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Sigismund I the Old

self to its growing power in Poland.[1]

Sigismund I of Poland (Polish: Zygmunt I Stary;

Lithuanian: ygimantas I Senasis) (1 January 1467
1 April 1548), of the Jagiellon dynasty, reigned as King
of Poland and also as the Grand Duke of Lithuania from
1506 until 1548. Earlier, Sigismund had been invested as
Duke of Silesia. A successful monarch and a great patron
of arts, he established Polish suzerainty over Ducal Prussia (East Prussia) and incorporated the duchy of Mazovia
into the Polish state, securing the nations wealth, culture
and power.

Sigismund I was a member of the Order of the Golden


1 Early life
The son of King Casimir IV Jagiellon and Elisabeth
of Austria, Sigismund followed his brothers John I of
Poland and Alexander I of Poland to the Polish throne.
Their elder brother Vladislaus II of Bohemia and Hungary became king of Hungary and Bohemia. Sigismund
was christened as the namesake of his mothers maternal
grandfather, Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund, who had
died in 1437.

Sigismund I, the fth son of Casimir IV and Elisabeth

of Habsburg, had ruled Gogw, Silesia, since 1499 and
became margrave of Lusatia and governor of all Silesia in 1504. In a short time his judicial and administrative reforms transformed those territories into model
states. He succeeded his brother Alexander I as grand
prince of Lithuania and king of Poland in 1506. Although he established scal and monetary reforms, he often clashed with the Polish Diet over extensions of royal
power. At the Diets demand he married Barbara, daughter of Prince Stephen Zpolya of Hungary, in 1512, to
secure a defense treaty and produce an heir. She died
three years later, however, leaving only daughters. In
1518 Sigismund married the niece of the Holy Roman
emperor Maximilian, Bona Sforza of Milan, by whom he
had one son, Sigismund II Augustus, and four daughters.
His daughter Catherine later married John III of Sweden,
from whom the Vasa kings of Sweden were descended.[1]

After his fathers death, Sigismund was the only son who
did not hold any land titles. In the years 1495-1496, he
addressed his older brother, the Lithuanian Grand Duke
Alexander, and demanded the separation of a domain
from the Lithuanian Duchy, but was refused. Queen
Dowager Elisabeth Habsburg also tried without success to
ensure the succession of his son to the throne of Austria.
Also, the disastrous and unsuccessful invasion of Bukovina led by his oldest brother King John I Albert dispelled
the plans for placing Sigismund on the Moldavian throne.
Eventually Sigismund came under the care of Vladislaus
II, King of Bohemia and Hungary, from whom he reIn 1521 Sigismunds army, led by one of the principal ceived the duchy of Gogw (1499) and Opava (1501)
advisers and commanders, Jan Tarnowski, subdued the and in 1504 became governor of Silesia and Lower LusaOrder of the Teutonic Knights, a paramilitary religious tia.
order that ruled East Prussia. In 1525 the Teutonic grand
master Albert became a Lutheran and agreed to do public homage to Sigismund in return for being granted the 2 Coronation
title of secular duke of Prussia; Albert then dissolved the
order, and Ducal Prussia came under Polish suzerainty. After the death of King Alexander I, Sigismund arrived
Sigismund added the duchy of Mazovia (now the province in Vilnius, where he was elected by the Lithuanian Ducal
of Warsaw) to the Polish state after the death, in 1529, Council on 13 September 1506 as Grand Duke of Lithuaof the last of its Piast dynasty rulers. Again under the nia, contrary to the Union of Mielnik, which involved a
command of Tarnowski, Sigismunds army defeated the joint Polish-Lithuanian election of a monarch. On 8 Deinvading forces of Moldavia at Obertyn in 1531 and cember 1506 during the session of the Polish Senate in
Muscovy in 1535, thereby safeguarding Polands eastern Piotrkw, Sigismund was elected King of Poland. He arborders.[1]
rived in Krakw on 20 January 1507 and was crowned
four days later in Wawel Cathedral by Primate Andrzej

Sigismund, inuenced by his wife, brought Italian artists

to Krakw and promoted the development of the Polish
variety of the Italian Renaissance. Although a devout
Catholic, he accorded religious toleration to Greek Orthodox Christians and royal protection to Jews. At rst he
vigorously opposed Lutheranism but later resigned him-

In February 1507 he urged the Lithuanian parliament to

declare war on the Grand Duchy of Muscovy which subsequently strengthened the Polish-Lithuanian ownership
in the east.



