Swedish Deluge. How did the Swedes sack Poland during the Deluge?

  • Sweden at that time was … as poor as a church mouse. Its kings could only dream of luxurious mansions and furniture. The country had barely a million inhabitants, and its casket was empty
  • The Swedes took literally everything. Pictures, jewelry, tableware, mirrors and tablecloths fell into their hands. Altars, crucifixes, chasubles, covers, organs, baptismal fonts and candlesticks, as well as cans, canopies and busts disappeared from churches
  • After the Swedish occupation, Warsaw presented a picture of poverty and despair. The population of the capital decreased from fifteen thousand to six
  • We have been discovering the scale and brutality of the Swedish robbery to this day. It is well shown by treasures that have been extracted from the Vistula in recent years. Among the finds you can see, among others, a garden fountain with mannerist mascarons and a marble between the arches with the coat of arms of the Vasa dynasty
  • The Swedish collection still includes the helmet of Tsar Ivan the Terrible, first stolen from the Kremlin by the Polish army, and then taken from Poland during the Deluge
  • You can read more about the history on the Onet homepage

The deluge brought enormous destruction to the Republic of Poland, probably comparable only to the ordeal of World War II. The invaders in Poland behaved like Huns or Vandals. The country’s population decreased by up to 40 percent. Of the ten million inhabitants, six remained. In Greater Poland, where the army of Karol Gustaw stayed the longest, only half of the population survived.

Where does this barbarism come from in our northern neighbors? All because the then Sweden was … poor as a church mouse. Its kings could only dream of luxurious mansions and furniture. The country had barely a million inhabitants, and its casket was empty. Mighty rulers lived modestly, feasting on wooden benches and tables without tablecloths. As the Swedish historian Herman Lindqvist tells:

Sweden looked like a collapsed village. Shakespeare’s plays were premiered in Stockholm 15 years later than in Warsaw. In Warsaw, they were shown by the famous Shakespearean theater The Globe from Stratford-upon-Avon, and only third-class theater troupes reached Sweden.

Gold scraped off the slats

In history, Scandinavians have plundered and destroyed Poland more than once. At the beginning of the 17th century, during the reign of Gustaw Adolf, they removed the Copernicus book collection from Frombork. In turn, at the end of this century, during the reign of Charles XII, they sometimes used archival Polish books as bedding for horses. The scale of the looting that took place during the Deluge, however, turned out to be incomparably greater. In 1655, the soldiers of Karol Gustaw, disheartened during the Thirty Years’ War that had ended seven years earlier, threw themselves on Poland like a hungry animal.

The Swedes took literally everything. Pictures, jewelry, tableware, mirrors and tablecloths fell into their hands. Altars, crucifixes, chasubles, covers, organs, baptismal fonts and candlesticks, as well as cans, canopies and busts disappeared from churches. Larger items such as sculptures, fountains, plaques, epitaphs, regalia, and even … bells were not spared. Marbles, bowls, pitchers and plates were very popular among the looters, but fireplaces were taken, floors and upholstery were torn off. Animal skins, dresses, military items, banners, tents, tapestries, carpets, and all kinds of furniture: wardrobes, armchairs, tables, chests, stairs, balustrades, window sills and doors were taken away – together with door frames. The soldiers, so as not to miss anything, even scraped the gilding off the slats!

Interestingly, the loot from Polish churches was often taken to their own churches and stored there as pious gifts after a successful war expedition. The gains from Catholic Poland in the Protestant congregation had a symbolic value: here the Reformation won over the papists.

During the wars with the Republic of Poland, northern neighbors looted at least 17 archives and 67 libraries. Only during the Deluge did they remove the book collections from, among others, Poznań, Warsaw, Kraków, Toruń, Bydgoszcz, Grudziądz, Lublin, Sandomierz and Radom. Even the names of particularly active robbers have survived. For example, the Swedish diplomat Schering Rosenhane was responsible for looting the Jesuit book collections in Bydgoszcz and Toruń in 1656. Thanks to his military activity, he later boasted one of the largest libraries in Sweden.

Capital city in ruins

After the Swedish occupation, Warsaw presented a picture of poverty and despair. The population of the capital decreased from fifteen thousand to six. The invaders ruined the bishop’s palaces, the rich mansions of the Kazanowski, Ossoliński and Daniłowicz families, as well as the houses of the townspeople. They stole the castle and the royal palaces. As on November 8, 1655, the Polish king of Warsaw, Karol Gustaw, was informed:

he ordered the upholstery in three palaces to be torn off and the marble walls to be taken out, and to take down the log cabin in the garden, consisting of 32 beautiful marble columns, which had been broken when dismantled. But that’s not enough: it orders windows and panes to be taken.


Photo: Press materials

3. Villa Regia visible on a fragment of the panorama of Warsaw by Erik Dahlberg

After the war, the secretary of Queen Louise Maria described that “the Swedes contaminated the castle so much that it was uninhabitable. They even led the horses into the third-floor chambers, which are full of dung and the bodies of fallen Swedish soldiers. ” The residence was unusable, so Jan Kazimierz moved to Villa Regia (Kazimierz Palace). Even later, despite a quick renovation, it did not return to its former glory. King Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki preferred to live in the Ujazdowski Castle, and Jan III Sobieski preferred Wilanów outside the period of parliamentary sessions.

