Guest Author - Barbara Swiech
There are quite many Polish family names that remind of families, that used to shape Poland, its culture, fashion, architecture and today’s heritage. Those families would be the rich protectors that would fund churches, build beautiful palaces for themselves and invest in precious pieces of art that now are parts of museum exhibitions.
Out of numerous nobelty families in Poland, the most important are probably those whose members ruled the country. Among the Elected Monarchy we can mention families such as Vasa, Poniatowski or Sobieski. But the first powerful families were dynasties that inherited power over the country. The two Polish dynasties, Piast and Jagiellonian, are the shortly desacribed below.
The first Polish Dynasty’s name comes from its legendary founder – Piast, who was a wheelwright and is said to have lived in 9th century. The dynasty that ruled Polanian tribe, that afterwards united Polish lands, would claim descent from Piast. None of the members, however, would call himself Piast. The name was popularised at the end of 18th century by Adam Naruszewicz in his ‘History of Polish Nation’. After the death of Popiel – Polanian prince who murderdered his whole family – Piast Kolodziej (that is Piast the Wheelwright) was chosen to be the ruler because of his virtuous nature. Past was the ancestor of Mieszko I – the first ruler of Polish country, who united the tribes and brought christianity to Poland.
His descendants, apart from Mieszko I, were kings and rulers of Poland such as Boleslaw I Chrobry (the Brave), Kazimierz Odnowiciel (the Restorer) or Boleslaw Smialy (the Bold). The Piast Dynasty restoretion was led by Wladyslaw Lokietek (the elbow-high) and his son Kazimierz Wielki (Kazimierz the Great). Although the latter one did not leave male off springs, many still supported Piast Dynasty. In 1385 Jadwiga (grand daughter of Wladyslaw Lokietek and the only female king of Poland) married Wladyslaw Jagiello, grand-duke of Lithuania, forming second Polish Dynasty – Jagiellonian.
The name of the dynasty comes from the first name of the new ruler – Jogaila. This old Baltic name meant ‘strong rider’. Jogaila took his new christian name – Wladislaw (Jagiello) – during the babtism of Lithuania. Together with Jadwiga (deriving from Piast dynasty) they formed one of the most powerful dynasties and countries (that consisted of Kingdom of Poland and Great Duchy of Lithuania). It was the biggest countries of Europe and the union helped also to fight the Teutonic Order that would invade those lands in the name of introducing Christianity.
Jagiellonians restored also Krakow Academy (founded by Kazimierz the Great), therefore it was called Jagiellonian University, making it the second-oldest university of Central Europe (after the one in Prague). Jagiello’s descentants (as Jadwiga died shortly after the labour – together with her only daughter) were such rulers as Kazimierz Jagiellonczyk or Jan Olbracht. The last members of dynasty, and hereditary kings, were Zygmund Stary (Sigismund the Old) and Zygmunt August. This was the end of the Polish dynasties as Zygmund August left no descentants.