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750th Anniversary of the Incorporation of Kraków

On 5 June 1257, the Duke of Cracow and Sandomierz Bolesław Wstydliwy [Bolesław the Shy] together with his mother, Duchess Grzymisława, and his wife Kinga, issued an incorporation charter for Cracow. The said act took place in the village of Kopernia near Szydłowiec, at the gathering where it was witnessed by Prędota, the bishop of Cracow, as well as by dignitaries from Cracow and Sandomir [Sandomierz]. Cracow was incorporated under the Magdeburg Law, just as the town of Wrocław [Breslau] was. The document laid down the rights and duties of Vogte (those were chiefs and administrators, entrusted with the incorporation duties) and the city dwellers. Both the administrators and city dwellers were awarded numerous privilegies and temporary exemptions from the payments of taxes and duties. The incorporation charter provided for the establishment of a medieval urban community, with the hereditary title of "Vogt" as its chief, and - over the course of time - the so-called "the bench" (a body elected from the burghers of Cracow) as well as a town council.

The document was authenticated with five seals: the seal of Prince Bolesław, of Prędota - the bishop of Cracow, of the Cathedral Chapter of Cracow, of the castellan of Cracow and of the voivode. Only two latter seals have been preserved. The foot seal of the Duke, known from other documents, with his image from the times of incorporation of the town, is especially interesting. The seal depicts the standing ruler - a knight with the attributes of power, a spear and a shield with the coat of arms of the Piast dynasty, the uncrowned Eagle. The seal reflected the majesty of the ruler very well.

The issuance of the charter did not mean, however, that the city was established on 'raw land'. Originally the settlement concentrated on the Wawel Hill where the seat of the Duke, the cathedral as well as the seats of the bishop and of the Chapter of Cracow were located. Over time the inhabitancy began to develop outside the city walls, where the settlement called Okół was established. The settlement enjoyed great importance, as confimed by archeological excavations and sacred buildings - as many as five churches, out of which two have survived until today. The subsequent settlement stage involved areas adjacent to Okół from the north. During the reign of Leszek the White [Leszek Biały], in the vicinity of Dominicans and Franciscans churches and All Saints' church, the first urban community was established, as proved by references in some sources to SchultheiB ("villicus") of Cracow. The incorporation made by Bolesław the Shy constituted the subsequent stage of developing the urban organism of Cracow.

Development of the pre-incorporation Cracow reflected its dominant position in the first Piasts' monarchy. It is supposed that Mieszko II resided there when his father, Bolesław the Brave [Bolesław Chrobry], was still alive. After the death of Bolesław the Brave, the tragic events of the so-called "Pagan reaction" and the destructive invasion of a Czech prince Brzetysław, Cracow became the revival centre of the Piast monarchy. It was in Cracow that subsequent Piast rulers resided and there a temporary seat of archbishop Aaron was located. That was why Gallus Anonymus described Cracow, along with Breslau and Sandomir, as sedes regni principales (main centres of the kingdom). Under the statute of [Bolesław Krzywousty] Bolesław Wrymouth, the Cracow province was to devolve on the senior among the Princes in the Piast dynasty, which strengthened the position of Cracow even further. Despite the violation of the seniority principle, the Principality of Cracow lost nothing of its importance. The 12th and 13th centuries featured incessant warfare for Cracow, which over time became the centre of unification processes. Those processes ended with the coronation of Władysław the Short [Władysław Łokietek] taking place in Cracow.

In the times of Bolesław the Shy Cracow was an important ecclesiastical centre, the seat of the bishopric (second in hierarchy after the archbishopric of Gniezno), as well as the cathedral chapter and numerous religious orders. A number of churches and monasteries were located within the city and outside its walls. The number of Cracow clergy at that time is estimated at around 200 people. They included the Cracow bishops of the first half of the 13th century: Wincenty Kadłubek, Iwo Odrowąż and Prędota, famous for their piety and education. The first two were graduates of foreign universities, which was conducive to development of intellectual culture and spiritual formation. Wincenty Kadłubek and Prędota died in the odour of sanctity.

In these circumstances the cult of Stanisław the bishop of Cracow consolidated over the reign of Bolesław the Shy and the efforts aimed at his canonisation were successfully completed in 1253. The canonisation was an extremely important event not only for Cracow and the Lesser Poland [Małopolska] region, but also for the whole of Poland. The bishop saint quickly became the patron of unification and then the patron saint of the reborn Kingdom. Cracow was the main cult centre of Saint Stanislaus.

The road of Bolesław the Shy to rule in Cracow was long and stormy. He was only a year and a half when his father, Leszek the White, was assassinated in Gąsawa (1227). His childhood was overshadowed by constant fights for Cracow between the relatives from the Piast dynasty. The situation changed in 1243 when he defeated the most powerful rival to power, namely his uncle Konrad of Masovia [Konrad Mazowiecki], and eventually succeeded to his father's throne. In his efforts, Bolesław the Shy was supported by his mother, Duchess Grzymisława, and by some magnates of the Lesser Poland region. After Bolesław regained the power in Cracow, Grzymisława had still significant influence over her son, as demonstrated by their joint issuance of documents, including such an important document as the incorporation charter of Cracow. Bolesław's wife, Duchess Kinga, the daughter of the Hungarian King Bela IV, also had a large influence over her husband.

The foreign and internal policy of Bolesław the Shy proves that he was an exceptional ruler. He got involved, with changing fortune, in the policy of central European countries by entering into alliances with Hungary, the Czech state and the Rus' state. He supported the Christianization of Lithuania and Sudovia. He cared about economic development of his principality - it was during his reign that the salt deposits were discovered in Bochnia and Wieliczka and he codified the rules governing salt mining. He conducted an active urban policy - he incorporated new towns or granted consent for such incorporations.

The 1257 incorporation contributed to the development of the city and the burgesses of Cracow, which quickly established its strong position vis-a-vis all Polish duchies. It created conditions for spatial development of the city - some traces of activities of the time are still visible in the architectural layout of today's Cracow. The market place and a regular grid of streets were marked out then and over the course of time the Town Hall, the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) and the City Scales were built. Some information about the town walls dates back to the end of the 13th century. The walls in the north were particularly strong, with the Florian Gate which later became the main city gate. The incorporation charter of Cracow of 1257 issued by Bolesław the Shy opened a new stage in the history of the city.

Zenon Piech
Ph.D, Faculty of History, Jagiellonian University