Bolesław I the Brave
Bolesław I the Brave (Polish: Bolesław I Chrobry
|Bolesław I the Brave|
|King of Poland|
Duke of Bohemia
Portrait by Jan Matejko.
|Reign||Duke: 992 – 18 April 1025 (?)|
King: until 17 June 1025
|Coronation||18 April 1025, |
Gniezno Cathedral, Poland.
|Successor||Mieszko II Lambert|
|Died||17 June 1025 57–58) (aged|
Mieszko II Lambert
|Father||Mieszko I of Poland|
|Mother||Dobrawa of Bohemia|
He supported the missionary goals of Adalbert, Bishop of Prague, and Bruno of Querfurt. The martyrdom of Adalbert in 997 and his imminent canonization were used to consolidate Poland's autonomy from the Holy Roman Empire. This perhaps happened most clearly during the Congress of Gniezno (11 March 1000), which resulted in the establishment of a Polish church structure with a Metropolitan See at Gniezno. This See was independent of the German Archbishopric of Magdeburg, which had tried to claim jurisdiction over the Polish church. Following the Congress of Gniezno, bishoprics were also established in Kraków, Wrocław, and Kołobrzeg, and Bolesław formally repudiated paying tribute to the Holy Roman Empire. Following the death of Holy Roman Emperor Otto III in 1002, Bolesław fought a series of wars against the Holy Roman Empire and Otto's cousin and heir, Henry II, ending in the Peace of Bautzen (1018). In the summer of 1018, in one of his expeditions, Bolesław I captured Kiev, where he installed his son-in-law Sviatopolk I as ruler. According to legend, Bolesław chipped his sword when striking Kiev's Golden Gate. Later, in honor of this legend, a sword called Szczerbiec ("Jagged Sword") would become the coronation sword of Poland's kings.
Bolesław I was a remarkable politician, strategist, and statesman. He not only turned Poland into a country comparable to older western monarchies, but he raised it to the front rank of European states. Bolesław conducted successful military campaigns in the west, south and east. He consolidated Polish lands and conquered territories outside the borders of modern-day Poland, including Slovakia, Moravia, Red Ruthenia, Meissen, Lusatia, and Bohemia. He was a powerful mediator in Central European affairs. Finally, as the culmination of his reign, in 1025 he had himself crowned King of Poland. He was the first Polish ruler to receive the title of rex (Latin: "king").
He was an able administrator who established the "Prince's Law" and built many forts, churches, monasteries and bridges. He introduced the first Polish monetary unit, the grzywna, divided into 240 denarii, and minted his own coinage. Bolesław I is widely considered one of Poland's most capable and accomplished Piast rulers.
Bolesław was born in 966 or 967, the first child of Mieszko I of Poland and his wife, the Bohemian princess Dobrawa. His Epitaph, which was written in the middle of the 11th century, emphasized that Bolesław had been born to a "faithless" father and a "true-believing" mother, suggesting that he was born before his father's baptism. Bolesław was baptized shortly after his birth. He was named after his maternal grandfather, Boleslaus I, Duke of Bohemia. Not much is known about Bolesław's childhood. His Epitaph recorded that he underwent the traditional hair-cutting ceremony at the age of seven and a lock of his hair was sent to Rome. The latter act suggests that Mieszko wanted to place his son under the protection of the Holy See. Historian Tadeusz Manteuffel says that Bolesław needed that protection because his father had sent him to the court of Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor in token of his allegiance to the emperor. However historian Marek Kazimierz Barański notes that the claim that Bolesław was sent as a hostage to the imperial court is disputed.
Bolesław's mother, Dobrawa died in 977; his widowed father married Oda of Haldensleben who had already been a nun. Around that time, Bolesław became the ruler of Lesser Poland, through it is not exactly clear in what circumstances. Jerzy Strzelczyk says that Bolesław received Lesser Poland from his father; Tadeusz Manteuffel states that he seized the province from his father with the local lords' support; and Henryk Łowmiański writes that his uncle, Boleslav II of Bohemia, granted the region to him.
