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Henryk I the Bearded

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Henryk I the Bearded

Henry I the Bearded
19th century portrait by Jan Matejko
High Duke of Poland
Reign 1232–1238
Predecessor Konrad I of Masovia
Successor Henry II the Pious
Duke of Silesia
Reign 1201–1238
Predecessor Bolesław I the Tall
Successor Henry II the Pious
Spouse Hedwig of Andechs
Henry II the Pious
Konrad the Curly
House Silesian Piasts
Father Bolesław I the Tall
Mother Christina(?)
Born c. 1165
Głogów, Duchy of Silesia
Died 19 March 1238
Krosno Odrzańskie
Burial Trzebnica Abbey

Henry I the Bearded (Polish: Henryk I Brodaty; ca. 1165/70 – 19 March 1238), of the Silesian line of the Piast dynasty, was Duke of Silesia at Wrocław from 1201 and Duke of Kraków and thus High Duke of all Poland — internally divided — from 1232 until his death.


Heir of Wrocław and beginning of reign

Henry was the son of Duke Bolesław I the Tall of Silesia, by his second wife Christina, a German noble lady. He was born in Głogów (Glogau), Lower Silesia, the fourth son of the ducal couple, and in consequence he had little chance to inherit any land. However, the premature deaths of his older brothers Bolesław, Konrad and Jan (between 1174 and 1190), also given that his older half-brother Duke Jarosław of Opole was forced into an ecclesiastical career by the intrigues of his stepmother Christina, enabled him to become Bolesław's heir. As a result Henry began his preparations in the politics affairs under his father. Through his marriage with Hedwig of Andechs, Henry became related to the rulers of Germany, Hungary, Bohemia, and France.

At the time of the death of his father, on 7/8 December 1201, Henry was well prepared to take over the government. However he soon encountered some difficulties. At the beginning of 1202 his uncle, Duke Mieszko IV Tanglefoot of Upper Silesia, in a surprise attack took the Duchy of Opole (Oppeln) of Henry's late half-brother Jarosław. Mieszko desired more lands, including those of Henry, but could not acquire these, faced with the opposition of the church, who strongly supported Henry. Thanks to the intervention of the Archbishop of Gniezno, Henry Kietlicz and the Bishop of Wrocław, Cyprian, Henry maintained his frontiers, although he had to pay 1,000 pieces of his silver to his supporters.

Relations with the Hohenstaufens, Wittelsbachs, Welfs and Přemyslids

When the Holy Roman Empire was in the middle of the struggles between the Staufer and the Welfs, at first, Henry wasn't directly involved in this fight. However, his daughter Gertrude was eventually betrothed to the Bavarian Pfalzgraf Otto VIII of Wittelsbach, then a loyal follower of the House of Hohenstaufen — probably due to some political pressure from his wife Agnes, a member of the ducal House of Andechs, who were strong supporters of the Staufer. Generally Henry's strategy was to remain neutral as long as possible and wait for the conflict to tip one way or another.

As a result, in 1204 Henry decided to break the betrothal of his daughter with Otto VIII. This was done in order to please the new German Staufer king Philip of Swabia who wanted his own daughter to marry Otto. However, very soon the German king changed his mind about a possible marriage of Otto VIII to one of his daughters. Otto VIII, humiliated, swore revenge. Europe was shocked in 1208 when the brutal murder of King Philip by Otto VIII occurred. These events fundamentally changed the political situation in Germany and resulted in the unexpected victory of the Welf Otto IV of Brunswick in the fight for the throne and the collapse of the importance of Henry's wife's relatives. The relations with Bohemia were only normalized around 1218, after the marriage of his son Henry II with King Ottokar I's daughter, Anna Przemyślidka.

