History of Poland Part 3 The Piast Dynasty by Helen C. Bienick

Unification of Poland

It has been said, that history is made of legends. As with all other countries, Poland too has its share of these stories and tales.

Reportedly, there were 3 Slav brothers, Lech, Czech, and Rus who founded the lands of Poland, Czech, and Ruthenia. Lech founded his seat in Gnieźno. Another legend concerns Krak (Krakus), a chieftain, who slew the fire- breathing dragon of a Kraków cave, which devoured young ladies. Krak built a castle on the cave, on what is presently the Wawel Hill. His daughter, Wanda, threw herself into the Vistula River, rather than marry a German prince. Still another legend portrays a wicked ruler named Popiel, who was eaten by mice in a dungeon in Kruszwica, known as the first and oldest town in Poland. Another important figure is PIAST, who was a peasant farmer. Two strangers passed through his field and predicted that he would be chosen as a ruler by his people, the "Polanie". History then records the first Polonian prince Chroszciszko, ruling circa 840 A.D. Little is chronicled of the early rulers, Siemowit, Lestko and Siemomyśl who came after him. Historical details began to emerge with the reign of Mieszko I from 966-992. The Piast dynasty would rule for five centuries until 1370, with the death of Kazimierz Wielki (Casimir The Great), the only Polish king to enjoy that distinction.


MIESZKO I (921-992) survived an attack by the German Count, Margrave Gero, who had expansion ideas. In 965, Mieszko married Princess Dubravka, a Bohemian and a Christian, and his entire realm embraced Christianity with him. By 989, he had unified most of the tribes and clans over which he held domain. To protect his territory from attacks, he placed his lands in the hands of the Holy See, and its protection, thus becoming a part of the Holy Roman Empire. Gniezno became the religious center (and the capital of Poland). Mieszko's daughter, Świętosława – Dumna (The Proud), also called Sygryda (Sigrid), married Eryk, the king of Sweden. Her second husband was Sven, king of Denmark. Their son, Canute the Great, ruled Denmark (1014-1033), England (1016-1035), Norway (1024-1035), and Sweden (1031-1035). He wore many crowns.


BOLESŁAW I CHROBRY (967-1025) Boleslaus the Brave, succeeded his father Mieszko, and ruled from 992 to 1025. He waged war with the Germans for independence from the Holy Roman Empire, whose rulers were predominantly Germans. Officially, he was the first crowned King of Poland. He conquer¬ed lands reaching to the Dnieper and Danube rivers. Surrounded by open frontiers and aggressive neighbors, he safeguarded the independence of Poland and promoted Christian civilization.


MIESZKO II LAMBERT (990-1034) son of Bolesław I, ascended the throne and ruled as King from 1025-1034. He married Ryksa of the Rhine, who was the grand¬daughter of Otto the Great. Mieszko II resigned in 1034.


KAZIMIERZ I ODNOWICIEL (1016-1058) ruled as King from 1038 to 1058. Casimir I the Restorer, was never officially crowned, but was installed as king by his father-in-law. He married Dobronega Maria of Kiev.


BOLESŁAW II SMIAŁY (1040-1081) Boleslaus the Bold, ruled as king from 1058 to 1079. The son of Kazimierz I was crowned on Christmas Day. He was an oppressive ruler, and was reprimanded by Stanislaus, the bishop of Kraków. In 1079 he ordered the death and dismemberment of the Bishop, in the Cathedral. The backlash against him forced him into voluntary exile to expiate for his dastardly deed. He died in a monastery in Carinthia, Austria. St. Stanislaus was canonized in 1253.


WŁADYSŁAW I HERMAN (1041-1102) Prince Ladislaus Herman, reigned from 1079-1102. He was not crowned, but submitted to the Emperor Henry IV. His elder son, Zbigniew, sought his aid against a younger brother, who would become Bolesław II Krzywousty. To insure becoming monarch, Bolesław had his brother Zbigniew blinded. This caused his death. Władysław I Herman, was a brother of Bolesław II the Bold.


BOLESŁAW III KRZYWOUSTY (1085-1138) Boleslaus IIl the Wrymouth, ruled as king from 1102-1138. In 1109 he defeated the invasion of Henry V and in 1121 recovered Pomerania from the Germans. He is responsible for the fragmentation of the Piast Dynasty, which started at his death in 1138 and lasted to 1320, with the coronation of Władysław Łokietek. Fragmentation or “regionalization” refers to the division of the realm into four dukedoms (Wielkopolska, Mazowia, Silesia and Małopolska) to be governed by Boleslaw’s four sons. His sons bore the titles of "princeps" (Prince and Duke). His dau¬ghter Ryksa, married Magnus, the King of Denmark.


WŁADYSŁAW II WYGNANIEC (1105-1159) Ladislaus II the Exile, ruled as the princeps and Duke of Silesia from 1138-1146. He married Agnieszka of Austria, a sister of Emperor Conrad III.


BOLESŁAW IV KĘDZIERZAWY (1125-1173) Boleslaus IV the Curly, ruled as the Duke of Mazowia from 1146-1173.


MIESZKO III STARY (1126-1202) Mieszko III the Old, ruled as Duke of Wielkopolska (Greater Poland) from 1173-1177. He married Elizabeth of Hungary.


KAZIMIERZ II SPRAWIEDLIWY (1138-1194) Casimir the Just, reigned as Duke of Sandomierz from 1177-1194, as well as Prince of Kraków. He married Helena, Princess of Kiev.


