A National Hero of Evil – The Myths about Władysław Wiktoryn Siciński (Čičinskas)

The real and fake sins of Čičinskas

Władysław Wiktoryn Siciński (ca. 1615-1674), who was a sub-elderman of the Upytė distric, land court judge and envoy to the Commonwealth Sejms, is known in Lithuanian historical culture as a traitor of the state whose life ended tragically, as well as a cruel landlord in Lithuania. In real life he did not make a mark either in state politics or in the life of his district and was not the “cruel” person that he is later depicted as in myths.

A few facts concerning Siciński’s life provided the basis for the appearance of these myths. He was a Protestant noble and was not liked by the Catholics. As a client of Biržai Dubingiai duke Janusz Radziwiłł, he signed the union of Kėdainiai with Sweden in 1655. As the initiator of the treaty, Janusz Radziwiłł, found himself in a list of the top ten traitors to the state in Poland, his supporters also were the subject of hatred. His actions during the Warsaw Sejm of 1652 hurt his reputation even more. It is possible that, inspired by Radvila, Siciński used the liberum veto and brought down the Sejm. His contemporaries did not allocate particular meaning to his action, because starting in 1569 the work of the 20th Sejm was cancelled in this manner. After more than a decade not all remembered the name of the envoy that brought down the Sejm, and in 1659 Siciński was once again chosen as an envoy there.

Legends and myths about him started to be created on the even of the collapse of the state in the late 18th century. Peasants and nobles created unbelievable stories about the man called “Lord Čičinskas” by the masses. These stories later moved to fiction, the visual arts, journalism, and even historiography. What is emphasized the most in myths about “Čičinskas”?

Discontent with oppression by the lords spilled over into macabre images

Legend researcher Bronislava Kerbelytė has shown that through more than 100 years there were 26 Lithuanian folk legends recorded about Čičinskas.

Čičinskas is the most popular lord in Lithuanian legends.

In these legends, typical traits that are generally attributed to lords during the time of serfdom are intermingled with atypical, more individual traits. According to Virginijus Savukynas, the peasants gave importance to social aspects (Čičinskas as a cruel lord) and sacral aspects (a Protestant is a godless person). In folk tales about this noble from Upytė, called a “lord” by the peasants, his cruel behaviour, punishments and torture was repeated on a regular basis. Earlier in Upytė where there once a swamp called Vešeta, there is now a hill called Čičinskas Hill. It belonged to “Čičinskas the Rascal”. He got the idea to build a palace in the swamp and ordered people to bring handfuls of earth there. The master, wanting to entertain himself, would order someone to climb a tree and make a cuckoo sound. Elsewhere it is said that he would order girls to roll themselves in tar and feathers. Then he would shoot at them. He had a number of dogs and loved them more than people. There were times he would take the baby of a nursing mother, put the child behind the bench in a careless manner, and squeeze it to death, and give the woman a puppy to nurse.

Another popular theme in folk tales is his lack of religion. He would ride into the church on his horse and light his cigarette from a candle on the altar. There is a popular tale of his anger toward a priest, which led to the priest beginning mass without him. Čičinskas shot him at the altar for this. He received the wrath of God for this sin: he was hit by lightning, and his manor house sank into the ground. The earth did not accept this godless creature. In the end he was embalmed and put in a cupboard near the door in the vestry of the church in Upytė. The children of the village would bring along the mummy to the taverns and parties.

Did Siciński tear the Commonwealth asunder?

There is an image of Siciński as a traitor to the country that formed in folk myths concerning the nobility.

When the country collapsed at the end of the 18th century, the biggest blame was laid on the right of liberum veto. As they looked for those who abused this law, Siciński was thought to have had his hand in the cookie jar, though he was not the first to use it.

Thus, he became the scapegoat, supposedly the first to use this law in 1652 and splitting the Sejm apart. All of the problems were heaped upon him, the accused. He was considered to be one of the most who contributed most to the collapse of the Commonwealth, which is why he was the traitor to the nation. This image was expanded upon by publicists and historians of the late 18th and 19th century. Pedagogue Stanisław Konarski claimed that the breaking up of the Sejms after Siciński became an example and was considered a virtue, and one had to slowly get used to it like one gets used to poison. In the way of Mykolas Balinskis, it was written that after the collapsed Sejm, Siciński lost the confidence of the people and fell into poverty.

Grisly tales attracted the quill of writers

Tales have inspired a number of works of fiction. Adam Mickiewicz wrote down a legend he heard in a tavern in Upytė in the ballad The Stay in Upita. The ballad talks of how the nobles didn’t want to let Siciński into the Sejm, but he poured henbane into the wine, which made everyone go crazy and kill one another. Myths about a treacherous traitor were repeated in the 1828 ballad Siciński – Envoy of Upita by Juljan Mickevicz, and in Jan Witort’s The Legend of Siciński. Maironis roundly denounced Siciński in his ballad Čičinskas (1919), as did Teofilis Tilvytis in his poem The Sunken Manor (1949). Starting in 1959, there were works of fiction that were based on these tales, though more attention was focused on historical details. When a “realness” is given to myths, they become farces, such as Kostas Ostrauskas’ drama Čičinskas (which was directed by Rolandas Atkočiūnas at the Šiaulių Drama Theatre in 1995), or the installion “Nobles of Upytė” that depicts Siciński, which can be found at the Panevėžys Local Lore Museum. Businesses have use the image of the cruel master and traitor in product advertisement.

Historical injustice: for some – unearned scorn, while for others undeserved respect

Siciński began being vindicated in history starting at the beginning of the 20th century. The first authors of this history, Paparonis (A. Šmulkštys, 1927) and Adolfas Šapoka (1931) proved that the collapse of the Sejm was an action of the Radziwiłł family, who strove for separation from Poland. Siciński only carried out the task of his patron. Siciński is not considered to be a traitor anymore in Lithuanian or Polish historiography. However, the idea of the first person to make the Sejm collapse is still prevalent in overviews of Lithuanian history or in school education programmes. Here, Siciński is a symbol of unlimited rights and freedoms of nobles.

Thus, for someone who didn’t do anything particularly bad, Siciński has remained a particularly vivid and negative person in Lithuanian history for more than 300 years. Also prevalent is the antithesis of the Siciński myth, which is that of the Tadas Blinda myth. In this case everything is to the contrary: the real bad guy, the thief of Samogitia, becomes a good guy, the Robin Hood in the myths of Tadas Blinda.

Literature: V. Savukynas, Keletas protestantų įvaizdžių Lenkijos–Lietuvos valstybėje ir jų reikšmių rekonstravimo bandymas, Lietuvių mentalitetai: tautinė istorija ir kultūros problemos, sud. V. Berenis, G. Beresnevičius, A. Samalavičius, V. Savukynas, Vilnius, 2002, p. 107–189; P. Juknevičius, L. Vasiliauskaitė, Sicinskiai, Panevėžys, 2004.

Raimonda Ragauskienė