienna. A previous agreement between Prussia and Russia had been made in St. Petersburg on February 6, 1772. Early in August the Russian, Prussian and Austrian troops simultaneously entered Poland and occupied the provinces agreed upon among themselves. On August 5, 1772, the occupation manifesto was issued; much to the consternation of a country too exhausted by the heroic endeavours of the Confederation of Bar to offer further resistance.

The regiments of the Confederation, whose executive board had been forced to leave Austria after that country joined the Prusso-Russian conspiracy, did not lay down their arms. Every fortress in their command held out to the very last round of ammunition and the last ounce of food. Famous was the defence of Tyniec , which lasted until the end of March 1773, and also that of Czestochowa commanded by Pulaski. Cracow fell on April 28th, captured by the Russian general Suvorov who exiled the heroic garrison to Siberia. Neither France nor Britain, upon whom such great hopes had been based, helped in a sufficient measure or protested when the partition was executed. So came to a tragic end the noble but ill-organized attempt of patriotic Poland to save itself from foreign aggression. It had cost about a hundred thousand men and once more laid the unfortunate country waste, it was the first demonstration of the reviving national conscience, the first armed protest before the eyes of Europe against outrage and unheard of oppression.

The dismemberment treaty was ratified by its signatories on September 22, 1772. Frederick was elated with his success; Kaunitz was proud of wresting as large a share as he did, with the rich salt mines of Bochnia and Wieliczka; and Catherine was also very satisfied. By this "diplomatic document" Russia came into possession of that section of Livonia which had still remained in Polish hands, and of White Russia embracing the counties of Vitebsk, Polotsk and Mscislav; Prussia took Warmia and West Prussia as far as the Netze and embracing the county of Pomerania, without the city of Gdansk, the counties of Malbork, Chelmno, without the City of Torun, and some districts in Greater Poland; and to Austria fell Zator and Oswiecim, part of Little Poland embracing parts of the counties of Cracow and Sandomir and a great portion of Ruthenia in other words, the whole of Galicia, less the City of Cracow. By this partition Poland lost about 30% of her territory, amounting at that time to about 484,000 square miles, and about four million of her people. The largest share of the spoils, as far as population and revenue were concerned, went to Austria.

After having occupied their respective territories, the three partitioning powers demanded that the King and the Sejm approve their action. The King appealed to the nations of Western Europe for help and tarried with the convocation of the Sejm. When, as usual, no help was forthcoming and the armies of the combined enemies occupied Warsaw to compel by force of arms the calling of the assembly, no alternative could be chosen save passive submission to their will. Those of the senators who advised against this desperate step were arrested and exiled to Siberia by the representatives of the Tsarina. The local land assemblies refused to elect Deputies to the Sejm, and after great difficulties less than half of the regular number of representatives came to attend the session, most of them men of degraded character, led by Adam Lodzia Poninski, the commander of the Malta Order, a cynic and notorious gambler, willing to undertake anything for money. In order to prevent the disruption of the Sejm and the defeat of the purpose of the despoilers he undertook to turn the regular Sejm into a Sejm of a Confederacy, where majority rule prevailed. In spite of the dramatic efforts of Tadeusz Reytan, Samuel Korsak and others to prevent it, the deed was accomplished with the aid of Michael Radziwill and the dishonourable Bishops Mlodzieyowski, Massalski, and Ostrowski, who occupied high positions of State and who were ready to sell their country and honour for Russian gold. The Sejm elected a committee of thirty to deal with the various matters presented. On September 18, 1773, the Committee formally signed the treaty of cession, renouncing all claims of Poland to the territories taken from her.

Second Partition

The adoption by the Commonwealth of the second modern codified constitution in the world, May Constitution of Poland, propmted agressive actions on the part of its neighbours, afraid of the renaissance of the strong Commonwealth. In the War of Constitution, pro-Russian Polish magnates, the Confederation of Targowica, with neutral support from Austria fought against the Polish forces supporting the constitution. Betrayed by their Prussian allies, pro-constitution forces were defeated and the 2nd and 3rd partitions happened over the next few years, effectively erasing the Commonwealth from the world maps forever.

Third Partition

Main article: Partitioned Poland (1795–1914)

TODO Kosciuszko Uprising

Russian part included 120,000 km˛ and 1.2 million people with Wilno, Prussian part 55,000 km˛ and 1 million people with Warsaw, Austrian 47,000km˛ and 1.2 million.


TODO trauma for Poles, never-ending source of troubles for Europe (alliance with Napoleon, uprisings: 1830-1, 1846, 1848, 1863, 1905...)

Last updated: 05-06-2005 14:55:32