Involvement in politics of the Polish duchies

In the course of the next years, Henry began his active participation in Polish affairs. In 1202 the Polish High Duke Mieszko III the Old from the Greater Polish branch of the royal Piast dynasty died, which brought an opening for Henry to make his entrance onto the political scene. Two opposing groups emerged: on one side, Henry's uncle Mieszko IV Tanglefoot with the son and successor of Mieszko III, Duke Władysław III Spindleshanks of Greater Poland, and on the other side the other Junior Dukes: Leszek I the White of Sandomierz and Konrad I of Masovia, sons of late High Duke Casimir II the Just, who wanted to maintain the autonomy of their duchies, as well as Władysław's III nephew Władysław Odonic fighting for his Greater Polish inheritance against his uncle. In this increasing conflict Henry once again wanted to remain neutral, although he most likely sympathized with the aims of the Junior Dukes.

Soon, however, the circumstances forced him to get more involved. Władysław III Spindleshanks had assumed the throne at Kraków but was deposed in 1206. Leszek I the White became High Duke and Duke of Kraków. The loss of the Seniorate Province forced Władysław III to change his alliance (he wanted to increase his presence in West Pomerania), and therefore proposed to Henry an extraordinary transaction: the exchange of the territories of the Silesian Lubusz Land for the Greater Polish Kalisz region. Henry gladly took advantage of this favorable offer, but soon this resulted in more political confusion. Władysław Odonic had been expecting to receive this same land from his uncle Spindleshanks and this decision shut him out. Odonic counted on the support of the church, which was headed by the sympathetic Archbishop Henry Kietlicz of Gniezno. However, Władysław III Spindleshanks proved to be stronger and managed to have his two opponents, Odonic and the Archbishop, exiled. These events placed Henry in a difficult situation because he had a debt of gratitude to the Archbishop, who helped him in the beginning of his reign. After a brief hesitation, he decided to support the decision of Władysław III. On the other hand, he gave the newly acquired land of Kalisz to Odonic, except for Poznań. This policy clearly contributed to the deterioration of Henry's relations with Władysław III, although this didn't last for long. In 1208 a meeting was arranged in Głogów, during which his bonds with Władysław III were reconfirmed.

In 1210 the political scene in Poland was disturbed by Pope Innocent III's Bull which excommunicated High Duke Leszek I the White. This fact was used by Mieszko IV Tanglefoot, who quickly conquered Kraków and took the title of High Duke for himself. The Bull was issued by the request of an anonymous Duke of Silesia, which could have only been Henry I (because Mieszko IV used the title of a Duke of Racibórz-Opole). The situation became quite confused, as nobody was sure who held the real power.

Archbishop Henry Ketlicz — who had returned from exile some time before — decided to call a synod in Borzykowa, where he tried to find a solution to this delicate issue. At the convention, in addition to the hierarchy of the church, Henry and the other Junior Dukes were also present. Leszek I the White, wanting to regain the support of the church, along with other Piast princes, bestowed a Great Privilege on the clergy, which ensured the integrity of territorial possession of the bishops (the privilege wasn't signed by Henry and Władysław III, but they did comply with the provisions established there). Mieszko IV Tanglefoot wasn't present in Borzykowa. However he went with his army to Kraków, where the confusion among the citizens as to who was actually in charge resulted in him taking the capital without a fight. This was the zenith of the success of Mieszko; he died in May of the following year. Only then did Archbishop Kietlic manage to make an appeal to Rome in order to obtain the reversal of the Bull. Henry, although he was now the oldest Junior Duke, directed his attention elsewhere. Leszek I the White returned to Kraków without any major difficulties.

After the Papal Bull affair, Henry opted for a far-reaching cooperation with High Duke Leszek I the White and Duke Władysław III Spindleshanks of Greater Poland. The principles of their pact had been established in a 1217 meeting in Dańkowie and then a year later in Sądowlu. Each member of this Piast triumvirate (which later also included Leszek's younger brother Konrad of Masovia) had brought some mutual benefits to the alliance. Władysław's inclusion brought about an immediate restitution of Lubusz Land and Leszek's formal sovereignty over the rest of the country. Over the next few years the three dukes cooperated very closely.

