The Niemirycz Family

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Many members of Niemirycz family, living in the Palatinate of Kijów (Kiev), were prominent Arians (Unitarians), connected with the Polish Brethren for four generations and active in Polish politics.

At the end of the 16th century, Andrzej Niemirycz (d.1610), a deputy judge of the Palatinate of Kijów (Kiev, then in the eastern part of Poland, now in Ukraine), who was Eastern Orthodox, married Maria Chreptowicz-Bohumyrska, an Arian from Lithuania. As her immediate family was Calvinist, it is likely that she only became an Arian after she had grown up. Her influence was profound: her children were brought up sympathetic to the Polish Brethren, and it was thanks to her that the Arian church in Czernichów was established.

In 1603 Maria’s son Stefan Niemirycz (d.1630) traveled to Western Europe with other Arian nobles. After being expelled from the academy in Altdorf in Bavaria, he enrolled at the university in Basel. Following his return to Poland he officially embraced Arianism. His sister Alexandra (d.1639) married Roman Hojski, later Castellan of Kijów, and was a strong influence in her husband’s conversion. Stefan himself married an ardent Arian noblewoman from Podgórze (south of Kraków), Maria Wojnarowska (d. 1632). Stefan and Maria supported the church in Czernichów, where the first known minister, 1610-49, was the polemicist, Piotr Stoinski. Later, they founded Arian congregations on their other estates, Norynsk and Szersznie. Stefan often took part in Arian synods.

As was expected of his rank, Stefan was active in the political life of Poland and Lithuania. He was elected as member of parliament for Kijów in 1611, 1616, 1619, and 1623. Because of his special expertise he was selected by Parliament for a committee to negotiate with the Cossacks. In 1623 he was elected chamberlain of Kijów, the highest elected office in the Palatinate. In 1630, as a sign of favor, the king made him startostwo of Orwucz for life. When Niemirycz died, he left an estate of 12 cities and 75 villages. His wife followed him to the grave two years later.

Stefan and Maria had three daughters and three sons, all active in the Polish Brethren. Zofia married Stefan Tyszkiewicz, a Roman Catholic. She quarreled with her brothers over the estate of her aunt Alexandra Hojska. Helena married first the Arian Mikołaj Lubieniecki (d.1662), with whom she converted to Catholicism in 1660 when Arianism was proscribed. After Lubieniecki died she married Paweł Ryszkowski, the castellan of Mscisław. Katarzyna (d.c.1646) married the ardent Arian Krzysztof Sieniuta (1589-1640). After his death she married the Calvinist Palatine of Dorpat, Andrzej Leszczynski (d. 1651), who tolerated her religious beliefs. She was a great protector of the Arians on her estates. The eldest son, Jerzy, became a well-known politician. His younger brothers, Władysław Niemirycz (1619-1653) and Stefan Niemirycz (d. 1684), were also prominent Arians.

Władysław attended the Raków (Racovia) Academy, and later went abroad to study at Leiden in the Netherlands (1639) and at Orléans in France (1640). Upon his return, he settled on his estates and tried to promote Arianism there. Andrzej Wiszowaty was briefly his chaplain. After Wiszowaty accused his patron of un-Christian behavior, he was dismissed. Władysław was rowdy and prone to quarrels. He was in a permanent state of war with one of his cousins, and later quarreled over an inheritance with his sister Zofia and his brother Jerzy. His disputes were not just with family. In 1650 he raided an Orthodox monastery. A few years earlier he was accused by the canon of Berdyczów of trying to convert workers to Arianism. Thanks to his personal wealth (he owned over 30 villages) and family connections, he was elected a member of parliament in 1632 and 1653.

Władysław is most famous for the circumstances surrounding his death. Shortly before he died, under the influence of the Jesuits, he converted to Roman Catholicism. Full of doubts about his salvation, he requested and received an assurance in writing from his confessor. He died on April 11th. A few days later, while his body lay in state in the church in Lublin, a paper was discovered in his hand, purportedly a letter written by the deceased, which confirm the truth of the Jesuit’s teachings. It was dated “April 16th, in the Valley of Penitence.” This story was told all over Counter-Reformation Poland. Protestants ridiculed it, pointing out that it took Catholics five days to reach the afterlife.

