Sigismund I the Old

Eumenis Megalopoulos | Mar 2, 2024

Table of Content


Sigismund I the Old (born January 1, 1467 in Kozienice, died April 1, 1548 in Cracow) - Grand Duke of Lithuania from 1506, King of Poland from 1507 to 1548. He was the penultimate of the Jagiellonian dynasty. He ascended the Polish throne after the death of his brother Alexander Jagiellon. He was the penultimate of six sons of Casimir IV Jagiellon and Elisabeth Rakuszanka, father of Sigismund II Augustus, among others. He was married twice: to Barbara Zápolya (1512) and, after her death, to Bona of the Sforza family (1518).

After the death of King Alexander Jagiellon, Sigismund traveled to Vilnius, where, contrary to the provisions of the 1501 Mielnicki Union, which stipulated a joint Polish-Lithuanian election, he was elected by the Lithuanian Grand Ducal Council on September 13, 1506 and elevated to the Lithuanian throne on October 20, 1506. On December 8, 1506, at the Diet of Piotrków, Sigismund was elected King of Poland by the Senate, arrived in Cracow from Vilnius on January 20, 1507 and was crowned on January 24, 1507 at Wawel Cathedral by the Primate of Poland Archbishop Andrzej Boryszewski.

In February 1507, he persuaded the Lithuanian Seimas to adopt a resolution on readiness for war with the Grand Duchy of Moscow. The two-year Lithuanian-Moscow war (1507-1508) strengthened Lithuanian possessions in the east.

The internal situation in Poland at the time was characterized by the broad powers of the chamber of deputies, confirmed and expanded in the nihil novi privilege of 1505. The composition of this body was not influenced by the king, unlike with regard to senators, whom he appointed himself. Therefore, when ruling, Sigismund I relied on the advice of senators and competent ministers in charge of the royal chancellery, the treasurer's office and the Cracow magistracy. Although he was averse to the parliamentary system and the political independence of the nobility, Sigismund recognized the authority of legal norms, and was characterized by legalism, so he convened annual assemblies, generally obtaining tax resolutions (levies) for the common defense. However, attempts to create a permanent fund for defense from income-dependent taxes failed. At the Prudnik Diet in 1506 he forced a resolution to counter robberies in Silesia. At that time, 200 soldiers of light cavalry were enlisted, intended to capture thieves and rapists.

Probably related to tax matters was the unsuccessful attempt on the king's life, made on May 5, 1523. The identity of the would-be regicide - who shot at the ruler strolling through the cloisters of Wawel Castle in the evening - and his possible principals have never been established. The motives for the assassination also remained unclear. The only clue may be the fact that Sigismund I had announced a tax edict three weeks earlier "on the suppository," since the monarch imposed this tax without the consent of the Sejm.

Successes include the partial debt relief of the treasury. Sigismund I separated accounting for public taxes from the royal treasury. He strengthened the activities of the Cracow mint, sought to organize regulations on income from the exploitation of salt mines and salt mines, issued a statute for Armenians (1519), procedural rules (1523), and intended to unify the law throughout the country (correctura iurium, known as Taszycki's correction, 1532, rejected by the Sejm in 1540).

At the instigation of his wife, Bona, he obtained the granting, during his lifetime, to his minor son Sigismund Augustus of the Grand Ducal throne in Lithuania (1522), as well as the Polish throne (1529) (as a result of the vivente rege election). In 1530 Sigismund Augustus was crowned king of Poland. This was the first, and also the last, such election of a ruler to the royal throne in Poland.

The achievement was the incorporation of Mazovia into Poland (after the extinction of the male line of the Mazovian princes in 1526) as the Mazovian province (1529), and the introduction of Mazovian deputies to the Sejm of the land sejmiks.

In 1530 and 1538, the king issued two statutes setting forth the rules for the election of the monarch, by which he established the viritim election once and for all. Anyone could come to the election who wished (unusquisque qui vellet) and the election is to be free (electio Regis libera).

To support the country's Almae Matris, he banned trips to foreign universities in 1534 by special edict, which was revoked just a few years later, and in 1544 granted the privilege of nobility to deserving professors of the Krakow Academy with 20 years of teaching work.

The king cleaned up the customs economy ("new customs"), took care of the development of the royal cities, and recovered for the treasury numerous complexes of the crown royal domain property under pledge. The king was supported in his financial activities by Queen Bona, who sought to enlarge the royal estates, including through purchases and improved economic efficiency.

In the 1537 Lvov riot (the so-called "Kokosha War"), a common movement convened for an expedition to Wallachia made demands for the ordering of the rights of the middle nobility dissatisfied with the actions of the court (Execution of Rights). The demands of the nobility were directed against the hegemony of the senatorial-ministerial elite (which involved non-compliance with the prohibitions against combining certain secular and ecclesiastical offices, the so-called "incompatibilitas. incompatibilitas), and with the disregard of the principle of residence in the area of the office's jurisdiction ("settlement") in appointments to land offices, there was also opposition to the prominent role in the political life of the queen and her action of buying back pledged royal lands in the Crown, the upbringing of Sigismund Augustus at his mother's court (without providing him with a political and knightly education) and the excessively high "new duty." In view of the lack of decisiveness among the leaders of the nobility (they were Mikołaj Taszycki, Jan Sierakowski and Piotr and Marcin Zborowski), after prolonged negotiations the rebellion ended in a compromise. The nobility dispersed to their homes, not getting involved in the war expedition organized by the king (the magnates claimed that the only result of the rokosz was to be the eating of poultry in the vicinity of the camp, hence the contemptuous name "kokosz war").

