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Bolesław I the Tall

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Noble family
House of Piast

Agnes of Babenberg

Wladyslaw II the Exile

Boleslaw the

Boleslaw I the Tall
Zvenislava of Kiev Christina

8 December 1201(1201-12-08) Lesnica

Cistercian monastery in Lubiaz

Boleslaus I the Tall (Polish: Bolesław I Wysoki) (b. 1127 – d. Leśnica, 7 or 8 December 1201) was a Duke of Wroclaw from 1163 until his death in 1201.


Bolesław I the Tall photosgenicomp13ea0e03895344483d2136d509k

He was the eldest son of Władysław II the Exile by his wife Agnes of Babenberg, daughter of Margrave Leopold III of Austria and half-sister of King Conrad III of Germany.

Early Years

Bolesław spent his childhood in the court of his grandfather and namesake, Bolesław III Wrymouth, in Płock. It was not until 1138, after the death of Bolesław III, that he moved with his parents to Kraków, which became the capital of the Seniorate Province, ruled by his father as High Duke and overlord of Poland.

The reign of Władysław II was short and extremely stormy. The conflicts began when the High Duke tried to remove his half-brothers, the Junior Dukes, from his districts. According to the chronicler Wincenty Kadłubek, the confrontation between the siblings was mainly instigated by Władysław II's wife, Agnes of Babenberg, who believed that her husband, as the eldest son, was the rightful sole ruler of the whole country. On the other hand, Salome of Berg-Schelklingen, widow of Bolesław III and Władysław's stepmother, who attempted to form alliances with foreign rulers and took every opportunity to secure the reign of her sons, feared that the Junior Dukes had been relegated from their positions to make way for Władysław's sons, the young Bolesław and his brother Mieszko.

The conflict erupted in 1141, when Salome of Berg, without the knowledge of the High Duke, decided to leave her sons the land of Łęczyca and tried to give her youngest daughter Agnes in marriage to one of the sons of Vsevolod II Olgovich, Grand Prince of Kiev. Władysław was, however, faster and gave the Grand Prince several additional political advantages, as a result of which the marriage of Bolesław with the daughter of Grand Prince Vsevolod, Zvenislava took place in 1142.

Trip to Ruthenia

The Polish-Ruthenian alliance soon proved to be extremely important in the struggle between Władysław II and the Junior Dukes. The final outbreak of the conflict took place after the death of Salome of Berg in 1144. It seemed that the victory over the High Duke - thanks to his military predominance - was just a matter of time. Władysław II was confident enough of winning at home that he sent Bolesław to aid the Grand Prince Vsevolod II during a revolt against him.

However, Bolesław's expedition to Kiev ended in a complete disaster, when the Grand Prince died of disease. This created a general confusion in Kiev. In the critical year of 1146, he had to return to Poland fast to help his father. The few troops which Bolesław recruited were not enough to stop the general rebellion against Władysław II, who was completely defeated by the Junior Dukes. The deposed High Duke and his family initially escaped to the court of Duke Vladislav II in Prague in Bohemia.

Unsuccessful attempt at restoration

After a short time in Bohemia, Władysław II and his family moved to Germany, where King Conrad III (half-brother of Agnes) offered his hospitality and assistance toward the High Duke's restoration. At first, it seemed that the exile would just be for a few months, thanks to the family connections of Duchess Agnes; however, the hurried and insufficiently prepared expedition failed to cross the Oder River), and finally failed because of the strong opposition of the former Władysław II's subjects and the problems of Conrad III in Germany caused by his extended travels. The King gave Władysław II and his family the town of Altenburg in Saxony. This was intended as a temporary residence, but they spent the rest of their lives there.

Knight at the court of Conrad III and Frederick Barbarossa

Tired of a tedious life in Altenburg, Bolesław travelled to the court of his protector, King Conrad III. With him, the young Polish prince extensively took part in German political affairs. In 1148 he joined in the Second Crusade with Conrad III, during which he visited, among other places, Constantinople and the Holy Land.

Conrad III died in 1152 without having secured the return of Władysław II to Poland. His successor was his energetic nephew Frederick Barbarossa, whose service Bolesław almost immediately joined. The first action of the new German ruler, however, was not to help Władysław II, but instead to march against Rome to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor. Bolesław accompanied him.

Expedition of Frederick Barbarossa to Poland

It was not until 1157 that the Emperor finally organized an expedition against Poland. It is unknown whether Władysław II and his sons directly participated in the expedition. However, despite the military victory and the humiliating submission of Bolesław IV to Frederick Barbarossa, Władysław II was in the end disappointed, as the Emperor decided to maintain the rule of Bolesław IV and the Junior Dukes in Poland. Two years later, on 30 May 1159, the former High Duke died in his exile in Altenburg.

Restoration of the Silesian Inheritance

Despite his dissatisfaction at the Emperor's treatment of his family, Bolesław remained at the side of the Emperor, participating in his many wars. From 1158-1162 he took part in the Barbarossa's expedition to Italy, where he won fame after killing a well-known Italian knight in a duel on the walls of Milan.

Bolesław's faithful service to the Emperor was finally rewarded in 1163, when Barbarossa - this time through diplomacy: by signing an agreement in Nuremberg, Germany - finally succeeded in restoring to the descendants of Władysław II their inheritance over Silesia. Bolesław IV agreed to accept the return of the exiled princes because, after the death of Władysław II, his sons, without any support in Poland which could directly affect his authority, could only count with the Imperial support and in this way, while they did not represent any concrete danger for him, the High Duke could maintain Barbarossa far away from Poland.

