Władysław I the Elbow-high

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Władysław I the Elbow-high
Władysław Łokietek.jpg
King Władysław I by Anton Boys, 1579-1587
King of Poland
Coronation20 January 1320
PredecessorWenceslaus III
SuccessorCasimir III the Great
Died2 March 1333 (aged 72)
Kraków, Poland
SpouseJadwiga of Kalisz
IssueKunigunde, Duchess of Świdnica
Casimir III of Poland
Elizabeth, Queen of Hungary
HouseHouse of Piast
FatherCasimir I of Kuyavia
MotherEuphrosyne of Opole

Władysław I the Elbow-high or the Short (Polish: Władysław I Łokietek; c. 1260 – 2 March 1333) was the King of Poland from 1306 to 1333, and duke of several of the provinces and principalities in the preceding years. He was a member of the Piast family of rulers, son of Duke Casimir I of Kujawy, and great-grandson of King Casimir II the Just. He inherited a small portion of his father’s lands, but his dominion grew as some of his brothers died young. He tried for rule of the Duchy of Krakow (the Seniorate Province) in 1289, after the death of his half brother Leszek II the Black and the withdrawal from contention of his ally Bolesław II of Masovia, but was unsuccessful. After a period in exile during the rule of Wenceslas II, Władysław rebounded to re-assume some duchies after Wenceslas’ death, and then gained Krakow in 1306 after the murder of Wenceslas III. He temporarily took control of part of Greater Poland after the death of his ally Przemysł II, lost it, and then regained it later on. He conquered Gdansk Pomerania, and left it to familial governors. For defense of this territory he turned to the Teutonic Knights, who then demanded an exorbitant sum or the land itself as an alternative. This led to an extended battle with the Knights, which was not resolved after either a papal trial or Władysław’s own death. Perhaps his greatest achievement was gaining papal permission to be crowned King of Poland in 1320, which occurred for the first time at Wawel Cathedral in Krakow. Władysław died in 1333, and his reign was followed by the rule of his more renowned son, Casimir III the Great.


Edict by Władysław the Short in 1325 confirming the Cistercians of Byszewo continue to have the same rights as under German law, and the continued ownership of their Abbey in Byszewo.

In 1138, the Kingdom of Poland, which had been growing in strength under the rule of the Piast dynasty, encountered an obstacle which impeded its development for nearly two hundred years. In the will of King Bolesław III Wrymouth (Bolesław III Krzywousty), Poland was divided into five provinces: Silesia, Mazovia with eastern Kuyavia, Greater Poland, the Sandomierz Region, and the Seniorate Province. The Seniorate Province initially comprised Kraków and western Lesser Poland, eastern Greater Poland including Gniezno and Kalisz, western Kuyavia, Łęczyca and Sieradz (maintained by the Dowager Duchess Salomea of Berg for her lifetime), and with Pomerelia as a fiefdom. To prevent his four sons from quarreling, Bolesław granted one province to each of them, while the Seniorate Province was to be given to the eldest brother on the grounds of primogeniture. This decision was meant to forestall dynastic feuds and prevent the disintegration of the kingdom. However, it proved inadequate, and began nearly two centuries of what it had sought to counteract – constant fighting and disorder. Władysław I succeeded in re-uniting most of these lands back into the kingdom of Poland.

Family and nickname[edit]

Władysław the Elbow-high was the oldest son of Casimir I of Kujawy (Kazimierz I Kujawski) and his third wife Eufrozyna of Opole. He was third in seniority to be Duke of Kujawy, however, as he had two older half-brothers from Casimir’s second marriage to Constance of Wrocław: Leszek II the Black (Leszek Czarny) and Ziemomysł. He was named after his uncle, his mother's brother Władysław, Duke of Opole. Already in contemporary sources he was nicknamed "Łokietek", a diminutive of the word łokieć. It translates as "elbow" or "ell" – a medieval unit of measure similar to a cubit, as in "elbow-high".[note 1] The origin of this nickname, as resulting from Władysław’s short stature, was explained only in the 15th century by historian Jan Dlugosz.[1]

Prince in Kujawy (1267–1288)[edit]