WŁADYSŁAW III LASKONOGI (1161-1231) Ladislaus III the Spindleshanks, was the son of Mieszko III the Old. He ruled as Prince of Wielkopolska (Greater Poland) from 1228-1231.


LESZEK BIAŁY, Leszek the White, ruled as the prince of Sandomierz from 1203-1227. His father was Casimir the Just. His daughter Salomea was canonized as Saint Salomea.


KONRAD I MAZOWIECKI (1187-1247) Conrad I of Mazowia ruled as the Prince of Mazowia from 1241-1247. In 1226 he invited the German Brethren (Teutonic Knights) into Poland. In 1308-1309, in a betrayal, they massacred the people of Gdansk. They began to carve out their own kingdom, while annihilating the Prussian people of Northern Poland on the pretext of converting them to Christianity.


HENRYK I BRODATY (1163-1238) Henry I the Bearded, grandson of Ladislaus II the Exile, ruled as Prince of Silesia from 1231-1238. His wife became St. Hedwig, having been canonized in 1267. In a colonization program, he brought almost 10 thousand German colonists, who settled in 400 Polish villages.


HENRYK II POBOŻNY (1191-1241) Henry II the Pious, son of Henry the Bearded, ruled as Prince of Silesia from 1238-1241. He married Anna, princess of Bohemia. He died during the battle of Legnica against "The Golden Horde" in 1241.


BOLESŁAW POBOŻNY (1212-1279) Boleslaus, the Pious, reigned as the Duke of Kalisz. In the Act of Kalisz in 1264, he guaranteed a General Charter of Jewish Liberties, developing a Jewish sanctuary in Poland. He married Jolanta, the daughter of Bela II, King of Hungary.


BOLESŁAW V WSTYDLIWY (1226-1279) Boleslaus V the Chaste, ruled as Prince of Sandomierz and Prince of Kraków. He was the son of Leszek Biały, and reigned from 1243-1279. He married Kinga, a Hungarian Princess now known as Blessed Kinga. On July 24th, Kinga’s name day, a High Mass is said in her honor in a chapel dedicated to her, which is carved in the Wieliczka Salt Mine.


LESZEK CZARNY (1240-1288) Leszek the Black, ruled from 1279-1288 as the Prince of Leczyca. He was a grandson of Conrad I, of Mazowia.


HENRYK IV PROBUS (1258- 1306) Henry IV the Righteous, ruled from 1288-1290 as Prince of Silesia. He was the grandson of Henry II the Pious.


PRZEMYSŁAW I (1220-1257) reigned as Duke of Wielkopolska (Greater Po-land) in 1290 and King of Poland from 1295-1296. He was the brother of Boleslaus the Pious of Kalisz.


PRZEMYSŁAW II (1257-1296) ruled as King of Poland in 1295, and Prince of Greater Poland, from 1290-1296. ? He was murdered in a kidnapping attempt in Ragażno. He left no heirs, except a daughter Richeza Eliza¬beth (1288-1335) She married Wacław II, King of Bohemia. His coronation took place in the Cathedral of Gniezno in June, 1295.


WACŁAW II (1271 to 1305) Venceslaus of Bohemia claimed the Polish throne on the strength of his marriage to the daughter of Przemysław II. After being crowned in Gnieżno, he ruled Poland from 1296-1305.


WACŁAW III (1289-1306) Venceslaus of Bohemia ruled as King of Poland and Bohemia. His Polish rule lasted only from 1305 to 1306 as he was assassinated on the way to his coronation in Poland. His death ended the reign of the Premyslides Dynasty of Bohemia.


WŁADYSŁAW IV ŁOKIETEK (1260-1333) Ladislaus IV the Short, was a grandson of Konrad I of Mazowia. He succeeded in claiming the throne in 1306, and restored the one king monarchy in Poland. He was the brother of Leszek Czarny. His daughter Elzbieta (1305-1380) married Charles Robert d’Anjou, the King of Hungary. Their son Ludwik I (Louis of Anjou) King of Hungary, also ruled as King of Poland from 1370-1382. Łokietek’s ascension to the throne ended the age of fragmentation. Upon his death in 1333, he was succeeded by his son, Kazmierz III, Wielki (Casimir III, the Great), who ruled until 1370.


KAZIMIERZ III WIELKI (1310-1370) Casimir III the Great, son of Ladislaus IV the Short, ascended the throne in 1333 and reigned until his death in 1370. He is renowned as one of the most effective Polish rulers of Poland. He expanded the Polish borders as far as what is now the Ukraine. He unified Poland, making “one law, one king, one currency”. During his reign he ended hostilities with Poland’s worst enemy the Teutonic Knights; codified laws for Great and Little Poland; diminished aristocratic oppression (and thus became known as the “peasant king”); encouraged immigration of Jews; developed architecture and founded the University of Kraków. He died in 1370, the victim of a hunting accident. His death brought an end to the Piast Dynasty. Casimir's nephew, Ludwik I (Louis of Anjou) became King of Hungary, and King of Poland from 1370-1382. Ludwik’s daughter, Jadwiga (Hedwig), (1374-1399) became Queen* of Poland in 1384 and ruled until her early death in 1399. She was married to Władysław II Jagiełło, Grand Duke of Lithuania, who was her successor, and ruled from 1386 to 1434.

* The word "queen" was not recognized in Polish rule, hence Jadwiga was always known as "król" (king) rather than królowa (queen)

In total, including the years of fragmentation, the Piast Dynasty lasted 530 years. It would be followed by the Jagiellonian and Vasa dynasties.

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