The life and career of a Knight of Malta in the age of secularisation: Michele Enrico Sagramoso (1720–1791). The Order of Malta and the First Partition of Poland

Darius von Güttner-Sporzyński

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12775/OM.2019.010

Abstract


For contemporary and arguably disinterested British observers, the First Partition of Poland by Russia, Prussia and Austria in 1772 was an “immoral act of appropriation”. This “most flagrant violation of natural justice and international law” was perpetrated by three absolute monarchs whose coordinated actions simultaneously removed the political threat of a progressive neighbour and delivered significant territorial gains, whilst cynically claiming to restore the balance of power in Europe. The 1772 Partition of Poland took place at the height of the Enlightenment, a movement which challenged the ancien régime and its mutually reinforcing pillars of the Church and State. This article examines the career of Michele Enrico Sagramoso, a key actor in the manoeuvres that normalised the 1772 Partition. Sagromoso was both the epitome of an enlightened, progressive European and a committed and successful diplomat in the service of the Church’s Order of Malta. An examination of Sagramoso’s intertwined personal and diplomatic connections helps to explain the success of his mission to Poland and how his efforts facilitated the part-recovery of a contested bequest for the Order, timed and prosecuted at the peak of the Partition crisis. This article contends that Sagramoso significantly contributed to the destabilisation of the already fractured Polish-Lithuanian Parliament, and his actions were both actively supported by and benefited the 1772 Partition agenda of Russia, Prussia and Austria. The 1772 Partition and the Polish question became “the most complex diplomatic affair of the entire eighteenth century.”

Keywords


history; military orders; Hospitallers; Order of Malta; Poland; Partitions of Poland; Enlightenment; Sagramoso

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