Alexander Jagiellon

John Florens | May 24, 2024

Table of Content


Aleksander Jagiellonczyk (August 5, 1461 - August 19, 1506) was Grand Duke of Lithuania from July 20, 1492 and King of Poland from December 12, 1501. In the Grand Duchy of Lithuania he was referred to as Alexander II.

Early Years

Fourth son of Kazimir Jagiellon and Elizabeth, daughter of King Albrecht II of Habsburg, Germany, grandson of Wladyslaw Jagiello.

Alexander Jagiellonczyk was born on August 5, 1461 in Krakow. He had black hair. He was a physically strong man. However, all of his brothers were smarter than he was. Alexander was educated by the historian Jan Dlugosz. Alexander's upbringing was done by Jan Dlugosz and Philip Kalimach. Alexander spent his childhood and youth in Krakow. He loved luxury, as well as science and some arts. In Lithuanian historiography it is widely believed that Alexander Jagiellonczyk was the last ruler of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania who knew the Lithuanian language.

In 1484 his father, the Lithuanian grand duke and Polish king Casimir IV appointed Alexander heir to the throne in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In 1491 the successor moved to Vilna, the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In the early 1490s, he worked as a deputy to his father, the Grand Duke of Lithuania and king of Poland Casimir IV, in the field of minting coins. After his father's death, the Seimas in Vilna elected him Grand Duke of Lithuania.

Foreign Policy

In addition to his very limited abilities, Alexander's character traits were wastefulness and lack of autonomy in his actions. For example, he constantly sought the advice of Prince Mikhail Glinsky, and he coordinated many appointments with his brother, the Polish King Jan Olbracht. Almost all of Alexander's reign was unfortunate for the state because of the constant wars with its neighbors. The most dangerous of them was the Russian state, and then its allies - Mengli I Giray, the Crimean khan, and Stephen, the Moldavian ruler; both of them attacked Lithuania, and the khan even repeatedly approached Vilna itself.

Upon coming to power in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Alexander faced influential opposition that wanted Semyon Olelkovich-Slutsky to be Grand Duke of Lithuania. In addition, Alexander came to power in the midst of the Russian-Lithuanian war of 1487-1494. At the beginning of his reign Russian troops intensified military operations and occupied the eastern part of Smolensk land with Vyazma. Finding no military support from other states, the grand duke of Lithuania Alexander began negotiating about peace with the Russian state. As a result, in February 1494 a peace treaty was signed, under the terms of which the Verkhovsky principalities and the eastern part of the Smolensk region became part of the Russian state, and Alexander married Ivan III's daughter Helen, which was the end of the Russian-Lithuanian war of 1487-1494, but it didn't end the dispute and instead gave new reasons for enmity.

In 1495, representatives of the Jagiellonian dynasty from the Kingdom of Poland came to visit Alexander in Vilna. They suggested that he create a separate principality with its center in Kiev and give it to his younger brother Sigismund. But the Rada of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the representatives of the nobility opposed it, after which Alexander rejected their offer. In the spring of 1496 a Polish delegation at a Seim in Vilna proposed the renewal of the Lithuanian-Polish union without the condition of Lithuania's dependence on Poland. Under the pressure of the Rada of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania Alexander agreed to approve this document, but on the condition that the acts violating the sovereignty of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania would not become effective. It did not please Poles. In November-December 1496 in Parchev a plan of joint military actions of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland against the Ottoman Empire and the Crimean Khanate was put together. The parties began to implement the plan, but at the beginning of the joint actions the Poles opened hostilities against Moldavia, not the Ottoman Empire. The Tsar of All Russia, Ivan Vasilievich, demanded through his ambassadors that Alexander not fight with the Moldavian ruler Stefan. The Grand Duke of Lithuania replied as follows: "I had always hoped that your son-in-law was dearer to you than your matchmaker: I see otherwise." Alexander also answered that he was going to war with the Crimean Tatars, but he transferred the army of the GDL to the border with Moldavia, and also allowed the Lithuanian volunteers to go to the aid of the Poles. The Polish campaign ended in defeat. After that the army of the GDL covered the retreat of the Poles from Moldavia. The Grand Duke of Lithuania explained his actions to Ivan Vasilyevich, the sovereign of All Russia, as a response to the insults inflicted upon him by Stefan the Moldavian. Meanwhile, after all this, a peace treaty was concluded between the GDL and Moldavia.

