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Stjepan Vukčić Kosača

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Stjepan Vukčić
Grand Duke of Bosnia
PredecessorSandalj Hranić
SuccessorVlatko Hercegović
Full name
Stjepan Vukčić Kosača
Titles and styles
  • Duke of Hum and Primorje, Bosnian Grand Duke, Knyaz of Drina (1435–1450)
  • Duke of Saint Sava, Lord of Hum and Bosnian Grand Duke, Knyaz of Drina and the rest (1450–1466)
Died22 May 1466
Noble familyKosača
FatherVukac Hranić Kosača
Photograph of Blaqaj Fortress
Blagaj, near Mostar, the seat of Kosača
Fortress Novi, today in Hercg Novi, winter seat of Kosača.

Stjepan Vukčić Kosača (Serbian Cyrillic: Стјепан Вукчић Косача; 1404–1466) was the most powerful Bosnian nobleman whose active political career spanned the last three decades of medieval Bosnian history, from 1435 to 1465. During this period, three kings succeeded to the Bosnian throne, Tvrtko II, Thomas (Tomaš), Stephen Tomašević (Stjepan Tomašević), one anti-king, Radivoj, the older brother of King Thomas, and the county's fate was sealed by the Ottoman conquest.

He was probably born in 1404, a son of the Knyaz of Drina, Vukac Hranić, and Katarina, whose ancestry is unknown. Stjepan's father's hereditary lands were in the Upper Drina region. A member of the Kosača noble family, he succeeded his uncle, Duke Sandalj, as duke of Humska zemlja and the Grand Duke of Bosnia, in 1435. None influenced the development of the late Bosnian medieval state as much as Stjepan Vukčić did.

Supporting Radivoj in the line of succession for the Bosnian throne, he refused to recognize the ascension of King Thomas, throwing the kingdom into a series of civil wars. It was during this time that he took the title of herzog, styling himself in 1448 Herzog of Hum and Duke of Primorje, Bosnian Grand Duke, Knyaz of Drina and the rest; two years later he changed it to Herzog of Saint Sava, Lord of Hum and Bosnian Grand Duke, Knyaz of Drina and the rest. While searching for help, he aligned himself first with the Ottoman Empire, then Aragon and then the Ottoman Empire again. The marriage of King Thomas and Stjepan's daughter Katarina restored peace, but it did not last long. However, with the death of King Thomas and the ascension of his son and heir, Stephen Tomašević, to the Bosnian throne, peace was finally restored and reconciliation was achieved. This ensured the nobility's, including Herzog Stjepan's, absolute support of their king and loyalty for the kingdom facing the Ottomans' advancement.

It was Stjepan's herzog title that gave rise to the name of Herzegovina, used as early as 1 February 1454 in a letter written by the Ottoman commander Esebeg from Skopje. In 1470, Herzegovina was separated from the Sanjak of Bosnia and re-organized into the Sanjak of Herzegovina, with a seat in Foča. The name has remained in use since then for the southernmost region of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The town of Herceg Novi, in present-day Montenegro, which was founded by Tvrtko I of Bosnia as Sveti Stefan, the name that from the beginning gave way to a name Novi (literally "New"; also known as Castelnuovo in Italian, New Castle in English), would later come to Kosača possession and become their winter seat. During this era the town will again be renamed by adding Stjepan's title herceg (Serbo-Croatian pronunciation of German herzog) to the name Novi.

Early life and rise[edit]

Stjepan was probably born in 1404. He was the son of Knyaz of Drina, Vukac Hranić Kosača and his wife Katarina, whose ancestry is unknown. Stjepan's father's hereditary lands were rather modest, located in the Upper Drina region.[1]

He was the fraternal nephew of one of the three most powerful Bosnian magnates, Sandalj Hranić, who was the Bosnian Grand Duke and the chieftain of the Kosača family. Stjepan succeeded Sandalj later in 1435 becoming the most powerful nobleman in Bosnia under three kings—Tvrtko II, Thomas, and Stephen II. Stjepan's father died in 1432, and Stjepan inherited his lands in Drina as the Knyaz of Drina.[2] His uncle Sandalj choose Stjepan as his heir as early as 1419.[2] Sandalj died on 15 March 1435, following the death of his brother, Stjepan's father. Along with the prestigious titles, Stjepan inherited his uncle's lands with all the obligations, alliances, antagonisms, and conflicting interests.[3] Like his uncle Duke Sandalj, he will rise to become the most powerful Bosnian magnate, who influenced the development of the late Bosnian medieval state like no other Bosnian nobleman of his time did.[4]

In the first two decades of the 15th century, following the death of its first king, Tvrtko I, Bosnia began developing into a more decentralized state, with its powerful triumvirate of noble families, the Pavlović, Vukčić, and Hranićs, who, while gaining independence to conduct their political and economic affairs, also influenced the political life of the kingdom to the point where they had a crucial stake in setting up and replacing its monarchs. Bosnian unity was symbolized in the Bosnian Crown, and the royal authority had its place of honor in it. In reality, the big three were practically calling all the shots, including steering foreign policy.[5] However, toward the end of the second decade, only Stjepan's uncle Sandalj Hranić remained. The state authority was becoming somewhat more influential again, and the stability of the throne much firmer. Under these circumstances Stjepan would succeed his uncle, but not without violence.[5]

Citizenship of Dubrovnik[edit]

Along with his father and uncles Sandalj and Vuk, Stjepan was admitted into the nobility and City Council of the Republic of Ragusa by a charter dated 30 October 1435. The same charter granted the family a house in Dubrovnik.[6]

