History of Poland Part 8 The Cossacks and the Commonwealth by Annette Gathright

Origin of the Ukrainian Cossacks

The name Cossack (Ukrainian: kozak), derived from the Turkic kazak (free man), means anyone who could not find his appropriate place in society and went into the steppes, where he acknowledged no authority. This term was first mentioned in a Ruthenian document dated 1395. In Byzantine sources, it was applied to armed men engaged in military service in frontier regions protecting trade caravans traveling the steppe routes. By the end of the 15th century it acquired a wider sense and was also applied to Ruthenians (Ukrainians) who went into the steppes to practice various trades and engage in hunting, fishing, beekeeping, the collection of salt and saltpeter, etc. Cossacks lived in the unclaimed territories between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Moscovian [Great Rus] Empire. The Cossack society was described as a loose federation of independent communities, often forming local armies, entirely separate from the neighboring states. Each river flowing southwards in this region - the Dnieper, the Don, the Volga, and the Yaik or Ural - had communities established by Cossacks; no one, Christian or Tartar, passed through their territory without their permission.

Proto-Cossack groups most likely came into existence within the territories of the Ukraine in the mid-13th century, when many Slavs fled south to escape the Tatars. Most likely the Tartars themselves established some freeman groups prior to this. In 1261 Slavic people were mentioned in Ruthenian chronicles as living in the area between the Dniester and the Volga. More peasants escaped to the vicinities of the Don and Dnieper waterfalls in following centuries, when serfdom started to develop in Poland and Muscovy. Ukraina was originally the term used for all frontier regions of old [Kevian] Rus or Ruthenia [Latin term for Rus]. It evolved to mean that area where no frontier was clearly designated, and where the land remained open to continuous Mongol and Tartar invasions.

The majority of immigrants to this area were from Poland, other parts of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and Ruthenian, and were of highly diverse ethnic backgrounds - primarily Polish, Mazurian, Mazov, Byelorussian, and Lithuanian. They included more than a few Germans, Romanians, Hungarians and others from throughout the world. While they mostly spoke both Polish and Ruthenian and were culturally the same, they picked up Tartar and other regional cultural influences. They were 70-80% Orthodox, 15-20% Catholic and Uniate, and 5-10% Muslim, Lutheran and others, including a small Jewish population. Jewish settlements in the Ukraine occurred in the 8th century when refugees fleeing from the Byzantine Empire, Persia, Mesopotamia, and Christian persecution, settled in the Khazar Khaganate. In the 11th century they moved to the area because of religious tolerance, and later as Poland’s influence increased, they moved because of the economic opportunities created. By the end of the 15th century, the Ukrainian area was the center of Jewish life of Poland and Lithuania.

Until the 1550s the Cossacks and settlers in that area numbered only several thousand, but a heavy influx of immigrants including displaced petty-boyars from Lithuania, Smolensk, and Belarus greatly expanded their ranks. The petty-boyars were a professional military class and generally not landowners. In contrast, the boyars were the highest rank of the aristocracy, the nobility of the land, second in power only to the princes, and often had extensive land holdings. The petty boyars lost status after the Union of Lublin in 1569 that resulted in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and their families risked descent into peasantry. They could retain some of their status, freedom, and right to bear arms by moving east and becoming Cossacks. Without this relief, the Union might have resulted in a rebellion. While the area was absorbing them, there was population pressure that resulted in Polish colonization which had been earlier constrained. After a few more generations of prosperity as farmers, fighters, and part-time brigands, their population passed 200,000. When the Ukrainian Cossacks emerged as an organization, they were Orthodox in faith, and predominately Ruthenian in ethnicity, in a part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a Catholic state federated with Roman Catholic Poland.

By the 16th century these free Cossack societies had merged into two independent territorial organizations:

The Cossacks of Zaporizhia, or the Ukrainian Cossacks of the Zaphorozhian Host, were centered around the lower bends of Dnieper River (Zaporizhia meaning “Those who live beyond the rapids”), inside the territory of modern Ukraine, with the fortified capital of Zaporizhian Sich [See map where it says Zaparojia. Also see inset map at the top where it shows that Zaparojia is just north of Crimea]. They were formally recognized as a state by a treaty with Poland in 1649. The western word for them is Zaporovian. This paper will focus on this group since they are an integral part of Polish history.