Tense were the relations with the Hanseatic League, whose merchants were dissatisfied with the restrictions on trade in Kovno. In spring 1495, in response to trade sanctions of the Teutonic Order against the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (imposed at the request of the Hanseatic League), Alexander closed the trade routes to Prussia. In 1497, through the mediation of the Polish king Jan Olbracht, relations between the GDL and the Order began to improve. Alexander exempted Prussian merchants from the import duty inside his state. Nevertheless, a number of restrictions remained. For example, German merchants were forbidden to bring salt to Kaunas on their ships. Danzig merchants were actively pressured by Abraham Yezofowicz, a customs officer in Vilnius. At the same time, trade between the Teutonic Order and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania began to increase in the 16th century.

In 1498 Alexander attempted to run for the Swedish throne through Marco Saltieri. However, this move did not bring any results.

The Grand Duchy of Lithuania began to get closer to the Kingdom of Poland. In 1498 the Lithuanian side offered the Polish side to settle relations. In 1499 Lithuanian ambassadors to the Kingdom of Poland objected to the Poles trying to conduct the affairs of the bishops of the GDL in Rome, and demanded equal terms. The Kingdom of Poland agreed to this. Arrangements began to be made. At the Seim in Vilnius in 1499 it was decided that from that time on the Grand Duke of Lithuania would not be elected without the consent of Poland, and vice versa, Poland would not elect a king without the consent of the Lithuanian nobility. In 1499 the Krakow-Vilnius Union was signed, the main purpose of which was to strengthen the defenses of the GDL and Poland against other states.

In 1500 the next Russian-Lithuanian war began. During this war, some Orthodox princes took the side of the Russians, the army of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was defeated in the Battle of Vedroša (1500). Nevertheless, the GDL was supported by the Livonian Order and the Great Horde. During this war, the Melnitz Privilege of October 25, 1501 decreed that from then on Poland and Lithuania should constitute one state, ruled by one king, chosen in Krakow. A few months after the death of his brother, Jan Olbracht, Alexander ascended the Polish throne.

The king soon after his coronation left for the GDL, and meanwhile Poland was attacked by the Tatars, who devastated a great number of Polish lands. At the same time Stephen of Moldavia conquered the province of Pokuttia. Military operations in 1502 demonstrated that the Russian state was unable to seize new territories, but neither was the Grand Duchy of Lithuania able to continue the war. In March 1503 Russian State and Grand Duchy of Lithuania signed an armistice for 6 years, under which the conquered Russian troops in Mtsensk, Serpeisk, Bryansk, Dorogobuzh and Putivl remained under Russian power. Then Alexander drove Stefan the Moldavian out of Poland. As a result of the Russian-Lithuanian war the treasury of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was empty. The Grand Duke of Lithuania owed the magnates large sums and mortgaged them many lands.

In 1505 the Seimas of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania did not approve the act of the Union of Mielnik, signed by Alexander on October 23, 1501, as a result of which the Union did not come into force. However, it corresponded to Alexander's interests, because under the terms of this union the Polish-Lithuanian monarchy ceased to be hereditary and became elective, which was not beneficial to the ruler of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland. Some supporters of this union were subjected to reprisals. For example, Jan Zaberezinski and Albert Tabor were removed from the Rada, while the former lost his position as governor. At the same time, opponents of the union (supporters of Prince Mikhail Glinsky) were encouraged by the Grand Duke. Nicholas Radziwill received confirmation of his possessions, his son received the position of voivode, and Martin, bishop of Samogitia, received a new estate in his possession. In autumn of 1505 the repressed magnates managed to restore their positions at Sejm in Grodno with the support of Polish senators. Now, however, they together with Glinsky's supporters opposed the Union of Melnica. At the Seim of 1506 in Lublin Alexander and representatives of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania finally rejected the union.

Alexander sought to establish relations with the Livonian Confederation. He and the Rada of the GDL promised it lands in the Samogitian borderland. But the revision of the borders was delayed. After Alexander's death in 1506 the Grand Duchy of Lithuania refused territorial concessions to Livonia.

Domestic Policy

During his reign, the Lithuanian Grand Duke Alexander Jagiellonczyk created a magnificent court, which became an example for the Polish estates. Under his reign the system of court positions was formed according to the Polish model.

During the reign of Alexander Jagiellonczyk there was a weakening of central authority, both in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and in the Kingdom of Poland.

