The Assessment of Polish Kings

On a political channel in an obscure IRC network, one made an assertion that the probability of winding up with an idiot ruler under monarchy is small. This claim was challenged. I responded with a method for finding the truth: a historical analysis of hereditary monarchs. Since the Norwegian lineage is brief, due to being in personal union with Sweden and Denmark for a lot of its history, the task of checking the Scandinavian rulers was outsourced to unspecified others. Meanwhile, I have checked the Polish rulers.

I will be rating the Polish monarchs on a simple good/bad binary. Factors that contribute to a good rating are: expanding territorial possessions of the country, having a stable succession, successfully crushing any rebellions, expanding Polish influence abroad, winning wars and improving the domestic economy and infrastructure. Factors that contribute to a bad rating are: losing territories to foreign powers or break-away vassals, having a disputed succession, unsuccessfully dealing with rebels, losing influence abroad, losing wars and damaging the country’s economy. Insufficient information will yield no rating. The presumption is for goodness unless proven otherwise.

Here are, brushed up slightly, my findings. My sources are primarily the Polish and English Wikipedias. I am skipping the legendary and semi-legendary monarchs.

In addition, there was recently a post on a blog I follow wherein Michael Anissimov assesses Austrian, Prussian and French kings. I have originally started this draft a long time ago, before it fell to languishing in my archive, but fortunately, that post was enough to renew my will to work on this.

The Piast Dynasty
Mieszko I (960-992): GOOD
– de facto creator of the Polish state
– expanded Poland by Kuyavia, Danzig, Mazovia, Western Pommerania, Silesia and Lesser Poland
– converted to Christianity, bringing Poland into the Western sphere of influence
– secured alliances with Bohemia, Sweden and the Holy Roman Empire

Bolesław I Chrobry (992-1025): GOOD
– consolidated the Polish lands and expanded them by conquests on Slovakia, Moravia, Ruthenia, Meissen, Lusatia and Bohemia
– established a Catholic church structure in Poland independent of the Archbishopric of Magdeburg
– fought and won against the Holy Roman Empire and released Poland from tribute to it
– established the Polish monetary system
– built many forts, churches, monasteries and bridges

Mieszko II Lambert (1025-1031, 1032-1034): GOOD
– warred successfully against Saxony
– was deposed by the Kievan Russians, who installed his brother Bezprym on the throne
– managed to regain rule of Poland within a year
– lost Upper Lusatia, part of Lower Lusatia, Red Ruthenia, Slovakia, and Moravia

Bezprym (1031-1032): BAD
– disinherited by his father
– seized power aided by Kievan Rus’
– extremely cruel
– assassinated by his own men within a year of taking power
– possibly sentenced to Damnatio Memoriae

Otto Bolesławowic (1032): –
– appointed duke over parts of Poland by the Holy Roman Emperor
– no rating, due to scarcity of information

Dytryk (1032): –
– appointed duke over parts of Poland by the Holy Roman Emperor
– no rating due to scarcity of information

Note: Bolesław Zapomniany’s existence is disputed. He purportedly reigned in this period.

Kazimierz I Odnowiciel (1039-1058): GOOD
– restored peace to Poland and reunited its lands after a period of turmoil
– secured alliances with the Holy Roman Empire and Kievan Rus
– erected the Wawel Cathedral and re-created bishoprics in Kraków and Wrocław
– introduced elements of feudalism to Poland

Bolesław II Szczodry (1058-1079): GOOD
– re-established the Archdiocese of Gniezno, founded the Diocese of Płock, and established the Benedictine monasteries in Mogilno, Lublin and Wrocław
– reformed the monetary system and greatly increased state revenue
– lost Pommerania and Danzig

Władysław I Herman (1079-1102): BAD
– pursued appeasement of the Holy Roman Empire and accepted its overlordship
– allowed executive power to be seized by a tyrannical noble
– allowed the Jews to settle in Poland without restriction
– died without settling the issue of succession

Zbigniew (1102-1107): GOOD
– co-ruled with his half-brother, Bolesław (see below)
– got rid of the tyrannical noble (see above) through intrigue
– unsuccessfully attempted to seize full rule through fratricidal warfare, inviting the Holy Roman Empire to help
– died in unclear circumstances after being blinded

Bolesław III Krzywousty (1107-1038): BAD
– fought and won against the Holy Roman Empire
– recaptured most of Pommerania
– upheld the independence of the Archbishopric of Gniezno
– in an attempt to prevent fratricidal warfare, divided the country amongst his sons, creating the Seniorate system

Note: That last thing was especially bad. It threw Poland into fratricidal warfare for two centuries. If the following seems confusing and lacking a strict linear narrative, it’s because the rulers of Poland change every few years, and often one person is ruler several times, leading to a giant mess in terms of trying to tell a story of what happened.

