Poland, or at least its nucleus, was ruled at various times either by dukes (the 10th-14th century) or by kings (the 11th-18th century). The longest-reigning dynasties were the Piasts (ca. 960 – 1370) and the Jagiellons (1386–1572). Intervening and subsequent monarchs were often rulers of foreign countries or princes recruited from foreign dynasties.
During the latter period a tradition of free election of monarchs made it a uniquely electable position in Europe (16th-18th centuries). Polish independence ended with the Third Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1795) and was restored at the end of World War I (1918) on a republican basis.
The Gallery of Polish Kings and Princes was painted in 1890-1892, that is, towards the end of Jan Matejko’s life (1838-93). By then he had already painted his best and most famous historical compositions which revealed his incredible, original talent, his love of the Polish past, and his patriotism.
The Gallery consists of 54 portraits. Jan Matejko is an author of 41 portraits which are in possession of the National Museum in Wroclaw. Other drawings (13 portraits) were made by contemporary Polish artist and historian Szymon Kobyliński. This Gallery includes the Polish kings and princes pencil drawings from the first pre-Christian dukes and historical ruler, Mieszko I, to the last king of Poland, Stanislaus Augustus.
Siemowit (also Ziemowit) was, according to the chronicles of Gallus Anonymus, the son of Piast Kołodziej (Piast the Wheelwright) and Rzepicha. He was considered one of the four legendary Piast princes, but is now considered as a ruler who existed as a historical person.
He became the duke of the Polans in the 9th century after his father, son of Chościsko, refused to take the place of legendary Duke Popiel. Siemowit was elected as new duke by the wiec. According to a popular legend, Popiel was then eaten by mice in his tower on the Gopło lake.
The only mention of Siemowit, along with his son Lestek and grandson Siemomysł, comes in the mediæval chronicle of Gallus Anonymus.
Siemowit’s grandson Mieszko I of the Piast dynasty is considered the first ruler of Poland to be baptized, though evidence of Arian Christians predating his reign was discovered in south Poland.
Lestek (Lesko) the second duke of the Polans from the Piast dynasty (b. 865, d. 921)
Siemomysł (died c. 950–960) was the third pagan Polans duke of Piast dynasty, and the father of Poland’s first historical ruler, Mieszko I. He was listed by Gallus Anonymous in his Gesta principum Polonorum and was son of Lestek, the second known Duke of the Polans. According to Gallus’ account and historical research, Siemomysł has been credited with leaving the lands of Polans, Goplans and Masovians to his son Mieszko I, who further expanded them during his reign.
His name in German was Ziemomysl. According to Henryk Łowmiański he aided the Ukrani uprising against the Germans in 954 AD.
Mieszko I (c. 922-992), the first historic ruler of Poland, founder of the Piast dynasty. He united several western Slavonic tribes under his sway and consolidated his power by marrying the Bohemian princess, Dobrava, and converting to Christianity in 966. As a result, the Polish state was brought into the European political system and established relations with the greatest powers of that period, the papacy and the empire. After Dobrava’s death, Mieszko married Oda, the daughter of Margrave Dietrich. He conducted wars with the Eastern March and Bohemia. On his death, he divided his state among his first born, Boleslaus, and his sons by Oda.
Dobrawa (ca. 940/45 – 977) was a Bohemian princess of the Přemyslid dynasty and by marriage Duchess of the Polans. She was the daughter of Boleslav I the Cruel, Duke of Bohemia, whose wife may have been the mysterious Biagota. According to earlier sources, Dobrawa urged her husband Mieszko I of Poland to accept baptism in 966, the year after their marriage. Modern historians believe, however, that the change of religion by Mieszko was one of the points discussed in the Polish-Bohemian agreement concluded soon before his marriage with Dobrawa. Her role in his conversion is not considered now to be as important as it is often represented in medieval chronicles.
