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Poland’s Early Kings – Part 2

A series focusing on the Poland of old, when warring tribes were common and kings were really tested by the mettle in their swords, the strength in their words, the philosophy of their politics, and the honor in their hearts…..

  

PART 2:

“MIESZKO and BOLESLAUS”

  Mieszko, son of Ziemomysl and grandson of Siemovit, was Poland’s first historical ruler whose name was mentioned in the 10th century sources by Ibrahim, a Spanish merchant-traveller, who called Poland Mieszko’s country, and by the German chroniclers Widukind and Thietmar. Mieszko I ruled from 963 till 992 A.D. His contemporaries were Vladimir the Great in Kiev Rus and the German Kings and Holy Roman Emperors Otto I, Otto II and Otto III.

  Mieszko’s country abounded in corn, meat, honey, and fish. The prince levied taxes for the upkeep of his warriors. He had an army of 3000 men in heavy armor, a hundred of whom were a force equivalent to a thousand other warriors. Mieszko provided them with clothing, arms, horses and all their other needs. When a child was born to one of his warriors, the prince paid him an additional allowance.

  Between 967 and 972, Mieszko I subjected Western Pomerania with Szczecin, Wolin, and Kolobrzeg to his rule, despite the fact that the Germans who were consolidating their domination over the Slavonic tribes between the Odra and Elbe at the time, did their utmost to prevent this. Their expedition against Mieszko was routed by the Prince and his brother Czcibor at Cedynia in 972.

  In 965, Mieszko married Dobrava, daughter of Prince Boleslaus the Fierce of Bohemia. The following year Mieszko I accepted Christianity, probably on condition that the Christian faith was to be spread in the country by a missionary bishop, not dependent on the German archbishop.

  Mieszko was succeeded by his eldest son, Boleslaus. Mieszko’s daughter, Svietoslava, was wedded to King Eric the Victorious of Sweden. After his death she married King Sweyn I of Denmark. Scandinavian sources named her Storrada (the Proud).

  Princes Polonie in medieval Latin meant Ruler of Poland. This was the title which appeared on Polish coins struck in the reign of Boleslaus the Brave, who ruled from 992 to 1025. In the year 1000, the German king and Holy Roman Emperor, Otto III, visited Poland intending to win the friendship and support of the Polish ruler. At the beginning of the visit, Otto III made a pilgrimage to the grave of St. Adalbert in Gniezno, who had died a martyr’s death while he was trying to convert the Prussians to Christianity.

  When Otto III reached the territory, Prince Boleslaus, notified of his approach, set out to welcome him. The prince received the Emperor with extraordinary splendor and accompanied him to Gniezno. At the sight of the town, the Emperor approached it devoutly and at the grave of the Bishop Martyr Adalbert burst into tears and prayed for the saint’s intercession. Later, the Emperor handed Prince Boleslaus a papal bull establishing the Polish archdiocese of Gniezno and the dioceses of Kolobrzeg, Cracow, and Wroclaw.

  During the Emperor’s stay in Poland, Prince Boleslaus lavished an extraordinary display of pomp and splendor on his imperial guest and his retinue by giving magnificent banquets in his honor. At one such reception the Emperor is said to have exclaimed: “By the crown of my empire, what we have seen is even greater than fame would have it. It is not fitting that so great a man should be called prince or count as an ordinary noble, but rather he should be raised to the dignity of a kingly throne and his head girdled with a royal crown.”

  Polish denari struck in the reign of Boleslaus the Brave bear an eagle on the obverse, surrounded by the inscription Princes Polonie, with the same inscription appearing on the reverse. That was the earliest inscription bearing the name of Poland. On some denari, the likeness of Boleslaus appears on the obverse and the inscription Gnezdun Civitas (the City of Gniezno) on the reverse. That was the earliest inscription bearing the name of the first Polish capital and the seat of the first archdiocese.

  With the sudden death of Otto III and the ascent of Henry II to the imperial throne, German plans of aggression against Poland were revived. War broke out in 1002 and continued with interludes till 1018. In 1025, Prince Boleslaus had himself crowned king.

  Poland successfully defended her independence and in 1018 scored a triumph in the peace negotiations which followed in Budziszyn (Bautzen): Lusatia and Milsko remained in the hands of Prince Boleslaus. That same year Poland won the castles of the Czerwien (Cherven) province in a war with Kiev Rus.

  In the early 11th century Gniezno became an important early-medieval town. Regular market-fairs were held there, the local craftsmen and artisans catered not only to the needs of the capital but also probably traded with outlying localities as well. At the time, there were some seventy fortified towns with adjoining craftsmen and artisans settlements in Poland.

  During the reign of Mieszko II (1025-34), son and successor of Boleslaus the Brave, Poland’s military power declined. Poland lost Lusatia and the province of Czerwien. During the period of unrest which followed the untimely death of Mieszko II, the Bohemians gained control of Silesia. Mieszko’s successor, Casimir the Restorer (1034-58), succeeded only in winning back this last province.

  Casimir the Restorer was succeeded by his eldest son, Boleslaus, “a knight bold and brave, a gracious ruler, the most generous of sovereigns.” Boleslaus II the Generous followed in the footsteps of his great-grandfather and namesake. He set himself the same goal: independence from the German Kingdom, and like his great predecessor he attained his goal. Having strengthened his position by alliance with the grade duchy of Kiev and the kingdom of Hungary, he took advantage of the weakness of the Emperor Henry IV, who was involved in a sharp conflict with the pope and with majority of his great feudal lords, to have himself crowned king.

  His coronation not only provoked protests in Germany but also elicited dangerous centrifugal forces among Polish lords. The latter instigated a plot against Boleslaus II, allegedly in defense of the king’s younger brother, Prince Ladislaus. The king crushed this plot and sentenced to death Stanislaw, Bishop of Cracow, who played a leading role in it. But the execution of the bishop provoked a general revolt which forced the king to flee the country. Boleslaus II and his son Mieszko sought refuge in Hungary, where the king died in mysterious circumstances about 1081, probably assassinated. It is likely that the same hand engineered his son’s death shortly after the latter had returned to Poland. “It was alleged that his enemies poisoned this young prince who showed great promise, fearing he would avenge his father’s death,” wrote an early 12th century chronicler.

  Prince Ladislaus (1079-1102), Boleslaus’s successor, made no attempt to call himself king.

      . . . . SEE YOU SOON, GOD BE WILLING . . .