07 August, 2015

Edward II, Duke Henryk and 14th-Century Murals at Siedlęcin (Guest Post)

Today, I'm delighted to welcome the lovely Kasia Ogrodnik, who runs a fab site about Edward II's great-great-uncle Henry the Young King, to the blog!  Today she's not talking about Henry, but about some fantastic fourteenth-century wall paintings which fortuitously exist to this day in Poland.


The first had the makings of a good ruler in him, but instead of the tedious business of kingship, he preferred doing the things that made him happy and fullfilled. The second was always busy safeguarding the borders of his small duchy in the heart of Europe, but with the makings of an artist in him. The first is one of the most maligned kings in English history, the second is the unsung hero standing alone against the foreign domination. To the first we owe two Oxbridge colleges: King's Hall at Cambridge University and Oriel College at Oxford University, to the second we owe the beautiful wall paintings depicting the legend of Sir Lancelot of the Lake preserved in his tower at Siedlęcin, at present the only ones in the world that can be seen in situ. The first probably never heard of the second, for Silesia was one of the most divided and fragmentated regions of the 14th-century Europe and, with the notable exception of the Bohemian kings, nobody even tried to remember the names of its dukes, but even if so, the second must have heard of the first, if not of his turbulent reign then certainly of his forced abdication and alleged death. Today I am going to take a closer look at King Edward II of England and his contemporary, Duke Henryk I Jaworski [Henry I of Jawor]. 

Tomb effigy in the town hall of Lwówek Śląski, depicting with all probability Duke Henryk and his wife Anežka (photo: Ludwig Schneider)

When the twenty-three-year-old Edward of Caernarfon, prince of Wales, duke of Aquitaine, earl of Chester and count of Ponthieu, ascended the throne of England after the death of his father in July 1307, duke Henryk (b. 1292-1296) was staying under care of his lady mother Beatrix, daughter of Otto V the Long, Margrave of Brandenburg-Salzwedel, till December. Henryk's father, Duke Bolko I the Strict, died six years previously, on 9 November 1301, when his three surviving sons were all minors. In December 1307, however, more less at the same time when Edward's beloved Piers Gaveston was holding a splendid tournament at Wallingford during which he managed to offend half of the realm, Henryk's elder brother Bernard came of age and oficially took care of his younger siblings. Henryk remained under his protection till 1312.

In February 1312, Edward was staying at York where on the 20th he took part in the churching ceremony of his niece, the wife of his beloved Piers Gaveston, Margaret de Clare, who forty days earlier gave birth to a daughter Joan, and where his queen, Isabella, joined him. Celebration that followed was paid for by the king. Piers had just been recalled by Edward from his third exile. It was in York where Edward and Isabella's son, the future King Edward III (b. 13 November 1312) was conceived. At the same time, in a far away Silesia, Henryk, now in his late teens, oficially began his independent rule. The duchy was to flourish under his rule (next to his brother Bernard's Duchy of Świdnica it was one of the richest regions in Central Europe).Whereas 1312 proved fatal for both Piers Gaveston and Edward - the former was murdered on 19 June on the orders of the nobles, the latter went into deep mourning for his dead friend - it must have been full of promise for the young Henryk, for he got vigorously to work. One of the first things he did was launching an ambitious building project in the village of Siedlęcin [the then Rudgersdorf], north-west of Jelenia Góra. At present the tower that was put up there is not only a rare surviving example of the medieval residences of this type, but also one of the best-preserved in Central Europe. It stands 22 metres high, in a lovely spot of fresh green and the Bóbr River lazily winding its way through the surrounding meadows. Initially it was a standard representative-defensive keep with its top crenelated. Thanks to dendrochronological research the archeologists were able to determine that the trees used for ceiling construction had been cut down in 1313 and 1314, so 700 years ago! The roof that can be seen today is a later addition - dendrochronological research proved that the trees for its ceilings were cut down in 1575.

Ducal tower of Siedlęcin (source: Internet)

In the years to come, when Edward was still mourning for Piers, Henryk joined forces with the anti-Luxembourg coalition formed by the nobles of Bohemia disgruntled with their new king John [later know as the Blind] and married Anežka Přemyslovna [Agnes of Bohemia], the daughter of the late Valclav II, king of Bohemia and Poland, and granddaughter of Przemysł II, king of Poland. At the time of the wedding, in 1316, Anežka was eleven years old and stayed with her mother, Queen Dowager Ryksa Elżbieta, till 1319 when she arrived in her husband's duchy and the marriage was consummated. Nine years later, on 24 August 1325, when in England Edward had a payment made to Jack Pyk, a valet of the chmaber "on the information of the king's little Knife" (the nickname for one of the king's chamber staff), Henryk and Anežka, who were within fourth degrees of consanguinity, finally obtained dispensation from Pope John XXII. As for the hostilities that broke out in 1316, they marked the beginning of over twenty years of Henryk-John conflicts, with the latter attempting to assert feudal supremacy over the lands of the former.

