Silesian Piasts - Vassals of Bohemia and Decline

Vassals of Bohemia and Decline

As Przemysł II united Poland the weak and divided Silesian dukes needed a strong partner who could provide cover. They now separated from the Polish state and subjected to the Bohemian crown.

After the death of Wenceslaus III, king of Bohemia and Poland, the right to the Polish crown was disputed, being claimed by various Piast dukes as well as the successors of Wenceslaus III on the Bohemian throne. In 1327 John of Bohemia invaded Poland in order to gain the Polish crown. After the intervention of King Charles I of Hungary he left Polonia Minor, but on his way back he enforced his supremacy over the Upper Silesian Piasts. In February 1327 five principalities were carved out of Polish Upper Silesia and placed under Bohemian suzerenity: Duchy of Niemodlin, Duchy of Cieszyn, Duchy of Racibórz, Duchy of Koźle and Bytom and the Duchy of Oświęcim and Zator. In April the dukes of Opole and Wrocław also became the tributaries of king John.

In 1329 Władysław I the Elbow-high engaged himself in a war with the Teutonic Order. The Order was supported by John of Bohemia who managed to enforce his supremacy over the dukes of Masovia and Lower Silesia. In April–May 1329 following Lower Silesian duchies became subjects of the Bohemian crown: Ścinawa, Oleśnica, Żagań, Legnica-Brzeg and Jawor. In 1331 the Duchy of Głogów separated from Poland as well.

The last independent Silesian Piast – Bolko II of Świdnica – died in 1368. His wife Agnes ruled the Świdnica duchy until her death in 1392. From that time on all remaining Silesian Piasts were vassals of the Bohemian crown, although they maintained their sovereign rights.

In 1335 John of Bohemia renounced his claim to the title of king of Poland in favour of Casimir the Great, who in return renounced his claims to Silesia. This was formalized in the treaties of Trenčín and Visegrád, ratified in 1339.

The division into small and smallest territories led to a decline of prestige and power. Many Silesian piasts now merely had the status of squires with greater rights. Some Piasts entered foreign services as mercenary leaders, like Johann II von Glogau and Sagan, Henry IX. traveled through Europe as a goliard. The descent of the dynasty was also illustrated by the marriages of the dukes. The Silesian Piasts of the 13th and 14th century married into princely families especially from German families, but also other European royal lines, whereas later Piasts also married non-princely and even bourgeois women.

With the adoption of the Protestant faith in Silesia the Piasts again gained importance. Against the Catholic Habsburg dynasty, which ruled Silesia since 1526, the dukes sought political support by entering matrimonies with Protestant, imperial rulers like the Hohenzollern dynasty. Their last attempts of independent policies were the candidatures of Frederick II of Liegnitz for the Bohemian crown (1526) and of Henry XI (1573), Frederick IV (1576) and Christian (1668) for the Polish crown.

During the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries various branches of the Silesian Piasts became extinct. In 1532 the last Duke of Opole, John II the Good, died, leaving most of Upper Silesia under direct Bohemian rule. In 1675 the last legitimate Silesian Piast – George William, Duke of Liegnitz – died. The last male Silesian Piast was baron Ferdinand II Hohenstein, who died in 1706, the last female Piast, Charlotte, died in 1707.

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