Bolesław Chrobry – Boleslaus the Brave
Boleslaus the Brave (c. 967-1025), the first son of Mieszko I and the Bohemian princess Dobrava. After his father’s death, he banished Mieszko’s second wife Oda and her sons, and reunited the state. In his attempts at winning the royal crown for himself, he developed contacts with papacy and the empire. Thanks to his efforts, Bishop Adalbert, murdered by the pagan Prussians, was canonised in 999 and the first Polish metropolis (archbishopric) was established at Gniezno, the capital of the country, in 1000. The same year he welcomed in Gniezno the emperor Otto III, an event of considerable political importance. In the wars he fought in the west and the east, he extended his rule to Milsko and Lusatia along the Elbe and the group of strongholds called Grody Czerwienskie in Rus. He had himself crowned king of Poland in 1025, shortly before his death.
Bezprym (ca. 986 – 1032) was a Duke of Poland during 1031–1032. He was the eldest son of Bolesław I the Brave, King of Poland, but was deprived of the succession by his father, who around 1001 sent him to Italy, in order to became a monk at one of Saint Romuald’s hermitages in Ravenna.
Expelled by his half-brother Mieszko II Lambert after the death of their father, in 1031 Bezprym became ruler of large areas of Poland following simultaneous attack of the German and Kievan forces and Mieszko II’s escape to Bohemia. His reign was short-lived and, according to some sources, extremely cruel. He was murdered in 1032 and Mieszko II returned to the throne of Poland. It’s speculated that Pagan Reaction began during his short reign.
Kazimierz Sprawiedliwy – Casimir the Just
Casimir the Just (1138-1194), the youngest son of Boleslaus the Wrymouthed, born probably after his father’s death, which is why he was not assigned a hereditary province in the will. He succeeded to the province of Sandomierz only after the death of his brother, Henry. In 1177, in the wake of a revolt by the nobles, he became senior prince in Cracow, and in 1186, he took over the principalities of Mazovia and Kuyavia. He sought Church support and therefore at the congress at Leczyca in 1180, he bestowed various privileges on the Polish Church. In exchange, he was promised the Cracow province as his hereditary principality. Following his sudden death, war broke out for the Cracow throne and lasted eight years.
Władysław Laskonogi – Ladislaus Spindleshanks
Ladislaus Spindleshanks (c. 1165-1231), the son of Mieszko the Old, who was the prince of Gniezno and Poznan, ascended the throne after his father’s death. However the majority of the nobles supported the prince of Sandomierz, Leszek the White, the son of Casimir the Just. Ladislaus was exiled from Cracow, and Leszek assumed power in the senior principality. Ladislaus did not give up his efforts to regain the throne and sought support in Great Poland. He achieved his aim shortly after Leszek’s death, but was again exiled, this time by Prince Conrad of Mazovia, who claimed the throne as the brother of Leszek the White. After this defeat, Ladislaus also lost Great Poland. He sought refuge in Silesia, where in his last will he bequeathed his province to his host, Prince Henry the Bearded.
Mieszko I Plątonogi (b. 1131-1146, d. 16 May 1211) – from 1163 formal co-regent of Silesia, from 1173 Prince Racibórz, from 1201 Prince of Opole, from 1210 Prince of Kraków.
Leszek Biały – Leszek the White
Leszek the White (c. 1186-1227), the prince of Sandomierz, and the son of Casimir the Just. After his father’s death, Leszek claimed the senior province of Cracow, having as his main rival at first Mieszko the Old, Casimir’s brother. He eventually ascended the throne in 1202. He made efforts to capture Halich Rus, also claimed by Hungary, but failed. He died in tragic circumstances at Gasawa in Pomerania, where he held a meeting with Ladislaus Spindleshanks and Henry the Bearded, when they were unexpectedly attacked by Swietopelk, prince of Gdansk Pomerania.
Henryk Brodaty – Henry the Bearded
Henry the Bearded (1163-1238), the first representative of the line of the Silesian Piasts on the Cracow throne. He paid much attention to the country’s economic expansion, supported the foundation of new towns and villages, the development of mining, and monetary reform. he was the prince of Wroclaw, and in 1228-29 and from 1234 till his death the ruler of the senior province. He worked towards the reunification of Poland, which provoked a sharp conflict with Conrad of Mazovia, who had earlier banished Ladislaus Spindleshanks from Cracow. Under the will of the latter, Henry the Bearded took over part of Great Poland, but he never attained his main aim of unifying the Polish state. His son, Henry the Pious, was killed in 1241 in the battle of Legnica during the first Mongol invasion which threatened the West.
