Louis I the Great was King of Hungary, Croatia, and Poland in the mid 14 century. A fierce warrior able to unite Hungary and Poland and inspire stability throughout his lands, there was one battle he was unable to win: producing a male heir.
Instead, he had three daughters with his wife, Queen Elizabeth of Bosnia. Making the best of his situation, on his death bed he made prelates and lords from Greater Poland swear fealty to his eldest daughter Mary, and her fiancé, Sigismund of Luxemburg.
The lords of Lesser Poland however were not happy with the arrangement, because Mary had already ascended the Hungarian throne and they said they would only be obedient to a daughter of King Louis if she was to reside in Poland. Now-queen consort Elizabeth proposed to send Jedwiga there and have her crowned instead of Mary.
When Elizabeth had Jedwiga sent to Kraków for her coronation, she arrived in the city to a large crowd of clergy, nobleman, and burghers who had gathered “to greet her with a display of affection.”
On the 16th of October in 1384, Jedwiga was crowned King (not queen!) of Poland by Archbishop Bodzanta. She was crowned king because Polish common law at the time had no provisions for a female queen, but in the same manner no provisions the king had to be male.
Two years later at the age of 12, a series of political machinations led to her marriage to Duke Jogaila of Lithuania, their union in turn uniting Poland, Lithuania, and Ruthenia into one political unit under a diarchy.
She would rule in that capacity, as king, for just 13 short years before her death in 1399 following post-pregnancy complications, four days after her newborn daughter had died. On her deathbed, she was hailed as the spiritual mother of the poor, weak, and ill of Poland.
Throughout her reign, while her husband handled the political responsibilities of the diarchy, her passion was in charitable works. She sponsored the works of great authors and artists, donated much of her wealth to establish hospitals, sponsored students so they could attend university, reestablished the Krakow University, and built many more schools.
She greatest passion, however, was to bettering Christendom. She was called “the most Christian queen,” known for her religious zeal. She attended Mass daily and was especially devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, praying incessantly for her protection over Poland. In Poland, she promoted the use of vernacular in church services – especially the singing of hymns. She even had the Bible translated into Polish and distributed.
Soon after her death, Jedwiga was venerated throughout Poland. Traditions holds two major miracles attributed to her intercession accounting for her saint hood, that of “Jadwiga’s cross” and “Jadwiga’s foot.” Read below:
“Jadwiga often prayed before a large black crucifix hanging in the north aisle of Wawel Cathedral. During one of these prayers, the Christ on the cross is said to have spoken to her. The crucifix, “Saint Jadwiga’s cross”, is still there, with her relics beneath it. Because of this event, she is considered a medieval mystic. According to another legend, Jadwiga took a piece of jewellery from her foot and gave it to a poor stonemason who had begged for her help. When the king left, he noticed her footprint in the plaster floor of his workplace, even though the plaster had already hardened before her visit. The supposed footprint, known as “Jadwiga’s foot”, can still be seen in one of Kraków’s churches. In yet another legend, Jadwiga was taking part in a Corpus Christi Day procession when a coppersmith’s son drowned by falling into a river. Jadwiga threw her mantle over the boy’s body, and he regained life.”
On the 8th of June in 1979, Pope Saint John Paul II prayed at her tomb in the Wawel Cathedral of Kraków. 7 years later, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments beatified her on August 8th in 1986. JPII went on to canonize Jedwig a Saint in Kraków on June 8th, 1997.