In 1365, Casimir III, King of Poland was 55, had been married three times, but still had no legitimate sons. His second wife, Adelaide of Hesse, whom he had repudiated in 1356 was still alive and fighting for her marital rights. Casimir instead decided to marry a much younger woman, in the hope that she would give him the desired son. His chosen bride was the teenaged Hedwig of Zagan.
A complicated marital situation
During his unhappy and childless marriage with Adelaide of Hesse, Casimir began an affair with the Prague townswoman, Krystyna Rokiczana, whom he soon married. This was a great scandal, not only because of Krystyna’s low rank but also because of the fact that he was still officially married to Adelaide. Adelaide soon left Poland but continued to fight for her rights.
Casimir and Krystyna separated around 1363. By then, Casimir had lost his only legitimate children, his two daughters by his first marriage to Aldona-Anna of Lithuania. The elder one, Elizabeth left behind a son and a daughter. Casimir considered this grandson, also named Casimir as his heir, but he desired to have sons of his own. His legal wife, Adelaide was about forty, never gave him children, and they were long since separated. Casimir wanted to marry again, but he would have to break the church’s rules.
As early as 1362, Casimir was considering Hedwig of Zagan to be his new queen. Hedwig of Zagan was born around 1350 or shortly before, as the daughter of Henry V, Duke of Zagan and Anna of Plock. Hedwig was from the Silesian branch of Poland’s royal Piast dynasty. The lands ruled by the Silesian dukes were in the west of Poland and were constantly disputed between the kings of Poland and Bohemia, as to who was their overlord. Casimir hoped that by marrying Hedwig, he would bring Silesia closer under his rule. Hedwig’s father was the most powerful Silesian duke after Casimir’s nephew, Bolko II, Duke of Swidnica. We know nothing of Hedwig’s appearance, but she was described as beautiful. As a young wife, she would also be easy to manipulate because of the king’s complicated marriage situation.
Queen of Poland
Casimir and Hedwig were married on 25 February 1365. Hedwig was about 14-15, or a little older, and Casimir almost 55. Hedwig was probably younger than Casimir’s granddaughter, Elizabeth of Pomerania. When Casimir’s previous wife, Adelaide, learnt of the marriage, she sent a complaint to the Pope. She pointed out the Casimir and Hedwig were related in the fourth degree. Adelaide also pointed out that the necessary papal dispensation was faked. She also demanded that Casimir dismiss Hedwig. The Pope also wrote to Casimir asking for him to set aside Hedwig and return to Adelaide. It is likely that Hedwig was convinced that the marriage to Adelaide was actually annuled. The Pope did not blame Hedwig for the situation and suggested that she was seduced by the king by trick. Even though the legitimacy of Hedwig’s marriage was disputed, she was crowned queen soon afterwards.
Despite the age difference, Casimir and Hedwig appear to have spent a lot of time together. Their favourite residence was the castle of Zarnowiec, where Adelaide have previously been imprisoned. Hedwig quickly bore three daughters: Anna around 1366, Kunigunde around 1368, and Hedwig in late 1369 or early 1370. Hedwig did not play any political role, and not much is known of her activity.
In 1368, Casimir was cleared of the accusations of faking the papal dispensation about his relationship to Hedwig. However, the Pope never recognised Hedwig’s marriage as valid. Unlike the papacy, the Polish clergy saw this marriage as valid. Even though Pope Urban V refused to recognise this marriage, he was willing to legitimise the daughters that came from it. On 5 December 1369, Anna and Kunigunde were legitimised. The youngest daughter, Hedwig, was either not born yet, or news of her birth had not yet reached the Pope. She would not be legitimised until October 1371, after Casimir’s death. Hedwig’s daughters, however, were not given rights to inherit the throne of Poland.
Hedwig’s middle daughter, Kunigunde died sometime before Casimir in 1370. In the autumn of 1370, Casimir suffered a fall from his horse. He was badly wounded, and by November, it was clear that he was dying. Hedwig had not born him any sons as he had hoped. His two likely successors were his nephew Louis, King of Hungary, or his grandson Casimir of Pomerania. On 3 November 1370, Casimir wrote his will and bequeathed his movable possessions to Hedwig and their two remaining daughters. He died two days later.
Hedwig was now a young widow aged 20 or a little older and had two young daughters. She had no control over who would inherit the Polish throne. It was Casimir’s nephew Louis, who became the new King of Poland. He was crowned as King of Poland on 17 November 1370. Hedwig and her daughters participated in the coronation.
Life after Queenship
Hedwig seems to have completely subjected herself to the new king. It was decided that her daughters will be brought back to Hungary with Louis and raised at his court and that Louis will arrange their marriages. Hedwig’s daughters left for Hungary in early 1371. She probably never saw them again. The older one, Anna married William, Count of Cilli in 1380. He was chosen by Louis, and his lands were far away from Poland. By this marriage, Anna had one daughter, another Anna, who later became a queen consort of Poland. The fate of Hedwig’s namesake daughter is less certain. Louis is thought to have arranged for her to marry around 1382, but who the groom was, and if this marriage ever actually happened is unknown. Louis remained in his home kingdom, and his mother, Casimir’s sister, Elizabeth, governed Poland. Hedwig herself returned to Silesia.
Before 10 February 1372, Hedwig remarried to Rupert I, Duke of Legnica, another Silesian prince. He was much closer to her age, and perhaps Hedwig chose to marry him herself. Very little is known about her second marriage except that she had two more daughters- Barbara, who married Rudolf III, Elector of Saxony, and Agnes, who became a nun. Hedwig died on 27 March 1390 in her early forties. Her brief time as queen was probably mostly forgotten by the Polish by then. She was buried in the collegiate church in Legnica.
Hedwig was only queen of Poland for five years. She did not bear Casimir a much-needed son, so she has mostly been forgotten by history. However, her memory has been revived recently, as she appears in the final episodes of the Polish television series Korona Krolow (Crown of Kings) which dramatises the reign of her first husband. 1
Chmielnik, Krzysztof; “Jadwiga Zaganska” on zachod.pl
Janicki, Kamil; “Jadwiga Zaganska (-1390)” on ciekawostkihistoryczne.pl
Teler, Marek; “Jadwiga Zaganska, the last wife of Casimir the Great: a married couple in an atmosphere of scandal.” on histmag.org
“Jadwiga Piastowna” on wladcy.myslenice.net.pl