Zygmunt II and Barbara Radziwill

Zygmunt II and Barbara Radziwill

The love story of the Polish king and the daughter of a magnate of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Country: Poland

  1. Sigismund II August
  2. Barbara Radziwill
  3. The Love Story and Tragic End
  4. Later Life and Death

Sigismund II August

Sigismund II August Jagiellon was born in 1520, known for his beauty and great energy inherited from his mother, Bona Sforza, a relative of the Borgia family. His strict mother tried to control his indecisive nature in both politics and personal life. Historians believe that Sigismund II's dreamy and weak character was influenced by his mother's harsh upbringing. He was known for his fascination with mysticism and received a good education. Sigismund II married Elizabeth of Austria, but their relationship was short-lived as she suddenly passed away. Rumors circulated that Bona poisoned her daughter-in-law, but no evidence was found.

Zygmunt II and Barbara Radziwill

Barbara Radziwill

Barbara Radziwill was born in 1520, the same year as Sigismund II. She was known for her beauty and talents in music, dancing, and horseback riding. Barbara married Stanislaw Gasztold but became a widow at the age of 22. Sigismund II, captivated by her natural beauty and purity, invited her and her brothers to the court. It is believed that her brothers arranged the meeting between the widowed king and Barbara, hoping to arrange a second marriage. However, Barbara was deemed an unsuitable candidate due to her non-royal bloodline and her family's influence, which posed a threat to Polish magnates. Bona Sforza, who desired a submissive and obedient daughter-in-law, opposed Barbara. The Radziwill brothers decided to separate Barbara from the king and sent her back to their ancestral castle.

The Love Story and Tragic End

Despite the opposition, Sigismund II secretly visited Barbara at the castle, where her brothers "accidentally" discovered them together. After this encounter, the king agreed to marry Barbara, despite the anger of the parliament and Bona Sforza, who demanded the annulment of the marriage. On May 7, 1550, Barbara Radziwill was crowned queen. However, their happiness was short-lived. The queen fell ill with an unknown disease, and for several months, her health deteriorated despite the efforts of the best doctors. Her body was attacked by foul-smelling abscesses and ulcers. It is worth mentioning that Sigismund II cared for her until her last breath. Barbara passed away on May 8, 1551, and rumors spread that Bona had poisoned her. Barbara's dying wish was to have her body transported to Vilnius and initially placed in the chapel of St. Casimir in Vilnius Cathedral. Sigismund II, devastated by the loss, brought her remains from Krakow to Vilnius and buried her in the Cathedral of St. Stanislaus and St. Vladislav.

Later Life and Death

In 1553, Sigismund II married for the third time, to Catherine of Austria, the sister of his first wife. However, the king found no solace in this marriage, which soon ended without producing an heir. Growing more obsessed with mysticism, Sigismund II surrounded himself with magicians and sorcerers, hoping they could help him regain his lost health due to his indulgent and disorderly lifestyle. The king understood that no one could bring back his second wife, but he still attempted to communicate with her spirit. According to legend, the famous sorcerer Pan Twardowski agreed to summon Barbara's ghost, with the condition that Sigismund II would only observe and not touch the spirit. However, when the king saw his deceased wife, he rushed towards her, and the ghost immediately disappeared, leaving Sigismund II mad.

Sigismund II August, the Polish ruler, passed away on July 7, 1572, ending the ancient Jagiellonian dynasty. Prior to his death, he spent years consumed by grief, engaging in carnal pleasures with various women, and surrounding himself with sorcerers and witches. He squandered his treasury, as evidenced by chronicles revealing the lack of funds for his funeral. Despite the many unsavory aspects of his biography, Sigismund II's devotion to the beauty of Barbara Radziwill became an enduring source of inspiration for artists and poets of different eras. According to legend, Barbara's ghost continues to wander the palace-castle complex located in Nesvizh.

It remains unknown if anyone has truly managed to summon Barbara's spirit or whether she was indeed poisoned by Bona's order. However, there is a hypothesis that Barbara Radziwill may have sought treatment for infertility or a venereal disease. Medications of that time often contained poisonous substances such as arsenic or mercury, which could have had severe consequences.