Poland’s Early Kings – Part 3
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 3: “CASIMIR THE GREAT”
In 1333, the heritage to which Casimir (later called the Great), son of Ladislaus the Short, succeeded, comprising Great Poland, Little Poland, and the regions of Sieradz and Leczyca, was threatened by powerful neighbors: the Bohemian King, John of Luxembourg, and the Teutonic Order. John of Luxembourg had forced Silesia to accept his sovereignty, the Teutonic Knights held the province of Pomerania and Kuyawy. But Poland had a powerful and trusty ally in Hungary. With the support of his brother-in-law, Charles Robert, King of Hungary, and his nephew Louis of Hungary, King Casimir thwarted the claims of John of Luxembourg to the crown of Poland in 1335, and recovered the region of Kuyawy by peaceful means in 1343. Later he also recovered Mazovia and part of Silesia and Pomerania. With Hungarian support, the king captured the region of Halicz (Halich) Rus.
In the west, the Hundred Years’ War between France and England broke out in 1337.
When Elizabeth, daughter of Boguslaus V, Duke of Pomerania of the Slupsk line, reached adolescence, she was asked for in marriage by the Emperor Charles IV, King of Hungary and Bohemia of the House of Luxembourg, who was forty-seven years old.
The wedding ceremony took place in May 1363 at the court of Casimir the Great, the bride’s grandfather, in Cracow. In June that year, Elizabeth was crowned Queen of Bohemia in Prague and in 1368 the Empress of the Holy Roman Empire in Rome. Elizabeth was said to be endowed with extraordinary physical strength: she could break horseshoes and bend armor plates and knives with no great effort. Her son Sigismund became emperor, king of Hungary and Bohemia.
The following year a great international assembly of monarchs was held in Cracow. Its main purpose was to avert the conflict between Hungary and Bohemia, between the Emperor Charles IV and King Louis of Hungary, and to establish lasting friendship between the sovereigns attending the meeting. This goal was attained: Central Europe witnessed a period of several decades of peace. The second purpose of the meeting was to form a league against the Ottoman Turks who had crossed the Bosphorus and were threatening Europe. This goal was not attained.
“We, Casimir, mindful of the good of our subjects, have decided to designate a place in our City of Cracow, where general studies shall flourish.
“We proclaim to all and sundry and pledge our troth, to guard and preserve all the articles specified in this document. In particular, we shall be a gracious master to the Rectors of the University, doctors, masters, scholars, scribes, book vendors, bedels, and their families.
“We have appointed colleges for reading canon law, civil law, the medical sciences, and the liberal arts and designated suitable dwellings for the aforesaid doctors, masters, scholars, scribes, book vendors, and bedels.”
Those were the opening lines of the document by which the first university was founded in Poland in 1364.
“Ruled by one sovereign, a people should not be governed by different laws, else it become a monster with many heads. Hence, it is fitting that the region of Cracow, of Great Poland and all other provinces should be ruled according to one and the same law. And again, since all are ruled by one sovereign, one currency should be in circulation throughout the Realm. This should be so for all time.” (Extract from the Statues of Wislica).
Customary laws in force in different regions were listed as an introductory measure to the codification of a uniform law for the whole kingdom. These lists, known as the Statutes of Casimir the Great, were proclaimed at meetings of lords temporal and spiritual in Wislica for Little Poland, and in Piotrkow and Pyzdry for Kuyawy and Great Poland. The Statutes were not limited to the existing customary law, but also introduced new laws. Here follows an example of differences in the penalties for murder, which existed in Poland prior to the Statutes. . . .
In Little Poland, a fine of 60 grzywna (equivalent to one Cracow Mark of silver) for the murder of a nobleman, and 10 grzywna for the murder of a peasant or villain (six to his family and four to his lord).
In Great Poland, a fine of 30 grzywna for the murder of a nobleman and 6 for the murder of a peasant or villain (three to his family and three to his lord).
King Casimir, like a second Solomon, added to his fame by building towns, castles and public edifices. First, he embellished his Castle in Cracow with many wondrous buildings and towers, sculptures and paintings of great beauty. Opposite the Castle he built a town which he named Kazimierz after himself. He also built many other towns and castles. He surrounded all these towns and castles with mighty walls, moats and other defenses, for the embellishment of his realm, for the security and protection of the Polish people. In the reign of this king almost as many towns and villages were built amidst forests, woods and pastures as there had previously been in the whole Realm of Poland.
In 1948 an outbreak of the bubonic plague, brought to Western Europe from the East, decimated the population of northern Italy, southern France and England. The plague, known as Black Death, also ravaged Poland. Measures enforced by King Casimir, widespread energetic assistance given to the population, equally efficient and successful as during the famine in 1362, earned the king his well-merited title as a great ruler.
Casimir the Great extended his rule to a territory two and a half times as great as his original inheritance. His kingdom covered an area of approximately 270,000 sq.km. and a population of 1,900,000.
This great king died on November 5, 1370. He was succeeded by Louis of Anjou, King of Hungary. Several days later, after his coronation, exegesis for the soul of King Casimir were held in all Cracow churches. The funeral procession was led by four magnificent black horses ridden by four knights, all in black. They were followed by forty mounted knights wearing crimson cloaks, and eleven standard-bearers, who carried the banners of the eleven dukedoms, and the Lord Standard-Bearer of the Realm with the Royal Flag of State. Behind him rode a knight in golden royal robes, who represented the person of the defunct King. Finally, one man generously gave away coins to the poor and to anyone who wanted some so as to make room for the procession and so that the people would pray for the soul of the deceased.
. . . . SEE YOU SOON, GOD BE WILLING . . .