Gertrude of Poland and her Prayer Book




getrude of poland
(public domain)

Between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, marriages between the Rurikids of the Kyivan Rus and the Piasts of Poland were very common. One of the marriages between a Rus prince and a Polish princess was that of Iziaslav I of Kyiv and Gertrude of Poland.

Early Life

Gertrude of Poland was born around 1025. She may have been born on March 16 or 17, the feast day for St. Gertrude. Gertrude celebrated the memory of St. Gertrude and mentioned her multiple times in her prayers, so it’s quite possible that she could have been named after the saint on whose feast day she was born. Gertrude’s parents were Mieszko II, King of Poland and Richeza of Lotharingia. Through her mother, Gertrude was a great-granddaughter of Holy Roman Emperor Otto II.

Gertrude’s father became King of Poland in 1025, perhaps around the time she was born. In 1031, Poland was invaded by both the Kyivan Rus and the Holy Roman Empire. This forced Mieszko to flee to Bohemia. He was not safe in Bohemia; however, instead, he was captured, imprisoned, and castrated by Duke Oldrich of Bohemia. Mieszko’s half-brother, Bezprym, took over Poland and persecuted Mieszko’s followers. Soon afterwards, Gertrude fled to Germany with her mother and siblings. In 1032, Bezprym was killed, and Mieszko was released from captivity and returned to Poland. He and his wife, Richeza, never reunited. Mieszko died suddenly in 1034, possibly killed in a conspiracy.

Gertrude appears to have remained in Germany with her mother during these events. Some time afterwards, Richeza returned to Poland with her children. She tried to set her son, Casimir, up as Prince, but strife broke out amongst the contenders for the crown, and the family fled to Germany once more in 1037. During this time, Gertrude received an excellent education in one of the Cologne monasteries.

Marriage

Around 1040/1041, Gertrude’s brother Casimir married Maria Dobroniega of Kyiv, as part of an alliance between Poland and the Kyivan Rus. This alliance resulted in an agreement between the Rus and Poland to make Chevern, which was in between the two kingdoms, as part of the Rus. Around this same time, a marriage between Gertrude and Iziaslav, the second son of Yaroslav I, Grand Prince of Kyiv, was arranged. Iziaslav was a nephew or first cousin of Gertrude’s sister-in-law, Maria Dobroniega. Gertrude and Iziaslav were believed to have married around the same time, or sometime between March 1043 and February 1044. On her marriage, Gertrude is believed to have received a prayer book as a wedding gift from her mother. This book would later become important.

Yaroslav divided up his territories between his six sons. Iziaslav received Turov in 1045, soon after his marriage. It is believed that Iziaslav and Gertrude could have commissioned a cathedral while living in Turov. Iziaslav’s elder brother, Vladimir, died in 1052, before their father. Since Vladimir’s son was considered too young, he was passed over in the line of succession in favour of Iziaslav. Since Iziaslav was now his father’s heir, he became Prince of Novgorod.

Gertrude and Iziaslav had two or three sons together while living in Turov: Mstislav, Yaropolk, and Svyatopolk.  Some believe Svyatopolk might have been an illegitimate son of Iziaslav rather than a son of Gertrude. There may have also been a daughter. Later sources say that Gertrude and Iziaslav had a daughter named Eudoxia, who married the Polish Prince, Mieszko. However, it is unlikely that she was their daughter, because if she was, she would have been too closely related to Mieszko.

Grand Princess of Kyiv

Yaroslav died on 20 February 1054. On his death, Iziaslav became the new Grand Prince of Kyiv. In 1068, an uprising in Kyiv forced Gertrude and Iziaslav to flee. They found refuge in Gertrude’s native Poland, at the court of her nephew, Boleslaw II of Poland. Boleslaw was also the first cousin of Iziaslav himself, through his mother, Maria Dobronega. Boleslaw helped Iziaslav regain Kyiv in 1069. Unfortunately, Gertrude and Iziaslav’s eldest son, Mstislav, died that same year, perhaps from poisoning.

Iziaslav would lose his throne again in 1073. That year, he was expelled from Kyiv by his two brothers, Svyatoslav and Vsevolod. Iziaslav, Gertrude and their two sons returned to her nephew’s court in Poland, but they were not welcome there this time. Boleslaw decided to support Svyatoslav and Vsevolod instead. So Gertrude and her family instead went to Germany. This time, they hoped to seek the support of the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV. However, they were unsuccessful in doing so, and instead took refuge at the court of Dedi I, Margrave of Lusatia. During this time, a marriage was arranged between Gertrude’s son, Yaropolk, and Dedi’s stepdaughter, Kunegunda. In 1075, a meeting was set up between Iziaslav and Emperor Henry, but it was unsuccessful. Instead, Yaropolk went to Rome and met with Pope Gregory VII. The Pope pressured Boleslaw to help Iziaslav and his family.

These events took place after the official break between the Catholic and Orthodox churches. In return for helping Iziaslav, among other reasons, the Pope had Boleslaw crowned King of Poland in December 1076. Iziaslav and Gertrude participated in the coronation. During this time, Gertrude is believed to have chosen Catholicism over Orthodoxy. The Pope also agreed to crown Iziaslav as King of the Rus and to have the Rus become a Catholic state, but this was unsuccessful.

