In 2012 a huge exhibition of the art and culture of the Jagiellonians circulated between Poland and Germany. Now the time has come to focus on the history proper of the dynasty of the “Tudors of Central Europe”.
In 2012 the European Union financed a huge exhibition project with participants from Germany, Poland, Czechia, Slovakia and Hungary. The project aimed at focusing on the art and culture of the great Central European dynasty: the Jagiellonians and was curated by is an international exhibition presented by the House of Brandenburg-Prussian History in Potsdam (Germany), the Gallery of Central Bohemian Region (Czech Republic), the National Museum Warsaw and the Royal Castle Museum in Warsaw (Poland) and the Centre for History and Culture of East Central Europe at the University of Leipzig (GWZO) (Germany).
Now a major new history project will investigate the history proper of these ‘Tudors of Central Europe’, who from 1386 -1596 controlled half of Continental Europe.
The Jagiellonians (1386-1596) are probably the most successful dynasty most people have never heard of – they ruled over the territories of no fewer than 14 present-day countries in Central, Eastern and Northern Europe. Now, a major new Oxford research project aims to take a fresh look at this remarkable dynasty, their impact on European history and politics, and how they are remembered to this day.
Representatives from the Polish, Lithuanian, Croatian, Slovak and Swedish Embassies, and the Romanian Cultural Institute, visited Oxford on 21st October for the official launch of the project, entitled ‘Jagiellonians: Dynasty, Memory and Identity in Central Europe’.
The project will last for five years, and will result in several books and a conference, the first in the UK to focus on the Jagiellonian dynasty. Funded by the European Research Council, this €1.4 million grant is one of the largest yet awarded to study the history of pre-modern Central Europe.
Dr Natalia Nowakowska of the History Faculty and Somerville College, who is leading the project, said: ‘The project aims to deepen our understandings of how royal dynasties in this period operated, and what kind of human and political institution they were. It will look at how the very different ways in which the Jagiellonians are remembered today across Central, Eastern and Northern Europe, and how they have shaped national identities.
Ultimately the scholars wish to understand, through the Jagiellonians, what Central Europe is; a question which is of course extremely pertinent in the present volatile political situation, where Russia tries once more muscle to in on the fringes of this European heartland.
‘Our aim is that, by the end of this project, far more people will understand who the Jagiellonians were, and the role they played in our shared European history. The Jagiellonians were cosmopolitan, highly international; they raise questions about the boundaries and identity of Europe itself: in that, they are surely a dynasty for our times.’
The Oxford Jagiellonians project, with a team of 6 researchers, will for the first time study the Jagiellonians as an international political phenomenon. ‘The Jagiellonians have never been studied as a whole dynasty in this way,’ said Dr Nowakowska. ‘That means over 24 members of the dynasty, multiple languages, hundreds of years. This is the first project bringing together all the sources and scholarship. It’s a huge challenge.’
A brief history of the Jagiellonian dynasty shows the extent of this challenge. The Jagiellonians emerged in 1386, when Jogaila, pagan ruler of the vast Grand Duchy of Lithuania, married the 12-year old ‘king’ of Poland, Hedwig of Anjou. Jogaila was baptised a Catholic, and his sons and grandsons went on to become kings of Poland, Bohemia and Hungary, ruling lands from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic. Jogalia’s female descendants married into the ruling families of Bavaria, Saxony, Austria and Sweden, among many others.
‘The Jagiellonians are paradoxical: a pagan family who became Catholic crusaders, dynasts in a region of elective monarchies, national kings who created an international bloc,’ said Dr Nowakowska.
The dynastic line came to an end with King Sigismund Augustus of Poland-Lithuania, who married three times but failed to produce an heir. His second marriage is heavily mythologised in Central Europe. He married Barbara Radziwiłł, a Lithuanian noblewoman who was thought unfit to be queen, creating a major political scandal.
Sigismund Augustus’ death in 1572 is usually considered the end of the Jagiellonians, but this is to overlook the fact that his sister Anna was crowned ‘king’ of Poland in 1575. A direct contemporary of Elizabeth I, Anna Jagiellon was instrumental in shaping memories of the dynasty until her death in 1596.
The Project has already created a website , where it is possible to get information on the research questions, the team will focus on as well as a timeline and a list of who was considered members of the rather wide-ranging dynasty. One must hope that the fate of this website will not be the same as that of www.jagellonica.eu, which was set up in 2012 and which now have disappeared into the churchyard of the internet (but which luckily can be found under the name: www.europajagellonica.de )
The old research project in Leipzig has lived on as is witnessed by a lively group of books, which is still being published- Studia Jagellonica Lipsiensia
Europa Jagellonica (1386-1572) – Kunst und Kultur Mitteleuropas unter der Herrschaft der Jagiellonen 1386–1572. English version: Europa Jagellonica 1386–1572. Art and Culture in Central Europa under the Reign of the Jagellons 1386 – 1572. Ed. by Jiří FAJT. Potsdam, Haus der Brandenburgisch-Preußischen Geschichte, 1. 3.–16. 6.
2013. Potsdam 2013 (240 pp.).
Europa Jagellonica 1386–1572. Sztuka i kultura w Europie Środkowej za panowania Jagiellonów. Ed. by Jiří FAJT. Warsaw, Royal Castle and National Museum 10.11.2012–27. 2.2013.
Warsaw 2012 (247 pp.)
Europa Jagellonica 1386–1572. Umění a kultura ve střední Evropě za vlády Jagellonců. Průvodce výstavou. Ed. by Jiří FAJT. English version: Europa Jagellonica 1386–1572. Art and Culture in Central Europa under the Reign of the Jagellons. Exhibition guide Kutná Hora, Galerie Středočeského kraje (GASK), 20. 5.–30. 9.2012.
Praha / Kutná Hora 2012 (264 pp.)
These three catalogues were printed by the respective museums in Kutná Hora, Warsaw and Potsdam which participated in the project 2012 -13. The predominant part of the texts was written by Jiří Fajt and Markus Hörsch, but there were large differences between the catalogues, especially in the third edition from Potsdam. Here a smaller amount of exhibits was shown, whereas additional themes were touched upon, for instance concerning the marital relationships of Jagellon princesses to princes of the Holy Roman Empire.
Between Worlds: The Age of the Jagiellonians (Eastern and Central European Studies)
By Florin Ardelean (Editor), Christopher Nicholson (Editor) et al
Peter Lang GmbH 2013
This volume brings together a rich variety of papers, which were given at an international conference entitled Between Worlds: The Age of the Jagiellonians in Cluj-Napoca in October 2010. They cover various aspects of the impact of this important dynasty on Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe, and its reign in Lithuania, Poland, Hungary and Bohemia between the 14th and the 16th century. Thus, the relevance of the Age of the Jagiellonians for the transformation of Europe between the late Middle Ages and the Early Modern period becomes visible. Various approaches to the overall topic can be found in this volume, be it from the viewpoint of war and religion, frontier studies, politics, theology, historiography or art history.
The research group at Leipzig also publishes a series of monographs and collections of articles on specific aspects. They are published in a series: Studia Jagellonica Lipsiensia. As of now the series comprises 18 volumes, of which 5 have been published in 2014.
Grand Duke of Lithuania (1377-1381, 1382-1384) and Polish king Jagiello (1386-1434) and his wife, Queen Jadwiga of Poland (1384-1399). Cracow’s Jagiellonian University Museum