The Don Cossack State, on the river Don, to Novocherkassk

They were the most numerous and included the earlier settlers in the area of the Dniester and the Volga Rivers. Except for those who settled on the Don, most of those on the other rivers had settled in villages. After the revolts, they came under Muscovy’s control and turned into a military organization.

The Zaporovian Commonwealth, a proto-Ukraine, was initially a state of free men. Those Cossacks of the Dnieper lived by fishing, hunting, and marauding, and with little organizational discipline except in time of war. They lived in fortified camps where there was almost perfect equality among inhabitants. However, each settlement had a leader selected by all, a “hetman”, aka ataman. Their saying, "Bear patiently, Cossack; you will one day be Ataman!" was realized every year when the office-bearers laid down the insignia of office at a general assembly, and after thanking them for the honor they had enjoyed, retired to their former position as a common Cossack. At the election following that ceremony, any member could be chosen chief of his kuren or company, and any chief of a kuren could be chosen Ataman.

Acquisition of booty was their great objective in life. They lived in intermittent warfare with the Tartars, stealing their cattle, pillaging their villages, sweeping the Black Sea in flotillas of small boats, and occasionally sacking coastal towns, such as Varna and Sinope, towns located along the coastline of the Black Sea. This area of the Turkish Crimean region was inhabited largely by Tartars. When Tartar or Turkish booty was not attainable, they turned their attention to the settled Slavic populations around them. They talked of knightly honor, “lytsarskaya tchest”, and considered themselves champions of Orthodoxy against Polish Catholicism and Tartar Mohammedism. However, religion was secondary in occupying their minds. When pursued by Christian potentates, they did not hesitate to put themselves under the protection of the Sultan.

The Zaporovian territory the ‘Liberties of the [Cossack] Host beyond the Rapids’ was situated to the south and east of Polish-ruled Right-Bank Ukraine, from which it was separated by the Boh River, its tributaries the Syniukha River and the Velykyi Vys River, and the Tiasmyn River, a tributary of the Dnieper River. To the northeast it bordered on the Left-Bank, Ukraine's Hetman state, along the Dnieper River and its tributary, the Orel River. To the east, it was separated from Russian-ruled Slobidska, Ukraine, by the Donets River. To the southeast it bordered on the lands of the Don Cossacks along the Kalmiius River. The territory extended southward deep into the steppe, where it bordered on the Crimean Khanate [Tatar ruled] and reached the Sea of Azov, which is located between the Berda River and the Kalmiius River. The map above shows this area as well as many of the others mentioned in the discussion below.

Moscovian Politics and the Commonwealth

During this era, the Ukrainian steppes became a juncture of events affecting both the Eastern and Western worlds. The Renaissance culture, advancing from the west was losing its impetus and its effects. Political trends, coming from the Catholic West and from the Orthodox and Islamic East, were meeting in the region near the Black Sea, which was important for the European balance of power. Even Western Europe, particularly France, began to realize that the countries of Eastern and Central Europe were an indispensable element in the balance of power. The 17th century was a politically and therefore militarily active time in central European history. Because of those events, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth became involved in the business of all its neighbors.

France, from the reign of Henry IV (1589-1610), was aware that Poland occupied a key position in Eastern and Central Europe. He outlined an international European organization, East Central Europe, represented by Poland, which was given a role in protecting the border of this Christian Republic from the Islamic Ottoman Empire and Orthodox Russia. France wanted Polish cooperation with its allies Sweden and Turkey against the Habsburgs (with extensive European holdings, including Austria) from 1536, but the Swedish House of Vasa dynastic plans created a Polish-Swedish conflict instead. Earlier Muscovite and Turk cooperation caused problems for the French Central European allies, and the Turks aligning with the Tartars created problems on their borders with the Cossacks. The Cossack problem was a factor which in the 17th century led to the long-postponed struggle between Poland and the Ottoman Empire. But at its very beginning, another possibility appeared that had the potential of reducing international tension by establishing permanent political and cultural ties between East European Muscovy and her neighbors in Central Europe.

