The Lost Fort
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The History of Ogrodzieniec Castle, Part 1: Beginnings unto the Boner Family
After the virtual tour of Ogrodzieniec Castle in Poland I posted in December, let's have look at the history of those fascinating ruins.
Ogrodzieniec Castle seen from the south
with outer wall, Footman's Tower (left), Hen's Leg, Beluard Bastion and Prison Tower
Regular readers will know that I always try to fnd out details about the history of the castles and other historical sites I've visited. It proves a bit more difficult with Czech and Polish castles, since I'm not as well acquainted with the history of the eastern central European countries as I am with Germany or the United Kingdom. But I'm busy reading up on the subject. Another problem is the lack of sources in languages I can read, especially in the case of local history (1).
Rock foundations of the Tall Castle
It had been assumed that a timber fortress mentioned in the sources preceeded the stone castle, but findings on the neighbouring Birów Hill now point at the first castle having been located there. Traces of earth and timber walls, at least two towers, and a domestic building have been found there, while no traces of timber works - like post holes - were discovered on the site of the present castle.
This first castle may have been called Ogrodzieniec as well, since the word means 'walled in area'. It had been built at the time of Duke Bolesław Wrymouth who ruled Poland from 1102 to 1138. Châtellenies, consisting of castles - usually still constructed of timber - surrounded by settlements were a typical feature of the Polish administration at the time; the lords of the castles organised the local economy and jurisdiction, and offered shelter in case of war.
Limestone formations in the outer yard
It likely was that first castle and the settlements which were destroyed during the invasion of the Mongols in 1241. The first Mongol invasion destroyed Volga Bulgaria and conquered several Russian principalities like Kiev and Vladimir. The Golden Horde reached central Europe in 1240. One of the three armies swept through southern Poland, culminating in the Battle of Legnica where the combined forces of several Polish duchies and members of the Teutonic Knights (2) were defeated on April 9, 1241. Duke Henryk II Pobožny ('the Pious'), one of the leaders, was killed. Another Mongolian army conquered Hungary at the same time. Only the death of the Great Khan Ögedei called the armies back.
Outer curtain wall with sally port
At that time, Poland had been divided into several duchies governed by members of the Piast dynasty. Bolesław Wrymouth († 1138) had produced a bunch of sons and decided to split the country between them, with the younger ones answering to the eldest, the dike of Krakow, according to the senioral principle. That didn't work out in the long run, of course; there was a lot of internecine strife and even some wars between the successors of those dukes.
Duke Henryk II Pobožny was the duke of Silesia, and since 1238 also Duke of Kraków and thus High Duke of Poland, as well as regent of the duchies of Sandomierz and Opole-Racibórz. He was the only son of Henryk the Bearded and Hedwig of Andechs, a comital house of Bavaria. Henryk Pobožny was married to Anna of Bohemia, of the Přemyslid dynasty.
With his death, the hope of a reunited Poland under his rule was crushed. Even his own Silesia was divided into several smaller duchies among his offspring and would eventually come under Bohemian supremacy in 1335.
The castle seen from the north
Another attempt to unite Poland was made under Przemysł II, a grandson of Henryk Pobožny (Przemysł's mother Elżbieta of Wrocław was Henryk's daughter) who became duke of Greater Poland, the ancient kernel of Poland around Poznań and Gniezno, which had later been replaced by Kraków. He added Pomerania to the realm and was crowned king in 1295.
But after his death followed another period of instability until Władysław I Łokietek (the 'Elbow-High'), from another branch of the Piast dynasty, managed to unite Poland. He became king in 1320. His son Kasimierz Wielki, Casimir III the Great (crowned 1333) would be one of the most important kings of Poland. He expanded the realm eastwards to include parts of what today is Ukraine; he founded the first Polish university at Kraków, furthered trade and the development of towns, and reformed the juridical system and the army.
It was under the rule of Casimir that the oldest part of present Ogrodzieniec Castle was built as part of the Eagle's Nests line of defense along the border to Silesia, now in Bohemian possession. Casimir gave the castle to Przedbórz of Brzezie, the marshal of the kingdom and obviously a close advisor of the king. Przedbórz first served as provincial governor of Sieradz, a former duchy in Greater Poland and important trade center. Unfortunately, I could not find out more about Przedbórz.
Since the oldest buildings in Ogrodzieniec, the Tall Castle (see virtual tour) offered quite some amenities, and included representative rooms, one can assume that Przedbórz lived in the castle at times. The Gothic style of the architecture must have looked very modern and even daring at the time.
Lord's Yard, view towards gate and south wing
The next time we can trace Ogrodzieniec Castle in the course of history is another feudal transaction. The castle obviously had fallen back to the crown with Przedbórz' death, because Casimir's successor, Władysław Jagiełło granted it - together with other estates - to Włodek of Charbinowice, the Cracow cup bearer, in 1385. This is confirmed by the chronicle of Jan Długosz; the only mention of this historical detail (3).
The Cup Bearer (cześnik) had been a court office in both Poland and Lithuania including the responsibility for the wine-cellar and service at the table. It became a honorary court title in both countries in the 14th century.
