Persons related to Chopin Persons related to Chopin

Ludwika Skarbek

Ludwika Skarbek

Ludwika Fenger was the daughter of Jakub (1729-1798), at that time the wealthiest merchant and banker in Toruń, and Elżbieta Gering (d. 1766/1767). Ludwika's father was an evangelist and burgher, but in 1790 was raised to the nobility of the Republic of Poland-Lithuania; the Fenger family had arrived in Toruń at the beginning of the eighteenth century from the village of Łobżenica in the region of Krajna. Ludwika was born in Toruń and was baptised there on 4 September 1765. Her only sister, Anna-Elżbieta (b. 1761), died young. On 22 May 1791, in Toruń, Ludwika wed Kacper Skarbek, son of the Castellan of Inowrocław. Kacper-Melchior-Bonawentura Skarbek (coat-of-arms Awdaniec), son of Jan and Konstancja, née Bruchental, was born in Izbica on 6 January 1763. He was titular captain of the National Cavalry; he inherited from his father the village of Izbica and the surrounding estate in the district of Przedecz in the Kujawy region. His first marriage, to the daughter of the Castellan of Kowal, Justyna Dąmbska (d. 1800/1808; coat-of-arms Godziemba), whom he abducted from her family home and wed c.1780, was annulled shortly after 1789.

Kacper Skarbek's lordly and riotous lifestyle led to his fortune being frittered away; his salvation came in the form of marriage to the only daughter of a wealthy banker. However, although his father-in-law paid off his debts and bought for the newly-weds the estate of Modzerowo, adjacent to Izbica, to say nothing of his wife's substantial dowry, Skarbek continued to squander his fortune, once again amassing huge debts. These forced the family into a radical change in their living conditions, and Ludwika filed for a divorce, which was forthcoming in 1806. In the meantime, Kacper fled from his creditors abroad, that is, to the Grand Duchy of Posen, where he died at the home of Anna Wiesiołowska in Strzyżewo, on 25 February 1823.

Around 1800 the Izbica estate was sold to Franciszek Ksawery Zboiński, former Castellan of Płock. On 11 September 1798 and 6 June 1799 Ludwika purchased from Piotr Łuszczewski the estate of Żelazowa Wola, together with the granges of Dzięglewo and Chodakówek (these transactions were confirmed by decree of the Prussian administration on 16 July 1799 and 8 April 1801) in the district of Sochaczew. Subsequently, on 17 June 1800, she bought from Ignacy Łuszczewski the neighbouring granges of Orły, Drozdy and Mostki. C.1800 Ludwika also purchased the estate of Czubin, situated in the district of Błońsko. These transactions were made in Ludwika's own name, to protect herself from her husband's creditors. After selling the Izbica estate, Ludwika settled at Żelazowa Wola with her three children c.1800.

Although personally acquainted with Justyna Krzyżanowska, Kacper Skarbek played no direct role in her life, be it only due to his own turbulent fortunes and the many years he spent away from his wife and children. A key role was played, however, by his wife, Ludwika. This important phase in the relations between the Skarbeks and the Chopins began in 1802, when Mikołaj Chopin was taken on as tutor to Ludwika Skarbek's children. Due to the turmoil of war, the dangers, the passages of foreign troops and the proximity of military action, the countess‚ ‘with the whole household', that is, her children and servants, would remove every so often to the city, where it seemed safer to stay. We know Ludwika's addresses in Warsaw: 600 Bielańska St. (1808), 653 Leszno St. (1809) and 570 Długa St. (1815). So the Chopins must also have moved between Żelazowa Wola and Warsaw. The relations between Ludwika and the Chopins can be defined as those between employer and employee, yet with a distinct degree of domestic intimacy, with a certain blurring of the differences in social and material status. The close nature of their relations doubtless lay behind assertions of Justyna's family connections with the Skarbeks.

On 25 May 1818 Ludwika sold the Żelazowa Wola estate to her son, Fryderyk, for the sum of 400,000 zloty. At the same time she invested capital of 189,000 zloty, from which she was to receive a life cash annuity of five percent and the right to the use of the manor, annexes, orangery, stables and coach house for the rest of her life. On 26 June 1816 she sold the Czubin estate for 33,300 to Antoni Pruszak. In 1820 Ludwika leased for three years the estates of Tupadły, Będzyn and part of Bęklewo in the district of Lipno to her son-in-law, Stefan Wiesiołowski (these estates had passed to her from the Skarbek family). Ludwika Skarbek, née Fenger, died from consumption in Warsaw on 31 December 1827 and was buried in the Augsburg Evangelical cemetery on 3 January 1828. The marriage of Ludwika Fenger and Kacper Skarbek produced the following children (Kacper also had three children from his first marriage): Fryderyk (b. Toruń, 15 Feb. 1792; d. Warsaw, 15 Nov. 1866), an economist, historian and literary figure, and also the presumed godfather of Fryderyk Chopin, Anna-Emilia (b. Komorowo, 26 July 1793; d. 4 May 1873), wife of Stefan Wiesiołowski of Strzyżewo and godmother of Fryderyk Chopin, Anastazy-Teodor (b. Izbica, 21 Jan. 1795; d. Izbica, 1812), Michał (b. Izbica, 25 Sept. 1796; d. Żelazowa Wola, 25 July 1834), owner of Żelazowa Wola, and Kazimierz (b. Izbica, c.1800; d. Żelazowa Wola, 2 Aug. 1805).

Ludwika Skarbek and her son Fryderyk were most probably Fryderyk Chopin's first pair of godparents. Of course, this relates to his unofficial baptism, the circumstances of which are not known in detail. From family correspondence, we know that the Chopins considered Fryderyk Skarbek to be his godfather, and not Franciszek Grembecki, who appears on the extant certificate of baptism, from 1810. We can infer from this that the Chopins held the unofficial baptism to be of true value, rather than the ceremonial christening of 1810, and so the ‘unofficial' godmother must also have been of crucial importance. Until recently, Countess Ludwika's gravestone bore the inscription ‘godmother of Fryderyk Chopin'. This inscription was removed when the 1810 certificate of baptism came to light, as an obvious mistake. The Chopins' first child, Ludwika, born in 1807, was most probably named after Countess Skarbek.

Piotr Mysłakowski and Andrzej Sikorski (July 2006)

Bibliography
Piotr Mysłakowski and Andrzej Sikorski, Chopinowie. Krąg rodzinno-towarzyski [The Chopins. Their Family and Social Circle] (Warsaw, 2005).
Fryderyk Skarbek, Pamiętniki Fryderyka hrabiego Skarbka [Memoirs of Count Fryderyk Skarbek] (Poznań, 1878).

 

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