Interestingly, the Swedes did not loot the Zygmunt column from Warsaw. Disassembling it turned out to be too difficult and there was no engineer who would cope with the task. It was very unpleasant to Karol Gustaw, who wanted to get rid of her, so that she would not remind us of the former Polish victories and the claims of the Vasa from the Vistula to the Swedish throne. When the idea of ​​moving or removing the monument didn’t work out, the Swedish king even considered blowing it up. Ultimately, he kept it with a view to a possible “exchange” for his captured field marshal Arvid Wittenberg.

Cultural desert

The flood wave also hit other cities. It didn’t matter whether they defended or surrendered, or whether they were promised not to rob them or not. Krakow trusted the words of the invaders and paid dearly for it. The Scandinavians looted Wawel and the cathedral eight times! They torn off the silver sheets from the altar of St. Stanisław, and silver nails were torn out from the coffin of Władysław IV. It was similar elsewhere. Of the larger centers in the Commonwealth, only Gdańsk and Lviv did not suffer during the invasion.

The castles were also ruined. The Swedes took 150 wagons full of loot from the Lubomirski residence in Wiśnicz, then partially blew it up. They also devastated Krzyżtopór, Czersk, Tenczyn, Lanckorona, Pieskowa Skała … The Eagle’s Nests from the times of Casimir the Great fell into ruins. Countless churches and monasteries were also robbed. Church and private collections were taken away.

Even smaller settlements did not avoid looting, because the army had to “feed itself” during long marches. As a result, as many as several hundred villages disappeared from the maps. In Greater Poland, three-quarters of the land was fallow, and in Mazovia no more than half of the fields were sown.

It is no exaggeration to say that the wars with the Swedes turned Poland into an economic ruin and a cultural desert. – According to many historians, neither the later partitions, nor the Nazi occupation, nor the Soviet trophy brigades caused such losses for the Polish national culture – point out Marcin Jamkowski and Hubert Kowalski, authors of the book “Saved from the Deluge”.


Photo: Press materials

Marble between the arch with the royal coat of arms of the Vasa dynasty taken from the bottom of the Vistula River. Picture from the book “Saved from the Deluge”

We have been discovering the scale and brutality of the Swedish robbery to this day. It is well shown by treasures that have been extracted from the Vistula in recent years. They sank while being transported towards the Baltic Sea. “Perhaps the rafter did not know the river and fell on underwater boulders? Maybe the heavy marbles overloaded the barges and the boats began to take on water? Or were they shot at? We don’t know that, ”write Jamkowski and Kowalski. Among the finds you can see, among others, a garden fountain with mannerist mascarons and a marble gap with the coat of arms of the Vasa dynasty. The question is, was there anything the invaders would not want to steal?

Treasures in the attic

After the end of the war, did even some of the stolen items come back to Poland? Under the Treaty of Oliwa of 1660, one could expect at least the return of the archives. Article 9 of the agreement stated that “all archives, town, court, spiritual and royal library public records that had been removed from the Swedish side shall be returned”. Article 7 promised the same to private owners.

Practice has shown, however, that it is not so easy to inventory and find looted books. Polish envoys acted slowly and ineptly. Then came more wars. The missions, organized during the times of Jan III Sobieski and Stanisław August Poniatowski, also did not bring any results, until finally the Republic of Poland fell.

The treasures lost by the Commonwealth, which the Swedes proudly exhibit in their museums, are still a headache to this day. Unfortunately, the current owners do not even want to discuss a possible return. After all, the Oliwa treaty did not provide for this. Currently, there are voices that in total … Swedish robbery saved Polish treasures from inevitable destruction during World War II!

The historian Henryk Lindqvist, quoted in “Rescued from the Deluge,” believes, however, that the situation is not hopeless. As he claims:

“Personally, I hope that it will be possible to negotiate the return of items that are important to Poland, Denmark or Iceland and give them back as a gesture of friendship. Especially those that are really important, that belong to the nation, are closely related to its soul and history. . “

Maybe it would be worth talking about it with our neighbors, who also suffered as a result of the actions of the invaders from the north? After all, the Swedes took from Prague the famous Codex Gigas, the largest medieval manuscript, also known as the Devil’s Bible, and the priceless Silver Bible, written in the 6th century in the Gothal language for Theodoric the Great. They also have the helmet of Tsar Ivan the Terrible, first stolen from the Kremlin by the Polish army, and then taken from Poland during the Deluge. If the efforts of several countries were combined, perhaps at least some symbolic monuments would be returned to their place: to Warsaw, Prague, Moscow?


You can read more about the scale of Swedish robberies in the book “Saved from the Deluge”. Click and buy with a discount.

Adam Węgłowski – Editor of the “Focus Historia” magazine, where he is involved in, among other things, tracking down historical riddles. He also collaborates with “Przekrój”. He has published several novels, such as “Noc daggers” and “Czas moc”, as well as popular science books, incl. “A very Polish history of everything” and “Centuries of Shamelessness”. He runs the Historjki blog.

Interested in this article? On CiekawostkiHistoryczne.pl you can also read about why the hussars did not protect us from the Swedish deluge

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