The King is dead mourned the great bell in Wawel Cathedral, where the black crucifix hung, and the king is dead echoed the Wisla river below. The grim-faced nobles of the Sejm had already begun to gather; the king’s health had been fragile since the premature birth of her daughter, already dead a week hence.
The Grand Duke has been and gone already, Wladyslaw Jagiello as we must call him now, Jogaila, his sky-worshipping countrymen would have it. Jogaila, who saw my King rarely, who ate apart. Who, a decade ago, hid his country behind the skirts of a ten year old girl.
She was never afraid. Or not that she would show. Even in death she looks brave, my Jadwiga. And at peace, as we bathe her and prepare her for her last enthronement.
“When she was ten years old,” I say to Agnieska, washing her fingers, “we came here from Buda. She was horrified.”
“And betrothed to Willem of Austria,” Kasia adds, at her feet.
“He came to see her. They turned him away.” It is important to me, this story. Not because of Willem, none of us care about another Hapsburg prince, not really, but because it is a story that does not speak of gentleness, humility. They will tell those stories in years to come, I know: giving her jeweled shoe-buckle to the mason’s son. There is a hollow full of rainwater at the church, where they say she rested her foot. I don’t want to tell the kind stories tonight, the Church’s stories. I want to tell them how it was with her, my child-king, who led us to battle twice. I want them to remember her fire, her determination. She was, however briefly, our King.
“She tried to climb out the window to see him.”
“No!” Kasia was too young to remember, then. The window was too high, the cliffs too stony. But we had to bar the door.
“She battered at that door so hard, we thought she had an axe.” Not that it would have done her any good; a child against the wooden doors of Wawel Castle.
“But she married the Grand Duke instead,” Agnieska says, casting about for a hairbrush.
“And bribed me, the night before,” I laugh, “to spy on him in his bath. He was only just baptized; the rumors made him out a great hairy man. She swore she’d jump out the window truly, that time.”
I know that when we’ve laid her to rest under the black crucifix where she so often prayed they’ll say God spoke to her. How else would a girl accomplish what she did? They’ll say she was blessed, and kind, and loved her people and all this is true, but she loved them with the heart of a Piast, which is a heart of fire. It drove her great-uncle Kazimierz to conquer his own country and reunite it. It brought Boleslaw Chrobry to us as our first King. And Jadwiga as our last.
“What will become of us?” Kasia again, so young, so young. Not so young as my lady was when the crown was placed on her brow, when she stood alone before the Sejm as King.
“Jagiello will rule,” I tell her. “He bargains with the nobles; he cannot afford to lose Poland. He needs our armies to retake Lithuania from the Teutonic Knights. Jagiello will lead us to war.”
Agnieska scowls and pins a plait in place as I straighten the laying-out gown. The fine linen is perfect, smooth, not like the wrinkled linen and wool of my King’s restless life. We have no orb and scepter with which to bury her; she sold them to the moneylenders for funds to start a university. Replacements are being carved from wood.
She will be laid to rest in the cathedral, her feet pointing west. Her body will be buried with stone and, eventually, time.
But they won’t bury her fire with kind words, not if I can help it.
* Jadwiga of Poland was crowned King in 1384 or 1385 (sources vary). After her death in 1399, her husband Wladyslaw Jagiello bargained with Polish nobles to retain his crown. The resultant document largely resembled the Magna Carta and shaped Polish politics until the Partitions of the late 18th century. Jadwiga was canonized in 1997 by Pope John Paul II. I love the idea of remembering her for the wild things she did as well as her works of kindness.