Towards Partition

Part Two: The Polish Resident

Berend Lehmann. - Finances the royal election of 1697. - His clients and standing. - Lehmann interrogated (1721). - His supposed authorship of a plan for a partage. - Geheimrat Campke approaches the Empress. - Negative attitude of Tsar Peter. - The true role of Flemming. - Views on the feasibility of the scheme; its failure. - The affair exploited by Tsar Peter. - The future of such projects.

Try as Ilgen, Flemming and their royal masters might to put the grand dessein into effect, it remained on paper. The northern war had ended by the treaty of Nystad signed on 30 August 1721 and the Republic, though it had gained nothing from the war, was still intact. About that time the attempts at bringing about a dismemberment descended or rather returned from the cabinet rooms to the backstairs by a route that is still and will probably remain hidden in obscurity. The central figure of the resulting imbroglio of low political intrigue with high finance was Berend Lehmann (1661-1730). The future licenced manipulator stepped from obscurity into the official position of Court Jew and the then Elector of Saxony, Frederick Augustus I, in 1696. But the true starting point of his astonishing career was the Polish royal election of 1697 which he helped the Elector to win by raising the necessary funds.

The election was a costly affair. Money was needed first to buy the votes of the szlachta at a premium to outbid the favourite, the prince de Conti on the election field and later to reward the supporters and ringleaders of the Saxon party, as well as to settle the arrears of pay due to the army. A part of the cost involved was met by the proceeds from the sale of some valuable portions of the Elector's territorial inheritance. These transactions were handled by Lehmann and his cousin Leffmann Behrens of Hanover. (The Elector of Hanover, Ernest August I, the father of George Lewis, later George I of England, and his brother George William of Celle who jointly bought the Elector of Saxony's claims to the duchy of Lauenburg for the equivalent of 733,333 rix-dollars were quick to point out the debt of gratitude which the newly elected king had thus incurred.) A further 300,000 rix-dollars were provided by Samson Wertheimer of Vienna but the man who distributed cash on the spot in Warsaw was Lehmann and it was he who had raised in Hanover the 200,000 rix-dollars that were needed to outbid the Frenchman. The cost of the whole operation was put at the equivalent of a mere 578,340 rix-dollars by the king elect, at '11 million' (perhaps zlotys and therefore 3,055,533 rix-dollars) by Flemming. A more realistic estimate is that of between 2,666,666 and 3,000,000 rix-dollars quoted by General K.G. von Loewenhaupt who supervised the transfer of the funds to Poland. For lack of data the true figure will never be known but that in itself is a reflection on Augustus II's careless and reckless form of government. At least Louis XIV's envoys knew that they had distributed the equivalent of 1,388,018 rix-dollars, partly borrowed in Poland. In any case between them the King of France and the Elector of Saxony poured a generous amount of mostly hard cash into the depleted pockets of the penurious electors of kings.

