Throughout the late middle ages, there are records of queens whose marriages were beneficial to their husbands’ families. Even though we don’t know much about them, we still know whether or not they fulfilled their most important duty – bearing sons. Often the queens who did not succeed in this are forgotten and hidden in the footnotes. One such queen was Maria of Bytom, the wife of King Charles I of Hungary.
Facts about Maria of Bytom are so obscure; we even don’t know if she was the first or second wife of Charles. Maria was the only recorded daughter of Casimir, Duke of Bytom, and his wife, Helena. She had at least five brothers. Maria’s father, Casimir, belonged to a lesser branch of the Silesian branch of Poland’s ruling Piast dynasty. The origins of her mother, Helena, are unknown, but she is sometimes thought to have been from the Rurik dynasty, which ruled over present-day Russia and Ukraine. The Rurik prince who is thought most likely to her been Helena’s father is Leo I, King of Galicia. The name Maria was rarely used in the Piast dynasty, so it’s thought to have come from her mother’s side.
First or Second Wife?
Maria of Bytom was probably born between 1290 and 1294. She is believed to have married Charles of Anjou, claimant to the crown of Hungary, in 1306. This is evidenced by a charter from 1306, which mentions Queen Maria of Hungary. However, some believe this may refer to Charles’ grandmother, Maria of Hungary, Queen of Naples, who used the title of Queen of Hungary after the death of her brother, Ladislaus IV, in 1290. However, it is also augured that it is not this queen because she titled herself Queen of Hungary, Sicily, and Jerusalem. This makes it more likely that this Maria mentioned was a wife of Charles.
There is confusion about if Maria of Bytom was Charles’ first wife and when she married him. One chronicle mentions that Charles married a daughter of Leo II, King of Galicia, in the first half of 1308. Others say this could have happened in 1305 or 1306. However, Leo II seems too young to have been the father of Maria of Galicia if she existed.
Another argument for the Galician marriage is the fact the Charles stated in a charter in 1326 is that he once went to Galicia to bring his first wife back to Hungary. Yet the Illuminated Chronicle, which was written during the reign of Charles’ son, Louis, says that Maria of Bytom was indeed his first wife. There are some explanations for the conflicting reports. Some believe that there was indeed a marriage arranged between Charles and Maria of Galicia, but she died before it could happen, or that the contract was broken off. Another belief is that Maria of Bytom was a granddaughter of Leo I of Galicia through her mother, Helena.
Queen of Hungary
What we do know for certain is that by 1311, Charles had married Maria of Bytom. Around 1305, Casimir of Bytom obtained 140 pieces of silver, and this was probably used to pay the wedding expenses. This makes the 1306 date more likely. The wedding probably took place in Maria’s hometown of Bytom. Soon after the wedding, Maria would have headed to Hungary with her new husband and been crowned Queen at the coronation Basilica of Szekesfehervar.
The reasons for this marriage are uncertain. If the Galician marriage happened, it would have probably been more beneficial for Charles’ international standing. It is important to mention that Maria and Viola of Teschen, Queen of Bohemia, were first cousins through their fathers. Wenceslaus III of Bohemia married Viola in 1305. From 1301 to 1305, Charles and Wenceslaus were rival claimants to the crown of Hungary, so possibly the marriage of Maria and Charles was a response to the Bohemian marriage. Maria and Viola were about the same age. The exact reasons for the marriage of Wenceslaus and Viola are uncertain too. Just like Viola, Maria was described as being very beautiful. Sometimes Wenceslaus is thought to have chosen Viola because of her beauty, so maybe this could be why Charles chose Maria. However, this seems unlikely, and these marriages probably offered political benefits. The marriage of Maria was probably for a Hungarian-Polish agreement directed against Bohemia.
From 1301 to 1305, Charles was fighting for the crown of Hungary against Wenceslaus III of Bohemia, and then from 1305 to 1308, he was up against Otto III of Bavaria. In November 1308, he was finally proclaimed King of Hungary and would have two coronations, first in 1309 and then in 1310. Maria may or may not have been crowned alongside him at the first coronation, but she is known to have been crowned with her husband at the second.
Maria did not play a big role in the Hungarian court. Not much is known as her life as queen. There are two documents issued by Maria between 1312 and 1313. There is also a letter from her to Charles, asking for permission to donate land to a youth in her service. Maria had her own seal as queen. In 1315 Maria invited two of her brothers, Boleslaw and Mieszko to the Hungarian court. Both brothers would have prominent church careers in Hungary and would go on to be bishops.
Maria most likely had no children. However, some later sources say that she and Charles had two daughters who married into Maria’s Silesian Piast family; Catherine, who married Henry II, Duke of Swidnica, and became the mother of Anna of Swidnica, Holy Roman Empress, and Elizabeth, who married Boleslaw II of Niemodlin. This is most likely false, for contemporary sources say that Maria had no children. Some think that Charles’ third wife, Elizabeth of Poland, was their mother instead, but that’s also unlikely. Contemporary sources mention five sons but no daughters for Elizabeth. Also, Catherine and her husband, Henry, would have been first cousins if Elizabeth were her mother. It’s possible that Catherine and Elizabeth were illegitimate daughters of Charles, or they could not have been his daughters at all. While Catherine certainly existed, the existence of Elizabeth is less certain. Her alleged husband, Boleslaw, is said to have never married.
Maria died on 15 December 1317, in Timisoara, where the Hungarian court was based at the time. She would have been in her twenties, and the cause of her death is unknown. Interestingly, her cousin, Viola of Teschen, whose life was parallel to hers, died a few months earlier. Maria was buried in Szekesfehervar Basilica, the burial place of many previous kings and queens of Hungary. Charles married twice more, firstly to Beatrice of Luxembourg, and then to Elizabeth of Poland, who gave him his long-awaited heirs.1
Blazkova, Tereza; “Viola of Teschen and her period”
Davies, Stephen Rhys; “Marriage and the Politics of Friendship: The family of Charles II of Anjou, King of Naples (1285-1309)”