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Ukrainian General of the French Army

Hryhoriy ORLYK: diplomat, intelligence officer, fighter

He was an unmatched master of secret diplomacy at the court of the French King Louis XV. Any intelligence service of the world would consider it an honour to  have such a brilliant and legendary representative in its historical chronicles. But his heart belonged only to Ukraine, to which he was trying to be helpful to the last day of his life. Hryhoriy Orlyk was born November 5, 1702 in Baturyn and baptized as Petro Hryhoriy Orlyk. His godfather was Hetman of Zaporizhzha Army Ivan Mazepa. During the forced emigration after the defeat of the Cossacks and the Swedes in the Battle of Poltava he and his father – Hetman of the Right-Bank Ukraine Pylyp Orlyk, lived in Bendery, then in Sweden, Saxony, Poland, France, constantly hiding from the Russian Tsar Peter I’s secret pursuers. He had a good command of Latin, Polish, German, French, Tatar, Turkish. While abroad, H. Orlyk  and his father tried to create a powerful coalition of France, Sweden, Poland, Turkey and the Crimean Khanate, and through raising the Cossacks to fight by joint efforts to gain independence of Ukraine. In the service of the French King Louis XV H. Orlyk visited a number of European countries with diplomatic and intelligence missions. He received the title of Count, a military rank of Lieutenant-General of the French Army. Was killed during the Seven-Year War in 1759. Cavalier of the Order of the Cross of St. Louis, of Swedish Military Order of the Sword and of the Polish Order of the White Eagle.

From Boyhood to Manhood

Winter of 1713 was restless for a small Cossacks squad that together with Ivan Mazepa made an alliance with Charles XII of Sweden, was defeated by Russian troops near Poltava and found temporary shelter in the Moldovan lands under the patronage of the Turkish Sultan. After Mazepa’s death, the banner of struggle for the state sovereignty of Ukraine was picked up by his closest associate – Cossack Army General Secretary Pylyp Orlyk. At the General Council of the Cossack starshynas (senior officers) and Zaporizhzhyan Cossacks at Bendery in 1710 he was elected the Hetman of the Right-Bank Ukraine. Having enlisted the support of the Turkish Sultan Ahmet III and the Crimean Khan Devlet Girey in joint actions against Tsar Peter I, Pylyp Orlyk  was building grandiose plans of Ukraine’s liberation, but having bribed Turkish lords, Russian envoys changed the situation in their favor.

An agreement was signed, under which Charles XII and Pylyp Orlyk  had to leave the territory of Moldova. But the proud and stubborn Swedish King refused to comply with these conditions. So he was captured by force. Then the Ukrainian Hetman’s turn came. The house where he had been living with the family, was surrounded by Tatar cavalry and ordered to surrender. When the door opened and armed enemies entered, eleven-year old  Hryhoriy rushed to meet them with a small sword in his hand, defending his mother and sisters. For a moment the Tatars were confused and even stepped backwards, not expecting such arrogance on the part of a kid. But then they captured the boy and wanted to punish him there and then, tying him up to the horse with ropes. Khan’s son Kaplan-Girey, with whom he became friends during the Orlyks’ visit to the Khan, came to the defence of Hryhoriy. The Tatars let the boy go having given him a few kicks. That was the beginning of his adulthood.

Since childhood mastering the complex science of survival, struggle for dignity and national interests, Hryhoriy listened carefully to his wise father’s instructions and edifications. “Where you cannot achieve something by force, you must use skills, and even tricks, – he used to say, – what can’t be won straight away, should be reached gradually, bypassing and patiently waiting for  a good occasion, not accelerating events, but making them work for you. To survive and achieve something in this cruel world, you must learn to understand people, to be able to see in them good nature and virulence, generosity and greed, big heart and meanness, modesty and humility, simplicity and envy, and to successfully play on these features of character. Sometimes for the sake of achieving high goals, you may transform yourself into a certain image, but never disgrace your good name and your family with bad doings“.

