John I Albert

gigatos | June 2, 2022


John I Olbracht (Albrecht), (born December 27, 1459 in Cracow, died June 17, 1501 in Toruń) – king of Poland in the years 1492-1501, Duke of Głogów 1491-1498.

He was the third son, and fourth in turn, of Casimir Jagiellon and his wife Elizabeth Rakuszanka of the Habsburgs, to whom he probably owed his second name, Olbracht, she wished to honor her father, King of Germany, Bohemia and Hungary, Albrecht II of Habsburg.

Childhood and early political career

From 1467, like his other brothers, the prince gained knowledge under the tutelage of Jan Długosz. Young Jan Olbracht”s behaviour was also influenced by the Italian humanist philosopher Callimachus, who befriended him. He repeatedly proved his talent during his studies and mastered Latin. He became familiar with the achievements of the passing Middle Ages and the early Renaissance. He finished his education around 1474 and became active in politics at his father”s side, with whom he participated in touring the country and the Sejm. Between 1486 and 1490 he served as royal governor in Ruthenia, where he distinguished himself by defeating the Tatars at Kopystřin in 1487. He began to establish the so-called common defense of the south-eastern borderlands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania against the Tatars and Turks.

Struggles for the Hungarian throne

After the death of Matthias Corvinus, king of Hungary, John Olbracht and his brother Ladislaus, king of Bohemia, competed for the Hungarian throne. Both Casimir IV Jagiellon and the Hungarian nobility preferred the capable Olbracht to the submissive and unstable Ladislaus, who was supported by the magnates. On June 7, 1490, he was proclaimed king of Hungary by the nobles at the electoral sejm in Rokos. Nevertheless, the magnates contested the election and elected Ladislaus king, which led to a civil war between the brothers. The war was fought in what is now Slovakia (see the Battle of Košice). Under the Peace of Košice in February 1491, John Olbracht was to give up his claim to the Hungarian throne, in return for which his brother would give him the Duchy of Głogów, Oleśnica, and Opava in Silesia. In spite of this, the prince remained in Hungary, and upon hearing of Ladislaus” illness in mid-1491, he broke off the peace and resumed fighting. He even ignored the objections of his father, who ordered him to return to Poland. He was finally defeated in the Battle of Prešov (January 1492). After capturing the city, John Olbracht was taken prisoner by Ladislaus. His brother, however, received him hospitably and eventually sent him back to Poland. Nevertheless, Ladislaus left Olbracht the promised town of Glogau in Košice, which he kept until 1498, when he handed the duchy over to his brother Sigismund.

Election as King of Poland

After losing the war with Ladislaus over Hungary, Jan Olbracht did not have to wait long for a new chance to assume royal power, as Casimir IV Jagiellon died on June 7, 1492. He appointed his brother, Alexander, as his successor in Lithuania, and “recommended” Jan Olbracht to the Poles. Because Poland, unlike Lithuania, was not a Jagiellonian hereditary monarchy, so Casimir could not designate his successor in Poland. Jan”s brothers, Ladislaus and Sigismund, and the Duke of Mazovia, Janusz II, also vied for the crown after their father. Part of the nobility was ready to support the Grand Duke of Lithuania Alexander, but the latter, together with his youngest brother Frederick and the Queen Mother, supported Jan Olbracht. Władysław of Bohemia and Hungary, Olbracht”s main challenger, did not begin any active struggle for the Polish crown. Finally, on August 27, Jan Olbracht was elected king of Poland (at the end of the Sejm in Piotrków). The vote was by roll call, and the result was almost unanimous in his favor. After the vote the Speaker of the Sejm Rafal Jaroslawski came out of the assembly hall and standing in front of all the noble members of the Sejm announced the result and asked them three times if that was their will. When the assembled people answered three times “It is, it is, it is!”, the election of Olbracht as king was sanctioned. On September 23 the coronation of the new monarch took place in Cracow, led by the Archbishop of Gniezno and Primate of Poland Zbigniew Oleśnicki. Since Alexander became the ruler of Lithuania until the death of Olbracht, the Polish-Lithuanian union was formally broken, but the two states remained in alliance.

