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Fryderyk Skarbek, by Adolf Piwarski, 1837

Fryderyk Florian Skarbek (15 February 1792 – 25 September 1866), a member of the Polish nobility, was an economist, novelist, historian, social activist, administrator, politician, and penologist who designed the Pawiak Prison of World War II ill fame.[1]

He is also known for his friendship with his godson Frédéric Chopin and Chopin's family. His son Józef would marry Chopin's erstwhile fiancée, Maria Wodzińska.



Fryderyk (in English, "Frederick") Skarbek lived during a complex historic period: beginning in independent Poland, continuing from 1793 in Prussian Poland,[2] later in the Duchy of Warsaw (1807–13) created by Napoleon, then from 1815 in the Kingdom of Poland, whose King was the Tsar of Russia.

Childhood and education (1792-1818)Edit

Anna Emilia Wiesiołowska, née Skarbek (1793-1873), sister of Fryderyk Skarbek and godmother of Fryderyk Chopin, by Maria Wodzińska

Fryderyk Skarbek was born in Toruń, son of Kacper Skarbek, whose aristocratic family had roots dating back to medieval times, and of Ludwika Fenger, daughter of a rich Toruń merchant of German descent. He was the first of four children. Around 1800 the family, which had lived at Izbica Kujawska, moved to Żelazowa Wola. In 1802 Nicolas Chopin (the composer's father) was hired as the children's teacher.

In 1808 Fryderyk graduated from the Warsaw Lyceum (a secondary school in Warsaw). In 1809 he left for Paris, where he studied economics. In 1812 he returned to Poland and worked as a translator in the Duchy's administration; then he devoted some years to local administration of the Sochaczew district.

Professor and sociologistEdit

In 1818 he became professor of economics at the University of Warsaw. He received a doctorate from the University of Kraków in 1819.

In 1820-30 he published several books on economics, in Polish (1821, 1824) and in French (1829).

Under the influence of Stanislaw Staszic, he became interested in questions concerning the poor, charity houses, and prisons; he worked for the department of prisons and charitable establishments of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. When in 1828 he went to Paris to publish a book, the government commissioned him to report on prisons in Holland and Great Britain. Upon returning to Warsaw, he designed the Pawiak prison (completed 1835).

1830-31 crisisEdit

View of Warsaw from the Warsaw Society of Friends of Learning building, ca. 1825, by Fryderyk Skarbek

Politically, Skarbek favored accommodation with the Russian authorities. In November 1830, at the outbreak of the Polish November 1830 Uprising against Russia, he was in Saint Petersburg, Russia, having been summoned by Tsar Nicholas I to inspect Russian prisons.

He remained in Russia for the duration of the Uprising. In March 1831 he became a member of the Provisional Council of the Kingdom.[3] and he returned to Poland only after Warsaw had been captured in September 1831 by Russian General Ivan Paskevich.

Late career (1832-58)Edit

Despite Russian Poland's deteriorating situation under Paskevich as Namestnik of the Kingdom of Poland (1831–55) — with the changing of the Constitution in 1832, the closing of Warsaw University in 1833, the promotion of Russification — Skarbek went on to serve in the administration, as president of the Central Council of Welfare Charity Works, and later as president of the Directorate of Insurance.[4]

Tsar Nicholas I awarded him the Order of Saint Stanislaus, Second Class; and in 1846 gave him the Russian hereditary title of Count, after Skarbek had failed to obtain confirmation of a previous hereditary title of count.

In 1854 Skarbek became director of the Justice Committee (Minister of Justice).

Last yearsEdit

He retired in 1858 and returned to scholarly and literary work.

He died in Warsaw in 1866, of septicemia.

Private lifeEdit

Fryderyk Chopin's birthplace: outbuilding of nonexistent Skarbek Palace at Żelazowa Wola

He was, while away in Paris, vicariously godfather to composer Frédéric Chopin (1810–49), who had been born on the Skarbek estate in Żelazowa Wola.[5]

He married twice:

  • in 1818, Prakseda Gzowska (died 1836): they had one child, Józef, who would marry Chopin's fiancée, Maria Wodzińska;
  • in 1838, Pelagia Rutkowska: they had a daughter and two sons, who were several times imprisoned for Polish patriotic activities.


He was a pioneer in economic theory,[4] and his 1829 work, Théorie des richesses sociales (Theory of Social Wealth), influenced Karl Marx's theory of labor.[6]

He authored dramas and novels.

In retirement he wrote Memoirs, published in 1876.

Selected scholarly worksEdit

  • The National Economy, 1829
  • Théorie des richesses sociales (Theory of Social Wealth), 1829
  • General Principles of the Science of the National Economy, 1859
  • The Farm and the National Economy, 1860
  • The History of the Duchy of Warsaw, 1860

Selected literary worksEdit

  • Pan Antoni (Anthony), 1824
  • Pan Starosta (Starosta), 1826
  • Życie i przypadki Faustyna Feliksa na Dodoszach Dodosińskiego (The Life and Adventures of Faustyn Feliks Dodosiński of Dodosze), 1838
  • Pamiętniki Seglasa (The Memoirs of Seglas), 1845


  1. ^ Hertz, Aleksander (1988). The Jews in Polish culture. Northwestern University Press. p. 254. ISBN 0-8101-0758-9. 
  2. ^ Torun became Prussian in 1793 (2nd Partition), Warsaw in 1795 (3rd Partition).
  3. ^ Cf. NIFC 2007. The "Provisional Council" was probably a creation of the Tsar's, to stand as a rival to the "National Government" that had been created in January 1831 by the Polish Sejm.
  4. ^ a b Wandycz, Piotr Stefan (1974). The Lands of Partitioned Poland, 1795-1918. University of Washington Press. p. 93. ISBN 0295953586. 
  5. ^ Chopin's register of baptism (23 April 1810) indicates a Franciszek Grembecki as godfather, but Chopin had also had an emergency baptism after his birth (around 1 March), and in some letters (e.g., in 1846) he writes about Skarbek having been his godfather.
  6. ^ Dussel, Enrique D.; Moseley, Fred (2001). Moseley, ed. Towards an unknown Marx: a commentary on the manuscripts of 1861-63. Routledge. p. 35. ISBN 0-415-21545-5. 


  • Jerzy Sewer Dunin-Borkowski, Almanach błękitny (The Blue Almanac), Lwów, 1909, p. 547 et passim.
  • Teodor Żychliński, Złota księga szlachty polskiej (Gold Book of the Polish Nobility), rocznik XXV (volume XXV), Poznań, 1903, pp. 110–15.
  • Piotr Mysłakowski, Andrzej Sikorski, Fryderyk Chopin: The Origins, Narodowy Instytut Fryderyka Chopina (Fryderyk Chopin Institute), Warsaw, 2010, pp. 216–30.
  • Piotr Mysłakowski, Andrzej Sikorski, Fryderyk Skarbek (in Polish), Narodowy Instytut Fryderyka Chopina (Fryderyk Chopin Institute), 2007.