Sigismund II Augustus


Sigismund II Augustus (born August 1, 1520 in Cracow, died July 7, 1572 in Knyszyn) – son of Sigismund I the Old and Bona Sforza, from 1529 Grand Duke of Lithuania, from 1530 King of Poland (the last hereditary Grand Duke of Lithuania, the last male representative of the Jagiellonian dynasty.

On his initiative, the Crown of the Polish Kingdom and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were united under the Union of Lublin into a single state, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Sigismund Augustus, king of Poland by God”s grace, Grand Duke of Lithuania, and Duke of the lands of Cracow, Sandomierz, Sieradz, Leczyca, Kuyavia, Kiev, Ruthenia, Volhynia, Prussia, Mazovia, Podlasie, Chelmno, Elblag, Pomerania, Samogitia, Livonia, etc., lord and heir. (Latin: Sigismundus Augustus Dei gratia rex Poloniae, magnus dux Lithuaniae, nec non terrarum Cracoviae, Sandomiriae, Siradiae, Lanciciae, Cuiaviae, Kieviae, Russiae, Woliniae, Prussiae, Masoviae, Podlachiae, Culmensis, Elbingensis, Pomeraniae, Samogitiae, Livoniae etc. dominus et haeres.).

Marriages of Sigismund II Augustus

Sigismund II Augustus was born on August 1, 1520 in Cracow as the first and, as it later turned out, the only living and legally married son of King Sigismund I the Old and his second wife Bona Sforza, Duchess of Milan and Bari. From 1529 he resided in Vilnius as Grand Duke of Lithuania. On February 20, 1530, the Archbishop of Gniezno and the Primate of Poland, Jan Łaski, crowned him king of Poland vivente rege in Wawel Cathedral.

In 1543 he married Elisabeth of Austria, daughter of Emperor Ferdinand I of Habsburg. The young couple lived in Vilnius, but their marriage was not successful, mainly because of the young queen”s illness – epilepsy. After the death of his first wife in 1545, he secretly married Barbara Radziwiłłówna two years later, forced by her brother Mikołaj Radziwiłł the Red and cousin Mikołaj Radziwiłł the Black. According to some opinions the marriage was made for love (the king was supposed to have met Barbara in Vilnius, long before the wedding, around 1544, and had an affair with her while his wife Elisabeth was still alive). Sigismund II”s second marriage was against the wishes of his father Sigismund I and mother Bona, and when it was revealed, the magnates considered it a misalliance, undermining the dignity of the dynasty and the state. Nevertheless, Barbara was crowned Queen of Poland on December 7, 1550. She died the following year. She was buried in Vilnius Cathedral. Sigismund married a third time in 1553, to an Austrian princess, his first wife”s younger sister, Catherine. In this marriage, he still hoped for a descendant and was anxious about the hereditary throne of Lithuania for a possible son, but it turned out, like the previous one, to be childless. The problem of the Jagiellonian legacy in Lithuania thus became irrelevant, and Poland wanted to conclude a real union between Poland and Lithuania so that the union of the two countries would be maintained in the future. The king”s mother, quarreling with the royal court and with her son mainly because of his unsuccessful and childless marriage with his third wife, left for Bari in Italy, where she died in 1557, poisoned by Pappacoda, a Spanish Habsburg”s henchman. In 1566 Catherine left Poland for Austria, as it turned out forever, because she died there a few months before her husband. Sigismund II Augustus died at the end of his 52nd year.


In 1557 he conducted a successful military demonstration, the so-called Posvolskaya expedition, as a result of which he forced the Livonian branch of the Teutonic Order to unequivocally take the side of Poland-Lithuania in its conflict with the Russian Empire. On September 14, 1557 the Treaty of Permit was signed. In 1561 Inflants, which had been under the control of the Teutonic Knights since the 13th century, were annexed to Poland as a fief. The last Grand Master of the Order, Gotthard Kettler, became a fief of Poland from the established secular Duchy of Courland and Semigallia. Then the First Northern War for the dominion over the Baltic Sea (1563-1570) began. Among other things, because of the problems connected with the hard war for Livonia, waged with the Russian Tsar Ivan IV, King Zygmunt II August, looking for wider support among the nobility, decided to introduce reforms demanded by them, such as tax and economic reforms and the creation of a standing army. The state treasury was especially strengthened by the so-called execution of estates, i.e., restitution of a part of the estates distributed to the magnates.

In October 1562, he married John Vasa (then the younger brother of the King of Sweden) to his sister Catherine, who became Queen of Sweden in 1569.

At the Sejm in Warsaw on March 13, 1564, he ceded his succession rights in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland.

During the conflict with Gdansk, he established the Maritime Commission. He forced Gdańsk to pay compensation and transfer the pile duty. In 1570 the construction of the first royal ship “Dragon” began.

Zygmunt August took an ambiguous stance in matters of faith for a long time. He kept Protestant preachers at his court and surrounded himself with Protestants. In 1555, the Protestant nobility, which had the majority in the Chamber of Deputies, put forward a proposal at the Sejm in Piotrków to establish a Polish national church independent of the Pope. Following the example of England, the head of the church was to be the ruler himself. The king supported this project until he needed the support of the camp of the middle nobility against the magnates. Already in 1564, however, he abandoned it altogether, yielding to the persuasion of the nuncio Giovanni Francesco Commendone. The king, together with the Senate, accepted from Commendoni”s hands the book of laws of the Council of Trent at the Diet of Parchevo on August 7, 1564.

In 1568 Sigismund II Augustus took a loan of 100,000 thalers from the Duchy of Pomerania, which his successors considered a personal obligation of the king and did not feel obliged to repay it.