According to Długosz, Włodek of Charbinowice had been involved in the negotiations about the Polish-Lithuanian Union and the marriage to Jadwiga that would gain Jogaila/Jagiełło the crown of Poland. The castle could have been a reward.
The castle was still in possession of the Włodek family in 1454. A Bartosz Włodek of Ogrodzieniec was among the prisoners the Teutonic Knights took after the battle of Chojnice in northern Poland (September 1454). It was one of the battles fought during the Thirteen Years War between the Prussian Confederation and the Teutonic Knights (see post about the history of Danzig linked above). The battle was a defeat for the Prussian Confederation; several high ranking Polish nobles were killed, and a great number of nobles and minor knights taken captive.
Gate Tower, upper floors
Another name connected with Ogrodzieniec Castle is Jan Pilecki (4). He was the son of Elżbieta Pilecka-Granowska and Wincenty of Granowski. His mother later would become queen of Poland.
A bit of geneaology again: Jadwiga, Władysław Jagiełło's first wife died early, and he remarried three more times. The wealthy widow Elżbieta was already in her later 40ies, past childbearing, with scandal clinging to her name (5). Not the sort of wife the Polish nobility wanted their king - still without a male heir - to take. But the marriage seems to have been a happy one. Elżbieta died in 1420. Jagiełło, already aged 60something, then married the young Sophia (Sonka) of Halshany who gave him two sons: Władysław III King of Poland and Hungary, and Casimir IV Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland (from 1447).
Casimir strove to appoint men loyal to him and who would back his war against the Teutonic Knights to important offices. One of those was his half-brother Jan Pilecki, who became palatine of Kraków in 1459, which was a break of tradition according to R. Frost (there seems to have been a line for certain offices, and Jan got ahead).
It is likely that Jan Pilecki sometimes stayed at Ogrodzieniec Castle during his time as palatine. For one, he was responsible for the military defense of nearby Kraków, and it is also possible that Bartosz Włodek still languished in a prison of the Teutonic Knights, so Jan might have had to administer the castle and lands.
Hen's Leg (left), Beluard Bastion and Prison Tower
The Włodek family was back in Ogrodzieniec some time before 1470, but they got into financial troubles (maybe the ransom for poor Bartosz played a role in that) and had to sell the castle in 1470. The buyer were two rich burghers from Krakow: Ibram and Piotr Salomonowicz. The names of the buyers sound Jewish, but such a transaction was indeed possible under Polish law. The situation of the Jews in Poland was somewhat better compared to the western European countries (6).
The property the Włodek family sold included castle and town of Ogrodzieniec and a number of villages, as well as the titles to farms, manors, pastures, woods, etc. The sold everything for eight thousand Hungarian florins of pure gold, and renounced all rights and titles to the aforementined porperties.
The Salomonwicz brothers may have seen the purchase of Ogrodzieniec and the adjacent lands as an investment rather than a residence, since the owners / residents of the castle changed several times after 1482, and it's difficult to trace the net of sales and pawns of the castle and the lands in those years. Obviously, even the Włodek family got involved again and held Ogrodzieniec in the early 1520ies.
The Footman's Tower
In 1523, Ogrodzieniec Castle was bought by Jan Boner. He and his successors made a number of architectural changes to the castle. The enlarged the south wing, built the Renaissance style west wing that would later bear their name, changed the site of the entrance and added the gate tower.
Jan Boner's successors expanded the place by adding the Hen's Foot bastion and the Beluard (see also first post). The Boner familiy added a system of galleries and balconies to the main courtyard, in the style of the Wawel Castle in Kraków.
The final residence encompassed 32,00 cubic metres and was richly furnished with Flemish tapestries, mahogany furniture, crystal and silver tableware and other 16th century luxuries.
Reconstructed timber arcades in the Economic Courtyard
The Boner family originated from Landau, a town in what is today Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany. The family moved to Wrocław in Bohemian Silesia in the 1460ies. Jan Boner - also known as Hans Boner - set up a business in Kraków in 1483, still a young man in his early twenties. He dealt in timber, livestock and spices, and founded branch offices in other towns in Poland, Germany, Hungary and Russia. Soon he delivered silver to the royal mints and got involved in loan operations. Jan Boner was elected to the city council of Kraków in 1498.
Boner also cooperated with the Polish kings John Abert (Jan Olbracht) and Alexander Jagiellon (Aleksander Jagiełłończyk), both sons of Casimir IV and Elisabeth of Austria of House Habsburg. They were succeeded by Sigismund the Old (King Zygmunt I Stary), another son of Casimir and Elisabeth, who ascended to the throne in December 1506.
View from Boner's Library
There's a connection with the Teutonic Knights, one of the topics that appeared several times on this blog (there will be more posts about them als well):
Sigismund's sister Sophia of Poland (Zofia Jagiełłonka) was married to Frederik Margrave of Brandenburg. One of their sons, Albert, became Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights and, after another war with Poland and the Lutheran secularization of the order, was created Duke of Prussia and accepted the former lands of the order as fief from his Uncle Sigismund in 1525, as result of the Treaty of Kraków.
