Władysław II Jagiełło


Ladislaus II Jagellon (Vilnius, 1352 or 1362 – Horodok, June 1, 1434) was a Lithuanian ruler, Grand Duke of Lithuania (1377-1434) and later King of Poland from 1386. A member of the Gediminid dynasty, born in Lithuania to Grand Duke Algirdas and Uliana of Tver” under the name Jogaila, he was raised according to traditional Lithuanian beliefs and succeeded his father as grand duke. On the occasion of his marriage with Hedwig of Poland, he converted to Catholicism and changed his name to Ladislaus Jagellon. This event marked the final step for Lithuania, the last country in the European continent still faithful to the atavistic religions, in the long process of Christianization, so that after him no Lithuanian ruler embraced paganism again.

Through his union with Hedwig, Ladislaus obtained the crown of Poland. His reign, which lasted almost fifty years, united Poland and Lithuania in a personal union for the first time and laid the foundations for the centuries-old Polish-Lithuanian union. Ladislaus was in fact the founder of the Jagiellonian dynasty, a lineage that ruled both states until 1572, becoming one of the most influential in Europe in the late Middle Ages and early modern age. During his reign, the Polish-Lithuanian state became one of the largest states in the Christian world.

At the head of the Polish-Lithuanian collaboration, Ladislaus had to face the growing common enemy constituted by the monastic state of the Teutonic Knights. The victory of the allies at the Battle of Grunwald in 1410, followed by the Treaty of Toruń in 1411, secured the Polish and Lithuanian borders and marked the emergence of the alliance between the two entities as a significant power in Eastern Europe. His reign also extended Polish borders and is often regarded as the beginning of the Polish Golden Age. From the point of view of domestic policy, however, Ladislaus was not able to completely quell the separatist pressures of Lithuania and reduce the weight of the nobility, which instead acquired more and more privileges and political influence.

The historical judgment of Ladislaus has conveyed the image of a controversial figure: although he is unanimously celebrated in Polish and Western historiography, Lithuanian historiography tends to consider him more negatively. For his great historical, political and cultural impact, he is nevertheless considered one of the greatest rulers of Eastern Europe in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

Historical context: the first years in Lithuania

Jogaila belonged to the Gediminid dynasty of dukes and grand dukes of Lithuania: his father was Algirdas, ruler of Lithuania who reigned from 1345 to 1377, son in turn of Gediminas, while his mother was Uliana of Tver”. Little is known about his childhood and even his year of birth is uncertain. Previously, historians thought he was born in 1352, but some recent research suggests a later date, about 1362.

The Grand Duchy of Lithuania appeared to outside observers as a political entity composed of two very different ethnic groups and two political systems: Lithuania proper in the north-west on the one hand, and on the other the vast Ruthenian territories of the former Kievan Rus”, including the lands of today”s Ukraine, Belarus, and parts of western Russia, which had been annexed by the grand duchy during the previous century. Although in a feudal society, Lithuanian grand dukes exercised almost absolute power, which was subject only to the control of their closest relatives. For practical reasons and in order to quell rivalries, however, political power was often shared with other figures of the local nobility, so that in previous generations the kingdom had taken on the features of a diarchy, although still headed by the grand duke. This was also the case during the reign of Jogaila, who succeeded his father as grand duke and administered the southern and eastern territories of Lithuania, while his uncle Kęstutis continued to govern the north-western region with the title of Duke of Trakai. The rise of Jogaila, however, soon put a strain on such a system that had done so well in the decades just before.

At the beginning of his reign, Jogaila was preoccupied with internal unrest: between 1377 and 1378, Andrei of Polock, Algirdas” eldest son, challenged Jogaila”s authority and sought to become grand duke. In 1380, Andrei and another brother, Demetrius, sided with Prince Demetrius of Russia against the alliance formed by Jogaila and the leader and khan Mamaj. Jogaila failed to support the Tatar, lingering in the vicinity of the place of fighting, an event that made operations easy for Demetrius in a clash that went down in history as the Battle of Kulikovo. The Grand Duchy of Moscow was considerably weakened by the enormous losses suffered during the battle and so, in the same year, Jogaila could start a struggle for supremacy with Kęstutis without having to worry about external threats.

