Sigismund II Augustus (Poland, Lithuania) (1520–1572; ruled 1530–1572)

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SIGISMUND II AUGUSTUS (POLAND, LITHUANIA) (15201572; ruled 15301572)

SIGISMUND II AUGUSTUS (POLAND, LITHUANIA) (15201572; ruled 15301572), last of the Jagiellon kings of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania (from 1529). Under pressure from his parents, King Sigismund I the Old and Bona Sforza, Sigismund was made grand duke of Lithuania and elected king of Poland (coronation on 20 February 1530) in his father's lifetime, which was contrary to the law then in force. In 1543 he was married to Elizabeth of Habsburg (daughter of the emperor Ferdinand I), who suffered from epilepsy and died childless in 1545. In 15431548 he stayed in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, dealing with the problems of that country and hunting with relish. It was then that he fell in love with Barbara Radziwiłł and married her secretly (1547), which provoked a hostile response in the country. After the death of his father (1548) he returned to Cracow and took up his royal duties. At the Sejm held in 15481549 a conflict arose between the king and some magnates and nobleman over his marriage to Barbara.

Throughout the 1550s the king, supported by the most powerful magnate families, opposed the nobility's call for the enforcement of laws demanding a ban on the holding of multiple public offices by one person (the so-called incompatibilitas ); the return of royal estates given away or pawned by previous rulers, mainly to magnates (which had impoverished the state treasury and led to the amassing of enormous fortunes); freedom of religion; and the unification of the laws of Poland and the Grand Duchy. The king was also against a stronger union between Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It was only in the 1560s that he changed his internal policy; this was partly due to the impending war with Russia, which required joint Polish-Lithuanian military measures and the support of the nobility. From 1562 to 1569 the Sejm, supported by the king, passed several significant resolutions: most importantly, it concluded a Polish-Lithuanian Union (1569); other resolutions provided for the return of royal estates, reformed the financing of the standing army, and curbed the holding of multiple offices of state.

Sigismund also concurred with politicians and humanists who proposed to guarantee religious toleration; this was reflected in the edict banning trials for heresy (1570) and, after the king's death, in the Compact of Warsaw (1573), which guaranteed peace between followers of different religions and granted dissidents equal rights with Catholics. Sigismund was the first European ruler to accept the decisions of the Council of Trent (1564), although the Sejm did not confirm them until 1577. He also deserves credit for a great land reform carried out in the royal estates in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 15571566.

Sigismund strengthened relations with the Habsburgs by the treaty of Prague (1549) and in 1553 concluded a peace with Turkey. Livonia became an important question for the king's policy; after the secularization of the Order of the Brothers of the Sword, which ruled there, he took Livonia under his rule and protection. In 1563 a war for Livonia broke out with Russia; it was brought to an end by an armistice (1570), but the conflict was not resolved. Sigismund also took part in the rivalry for the Baltic, and during his reign the nucleus of a royal navy was created, and a Maritime Commission, the first Polish maritime office and law court, was set up (1568). Sigismund committed a grave mistake, however, and one with far-reaching consequences, when he granted the Brandenburg line of the Hohenzollerns the right of succession to the Duchy of Prussia (1563).

Sigismund Augustus was a patron of writers, a music lover, a collector of arrases, and the founder of the first large royal library in Poland. After the early death of Barbara (1551), the king, pressed by advisers who wanted to see an heir to the throne, married Catherine of Austria, daughter of the emperor Ferdinand I; this was an unhappy, childless marriage, ending in separation in 1563. Sigismund's death meant the extinction of the male line of the Jagiellonian dynasty. He was buried in the cathedral on Wawel Hill.

See also Jagiellon Dynasty (Poland-Lithuania) ; Livonian War (15581583) ; Lublin, Union of (1569) ; Poland-Lithuania, Commonwealth of, 15691795 ; Reformations in Eastern Europe: Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox .


Cynarski, Stanisław. Zygmunt August. Rev. ed. Wrocław, 1997.

Kolankowski, Ludwik. Zygmunt August, wielki książę Litwy, do roku 1548. Lwów, 1913.

Sucheni-Grabowska, Anna. Zygmunt August, król polski i wielki książę litewski, 15201562. Warsaw, 1996.

Marcin Kamler