Struggle for family inheritance[edit]

Just days after Sandalj's death in 1435, Bosnia experienced a change on its throne. The legitimate Bosnian king, Tvrtko II, was forced to flee when the Ottomans put forward Radivoj and assured him support from two crucial Bosnian noblemen, Sandalj Hranić and Radislav Pavlović, as well as the Despotate of Serbia. Tvrtko II returned from a two-year exile in Hungary to assume the throne for the second time.[7][3] Meanwhile, Stjepan's takeover from his uncle met with a great deal of hope among his neighbors, who anticipated a weak lord in Stjepan, and opportunistically diverted their attention toward his inheritance.[3]

King Sigismund's intentions were clear, the Holy Emperor wanted to take Hum. He relied on Tvrtko II, but the king was mostly inactive in his first year; then he approached Stjepan and assured good relations with him, contrary to Sigismund's expectations. This prompted Radislav Pavlović to turn to the Ottomans and report on the harmonious relations between the king and Stjepan. The two remained close until at least 1440.[7]

However, Sigismund had many other viable options at his disposal, namely Stjepan's other enemies of the moment among the Bosnians. He successfully turned the Radivojevićs and Vojsalićs against Stjepan and tried to persuade a reluctant Dubrovnik to join the coalition. Sigismund also ordered his own vassals, primarily Matko Talovac and other Croatian noblemen of the Frankopan family, to attack and retain the land of Hum for him.[8][9]

Conflicts in Neretva and with Pavlovićs[edit]

The first to act, of all major Bosnian nobility, was Radislav Pavlović, while the Vojsalićs and Radivojevićs attacked in the Lower Neretva valley with success.[10] Pavlović acted three days after Sandalj's death on 18 March, and on the 29th was expected to enter Dračevica.[11] Although he took some of Stjepan's lands, he was unable to inflict significant damage, even though Stjepan already had problems with the Hungarian king and his Bosnian allies on the west around the Neretva river. Instead, Radislav was bound to ask the Ragusans to help him achieve peace. Reluctant to take up the undertaking, they responded by saying that Bosnia had many noblemen better suited for the task.[12] Eventually, the Ragusans took the job and led the negotiations. They pleaded with both men that a war would bring many "dangers and misfortunes" not only to them and their subjects but to Bosnia as a whole. Stjepan demanded Pavlović cede lands taken earlier. However, after many missions to both noblemens' courts, the negotiations failed.[13] Other involved Bosnians were Vojsalić's and Radivojević's. Đurađ Vojsalić's attack had produced some results, and he took the medieval market town (transl. trg, trgovište) Drijeva. But on trg (market town) were keen Radivojević's as well, so the coalition between Vojsalić's and Radivojević's, including Sigismund who had Drijeva on his mind too, has seen its fair share of conflicting interests. Sigismund asked Dubrovnik to pay all the customs tolls to him. He even dispatched some of his men there to set up the new regimen.[14]

Venetians also tried to take advantage during the transfer of power from Sandalj to Stjepan. They attempted unsuccessfully to take over the fortress of Novi via neighboring Kotor and its knyaz's maneuvering. He thought he could take the town by exerting pressure and influence on the fortress' castellan (governor).[12] Despite the problems, and with some very critical moments and close calls, Stjepan retained the town firmly in his and his family's hands.[15]

Stjepan endured these initial struggles with no help, and it was the Ottomans, the only force to be reckoned with, who supported Stjepan. He had Bosnian anti-king Radivoj at his court all this time. And although Stjepan's situation was tough, it was not critical. Nevertheless, he invited the Ottomans to Bosnia, and they responded by helping him to overcome all his adversities of the moment.[16]

Acquiring Trebinje[edit]

Klobul fortress was the last stronghold of Pavlovićs on the south, before it was taken over by Stjepan Vukčić

In the initial conflicts for his inheritance, Stjepan Vukčić's most persistent adversary was Duke Radislav Pavlović, and for that reason the alliance between King Tvrtko II and Stjepan turned against him.[17] By the end of 1437, Radislav Pavlović has fallen from grace with the Porte and Stjepan had the sultan's blessings to take Trebinje from Pavlovićs. At the beginning of 1438, Radislav Pavlović found himself in a difficult situation, Stefan took Trebinje from him and recaptured the town of Jeleč in Podrinje, which Radislav probably seized from Kosača after Sandalj's death, while other Pavlović's fortress, Klobuk in Vrm, found itself besieged. At that point, the Ragusans told Stjepan that he "took revenge on his enemies more than any one of his predecessors." But his triumph was short-lived. Soon enough, Radislav managed to regain sultan's sympathy, and Stjepan had to return Trebinje and other lands that he so far had taken from Radislav. Probably through Ottoman mediation two magnates started negotiations, which lasted until June 1439 ending in peace between the two houses, and the renewal of family ties because Radislav remarried Stjepan's sister.[18]

At the beginning of 1440, Radislav Pavlović situation changed dramatically yet again. As he owed the sultan a large sum of money, probably indebting himself during a 1439 campaigns to regain his lands and Trebinje, the sultan decided that Stjepan Vukčić should repay the debt and in return get Trebinje and its surroundings back from Pavlovićs. Already in March 1440, Stjepan captured Trebinje, again, which caused the war to break out, again, and in April, new negotiations commenced between the "two main eyes of the Bosnian kingdom", as the Ragusans used to say while trying to mediate truce by engaging with Stjepan.[19]