In 1540 Bernard Pretwicz revealed to Bona the formation of an alleged conspiracy by Marcin Zborowski, supported by 700 representatives of the nobility of Greater Poland. The conspirators, after the death of Sigismund I the Old, were to gather an army and force Sigismund II Augustus to guarantee their privileges and take away from the clergy a third of its emolument, allocating it for defense. Zborowski denied everything and unknown perpetrators severely wounded Pretwicz.

During his reign, the Sejm issued a law in 1538 forcing the burghers to divest themselves of their landed estates, which resulted in the impoverishment of the burghers as a consequence. In 1543, the Diet issued a law taking away the right of peasants to buy themselves out of serfdom and increasing the penalties for leaving the village without the lord's permission.

Prudence and a peaceful disposition, also manifested in the fact that Sigismund I the Old tried to avoid conflict, meant that at the time of his death he enjoyed general respect at home and abroad. The king lived to be 81 years old, which meant that in the last few years of his life he no longer actively influenced policy, which was decided by his wife Queen Bona Sforza. The period of his reign is referred to in the culture as a golden age in Poland.

Religious affairs

In 1520, he issued an edict in Torun forbidding the importation, sale or use of books by a certain Martin Luther, in which much is made both against the Holy See and to the confusion of public order, undermining religion and the entire ecclesiastical state. The edict of Sigismund I the Old, dated 1523, stated that anyone who introduced, sold, bought or read these Lutheran works, or preached, defended or praised Luther's principles, that in addition to the burning of the books themselves, he would also be punished by death at the stake and confiscation of everyone's property.

The king actively acted against the spread of Lutheranism in revolted Gdansk and other cities of Royal Prussia. In April 1526 he arrived in Danzig at the head of an army. He conducted trials in that city and issued verdicts. Lutheran preachers who did not flee Danzig were sentenced to death and taken to Malbork. The 14 leaders of the Danzig revolt, headed by Jerzy Wendland, were beheaded on June 13, 1526 at Dlugi Targ. The king promulgated Statuta Sigismundi, according to which supporters of the Reformation were to leave the city within 14 days, and priests favoring the new religion within 24 hours. Trials of some 200 clergymen and monks who were accused of breaking their vows of chastity began. Catholic services were restored, as well as private masses.

In 1534, he issued an edict, ordering the immediate return of subjects visiting Martin Luther or residing in Protestant states, forbidding travel to study at dissenting universities.

In foreign policy, Sigismund I the Old primarily resisted encirclement by enemies. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was threatened with attack from the Grand Duchy of Moscow. As a result of the unresolved Lithuanian-Moscow war of 1507-1508, the status quo was still maintained, but already the war waged in 1512-1522 led to the loss of Smolensk in 1514 (despite the brilliant Polish-Lithuanian victory at the Battle of Orsha in 1514), and Seversk Novgorod in 1522. At the same time, Vasily III allied against the Republic with Emperor Maximilian I Habsburg in 1514, and the failure of the empire to accept the provisions of the Peace of Torun of 1466 allowed the Teutonic Grand Masters to break out of their fief dependence on Poland. Also feared were the consequences of the 1514 alliance signed in Moscow between Grand Duke Vasily III of Moscow and the new Teutonic Grand Master Albrecht Hohenzollern. For this reason, Sigismund the Old decided to make concessions to the Habsburgs and, working with his brother, King Wladyslaw II Jagiellon of Bohemia and Hungary, brought about a breakup of the anti-Polish alliance between the Habsburg states and the Scandinavian states under the Oldenburg dynasty. The Vienna Convention of 1515, which ended with the Emperor withdrawing his support for Moscow and recognizing Poland's rights as a fief of Prussia, untied Sigismund I's hands in the north.

The conflict with the Moldavian hospodar Bogdan ended with the signing of a peace treaty in Kamieniec Podolski on January 23, 1510, by virtue of which Bogdan gave up his bid for Elizabeth's hand and the disputed matter of Pokucie was handed over to Ladislaus of Hungary for settlement.

An unfavorable consequence of the convention was that the Jagiellonians lost the thrones of Bohemia and Hungary after the death of Louis II Jagiellon in 1526.Despite the fact that Sigismund the Old, after his wife's persuasion, put forward his candidacy for the crown of Bohemia and Hungary after Louis Jagiellon, the king and his deputies acted tardily. In addition, in 1527 the king forbade the Polish nobility to help the Hungarian candidate Jan Zapolya against the Habsburgs, which contradicted the realistic policy pursued by Bona Sforza. As a result, Western Hungary and Bohemia were taken over by Ferdinand I of Habsburg and remained in his family's dominion until 1918. Sigismund, as the legal guardian of the minor Louis II Jagiellon, was instrumental in the election of Charles V Habsburg as Holy Roman Emperor in 1519.

