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"Introduction to Medieval Poland" by Metressa Jadwiga Zajaczkowa. Written for
the East Kingdom University (Society for Creative Anachronism).
NOTE: See also the files: Poland-msg, fd-Poland-msg, fd-East-Eur-msg, pierogiesmsg, fish-msg, eels-msg, porridges-msg, cl-EastEur-msg, root-veg-msg,
NOTICE This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of
files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at:
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in
SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any
permissions granted at the end of this file.
Thank you,
Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at
More of this author's writing on medieval Eastern Europe can be found on her
page at:
Introduction to Medieval Poland
by Metressa Jadwiga Zajaczkowa
History-- A few important dates
966-992 Mieszko I, Duke of Poland. He converted himself and Poland to Christianity in 965.
Founder of the Piast line of rulers.
992-1025 Boleslaw the Brave. Crowned King of Poland in 1025 -- expanded and solidified Polish
999 Gniezno (city) made an Archbishopric
1025-34 Reign of Mieszko II
1034-58 Reigh of Kazimierz I
1058-79 Reign of Boleslaw the Bold, within his reign captured and held Kiev for a few years
1080-1102 Reign of Wladyslaw I Herman (styled himself Prince of Poland)
1102-38 Reigh of Boleslaw Wrymouth, who had lots of trouble with his halfbrother Zbigniew
1138-1295 Dueling Dukes. During this time there was no king of Poland or even over-prince. The
regional dukes fought it out for control of the most parts of Poland.
1226 Konrad of Mazovia invited the Teutonic Order to Chelmno to repel the attacks of the Prus
1241 Mongols reach Europe; at the Battle of Legnica, Polish forces under Henryk the Pious are
1259 Mongols invade Poland (Lublin, Sandomierz, Bytom and Krakow)
1264 A 'royal' charter (from the reigning Duke) first granted to the Jewish community in Poland.
1283 Prussia completely conquered by the Teutonic Knights. They go looking for more heathens to
1295-1296 Przemysl, King of Poland
1288 Henryk Probus elected Duke of Krakow
1300-1306 Poland under Bohemian rule
1305-1333 Wladyslaw the Short, became king of Poland 1320 (reunited Poland under one ruler)
1333-1370 Kazimierz III the Great (restored Poland; set judicial code; called 'the Peasants King')
1364 Congress of Krakow (After Casimir and the Pope had got the Holy Roman Emperor to
apologize for what he had said about Louis of Hungary's mother Elizabeth, who was also Casimir's
sister, thus averting regional war, they all got together and had a wedding, a big festival, and a
diplomatic gathering.)
1370-1382 Louis of Anjou, King of Hungary & Poland (Represented in Poland by his mother
1384 Jadwiga of Anjou (aka Jadwiga of Wawel) crowned King of Poland
1386 Jadwiga weds Wladyslaw Jagiello, Grand Duke of Lithuania. Jagiello is crowned king of
Poland, unites Poland and Lithuania, christianizes Lithuania, founds the Jagiellon Dynasty, and
irritates the Teutonic Knights a lot. Joining of Poland and Lithuania begins at this time but is not
1386-1434 Reign of Wladyslaw Jagiello, King of Poland and Lithuania
1399 Jadwiga of Wawel dies, along with her only daughter. (597 years later the Catholic Church
makes her a saint.)
1400 Refounding of the Jagellonian Unviersity at Cracow, by gift of Queen Jadwiga. First college
was Collegium Maius.
1410 Battle of Grunwald (Tannenberg) -- Teutonic Knights defeated in battle
1413 Union of Horodlo (Polish szlachta adopt Lithuanian nobles so that Polish and Lithanian
nobility is now equal)
1415 Council of Constance (the Church debates whether infidels are human beings)
1434-44 Wladyslaw III of Varna (also king of Hungary 1440-44). Major accomplishment is to die
nobly and stupidly, charging against the Turks onthe field of Varna.
