Raise a Toast to Good King Jan!

Once again, we depart from our usual topics to take note of a noteworthy anniversary that few people know about.

Portrait of John III Sobieski (anonymous, 4th quarter of the 17th century)

August 17th almost slipped by us unnoticed, but we caught it [almost] in time. What about that date? It’s the birthday of Polish King Jan Sobieski who was born on that date in 1629, and to whom we owe a big time debt of gratitude.

For it was King Sobieski and his army who rode to the rescue of Vienna then being besieged by the Turkish army that was making good progress, and was well along in capturing central Europe, advancing from the south. It’s a great story that you should know about. In the end, in 1683, Polish cavalry, notably the famous heavy hussars charged down the slopes of Mount Kahlenberg outside of Vienna and to borrow General Patton’s line, went through the Turkish army like crap through a goose, saving Vienna and the rest of Europe from Turkish conquest.

It’s good to remember that event for two reasons. First, if it hadn’t been for it, Europe (and probably your ancestors) would be speaking Turkish and attending Mosques instead of your favorite place of worship. Second, among the booty captured from the Turks by the victorious Poles, was a quantity of funny looking green grain that the Poles thought was camel fodder and were about to burn. But one of them, formerly a Turkish slave, knew what it was – it was unroasted coffee. The rest is history. He got ahold of it, roasted it and started the first coffee house in Vienna.

Here is one of those hussars, in full battle drag, including those famous metal-and-feather wings bolted to their armor back plates, that made a fearsome noise at full gallop and struck fear into the enemy’s hearts.

So let’s raise a toast to Good King Jan and let’s hear it loud and clear — Sto lat, sto lat, niech zyje, zyje nam.

And, of course, if you follow this advice, by all means toast King Jan with genuine Polish, rye vodka named after him. Na zdrowie!