The German/Polish family to which I belong, had its earliest known origins in Westphalia, Germany, when Humpertus appeared in 1160, bearing the name "von dem Broel genannt Plater (of the Broel named Plater). In the 14th and 15th centuries, members of the family went with the Teutonic Knights to the Baltic Countries as Knights of the Sword and settled in Livonia (present day Estonia and Latvia) and Lithuania and became one of the well known families of Polish Counts.
Humpertus was the forefather of all members of the family living today who have been known at various times by the full name, "von dem Broel genannt Plater" or "Broel Plater", "Plater Broel", Plater Zyberk (Syberg in German) (the present senior line of the family), and "de Plater", the name used by the family in Australia. The family was mostly referred to as "Plater" and in any index of names, references to Broel Plater and other forms were usually endorsed "see Plater". Various spellings have been applied to "Broel" which need not concern us here. The present senior line was founded in 1803 when Michael Broel Plater married Isabella, the daughter of the last male of the Sybergs and obtained from the Emperor, confirmation of his title and with the name Plater-Zyberk. The present world-wide head of the family is Count Stanislas Plater-Zyberk of Hamme-Mille in Belgium.
Simon Konarski, the noted Polish heraldist, genealogist and biographer, in his monograph about the family records that -
śAn analysis of this study shows a high percentage of outstanding personalities and right from the start of the history of this family we find some extremely interesting persons. Starting with the war which they waged in the Middle Ages against the Bishops of Cologne, we continue with John, member of of the Order of the Knights of the Sword and his part in the struggle against Moscow, and finally we arrive at the civilising work of the Plater family in Livonia (present day Latvia and parts of Estonia and Lithuania) and their merit in founding a Polish Museum at Rapperswil (in Switzerland).
.......Among all the Polonised Baltic families, the Platers are the only ones to have had eight Senators.
Being of foreign origin, the Platers were only admitted into the ranks of the great Polish families in the XVIIth century, but as their titles of nobility go back to the XIIth century, in Poland, where the seniority of the nobility is highly esteemed, it was natural for them to hold very high rank, both economically and politically.
They were outstanding in their patriotic feelings thus showing their gratitude for the welcome they had received from the Poland of King Sigismund Augustus together with other Baltic families in 1561 and it is actually from that date that the Platers considered themselves a Polish family. The glorious death of Emilia Plater in 1831, of Leon Plater in 1863, the sacrifices and suffering that the members of this family endured during the last war are an outstanding example of this.”
Various sections of the family have blood relationships to Prince Rurik, the legendary founder of the Russian State in 862 a.d. - to Louis XIV. of France, to James I of England (VIth of Scotland), Kosciuszko, and to the Duffus and Hardy families of England.
Johan v.d.Broel g. Plater ((1460 ? - 1529 ?) was Marshal of the Teutonic Knights in Livonia and substitute to the Grand Master, Walter Plettenberg. He was an outstanding warrior and fought against the Russians.
Henry v.d.Broel g. Plater was one of the Livonian plenipotentiaries charged with negotiating the union of Livonia with Poland in 1561.
Wilhelm (William) ( ? - 1599) captured the Dynaburg fortress from Ivan the Terrible, Tsar of Russia. The fortress was manned by a garrison of over 1,000 soldiers and carried with it the office of Palatine of Livonia and this office, after being first granted to John Andrew Broel Plater, was held by the family for over 150 years until the fall of the Polish Republic.
Gotard (1633-1664) made himself famous in 1654 by the bravery with which he rushed at the head of a feeble Cavalry Corps to the help of Smolensk which was besieged by a powerful Russian army. On several occasions he obliged the Russians to raise their siege but not receiving any reinforcements, his marvellous bravery was not sufficient to save the town.
Count John Andrew (1626 ? - 1696) was the first member of the family to be made Palatine of Livonia. He was a distinguished warrior who served three Polish Kings and fought with King John Sobieski of Poland in the Battle for the relief of Vienna in 1683. The victory achieved, saved Europe from being overrun by the Ottoman Empire and succumbing to Islamism.
Count Constantine-Louis (1722-1778) was the master of an immense fortune. He established an important trade centre at Kraslaw (Kraslavas) in Livonia, now Latvia. He minted his own money and because of this was called śthe little King of Livonia”.
Count Casimir Constantine (1746-1807) - a son of Constantine Louis, Commander of Malta, Vice Chancellor of Lithuania, Commander of Malta, Castellan of Trock, statesman, historian, author and traveller.
