There are many “what-ifs” in history. One major “what-if” is the proposed marriage of Casimir III of Poland to Margaret of Bohemia. This marriage could have improved relations between the neighbouring kingdoms of Bohemia and Poland, as well as provided Casimir with heirs. However, Margaret died soon before the marriage was supposed to happen, relations between the two kingdoms worsened, and Casimir never had a legitimate son.
Early years and Duchess of Bavaria
Margaret was born on 8 July 1313. She was the first-born child of John of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia and Elisabeth of Bohemia. When she was about a year old, her father planned to have her betrothed to the orphaned Henry XV, Duke of Lower Bavaria, who was about a year older than her. However, these plans were dropped. By 1319, Margaret was joined by a sister, Judith (later known as Bonne) and a brother Wenceslaus (later known as Charles). That same year, a revolt broke out against John. The King, believing his wife to be behind the conspiracy, took Margaret and her younger siblings from her.
By 1322, John and Elisabeth seemed to have reconciled, and another son, John Henry was born. Already in 1321, John was making plans for Margaret’s marriage. This time he was considering Henry XIV, another Duke of Lower Bavaria. Henry XIV was less than eight years older than Margaret and was a first cousin of Henry XV, who John earlier considered. On 12 August 1322, an agreement for this marriage was signed. The same year, Margaret was sent to Bavaria, and a symbolic consummation of her marriage took place.
Soon, Elisabeth had another falling out with John. Margaret was apparently her favourite daughter, and Elisabeth fled from John and joined Margaret in Bavaria. At the time, Elisabeth was pregnant with twins. On 27 March 1323, she gave birth to twin daughters named Anne and Elisabeth in the Bavarian town of Cham. In 1324, one of the twins, Elisabeth died, and in 1325, the Queen, Margaret, and Anne returned to Bohemia. By this time, Margaret’s two closest siblings, Judith/Bonne and Wenceslaus/Charles had been sent to France.
On 12 February 1328, Margaret left her mother and returned to Bavaria for her marriage. On 12 August, Margaret and Henry XIV of Bavaria were married in Straubing. On 29 November 1329, Margaret gave birth to a son named John. He was later followed by a second son Henry, who died in infancy. Apparently Margaret and Henry had a happy marriage. Henry, however, suffered from leprosy. The couple would have no more children, perhaps due to Henry’s illness. He died on 1 September 1339.
On Henry’s death, ten-year-old John became the new Duke of Lower Bavaria. The Holy Roman Emperor, Louis IV, was a relative of John and Henry. He was from the Upper Bavarian branch of the Wittelsbach dynasty. The Emperor became young John’s guardian and had him married to his daughter, Anna. Margaret was entitled to widow’s rights in Bavaria, and had to argue with the Emperor for them. At first, she succeeded. However, the young John died in December 1340, aged eleven. One chronicle reports that he was poisoned by Louis. Since John was the last member of the Lower Bavarian branch, Bavaria was reunited under the Emperor. Louis stripped Margaret of her widow’s properties and sent her back to Bohemia in May 1341.
Proposed marriage to Casimir of Poland
Once Margaret arrived back in her homeland, her father and brother Charles, were already making plans for her to marry again. As part of an alliance against Emperor Louis, they proposed for Margaret to marry King Casimir III of Poland. Casimir had lost his first wife, Aldona Anna of Lithuania the same year Margaret had lost her husband. By this marriage, Casimir had two daughters, so he was in need of a son. Since Margaret had sons by her previous marriage, there was hope that she could give sons to Casimir.
Margaret was apparently not happy with this arrangement. Some believe that she did not want to marry a man who spent fourteen years married to a woman who was raised a pagan. After much urging from Charles, she finally agreed to this marriage. In the summer of 1341, Casimir left for Prague to meet his new wife.
Unfortunately, Margaret became ill some weeks before the wedding was to happen. Charles desperately prayed for her recovery. However, Margaret died on 11 July 1341, three days after her 28th birthday, and some days before the wedding was to take place.
Apparently Casimir arrived in Prague before Margaret’s death. Sources seem to differ on whether they ever met. The chronicler Matthew of Neuenburg writes “From her first glace at this man… who appeared to her like a heathen, this refined woman was so deeply shocked that, after a brief greeting, she turned to the wall without a word and died.”1 Two days after Margaret’s death, Casimir signed documents about the Polish-Czech alliance. This alliance was to last even in the event of Margaret’s death. Most sources guess that Casimir was not yet aware that Margaret had died. Apparently, John and Charles kept Margaret’s death a secret for a few days, because they did not want to ruin Casimir’s trip. The deeply anticipated royal wedding was replaced with Margaret’s funeral. Margaret was buried beside her mother in Zbraslav Monastery.
John and Charles quickly looked for a new wife for Casimir. They chose Adelaide of Hesse, who was not a close relation to them. Casimir and Adelaide married in September of the same year. The marriage was childless, and Casimir and Adelaide separated in 1355. Casimir married twice more and had three daughters by his last marriage. He never had a legitimate son.
A few years later, Casimir went to war against John and Charles. Casimir later reconciled with Charles, who became the King of Bohemia in 1346. For the rest of his life, alliances would often be made and broken between Casimir and Charles.
If Margaret had survived to marry Casimir, Polish-Czech relations could have been very different indeed. With Casimir and Charles being brothers-in-law, maybe the Polish-Czech war of 1345-1348 could have been prevented. The history of Poland itself could also be very different. If Margaret had survived and borne Casimir a surviving son, the Piast dynasty could have continued ruling Poland. If so, on Casimir’s death in 1370, Poland would not have gone to Casimir’s nephew, Louis I of Hungary, so there would be no Polish-Hungarian union. Margaret of Bohemia quickly became forgotten, but her death might have changed the destiny of Poland and Bohemia.2
- Prague: The Crown of Bohemia, 1347-1437
“The fate of Margaret, Princess of Luxembourg, and marriage policy.”
Janicki, Kamil; “Casimir the Great and Adelaide of Hesse. How did the relationship that ended the Piast Dynasty come about?”
Suckale, Robert and Fajt, Jiri; “The Example of Prague in Europe” in Prague: The Crown of Bohemia, 1347-1437