The Start of the Polish Jagiellon Dynasty

By Heather R. Darsie, J. D.

The Jagiellon Dynasty saw its start with Jogaila Algirdaitis, Grand Duke of Lithuania. It is unknown exactly when Jogaila was born to his parents, Grand Duke Algirdas of Lithuania and Uliana of Tver. Jogaila was likely born sometime between 1352 and 1362. Algirdas, possibly the fifth of seven sons, was quite successful in expanding his portion of the Lithuanian empire. Algirdas ruled from his territories in the east and south of Lithuania. After his death in 1377, the sons of Algirdas’s first wife Maria and of his second wife Uliana battle for control of Algirdas’s territory. Jogaila was recognized as Grand Duke of Lithuania.

Portrait of Jogaila painted c. 1645, by an anonymous artist

On top of fending off his brothers and half-brothers, Jogaila struggled with his paternal uncle for control of northwestern Lithuania. By 1380, Jogaila was fending off his oldest brother Andrei of Polotsk. Andrei was supported by Jogaila’s second eldest brother, Dmitry of Bryansk. Andrei and Dmitry joined forces with Dmitri of Moscow in hopes of defeating Jogaila and installing Andrei as Grand Duke. Jogaila allied himself with the military leader Mamai, a member of the Mongol Kiyat clan and leader of the Golden Horde.

Mamai had his own bone to pick with Dmitri of Moscow. After failing at a diplomatic negotiation wherein Dmitri of Moscow would pay a more expensive tribute to Mamai’s khan to keep out the Golden Horde, Mamai asked Jogaila for help. Given that the two had a common enemy in Dmitri of Moscow, Jogaila agreed. Unfortunately, Jogaila failed to help Mamai when Mamai’s army was ambushed by Dmitri of Moscow’s. Jogaila’s forces did not make it to the Battle of Kulikovo in time. Dmitri of Moscow defeated Mamai, marking the beginning of the Mongols being pushed out of Dmitri of Moscow’s territory and politics.

In the meantime, Jogaila’s uncle and Jogaila’s cousin prepared to invade from the northwest. Jogaila turned to his brother Skirgaila for aid. Jogaila’s uncle took over the cityof Vilnius, but was called away to another battle. The merchants within Vilnius threw open the city gates in June 1382 when Jogaila approached. This was a turning point for him. Unfortunately, his uncle managed to retake Vilnius. Both Jogaila and his uncle were captured in August 1362, with Jogaila’s uncle found hanged not long after. This is, of course, an oversimplificaiton of the civil war, and the keen reader would do well to research it further.

Jogaila turned his attention to marrying. Jogaila’s mother, who was Russian, wanted Jogaila to marry Sofia, daughter of Dmitri of Moscow. The Order of Teutonic Knights was breathing down Jogaila’s neck, and so demurred on marrying the Orthodox Sofia. Jadwiga of Poland, eleven-year-old Queen Regnant of her country, needed a husband. This was according to the nobles, who did not like the idea of their queen marrying the also rather young William of Habsburg. Jadwiga’s mother agreed that Jogaila might be a better option, and so Jogaila was approached regarding the match.

Negotiations took place during 1385 to 1386, and were ultimately known as the Union of Krewo. Part of it included that he convert to Christianity. That done, he married Jadwiga. In 1386, Jogaila became King of Poland. Jogaila’s name was changed to Władysław II Jagiełło.

An imagined portrait of Jadwiga from c. 1770, by Marcello Bacciarelli

It took Jogaila and Jadwiga over a decade for Jadwiga to conceive. She gave birth to a daughter in 1399. Sadly, the little girl died three weeks later and Jadwiga, shortly thereafter. Before her death, Jadwiga told Jogaila to marry Anna of Celje. Jogaila married Anna in January 1402. Their daughter Hedwig, presumably named after the couple’s friend Jadwiga (“Hedwig” is the German form of Jadwiga), was born in 1408. Anna did not have any other children with Jogaila. Anna died in May 1416.

Jogaila’s third wife was a middle-aged widow who already had five children. Elizabeth Granowski was roughly forty-three years old when she married Jogaila in 1417. The Polish nobility was not happy with the marriage. They begrudgingly accepted it by the end of 1417. Elizabeth fell ill in late 1419, and died in May 1420.

Jogaila’s fourth and final wife was Sofia, a Lithuainian noble, who was all of seventeen in 1422 when she married Jogaila. Jogaila was already at least sixty years old, if not seventy. Despite the age difference, Sofia conceived at least thrice. Her first child, a boy named Wladyslaw III of Poland, was born in October 1424. This boy immediately took precedence over his sixteen-year-old half-sister Hedwig. Her second child and son, Casimir, was born in May 1426, but sadly died before reaching his second birthday. Her final son, Casimir IV Jagiellon, was born in November 1427. She was accused of marital infidelity, casting a pall on both of her living sons. She swore an oath about her fidelity to Jogaila, which was good enough for him.

Jogaila’s daughter Hedwig became ill and sadly died in 1431. However, this made room for Jogaila’s sons to become Kings of Poland. The Polish nobles were uneasy initially because the boys were Lithuanian, whereas Hedwig was Polish on her mother’s side. Jogaila made concessions to appease them, and the boys were accepted as the heirs to the Kingdom of Poland.

Jogaila with his wives Jadwiga, Anna, Elizabeth, and Sofia; image created 1521 by unknown artist

Jogaila died in 1434. His son Wladyslaw ruled Poland until his own death without children in 1440. Thereafter, Jogaila’s suriviving son Casimir married Elisabeth von Habsburg, and the couple had thirteen children together. Jogaila’s son Casimir IV and Casimir’s children gave a strong start to the Jagiellon dynasty, which ended in 1526. Jogaila’s descendants included Maria von Habsburg‘s husband Ludwig and Anne of Bohemia and Hungary.

Love learning about the Holy Roman Empire or Early Modern period? Are you interested in Tudor history or Women’s history? Then check out my book, Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’, a new biography about Anna of Cleves told from the German perspective!

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Sources & Suggested Reading

  1. Drabina, Jan. “Die Religionspolitik von König Wladyslaw Jagiello im polnisch-litauischen Reich in den Jahren 1385–1434”, Zeitschrift für Ostforschung. Vol. 43, pp. 161–173. 1994.
  2. Rowell, S. C. “Baltic Europe”.The New Cambridge Medieval History VI, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2000).
  3. Magocsi, Paul Robert. A History of Ukraine. Toronto: University of Toronto Press(1996).
  4. Plokhy, Serhii. The Origins of the Slavic Nations: Premodern Identities in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2006).

4 thoughts on “The Start of the Polish Jagiellon Dynasty

  1. I so wish there was a search function. I am researching an extended branch on our family tree, and am looking for specific women and associated mss. as well.
    PLEASE do not share my email address.

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