Upon arrival in Sweden, Pylyp Orlyk sent his son first to serve in the guard, and a year later- to study at Lunden University. It was quite a prestigious educational institution, where children from noble families of the kingdom were getting education. Hryhoriy made friends with many of them, especially with Chancellor of Sweden Millern’s son Gustav. Once during a levee,  the Chancellor introduced the 16-year-old Hryhoriy to Charles XII. The Hetman’s son kept his head and began a small talk with the king in perfect Latin, which made the King genuinely interested and truly surprised. Taking advantage of the occasion, Hryhoriy extremely delicately hinted to the King that his knowledge could be even better and he could be more useful in the royal service, if it were possible  to get at least part of the funds that had been lent to the  Swedish Army from the Cossack Army’s treasury. Charles XII did not ignore this diplomatic curtsey and later allocated a special pension to the Orlyks, and Hryhoriy was appointed to the civil service with a solid payment.

The Orlyks’ Swedish period of life did not last long. The Hetman could not sit on his arms. He always tried to look for supporters to unite efforts against the Muscovite Tsar with a view to the struggle for the sovereignty of Ukraine. Eventually, he went for help to the Turkish Sultan and settled in Thessaloniki. With the help of the Saxon Chancellor Fleming, Hryhoriy became Lieutenant of the Saxon Guards Cavalry Regiment under the name of de Lazisk. But after a few years, representatives of the Moscow intelligence that had been hunting for Mazepa’s associates all over Europe, got on Hryhoriy’s trail. Previously the Hetman’s General Yesaul – Poltava Colonel Hryhoriy Hertsyk had been captured in Warsaw. In Hamburg had been arrested Mazepa’s nephew Andriy Voynarovskyi, who had been negotiating with the English court, trying to draw attention to the Ukrainian question. Both were transported to Russia and punished there. The Tzar’s Ambassador Prince Dolgorukiy reproached Count Fleming that a Russian’s state criminal’s son was serving in Russia’s ally’s –Saxony’s troops.  Fleming secretly met with Hryhoriy and explained the situation to him. All he could do was to provide Hryhoriy with new documents and to secure  his unhindered leaving for a foreign country.

So Hryhoriy Orlyk found himself in Austria, then in Poland, where he served as the Polish Crown Hetman’s Yesaul. In Warsaw he realistically estimated the situation that prevailed at that time in Ukraine. Messengers from Hetmanshchyna kept coming to the Swedish Ambassador, pushing Sweden towards another war. But the war with Russia was out of the question. Mazepians’ forces were scattered. “If the Cossack Army’s actions and the rebellion in Ukraine were coordinated with the support of the Turkish Sultan – Hryhoriy thought, – then something could be probably done. But to talk the Turks into a Union with Ukrainians and a war against the strong Moscow Empire, strong arguments were needed. In Europe only France could influence the Sultan. That was Doroshenko and Mazepa’s another old idea – to rely on the powerful French kingdom. Now this idea sunk into Hryhoriy Orlyk’s heart.

Mission to Paris

Meanwhile the Polish Crown Hetman, for whom Hryhoriy had been serving as personal aide, died and was replaced by Poniatowski, a supporter of the former Polish King Stanislaw Leszczynski. He knew Orlyk very well, valued his daring nature, abundant energy, sharp intelligence, ability to find a way out of the most hopeless situations and therefore immediately brought him to his office and entrusted to perform a variety of delicate assignments. When the question arose about the trip to France with a special envoy secret mission, a better candidate could not be found. It was about Leszczynski ‘s restoration on the Polish throne after the death of the sick King Augustus II of Saxony. The former monarch at that moment was living in France, in Fontainebleau. Louis XV was married to his daughter and so the idea of ​​restoring the King of France’s father-in-law on the Polish throne ripened not accidentally.

