The first ruling queen in Polish history, the beautiful Jadwiga ensured that her name would be written in stone. Despite her short life, the young ruler would spend her reign giving back to the people of Poland, to the point where historians have called her one of their greatest monarchs. But Jadwiga also faced intense darkness and utterly heartbreaking family tragedy. Don’t believe us? Read these 42 facts about this formidable monarch and decide for yourself.
1. Long May She Reign
Jadwiga’s reign as Queen of Poland lasted just under 15 years, from October 16, 1384 until her death at the tender age of 25.
2. Welcome to the World
Jadwiga was born in the city of Buda (now part of Budapest), which used to be the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary. She was the third and youngest child of Elizabeth of Bosnia and Louis I, King of Hungary and Poland. Her family was incredibly wealthy and powerful, but their sad plight proves that money and status can’t buy happiness.
3. High Prize Within the Patriarchy
Louis I, Jadwiga’s father, was a fierce warrior, but there was one battle he couldn’t win. Louis just couldn’t seem to produce a male heir. Instead, he had three daughters and made the best of an awkward situation. Already seen as beautiful potential brides for any European prince, the Polish princesses only became more popular when Louis revealed his controversial plan. He made it clear that he wanted his daughters to inherit his titles and lands.
4. Tragedy in Childhood
Most people don’t realize that Jadwiga was never supposed to be Queen. Instead her older sister Catherine of Hungary should have inherited the throne. Catherine’s parents were so certain that they even engaged her to be married at just four years old. But all these plans were for naught. Tragedy struck when Catherine tragically died at the tender age of seven. As Louis grieved, he also struggled with his reign. When the engagement fell through, the united kingdoms that Louis built started to crumble.
5. Getting Hitched Early
Evidently, in the Polish royal family, being single at four years old made you a spinster. After Catherine’s death, Jadwiga’s father had her engaged to William of the Hapsburg family before she was even a year old. Her fiance William was just four years old, but a very eligible baby bachelor. He as the eldest son of Leopold III, the Duke of Austria.
6. Best Laid Plans
After Catherine’s early death, Polish lords flocked Jadwiga’s eldest sister Mary with elaborate oaths of loyalty. She probably felt complimented, but these pledges didn’t exactly happen organically. Instead, King Louis demanded that Polish royals praise his daughter and her fiance Sigismund of Luxembourg. But after Louis’ death, everything came crumbling down. In the end, Mary took over Hungary while Jadwiga reigned over Poland. Shutterstock
7. Lost in Translation
While history remembers the Polish Queen as Jadwiga, her name could also be spelled and pronounced much more magically. For Hungarians, Jadwiga would look a lot more like “Hedwig.”
8. Elizabeth’s Choice
When Jadwiga was a young child, the Polish nobility insisted that their ruler actually live in the country. Jadwiga’s mother Elizabeth was heartbroken. She desperately tried to make a deal where Jadwiga would spend three extra years in Hungary, hoping to hold onto her daughter. Sadly, this deal fell apart as contenders for the throne rose up. The Polish nobles threatened to elect the popular and charismatic Duke of Masovia.
9. Goodbye, Mommy
Elizabeth eventually conceded defeat in 1384. Ten-year-old Jadwiga was taken to Poland and crowned, while Elizabeth had to stay behind and look after her other daughter’s ascension in Hungary. She would never see Jadwiga, her own beloved daughter, again.
10. Cruel Twist of Fate
Soon after Jadwiga went to Poland for her coronation, her mother Elizabeth and her sister Mary faced a terrifying situation. They rapidly lost ground in Hungary when a powerful enemy, Charles III of Naples, attempted to take it for his own. Elizabeth knew she had to do something extreme or lose her territory forever. She had Charles murdered, thinking this would mean victory. Tragically, she was so, so wrong.
11. Heartbreaking News
Just three years after Jadwiga went to Poland for her coronation, she received utterly heartbreaking news. Her mother died, and not just that, she died a truly horrible death. After Elizabeth had Charles murdered, his furious allies captured her and her daughter Mary. When the enemy forces heard that Mary’s husband, Sigismund, was approaching with an army to save them, they did the unthinkable. They strangled Elizabeth to death before Mary’s eyes.
12. I Can Never Remember Her Birthday!
We’re not actually sure when Jadwiga was born, but historians have narrowed it down to somewhere between October 3, 1373, and February 18, 1374.
13. Dear Old Dad
Jadwiga’s family drama was barely confined to her cut-throat mother. Her father was Louis the Great, the King of Hungary. But one country wasn’t enough for Louis: He also became the King of Poland when his uncle tragically died without a son. When Louis took the throne, he was determined to make his uncle and his people proud. He led fierce military campaigns to restore Hungary’s glory. After decades of defeat against chilling enemies like the Golden Horde, Louis became Hungary’s most powerful and ruthless monarch.
14. Ill-Fated Sister
Jadwiga’s older sister Mary would survive her imprisonment thanks to the rescue by her husband, Sigismund. She would rule Hungary as its queen for nearly ten years, beginning in 1387.
