Jagiellon Dynasty (Poland-Lithuania)

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JAGIELLON DYNASTY (POLAND-LITHUANIA), the dynasty that ruled the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Poland, and at times Hungary and Bohemia, from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century. Its progenitor was Gediminas, grand duke of Lithuania (ruled 13161341), the founder of the Lithuanian-Ruthenian state and father of Grand Duke Algirdas (ruled 13451377). The founder of the dynasty in Poland was Algirdas's son and successor Jogaila. As a result of a Polish-Lithuanian agreement signed at Krewo on 14 August 1385, which envisaged the Christianization of Lithuania and its union with Poland, Jogaila married the Polish queen Jadwiga of Anjou and was baptized and crowned king of Poland, becoming Władysław II Jagiełło (13861434).

The Jagiellon dynasty ruled in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from 1377 to 1401 and from 1440 to 1572, in Poland from 1386 to 1572, in Hungary from 1440 to 1444 and from 1490 to 1526, and in Bohemia from 1471 to 1526. Władysław II had two sons by his fourth marriage with Sophia, a Lithuanian princess: Władysław III Warneńczyk, king of Poland (14341444) and Hungary (as UlászlóI; 14401444), who was killed in battle against the Turks at Varna; and Casimir IV (called Jagiellończyk), grand duke of Lithuania (14401492) and king of Poland (14471492).

By his marriage to Elizabeth of Austria, daughter of Albrecht II of Habsburg, king of Germany, Bohemia, and Hungary, Casimir IV had six sons: Vladislav II, king of Bohemia (14711516) and Hungary (as Ulászló II; 14901516); Casimir, canonized in 1602; John I Albert, king of Poland (14921501); Alexander I, king of Poland (15011506); Sigismund I, later called the Old, king of Poland (15061548); and Frederick, archbishop of Cracow (1488) and cardinal (1493). Casimir IV also had daughters: Jadwiga was married to the Bavarian duke; Georg (1475), Sophia to the Brandenburg margrave, Frederick (1479); Anna to the Pomeranian duke Boguslaus X (1491); Barbara to the duke of Saxony, Georg (1496); and Elizabeth to the duke of Liegnitz, Frederick II (1515).

At the zenith of their power under Casimir IV in the 1490s, the Jagiellons ruled Poland, Lithuania, Bohemia, and Hungary. But at the Treaty of Vienna in 1515 an agreement was concluded with the Habsburgs regarding the marriage of King Vladislav II's children with Holy Roman emperor Maximilian I's grandchildren. Louis II, king of Hungary and Bohemia from 1516, married Maria, daughter of the king of Castile, Philip I the Handsome (1522). Anna married Ferdinand, who later became emperor as Ferdinand I, in 1521. When Louis fell in the battle against the Turks at Mohács (1526), Bohemia and Hungary came under the rule of Habsburgs.

The Kings John Olbracht and Alexander died without issue. By his marriage with Barbara, daughter of the Transylvanian Voivode Stephen Zápolya, Sigismund I the Old had a daughter, Jadwiga, who married the Brandenburg elector, Joachim II (1535). By his second marriage to Bona Sforza, an Italian, Sigismund had six children: his son Sigismund II Augustus became king of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1548; Isabella was married to the king of Hungary, János Szapolyai, in 1539 and after his death (1540) ruled Transylvania for eleven years on behalf of her underage son, John Sigismund; Sophia became the wife of Henry, duke of Brunswick (1556); Anna became queen of Poland (1575) and wife of Stephen Báthory (1576); and Catherine married John, who later became king of Sweden as John III Vasa (1562).

The death without issue of Sigismund II Augustus in 1572 and of his sister Anna in 1596 meant the end of the dynasty. Its descendants by distaff survived much longer. The mother of Sigismund III Vasa, king of Poland (15871632) and Sweden (15921599), was a Jagiellon. Thanks to the marriages of Casimir IV's daughters all European monarchs at the beginning of the twenty-first centurythe queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Elizabeth II; the king of Belgium, Baudouin I; the queen of Denmark, Margarethe II; the queen of Holland, Beatrix; the king of Norway, Harald V; the king of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf; the prince of Lichtenstein, Hans Adam II; the grand duke of Luxembourg, Jean; and the prince of Monaco, Rainier IIIcould claim Casimir IV as their ancestor.

The Jagiellon dynasty ruled Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania for nearly two hundred years. The Jagiellons concluded a union between Poland and Lithuania, which was endorsed by the Polish Diet (Sejm) at Lublin in 1569, that changed the political structure of east central Europe. They sought to unite all old Polish territories and incorporated Gdañsk Pomerania (known as Royal Prussia, 1466) and Mazovia (gradually from 1462 and fully in 15261529) into Poland. At the summit of the Jagiellons' power at the end of the fifteenth century and the first quarter of the sixteenth, the dynastic policy pursued by Casimir IVwhose ambition was that his sons should ascend the thrones of Bohemia and Hungaryresulted in the Jagiellons ruling over nearly the whole of east central Europe, from the Dvina and the Baltic in the north to the upper Elbe, the Adriatic, and the Black Sea in the south. Their successes laid the foundations for the "Jagiellonian idea," developed by Polish historiography in the nineteenth and twentieth centuriesa concept of a multiethnic state and a federal union of states and nations in east central Europe.

Under the Jagiellons, Poland's political system was transformed from an estate-based monarchy to a democracy of the nobility, unique in Europe. The principles of religious toleration were confirmed by the Compact of Warsaw (1573), which proclaimed freedom of religion, guaranteed peace between followers of different religions and equality of rights to dissidents, and forbade religious persecution by secular authorities. Official toleration also included the Jews, who in the sixteenth century flowed into Poland in great numbers (mainly from Germany) and set up large communities in many towns. The principles of civil rights, parliamentary government, and religious toleration were observed by the Jagiellons in all countries under their rule. But the Jagiellons did not succeed in strengthening royal power in Poland or carrying out the fiscal, military, and political reforms that in western Europe laid the foundations for modern state structures and opened the way to absolutism.

See also Jadwiga (Poland) ; Lithuania, Grand Duchy of, to 1569 ; Poland to 1569 ; Sigismund II Augustus (Poland, Lithuania) ; Władysław II Jagiełło .


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Kolankowski, Ludwik. Polska Jagiellonów: Dzieje polityczne. 3rd ed. Olsztyn, 1991.

Łowmianski, Henryk. Polityka Jagiellonów. Poznań, 1999.

Mączak, Antoni, ed. Dynastie Europy. Wrocław, 1997.

Wdowiszewski, Zygmunt. Genealogia Jagiellonów. Warsaw, 1968.

Marcin Kamler