That situation occurred during Russia’s “time of troubles” that began after the death of Ivan the Terrible. The situation was primarily an internal dynastic crisis but also became a social and constitutional one that resulted in civil war, providing an opportunity for foreign interference. After the death of Ivan, the throne was occupied in 1598 by Boris Godunov [also Gudonov], and not by the descendents of Ivan. Ivan’s oldest son Feodor was mentally handicapped and incapable of governing the country. Later, the youngest son, Demitry, was found dead and Boris blamed, but later exonerated. With no heirs able to take the throne, Boris was elected tsar. While a talented ruler, Boris failed to suppress his enemies. The result was that several pretenders to the throne caused strife in the country, and that unrest was used by the Poles and Swedes in an attempt to usurp the throne. In addition, in 1601-1605, natural disasters occurred – freezing, floods, drought – that were detrimental for both the country and Boris. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people died of famine, leaving many towns and villages empty. The roads were strewn with those dying of famine, and they were eaten by wild beasts. People blamed Boris and felt Muscovy was being punished for elevating Boris, a Tartar, to the throne.

The first pretender Demetrius, who claimed to be the son of Ivan, appeared in 1601, promising Poland and the papacy of his intention to cooperate with them and form a religious union with Rome, if they assisted him in gaining the throne. However, the only help he received was from individual Polish magnates, including non-Catholics and opponents of the royal government, and of a number of Ukrainian Cossacks. With the sudden death of Boris Godunov in 1905, the pretender gained the Muscovy throne. As Tsar he did not keep any promises to Poland or to the Catholic Church. His marriage to a Polish lady, and Polish and Western court influence contributed to a Muscovy revolt the following year in which he was killed without establishing closer relations between Muscovy and her neighbors. There was unofficial Polish support of another pseudo-Demetrius, an obvious impostor, to claim the throne as Tsar. The situation only created trouble for Polish King Sigismund III in 1609, when he finally interfered in the Muscovy situation. The throne was held briefly from 1610 – 1612 by Władysław II, son of Sigismund, elected by the Muscovy nobility; in 1613, they elected Michael Romanov to reign. During this time, the Commonwealth was also involved in conflict with the Swedes for another reason.

The conflict between Sweden and Sigismund III, King of Poland and legal heir to the throne of Sweden, began in 1599 after the death of his father. The Swedes committed themselves irrevocably to Lutheranism when the reformation swept northern Europe in the early 16th century by excluding Catholics from the succession to the throne, and prohibiting them from holding any office or dignity in Sweden. The champion of this edict was his uncle, Charles IX, who took the throne. Sigismund intended to regain the Swedish throne, and began by making Swedish Estonia part of the Commonwealth. The Swedes countered this by gathering an army and retaking it, as well as Livonia. The Commonwealth had a population of 10 million while Sweden had a population of only one million. However, the Swede’s centralized government and requirement of peasants to serve allowed them a substantial standing army that could be quickly mobilized in time of need. Armies in the Commonwealth were recruited from volunteers, the nobility and szlachta. The szlachta were the noble class in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. They were formed in the Middle Ages, and traditionally, they were owners of landed property, often in the form of folwarks. They enjoyed substantial political privileges, and as Sejm members, were instrumental in electing the king. Poland was considered to be the property of this class, not of the king or the ruling dynasty.

In 1600, because of their standing armies, the Swedes were able to rapidly gather a force and invade Livonia and Estonia. Jan Zamoyski arrived in 1601 with a large Commonwealth army from the Moldavian Magnate Wars to bolster the efforts of Sigismund. He quickly regained much of the lost area by first overrunning Charles’ troops and later using siege warfare. When Zamoyski’s health deteriorated in 1602, the Lithuanian hetman Jan Chodkiewicz took his position. He developed a strategy using the elite hussars that allowed him to defeat the Swedes on the battlefield even when outnumbered. The conflict continued for several more years, with the Sejm’s reluctance to vote money to continue the military campaigns, while the Swedes continued to bring additional troops including mercenary soldiers. The Sejm was the ruling body of the Commonwealth, Polish parliament. The structure and voting privileges of the Sejm often severely limited the king's powers. They had the final decision in legislation, taxation, budget, and treasury matters (including military funding), foreign affairs and ennoblement.