In the north-west, Lithuania faced continuous incursions armed by the Teutonic knights as part of the long crusade in which they subdued long time before indigenous peoples such as Pruzzi, Nadruvians and Jatvingi. In 1380, Jogaila preferred to side with the enemy and thus concluded the secret treaty of Dovydiškės, in function anti-Kestostutis: when the latter discovered the plan, a civil war broke out that lasted from 1381 to 1384. Conquered Vilnius, the old uncle overthrew Jogaila and replaced him in the role of Grand Duke. In 1382, Jogaila raised an army from his father”s vassals and confronted his rival near Trakai: when Kęstutis and his son Vitoldo entered the camp of Algirdas” son to negotiate and avoid bloodshed, the two were tricked and imprisoned in Krėva castle. At more than eighty years of age, there Kęstutis died, possibly murdered, a week later. Vitoldo instead escaped to the Teutonic fortress of Marienburg and was baptized there with the name of Wigand.

Jogaila entered into the Treaty of Dubysa, by which he rewarded the Order for their help in the campaign against Kęstutis and Vitoldo by promising Christianization and granting them Samogizia, a strategically valuable geographical region west of the Dubysa River. However, when Jogaila systematically refused to ratify the treaty due to unfavorable conditions, the Germans invaded Lithuania in the summer of 1383. In 1384, Jogaila reconciled with Vitoldo by promising to return his estate to Trakai, and by virtue of such renewed confidence, the latter turned against the knights, attacking and pillaging numerous Prussian castles.

Baptism and Marriage

Jogaila”s mother, the Russian Uliana of Tver”, urged him to marry Sophia, daughter of Prince Demetrius, who first asked him to convert to Orthodoxy. Since, by accepting this option, Lithuania would have ended up becoming a fief in the hands of Muscovy, Jogaila preferred to refuse: moreover, the Teutonic knights, who considered Orthodox Christians as schismatics and little more than pagans, would not stop making raids. For these reasons, the Lithuanian looked to Poland, the state from which came the proposal to accept baptism according to the Catholic rite and marry the then eleven-year-old Queen Hedwig (Jadwiga) in exchange for the crown. The nobles of Lesser Poland made such an offer to Jogaila for several reasons: first, they wanted to neutralize the dangers posed by Lithuania itself and protect the fertile territories of Galicia-Volinia. Secondly, the Polish nobles wanted to act as a spokesman in order to increase their already numerous privileges and not to be unprepared in case of an attack by the Germans and to avoid the Austrian influence, due to the fact that Hedwig”s hand had been previously promised to William I of Habsburg.

On August 14, 1385 in the castle of Krėva, Jogaila sealed his premarital vows with the Union of Krewo. On that occasion, she reconfirmed her adoption to Christianity, her willingness to return the lands “taken” from Poland by her neighbors, and terras suas Lithuaniae et Russiae Coronae Regni Poloniae perpetuo applicare, a nebulous clause not well understood by historians, by which perhaps the intention to have the Kingdom assume a sovereign position with respect to the Grand Duchy was unclearly indicated. The Krėva understanding has been described as both forward-looking and a desperate gamble.

Jogaila was baptized in Wawel Cathedral in Kraków on February 15, 1386, and has since been recorded in the records as Ladislaus Jagellon (in Polish Władysław Jagiełło and in Latin Wladislaus or Ladislaus). The name Ladislaus, of Slavic origin and roughly translatable as “glorious lord,” evoked both Ladislaus I of Poland, called the Short, the great-grandfather of Queen Hedwig who unified the kingdom in 1320, and Ladislaus I of Hungary, a king later sanctified and remembered as an enlightened ruler who sided with the pope against Emperor Henry IV of Franconia and Christianized Transylvania. The wedding took place three days later, and on March 4, 1386, the man was crowned King Ladislaus II Jagellon by Archbishop Bodzanta (1320-1388). He was also legally adopted by Hedwig”s mother, Elizabeth of Bosnia, in order to retain the throne in the event of Hedwig”s death. Royal baptism triggered the change of faith of most of the court and nobles, as well as mass baptisms in Lithuanian rivers. Although the Lithuanian nobility had converted to Catholicism, both paganism and the Orthodox rite remained strong among the peasants, especially in Samogitia, where it was necessary to wait until 1410 for the creation of the first local diocese: the conversion of the king and its political implications had, however, lasting repercussions on the history of Lithuania and Poland.

Sovereign of Lithuania and Poland

Ladislaus II and Queen Hedwig reigned as co-monarchs, and the latter, although she probably had little actual power, participated actively in the political and cultural life of Poland. In 1387, she led two successful military expeditions into Red Ruthenia, recovered the lands that her father Louis I of Hungary had transferred from Poland to Hungary, and obtained the homage of Petru I, Voivode of Moldavia. In 1390, he also personally initiated negotiations with Marienburg, capital of the monastic state. Most of the political responsibilities, however, fell to Ladislaus II, with Hedwig being involved in cultural and charitable activities for which she is still revered as a saint today.