1446-92 Kazimierz IV the Jagiellon (Also Grand Duke of Lithuania, 1440-92)
1492-1501 Jan Olbracht
1496: The Statute of Piotrkow--called the "Magna carta of Poland"--gives extensive privledges to
the nobility
1501-1506 Aleksander (also Grand Duke of Lithuania, 1492-1506)
1505: The Constitution of Radom--makes the national Seym (Diet) the supreme legislative body
1506-1548 Zygmunt I the Old (Also Grand Duke of Lithuania 1506-1522)
1548-1572 Zygmunt II Augustus (Also Grand Duke of Lithuania 1522-1572). Married Bona Sforza,
who brought many Italian fashions, including Italian gardening, to Poland.
1569: The Union of Lublin--merged Poland and Lithuania
1575-1576 Anna, Queen of Poland
1576-1586 Stephen Bathory (Also Prince of Transylvania) elected King of Poland
Edited by Mark S. Harris
Page 2 of 10
Poland is one of the 'Slavic' countries, smack dab in the middle of East Central Europe. In the
Middle Ages, she would have been bordered by the Holy Roman Empire, Prussia (the territories of
the Teutonic Knights), Lithuania,
White Russia, Red Ruthenia (the Ukraine?), Hungary. Settlement patterns tended toward fortified
castles with agricultural holdings nearby; the Poles were generally agricultural, 'the people of the
Regions: Malopolska, Wielkopolska, Mazovia; Pomerania in the north, and Silesia in the
Southwest, tended to shift in and out of Polish control. Principal cities included Krakow, Lublin,
Sandomierz. later Warzawa.
Polish first names were constructs early in period; later on they used saint's names. Surnaming
practices in Poland were primarily locational (Jan from Sandomierz), descriptive-epithets (Boleslaw
Wrymouth), occupational (Jan the Castellan), and sometimes patronymic and rarely matronymics
were used as well (Jan, Jan's boy). Surnames were constructed with endings that told you the sex
and the marriage status of the user.
Szlachta & Peasantry
The szlachta has been described as the 'gentry' or 'nobility' of Poland, but it didn't work exactly the
same as gentry or nobility in other countries. The szlachta class, which amounted to about 10% of
the population, was the class from which all knights and most court functionaries came, and they
served the same purpose as nobility (warrior caste) in other countries, but it was not tied to owning
land or feudal obligations. Szlachta families could be rich or poor-- the important, powerful families
were referred to as the magnates. In theory, all the szlachta were equal; in reality, of course, the
most wealth and land often equaled the most power. They referred to each other as Pan (lord) or
Pani (lady); most titles were actually job descriptions: starosta (king's sheriff), castellan (keeper of a
castle), palatine (administrator of a province), voivode. They were organized into rods, clan-like
groups, whose troops fought as regiments and shared the same herby (heraldry) and battle cry.
Males of the szlachta families all had one possession in common: the vote-- though only one male
member of that family could exercise it, and of course allegiances and debts often controlled the
voting!. They voted in local seymtlas, and elected representatives to the national Seym, or diet,
whose original function was to confirm the king, but went on to be a national parliament.
Peasants could be divided into several groups: those that owned their own land, those that were
tenants under 'German law' (money rents), and those that owed tithe or labor rents. During the 13th
and 14th centuries, many nobles sold off or parceled out their land, either by direct sale or by
German law development-like settlements, where they got rents; in the 15th and 16th centuries,
because the demand for Polish grain was increasing, they re-instituted labor rents wherever possible
and bound peasants to the land.
Edited by Mark S. Harris
Page 3 of 10
Polish heraldry is different from Anglo-Norman. Herbs, or devices, were generally held in common
by all the members of a rod (clan), and were referred to not by blazon but by their names, usually
the battlecray. The devices were usually simple, of the tamga (i.e. cattle-brand) sort; many appear to
be simple line drawings later modified by description and reproduction from Anglo-Norman
blazons. At the end of the medieval period, there were between 300 and 350 known coats. (Cities,
Guilds, etc. who took coats of arms seem to have followed the general pattern of civic arms
construction throughout Europe, though).