Also, in December 1076, Iziaslav’s brother and main opponent, Svyatoslav, died. Iziaslav, Gertrude, and Yaropolk returned to Kyiv with the support of Boleslaw. Iziaslav’s next brother, Vsevolod, became the new Grand Prince of Kyiv, but he did not rule for long. Finally, Iziaslav was able to retake the throne, and once again became Grand Prince of Kyiv in July 1077. However, Iziaslav remained in conflict with Vsevolod and the sons of Svyatoslav. Iziaslav was killed in a battle against them on 3 October 1078, and Vsevolod became Grand Prince of Kyiv once again.

Widowhood

After Iziaslav’s death, Yaropolk became Prince of Turov and Volhynia. The second son, Svyatopolk, became Prince of Novgorod. Gertrude settled with Yaropolk in either Turov or Vladimir-in-Volhynia.

In 1085, Yaropolk had a falling out with his uncle, Grand Prince Vsevolod. Due to this, Yaropolk fled to Poland, but he left Gertrude and his wife, Kunigunda, behind in Lutsk. Soon, Vsevolod’s son, Vladimir Monomakh, arrived in Lutsk and captured Gertrude and Kunigunda, taking them to Kyiv.

Yaropolk returned and regained his lands in 1086, but was murdered, probably by the orders of his cousins, the Rostislavichs. There are conflicting accounts of what happened to Gertrude soon afterwards. Some believe that she did not survive her captivity and died in 1086. However, most say that she was eventually released, and lived at the court of her surviving son, Svyatopolk. Since Kunigunda returned to Germany, where she remarried after Yaropolk’s death, Gertrude is believed to have taken her grandchildren into her care.

Gertrude would have seen Svyatopolk become Grand Prince of Kyiv, on the death of his last remaining uncle, Vsevolod, in 1093. It is believed that Gertrude herself may have helped him obtain the throne. According to The Russian Primary Chronicle, “the Princess, Svyatopolk’s mother” (most likely Gertrude herself), died on 4 January 1107/8. She would have been around 81-82, a very long life for the time.

Gertrude’s Prayer Book

Of all of the Grand Princess consorts of Kyiv, Gertrude probably left one of the most significant cultural and religious legacies. She is primarily known for her prayer book, called the Gertrude Psalter, which survives to this day. The book includes 90 hand-written prayers, some of them written by Gertrude herself, showing that she was literate.

The prayer book also offers some insight into the relationship between Gertrude, her husband, and her son, Yaropolk. Gertrude’s prayers are believed to have been written during her and Iziaslav’s exile between 1073 and 1077. In her prayers, she asks God to turn away her husband’s heart from hatred and anger. The prayers also indicate that she sometimes argued with her hot-tempered husband. In one prayer, she asks for God to relieve all torment and sorrows that fall upon her due to her husband’s rudeness and refusal to listen to her advice. This shows that Gertrude was not a passive, quiet wife.

After her husband’s death, Gertrude continued to record prayers for her son, Yaropolk. In these prayers, she states that Yaropolk had “sank into the abyss of drunkenness and gluttony, was guilty of pride, boasting, perjury, slander, greed, vanity, impatience, deceit, theft, and even became a laughing stock for everyone.” Gertrude prays for the saints to forgive him. She asks St. Peter to reason with Yaropolk and to turn his heart to mercy. Gertrude also wrote prayers for Pope Gregory, Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, and all who were captured at the hands of enemies.

Gertrude is believed to have passed the book to her granddaughter, Zbyslava, when she married Prince Boleslaw III of Poland in 1103. Afterwards, it seems to have passed to the Hungarian royal family, possibly brought to this family by Queen (consort) Gertrude of Merania. She is believed to have given it to her daughter, the future saint, Elizabeth of Hungary. Elizabeth gave it to the Cathedral of Cividale in Friuli, Italy, where it remains to this day.

Thanks to the prayer book, we have contemporary images of Gertrude. Also, because of this book, Gertrude holds a special place in history for being the first Polish writer known by name.

Sources

Andrzejuk, Artur; “Gertrude, daughter of Mieszko II and her Prayer-Book”

Chekasina, Nadezhda; “Gertrude of Poland- Iziaslav’s wife”

Evgenievna, Morozova Lyudmila; Great and Unknown Women of Ancient Russia

Mielke, Christopher; “Every hyacinth the garden wears: the material culture of medieval queens of Hungary (1000-1395)

Voloshchuk, Myroslav; “Ruthenian-Polish matrimonial relations in the context of the inner-dynastic policy of the house of Rurik in the 11th-14th centuries: selective statistical data”

“Gertrude of Poland” on the website, The Court of Russian Princesses of the XI-XVI centuries

 






About CaraBeth 60 Articles
I love reading and writing about the royals of medieval Europe- especially the women. My interest was first started by the Plantagenet dynasty, but I decided to dive deeper, and discovered that there were many more fascinating royal dynasties in medieval Europe. Other dynasties I like reading and writing about are; the Capets, and their Angevin branch in Naples and Hungary, the Luxembourgs, the early Hapsburgs, the Arpads, the Piasts, the Premyslids and many more!

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