Seniorate Province

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For the state of Cracow between 1846 and 1918, see Grand Duchy of Cracow. Fore more modern territorial division of Kraków region, see Kraków Voivodeship.
Duchy of Kraków
Księstwo krakowskie (pl)
Province of Poland
Kingdom of Poland
1138–1320 Kraków Voivodeship (14th century – 1795)


Coat of arms

Duchy of Kraków (pink) upon the coronation of
King Przemysł II in 1295
Capital Kraków
Religion Roman Catholic
Government Duchy
Historical era High Middle Ages
 -  Established 1138
 -  Senior Władysław II
   exiled
1146
 -  Split off Kuyavia 1173
 -  Split off Gniezno and
   Kalisz
1181
 -  Lost Pomerelia 1227
 -  Incorporated 1320

Seniorate Province, also known as the Senioral Province (Polish: Dzielnica senioralna), Duchy of Kraków (Księstwo krakowskie), Duchy of Cracow, Principality of Cracow, Principality of Kraków, was the superior among the five provinces established in 1138 according to the Testament of Bolesław III Krzywousty. It existed during the period of fragmentation of Poland until 1320, centered at Kraków in Lesser Poland. The Seniorate Province was supposed to be ruled by the rotating head of the royal Piast dynasty, a principality that he held as overlord (Senior Prince or High duke, princeps) of the other Polish dukes.

Senioral principle[edit]

Fragmentation of Poland in 1138:
  The Seniorate Province, composed of Eastern Greater Poland, Lesser Poland, Western Kuyavia, Łęczyca Land and Sieradz Land, under Władysław II
  Silesian Province of Władysław II
  Masovian Province of Bolesław IV
  Greater Poland Province of Mieszko III
  Sandomierz Province of Henryk, split off from the Seniorate Province
  Łęczyca Land under Salomea of Berg
  Pomerania, originally part of the Seniorate province, split off as a vassal province under the Sobiesławice family

The senioral principle established in the testament stated that at all times the eldest member of the dynasty was to have supreme power over the rest (Dux, the Dukes) and was also to control an indivisible "Seniorate Province". In 1138 Bolesław's III eldest son Władysław II, took up the rule over a vast strip of land running north-south down the middle of Poland, composed of:

The High Duke resided at Kraków, Poland's capital since 1038. The Senior's prerogatives also included control over the Duchy of Silesia and his Pomerelian vassals at Gdańsk in eastern Pomerania. The Senior was tasked with defense of borders, the right to have troops in provinces of other Dukes, carrying out the foreign policy, supervision over the clergy (including the right to nominate bishops and archbishops), and minting the currency.

The High duke generally had his own principality (province, dukedom), which he had inherited within his own branch of the Piast dynasty, and left to his personal heirs within his own branch, whereas Kraków followed the seniorate (fell to the oldest of them). Kraków was a substantial addition to the resources of the incumbent, whoever it was, and was intended to put him higher in might than his vassal dukes.

However the seniorate soon collapsed, with the first Senior - Władysław II the Exile - failing his bid to take over other provinces and in 1146 was expelled by his younger half-brothers, an incident which led to long-time Polish particularism.

The Duchy[edit]

The duchy neighboured originally each of the four partition duchies of Masovia at Płock, Sandomierz, Silesia at Wrocław and Greater Poland at Poznan. Even after many of those were further partitioned, it bordered on several principalities, and was at least close to all.

  Polish duchies under Casimir II the Just (1163-1194)

Upon the exile of High Duke Władysław II the rule was assumed by Władysław's II eldest brother Bolesław IV the Curly, Duke of Masovia, who died without issue in 1173. He was followed in the Seniorate by the second eldest Mieszko III the Old, while Masovia and the Kuyavian lands passed to Bolesław's IV minor son Leszek.

The senioral principle finally turned out to be a failure as Mieszko's III rule at Kraków was not only challenged by the sons of expelled Władysław II, but also by the youngest son Casimir II the Just, who had not received any share by his late father's testament. Though upon the death of Bolesław IV the Curly he had received the Duchy of Sandomierz, in 1177 he took the occasion of an uprising by Lesser Polish nobles (magnates) and assumed the rule as High Duke from his elder brother Mieszko III. A long-term struggle between the brothers followed, whereby Mieszko III was able to incorporate the northwestern lands of Gniezno and Kalisz into his Duchy of Greater Poland.

The Seniorate remained contested after Kraków was inherited by Casimir's II son Leszek I the White in 1194, still by his uncle Mieszko III (d. 1202), then by his younger brother Konrad of Masovia, by his cousin, Mieszko's III son Władysław III Spindleshanks and also by the second son of Władysław II the Exile, Duke Mieszko IV Tanglefoot of Upper Silesia. In the long-term struggle Leszek I was killed in 1227 and the Pomerelian lands got lost, when Duke Swietopelk II of Gdańsk declared himself independent. In 1232 the Silesian duke Henry I the Bearded finally prevailed, re-uniting the thrones of Wrocław and Kraków under his rule as determined by the will of late Duke Bolesław III Krzywousty in 1138. However, a re-establishment of the Polish kingdom under the rule of the Silesian Piasts failed, when Duke Henry's I son Henry II the Pious was killed during the Mongol invasion at the 1241 Battle of Legnica. After an interregnum he was succeeded by Leszek's I son Bolesław V the Chaste, who upon his death in 1279 appointed Konrad's grandson Leszek II the Black of Kuyavia.

The Silesian Piasts once again reached for the Senioral Province, when Leszek II died without heirs in 1288, and Duke Henry IV Probus of Wrocław became High Duke at Kraków but likewise had no issue upon his death in 1290. The Seniorate was again contested between the dukes Przemysł II of Greater Poland and Władysław I the Elbow-high of Kuyavia. Przemysł II brought the royal Přemyslid dynasty of Bohemia into the Polish affairs, when he allied with King Wenceslaus II, whom he ceded the throne at Kraków. In 1295 however, he switched sides and had himself crowned as King of Poland (the first since the deposition of Bolesław II the Bold in 1079) at Greater Polish Gniezno. As he was killed the next year, Władysław I proclaimed himself his successor, he neverteheless had to deal with the permanent pressure by the claimants of the Bohemian Přemyslid and Luxembourg dynasties, who had begun to vassalize the southwestern Silesian duchies.

In 1320 Władysław I, against the fierce resistance of King John of Bohemia, reached the consent by Pope John XXII to have himself crowned Polish king at Kraków. The Duchy of Kraków was finally incorporated into the Lands of the Polish Crown as Kraków Voivodeship. Władysław's I successor King Casimir III the Great had to buy off the Bohemian claims by renouncing Silesia in the 1335 Treaty of Trentschin.

Dukes of Kraków[edit]

In this list, titular claims are not noted, not as full rule; only true and real ducal power over Kraków is noted.

In 1138 Bolesław III Krzywousty, Duke of all Poland at Kraków, divided his realm into five duchies, with the Seniorate Province allocated to:

See also[edit]