In 1267, when Władysław the Elbow-high was seven years old, his father Casimir died. At this time, Leszek II the Black inherited Łęczyca (he had already been given Sieradz six years earlier), Ziemomysł gained Inowrocław, and Brześć Kujawski and Dobrzyń were held in regency by Eufrozyna on behalf of Władysław and his younger brothers Casimir II and Siemowit. After the death of his father, Władysław was sent to Krakow to the court of his relative, Bolesław V the Chaste (1st cousin once removed). In 1273 Władysław participated in the arbitration by Bolesław the Pious, duke of Greater Poland, to reconcile him and his mother Eufrozyna with the Teutonic Knights. Władysław took responsibility for governing these territories in 1275, but they were actually held in a "niedzial" (collective property of the family community) with his two younger brothers.

In October 1277, lands destined for his younger brother Casimir II were invaded by Lithuanians, who, after the abduction of prisoners and seizure of loot, freely returned home. This was a result of being the proteges of Bolesław V the Chaste, who at this time was in the opposite political camp (proczeskim) from Konrad II, Duke of Mazovia, through whose land the Lithuanian invasion passed. Two years later, in 1279, Władysław the Elbow-high was considered to be one of the contenders to succeed in Lesser Poland after the death of Bolesław V the Chaste, according to the Hypatian Codex.[2] However the nobility abided by Boleslaw’s will, which had designated Władysław’s elder half-brother Leszek II the Black as his heir.

After Leszek II the Black’s acquisition of power in Krakow and Sandomierz in 1279, Władysław, along with his younger brothers, recognized Leszek’s sovereignty. This resulted in, among other things, the adoption of a coat of arms by all of the sons of Casimir I Kujawski: half-lion, half-eagle [3], and afterwards Władysław always served as an ally to his older half-brother. In 1280, Władysław militarily helped Leszek’s ally, the Mazovian Prince Bolesław II, in a battle with Bolesław's brother, Konrad II, and during the expedition won the castle of Jazdów. It is also possible that at a meeting between Leszek II the Black and Przemysł II, Duke of Greater Poland, in Sieradz in February 1284,[4] the marriage of Władysław to Jadwiga, a cousin of Przemysł, was discussed. The following year, in August, Władysław was present, along with Przemysl II and Ziemomysł of Kujawy, when finalizing the reform of the Sulejów monastery, i.e., taking in the monks from the Wąchock monastic buildings. After this event Władysław again appeared in Mazovia, where he supported Bolesław II in combat with Konrad II, probably on behalf of Leszek II the Black.[5] In retaliation for this action, Konrad II once again let the Lithuanian army pass through his land, which in 1287 besieged Dobrzyń.

Death of Leszek the Black and the struggle for control of Krakow (1288-1289)[edit]

On 30 September 1288, Leszek II the Black, Duke of Krakow and Sieradz, died without issue, thus transferring power in the principality of Sieradz to his eldest half-brother, Władysław the Elbow-high (his full brother Ziemomysł had already died in 1287). While Władysław now ruled over Brześć Kujawski and Sieradz, Casimir II inherited the duchy of Łęczyca, and Siemowit assumed control of the land of Dobrzyń. The death of Leszek initiated a struggle for supremacy in the duchies of Krakow and Sandomierz; the main candidates were Bolesław II, Duke of Mazovia, and Henry IV Probus, Duke of Wrocław. In this contest, Władysław decided to support the former. Henry IV Probus, using the support of the powerful German patricians, mastered the capital city at the end of 1288. Bolesław II did not give up however, and aided by support from Władysław, Władysław’s brother Casimir II Łęczycki, and perhaps troops from Przemysł II,[11] he attacked branches of the Probus coalition - Henry III of Głogów, Bolko I of Opole, and Przemko of Ścinawa – who were returning to Silesia. On 26 February 1289, a bloody battle occurred on the fields near Siewierz (Przemko of Ścinawa died there), resulting in a great victory for the branches of Mazovia-Kujawy.[6]

Duke of Sandomierz and war with Wenceslaus II (1289-1292)[edit]

After the Battle of Siewierz, Bolesław II of Mazovia resigned from applying for the Seniorate Province for unknown reasons, and so Władysław the Short began to style himself the Duke of Krakow and Sandomierz. He occupied the capital of Lesser Poland (but without Wawel), yet despite initial victories in the battles of Skała and Święcica, Władysław could not make it permanent. Soon Krakow was acquired by Henry IV Probus, and Władysław had to escape the city with the help of the Franciscans. In the second half of 1289 the Kujavian prince managed to consolidate his rule in the Duchy of Sandomierz.[13] This resulted in a division of Lesser Poland back into the two distinct principalities (Krakow and Sandomierz), as they had been ruled by the same duke since Bolesław V the Chaste became High Duke in 1243.

