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A Difference of Opinion: A look at Boleslaw I of Poland

One of the most interesting things about medieval chronicles are the points where they disagree. There are many examples I have come across, but here I am choosing two very different opinions on the reign of Bolelaw I, the first King of Poland. He reigned from 992 to 1025, first as Duke of Poland, and then taking the title of King in 1025 just before his death.

Boleslaw’s reign was quite an eventful one, for it saw the establishment of the Catholic church in Poland, and the Polish state’s emergence as a major player in Eastern European affairs. The frequent wars of Boleslaw included conflicts with the Holy Roman Empire.

The first account is from the Annals of Kamenetz, a territory under Polish rule. The following is their entry for the year 1025, and while it does not explicitly state that Boleslaw had died, it offers this obituary:

Boleslaw, called the Brave, being his father Miesko’s only heir, also a grandson of Boleslaw, the Duke of Bohemia as well as the King of Hungary's brother-in-law, and he took courage after them. With a rod of iron, he expanded the Polish eastern borders as far as Kiev, and western ones as far as the Saale. He supported God's Church, set up bishoprics, strengthening it with grants, including lands, even among county administrators, common countryman or bondsman of the land, eradicated idolatrous cults. He brought common peace (peace among Christians) as well as the truth of God. ‘

This account notes his connections with other rulers, Boleslaw’s military victories, and his support of the Catholic Church.

Next, we turn to the Annals of Quedlinburg, a nunnery located in present-day central Germany. After noting the death of Holy Roman Emperor Henry II in 1024, here is their account for the following year:

Boleslaw, duke of Poland, having heard about the death of Emperor Henry, rejoiced to the core of his heart and he became overwhelmed with so much venom of pride that he unwisely accepted the anointment and put the crown on. However, for that insolence and arrogance of his soul soon there was a divine punishment. As in a short time he was also touched by the sad punishment of death.

The nuns’ opinion of Boleslaw is quite hostile, which is not unexpected considering the frequent warfare that took place in the region between Poland and the Holy Roman Empire. Here the Polish ruler is presented as an unjust ruler who gets punished by God for being crowned a king.

You can read the English translations of these two sources as part of Annales Sacri Romani Imperii: Roczniki Rzeszy, by Grzegorz Kazimierz Walkowski, which was published in 2014.

Top Image: A 16th century depiction of Boleslaw

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