Women Who Ruled: Sister Kings 5/5

Elizabeth of Bosnia and Mary of Poland in captivity

Hungarian nobles issued a statement that they would support no change in government while Sigismund was fighting at the Ottoman border. Jadwiga was renowned as an intelligent and fair negotiator. She proposed a comprise. She would remain Hungary’s official heir, but Sigismund would be permitted to rule for his natural life. The agreement was struck within the year. 

Jadwiga had been married since the age of twelve and did not bear her first child until she was 25 years old.  In June of 1399, she died giving birth to a daughter. Her daughter followed after three weeks later. Jadwiga died without an official heir. Wladyslaw-Jogaila was king by virtue of his marriage and did not have a strong blood claim to the throne. But the nobles of Poland liked him, and he remarried one of Jadwiga’s cousins to be his queen consort.

These women kings had a father ahead of his peers. The sexism each faced was tremendous, and completely out of their control. They dealt with assassins and insurrection and the tremendous gamble of marriage, but ultimately what killed each of them was childbirth complications. It’s a bit humbling to realize how precarious life was in the 14th century. 

Although she only lived to 25, King Jadwiga is considered one of the greatest rulers of Poland. Her investments in art, literature, and public works left a legacy that persists today, where the university she built now bears her name. Contemporaneous accounts describe her as fair, and with particular concern that mercy be shown to peasants revoking capital punishment authorities her father had granted to the nobles. 

It is frustrating that even today stories of women leaders are defined as much by the constant criticisms they face as by their achievements, and those achievements are still in spite of tremendous obstacles. King Louis of Poland was a man ahead of his time, and possibly ahead of mine. He thought his daughters’ gender was no impediment to their ability to govern. Would be nice if this could catch on already. 

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