King Casimir III of Poland, known to history as “the great”, may not have become king, if it weren’t for the efforts of his mother, Hedwig of Kalisz. Casimir’s father Wladyslaw the Elbow-high might not have been king if it weren’t for her either. Hedwig was one of medieval Poland’s most influential queens. For years, she fought for the throne alongside her husband, making her family one of the most powerful of their times.
It is hard to find an approximate year of birth for Hedwig (Jadwiga in Polish). Her birth date is estimated to have occurred between 1266 and 1275. She was the second of three daughters born to Duke Boleslaw “the Pious” of Greater Poland and Jolenta of Hungary. Her mother was a daughter of King Bela IV of Hungary. Hedwig’s older sister, Elizabeth married Henry V, Duke of Legnica, and her younger sister, Anna was a nun.
Nothing is known of Hedwig’s early life, but it is assumed that she grew up in a very religious environment, even for those times. Her mother was later beautified by the Catholic church, and her aunt, Kunigunde of Hungary lived in chastity her whole life, even though she was married. She was later canonised and is now known as St. Kinga of Poland. Kunigunde’s husband was Boleslaw V, High Duke of Poland, a relative of Hedwig’s father. Another aunt was St. Margaret of Hungary.
Hedwig’s father died in 1279. Before his death, he had Hedwig betrothed to Wladyslaw of Kuyavia. Like Hedwig, Wladyslaw was also born to the Piast dynasty. Hedwig was from the Greater Poland branch, Wladyslaw from the Masovian-Kuyavian branch. The Greater Poland branch was senior to the Masovians. Wladyslaw’s inheritance was the small duchy of Kuyavia.
The marriage between Hedwig and Wladyslaw doesn’t seem to have happened for at least another ten years. It most likely occurred between 1288 and 1294. January 1293 is the most commonly accepted date of the marriage.
The Road to the Throne
At this time, Poland was a divided country. It was split between three branches of the Piast dynasty: Greater Poland, Masovia, and Silesia. This dated back to 1138 when on the death of Duke Boleslaw III Wrymouth, Poland was divided between his sons. Over the years, one Piast prince would rule over the rest as High Duke of Poland. Many Piast princes would fight for this title, and its holder would often change. In 1290, Przemysl II, Hedwig’s first cousin, and last male member of the Greater Poland branch became High Duke of Poland. He was crowned King of Poland in 1295, but the country still remained divided. His reign did not last long; he was murdered in February 1296, leaving behind one young daughter, Elizabeth-Richeza. Hedwig’s close ties to Przemysl became an important factor in Wladyslaw’s fight for the throne.
Soon after Przemysl’s death, Wladyslaw seized control of Greater Poland. His reign was not secure, and he was challenged by the Bohemian king, Wenceslaus II. In July 1299, he was defeated by Wenceslaus, and soon after fled the country. By this time, Wladyslaw and Hedwig had three children, a daughter, Kunigunde, and two sons, Stephen and Wladyslaw. Hedwig stayed behind with her children.
Hedwig and her children were now in danger. She had to find a way to protect herself and the three small children. Instead of fleeing the country, Hedwig disguised herself and her children as ordinary townspeople. For the next four years, they lived in the house of a burgher named Gierek, in the town of Radziejow.
Wladyslaw returned to Poland in 1304, and the reunion of him and Hedwig resulted in the birth of a fourth child, Elizabeth. Wladyslaw continued his fight against Wenceslaus of Bohemia, who had strengthened his claim to the Polish throne by marrying Elizabeth-Richeza. Wenceslaus died the next year, and his son in 1306, therefore ending Bohemia’s royal Premyslid dynasty. That year, Wladyslaw regained many territories and was recognised as High Duke of Poland. However, he and Hedwig still suffered a family tragedy that year when their oldest son, Stephen died. Hedwig bore two more children, a daughter, Hedwig, and then a third son, Casimir in 1310. Her second son, Wladyslaw died in 1311 or 1312, leaving Casimir as her only surviving son.
