After the death of his second wife Charles of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia wanted to marry again in order to have a surviving son. He quickly decided that he would marry Anna of Swidnica, who was previously betrothed to his deceased son, Wenceslaus. Anna was the daughter of a second son of a prince of a small Polish territory. What made her such a desirable bride for the Emperor-in-waiting?
Anna, relative of the Kings of Poland and Hungary
Anna of Swidnica was born around 1339, as the only child of Henry II, joint-Duke of Swidnica (known as Schweidnitz in German), and his wife, Catherine. Anna’s father was the second son of Bernard, Duke of Swidnica and Kunigunde of Poland, who was in turn the daughter of Wladyslaw I, King of Poland and Hedwig of Kalisz. Her paternal grandfather was from the Silesian branch of Poland’s royal Piast dynasty. Through her paternal grandmother, she was a grand-niece of Casimir III, King of Poland, and first cousin-once-removed of King Louis I of Hungary, who both ruled during her lifetime.
Despite Anna’s illustrious connections on her father’s side, her mother’s origin is uncertain. Catherine was previously thought to be a daughter of Charles I, King of Hungary, either illegitimate or by one of his wives. The only two wives of his who could possibly be Catherine’s mother were his first/second wife, Maria of Bytom, or his third/fourth and last wife Elizabeth of Poland. However, it’s unlikely that Maria or Elizabeth could have been Catherine’s mother. The oldest sources on Maria state that she had no children. Elizabeth is described as having five sons, but there is no mention of any daughters. Also, if Elizabeth were Catherine’s mother, she and Henry would have been first cousins, since Elizabeth and Kunigunde were sisters. A special dispensation would be required, and there is no record of one for this marriage. One possibility is that Catherine was a Hungarian noblewoman instead of a princess. Since Henry was a low-ranking prince and nothing is said about his wife’s birth family, she probably did not have royal connections.
Anna’s father died between 1343 and 1345. Sometime after his death, Anna was sent to the Hungarian court for education. She was brought up by her great-aunt, the before-mentioned Elizabeth of Poland, Queen of Hungary.
Preparing for a Bright Future
The Hungarian court was one of the most splendid and powerful royal courts in Europe at the time. There, many girls of noble birth were prepared for a bright future. Anna was one of them. At the Hungarian court, Anna would have been educated in the usual subjects noble girls were taught. This included social conduct, religion, foreign languages, horse riding, music and dancing, household management, and how to be the ideal wife. But the Hungarian court offered an even more impressive education for the girls under its care – Anna was taught how to read and write, which was rare, even for the high-born in that day.
In January 1350, a son named Wenceslaus was born to Charles, King of Bohemia and Germany. Immediately after the birth, Charles made marriage plans for him. Swidnica may have been a small duchy, but it was strategically important to Bohemia. Swidnica was a division of the Duchy of Silesia, which was disputed continuously between the rulers of Poland and Bohemia. The dukes of Silesia came from a branch of Poland’s royal Piast dynasty. Anna’s uncle, Bolko II of Swidnica, was the most powerful of the Silesian princes. He was also the last independent of the Silesian dukes. Besides Swidnica, he also gained the Silesian duchies of Jower and Lwowek on the death of his uncle in 1346. Bolko married the Habsburg princess Agnes in 1338 in a move against Bohemia. However, in 1350, this marriage was still childless, so Anna was Bolko’s only heir. Charles betrothed his newborn son to eleven-year-old Anna, with the plan that this marriage would bring Bolko’s territories under Bohemian rule on the event of his death without children. Unfortunately, Wenceslaus died in December 1351. His mother, Anne of Bavaria, died a year later, so Charles decided to marry Anna himself.
The marriage plans for Anna were made immediately after the death of Charles’ second wife. On 27 May 1353, just three months after the death of Anne of Bavaria, Charles and Anna were married in Buda. Charles was 37, and Anna was 14. The wedding was attended by many illustrious guests, such as King Louis of Hungary, his mother, Elizabeth of Poland, Duke Albert II of Austria, Margrave Louis II of Brandenburg, and Duke Bolko II of Swidnica. Soon after the wedding, the new couple left for Anna’s homeland of Swidnica. There, Bolko issued a document confirming the succession of Anna and her children if he were to die with no sons.