The main motive for the treaty between the three however, was the crusading expeditions against the pagan Baltic Old Prussians. These crusades were organized in 1222 and 1223, but despite a large financial effort both failed. It was probably after that that Henry, thanks to his contacts in Germany, came up with a proposal to bring in the Teutonic Knights to Poland. Called by Duke Konrad I of Masovia, they entered in the country in 1226.

The First War of Lubusz

The reason that Henry resigned his claim to Kraków was the seizure of Lubusz Land by Margrave Konrad II of Lusatia. Although Lubusz had belonged to Duke Władysław III Spindleshanks since 1206, he lost it soon after, and the possession of this land directly affected Henry's sovereignty. It's not surprising, therefore, that he quickly decided to send his forces to the Polish western border. Initially, he tried to settle the dispute peacefully. Toward this purpose, he sent ambassadors to the court of Emperor Otto IV at Altenburg in order to obtain the return of Lubusz to Silesia. They returned without a response, and so Henry decided to organize an armed expedition. Ultimately, the situation was happily resolved in his favor, when on 6 May 1210 Margrave Konrad II died, and Henry could take Lubusz and also the Lusatian town of Guben he held on to at least until 1218.

The Attempt to gain the Kraków throne in 1225 and the Second War of Lubusz

In 1223 the Piast alliance was finally broken. In Greater Poland, Władysław Odonic, with the help of Duke Swietopelk II of Pomerelia, his brother-in-law, managed to conquer Ujście. Problems with Władysław III effectively prevented the continuation of the treaties. At the same time, in 1225, Henry surprisingly broke the treaty and entered Kraków.

However, an outright war between Leszek and Henry did not break out because of an attack by the Landgrave Louis IV of Thuringia on Lubusz which forced Henry to retreat. At the same time, in order not to lose land to Władysław III, Henry decided to come to an agreement with Leszek and his ally, Konrad of Masovia. The content of the new treaty, signed on the banks of the Dłubną River is unknown, but probably all the parties agreed to maintain the status quo. The struggles for Lubusz intermittently continued until 1230, after Margrave Louis' IV successor Henry Raspe resigned his rights over the region in 1229 and sold his claim to the Magdeburg Archbishop Albert I of Käfernburg. As a result Henry was finally able to add this strategically important area to his duchy, although he did this without the consent of Duke Władysław III of Greater Poland. Henry also managed to obtain another asset; a castle in Cedynia, conquered after a local conflict with Duke Barnim I of Pomerania.

The Congress of Gąsawa. Death of Leszek the White

Main article: Gąsawa massacre

In 1227 Leszek the White finally decided to resolve the increasing problems with his relatives. To that end he organized an assembly of Piast Dukes at Gąsawa. At the meeting, Władysław Odonic and Henry assisted Leszek and his brother Konrad of Masovia. For unknown reasons, Władysław III of Greater Poland did not go to Gąsawa, despite the fact that because of his dispute with Leszek his presence was crucial for a successful conclusion of the summit. Another important point of discussion at the meeting was, according to Leszek, the overly independent behavior of Duke Swietopelk II, a member of the Pomerelian Samborides dynasty, who had declared himself independent from Polish vassalage. The High Duke demanded a serious reprimand for Swietopelk, or his complete removal from the duchy. However, Swietopelk II (probably with the help of Władysław Odonic) decided to attack first, at Gąsawa. On 23 November 1227, Leszek the White and Henry were trapped in an ambush; Leszek was killed and Henry was seriously wounded, and saved his life only thanks to his faithful knight Peregrinus of Wiesenburg, who covered him with his own body. This act started a new power struggle for the Polish throne.