On 23 June 1290, Henry IV Probus died, and Przemysł II, Duke of Greater Poland, assumed the throne of Krakow. It is not known exactly how the relationship was between Przemysł II and Władysław the Elbow-high, although it is very likely that they were friendly, and thus led to the fact that the division took place without bloodshed or as a result of a settlement between the princes.[14] It is possible, however, that these relations could have been cool, and perhaps even hostile.[15] Przemysł II mastered Wawel castle without problems, but from the beginning he faced considerable internal opposition from within the principality of Krakow - some of whom supported Władysław the Short, while others supported Wenceslaus II (Václav II) of Bohemia - and already in mid-September 1290 Przemysł II left Krakow to return to Greater Poland.[16] Meanwhile, in order to further increase his contemporary significance, Władysław gave his niece Fenenna (daughter of his half-brother Ziemomysł) in marriage to Andrew III, the Hungarian king of the Arpad dynasty.

Przemysł II finally gave up power over Krakow in mid-January of the following year (1291), and the principality then accepted the Czech monarch Wenceslaus II as their sovereign.[a] Władysław decided to fight for Lesser Poland with the help of Hungarian troops granted to him by Andrew III. In 1292 Bohemian troops, through numerical superiority and with support from Silesian princes and the Margrave of Brandenburg, drove Władysław the Short first from Sandomierz, and in September of that same year surrounded him in a fortified Sieradz. The siege was soon successful, and Władysław and his brother Casimir II found themselves in captivity. On 9 October 1292 an agreement was signed under which Władysław and Casimir II were forced to renounce claims to Lesser Poland and to make fealty to the Czech ruler, in return for which they remained on their Kujawy leases.[17]

Collaboration with Przemysł II (1293-1296)[edit]

Their recent failures and the threat of Wenceslaus II prompted Przemysł II and Władysław, the existing Polish competitors for the throne of Krakow, to meet in Kalisz in January 1293 in order to develop strategies for removing the Czech government. The reconciliation of the opponents occurred as a result of the intervention of Archbishop Jakub Swinka (on this occasion the archbishop received the promise of large revenues from the salt mines after winning Lesser Poland). The secret agreement, signed 6 January 1293, committed the three princes (the arrangement was also attended by Casimir II of Łęczyca) to mutual support in the effort to recover Krakow.[18] At that time they probably developed a survival agreement to guarantee mutual inheritance in the event of the recovery of Krakow. The occasion of this congress may have also marked the marriage of Władysław the Short with Jadwiga, the daughter of Bolesław the Pious, uncle of Przemysł II. [19]

One year later (1294), it was already necessary to revise the plans approved in Kalisz, as Casimir II was killed while fighting against the Lithuanians.[7] As a result Łęczyca was added to the lands of Władysław the Short. On 26 June 1295, Przemysł II was crowned as the Polish king with the permission of the Pope. Władysław’s response to this development is unknown. Unfortunately, the new king enjoyed his coronation for only seven months, as on 8 February 1296 Przemysł II was murdered, perhaps incited by the Margraves of Brandenburg.


When Przemysł II was still alive there was a marriage between Władysław the Elbow-high and Jadwiga, daughter of Bolesław the Pious. There are three main theories among historians as to when the wedding took place. The most historic assumes that the marriage took place during the life of Jadwiga’s father, and so no later than 1279.[8] The second theory, which now has the most supporters, is that the wedding took place between 1290 and 1293, possibly at the conclusion of the meeting in Kalisz in January 1293, and that in 1279 there was perhaps only an engagement (matrimonium de futuro).[9] The third theory posits a specific date of the marriage as 23 April 1289.[10]

Initial efforts in Greater Poland (1296-1298)[edit]