To coordinate all the details of this complicated case, there had been prepared several letters to the Cardinal of France Count Fleury, Minister of Foreign Affairs de Shovelen and Commander of the Kin’s Armed Forces Marshal William. Hryhoriy Orlyk had to deliver them to France, and from there to secretly bring Stanislaw Leszczynski. Written on thin silk fabric, the letters were sewn into the lining of his uniform of the Guard Captain of the Swedish King’s Guard Captain Gustav Bartel. Under this name Hryhoriy Orlyk left for Paris.

He paid his first visit to Stanislaw Leszczynski. Telling him about the plans of the Polish nobility, at the same time he enlisted the support of the future King of Poland in the Ukrainian question. A few days later there was a meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs. For three hours they talked about events in Poland, Sweden and France. Hryhoriy pleasantly impressed Marquis de Shovelen with his knowledge in the field of international relations and with interest told him about Ukraine, the Cossacks, the reasons for the defeat in the Russo-Swedish War. He spoke in detail about the Austrian Emperor’s plans with the help of Petersburg to not let the French henchman Leszczynski to the Polish throne.

- The only way to thwart the plans – he said emotionally- is to organize a large-scale campaign against Russia.

Orlyk asked Shovelen to send him with correspondent letters and powers to Turkey, where he could, with the help of the French Ambassador, to persuade  the Sultan to face his father Pylyp Orlyk  and to enter into an alliance with him. Shovelen responded that he had to talk with Cardinal Fleury first. It was important for Orlyk that the Minister at least did not reject the possibility of a coalition of Sweden, Rzeczpospolita (the Polish- Lithuanian Commonwealth) and the Ottoman Empire with the support of France against Russia in order to separate  Ukraine from it. At the end of the meeting Shovelen advised  Hryhoriy to meet with Voltaire.

- Monsieur Voltaire is working on a book “The Story of Life of Charles XII” – he said – and it will be interesting and useful for you to talk with him.

Voltaire really showed great interest in Orlyk’s stories about his father, Mazepa, the Swedish troops’ combat actions  on the territory of Ukraine. Finally he asked to write a letter to his father with a request to  end  some memoirs and materials for the book.

Crucial in Hryhoriy Orlyk’s life was an audience with Cardinal Fleury. At that time the latter had been actually ruling France due to Louis XV’s inability to manage public affairs. The Hetman’s young son knew about it and did everything to make a good impression on him   during the conversation. But the wily Cardinal had already had enough of diverse reviews about Ukrainian envoy from Poland and therefore in the conversation with him was just looking for confirmation of his impressions. “This person is worth being involved in secret intelligence work – he was getting more and more sure of this. – And the fact that he is concerned about the fate of Ukraine can be masterfully used in the interests of France. We need to direct him to where common problems are tied up together”. As for Orlyk, he was ready to perform any tasks that eventually could play in favor of Ukraine.

In the spring of 1730 Hryhoriy disguised as an officer of the Swiss Guard of Louis XV Captain Hag boarded a ship in Marsel that sailed to Istanbul. During a stop in Thessaloniki he finally met after many years with his father. After long reminiscences and exchanges of thoughts, his national feelings waked up with new force and a desire appeared to visit Ukraine.

Then he arrived in Istanbul and met with the French Ambassador Vilenyov. The Ambassador had already had the Kings instructions to support Orlyk’s mission and immediately began to acquaint him with influential people. During a meeting with the Patriarch of Jerusalem he showed interest in Captain Hag’s “Motherland” – Switzerland. Hryhoriy had to read a book about that country within a night. But the following day he was telling the Patriarch about Switherland so interestingly and impressively, that none of the present doubted his Swiss origin for a shortest minute. Other contacts were also useful, but unrest and riots in the empire against the Sultan and his Vizier made Orlyk  immediately  leave for France.