On 28 July 1353, Anna was crowned as Queen of Bohemia in St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague. On 9 February 1354, Anna was crowned as Queen of the Romans in Aachen Cathedral, Germany. Unlike Charles’ first two wives, Anna lived to see her husband be officially recognised as Holy Roman Emperor. Therefore, she was the first of his wives to be Holy Roman Empress.
Holy Roman Empress
By 1355, Charles was finally recognised as Holy Roman Emperor. Now he just needed to be crowned. Anna followed him on his way to the imperial coronation. In January 1355, Anna reached northern Italy. She then went to Pisa, where she met up with Charles on 8 February. On 22 March, with a large retinue, they then set off for Rome. Among those accompanying them was an army to keep them safe during the long journey, German princes, and Anna’s relatives, the Silesian princes. They reached Rome on 2 April.
On Easter Sunday, 5 April 1355, Charles and Anna were crowned as Holy Roman Emperor and Empress in Rome. After the coronation, they rode on white horses to a grand feast. The new imperial couple seemed to be in no hurry to get back to Prague. Their journey back was quite eventful. On 6 May, they arrived back in Pisa, where they would spend the next few weeks. On the night of 19/20 May riots broke out in Pisa. The palace that Charles and Anna were staying in was set on fire. They escaped the building at the last minute, dressed only in their nightgowns. Charles put Anna on her horse and ordered her to flee the city to safety. After the riots were suppressed, Anna returned to Pisa. They left the city on 24 May but made many stops along the way. They finally returned to Prague on 15 September, after travelling through Germany. During this journey, Anna was accompanied by the poet and scholar Francesco Petrarch. He was one of the fathers of the Italian Renaissance. Anna and Petrarch seemed to grow close during the long journey, and she later corresponded with him.
Anna often accompanied Charles on his many travels. Hungary and Germany were two of the places they would often visit. In May 1357, Anna and Charles travelled with Elizabeth of Poland on a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Marburg. This pilgrimage was probably made in the hope of Anna having a child. In the spring of 1358, Anna gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Elizabeth. Hoping for a son, she expressed her disappointment in a letter to Petrarch.
Anna did not have to wait long for a son. On 26 February 1361, she gave birth to a son named Wenceslaus in Nuremberg. His birth was met with great rejoicing. Anna herself even informed the Pope about his birth. The birth of a son had increased Anna’s position. From then on, Charles would refer to her as his “beloved wife”. Anna was also said to be the most beautiful woman of her day. She was also known to be very intelligent.
Thanks to her literacy, Anna was known to have had a lively correspondence with some of the most influential people of her era, including Petrarch and Pope Innocent VI. She was clearly on her way to becoming a great Empress. Unfortunately, her promising life and career were cut short. On 11 July 1362, Anna gave birth to a third child, a son, who was stillborn. Anna died later that the same day at the age of 23. She was buried at St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague.
Anna of Swidnica is yet another queen whose promising life was cut short by childbirth. Given her talents, if she lived longer, she could have accomplished a lot more, and be better remembered today. Charles seemed to have mourned her death, unlike the death of his second wife. This time it would be another ten months before he remarried. His third wife was Anna’s second cousin, Elizabeth of Pomerania. Anna’s son would grow up to be Charles’s successor, King Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia. He was also King of Germany, but he would never become Holy Roman Emperor. He inherited Anna’s lands in Swidnica after the death of her uncle in 1368.1
Bayerova, Sarka; “He called her his ‘dearest wife’ (Anna of Swidnica)”
Faron, Barbara “Piast on the Imperial Throne”
Kosatkova, Anna and Suchanek, Drahomir; “Anna of Schweidnitz”
Ladyova, Jana; “Which wife was loved by Charles IV the most?”
Ogrodnik, Kasia; “April 5, 1355: Empress Anna Swidnica”
Ogrodnik, Kasia; “Anna Swidnica (1339-1362) Part I”
Sakowska, Magdalena; “Ksiaz Castle: Empress Anna Piast and an unknown daughter of Bolko II?”