And while Bosnians were exhausting each other in a cycle of violence and quarrels, all from personal petty-proprietary reasons, the events around them hinted problems with far-reaching consequences that would shake the country in the years to come. The Ragusans, guided by simple logic, and from observing Ottoman policy that was transparent, advised King Tvrtko II, Duke Stjepan and Duke Radislav to jointly implore the sultan to lower his impossible demands, and also suggested that it would be for the best and certainly easiest if three man pay the sultan thousands of ducats for Radislav's lands together. They warned their Bosnian neighbors that friendship bought for money is not firm nor permanent, and pointed to the fate of other regional lords, Serbs, Byzantines, Albanians, who had perished or suffered as a result of their own discord, torn apart by their own petty self-interests, while exhausting themselves by constant costly conflicts. All that, however, did not help, because neither the fall of Serbia nor the increasing Ottoman pressure made the Bosnian lords any less reckless. Stjepan and Radislav continued their quarrel, while litigating before the Porte through the envoys.[19]

Incursion into Zeta[edit]

Map of Stjepan's offensive into Zeta (1441–44)
Stjepan's offensive into Zeta (1441–44), Podgorica, Medun, in Upper Zeta, and Bar, in Lower Zeta, were conquered.

At the beginning of July 1439, Murad II set out to conquer the Serbian despotate, and was joined by his Bosnian vassal Stjepan Vukčić Kosača, who participated in the devastation of Bosnia's eastern neighbor. At the same time, on the west, Albert, who succeeded Hungarian throne after Sigismund died at the end of 1437, died after just two years and a long-lasting succession crisis broke out in Hungary, which prompted Stjepan Vukčić and King Tvrtko II to conquer the lands of Matija Talovac.[20] The Bosnian duke immediately besieged Omiš, and probably took Poljica from the Croatian ban, while Omiš fell after eight month of besieging. The Bosnian duke and the king continued their offensive against the Croatian ban and his family into 1441 at least until June, when Talovac brothers sought a truce.[19]

After the conquest of the Despotate of Serbia by Ottomans, and Stjepan's participation in ravaging it, Zeta remained unprotected and tempting for the duke to conquer it. So, Stjpan Vukčić exploited Ottoman's successes ruthlessly, and made his move turning to the south toward unprotected province, asking the Kotor knyaz for help in capturing it. He even presented himself as Balšić's successor, and even contacted Stefan Maramonte, son of Constantine and Jelena Topi, who was then fighting as a condottiero in southern Italy. The postponement of the conquest of Zeta, however, was caused by the Serbian despot Đurađ's stay in Zeta, in the summer of 1440, during which he tried unsuccessfully to reconcile with Porte. In April 1441, despot hurriedly left Zeta and took refuge in Ragusa. Stjepan also attracted knyaz Stefan Crnojević to his side. The Sultan even ordered Stjepan to attack Ragusa, because the despot took refuge there, which prompted Đurađ to leave the Republic. After the departure of the Serbian ruler, the Bosnian duke engaged and already in September 1441 occupied Upper Zeta (Serbo-Croatian: Gornja Zeta) all the way to the left bank of the Morača river. He had the help of Crnojević's oldest brother, Stefan, who represented the whole Crnojević family, and who was awarded with a control over five large katuns in Upper Zeta.[21][22]

In his operations in Lower Zeta, Stjepan captured Old Bar.

Now, it was time for the conquest of Lower Zeta (Serbo-Croatian: Donja Zeta), but duke Stjepan will have to face much tougher and more dangerous rival here, the Venetian Republic. During the expansion into Upper Zeta, the Venetian government criticized Kotor's knyaz, as early as 1439, for his attempts to prevent duke Stjpan's actions. Now, however, the Venetians too adopted the same strategy, because they anticipated danger that Kotor would be trapped between Stjepan's territories, and that, as the Ottoman vassal, he could be able to endanger all other cities in Zeta and further along the Albanian coast. In no way did the Republic intend to allow further Bosnian expansion in this direction with an open minds, let alone opened arms.[23] The Venetians tried to influence Stjepans further actions via their knyaz in Skadar and by invoking Stjepan's obligations as an ally of the despot, all the while they themselves considered occupying the territories of Lower Zeta. Unhinged Stjepan took Bar in March 1442, but his move turned Budva and Drivast against him. When duke's armies approached and besieged both cities, they resisted for a couple of months but inevitably both, eventually, surrendered to Venice. These engagements in Zeta were reason the Venetian Republic and Duke Stefan entered the open war, the end result of which was an expansion for the Venetians, who acquired additional possessions on the eastern coast of the Adriatic.[23]


Duke Stjepan Vukčić, in his first years, between consolidation of power as the family chieftain and preservation of the inherited lands, also gained important new territories, with a capturing of Omiš and Poljica, pushing Pavlović's out of their southern territories, most important of which were Trebinje and Dračevica, and capturing Upper Zeta and Bar. All this combined with a death of Radislav Pavlović at the end of 1441, changed the balance of power in Bosnia itself.[23] Although hostilities between Duke Stjepan and his sister, Radislav's widow and her sons Ivaniš, Petar II, and Nikola, lasted for several months after her husband's passing, the last of Pavlović's southern strongholds, the Klobuk fortress, fell into Stjepans hands before a peace was brokered between them in May 1442. Radislav's successor, Duke Ivaniš Pavlović, maintained his side of the bargain even during the civil war that broke between Duke Stjepan and King Tvrtko II.[23]

Civil wars[edit]

Royal succession and outbreak of civil war[edit]

King Tvrtko II died in September 1443, and on 5 December stanak approved his first cousin and heir, Thomas's (Tomaš), ascension as the new king. It is unclear if Thomas was chosen by Tvrtko II or elected by stanak, and if Stjepan participated in his election. However, one thing is certain, the duke was the new king's opponent from the start and opted for Thomas's exiled brother Radivoj, a candidate put forward by the Ottoman Empire.[7]