Shortly after his accession to the Polish throne, Ladislaus II granted Vilnius a city statute on the model of that of Krakow, which followed the law of Magdeburg: Vitoldo granted a privilege to the Jewish community of Trakai almost under the same conditions as the privileges granted to Polish Jews during the reign of Boleslaus the Pious and Casimir the Great. The policy of unifying the two legal systems was at first partial and uneven, but it achieved lasting influence. At the time of the Union of Lublin in 1569, there was little difference between the administrative and judicial systems in force in Lithuania and Poland.

Among the consequences of the conversion of the new king, one can count the increase of Catholic believers in Lithuania at the expense of Orthodox elements; in 1387 and 1413, for example, Lithuanian Catholic boyars were granted special judicial and political privileges denied to their Orthodox counterparts. When this process passed the point of no return, the dualism and separation between Russia and Lithuania that would characterize the entire fifteenth century became even more pronounced in the religious sphere as well.

The baptism of Ladislaus did not stop the raids ordered by Marienburg, because the Teutonic knights claimed that his conversion was not sincere and continued their campaigns against the Lithuanian population, in their opinion still pagan. Ladislaus, for his part, spurred the creation of the diocese of Vilnius under Bishop Andrzej Wasilko, formerly the confessor of Elizabeth of Hungary. From that moment on, however, the order found greater adversity in supporting the need to continue the crusade and had to live with the growing threat posed by the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The bishopric, which included Samogitia, then largely controlled by the Teutonic order, was subordinated to the see of Gniezno and not to that of the German Königsberg. The decision may not have improved Ladislaus”s relations with the order, but it did allow for closer ties between Lithuania and Poland, as it enabled the Polish church to assist its Lithuanian counterpart in its activities without restriction when needed.

With the coronation and union of Krewo, Ladislaus probably intended to firmly unite the kingdom of Poland and the grand duchy of Lithuania under his sovereignty, but soon discontent began to emerge within the grand ducal family and the Lithuanian nobility over an arrangement that seemed to benefit only Poland and harm Lithuania”s identity politically and culturally. Ladislaus appointed his brother Skirgaila duke of Trakai to act as regent in Lithuania on his behalf; however, Vitoldo, son of the previous lord of Trakai, Kęstutis, challenged Skirgaila, sparking a second civil conflict in order to claim the title of grand duke and greater independence from the crown. On September 4, 1390, the combined forces of Vitoldo and the Teutonic Hochmeister Konrad von Wallenrode laid siege to Vilnius, which was guarded by Skirgaila with Polish, Lithuanian, and Ruthenian troops. Although the knights lifted the siege of the castle after a month, a large part of the outer city was destroyed. The bloody conflict was finally interrupted temporarily in 1392 with the Treaty of Astrava, by which Ladislaus gave the government of Lithuania to his cousin in exchange for peace: Vitoldo would rule Lithuania as grand duke (magnus dux) until his death, answering for his activities to the supreme duke (dux supremus), i.e. the Polish monarch. Skirgaila was instead compensated with the title of Prince of Kiev. Vitoldo, at first, accepted this arrangement, but soon began to pursue political paths that would avoid the subordination of Lithuania to Poland.

The long interlude of skirmishes between Lithuanians and Teutonic knights ended on October 12, 1398 with the Treaty of Salynas, named after the islet of the Neman river where it was signed. Lithuania agreed to surrender Samogitia and to assist the Teutonic order in a campaign to conquer Pskov, while Marienburg agreed to assist Lithuania in a campaign to subdue Novgorod. Shortly thereafter, Vitoldo was crowned king by the local nobles; however, the following year his forces and those of his ally, Khan Toktamish of the White Horde, suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of the Timurids in the Battle of the Vorskla River, ending his imperial ambitions in the east and forcing him to submit once again to Ladislaus” rule.

King of Poland

On June 22, 1399, Hedwig gave birth to a baby girl, baptized Elizabeth Boniface, who died within a month, as did her mother. Many believed that the king had thus forfeited his right to the crown with Hedwig”s death, but there were no other known heirs to the ancient Polish monarchs – all potential competitors, previously in large numbers, were but distant relatives in Lesser Poland, and although Ladislaus faced opposition from time to time, his political status was more or less always accepted de jure and de facto even by the new aristocracy that was emerging, that of Greater Poland. In 1402, he sought to strengthen his position and rights by remarrying the Slovenian Anna of Cilli, niece of Casimir III of Poland.

