by Heather R. Darsie, JD
Anne of Celje did not have an enjoyable life. True, it was likely better than her lower-class peers, but Anne’s life seemed to be an after thought. She was born in 1386 as the only child of Count William of Celje and Anna of Poland. Anna of Poland’s nephew was Jadwiga of Poland‘s father. Anna was the youngest child of Casimir II of Poland, whose only surviving children at his death were female, hence the crown of Poland passing to Anna’s nephew. Anna remained involved in Polish politics throughout her life, despite being a countess-by-marriage to part of the Holy Roman Empire.
Anna Cylejska, or Anne of Celje, was born in 1386, roughly six years after her parents married. She was born in modern-day Slovenia, in Celje Castle. When she was roughly nine years old, Anne’s father died. Her mother remarried, and effectively abandoned Anne with her father’s relatives in Celje. It is not entirely odd for the time period that Anne was left with her paternal relatives because Anne was her father’s heir. Anne’s education was completely overlooked or not considered; she was illiterate and did not speak any foreign languages.
When Anne’s cousin Jadwiga was on her deathbed in 1399, she asked her husband Grand Duke Jogaila of Lithuania, by now known as King Wladyslaw II Jagiello of Poland, to marry the young Anne. Anna of Poland was very much in favor of this match. Anne of Celje was one of the last descendants of the Polish Piast Dynasty, to which Casimir II belonged. If Anne gave Wladyslaw II Jagiello an heir, then the Piasts would be back on the Polish throne.
Anne’s mother, Anna of Poland, wasted no time in pressing the idea that Wladyslaw II Jagiello should take Anne as his next bride. He saw the wisdom of wedding someone from the Piast Dynasty. Any heirs he had with Piast blood would have a stronger claim on the throne of Poland. In early 1401, when Anne of Celje was roughly fourteen or fifteen, Wladyslaw II Jagiello sent a delegation to ask Anne’s guardian for her hand in marriage. Permission was granted, and Anne went to Krakow in midsummer 1401.
Anne arrived outside Krakow on 16 July 1401. Wladyslaw II Jagiello, who was roughly forty or fifty years old when he met Anne, was not happy. Anne couldn’t speak Polish, and was otherwise an unpolished individual. He also did not find her attractive, and reportedly did not possess a strong joie de vivre, being rather religious and quiet. Wladyslaw II Jagiello immediately sent Anne to a convent so she could learn Polish. Right after that, he left for his eastern territories and did not return until after New Year 1402.
The new royal couple wed on 29 January 1402. They did not enjoy a happy marriage. Anne did not become pregnant until 1407, likely in part because her husband did not spend much time with her. Anne was accused of infidelity with at least five different men, with such rumors a possible attempt to cast the pall of illegitimacy on her child. None of the accusations meaningfully went anywhere, although the twenty-one-year-old must have been terrified.
Anne’s daughter Jadwiga Jagiellonka, commonly known under the Germanic form of her name, Hedwig Jagiellon, was born 8 April 1408. Anne’s visibility at court rose after Hedwig’s birth. Her husband began taking her along with him on his various political tours, hoping that she could help resolve some disputes in his territories. Hedwig was declared Wladyslaw II Jagiello’s heir in 1413, when she was five years old.
Anne became ill in late 1415, having completed multiple diplomatic duties with her husband. Her husband left on another campaign, leaving Anne in Krakow. Early in 1416, Anne’s husband was informed that she was quite sick. For whatever reason, he did not return to Krakow until May 1416. Anne died on 21 May 1416. She was buried in Wawel Cathedral, same as her predecessor Jadwiga and Jadwiga’s infant.
Anna of Poland, Anne of Celje’s mother, outlived her daughter by ten years. Anne’s daughter Hedwig Jagiellon never married, and died in 1431. It is suspected that Hedwig was poisoned.
Wladyslaw II Jageillo, widowed twice by 1416 and with only a daughter to show for it, needed another wife.
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!
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- Lady Jadwiga of Poland: King and Saint
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Sources & Suggested Reading
- Rowell, S. C. “Baltic Europe”.The New Cambridge Medieval History VI, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2000).
- Plokhy, Serhii. The Origins of the Slavic Nations: Premodern Identities in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2006).