St Jadwiga, the only female king of Poland

St Jadwiga, the only female king of Poland
Saint Hedwig, called also Jadwiga of Anjou or Jadwiga of Poland, was born around the end of 1373 or beginning of 1374. Brought up in Hungary, as a younger daughter of King Louis I of Hungary and Elisabeth of Bosnia, she was related to ancient native Polish dynasty of Piasts on both, paternal and maternal side. Alhtough as a child she was betrothed to William of Habsburg, in 1384 Jadwiga became the Monarch of Poland and her marriage to Lithuanian prince Jagiello was decided. As the Lords of Lesser Poland never accepted Queen Mary - oldest daughter of Louis I of Hungary who officially reigned Poland until his death in 1382 - and her husband was expelled from the country, Elisabeth of Bosnia agreed that the younger of daughters – whom the Lords chose – would become the monarch. Jadwiga came to Krakow in 1384 and was crowned as a king of Poland as the Polish law had no provisions for a female ruler (queen). The title emphasized also her descent and therefore right to reign as a monarch, not a queen consort.

Although life of Queen Jadwiga was short, as she died in 1399 – at the age of 25 – shortly after the birth of her baby daughter, there are many tales and legends that prove her goodness and devotion to God and country. Although Jadwiga was canonized only in 1997 by Pope John Paul II, and beatificated only 10 years before, she was treated and talked about as a saint already since her death. Her burial place at Wawel castle in Krakow is still widely visited by numerous people who admire her kindness and piety.

It must be noted that Jadwiga is one of the most popular and well known saints of Poland. Via her marriage to much older Prince Jagiello of Lithuania (who began new dynasty of Polish rulers), country has strengthened its position in Europe. Union with Lithuania, the country that was baptized shortly before, enlarged Christian Europe and enabled later both of the countries to defeat long-lasting enemy - the Teutonic Order. The chronicles describe St Jadwiga as a tall, blond woman of great beauty, well-educated polyglot (as she spoke 5 foreign languages) who not only took care of political issues of Poland but also of the poorest inhabitants. She did a lot of charity work: she founded a hospital in Biecz, equipped hospitals in Sandomierz and Sacz as well as took care of other hospitals. She fought not only for material prosperity of her subjects but also for their dignity. On her own request she was buried with wooden orb and scepter – as she sold her jewels to make donation to renovation of Krakow Academy , known nowadays as Jagiellonian University.

Thanks to chronicles we know that Jadwiga led self-mortification. In her life she joined contemplation with practical action. Among all the depicts of St Jadwiga, the most popular is the one made by Jan Matejko. During one of King’s exhumations, he made a sketch of her skull what made it possible to reconstruct Jadwiga’s possible looks. Among the most popular legends connected with Jadwiga, one needs to mention those of ‘Jadwiga’s cross’ and ‘Jadwiga’s foot’.

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