Danzig -- Religions - Catholics -- The Bloodbath of Thorn

The majority of Poles in Danzig were Catholic, but neither Poles nor Catholics were represented in the ruling class. Of particular interest for contemporary sentiment regarding Catholics in general are the events that occured in nearby Thorn in 1724. (Like Danzig, Thorn was a city ruled by German Protestants.) These became known throughout Europe as "The Bloodbath of Thorn", and occasioned an essay on religious tolerance by Johann Christoph Gottsched. Longstanding animosity -- previously restricted to public insults, snowball fights, tendentious school plays, municipal power struggles, etc. -- had exploded. On 16 July 1724 Catholics in Thorn were having a ceremony at the cemetery of St. James. Protestant youths looked on, and it remains unclear who provoked the fisticuffs which broke out. A Polish student at the Jesuit College, Stanislaus Lisiecki, was arrested, and a power struggle between the College and the Municipal President Rösner ensued. Rösner failed to deliver the student to the college for punishment, as required. On 17 July Jesuit students rioted (or protested, depending on the account). After some scuffling, they took a Protestant student captive, to hold in exchange for the Catholic. By dusk large numbers of Protestants had assembled in front of the Jesuit College. Reports vary, but provoked or not, eventually the Protestants stormed the College, destroying windows, doors, altars and pulpits with stones, sticks and axes. Images of saints were torn from the walls and trampled. Pictures and a statue of St. Mary (patron saint of Poland) were thrown on the street and burned. Only around midnight did the city militia manage to impose order.

Word of these excesses soon spread throughout Poland, where the Jesuits were well respected. Sons of Polish nobility studied at the College. King August II (also Elector of Saxony) appointed a tribunal, the legality of which was subsequently challenged. Some Polish senators argued the actions of the Protestants amounted to treason and injury to God. In November the tribunal's verdict was published: the president and vice president of Thorn were to be executed, along with nine of the most active leaders of the tumult (largely tradesmen). There were to be fines and changes in municipal government as well. The King, himself a convert to Catholicism, affirmed the verdict without hesitation. Indeed he ordered the date of execution advanced by a week, to 7 December 1724. A plea from Friedrich Wilhelm I. of Prussia remained ineffectual. Danzig also plead for leniency, to no avail. On the given day, in a heavily guarded, closed city the executions took place in the courtyard of the Town Hall. (Only the Vice-president received a pardon.) First their right hands were cut off, then their heads.

Foreign European powers, even Catholic France and Austria, reacted with horror, but despite rattling of sabers, did nothing. Contemporaries and historians tend to view the harsh actions of August II as an attempt to win more power for himself and his heirs within Poland. It is possible that resentment of this decision played a role in 1734 in Danzig's support for Stanislaus Leszczynski as King of Poland, instead of the son of August II.

[Romuald Frydroychowicz. Die Vorgänge zu Thorn im Jahre 1724. In Zeitschrift des Westpreußischen Geschichtsvereins. 11 (1884) 75-97.]