The Union of Vilnius and Radom of 1401 reaffirmed Vitoldo”s mandate as grand duke under Ladislaus, but ensured the title of sovereign of Lithuania to Ladislaus” heirs rather than Vitoldo”s: if Ladislaus had died without an heir, the Lithuanian boyars would have had to elect a new monarch. Since neither of the cousins had any children yet, the implications of the pact were unpredictable: nevertheless, synergies were created between the Lithuanian and Polish nobility (szlachta) and a permanent defensive alliance between the two states, thus strengthening Lithuania”s position in a further war against the Teutonic order, in which Poland did not officially participate. While the document left the freedoms of the szlachta intact, it granted greater specific weight to the boyars of Lithuania, whose grand dukes had until then been free from checks and balances as was the case in the west. The Union of Vilnius and Radom therefore allowed Jogaila (still known as such in those parts) to gain new sympathizers in Lithuania.

Towards the end of 1401, the new war against the order squandered the resources of the Lithuanians, who found themselves fighting on two fronts after insurrections in the eastern provinces and in Samogitia. Another of Ladislaus” brothers, the disgruntled Švitrigaila (he aspired to the throne by virtue of an alleged promise made by his father Algirdas), took advantage of that moment to foment infighting and declare himself grand duke On January 31, 1402 he presented himself at Marienburg in great secrecy, where he obtained the support of the knights with concessions similar to those made by Ladislaus and Vitoldo.

The war ended with the peace of Raciąż on May 22, 1404. Ladislaus agreed to the formal cession of Samogitia (vital to reach the borders with the Marian Land managed by the Knights of Livonia) and swore to support the order”s plans for Pskov; in return, Konrad von Jungingen pledged to cede to Poland the disputed Land of Dobrzyń and the city of Złotoryja, formerly pledged to the order by Ladislaus I of Opole, and to support Vitoldo in a further campaign in the direction of Novgorod. Both factions had practical reasons for signing the treaty in such a manner and in that window of time: the order needed time to fortify its newly acquired lands, the Poles and Lithuanians to deal with territorial challenges against Muscovy and in Silesia.

Also in 1404, Ladislaus held talks in Wroclaw with Wenceslas IV of Bohemia, who was willing to return Silesia to Poland if the king would support him in his struggle for power within the Holy Roman Empire. Ladislaus rejected the agreement with the agreement of the Polish and Silesian nobles, not wanting to burden himself with new military commitments in the West.

In December 1408, Ladislaus and Vitoldo met for discussions at Navahrudak Castle, where they decided to foment an uprising in Samogitia against Teutonic rule in order to draw German forces away from Pomerelia. Ladislaus promised to reward his cousin for his support by returning Samogitia to Lithuania in the first useful peace treaty signed in the future. The revolt, which began in May 1409, initially provoked little reaction from Marienburg, who had not yet consolidated well in Samogitia; however, in June his own diplomats undertook to lobby Ladislaus” court at Oborniki, warning his nobles of Polish involvement in a war between Lithuania and the order. Ladislaus, however, overruled his nobles and informed the new Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen that if the knights acted by using force Samogitia, Poland would intervene. This prompted the order to issue a declaration of war against Poland on August 6, which was received by Ladislaus on August 14 at Nowy Korczyn.

The castles guarding the northern border were in such a bad condition that the knights succeeded without much effort in conquering Złotoryja, Dobrzyń and Bobrowniki, the main center of the Land of Dobrzyń, while the German colonists invited the warriors to reach Bydgoszcz (in German Bromberg). Ladislaus arrived there at the end of September, recaptured Bydgoszcz within a week, and came to terms with the order on October 8. During the winter, the two armies prepared for a major confrontation: the king installed a strategic supply depot at Płock in Masovia and built a mobile bridge to transport supplies along the Vistula River.

Meanwhile, both sides staged a complex diplomatic game. The knights sent letters to the monarchs of Europe, preaching their usual crusade against the pagans; Ladislaus, in his missives, accused the order of delusions of grandeur and that if he could, he would plan to conquer the whole world. Such appeals succeeded in recruiting many foreign knights to both sides. Wenceslas IV of Bohemia signed a defensive treaty with the Poles against Marienburg; his brother, Sigismund of Luxembourg, allied himself with the Teutons and declared war on Poland on July 12, although his Hungarian vassals deserted his call to arms.

When the war resumed in June 1410, Ladislaus advanced into the heart of the monastic state at the head of an army of about 20,000 mounted nobles, 15,000 armed commoners, and 2,000 professional knights hired mainly in Bohemia. After crossing the Vistula on the pontoon bridge at Czerwińsk, his troops met those of Vitoldo, namely the 11,000 Lithuanian, Ruthenian and Tatar light knights. The Teutonic army numbered nearly 18,000 knights, mostly German, and 5,000 infantrymen. On July 15, at the Battle of Grunwald, one of the most decisive and decisive battles of the Late Middle Ages, the Allies won such an overwhelming victory that the forces of the Teutonic order were all but annihilated, with most of the key hostile commanders killed in combat, including Hochmeister Ulrich von Jungingen and Landmarschall Friedrich von Wallenrode. According to coeval accounts, the men who died in the carnage far exceeded thousands in both contingents.

