Eumenis Megalopoulos | Aug 15, 2023

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Jaunutis (in Polish Jawnuta, in Belarusian: Яўнут?, transliterated: Jaŭnut, lit. "young man"), who became known after baptism as John (c. 1300 - c. 1366), was grand duke of Lithuania from 1341, the year of his father Gediminas' death, to 1345, when he was deposed by his elder brothers Algirdas and Kęstutis.

Before the reign

No information is known about the year of his birth, traditionally placed around 1300, nor about the early years Jaunutis lived. Instead, according to Jan Tęgowski, a Polish historian, he was probably born between 1306 and 1309. He is known to have been the son of the Grand Duke of Lithuania Gediminas, but it is not certain whether his mother was Jewna or another wife of the ruler. The number of consorts married by Gediminas remains uncertain, but it is doubted that his mother was a woman of the Orthodox faith, since according to British historian Stephen Christopher Rowell a hypothetical marriage to an Oriental princess surely would have been witnessed by some source. Also according to the same scholar, Jaunutis was a valiant soldier, but on the basis of the available data following 1345 it is safe to assume that his best skills included diplomatic and negotiating skills.

His father, who came to power in 1316, served as ruler for more than twenty-five years and succeeded in making Lithuania a centralized and territorially vast state, if one takes into account the fact that the Grand Duchy encompassed areas now included within the borders of Lithuania, Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. Hoping to preserve what he had conquered, he entrusted the management of the various regions of the Grand Duchy to his many sons, with Jaunutis and his brother Kęstutis receiving Lithuania proper. Having to choose to whom to entrust the role of grand duke at the point of death, Gediminas, who perished in 1341, assigned the task to Jaunutis, despite the fact that he was not the eldest son. The reasons behind this choice are not entirely clear, but some scholars have theorized that this appointment was probably justified by the fact that he was the first son of the ruler's last wife. It is plausible that Narimantas and Algirdas, the other two sons of Gediminas who could most likely aspire to the office of grand duke, were discarded because their father feared that disagreements might break out between the two. Given the great effort with which Gediminas had managed to make the Grand Duchy a stable and robust power in Eastern Europe, it is safe to assume that he wanted to avert the outbreak of a conflict that could risk wearing down the state. Finally, it has been suggested that this was likely a compromise, since some of Jaunutis's brothers had, like him, chosen to pursue the same decision as his father and remain faithful to paganism (e.g., Algirdas and Kęstutis), while others, disliked as a result of their conversions, had decided to embrace the Orthodox religion (Narimantas, Karijotas, and Liubartas).


Information regarding Jaunutis's reign appears decidedly scarce. The portrait usually attributed to Jaunutis is that of a listless and weak ruler, not up to his task; Rowell believes that a historiographical reappraisal of the grand duke is desirable, but it remains difficult to profile him, given the paucity of information and the lack of knowledge of any interference by his mother (a novel case in Lithuanian history) or any of his uncles in the administration of Lithuania. With reference to foreign policy, Jaunutis preferred to adopt a peaceful attitude, as was his nature, which was favored by the moment of crisis being experienced by the Teutonic Knights, bitter enemies of the Grand Duchy, and their Grand Master Ludolf König. His brothers, on the contrary, were decidedly more warlike: this explains why Algirdas attacked Možajsk and then lent succor to Pskov when that city went under attack by the Order of Livonia, another religious chivalric order active in Eastern Europe and engaged in the Lithuanian crusade. Taking advantage of the weaknesses of the Teutonic and Livonian, Jaunutis's two brothers, Algirdas and Kęstutis, decided to carry out an extensive campaign that affected various areas of southern Livonia (roughly modern-day Latvia), pushing as far east as Riga. It is unclear whether Jaunutis had given his tacit consent or whether he was simply unable to materially dissuade his kinsmen from their intent.

The situation changed in 1343 when the Teutonic Order, on the strength of the proclamation of a crusade, convinced several Western European sovereigns to fight against pagan Lithuania to avenge the raids they had suffered in previous years. The call to arms turned out to be a "fiasco," however, considering that not only did the crusader attack directed against the city of Veliuona prove to be of little effect, but that the Teutonic rulers had to abandon their offensive campaign when they learned that Algirdas was successfully raiding Livonia once again. Meanwhile, in the south Algirdas again acted without consulting Jaunutis and lent assistance to his brother Liubartas, prince of Volinia and engaged in the Galicia-Volinia wars. Eventually, in the second half of 1344, Lithuania represented de facto by Algirdas and Kęstutis reached an agreement with Poland and the Crusaders, temporarily exiting hostilities. In the east, the continuation of the Lithuanian campaigns was watched with great attention by Vilnius's rival Muscovy. However, it never came to an armed confrontation, as Moscow tried to adopt a useful diplomatic strategy to convince various cities to change sides and disavow the Baltics, as in the case of Bryansk. Emboldened by the fame they were gaining, as well as concerned by the fear that the Crusaders might launch large and fearsome offensives, Algirdas and Kęstutis were persuaded to dismiss their brother Jaunutis in 1345, who by then had quite possibly lost all substantial power. Although it had been argued in the past that the coup took place on November 22, 1345, Rowell believes this date is incorrect, as it is confused with the baptism of the newly deposed grand duke that took place in Moscow on September 23, 1345. He boasts a solid foundation for the theory that the removal from office was facilitated by the death of Jaunutis' mother, whose political clout, as mentioned, must not have been negligible during her son's tenure.