First years (992–999)
Mieszko I died on 25 May 992. The contemporaneous Thietmar of Merseburg recorded that Mieszko left "his kingdom to be divided among many claimants", but Bolesław unified the country "with fox-like cunning" and expelled his stepmother and half-brothers from Poland. Two Polish lords, "Odilien and Przibiwoj", who had supported her and her sons, were blinded on Bolesław's order. Historian Przemysław Wiszniewski says that Bolesław had already taken control of the whole Poland by 992; Pleszczyński writes that this only happened in the last months of 995.
Bolesław's first coins were issued around 995. One of them bore the inscription Vencievlavus, showing that he regarded his mother's uncle, Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia, as the patron saint of Poland. Bolesław sent reinforcements to the Holy Roman Empire to fight against the Polabian Slavs in summer 992. Bolesław personally led a Polish army to assist the imperial troops in invading the land of the Abodrites or Veleti in 995. During the campaign, he met the young German monarch, Otto III.
Soběslav, the head of the Bohemian Slavník dynasty, also participated in the 995 campaign. Taking advantage of Soběslav's absence, Boleslav II of Bohemia invaded the Slavníks' domains and had most members of the family murdered. After learning of his kinsmen's fate, Soběslav settled in Poland. Bolesław gave shelter to him "for the sake of [Soběslav's] holy brother", Bishop Adalbert of Prague, according to the latter's hagiographies. Adalbert (known as Wojciech before his consecration) also came to Poland in 996, because Bolesław "was quite amicably disposed towards him". Adalbert's hagiographies suggest that the bishop and Bolesław closely cooperated. Early 997 Adalbert left Poland to proselytize among the Prussians who had been invading the easter borderlands of Bolesław's realm. However, the pagans murdered him on 23 April 997. Bolesław ransomed Adalbert's remains, paying its weight in gold, and buried it in Gniezno. He sent parts of the martyr bishop's corpse to Emperor Otto III who had been Adalbert's friend.
Congress of Gniezno and its aftermath (999–1002)
Emperor Otto III held a synod in Rome where Adalbert was canonized on the emperor's request on 29 June 999. Before 2 December 999, Adalbert's brother, Radim Gaudentius, was consecrated "Saint Adalbert's archbishop". Otto III made a pilgrimage to Saint Adalbert's tomb in Gniezno, accompanied by Pope Sylvester II's legate, Robert, in early 1000. Thietmar of Merseburg mentioned that it "would be impossible to believe or describe" how Bolesław received the emperor and conducted him to Gniezno. A century later, Gallus Anonymus added that "[m]arvelous and wonderful sights Bolesław set before the emperor when he arrived: the ranks first of the knights in all their variety, and then of the princes, lined up on a spacious plain like choirs, each separate unit set apart by the distinct and varied colors of its apparel, and no garment there was of inferior quality, but of the most precious stuff that might anywhere be found."
Bolesław took advantage of the emperor's pilgrimage. After the Emperor's visit in Gniezno, Poland started to develop into a sovereign state, in contrast with Bohemia, which remained a vassal state, incorporated in the Kingdom of Germany. Thietmar of Merseburg condemned Otto III for "making a lord out of a tributary" in reference to the relationship between the Emperor and Bolesław. Gallus Anonymus emphasized that Otto III declared Bolesław "his brother and partner" in the Holy Roman Empire, also calling Bolesław "a friend and ally of the Roman people". The same chronicler mentioned that Otto III "took the imperial diadem from his own head and laid it upon the head of Bolesław in pledge of friendship" in Gniezno. Bolesław also received "one of the nails from the cross of our Lord with the lance of St. Maurice" from the Emperor.
Gallus Anonymus claimed that Bolesław was "gloriously raised to kingship by the emperor" through these acts, but the Emperor's acts in Gniezno only symbolized that Bolesław received royal prerogatives, including the control of the Church in his realm. Radim Gaudentius was installed as the archbishop of the newly established Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Gniezno. At the same time, three suffragan bishoprics, subordinated to the see of Gniezno – the Dioceses of Kołobrzeg, Kraków and Wrocław – were set up. Bolesław had promised that Poland would pay Peter's Pence to the Holy See to obtain the pope's sanction to the establishment of the new archdiocese. Unger, who had been the only prelate in Poland and was opposed to the creation of the archdiocese of Gniezno, was made bishop of Poznań, directly subordinated to the Holy See. However, Polish commoners only slowly adopted Christianity: Thietmar of Merseburg recorded that Bolesław forced his subjects with severe punishments to observe fasts and to refrain from adultery.