Sensing problems, Ragusans dispatched envoys to Stjepan's court, with instructions to appeal to him by arguing that he is now "the most powerful and most wise Bosnian lord", and it is up to him to preserve "the peace and unity in the country"; if he does, it will bring him glory throughout the world.[24]

In 1443, the Papacy sent envoys to Thomas and Stjepan about a counter-offensive against the Ottomans, but the two were in the middle of a war. Duke Ivaniš Pavlović, who was the second most powerful nobleman in Bosnia after Stjepan Vukčić,[25] sent by King Thomas, attacked Stjepan Vukčić. At the same time, the Hungarian regent John Hunyadi had recognized Thomas. Stjepan turned to King Alfonso V of Aragon, who made him "Knight of the Virgin", but did not provide any troops. On 15 February 1444, Stjepan signed a treaty with the King of Aragon and Naples, becoming his vassal in exchange for Alfonso's help against his enemies—King Thomas, Duke Ivaniš Pavlović and the Republic of Venice.[26] In the same treaty, Stjepan promised to pay Alfonso regular tribute instead of paying the Ottoman sultan as he had done until then.[27]

For the next seventeen years of Thomas's rule, events provoked by this dynamism between the two men were changing in rapid succession in terms of historical scale. Civil war broke as soon as 1444. It dragged on into the 1450s with many treaties and peace agreements in between. As Stjepan Vukčić was a staunch supporter and adherent of the Bosnian Church, Thomas's conversion to Roman Catholicism, probably by the time of the negotiations to marry the duke's daughter Catherine between 1445 and 1446, would later prove to be another obstacle in their relations.[7]

Srebrenica and Drijeva issues[edit]

Drawing of Drijeva market town circa 1770
Drijeva market town (trg) on old drawing.

It is not known when or what exactly started this seemingly never-ending series of conflicts, but King Thomas moved resolutely against his opponents. With Duke Ivaniš Pavlović and Duke Sladoje Semković, he penetrated the Lower Neretva valley in January 1444, where the Radivojevićs joined them. Together they captured Drijeva, a medieval market town (trgovište), in the first days of February.[28][7] In March, the king appears to have forged a truce with Stjepan.[7] The king recaptured the mining town of Srebrenica, defended by the Ottomans around then, and was preparing an attack on Stjepan again in August. Retaliation by the Ottomans against the king, however, allowed Stjepan to take back the lost possessions in the Neretva Valley, and place Thomas' allies the Radivojević noble family under his authority. Also in 1444, Stjepan established an alliance with the despot, Đurađ Branković, against Thomas and the Venetians.[7] The following year, in April 1445, Thomas lost Srebrenica, which was taken from him by Despot Đurađ, but he continued to prepare for war against Stjepan, and with the Pavlovićs, he soon took over Drijeva again.[7]

Peace and royal marriage[edit]

See caption
Coronation and burial church in Mile, Visoko, royal capital of the kingdom.

Having failed to strengthen his royal authority by force, King Thomas sought another way to pacify the kingdom.[29] A rapprochement with Kosača via marriage with his daughter, Catherine (Katarina), was probably already envisaged in 1445,[30] when Thomas sought and improved relations with the Holy See in order to be cleared of the "stain of illegitimacy" as well as to receive an annulment of his union with commoner and Krstjanka Vojača.[7] Negotiations between Thomas and Stjepan intensified in the beginning of 1446.[29] Tommaso Tommasini, Bishop of Lesina, finally converted the King from the Bosnian Church to Roman Catholicism,[31] however, only as late as 1457 did Cardinal Juan Carvajal perform the baptism.[32]

In the summer of 1446, the two rivals had made peace again. Stjepan Vukčić recognized Thomas as king, and the pre-war borders between the royal demesne and the land of Hum were restored,[33] but before the fall, the king re-took Srebrenica.[7]

The royal wedding sealed this peace in mid-May 1446 in Milodraž,[34] marked by elaborate festivities,[29] conducted through Catholic rite,[31] followed by the couple's coronation in Mile.[35] By this time, Catherine, who had also been a Krstjanka (adherent of the Bosnian Church), had converted to Roman Catholicism.[33]

The peace between the king and Duke Stjepan, achieved in the summer of 1446, lasted for the next two years, until 1448, but relations then soured yet again.[7]

Renewal of conflict and new peace[edit]

In late 1446, King Thomas took back Srebrenica but agreed with Despot Đurađ Branković to share a profit from taxes and the town's rich silver mines.[7] Meanwhile, the peace between Stjepan and the king displeased the Ottomans as their interest lay in dividing Bosnia.[33] Stjepan's relations with the Serbian despot, Đurađ, also soured,[36] mostly because of the Srebrenica issue.[33] While the king enjoyed a period of stability in relations with the despot, in the fall of 1447 Stjepan Vukčić attempted to re-negotiate a reconciliation with Despot Đurađ and dispatched envoys to offer him "peace and alliance".[33][36]

Then in March 1448, the Ottomans sent an expedition to plunder the king's demesne; they also plundered Stjepan Vukčić's lands, burning trg Drijeva in the process.[7]

At this point, it was the king's position that was seriously impaired, with the Ottoman offensive and this rapprochement of his father-in-law, Stjepan, with the despot.[7] In September 1448, the despot's brother-in-law Toma Kantakuzen attacked Thomas' troops, while Stjepan helped the despot re-capture Srebrenica.[7][37] However, the king and Duke Ivaniš Pavlović successfully retaliated against Stjepan and his Serbian ally in late 1449. In February 1450, they re-took Srebrenica, and in April and May trg Drijeva.[7] New peace negotiations began in the fall of 1450, and a short-lived peace was concluded at the beginning of 1451.[7]

