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Sigismund I of Poland

Sigismund I the Old (1467-1548), fifth ruler of the Jagiellonian dynasty, reigned as king of Poland from 1506 until his death.

Before Sigismund I ruled as Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland, he had already been invested as imperial duke (Reichsfürst) of Silesia.

The son of king Casimir IV of Poland and Elizabeth Habsburg of Austria, Sigismund followed his brothers John Albert and Alexander on the Polish throne. Their eldest brother Ladislaus became the king of Hungary and Bohemia.

Sigismund faced the challenge of consolidating internal power to face external threats to the country. During Alexander's rule, a law 'Nihil Novi ' had been instated, that forbade Kings of Poland from enacting laws without the consent of the sejm. This proved crippling in Sigismund's dealings with his szlachta and magnates.

Despite this Achilles heel, he established (1527) a conscription army, and the bureaucracy necessary to finance it.

 A coin with the portrait of Sigismund I
A coin with the portrait of Sigismund I

Intermittantly at war with Vasily III of Muscovy, starting in 1507 (before his army was fully under his command), 1514 marked the fall of Smolensk (under Polish domination) to the Muscovite forces (which lent force to his arguments for the necessity of a standing army). 1515 he entered an alliance with the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I.

In return for Maximilian lending weight to the provisions of the 2nd Peace of Thorn, Sigismund consented to the marriage of the children of Ladislaus II of Bohemia and Hungary, his brother, to the grandchildren of Maximilian. Through this double marriage contract, Bohemia and Hungary passed to the House of Habsburg in 1526, on the death of Sigismund's nephew, Louis II.

The Polish wars against the Teutonic Knights ended in 1525, when his nephew, the Hohenzollern Albert of Brandenburg, their marshal, converted to Lutheranism, secularized the order, and paid homage to Sigismund, who in return gave him the domains of that order, as the First Duke of Prussia. This was called the Prussian Tribut. A daughter of Sigismund I, Hedwig (1513-1573), married Joachim II of Brandenburg.

In other politics, Sigismund sought a peaceful coexistence with the Khans of Crimea, but was unable to completely end border skirmishes.

Sigismund was a Humanist (c.f. David Hume). He and his 2nd wife, Bona Sforza, daughter of Gian Galeazzo Sforza of Milan, were both patrons of Renaissance culture, which began, under them, to flourish in Poland

On Sigismund's death, his son Sigismund Augustus became the last Jagiellonian king of Poland.

Preceded by:
King of Poland Succeeded by:
Sigismund II

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Last updated: 11-01-2004 14:31:18