Władysław was married to Princess Teofilia Czetwertyńska. Their one daughter, Marianna Niemiryczówna, was brought up Arian by her uncle Stefan (d.1684). She was married three times to nobles in Wołyń (Volhynia). Although officially she was probably either Eastern Orthodox or Calvinist, she was reputed to be a secret Unitarian, and “exercised in heresy” with her cousin Teodor. They were likely the last Arians in Wołyń.

Stefan, Władysław’s younger brother, was sent to the school in Raków (Racovia), and, when it closed, to Kisielin. There he became a life-long friend of Stanisław Lubieniecki (1623-1690), the famous Arian theologian and writer. In 1646 they left together for Western Europe, traveling through the Netherlands to Orléans in France, where Stefan enrolled at the University and studied law. A year later he transferred to the Protestant Academy in Samur, from which he moved on to Angers. There he met and befriended the future Polish king, Jan III Sobieski.

In 1648 Stefan returned to Poland, where he took part in the election of King Jan II Kazimierz Vasa. The same year, the year of the outbreak of the Chmielnicki revolt in Ukraine, the Niemirycz brothers legally divided their estates. Stefan received Czernichów, two other cities, and 35 villages. He settled in Czernichów, where he was a patron of the Unitarian church, despite the fact that the Supreme Court had ordered it closed in 1646. Stanisław Lubieniecki was the minister, 1649-51, followed by Jerzy Ciachowski, 1652-1661/62. Around this time Stefan married the devout Arian, Gryzelda Wylamówna (d.1680), sister of Jadwiga Sieniuta (d.1674).

During the Swedish invasion (“the Deluge”), 1655, like the majority of nobles, Stefan yielded to the Swedish king. Unlike most of the Arian nobility, including his brother Jerzy, an ardent partisan of the Swedes, in 1656 Stefan returned to the fold of King Jan II Kazimierz Vasa. During the following years Stefan fought for the king against the Swedes, the Cossacks, and the Russians. He was rewarded generously by the king. The nobility of the Palatinate of Kijów chose him as their member of parliament in 1661 and 1662.

While Niemirycz was fighting for Poland, Parliament decreed that Arians would have to leave the country by 1660. Stefan and his family, popular with both the King and the nobility, ignored this law. He was even chosen a member of parliament, and took his seat uncontested. Nevertheless, the situation grew more and more uncomfortable. Finally, in 1664, faced with the prospect of having to convert to Catholicism, Stefan and his family decided to leave Poland. The reasons for the timing of Niemirycz’s departure are not clear. In a letter to the king, he mentioned the devastation of his estates by Cossacks and malicious court gossip. In a letter to his friend, the Calvinist Prince Bogusław Radziwiłł, he said that though a Catholic, his conscience did not permit him to divorce his wife or to take part in parliaments that had passed anti-Arian legislation. (Stephan’s definition of Catholic was idiosyncratic: he said that he was “no papist, Calvinist, or Arian, but a true Catholic Christian.”) He also claimed that his Arian wife, “who talks to exiled Arians,” was a reason for his departure. He said that he would return to Poland if he and his family were granted reprieve from the anti-Arian legislation. In the meantime, having rented his estates to friends, together with his wife, children, nieces, and nephews, he left Poland and settled in Neuendorf in Brandenburg, close to the Polish border. His peers in Kijów repeatedly petitioned Parliament to grant him special relief from the anti-Arian legislation.

Niemirycz spent his years in exile closely following political developments in Poland. He supported the rebellion of Jerzy Lubomirski, hoping that the success of Lubomirski would bring about a repeal of the Arian banishment. These hopes did not materialize. After Lubomirski died, Niemirycz continued to back anti-royal opposition. Following the abdication of Jan II Kazimierz Vasa, he began to visit Poland on regular basis. King John III Sobieski frequently called on Niemirycz to look after his interests in Brandenburg. While in exile Niemirycz lived in luxury, maintaining himself by his skill in commerce. His children, nephews, and nieces were brought up Arians. The boys were educated by Stanisław Lubieniecki in Hamburg.

