Bona Sforza

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Bona Sforza
Monogrammist PF Bona Sforza.jpg
Queen consort of Poland
Grand Duchess of Lithuania
Tenure 1518–1548
Coronation 18 April 1518
Spouse Sigismund I, King of Poland
Isabella, Queen of Hungary
Sigismund II Augustus, King of Poland
Sophia, Duchess of Brunswick-Lüneburg
Anna, Queen of Poland
Catherine, Queen of Sweden
House House of Sforza
Father Gian Galeazzo Sforza
Mother Isabella of Naples
Born (1494-02-02)2 February 1494
Vigevano, Italy
Died 19 November 1557(1557-11-19) (aged 63)
Bari, Italy
Burial Basilica di San Nicola, Bari

Bona Sforza (2 February 1494[1] or 2 February 1493[2] – 19 November 1557) was a member of the powerful Milanese House of Sforza. In 1518, she became the second wife of Sigismund I the Old, the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, and became the Queen of Poland and Grand Duchess of Lithuania.

She was the third child of Gian Galeazzo Sforza and his wife Isabella of Naples.[3] Her older brother was Francesco Sforza and her sisters were Ippolita Maria and Bianca Maria. All of Bona's siblings died young.

When her mother Isabella of Naples died in 1524, Bona succeeded to the titles Duchess of Bari and Princess of Rossano. She also became the holder of the Brienne claim to the title of King of Jerusalem.


Early years[edit]

Queen Bona's gardens at the Wawel Castle

Bona was born into the powerful and wealthy Italian Sforza dynasty who had ruled Milan since 1447. Although her father belonged to the authority of the Duchy of Milan, he was ousted by his uncle Ludovico Sforza, known to history as "Il Moro". He exercised power on behalf of the young prince, until his death in 1494 at the castle in Pavia. Shortly afterwards, the Princess Isabella, together with her daughters, went to Bari. To regain political significance and their former possessions, Isabella had to find a husband for Bona (her surviving daughter). Her first attempts were unsuccessful due to the unfavourable political situation at the time but due to the support of the House of Habsburg she succeeded in marrying Bona to the widowed Polish King Sigismund I the Old. The marriage ceremonies and Bona's coronation were held in Krakow on 18 April 1518.

In her youth, Bona obtained a good education. Her teacher was Crisostomo Colonna, a member of the Academy of Pont, who supervised her education along with Antonio Galateo. She received instruction in history, law, administration and theology. She was thrifty, economical, and she also had the ability to influence people. She demonstrated this skill in all her activities.

Queen of Poland[edit]

Almost from the beginning of her life in Poland, Queen Bona tried to gain a strong political position. She began to form her own cabal and also benefited from the support of the king. She was also supported by Piotr Kmita Sobieński, Andrew Ladislaus and Piotr Gamrat, taking them to her offices and creating the so-called Triumvirate. She managed to also get Pope Leo X to decide on the appointment of fifteen ecclesiastical benefice of very high importance (e.g. in Kraków, Gniezno, Poznań, Włoclawek and Frombork).

Bona came out of the belief that one of the most important things needed for the effective implementation of policies and plans for strengthening royal authority is access to appropriate high finance. Therefore she set herself the objective of magnification and the assembly domain of dynastic wealth as much as possible, which would give the Jagiello family financial independence. The family gained numerous estates in Lithuania, and finally in 1536-1546 they took over the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. This generated huge profits.

In 1527, as a result of a fall from a horse, the queen gave birth prematurely to her second son Albert, who died at birth.[4] After this event, the Queen could not have any more children. Bona, wanting to ensure the continuity of the Jagiellonian dynasty on the Polish throne, decided to make the nobles and magnates to recognise her only son, the minor Sigismund Augustus as heir to the throne. First, the Lithuanian nobles gave him the ducal throne (ca. 1527-1528). Then, in 1529 he was crowned Sigismund II Augustus. This led to huge opposition from Polish lords, which led to the adoption of the bill that the next coronation would take place after the death of Sigismund Augustus, and that it would do so with the consent of all the noble brothers.

From the outset, Bona was wary of the growing power of the Radziwiłł family and was later accused of poisoning her daughter-in-law Barbara Radziwiłł.

Queen Bona as a widow

In foreign policy, she was a fierce opponent of the Habsburgs and a supporter of a closer alliance with France. In Hungary during the wars that took place after the Battle of Mohacs in 1526, supported by János Szapolyai against the Habsburgs. Bona also sought to maintain good relations with Sublime Porte and contacts with Roxelana, the most important wife of Suleyman the Magnificent. Bona was also a spokesperson for connecting Silesia to the Crown in return for her hereditary principality Bari and Rosano, but Sigismund the Old did not support the idea and the whole project collapsed. Bona managed to also carry out tax reforms in Lithuania and agricultural products (including uniform duties of the peasants and a unit of area measurements).

Later life and widowhood[edit]

In 1539 Bona Sforza had presided, reluctantly, over the burning of 80-year old Katarzyna Weiglowa for heresy, but this event ushered in an era of tolerance, and her confessor Francesco Lismanino assisted in the establishment of a Calvinist Academy in Pińczów.

In 1544, Sigismund II Augustus was given independent authority in Lithuania, and he moved there. It was the cause of a significant weakening of power in the queen, who did not want his departure. The pair had originally entered into a conflict over her son's marriage to Barbara Radziwiłł.

On the 1 April 1548, Sigismund I the Old died, leaving Bona a widow. Their son succeeded him.

After the death of the King, Bona moved to Masovia and stayed there for eight years. Then she moved back to her native Bari.


Poisoning of Queen Bona by Jan Matejko.

A year after returning to the Duchy of Bari Bona Sforza was poisoned by her trusted officer, Gian Lorenzo Pappacoda. Pappacoda was acting on behalf of King Philip II of Spain,[citation needed] who wished to avoid repaying his sizable debts to the Polish queen. She was buried in St. Nicholas' Basilica in Bari, where her daughter Anna had a tomb made in the current Renaissance style for her remains.


She is one of the characters on the painting Prussian Homage by Jan Matejko.


Bona and Sigismund I the Old had six children:


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cawley, Charles, Milan, Medieval Lands, Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, retrieved August 2012 ,[better source needed]
  2. ^ Maike Vogt-Lüerssen: Isabella von Aragon und ihr Hofmaler Leonardo da Vinci, Norderstedt 2010, ISBN 978-3-8391-7110-3, p. 116
  3. ^ Bona Sforza at "World"
  4. ^ Grzybowski, Polish history and Lithuania (1506-1648), P. 47
Bona Sforza
Born: 2 February 1494 Died: 19 November 1557
Royal titles
Preceded by
Barbara Zápolya
Queen consort of Poland
Grand Duchess consort of Lithuania

with Elisabeth of Austria (1543-1545)
Succeeded by
Barbara Radziwiłł
Italian nobility
Preceded by
Isabella of Aragon
Duchess of Bari
Princess of Rossano

Annexed by Naples
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
Isabella of Aragon
Brienne claim
Succeeded by
Sigismund II Augustus