Władysław II Wygnaniec (1138-1146): BAD
– defeated the other dukes it their first conflict
– mismanaged internal politics, causing rebellions against his rule
– was excommunicated for his treatment of a noble administrator
– lost Wizna but prevented the loss of Łomża

Bolesław IV Kędzierzawy (1146-1173): GOOD
– was forced to accept overlordship of the Holy Roman Emperor
– led a failed crusade into Prussia
– was generous to the churches and founded a Canonical Regular Kolegiata in Czerwińsk

Mieszko III Stary (1173-1177, 1190, 1198-1199, 1199-1202): GOOD
– sought alliances with Pommerania, Bohemia and the Holy Roman Empire by way of marrying his relatives
– ultimately unsuccessfully attempted to reunite Poland

Władysław III Laskonogi (1202-1202, 1227-1229): BAD
– traded Kalisz for Lubusz
– defeated a rebelling archbishop and later reconciled with him
– unsuccessfully warred with his relatives, and had to flee Poland
– dead in unclear circumstances, all inheritance going to Henryk I Brodaty (below)

Kazimierz II Sprawiedliwy (1177-1190): GOOD
– successfully seized primacy among the other Polish dukes
– inconclusively warred and dealt with the Ruthenian monarchs over influence and disputed territory
– successfully warred with the Baltic tribes
– very generous to the Church, funding many orders and cloisters

Leszek I Biały (1194-1198, 1199, 1202-1210, 1211-1225, 1225-1227): BAD
– thrice removed as ruler of Poland, thrice restored
– unsuccessfully warred and intrigued for disputed claims in Ruthenia
– unsuccessfully attempted to christanize Prussia
– allowed many privileges to be ceded to the Church
– ultimately assassinated by traitors

Mieszko IV Plątonogi (1210-1211): GOOD
– successfully warred with the other dukes
– added Opole to his demesne
– invested in a mint and cloisters
– very briefly ruler of Poland by surprising papal intervention, before dying

Henryk I Brodaty (1225, 1232-1238): GOOD
– successfully warred against Mazowsze
– taken prisoner and lost Małopolska in exchange for freedom
– gained Wielkopolska to his demesne
– conflicted with the Church, died under a curse
– invited German colonists to settle in his lands

Konrad I Mazowiecki (1229-1232, 1241-1243): GOOD
– inconclusively warred with the pagan Prussians
– invited the Teutonic Order to fight the Prussians, de facto allowing them to form an independent country in Prussia
– won against Henryk I Brodaty (above) and gained Małopolska
– cruel and violent, leading to unpopularity among the aristocracy
– briefly ruled Poland but was ousted after two years

Henryk II Pobożny (1238-1241): GOOD
– successfully warred with Brandenburg
– died in battle with the Mongols

Bolesław II Rogatka (1241): BAD
– unsuccessfully warred for Wielkopolska
– lost half of his demesne to warfare with his relatives, succeeding only in reconquering some of it later on
– used German mercenaries who pillaged the lands

Bolesław V Wstydliwy (1243-1279): GOOD
– inconclusively warred with his relatives
– attempted but made to progress in christianizing the Baltic tribes
– did not consummate his marriage and did not have children, left everything to Leszek II Czarny
– crushed a rebellion following the above decision
– integrated salt mines to the royal demesne, adding to state income
– founded many cities by German colonization
– devoted a lot of attention and care to the Church

Leszek II Czarny (1279-1288): BAD
– did not have children due to impotence, attempted medication by consumption of disgusting things made him unpopular
– somewhat effectively warred with Baltic and Russian tribes
– conflicted with the clergy and knights
– crushed a rebellion attempting to install a pretender on the throne
– due to inheritance disputes, Małopolska was lost to Bohemia

Bolesław II Mazowiecki (1288, 1289): GOOD
– engaged in a lengthy and damaging war with his relatives
– gained Mazowsze
– secured an alliance with the Lithuanians
– allied for a time with Bohemia, later broke the alliance