On August 6, 1492, after Alexander was elected grand duke of Lithuania, he issued the Privilee, which expanded the rights of the nobility of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Privilei enshrined the foundations of the state and social order. Under the Privilee, the Grand Duke of Lithuania was not allowed to make major state decisions without the consent of the Rada of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, nor could he cancel the decisions of the Rada of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Privileges forbade officials to extort taxes from their subordinates in excess of the established payments. There were also provisions aimed at creating fair trials. Only natives of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were allowed to acquire public offices and land holdings in the territory of the Grand Duchy.

According to the Lithuanian historian E. Gudavicius, the sequence of local privileges issued by Alexander in the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania marked the processes of creation of class structures and state integration. It is worth noting that during his reign many cities of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania received Magdeburg law.

During the reign of Alexander Jagiellonczyk in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania there were changes in the field of minting coins. Now they began to mint denarii with the monogram A (corresponding to pennies) and Lithuanian half-groschen.

In 1495, in an effort to establish religious homogeneity in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Alexander ordered to expel Jews from the state unless they accepted Christianity. There are hypotheses that Alexander could have been pushed to this decision by the Catholic clergy or his father-in-law, the ruler of the Russian state, Ivan III, who were hostile to Jews. The researcher of the Lithuanian-Jewish history S. A. Bershadsky believes that the motive of the expulsion was religious, but there was a more serious reason under it: the financial dependence of the grand duke and his associates on the rich Jewish creditors. By expelling the Jews, the Grand Duke of Lithuania could get rid of their debts and also gain income from the expropriation of their real estate. The expelled Jews resettled in the Kingdom of Poland, the Crimean Khanate, and the Ottoman Empire. However, the need for their capital forced him in 1503 to allow them to settle in the GDL again. The Jews were allowed to settle in all the towns and castles in which they had lived before their expulsion, their former possessions were returned to them, and their right to collect money from their debtors was restored.

In 1501 Alexander Jagiellonczyk becomes King of Poland. Initially he begins to pursue a policy aimed at supporting the magnates. On October 25, 1501 he signed the Melnik Privilege, according to which the royal power was limited in favor of the Senate. The Senate became the main institution that had the right to make the most important state decisions. The king even lost the right to freely appoint senators. The Privilege displeased the nobility, because it strengthened the position of the magnates, whose interests were actually expressed by the Senate.

The most important fact of Alexander's reign in the Kingdom of Poland was the compilation by Jan Laszky of the general code of laws, which was adopted at the Sejm of Radom in 1505, as well as the adoption at the same Sejm of the so-called Radom constitution, which consolidated decisions of the Sejm in Pertków, which took place in 1504. This law, known as Nihil novi, considerably limited the royal power in favor of the nobility. This law allowed the Sejm to make laws, and the king could not approve laws without the consent of senators and noblemen's deputies. It is believed that it was with the Radom constitution that the era of "noblemen's democracy" in the Kingdom of Poland (without the GDL) began. The Sejm in Pertków in 1504 and the Radomsko Constitution in 1505 abolished the Melnicki Privilege.

In 1506 in the Kingdom of Poland Alexander approved a new system of legislation in the so-called Statute of Laski, which was the first ever codification of Polish law, carried out by the great crown chancellor J. J. Laski. Laski.

Alexander was a Catholic, but he also supported the Orthodox Church. In the Grand Duchy of Lithuania he issued 90 letters of patent for land and privileges for the Catholic Church and 47 - for the Orthodox Church, but the grants to the latter were much more modest. During Alexander's rule, the practice of exacting a tithe from the Orthodox Church in favor of the Catholic Church located in the territory of the parish began to spread in the Great Duchy of Lithuania.

Alexander sought to unite the Orthodox and Catholic churches on the terms of the Florence Union. According to the message from the patriarch of Constantinople Nyphont II on April 5th 1598 the authorities of the GDL promised, that the Grand Duke of Lithuania would confirm the order of King Wladyslaw (Jagiello), which gave a number of rights and privileges to the Orthodox Church in the Kingdom of Poland, if it would accept Unia. Alexander tried to find support also from the metropolitan of Kiev Joseph Bolgarinovich, who was a supporter of the Florentine Unia. On March 20, 1499 the Grand Duke of Lithuania gave the Orthodox Church of the GDL a decree, on the basis of which secular people should not interfere in the relations between the metropolitan and bishops and bishops with the parish clergy; also the right of the church to judge in divorce cases was confirmed. At the end of 1499, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, the metropolitan, and Bishop Vojtech Tabor of Vilna addressed the population of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, suggesting that they proceed "to the Roman law". In 1500 Alexander sent an embassy to Pope Alexander VI, which delivered Metropolitan of Kiev I. Bolgarinovich's request for a union. In 1500 Metropolitan I. Bolgarinovich appealed to Pope Alexander VI with a request for a union, he sought to preserve the traditional church life of the Orthodox Church under the authority of the pope, the abolition of restrictions on the activities of the Orthodox Church and the recognition of the validity of the Orthodox rite of baptism. Without giving an answer to the metropolitan of Kiev, the pope instructed the bishop of Vilna, V. Tabor to investigate whether the Orthodox residents of the GDL followed the decisions of the Council of Ferrara and Florence, and whether they conducted their rites in the manner taught by the Catholic Church. The union was not to be realized because Rome and the Polish Catholic clergy demanded a complete conversion of the Orthodox to Catholicism, and many Orthodox residents of the GDL did not support the union.

