Wilanów Palace

Warsaw, Poland | C.1696

Photo Credit: Tomasz Cichos

Though the Wilanów Palace was originally built for a king, it was the “uncrowned Queen of Poland” who transformed the royal residence into the remarkable structure it is today. Completed in 1696 for King John III Sobieski, the Palace was later purchased by an accomplished stateswoman who was considered the most powerful woman in Poland during her lifetime.

While married to a high-ranking military leader, Elżbieta Sieniawsk enjoyed a very independent life. She often defied her husband’s demands to join him on his travels and remained in Warsaw where she chose to live. In the capital city, she enjoyed a lavish lifestyle and financial independence due to her noble lineage. She was even caught dabbling in a couple lurid love affairs, but was able to reconcile with her husband.

With her wild streak behind her, Elżbieta turned her fierce will towards international affairs, venturing out on political missions to deal with obligations her husband couldn’t handle. She quickly became celebrated for her eccentric nature and diplomatic shrewdness — she was known to smoke and enjoyed cigars during her meetings. Elżbieta’s responsibilities later expanded to high stake negotiations, and she even survived an abduction by the Swedish Army.

In the 1720s, after a decades-long career, Elżbieta retired from politics and sought a quieter life. She focused on developing her many estates, among them Wilanów Palace. A great patron of the arts, Elżbieta embellished the palace’s facade, built an orangery, and commissioned an Italian painter to adorn its interior with magnificent trompe-l’œil paintings and plafond ceilings of mythological scenes.

Following Elżbieta’s death, the Palace was passed down to kings and noble families, all of whom changed the interiors to their liking. However, none could match the architectural and artful legacy created by Elżbieta, a woman celebrated for creating a life on her own terms.

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