Jan Sobieski III

The savior of Europe


Portrait of Sobieski after the Battle of Vienna


Jan III Sobieski (born on August 17th, 1629 in Olesko, Poland) was a Polish magnate, soldier, commander and then King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania. He is famous for his great victory in the battle of Vienna (The Relief of Vienna) where, leading the Polish reinforcements to help the Austrian army, he defeated a much bigger Ottoman siege army under the command of Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa.


He belonged to a family with great ancestors, which probably influenced his great ambitions in the future.


"Jan III Sobieski nearby Vienna"

(painting by Jerzy Siemiginowski)

Sobieski received a very thorough education, which was both academic and adventurous. He had the reputation of being a very well-read, educated and knowledgeable person. His military career really started in 1655, when the Swedish attack on Polish and Lithuanian lands, later called The Deluge, started. Initially he sided with the Swedish army together with some Polish magnates, however he changed side in the same year.On 26th of May in 1656 he received his first high military rank. Then he took part in many battles and events during the 1655-1660 campaing, such as siege of Toruń in 1658, negotiations on the Treaty of Hadiach with the Cossacks and offensive against Swedes in Prussia in 1660. Five years later he married Marie Casimire de La Grange d'Arquien, a widow after Jan Zamoyski, though she was criticized because of her adoration of “immoral” French customs and fashion. They were considered a very loving and caring couple, which can be proven by a correspondence letter that was found and saved to this day. They had 13 children of which unfortunately five died instantly after birth. In 1672 Jan Sobieski commited a coup d'état and tried to dethrone then reigning monarch Michał Korybut and put Karol de Longueville, a French duke, on the Polish throne instead . His plan would have succeeded but for Longueville's sudden death. After the coup d'état failed, Jan Sobieski gained success as a military commander, managing to redeem himself by achieving many victories in fighting the Ottoman empire - the biggest in the Battle of Chocim.


The day before the battle Polish king Michael I (the monarch that Sobieski tried to overthrow) died, making Jan Sobieski an even more powerful stakeholder in Polish politics. On 19th of May the following year Jan III Sobieski was elected to rule the Kingdom of Poland. Sobieski was left with Poland devastated after almost half a century of unceasing warfare with Sweden, Russia, Turkey and the Cossack rebellion. His main goal as a king was to strengthen Poland military standing, regain lost territories and drive Ottoman forces away from Europe. Sobieski managed to only partially fulfill his goals and during his reign he distanced himself from a pro-French side, which made Polish-French relations colder.


A coin with Jan III Sobieski portrayal (1683)

There is one interesting story about Jerzy Kulczycki, a Polish spy that used his Turkish skills to infiltrate Ottoman’s camp and gathered the intel that help Vienna’s defence to hold until the Polish reinforcement came. As a reward he wished to receive looted Turkish coffee bags, and then he opened the first coffee shop in Vienna and created a long tradition of coffee making in Austria.


After the crushing victory Sobieski won in the Battle of Parkany in the subsequent military campaign, Poland gained a junior membership place in the Holy League. After so many of fighting Jan III spent his last years in illness. King Jan died in Wilanów in Poland on 17th of June 1696 from a sudden heart attack. Jan III Sobieski was buried in Wawel Cathedral in Cracow together with his wife Marie Casimire Louise that died in 1716 in France.