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Hedwig

(1374—1399)


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Queen of Poland (1374–99).

Born in Buda (Hungary), the daughter of Louis, king of Hungary and Poland, she was treated as a pawn in dynastic marriage politics from an exceptionally early age. At the age of one she was betrothed to Wilhelm, Hapsburg heir to the Grand Duchy of Austria, aged five. But unexpected early deaths of her sister and her father, followed by considerable diplomatic and political intrigue, resulted in Hedwig being chosen by the Poles as queen and she arrived in Poland, aged ten, in 1384. She was crowned the same year, and it was decided that she should marry Jagiello, Grand Duke of Lithuania and Ruthenia, not yet a Christian. The Hapsburgs attempted to claim her as the wife of Wilhelm but she refused. After Jagiello (aged thirty-six) was baptized with his principal noblemen at Cracow in 1386, Hedwig married him. The result was the emergence of Poland, Lithuania, and Ruthenia into a strong political unit able to resist both Russian and German expansion.

The Hapsburgs replied by claiming that Hedwig was an adulteress and Jagiello a usurper, and that Wilhelm had consummated their ‘marriage’. These slanders damaged Hedwig's reputation even after papal praise for the royal couple and Boniface IX's promise to be godfather to their future child. Jagiello meanwhile took a personal part in the Christianizing of Lithuania, destroying pagan temples and shrines. Royal decrees ordered baptism, but force was not used. But baptisms in large numbers took place after sometimes slight instruction. When the Vilnuis diocese was set up, Hedwig sent the cathedral chalices, vestments, and paintings, and endowed a college to train Lithuanian priests. She admired the Byzantine liturgy and attempted to unite her people through the use of Slavonic rites. In Cracow cathedral she endowed sixteen priests to sustain the Divine Office almost continuously. She also dealt with the dangerous Teutonic Knights by skilful negotiation.

In 1399, expecting a child, she withdrew from public life. A daughter was born prematurely and she herself died four days later. She was buried in Wawel cathedral. Her will directed her goods to be sold for the benefit of Cracow University. Her cult spread quickly and her cause was opened in 1426, fostered by the conviction that her reign was a decisive point in the history of Poland and eastern Europe. She was beatified in 1986 and Pope John Paul II also canonized her in Cracow in 1997. Feast: 17 July.

B. Przbyswewski, St Jadwiga of Poland (trs. B. MacQueen, 1997); J. Braun (ed.) Poland in Christian Civilization (1985), pp. 211–44; B.L.S., vii. 138–40.

Subjects: Christianity.


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