Hostilities with Ragusa[edit]

In 1451, Stjepan Vukčić attacked the Republic of Ragusa and laid siege to Dubrovnik. As he had earlier been made a Ragusan nobleman, the Ragusan government now proclaimed him a traitor. A reward of 15,000 ducats, a palace in Dubrovnik worth 2,000 ducats, and an annual income of 300 ducats was offered to anyone who would kill him, along with the promise of hereditary Ragusan noble status.[38] The threat seems to have worked, as Stjepan abandoned the siege.[38] After King Thomas and Despot Đurađ reconciled, Ragusa proposed a league against Stjepan.[39] Apart from the theoretical ceding of some of Stjepan's territories to Ragusa (he firmly held those), Thomas' charter from 18 December 1451 also obliged him to attack Stjepan.[40]

Religious strife[edit]

In the second half of 1459, King Thomas acted decisively against the Krstjani, the followers of the Bosnian Church (sometimes spelled Kristjani). According to sources, approximately 2000 (some cite up to 12,000[7]) were converted to Catholicism, as reported by the apostolic legate, Nikola Modruški, who resided in Bosnia between 1461 and 1463, the "Manichean heretics were baptized forcefully".[7] However, at least 40 high-ranking members of the church hierarchy fled to Duke Stjepan, where he received them with open arms, despite the papal request.[41] In the beginning of 1461, to prove his commitment to the Catholic Church, King Thomas sent three bound Krstjani to Rome who were interrogated by Cardinal Juan de Torquemada. The king demanded all of his vassals convert.[41]

Final reconciliation and kingdom's unity restoration[edit]

Kosača was arguably the kingdom's most powerful nobleman,[4][25] and the never-ending conflicts with King Thomas were set to be resolved by the king's son and heir, Stephen Tomašević (Stjepan Tomašević).[42][43] Upon Thomas' death, and his ascension, a determined new king, Stephen, first set out to resolve all disagreements within the royal family to strengthen his own position. Strained relations with his stepmother, Herzog Stjepan's daughter, the 37-year-old Queen Catherine, were relaxed as he guaranteed she would retain her title and privileges. This was noted by her father, Stjepan, who wrote to Venetian officials that the King had "taken her as his mother".[44]

Reconciliation was on the new king's mind as well, as he took the Venetians' advice to make up with his step-grandfather seriously. Very swiftly upon strengthening his own position, peace was finally restored and reconciliation achieved, finally ensuring the nobility's absolute support of their king and loyalty to the kingdom.[42][45][46]

For the new, young king, it was important to get Stjepan's full support. Stjepan had sent his son and chosen heir, Vlatko, to Stephen's coronation, and the king was proud to announce he assumed the kingdom's throne with the full and unanimous acceptance of all the country's nobility.[43]

Also, Herzog Stjepan refrained from claiming the Bosnian crown for his adolescent grandson Sigismund, Catherine's son and Stephen Tomašević's half-brother, probably realizing that Bosnia needed a strong, mature monarch in a time of peril.

Now there were attacks from Pavao Špirančić, Ban of Croatia and Dalmatia, who had already captured one Bosnian town.[43] Stjepan acted, and with the support of Venice, he was preparing to attack. However, the tables turned as soon as Stjepan and King Stephen Tomašević agreed to an alliance with a knyazs of Krbava, the Kurjaković's. Venice, fearing that such a strong alliance could threaten its own interests in the area, started negotiations with the ban.[47] Venice was also interested in securing two key fortresses which lay on the Bosnian-Croatian border—Klis held by the ban and Ostrovica—which was in Bosnian hands. Ban Pavao promised to relinquish Klis to them in case of a Bosnian attack. All this happened between September 1461 and the beginning of 1462.[47]

Meanwhile, in the Christian world, reconciliation of the two most powerful men in Bosnia was greeted with great relief. Even Venice sincerely appreciated the stability that had materialized in Bosnia.[47] The main reason was the expectation that Bosnia would spearhead the actions against Ottoman advancement,[47] and because it was exactly this dynamism between the strongest Bosnian nobleman, Stjepan Vukčić, and the throne, personified at the time in King Thomas, which was one reason leading to the Bosnians failing to fulfill the role to captain the crusade, assigned to them back in 1457.[48]

After more than a decade of discord, freshly restored Bosnian unity faced constantly increasing pressure from the Ottomans. Both King Stephen and Herzog Stjepan knew they would soon face major Ottoman attacks, so throughout of 1462 and first months of 1463, they actively sought and turned for help to anyone, friend or foe, whom they hoped would be willing to offer assistance.[49] Notably, on 8th and again on 20 March 1463 Herzog asked Venice to allow Skanderbeg's forces to cross their territory to help him,[50] which they did but the decision to write and send announcement about it to their outpost in Skadar was issuedonly on 26 April.[51] Maybe as a consequence of this belated Venetian reaction, Skanderbeg failed to carry out his promises before Venice eventually withdrew their permission.[49]

New title, Ottomans and public relations[edit]

