Woman Is Crowned King of Poland

Woman Is Crowned King of Poland

On this day in 1384, ten-year-old Jadwiga of Poland, daughter of Louis I of Hungary and Elizabeth of Bosnia, was crowned king of Poland.

Born in Buda, Hungary, Jadwiga (Hedwig in English) was a well-educated child raised in the royal court. She was schooled in the arts, music, and science, and spoke at least six languages, including Latin, Bosnian, Hungarian, Serbian, Polish, and German.

Jadwiga found herself wearing the Polish crown through a series of dynastic family politics. When her father, who had been proclaimed king through his mother’s brother, Casimir III, died, Jadwiga’s elder sister, Mary, inherited the throne. But the lords of Lesser Poland were dissatisfied with the arrangement, partly because Mary had earlier ascended the Hungarian throne, and instead decided upon Mary’s younger sister, Jadwiga.

Thus, on 16 October 1384, ten-year-old Jadwiga was named king–yes king–of Poland. Polish law had no provision for a queen, but never specified that the king had to be male. And her title as king also signified that Jadwiga was a monarch in her own right, not a queen consort.

Through a series of political machinations, Jadwiga was eventually married to Grand Duke Jogaila of Lithuania at 12 years of age, after several other arrangements were deemed problematic. The resulting union unified Poland, Lithuania, and Ruthenia into a strong political unit able to resist both Russian and German expansion.

Although Jadwiga remained the monarch, her husband Jogaila likely handled most of the political responsibilities of the throne. However, an educated woman, young Jadwiga nonetheless was actively engaged in the kingdom’s political, diplomatic, and cultural life. In 1387, she led two successful military expeditions to reclaim the province of Red Ruthenia from Hungary. She also opened diplomatic negotiations with the Teutonic Knights and mediated Jogaila’s diplomatic talks with Lithuanian princes.

But Jadwiga’s passion lay in charitable works. She sponsored writers and artists and donated much of her wealth to found hospitals. She was an advocate of education and sponsored 20 Lithuanians to study at the Charles University in Prague. She also funded the restoration of the Krakow Academy, which was renamed Jagiellonian University in 1817 in honor of Jadwiga and Jogaila.

On 22 June 1399, Jadwiga gave birth, prematurely, to a daughter, Elizabeth Bonifacia. Within a month, both Jadwiga and her baby died of birth complications. Jadwiga and her infant daughter were buried in Wawel Cathedral. Though her death undermined her husband Jogaila’s position on the throne, he remained king for 35 more years until his death. Upon her death, Jadwiga was widely venerated as a saint for her charitable works and accounts of miracles by her hand. She was beatified in 1986 and Pope John Paul II also canonised her in 1997.

Credit: Library of Congress
Caption: A portrait of Jadwiga holding a scepter and wearing a cape and crown.