One night in December 1755, Stanislaw Antoni Poniatowski, the twenty-three-year-old secretary to the British Ambassador in St Petersburg, was introduced into the bedroom of the Grand Duchess Catherine Alekseyevna. This marked the beginning of a torrid and clandestine affair which led to Stanislaw being crowned King of Poland in 1764.
The young king was a dashing figure in the finest eighteenth-century tradition. He was a perfect illustration of the contradictions of Europe's ideological and religious viewpoints: worshipped reason but was led by the heart; professed Catholicism but believed in Providence; toyed with the occult and practised freemasonry. A great believer in art and education, he spent fortunes on cultural projects, and finding that he was blocked politically by Catherine, he put his energies into a social and artistic regeneration. He transformed the mood and outlook of his country and brought it to a new phase of reform and independence, culminating in the passing of the Constitution in 1791, hailed in Britain, France and the United States as one of the greatest events of the century.
Poland's neighbours, however, viewed this beacon of liberty in their midst with alarm, and as they invaded and partitioned it, Stanislaw was obliged to watch the destruction of his life's work, and ultimately forced to abdicate, a broken man, deceived and disillusioned. The Last King of Poland is the rich and enthralling story of a personal dream with all the elements of grand tragedy, while at the same time an important chronicle of the birth and death of liberalism in Poland and the establishment of Russian power in Europe.
Hardback. Very good condition. Dustcover unclipped.