Hedvigis of Anjou, later Jadwiga of Poland, was “Poland’s great Queen” and was comparable to many of Poland’s strongest leaders and is one of the patron saints of Poland (Halecki, 77). Jadwiga was the youngest daughter of Louis the Great of Anjou, King of Hungary and Poland, and Elizabeth of Bosnia and could trace her genealogical tree to the earliest branches of Poland’s Piast family. Both of Jadwiga’s grandmothers and at least three of her great grandmothers were Polish (Halecki, 78). Historian Oscar Halecki argues that Jadwiga belonged to “all the nations of East Central Europe” and became a “living link with Western Europe” (Halecki, 79). Under Jadwiga’s rule, Cracow became a center of Polish culture and East Central Europe started to become part of the pre-Renaissance world (Halecki, 78-79).
In 1374, Jadwiga’s father Louis obtained assurance from the Polish barons that one of his three daughters would succeed him in Poland (Davis, 112). Louis nominated his elder daughter Maria in 1382 before his death. This decision “dismayed the majority of Polish lords as much as it angered the Magyars” and brought the issue of succession into the open (Davies, 112). One party supported Maria and her husband, Sigismund of Brandenburg and a second party elected a Piast, Ziemowit of Mazovia. A third party, “connected with the barons of Małopolska,” sought compromise and supported Jadwiga, who was only eight years old at the time (Davies, 112). In 1383, Jadwiga was invited to be the King of Poland. In 1384, ten-year-old Jadwiga was crowned “not as Queen but King of Poland” and peace was restored to the country (Halecki, 113).
Since her infancy, Jadwiga was engaged to marry Wilhelm von Habsburg, Prince of Austria (Davies, 117). The Polish barons, however, disliked the idea of Austrian rule and pressured Jadwiga to marry Jogaila, the pagan Lithuanian prince more than three times her age. Jogaila entered into this union with Poland because he know that he needed an ally, “either the Teutons or the Poles,” if he were to hold on to his Lithuanian empire (Reid, 15). As such, he knew his country would be Christianized and he could “only choose the manner of his conversion,” so he chose Poland, the “lesser of two evils” (Davies, 116; Reid, 15). On 14 August 1385, the Polish barons and Jogaila signed an agreement in which Jogaila agreed to accept baptism, convert his pagan subjects to Roman Catholicism, release all Polish prisoners and slaves, coordinate operations against the Teutonic Knights, and bring the Grand Duchy of Lithuania into a permanent union with Poland (Davies, 117). In return, Jogaila would marry Jadwiga and be crowned King of Poland.
On 15 February 1386, Jogaila was baptized and christened Władysław (Davies, 118). Three days later, “the wedding was staged, and in March their joint coronation” (Davies, 118). Eleven-year-old Jadwiga’s marriage was not a happy one; after her marriage to a “hairy heathen,” she turned to a life of charity (Reid, 15). The “tattered remains of her cloak” became a symbol for the Coppersmiths’ Guild after she covered the body of a drowned coppersmith with it. Similarly, the imprint of her shoe was “preserved for posterity in the wall” of a city church after she stopped to give a poor mason the golden spur from her boot (Davies, 118). On 22 June 1399, at the age of twenty-four, Jadwiga had a baby girl who was christened Elizabeth Bonifacia (Kellogg, 235-236). Soon after the birth, however, both Jadwiga and Elizabeth became gravely ill and died. Although there is not a date of the death for Elizabeth, it is believed that she died before her mother, who died on 17 July 1399. In the last days of her life, the castle was “besieged by peasants and townsfolk” bringing gifts for her recovery (Davies, 118). Jadwiga also left her “entire personal fortune” for the re-founding of the Cracovian Academy. She said:
My will is simple: one half of the proceeds of the sale of all that I have, jewels, clothes, ornaments, possessions of every kind, I leave to the University of Kraków, and the other half to be divided among the poor. Little must be spent on funeral ceremonies. I wish no elaborate service or eulogy, no monument of any kind (Kellogg 237).
After her death, the Union of Krewo was repealed and Jogaila lived and ruled for forty-five more years.
- Norman Davies, God’s Playground: A History of Poland in Two Volumes, Volume I: the Origins to 1795 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982).
- Oscar Halecki, Jadwiga of Anjou and the Rise of East Central Europe (New Jersey: Columbia University Press, 1991).
- Charlotte Kellogg, Jadwiga: Queen of Poland (Washington: Anderson House, 1936).
- Anna Reid, Borderland: A Journey Through the History of Ukraine (Boulder, Colorado: Basic Books, 2000).