Sienkiewicz H. il. do Potopu rys. J. Kossak

The body of a citizen and the body of the king
Maciej Gloger (Kazimierz Wielki University)

The body of a citizen and the body of the king
Maciej Gloger (Kazimierz Wielki University)

Thus Sienkiewicz modernized and reconciled the pre-modern categories of theological politics with democratic ideas and notions introduced by supporters of organic work. Sociopolitical journalism from the Warsaw young conservatist movement was well known to Sienkiewicz, and specifically that of the most prominent historian of legal and political theory belonging to that circle, Aleksander Rembowski. In his dissertation Stanisław Leszczyński jako statysta (Stanisław Leszczyński as a statesman), published in 1878 in the Niwa magazine and then published again as a separate offprint, the historian encapsulated the fundamentals of his thoughts on the state. He emphasized: “[…] in the life of state there is no creation and no perturbation but everything develops organically.”[1] In another part of this work we find this passage:


Only personal, continuous work, only personal participation in public duties and burdens maintain an adequate moral balance within a man which reconciles personal welfare with public welfare and does not let the former consume the latter. Only by appreciating a fellow man’s work and seeing a member of society in him is the notion of public duty properly formed. However, if some see a thing in others that they can legally exploit, then state egoism takes place and desires the public welfare to serve it.[2]


It seems that the organic vision of citizenship and public duty as defined by Rembowski was perfectly encoded by Sienkiewicz in the knights he created who were supposed to embody the model to be followed by modern merchants, traders and political activists. They were also an example for the self-emancipating masses of villagers and laborers. The necessity to build a modern democracy upon a Christian foundation was also made manifest by one of the most eminent journalists within the society, Antoni Donimirski:


The label of conservatives must also necessarily be maintained in contrast to those realms and elements which desire to make the people happy by shattering the present social order. The conservatives of today, wherever they exist, differ from the elements in that though they acknowledge the need for many changes in the structure of the social building they wish to leave the foundations untouched – those same foundations which have for 18 centuries been the linchpin of the entire building. […] None of them [the conservatives] dreams of the return to some state privilege, to laws of exception, as each of them can see how contrary they are to the teachings of Christ which might not have been correctly understood throughout centuries […].

Having these rules and the system that represents them, it befits to battle at present, on the one hand against the nondenominational liberalism which in egoism sees the main factor for the progress of mankind, on the other hand against the seditionists of the present social order who so far only know they want to destroy but have no idea what to build next instead.[3]


The way the character of the king is portrayed, especially in The Deluge, is very distinctive, pre-modern and at the same time modern and democratic. Jan Kazimierz (John II Casimir Vasa) is then a tragic, Shakespearean “vagabond king,” a mortal who is unable to shoulder the burden of his godly status, but also the emanation of the nation’s power and unity. The king and the homeland is one and the same and no historical circumstance can challenge this Godly dimension that the nation, the community, the Commonwealth achieves because of the king. It is around the king’s image, his mystical power strengthened by the spiritual power of Kordecki’s faith, that the response to Swedish invasion centers.[4] The character of Jan Kazimierz is a reflection of the medieval legal idea that the king has two bodies: the worldly, faltering, sinful one and the eternal, perfect, immortal community body. Ernst H. Kantorowicz devoted an entire case study on political theology in the Middle Ages[5] where he showed that this very same idea is also the source of tragic pathos of the kings in William Shakespeare, especially in Richard II[6](it is widely known that Sienkiewicz was a faithful and consistent Shakespeare reader).[7]


  1. A. Rembowski, Stanisław Leszczyński jako statysta [Stanisław Leszczyński as a statesman], Warsaw 1879, p. 31.
  2. Ibidem, p. 10; trans. K. C.
  3. A. Donimirski, “Nasz konserwatyzm” [Our conservatism], Niwa 1890, vol. 1, p. 2; trans. K. C.
  4. For an all-encompassing discussion of all the functions fulfilled by the character of the king in The Deluge, see T. Bujnicki, “Sienkiewiczowski Jan Kazimierz” [Sienkiewicz’s Jan Kazimierz], in Światopogląd i poetyka. Szkice o powieściach historycznych Henryka Sienkiewicza [Worldview and poetica: Sketches on Sienkiewicz’s historical novels], Rzeszów 1999, pp. 102–113.
  5. E. H. Kantorowicz, The King’s Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957.
  6. A. Donimirski, op. cit., p. 1.
  7. For Schmitt, the works of Shakespeare posed a great interpretative challenge as well in relation to the political history of England – see C. Schmitt, Carl Schmitt, Hamlet or Hecuba: The Intrusion of the Time Into the Play, translated by David Pan and Jennifer R. Rust, New York 2009.