Henry I, Governor of Krakow

Leszek the White left a one-year-old son, Bolesław V the Chaste, but until he reached the proper age, the rule over Kraków had to be taken over by someone else. The most serious candidate from the beginning seemed to be the Duke of Greater Poland, Władysław III, whose opportune absence at the Congress of Gąsawa saved him from the ambush. Now suddenly there appeared a chance for him to retake Kraków and the title of High Duke. However, the Lesser Polish nobility refused to support him and sided with Leszek's brother Duke Konrad I of Masovia. In the Duchy of Sandomierz the situation was no less complex. There, the young Bolesław V was declared the rightful heir under the regency of his mother Grzymislawa of Luck, with the help of local nobles. It soon became clear that it was urgent to recognize the sovereignty of one of the candidates over Kraków and with this, the over lordship of Poland. In the beginning, it seemed that Władysław III had the upper hand in the fight for Kraków, especially after the Congress of Cienia Pierwsza near Kalisz on 5 May 1228, where he granted several privileges to the church and promised to respect the old laws. However, the situation became more complicated when his nephew Władysław Odonic rebelled against him. This forced High Duke Władysław III to focus his attention in Greater Poland and as a result Henry was elected to rule Kraków, but not as a sovereign Duke, only as a Governor of the High Duke. The reason for this election was his military support for Władysław III. As part of the deal Henry also obtained the promise and recognition of the High Duke that he, Henry, and his descendants were to be the heirs of Greater Poland.

Loss of Lesser Poland; imprisonment

In the course of the succession after Leszek I, a war between Henry and Duke Konrad I of Masovia erupted in 1228. In the beginning Henry was successful as he managed to repel Konrad's attempts to invade his realms in the Battles of Międzyborzem, Skałą and Wrocieryżem. Shortly thereafter however, the situation changed drastically. Henry, a strong supporter of High Duke Władysław III, had problems ruling the Kraków nobility. Part of the reason for their resistance was that Henry had to split his time as ruler of his Silesian Duchy and as a governor of Kraków and a portion of the nobles thought he favored the first of these.

Henry, wanting to end the conflicts, in 1229 arranged a meeting with Konrad in Spytkowice. This proved to be one of Henry's worst ideas: during the mass, he was captured by Konrad's knights and several of his followers were wounded when they tried to save him. He was abducted and imprisoned at Płock Castle.

With this advantage in his hands, the Duke of Masovia marched against Greater Poland. Although he suffered a defeat at the walls of Kalisz, some time later he managed to score a victory over Władysław Odonic who was his senior as he was the sovereign of Greater Poland. Władysław III managed to escape to Upper Silesian Racibórz, while Konrad, without major obstacles, entered Kraków and took the title of High Duke. Konrad's triumph seemed complete. The war wasn't yet over however, because Silesia remained independent thanks to the strong resistance of Henry II the Pious, Henry's I eldest surviving son and heir, who became the regent of the duchy after the capture of his father. The Silesian regent soon began to prepare an armed expedition against Lesser Poland.

The intervention of Duchess Hedwig and the apparent abandonment of Kraków

The real help for Henry came from a completely unexpected source. His wife Hedwig of Andechs came to Płock and held a talk with Konrad. The exact details of these talks are unknown, but Konrad, who wanted a good image in the European courts, finally decided to release Henry if he promised to renounce his rights to Kraków. Later, the Pope freed him of this promise as it was obtained under threat of force.

All the same, the war had been suspended, although this did not mean that Henry lost his interest in the affairs of the Lesser Polish Seniorate Province. There, important events were taking place, primarily an increasing discontent with the uncompromising rule of High Duke Konrad among the nobility. Furthermore Konrad also held proceedings against the young Bolesław V, who was deprived of his Duchy of Sandomierz which Konrad gave to his own son, Bolesław. Henry had then the perfect excuse for revenge, and together with Władysław III planned a military expedition for the recovery of Greater Poland.