After the reign

The newly deposed grand duke was replaced by Algirdas and was relegated to prison in Vilnius Castle, from which, however, he escaped a short time later, reaching first Smolensk and finally Moscow, where his sister Aigusta Anastasia was the grand duchess consort of Simeon of Russia. There he decided to convert to the Orthodox religion, receiving John (Ioann) as his baptismal name. Convinced to regain possession of the title of grand duke, Jaunutis asked his brother-in-law Simeon for military support, but in vain; Anastasia's death at that very juncture in 1345 certainly made negotiations less smooth.

Jaunutis did not lose heart and made contact with his brother Narimantas, who shared with him the desire to remove Algirdas from office and to remove Kęstutis; the latter had in the meantime formed a sort of duumvirate. Narimantas, who had sided with Jaunutis after his deposition, had been forced to flee to the territory of the Golden Horde, where he was well received by Khan Jani Beg. However, the deposed grand duke was unable to obtain any substantial help, or at least not enough help to make his claims more credible in the eyes of Algirdas. Therefore, in 1347, he returned to Vilnius and formally renounced all attempts to regain the office of grand duke, thus reconciling with his brothers. As a reward for his appeasement, he was awarded the title of Duke of Zaslavl' (Mstitslav according to the Visuotinė lietuvių enciklopedija).

In this new phase of his life, Jaunutis assumed a role that saw him mostly active as a negotiator, as evidenced by his participation in three treaties made with Poland in 1352, 1358 and 1366. Since he is not mentioned in an agreement made with the Order of Livonia in 1367, we tend to assume that he died sometime between 1366 and 1367.

It remains a matter of debate whether Jaunutis had two sons, as the Visuotinė lietuvių enciklopedija claims, or three, as Jan Tęgowski believes. According to the Polish historian just mentioned, Jaunutis was the father of Symeon Zaslawski, Grzegorz Słucki (not mentioned by the Visuotinė lietuvių enciklopedija) and Michal Zaslawski. Inheriting it from his father, the latter ruled Zaslavl' until his death on August 12, 1399 at the Battle of the Vorskla River.


  1. Jaunutis
  2. Jaunutis
  3. ^ a b Tęgowski, p. 190.
  4. ^ a b Kiaupa, p. 118; Rowell, p. 281.
  5. ^ Rowell, p. 88.
  6. ^ Rowell, p. 281.
  7. ^ Rowell, pp. XXIII.
  8. Tęgowski, Jan (1999). Pierwsze pokolenia Giedyminowiczów. Poznań-Wrocław: Wydawnictwo Historyczne. p. 190. (ISBN 8391356310).
  9. Rowell, S.C. (1994). Lithuania Ascending: A Pagan Empire Within East-Central Europe, 1295-1345. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought: Fourth Series. Cambridge University Press. p. 280–287
  10. a et b Kiaupa, Zigmantas; Jūratė Kiaupienė; Albinas Kunevičius (2000) [1995]. The History of Lithuania Before 1795 (English ed.). Vilnius: Lithuanian Institute of History. p. 118
  11. ^ "Algirdas | grand duke of Lithuania". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 25 June 2021.
  12. ^ Tęgowski, Jan (1999). Pierwsze pokolenia Giedyminowiczów. Poznań-Wrocław: Wydawnictwo Historyczne. p. 190. ISBN 8391356310.
  13. ^ a b c Rowell, S.C. (1994). Lithuania Ascending: A Pagan Empire Within East-Central Europe, 1295-1345. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought: Fourth Series. Cambridge University Press. pp. 280–287. ISBN 978-0-521-45011-9.
  14. a b c Kiaupa, Zigmantas; Jūratė Kiaupienė, Albinas Kunevičius (2000) [1995]. The History of Lithuania Before 1795 (English edición). Vilna: Lithuanian Institute of History. p. 118. ISBN 9986-810-13-2.  La referencia utiliza el parámetro obsoleto |coautores= (ayuda)

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