In recognition of the services rendered by Lehmann in the Polish election Augustus II in his royal capacity appointed him resident in the Circle of Lower Saxony thus giving him something approaching diplomatic status. Installed in a well-appointed house in Halberstadt, his beard clipped by his royal master, Lehmann prospered, making a fortune from the financial and commercial services that he put at the disposal of the Polish-Saxon court and private clients, Flemming among them. He lent and coined money, bought and sold jewelley, imported foreign luxuries, supplied armies. The king discharged some of his debts to Lehmann by farming out to him the collection of customs in Poland and in Lithuania and also the royal domain (ekonomia) of Mogilev in White Russia, for three years in the first instance, in 1701. After the king's abdication of the Polish throne in 1706, Lehmann lent, with Augustus II's approval, about 104,500 rix-dollar to his rival Stanisław Leszczyński, 20,000 to one of Leszczyński's chief supporters, Benedict Sapieha (d. 1707) and in 1714 60,000 rix-dollars to another member of the Sapieha family. Sapieha was grand treasurer of Lithuania between 1676 and 1703; Lehmann paid him an unspecified gratification for the favour of farming the collection of the augmented general customs duty in force between 1703 and 1705. Stanisław being unable to discharge his debt, Lehmann was in 1715 put in possession of his family estates of which the town of Leszno was the centre. These he held for about ten years under the protection of Flemming, an arrangement which put the banker in his client's debt. Close business connections tied Lehmann to Hanover and Berlin but he also worked in association with other Court Jews in Leipzig, Dresden, Halle, Vienna, Wolfenbüttel, and in the principality of Blankenburg where he owned an iron foundry (his only industrial undertaking, it seems) and a depot for oils and wax. The duke ot Blankenburg, Lewis Rudolf (1691-1750), and his wife Christine-Louise were the parents of the Empress Elisabeth Christine (wife of Charles VI) and of princess Charlotte Sophia Christine (1694-1715), wife of the tsarevich Aleksei Petrovich (1690-1718). The duchess was a client of Lehmann's, the duke was for a time in debt to him and Lehmann together with his brother-in-law Jonas Meyer was briefly banker to the consort of the tsarevich. In 1711, in Dresden, Lehmann and Meyer advanced 50,000 rix-dollars to Tsar Peter. The sum was the same as the annual allowance which the tsar had undertaken to pay to his daughter-in-law, Pincess Charlotte, towards the cost of the upkeep of her court. The money was repaid three months later with interest charged at eight per cent - high but not extornionate. The tsarevich also bought a ring from Meyer.

Few men outside official circles have been better informed than Lehmann about public and financial affairs in central and easten Europe and not many of his circle were more astute and more affluent. But fortune changed: in 1720 the bankruptcy of the banking house of the brother Behrens in Hanover with which Lehmann was connected caused him heavy losses and marked the beginning of the decline of his prosperity. It is possible that a desire to retrieve it in some measure affected his conduct in the events presently to be related. In his community Lehmann was a public benefactor, and a patron of Jewish learning, outside he stands accused by an anonymous contemporary and by a leading modern authority of dishonesy and profiteering.

The episode about to be recounted ended in an interrogation held in Dresden in December 1721 at the request of Peter the Great in the presence of his representative, Prince G.F. Dolgorukii. The tsar wished or pretended to wish to discover the author of the latest proposal for a partage which had been divulged to him by the King of Prussia. The detained suspect was Lehmann. The interrogation was preceded by a written deposition. It is clear from the way in which the interrogators, Counts E. Chr. von Manteuffel and Chr. H. von Watzdorf, put their questions that their intention was not to establish the truth but to prove that no one had authorized Lehmann to approach Frederick William I in the matter of a partition, or given him any instructions, but that the proposal and the initiative had been entirely Lehmann's own, that in promoting the plan he had been actuated entirely by his own foolishness and by his desire to recover the debts that were owing to him in Poland.