Boris Godunov provided support for Swedes to keep them occupied fighting with the Commonwealth during the Muscovy Troubles. While the Commonwealth army was able to counter the larger Swedish army with brilliant military tactics, lack of money to pay troops resulted in massive desertions of troops that plundered enemy estates. Nevertheless, after Chodkiewicz regained Riga, defeated the Swedish flotilla in the Baltic, and the Swedish army again at Pernau, a truce was signed in 1611 that lasted until 1617.

It might be added that in addition to the Moldavian (now part of Romania) conflict early in that time period, there was a rebellion against Sigismund III by the szlachta who disapproved of the King's efforts to limit the power of the nobles (his attempts to weaken the Sejm, the Polish parliament) and to introduce a hereditary monarchy in place of the elective one. The rebellion (1606-1608) ended in the defeat of the rebels. Despite its failure to overthrow the King, the dominance of the szlachta over the monarch was firmly established in the Polish-Lithuanian political system by ruining any chance Sigismund had to establish authority within the Commonwealth. The Polish historian Halecki later wrote: "Royalty lost, to great extent, the moral prestige it had enjoyed. The Polish constitution was henceforth regarded as sacrosanct and the king had to renounce not only the idea of making any far-reaching changes in it, but even any reform, without touching its principles."

The new Tsar, Vasili Shuysky, taking the Muscovy throne after Gudunov’s death, formed an alliance with Sweden in which, in return for their support in the Muscovy civil war, they received a substantial territory. The Swedes had originally entered Muscovy territory to wrest away areas in the Baltics to give them control over trade but Vasili’s position left him no choice than to ask for their assistance. As a result, the Swedes were able to occupy a large and important area of the country including the city and region of Novgorod, and Vasili in turn would support their efforts against Poland. To Sigismund III this was an open challenge because since 1600 he had been at war with his uncle, Charles IX of Sweden in the Baltic area where Sweden had territorial aspirations. Thus Sigismund decided to invade Russia. The rivalry within the Swedish Vasa dynasty was now combined with the old rivalry between both countries in the Baltic lands where the Poles hoped to gain Estonia, while the Swedes penetrated deeply into Livonia. The ports of Estonia and Livonia, as well as those along the Commonwealth-influenced area of the Baltic, were important trade centers and sought by those who hoped to control trade between the inland areas of Eastern Europe and western Asia that produced grain, furs, lumber, and other goods, and their trade partners. Over time, the goals of the factions changed as well, from border adjustment by influencing the choice of Muscovy Tsar to major changes in the regional politics.

The Commonwealth had two different strategies to counter the Swedish-Muscovy alliance. Stanislaw Zolkiewski, nephew of Jan Zamoyski and continuing his activities, had defeated Shuysky’s forces in the battle of Klushino in 1610 and took him prisoner. He and his brothers favored some kind of union between Poland and Russia, a Polish-Lithuanian-Muscovite Commonwealth, with reconciliation and cultural and constitutional assimilation. This union had also been proposed after the death of the last Polish king of the Jagiellon dynasty, Sigismund Augustus (1520-1572). Based upon the resulting election of King Sigismund’s son, Wladyslaw, as Tsar of Russia, he concluded an agreement with a party of prominent boyars. The young Polish prince would have become Orthodox. Also, following the Polish, the tsarist autocracy would be structured to favor the boyars as was the Commonwealth’s favoritism of the szlachta.