If anyone in this land should presume to abuse a foreign matron and thereby commit fornication, the act is immediately avenged through the following punishment. The guilty party is led on to the market bridge, and his scrotum is affixed to it with a nail. Then, after a sharp knife has been placed next to him, he is given the harsh choice between death or castration. Furthermore, anyone found to have eaten meat after Septuagesima is severely punished, by having his teeth knocked out. The law of God, newly introduced in these regions gains more strength from such acts of force than from any fast imposed by the bishops— Thietmar of Merseburg: Chronicon
During the time the Emperor spent in Poland, Bolesław also showed off his affluence. At the end of the banquets, he "ordered the waiters and the cupbearers to gather the gold and silver vessels ... from all three days' coursis, that is, the cups and goblets, the bowls and plates and the drinking-horns, and he presented them to the emperor as a toke of honor ... [h]is servants were likewise told to collect the wall-hangings and the coverlets, the carpets and tablecloths and napkins and everything that had been provided for their needs and take them to the emperor's quarters", according to Gallus Anonymus. Thietmar of Merseburg recorded that Bolesław presented Otto III with a troop of "three hundred armoured warriors". Bolesław also gave Saint Adalbert's arm to the Emperor.
After the meeting, Bolesław escorted Otto III to Magdeburg in Germany where "they celebrated Palm Sunday with great festivity" on 25 March 1000. A continuator of the chronicle of Adémar de Chabannes recorded, decades after the events, that Bolesław also accompanied Emperor Otto from Magdeburg to Aachen where Otto III had Charlemagne's tomb reopened and gave Charlemagne's golden throne to Bolesław.
An illustrated Gospel, made for Otto III around 1000, depicted four women symbolizing Roma, Gallia, Germania and Sclavinia as doing homage to the Emperor who sat on his throne. Historian Alexis P. Vlasto writes that "Sclavinia" referred to Poland, proving that it was regarded as one of the Christian realms subjected to the Holy Roman Empire in accordance with Otto III's idea of Renovatio imperii – the renewal of the Roman Empire based on a federal concept. Within that framework, Poland, along with Hungary, was upgraded to an eastern foederatus of the Holy Roman Empire, according to historian Jerzy Strzelczyk.
Coins struck for Bolesław shortly after his meeting with the emperor bore the inscription Gnezdun Civitas, showing that he regarded Gniezno as his capital. The name of Poland was also recorded on the same coins referring to the Princes Polonie [sic]. The title princeps was almost exclusively used in Italy around that time, suggesting that it also represented the Emperor's idea of the renewal of the Roman Empire. However, Otto's premature death on 23 January 1002 put an end to his ambitious plans. The contemporaneous Bruno of Querfurt stated that "nobody lamented" the 22-year-old emperor's "death with greater grief than Bolesław".
Three candidates were competing with each other for the German royal crown after Otto III's death. One of them, Henry IV, Duke of Bavaria, promised the Margraviate of Meissen to Bolesław in exchange for his assistance against Eckard I, Margrave of Meissen who was the most powerful contender. However, Eckard was murdered on 30 April 1002, which enabled Henry of Bavaria to defeat his last opponent, Herman II, Duke of Swabia. Fearing that Henry II would side with elements in the German Church hierarchy, which were unfavorable towards Poland, and taking advantage of the chaos that followed Margrave Eckard's death and Henry of Bavaria's conflict with Henry of Schweinfurt, Bolesław invaded Lusatia and Meissen. He "seized Margrave Gero's march as far as the river Elbe", and also Bautzen, Strehla and Meissen. At the end of July, he participated at a meeting of the Saxon lords where Henry of Bavaria, who had meanwhile been crowned as King Henry II, only confirmed Bolesław's possession of Lusatia, and granted Meissen to Margrave Eckard's brother, Gunzelin, and Strehla to Eckard's oldest son, Herman. The relationship between Henry II and Bolesław became tense after assassins tried to murder Bolesław in Merseburg, because he accused the king of the conspiracy against him. In retaliation, he seized and burned Strehla and took the inhabitants of the town into captivity.
