KING AUGUST II OF SAXONY IN THE OPINIONS AND REPORTS OF HIS CONTEMPORARIES
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The reign of August II the Strong, king of Poland in 1697-1706 and 1709-1733, was marked by mounting disenchantment on both sides. August II's ambition to combine modemization of both the Polish state and his native Saxony with plans of territorial expansion was singularly ineffectual. His policies, instead of consolidating Poland-Lithuania in the turbulent limes of the Northem War, pushed the country to the brink of collapse. August II's personality and his reign were subject of widely differing reassessments after his death. The king himself was highly critical of his Polish subjects. His distrust, stirred by the contractual nature of the Polish monarchy, was aggravated by a string of armed rebellions (confederacies) which sought his deposition. Some of the Polish gentry saw in him a tyrant, an impression which he did little to dispel. Suspicions that he was about to introduce an absolutist form of government came in waves and culminated in one showdown after another. Although the monarchy was still believed indispensable for Poland and the idea of its abolition had very few supporters, the scope of the royal prerogative remained a highly contentious issue. This article presents a review of the opinions and judgments on that point, collected from memoirs, letters, newspapers and political satire. August II chafed both against the constraints of 'raison d'etat' and constitutional power-sharing with the Polish nobility. He was, nonetheless, totally absorbed in the struggles for the Polish crown, first for himself and later for his son. He regarded it as an asset which elevated the House of Saxony above the motley host of German princes and strengthened his hand were he to run for the dignity of Emperor. The review of contemporaiy sources brings to light a wide range of views and judgments of the king's character. Far from confirming the stereotype, uniformly negative impression of August II, these portrayals reveal an intriguing, colourful, and even complex personality. The widely differing assessments of August Il's virtues and vices may be treated both as character sketches of varying accuracy and as evidence of contemporaiy attitudes and values.
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