Guest Author - Barbara Swiech
All of us love to hear stories about beautiful, wise and successful princesses and queens that were loved by their husbands and people. But of course history of each country is full of women that have always remained simply wives of their husbands - rulers of the countries. And although they might have been influential, they never gained support that a man would.
Anna Jagiellonka (deriving from Jagiellon family) was born in 1523 as a daughter of Sigismund I (called ‘The Old’), one of the greatest Polish kings. Her mother came from Italian family – Sforza. Of course, as Anna had a male sibling, as a woman she had no chances to rule 16th century Poland. The historical sources state that she was not too good-looking and many can perceive this fact as an explanation why she remained not married for a long time. But of course at that time it was not beauty or intelligence that decided on the fact if a lady – especially deriving from royal family – would get married. Actually in 1565 her brother – Sigismund II August – declined the proposal of Danish prince Magnus to marry Anna. As king’s sister – because Sigismund II was the only male successor of his father – she would not be allowed to take the decision herself. Apart from this Anna had conflict with her brother, as she had not supported some of his decisions (especially his marriage with the beloved Barbara Radziwillowna) so he might have not been interested in the happiness of his sister. Marriage could only make Anna stronger and more powerful.
Anna did not get married during the life of her brother Sigismund. Therefore when her brother died, leaving no off-springs, she was the most important individual in Poland – so called ‘infant’. But of course she could not rule the country herself.
The first elected king of Poland – Henry of Valois – was supposed to marry her as soon as he got crowned. Nobody knows if he would keep his word – especially as he did his best to avoid the marriage – as he ran away from the country to take the place of his brother and become king of France.
The dream of Anna Jagiellon was supposed to come true when Stephen Bathory – 10 years younger Hungarian noble and Prince of Transylvania – was elected as a new King of Poland. They got married in 1576 – when Anna was 53 years old.
Anna, as the last member of Jagiellon family, wanted to be as powerful as her husband however it was Bathory that eventually ruled the country. Her marriage could not be perceived as happy. There were gossips that the husband does everything (including humiliating tricks) to avoid his older wife. When he died Anna could take opportunity to be proclaimed the only ruler of Poland (especially that she was previously crowned with her husband and remained the only heir of the rule). She preferred however to support her sister’s son in the forthcoming election.
Anna Jagiellon never gained as much power as she wished or could, when one takes into consideration that there have been no male successors after her brother’s death. She did not gain personal happiness either and never founded proper family that she wished to have. Anna died in 1596 leaving Poland in the hands of Vasa family.