Diplomat Orlyk’s Adventures

For the next meeting with the Foreign Minister Shovelen, Hryhoriy had prepared a memorial based on the collected materials and conversations with his father, in which he had described Turkey’s possible further steps, directions of its policy, including the European direction, as well as concerning Ukrainian lands. At this, he had outlined separately his reasoning about bringing Turkey into the union with Ukrainian Cossacks as opposed to Russian expansion. This memorial was then even discussed at the Royal Council’s meeting. In general Orlyk’s ideas were perceived positively. But Cardinal Fleury asked not to force events. At that moment France’s relations with Russia were not strained, but it could happen after Stanislaw Leszczynski’s restoration on the Polish throne, and only then, he said, they would be able to return to a more detailed study of these proposals. But some things could be done immediately. As a result, in the name of Louis XV, Ambassador Vilenyov was sent a letter with recommendations to assist Hryhoriy Orlyk in his further activity. The Hetman’s son also received a Royal Charter to the Crimean Khan, which contained a call to oppose Moscow.

Under the guise of a Persian merchant who allegedly arrived in France to sell spices to the royal court, Hryhoriy, according to a new legend, was returning to the Middle East. In Smyrna he stayed at a hotel and was looking forward to further instructions from the French Ambassador in Istanbul. Soon a messenger arrived from Vilenyov with recommendations to travel across the desert with a caravan, and then – by sea to Istanbul. The Ambassador also reported that the Russian representative in Turkey Neplyuev had learned that it was Hryhoriy Orlyk who earlier had visited Istanbul under the guise of Captain Hag, so asked to be careful and take steps to disguise.

The trip had been delayed, in addition the caravan was attacked by robbers. Hryhoriy and his companion were left barely alive. Upon the arrival in Istanbul he was up to a disappointment. Vizier Osman Pasha, who had already started preparations for war with Russia, had been overthrown in a coup. Uncertainty was prevailing in the Sultan’s palace, so Vilenyov advised not to waste time, but to go to Bakhchisaray to the Crimean Khan.

One summer night a felucca departed from a Turkish pier, on board of which was a French Doctor La Mothe, two Janissaries, the Captain and two sailors. Hryhoriy, who was disguised as the Doctor was looking forward to meeting the new Crimean Khan and his old friend who once saved him from punishment – Kaplan- Girey. The latter was glad to see Orlyk, together they remembered that dramatic episode of many years ago. Kaplan-Girey reacted positively to all proposals, and even promised to persuade the new Great Turkish Vizier to cooperate with the French King. At the end of the meeting the Khan presented   Orlyk  with a white Arabian horse and gave him letters to the King, Hetman and Stanislaw Leszczynski. At this, he said that if necessary he could attack he Russian Army in Ukraine on his own. Kaplan- Girey also warned Hryhoriy not to go to Istanbul via Moldova, because there he could be awaited by troubles. According to him, the bribed Moldavian noblemen were ready to arrest and give him away to Moscow.

But it was no accident that Orlyk decided to go by land not by sea. He really wanted to get to Zaporizhzhya Sich, to meet with Cossacks, to learn about their lives and moods. Of course, he did not reveal himself and spoke through a Tatar interpreter. With sadness in his heart, Hryhoriy examined booths,  asked about recent events, the Cossacks’ life. He wanted so much to tell, how his father was longing for his homeland, being under arrest or under non-stop close supervision in Thessaloniki, how he wished good to the Ukrainian land. But he restrained himself and did not succumb to emotions.

Ticklish Missions

February 1, 1733 there was an event that became a new turning point in Hryhoriy Orlyk’s life.  King of Poland, Augustus II of Saxony died, and in the diplomatic arena there began to be implemented the already prepared plan of Stanislaw Leszczynski’s enthronement (by intrigue, bribery and secret diplomacy). Hryhoriy in all this had a special mission. He had to immediately go to Warsaw with secret royal instructions and one million florins to bribe Polish senators.

Having made sure that the florins will do the job, Hryhoriy left the Polish capital for Istanbul. Before the Grand Vizier, he and the French Ambassador described what was happening after the election of Louis XV’s father-in-law King of Poland. This automatically could lead to a Russian troops’ campaign to Poland and enthroning of a person that suited Petersburg. To prevent this, the Turkish Army and the Crimean Khan had to hit the flank of the Russians, and the Swedish had to attack the Russian capital from the north. After the election of Leszczynski, the Vizier had to warn Russian Ambassadors that in case of their country’s aggression against Poland, the Sultan would send his army to Ukraine and the Crimean Khan would go to Astrakhan.

