Note: this document is an in-persona discussion of the history of the Polish queen, as written by a medieval re-creator in the SCA. While the facts are correct, there is a certain storytelling bias. (If you see a copy of this story elsewhere on another web site, that is because it has been reproduced against my express wishes.)

Queen Jadwiga of Poland

I was named after our beloved Queen Jadwiga of blessed memory. Let me tell you about her, as I was told by my Babci, my mother's mother...

The little queen Jadwiga was born in the year of Our Lord 1373, the third daughter of Louis of Hungary. King Louis was the nephew of our great King Casimir, and in 1370 he had claimed the rule of Poland as well, as Casimir's heir.

When Louis died, in 1382, Jadwiga was only nine years old. Because the old king had no sons of his body, he directed that Hungary and Poland should each take one of his daughters and crown her 'king' of the country. Though originally Jadwiga had been destined for Hungary, the Hungarian nobles preferred her older sister, Maria, and the Polish nobles agreed to have Jadwiga as their ruler. (Under our customs, both boy and girl children inherit equally, and the king has the right to declare any of his relatives or descendants his heir-- as in the old days of the clans.) In this way, Poland remained separate from Hungary.

Queen Jadwiga was crowned "rex", or king, of Poland in 1384. Alone in a strange country, Jadwiga soon found that she had many troubles to settle. The Teutonic Knights were attacking both Poland and Lithuania, hoping to recapture the lands they lost to Casimir; many of Casimir's other descendants were hoping to claim parts of Poland as well. And of course our poor Poland was menaced as always by the greedy Germanic states, by the rulers of Muscovy, and by the continuing threat of invasion by the savage Mongols and barbarian Tartars.

In these circumstances, the great Polish nobles told the little queen that she could not marry her betrothed, an Austrian prince, since they could not accept an Austrian on the throne. As an alternative, they offered the prince Jagiello, king of Lithuania. If she married Jagiello, he would convert to Christianity, and convert his nation. Not only would the joined might of Poland and Lithuania cow her enemies, but the Teutonic Knights would lose the support of the church for their attempts to conquer 'pagan' Lithuania, the excuse they used for invading Poland.

It can be imagined that Jadwiga, who was then only eleven or twelve, was unwilling to renounce the prince who had been her childhood playmate in favor of an arranged marriage with an old man almost three times her age, who was pagan as well. It is said that her advisors had to lock her in her chambers even to make her consider the offer. But her conscience, and her duty to her country, prevailed. She agreed to accept Jagiello's offer.

The Lithuanian king was baptized in February 1386, a few days before the marriage, and took the name "Wladyslaw". Wladyslaw and Jadwiga were married on February 18, and the Lithuanian was crowned king in March, in the city of Krakow. Wladyslaw's brothers were recalled in haste to Lithuania, riding breakneck back from the coronation to put down a unrest on their borders, and the new king followed more leisurely to begin the conversion of his pagan state. It is said that Jagiello cut down trees in the great sacred groves with his own hands.

But our gallant queen did not subside into private life after her marriage. She ruled jointly with the king, traveling on diplomatic missions, negotiating with German, Muscovite, and Italian princes of the Church, helping to establish the church in Lithuania, and establishing seats of learning. In fact, though the nobles had elected Wladyslaw as their king, they looked to Jadwiga as their true king as long as she lived.

Queen Jadwiga, meeting with the Master of the Teutonic Order, reportedly shamed him so for his greed and bloodthirstiness that the order temporarily ceased their depredations. She made peace on another front by reconciling Wladyslaw with his cousin Witold, who had formerly pretended to the throne of Lithuania, supported by the Teutonic Knights. Eventually Witold was named Duke of Lithuania, and served as governor of the land under Wladyslaw, so great was Jadwiga's reconciling ability (and Witold's personal power, perhaps?). The young queen sponsored the refounding of the university at Krakow, the oldest in eastern Europe, naming it after the Jagiellonian University, and making it a beacon of learning in law and theology; she also founded a college for Lithuanians in Prague. Churchmen remember her efforts in the founding of the bishopric of Wilno.

But God willed that the beloved Queen was not to live a long life among her children; her firstborn child died at birth, and she not long after him, in 1399. Though king Wladyslaw, now sole ruler of Poland and Lithuania, remarried and had a son to succeed him, it is said that he never forgot his young queen, and it is true that her people have never forgotten her. Her memory lives in the union of Poland and Lithuania, and the comparative peace we enjoy under the rule of the Jagiellonian kings.

Jadwiga Zajaczkowa (pronounced "Yad-veega Zaa-ya-chek") is a 14th-century Polish woman, the SCA persona of Jennifer Heise


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Originally published in Ironstar, the newsletter of the Shire of Eisental.

© Copyright 1997 Jennifer Heise. Not to be copied to other web sites! For permission to reproduce in other media, please contact: Jennifer Heise.