One of the most scandalous royal marriages in history was that of Casimir III of Poland, and his third wife, Krystyna (Christina) Rokiczana. In fact, Casimir married her when he was still officially married to his second wife. Also, Krystyna was a commoner. These reasons caused this marriage to be a great scandal.
Krystyna, the Townswoman
There are few records that mention Krystyna before she met Casimir. She is first mentioned in 1343, as the wife of Miklusz Rokiczan, a wealthy and influential councilman in Prague. The year of her birth, parentage, and maiden name are not known. Some later sources guessed that she was a daughter of a mayor of Prague. Since she was married by 1343, it is estimated that she was born before 1329. It is not known if Krystyna had any children by Miklusz. In 1351, Miklusz’s adult son, also named Miklusz appears in the sources. If Krystyna was his mother, she would have been over forty years old when she married Casimir in 1356. This is possible but unlikely. Probably Miklusz’s son was born from an unnamed first wife. Krystyna was widowed around 1346 and inherited a large fortune from her husband. She was even richer than some nobles.
At the court of the Emperor
The Rokiczan family was not noble, but since the mid 13th century, they were one of the richest and most powerful families in Prague. In 1336, Miklusz Rokiczan lent money to John of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia. It seems that Miklusz was a trusted servant and adviser of John, and his son and successor, Charles. Charles became King of Bohemia in 1346, and he was elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1355. Due to Miklusz’s relationship with Charles, it is no surprise that his wife, Krystyna, found royal favour too. She soon became a lady-in-waiting at Charles’ court.
Emperor Charles IV had a complicated relationship with his neighbouring ruler, Casimir III, King of Poland. Over the years, alliances between them were made and broken. When Casimir visited Prague in 1356, Charles himself quite possibly picked Krystyna to help in his intrigues against the Polish king. Krystyna was apparently both beautiful and intelligent, and Charles quite possibly believed that she could charm Casimir onto his side for good. Also, Charles would have known that Casimir had a liking for beautiful women.
Back in 1341, an agreement was made between the two monarchs. This agreement concluded that Charles had control to pick a wife for Casimir. He first planned on Casimir to marry his sister, Margaret. However, she died before the wedding, so Charles and his father instead settled on Adelaide of Hesse. By 1356, the childless marriage of Casimir and Adelaide had fallen apart, and Adelaide had been banished from court since 1355.
The Emperor’s plans for Krystyna worked. When Casimir visited his court in Prague in May 1356, Krystyna caught his eye. She possibly became the Polish king’s mistress soon afterwards. Possibly at Charles’ suggestion, Casimir and Krystyna were quickly engaged, even though he was still officially married to Adelaide. Soon afterwards, Casimir returned to Poland, taking Krystyna with him.
Queen in all but name
It is believed that Casimir and Krystyna married in the fall of 1356. According to chronicler Jan Dlugosz, Krystyna knew that Casimir was still legally married to Adelaide, but still wanted to be Casimir’s legal wife, and refused to live with him if she was not. Dlugosz goes on to say that Casimir convinced her that the marriage to Adelaide was annulled and that a bishop could now marry them. Casimir had an abbot dress in bishop robes and perform the ceremony. Krystyna was tricked into believing that this man was the Bishop of Krakow.
Because of her lack of blue blood, Krystyna was never formally recognized as Queen of Poland. She was never crowned, and if she and Casimir had any children, they could not inherit the crown of Poland. Little is known about Krystyna’s activities during her marriage to Casimir. However, one letter from her to the Emperor remains. On 16 July 1357, Krystyna wrote to Charles expressing that he can trust her, and promising to influence Casimir. She also promised to obey the Emperor and act in accordance with the interests of his family. Krystyna referred to herself as Queen of Poland in this letter.
The End of an Illegal Marriage
It is not known how long Casimir considered Krystyna to be his wife, but the relationship appears to have lasted for several years. It appears to have ended by 1362, because at that time, Casimir was considering a new marriage. It is even not known exactly what caused the relationship to end. Possibly Casimir tired of Krystyna or found out about her correspondence with the Emperor. There are also some colourful tales that speak of Krystyna’s fall from grace.
In 1357, Casimir had a small castle built for Krystyna in Lobzow, an area of Krakow. This could have either been the king’s expression of love for Krystyna, or a place of seclusion, because of her correspondence with Charles. One legend speaks of a peasant’s hut blocking the view of the royal castle of Wawel from Lobzow. Krystyna, unable to bribe the hut’s inhabitants, burned it down. The legend continues to say that when Casimir found out about this, he expelled Krystyna from Poland.
A more likely tale, recorded by Jan Dlugosz, says that Krystyna was suffering from scabies and had become bald. When Casimir discovered this, he dismissed her. Whatever the truth, the marriage of Casimir and Krystyna was short-lived and childless. In 1362, Casimir was considering a new marriage, and in 1365, he married his fourth wife, Hedwig of Zagan. Krystyna was still alive and apparently still living in Krakow in 1365, based on the pope’s investigation on behalf of Adelaide of Hesse, who was still fighting for her marital rights. This is the last mention of Krystyna; she may have returned to Prague soon after.
Krystyna was a woman of non-noble birth, who managed to captivate a king. Her story was no great love story, however. She may have become Casimir’s mistress, but it does not mean that they were in love. Casimir probably married her on the suggestion of the emperor, who Krystyna remained loyal to. This scandalous romance did not end well either. It is believed that during Casimir’s marriage to Krystyna, he had a favourite mistress- a Jewish woman named Esterka.
Krystyna was soon mostly forgotten by history, and her marriage is not seen as an accomplishment in climbing the social ladder. It did not last long, and from all the money that she had, she could still not be crowned as a queen. She seems to be one of the least known women of non-noble origin who married into royalty. Krystyna’s story has been brought to attention lately in Poland; she is a character in the Polish television series Korona Krolow (Crown of Kings), which dramatizes the life and reign of Casimir III. This show is not available in English, but hopefully it one day will be, so more will get to know the story of the townswoman who influenced two kings.1
Duch, Wojtek; “Krystyna Rokiczana. The romance of Casimir with a beautiful Czech ended with a bigamous marriage.” on historia.org.pl
Janicki, Kamil; “Krystyna Rokiczana.” on ciekawostkihistoryczne.pl
Teler, Marek; “Krystyna Rokiczana: an imperial agent who dreamed about the crown.” on histmag.org