Boner's Wing seen from the other side
Jan Boner fared exceedingly well under King Sigismund. He was granted Polish citizenship in 1514, and the following year became manager of the salt mines of Wieliczka near Kraków. The income from those mines made up a large part of the Polish economy, therefore the position showed a great deal of trust by the king. King Sigismund elevated Jan Boner and his familyto the polish nobility in 1520 and made him the royal governor of Kraków in 1522.
During the previous years, Boner - now one of the wealthiest men in Europe - had become the king's main banker. He strengthened the royal treasury with funds of his own and managed to recover it from the verge of bancruptcy. He also bought royal possessions (castles, villages etc.) out of debts and pawns. Most important, Boner separated the royal treasury from the state treasury, and persecuted misuse of funds, bribery and other corruption wherever he discovered it.
Boner also was a patron of scholars and artists, like so many rich Renaissance people. He died in 1523 and was succeeded by his nephew Seweryn, who inherited his uncle's financial talent and followed him as manager of the Wieliczka salt mines.
Boner's dining room
It was Seweryn Boner who put the most effort into the house makeover of Ogrodzieniec Castle. The castle later became the residence of one of Seweryn's sons, Stanisław, who had no heirs. So the castle came to his sister Zofia who had married Jan Firlej, the governor of Lubin and later Crown Marshal. Jan Firley added the Beluard Bastion and the dry moat in the 1560ies.
The next owner was their son and heir Mikołaj, the governor of Kraków. His son Jan had no children either, and gave the castle to his cousin Andrzej Firlej. Andrzej decorated the interior in the Baroque style (though few traces are left today) and built the marble hall on top of the Beluard Bastion.
It would be the last time of glory for Ogrodzieniec Castle. The following times saw the decline of the Jagiełłonian dynasty, wars with Habsburg and Sweden, and the destruction of parts of the castle. A second part about the later history of Ogrodzieniec Castle will follow.
Rooms in the Beluard Bastion
1) In this case I had to rely on the short history in the guidbook mentioned in the first post about Ogrodzieniec, and the following websites: Castles Today: Ogrodzieniec and the Medieval Heritage: Podzamcze website. The English Wikipedia site is unreliable. I did some cross-checks with the history books in my collection when possible.
2) The participation of military knights seems not to have been as important as some sites makes them. William Urban only says that there might have been a contingent of Teutonic Knights present at the battle. The presence of Templars, as Wikipedia states, seems unrealistic; they were probably confused with the Teutonic Knighs.
3) The Castles Today website considers the information reliable, only the exact date is unconfirmed. Długosz seemingly had a habit of playing lose with the dates (and he would not be the first).
4) The Castles Today plays lose with the dates as well, it seems: It dates the sojourn of Jan Pilecki in Ogrodzieniec Castle to 1492 which is impossible since Jan Pilecki died in 1476. I follow the information given by Robert Frost for my interpretation. (If there was indeed a Jan Pilecki involved in a financial transaction that included Ogrodzieniec castle in 1492, he can't have been the son of Elżbieta Pilecka-Granowska.)
5) She was married several times, but the exact number is disputed. There was an abduction involved, and she might have lived with one man without marriage.
6) While the Polish Jews were legally situated more equal to the Christians than in other countries, the situation was not perfect. There were local progroms in Poland as well (one of those forced the Jews of Kraków to resettle in the Kazimierz suburb in 1495 after a disastrous fire, for example) but most Polish kings strove to protect them. When the Jews were expelled from Spain, Austria and Germany in 1492, a significant number migrated to Poland in the following years. See also this post.
Nora Berend, Przemysław Urbańczyk and Przemysław Wiszewski: Central Europe in the High Middle Ages. Bohemia, Hungary and Poland c. 900 - c. 1300; Cambridge Mediaeval Textbooks, 2013
Almut Bues: Die Jagiellonen. Herrscher zwischen Ostsee und Adria; Kohlhammer-Urban, Stuttgart 2010
Robert Frost: The Oxford History of Poland-Lithuania, vol. 1, The Making of the Polish-Lithuanian Union 1385-1569; Oxford 2015, paperback ed. 2018
Eduard Mühle: Die Piasten. Polen im Mittelalter, München 2011
William Urban: The Teutonic Knights. A Military History, 2003; reprint by Frontline Publ. 2018
The Lost Fort is a travel and history blog based on my journeys in Germany, the UK, Scandinavia, and central / eastern Europe. It includes virtual town and castle tours with a focus on history, museum visits, hiking tours, and essays on Roman and Mediaeval history, illustrated with my own photos.
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All texts and photos (if no other copyright is noted) are copyright of Gabriele Campbell.
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- Name: Gabriele Campbell
- Location: Goettingen, Germany
I'm a blogger from Germany with a MA in Literature and History which doesn't pay my bills, so I use it to research blogposts instead. I'm interested in everything Roman and Mediaeval, avid reader and sometimes writer, opera enthusiast, traveller with a liking for foreign languages and odd rocks, photographer, and tea aficionado. And an old-fashioned blogger who still hasn't got an Instagram account.
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