Early in 1721 Lehmann approached his friend Moses Gomperz in Berlin, requesting him to ask the King of Prussia whether a partage might be arranged between him, the King of Poland and the tsar, recognizing, however, that if the tsar was not inclined to cooperate, nothing could be achieved. Gomperz replied that Lehmann should come to Berlin because the king wished to speak to him. King Augustus, informed of this overture, declared that he did not wish to have any dealings with the Prussian court but that Field Marshal Flemming would see Lehmann the next morning. At the same time the king told Lehmann that he was a fool and should not meddle in such matters. Flemming would not write down what Lehmann was going to say because he knew that the latter was 'a l'ordinaire' somewhat 'confus' and that this might lead to a quid pro quo. He refused to give Lehmann a passport for his journey to Berlin or a letter of recommendation, telling Lehmann not to interfere. If the King of Prussia required Lehmann's presence, he should send him an escort. This he did apparently, whereupon Lehmann went once more to see Flemming and put it to him that here was a means of reconciling the King of Poland with the tsar. Flemming again refused to act in the matter or to write a letter for Lehmann, not even if he heard from Berlin that the tsar was willing to cooperate and assured Lehmann that the tsar would not do so. Thereafter Lehmann had no further communication with the Polish-Saxon court. He eventually went to Berlin on his own business. The king on learning that Lehmann was there, summoned him to his presence. Lehmann assured Frederick William I that the proposal for a partage was entirely his own, that Flemming was opposed to it possibly because he intended to get married in Poland and 'become a great Polish nobleman'. (This may well have been Flemming's intention. At the time he was said to be paying court to a daughter of the grand hetman of Poland, Adam Sieniawski, but he did not achieve his aim until 1725 when he married Thekla Radziwill, a daughter of the grand chancellor of Lithuania, Charles Stanisław.) Nevertheless, as Lehmann believed that the King of Prussia was the only person capable of obtaining the cooperation of the tsar, he wished to make the attempt. The king, saying that if the tsar did not join in, the matter was unthinkable, referred Lehmann to his ministers, Ilgen and F.E. von Knyphausen. A meeting was held at which Gomperz was also pesent. Ilgen expressed the same view as the king but proposed that as Prussia had an envoy at the tsar's court the attempt should be made. Asked by Ilgen about the state of relations between the Polish-Saxon court and the Imperial court, Lehmann was unable to answer that question. Ilgen declared that the matter should first be agreed with the Imperial court, Lehmann reiterated his view, namely that the tsar's position must be ascertained in the first instance (but later stated that he believed that the Prussian court should enlist both the Emperor and the tsar). He could undertake nothing further until the tsar's accession had been secured, nor would he return to Dresden for a further interview with Flemming, and went home to Halberstadt. Here he learned from Gomperz that the Prussian court had written to their king's envoy in St Petersburg, Gustav von Mardefeld. Questioned about the details of the partage, the portions to be assigned to the King of Prussia, to the tsar, the establishment of a hereditary monarchy in the Republic and possible support on the part of the King of Prussia for the succession to the Polish throne of the Electoral Prince of Saxony (Frederick Augustus, 1696-1763, the future Augustus III), Lehmann replied that he was not concerned with the details of a partition, he had not brought a map with him to Berlin, this was something for the monarchs to settle among themselves.

It would appear that from Halberstadt where he was taken ill with the gout, Lehmann went to take the waters at Carlsbad with one of his daughters and her husband. There he heard from Gomperz that the Prussian court had hoped of being able to persuade the tsar to accede to a partition. At this point appeared on the scene 'as if by design' one Ralph Campke, a Geheimrat in the service of none other than Lehmann's former client, the duke ot Blankenburg, Lewis Rudolf. Lehmann asked Campke, whom he knew to be in the Empress's good graces, whether she could be prevailed upon to persuade the Emperor to accede to a partition. Campke replied that this was not a matter that could be taken up quickly but offered to draft a proposal for a partage and to submit it to Her Majesty. Whether the proposal ever reached the Empress Lehmann did not know, he himself had never had an audience of Her Majesty. Nevertheless it was rumoured that Lehmann had seen the Empress and that these were her terms: the King of Prussia was to retrocede the counties of Hohnstein and Regenstein to the duke of Blankenburg and payments were to be made to the Emperor's ministers: 100,000 rix-dollars to Cardinal M.F. von Althann, the same sum to Guido Count von Starhemberg and twice that amount to Prince Eugen of Savoy. But before speaking to the ministers the Empress would speak to her husband who was known to be looking askance at the aggrandizement of Russia. If the scheme proved to be unworkable Elisabeh Christine would send a message to Lehmann saying 'c'est une chimère' but if six weeks went by and no message had been received the money was to be paid. Campke sent Lehmann his draft of which the recipient kept a copy. Campke said he would inform Berlin that he was the author of the draft because he wanted in this way to make himself agreeable to the Prussian court but Lehmann in writing to Gomperz made out, in order to make himself appear important (or, as seems more likely, to keep up the ficion that he was the sole villain of the piece), that he himself was the author. Gomperz replied that no one in Berlin believed this, indeed it was thought that the proposal was the work of an entire ministry but Lehmann continued to claim the authorship of the draft. With a view to making the proposal, headed 'Pro humillima informatione', attractive to the Imperial court Campke had drafted it so as to give the impression that it was directed against the tsar. Lehmann had not thought that the Prussian court would forward the proposal to the tsar. (There appears to have been a difference between the text which Lehmann had had copied and sent to Gomperz and the one, more drastically worded, that was read to him at the interrogation.) Lehmann did not infom the Polish-Saxon court or Flemming or any other person or body of the contents of the proposal. It would seem that subsequently Lehmann paid another visit to Berlin, ostensibly on business but his presence there provided the opportunity for a night-time interview with Ilgen and Count Aleksandr G. Golovkin, the Russian envoy who presumably by this time (June 1721) was thoroughly apprised of the whole affair. Asked, no doubt for the benefit of Dolgorukii, whether it was not the case that a proposal for a partition involving Russia would harm the tsar because it would make him hated in the Republic and expose him to the jalousie of all Europe, Lehmann replied: 'Heaven forfend'. Asked earlier by Dolgorukii whether he could expect to get his capital back after a partage which would inevitably give rise to a war and which would ruin his debtors even further and reduce them to a state in which they could not discharge their debts, Lehmann replied that ways could well be found of making them pay more readily, besides he had set his hopes on receiving a big reward once the partition had taken place. Asked at the end of the interview whether he had anything to add Lehmann said he believed that it was intended in Berlin to punish him for having denied that he had instructions to negotiate (from the Polish-Saxon court or from Flemming, thus supposedly putting the Prussian court in an awkward position). Next Jonas Meyer was questioned in order to ascertain whether he had had anything to do with Lehmann's plans for a partage and was dismissed from the case.