The road to the capital Marienburg was at that point paved; for reasons that the sources do not clarify, Ladislaus hesitated to continue immediately. On July 17, his army began a laborious advance, reaching the gates of Marienburg only on the 25th of the same month, when the new Grand Master, Heinrich von Plauen, had already reorganized the defense of the fortress. The apparent indifference of the ensuing siege, which Ladislaus cancelled on September 19, has been variously attributed to the impregnability of the fortifications, the high casualty figures among the Lithuanians, the king”s reluctance to risk further losses, or his desire to keep the order weakened but undefeated so as not to upset the balance of power between Poland (to which most likely would have been due most of the order”s possessions had it been totally defeated) and Lithuania. In any case, the scarcity of sources undermines any exhaustive explanation.

The hostilities ceased in 1411 with the first treaty of Toruń, in which neither Poland nor Lithuania were able to take advantage of the considerable position of advantage taken at the expense of the defeated, to the great displeasure of the Polish nobles. Poland regained the Land of Dobrzyń, Lithuania took back Samogitia, and Masovia got a small piece of land beyond the Wkra river. Most of the territory of the Teutonic Order, however, including the towns that had surrendered, remained outside the provisions of the treaty. Ladislaus subsequently proceeded to release many high-ranking Teutonic knights and officials for ransoms paid at all but modest sums. The total expense of the ransoms, however, proved to be a serious jolt to the already fragile budget of the monastic state. The opposition of the szlachta did not take long to make itself felt after 1411, further fuelled by the concession of Podolia, which had always been disputed between Poland and Lithuania, to Vitoldo, and by the absence of the king, who stayed in Lithuania for two years.

In an attempt to circumvent the criticism, Ladislaus promoted the spokesman of his opponents, Bishop Mikołaj Trąba, to the archbishopric of Gniezno in the fall of 1411 and replaced him in Kraków with Wojciech Jastrzębiec, a Vitoldo supporter. He also sought to attract more allies to himself in Lithuania: in this spirit, the Union of Horodło was signed on October 2, 1413, which decreed that the Grand Duchy of Lithuania be “permanently and irreversibly linked to our Kingdom of Poland” and granted the Catholic nobles of Lithuania privileges equal to those of the Polish nobility. The act included a clause prohibiting the szlachta from electing a monarch without the consent of the Lithuanian nobles, and the latter from appointing a grand duke without consulting and receiving the placet from the Polish monarch.

In 1414 a new intermittent conflict broke out, which went down in history as the “Hunger War”: it was a conflict in which the tactic of scorched earth of fields and mills was widely applied; however, both the Teutonic and the Lithuanians appeared too exhausted from the previous war to risk a major battle, and fighting ceased in the autumn. Hostilities did not break out again until 1419, during the Council of Constance, when the papal legate insisted.

The council proved to be a turning point in the Teutonic crusades, as in other European conflicts. Vitold sent a delegation in 1415, including the metropolitan of Kiev and Samogite witnesses; they arrived in Constance at the end of that year, stating that they preferred “a baptism with water rather than with blood.” Polish envoys, including Mikołaj Trąba, Zawisza Czarny, and Paweł Włodkowic, exerted pressure to end the forced conversion of pagans and the order”s incursions into Eastern Europe. Following the intervention of the Polish-Lithuanian delegation, the council, though shaken by Włodkowic”s sermon in which he questioned the audience about the very legitimacy of the existence of the monastic state, rejected the order”s request for a further crusade and instead entrusted the conversion of the Samogites to the clergy of the Grand Duchy.

The socio-political context in which the meeting in Constance took place also involved the revolt of the Bohemian Hussites, who considered Poland an ally in their wars against Sigismund, the elected emperor and new king of Bohemia. In 1421, the Bohemian Diet declared Sigismund deposed and formally offered the crown to Ladislaus on the condition that he accept the religious principles of the Four Articles of Prague, which he was not willing to do. After his refusal, Vitoldo was postulated (i.e. elected in absentia) as Bohemian king, but assured John XXIII of his non-adherence to the heretical creed. Between 1422 and 1428, the nephew of Ladislaus, Zygmund Korybut, tried to settle in Bohemia, torn by internal devastation, without success.