Henryk II Pobożny
Henry II the Pious (ca. 1196/1207 – 9 April 1241), of the Silesian line of the Piast dynasty was Duke of Silesia at Wrocław and Duke of Kraków and thus High Duke of all Poland as well as Duke of Southern Greater Poland from 1238 until his death. During 1238–1239 he also served as a regent of two other Piast duchies: Sandomierz and Upper Silesian Opole-Raciborz.
Bolesław Rogatka – Boleslaus II Rogatka of Silesia
Boleslaus II Rogatka of Silesia also known as Bolesław II the Bald, born between 1220 and 1225, died Dec. 26, 1278
Konrad I Mazowiecki książę krakowski – Konrad I of Masovia
Konrad I of Masovia (1187? – 1247), from the Polish Piast dynasty, was the sixth Duke of Masovia from 1194 until his death and High Duke of Poland from 1229 to 1232.
Bolesław Wstydliwy – Boleslaus the Chaste
Boleslaus the Bashful, also called the Chaste (1226-1279), prince of Sandomierz, the son of Leszek the White, he assumed the throne in the Cracow province in 1243, having defeated Conrad of Mazovia. He failed to achieve his aims since the Sandomierz and Cracow provinces were invaded by the Mongols and attacked by Rus. In his foreign policy he relied on an alliance with Hungary, strengthened by his marriage with Kinga (Kunegunda), the daughter of the Hungarian king, Bela IV. He died leaving no heir.
Leszek Czarny – Leszek the Black
Leszek the Black (1241-1288), the son of the prince of Kuyavia and Sieradz, and the brother of Ladislaus the Short, he inherited the Cracow throne from Boleslaus the Bashful. He took power in peaceful circumstances, with no opposition. In his efforts to reunify the country, Leszek the Black looked to the towns for support and quelled a revolt by the lords. A year before his death, the Mongols invaded Poland for the third time and Leszek fled to Hungary. The Mongols approached the walls of Cracow but failed to capture the city. Leszek’s death opened a long period of struggle for the Cracow throne.
Henryk IV Probus
Henryk IV Probus, (c. 1258 – 23 June 1290) was a member of the Silesian branch of the royal Polish Piast dynasty. He was Duke of Silesia at Wrocław from 1266, and from also 1288 High Duke of the Polish Seniorate Province of Kraków until his death in 1290.
Przemysl II (1257-1296), the prince of Poznan, he followed in the footsteps of many of his predecessors in efforts to reunify the Polish state. In 1290, he conducted a treaty with the dying prince of Cracow, Henry Probus, who had tried to get the crown from the pope. Under this treaty, he took over the Cracow province, but was defeated by Wenceslas II of Bohemia. He therefore concentrated his efforts on Great Poland, and was supported by an outstanding politician, the archbishop of Gniezno, Jakub Swinka. In 1294, Przemysl incorporated Gdansk Pomerania, and in 1295 had himself crowned king of Poland in the former Polish capital, Gniezno. This first coronation after almost 200 years had a considerable significance for the unification of the Polish state. A year later Przemysl was murdered, probably by hostile agents of the March of Brandenburg.
Wacław II – Wenceslas II
Wenceslas II (1271-1305), the son of King Premysl Otokar II of the Bohemian Premyslid dynasty. Crowned king of Bohemia in 1283, he banished Przemysl II and became prince of Cracow in 1291. He crowned himself king of Poland in Gniezno in 1300. In 1301, he took the Hungarian crown on behalf of his only son. He strove to strengthen royal power, which was a difficult task after the long period of feudal disintegration and unrest. He introduced the office of starost with large powers. The opposition against Wenceslas was headed by his future successor, Ladislaus the Short, who was supported both by Pope Boniface VIII and King Robert of Hungary, the latter anxious about Bohemia’s growing influence.