While the interrogation did not reveal the truth because that had not been its purpose, it evidently achieved its aim which was to give Lehmann the opportunity to accept the blame for promoting an obviously chimerical plan but one which for years had been regarded as reasonable and desirable by the Polish-Saxon and the Prussian courts and not categorically ruled out by the tsar. Its legitimacy had never been questioned, it had merely been found to be impracticable because when it came to the point the tsar had blocked the plan or backed out of it. The record of the interrogation of Lehmann makes clear some of the reasons for Tsar Peter's persistent unwillingness to engage in a partition: it could not be achieved without causing a war with the Poles and doing grave damage to the tsar's reputation in Europe. As P.P. Shafirov, the Russian vice-chancellor (under-secretary for foreign affairs) put it in June 1721, the tsar would never embroil himself in such dangerous and intricate enterprises, he had no thought of further acquisitions at present, neither of subjects nor of countries. A partage was too high a price to pay for a reconciliation with Augustus II, let alone the recovery of Lehmann's loans. Whether Lehmann was really perverse or foolish enough to wish to burn down an entire house in order to rescue his hoard of gold seems doubtful, his expectation of a reward is easier to understand. The record does not, incidentally, include the remark attributed to Lehmann to the effect that from a partition the Poles would only get what they deserved.

Lehmann was clearly well informed about the relations between the Polish-Saxon and the Russian courts and held quite firm views on ways in which these relations should be handled. When asked how he knew that the tsar and the king of Poland had fallen out (as indeed they had) he replied that the Jews had a pretty good notion of what was going on. And when Flemming insisted that Lehmann did not know what he was talking about, that the two Majesties were on good terms, Lehmann (according to Flemming) retorted that he did indeed know what he was saying, moreover Prussia had the tsar or the heart of the tsar in its hands..On this point he was wrong because according to Charles Whitworth, George I's envoy plenipotentiary in Berlin, reporting in May 1721, it was false that the King of Prussia was more united with the tsar than ever; the Prussians' jealousy of his neighbourhood and designs would never let their friendship be real.

In Poland it was doubted whether the plan for a parrtition had been invented solely by Lehmann who was said to have gone every night to see Flemming to be briefed by him about the replies he was to give to the interrogators until thy finally discharged him as being deranged or a visionary. In Prussia King Frederick William I, contrary to Lehmann's statement, did not consider it necessay to keep up the pretence that the latter was acting without authority and informed Mardefeld that the King of Poland was pressing him through Jews and Christians to take part in 'that enterprise' which he would willingly do although it was almost impossible to take any such acion without its becoming known to the Polish magnates. But in the first place he wished to find out what the tsar thought of the proposal. Therre was enough proof to show that the King of Poland had the affair of the partage very much at heart and that Flemming was pushing him in that direction. King Augustus could see that he would not profit from the war which he began with Sweden and Flemming, who was quite discredited in Poland and in Saxony, imagined that by such means he could maintain his position with the king and also ingratiate himself anew with 'us' and with the tsar, as if a man such as he were capable of directing an enterprise of such weight and by means of his savoir faire divide the Republic among the three monarchs.