For wealthy Greater Poland, it became evident that the throne of Przemysł II deserved his closest ally - Prince Władysław of Kujawy. The fact that Władysław the Short was known to dislike the Germans was not irrelevant, as they were generally regarded as the perpetrators of the murder of Przemsył II. However there was a testament of Przemysł II, written about 1290, recognizing Henry III of Głogów as his heir. Neither party wanted bloody battles, and so an arrangement was made on 10 March 1296 in Krzywiń in which Władysław agreed to give Henry III the part of Greater Poland west and south of the rivers Obra and Warta up to the mouth of the Noteć. Władysław also established his successor in the event he died without a male heir: Henry IV the Faithful, Henry III’s eldest son. Also, regardless of the future birth of any sons of his own, Władysław agreed to give the duchy of Poznań to Henry IV Faithful when he reached adulthood.

The division of Greater Poland that was agreed upon in Krzywiń did not address all of the contentious issues, especially in light of the fact that male heirs of Władysław the Short soon came into the world. The governments of Władysław the Elbow-high in his part of Greater Poland were not successful because banditry was spreading there and internal opposition grew stronger, headed by Andrzej Zaremba, the bishop of Poznań. It was suspected, though denied by some historians, that Bishop Zaremba placed a curse of the church on Władysław. In addition, Archbishop Jakub Swinka, seeing that the Duke of Kujawy was having problems with proper governance, began distancing himself from his earlier protege. In 1298, a meeting between the opposition from Greater Poland and Henry III of Głogow occurred in Kościan to conclude an agreement under which, in return for renewed offices for the opposition in a future reunited duchy, they would support Henry’s candidacy for the throne of Greater Poland.

Flight from the country (1299-1304)[edit]

The real threat to Władysław’s power actually came from the south. Wenceslaus II of Bohemia decided to crack down on the Duke of Kujawy. In 1299 in Klęka an agreement was concluded under which Władysław the Short agreed to resubmit homage to Wenceslaus II, in return for which he would receive 400 grzywien and an eight-year income from the mines in Olkusz. Władysław, however, did not keep the terms and conditions made in Klęka, and in July 1299 Wenceslaus II organized a military expedition that resulted in the Kujavian prince fleeing the country.

It is not known exactly where Władysław the Short lived during the years 1300-1304. According to tradition, he went to Rome, where he took part in the celebration of the great jubilee of 1300 organized by Pope Boniface VIII. Other places he might have stayed were Ruthenia and Hungary, with whose magnates Władysław had allied relations, and most likely Slovakia, where vast areas were owned by Hungarian nobles who opposed Wenceslaus III, the son of Wenceslaus II. During that time, Władysław’s spouse Jadwiga and their children stayed in Kujawy in the town of Radziejow in the guise of ordinary townspeople.

Recovery of Kujawy, Lesser Poland, and Gdansk Pomerania (1304-1306)[edit]

Władysław the Elbow-high returned to Poland in 1304 and settled in Sandomierz, with the help of the Hungarian magnate Amadeus Aba. Later that same year he was able to master the castles in Wiślica and Lelów. Success for the indomitable prince would have been short-lived, if not for several favorable circumstances. On 21 June 1305, Wenceslaus II, the Czech and Polish king, died unexpectedly and his inheritance passed to his only son, Wenceslaus III. Władysław took advantage of the situation perfectly, mastering the duchies of Sandomierz, Sieradz-Łęczyca, and Brześć Kujawski by the end of the year. The declining Czech government tried to support Wenceslaus III by organizing an expedition against Władysław. Again luck favored Władysław, as on 4 August 1306, Wenceslaus III was treacherously murdered in Olomouc in Moravia, and the Kingdom of Bohemia was without a monarch and in the heat of a civil war.

The death of the last Přemyslid on the Bohemian throne resulted in a rally of knights in Krakow, which led to an official invitation to Władysław the Short to take power. There was a festive entrance to the capital of Lesser Poland on 1 September 1306, and this has been linked with the issuance of privilege for the city and for the current leading advocate of Czech rule, Jan Muskata, the bishop of Krakow.