In 1422, Ladislaus engaged in another conflict, the so-called Gollub War, against the Teutonic Order, defeating them in less than two months before imperial reinforcements could arrive from Marienburg. The resulting Treaty of Melno put an end once and for all to the Teutonic claims on Samogitia and defined a permanent demarcation between Prussia and Lithuania, as well as sealing the irreversible crisis that the monastic state was gradually facing. Lithuania was assigned the province of Samogitia, including the port of Palanga, but the city of Klaipėda remained with the Germans. This border remained largely unchanged for about 500 years, until 1920. The terms of this agreement, however, were perceived more as a defeat than a victory, especially following Ladislaus” renunciation of Polish claims to Pomerania, Pomerelia and the Land of Chełmno, receiving instead only the city of Nieszawa. The Treaty of Melno closed the chapter of the knights” struggles with Lithuania, but it did not take any decisive steps towards a long-term settlement of the disputes with Poland. Further sporadic unrest broke out between Poland and the knights between 1431 and 1435.

The relations between Lithuania and Poland reached a new crisis in 1429, when at the Congress of Luc”k Sigismund proposed to raise Vitoldo from Grand Duke to King of Lithuania. This was a not insignificant placet, seen with favor in Lithuania since the country could have hoped for greater autonomy within the kingdom; of a different opinion was the szlachta, who feared to lose the influence recently acquired on Vilnius. Vitoldo accepted the offer of the crown, but Polish forces intercepted the transport on the border between Poland and Lithuania and the situation fell into a political and diplomatic stalemate. The position of Ladislaus on the issue has never been fully clarified: it seems, however, that personally the king was not opposed to the coronation of Vitoldo and even gave his approval, but apparently did not dare to act in open opposition to the Polish nobility while trying to mediate between the parties. In any case after months of intense negotiations the coronation did not take place, and Vitoldo died shortly after in 1930.

With the death of his cousin, Ladislaus was free to exercise his right to the Lithuanian succession, supporting his brother Švitrigaila as the new grand duke. Within two years, however, Švitrigaila rebelled and, with the support of the Teutonic order and dissatisfied nobles of the old Kievan Rus”, sought to free himself from Polish rule and rule as an independent grand duke in Lithuania. The Poles, under the leadership of Bishop Zbigniew Oleśnicki, occupied Podolia, assigned by Ladislaus to Lithuania in 1411, and Volinia. Pushed by the pro-Polish fringe of the Lithuanian nobility, Ladislaus was forced to appoint Sigismund, Vitoldo”s brother, as grand duke, an event that led to an armed struggle for the Lithuanian succession that lasted years after Ladislaus”s death.

Succession and death

At the request of the dying Hedwig, who gave no heir to Ladislaus, the king married a Styrian noblewoman, Anna of Celje. She died in 1416, leaving a daughter Hedwig. In 1417, Ladislaus married Elizabeth Granowska, who died in 1420 without giving him a son, and two years later, Sophia of Halshany (granddaughter of Uliana Olshanska, Vitoldo”s second wife), from which two children were born. The death in 1431 of the young Hedwig, the last heir of Piast blood, gave Ladislaus the right to make the children of Sophia of Halshany his heirs, although this action was allowed only after assigning to the Polish nobles new privileges to ensure their support, specifically the right to a fair trial in case of accusation of any crime forwarded to a member of the szlachta, as formally the monarchy remained elective in nature.

During a hunting trip in the Przemyśl Land in the 48th year of his reign, Ladislaus fell ill (the sources mention a particular cold) and was unable to recover. Eventually, he died in Grodek in 1434, and was buried in the Wawel Cathedral in Krakow. His death put an immediate end to the personal union between Poland and Lithuania, with the former passing to his eldest son, Ladislaus III, and the latter to his youngest, Casimir, both still minors at the time.

As the reigning monarch over two states and several ethnic groups, Ladislaus is known under a variety of names, designations, and titles. In Lithuania he was called by his birth name Jogaila (in Lithuanian Jogaila Algirdaitis). Jogaila inherited the rank of Grand Duke of Lithuania, a role that placed him above all other local nobles and dukes as the country”s supreme ruler. In this capacity he obtained a mixed set of titles, as recorded in several Catholic documents of the time: furst, herczog, rex and dux, preceded by the adjectives gross, obirster, supremus and magnus. In his homeland, the most commonly used title was didysis kunigaikštis (from kunigaikštis, a term that finds some affinity with the Germanic variant könig, while didysis conferred an even nobler tone), translatable as grand duke or grand prince. In the territories of Ruthenia, inhabited by Slavic and not Lithuanian ethnic groups, and in surrounding countries such as Moldova, subjects and rulers used to call him hospodar instead. In Belarusian he was called Ягайла (Jahajła).

