Antoni Ostrowski and Polish-Irish Historical Contexts – 1/I/2022

Antoni Jan Ostrowski (1782-1845) was a politician, a soldier and a very resourceful owner of the Ujazd estate. He took an active part in the dramatic fate of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth at the turn of the nineteenth century. During the November Uprising (1830-1831), he became a senator and commander of the Warsaw National Guard.

Brought up in a patriotic spirit, Ostrowski was influenced by such significant personalities of that period as Tadeusz Czacki (1765-1813) and Hugo Kołłątaj (1750-1812). The former was a scholar and reformer of Polish education, co-founder of the Warsaw Society of Friends of Sciences, which was also known in Ireland in the 1920s. The Irish Freeman’s Journal wrote about the Society on the occasion of the competition for the translation of an essay on Nicolaus Copernicus (Mikołaj Kopernik), by Jan Śniadecki (1756-1830), whose laureate was the Irishman Justin Brenan (1798-1863), a friend of the Polish mathematician, translator and historian Adrian Krzyżanowski (1788-1852).[1] Czacki was also the creator of the Krzemieniec Lyceum (Volhynia), known as the “Volhynian Athens”, in Krzemieniec (now Kremenets in Ukraine). He also initiated the creation of a botanic garden adjacent to the Lyceum, which still exists today. For this, he hired Denis McClair (Polonised as Dionizy Mikler, 1762-1853), an Irish landscape architect born near Athlone in County Westmeath, who was already well known and appreciated in aristocratic circles of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. McClair was a personal associate of King Stanisław Augustus Poniatowski (1732-1798), at whose court he stayed in the years 1790-1792, where he received accommodation and remuneration. He also met the Polish national hero Tadeusz Kościuszko (1746 -1817), paying tribute to him after the lost battle of Maciejowice, when the wounded commander, with a strong escort, was transported to St. Petersburg. McClair’s impressive activity left a particularly strong mark on right-bank of Ukraine, the then eastern territories of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Volhynia and Podolia. He was to find landscape similarities there with his native Ireland. Polish historian Aleksander Przeździecki (1814-1871), who was the only one to interview the Irish artist, thus (according to researchers) providing the only reliable source on the life of this Irishman, wrote that “by his hand, like by the wand of a wizard, came the most beautiful gardens in the country”.  And indeed, in the course of more than half a century of professional involvement in Central and Eastern Europe, McClair managed to leave behind about 50 parks and gardens, including the magnificent, and one of the first in this region, English garden – “Palestine” – in Volhynia.[2]  

Another figure with a great influence on Antoni Ostrowski was Hugo Kołłątaj.  This clergyman, politician and pedagogue, one of the most important representatives of the Polish Enlightenment, was also a co-author of the first Constitution in Europe, adopted on 3 May 1791. This body of work undertaken by the Polish elites, known traditionally as the Constitution of 3 May 1791, opened the way to the restoration and strengthening of the state, with further reforms aimed at introducing the principles of the constitutional monarchy. It is worth noting that the Polish Constitution also enjoyed recognition in Ireland, where, it was emphasised that it combined “liberty with subordination … subjecting the first citizen as well as the last to the law”, securing “to all the means of happiness, and [giving] each citizen the true enjoyment of his rights”.[3] Furthermore, the Constitution was praised by the most famous and respected Irishman of the late eighteenth century (especially in Poland), Edmund Burke (1729-1797).[4]

