Extraordinary Women of the Medieval and Renaissance World: A Biographical Dictionary

By Carole Levin; Debra Barrett-Graves et al. | Go to book overview

JADWIGA OF POLAND
(1373-1399)

Hungary
Queen and Political Leader

One of the most popular monarchs in Polish history, Jadwiga sacrificed her personal happiness in order to convert one country to Catholicism and to provide political stability for another. She was Hungarian by birth, but once she ascended to the throne of Poland, she became completely devoted to the concerns and interests of the Polish people.

Jadwiga was the youngest daughter of King Louis the Great of Hungary, who ruled that country for forty years; but while he was a beloved and effective king of Hungary, he was also the ineffective absentee king of Poland for twelve years. In his absence, Louis's mother ruled Poland. Louis had no sons, but he made a pact with the Polish nobles that one of his three daughters would inherit the throne; the other two daughters would become the rulers of Hungary and of his territory in Naples. Given their illustrious destinies, the future husbands of these young princesses were carefully chosen: When Jadwiga was only five, she was betrothed to William, one of the Hapsburg princes of Austria, and her sister Maria was contracted to marry Sigismund of Luxembourg. The eldest sister, Catherine, died in childhood.

When Jadwiga was only nine, her father Louis died, leaving Hungary in a state of grief and chaos. Louis's mother Elizabeth, who had been ruling in Poland in his place, had died the previous year, so Poland was in even greater turmoil. Jadwiga's sister Maria was supposed to become the next ruler of Poland along with her betrothed, Sigismund of Luxembourg, but Poland did not relish the possibility of another absentee monarch. The Polish nobles were also opposed to the Germanic power represented by Maria's husband Sigismund, so they determined that instead of Maria, Louis's second daughter, Jadwiga, should reign in Poland, but only on the condition that she live there permanently. Jadwiga's mother, Elizabeth, hesitated to ac

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