After his baptism and marriage to Hedwig in 1386, he took the name Ladislaus II Jagellon (in Polish Władysław II Jagiełło, in Latin Wladislaus or Ladislaus). The union made him obtain jure uxoris the title of king of Poland, which he kept even after the death of Hedwig. With the election to the Polish throne Ladislaus intended to combine in his figure the role of king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania, but this triggered revolts by the Lithuanian dukes. In 1392, with the Treaty of Astrava, Ladislaus granted his cousin Vitoldo the title of Grand Duke (magnus dux), who was to act in his name and under his supremacy, coining for himself the superior title of Supreme Duke (dux supremus).

His royal title in Latin was: Wladislaus Dei gracia rex Polonie necnon terrarum Cracovie, Sandomirie, Syradie, Lancicie, Cuiavie, Lithuanie princeps supremus, Pomoranie Russieque dominus et heres etc. (in Italian “Ladislao per grazia di Dio re di Polonia e delle terre di Cracovia, Sandomierz, Sieradz, Łęczyca, Cuiavia, supremo principe di Lituania, signore e erede di Pomerania e Rutenia, ecc.”).

Jogaila belonged to the Lithuanian family of Gediminides. After ascending to the Polish throne under the name of Ladislaus II Jagellon, he gave rise to the Jagellon dynasty. Below is the family tree of the sovereign with his closest ancestors and descendants. For each component, is indicated, where known, date of birth and death. With is indicated the date of marriage.





Spouses and children

Ladislaus married Hedwig of Poland (Jadwiga, 1374-1399) in 1386, from whom he had an only daughter, Elzbieta-Bonifacja (born and died as an infant in 1399).

In 1402 he remarried Anna of Cilli (1386-1416), a Slovenian noblewoman who was a niece of Casimir III of Poland and whose mother, Anna Countess of Cilli, had died in 1425 without male heirs. From the marriage was born a daughter, Hedwig (Jadwiga, 1408-1431), who was betrothed to Frederick II of Brandenburg, but who died before marrying him, possibly poisoned by her stepmother Sophie.

His third wife was Elizabeth of Pilica (Elżbieta Granowska z Pileckich, 1372-1420) by whom he had no children.

His fourth wife was Sophia of Halshany (1405-1462), a noblewoman from Lithuania. Although Ladislaus was then already seventy years old, Sofia bore him three sons: Ladislaus III Jagellon (and Casimir IV of Poland (1427-1492), Grand Duke of Lithuania (1440-1492), King of Poland (1447-1492). According to some gossips, who questioned Ladislaus” ability to conceive children at such an advanced age, she had extramarital affairs with such lovers as Hińcza of Rogów, Piotr Kurowski, Wawrzyniec Zaręba, Jan Kraska, Jan Koniecpolski, and brothers Piotr and Dobiesław of Szczekociny. The case was presented before a court and Sofia swore and was declared innocent.

During Ladislaus”s lifetime, significant events occurred: the baptism of Lithuania, the setback of the Teutons and the establishment of a new and lasting dynasty.

During his reign, Ladislaus united Lithuania and Poland under a single crown, laying the foundations for the centuries-old Polish-Lithuanian union. He was in fact the founder of the dynasty of the Jagiellons, a dynasty that governed both states until 1572, becoming one of the most influential in Europe in the late Middle Ages and early modern age. The continuation of the relationship of cooperation between the two states initiated by Ladislaus culminated with the Union of Lublin in 1569 in which, although not de jure and while preserving various separate institutions, Lithuania joined Poland, forming a leading power in Eastern Europe.

At the time of his union with Hedwig, Ladislaus embraced the Catholic faith, which was followed by a conversion of the court, the nobles and the entire population of Lithuania. This event marked the final step for Lithuania, the last country in Europe still faithful to the atavistic religions, in the long process of Christianization, and had great historical repercussions, bringing the country culturally closer to the Western states and distancing it from the sphere of influence of the Russian principalities of the Orthodox faith.

Ladislaus II Jagellon was concerned with making Lithuania and Poland flourish on a commercial and cultural level. The influence and position of German merchants was felt very strongly between the end of 1300 and the beginning of 1400, especially those coming from the great center of Riga. The main routes traveled by the merchants led from Polack to Masovia, from Galicia to Prussia, from Livonia to today”s Belarus. Several cities were built on these roads, which often followed the course of rivers. Even the Teutonic knights ended up wishing that some of these settlements would not be affected by conflicts (the so-called vredeweg, the roads of peace). The proceeds from the sale of food, horses and wax were essential for financing the war campaigns in Lithuania. Through the Italian colonies on the Black Sea, Poland entered into closer commercial relations with Italian states and merchants, who began to flow into Poland in large numbers.