The unique Lancelot paintings preserved in the former Great Hall of the Tower (courtesy of the ducal tower of Siedlęcin)

In the 1320s Edward alienated most of the nobles of the realm, wreaked vengeance on those who participated in the Contrariant Rebellion and got himself involved in a number of pointless feuds with his bishops, all this with Hugh Despenser the Younger on his side. The latter was so high in Edward's favour, so powerful and so hated that he provoked the Marcher lords into a series of attacks on his lands, known today as the Despenser War. When he was captured with the king in 1326, his fate was sealed. So was Edward's. The king was deposed and allegedly murdured in 1327. The echoes of those events must have reached Silesia. Unfortunately, we will never learn what Henryk thought about it. It seems that at the time he was busy planning his major undertaking. Preserved monuments and names of the Arthurian characters given to the sons of the Silesian noblility indicate that the Arthurian legends were known at the courts of medieval Poland and Silesia, but Henryk was the first Piast ruler to comission Arthurian paintings in one of his seats. It seems, however, that whereas the Plantagenets were interested in using the Arthurian material for political purposes, just as Edward's father in his fight against Llywelyn ap Gruffyd, Henryk seemed to have had the walls of his great hall painted chiefly for esthetic purpose and his own pleasure. Perhaps it was also a matter of prestige. Anyway, his financial problems might have stemmed from his grand projects, the building of the tower and comissioning of the murals. One of the theories holds that whoever he was, the author of the beautiful Lancelot paintings came to Świdnica and Jawor in the 1340s, with the wife of Duke Henryk's nephew, Agnes von Habsburg (1315-1392). Agnes was the daughter of Duke of Austria, Leopold I from the House of Habsburg, and Catherine of Savoy, which meant close ties with Switzerland. Historians point out that there were close analogies between the Siedlęcin paintings and the ones existing around Zurich and Konstanz at the time. Of course the Swiss connections might have been established earlier which would mean that the murals were painted long before 1338. Needless to say, today they truly are one of a kind.

Duel between Lancelot and Tarquin (courtesy of Hannibal Smoke: Emplarium)
By 1335 John the Blind of Bohemia made all the Silesian dukes pay homage to him, all except Henryk and his young nephew, Bolko II the Small of Świdnica [Schweidnitz]. Henryk and John eventually came to terms, but Henryk never bowed his neck under the yoke of the king of Bohemia. He remained independent ruler until his death in the spring of 1346. Ironically, King John, Henryk's greatest opponent, died only a few months later, fighting bravely at the Battle of Crécy . It is fascinating to speculate whether Edward might have heard about the battle, after all his son won a great victory over the French that day. If he still lived, he must have been in his sixties, leading a peaceful life of a hermit in Italy.

Lancelot sleeping underneath the apple tree (courtesy of Hannibal Smoke:Emplarium)


Thank you so much, Kasia, for that fascinating post! Here is the link to the medieval Ducal Tower in Siedlecin: http://www.wiezasiedlecin.pl/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=97&Itemid=101


Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik said...

Thank you, Kathryn! I am honoured.

Sami Parkkonen said...

Thank you Kasia, interesting stuff! Thanks Kathryn too.

Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik said...

Thank you, Sami. I am glad you have find it interesting. Duke Henryk was an exceptional man. And his paintings - a marvel to behold :-)

Kathryn Warner said...

I agree! The paintings are marvellous and I'm thrilled they've survived. I've found it so fascinating to learn more about what was going on in Poland at Edward's time. As far as I can remember, Leopold of Austria attended Edward and Isabella's wedding, and John the Blind's sister Marie married Isabella's brother Charles IV, so there are connections :-)

Joan said...

Fabulous post Kasia! What an interesting slant, bringing Edward II & Duke Henryk together. The paintings are very well preserved, aren't they? Such a marvel. Thank you Kathryn & Kasia.


Anerje said...

Enjoyed this guest post. The Arthurian legends spread far and wide, and captured the interest of many!

Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik said...

I am happy to read that you enjoyed the post, Joan and Anerje. It was quite a challenge, but a great fun too. Almost like putting the pieces of a big jigsaw puzzle together :-)

Yes, the paintings are marvellous!

Kathryn Warner said...

Posting a comment from a reader who's had difficulties posting it herself:

Thanks for an interesting post, Kasia. How did you become interested in Henry the young king? Or will that question be answered if I make my way over to your blog? My knowledge of Polish history is largely from reading James A Mitchener's "Poland". It was an interesting read but I have forgotten much of it because it is at least 25 years since I read it. I did learn a little (admittedly a very little) of Polish history as part of European history in 6th form. I remember we learned about "the golden silence" though again my memory has become somewhat rusty but I can always get a book and refresh it (my memory that is). I agree with other posters that the wall paintings are lovely.

Patricia O

Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik said...

Dear Patricia, indeed you are going to find the answer to your question on my blog. It's a long story :-)
I will be happy if my post renews your interest in Polish history.

Warmest regards,