Wacław III – Wenceslaus III of Bohemia
Wenceslaus III of Bohemia was by inheritance the King of Bohemia (1305–06), the King of Hungary (1301–05) and the King of Poland (1305–06).
Wenceslaus III was the son of Wenceslaus II, King of Bohemia and Poland, and Judith of Habsburg, the daughter of Rudolph I, King of the Romans. During his short reign, the teenaged king faced the problem of significant internal quarrels in Hungary and in Poland.
Wenceslaus was the last of the male Přemyslid rulers of Bohemia. His sister Elizabeth married John of Luxembourg, who was elected King of Bohemia four years after his death.
Henryk III Głogowski – Henry III of Glogow
Henryk III of Glogow, (b. 1251/1260, d. 9 Dec. 1309) – duke of Głogów (1273/1274-1309), duke of Grater Poland (1306-1309).
Władysław Łokietek – Ladislaus the Short
Ladislaus the Short (1260-1333), the younger brother of Leszek the Black, inherited the province of Kuyavia and had plans for unifying the Polish territory. In 1296-1300, following a number of minor conquests, he captured the senior province and the principality of Sandomierz. Prevented by Wenceslas II from taking Cracow, he appealed for assistance to the Hungarians who helped him conquer Little Poland. However he lost Gdansk Pomerania to the Order of the Teutonic Knights. In 1311, he suppressed a rebellion of the Cracow townspeople, and then captured Great Poland. He knew what he wanted and how to get it. In 1320, he crowned himself in Cracow. This date is regarded as the end of the feudal disintegration of Poland.
Kazimierz Wielki – Casimir the Great
Casimir the Great (1310-1370), the son of Ladislaus the Short and Poland’s only king with the cognomen “Great”. He completed the work of the reunification of the state which under his rule more than doubled its size. He attached great importance to economic development. He is said to have found Poland built in wood and to have left it built in stone. He contributed to the development of the towns and commerce, carried out a monetary reform and codified the laws. In 1364, he established the Cracow Academy, the first Polish university. In foreign policy, in spite of some opposition, he was in favour of compromise, for he believed that Poland needed internal stability and peace. The only point of his policy which never changed was his alliance with Hungary. In 1339, in Visegrad, he concluded a treaty with the Hungarian king, under which the throne was to pass to the Angevins in the event of his childless death. He was the last ruler from the great Piast dynasty. His death caused sadness and anxiety among his subjects.
Siemowit III Mazowiecki – Siemowit III of Masovia
Siemowit III of Masovia (his name also rendered Ziemowit; c. 1320 – 1381) was a prince of Masovia and a co-regent (with his brother Casimir I of Warsaw) of the lands of Warsaw, Czersk, Rawa, Gostynin and other parts of Masovia.
Ludwik Węgierski – Louis of Hungary
Louis of Hungary (1326-1386), king of Hungary, called in his own country Lajos the Great. He was the son of Elizabeth, Casimir the Great’s sister, and became king of Poland under the treaty concluded at Visegrad in 1339 by Casimir the Great and his father, Charles Robert, the founder of the Hungarian Angevin dynasty. After his coronation in Poland in 1370, he ruled in Cracow through the intermediary of his mother. He wanted the Polish throne for one of his daughters and therefore tried to win over the gentry by giving them extensive privileges, called the Kosice pact, which became the foundation of the freedom and political power of the gentry in Poland. In exchange, the gentry agreed to one of Louis’ daughters ascending the throne. He left Poland united, its borders almost the same as after the death of Casimir the Great.
