Stjepan Vukčić Kosača

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Stjepan Vukčić
Grand Duke of Bosnia
Duke of Saint Sava
Grand Duke of Bosnia
PredecessorSandalj Hranić
SuccessorVladislav Hercegović
Full name
Stjepan Vukčić Kosača
Noble familyKosača
Spouse(s)Jelena Balšić
FatherVukac Hranić Kosača
ReligionBosnian Church

Stjepan Vukčić Kosača (Cyrillic: Стјепан Вукчић Косача; 1404–1466), Grand Duke of Bosnia and Duke of Saint Sava, was the most powerful nobleman in the Kingdom of Bosnia in his time. A member of the Kosača noble family, he became Grand Duke of Bosnia upon the death of his uncle Sandalj. He refused to recognize the accession of King Tomaš, proclaiming himself a semi-independent herzog, recognizing the suzerainty first of the Ottoman Empire, then Aragon and again the Ottoman Empire. Peace was briefly restored by the marriage of King Tomaš and Stjepan's daughter Katarina, but it did not last long.

It was Stjepan's title Herceg of Saint Sava that gave rise to the name of Ottoman Sanjak of Herzegovina established after 1482 when the Kosača family domain fell under Ottoman rule, and was part of the Bosnia Eyalet. The name remained since then and it is used for modern of southernmost region of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The town of Herceg Novi in present day's Montenegro, founded by Tvrtko I of Bosnia first as Sveti Stefan and than as Novi (literally New), also known as Castelnuovo in Italian (English: New Castle), will later become Stjepan's seat and renamed by adding his title Herceg to the name Novi.


Stjepan was the son of Vukac Hranić Kosača and his wife Katarina who was a daughter of Hrvoje Vukčić Hrvatinić, as well as the fraternal nephew of Sandalj Hranić, Grand Duke of Bosnia. Along with his father and uncles Sandalj and Vuk, Stjepan was admitted into the nobility of the Republic of Ragusa by a charter dated 29 June 1419. The same charter granted the family a house in Dubrovnik. Sandalj's father died in 1432, and when his uncle followed him on 15 March 1435, it was Stjepan who inherited the lands and prestigious ducal title, becoming the most powerful vassal of King Tvrtko II of Bosnia.

At the end of September 1441, Kosača captured the territory of Upper Zeta on the left bank of Morača. Stefan Crnojević, who represented the whole Crnojević family, joined him in this campaign and was awarded by Kosača with control over five villages.[1]

Civil war[edit]

Religious strife and outbreak of civil war[edit]

King Tvrtko II died in September 1443. Being a staunch supporter and adherent of the Bosnian Church, Stjepan refused to recognize the deceased king's cousin and chosen heir Thomas (Tomaš), a convert to Roman Catholicism, as King of Bosnia. Instead, Stjepan supported Thomas' exiled brother Radivoj, a candidate also put forward by the Ottoman Empire.

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. Ivaniš Pavlović, sent by King Thomas, attacked Stjepan Vukčić. Thomas had at the same time been recognized by the Hungarian regent John Hunyadi. Stjepan turned to King Alfonso V of Aragon, who made him "Knight of the Virgin", but did not give him 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, namely King Thomas, Duke Ivaniš Pavlović and the Republic of Venice. In the same treaty Stjepan promised to pay regular tribute to Alfonso instead of paying the Ottoman sultan as he had done until then.[2]

Peace and royal marriage[edit]

In 1446 the two rivals had made peace. Stjepan Vukčić recognized Thomas as king, and the pre-war borders were restored.[3] Peace was sealed by the marriage of Stjepan's daughter Catherine (Katarina) and King Thomas in May 1446,[4] with Catherine converting to Roman Catholicism.[3] The Ottomans were displeased with the peace as their interest lay in dividing Bosnia.[3] Serbian Despot Đurađ Branković was also displeased due to the Srebrenica issue.[3] In 1448, the Ottomans sent an expedition to plunder King Tomaš's lands, but they also plundered Stjepan Vukčić's lands. Stjepan Vukčić sent envoys to Despot Đurađ to try to improve the relations between the two.[3] Vukčić then joined forces with Despot Đurađ and fought Bosnian forces.[5]

Renewal of conflict[edit]

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

In 1448 Stjepan Vukčić, in attempt to "bolster his case with the Ottomans", dropped his title Grand Duke of Bosnia, and assumed the title Herzog (Duke) of Hum and the Coast.[3] Later, in 1449, in a public relation stunt, he changed it into "Duke of Saint Sava", after the Serbian saint whose relics were held in Mileševa at the eastern part of his province. This move had a considerable public relations value since Saint Sava's relics were then, as are now, considered miracle-working and objects with healing properties by people of all faiths in the region, but probably more importantly, move signified and attested alignment with Despot Đurađ, whose side he took in the Đurađ's war against king Tomaš over the rich mining town of Srebrenica.[3]

