Little girls who admire fictional princesses should learn more about St. Jadwiga, the real-life princess who was one of Poland’s holiest and greatest rulers.
Born in 1373 in Budapest, Hungary, Jadwiga was the youngest daughter of King Louis the Great of Hungary and Poland, and Elizabeth of Bosnia. Her grandmothers were both princesses of the Piast dynasty of Poland.
Warring factions, changing borders, multiple alliances between kingdoms — Jadwiga lived in complicated times. Before her father the king died, he made arrangements for his daughters to rule as “kings” after his death since he had no sons.
There was conflict about who would ascend the throne after he died, but eventually Jadwiga’s mother chose her as successor. Jadwiga was crowned “king” of Poland in 1384. She was the first female monarch of that country. (Her sister Mary had been crowned “king” of Hungary in a separate alliance.) The title of king safeguarded the throne for those in power in Poland; it meant that the nobility could only recognize any future husband of hers as king with their approval.
At first, Jadwiga’s parents planned a marriage to William of Austria for her. However, deaths and differing alliances caused this plan to fall through. An arranged marriage was then set up for her with Jogaila of Lithuania, a pagan. He agreed to convert to Christianity and sealed the deal by signing the Union of Krewo treaty, uniting their countries. He later changed his name to Wladyslaw. He was subsequently crowned king, while she reigned as queen. Poland was ruled by two equal sovereigns.
Jadwiga was greatly admired, a charming, warm woman of deep faith, loved by royalty and the common people. She was known as a peacemaker in the ever-conflicted region, and was also known for her generosity and kindness. She attended daily Mass and had a deep devotion to Mary. She supported building new churches and restoring older ones, and sponsored the building of hospitals. Quite boldly, she supported the use of vernacular in prayer, had Scripture translated into the Polish language, and promoted hymns sang in Polish as well.
There are legendary stories about to Jadwiga’s holiness. One story is known as the “miracle of Jadwiga’s foot.” It’s said that she gave a piece of jewelry from her foot to a poor stonemason as a gift, and the imprint of her foot remained in the plaster where she stood at that moment, despite the fact that it was dry. It is also said that Jadwiga prayed in front of a cross in Wawal Cathedral, and that the corpus spoke to her. The cross still stands and is called Jadwiga’s Cross. Yet another story recounts the drowning of a young boy who came back to life after Jadwiga covered him with her cloak.
Jadwiga died from complications from childbirth on July 17, 1399. She was buried together with her daughter, who did not survive the birth, in Wawal Cathedral.
Despite her reputation for holiness, she was not canonized until June 8, 1997.
St. Jadwiga is the patron saint of queens.
Her feast day is July 17.
A short film made about her for World Youth Day 2016: http://archive.krakow2016.com/en/saint-jadwiga-queen-of-poland.html
A much more extensive biography detailing the royal history of the time and region is available at Catholic Online here: https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=3701
Apparently there is a computer game, Civilization VI, which features Jadwiga as one of the characters. https://civilization.com/