Sigismund III [also known as Zygmunt III Vasa] hesitated to confirm that agreement because he did not want his son to go to Moscow or to change his religion. He wanted to be accepted as tsar himself. A union of both countries under a strong Catholic ruler was less acceptable than Zolkiewski’s proposal. It was soon apparent that the difference between the Commonwealth and the Tsardom was so large, that it was out of the question. The pro-Polish boyars who had supported the king’s son as Tsar could not accept a pro-Catholic, anti-Orthodox ruler. No candidate from the one country would ever be acceptable to the other. Muscovite Russia, which was already a vast Eurasian economical power, could not possibly join the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the Western community to which the remainder of East Central Europe belonged. In 1611 the war between Muscovy and the Commonwealth resumed. The goal of the Polish king was to regain the borderlands which Moscow had conquered a hundred years before. The province of Smolensk and the city were reclaimed after a long siege by Lithuanian forces, which had joined with the other White Ruthenian [Belarusian] provinces of the grand duchy. Severia and Chernigov in north central Ukraine, lost by Lithuania in 1500, would come under the administration of the kingdom of Poland, along with the other Ukrainian lands it currently controlled.

Polish-Lithuanian forces entered Moscow by invitation of friendly Muscovy boyars and there Władysław held the Muscovy throne 1610-1612 while Polish troops held the Kremlin. In 1611, The Muscovites staged an uprising against the Polish garrison marking the end of Muscovy tolerance for Commonwealth intervention. The garrison was put under siege by volunteer civilian armies. The Polish army under Chodkiewicz was unable to break through the seige and engaged in a battle that was lost when Muscovy reinforcements arrived. The Polish garrison surrendered after 19 months because of starvation. Despite a safe passage that was negotiated, as they left the Kremlin, half of them were slaughtered. The Russians had recaptured Moscow.

The Polish presence in Russia’s capital generated a strong Muscovy nationalistic reaction which in 1613 resulted in the Zemsky Sobor [equivalent to the Polish Sejm ] electing the first Romanov tsar who was able to unite the Muscovy people against foreign invaders. Michael Romanov was a great-nephew of Ivan the Terrible through Ivan’s wife. His family gained the most support from the boyars than any other contender to the throne. Władysław of Poland was not prepared to relinquish his title of Tsar, but it was no more significant than his father’s Swedish title. Even the Swedes were unable to keep their candidate on the throne while their army was in the area.

The Polish-Muscovite border area was quiet after the fall of Smolensk but the Commonwealth still had problems. The refusal of the Sejm to allocate money for the army as a criticism of Sigismund’s failure to keep Moscow, resulted in a mutiny of the Polish regular army or rather to the specific semi-legal form of mutiny practiced in the Commonwealth, known as a konfederacja rohaczewska. This was a confederation or group of people banded together against authorities for a specific purpose, and the purpose was a rebellion of the soldiers for lack of pay. This one was the largest and most vicious one in Commonwealth history. This group pillaged Commonwealth territories from 1612 until the most rebellious group was defeated in 1614; the Sejm then voted wages for the remainder of the army. The rebellion leader was captured and executed. The Ottoman Empire further criticized Sigismund because the Ukrainian Cossacks were again raiding Turkish territory. Thus, the Ottoman Empire did not support the Commonwealth in its war.

However, not all the military was in rebellion. The Lisowczycy (also known as Straceńcy, ‘lost men') was an infamous early 17th century irregular unit of light cavalry in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. They received no formal wages but were allowed to loot and plunder as they pleased. They relied on speed and fought without tabors [mobile fortification using wagons], foraging supplies from the land. The Lisowczycy were feared and despised by civilians wherever they passed. They gained dubious fame for the scores of atrocities they carried out but they were also grudgingly respected for their military skills. After defending Smolensk in 1612, they spent the next three years guarding the border against Muscovy incursion. In 1615, they attacked several Muscovy border areas, pillaging the towns and destroying the military. This group participated in the Magnate wars in Moldavia. Because they lived by plunder, sacking even their own lands, Sigismund tried to keep them away from the Commonwealth as much as possible.

