Lady Jadwiga of Poland: King and Saint

by Heather R. Darsie, JD

Jadwiga was born to King Louis I of Hungary and Poland, known as Louis the Great, and his wife Elizabeth of Bosnia sometime in 1373 or 1374. Elizabeth married King Louis in the Hungarian city of Buda in 1353. Elizabeth was Louis’s second wife. His first wife, Margaret of Bohemia, was a mere seven years old when she married sixteen-year-old Louis in 1342. Margaret died in 1348. Given that she was not of an appropriate age, even by medieval standards, to bear children, Louis and Margaret did not have any offspring.

Jadwiga of Poland, by Marcello Bacciarelli, c. 1779

Elizabeth was also rather young when she married Louis; she was about fourteen years old. Louis was about twenty-seven. The couple went seventeen years without welcoming a child. One can imagine that they felt immense pressure to produce an heir. They finally welcomed their first of three daughters, Catherine, in 1370. She became heir presumptive to her father’s thrones, but sadly died in 1378. Elizabeth and Louis’s second daughter, Mary, was born in 1371. The final daughter of Elizabeth and Louis the Great, Jadwiga, was born in 1373 or 1374.

Jadwiga was born in Buda, modern-day Hungary. She was not particularly destined for anything grand at birth, other than to become someone’s wife. She was betrothed to William of Austria in 1375. William, later known as the Courteous, was a Habsburg and son of Duke Leopold III of Austria. William was three or four years older than Jadwiga. As part of the agreement, Jadwiga would live in Austria at the Viennese court for a few years. She was meant to depart to Austria, and to William, between 1378 and 1380. The early death of Jadwiga’s eldest sister Catherine in May 1378 changed Jadwiga’s trajectory.

Jadwiga’s other sister Mary was quickly promised the throne of Hungary. The Hungarian nobles swore fealty to the little girl and her fiance, Sigismund of Luxembourg in 1379. Jadwiga’s father died in 1382, leaving the Polish throne empty. Mary’s husband Sigismund tried to seize Poland, but the Polish nobility refused to support one of Louis’s daughters as monarch if she did not live in Poland.

The two wings of the Polish nobility, the nobility of Greater Poland and the nobility of Lesser Poland. Each had different ideas of who should rule. Greater Poland is in the central western area of Poland, and comprised the original territory. Lesser Poland is, effectively, the rest of Poland. The nobility of Greater Poland wanted Duke Siemovit IV of Masovia, a Polish prince from a cadet line, to become the next monarch. The nobility of Lesser Poland were willing to recognize either Jadwiga or Mary as the next monarch, but whichever one of Louis’s daughters became the next monarch had to live in Poland.

Jadwiga’s mother sent her to Poland. Jadwiga was still betrothed to William of Austria, although the Polish nobility was no longer keen on his possibly becoming king. As such, Jadwiga was crowned King of Poland, not the queen, on 16 October 1384 in Krakow. Jadwiga was ten or eleven years old. Not long after, the nobles sought a new fiance for Jadwiga. She did not take well to this.

William of Habsburg, roughly fourteen years old by the time Jadwiga became king, was viewed as not being powerful or experienced enough to protect Poland and Hungary from their neighbors. Jogaila, Grand Duke of Lithuania was proposed, despite his being a pagan. Jogaila sent a small delegation in January 1385 to ask if Jadwiga would marry him. She did not give an answer, and instead deferred the question to her mother. Six months later, in July 1385, William of Habsburg’s father went to Buda in hopes of enforcing the marriage contract between Jadwiga and William. He informed Jadwiga’s mother Queen Elizabeth that he wanted the marriage to be consummated, likely in ceremonial fashion due to the tender ages of the bride and groom. William’s father wanted the marriage consummated no later than 16 August 1385. Queen Elizabeth agreed, however it would have to be testified to that Jadwiga was of sufficient maturity to enter into a marriage.

“The Last Visit of Jadwiga and Wilhelm in the Refectory of the Franciscan Church in Krakow” by Florian Cynk, 1869.

The race was on to either complete and consummate Jadwiga’s marriage to William of Habsburg, or marry Jadwiga to Jogaila instead.

Whether Jadwiga did indeed marry or consummate her marriage to William is up for debate. The strongest evidence that at least the marriage ceremony was completed comes from Polish official records. The records show that several prisoners were released in honor of Jadwiga’s marriage. Other Austrian and Polish sources say anything from attempts being made on William’s life by the Polish nobles to William being yanked from Jawiga’s bed and dragged away. Other sources say that Jadwiga, who was no older than twelve, shared a bed with William for at least two weeks. The tale of William being expelled from the castle, whether by fleeing from murders or by being tossed out, Jadwiga tried to open the castle gate so William could come back. He did not. Instead William married Joanna of Naples, Jadwiga’s cousin. He died, without children, before Joanna became Queen of Naples.

