Smolensk War - Background

Background

In 1632, Sigismund III Vasa, the king of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, died. Although the Commonwealth nobility quickly elected Sigismund's son Władysław IV Vasa as their new ruler, Poland's neighbours, expecting delays in the electoral process, tested the Commonwealth's perceived weakness. Swedish king Gustav II Adolph sent envoys to Russia and the Ottoman Empire to propose an alliance and war against the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth was not ready for war. In 1631, the royal army numbered barely 3,000 men; the Smolensk garrison was about 500 strong, and most garrisons in the border area were composed not of regular or mercenary soldiers but of 100 to 200 local volunteers. Aware that Russia was preparing for war, in the spring of 1632 the Sejm (Polish-Lithuanian parliament) increased the army by recruiting an additional 4,500 men; by mid-1632 the deputy voivode (podwojewoda) of Smolensk, Samuel Drucki-Sokoliński, had about 500 volunteers from pospolite ruszenie and 2,500 regular army soldiers and Cossacks. In May the Senate agreed to increase the size of the army, but Grand Lithuanian Hetman Lew Sapieha objected, arguing that the current forces were enough and that war was not likely. Nonetheless the Field Lithuanian Hetman Krzysztof Radziwiłł recruited an additional 2,000 soldiers.

Russia, having recovered to a certain extent from the Time of Troubles, agreed with the assessment that the Commonwealth would be weakened by the death of its king, and unilaterally attacked without waiting for the Swedes and the Ottomans. Russia's aim was to gain control of Smolensk, which it had ceded to the Commonwealth in 1618 at the Truce of Deulino, ending the last Russo-Polish War. Smolensk was the capital of the Commonwealth's Smoleńsk Voivodeship, but it had often been contested, and it changed hands many times during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries (from the days of the Muscovite-Lithuanian Wars). A major supporter of the war was the Tsar's father, Patriarch Filaret, who represented the anti-Polish camp at court. Inspired by the Zemsky Sobor's (Russian parliament's) call for vengeance and reclamation of lost lands, the Russian army sallied west.

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