The Ledóchowski Family herb2 Ród Ledóchowskich









Jan Ledóchowski 1791 - 1864
MP in Warsaw 1825 - 1831

Jan VillainA well known politician during the Polish November Uprising in 1831, and subsequently an active émigré in Paris, Jan Ledóchowski was born in Warsaw on 23rd July 1791, the son of Marcin Ledóchowski (who died that year, aged 44) and Marianna Łączyńska. Mieczysław Ledóchowski told me he was unable to establish exactly how Jan was related to "our" Ledóchowskis and so he was not in his family tree (1), although he was certainly an "authentic" Ledóchowski. He was nevertheless famous (or perhaps notorious) in his time, controversial and eccentric. Besides I always had a soft spot for him as he is the only famous person ever called Jan Ledóchowski.

Fighting for Napoleon

Napoleon came to power in the wake of the French Revolution and arrived with his armies in Poland in 1807. There he was welcomed by Poles hoping to recover Polish independence and, as a first step, established the Duchy of Warsaw as Napoleon's ally. This historical background can be read in more detail in my story of Jan Ledóchowski's distant cousin Ignacy Ledóchowski, under the headings "Turbulent Times", "In the Austrian Partition" and "Fighting for Napoleon".

CharsznicaJan Ledóchowski's family home was in Charsznica, not far from Jędrzejów, between Kielce and Kraków. After the 1795 partition this was in West Galicia, in the Austrian Partition, which would explain why he initially studied at the Military Academy in Vienna. However in 1808, shortly after the Duchy of Warsaw was created, he moved to the Duchy and at the age of 17 joined the newly recreated Polish Army as a Sub-lieutenant. After the battle of Raszyn in April 1809 he was promoted to Captain and became an Aide de Camp to Prince Józef Poniatowski, the Polish Commander-in-Chief. He was taken prisoner by the Austrians after the battle of Jedliniec, but released shortly afterwards, probably after the Treaty of Schönbrunn. He served as a Captain of the 12th infantry regiment in General Dąbrowski's advance guard of Napoleon's Grande Armée in the 1812 invasion of Russia, and distinguished himself at the battles of Borysów and Bobrujsk. On 12th September 1812 he was awarded the highest French decoration, the Légion d'Honneur, and the highest Polish decoration, Virtuti Militari (cross seen on the print above). He was reportedly taken prisoner of war by the Russians at the battle of Oszmiana (?) but after being freed did not resume his military career.

Kingdom of PolandMP for Jędrzejów

After Napoleon was defeated, Poland was partitioned yet again, with victorious neighbours taking most of the country including all the major cities like Kraków, Lwów, Poznań and Wilno. The only exception was Warsaw, which was left in a small rump state in the middle, about 13% the total area of pre-partition Poland, even smaller than the Duchy of Warsaw had been. This was known as the Kingdom of Poland or Congress Poland ("Kongresówka), created by the Congress of Vienna. However it was effectively a puppet state of the Russian Empire, with the Tsar as King.

Jan got involved in politics and was elected prefect and justice of the peace of the Jędrzejów district, where Charsznica was, between Kielce and Kraków. In 1825 he was elected MP, representing Jędrzejów at the Sejm (Parliament) in Warsaw. There he was active in opposing the increasingly repressive policies of the Grand Duke Constantine, de facto Governor of Poland in the name of the King, Tsar Alexander I, and was on a list of opposition leaders prepared by the police.

Jan paintingThe November 1830 Uprising

The Russian régime became ever more unpopular. A new Tsar, Nicholas I, crowned himself King of Poland in 1829, but refused to swear to abide by the Consitution and removed democratic institutions. On 29th November 1830 the so-called "November Uprising" ("powstanie listopadowe") began with a rebellion by young officers, and Ignacy Ledóchowski opened the Arsenal up to the crowd. In the heady atmosphere of hope and freedom Poles divided themselves, as they did during communism and on many other occasions, between the "extremists', wishing to fight for independence at all costs, and the "moderates", who argued that Poland was so hopelessly outgunned and outnumbered it should seek a compromise with Russia. Jan Ledóchowski is reported to have been one of the active leaders of the "extremists", in the Sejm and outside it. He energetically supported the revolutionary leadership and joined a committee led by Prince Adam Czartoryski, Prime Minister of the Revolutionary Government, that was supervising the Commander-in-Chief.

Sejm Resolution Dethroning the Tsar

On 24th January 1831 the Warsaw press published a proclamation by the Russian Field Marshal Diebitsch, who had invaded with a 115,000 strong army, calling on the Poles to surrender unconditionally. A demonstration had already been called for 25th January to honour the memory of the "Decembristis", an opposition group in Russia, executed earlier. Like many demonstrations today, it ended up in Plac Zamkowy square in the Old Town opposite Parliament, which was in the same building as the former Royal Palace.

Detronizacja VillainInside the building, in a session of the combined Houses of Parliament presided over by the Speaker Władysław Ostrowski (Ignacy Ledóchowski's uncle), arguments raged between the extremists and moderates and, as they could hear shouting from the demonstration outside, the atmosphere got tenser and tenser.