15. Dark Day
In 1395, Mary was out riding in a forest when her world came crumbling down around her. Her horse tripped and threw her to the ground. Mary was terribly injured, but her mind wasn’t on her own pain: it was on her unborn baby. Mary was pregnant at the time, and the horse’s throw made her go into premature labor. While Mary managed to give birth, she died of her injuries soon after. Tragically, her son perished as well.
16. For Education
One of Jadwiga’s most lasting achievements as Queen was bringing education to her people. The monarch restored the esteemed University of Krakow. After falling into disrepair, Jadwiga used her powers of persuasion to get Pope Boniface IX to sanction a new faculty. She even made sure to put her money where her mouth was, personally buying property for the new school. If only this was where the story ended.
17. Straight A
Tragically, Jadwiga didn’t live to see her crowning glory. She died before the university started up again, but even in death, she made sure to take care of her brain child. In her heartbreaking will, she asked that her jewelry be sold with proceeds funding the university that was so near to her heart. Because of Jadwiga’s generosity, the institution is still open today.
18. King in Name
When Jadwiga and Mary were crowned the rulers of Poland and Hungary, respectively, they weren’t actually crowned as queens. Instead, they were both crowned “king” of their respective kingdoms. This fancy title hid a dark secret: the girls were crowned “King” so that their spouses couldn’t seize power from them after marriage. Sadly, such intimate betrayals weren’t uncommon in European royalty.
19. Wasn’t She Named After an Owl?
Jadwiga was named after her ancestor Saint Hedwig of Silesia. While Hedwig may have died in a monastery, her life was full of drama. She got married at 12 years old, then risked her life to save her husband from a rival duke. After her husband died, poor Hedwig was dealt another heartbreaking blow as she watched her only son die.
All the strife that was brought about with the death of Jadwiga’s father ended when the young girl-king was finally brought to Poland. She was crowned on October 16, 1384.
21. A Polish Lyanna Mormont?
Given how young Jadwiga was when she began her reign over Poland, historical records disagree over how many decisions made were actually her own. Most sources insist that Jadwiga depended on her advisors for everything, but one historian suggests otherwise. Oscar Halecki says that Jadwiga was wise beyond her years, and quickly adapted to ruling from a very young age.
22. A Bad In-Law Relationship
With the death of her sister, Mary, Jadwiga made a claim on the throne of Hungary, since she claimed to be Mary’s heir by blood. However, Mary’s husband, Sigismund, refused to give up his own crown to Jadwiga. The relationship between Jadwiga and her power-hungry brother-in-law would, er, not improve.
23. Talk About an Awkward Thanksgiving
Sigismund keeping Poland looks like chump change when you compare it to what he did next. Jadwiga’s brother-in-law quickly dealt her another profoundly ruthless betrayal. next to his most ruthless betrayal. Jadwiga was shocked to learn that he was plotting against her family with the Teutonic Knights. It turned out that Sigismund didn’t want to keep Poland for himself. He wanted to divide it up and reap the profits.
24. What a Great Guy
And that’s not even the worst part. Jadwiga learned that Sigismund was scheming to ravage Poland long before Mary’s untimely death. While it would take too long to sum up all the backstabbing that went on while Jadwiga tried to resolve the conflict with the Teutonic Knights, in the end, the Queen conquered. A peace treaty was finally signed in 1398.
25. The Call Is Coming From Inside Your Marriage
One of the first conflicts that Jadwiga had to deal with was her own fiancé, William. The Polish nobles weren’t exactly happy with the idea that a teenage Austrian would be their queen’s significant other. Instead, they offered their own contender: Jogaila of Lithuania. As an enthusiastic pagan, Jogaila was a controversial choice, to put it lightly. The fact that the highly Christian Poles chose him tells you a lot about how much they hated the idea of William.
26. Battle for the Bride
Two men enter the marriage arena. One man leaves with a bride. Jogaila of Lithuania sent elaborate envoys to Jadwiga in Poland and her mother in Hungary to get them to choose him. Meanwhile, William and his father, Duke Leopold III of Austria, traveled east to plead their case with Elizabeth and Jadwiga. Historians argue over exactly what happened, but we do know that someone sent William away from Krakow before he could marry Jadwiga. Looks like Jogaila won this time.
27. Pass the Tissues
The story of Jadwiga’s marriage to Jogaila is shrouded in mystery. One tragic version of events says that William managed to sneak into Jadwiga’s bedchamber to declare his love. When Polish noblemen realized what William had done, they chasted him out of the castle. A tearful Jadwiga tried to run after him, but was restrained by the nobles.
28. I’m Too Old for This
One person who could have been a dangerous enemy of Jadwiga during her lifetime was her great-uncle, Wladyslaw. Known as Wladyslaw the White, he challenged Jadwiga’s father for the kingship of Poland. But by the time Louis died, Wladyslaw had undergone a shocking change of heart. The once-brutal challenger took monastic vows and lived as a humble monk. Even when Louis’ enemies used a doctrinal loophole to release Wladyslaw from his vows, he refused to leave his home within the monastery.