Like most of the other West and South Slavs, the Poles spent a goodly amount of time fighting with
their neighbors, both inside and outside the nation. In the 1100s and 1200s, in fact, Poland was
divided into separate duchies, all warring against one another. They also fought with the
Hungarians, the Ruthenians (Bylorussians, Ukranians, etc.), the Bohemians, the Lithuanians (as
external foes before 1386, and against internal rebellions after the union), the Mongol invasions of
the 1200's and sometimes the Germans. After the Teutonic Knights subdued most of the Prus, they
were known to encroach on certain Polish territories, ostensibly by way of getting to further pagan
territories on the other side. Squabbles with them built up to the battle of Grunwald in 1410 and the
treaty of Thorn in 1411, followed by more armed disputes lasting until the order was dissolved in
The preferred combat form of the nobility was, of course, horse cavalry, though infantry units
certainly existed. The ultimate flowering of the cavalry were the 'winged hussars', hussars being a
light cavalry form adopted from the Magyars. The 'winged hussar' outfits included an elaborate set
of feathered wings which were supposed to alarm enemy horses with the whistling noise they
made. More information about the Winged Hussars can be found on the web page: and in the exhibit catalog: Land of the
Winged Horsemen.
The Polish language remained an unwritten one until about 1500. All Polish documents were
written in Latin, and it was widely known and spoken. It was said that a tourist could travel the
length and breadth of medieval Poland, knowing only Latin, and make himself perfectly understood
everywhere. Polish is an inflected language, so words have endings to show their place in the
sentence and sentences can be arranged somewhat erratically.
Witam (ve-tam) means Welcome
Psiakrew (Sha krev) is a mild swear word
Dzien dobry ( djen dough bree) is 'Hello' or good day
Clothing generally followed German and later Italian fashions, though there was some Turkish
influence in late period. Hanging and 'pocket' sleeves were considered typical of late-period Polish
Edited by Mark S. Harris
Page 4 of 10
garb; this may be an outgrowth of the huge coats with arrangements to let over-long sleeves trail.
We now know a little bit more than we used to about what medieval Poles ate and drank. "Food
and Drink in Medieval Poland" by Dembinska and Weaver, gives a nice overview though the
recipes includes are only re-creations rather than authentic period recipes or redactions.
 Bread, usally from a combination of white and rye flours (the more white flour, the more exalted
the position of the eater).
 Food was served into heavy trenchers made of bread, and white wheat bread rolls were served to
the important folk at feasts. (Wheaten rolls -- manchet rolls-- could be bought from vendors on
the streets, along with round twisted 'pretzel' type rolls and other bread and pastry treats.)
 Porridge or Gruel made either from flour or groats, usually millet. Oats were considered lower
class, buckwheat and barley were introduced in late period. Depending on the thickness, these
porridges could resemble other period cereal side dishes, such as frumenty. Rice sometimes
graced the tables of the rich, but the poor made do with the seeds of grain-like manna. Hemp
and flax seeds were also sometimes made into porridge.
 Beef was the favored meat, in many incarnations, roasted, boiled, etc. Auroch meat (wild beef)
was considered a game dish.
 Game, including venison and other wild game, was consumed sporadically, but often harvested
and used as diplomatic gifts.
 Pork was also popular, and in the form of fatt y bacon(salted, smoked or fresh) it appears to have
been the most-consumed meat of the majority of the population.
 Poultry made a regular appearance but was not so popular as Beef and Pork.
 Fish appeared on the table on all meatless days (Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and other specified
fasts). In the guise of salt herring, it wore thin its welcome in Lent. Eels, cod, sturgeon and
many other fish were also eaten. However, fish were not eaten on meat days (perhaps because
of the strictness with which the meatless fasts were kept!)
 Vegetables were common also: "the daily menu in Poland included at least one vegetable, either
as a side dish or as an ingredient in a one-pot recipe." Dembinska lists onions, lentils, field peas,
cabbage, fava beans and bean greens (among peasants), kale, white carrots, beets, parsnips,
alexanders, skirrets, turnips, radishes, cucumbers and melons, as well as mushrooms. Vegetable
Pottages and Composites were fashioned out a wide variety of green leafy vegetables, though
some are only recorded as greens for pottage with no identifying names!