The war with the Teutonic Order (1519-1521) resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Cracow in 1525. It also accepted the transition of Teutonic estates and offices from ecclesiastical to secular power and accepted Albrecht's fief tribute as Lutheran prince of Prussia (Prussian tribute 1525). Poland's treaty secured the right to annex Ducal Prussia after the extinction of Albrecht's unmarried male line.

The Lithuanian-Moscow War (1534-1537), despite the capture of Starodub (1535), did not restore Smolensk to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. By virtue of the peace concluded in 1537, Lithuania retained the captured city of Gomel. Fighting also continued with the Crimean Tatars every year in 1510-1512, 1516, 1519, 1521, 1524, 1526-1528, 1537 (their incursions were repulsed by means of common defense and "gifts").

Beginning in 1530, the conflict over Pokucie with Moldavia intensified, with mutual raids and clashes, such as Hetman Jan Tarnowski's victories at Ścianka, Gwoźdźc and Obertyn in 1531, ending after more fighting in 1538 with a treaty granting Pokucie to the Kingdom of Poland, but Turkey captured Moldavia at the same time, depriving Poland of a buffer separating it from the Ottoman Empire.

In relations with the Duchy of Pomerania, the king showed no initiative in 1513, in connection with the proposal of Prince Boguslaw X to pay a fief tribute to the Kingdom of Poland.

For dominion in the Baltic

Sigismund the Old's relations with Gdansk were not the best. The city had gained a foundation of prosperity in the second half of the 15th century, which in the 16th century and the first half of the 17th allowed it to reach the height of its wealth and become an important factor in the political, economic and even cultural affairs of the Republic. Gdansk became the sole intermediary of Polish maritime trade, but an onerous intermediary, which caused growing discontent among both the king and the nobility.

The Danzigers were reluctant to attempt Poland's independent naval policy, which resulted in the support given to Elblag, which was competing with Danzig. Faced with the impossibility - for financial reasons - of realizing the project of building his own naval fleet, Sigismund the Old, probably on the advice of Jan Dantyshk, who was familiar with maritime affairs, decided to create a fleet using the caper system. The first royal caper ship under the command of Adrian Flint, a Danzig citizen, began operations in the waters of the Gulf of Finland in 1517. Soon the Polish fleet expanded to a dozen ships, and Flint probably became its commander. Its area of operations was the eastern Baltic.

In 1519, in connection with the war with the Teutonic Knights, caper ships also conducted operations in the Bay of Danzig blockading Königsberg. The Teutonic Knights' ports were mainly contacted by Dutch and Danish ships, and they became the targets of attacks by the caper fleet. This fleet was supported against the Teutonic Knights by Danzig, which had been in rivalry with Königsberg for years. After the armistice was concluded in 1521, the Caper ships returned to fighting Narev navigation, capturing more than a dozen ships with cargoes for the Grand Duchy of Moscow. On September 14, 1522, a Polish-Moscow truce was concluded, and shortly thereafter King Sigismund disbanded the Kaper fleet. The ships mostly went into Danzig service (they were almost exclusively Danzig vessels, by the way) to participate in the troublesome Hanseatic League war with Denmark.

The Polish caper fleet was organized on an ad hoc basis and its activities were short-lived. It was too weak to play a more serious role in the war with Moscow, and this stemmed from the fact that Sigismund the Old attached much less importance to maritime affairs than is generally assumed. It was only towards the end of his life, under the influence of Bona, that the king did not extend to Gdansk the pledge debt for the Puck Starosty. The Gdansk City Council treated the possession of Puck as one of the elements of exercising power over the coast. This had a tradition and was established as early as the Teutonic Knights' times. An official known as "rybicki" resided in Puck, whose powers included all matters arising from possession of the seashore and fisheries. Danzig, which laid claim to possession of the entire coast of the Bay of Danzig, laid claim to the Puck starosty until 1546, but by that time the king already had a number of dedicated people in Royal Prussia who were competent in maritime matters, and at the same time advocated a more active policy toward Danzig.

Sigismund I the Old was a prominent patron of the arts. He is credited with the very early introduction of Renaissance art to Poland, which (Hungary aside) was ahead of other European countries in this regard. Not yet a king, he founded the Renaissance tomb of his brother, King Jan I Olbracht, in Wawel Cathedral (circa 1505). Among other things, during his reign the Wawel Royal Castle, which has the largest Renaissance courtyard in Europe, was rebuilt in the same style, and the Sigismund Chapel at Wawel Cathedral, founded by him, is called "the pearl of the Tuscan Renaissance north of the Alps." In 1540 he also founded the Rorantist Chapel, a male vocal ensemble that continued to operate at Wawel Cathedral for many years after his death.


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