Early Life

Antoni Ostrowski was seven years younger than the leader of the Irish national movement – and the leader of the first modern, mass democratic movement in Europe[5] – Daniel O’Connell. He was born on 27 May 1782 in Warsaw into a noble family. He was a son of Tomasz and his second wife Apolonia Ledóchowska. His younger brother was the Marshal of the Sejm of the Kingdom of Poland during the November Uprising, Władysław Ostrowski (1790-1869). Already, at the age of 12, Antoni took part in the Kościuszko Insurrection (1794) as a volunteer in the defence of Warsaw.[6] Thus, he participated in the last national uprising before the liquidation of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, as a result of the Third Partition, the final seizure of its territories by Russia, Prussia and Austria. This event, next to the French Revolution, was the most important political fact in the European history of the late eighteenth century,[7] which decisively changed the balance of power in Europe. It echoed even in Ireland more than 30 years later. For example, the Belfast News-Letter, one of the oldest daily newspapers published in Ireland (the other was the Freeman’s Journal), from 1795 strongly conservative, Protestant and pro-government,[8] while reporting on one of the political campaign speeches (before the election of 1832), evoked the words expressed by the Irish politician, who stated: “The dismemberment of Poland has been well termed the first audacious infringement on the rights of nations that has ever disgraced the annals of civilized Europe.”[9]

After the Third Partition, the Ostrowski family remained in the Prussian partition. It was then that the family received the title of count, and Antoni himself, after completing his studies in Leipzig (1800), inherited the Ujazd estate from his father.[10] When the French Army entered the Polish territory, Antoni joined Napoleon I Bonaparte’s guard of honour, and soon after, moved to the civil service, where he co-headed the war department. He swiftly assumed the position of government counsellor to the director of internal affairs, and then took up the office for supplying food to the French troops. In 1809, he became an MP. He was at the Sejms in 1811 and 1812, the latter of which was conveyed extraordinarily during Napoleon’s journey to Russia, when the restoration of the Kingdom of Poland was solemnly announced. At that time, he sympathised with the conservative opposition (drawn to his side by Tsar Alexander I; 1777-1825). In the same year (1809), with the rank of second lieutenant, he participated in the Battle of Raszyn, where Polish troops under the command of Prince Józef Poniatowski (1763-1813) managed to stop the attack, defending access to Warsaw against an army twice the size of the Austrian forces. In 1813, after the defeat of Napoleon, he called for mobilization for the defence of the Duchy of Warsaw. This was created as a result of the alliance between France under Napoleon I and Russia under Alexander I, in 1807, the Treaty of Tilsa, which divided Europe into two spheres of influence. Together with the army, he left the Duchy and witnessed the death of Prince Józef Poniatowski in the Elster River, at the end of the Great Battle of the Nations at Leipzig on 16-19 October 1813. After these events, Antoni Ostrowski was taken prisoner by the Prussians, but he was released from it at the request of Tsar Alexander I.[11] Nevertheless, with the death of Prince Poniatowski, his Polish corps was also killed, which symbolically ended “Napoleonic Poland” and the Polish cause on Napoleon’s side.[12] The Irish learned about the importance of this event and the role of the prince just over four weeks after his death. The Freeman’s Journal reported on this as follows: “The death of Poniatowski, the Polish Chieftain, will be regretted by Bonaparte, even more than the defection of any of his Allies. He was the rallying point for the Polish nation, and besides being an excellent General, he was considered an experienced politician.”[13]

The Ostrowski family supported the efforts to create the Kingdom of Poland and in these endeavours Antoni Ostrowski also assisted Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski (1770-1861); this was both in the delegation sent to Alexander I and later in Paris (1815). For his services he was honoured with the Order of St. Anne and the Ribbon of St. Stanislaus, and, in 1819, he became a senator. After the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815), Ostrowski took care of his estate, where he initiated the transition (from serfdom and labour service) to the rent payment among his peasants. As a supporter of economic liberalism, he sought an improvement to the dramatic situation of the country – after the Napoleonic period – in industrialisation and importing new technologies and experts from abroad from Silesia, Saxony, France and Switzerland. Hence, in a town named after Ostrowski’s father, Tomaszów (today’s Tomaszów Mazowiecki, about 50 km from the city of Łódź), the textile industry developed, producing cloth for domestic needs – for the Polish army – as well as for eastern markets. Ostrowski’s extensive initiatives quickly influenced the development of this “Polish Manchester”, which had (in 1830) almost 4,000 inhabitants. There were also three religious communities organised by Ostrowski – Catholic, Evangelical and Jewish – where he founded a school for each of these communities.[14]

The November Uprising

The period of the November Uprising (1830-1831) was a turning point in the Irish perception of Poland and the Poles. At that time, interest in the Polish Question had reached an unprecedented level, which was almost immediately exploited by the newly formed political elite associated with Daniel O’Connell. He, above all, presented the events in Poland as an alternative to those in Ireland, if the demand to repeal the union with Britain was not met, and thus the Irish Parliament was not restored.