Alexander Jagiellonchik granted grants for the foundation of the Bernardine monasteries in Grodno (1494), Polotsk (1498) and Budslau (1504) and the church in Vitebsk (1503).

In 1495 Alexander Jagiellonchik married Elena Ivanovna, the daughter of the Sovereign of All Russia Ivan Vasilyevich. He hoped that this marriage would help him regain some of the lands he had lost in the Russo-Lithuanian war (1487-1494), but the Russian state did not return anything. Expressing his dissatisfaction Alexander did not give to his wife the possessions given to the grand duchesses of Lithuania. There is evidence that the Catholic clergy tried to persuade Elena to adopt Catholicism, but unsuccessfully. This caused conflicts between Helena and Alexander's mother Elizabeth Habsburg. Nevertheless, the general consensus of scholars is that Alexander was attached to his wife, who often accompanied him on his travels around the country. There is also a legend that the successor of Joseph (Bolgarinovich) Iona became Kiev metropolitan on Elena's petition to her husband.

In 1505 Alexander fell seriously ill. In June 1505 he was stricken with paralysis. On April 7, 1506 he arrived in Vilna. Alexander tried to be treated by Balinsky. But in May 1506 the condition of the Grand Duke of Lithuania and the King of Poland further deteriorated. In June the physician Matthew Blonsky began to treat Jagiellonczyk. Eventually the monarch experienced relief. Nevertheless, he had no chance of a complete recovery. So he made a will in favor of Sigismund. On August 19, 1506, Alexander Jagiellonczyk died in Vilna, but on his deathbed he ordered him to march against the Tatars, whom Mikhail Glinsky had defeated in the battle of Kletsk. Alexander is the only Polish king buried in Vilna. Although Polish Chancellor Laski, wishing to do Alexander's will, wanted to take his body to Krakow, the Lithuanian nobles demanded burial in Vilna, fearing that Prince Michael Glinsky might take advantage of their departure from Vilna for the funeral of the ruler and seize that city with the help of his Russian adherents. The Russian historian Andrei Ekzemplarski wrote that many suspected Glinsky of conspiring with Dr. Balinsky to poison Alexander Yagellonchik.

The Russian historian N. Karamzin assessed the foreign policy of Alexander Jagiellonchik concerning the Russian state in the following way: "Alexander could perform the duty of a prudent monarch in two ways: either trying to earn Ioann's loyalty with sincerity for the safety and integrity of his state, or in silence making means for successfully opposing the Grand duke, multiplying his military forces, drawing allies away from him, gaining them for himself: instead of which he vexed his father-in-law by obstinacy, by envy, by blind zeal for the Latin Faith; bringing the war nearer and not preparing for it; not being able to dissolve the dangerous connection of Joan with Mengli-Girei, nor with Stephen of Moldavia, seeking only the useless friendship of the former Swedish governor, Stan, and the weak Kings of Orda; in short, not able to be either the friend or enemy of a strong Moscow."

The Russian Jewish historian S. Dubnov wrote that Alexander Yagellonchik was a bad ruler and a profligate man.

Lithuanian historian E. Gudavicius gave Alexander Jagiellonczyk the following assessment: "Alexander II was not remarkable for his great talents. The difficulties that soon arose revealed his obvious lack of energy and unjustified tardiness. However, he was not a sloth on the throne, and his childhood and youth, spent in the university in Krakow, fostered in him a taste not only for luxury, but for science and fine arts. The country soon felt the benefits of the permanent institution of the grand duke. Whereas the privileges granted by Casimir to certain lands of the state were usually intended to solve political problems and respond to local characteristics and customs, Alexander was rather responsive to the need for overdue change."


  1. Alexander Jagiellon
  2. Александр Ягеллончик
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