In 1680, immediately after the death of his wife, Stefan returned to Poland. Without ever officially converting, he started acting as though he were a Roman Catholic. He was well-received in court and in 1680 was promoted to the Senate as Castellan of Kijów. In 1682 he became Palatine (wojewoda) of Kijów. In 1681 he wed the much younger Teresa Konstancja Opalińska (1645-1703), widow of Alexander Krzysztof Sieniuta. It was a childless marriage. His widow remarried after his death.

Krzysztof Niemirycz (1650-c.1710) was the oldest son of Stefan and Gryzelda. He received his primary education from Jerzy Ciachowski, the Arian minister in Czernichów. After he left Poland, in exile with the rest of his family, in 1665 his father sent him to Hamburg to study with Stanisław Lubieniecki. There, in the house of the theologian, he was strengthened in his Unitarian faith and learned German and French. Krzysztof was to be fascinated by French culture all the rest of his life. In 1669 he went to study in the Netherlands (Haarlem and Utrecht), where he ran into debt as a consequence of his extravagant lifestyle. In 1671 he returned to his father in Neuendorf.

Like his father, Krzysztof kept close ties to Poland. In 1674 he signed his approval of the election of King Jan III Sobieski. In 1677 he married the Calvinist, Lady Marcjanna Ozarowska. He spent much time in Poland, passing as a Calvinist. After his father and brother returned to Poland, he refused to convert to Catholicism and remained in Neuendorf. In his later years he became interested in theology, having engaged in extensive discussion with Daniel Ernest Jabłoński, the Reformed minister in Berlin. In 1695 Krzysztof published La Vérité et Religion en visite chez les théologiens en y cherchant leurs filles la charité et la tolérance, a critique of the intolerance and uncharitableness in all denominations. He extolled the tolerance of the Prussians and the dogmatic moderation of the Dutch Remonstrants and called upon all Protestants, including Lutherans, Calvinists, and Unitarians, to unite into one church. Unfortunately the work attracted no attention, either during his life or after his death.

Niemirycz is better known for Bajki ezopowe wierszem wolnym, 1699, his translation from French into Polish of La Fontaine’s Aesop’s Fables. His free and innovative poetical style is praised today for its clarity and succinctness. He is considered one of the precursors of Enlightment writing in Poland. He dedicated the work to the future King Augustus III, whose father Augustus II the Strong had just been elected king of Poland.

Little is known of Krzysztof’s last years. He died childless in the first decade of the 18th century, the last Unitarian in his family.

There are biographical entries for members of the Niemirycz family by J. Tazbir in Polski Słownik Biograficny, vol. 22 (1977). Some additional information can be found in Tazbir’s Stanisław Lubieniceki, republished in 2004. Family documents of the Niemirycz family were burnt, with their house in Warsaw, by the Germans in 1944. For more information about Arianism in Wołyń, see O. Lewickij, “Socynianie na Rusi” in Reformacja w Polsce, vol. 2 (1922); A. Kossowski, Zarys dziejów protestantyzmu na Wołyniu w XVI-XVII wieku (1933); and J. Tazbir, “Antytrynitaryzm na ziemiach ukraińskich w XVII wieku” in Z Polskich Studiów Slawistycznych (1972). An English translation of the article by Lewickij titled “Socinianism in Poland and South – West Rus” is in Annals of the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in the US, vol. 3 (1953). The reception of Reformation ideals by the Ruthenian nobility is studied in M. Liedke, Od prawosławia do katolicyzmu. Ruscy mozni i szlachta Wielkiego Ksiestwa Litewskiego wobec wyznań reformacyjnych (2004).

Article by Kazimierz Bem
Posted May 31, 2008