Sigismund and Władysław made a final attempt to gain the Muscovy throne with a new campaign in 1617 when the Sejm voted funds to resume large scale military operations. While Władysław was the nominal commander, Hetman Chodkiewicz had actual control of the army. The towns of Dorogobuzh and Vyazma surrendered quickly, recognizing Władysław as the tsar. However, Commonwealth forces suffered defeats between Vyazma and Mozhaisk, and Chodkiewicz's plans to advance to Moscow failed. Władysław’s forces were insufficient to advance to Moscow, especially because there was no longer Muscovy support for the Poles. Towns like Smolensk revolted against Polish rule, and the Polish troops had to retreat from them. However, the presence of the Lisowczycy caused Muscovite forces to retreat from the area. This was the last spasm of the war. Negotiations began and a peace treaty was signed in 1618 at Deulino.

The result of the invasion was that Sigismund did not secure the Muscovy throne and bond the Commonwealth to Russia, but it did give the Commonwealth control over some of the conquered territories, including the territories of Chernihiv and Severia and the city of Smolensk, and proclaimed a 15-year truce. Russia’s failed alliance with Sweden, resulting in Poland’s intervention, also resulted in Muscovy losing territory to both the Commonwealth and Sweden. Sweden went into negotiations in 1617 with the goal of gaining territories that required Muscovy trade to pass through them, including the far northern port of Arkhangelsk. The Swedes demanded areas of western Muscovy additional to those they originally sought. At that point, the Baltic was controlled by the Swedes and Arkhangelsk was the only remaining link to the sea, and only in the summer. Both the English and Dutch were concerned and sent delegations to mediate, since trade between them and Muscovy would have been more difficult with the Swedes in the middle. Those efforts combined with Muscovy uniting under Michael Romanov resulted in the Arkhangelsk port remaining under Muscovy’s control.

With Gustavas II Adolphus the new king on the Swedish throne, under the Treaty of Stolbovo in 1617, the Swedes, gained some Muscovy provinces but renounced claims to Estonia and Livonia, Novogrod was returned to Russia, and Michael Romanov was recognized as rightful Tsar, which allowed Muscovy free trade, normalization of tariffs, and the agreement to establish mutual establishment merchant houses in each other’s cities. The resulting of the conflict was that Muscovy was again denied access to the Baltic except through the Swedes – or Arkhangelsk. With the end of the Muscovy conflict, the Swedes were free to turn their attention again to the rival Commonwealth.

The long struggle exhausted both sides. Even after restoration of peace and establishment of an acceptable monarchy, there was strong resentment of the Western powers that had profited from the crisis. The advances by Moscow in expanding their frontiers during the preceding century had been nullified and all White Ruthenian and Ukrainian lands were now part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth again. This situation was not acceptable to Russia, and the Romanovs looked to the Ottoman Empire and assistance of the Orthodox / Byzantine Patriarch of Constantinople to assist them in remedying it. An alliance with Sweden, a Vasa kingdom, against Poland, a second Vasa kingdom even with their hostilities was no longer considered. However, in 1620, when the Turkish offensive against Poland started, Muscovy was not recovered from the “time of troubles” and so could not attempt revenge on the Commonwealth.

Only after Sigismund III’s death in 1632, when the truce of Deulino expired, did Muscovy resume hostilities by attempting to retake Smolensk. But the success of Władysław IV, unanimously elected after his father’s death, had surrounded the Muscovy army, and besieged that city while fighting off a simultaneous Turkish attack. This resulted in the peace treaty of Polanovka in 1634, which solidified the armistice of 1618. Władysław relinquished his claim to the Muscovite throne and recognized Michael as tsar.

Swedish Aspirations and the Commonwealth

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth entered a period of apparent stability and of prosperity which was not eliminated even with its losses in the continuing Swedish wars (1621-1629). The Swedes still had ambitions of controlling trade in the Baltic regions and with the Russians unable to dispute their actions, they had only one remaining country to contend with. When the Treaty of Stolbovo expired in 1620, Sweden again sought the disputed region of Livonia. In addition, they succeeded in taking Riga. The Commonwealth, occupied by a war with the Ottomans, was unable to send sufficient forces to stop Gustavas Adolphus, and was forced to sign a truce in Sweden’s favor. The truce signed in 1622 forced the Commonwealth to cede some of the areas of Livonia that they had received in 1617, and retained only nominal control of Riga. In 1625, the Swedes quickly occupied all of Livonia and Courland.