Boleslaus III, Duke of Bohemia was dethroned and the Bohemian lords made Vladivoj, who had earlier fled to Poland, duke in 1002. The Czech historian Dušan Třeštík writes that Vladivoj seized the Bohemian throne with Bolesław's assistance. After Vladivoj died in 1003, Bolesław invaded Bohemia and restored Boleslaus III who had many Bohemian noblemen murdered. The Bohemian lords who survived the massacre "secretly sent representatives" to Bolesław, asking "him to rescue them from fear of the future", according to Thietmar of Merseburg. Bolesław invaded Bohemia and had Boleslaus III blinded. He entered Prague in March 1003 where the Bohemian lords proclaimed him duke. King Henry II of Germany sent his envoys to Prague, demanding Bolesław to take an oath of loyalty and to pay tribute to him, but Bolesław refused to obey. He also allied himself with the king's opponents, including Henry of Schweinfurt to whom he sent reinforcements. King Henry defeated Henry of Schweinfurt, forcing him to flee to Bohemia in August 1003. Bolesław invaded the Margraviate of Meissen, but Margrave Gunzelin refused to surrender his capital. It is also likely that Polish forces took control of Moravia and Upper Hungary (present day Slovakia) in 1003 as well. The proper conquest date of the Hungarian territories is 1003 or 1015 and this area stayed a part of Poland until 1018.
Henry II allied himself with the pagan Veleti, and broke into Lusatia in February 1004, but heavy snows forced him to withdraw. He invaded Bohemia in August 1004, taking the oldest brother of the blinded Boleslaus III of Bohemia, Jaromír, with him. The Bohemians rose up in open rebellion and murdered the Polish garrisons in the major towns. Bolesław left Prague without resistance, and King Henry made Jaromír duke of Bohemia on 8 September. Boleslaw's ally Soběslav died in this campaign.
During the next part of the offensive Henry II retook Meissen and in 1005, his army advanced as far into Poland as the city of Poznań where a peace treaty was signed. According to the peace treaty Bolesław lost Lusatia and Meissen and likely gave up his claim to the Bohemian throne. Also in 1005, a pagan rebellion in Pomerania overturned Boleslaw's rule and resulted in the destruction of the just implemented local bishopric.
In 1007 Henry denounced the Peace of Poznań, which caused Bolesław's attack on the Archbishopric of Magdeburg as well as the re-occupation of the marches of Lusatia, through he stopped short of retaking Meissen. The German counter-offensive began three years later, in 1010, but it was of no significant consequence. In 1012, a five-year peace was signed. Bolesław broke the peace, however, and once again invaded Lusatia. Bolesław's forces pillaged and burned the city of Lubusz (Lebus). In 1013, a peace accord was signed at Merseburg. As part of the treaty, Bolesław paid homage to Henry II for the March of Lusatia (including the town of Bautzen) and Sorbian Meissen as fiefs. A marriage of Bolesław's son Mieszko with Richeza of Lotharingia, daughter of the Count Palatine Ezzo of Lotharingia and granddaughter of Emperor Otto II was also performed. During the brief period of peace on the western frontier that followed, Bolesław took part in a short campaign in the east, towards the Kievan Rus' territories.
In 1014, Bolesław sent his son Mieszko to Bohemia in order to form an alliance with duke Oldrich . Oldrich imprisoned Mieszko and turned him over to Henry II, who however released him in a gesture of good will. Bolesław nonetheless refused to aid the Emperor militarily in his Italian expedition. This led to imperial intervention in Poland and so in 1015 a war erupted once again. The war started out well for the Emperor, as he was able to defeat the Polish forces at the Battle of Ciani. Once the imperial forces crossed the river Oder, Bolesław sent a detachment of Moravian knights in a diversionary attack against the Eastern March of the empire. Soon after, the imperial army, having suffered a defeat near the Bóbr marshes, retreated from Poland without any permanent gains. After this event, Bolesław's forces took the initiative. The Margrave of Meissen, Gero II, was defeated and killed during a clash with the Polish forces in late 1015.