Hedwig actively supported her husband’s quest to become king. One of her most notable acts occurred in 1307 when she met with one of Poland’s most powerful bishops. Jan Muskata, Bishop of Cracow was opposed to Wladyslaw. Hedwig tried to persuade him to side with her husband, but when he refused, she threatened to remove him from office. Hedwig’s next major act was in 1311. That year, German-speaking inhabitants of Cracow revolted against her husband. They already had plans to replace him with the new Bohemian king or a Silesian prince. Wladyslaw was absent, so Hedwig took command. The rebels laid siege to the ruling family’s residence, Wawel Castle. Hedwig successfully defended the castle. In February 1312, she issued a document thanking those who gave help to her husband and condemning those who rebelled.
Queen of Poland
Eventually, Wladyslaw was able to gain control of all of Poland. On 20 January 1320, Wladyslaw and Hedwig were crowned as king and queen of a united Poland in Wawel Cathedral. Hedwig was a very active queen consort. She had her own seal, issued many documents in her name, and accompanied Wladyslaw on some of his tours of the country. Hedwig also played a role in religious matters, such as the spreading of the cult of her aunt, Kinga, who would later be canonised.
Hedwig’s first daughter, Kunigunde was married to a Silesian duke, Bernard of Swidnica around 1310. This marriage was arranged to strengthen Wladyslaw’s control in Silesia. Once Hedwig became queen in 1320, a much grander opportunity awaited her second daughter, Elizabeth. The royal couple’s main ally abroad was Hungary. That same year, Elizabeth was married to the Hungarian king, Charles I Robert. Based on later events, Elizabeth probably learned a lot about being a powerful queen from her mother. Hedwig’s youngest daughter and namesake died young and unmarried, probably sometime in the early 1320s.
In 1325, Wladyslaw decided that his only remaining son, Casimir, would marry the daughter of the pagan Grand Duke of Lithuania. Due to later events, Hedwig was probably not in favour of this marriage. Nevertheless, it went ahead, and the bride was baptised with the name, Anna. Two years later, Casimir suddenly became seriously ill. Hedwig prayed to St. Louis of Toulouse, the uncle of her son-in-law, Charles of Hungary. She even wrote to the Pope, hoping for his recovery. Fortunately, he recovered by the end of the year, and the Pope wrote back to Hedwig expressing his joy on the prince’s full recovery.
King Wladyslaw died on 2 March 1333. Hedwig’s oldest daughter, Kunigunde, probably died soon after on 9 April 1333, although the year 1331 is also given. When it came time for Casimir’s coronation, Hedwig was not ready to hand over her status as queen to her daughter-in-law, Anna. She was opposed to Anna being crowned alongside Casimir, arguing that there should only be one crowned queen in the kingdom at a time. Casimir eventually got Hedwig to agree to the coronation. She did not seem to accept it completely; soon afterwards, she left the royal court and retired to her dower lands.
Hedwig retired to a convent, but she still managed her own lands, had her own court, and issued documents. In 1337 or 1338, Hedwig, who had long devoted herself to religious matters, took the veil. Even as a nun, Hedwig continued to manage her lands and hold a court. Hedwig died on 10 December 1339 and was buried in her monastery of Stary Sacz. Casimir gave her a magnificent funeral.
Hedwig has mostly been forgotten by history, but it was her efforts and family connections that put her husband on the Polish throne. Hedwig’s memory has been revived in Poland recently, thanks to the Polish TV series Korona Krolow (Crown of Kings), which follows the life and reign of her son, Casimir. As the king’s mother, Hedwig is a main character in the first season. Unfortunately, this show does not have an English translation yet, and I have not been able to watch it. I hope it will be available in English soon so that the amazing story of Hedwig and her family can be seen by a wider audience.1
Sources: (note: since there is not much available on Hedwig of Kalisz in English, the following are Polish web sources, and have been translated via Google Translate.)
Janicki, Kamil: “Jadwiga Kaliska (-1339).” ciekawostkihistoryczne.pl
Pawlowska, Jagoda: “Jadwiga of Kalisz-Faithful wife of Wladyslaw Lokietek.” historia.org.pl
Rozmarynowski, Marcin: “Queen Jadwiga Boleslawowna: Ambitious wife of Lokietek and mother of Casimir the Great.” historia.org.pl
Teler, Marek: “Queen Jadwiga, mother of Casimir the Great: the splendor and shadows of the battle for the crown.” histmag.org
“Jadwiga Kaliska” on www.wladcy.myslenice.net.pl