In the eleventh through thirteenth centuries, multiple marriages occurred between the Piast dynasty of Poland and the Rurik dynasty of the Kievan Rus. The first Rus princess to marry in Poland was Maria Dobroniega.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding when Maria Dobroniega was born and who her parents exactly were. What is certain is that she was either a daughter or granddaughter of Vladimir I, Grand Prince of Kyiv. The most common theory was that Maria was a daughter of Vladimir the Great, either by his first Christian wife, Anna Porphyrogenita, or his last wife, an unnamed granddaughter or great-granddaughter of Holy Roman Emperor Otto I. There are a few dates to take into consideration when determining Maria’s parentage and year of birth. Anna was born in 963 and died in 1011. Vladimir died in 1015. Maria’s husband, Casimir, was born in 1016. Maria and Casimir married sometime between 1038 and 1043 and went on to have five children.
Maria could not have been much older than her husband, so it seems unlikely for her to have been born before 1010. By then, Anna was already in her late forties, so it is considered unlikely for her to be Maria’s mother. Many seem to doubt the theory that Anna could have been Maria’s mother and suggest that instead, her mother was Vladimir’s last wife. However, there are some historians that believe that Maria was a granddaughter of Vladimir rather than a daughter. The two sons of Vladimir she is suggested to have been a daughter of are Boris, Prince of Rostov, and Yaroslav the Wise, Grand Prince of Kyiv. Whoever Maria’s father or mother were, we know for certain that she was descended from Vladimir the Great and a member of the Rurikid dynasty.
Maria was most likely born sometime between 1010 and 1016. In early Christian Rus, it was common for princely children to receive two names, a Slavic “pagan” name and a Christian name. This could explain Maria Dobroniega’s double name, Maria being her Christian name and Dobroniega being her pagan name. Whoever her parents might have been, it is commonly agreed that she was born before 1018, when the Polish Duke Boleslaw the Brave occupied Kyiv. When Boleslaw returned to Poland, it is said that he took Yaroslav’s first wife, Vladimir’s (or Boris’s) widow and nine of Vladimir’s daughters with him. This included Vladimir’s eldest daughter, Predslava, and presumably Maria herself.
Maria is believed to have spent the next years in Poland. She, her sisters (or aunts), and the other captives are believed to have lived on an island in Lake Lednica, Poland. Excavations on the island have revealed the foundations of a Byzantine-style palace and church. At this time, the Rus modelled many of their traditions after the Byzantines. When Boleslaw died in 1025, it looks like most of the captives were not released and remained on the island.
Between 1038 and 1043, Maria married Casimir I of Poland, the grandson of Boleslaw. There is debate about when the wedding occurred. The date is variously given as 1038, 1039, 1041, or 1042. The Russian Primary Chronicle says that the marriage took place in 1043, but most sources think that it happened before then. As a wedding gift, Casimir released eight-hundred Rus captives whom his grandfather captured in 1018. Maria might have had some relatives among these captives.
This marriage improved the relationship between Poland and Rus. Not too long after Maria and Casimir married, Casimir’s sister, Gertrude, married Yaroslav’s second son Iziaslav.
Duchess of Poland
Both Casimir’s father and grandfather had been crowned as kings of Poland, but Casimir himself was never crowned. Thanks to his marriage to Maria, he received much-needed military support from Yaroslav. When Casimir became Duke in 1040, Poland was ruined by years of war. Poland had lost many territories, such as the province of Mazovia. At Casimir’s request, Yaroslav went to war against Mazovia and conquered it for Casimir. Because Poland’s previous capital, Gniezno, was in ruins, Casimir relocated the court to Krakow. Due to his efforts to bring Poland to its former glory, Casimir is known to history as Casimir the Restorer. Polish chroniclers believe that by marrying Maria, his position was strengthened and that peace was restored to Poland.
Maria and Casimir’s marriage is considered to be successful. The couple was known to participate in the founding of churches. They were also benefactors to art and education. They had five children:
- Boleslaw II (1042/3-1081/2) King of Poland from 1076-1079
- Wladyslaw I Herman (1043/4-1102) Duke of Poland from 1079-1102
- Mieszko (1045-1065) Possibly Duke of Kuyavia
- Otto (1047-1048)
- Swietoslawa (1046/8-1126) Married Vratislaus II, King of Bohemia
Casimir died on 28 November 1058. Maria would outlive him by nearly thirty years, and she seems to have had a very active widowhood. On Casimir’s death, his and Maria’s son, Boleslaw, became the new Duke of Poland. He was only fifteen or sixteen at the time, so he relied heavily on his elders, especially Maria. During the first years of Boleslaw’s reign, Maria actively helped him in governing his country. In addition, she had a great influence on her son.
In 1063, Boleslaw and Maria welcomed Geza II of Hungary to their court. Geza and his cousin, Solomon, were involved in a succession dispute for the Hungarian crown. Boleslaw offered Geza reinforcements, but in the end, Geza recognized Solomon as the Hungarian King. However, Geza claimed the Hungarian crown from 1074 to 1077.
In 1069, Maria’s nephew or cousin, Iziaslav I of Kyiv, was overthrown. He and his wife Gertrude, Casimir’s sister, fled to Poland. Maria and Boleslaw welcomed them at the Polish court. They provided Iziaslav with military support, and he was eventually able to retake Kyiv.
Boleslaw was crowned King of Poland in 1076. However, he was deposed in 1079 and replaced by his younger brother, Wladyslaw Herman, who only had the title of Duke. There is nothing that mentions whether Maria was involved in these events. Boleslaw died in 1081 or 1082, and Maria outlived him. She died on 13 December 1087, in her seventies, a very long life for that time.
There would be many other marriages between the Rurikid and Piast dynasties, but the marriage of Maria and Casimir is considered one of the most significant. It was one of the first, and thanks to it, the two dynasties worked closely together for centuries. So interconnected they were to each other that it is even said that both Poland and Rus were governed by the same ruling family.
Evgenievna, Morozova Lyudmila; Great and Unknown Women of Ancient Russia
Voloshchuk, Myroslav; “Ruthenian-Polish matrimonial relations in the XIth-XIVth centuries”
Voloshchuk, Myroslav; “Ruthenian Court of the Rurik dynasty princess in the lands of the Piast dynasty in the 11th century”
Yasynetska, Olena; “Poland-Ukraine: a thousand years of reciprocity. The Kyivan Princess Dobroniega-Maria, wife of Kazimierz the Restorer: a new hypothesis on her pedigree”
The Russian Primary Chronicle: Laurentian text
“Maria Dobroniega” on the website The Court of the Russian Princesses of the XI-XVI centuries