Death of Władysław III Spindleshanks. Henry I, High Duke of Poland

The expedition against Konrad, undertaken in 1231, ended in a defeat at the walls of Gniezno; but, luckily for Henry, Władysław III died unexpectedly in Środa Śląska, killed by a German girl whom he tried to rape. As he had no issue, his only heir in Greater Poland was Henry. However his authority in these areas was immediately contested. At first, Henry decided to take care of the fate of Lesser Poland, especially after the death of his cousin Duke Casimir I of Opole and the minority of his sons Mieszko II the Fat and Władysław Opolski, both under the guardianship of their mother Viola. He decided to take the regency of Opole on behalf of the infant Dukes, in view of the strategic location of their Duchy on his way to Kraków, and also certainly they helped him to fight. But the most important card in the next conflict wasn't in the hands of Henry and Konrad, but Lesser Poland noble House of Gryfici who decided to support the Silesian Duke. Not without significance was the support which Henry gave -when he was Governor of Kraków- to Grzymislawa of Luck, widow of Leszek the White; fearing for the future of the inheritance of her infant son Bolesław V, she surrendered the regency of his Duchy of Sandomierz to Henry. Konrad obviously didn't intend to fight with the enormous popularity of Henry's government in both Silesia and Lesser Poland. In 1232, Henry entered Kraków and was proclaimed High Duke and overlord of Poland, and with this, he finally recovered for his Silesian Piast dynasty the title and power which his grandfather Władysław II the Exile had lost in 1146.

The First Attempt to gain Greater Poland. Precarious settlement with Konrad of Masovia

In 1232 Henry also had an opportunity to gain Greater Poland, and launched an offensive against Władysław Odonic, who was also a claimant this land. The invasion was a failure, however, as a result of inaction of the Silesian nobility and support from the Church of Odonic. In his war for Lesser Poland, however, he had a complete success. In 1233 Henry and Konrad of Masovia signed a treaty in Chełm. Under the terms of this agreement, he had to resign henceforth any pretension over the Lesser Poland lands of Łęczyca and Sieradz, but in return received recognition of his rule over Kraków and the title of High Duke. Also, Henry was confirmed in the regency of Sandomierz on behalf of Bolesław V, a post which Konrad tried to obtain after he ordered the imprisonment of the infant Duke and his mother. Only thanks to the Gryfici's efforts, Bolesław and Grzymislawa could escape and return to their lands. The struggles over Lesser Poland continued, however, until Henry's death.

The Second War with Władysław Odonic for Władysław III's Inheritance

In summer 1234 Henry the Bearded decided to re-intervene in Greater Poland. This time the campaign was totally different to the expedition of two years earlier. Above all, it was because Władysław Odonic lost the support of the nobility, giving part of the royal prerogatives to the Archbishop of Gniezno, Pełka. The success was complete and Odonic, wanting to save his power and convinced by the Archbishop, agreed to made an agreement with Henry: he received the half of Greater Poland up to the Warta River, from Kalisz and Poznań; shortly after, he installed there his son and heir, Henry the Pious, as a Duke. On the other hand, in Lesser Poland, the borders were less secure. The military mutual support between Henry and Odonic was tested in 1235, when Henry managed to recover Wladyslaw's castle in Śrem, in defense of which Borzivoj, son of the deposed Duke Diepold II of Bohemia was killed.

The control of Opole was vital to Henry, because this territory, through which all major commercial tracks from Wrocław to Kraków were made, was extremely strategically important. In 1234 Henryk decided to separate (under his authority) between the Upper Silesian co-Dukes Mieszko II and Władysław the Ziemia wieluńska as the common frontier, in return for which he assumed direct control over Opole.

Efforts to obtain the Royal Crown. Attempt to secure his son's Succession

The conquest of Greater Poland caused later Polish historians to call Henry King of all Poland and the most powerful Piast Prince of his time. Unfortunately, this wasn't consistent with his real territorial and political state. Actually, each principality was an independent title, and only in Lower Silesia was his authority strong enough to not worry about his succession. The continuous rebellions of Konrad of Masovia and Władysław Odonic forced Henry in 1234 to designate his son Henry II the Pious as the heir to the throne. After that, Henry was styled Duke of Silesia and Kraków, and his son Duke of Silesia and Greater Poland. He also made an agreement with the Lesser Polish nobility, who could assure the succession of his son. In order to achieve full protection of the possession of Kraków in his bloodline, Henry began efforts towards the coronation of his son as a King of Poland. To this end, he established contacts with the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II of Hohenstaufen. However, the increasing conflicts with the church and his own death prevented this idea.