Having successfully completed the intelligence mission and having reported to the Cardinal of moods in Warsaw and Turkey, Hryhoriy Orlyk received a new task – to smuggle Stanislaw Leszczynski himself to Poland through the territory of the hostile Germany – Russia and Austria’s ally. Having thought over all possible options, he chose the simplest one: no large escorts, guards, lush carriages, it is better to travel under the disguise of ordinary pilgrims, without attracting too much attention. He himself set off under the guise of servant Ernst Bramlyak, King Stanislav was dressed up as a German merchant and had documents on the name of  Bover,  the third was a French nobleman Andlau. They thus smoothly reached Warsaw.

For the successful operation Louis XV awarded an Order to Orlyk, presented him with a diamond worth ECU 10 000, ordered his heraldysts to prepare a Count patent on the name of Chevalier de Laziski, the court painter received instructions to paint a portrait of the Count, and the Queen presented him with her  portrait, decorated with precious stones. Before obtaining the title of Count, Hryhoriy, however, had yet to make a secret trip to Ukraine, to find a priest in Baturyn, who once baptized him, and to take a record extract from the church books about his birth. The trip was quite dangerous, but gave Hryhoriy fresh energy from the parental land.

Meanwhile the situation was developing not in favor of Ukraine. Russia sent a large army into Poland and the newly elected King could not resist it properly.  France declared war on Austria. Everybody expected the start of Turks and Tatars’ coordinated combat actions. With the letter from Louis to Kaplan- Girey requesting assistance to Hetman Pylyp Orlyk with Cossacks in organization of liberation struggle, Hryhoriy headed south. But when all the issues had been agreed upon with the Khan, Russian envoys, who had been closely following the unfolding of events in the Crimea, became active. They immediately received information that the old Hetman, full of hope for the liberation of Ukraine, was going to head his troops. In turn, the tsarist government by means of bribery, intrigue and intimidation made every effort to make havoc in the intentions of Cossack starshynas (senior officers) in Zaporizhzhya Sich, and did manage to enlist the Sich as ally.

Hryhoriy did not want to believe this news and decided to go to the Hetmanate to learn about the real state of affairs. Via Khotyn  and Kamyanets,  under the  guise of a Tatar merchant he reached the Right Bank, visited Poltava region, Nizhyn, met with Cossack starshynas(senior officers). They unanimously kept telling him that they remembered and honored his father and that the whole Ukraine would follow him if he arrived.  At the same time, Hryhoriy received a message from the inner circles of the Commandant of the located in Ukraine troops of the Scotsman General Keith that orders  had been received from Moscow to capture him – dead or alive. Having not completed the intelligence mission, Hryhoriy Orlyk had  to leave the Ukrainian land.

When later the Russo-Turkish War began, Porta was not able to use the favorable circumstances prevailing at that time in Europe, and Moscow by bribery made Turks agree to peace. Gregory had to return to Paris. But that was not the end of his intelligence activities.  Louis tried to send Orlyk on a secret mission to Turkey as his Royal Majesty’s Ambassador. Learning of this, Moscow acted strongly against such a visit and did everything to prevent the Turkish side’s agreeing to it.

Having by then much experience in the field of secret diplomacy, Hryhoriy continued to be a member of the King’s Secret Cabinet, which included the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassadors, Counts, Princes. For secret messages each of them had his own code. Orlyk signed his messages with digital code “1265”, Ukraine was listed under the number “12”, Zaporizhzhya Cossacks – under the number “14”, Registered Cossacks – under the number “299”. Hryhoriy began to use codes in the very first years of his intelligence activity in the service of the French King. He knew that letters could be intercepted and their contents – become known to the opposing party. So he wrote a letter to his father with a request to send codes for correspondence. Hryhoriy remembered that his father had been corresponding that way with Charles XII of Sweden. The old ways of encoding messages had been improved over the years, and in France in the secret cabinet “The Secret of the King” codes  were more reliable as they were based on the use of non-alphabetic code.