Internal politics
Crown of the Kingdom of Poland

the activities of the mint operating in Krakw and the attempt to organise the processing of income from operating salt mines. Furthermore, he issued a statute for the
Armenians (1519) and strongly intended to harmonise the
law across the country.
Between 1530 and 1538 the king issued two statutes,
dening the rules for the selection of the monarch, which
permanently established the election viritim. On the day
all social groups, despite their wealth, could watch the
election process (unusquisque qui vellet) and the election
was to be free (electio Regis libera).
The king successfully organised the agricultural economy, looked after the development of the royal cities and
recovered numerous goods of the treasury belonging to
the crown which were under lien. During the nancial activities, the king received full support of his wife, Queen
Bona, who aimed to expand the royal estates by purchasing and improving economic eciency.

At that time the internal situation in Poland was characterised by broad authorisation of the Chamber of
Deputies, conrmed and extended in the constitution of
Nihil novi. During Alexanders reign, the law of Nihil
novi had been instituted, which forbade kings of Poland
from enacting laws without the consent of the Sejm. Sigismund had little control over the act, unlike the senators,
whom he personally appointed. Eventually, during his
reign, Sigismund beneted from the advice of the local
nobility, competent ministers in charge of the royal judiciary system, and the wealthy and inuential treasurers
of Krakw. Although he was reluctant to the parliamentary system and political independence of the nobility, he
recognised the authority of legal norms, supported legalism and summoned annual sessions of the Sejm, usually
obtaining funds on state defence. However he was unsuccessful at attempting to create a permanent fund for defence from the annual income tax. Despite this Achilles
heel, in 1527 he established a conscript army and the bureaucracy needed to nance it. He set up the legal codes
that formalised serfdom in Poland, locking the peasants
into the estates of nobles.
Likely related to tax matters was an unsuccessful attempt
on the life of the king, made on 5 May 1523. Identity of
the King-slayer - who shot the ruler while strolling in the
evening around the Wawel castle's cloisters - and his potential supporters was never established. Unclear motives
remained after the assassination attempt. The only clue
was the fact that three weeks before the event, Sigismund
I introduced a new edict that was very unfavourable and
somewhat rather hostile to the high-ranking nobles.
Several economic successes that Sigismund I achieved include partial debt reduction, separation of accounts of
public taxation from the royal treasury, strengthening of

Chicken War - the rebellion of Lww

Chicken War by Henryk Rodakowski

The rebellion of Lww (the so-called Chicken War) was

an anti-royalist and anti-absolutist rokosz (rebellion) by
the Polish nobility that occurred in 1537. The derisive
name was coined by the magnates, who for the most part
supported the King and claimed that the wars only effect was the near-extinction of the local chickens, eaten by
the nobles gathered for the rebellion at Lww, in Lesser
Poland. The nobility, gathered near the city to meet with
a leve en masse, called for a military campaign against
Moldavia. However, the lesser and middle strata of the
nobility called a rebellion, or semi-legal rebellion, to force
the King to abandon his risky reforms. The nobles presented him with 36 demands, most notably: a cessation
of further land acquisitions by Queen Bona, exemption
of the nobility from the tithes, a clean-up of the Treasury
rather than its expansion, conrmation and extension of
the privileges of the nobility, lifting of the toll or exemption of the nobility from it, adoption of a law concerning
incompatibilitas the incompatibility of certain oces
that were not to be joined in the same hand, the carrying

out of a law requiring the appointment of only the local
nobles to most important local oces and the creation of
a body of permanent advisors to the king.[2] Finally, the
protesters criticised the role of Queen Bona, whom they
blamed for the bad education of young Prince Sigismund Augustus (the future King Sigismund II Augustus),
as well as for seeking to increase her power and inuence
in the state.
It soon transpired, however, that the nobilitys leaders
were divided and that achieving a compromise was almost
impossible. Too weak to start a civil war against the King,
the protesters nally agreed to what was thought a compromise. The King rejected most of their demands, while
accepting the principle of incompatibilitas the following
year and agreeing not to force the election of the future
king vivente rege, that is, in the lifetime of the reigning

Prussian Homage, by Jan Matejko, 1882. Albrecht Hohenzollern

receives the Duchy of Prussia in ef from Polands King Sigismund I the Old, 1525

Sigismunds nephew), converted to Lutheranism, secularized the order, and paid homage to Sigismund. In return he was given the domains of the Order as the First
Duke of Prussia. This was called the "Prussian Homage".
Thereupon the nobility returned to their homes, having Later, Sigismunds eldest daughter Hedwig (15131573)
achieved little.
married Joachim II Hector, Elector of Brandenburg.


