Constitution of the Duchy of Warsaw

granted by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte

Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s victorious campaign against Prussia and Russia in 1806-1807 ended with the Treaties of Tilsit, which laid the foundations for the revival of the Polish state as a rump Duchy of Warsaw, ruled by Saxon king Fryderyk August (Frederick August I), grandson of the Polish king August III and a descendant of Jan III Sobieski (John III Sobieski) on his mother’s side.The duchy was connected by union with Saxony and depended on France to safeguard its existence against the designs of the partitioning states: Russia, Austria and Prussia. On 22 July 1807 in Dresden (the capital of Saxony), Napoleon granted the Duchy a constitution. It was modelled on French legislation and the constitutions of countries dependent on France, but it took into account the specific Polish context, while maintaining the privileged position of the Catholic Church and the nobility. Although it instituted equality before the law and gave burghers a representation in the chamber of deputies (for the first time in Polish parliamentary history), the leading role of the nobility was preserved, as seen in the proportion of 60:40 for the representatives of these estates. The abolition of personal serfdom in Article IV of the Constitution was a fundamental change, but a decree issued a few months later stated that a peasant’s movable property belonged to his lord, which maintained the advantage of the nobility over the peasants.

The Constitution introduced hereditary succession to the throne for the Saxon Wettin dynasty, in reference to the provisions of the Third of May Constitution. The Sejm was maintained as a bicameral parliament, consisting of a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies. Bishops, voivodes and castellans (titular offices by then) held seats in the Senate ex officio, just like in the pre-partition Commonwealth. As in France, the executive power was strengthened. The government consisted of ministers. A Council of State chaired by the king and consisting of ministers, a secretary and four referendaries, was also set up according to the French model. The Council was tasked with drafting laws, resolving conflicts of competence between courts, cassation jurisprudence, and bringing ministers to justice. Similarly, following the French example, the country was divided into departments and districts, headed by prefects and sub-prefects respectively.

Full text of the Constitution of the Duchy of Warsaw