Barbara Radziwiłł

Barbara Radziwiłł bigraphy, stories - Queen consort of Poland, Grand Duchess of Lithuania

Barbara Radziwiłł : biography

6 December 1520 – 8 May 1551

Barbara Radziwiłł ( , ; 6 December 1520 – 8 May 1551) was Queen of Poland and Grand Duchess of Lithuania as consort to Sigismund II Augustus.


Barbara died in 1551, in Kraków, five months after her coronation. Her death was a severe loss to the King, and there was an unproven suspicion that she had been poisoned by the Queen Mother, Bona. It had been Barbara’s wish to be buried in Lithuania, and a funeral cortege conveyed her body to Vilnius, where her crypt is found in Vilnius Cathedral.



Her romance and later marriage in 1547, in Vilnius, to Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland Sigismund II August, the last monarch of the Jagiellon Dynasty, greatly increased the power of the Radziwiłł family in Poland and Lithuania, as may be seen in the rise to power of Mikołaj "the Black" Radziwiłł and Mikołaj "the Red" Radziwiłł.

There was substantial opposition to her marriage to the King from many nobles, as the marriage was carried out without regard to the laws governing royal marriages. It was pursued by the King, who seemed to have disregarded the political liabilities and consequences and to have been truly in love with Barbara. A divorce was demanded by the Sejm, and many political maneuvers took place around the question of the marriage, and were further inflamed by the machinations of the King’s mother, Bona Sforza. This resulted in conflicts between the King and many magnates and lesser szlachta. A deadlock ensued, lasting two years. The opposition finally acquiesced, and Barbara was crowned Queen on 7 December 1550.

Early life

Barbara was the daughter of a powerful magnate of the Radziwiłł family, castellan, voivode and hetman of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania Jerzy Radziwiłł, and Barbara Koła.

According to the writings of her contemporaries, Barbara was one of the most beautiful women in Europe. She was tall for her times (162 cm, or 5′ 4"), with a slim, shapely body, blonde hair and even white teeth. Moreover, Barbara had an interest in fashion and cosmetics; she used perfumes and face powder. She had been well educated by her parents and spoke Lithuanian, Ruthenian (Old Belarusian), and Polish and could write in these languages. She was married on 18 May 1537, to Stanislovas Goštautas, Voivode of Nowogrodek and later Voivode of Trakai, who died on 18 December 1542.

In culture

Barbara’s life and death have inspired legends, paintings, literary works and film. The popular legend of Pan Twardowski has that Faust-like figure summoning Barbara’s ghost for King Zygmunt August. In 1817 Alojzy Feliński wrote a tragedy, and in 1858 Antoni Edward Odyniec a drama, Barbara Radziwiłłówna. A 19th-century lithograph by Michał Kulesza depicting her with pearls is considered among the painter’s notable works.

In 1983 Janusz Majewski directed a film, "Epitafium dla Barbary Radziwiłłówny" (Epitaph for Barbara Radziwiłł) about Barbara’s romance with King Sigismund II August, her death and her posthumous return to Vilnius. Anna Dymna starred as Barbara, and Jerzy Zelnik as King Zygmunt August.

Barbara has also appeared as a major character in the Telewizja Polska television series, Królowa Bona (Queen Bona).

In Lithuania, in 1972, Juozas Grušas wrote a play, Barbora Radvilaitė. Directed at the Kaunas State Drama Theater by Jonas Jurašas, in the Soviet period the play was very popular for its sense of intellectual resistance to the Soviet-backed regime.

Modern Belarusian writer Maryja Martysievič wrote several poems called Barbara Radziwil’s LiveJournal and put it in an actual blog . Verses were translated into Polish, Lithuanian and partially into Russian and Ukrainian. Verses were also included in her book Cmoki latuć na nierast (lit. Dragons fly away for spawning).