Foreign politics

5 Succession

European aairs

On Sigismunds death, his son Sigismund II Augustus became the last Jagiellon king of Poland and Grand Duke
Intermittently at war with Vasily III of Muscovy, start- of Lithuania.
ing in 1507 (before his army was fully under his command), 1514 marked the fall of Smolensk (under Lithuanian domination) to the Muscovite forces (which lent
force to his arguments for the necessity of a standing 6 Interest in Renaissance movearmy). Those conicts formed part of the Muscovite
wars. In 1515 he entered into alliance with the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. After the death of Janusz III
Sigismund was interested in Renaissance humanism and
of Masovia in 1526, he succeeded in annexing the Duchy
the revival of classical antiquity. He and his third consort,
of Masovia. In return for Maximilian lending weight
Bona Sforza, daughter of Gian Galeazzo Sforza of Milan,
to the provisions of the Second Peace of Thorn (1466),
were both patrons of Renaissance culture, which under
Sigismund consented to the marriage of the children of
them began to ourish in Poland and in the Grand Duchy
Vladislaus II of Bohemia and Hungary, his brother, to
of Lithuania.
the grandchildren of Maximilian. Through this double
marriage contract, Bohemia and Hungary passed to the
House of Habsburg in 1526, on the death of Sigismunds
7 Portraits and art
nephew, Louis II.
Worried about the growing ties between the Habsburgs
and Russia, in 1524 Sigismund signed a Franco-Polish Portraits of Sigismund I
alliance with King Francis I of France.[3] The agreement
fell through, however, when Francis I was vanquished by
Charles V at the Battle of Pavia (1525).[4]
In other matters of policy, Sigismund sought peaceful coexistence with the Khanate of Crimea, but was unable to
completely end border skirmishes.


Teutonic Knights

The Polish wars against the Teutonic Knights ended in

1525 when Albert, Duke of Prussia, their marshal (and Portrait by Hans S von Kulmbach, 1511/1518


Albrecht Drer. Sigismund I the Old is on the far right.

Portrait by Aleksander Lesser

Portrait made by Andrzej Master, 1546

8 Marriages and issue

Portrait of Sigismund I in an advanced age by Marcin

Ostrowski, 1550

Medal of Sigismund I the Old.

In 1512, Sigismund married a Hungarian noblewoman

named Barbara Zpolya (d. 1515), with whom he had
two daughters:
Portrait by Lucas Cranach the Younger made in around

Electress Hedwig of Brandenburg (15 March 1513

7 February 1573);
Anna (1 July 1515 8 May 1520).
In 1517, Sigismund married Bona Sforza, with whom he
Queen Isabella of Hungary (18 January 1519
15 September 1559), wed 1539 John Zpolya (d.

The Vienna double wedding in 1515.

Woodcut by

Sigismund II Augustus (1 August 1520 7 July


Sophia, Duchess of Brunswick-Lneburg (13 July
1522 28 May 1575), wed 22/25 February 1556
Henry V, Duke of Brunswick-Lneberg (d. 11 June
Anna I of Poland (18 October 1523 9 September
1596), wed 1 May 1576 Stephen Bthory (d. 12
December 1586);
Queen Catherine of Sweden (1 November 1526 16
September 1583), wed 4 October 1562 John, Duke
of Finland (later John III of Sweden) (d. 17 November 1592);
Wojciech Olbracht (b. and d. 20 September 1527).
By his mistress, Katarzyna Telniczenka (d. 1528), he also
fathered three children out of wedlock:[5]
Jan (8 January 1499 18 February 1538), Bishop
of Vilnius (1519) and of Posen (1536);
Regina (1500/1 20 May 1526), wed ca. 20 October 1518 Hieronim von Szafraniec, Starost of
Teschen (d. 1556/59);
Katharina (Katarzyna) (1503 before 9 September
1548), wed after 1522 George II Count von Montfort in Pfannberg (d. 1544).



See also

History of Poland (13851569)

Zygmunt (bell)
List of Polish monarchs



[1] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/543619/
[2] Chicken War
[3] The Cambridge History of Poland by Oskar Halecki p.309
[4] The Papacy and the Levant (12041571) by Kenneth M.
Setton p.312
[5] Marek, Miroslav.
"Genealogy.eu, Miroslav Marek,
Poland and Lithuania, Jagelon Family. Genealogy.EU.




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