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History: Priory of Poland


Ostrogski coat-of-armsOstrogski coat-of-armsThe foundation of the Polish priory of the Order did not eventuated until the late eighteenth century. In a curious way it is related to a testamentary bequest of the Duke of Ostrog. The Duchy of Ostrog, Volhynia, remained for centuries a property of the House of Ostrogski. Prince Janusz, Duke of Ostrog, converted the whole of his estate into a maioratus  (known in Polish as Ordynacja) in 1609. This was the only legally permissible way to assure that the whole of the designated estate would not be divided after the death of the Duke. In his Testament, formally registered ten years later, the Duke stipulated that in the event of the demise of the House of Ostrog and a lack of representatives of related branches of the House of Zaslawski or House of Radziwill (descendants of the Duke's sisters) eligible to take up the bequest, the head of the Ostrogski Ordynacja should be elected by the representatives of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which in practice meant the Commonwealth Parliament. Further, the candidate had to be a Knight of Malta. (Note 1)

Emperor Paul IEmperor Paul I

The situation, not probable at the time of original bequest, materialised 200 year later. The bequest became the source of a dispute by distant relatives of the Testator. It took several years, the use of force and legal proceedings for the matter to reach the Polish Parliament. However, only temporary solutions followed. The bequest of such a considerable size and value made the Grand Magistry enter into negotiations with the Crown and the Polish Parliament. It was mainly due to the diplomatic efforts and skilful persuasion of the envoys from Malta that the King and the Parliament decided to resolve the issue amicably.

On 14 December 1774, an Act settling the dispute was promulgated. The Act authorised the creation of a Priory of Poland with 6 territorial Commanderies and 8 family Commanderies ("jus patronatus"). The Order had been offered a compensation in a form of annual dues for cession of its rights to the bequest of Duke of Ostrog. The independent existence of the Priory was short-lived. With the second partition of Poland in 1793, the independent Priory of Poland ceased to exist with the Ostrogski Ordynacja being forfeited to the Russian Treasury. The Priory's structures were taken over by the Catholic division of the Grand Priory of Russia created by the Emperor Paul I, who was proclaimed the Grand Master in a short-lived affair known in the history of the Order as the Russian coup d’état.


by Darius von Guettner-Sporzynski

Note 1.  Very interesting account of this in R. Cavaliero "The Affair of Ostrog. An Episode in Malto-Polish Relations in the Eighteen Century", Journal of the Royal University of Malta, La Valletta 1958.