Henryk IV Prawy (1289-1290): GOOD
– unsuccessfully attempted to gain regency in Bohemia
– successfully feuded with one of his bishops
– very briefly seized rulership in Poland twice
– invested a lot of effort in developing cities, reformed the treasury to good effect
– assassinated by means of poison

Władysław I Łokietek (1289, 1320-1333): GOOD
– started out with a small piece of land around Brześć, but inherited most of Poland due to unexpected deaths of his relatives
– warred with Brandenburg, Bohemia to a standstill
– lost Gdańsk to the Teutonic Order
– secured and alliance with Lithuania
– was crowned king, uniting Poland again
– reformed and unified the Polish administration and treasury

Przemysł II (1290-1296): GOOD
– unsuccessfully warred with his relatives and Bohemia over the unification of Poland
– managed to form an alliance with, among others, Władysław I Łokietek towards this goal
– gained Gdańsk
– murdered briefly after gaining rulership

Wacław II Czeski (Przemyślid) (1291-1305): GOOD
– Bohemian king, seized control over most of Poland
– crowned king of Poland by permission of the Emperor
– greatly increased security and crown income in his lands
– lost a war versus Hungary
– later on began losing grip on Poland to Władysław I Łokietek
– favored German style governance and continued German colonization

Wacław III Czeski (Przemyślid) (1305-1306): –
– claimed the title of the Polish king but did not have time to press it
– assassinated
– no rating due to infinitesimal reign

Kazimierz III Wielki (1333-1370): GOOD
– last of the Piast line on the Polish throne
– normalized relations with the Teutonic Order, trading Kujawy and Dobrzyn for claims to Gdańsk
– made peace with Bohemia, making the new Bohemian king renounce claims on the Polish throne
– renounced claims to Silesia
– allied with Hungary
– gained Wołyń and Halicz
– codified laws and funded the Kraków Academy
– invested in cities and defense infrastructure
– did not leave a legal heir

Anjou Dynasty
Ludwik Węgierski (1370-1382): BAD
– Hungarian king, ruling Poland in a personal union
– unsuccessfully fought rebellions against his rule in Poland
– lost Santok, Drezdenek to Brandenburg
– fought inconclusively with Lithuanians, mostly on Polish soil
– Polish lords did not wish to continue the personal union following his death

Jadwiga (1384-1399): GOOD
– technically king, rather than queen, due to creative legal action by the Polish nobility
– married Jogaila, grand duke of Lithuania, uniting Poland and Lithuania under a personal union
– little actual power of governance, but did lead military campaigns for the successful reconquest of Ruś Czerwieńska
– focused on cultural and religious patronage, helping to christianize Lithuania

Note: The monarchy is technically elective from this point, but heirs are typically the sons of the previous king. At first the new king is chosen by a small group of nobles, but the franchise gets expanded to every noble, and this in a land where every child of a noble is noble.

Jagiellon Dynasty
Władysław II (1386-1434): GOOD
– Jogaila by his Christian name
– successfully defended Lithuania against crusades by the Teutonic Order
– defeated the Teutonic Order over the course of several wars
– integrated Lithuania and Poland by equalizing laws
– gained Samogitia and Dobrzyń (technically also gained the whole of Lithuania)
– suffered some unsuccessful rebellions against his rule in Lithuania

Władysław Warneńczyk (1434-1444): GOOD
– crushed a revolt against the role of the church in the state
– became king of Hungary in a deal to aid them agains the Turks
– defeated the Ottoman Empire once
– died during a second, failed crusade
– sired no children, and lost the crown of Hungary on succession

Kazimierz IV Jagiellończyk (1447-1492): GOOD
– confirmed the privileges of the nobility, for support in his wars
– decisively defeated the Teutonic Order, regaining Gdańsk and surrounding lands, and vassalizing the Order
– unsuccessfully warred and intrigued for the Bohemian and Hungarian thrones
– conflicted with the Papacy and some of the clergy
– gained vassalage of Moldavia in return for military aid against the Turks
– increased the influence of the parliament and the nobility at the cost of the influence of cities
– culture flourished under his reign, the Kraków university was expanded