The sovereign also promoted an intense activity of artistic and scientific promotion. The renewal of the University of Krakow, started by Hedwig and continued after his death by Ladislaus himself, had an enormous impact on Polish civilization, so much so that the institution is still dedicated to him with the name of Jagiellonian University. Ladislaus” openness to exchanges and influences with the Western European powers proved to be fundamental in the cultural, scientific and artistic spheres and culminated after his reign in the so-called Polish Golden Age: thanks in fact to the marriage of Sigismund I Jagellon, Ladislaus” nephew, with Bona Sforza in 1518, a duchess linked to the important Milanese family, various intellectuals arrived from the peninsula and spread in the kingdom the canons of Humanism and the Renaissance.

Countless conflicts kept him busy for most of his life, first in Lithuania at a young age against his cousin and then when he came to Krakow against enemies located beyond the national borders. In terms of foreign policy, Ladislaus did not succeed in dealing the final blow to the monastic state of the Teutonic Knights, although he theoretically could have done so, but he did accelerate its decline while at the same time bringing out the power of the Polish state. The reversal of forces is evidenced by the fact that about a century later Albert I of Prussia (1490-1568) agreed to make a famous tribute to the ruler of the time, Sigismund I, in order to preserve the Duchy of Prussia for himself and his heirs in a relationship of vassalage with Krakow. The battle of Grunwald in 1410 had a great impact in later times and especially in the twentieth century, so much so that a famous film entitled The Teutonic Knights was made in 1960, which depicts the events that took place and represented a milestone in the history of cinema in Poland. In the film, actually influenced by Soviet propaganda that tended to propose the clash as a fight between the Slavs and the eternal German enemy, Ladislaus is presented as a sovereign confident and strong, especially in the episode of the two swords that today, among other things, are the symbol of the town of Grunwald.

Historiography has conveyed the image of Ladislaus as a controversial figure. Contemporary observers in Poland, such as Jan Długosz or Zbigniew Oleśnicki, were critical of him because, for them, he was a foreign ruler, considered tyrannical, crude and barbaric, and at one time pagan; Nevertheless, the ruler proved to be respectful of Polish traditions and endeared himself to the nobility with concessions and privileges, so that at the end of his reign even his most critical opponents could only admire his honesty in the service of the kingdom, his Christian virtues, his control, and his piety. More recent Polish and Western historiography tends almost unanimously to incense him.

Such an attitude is not found in the Lithuanian one, where Jogaila is usually branded as a traitor and an alien and ambiguous character. This picture was formed above all during the Lithuanian nationalistic consciousness-raising of the 19th century, which was very critical of the union with Poland promoted by the sovereign that would have damaged Lithuania on a national, political and cultural level. His figure is often put in opposition to that of his cousin Vitoldo, who reigned over Lithuania as Grand Duke trying to safeguard its independence, and who is hailed by historical nationalism as “Vitoldo the Great”. Russian historians of the nineteenth century, as a rule, also tended to consider Ladislaus a man of low intelligence and weak character. Perhaps this description is due to the fact that Ladislaus had to constantly live with the oppressive presence of the szlachta, which, among other things, acquired more and more rights until the birth of the Polish-Lithuanian Confederation, in which the power of the aristocrats became so great that the monarchy was transformed from dynastic to elective and greatly limited the sphere of influence of the rulers.

Contemporary historiography tends to provide Ladislaus with a more varied and articulated opinion, which goes beyond biased and stereotyped readings. Despite being one of the best known sovereigns of his time, historians say that in order to give a complete picture of his reign and his life, much remains to be studied and deepened. The ruler”s relationship with Lithuania is one of the most debated aspects and for which he is criticized. Today it is established that Jogaila accepted the title of king of Poland with the approval of all his relatives and advisors, including Skirgaila and Vitoldo, who like him initially thought they would gain from it. Even after ascending the throne, Jogaila remained very attached to his homeland and roots, so much so that he never learned Polish fluently and expressed himself in Lithuanian to Vitoldo and the subjects of the Grand Duchy. His continuous presence and interest in Lithuanian affairs brought him harsh criticism in Poland, with Długosz accusing him of loving his homeland and putting his own good before that of the kingdom.

Regardless of the judgment reserved for the ruler, Ladislaus is considered an important historical figure, decisive in the history of Lithuania and Poland, and, together with Vitoldo, the most illustrious ruler of Eastern Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries.



  1. Ladislao II Jagellone
  2. Władysław II Jagiełło