 Root vegetables such as turnips, white carrots, skirrets, cow parsnips etc/ were served on a
regular basis. The prototype of borscht actually used cow parsnips instead of beets.
 Most fruit was eaten cooked -- apples, pears, plums and cherries were the most common, with
wild strawberries and blueberries showing up in the records also.
The two main meals were the prandium (eaten between 9 and 10 a.m) and coena (eaten between 5
and 7 p.m.), and they were generally similar. Wednesdays and Fridays, and Lent, were meatless
days, but special feast days were, well feasts.
The most common drink, Dembinska says, would have been wheat beer and small beer, followed
by wine and mead. Spiced beer trojniak, and beer or mead flavored with fruit juice or honey were
Edited by Mark S. Harris
Page 5 of 10
also drunk. Aqua vitae, probably distilled from beer to resemble whisky or vodka, appeared in the
early 1500s.
Curiously enough, beet soup was not documented, but a borsht-like soup made from cow parsnips
was eaten. Sauerkraut is common, but pickled cucumbers can only be documented to the 16th
century. Neither modern bigos (game stew) or pirogi (dumplings) can be documented to the period
The majority of the Polish population was 'Roman' Catholic. Lithuanians tended more toward the
Eastern or Russian rites. Priests continually complained that pagans and Jews were tolerated in
Poland, and that Lithuania was not fully Christianized. However, we simply don't know enough
about pre-Christian Slavic traditions to speculate on pagan Polish religion; Lithuanian paganism
(which survived until 1386) is better documented. Some folk beliefs, like the reverence for Mother
Earth and the ancestral Rodnitzhe (clan spirits?) may point to pagan survivals-- or perhaps not.
The large population of Jews in Poland probably has to do with the edicts protecting them and
allowing them to hold land and farm (forbidden in most medieval European countries).
Traditionally, Poles were ardent Catholics but prided themselves on 'toleration' of different
religions, including Protestantism when it came along. Feasts and holydays were apparently strictly
kept, and veneration of the saints (including St. Adalbert, patron of Poland) and the Virgin Mary
was heartily practiced. (Poles celebrated their saint's day instead of their birthday.)
Some dates in the Polish year
 Advent (late November through Christmas) a time of fasting, enlivened by caroling and
mumming from time to time
 December 4, Feast of St. Barbara
 December 6, Feast of St. Nicholas, commemorated with gifts and mumming
 December 21, Feast of St. Thomas, commemorated by well-wishing friends and neighbors
 Christmas: Wigilia, Christmas eve, celebrated with ceremonial feast between church services
 December 26, St. Stephen's day (oats and peas thrown at Mass)
 January 6, Feast of the Three Kings (12th night)
 February 2, Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Mother (Matka Boska Gromniczna, Mother
of God of the Blessed Thunder Candle), blessing of the candles and end of the Christmas season
 Pre-lenten festivities, especially the 3 days before Ash Wednesday
 March 12, St. Gregory's day-- schoolboys' festival
 March 25th, Feast of the Annunciation
 4th Sunday of Lent, drowning of Marzanna, the symbolic death figure
 Palm Sunday-- pussywillows were distributed in Church
 Holy Thursday-- coloring of eggs (colored eggs can be dated to the beginning of the 13th
 Good Friday/Holy Saturday/Easter -- solemn days of reverence, followed by celebration
 Easter Monday: dyngus (waterfights) and Emmaus Pilgrimages
Edited by Mark S. Harris
Page 6 of 10
Easter Tuesday: feeding the dead
Pentecost/Green Holidays (in May)-- bonfires
First Sunday in June: Corpus Christi-- processions (late period)
June 23rd, St. John's Eve-- wreaths cast on the water, bonfires and dancing, fortunetelling
July 2: Blessed Virgin of the Berries
July-- gathering of honey
July 13th: St. Margaret's Day
Sunday after July 16th-- first cut of grain
July 25 Feast of St. Jacob, new bread baked from new grain; harvest begins
July 26 Feast of St. Anne
July 29 Feast of St. Martha
August 15, Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, also called Matka Boska Zielna
(Blessed Mother of the Herbs) medicinal herbs, etc. brought to the church and blessed.
