Guest Author - Barbara Swiech
The first elected king of Poland – Henry of Valois - is most probably better known as Henry III of France, as he ruled that country for approximately 15 years. He was born in France in 1551 as Edward Alexander, fourth son of Henry II. In 1564, during confirmation, he took up the name Henry. He was favorite son of his mother – Catherine Medici – who fancied kingdom for each of her sons. As her plans of Henry’s marriage into various European royal families were not successful, she became interested in a distant (and oriental at that time) country as Poland. His elder brother, who felt endangered as a king of France, supported Henry in his efforts to rue Poland-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Henry differed a lot from his brothers and father. He did not like hunting, he could not boast of great physical shape. He was, however, tall and handsome, spoke Italian fluently and was interested in art and literature. Already in his youth the rumor about his homosexuality was spread around the court, especially due to Henry’s love for fashion and clothing that shared accents with female one. What made him visible and exceptional on French court, was the cause of cultural shock on Polish one. His clothes were richly embellished with gems, he wore gold and amber necklaces and in each ear he wore 2 earrings.
When in 1573 Sigismund August (the last king of Jagiellonian dynasty) died, there were 3 candidates to choose from for Polish throne. The elections took place nearby Warsaw where representatives of candidates would praise them and their virtues. The choice was made and Henry became the king. He reached Poland in January 1574, after the 2-month-long journey. Before the crowning he had to sign the agreement that addressed his rights and responsibilities and privileges to his subjects. One part of the agreement was Henry’s marriage with Anna Jagiellon (sister of deceased Sigismund August), 30 years older than Henry. However, he did not rush with engagement and never married her.
When Henry became king of Poland, and at the same time Grand Duke of Lithuania, he was 23 years old and had no political experience. As he spoke no Polish at all, he got bored with official meetings. He would even fake illness for 2 weeks simply not to be made to talk with the officials. He would party at night and sleep during the day, he would constantly play cards and lose lots of money.
When in June 1574 Henry got to know about the death of his elder brother, king of France, he ran away from Krakow in disguise. His disappearance was quickly noticed and the king was chased after. The representatives that managed to catch up with Henry on the way asked him to come back at least to establish interim government. Henry did not agree to turn his way but promised to come back soon, however, he has never come to Poland again. He ruled France, while Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had to organize new elections.