Another goal of Władysław the Elbow-high was to regain the inheritance of Przemysł II: Greater Poland and Pomerania. This unification campaign, however, encountered considerable difficulties. In Greater Poland, Władysław managed to only take the helm of the towns bordering Kujawy of Konin, Koło, and Nakło, because the rest of the duchy had accepted the rule of his old enemy Henry III of Głogów (with the exception of Wielun which was occupied by the Opole prince Bolko I). Pomerania, however, became subordinate to the rule of Władysław the Short as a result of an expedition at the end of 1306, but control over this remote area had to be transferred to governors. For these roles Władysław appointed in the area of Gdansk the mighty House of Swienca, and in Swiecie and Tczew his two nephews - Przemysł and Casimir III (sons of Ziemomysł), respectively.


Władysław the Elbow-high, by Jan Matejko

In 1304 Władysław entered and occupied Lesser Poland with an army of his supporters, which, according to the 15th-century historian Jan Długosz, consisted of more peasants than knights. He also conquered Pomerania around Gdańsk, but since he did not win the favour of the local lords and settlers from Brandenburg who had migrated to that area, he was forced to give up the idea of complete control of the Baltic coast.

King Władysław the Elbow-high breaking off agreements with the Teutonic Knights at Brześć Kujawski, a painting by Jan Matejko in the National Museum in Warsaw

By 1311, Władysław was in power in Lesser Poland and his Kuyavian patrimony. Despite the Rebellion of wójt Albert in Kraków and Sandomierz, he was able to hold these cities thanks to the support of the nobility, gentry and townsfolk. Three years later, Greater Poland also came under his rule. However, John of Luxemburg, King of Bohemia, also claimed the Polish crown. In alliance with the Teutonic Order, he attacked Władysław's forces from the north and west, while the Brandenburgians attempted to capture Greater Poland. Nonetheless, Władysław managed to maintain his dominions.

In 1318, he embarked on a coronation campaign. The pope, though initially unwilling, finally granted his approval and Władysław was crowned King of Poland on 30 January 1320 in Kraków. The coronation was a sign that he had overcome Poland's internal fragmentation and re-united the country as an independent kingdom under his rule.

A Polish-Teutonic War (1326–1332) occupied Władysław's last years. On 27 September 1331 he fought the Battle of Płowce in Kuyavia against a group of Teutonic knights. Other groups of enemies withdrew to the north. After numerous casualties the armies were stalemated, though Władysław's forces conquered the field, captured some prisoners and stopped the expansion of the Teutonic Order in the region.

Władysław endeavored to establish a uniform legal code throughout the land. In this code he assured the safety and freedom of Jews and placed them on an equal footing with Christians.

Władysław died on 2 March 1333 in Kraków. His son, Casimir III the Great, inherited Lesser Poland, the Duchy of Sandomierz, Greater Poland, Kuyavia, and the Duchies of Łęczyca and Sieradz. However, Silesia and Lubusz Land to the west, along with Gdańsk Pomerania, Western Pomerania, and Mazovia to the north, still remained outside the kingdom's borders. Nevertheless, Władysław's reign was a major step on the road to restoration of the Kingdom of Poland.

Royal titles[edit]

  • Title before coronation: Wladislaus Dei gracia, dux Regni Poloniae et dominus Pomeraniae, Cuiavie, Lanciciae ac Siradiae
    English translation: Vladislaus by the grace of God duke of the Kingdom of Poland, and lord of Pomerania, Kuyavia, Łęczyca and Sieradz
  • Royal title after coronation: Wladislaus Dei gracia, rex Poloniae et dominus Pomeraniae, Cuiavie, Lanciciae ac Siradiae
    English translation: Vladislaus by the grace of God king of Poland, and lord of Pomerania, Kuyavia, Łęczyca and Sieradz

Later histories refer to him also as Władysław IV or Władysław I. There are no records to show that he actually used any regnal number. Both numerals are retrospective assignments by later historians. "IV" comes from him being the fourth of that name to rule as overlord of the Polish, since Władysław I Herman. "I" comes from him having restored the monarchy after a fragmented era of a century or more, and also backwards-counting from Władysław of Varna who officially used the numeral III and Władysław Vasa who used the numeral IV.


