Alexander Chalmers, mayor of the Old Warsaw

Alexander Chalmers, mayor of the Old Warsaw

He was just fourteen when he left Aberdeenshire in 1658. Alexander could not know it back then, but a bright future awaited him. Chalmers became a successful merchant, but his ambition was much bigger – he desired political power.

In the 17th century, Warsaw became the main place of residence for the king and his court. Royal Castle was enlarged, and the main offices of the realm were placed there. Both Old and New Town grew and flourished, as well as suburbs. After the destructive outcomes of the Second Northern War (1655-1660), Warsaw rose from the ruins and started its journey to become “Paris of the North”.

Elias Baeck, fragment of the Warsaw view from the first half of the 18th century. Number 13: Sigismund’s Column, number 15: Royal Castle. Image source: Polona.pl, public domain.

In such circumstances, Chalmers settled in the Old Warsaw. He married a local woman, Krystyna Łęgówna, and proceeded to improve his textile business. After some time, Chalmers received servitoratus: a privilege conferred by a king, which released merchant (employed by the court) from the municipal jurisdiction. That meant serious mercantile advantage. Chalmers started to use a Polonised version of his surname: Czamer (sometimes written as Czammer), which was easier to pronounce for his Polish associates.

Czamer started his political carreer in the 1680s. On 14th February 1681, Czamer took oath inside the Royal Castle:

I, Alexander Czamer, of the Ancient Commune of Warsaw, swear by Almighty God and the Holy Trinity, being now in a place of trust, to be faithful and obedient to the Commonwealth at all times when my duties as an elder demand; to preserve the rights and privileges of the Ancient Borough of Warsaw, to attend the meetings as is the custom, and as the good of the Commonwealth may demand, and to lay all news before the mayor; to keep and not give up the secrets of the town, no matter what they may be, and to fulfill all my duties with faithfulness and conscientiousness, and not for gifts from friends, from fear, hatred, or anger, or other reasons which deter therefrom. So may God and the Passion of His Son help me.

This testimony was approved by Vice-Chancellor of the Crown, Jan Małachowski. Czamer held municipal office (assessor) for the first time in 1683, during the reign of John III Sobieski. In the same year, this warrior-king triumphed in the battle of Vienna, saving imperial capital from the forces of Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha.

In the next years, Czamer was elected as a city councilor, and four times he held the office of the lord mayor. For the first time, this happened on February 22, 1691: a man of importance by reason of a judgment both natural and acquired, and endowed with prudence and skill in the conduct of affairs, a love of Public good, for long a defender of the ancient rights and privileges of the citizens; who by his meritorious administration at the Treasury for the full period of three years won the commendation of all. He was also chosen as provisor of the Hospital of
the Holy Spirit and city deputy for the coronation of Augustus II in 1697.

As a wealthy and influential citizen of Warsaw, Alexander was able to obtain many properties within the city walls. Among them was Cobblers Tenement House (on Wąski Dunaj street).

One of the most interesting events in the life of Czamer was his conflict with Dominican friars from St. Hyacinth’s Church. Monks allowed that vendors and fishwives were operating on the graveyard adjacent to the temple. Lord mayor Czamer didn’t want to allow that, so he openly stood against Dominicans. This tense situation led to riots in which there were fatalities. During his crusade against the graveyard commerce, Chalmers lost a big sum of money and some of his reputation.

Elias Baeck, fragment of the Warsaw view from the first half of the 18th century. Number 21: City Hall, number 23: St. Hyacinth’s Church.

His last years as a municipal official were clouded by another time of chaos and uncertainty. Newly elected king, Augustus II the Strong, led the country to yet another war with Sweden. Officially, Augustus was involved in Great Northern War as Elector of Saxony, not king of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In reality, the country became a battlefield for all armies. Swedes occupied Warsaw since 1702. They imposed a huge contribution on the city.

Czamer actively was trying to somehow reduce the amount of money that the Swedish were requesting. General Magnus Stenbock, Director of the General War Commissariat, was implacable. it was influenced by the fact that a lot of money ends up in his own pocket…Firstly, he requested 10.000 thalers from the city as a loan, as he put it. After few months, a group of Warsaw students attacked Swedish soldiers and merchant. Stenbock used this as an excuse to impose a new contribution: he executed the perpetrators and ordered the city to pay another big sum of money. Chalmer tried to ease that burden but to no avail.

Scottish mayor died 9 march, 1703. He was buried in St John’s Archcathedral – on of the most important Polish temples. Church was utterly destroyed by German forces during Warsaw Uprising in 1944. It was rebuilt after the war. 

In 2008, Warsaw honored the memory of its mayor. Thanks to Paul Gogolinski and municipal authorities, a special plaque was installed on the wall of the Cobblers Tenement House. Among the participants was Scottish politician Linda Fabiani, Minister for Europe, External Affairs and Culture. Half at the time. The plaque says:

Here lived Alexander Chalmers – a Scot, merchant, exceptional royal clerk and faithful subject of the Polish king. He came to Poland around 1676, where he changed his name to Aleksander Czamer. He served as a judge, and was a four-time Mayor of Warsaw in 1691, 1694, 1696, and 1702. He was a deputy to King August II’s coronation parliament. His life and service are a testimony to several hundred years of fruitful presence of the Scottish diaspora on Polish territory. Grateful Poles and Scots.

In the 2008, Warsaw honored memory of its mayor. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
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