King of Central Park
If you happen to be one of those Metropolitanites that spends part of their time enjoying the beauty of Central Park, that famous New York City landmark, then I shall leave it to your curiosity to discover the monument of King Wladyslaw Jagiello mounted on a stallion in a remote part of the park.
King Jagiello was the victor in the Battle of Grunwald, a decisive encounter that took place July 15, 1410, and every year as we approach the summer months this fact crops back into my historically-oriented mind.
The monument I speak of shows that famous King holding two crossed swords above his head. If this depiction puzzles you, it emanates from the old legend claiming that King Jagiello received the two swords from two emissaries of the Grand Master of the German order of Teutonic Knights. It seems that the Grand Master was readying his forces for the battle of Grunwald. At first, King Jagiello thought that they came with an offer for a peaceful settlement, but they weren’t emissaries of peace and good will. They sneered and with a mocking bow they said. . . “Oh King, our Grand Master offers you these two swords so you can defend yourself and gain courage.”
This was an open insult and the Polish knights standing nearby were ready to punish the two emissaries, but the king waved with his hand to stop them and said… “Convey my thanks to your Grand Master for these two swords. While we have enough of them, we accept them as a sign of victory. Isn’t it customary that the vanquished present his arms to the victor?”
Shortly after, the King ordered his forces to go into battle. With the battle hymn “Bogurodzicz” (Mother of God) on their lips and a strong conviction to punish the insullent enemy, they rushed into battle. The fighting was hard and bloody. Some fought from mounted horses, others fought from the ground. The clash of heavy armour, the sound of men and horses trampling the ground could be heard for many miles around the battlefield. There were many killed and wounded. The battle ended with the defeat of the Teutonic Knights. Their Grand Master was dead.
Many were taken prisoners and all the German banners were brought before King Jagiello and placed before his feet. The little village of Grunwald wasn’t much different from the other Polish villages in the area except that July 15, 1410 gave it historical significance.
How did this battle originate? It really began in the year 1226 when the Teutonic Knights were brought to Poland by Piast Prince Konrad Mazowiecki. They came, at first, to help Poland in its constant battles being fought with the Prussian tribes living on the shores of the Baltic. These tribes did not embrace Christianity and were hostile to the Christian Poles.
In the beginning, the Knights came to Poland in small numbers building fortresses along the Vistula. Eventually, however, they began the systematic conquest of all of Prussia and organized their own state. When they rode in battle, they carried big black crosses and called themselves Crusaders and defenders of the Christian faith. They did have the blessing of the Pope in these matters so their attacks on the cities and their robbery of inhabitants was justifiable — at least in their minds.
The Knights also brought German settlers into the country and used them to Germanize the oppressed people.
Eventually, the Knights grew to a point whereby they were endangering both Poland and Lithuania. Since Lithuania was still pagan it was susceptible to attack.
At this point in time, Poland was ruled by a young queen named Jadwiga. Following the advice of her state council, she consented to marry the Lithuanian prince, Jagiello. Upon their union, Lithuania became Christianized.
In 1410, Wladyslaw Jagiello, the reigning monarch of Poland and his brother, Prince Witold the Great, Duke of Lithuania, organized a Polish-Lithuanian army. The bold Teutonic Knights were also readying themselves for battle.
The joint Jagiellonian army entered Prussia and shattered the Knights at the famous Battle of Grunwald. After 200 years of expansion, the Teutonic Knights were finally crushed.
Meanwhile, Wladyslaw Jagiello initiated the Jagiellonian Dynasty in Poland and during this time, many able and intelligent rulers emerged. They all played a role in the development of Poland’s political structure.
At one point in time, the Jagiellonian Dynasty had sought to bring all of central Europe under their role. But the Teutonic Knights returned once again and it was not until 1466 that a peace treaty was signed — and it did last this time for 306 years. Poland then had to face Russia’s First Partition.
So, if you do perchance visit Central Park and run across this great granite formation, at least you’ll have an understanding of its significance. If not, then just consider yourself as having learned an important history lesson about your Fatherland!!
. . . SEE YOU SOON, GOD BE WILLING . . .
NOTE: The monument is being restored and will be unveiled this October 2016. Please check out the article on the Post Eagle website for details about its unveiling. Click on King Jagiello Monument