Polish royalty confuses me

Polish ‘royalty’ confuses me.  Poles love their castles and heritage of Polish kings and dynasties. But there hasn’t been a king of Poland since the great partition in the 1790’s. And as I understand it, the nobility, or ruling families elected their kings, often from outside Poland, be it Lithuania, Hungary or what was the Czech Republic.

The kings never really had the kind of sovereign power of say Queen Elizabeth I of England or Louis XIV of France, nor did they amass huge armies to either defend or conquer.  So they were conquered by greater powers more than once.

For me, Poles have an inverted logic towards their royalty.  Americans  equate kings and queens with domination by another ruler; Poles equate their kings and queens to their independence from other powers.  Castles like Wawel Castle in Krakow are important national symbols to Poles, and their currency features various kings and dynasties. Adam Zamoyski wrote The Polish Way, a scholarly attempt to write a 1,000 years of history and Polish culture in one volume.  While he is descended from a powerful family of Poland, and the book is full of information, it’s also a good cure for insomnia so I still haven’t processed fully all the dynasties of Poland.  Trust me – there’s so many it’s confusing for anyone who didn’t grow up with the history.

When I think of monarchy, I look to Britain as what I’m most familiar with. America fought a revolution against King George’s red-coats, and our government is set up to never allow a single person to attain full control; but we’re still fascinated with British royalty.  Think Charles and Camilla, Pippa’s Pilates or Prince William & Kate Middleton and magazines here in the US and abroad sell with their pictures on the cover. And while Britain has a parliament, the “Queen” needs no further introduction.  Downton Abbey, the fabulously popular television series which I am thoroughly addicted to is also based on a real life phenomena from the turn of the century – American heiresses who married landed and titled (but cash poor) Britains.
But all of our national symbolism as Americans is that no one ever will ever wear a crown in our country.  Even our elected presidents are limited to eight years in power.
So I simply accept that Poles love their heritage of kings and queens and respect they have gone to great lengths to rebuild their castles not for tourists but for themselves.

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Tags: Poland, Polish History