However, before the uprising, the situation in the Kingdom of Poland gradually deteriorated both politically and economically; the high prices, misconduct of the officials and the activity of the secret police were felt more and more acutely. Hence, the preceding turbulent events in France and Belgium were not without considerable influence on the outbreak of the uprising. From the Congress of Vienna, at which the creation of the kingdom was decided, to the start of the Polish Insurrection in November 1830, four Sejms were convened (in 1818, 1820, 1825 and 1830, although according to the Constitution made in 1815, the Sejm was to meet every two years for 30 days). At each subsequent Sejm, the situation between the parliamentary representation and the king intensified, eventually leading to the dethronement of Nicholas I (25 January 1831), who, according to the Constitution, was both tsar in Russia and king in the Kingdom of Poland.[15]

During the Sejm of 1820, Ostrowski sympathised with the liberal opposition of Bonawentura (1787-1835) and Wincenty Niemojowski (1784-1834), supporters of Benjamin Constant (1767-1830), who believed that as Tsar Alexander had given the Constitution (27 November 1815) to the Kingdom of Poland, he should submit to it just like his subjects.[16] During the period of the Sejm court (1828), which was again to deal with accusations of high treason of eight members of the secret Patriotic Society,[17] Ostrowski opted for lenient sentences. This attitude exposed him to the wrath of Grand Duke Constantine (1779-1831), which resulted in the threat of withholding government orders for the purchase of cloth for the army. Ostrowski himself was forbidden to return to his Tomaszów and was practically imprisoned in Warsaw for several months, until the (lenient) verdict of the Sejm court was approved by Tsar Nicholas I. Immediately afterwards, Ostrowski and his family went abroad (Germany, France, Belgium, etc.). He returned to Warsaw after learning about the outbreak of the November Uprising on 25 December 1830.[18]

The Polish uprising, also known in Ireland as the “Polish Revolution”, lasted from 29 November 1830 to 5 October 1831. It was the period of the independent Polish state. Despite the Russian belief that the campaign against Poland would last for a short time  (i.e., that it would end before the arrival of spring), the Polish Army not only significantly extended this period, but also achieved spectacular victories (from February to May: Grochów, Wawer, Dębie Wielkie, Iganie). The Irish press also wrote enthusiastically about them, printing reports of the “Glorious Victories of Poles”. Much attention was paid to the Commander-in-Chief, General Skrzynecki (1787-1860), to glorify his person. As one newspaper claimed, “The revolution seems to have shewn forth a man worthy of the crisis.”[19] The breakthrough came with the loss of the Battle of Ostrołęka, and the final surrender of Warsaw took place on 8 September. Refusing to surrender unconditionally, the Polish Army (over 20,000 troops) crossed the Prussian border near Brodnica on 5 October 1831, which at the same time ended the uprising. This relatively long time not only had an unquestionable impact on the Irish perception of Poland and the growing identification of the Irish (especially among O’Connell’s supporters) with the fighting Poles, but it also initiated advanced Irish-Polish relations, which were also relatively quickly reflected in the British Parliament.

After Ostrowski’s return to Warsaw, the first Commander-In-Chief of the uprising, General Józef Chłopicki (1771-1854), appointed him to the post of commander of the National Guard, at the same time giving him the rank of general. Such a sudden turn of events related to Ostrowski’s appointments was dictated by the influence of his brother Władysław, Marshal of the Sejm. Antoni himself dreamed of a career as a “Polish Lafayette” and put a lot of work into organising the Guard and democratising its structure.[20] Despite his great ambitions, he did not prove himself; moreover, he showed indecision and failed to prevent the massacre during the Warsaw demonstrations on 15 August 1831 (34 people were killed), which took place as a result of the lack of action of the Supreme Command of the Polish Army, while the enemy approached the capital. General Jan Krukowiecki (1772-1850), who took command, removed Ostrowski from the post of commander of the National Guard. As a result, Ostrowski devoted himself to work in the Senate (he became a senator in May 1831[21]), and was practically the chairman of the chamber, replacing Prince Adam Jerzy Czartoryski, who had already left Warsaw. Together with his brother Władysław, Marshal of the Sejm, he orchestrated the resignation of General Krukowiecki after it came to light that he was heading for capitulation. In his place as prime minister, they appointed Bonawentura Niemojowski. Ostrowski opposed surrender to the end.[22]