However Bolesław IV decided to maintain the security of his lands and retain the control over the main Silesian cities (Wroclaw, Opole, Racibórz, Głogów and Legnica).

After almost 16 years of exile, Bolesław returned to Silesia with his second wife, Christina (Zvenislava had died around 1155); his elder children, Jarosław and Olga; and his younger brother Mieszko Tanglefoot. The youngest brother, Konrad, remained in Germany.

Bolesław and Mieszko initially ruled jointly and two years later (1165) both retook the major Silesian cities handed back by the High Duke and obtained full control over all Silesia. However Bolesław, the eldest brother held overall authority. Three years after taking control over Silesia, Bolesław felt strong enough to lead a retaliatory expedition against the High Duke Bolesław IV, to recover supremacy over Poland.

Rebellion of Mieszko Tanglefoot

Bolesław's exercise of overall power at the expense of his younger brother caused the revolt of Mieszko Tanglefoot in 1172. In a major disturbance in the Silesian ducal family, Mieszko supported Jarosław, the eldest son of Bolesław, who was resentful against his father because had been forced to become a priest due to the intrigues of his stepmother Christina, who wished her sons to be the only heirs. The rebellion was a complete surprise to Bolesław, who was forced to escape to Erfurt, Germany. This time, Frederick Barbarossa decided to support Bolesław with a strong armed intervention to restore him to his Duchy. Eventually Mieszko III the Old was sent by the High Duke to calm the fury of the Emperor and keep him away from Polish affairs. Mieszko gave Barbarossa 8000 pieces of silver and promised him the restoration of Bolesław, who finally returned home at the beginning of 1173. However, despite his reconciliation with his brother and son, he was forced to divide Silesia and create the Duchies of Racibórz (granted to Mieszko) and Opole (to Jarosław).

Rebellion against Mieszko III the Old

Four years later, it seemed that Bolesław was close to achieving the main objective of his life, the recovery of the Seniorate, and with this the title of High Duke. He conspired with his uncle Casimir II the Just and his cousin Odon (Mieszko III's eldest son) to deprive Mieszko III the Old of the government. The coup gained the support of Lesser Poland, which was mastered by Casimir and shortly afterwards the Greater Poland sided with Odon. However, Bolesław suffered a sudden and surprising defeat by his brother Mieszko and his own son Jarosław; this left the way free for Casimir II to be proclaimed High Duke; Bolesław again escaped to Germany. Thanks to the mediation of Casimir II, Bolesław returned to his Duchy without major troubles in 1177; however, he suffered a further diminution of his authority when he was compelled to give Głogów to his youngest brother Konrad.

Retirement from political affairs

After this defeat, Bolesław retired from the Polish political scene and concentrated his efforts on the rule over his Duchy. The death of his brother Konrad in 1190 without issue made possible the return of Głogów to his domains.

During the last years of his reign, Bolesław devoted himself to economic and business activity. Colonization, initially from poor German areas, substantially accelerated the economic development of the Duchy, and was continued by his son Henry I the Bearded. Bolesław founded the Cistercian Abbatia Lubensis abbey in Lubiąż with the collaboration of monks from Pforta, across the Saale River in Thuringia. Later the abbey became the Silesian Ducal burial place.

Papal Bull and death

To safeguard his lands from other Piast princes, in 1198 Bolesław obtained a protective Bull from Pope Innocent III. There was a reconciliation between Bolesław and his eldest son, Jarosław, recently elected Bishop of Wrocław. This enabled him, after Jarosław's death on 22 March 1201, to inherit Opole, which was again reunited with his lands.

Bolesław survived his son by only nine months, and died on 7 or 8 December 1201 in his castle of Leśnica. He was buried in the Lubiąż Cistercian monastery which he had founded.

Marriage and issue

In 1142 Bolesław married his first wife Zvenislava (d. ca. 1155), daughter of Vsevolod II Olgovich, Grand Prince of Kiev. They had two children:

  1. Jarosław (b. aft. 1143 – d. 22 March 1201)
  2. Olga (b. ca. 1155 – d. 27 June 1175/1180)

By 1157, Bolesław married his second wife Christina (d. 21 February 1204/1208), a German; according to the historian Kazimierz Jasiński, she was probably a member of the comital house of Everstein, Homburg or Pappenheim. They had seven children:

  1. Boleslaw (b. 1157/63 – d. 18 July 1175/1181)
  2. Adelaida Zbyslava (b. aft. 1165 – d. 29 March aft. 1213), married in 1177/82 to Děpolt II, a Přemyslid prince.
  3. Konrad (b. 1158/68 – d. 5 July 1175/1190)
  4. Jan (b. 1161/69 – d. bef. 10 March 1174)
  5. Berta (b. ca 1167 – d. 7 May aft. 1200?)
  6. Henry I the Bearded (b. 1165/70 – d. Krosno Odrzanske, 19 March 1238)
  7. Władysław (b. aft. 1180 – d. 4 June bef. 1199)


In Polish and German historiography there exists a controversy about the relations between Silesia and the Holy Roman Empire in the early Medieval period. According to some German historians the date of 1163, when Bolesław and his brothers were allowed to return to Silesia, is considered to be the moment when Silesia separated from Poland and became part of the Holy Roman Empire.

On the other hand, Polish historians claim that Exile's sons who were allowed to return by the High Duke of Poland Bolesław IV the Curly were simply typical Piast dukes who ruled in the divided Kingdom of Poland. (see more in Differing views of the Silesian Piasts).


Bolesław I the Tall Wikipedia

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