On the occasion of the anniversary of 200 years since the Greek Revolution of 1821, we start publications on Polish Philhellenism and the participation of Poles in the fight for Greek independence. The protagonist of the first article is the cavalryman Franciszek Mierzejewski, whose biography we can publish thanks to the courtesy of Professor Gosciwit Malinowski from the University of Wrocław.
On March 25, 1821, the day of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Metropolitan of Old Patras Germanos, symbolically raised up the insurgent flag over the Agia Lavra monastery in Kalavrita and the Greek War of Independence, known as the Greek Revolution, began.
The struggle of the Greeks for liberation from the Ottoman yoke was faced with a wave of sympathy in Europe at that time, where youth was brought up according to the new Humboldtian ideas, paying great attention to classical studies and ancient heritage. This harmonized with the political mood in many countries, where, after the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815, supporters of liberal, republican and national ideas were forced to live in the heavy atmosphere of absolute monarchies, reactivated at the Congress of Vienna and arranged according to ultra-conservative principles. In this situation, the Philhellenic movement was created all over Europe by a friends of Greece, who not only organized fundraising to equip the insurgent army and support the victims of Turkish persecution (one of the largest fundraising took place in Warsaw in 1822), but also set off with arms in hand to Greece.
There were fewer Poles among the fighting Philhellenes than Germans or French, but they had a much greater combat value, because among Polish volunteers the majority were not enthusiastic students, but veterans of Napoleon’s army, who could not find themselves in the army of the Kingdom of Poland, commanded by the Russian Grand Duke Constantine. They wandered around various countries in Europe and both Americas, engaging in all conspiracies and revolutions directed against the regime of the Holy Alliance. They could not be missing in Greece as well.
The military achievements of the Philhellenes in Greece in the years 1821-1829 were actually reported in newspapers of high circulation and memoirs in Europe at that time. French Raybaud, German Elster, Swiss Fornes are just a few names from a large group of authors carefully recording the events and names of European volunteers fighting for Greece. There were supposed to be over 1200 men, we know the names of over 600, including over 50 Poles.
Although we know several dozen names of Polish soldiers, the records of them, written from passports, reports, and most often from oral transmissions by Greeks, French and Germans unfamiliar with the Polish language and spelling, makes the research extremely difficult. Sometimes, even when the name can be easily restored to its original Polish sound – for example Jan Dąbrowski, it is impossible to combine it with an otherwise known person.
In the team working on the history of Polish Philhellenism, led by prof. Maria Kalinowska from the University of Warsaw, research on Polish soldiers, participants of the Greek War of Independence is conducted by prof. Gosciwit Malinowski from the University of Wrocław. A few years ago, he managed to restore the identity of the most important Polish Philhellene, who died in the Battle of Peta 4 (16) .07.1822, commander of the 2nd company of the Philhellene corps. In foreign sources, he was mentioned as Cav. Mierzivvcki, Mierzewsky, Merziewski, Merziefsky, Mirziewsky, Mirzefski, Mirzewski, Mirszewski, Mizewsky, Miziefski, Miziewski, Marziefsky, Morzafskis, and in Polish literature as Mierziewski, Mierzewski, even Międzyrzecki. Meanwhile, in the biographies of soldiers of the Napoleonic era, Franciszek Mierzejewski, born on October 22, 1786 in Warsaw, son of Franciszek and Magdalena Gudkowska. On September 26, 1807 he served as a cavalryman of the 2nd company of the 1st Regiment of the Imperial Guard of Napoleon, was well known for a long time. On November 1, 1811 he served in the 5th company, January 1, 1812 chieftain (maréchal des logis) of the 3rd company, April 11, 1813 à la suite, April 11, 1814 departed for Elba. He returned with Napoleon to France on March 1, 1815 and on May 22, 1815, he became a second lieutenant of the 1st squadron of the 1st Regiment of Cheval Legers-Lancers of the Guard. He took part in the campaigns 1808-15: Wagram (July 5-6, 1813), Vitebsk (July 26-27, 1812), Możajsk (September 5-7, 1812), Berezyna (November 26-29, 1812), Lützen (May 2, 1813), Bautzen (May 20-21, 1813), Dresden (August 26-27, 1813), Leipzig (October 16-19, 1813), Hanau (October 30-31, 1813), Brienne (January 29, 1814), Montmirail (February 11, 1814), Chateau -Thierry (February 12, 1814), Laon (March 9, 1814), Arcis-sur-Aube (March 20-21, 1814), Ligny (June 16, 1815), Waterloo (June 18, 1815). He was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Legion of Honor on May 14, 1813 [No. 35319] for participating in the battle of Weissenfelds / Lützen on May 2, 1813, where he took the son of the Prussian general Blücher into captivity. He left the French service on October 1, 1815 and went to Poland. In the army of the Kingdom of Poland, he did not receive confirmation of his officer rank but he did not accept his degradation to a non-commissioned officer.
And here ends the biography written by the experts of the Napoleonic era, who did not know what the further fate of the cavalry was. Today you can continue his biography. After 1815, Mierzejewski left his country again. He traveled to South America, where he took part in the struggle for independence of the Spanish colonies led by Simon Bolivar. Then he returned to Europe and became involved in the revolutions organized by the Italian Carbonari in the Kingdom of Both Sicily (1820) and Piedmont (1821). After their failure, he came to Greece, where, as a captain, he took part in creating a regular army out of Philhellenes volunteers. He died heroically along with twelve other Poles in the Battle of Peta, when fighting from the roof of a village church he was covering the retreat of a Philhellenic troops attacked by overwhelming Turkish forces as a result of treason.
On the anniversary of the 1821 Revolution, the Society for Hellenism and Philhellenism minted 10 medals commemorating the most distinguished Philhellenes. On one of them there is an unmistakably inscribed name and surname: Franciszek Mierzejewski, with a portrait of a cavalryman of the imperial guard. After almost 200 years of oblivion or partial memory, Franciszek Mierzejewski, the chief of cavalrymen-lancers, the hero of the Greek War of Independence, regained the integrity of his biography.