Royal seal of Władysław Elbow-high

In 1293, Władysław married Hedwig of Kalisz. She was a daughter of Boleslaus of Greater Poland and Jolenta of Hungary. They had six children:


Bolesław III Wrymouth
Casimir II of Poland
Salomea of Berg
Konrad I of Masovia
Conrad II of Znojmo
Helen of Znojmo
Mary of Serbia (daughter of Uroš I)
Casimir I of Kuyavia
Igor Svyatoslavich
Svyatoslav III Igorevich
Yaroslava of Halych (daughter of Yaroslav Osmomysl)
Agafia of Rus
Rurik Rostislavich
Iaroslava Riurikovna of Kiev
Anna Yurevna of Turov
Władysław I the Elbow-high
Władysław II the Exile
Mieszko I Tanglefoot
Agnes of Babenberg
Casimir I of Opole
(?) Otto III Duke of Olomouv
Ludmila (of Bohemia?)
(?) Durantia (daughter of Mstislav I of Kiev)
Euphrosyne of Opole

In popular culture[edit]


He is played by Wiesław Wójcik in Polish historical drama TV series "Korona królów" ("The Crown of the Kings"). He is a recurring character in the first season.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ In old Polish, an ell was a measure of length: one ell equaled 0.78 meters in length.


  1. ^ Jasinski, K., Pedigree of the Piasts of Lesser Poland and Kuyavia, Poznań - Wrocław 2001, ISBN 83-913563-5-3. p.116, however, claims that this interpretation is trustworthy.
  2. ^ Jasinski, K., 2001, p.124
  3. ^ Żmudzki, P., Study of the divided kingdom. Prince Leszek Czarny, Warsaw, 2000, p.295. With the fact that, while the older brothers immediately adopted the new coat-of-arms, Władysław began using it only in 1288.
  4. ^ Nowacki, B., Przemysł II. The Restorer of the Polish Crown, p. 122. There is actually unanimity among historians that such a meeting took place.
  5. ^ Żmudzki, P., Study of the divided kingdom. Prince Leszek Czarny, Warsaw 2000, p. 448.
  6. ^ For more on the battle see: Długosz Jan, Roczniki, or Chronicles of the Famous Polish Kingdom, priest. VII, p. 327 (under the year 1290, which is undoubtedly a mistake of the chronicler), Tombstones of Silesian princes in: MPH, vol. II, p. 713, and Chronicle of Polish princes in: MPH, vol. II, p. 536, cf. Sławomir Musiał, Bitwa pod Siewierzem and Wielkopolanie's participation in it [in:] Jadwiga Krzyżaniakowa (ed.), Przemysł II, renewal of the Polish kingdom, Poznań 1997, pp. 161-166. [this needs clarification]
  7. ^ Casimir II of Łęczyca was killed on 10 June 1294 at the Battle of Trojanov against the Lithuanians. Balzer, Oswald, Genealogia Piastów [Genealogy of the Piasts], Lviv 1895, p.342; and Swieżawski, Aleksander, Przemysł II Król Polski [Przemysł II, Polish King], Warsaw 2006, pp.149-150.
  8. ^ Balzer, O., Genealogia Piastów [Genealogy of the Piasts], Lviv 1895, p.440.
  9. ^ Jasinski, K., 2001, pp.122-123.
  10. ^ Tęgowski, J., Zabiegi księcia kujawskiego Władysława Łokietka o tron krakowski w latach 1288–1293 [Endeavors by the Kuyavian prince Władysław Łokietek for the Kraków throne in the years 1288-1293], Zapiski Kujawsko-Dobrzyńskie 6, 1988, p. 52.
  11. ^ Engel 2005, p. 137.
  12. ^ Davies 2005, p. 77.
  13. ^ Rożek Michał, Polskie koronacje i korony, Kraków 1987. ISBN 83-03-01914-7
  14. ^ Kraków, Małgorzta Woszczenko


  • Davies, Norman (2005). God's Playground A History of Poland: Volume 1: The Origins to 1795. Oxford University Press.
  • Engel, Pál (2005). Realm of St. Stephen: A History of Medieval Hungary. I.B. Tauris.

External links[edit]

Władysław I the Elbow-high
Born: 1260/61 Died: 2 March 1333
Royal titles
Preceded by
Wenceslaus III
King of Poland
Succeeded by
Casimir III the Great