Topics of coins

500th Anniversary of the Birth of Anna Jagiellon

The year 2023 marks the 500th anniversary of the birth of Anna Jagiellon, the last member of the Jagiellons. Anna, born on 18 October 1523, was the daughter of Sigismund the Elder and Bona Sforza. Anna was raised at the royal court of Kraków and received comprehensive education. In addition to learning courtly manners and womanly skills, such as playing a musical instrument, embroidery or gardening, she studied the literature of Antiquity, and historical and geographical works. From her family home, she knew Polish and Italian, and also learnt Latin and German.

After her father’s death in 1548, a still unmarried Anna and her mother moved from Kraków to Warsaw. When Bona Sforza left Poland in 1556, Sigismund-Augustus took care of his sister. Anna established a court of her own and received substantial revenues from vast land estates. After her brother died without issue in 1572, Anna became his principal heir, both financially and politically. In view of the impending royal election, in the eyes of the nobility the 50-year-old princess became an obligatory candidate for a wife for any prince seeking to run for the Polish throne.

In 1573, representatives of French Prince Henry Valois, who was elected a Polish monarch, made a formal pledge that he would marry Anna after arriving in Poland. However, the young king-elect avoided making good on the commitment. After Henry fled Poland, another Election Sejm ended with a double election. Anna was elected queen by members of middle nobility. Stephen Bathory, the Prince of Transylvania, was given to her as a spouse and a co-ruler. Emperor Maximilian II, declared as a new Polish monarch by the pro-Habsburg faction, which mostly consisted of senators, was his opponent. However, he died before claiming the Polish throne.

It was Bathory who took over the real power in Poland. Although Anna was formally the first of co-rulers, she was effectively removed from power by her spouse. After the death of Stephen Bathory in 1586, the Queen renounced her rights to rule, which led to yet another election. Sigismund Vasa, the Swedish Prince, came out victorious, which was in line with the Queen’s plan.

Anna Jagiellon lived in Warsaw until her death in 1596. In the history of the present Polish capital, she is mainly remembered for financing the completion of the first permanent bridge over the Vistula River. The construction of the crossing began in 1567 by order of Sigismund-Augustus.

Prof. Henryk Litwin

The reverse of the coin features the image of Anna Jagiellon, made after the miniature by an anonymous author, the dates of birth and death of the Queen, and the abbreviation: A. I. I. R. P. (ANNA IAGIELLONIA INFANS REGNI POLONIAE, Eng. Anna Jagiellon the Infanta of the Kingdom of Poland).

The obverse shows the coat of arms of Anna Jagiellon used in the later period of her life. The coat of arms is from the so-called portrait of widowed Anna Jagiellon by Marcin Kober, which is in the collections of the Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów.