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What a wedding it was ...

A wedding is not only one of the most important family celebrations but also a special kind of ceremony or spectacle for the nearest and dearest. Yet when popular personages or celebrities are to tie the knot, all those who share the joy of the newlyweds become the participants of the ceremony. One of the most famous 19th-century weddings was that of Barbara Chłapowska and General Jan Henryk D±browski. The ceremony was held on 5th November 1807.

The General's close ties with Wielkopolska can be traced back to the year 1792, when called upon Polish authorities he joined the ranks of the Polish army. Alas Poland was soon defeated in the war with Russia and then Ko¶ciuszko's Rising proved unsuccessful, therefore, D±browski had to emigrate. Since 1797 he was in command of the Polish Legions in Italy. Being one of the most respected and well liked Polish commanders, D±browski was a hero of the song which was later to become the Polish national anthem.

In October 1806 Napoleon Bonaparte defeated the Prussian army and began his march eastwards. To hasten the final demise of the enemy Napoleon sent J. H. D±browski to Wielkopolska commissioning him to trigger an armed uprising in the area. Early November saw fighting, in the result of which the Prussian army withdrew from the region. Incidentally widowed D±browski had an opportunity to meet Barbara Chłapowska, a lady to whom he took a strong fancy. Their meeting was a sheer coincidence since the lady pleaded with D±browski to free her brother, who had been taken captive by the French.

Being much younger than the General, Barbara Chłapowska was a very attractive woman and had many admirers. She could not resist, however, the romantic proposal of marriage by the 50-year-old General. The wedding ceremony was held a year after the uprising in Wielkopolska commenced. The nuptials in the Poznań cathedral were followed by a wedding reception in the town hall in the Old Market Square. The reception soon evolved into a patriotic celebration. After a military parade and a speech by General Antoni "Amilkar" Kosiński, the bride was presented with a diamond brooch on a velvet cushion, a gift from the Ruling Committee of the Duchy of Warsaw and a golden box inlaid with amethysts from the ladies of Wielkopolska. Amongst the tokens of remembrance of this ceremony is a painting by Franciszek Sypniewski, depicting the wedding reception in the town hall. A glow of happiness and joy triggered by the nuptials of this well liked and esteemed general was widespread.

In spite of a considerable age difference (i.e. over 20 years), the marriage proved very harmonious and successful. The D±browskis lived for some time in Poznań to settle eventually in an estate in Winna Góra near Miłosław. This estate was bestowed onto D±browski by Napoleon Bonaparte. The years 1807-1818 were marked by wars, sickness, the feeling of defeat of the French emperor and brought about the end of an epoch. Yet for the General it was a period of family ambience and a peaceful existance by the side of his devoted wife and two children, his daughter Bogusława and son Bronisław. The General died in Winna Góra in June 1818. It was his wife and daughter who cherished his memory most fervently. They are all buried in the local church, which is regarded today as one of the national shrines. And it all had started on a November day in 1807 ...

Finally, I would like to add that a Basia featuring in the lyrics of the Polish national anthem was not Barbara Chłapowska. The author of the lyrics, Józef Wybicki, simply needed a name which would rhyme with the next line. As a matter of fact, the General met his future wife only 9 years after the so-called "D±browski's mazurek" was written.                 

Marek Rezler