Minsk History:
The Decline and Partitions

During the debilitating Northern Wars(1700 - 1721) between the Commonwealth, Sweden, and Russia, Minsk was twice occupied by the armies of Peter the Great and once by Charles XII. During his first visitation in 1704, Peter dined twice very civilly with the Jesuits and inspected his troops in the Upper Market; characteritically, however, during his second stay in 1708, his Cossacks and Kalmuks pludered the city, sparing neither Catholic nor Orthodox churches, and set it on fire.

Stanislau Paniatouski, the last king of the Commonwealth

With the return of peace there was an improvement of communications. Roads and canals were built; postal services were set up in Belarus in 1717 between Vilnia, Minsk and Mahiliou, and between Minsk and Navagrudak. The Dominicans established a school in 1727, and in 1792 Pan Szyszka founded a church of St. Roch. More guilds were formed by Royal privelege for the protection of local trade -- the Vintners, the Gardeners, the Water-carriers, the Brewers and Meadmakers. Occassionally the conflicts of jurisdiction between the Municipal Courts, the Grand Ducal Court, the Church Courts, and the Seignorial Court lit in matters of breach of trade monopolies and unfair competition. Against a background of dynastic squabbles between the increasingly polonized Bykouskis, Zaviszas, and Valadakoviczy, rivalries between the various religious orders(including a famous street-fight in 1728 between the Dominicans and the Jesuits over some runaway schoolboys), processions, parades, street fairs with dancing bears and firework displays, the Grand Ducal era of Minsk teetered to its close. The city's great Vajavod and benefactor Ihnat Zavisza(whose portrait with the sitter wearing aristocratic sash or pojas, is to be seen in the National Museum of Art), died in 1739, and was laid to rest after a solemn Requiem at the Maryjnski Cathedral in a blaze of over 4000 candles and 12,000 votive lights.

Trajetski Pradmiescie

Periodic conflagrations(1737, 1764, 1778), famines, and outbreaks of the plague led to some reconstruction of Churches and houses in brick rather than wood and also to the foundation of more hospitals. The great fire in 1737 resulted in the rebuiding of two Bernardine convents in the Upper Town(including the present Holy Ghost Cathedral); yet another outbreak in 1764 occassioned rebuilding the Uniate Holy Trinity convent in Trajecki Pradmiescie. A conflagration finally destroyed the old timber-frame castle within the earthworks by the Niamiha. An even inreasing number of houses in city were being out of brick, many of which have survived and in this respect Minsk was well in advance of Russian cities such as Moscow. By the mid-18th century MInsk had two benevolent hospitals. As for schools, in addition to fee paying pupils, the Jesuit college atmitted as students the children of poor families free of charge, until the suppression of the Order in 1773. Both the Russian and the Dominican monasteries offered similar free educational facilities, and by 1771 there was also a Mariavitan school for girls in Trinity suburb.

Meanwile the election of each new sovereign -- Augustus II (1697 - 1733), Augustus III (1733 - 1763) and Stanislaw Poniatovski(1764 - 1795) -- and the escalating complaints of the non-Uniate Greek-rite minority gave a pretext for foreign intervention. In 1733 Minsk was occupied by more than 20,000 Russian soldiers, cavalry and infantry under General Volkonsky, accompanied by inevitable swarms of Cossacks and Kalmuks, though it is said that in the event they were on their best behavior. Inevitably perhaps in these unsettled times the Grand Duchy was plauged by bandits such Adam Kroher, whose raids sowed panic throughout Belarus, until his capture and execution in 1737.

Ultimately the Commonwealth was dismembered by Russia, Prussia, and Austria in three partitions. Polacak, Viviebsk and Mahiliou were annexed by Russia in 1773. A judicial reorganization of the Grand Ducal Courts followed, resulting in the removal of the Session of the High Court from Minsk to Harodnia in 1775, but in 1791 the city became the seat of the Court of Appeal for Vajavodstvy(Counties) of Polacak, Viciebsk and Minsk. Two years later in 1793 the city and the remaining bulk of the Grand Duchy were occupied by the Russians. A successful attempt was made by the govenment of the Commonwealth to persuade the non-Uniate faction in Belarus to leave the Russian jurisdiction for that of Constantinople. Although the Belarusian Orthodox had agreed to the reform, the Russian Empress Catherine would not hear of it, and seized on the move as a pretext to intervene definitively and extend her domains further to the west. By 1796 the whole ethnic territory of Belarus had been absorbed in the Russian empire, of which it was to remain a part for almost 120 years.

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