Christine de Pizan

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Anna Jagiellon, "By the Grace of God, Infanta of the Kingdom of Poland"

Anna Jagiellon, queen of Poland and grand duchess of Lithuania (died 9 September 1596)

Anna Jagiellon was the sister of a woman whom we have met before, Isabella Jagiellon, queen of Hungary. Anna would also become a queen regnant, elected queen of Poland in 1575.

Anna Jagiellon,
in her coronation robes,
Sigismund's Chapel,
Wawel Cathedral, Cracow
Although the Jagiellons were a remarkable family, ruling over many central European territories, states, and kingdoms, including Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, and Bohemia, they are much less well known than their contemporaries, at least to those of us who speak English. We are obsessed with the Tudors, most obviously, and are likely to know more about the Valois or even the Habsburgs than we do about the Jagiellons.

But the powerful dynasties of western Europe were well aware of the influence of the Jagiellons. Jagiellon daughters were married into royal families with names and geographical homes we may be more familiar with-- Anna's sister Sophia, for example, became the wife of a German duke, and her sister Catherine, became the queen of Sweden. (I'll be posting about Catherine Jagiellon later this year.)

And many daughters of royal families with names and geographical homes we may be more familiar with married into the Jagiellon family--Anna, Isabella, Sophia, and Catherine were the daughters of Bona Sforza, herself the daughter of the duke of Milan. Other Jagiellon brides came from the Habsburg Holy Roman Empire, from Foix and Anjou in France, from Russia, and from Aragon.

As for Anna, the information I have is, unfortunately, very limited. She was born in Cracow on 18 October 1523 to Sigismund, the king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuana, and his wife, Bona Sforza (for more about Bona Sforza, click here). Sigismund had two daughters with his first wife, Barbara Zápolya, who died in 1515, and would have six children with Bona Sforza, whom he married in 1517--Anna was Bona's fourth child and third daughter. (Sigismund also had at least three children with a mistress, a son who became a bishop and two daughters who made well-connected marriages.)

I am assuming that, like her sister, Isabella, Anna would have received an excellent education that included the study of Polish, Italian, Latin, and, like her siblings, a training in politics. After her father's death in 1548, Anna and her sister Catherine moved with their mother from Cracow to Masovia, a duchy in the northeast of Poland, at least in part because of the turmoil surrounding the secret marriage of the new king (their brother Sigismund II) to Barbara Radziwill, a Calvinist. (Bona Sforza did not approve--she had been busy negotiating for his marriage to Anne of Ferrara.)

But by 1551, the unfortunate Barbara Radziwill had died (Bona was suspected of having poisoned her), and although Bona and her son were "reconciled," she decided to return to her Italian duchy of Bari. (You have to wonder about the reconciliation with Sigismund II, though, since he opposed his mother's departure and threatened to imprison her.) After their mother's return to Italy, Anna and Catherine remained in Masovia. 

Anna Jagiellon after 1586
While her elder sisters, Isabella Jagiellon and Sophia Jagiellon, had been married at the ages of twenty and thirty-three, respectively, and her younger sister, Catherine, at age thirty-six, Anna did not marry until 1576, when she was fifty-two years old.

It was then that her quiet life in Masovia changed. In 1572, her brother had died, leaving no male heir behind. Since rule in Poland and Lithuana was determined by election rather than inheritance--much less primogeniture--the parliaments of Poland and Lithuana elected the Valois son of Henry II of France and Catherine de' Medici as the new king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania. He was elected, at least in part, with the understanding that he would marry Anna Jagiellon.

But once elected and in Poland, Henry did not marry Anna, and by June of 1574, he was gone, back to France, where he had become King Henry III after the death of his brother.

It was at this point that Anna asserted her political significance, adopting the Spanish title of infanta, certainly signifying her sense of herself as heir apparent to the Polish throne. She referred to herself as "Anna Dei Gratia Infans Regni Poloniaeas," or "Anna, by the Grace of God, Infanta of the Kingdom of Poland." 

In 1575, a new candidate for the king of Poland emerged. Stephen Báthory, prince of Transylvania. His election was difficult--there was also a Habsburg candidate--but the view that there should be a Polish king for Poland won out. Polish electors decided that Anna would become the monarch of Poland and that she would marry Báthory, who would be king in jure uxoris--that is, by or through his wife's right. In December 1575 the two were elected as co-rulers. Their coronation as rulers of Poland and Lithuania took place on 1 May 1576. (Their marriage seems to have been primarily a formal affair.)

After the death of Stephen Báthory on 12 December 1586, Anna did not continue to rule as queen and grand duchess. She became the last Jagiellon--her nephew Sigismund Vasa, the son of her sister Catherine (and her husband, King John of Sweden), was elected as king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania.

Anna Jagiellon spent the final ten years of her life in Warsaw, where she oversaw the building of many fine tomb monuments--she also oversaw the construction of her mother Bona Sforza's tomb in Bari, where she had died in 1557. (Her return to Italy had given her no peace or happiness, and she died in poverty.)

Anna Jagiellon, the last Jagiellon, died on 9 September 1596. She had prepared her own monument, in a chapel (Sigmund's Chapel) in Wawel Cathedral, Cracow.

Wawel Cathedral, Cracow

The best source of information is Maria Bogucka's Women in Early Modern Polish Society, against the European Background, but it is, unfortunately, very expensive. Otherwise it's bits and pieces from books that include information about Bona Sforza, Isabella Jagiellon, and Stephen Báthory . . . 

The tomb of Bona Sforza,
erected by Anna Jagiellon,
Church of San Nicola in Bari

Update, April 2022: For the HistoryExtra podcast episode "The Jagiellonians, the Dynasty that Shaped Central Europe," click here

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