Count Ludwik (Louis) (1775-1846), eldest son of Casimir Constantine, Senator Castellan of Poland. Grand Secretary and Grand Governor of the Masonic Order for the Great East of National Poland. The right-hand man of Prince Lubecki, the Polish Minister of Finance. He, with General Kniaziewicz, were śchiefs of the Polish Legation in Paris” in 1831 and offered the Crown of Poland to Napoleon III on behalf of the National Committee of Poland but this could not be accepted because of the failure of the Insurrection against Russia. Frederic Chopin was much indebted to Louis at the start of his career and Chopin dedicated his Four Mazurkas to Countess Pauline, the daughter of Louis.
Count Michael, Gen. XII. (1777-1862), a son of Casimir Constantine, became the Civilian Vice-Governor of Vilna and inherited from his father the extensive Great Indryca estates in the Dynaburg District. In 1803 he was married to Isabella Helen, daughter of John Thaddeus Syberg zu Wischling and Baroness von Kleist from the house of Susten and received the consent of the Emperor, Alexander I. to join to his name the name of his father-in-law and to be called thence forward Count Plater-Syberg (Zyberk in Polish) and therefore founder of the Plater-Zyberk line of the family. Isabella was the only daughter and heiress of the name and property of the Livonian branch of her family and was the last person in the whole of Livonia bearing the family name from immemorial times and carried as a dowry to her husband, estates in Courland, Livonia and Lithuania having a combined area of about 1,700 square kilometres with 15,000 souls.
The Countess Emilia (1806-1831), daughter of Count Francis-Xavier and Anna nee Mohl was born in Vilna (Vilnius) on the 13th November 1806. As a young girl she was was appalled by the lot of the peasants and endeavoured to find out about their problems by mingling with them - learning about their habits and customs and singing their folk-songs. At the same time she saw the plight of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth under the heel of Russia and the suppression of freedom of speech and worship and Polish customs and she wondered why her countrymen were not rising up to throw the oppressor out. She was very much influenced by courageous women such as Joan of Arc and tried to pattern her life on them. She also became involved with the secret meetings of Vilna youth who were plotting against the oppressor.
In 1831 when news of an uprising against Russia in Warsaw was received in Vilna, Emilia was immediately filled with patriotic fervour and, became one of the leaders of the insurrection there. She dressed herself as a man and after a church service appealed to the people to rise up for the Fatherland. Her cousins Lucien and Ferdinand admitted her into a conspiracy to capture the Dynaburg Fortress and presented her with a small hunting rifle but their endeavour was not successful.
Emilia and her cousins joined up with different sections of the insurrectionary army and Emilia became associated with her cousin Cezary Plater and went to the detachment of the Wilkomierz Riflemen under Karol Zaluski and after that to Constantine ParczewskiĂs detachment of partisans. Much was written about her activities in the struggles which followed.
After the arrival in Lithuania of General Chlapowski, where he organised the detachments into the regular army, Emilia was mentioned as Commander of the 1st Company of the 1st Lithuanian Regiment, known later as the 25th Infantry Regiment of the Line. Emilia distinguished herself in battles at Kowno and Szawle and she was given the rank of Captain in the field. It was written about her in the field at Kowno by A.E. Odyniec śYour name in Polish and Lithuanian history will sound eternally as a song amidst the battle”. When ChlapowskiĂs force was divided, she refused to make her escape with the columns heading for the Prussian border and decided to make her way to Warsaw with her cousin Cezary. In the course of this journey she became ill from exhaustion and was taken to a peasants cottage and then later to the mansion house of Ignatius Ablamowicz. In two letters from the 30th September 1831 addressed to one of her aunts, Emilia wrote words of farewell to her and other close relatives. She died at Justianow on the 23rd December 1831 and was buried in an unused cemetery at Kopciowa, near Kapciamiestis, in a tomb which is still in existence today.
It is recorded in the Polish Dictionary of Biography that -
Her movable assets were confiscated by the Russian Government. Reports about her romantic involvement in the insurrection appeared in the Warsaw and Poznan press. In March 1832 there appeared the immensely popular poem by Mickiewicz "The Death of a Colonel" in which Emilia was stylised as an ideal commander, idolised by the soldiers and the people. In Paris, the Cirque Franconi presented her in the spectacular "The Poles of 1831" as though she was the new Joan of Arc.
