The biggest mystery

One of the biggest mysteries in Polish history is the sudden fall of the king Boleslaw the Generous (Bolesław Szczodry), regarded as one of the most talented of the Piast dynasty rulers and the last in line of the Piast founders of the Polish state.

Boleslaw the Generous (best known as Boleslaw the Bold), lived from 1042 (?) to 1081, and in the years 1076-1079 he was crowned Polish king. The nickname “generous”, given to him during his life, refers to his enormous and legendary generosity. His main contribution to Poland consisted of attempts to halt the expansion of Germans and gaining independence from the Empire of Germany and also the carrying out of such a foreign policy that would create a favorable position for Poland’s political alliances in Hungary and Russia. He supported papacy in the dispute over Pope Gregory VII and emperor Henry IV. On the painting: Boleslaw the Generous by Jan Matejko (19th century drawing).

 He managed to gain political independence from Germany thanks to his crowning in the year 1076. .Unfortunately, when the successes in foreign policy strengthened the position of Poland, in 1079 there was an unexpected fall of the king, who was forced to emigrate. The causes still remain unknown. It is known, however, that the immediate cause was the killing of bishop Stanislaw (on the picture: 16th century portrait of the bishop) for acting against the king, but the essence of the conflict will stay forever only a sphere of conjecture and speculation. The person who could obtain valuable information from surviving witnesses of the tragedy, Gallus Anonymous, preferred to be discreet. In the oldest Polish chronicle, known as the “Chronicle of Gallus Anonymus,” he wrote (to the annoyance of many historians) only as follows:

          The reason for the expulsion of Polish King Boleslaw would be discussed for a long time, so you can say only that with himself being anointed of God, he should not have [other] anointed for no sin punished physically. It very much hurted him when applied sin against sin and for the treason condemned the bishop for truncation of his members. And we nor do justify the bishop the traitor, nor do we recommend the king, who so nastily came his right – but let’s leave these things (…)”


                  The murder of the bishop Stanislaw, Jan Matejko

Hypotheses on the subject are different. It has been said that the cause may have been about the rebellion of noblemen because of conflicting economic interests (the king’s war primarily provided income to the State Treasury), the resistance against the centralization of power or because of the repression against the rebellious knights who left him in the war against Kievan Rus’ (breaking the obligation of fidelity to the king). Most likely, bishop Stanislaw sided of the opposition against the king, for which he was branded a traitor and was condemned to have his hands and feet cut off. The study of the bishop’s skull unearthed in 1963 showed that the cleric could have died from a blow to the head. It later created the legend that king had killed the bishop himself because he was very angry at Stanislaw for chastising him for inappropriate conduct towards his subjects as well as causing a public scandal. The bishop had also cast a curse on the ruler. (Note that the legendary version of killing the bishop in front of the altar of the Cracow church in Skałka, what is shown on the painting by Jan Matejko, reminds us of the later death of English bishop Thomas Becket so the legend could be influenced by this event.)

Some say however it was just an execution which led later to rebellion against the king. Boleslaw the Generous remained in power for a few months only, after which he was forced to go along with his wife and son Mieszko into exile. (Polish throne was then taken by his brother Wladyslaw Herman, for whose son –Boleslaus Wrymouthed – Gallus Anonymus dedicated his chronicle, which somewhat explains his aversion to the broader discussion of these unfortunate events.)

The exiled king decided to settle in friendly Hungary, where, however, immediately offended king Wladyslaw before dismounting from his horse at their greeting. It later created the legend of  poisoning the hapless Boleslaw by Hungarians (The king really died as a young man at just forty years of age). How he spent his last years is not known. According to some legend he spent the rest of his life as a monk in an Austrian Ossiach in Carinthia, where at the cemetery you can see the tombstone of a horse without a saddle with an inscription around: Rex Boleslaus Polonia occisor sancti Stanislai Epi Cracoviensis (Boleslaw Polish king, the assassin of St. Stanislaus, bishop of Kraków).


Alleged tomb of Boleslaw the Generous in Ossiach 

Studies have shown, however, that the tomb contains remains of a woman. Other hypotheses claim that remains of the king were brought to the Polish Tyniec abbey in 1086 by his returning wife and son, but proving it is impossible today. Happiness was also not conducive to his son Mieszko II, who died in 1089 at the age of 20. Full of praise for his virtues Gallus Anonymus suggests that Mieszko was poisoned. The death of Boleslaw and his son completed the first Piast dynasty and left Poland without being crowned ruler until 1295.

Much more luck was bestowed on bishop Stanislaus, who has since been recognized as a saint, and from the 12th century is surrounded by a cult. He now rests in a silver sarcophagus in the Chapel of Wawel.

           The sarcophagus of St. Stanislaus in Wawel Cathedral

 Renata Głuszek

 Foto: Vikipedia