Emigration – Attempts to Convene the Sejm

It is to this period of Ostrowski’s life that the letter addressed to Daniel O’Connell, from September 1839 refers (the same is true of his earlier letter from 1837 – see Part II).

After the collapse of the November Uprising, the Kingdom of Poland, as well as the population of the former eastern lands of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – the so-called ziemie zabrane – were severely repressed. An amnesty was officially announced, but it did not include members of the National Government, deputies to the Sejm, or participants of the November Night (Noc Listopadowa – the events on 29 November 1830), which initiated the uprising, and people leaving the country. The amnesty was not in force in the territories of the so-called ziemie zabrane, where the participants of the uprising were deported to Siberia. Mass confiscations of land estates were made. The Supreme Criminal Court in the Kingdom of Poland was established, which sentenced only two senators to death: Antoni Ostrowski and Prince Adam Czartoryski.[23] Both of them, together with other political activists, officers and soldiers of the Polish army, soon joined the crowds of many thousands who decided to leave the country, forming part of what is known, in Polish historiography, as the Great Emigration (to emphasise the fact that its ranks included representatives of the Polish political, intellectual and cultural elites). Ostrowski reached Paris in March 1832. He settled in Fontainebleau, and later bought the estate Les Madères near Tours. His financial standing was good, thanks to his advance investments of capital abroad. In exile, in the context of his views, he occupied a place between the camp of Prince Czartoryski (the conservative-liberal camp) and the democratic milieu of Joachim Lelewel. It has even been suggested that he was trying to create an additional third grouping.[24] Ostrowski’s particular efforts were directed at attempts to convene the Sejm in exile, in Paris – it was to be a crucial element uniting Polish emigration, destroyed by internal conflicts. These attempts to unite Poles outside their country already had their beginnings during the uprising; this was tried, for example, by Joachim Lelewel (1789-1861) and General Józef Dwernicki (1779-1857). However, they failed to deliver the intended result.

The basis for convening the Sejm in exile was a resolution adopted by the revolutionary Sejm at the start of the November Uprising, when its deliberations were seriously threatened with rupture, due to the lack of almost one-third of the composition (many deputies were on leave or did not participate for health reasons, submitting health certificates). On 19 February 1831, a resolution was passed stating that the Sejm, at the request of a deputy or senator, could meet anywhere, also abroad. Then, on 26 February 1831, the so-called small group was decided and under this resolution the Sejm could deliberate – in all circumstances – on the composition of at least 33 representatives of both chambers (deputies and senate). In this small group, the revolutionary Sejm met until mid-April 1831.[25] Despite such a seemingly small number required to convene the Sejm in exile, it turned out to be an almost impossible undertaking. It proved difficult because of the dispersion: in 1832, many members of the Sejm, emigrants, remained in Galicia, Dresden or Graz. At that time, Prince Adam J. Czartoryski, who opposed to the idea of convening the Sejm in exile, and Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz (1758-1841), who in July of the following year agitated in Ireland for the education of Polish post-November youth, were in England. Another issue was the lack of money to travel. Nevertheless, Ostrowski and Walenty Zwierkowski (1788-1859; member of the Sejm; deputy from Warsaw) strove particularly hard to convene the required small group.[26] This was also done by Joachim Lelewel and the national bard, Polish Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855; the Irish Freeman’s Journal mentioned his poetry as early as 1829[27]), who, in 1833, wrote: “the Sejm Polish bears the double character, first, of the legal power of the Polish nation, [and] second, of the European moral authority …”.[28] Mickiewicz was able to express the type of Sejm that the Polish emigration expected. It was to be a symbol of Poland and its struggle for justice and the rights of the nation: moral seriousness and strength of spirit.[29] Finally, General La Fayette (1757-1834), who was also exceptionally favourable to Poles and Irish, urged Polish emigrants to convene the Sejm.[30] And so, in January 1833, although it was possible to convene the necessary Sejm group, the majority of those convened were against the continuation of the session, and then left the assembly. This did not stop Ostrowski from further attempts. In the following years, he presided over the so-called family meetings of deputies. In the end, however, all these efforts turned out to be fruitless, which at the same time caused frustration for Ostrowski: he accused opponents of convening the Sejm of cultivating anarchy and liberum veto, which destroyed the country and, as a result, buried Poland.[31]