Later that year, Bolesław's son Mieszko was sent to plunder Meissen. His attempt at conquering the city, however, failed. In 1017, Bolesław defeated Margrave Henry V of Bavaria. In that same year, supported by his Slavic allies, Henry II once again invaded Poland, however, once again to very little effect. He did besiege the cities of Głogów and Niemcza, but was unable to conquer them. The imperial forces once again were forced to retreat, suffering significant losses. Taking advantage of the involvement of Czech troops, Bolesław ordered his son to invade Bohemia, where Mieszko met very little resistance. On 30 January 1018, the Peace of Bautzen was signed. The Polish ruler was able to keep the contested marches of Lusatia and Sorbian Meissen not as fiefs, but as a part of Polish territory, and also received military aid in his expedition against Kievan Rus. Also, Bolesław (then a widower) strengthened his dynastic bonds with the German nobility through his marriage with Oda, daughter of Margrave Eckard I of Meissen. The wedding took place four days later, on 3 February in the castle of Cziczani (also Sciciani, at the site of either modern Groß-Seitschen or Zützen).
Bolesław organized his first expedition east, to support his son-in-law Sviatopolk I of Kiev, in 1013, but the decisive engagements were to take place in 1018 after the peace of Budziszyn was already signed. At the request of Sviatopolk I, in what became known as the Kiev Expedition of 1018m the Polish duke send an expedition Kievan Rus' with an army of between 2,000–5,000 Polish warriors, in addition to Thietmar's reported 1,000 Pechenegs, 300 German knights, and 500 Hungarian mercenaries. After collecting his forces during June, Boleslaw led his troops to the border in July and on 23 July at the banks of the Bug River, near Wołyń, he defeated the forces of Yaroslav the Wise prince of Kiev, in what became known as the Battle at Bug river. All primary sources agree that the Polish prince was victorious in battle. Yaroslav retreated north to Novgorod, rather than to Kiev. The victory opened the road to Kiev. The city, which suffered from fires caused by the Pecheneg siege, surrendered upon seeing the main Polish force on 14 August. The entering army, led by Bolesław, was ceremonially welcomed by the local archbishop and the family of Vladimir I of Kiev. According to popular legend Bolesław notched his sword (Szczerbiec) hitting the Golden Gate of Kiev. Although Sviatopolk lost the throne soon afterwards and lost his life the following year, during this campaign Poland re-annexed the Red Strongholds, later called Red Ruthenia, lost by Bolesław's father in 981.
Last years (1019–1025)
Historians dispute the exact date of Bolesław's coronation. Some believe that since the year 1000, the Polish ruler asked the Pope to consent to his coronation, following the Congress of Gniezno. Independent German sources clearly confirmed that after Henry II's death in 1024, Bolesław took advantage of the interregnum in Germany and crowned himself King in 1025 (the exact date and place of the coronation remain unknown), thus raising Poland to the rank of a kingdom, before its neighbor Bohemia. Bolesław was the first Polish king (rex), his predecessors having been considered dukes (dux) by the Holy Roman Empire and the papacy. Others (like Johannes Fried) believe that the coronation of 1025 was only the renewal of a previous coronation performed in 1000 (multiple coronations were common at the time).
Wipo of Burgundy in his Chronicle describes this event:
[In 1025] Boleslaus [of the Slavic nation], duke of the Poles, took for himself in injury to King Conrad the regal insignia and the royal name. Death swiftly killed his temerity.— Wipo: The Deeds of Conrad II
Hence it is assumed that Bolesław received permission for his coronation from Pope John XIX (who at that point had a bad relationship with the Holy Roman Empire). Stanisław Zakrzewski put forward the theory that the coronation had the tacit consent of Conrad II and that the Pope only confirmed this fact. This was further confirmed by Jarosław Sochacki, who added other facts that supported Zakrzewski's theory:
- Conrad II confirmed the title of King to Mieszko II Lambert, Bolesław's heir.