Crown and Lithuania

In view of the nobility”s failure to agree to a tax increase, Zygmunt August did not succeed in carrying out all of his reforms, including an increase in the size of the army. On the other hand, the unification of the country had a positive effect. On July 1, 1569 in Lublin a union was signed, which finally united the Crown of the Polish Kingdom and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania into one state – the Republic of Both Nations, with a common king, parliament, money and foreign policy. The laws, army, treasury and offices remained separate. Podlasie, Volhynia, and Kiev became part of the Crown. The union accelerated the economic, social and cultural development of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, led to the Polonization of the Lithuanian and Ruthenian nobility and extended the influence of Polish culture into the Russian state.

In July 1570 he called a peace congress to Stettin, which ended on 13 December with the signing of the Peace of Stettin, ending the First Northern War.Confirmed the status of the warring parties, the Republic of Poland retained the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia and a large part of Livonia.

During the reign of Sigismund II Augustus, Renaissance literature and art flourished. The town of Augustow was named after him.

Sigismund II Augustus died in 1572 in Knyszyn as the last Polish monarch from the male line of the Jagiellonian dynasty. The next Polish king, elected by the Electoral Sejm, was Henry the Valois (reigned 1573-1574).

Funeral and memorial services

The funeral of Sigismund Augustus took place with exceptional ceremony. After the funeral mass celebrated in the chapel of Tykocin Castle, the funeral procession set off for Cracow. The body of the deceased was led out by twenty-four courtiers dressed in mourning hoods, with candles in their hands, and by poor people in hoods and behind the candles. A procession of one hundred poor people with lighted candles followed, followed by the priests and royal chaplains. Behind them rode an ensign on a black-clad horse. Then a black horse with the royal coats of arms was led, behind which rode two boys with bucklers. Then the carriage with the body of the monarch was driven, covered with black cloth and harnessed to horses also covered with black cloth. The hearse was followed by the dignitaries of the state with their salutes. In passing towns the procession was greeted with salutes from cannons and small arms. At night a guard consisting of two royal chamberlains, eight drabants, two courtiers and two jurgieltniks was put at the marches. In Warsaw the funeral procession was greeted by two hundred poor people and sixty courtiers with candles in their hands, as well as representatives of all crafts guilds. They carried 10 marches decorated with gold and velvet. The body was introduced by bishops and abbots. They were preceded by the signs of royal authority and the court flag. The old custom was to distribute money to the poor. Four commemorative speeches were also delivered. In Cracow, envoys of foreign courts, bishops, abbots, and guilds awaited the procession at the Florianska Gate, with thirty marches covered with gold-heads. There were also ensigns in armour covered with black cloth, who proceeded according to the seniority of the lands they represented. There were also thirty horses covered with silk, the frosh, six hundred poor in capes, and the clergy. A horse covered with black velvet was then led, and farther on, behind the royal marbles, rode a knight in armor on a horse in black, with a bare sword pointing with the blade toward the ground. He was followed by a boy in armour, with a shield, an axe, and a pennant also lowered to the ground, which depicted an eagle and a coat of arms of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. They were followed by a knight in the royal attire, dignitaries carrying royal emblems, and sixty courtiers with candles. The procession was closed by Anna Jagiellonka with her court, led by foreign deputies, and the councillors of the city of Krakow. In such a company the body of the deceased king was escorted to Wawel.

On the following day, the traditional tour of the city with empty marbles was made, visiting the churches of St. Francis, St. Anne, St. Stephen, and St. Trinity, before returning to Wawel. The next day the ceremonies began at the cathedral. All the churches in Kraków rang their bells. The Bishop gave a sermon, and during the singing of the Our Father a knight representing the person of the deceased king entered the church and threw himself from his horse onto the floor near the marches, symbolising the king”s death. The traditional breaking of state seals (chancellor”s and treasurer”s seals) and the carrying of coronation insignia from the marches to the altar also took place. A helmet, shield, sword, and lance were thrown on the floor.

A detailed description of Sigismund Augustus” clothing for his coffin has survived. Thus, the king”s body was wrapped in oilcloth (waxed linen) and a shirt of Flemish linen was put on it, and on the shirt a squire of red damask was put, fastened with a golden cord around the body. On it an alb of white kitsch was worn, and on it a dalmatica of golden lead. The outfit was completed with a coat of altembass. Around his neck hung a chain with a cross set with diamonds and rubies, and on his fingers were placed two rings: emerald and sapphire. His hands were covered with silk gloves and tinsel, and on his feet he wore gold-lead shoes and gilded spurs. A sword in a silver scabbard was girded to his side, and a sceptre and apple were laid beside him. A biretta of red satin was placed on his head, followed by a crown. A silver gilt plaque with a Latin inscription indicating who was laid to rest in the coffin was laid on his chest. The coffin itself was covered inside with black velvet.

The funeral of Sigismund II Augustus was the last such grand funeral rite in pre-partition Poland.


By order of the king the Old Castle in Kamenets-Podilskyi was modernized in 1544-1547. In 1544 a Renaissance wing, called the New Palace (Giovanni Cini), was added to the Lower Castle in Vilnius; it is no longer extant. In the years 1551-1568 the castle in Niepołomice was rebuilt in Renaissance style. After 1549, the castle in Tykocin (now under reconstruction) and the royal mansion in Knyszyn (not preserved) were extended by Job Bretfus.

In 1568 the Sigismund Augustus Bridge in Warsaw (completed after his death) began to be built.


  1. Zygmunt II August
  2. Sigismund II Augustus
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