Roman Sołtyk submitted a resolution to dethrone the Tsar Nicholas I as King of Poland. Immediately after a speech by F. Wołowski, Jan Ledóchowski ran into the middlle of the chamber and called out in a powerful bass voice "Wyrzeknijmy więc wszyscy razem: nie ma Mikołaja!"

"Let's all state together then: Nicholas must go!" (2,3)

This is a classic double entendre as the most obvious meaning of "nie ma Mikołaja!" is "Nicholas isn't here!" or "Nicholas has gone!". Tsar Nicholas I was of course not there in Warsaw and at least one of the people in the print by François le Villian (4) could have been pointing at the empty throne. However this was clearly interpreted by everyone present as having the other possible meaning, namely that Nicholas must go. This cry, reported in the records of the Sejm and in all the press, became part of the history of the November Uprising.

Uchwala detronizacjiParliament then passed a unanimous Resolution dethroning Tsar Nicholas I as King of Poland. "...Our long sufferings known to the whole world...our liberties so often violated, and the Polish nation, today free us from our loyalty to our ruler...The Polish nation ....hereby declares, that it is a free people and that it has the right to give the crown to whomever it considers worthy of it..." The actual resolution was apparently read in a very balanced tone due to the efforts of the moderate faction led by Prince Adam Czartoryski, who, after signing it, said:

"You have lost Poland!"

Although there are versions that Jan Ledóchowski only issued his call now (4), this seems a bit less logical given the literal meaning of the words he used. According to family tradition, he now started a new chant, "Precz z Mikołajem":

"Down with Nicholas!" (5).

which was taken up by the crowd outside and celebrated by people throughout Warsaw (6).

Whatever the precise nature and sequence of these chaotic events there is no doubt that Jan Ledóchowski was one of the first to sign the Resolution together with the acting Prime Minister Prince Adam Czartoryski:

In the biography he wrote (2), Zajewski sounds as if he did not like Jan Ledóchowski: "A shouter, a rabble-rouser, exceptionally talkative, he kept changing his mind, but he was a geniune patriot". Perhaps he was a bit unfair, under pressure from Poles with different opinions. Jan continued to be active in the revolutionary Sejm and the details can be read in the Polish texts (2). On 11th July, after losing a vote, he resigned as an MP but the Sejm refused to accept his resignation. The Russians treated the dethronement of their Tsar as a declaration Giovanni Lof war. Jan took part in the revolutionary battles as the Russians closed in, and from July he led a regiment drafted from the Kraków province.

On 6th September Warsaw fell and on 8th October Ignacy Ledóchowski surrendered the Fortress of Modlin. Poland was hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned. With hindsight, the "extremists" were proved wrong and the "moderates" were proved right. This time.

In Exile

Jan kept a promise he made in January 1831 that he would emigrate in the event of disaster. Travelling via Galicia, Hungary and Stuttgart, he eventually ended up in Paris where he continued his active and controversial political career in émigré circles. He was tried and sentenced to death in his absence, and his family property Charsznica was confiscated. Jan apparently collaborated in the purchase of the property at auction by P. Steinkeller and its onsale to the Helcel family. He visited Kraków in 1848 and again during the 1863 January Uprising, but was expelled by the police. More detail on his political career can be read in the Polish texts (2).

Jan Ledóchowski married Joanna Wielowiejska in 1819 but had no children. Later on in Paris he was close to Kunegunda Małachowska who gave him financial support. According to Zajewski, she left him a fortune in her will, which he quickly wasted. He died in Paris on 10th September 1864, aged 73, and was buried at Montmartre.

Akt Biblio PoloWhen I was at Cambridge in the 1970s I found several large volumes on the records of the Sejm during this period. The index contained many references to Jan Ledóchowski, which gradually became less frequent with time. This was probably because he eventually went off to fight, but I did not have the combination of time, inclination, Polish language skills and brains needed to work my way through it all and draw conclusions.

The original Resolution itself ended up in the Polish Library in Paris, which had a copy in at least one of its leaflets (7). Once when I was visiting the Library, I asked to see it, but they said that it would be too difficult to find at short notice. In 2008, when the Warsaw City Museum was preparing an Exhibition on the Ledóchowski family, we wrote to the Library asking to borrow the Resolution, or for a scan or a photocopy, but did not receive a reply.


Jan Ledóchowski, 2017



(1) „… aby pozostał nasz ślad”  („ we may leave a trace”).  Mieczysław Ledóchowski.  Published by Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Ossolineum,  Wrocław 2002.  ISBN 83-7095-051-5, pp 34-35, 82-91.

(2) Polski Słownik Biograficzny (A "dictionary" or collection of historical biographies of well known Poles). Ministerstwo Kultury i Dziedzictwa Narodowego. Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. Kraków 1971. Text on Jan Ledóchowski by Władysław Zajewski.

(3) Jędrzejów. Wikipedia.

(4) Uchwała Sejmu o detronizacji Mikołaja 1. Wikipedia.

(5) The Russian Empire. Hugh Seton-Watson. Oxford University Press, 1967 [822103/7/67], p285.

(6) 25 stycznia 1831 Interia Nowa Historia

(7) Bibliothèque Polonaise à Paris. Société Historique et Littéraire Polonaise, 6 quai d'Orléans, Paris. Imprimerie de Busagny. 95520 OSNY. p14.

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