Helena of Serbia – The executioner

(public domain)

For the most part, very few medieval Hungarian queens played a role in politics.  One exception is Helena of Serbia, also known as Helena of Rascia. Helena was born around 1109, to Uros I, Grand Prince of Serbia, and Anna Diogenissa. Between 1127 and 1130, she married Bela of Hungary. Of the Eastern Orthodox faith by birth, Helena converted to Catholicism on her marriage. Her dowry included part of northern Serbia. Her husband, Bela was a first cousin of King Stephen II of Hungary. When Bela was a child, he and his father Almos were blinded on the orders of his uncle, King Coloman of Hungary so that they could be removed from the succession. However, Coloman’s son, Stephen II of Hungary remained childless, so he recognised Bela as his heir.

Stephen II died in 1131, and Bela was crowned as King Bela II of Hungary. Because he was blind, Bela strongly relied on those closest to him, especially Helena and her brother, Belos, who had followed her to the Hungarian court. Helena and Belos were very involved in the administration of Hungary, probably more so than Bela himself. Bela even considered Helena as his co-ruler.

(public domain)

Helena’s first action as Queen is the one she is most known for. Soon after her husband’s accession to the throne, Helena called for a council at the town of Arad. There, she took vengeance upon the men who had plotted with King Coloman to have her husband blinded. These men still seemed to be opposed to Helena and Bela, and she was determined to remove her rivals. Helena ordered the execution of 68 Hungarian noblemen, who she believed responsible for her Bela’s blinding. Helena herself attended the executions with her husband and at least one of her sons. The exact date of this event is uncertain; some say it was in 1131, soon after Bela’s accession. Others say that all four of Helena and Bela’s sons were present, making this event occur at least four years after their marriage in 1129.

Helena and Bela had at least six children. The eldest son, Geza, is known to have attended the executions. He succeeded as Geza II of Hungary in 1141. Following him were three more sons, Ladislaus, Stephen, and Almos. Of Helena’s sons, Almos died in childhood, and Ladislaus and Stephen were contenders for the Hungarian throne against Geza’s son, Stephen III. Helena’s two daughters were Elizabeth, who married Mieszko III, Duke of Greater Poland, and Sophia, who was betrothed to a son of Conrad III of Germany but became a nun instead.

Bela II of Hungary died on 13 February 1141. Since his eldest son, Geza was only eleven, Helena became regent alongside her brother, Belos. Five years later, in September 1146, Geza reached his majority and began his personal rule. Helena was still living at this point, but what became of her afterwards is uncertain. She seems to have died before 1157, based on a document from her son, but it is also believed that she may have lived until 1161. Helena was the only Arpadian queen consort known to have acted as her husband’s co-ruler.1


  1. Sources:

    Engel, Pal; The Realm of St. Stephen: A History of Medieval Hungary, 895-1526

    Fine, John V.A.; The Early Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Sixth to the Late Twelfth Century

    Mielke, Christopher; “No Country for Old Women: Burial Practices and Patterns of Hungarian Queens of the Arpad Dynasty (975-1301)

About CaraBeth 55 Articles
I love reading and writing about the royals of medieval Europe- especially the women. My interest was first started by the Plantagenet dynasty, but I decided to dive deeper, and discovered that there were many more fascinating royal dynasties in medieval Europe. Other dynasties I like reading and writing about are; the Capets, and their Angevin branch in Naples and Hungary, the Luxembourgs, the early Hapsburgs, the Arpads, the Piasts, the Premyslids and many more!

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