In 1451 Stjepan Vukčić attacked the Republic of Ragusa, and laid siege to the city. 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.[6] along with the promise of hereditary Ragusan noble status which also helped hold this promise to whoever did the deed.[6] The threat seems to have worked, as Stjepan abandoned the siege.[6] After King Thomas and Despot Đurađ reconciled,[when?] Ragusa proposed a league against Stjepan.[7] Thomas' charter from 18 December 1451, apart from the theoretical ceding of some of Stjepan's territories to Ragusa (he firmly held those), also included the obligation that he would attack Stjepan.[8]


Savina Monastery, founded by Stjepan Vukčić Kosača

Like most Bosnian nobleman of the era,[9][10] Stjepan Vukčić too considered himself staunch Krstjanin,[4] as the Bosnian Church adherents were known and as its members called themselves. His conspicuous attitude toward Bosnian Church was highlighted when king Tvrtko II died in September 1443, Stjepan refused to recognize the deceased king's cousin and chosen heir, Thomas, as the new King of Bosnia, thus creating a political crisis which culminated in civil war. All this happened because Thomas was recent convert to Roman Catholicism, move that was potentially harmful for the Kristjani and the Bosnian Church. And while Thomas' decision to convert was forced political maneuvering, albeit founded in sound reasoning with the saving of the realm on his mind, he also committed himself to demonstrate his devotion by engaging in religious prosecution against his recent fellow co-religionist. These developments prompted Stjepan to give Krstjanins of the Bosnian Church safe haven and join the Ottomans in support of Bosnian anti-King Radivoj, Thomas' exiled brother, who was also Bosnian Church faithful and remained so in face of Thomas' crusade against the church adherents.[11]

However, traditionally, most Bosnians' attitude towards religion, and Vukčić's was no exception, was uncommonly flexible for Europe of the era. He titled himself after the shrine of an Orthodox saint while maintaining close relations with the papacy. In 1454 he both erected an Orthodox church in Goražde and requested that Catholic missionaries be sent from Southern Italy to proselytize in his land, while never flinching from developing close relation and/or allying himself with Ottoman Muslims. The Holy See in Vatican treated him as a Catholic, while simultaneously the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople considered him Orthodox.[11]

Accordingly, Stjepan kept at his court a high-ranking prelate of the Bosnian Church, a diplomat and ambassador, well known and highly influential gost Radin as his closest adviser. He was a dedicated protector of Bosnian Church krstjani as long as he lived[11][3]. At the end of his life, he used both gost Radin and priest David, an Orthodox Metropolit of Mileševa, as his court chaplains.[12]

Relations with the Ottomans[edit]

In the early 1460s, Stjepan controlled all of today's Herzegovina as far north as Glamoč, except for Nevesinje and Gacko which were under Ottoman control.[13] Stjepan knew he would soon face Ottoman attack so he asked Venice to allow Skanderbeg's forces to cross their territory to help him,[14] which they did,[15] but Skanderbeg failed to carry out his promises. When King Thomas died in 1461, he was succeeded by his elder son Stephen rather than Sigismund, his son by Queen Katarina. This time, aware of the Ottoman threat, Stjepan did not dispute the succession.

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 as a hostage to Istanbul, and ceding all of his lands to the north of Blagaj to the Empire.[16]

Stjepan Vukčić died in 1466, and was succeeded by his eldest son Vladislav.

Issue and legacy[edit]

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 (possibly del Balzo). She died in 1459. His final marriage, in 1460, was to a German woman named Cecilie.

Tvrtko's I fortress of 'Stari Grad' (Old Town)

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

Stjepan and his second wife Barbara had a short-lived son (born in 1456) and a daughter named Mara.

In 1482, Vladislav Hercegović was overpowered by Ottoman forces led by his brother, Hersekzade Ahmed Pasha. Herzegovina was organized into a province (the Sanjak of Herzegovina), which later became one of the sanjaks of the Bosnia Eyalet (1580).[17]


The medieval town of Herceg Novi was founded on a small fishing village as a fortress in 1382 by the first King of Bosnia, Stjepan 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 picked up trading salt. When Hranić died, his nephew, Herzog Stjepan Vukčić Kosača inherited it. During his reign, the town grew in importance and became Stjepan's seat, getting a new name in the process: Herceg Novi. Herzog Stjepan also founded Savina monastery.


  1. ^ Bešić 1970, p. 196

    У другој половини септембра 1441. год. Стефан Вукчић је провалио у Горњу Зету и најприје заузео крајеве до Мораче. Придобио је Стефаницу Црнојевића, који је још био у слози с браћом и иступао у име читаве породице. Зато му је на освојеномподручју уступио пет катуна...

