Day in History: Jadwiga is Crowned King of Poland
The coronation ceremony that took place in the Wawel Cathedral in Krakow on 16 October 1384 was truly a splendid event: Polish nobles spared no expenses and the grandeur of the coronation impressed everyone present. But the historical significance was even greater. For one thing, the young girl who was being crowned (only 11 years old at the time) was to go down in history as one of Poland’s greatest and most beloved Monarchs. And for another, the aforementioned lady was crowned not as Queen of Poland (as would be expected considering her gender) but as King.
There is no humorous tale of a mix-up: the decision was made for quite practical reasons. Polish law was very specific that the ruler had to be King – but it did not state the King had to be a male. And so instead of re-writing the law and to emphasise the fact Jadwiga was a ruler in her own right, it was decided she should be crowned as Hedvig Rex Poloniæ (Hedwig, King of Poland) and not Hedvig Regina Poloniæ (Hedwig, Queen of Poland).
Taking into consideration the girl’s age, the actual power was wielded by the powerful Polish lords. And yet somewhat surprisingly, a Regent was not appointed; before the coronation, it was expected Jadwiga’s mother, Elizabeth of Bosnia, would act as a Regent until the young Queen reaches the age of majority. However, Polish nobles were apparently so impressed with the young girls mature and responsible conduct, they opted against Regency. As John Dlugosz put, “everything she said or did showcased maturity beyond her age”. And indeed, Jadwiga appears to have been very gifted: she was very well educated and a polyglot, speaking at least six languages (Hungarian, Polish, Serbian, Bosnian, German and Latin).
Jadwiga’s assumption of the Polish Throne was a twist of fate for she was never expected to become a Monarch. Jadwiga was the youngest daughter of Louis I of Hungary and Elizabeth of Bosnia. Through both of her parents, Jadwiga could claim descent from the House of Piast, the ancient native Polish ruling dynasty. Her paternal grandmother was Elizabeth of Kujavia, the daughter of King Wladislaw I who had re-united Poland in 1320. Until 1370, Poland was ruled by the Piast dynasty; however, its last King, Casimir III, had no surviving legitimate sons (he did have male grandchildren, but they were considered unfit to rule because of their young age), and so he decreed that the son of his sister Elizabeth, Louis I of Hungary, will succeed him on the throne of Poland.
It was expected that Louis’ eldest daughter, Catherine, would one day succeed him on the Thrones of both Poland and Hungary. Unfortunately, Catherine predeceased her father and so the Heiress to the Throne was now the second daughter, Mary. Polish nobility, however, did not want to continue the Personal Union of Crowns with Hungary, and they most certainly were not going to accept her fiancée Sigismund (future Holy Roman Emperor) as the country’s de-facto rule. And so they decreed that Mary’s younger sister, Jadwiga, should be their Queen. No one asked what the little girl wanted and the 10-year-old travelled from her native Hungary to Poland to meet her destiny. She was formally elected Polish ruler and crowned a couple of months later.
Immediately after the coronation, the question of Jadwiga’s marriage became the most important one for the country. She herself wanted to marry her childhood friend William of Austria, the son of Leopold III of Austria and Viridis Visconti; the couple even had had an engagement which was not, however, a binding contract in Poland. Incidentally, William’s engagement to Jadwiga was one of the first attempts of the House of Habsburg to extend their influence in Central and Eastern Europe by marrying heiresses – a practice that gave rise to the famous phrase “Bella gerant alli: tu felix Austria nube” (“Let others make war: you happy Austria, marry”).
Polish nobles had different plans though and wanted their Queen to marry Jogaila, King of Lithuania. Initially, Jadwiga was against it: there is a touching (but probably invented) story of the young girl attempting to break down the castle doors with an axe to escape with William only to be confronted by one of her courtiers who implored her to think of Poland first. Forced to chose between the well-being of her land and love, she acted as a true Queen: William was expelled from Poland and Jadwiga declared her engagement invalid. Marriage to the Lithuanian King was indeed highly beneficial for Poland: in exchange for Jadwiga’s hand, Jogaila pledged to adopt Christianity, unite Lithuania and Poland, release all Polish prisoners and, most importantly, to join efforts against the Teutonic Knights. And so, in March of 1386, 12-year-old Jadwiga married 26-year-old Jogaila.
Despite the political nature of the marriage, it actually turned out to be a very successful union. Jadwiga and Jogaila were very devoted to each other and the latter always respected his wife’s opinions and input. While most of the practical power was probably in the King’s hands, Jadwiga remained a ruler in her own right and exercised her powers whenever she felt there was a need for it.
When in 1398 the couple announced they were expecting their first child, the delight of people – Polish and Lithuanian – was widespread. On 22 June 1399, Jadwiga gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth: in absence of brothers, the little girl was one day expected to inherit the Thrones of Poland, Lithuania and Hungary. Unfortunately, the joy was short-lived: within a month, both Jadwiga and Elizabeth died from post-natal complications (most probably, infection) and were buried together in Wawel Cathedral.
Jogaila remained King of Poland until his death 35 years later: such was his love and regard for Jadwiga, then when his first-born child (and intended heir to the throne) with his third wife was born, he named her Hedwig in honour of the deceased Queen.
Jadwiga, the child-queen, didn’t have much time to become well known and powerful. And yet to this day, she is worshipped and loved by Polish people for her sincere devotion and deep involvement in the affairs of her adopted homeland. An act that characterised the Queen best was the donation of her Crown Jewellery for the renovation and modernization of the Krakow University. From the time of her death, Jadwiga was also venerated in Poland as a saint: eventually, Pope John Paul II canonised her in 1997, citing numerous miracles through the centuries to justify her sainthood.Filed under Historical Royals, Miscellaneous
Tagged Biography, Coronation, Hungary, Jadwiga of Poland, Lithuania, Monarchy, Poland, Queen Regnant, Sainthood, Władysław II Jagiełło.
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