In 1626 Gustavas Adolphus transferred hostilities to the other provinces of Poland and began the surprising invasion of Prussia. Gustavas landed in Ducal Prussia near Piława in the fertile and easily defensible delta of the Vistula with a relative small force. With the support of the Elector of Brandenburg he quickly captured all the costal towns except Gdansk, the largest prize. This came as a surprise to the Commonwealth and soon they went after Gustavas, but without support from its vassal, Ducal Prussia. In 1626, near the village of Gniew, Gustavas defeated a Polish army led by Sigismund. Sigismund retreated and called for reinforcements.

Hetman Stanisław Koniecpolski's forces rapidly moved to Prussia. Even with a much smaller force, he was able to stop the attack and force a stalemate. The Seym agreed to provide money for the war, but also had to support the forces in Livonia where there also was fighting. Koniecpolski began recapturing costal towns and prevented Gustavas from reaching Gdansk. The Swedes hoped to provoke the Poles to attack and thereby destroy them with infantry and artillery fire. When they did not draw them within range, they attacked with cavalry but were unable to inflict much damage. When Gustavas was wounded, the battle ended and the Swedes retreated. After the battle, Koniecpolski saw the need to strengthen the firepower of infantry and artillery to match the Swedes, while the Swedes learned arts of cavalry attacks, charges and melees from the Poles. In 1627 near Czarne, Koniecpolski forced the Swedish forces to retreat inside the city, later surrendering and leaving behind their banners and insignia. This victory convinced the Elector of Brandenburg to declare his support for the Commonwealth. With an untested Commonwealth Navy of nine ships, Koniecpolski next took the war to the seas and defeated a Swedish flotilla at the battle of Oliwa. In 1628, the Polish forces lacking funding, were forced to stop their offensive and switch to defense. By that time the war had become a war of maneuvering with both sides taking advantage of terrain and fortifications. Gustavas was unable to advance any further than this area because of Koniecpolski’s superior strategies.

Although the Sejm increased the funds for the war after Stanisław Potocki was defeated at Górzno, and the Catholic Austrians sent units to help the Commonwealth, Koniecpolski was forced to withdraw Commonwealth forces from many strategic Polish strongholds in Prussia. The final battle in 1929 took place near Trzcianka. The Swedes attacked in the direction of Grudziądz, but were stopped. A series of retreats and counterattacks resulted in high casualties, especially in the cavalry regiments. A cease-fire at Stary Targ resulting in the Treaty of Altmark, forced Poland to cede most of Livonia and Riga to the Swedes for six years. They also got the right to tax Polish trade moving through the Baltic (3.5%), and to control many Royal Prussian cities. The Commonwealth was forced to compensate the Duchy of Prussia for its losses, and the Swedes occupied more cities and took control of the remaining Commonwealth fleet. The result was that the Swedes now controlled almost all Baltic ports, with the exception of Gdańsk, Puck, Königsberg and Liepāja. This is as close as Sweden ever got to realizing its goal of making the Baltic Sea 'Sweden's inner lake'. After the treaty, Sweden used their gains as a starting point in their entry into the Thirty Years' War, which began with their invasion of northern Germany.

In 1635, the Treaty of Altmark was revised in favor of the Commonwealth (Treaty of Sztumska Wieś or Treaty of Stuhmsdorf) when Sweden, weakened by their losses in the Thirty Years' War, and leary of Poland’s recent success against Muscovy and the Ottoman Empire, agreed to negotiations whereby they retreated from some Baltic ports, returned territories they occupied in Royal Prussia, and ceased their 3.5% tax tariff collection. The Commonwealth thus regained many of the territories it had lost in the past decades of the Polish-Swedish War. In return, Władysław gave up his claim to the Swedish crown, and Sweden kept their conquests in Livonia. But the Treaty was also beneficial to Sweden and her allies (France, England and the Dutch Republic) who wanted Sweden to focus on the Thirty Years' War in Germany, without worrying about possible conflict with the Commonwealth.