- The agreement between the Holy Roman Empire and the Counts of Tusculum, rulers of Rome (1012–1046).
- The interaction between the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy, at the time of the coronation, to granted crowns.
- The connection of Bolesław with the Papacy came only in the years 1003–1014.
Bolesław I died shortly after his coronation on 17 June, most likely from an illness. The location of Boleslaw's burial site is uncertain. According to Jan Długosz (and followed by modern historians and archaeologists), he was buried in the Archcathedral Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul, Poznań. In the 14th century, King Casimir III the Great reportedly ordered the construction of a Gothic sarcophagus, to which he transferred Boleslaw's remains.
The sarcophagus was partially destroyed in 1772 during a fire, and completely destroyed a few years later in 1790 due to the collapse of the south tower. Then, the remains were moved to the Chapter house, where three bone fragments where donated to Tadeusz Czacki (in 1801, at his request). Czacki, a notable Polish historian, pedagogue, and numismatist, placed one of the bone fragments in his ancestral mausoleum in Poryck (now Pavlivka) in the Volhynia region; the other two were given to Princess Izabela Czartoryska née Flemming, who placed them in her recently founded Czartoryski Museum in Puławy. After many historical twists, the burial place of Bolesław I ultimately remained at Poznań Cathedral, in the Golden Chapel. The content of his epitaph is known to historians. It is Bolesław's epitaph, which, in part, came from the original tombstone, that is one of the first sources (dated to the period immediately after Bolesław's death, probably during the reign of Mieszko II) that gave the King his widely known nickname of "Brave" (Polish: Chrobry) -later Gallus Anonymus in the Chapter 6 of his Gesta principum Polonorum named the Polish ruler as Bolezlavus qui dicebatur Gloriosus seu Chrabri.
The contemporaneous Thietmar of Merseburg recorded Bolesław's marriages, also mentioning his children. Bolesław's first wife was an unnamed daughter of Rikdag, Margrave of Meissen. Historian Manteuffel says that the marriage was arranged in the early 980s by Mieszko I who wanted to strengthen his links with the Saxon lords and to enable his son to succeed Rikdag in Meissen. Bolesław "later sent her away", according to Thietmar's Chronicon. Historian Marek Kazimierz Barański writes that Bolesław repudiated his first wife after her father's death in 985 which left the marriage without any political value.
Bolesław "took a Hungarian woman" as his second wife. Most historians identify her as a daughter of Géza, Grand Prince of the Hungarians, but this theory has not been universally accepted. She gave birth to a son, Bezprym, but Bolesław repudiated her.
Bolesław's third wife, Emnilda, was "a daughter of the venerable lord, Dobromir". Her father was a Slavic prince, either a local ruler from present-day Brandenburg who was closely related to the imperial Liudolfing dynasty, or the last independent prince of the Vistulans, before their incorporation into Poland. Wiszewski dates the marriage of Bolesław and Emnilda to 988. Emnilda exerted a beneficial influence on Bolesław, forming "her husband's unstable character", according to Thietmar of Merseburg's report. Bolesław's and Emnilda's oldest (unnamed) daughter "was an abbess" of an unidentified abbey. Their second daughter Regelinda, who was born in 989, was given in marriage to Herman I, Margrave of Meissen in 1002 or 1003. Mieszko II Lambert who was born in 990 was Bolesław's favorite son and successor. The name of Bolesław's and Emnilda's third daughter, who was born in 995, is unknown; she married Sviatopolk I of Kiev between 1005 and 1012. Bolesław's youngest son, Otto, was born in 1000.
Fourth marriage: 1018–1025 Oda (b. c. 995 – d. aft. 1025), daughter of Eckard I, Margrave of Meissen. She was nicknamed the Younger (Polish: Młodsza) probably in reference to either Bolesław's step-mother or first wife.
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Media related to Boleslaus I of Poland at Wikimedia Commons
Bolesław I the Brave
Piast DynastyBorn: 966 or 967 Died: 17 June 1025
| Duke of the Polans
25 May 992 – 17 June 1025
King of Poland (since 18 April 1025)
Mieszko II Lambert
| Margrave of Saxon Eastern March
| Duke of Bohemia