  2. ^ Momčilo Spremić, Balkanski vazali kralja Alfonsa Aragonskog, Prekinut uspon, Beograd 2005, pp. 355–358
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Fine, John Van Antwerp (1994). The Late Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Late Twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest. University of Michigan Press. p. 578. ISBN 9780472082605.
  4. ^ a b William Miller (1921). Essays on the Latin Orient. CUP Archive. pp. 508–509. Retrieved 26 February 2011.
  5. ^ Milan Vasić (1995). Bosna i Hercegovina od srednjeg veka do novijeg vremena: međunarodni naučni skup 13–15. decembar 1994. Istorijski institut SANU. p. 99.
  6. ^ a b c Medieval and Renaissance Studies (1978). Viator. University of California Press. pp. 388–389. ISBN 0-520-03608-5.
  7. ^ Božić 1952, p. 119.
  8. ^ Božić 1952, p. 120.
  9. ^ Kurtović, Esad (2010). "Sandalj Hranić Kosača - Biography of the Bosnian Magnate". Bosna Franciscana (in Bosnian). CEEOL (33): 77. ISSN 1330-7487. Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  10. ^ Kurtović, Esad (2010). "Sandalj Hranić Kosača - Biografija bosanskog vlastelina" (pdf). (in Bosnian). Bosna Franciscana via CEEOL. p. 77. Retrieved 30 April 2020.
  11. ^ a b c Fine, John V. A. (1994). The Late Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Late Twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest. University of Michigan Press. pp. 481, 483, 577, 582, 481–582. ISBN 0472082604. Retrieved 6 June 2018.
  12. ^ Ćirković, Sima (1964). Историја средњовековне босанске државе (in Serbo-Croatian). Srpska književna zadruga. p. 287.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  13. ^ Safvet-beg Bašagić (1900). Kratka uputa u prošlost Bosne i Hercegovine, od g. 1463–1850 (in Serbo-Croatian). p. 17. Turci su imali li vlasti slijedeće zemlje i gradove: Nevesinje, Gacko, Zagorje, Podrinje, Taslidžu, Čajnič, Višegrad, Sokol, Srebrenicu, Zvomik, Šabac, Samac i Sarajevo s okolicom. Sva ostala Hercegovina do Glamoča bila je u rukama hercega Stjepana, na koju kralj nije mogo računati.
  14. ^ Ljubez, Bruno (2009). Jajce Grad: prilog povijesti posljednje bosanske prijestolnice. HKD Napredak. p. 153.
  15. ^ Ljubić, Šime (1868–1891), Listine o odnošajih izmedju južnoga slaventsva i mletačke republike (Documents about the relations of South Slavs and Venetian Republic), Monumenta spectantia historiam slavorum meridionalium, X, Zagreb, p. 242, OCLC 68872994, CCXXXX. God. 1463. 26. travnja, u Mletcih. Dozvoljava se, da Skenderbeg moze s vojskom proci u pomoc Stjepanu hercegu sv. Save kroz mletacke zemlje.
  16. ^ Safvet-beg Bašagić (1900). Kratka uputa u prošlost Bosne i Hercegovine, od g. 1463–1850 (in Serbo-Croatian). p. 20. U Hercegovini Mahmut paša je udario na nenadani otpor. Kršna zemlja Hercegovina sa golim brdima, tijesnim klancima i nepristupnim gradovima zadavaše turskom konjaništvu puno neprilika. Osim toga domaći bogumili junački su se borili uz svoga hercega i njegove sinove. Doduše Mahmut paša je dolinom Neretve sjavio do pod Blagaj i obsijedao ga; nu je li ga zauzeo ili je poslije nagodbe s hercegom predao mu se, nema sigurnih vijesti. Videći herceg Stjepan, da bez povoljna uspjeha, Mahmut paša ne će ostaviti Hercegovine, otpremi najmlagjega sina Stjepana s bogatim darovima sultanu, da moli primirje. Na to Fatih ponudi, da gornju polovinu svojih zemlje ustupi Turskoj, a donju zadrži za se i za sinove. Mladoga Stjepana kao taoca zadrži u Carigradu, koji iza kratkog vremena pređe na Islam pod imenom Ahmed beg Hercegović. Herceg Stjepan pristane na sultanovu ponudu, pa sklopi mir i ustupi Turcima svu gornju Hercegovinu do Blagaja. Na to Mahmud paša bude pozvan u Carigrad.
  17. ^ Istorisko društvo Bosne i Hercegovine (1952). Godišnjak. 4. овоме су ејалету одмах припојени сан- џаци: херцеговачки,

Further reading[edit]

Preceded by
Sandalj Hranić
Grand Duke of Bosnia
Succeeded by
Radislav Pavlović
New title Duke of Saint Sava
Succeeded by
Vladislav Hercegović