Jadwiga of Angevin
Jadwiga of Angevin (1374-1399), the daughter of King Louis of Hungary and Elizabeth of Bosnia. In 1384, the Polish lords recognised her rights to the throne and had her crowned the queen of Poland, but her official title was ‘king’ rather than ‘queen’, reflecting that she was a sovereign in her own right and not merely a royal consort. Polish lords forced her to break off her engagement to William of Habsburg, since they were in favour of a dynastic union with Lithuania, which would strengthen both these countries threatened by the Teutonic Knights. Under the treaty of Krevo concluded in 1385, the grand duke of Lithuania, Ladislaus Jagiello, together with his brother and the whole of Lithuania, were converted to the Latin rite and Ladislaus married Jadwiga. Jadwiga enjoyed great popularity due to her readiness to sacrifice her life to state aims. She renovated the Cracow Academy and bequeathed to it her personal property.
Władysław Jagiełło – Ladislaus Jagiello
Ladislaus Jagiello (1348-1434) became grand duke of Lithuania in 1377 and was crowned king of Poland in 1396. He was the founder of the Jagiellonian dynasty, and as king opened a new epoch in the history of Poland, a central European country with close ties with western, Latin civilisation. Through Ladislaus Jagiello, Poland entered into a union with Lithuania, a country covering a vast territory between the Baltic and the Black Sea, inhabited by a mixture of pagan Lithuanians and Orthodox Christians in the Rus territory captured by Lithuania. This union served an important political aim: of checking the expansion of the Order of the Teutonic Knights who were defeated by the combined Polish-Lithuanian-Ruthenian forces at Grunwald on 15 July 1410. But it also resulted in some serious problems in the East, with which the kingdom not always could cope. In 1413, Ladislaus Jagiello concluded a new union at Horodlo, which strengthened Poland’s links with Lithuania, and issued new privileges for the gentry in order to secure the throne for his sons.
Władysław Warneńczyk – Ladislaus of Varna
Ladislaus of Varna (1424-1444), crowned king of Poland in 1434, and king of Hungary in 1440; the son of Ladislaus Jagiello and Sophia of Holszany. Since he ascended the Polish throne at the age of ten, the country was ruled in his name by Cardinal Zbigniew Olesnicki. The accepting of the Hungarian crown involved Ladislaus directly in a war with the Turks, who were a threat to Hungary. Encouraged by the papal legate, the young king set out against the Turks at the head of a small, poorly prepared army. In the decisive battle fought at Varna on 10 November 1444, the anti-Turkish forces were routed and Ladislaus slain. Ladislaus is one of the best known rulers of medieval Poland. His defeat on the battlefield of Varna gave rise to a legend about a young king who died in a war between two different civilisations.
Kazimierz Jagiellończyk – Casimir Jagiellonian
Casimir Jagiellonian (1427-1492), the younger son of Ladislaus Jagiello and Sophia of Holszany; grand duke of Lithuania, crowned king of Poland in 1447. He restricted the powers of Cardinal Zbigniew Olesnicki and the latter’s supporters among the nobles, who held sway during the reign of his predecessor. He carried out an active dynastic policy: his son Ladislaus became king of Bohemia in 1471 and succeeded to the Hungarian throne in 1490. In his efforts to strengthen royal authority, he sought supporters among the knights and limited the influence of the nobles. Under the terms of the treaty of Torun, which ended the so-called Thirteen Years’ War with the Teutonic Knights, he incorporated Royal Prussia, that is, the western parts of the Teutonic Knights’ state. After years of conflict, he finally won the right to appoint bishops (who were members of the Royal Council). His long reign contributes to economic and cultural development, and to Poland becoming a European power.
Jan I Olbracht – John I Albert of Poland
John I Albert of Poland (1459-1501), the son of Casimir Jagiellonian, crowned king in 1492. He reigned in Poland, while his brother Alexander became the grand duke of Lithuania. He carried out reforms which strengthened the position of the gentry. The Statute of Piotrkow of 1496 reserved higher church positions for the gentry exclusively, barred the townspeople from buying land, and restricted the peasants’ freedom of movement. In foreign policy, John Albert concentrated on the Turkish problem and wished to improve Poland’s standing by assuming control over Danube principalities. In 1497, he set out on an expedition against the Turks, which ended in his defeat.