Jan Olbracht (1492-1501): BAD
– limited privileges of everyone except the nobility, so that they became the primary influence on internal matters
– gained Płock and Zator
– lost vassalage of Moldavia and was defeated by the Ottoman Empire
– due to weakened position after the defeat, Poland lost the vassalage of the Teutonic Order and was invaded by Turks, Hungarians, Russians and Tatars
– died from infection

Aleksander Jagiellończyk (1501-1506): BAD
– became subservient to the nobility, due to bad starting position
– lost one-third of Lithuania
– allowed the parliament to legislate a prohibition of new legislation without the parliament’s approval

Zygmunt Stary (1506-1548): GOOD
– set up a conscript army and administration despite being bound by the parliament
– annexed the Duch of Mazowsze to the crown
– allied with the Holy Roman Empire in exchange for losing claims on Bohemia and Hungary to the Hapsburgs
– warred unsuccessfully with the Russians
– revassalized the Teutonic Order (now the Duchy of Prussia)
– patron of the arts, and widely respected internally and abroad
– expanded the franchise to all nobility

Zygmunt August (1548-1572): GOOD
– integrated and unified the two crows, creating the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
– somewhat successfully warred for the possession of the Baltic region
– continued the policy of art patronage

Note: The monarchy is truly elective at this point. I will note the dynasty of the king where it is unclear from his name.

Elective Kings in the First Polish Republic
Henryk Walezy (Valois) (1574-1575): BAD
– utterly uninterested in Polish matters
– blew state money on parties and gambling
– escaped to France after three months’ rule

Anna Jagiellonka (1575-1586): –
– married to Stefan Batory (below) to put him on the throne
– no rating due to lack of power to do anything much

Stefan Batory (1575-1586): GOOD
– Transylvanian ruler, came to power by marriage with Anna Jagiellonka (above)
– crushed rebellion against him seizing rule
– successfully waged a campaign against Russia
– regained Inflanty and Połock
– wisely chose advisors and increased income to the crown
– supported the Jesuits and religious tolerance

Zygmunt III Waza (1587-1632): GOOD
– Swedish king, reigning from Poland
– supported the Counter-Reformation and lost kingship of Sweden following fears of re-catholicization
– made attempts to limit the power of the parliament, crushed a revolt based on opposition to this
– warred with Muscovy and gained Smoleńsk
– unsuccessfully tried to regain the Swedish throne by military means

Władysław IV Waza (1632-1648): GOOD
– successfully warred against Russia, making the tzar renounce claims on Smoleńsk, Sewier and Czernihow
– successfully defended against Turkish invasions
– lost Inflanty, and failed to gain the Swedish throne
– lost vassalage of Prussia
– lost part of Ukrain in a revolt
– patron of the arts

Jan II Kazimierz Waza (1648-1668): BAD
– disliked among his court, having few friends and supporters, often absent from Poland
– lost a war against Russia
– unsuccessfully defended against Swedish invasions
– lost Livonia and vassalage of Prussia
– abdicated and left Poland

Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki (1669-1673): BAD
– lost a war against the Turks
– could not deal with the Polish factions and internal unrest
– lost Podole

Jan III Sobieski (1674-1696): GOOD
– decisively defeated the Turks in several wars
– reformed the army and attempted to reform the monarchical system towards hereditariness
– patron of the arts

August II Mocny (Wettin) (1697-1704, 1709-1733): BAD
– defeated decisively by Sweden
– unsuccessful in crushing revolts in Lithuania
– abdicated, then returned to Poland
– failed to arrest the degeneration of Polish parliamentarism

Stanisław I Leszczyński (1705-1709, 1733-1734): BAD
– elected under shady circumstances by Swedish intrigue, deeply unpopular among most of the nobility
– unsuccessfully waged a war for his succession
– finally defeated and forced to abdicate

August III Sas (Wettin) (1734-1763): BAD
– uninterested in Poland, deferred ruling there to a viceroy
– preferred recreation to politics and administration
– Poland lost international influence under his reign, but gained a degree of peace
– disintegration of the Commonwealth into quarreling, semi-independent factions

Stanisław August Poniatowski (1764-1795): BAD
– elected by Russian backing
– attempted to reform and strengthen the country, but was unsuccessful
– unsuccessfully warred with Russia, Austria, Prussia and internal revolters
– lost the whole Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to external annexation between Russia, Austria and Prussia

Corrections welcome.


~ by angrydrake on 25/02/2014.

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