Further publicity was given to her by her devoted cousins, Cezary and Ladislas. Joseph Straszewicz published three successive versions of her biography in French. Verse was dedicated to her in French, German, Italian, English and Hungarian by fellow-countrymen, Mickiewicz, Constantine Gaszynski and Anthony E. Odyniec. Widely disseminated lithographs by F. de Villain and Deveria popularised a conventional silhouette of a delicate, noble ŚmaidenĂ. Emilia was entered into the Pantheon of permanent independent heroes. In the 20th century there was dedicated to her the painting of Wojciech Kossak "Emilia Plater in combat with the Cossacks", a novel (1908) by Waclaw Gasiorovski, and a drama in three acts with an epilogue (1931) by Thaddeus Konczynski. In the period between the (two World) wars, the 22nd Infantry Regiment adopted the name of Emilia Plater. Her facsimile appeared on the 20 zloty banknotes of the Bank of Poland as well as on the Bank Issue of the Governor General. She was chosen as the patroness of the 1st Independent Battalion of Women and in the 1st Division named Thaddeus Kosciuszko. Even today, one of the central streets of Warsaw carries her name.”
Even in Communist occupied Poland, in 1959 a ship of 10,000 tons was built in the Gdansk shipyards for the Polish Oceanic Line and named the śM.S. Emilia Plater”.
Ladislas Ewaryst (1808-1877), cousin of Emilia, was also a participant in the 1830 Insurrection. After failure of the insurrection he established a Polish newspaper in Paris and was an outstanding figure in Polish affairs abroad and travelled extensively in England and on the continent, promoting the Polish cause. He acquired the Rapperswil Castle on Lake Zurich in Switzerland in which he established a Polish Museum, which is still being used for that purpose at the present time.
Count Cezary Augustus (1808-1877), a brother of Ladislas, has already been mentioned in association with Emilia. At the time of EmiliaĂs illness he proceeded to Warsaw where he signed śthe access to the insurrection by the the citizenĂs of the province of Vilna and two days later was elected as a Member of Parliament. In Paris he established the Lithuanian Society and was a great help to Poles who had emigrated to France, making representations to the French Government on their behalf. After returning to Poland he became active in Poznan politics for 25 years.
Count Lucien Stanislas (1808-1857), also a cousin of Emilia, after being forced to leave Poland went to Paris and then London. He was married in London to Charlotte Price Duffus from an old Scottish family and in 1839 he with his wife, first child and accompanied by his brother Ferdinand went by sailing ship to Australia, arriving there in January of 1840. He and his brother are believed to have been the first Poles to actually settle in Australia - others came before them but did not settle. Their mother was Rachel Kosciuszko and closely related to PolandĂs greatest hero. The Polish explorer in Australia, Edmund Strzelecki, discovered AustraliaĂs highest mountain and named it after his countryman. It is interesting to note that the family of Plater is now more numerous in Australia than in any other country of the world.
Count Leon Joachim (1836-1863) was involved in a further uprising in Poland which took place in January of 1863. Being under orders from Zygmunt Bujnicki, he with a band of followers, numbering about 50, captured a Russian weapons transport in the vicinity of the Dynaburg Fortress. The detachment, while making its way to the Lithuanian border was overpowered by a superior Russian force and Leon with about twenty others were captured. An inquest followed and Leon, wanting to protect Bujnicki who had a young family, took upon himself the responsibility for the assault and as a result was condemned to death and executed by a firing squad at the Dynaburg Fortress. It was said of him śHe sacrificed his life for the enemies of the Church and his Fatherland.”
In former times, newcomers to Poland were required to prove their nobility and in 1620, Henry von dem Broel genannt Plater (Gen.VII.) submitted documents of identification for the Register of the Nobility in the province of Mitawa in Courland. These documents related to his extraction from forefathers who had arrived from Westhemmerde in the County of Mark in Westphalia, supported by eight coats-of-arms. The Acceptance of the submission was given by the Nobility in Mitawa on the 7th October 1620 and the family was enrolled on the First Class Register of the oldest families of the nobility in Mitawa.
Having the foregoing in mind, when being very much involved in putting all of the historical details of the Australian family together, I thought it might be appropriate that some record of the nobility of the family should be recorded in the British Commonwealth and particularly in Australia. After making enquiries, I was referred to the Garter King of Arms, Sir Anthony Wagner, at the College of Arms in London and was informed that no such register existed but that I should apply for a confirmatory grant of letters patent of the ancient Arms of the Platers. It was necessary to provide my pedigree and in due course I was issued with the letters patent and the Arms, a copy of which is shown below. It should be noted that the College of Arms does not recognise foreign titles and that is why the Coronet of a Count does not appear on the Arms. Since a similar Coat of Arms was already registered, it was necessary for a difference to be introduced to the shield and the sword, point upwards, was placed on the bend.
I am very interested in biographical and genealogical matters relating to my family and would welcome any correspondence and enquiries, especially from members of the family, who may be able to give me updated information about their own families.