WLADISLAUS IV. (1595-1648), king of Poland, son of Sigismund III., king of Poland, and Anne of Austria, succeeded his father on the throne in 1632. From his early youth he gave promise of great military talent, and served his apprenticeship in the science of war under Zolkiewski in the Muscovite campaigns of 1610-1612, and under Chodkiewicz in 1617-1618. Wladislaus's first official act was to march against the Muscovites, who had declared war against Poland immediately after the death of Sigismund, and were besieging Smolensk, the key of Poland's eastern frontier. After a series of bloody engagements (Aug. 7-22, 1632) Wladislaus compelled the tsar's general to abandon the siege, and eventually to surrender (March i, 1634) with his whole army. Meanwhile the Turks were threatening in the south, and Wladislaus found it expedient to secure his Muscovite conquests. Peace was concluded at the river Polyankova on the 28th of May 1634, the Poles conceding the title of tsar to Michael Romanov, who renounced all his claims upon Livonia, Esthonia and Courland, besides paying a war indemnity of 200,000 rubles. These tidings profoundly impressed Sultan Murad, and when the victorious Wladislaus appeared at Lemberg, the usual starting-point for Turkish expeditions, the Porte offered terms which were accepted in October, each power engaging to keep their borderers, the Cossacks and Tatars, in order, and divide between them the suzerainty of Moldavia and Walachia, the sultan binding himself always to place philo-Polish hospodars on those slippery thrones. In the following year the long-pending differences with Sweden were settled, very much to the advantage of Poland, by the truce of Stumdorf, which was to last for twenty-six years from the 12th September 1635. Thus externally Poland was everywhere triumphant. Internally, however, things were in their usually deplorable state owing to the suspicion, jealousy and parsimony of the estates of the realm. They had double reason to be grateful to Wladislaus for defeating the enemies of the republic, for he had also paid for the expenses of his campaigns out of his own pocket, yet he could not obtain payment of the debt due to him from the state till 1643. He was bound by the pacta cowienta which he signed on his accession to maintain a fleet on the Baltic. He proposed to do so by levying tolls on all imports and exports passing through the Prussian ports which had been regained by the truce of Stumdorf . Sweden during her temporary occupation of these ports had derived from them an annual income of 3,600,000 gulden. But when Wladislaus, their lawful possessor, imposed similar tolls in the interests of the republic, Danzig protested and appealed to the Scandinavian powers. Wladislaus's little fleet attempted to blockade the port of the rebellious city, whereupon a Danish admiral broke the blockade and practically destroyed the Polish flotilla. Yet the sejm, so sensitive to its own privileges, allowed the insult to the king and the injury to the state to pass unnoticed, conniving at the destruction of the national navy and the depletion of the treasury, " lest warships should make the crown too powerful." For some years after this humiliation, Wladislaus became indifferent to affairs and sank into a sort of apathy; but the birth of his son Sigismund (by his first wife, Cecilia Renata of Austria, in 1640) gave him fresh hopes, and he began with renewed energy to labour for the dynasty as well as for the nation. He saw that Poland, with her existing constitution, could not hope for a long future, and he determined to bring about a royalist reaction and a reform along with it by every means in his power. He began by founding the Order of the Immaculate Conception, consisting of 72 young noblemen who swore a special oath of allegiance to the crown, and were to form the nucleus of a patriotic movement antagonistic to the constant usurpations of the diet, but the sejm promptly intervened and quashed the attempt. Then he conceived the idea of using the Cossacks, who were deeply attached to him, as a means of chastising the sdachta, and at the same time forcing a war with Turkey, which would make his military genius indispensable to the republic, and enable him if successful to carry out domestic reforms by force of arms. His chief confidant in this still mysterious affair was the veteran grand hetman of the crown, Stanislaw Koniecpolski, who understood the Cossacks better than any man then living, but differed from the king in preferring the conquest of the Crimea to an open war with Turkey. Simultaneously Wladislaus contracted an offensive and defensive alliance with Venice against the Porte, a treaty directly contrary indeed to the pacta conventa he had sworn to observe, but excusable in the desperate circumstances. The whole enterprise fell through, owing partly to the death of Koniecpolski before it was matured, partly to the hastiness with which the king published his intentions, and partly to the careful avoidance by the Porte of the slightest occasion of a rupture. Frustrated in all his plans, broken-hearted by the death of his son (by his second wife, Marie Ludwika of Angoule'me, Wladislaus had no issue), the king, worn out and disillusioned, died at Merecz on the zoth of May 1648, in his $2nd year. After his cousin Gustavus Adolphus, -whom in many respects he strikingly resembled, he was indubitably the most amiable and brilliant of all the princes of the House of Vasa.
See Wiktor Czermak, The Plans of the Turkish Wars of Wladislaus IV. (Pol.) (Cracow, 1895); V. V. Volk-Karachevsky, The Struggle of Poland with the Cossacks (Rus.) (Kiev, 1899); Letters and other Writings of Wladislaus IV. (Pol.) (Cracow. 1845). (R. N. B.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)