Aleksander Jagiellończyk – Alexander Jagiellonian
Alexander Jagiellonian (1461-1506), the son of Casimir Jagiellonian, crowned grand duke of Lithuania in 1492 and king of Poland in 1501. At the beginning of his reign, he issued the so-called Mielnik privileges, by which the Senate under the monarch’s chairmanship was granted the exclusive right to take decisions on state matters. This caused sharp protests of the gentry who well remembered Alexander’s predecessors pro-gentry policy. The gentry were against one person holding more than one dignity and in favour of the participation of the lower chamber in government. This last privilege was granted by the Constitution Nihil Novi, adopted by the Seym in Radom in 1505. This meant that from then on no new law could be adopted without the joint consent of the Senate and Deputies. This was the beginning of the system called gentry democracy in Polish history.
Zygmunt Stary – Sigismund the Old
Sigismund I the Old (1467-1548) son of Casimir Jagiellonian, the grand duke of Lithuania and king of Poland from 1506. He married Bona Sforza, the duchess of Milan, who exerted a strong influence on the government and who supported her husband in his efforts to strengthen royal authority. Under Sigismund’s reign, Renaissance spread in Poland, and the level of education among the magnates and the gentry grew. Nicholas Copernicus worked on his De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. The king corresponded with Erasmus of Rotterdam. The townspeople became more active in the field of literature. Discussion on the Reformation developed freely. The gentry continued its struggle against the magnates and for restricting the Church’s privileges. The Polish language began to prevail in literature and diplomacy. Sigismund incorporated Mazovia with Warsaw (the last province which remained outside Poland) and accepted the tribute of Prince Albrecht Hohenzollern. The state was powerful and no one threatened it. The golden age of the Renaissance began.
Zygmunt II August – Sigismund II Augustus
Sigismund II Augustus (1520-1572), the son of Sigismund the Old and Bona Sforza, crowned king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania in 1529, during his father’s lifetime. He assumed power in 1548. He supported the reformatory movement of the gentry. The result was the re-seizure of royal lands and the setting up of a standing army. A supporter of tolerance, he prevented persecution and religious wars, for, as he declared in the Seym: “I am not the king of your consciences”. He had no sons or daughters to inherit the throne, therefore he strove to consolidate Poland’s links with Lithuania on the basis of a real union. He achieved this aim – the Union of Lublin of 1569 – three years before his death. His romantic love and marriage to Barbara Radziwillowna, and the latter’s coronation was in contravention of the dynastic interests and reasons of state. The king built a large fleet and incorporated Livonia into the Polish-Lithuanian state. He was a Renaissance man, a well educated protector of science and learning which flourished under his reign.
Henryk Walezy – Henry of Valois
Henry of Valois (1551-1589), the son of King Henry II of France, he was the first king of Poland to be elected in free election by all the gentry in 1573. On the occasion of this first election, the so-called Henrician Articles were formulated. From then all, on ascending the Polish throne every king elect had to pledge to observe these articles. The articles listed the most important principles underlying the state system, including the superior role of the Seym. The choice of the first king proved unfortunate. Henry arrived in Poland in January 1574, in the midst of a severe winter. He did not like Polish customs, and the Poles disliked him and his courtiers. When notified of the sudden death of his elder brother, Charles IX, Henry secretly fled Cracow in June 1574 in order to assume the French throne. His escape made a very bad impression in Poland.
Stefan Batory – Stephen Bathory
Stephen Bathory (1533-1586), Duke of Transylvania, was elected king of Poland in 1575, and crowned in 1576, having previously married Anne Jagiellonian, the sister of Sigismund Augustus. The Polish crown was a great honour for Bathory, who immediately made it clear that he did not take his position lightly. He opposed the licence of the gentry and the magnates, and continued the policy of religious tolerance which the Convocation Seym of 1573 (the so-called Warsaw Convocation) made one of the principles of the political system of Poland. Although a proponent of strong government, he renounced his judicial powers and instead appointed separate tribunals for Poland and Lithuania. He introduced important reforms in the army and the system of taxes. In a war with Muscovy he recovered Livonia. He elevated the Jesuit college in Vilnius to the rank of Academy (university).