Hryhoriy Orlyk’s knowledge and skills were especially needed by the French court during Yelizaveta Petrovna’s reigning in Russia. France tried to follow closely the development of the Russian foreign policy and get information about it from different sources. One of the “objects of development” was a young Ukrainian Hetman Kyrylo Rozumovskyi – the Tsarina’s favorite’s brother. It was decided to try to get information about events in St. Petersburg through him. Different options had been studied. The French Ambassador in Warsaw de Breuil offered to send to the Hetman the latter’s classmate from the Berlin University, the Polish nobleman Stanislav Mokranovskyi. But it was too straightforward and could bring nothing apart from short term contacts.

Orlyk thoroughly approached this issue, analyzed the Hetman’s lifestyle and features of his character. Knowing Rozumovskyi’s poor health, it was suggested to send to him the French physician Nicolas-Gabriel Le Clerk. To make it look natural, an appropriate combination was developed. As a result, Le Clerk  became Rozumovskyi’s family Doctor and for five years stayed in the Hetman’s  Palace in Baturyn, and then moved to St. Petersburg as Yelizaveta Petrovna’s   personal physician. One can only imagine what information he could get to influence the high persons. As for Hryhoriy Orlyk, he also tried to take this opportunity to once again raise the Ukrainian issue before the King and tried to encourage Rozumovskyi to struggle for Ukrainian statehood. But it did not work.

Last Years

Having retired from diplomatic and intelligence activities, Orlyk decided to devote himself to his family. He proposed to Mademoiselle Dinteville, from a rich ancient French family. The wedding was attended by the King and his court retinue. Voltaire gave them a copy of his book “The Life Story of Charles XII” specially framed in red leather with the arms of the Count and Countess. Hryhoriy also took up writing a book on the history of Ukraine. He had been spending much time in Commerce- suburb of Paris where their ancestral castle was situated, and only occasionally Orlyk visited his home in Versailles, when for some reason the King and Ministers wanted to see him.

But quiet life was not for him. His active and vigorous nature sought action. Perhaps his wife understood this from the very beginning, as she bought a Dragoon Cavalry Regiment, housed in Lorraine as a gift to her husband. It consisted mainly of Swedes, who were in blue uniforms, that is why the Regiment was called “The King’s Blue Swedes”.  There was a Cossack  hundred in the Regiment too.

Soon at the head of his regiment, Hryhoriy  took an active part in the Seven-Year War that broke out in Europe due to the aggravation of the Anglo-French relations around the struggle for colonies and the conflict  between  Prussia’s policy and Austria, France and Russia’s interests. Count Orlyk was promoted to the rank of a “Camp Marshal” and headed one of the three French corps in Saxony. Thanks to the courage, fearlessness, ability to make unconventional decisions, he quickly made a brilliant career, received awards and the title of Lieutenant-General. Not sparing himself, he led his Regiment into attacks, was wounded. In November 1759 near the town of Minden, an English choke bullet caused another chest injury, which was fatal.

Compatriots- Cossacks buried Orlyk on the bank of the Rhine. Characteristically, on the river, where there are thresholds like in Chortomlyk, Hryhoriy suggested Versailles should have created Cossack Sich of Ukrainian immigrants. But his plan was destined to fail. It happened so that he lost his life in a foreign land, not for his country, but he died with dignity. In a letter to his wife Louis XV wrote: “Madame, I lost a perfect gentleman, France lost a daring and talented General, whose glorious name will forever remain in the history of the army. In a great grief  that befell you, find solace in the fact that Count Orlyk died exactly as a man of his origin and dignity has to die “.


Oleksandr Skrypnyk

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