September 29 Feast of St. Michael
October 18 Feast of St. Luke, end of field work
October 25, Feast of St. Hedwig-- end of the garden harvest
November 1-2 All Saints and All Souls days-- feeding the Dead
November 11: Feast of St. Martin... roast goose if possible
November 25, feast of St. Katherine -- fortunetelling
 November 30, Feast of St. Andrew (more fortunetelling)
Other customs:
 Strict lenten fasting with lots of salt herring and zur, a fermented grain soup
 Men and women generally ate separately
 Unmarried women did not generally cover all their hair; 'capping', or putting on the matron's cap,
was part of the wedding ceremony
 'Feeding the dead' -- picnics (eggs, bread, cooked grain dishes, etc) left for the dead in cemeteries
at Easter and in the fall.
 Pisanki-- colored eggs-- can be dated to medieval period: plain colored eggs to around 1300.
 Public baths, at least for men, were known; they may also have had saunas (like the Russians)
The Polish Knowledge page at
The Polish Way, Adam Zamoyski (NY:Hippocrene, 1987)
God's Playground, a history of Poland. (vol. 1) Norman Davies (NY: Columbia University Press,
A History of Poland. Oskar Halecki. (NY: Barnes &Noble, 1992)
History of Poland. Aleksander Gieysztor, Stefan Kieniewicz, Emanuel Rostorowski, Janusz
Edited by Mark S. Harris
Page 7 of 10
Tazbir, Henryk Wereszycki. (Warsaw: Polish Scientific Publishers, 1968)
East Central Europe in the Middle Ages: 1000-1500. Jean W. Sedlar (Seattle: University of
Washington Press, 1994)
The Slavs in European History and Civilization. Francis Dvornik. (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers,
The Polish Nobility in the Middle Ages: Anthologies. ed. Antoni Gasiorowski. (Wroclaw: Polish
Academy of Sciences, 1984)
Jadwiga of Anjou and the Rise of East Central Europe. Oskar Halecki. (Highland Lakes, NJ:
Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America, 1991)
Louis the Great, King of Hungary and Poland. S.B. Vardy, Geza Grosschmid, Leslie S.
Domonkos. (NY: East European Monographs-- Columbia University Press, 1986) "Louis the Great
and Casimir of Poland", "Louis the Great as King of Poland as seen in the Chronicle of Janko of
Czarnkow" "Les chevaliers polonais".
Customs, food, etc.
Food and Drink in Medieval Poland: Rediscovering a cuisine of the past. Maria Dembinska,
rev. & adapted by William Woys Weaver. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999).
Polish Customs, Traditions and Folklore. Sophie Knab. (NY: Hippocrene, 1996)
Old Polish Traditions in the Kitchen and at the Table. Maria Lemnis, Henryk Vitry, and
Davidovic Mladen (NY: Hippocrene, 1996)
Polish Herbs, Flowers, and Folk Medicine. Sophie Knab (NY: Hippocrene, 1995)
Economy, Society and Lordship in Medieval Poland: 1100-1250. Pyotr Gorecki. (NY: Holmes
& Meier, 1992
Land, Liberties and Lordship in a Late Medieval Countryside: Agrarian Structures and
Change in the Duchy of Wroclaw. Richard C. Hoffman. (Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania, 1989)
The Polish Nobility in the Middle Ages. ed. by Antoni Gasiorowski. (Warsaw, Polska Akademia
Nauk, 1984)
"Archaeobotanical Evidence for Food Plants in the Poland of the Piasts (10th-13th Centuries AD)",
M. Polycn. in Botanical Journal of Scotland. V. 46, no. 4, p. 533-537.
Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings. William Hoffman. 2nd ed. (Chicago: Polish
Genealogical Society of America, 1997)
First Names of the Polish Commonwealth. William Hoffman. (Chicago: Polish Genealogical
Society, 1999).