Internal Politics

In internal politics Henry maintained the power of the other Piast Dukes under his control. In order to neutralize the growing power of the nobility, he sought to promote Knighthood. Also, he started to restrict the role of land officials, especially chastellains. The complete elimination of the nobility was impossible, and for this, Henry based their government on the support of noble families, like the Gryfici.

The relationship with the Church wasn't good all the time. In many cases Henry decided to give concessions, but at the end, by one way or other, the conflict arose again. At the end of his life, the conflicts were even more complicated.

During his reign, Henry also improved the economy and infrastructure of his lands by supporting the immigration of German settlers (Ostsiedlung), mainly from the home of his wife, Franconia and Bavaria. Although it is alleged that this policy contributed to the significant Germanization of Silesia, some historians believe that was a common fact during the 13th century and Henry was misunderstood as a result of this. Colonization of Germans didn't cover only Silesia (which prospered considerably thanks to that), but also a dozen other towns or villages in his duchy; in consequence, Henry had to create new town laws for the new foreigners; the first was granted in 1211 in Złotoryja (Goldberg).

Death and Considerations

Henry died in 1238 in Krosno Odrzańskie (Crossen an der Oder) and was buried in the Cistercian church of Trzebnica (Trebnitz) which he had founded in 1202 on the request of his wife.

Henry the Bearded is considered by historians as one of the most prominent Piast Princes from the period of Poland's feudal fragmentation. However, all his work was destroyed only three years after his death due to a completely unexpected event; the Mongolian invasions. In general historians agree that if the disaster at the Battle of Legnica had never happened, Poland would have been united in the middle of the 13th century, and avoided the territorial losses that occurred. As a capable politician Henry managed to make Silesia one of the most powerful states of fragmented Poland, and also tried to maintain peace in Greater and Lesser Poland during a period of considerable changes in Western Europe. One contemporary chronicler called him An honest man who only thought to be useful to his people. His personal emblem was a white inverted-cross in the middle of the arc, in the form of white and black eagle on the wings; this remained as the emblem of Silesia.

Marriage and issue

By 1188, Henry married Hedwig of Andechs (ca. 1174 – Abbey of Trebnitz, 15 October 1243), daughter of Duke Berthold IV of Merania. They had seven children:

  1. Agnes (ca. 1190 – before 11 May 1214).
  2. Bolesław (ca. 1191 – 10 September 1206/08).
  3. Henry II the Pious (ca. 1196 – killed in battle, Legnica, 9 April 1241).
  4. Konrad the Curly (ca. 1198 – Czerwony Kosciol, 4 September 1213).
  5. Sophie (ca. 1200 – before 22/23 March 1214).
  6. Gertrude (ca. 1200 – Trebnitz, 6/30 December 1268), Abbess of Trebnitz.
  7. A son [Władysław?] (before 25 December 1208–1214/17).

See also



  • This article was translated from his original in Polish World Heritage Encyclopedia.
Henry I the Bearded
Born: ~1165 Died: 19 May 1238
Preceded by
Bolesław I the Tall
Duke of Silesia (Wrocław)
Succeeded by
Henry II the Pious
Duke of Opole
Succeeded by
Mieszko I Tanglefoot
Preceded by
Władysław III Spindleshanks
Duke of Kalisz
Succeeded by
Władysław Odonic
Preceded by
Władysław Odonic
Duke of Kalisz
Succeeded by
Mieszko II the Fat and
Władysław Opolski
Preceded by
Konrad I
High Duke of Poland
Succeeded by
Henry II the Pious
Preceded by
Władysław Odonic
Duke of Greater Poland
(Only in the Southwest)


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