The Beginnings of the Opposition Activity of Franciszek Ksawery Branicki
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A presentation of the growing conflict between King Stanislaw August and his long–term favourite and zealous collaborator, F. K. Branicki, a royal protege who in 1774 was appointed the grand hetman of the Crown. The career pursued by Branicki was also affected by the protection of the court in St. Petersburg. From 1774 in particular Branicki enjoyed the protection and friendship of Grigorii Potemkin, an influential favourite of Catherine II, thanks to whom he increased the prerogatives of his office.The first misunderstandings between Stanislaw August and Branicki went back to his mission to France, where he was dispatched by the king (November 1772) but did not adhere to the royal instructions. Nonetheless, in the course of the next two years the king and Branicki continued to cooperate, with the latter becoming a member of a full fledged parliamentary Delegation in which he fulfilled the function of the head of the regalists. In 1774 Branicki travelled to St. Petersburg upon the request of the king, and in the latter's interests; the objectives of the trip included preventing the establishment of the Permanent Council which could limit the king's prerogatives. Ultimately, Stanislaw August came to terms with the Council, established in April 1775, and even perceived in it a core of future executive power in the state; Branicki, however, became its fervent opponent and envisaged the Council as a factor limiting the license of the ministers. He also joined the so–called magnate opposition which remained hostile towards the Council and the monarch. In time, he befriended two leaders of the magnate opposition: Adam Kazimierz Czatoryski and Ignacy Potocki. The fact that the protector of the Council was Otto Stackelberg, the Russian ambassador to Warsaw, produced growing antagonism between him and Branicki. Stackelberg could not bear the fact that Branicki was boasting of his relations in St. Petersburg. In the middle of 1775, Branicki heeded a request made by Potemkin and set off for Moscow. Upon his return, he made it obvious that he enjoyed the great support of the Russian ruler. Stackelberg decided to tackle Branicki in St. Petersburg where he arrived in January 1776. A month later he was followed by Branicki, together with I. Potocki, who intended to counter the campaign conducted by the ambassador. The latter, however, proved capable of winning the support of Catherine II. Once in Poland, they announced, however, that Russia would not intervene in domestic Polish questions by resorting to force, and thus encouraged the magnate opposition to actively participate at the deputy dietines in July 1776. The conflict between Branicki and Stackelberg influenced the ambassador's decision to draw closer to Stanislaw August as regards the question of the future Seym. The discord between Branicki and the king grew, with the latter determined to considerably limit the authority enjoyed by the hetman. This policy was carried out at the confederate Parliament of 1776, when the magnate opposition, i. a. due to Russian pressure, was overcome and the hetmans lost their rights in favour of the Military Department of the Permanent Council.
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