Later Years

Ostrowski supported financially various organisations and publications (with a moderate profile), including Polish scientific and cultural institutions (he was one of the founders of the Polish Library in Versailles in 1841). He worked on his popularity (he also left behind abundant and valuable diaries) by refraining from aristocratic conduct. He spoke out against the immediate enfranchisement of peasants and pointed to La Fayette as a role model. Ostrowski also contributed to the creation of the international committee (1833) for the emancipation of the Jews (Committee for the Emancipation of the Jews), which brought him very close to similar work done by Daniel O’Connell himself; he also demanded that the Jews should issue a proclamation calling on their entire community to support the independence of Poland. In this case, despite criticism from both camps of the Great Emigration, Ostrowski’s efforts were noted by Jewish emigrants, who thanked him (1843) for improving the fate of Jews in Poland. Two years later, Ostrowski died (4 December 1845) at his residence in Les Madères, near Tours.[32]

Ostrowski was married twice. From his relationship with Józefa née Morski he had five children. From his marriage with his second wife Antonina (née Michałowski) he had ten children.[33]

Adam A. Kucharski and Robert T. Tomczak

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[1] See Adam A. Kucharski, Placing Poland at the Heart of Irishness. Irish Political Elites in Relation to Poland and the Poles in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century (Berlin, 2020), pp. 82-84.

[2] See Aleksander Przeździecki, Podole, Wołyń, Ukraina. Obrazy miejsc i czasów (Wilno, 1841), Vol. 2, pp. 126-141; Petro Rychkov, Nataliya Lushnikova, ‘Dissolving Materiality: Ruins and Plant Relicts in the landscape Parks by Denis McClair in Volhynia’, in: Wronika Kobylińska-Bunsch, Zbigniew Kobyliński, Louis Daniel Nebelsick (eds), Archaeologica Hereeditas. Preventive Conservation of the Human Environment. Architecture as an Element of theLlandscape (Warszawa, 2017), pp. 303-322; and Robert T. Tomczak, Adam A. Kucharski, The Poles, Irish and Czechs: Some Forgotten Common Threads (Brepols, in press).

[3] Belfast News-Letter, 3 June 1791. The text of the Constitution of 3 May, translated into English, appeared in this newspaper on 24 June 1791.

[4] See Zofia Libiszowska, ‘Edmund Burke a Polska’, in: Kwartalnik Historyczny, Vol. 77 (1970), No. 1, pp. 63-76; and Kucharski, Placing Poland at the Heart of Irishness, pp. 47-52.

[5] Donal McCartney, The Dawning of Democracy (Dublin, 1987), p. 113, quoted by Patrick M. Geoghegan, ‘The Impact of O’Connell, 1815-1850’, in: The Cambridge History of Ireland (Cambridge, England, 2018), Vol. III (1730-1880), p. 114.

[6] Władysław Zajewski, ‘Ostrowski Antoni Jan h. Rawicz (1782-1845)’, in: Polish Słownik Bibliograficzny (Wrocław, 1979), T. XXIV, p. 546.

[7] Przemysław Matusik, ‘The Polish National Strategies in the Nineteenth Century’, in: Krzysztof Marchlewicz, Adam Kucharski (eds), Towards Independence: Polish and Irish Roads to Sovereignty (Poznań, 2019), p. 10.