29. Not the Happiest Wedding Ever
Jadwiga married Jogaila of Lithuania on February 18, 1386. Under all the pomp and circumstance, the ceremony hid a dark truth: The groom was 35 while the bride was just 12. As part of the marriage agreement, Jogaila promised to convert himself and his followers to Catholicism, and took the new name Wladyslaw-Jogaila.
Jogaila also promised a fortune of 200,000 florins to compensate William for the broken engagement. The heartbroken William refused the payment.
30. Is “Mantle” an Old Name for CPR?
Jadwiga wasn’t just a queen. She was also a canonized saint. A legend states that when Jadwiga attended a Corpus Christi Day procession, she saw the young son of a coppersmith fall into a nearby river and drown. However, when Jadwiga threw her mantle over the boy, he came back to life. Let’s see another queen pull that!
31. From One Holiness to Another
On June 8, 1979, Jadwiga’s sarcophagus was visited by Pope John Paul II, the first Polish Pope in the history of the Catholic Church. John Paul led a prayer at her sarcophagus in honor of the deceased queen and was also responsible for the process which led to her canonization in 1997.
32. Love Triangle
Shortly after all the marital paperwork between Jadwiga and her new husband was settled, the couple was plunged into catastrophe. Jogaila’s home country of Lithuania was invaded by Teutonic Knights. Three guesses who they supported? Jadwiga’s rejected suitor, young William of Austria. The Knights began a vicious propaganda war to support William and discredit Jogaila.
33. For the People
During her reign, Jadwiga became well known for her humanitarian and philanthropic actions. Hospitals, churches, and schools all received her support and blessings, whether they were already established or whether they were built during Jadwiga’s reign. She also translated religious texts into Polish for the first time, allowing regular people to read their religious books and sing their hymns in their own language.
34. Jadwiga’s Foot
If you travel to the Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Krakow, you’ll see a footprint embedded in the floor of the church. According to legend, that footprint belongs to Jadwiga. One day, she was approached by a poor stonemason who begged for help from his queen. Jadwiga took some jewelry from her foot and gifted it to the man.
This act of charity was said to have caused her foot to be imprinted into the dry plaster of the floor. Years later, this was one of the miracles that helped Jadwiga become a saint.
35. Jadwiga’s Cross
Jadwiga was known to frequently pray before a large black crucifix at Wawel Cathedral. Allegedly, the figure of Christ on this crucifix spoke to her during one of her regular prayers. The crucifix has since become known as Saint Jadwiga’s Cross.
36. It’s a Girl!
Like her parents before her, Jadwiga had a terrible time when it came to motherhood. She and her husband spent years as a childless couple despite any and all efforts. Historians report that this put a severe strain on their relationship. Finally, in either 1398 or 1399, Jadwiga was with child. Her daughter, Elizabeth Bonaficia, was born on June 22, 1399.
37. The Queen is Dead
Sadly, history has a way of repeating itself. Poor Jadwiga would live out her sister Mary’s awful fate. Jadwiga’s baby Elizabeth Bonaficia passed away three weeks after being born. Jadwiga would follow her tiny daughter four days later. Though Jadwiga died at just 25 years old, she had seen enough pain to fill dozens of lifetimes.
38. Rest in Peace
On August 24, 1399, Jadwiga and her infant daughter were laid to rest together in Wawel Cathedral, the place where Jadwiga had gone so often in life. They have been entombed there ever since.
39. From the Ashes Rises the Phoenix
After Jadwiga’s death, her husband Jogaila’s position in Poland got very complicated. Before she passed away, Jadwiga recommended that he marry her distant relation, Anna of Cilli. Jogaila heeded his wife’s wise words, marring Anna after a proper amount of time had passed since Jadwiga’s death. Wladyslaw-Jogaila would live another 35 years and begin what is often referred to as Poland’s Golden Age.
40. Watch the Queen Conquer
Jadwiga has her mother to thank for the Polish throne. Elizabeth of Bosnia was a loving parent, but in politics, she was cut-throat and utterly ruthless. After the death of Jadwiga’s father, Elizabeth tried her best to make things work, but just couldn’t keep Poland and Hungary united. Instead, she made Jadwiga the “King” of Poland while her older sister, Mary, became “King” of Hungary.
After baby Jadwiga was engaged to William of Austria while still in diapers, the infant couple took things to the next level. They took part in a “provisional marriage” when Jadwiga was just a toddler and William was just a kid in 1378. While it was basically a temporary confirmation that she and William were a couple-to-be, the ceremony had a chilling final act. Jadwiga was separated from her family and shipped off to spend two years of her life in Vienna.
42. Maybe They Were Poker Buddies?
When archaeologists uncovered the casket of Saint Simeon in the Croatian city of Zadar, they gasped. Who should they see engraved on the ornate sarcophagus, but Queen Jadwiga and her sisters? This detail did more than surprise them: The sad story of Catherine’s death also helped them date the casket. After all, the three girls only got to spend a small amount of time together before Catherine was snatched away by death.