Jan III Sobieski: The ‘king who saved the Empire & Christendom’

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‘“Sobieski” is one of the very few names from Polish History to be known in the world at large. He has been eulogized by contemporaries & by historians alike. According to John Milton, he was “the first of the Polanians to show that the terrible, main Battalion of the Turk might be broken at one stroke”. His military skill was specially praised by Clausewitz. A household word in Poland, he has been remembered throughout Europe as a king who saved the Empire & Christendom from the Infidel.’

~ Norman Davies

I’ve covered the life & achievements of King Jan III Sobieski already, but today, on his birthday, and during a time of year when we revisit the catastrophes of 1944 & 1939, it’s worth celebrating again this towering leader of men & icon of Western civilization. As Rod Fleming writes,

‘Sobieski’s military genius is often forgotten. The European allies were outnumbered by the Turks by almost 2:1. Yet, surveying the terrain, he had at once grasped how he could use the weapons he had, his artillery, his musketeers & his heavy cavalry, to the maximum advantage.

‘He had seen how, by scaling mountains everyone told him could not be, he could pound the enemy for hours & receive no return fire. He placed his musketeers on the lower slopes where they efficiently cut down any counter-attack by the Turks, aimed at capturing & spiking the Polish guns. And finally, with the last of the daylight, when the enemy had been thoroughly demoralised by being pinned down in the open under relentless cannon-fire for hours, he unleashed his hell-riders. The sheer brazen aggression of this strategy completely confounded the enemy, who broke & ran.’

Baron Bodissey writes, in similar terms, ‘What is striking about Jan Sobieski is the quality of his leadership. More important than arms, manpower, tactics, supplies, & even courage, leadership is what makes the difference in any war. When Jan Sobieski led his men down that hill into the Ottoman flank, it was his presence at the front of the charge that demonstrated his dauntless nature & absolute determination. Character cannot be faked, & men who recognize this kind of character in their leader will follow him into the gates of Hell.’