Domestic policy

During the reign of the first Jagiellons, the royal council, appointed by the king, played an increasingly important role in governing the state. From the middle of the 15th century a significant part of power was taken over by the national congresses of nobles and district councils. Eventually during the reign of Olbracht the Royal Council was transformed into the Senate, and the all-Polish convention of the nobility, consisting of representatives of regional assemblies, became the parliamentary chamber of the Sejm. Beginning in the fifteenth century, the Republic became a parliamentary monarchy of the nobility. The first meeting of the bicameral Polish parliament is considered to be the Sejm of 1493, which took place in Piotrkow (January 18). The nobility, especially the wealthier and the magnates, became the ruling class, concentrating in their hands the land, privileges and offices. According to the Diet of Radom of 1504, the state administration was constituted by the crown and court marshal, the treasurer, the chancellor and sub-chancellor, and the starosts representing the king in the given territorial unit of the state.

Immediately after taking the throne John confirmed all the previous privileges of the nobility, and in return received high taxes for the defense of the state. Extending the privileges his father had granted to the gentry in the Statutes of Nieszawa, John I Olbracht promulgated the so-called Statute of Piotrkow in 1496, which exempted the gentry from customs duties, limited the outflow of peasants to one per village per year, and forbade the townsmen to purchase landed estates and hold state offices. Clergy without nobility were forbidden to sit in chapters and hold high church positions. Non-nobles were also restricted in their right to occupy academic chairs. Acting for the benefit of Royal Prussia, he won their favor.

John Olbracht also limited the role of the Church in the state, which until then had been very privileged. He banned, among other things, the sale and donation of landed property to religious orders and the secular clergy.

In 1494 Jan Olbracht managed to buy the Duchy of Zator, located between the lands of Kraków and Oświęcim, for 80 thousand Hungarian zlotys. After the death of Duke Jan V it was to be incorporated into the Crown.

Besides, after the death of the last Duke Janusz II in 1495, the Plock Principality was incorporated into Poland.

Foreign policy

The Turkish question was a major foreign policy issue during the reign of Jan Olbracht. The king planned a great military expedition to Moldavia in order to recapture important Black Sea ports from the Turks: Kilia and Belgorod, to restore Polish sovereignty over Moldavia, to avenge the Varna defeat, and possibly to install the king”s younger brother, Sigismund, on the hospodar throne. In 1497, a 40,000-strong mass movement moved southeast. Although Moldavia had been a fief of Poland since 1387, its hospodar, Stephen III the Great, sided with Turkey. The siege of Suceava failed and the expedition ended with great losses of Polish troops in the Battle of Kozmin, in which Turks, Tatars and Vlachs slaughtered about 5 thousand Polish knights, surprised during the retreat in a ravine. The defeat was perpetuated for centuries by a greatly exaggerated saying: The nobility died out under King Olbracht.

Even worse than the military defeat were the political consequences of the failed Moldavian expedition. In its aftermath a whole series of alliances and coalitions of neighboring countries were formed against the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Wallachians were supported in their fight against the Crown army by Turkey and even by Hungary, ruled by the King”s brother, Ladislaus II. In the spring of 1498 the Tatars invaded the southeastern territories of Lithuania, and Grand Duke Ivan III the Severe of Moscow tried to capture Kiev and Smolensk, defeating the Polish-Lithuanian army at the Battle of Vedrosha in 1500. On the other hand, the Emperor Maximilian I of Habsburg seized part of Silesia with Glogow and demanded that the Teutonic Order return Royal Prussia, so the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order refused to pay homage to the Polish king. Then, in the spring of 1501, Olbracht ordered the concentration of the Crown army in Toruń, where he went himself, but, suffering from a severe infectious disease (most probably syphilis), he died soon after and the war expedition to the Order Prussia did not take place. The matter of refusing the fief tribute was resolved by Olbracht”s successor, Alexander Jagiellon.

Olbracht received a very good upbringing. At first the Szydłowieccy family was responsible for his education, and then Jan Długosz and the eminent Italian humanist Filip Kallimach. He was a master of speech, had an excellent command of Latin, and already as a teenager gave wonderful Latin speeches. He was also a sybarite in love with luxury. He led an exuberant erotic life, but he never married. It is suspected that he died of the French disease morbus gallicus, or syphilis. Because of his unstable character and personality defects, which put people off him, he did not enjoy the recognition of either the magnates or the nobility, who regarded him as an unpredictable man and feared his rule.

John I Olbracht died on June 17, 1501 in Torun, his corpse was solemnly deposited in the Wawel Cathedral and his heart was embedded in one of the columns of St. John”s Basilica in Torun. He left no descendants. After the death of Jan Olbracht his younger brother, Alexander (reigned 1501-1506), succeeded to the throne.

He was tall, his eyes were beery and his face showed a certain reproach and exudation. (…) He was quick in his movements, he often appeared with a sword at his side, he indulged his passions and desires as a military man.



  1. Jan I Olbracht
  2. John I Albert
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