In the first half of 1448, Stjepan Vukčić, already Duke of Hum and Grand Duke of Bosnia, in an attempt to "bolster his case with the Ottomans",[33] assumed the title of herzog and styled himself Herzog of Hum and the Coast, Grand Duke of Bosnia, Knyaz of Drina, and the rest, first documented in the spring of 1449.[52][53] Later, toward the end of 1449 and the beginning of 1450, in a public relations stunt,[33] he changed it to Herzog of Saint Sava, Lord of Hum, Grand Duke of Bosnia, Knyaz of Drina, and the rest.[52] This unusual new style for the herzog part of the title came from the name of Saint Sava, the Serbian saint whose relics were held in Mileševa at the eastern corner of his province, but had nothing to do with Stjepans' religious persuasion, since he remained in the Bosnian Church bosoms as long as he lived.[34][54]

Not much is known about the circumstances surrounding the title.[53] Kings Thomas Kotromanić, Frederick III, and Alfonso V, as well as the Pope, Venice, and the Ottomans, are mentioned as the ones who bestowed Stjepan with the title. It is also probable, if not certain, that he took the title himself in the first half of October 1448, and it is certain that he received confirmation and recognition from the Ottomans. On 17 October 1448, the people of Dubrovnik congratulated him on "de nova dignitate cherzech acquisita" (transl. acquisitions of the new herzog dignity).[53] At the Hungarian court, Stjepan's new title was commented on with the words: "if one can be called herzog when the Turks bestowed him with a title", and later, whenever Dubrovnik was in a quarrel with Stjepan, their officials will use this conjecture as well.[55]

For Stjepan, the title Herzog of Split, which Hrvoje Vukčić received from Ladislav of Naples, must had left a strong impression, and it must have been in Stefan's mind all the time. Such a strong impact had led Stjepan to look up to Hrvoje and even ask that King Alfonso V be given him the same title, Herzog of Split, which Hrvoje Vukčić once bore.[55]

This internal Bosnian dynamic was met with little to no interest, although in medieval Europe a strict hierarchical order would not allow such "usurpation" to pass unnoticed in their midst, and Bosnia was very much part of it at the time.[55] In Bosnia too, this event could have passed unnoticed, however, such a relaxed attitude could be expected under Bosnian political context and routine.[55]

Medievalists agree that the move, whatever the reasons behind it, had a considerable public relations value. John V. A. Fine attributed it to that fact that Saint Sava's relics were then, as now, considered miracle-working and objects with healing properties by people of all faiths in the region, but probably more importantly, that the move signaled alignment with Despot Đurađ, at times his only ally during the civil war,[33] and the Ottomans, whose vassal despot had been.[56]

Similarly, Marko Vego noted that with the title Duke of St. Sava (Ducatus s. Sabbe), Stjepan raised his and the entire family's reputation both "inside the Bosnian state and abroad",[52] just like Vladimir Ćorović, who also concluded that Stjepan himself thought he would raise his rank and prestige in this way.[55]

Medievalist Sima Ćirković noted how earlier historians harshly criticized Stjepan's subservient relations with the Ottomans, and points to the fact that such relations were characteristic for all Bosnian and other Balkans lords, as it was practically a norm fully befitting the spirit of the time. However, Ćirković also writes Stjepan spent his few last years as a staunch adversary of the Ottomans.[57] He concluded that Stjepan probably wished to emphasize his importance with the Ottoman court, but that taking the new title had hardly more than symbolic significance, for Stjepan remained for the rest of his life the Grand Duke of Bosnia.[56]

Historians also speak of one other consequence of Stjepan's acquiring the title of herzog, which is that it gave the name to an entire province and represents one of his enduring legacies (See Legacy).

Remaining days, death and succession[edit]

Photograph of the Fortress of Novi
Fortress of Novi, built by Tvrtko  in 1382, with its newly founded port immediately became economic hub of the kingdom and later winter seat of Stjepan and his son Vlatko.

After the fall of the kingdom in 1463, Herzog Stjepan Vukčić, lord of its southernmost province, lived for another three years, long enough to see the kingdom's complete dismantling, which he blamed on his eldest son Vladislav Hercegović.[58]

Not long after taking the Kingdom of Bosnia in 1463, Mahmud Pasha also invaded Herzegovina and besieged Blagaj, after which Stjepan conceded a truce by sending his youngest son, who bore his father's name, Stjepan, as an assurance to Istanbul, while ceding all of his lands to the north of Blagaj to the Empire.[59]

On 21 May 1466, old and terminally ill, the duke dictated his last words, recorded in a testament, and bypassing Vladislav he condemned him by saying it was he who "brought the great Turk to Bosnia to the death and destruction of us all". The next day, on 22 May 1466, the duke died.[58]

He was succeeded as herceg by his second and younger son, Vlatko Hercegović, who struggled to retain as much of the territory as he could.[60] However, Blagaj, Kosača's capital, fell in 1466, while Ključ Castle between Nevesinje and Gacko was cut off from the main part of his territory. Vlatko's actions against the Ottomans were mostly concentrated around this fort with limited success. Počitelj fell in 1471, however, Herceg Vlatko already in 1470 realized that only radical change in his politics could bring him some release, so he pursued and achieved a peace with the Ottomans. In the same year, the Ottomans excluded Hum from the Bosnian Sanjak and established new, the separate Sanjak of Herzegovina with its seat in Foča.[61][62]

The very last remnants of Bosnian state territory were the stretches of land held by Vlatko in Hum.[63] He moved his residence to his last capital, Novi. He also gave up his agreement with the Ottomans, after just a few years, around the same time his younger brother, Stjepan, assumed the highest office of the Ottoman navy as Ahmed Pasha Hercegović (around 1473) in Istanbul. After his marriage in 1474, he reconciled with his older brother Vladislav.[63]

