Thursday, December 19, 2013

Władysław the Elbow-high

Władysław the Elbow-high was honored
with a 500-Złotych gold coin in 2013
You may remember the story of the Carolingian king Pepin the Short; not a great nickname to have if you want to gain the respect of your people. Well, what if you were so short that you were called "Elbow-high?" That was the unfortunate nickname of a king of Poland.

Władysław I* (c.1260-2 March 1333) was so short that his nickname was "elbow" as in "elbow height." He was named King of Poland long after the death of his father, Casimir I. It was a position he was going to have to work for. Poland had long before been divided into different provinces. Władysław inherited one from his father, gained two more as his brothers died, and then set out to gain control of all the provinces and reunite Poland.

He had opposition. Although the province of Greater Poland had originally supported him, they switched their loyalty to Wenceslas II of Bohemia, who was crowned King of Poland in 1300. Władysław went to the pope to press his claim, but Boniface VIII was no help. He continued his campaign of invading and uniting provinces, taking over Lesser Poland and Pomerania; in 1314 he re-conquered Greater Poland and held it, despite an attack from John of Luxemburg, the King of Bohemia.

In 1318 he tried once again to gain support for becoming King of Poland. This time, Pope John XXII (who also wielded political power in this case) gave his support. Keeping Poland was not easy. He managed, however, to subdue the perennially bothersome Teutonic Knights, and he married one son to a Lithuanian, helping to stop Lithuanian raids into Poland. His reign was an important stage in reuniting Poland under one ruler.

*He was First or Fourth, depending on which historian you ask and whether they stick with a single dynasty or blend all historical rulers with the same first name together.

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