[size=15pt]The Legend of Wanda[/size]
The Polish Woman who chose to drown herself rather that marry a German!

Wanda legend first told by Kadłubek

The first one to write down the legend about Wanda was the Polish chronicler Wincenty Kadłubek. In this version of the story Wanda ruled Poland after the legendary Polish king Krakus. When her lands were invaded by a "Alamann tyrant", who sought to take advantage of the previous ruler's death, Wanda led her troops out to meet him. Seeing her beauty, the German troops refused to fight and their leader committed suicide. Towards the end of the story Kadłubek states that "the river Vandalus is named after" and hence the people she ruled over where known as "Vandals". In this version Wanda remained unmarried and had a long life.


Queen's Wanda bust in the Krasiński's Palace, Ursynów, Warsaw

Popular version of the legend

Her name was Wanda, and she was very beautiful and although she was but a young girl when she became Queen, she had wisdom and understanding far beyond her years. She loved her country very dearly and she ruled wisely and justly over the people who looked upon her with the greatest of love and respect.

Illustration from Chronica Polonorum

With all her qualities, her beauty and her wisdom, many princes sought to marry her, but Wanda would accept none of them, for she had not yet found one who was pleasing to her and who would help her to rule wisely and well over her beloved country. Poland was dear to Wanda, above all else, and she spared no effort to make her people happy. She waged war against aggressors who tried to invade her country, herself leading her soldiers in the battlefield. Her presence inspired them to defeat many foes.

Wanda's fame spread far and wide, and even a German prince, named Rytigier, heard of her beauty, her valour and, what was even more attractive to him, he heard that the lands of Poland were fruitful and rich. He therefore sent messengers with a letter to Wanda. The messengers were received at Wanda's court with courtesy and hospitality, as was always the custom in Poland. It was noticed that they were rough, uncivilized men who seemed surprised at the luxury and comfort of Wanda's Court. After they had rested and changed their apparel, they were ushered into Wanda's presence. Although on the face of it they seemed respectful, they looked about them with an air of appraising the value of everything they saw before them, as though it would soon be theirs.

Wanda read the letter and turned deathly pale. The contents were clear enough; Rytigier asked her for her hand in marriage, stipulating that as her dowry she should bring him the lands of Poland, and threatening war in the event of a refusal . Now Rytigier had a very powerful army, famed all over Europe as the strongest and best equipped of any prince. Wanda's army, on the other hand, had lost heavily in recent wars. To accept Rytigier's proposal of marriage was unthinkable. Wanda could not, would not subject her country to a German rule. She looked at the messengers and shuddered. To wage war might be fatal with the armies so ill-matched. Defeat at the hands of the Germans would certainly bring the cruellest possible reprisals to the Poles. But, in a firm voice, Wanda made her answer. She refused to surrender herself and her country to the Germans. She had made her decision. Wanda would sacrifice her life for Poland.

Maksymilian Piotrowski, Death of Wanda, 1859, National Museum, Cracow

She retired to her private quarters and there prayed to the gods that they would grant Poland freedom from the Germans in return for her sacrificing her life. Her prayer was granted, and Wanda threw herself into the Vistula River. When her body was recovered, she was buried with all honours, and a mound was raised to her memory beside that of her father, Krakus.

Later versions of the legend

Subsequent versions of the story differ significantly. In the version from the Wielkopolska Chronicle, the German leader, Rytygier, first wanted to marry Wanda and invaded her lands only when she refused. Here, he died during the ensuing battle, while it was Wanda who afterward committed suicide, as a thanks and a sacrifice to the pagan gods who gave her victory. In yet other versions of the story, Wanda commits suicide, by throwing herself into the Vistula river, because she knows that as long as she is alive, there will be future potential suitors who will use her refusal to marry as an pretext for an invasion.

Death of Queen Wanda


The story of princess Wanda was first described by medieval (12th and 13th centuries) Polish bishop and historian, Wincenty Kadłubek, and it is assumed by most historians that it was invented by him, possibly based on Slavic myths and legends, although some historians see the legend rooted in Scandinavian or Ancient Roman (or Greek) traditions.

Interestingly, the Kadłubek version has the German prince, not princess Wanda, commit suicide: according to Kadłubek, the princess lived a long and happy life, forever remaining a virgin. It was only in the 13–14th century Wielkopolska Chronicle that the variant with Wanda committing suicide was popularized by the 15th century historian, Jan Długosz.

Cultural influences

Tradition has it that she is buried in the large Wanda Mound (Polish: Kopiec Wandy). A custom observed up to the 19th century was that at Pentecost bonfires were lit on this mound, located on the outskirts of Kraków in Nowa Huta, the industrial district established in 1949. Nowa Huta construction begun on the name day of Wanda (23 June), and she is a semi-official patron of that district, which has a trade centre, street, bridge and stadium bearing her name.

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The German poet Zacharias Werner, who converted to Catholicism, wrote a drama named Wanda, which under Werner's friend Goethe was performed on stage in 1809.

In Polish literature, the story of Wanda has served as inspiration of several works, often stressing the motives of Polish independence and victorious conflict with Germany.

The Polish poet C.K. Norwid visited the Mound in 1840. He subsequently composed the narrative poem Wanda in honour of the ancient princess.


Wanda’s burial mound – drawing of F. Dietrich from Monumenta regnum Poloniae Cracoviensa, Kraków 1827

The Croatian dramatist Matija Ban made Wanda the symbol of Poland in his 1868 play, Wanda, the Polish Queen.

Antonín Dvořák composed the fifth of his 11 operas, the tragedy Vanda around this episode in Polish history legends. Writing in 1875, he cast the story as a struggle between the pagan Slavs and the Christian Germans.

In 1890, a statue designed by the Polish artist Jan Matejko depicting an eagle turning to the west was mounted on top of the mound. On the base of the statue the inscription WANDA was carved, together with two swords and a distaff.

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Scholars Albina Kruszewska and Marion Coleman described Queen Wanda as having "the pure white chastity of Elaine, the filial devotion of Cordelia, and the iron will of Boadicea".