Despite Flemming's heavy-handed efforts to cover his tracks such as his fausse confidence to James Scott, the British minister in Poland, that the scheme was too dangerous, not a single person in official circles, whether Prussian, Russian, Hanoverian or English believed that Lehmann was the sole promoter of what Flemming chose to call 'l'affaire hebraique'. 'Credeat Iudaeus Apella!' exclaimed George Tilson, under-secretary of state for the North, as if in repartee. Scott believed that the motive of Augustus II and his advisers for engaging in a partage was to find a dedommagement for the lack of success in the Swedish war but it is hard to see how the huge cessions of territory to foreign powers that were being contemplated could justly be so described. In the English official correspondence concerning the Lehmann affair Flemming is repeatedly the subject of unfavourable comment. 'He changes himself into more different forms and postures than ever Proteus did' (Scott), '...there never was such a knight errant in politics, he is always running after some mad windmill adventure' (Whitworth), a 'most unfortunate schematist always bustling, rambling and projecting and still ... sinking his master's and his own credit lower and lower' (Tilson), 'that projector ... his pockets full of projects' (Whitworth). Whitworth spoke with equal contempt of Lehmann and his kind: 'These Fellows from trucking old Clouths and broken China, are come to deal in Kingdomes', although he knew full well that Lehmann was only an instrument of the King of Poland's whose 'notions in all this matter are certainly very chimerical and the last efforts of imprudence and despair'.

In general the contemporary statesmen and professional diplomats judged the scheme by it feasibility. F.E. von Knyphausen at the time - in 1719 - the Prussian envoy in Stockholm told the British ambassador there a propos of Prussia's designs on Courland that the Polish Commonwealth, a disjointed body by its material composition was rendered more so not only by 'their' - the Poles' (mutual) jealousy but by their ill opinion of their king. Stanhope in February 1721 did not regard the territory of the Republic as sacrosanct and was ready to win the support of Prussia for George I by finding for Frederick William I 'quelque convenance' in Poland and compensating the Republic at the expense of Russia. (In 1945 the displacement of frontiers because a reality but its direction was reversed: a 'convenance' for Russia was found in Poland and Poland was compensated at the expense of Germany.) Scott at first (in March 1721) thought the scheme practicable enough, especially once the tsar's peace with Sweden had been assured, later (in August) he pronounced it a difficult undertaking and contrary to the general interest of Europe. He did not relish the prospect of a Prussian attack on Elbing or a Russian attack on Gdansk (or both) which would, he conjectured, set the whole process in motion. By September Scott was sure that the authors of the project had not maturely enough considered the difficulty they were likely to encounter and he ventured a little moral judgment. He now found the proposal rather odious and believed that however much the Poles might have abused their liberty, many people would find fault with a prince whom they - the Poles - had elected, who had sworn to maintain their laws and privileges and who yet was working to break and to remove them in concert with others. If an attempt at dismemberment were made, unending disorder and confusion would follow in Europe. The Poles might form a confederacy in self-defence and ask the Turks for help. There is nothing in Scott's reports, however, to suggest that he had any reason to alter his original and pessimistic forecast, based on years of observation and possibly on some knowledge of earlier desseins, large and small, that one day that kingdom would be divided among it neighbours. It may be doubted whether, given the circumstances, the prediction shows the prophet to have been exceptionally farsighted. More remarkable is the disinclination of some historians to ignore the longer term and to seek the causes of the first partition of Poland wholly in its setting. As to the circumstances prevailing in 1721, Townshend saw them as clearly as Scott. The Imperial court was extremely nettled at the project for a partition, the Emperor utterly averse to it and determined to maintain the status quo in Poland. But if in future a more favourable opportunity were to present itself or if the Emperor were to show a liking for such a plan, in Berlin they would be unable to refuse such a tasty morsel and all the danger and disadvantages notwithstanding, they would always want their share of the cake. He does not, however, mention the tsar. It may or may not have occurred to Townshend that once the Republic's neighbours had achieved a consensus, they could dispense with the participation of the Polish court in an act of dismemberment which would then leave the Republic diminished but unreformed. At such a point the scheme would cease to be a project, the illusory essence of which is that it benefits all the parrticipants, and become simply a conspiracy to rob.