[8] See. S.J. Connolly (ed.), The Companion to Irish History (Oxford, 1999), pp. 43 and 207.

[9] Belfast News-Letter, 4 January 1831.

[10] Zajewski, ‘Ostrowski Antoni…’, p. 546.

[11] Ibid., p. 546.

[12] Jerzy Skowronek, Książę Józef Poniatowski (Wrocław ,1984), p. 259.

[13] Freeman’s Journal, 22 November 1813.

[14] Zajewski, ‘Ostrowski Antoni…’, pp, 546-547. See also Ryszard Kotewicz, Antoni Ostrowski 1782-1845. Ziemianin – Przemysłowiec. Założyciel Tomaszowa Mazowieckiego (Warszawa, 1995).

[15] See Małgorzata Karpińska, “Nie ma Mikołaja!” Starania o kształt sejmu w powstaniu listopadowym 1830-1831 (Warszawa, 2007).

[16] Ibid., p. 45.

[17] This happened after the sudden death of Tsar Alexander when there was a brutal suppression of the Decembrist uprising, and during the interrogations contacts with Polish secret organisations came to light.

[18] Zajewski, ‘Ostrowski Antoni…’, p. 547.

[19] Dublin Weekly Register, 16 April 1831.

[20] Zajewski, ‘Ostrowski Antoni…’, pp. 547-548.

[21] Karpińska, “Nie ma Mikołaja!”, p. 181.

[22] Zajewski, ‘Ostrowski Antoni…’, pp. 547-548.

[23] Karpińska, “Nie ma Mikołaja!”, p. 209.

[24] Zajewski, ‘Ostrowski Antoni…’, p. 548.

[25] Karpińska, “Nie ma Mikołaja!”, p. 95; Szpotański, ‘Sejm w emigracyi’, p. 97. and Walenty Zwierkowski, O sejmie w emigracyi (Poitiers, 1839), p. 9.

[26] Szpotański, ‘Sejm w emigracyi’, pp. 98-100. Regarding J.U. Niemcewicz’s visit to Ireland in 1833, see Kucharski, Placing Poland at the Heart of Irishness, pp. 226-233.

[27] Freeman’s Journal, 15 June 1829; it is noted briefly that his first work published in Paris appeared under the title Poezys Adama Mickiewicza, or The Poems of Adam Mickiewicz. In 1833, in the same newspaper, the publication of a “collection of satires upon the Russians and their Emperor” by Mickiewicz was mentioned; see Freeman’s Journal, 4 April 1833.  

[28] Władysław Mickiewicz, Dzieła A. Mickiewicza, Vol. VI (Paryż, 1880), quoted after Szpotański, Sejm w emigracyi, p. 102.

[29] Szpotański, Sejm w emigracyi, p. 103.

[30] One of the most vivid examples of the penetration of cordial Franco-Polish-Irish ties at the start of the November Uprising (January 1831) – showing at the same time the committed attitude of General La Fayette towards the Irish and Poles – was the moment of the visit of Charles James Mahon (1803-1891), known as The O’Gorman Mahon in Paris. He appeared there with the official Address of the Irish expressing admiration for the sacrificial French Revolution (1830). Unique in every respect, The O’Gorman Mahon, who had previously secured Daniel O’Connell’s victory in the 1828 election, thus leading to the emancipation of Catholics, was already an advocate of the Polish cause during the Paris visit; see Limerick Evening Post, 14 Jan 1831.   

[31] Szpotański, Sejm w emigracyi, pp. 104-108; Zajewski, ‘Ostrowski Antoni…’, p. 548.

[32] Zajewski, ‘Ostrowski Antoni…’, pp. 548-549.

[33] For more on the life and activities of Antoni Ostrowski, see Daniel Warzocha, Antoni hr. Ostrowski (1782-1845), Museum in Tomaszów Mazowiecki, Antoni-hr.-Ostrowski.pdf ( (accessed: 20 August 2022).

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