Just before death of Sultan Mehmed II, Vlatko tried one more push to the heart of Bosnia, but, abandoned by his allies, his venture ended in disaster. After this he completely withdraw to his fortress in Novi.[62]

Meanwhile, the death of Mehmed II prompted the new sultan, Bayezid II, to overrun Novi and its harbor, along with whatever territory remained. In November 1481, Ajaz-Bey of the Sanjak of Herzegovina besieged Novi, however, just before 14 December 1481 Vlatko ceased resisting and agreed with the Ottomans to move with his family to Istanbul. Now the entire territory of Herzegovina was reorganized into the already established Sanjak of Herzegovina with the seat in Foča,[61] and later, in 1580, would become one of the sanjaks of the Bosnia Eyalet.[64] This signified the ultimate disappearance of what was the last remaining independent point of the Bosnian state.[63]

Land possession[edit]

Around 1450, the possessions of the Kosača family included zemljas and župas: Humska zemlja, Zagorje, Drina, Rudine, Banjani, Trebinje, Upper and Lower Zeta (transl. Gornja i Donja Zeta), Polimlje, Dračevica, Krajina and Poljica on the Cetina.[52] In the early 1460s, just before the fall of the Bosnian Kingdom, Stjepan controlled most of today's Herzegovina, at the time Humska zemlja (Hum) as far west as Krajina,[65][66] (including Vitina), but he had already lost control of many of his lands and towns north of Hum, Zagorje, Drina, Taslidža, Čajniče, Višegrad, Soko fort, including Nevesinje and Gacko within Hum to the Ottomans'.[59]


Roman Catholic monasteries during Thomas' reign.
Photograph of the Church of St. Gerge in Sopotnica
Church of St. George in Sopotnica founded by Stjepan Vukčić.[66]

Like most Bosnian nobleman of the era,[67][68] Stjepan Vukčić considered himself a staunch Krstjanin,[34] as the Bosnian Church adherents were known and its members called themselves. His conspicuous attitude toward the Bosnian Church was highlighted when King Tvrtko II died in September 1443, and the events that ensued from Stjepan's refusal to recognize the deceased king's cousin and chosen heir, Thomas, as the new King of Bosnia, created a political crisis which culminated in civil war. One reason was Thomas' conversion to Roman Catholicism, a move which proved to be catastrophic for the Krstjani and the Bosnian Church. And while Thomas' decision to convert was forced political maneuvering, albeit founded on sound reasoning, with the saving of the realm on his mind, he also committed himself to demonstrate his devotion by engaging in a religious prosecution against his recent fellow coreligionists. These developments prompted Stjepan to give the Krstjanins of the Bosnian Church safe haven, and join the Ottomans in support of Bosnian anti-King Radivoj, Thomas' exiled brother, who was also a Bosnian Church faithful and remained so in the face of Thomas' crusade against the church adherents.[69]

Kosača family belonged to the Bosnian Church but were "shaky Christians", like most of their countrymen.[70][71] Traditionally, most Bosnians' attitudes towards religion, and Stjepan Vukčić was no exception, were uncommonly flexible for Europe of the era.[70] As a Krstjanin (adherent of the Bosnian Church) Stjepan titled himself after the shrine of an Orthodox saint while maintaining close relations with the papacy. His eldest child, daughter Catherine, who had also been a Krstjanka, had converted to Roman Catholicism,[33] while his youngest child, son Stjepan, himself adopted Islam and changed his name to Ahmed after moving to Constantinople in about 1473.[70][71] In 1454 Duke Stjepan erected an Orthodox church in Goražde, but he also requested that Catholic missionaries be sent from Southern Italy to proselytize in his land and even expressed a desire to become Catholic himself,[33] while never flinching from developing close relations and/or allying himself with the Ottoman Muslims. The Holy See in the Vatican treated him as a Catholic, while simultaneously the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople considered him Orthodox.[69]

Accordingly, Stjepan, who was a dedicated protector of the Bosnian Church Krstjani as long as he lived, kept a high-ranking prelate of the Bosnian Church, a diplomat and ambassador, a well-known and highly influential gost Radin as his closest adviser at his court.[69] At the end of his life, he used both Gost Radin and priest David, an Orthodox Metropolitan of Mileševa, as his court chaplains.[72]

Personal life[edit]

Stjepan Vukčić ancestry tree[73]
Vuk Kosačaunknown
Vlatko VukovićHrana VukovićAnka
Sandalj HranićJelenaKatrinaJelenaVukac HranićKatarinaVuk Hranić
TeodoraStjepan Vukčić

Stjepan Vukčić was married three times. In 1424, he married Jelena, daughter of Balša III of Zeta (and granddaughter of his aunt, Jelena Balšić). His wife died in 1453. Two years later, he married Barbara (most likely del Balzo). She died in 1459. His final marriage, in 1460, was to a German woman named Cecilie.[73]


With his first wife Jelena, he had at least four children:[73]

With his second wife Barbara, he had at least two children:[73]

  • son (1456), a short-lived child whose name is not known;
  • Mara, daughter.

Historiography, personality and legacy[edit]

In historiography[edit]

Herceg Sefan Vukčić Kosača i njegovo doba, by S. Ćirković, 1964 (cover).
Stjepan Vukčić Kosača, by Lj. Jovanović, 1891 (cover).