Although the intended partage was a talking point in official circles between the spring and autumn of 1721, no details of the future division of the spoils became known, perhaps because in accordance with Lehmann's testimony no mention was made by the negotiators of which portions of the Republic the contracting parties were to receive (though Whitworth supected the opposite). But as on previous occasions, Polish Prussia, Warmia, a part of Courland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were thought to be detachable. Campke's unsigned memorandum headed ‘Pro humillima informatione' contains no such details and presents only a general case for a partage.

The author hints at the desirability of the service of an inconspicuous go-between and cautiously allows for the dismissal of the project as a chimera, the Schadenfreude which informs the opening paragraph recalls the tone of earlier Prussian and Saxon memoranda on the same subject. So extreme is the unrest in the Republic and so irreconcilable are its divisions that it cannot continue to exist as at present constituted but must finally fall a prey (zum Raube, the expression which Lehmann could not recall when questioned) to one or another of its powerful neighbours but most likely to become a Russian dependency or protectorate. The security and tranquillity of the Republic's neighbours are threatened by such a development which might be followed by further expansion. The former antemurale Christianitatis against the Porte was in danger of collapsing and its disintegration would expose the Hungarian provinces of the Empire to a Turkish invasion. A treaty of partition between the Emperor, the King of Prussia, the King of Poland and the tsar could avert those misfortunes and should be followed by a treaty of mutual guarantee.

Although it would appear that the interrogation of Lehmann took place as late as December 1721, by mid-October Whitworth was of the opinion that the Grand Operation had failed: 'We have been unsuccessful Chimists and now ... everyone is ashamed and perhaps afraid, to own the pieces of Glass and Cinder.' By December all the parties concerned were trying to wash their hands of the plan for partition and hush up its repercussions.

The only one to gain from the whole affair was Tsar Peter. Barely a month after turning down the Prussian overture he seemed suddenly to relish the King of Prussia's overtures concerning a partition, he was eager to see details of the proposal and if he found them practicable would engage in it. In point of fact the tsar had no such intention but wanted to, and did, obtain material with which to expose the machinations of King Augustus and Flemming before the szlachta, to win the support of the magnates and strengthen the Russian party in the Republic. Before long he was aiming at the entire subversion of the King of Poland or at least wanted to reduce him to a condition that would be little better. Augustus II whom Whitworth had (probably with good reason) suspected of being the mainspring of the whole intrigue organized by Flemming now changed his front and protested before an Imperial diplomat that he was not thinking a partage, had always considered the idea chimerical and dangerous and that even if it were feasible he would scruple to contribute to the oppression of a free people which had put itself in his hands. Flemming, whilst keeping up the pretence that the sole author and promoter of the project was Lehmann, now tried to blame the court of Berlin for having found the project to its taste and for participating in it by communicating it to St Petersburg. This effort provoked some indignant letters to the King of Prussia from a number of Polish magnates. In the midst of all the hubbub Lehmann, the principal figure in this shoddy masquerade, was allowed quietly to return to his proper sphere of activity, that of high finance, where he had to face the consequences of the insolvency of the banking house of his kinsmen, the brothers Behrens, in Hanover.

It is highly probable that in 1721 Flemming made use of Lehmann just as he had made use of Christian Mueller in 1703. Thanks to his machinations the concept of partage of a weak and turbulent Republic had entered the political vocabulary of the day as a formula ready for use as opportunity offered or expediency demanded. Though still essentially a project, an adventurous and risky undertaking believed to lead to enormous profits, it was no longer to be lightly dismissed as a chimere or a sottise. Only as long as the tsar and the Emperor of the day refused to apply the formula did dismemberment remain a contingency beyond the bounds of practical politics. In changed circumstances and with different players it could and did become a reality.

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