Whatever the circumstances of William leaving Jadwiga, the way was open for her to marry Jogaila, which she did. Jadwiga, as tales and possibly hagiography of her tell, sought an answer via intense prayer as to whether she should marry Jogaila. Jawiga was devout and pious, attending mass every day and venerating the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jadwiga was known to pray in front of a large crucifix in Wawel Cathedral. After receiving divine inspiration, with legend saying the crucifix spoke to her, Jadwiga chose to marry Jogaila. He converted to Catholicism in 1385 as a requirement for his marrying Jadwiga. Jogaila, whose name became Wladyslaw Jagiello, and Jadwiga married on 15 February 1386. Jogaila was crowned King of Poland on 4 March 1386. The couple ruled Poland together, making the country a diarchy because it was ruled by two sovereigns instead of the usually one sovereign. Their marriage also created the Union of Poland and Lithuania.

“The Baptism of Lithuania” by Wladyslaw Ciesielski, 1900. Jadwiga is depicted in her royal dress to the left, and Jogaila is on horseback in the background.

Roughly six years later, in 1392, Jadwiga’s brother-in-law Sigismund was up to his usual plotting. He planned to seize parts of Poland. In an effort to prevent this, Jadwiga paid a visit to her sister Mary. Fortunately, Sigismund never got very far. He was too busy protecting Hungary from the Turks. After her visit to Poland, Jadwiga went to Lithuania to mediate between Jogaila’s feuding brothers in 1393.

In 1395, Jadwiga’s sister Mary died without having had children. Per an agreement from 1383 between Jadwiga’s mother and Polish nobles, Jadwiga was the heir to Hungary. At the time of Mary’s death, Sigismund was away fighting the Turks. The Hungarian nobles could not agree to allow Jadwiga to rule Hungary without Sigismund participating in the negotiations. To settle the dispute, Jadwiga was declared in Hungary to be the offical heir to that throne. Jadwiga never pursued the issue further.

Interested in education, Jadwiga asked for permission in 1397 from Wenceslaus of Bohemia to establish a college there. It was specifically for Lithuanian students. Wenceslaus of Bohemia agreed. Jadwiga issued a charter for the college in November 1397.

Simmering in the background, Jadwiga’s husband’s home territory of Lithuania was under threat from Teutonic Knights. Jadwiga went to Lithuania to mediate. Jogaila bestowed two Lithuanian duchies upon Jadwiga in 1397, hoping that the Teutonic Knights would accept her authority as co-ruler of Lithiania. Details differ as to who met with Jadwiga to negotiate, but ultimately, the Lithuanian dispute with the Teutonic Knights was settled in 1398.

Jogaila and Jadwiga praying, attributed to Tomaso Dolabella, c. 16th century.

Jadwiga fell pregnant in late 1398 or early 1399. She and Jogaila were married for at least twelve years by the time she conceived. It was hoped that they would welcome a baby boy. Jadwiga’s only child, a daughter named Elizabeth Bonifacia after Jadwiga’s mother and Pope Boniface IX, was born in late June 1399. The infant sadly died on 13 July 1399. Jadwiga, weakened and ill from the strain of birth, died on 17 July 1399. Before her death, Jadwiga asked her husband to marry Anna of Cilli. Jogaila agreed. Aside from wedding Anna, Jogaila honored Jadwiga’s wish that her jewelry be sold to finance the college which she established in Bohemia. He also saw to it that the college was indeed established. In August 1399, Jadwiga and her baby daughter were buried together in Wawel Cathedral.

Jadwiga was canonized in 1997 by the Catholic Church, the head of which was Pope John Paul II. Pope John Paul II was Polish, too. Jadwiga is patron of scholarship and religion. During her lifetime, Jadwiga was known for her intelligence, piety, impartiality, and her benevolence to the poor.

In the mood for nonfiction women’s history? Or is historical fiction more your style? Below find links for the nonfiction, Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s Beloved Sister, and the fictional, Diary of a Plague Doctor’s Wife: A Novella set in 1720s Marseille!

You Might Also Like

  1. The Start of the Polish Jagiellon Dynasty
  2. Elisabeth von Habsburg, Queen Consort of Poland and Grand Duchess Consort of Lithuania
  3. Anne of Bohemia and Hungary

Sources & Suggested Reading

  1. Davies, Norman. God’s Playground: A History of Poland, Volume I: The Origins to 1795 (Revised Edition). Columbia University Press (2005).
  2. Halecki, Oscar. Jadwiga of Anjou and the Rise of East Central Europe. Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America (1991).
  3. Monter, William. The Rise of Female Kings in Europe, 1300–1800. Yale University Press (2012).
  4. Wolf, Armin. “Reigning Queens in Medieval Europe: When, Where, and Why”. In Parsons, John Carmi (ed.). Medieval Queenship. Sutton Publishing (1993). pp. 169–188.

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