Before historical biography by Sima Ćirković, Herceg Stefan Vukčić-Kosača i njegovo doba (transl. Herceg Stefan Kosača and his time), and despite the large number of archival sources, historiography lacked the critical monograph on Stjepan's life, done using modern scientific methodology. As a source of information on the political and diplomatic history of the time, especially valuable are the Dubrovnik Archive, and Archivio di Stato di Venezia [it], as well as other Italian cities' archives, including one in Hungary, in Buda. Mavro Orbini and Jakov Lukarević. authored the first historical works on Herceg-Stjepan's life and career. However, these were written when the systematic use of archival sources was not yet utilized.[75] At the end of the 19th century, Ilarion Ruvarac intended to work on the history of the Kosača family, but the first research came only a few years later authored by Ljubomir Jovanović, first with a specific discussion War of Duke Stjepan with Dubrovnik, and then with the first and incomplete, but until that point the only attempt to research Stjepan's life and career in its entirety in the work Stjepan Vukčić Kosača.[75] According Ćirković, the basic outlines for researching Stjepan's life can be found in Konstantin Jireček's History of Serbs, in which he briefly but precisely covers Stjepan's life, while Vladimir Ćorović's History of Bosnia has a more extensive and complete overview it is still insufficiently comprehensive.[75] In 1964, Ćirković published his historical biography, Herceg Stefan Vukčić-Kosača i njegovo doba, using his predecessors, and in particular the specific research of Ilarion Ruvarac, Jakov Lukarević, Lajos Thallóczy, Aleksa Ivić, Mihajlo Dinić, and Vladimir Ćorović.[75]


Medievalist Sima Ćirković, assessing information about the characteristics of the duke's personality from contemporary documents, finds them unhelpful because they were created under specific circumstances, satisfying various political and economic needs, which is why they were often idiosyncratic and biased.[76]

For instance, the representation of Herceg-Stjepan's personality and image created based on contemporary statements made by various merchants and ambassadors from Dubrovnik would be skewed. Arising from the contact with Stjepan and depending on the circumstances, these documented views contained courteous praise of his wisdom, political prudence, law-abiding righteousness, and generosity, as well as words of the fiercest condemnation and insult when circumstances demanded it.[76]

However, the scarcity of sources did not discourage historians whose assessment of Herceg-Stjepan's character is not at all flattering.[76]

Early modern Dubrovnik historian, Jakov Lukarević (fl. 1551–1615), provided his description of Stjepan with conspicuous indignation: "He barely knew the letters", and "he was all given over to rage, wine, and living with slave-girls and harlots".[77]

The duke's "characterization" particularly concerned Medievalist Lajos Thallóczy. He made several harsh assessments about the duke, who, according to him, "could have been a model for a Balkan Machiavelli", "is a typical Balkan knyaz who can serve as a model", and that "we find no ethical features in him, nothing sympathetic, only a marauder", "neither his word nor his written promise could be trusted", and so on.[77]

Thallóczy's characterization was taken over by Konstantin Jireček, who added that the duke was a "loyal vassal of Porte". He paraphrased Thallóczy writing that the duke was "cunning, capricious, brutal and a coward, a friend of wine and women, unusually reckless in choosing means, but with a highly developed ability to notice a change in the political circumstance".[77]

Vladimir Ćorović had a more favorable opinion of Stjepan's persona, pointing out that duke had "a strong will and a bad temper", "had strength and skills, but no morale", and that "since coming to power, he was surprising the world with his ruthlessness, by which he provoked conflicts not only with his neighbors but even in his own family".[77]

Ćirković criticized these descriptions, especially Thallóczy's, because of his "inherent superficiality and pretentiousness", based almost entirely on the author's "ideological beliefs [rather] than on a sober examination of the source". He also noted "the historical role of Duke Stjepan in recent historiography is dominated by condemnation for serving the Turks", and that such judgmental assessments never take into account many circumstances, that is, "the common feature of all assessments of Herceg's character is that it was seldom taken into account the extent to which Stjepan's qualities were only his, and not the characteristics of the entire society of that time".[77]

Ćirković concludes that "inversion, treachery, inconsistency cannot be used to characterize any one person from the Bosnian history of the 15th century, because these are characteristics of all feudal lords of that time".[77]


Photograph of Herceq Novi
Herceg Novi, old town from the sea, today in Montenegro

The medieval town of Novi was founded in a small fishing village as a fortress in 1382 by the first King of Bosnia, Tvrtko I Kotromanić and was originally named Sveti Stefan (Saint Stephen). After the death of Tvrtko, Duke Sandalj Hranić acquired Sveti Stefan. During his reign, the town began trading salt. When Hranić died, his nephew, Stjepan Vukčić Kosača, inherited it. During his reign, the town grew in importance and became Stjepan's winter seat, getting a new name in the process, Herceg Novi.[78]

However, the name Herzegovina is the most important and indelible Herceg Stjepan's legacy, unique within the entire Serbo-Croatian speaking world of the Balkans, of one medieval person giving his name, or more precisely his noble title, which in the last few years of his life became literally inseparable from his name, to an entire region previously called Humska zemlja, or Hum for short,[79] which still exists today with the name Bosnia and Herzegovina.[52][56]

Although this is just a superficial understanding, because the appearance of the name Herzegovina, recorded as early as 1 February 1454, in a letter written by the Ottoman commander Esebeg from Skopje,[52] can not be attributed to Herceg Stjepan alone, as his title was not of decisive importance after all.[56] Far more crucial was a well-known Ottoman custom to call newly acquired lands by the names of its earlier lords. It was enough for the Ottomans to conquer Stjepan's land as a whole, to start calling it Herzegovina. Also, Herceg-Stjepan did not establish this province as a feudal and political unit of the Bosnian state, that honor befell Grand Duke of Bosnia, Vlatko Vuković, who received it from King Tvrtko I, while Sandalj Hranić expanded it and reaffirmed the Kosača family supremacy.[56]


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