Academy of St. Gabriel page on Polish names.
The Glass Mountain: 28 Ancient Polish Folktales and Fables. W.S. Kuniczak. (NY: Hippocrene,
Old Polish Legends, retold by F.C. Anstruther (NY: Hippocrene, 1991)
Edited by Mark S. Harris
Page 8 of 10
Geography, etc.
Poland, a historical atlas. Iwo Cyprian Pogonowski. (NY: Hippocrene, 1988)
New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History. Colin McEvedy (NY: Penguin, 1992)
A concie historical atlas of Eastern Europe. Dennis Hupchick and Harold Cox. (NY: St. Martin's
Press, 1996)
Clothing, Art, Other
Entries from Encyclopedia of Costume, by Doreen Yarwood, which someone put on the web:
Entries from Braun & Schneider's History of Costume:
History of Dress in Central and Eastern Europe from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth
Century. Irena Turnau. Trans. by Izofabela Szymanska. (Warsaw: Inst. for the History of Material
Cultures, Polish Academy of Sciences, 1991) ISBN: 8385463038; LCCN: 93-151689
Ubiór narodowy w dawnej Rzeczypospolitej, Irena Turnau. (Warszawa : Semper, 1991) ISBN:
Ubior dworski w Polsce w dobie pierwszych Jagiellonow. Krystyna Turska. (Wroclaw: Polskiej
Akademii Nauk, 1987) ISBN: 8304026236 :; LCCN: 88-142687 (in polish, but very useful
illustrations) "The Textile Trade of Poland in the Middle Ages," Jerzy Wyrozumski. In Cloth and
Clothing in Medieval Europe, edited by N.B. Harte and K.G. Ponting. (London: Heinemann
Educational Books, 1983).
Polish and Bohemian Garb. By Baroness Kathryn Goodwyn. (a collection of images from various
sources, no longer in print)
Polish Taylor's handbook : Polish Tailor's Cutting
Guide; Germany, Breslau 1567 AC 1992.243.1 Manuscript housed in the LA County Museum of
Art. Personal Sketches
Gothic Women's Fashion, Olga Sronkova (Prague: Artia, 1954 ) -- mostly Czech/German but with
some useful stuff
Art Treasures of Eastern Europe. Anthony Rhodes. (NY: Putnam's Sons, 1972).
Land of the Winged Horsemen: Art in Poland, 1572-1764. (Alexandria VA: Art Services Intl.,
1999) The Collegium Maius of the Jagiellonian University in Cracow: History, Customs,
Collections. Karol Estreicher. (Warsaw: Interpress, 1973)
Sketches from pages from a Polish Taylor's handbook, circa 1567, available from
Polish Armies 1569-1696 parts 1&2. Richard Brzezinski. (Oxford, Osprey Press, 1987) (Men at
Arms series, 184 & 188)
Boleslav Orlicki’s Horse Artillery (17th c) re-creation group:
Pages on Costume:
Scanned pages from Praxis reczna dziala. by Andrea dell' Aqua, a Polish Artillery manual
published between 1584 and 1656:
The Hilandar Research Library - Resource center for medieval Slavic Studies:
Edited by Mark S. Harris
Page 9 of 10
Collection of Articles on Polish Heraldry. Edward A. Peckwas. (Chicago: Polish Genealogical
Society, 1978)
Polish Nobility and Its Heraldry: An introduction. Piotr Pawel Bajer.
Polskie Herby Szlacheckie.
Some Polish Manuscripts:
Archiwum Państwowe w Krakowie
Copyright Jennifer A. Heise. Contact me via email for permission to reprint:
jenne.heise at
Permission is explicitly granted for limited reproduction as a printed handout
for classes in schools, herb society meetings, or classes or guild meetings in
the Society for Creative Anachronism (except to corporate officers and board
members of the SCA, Inc.), as long as I am notified and credited and the entire
handout is used.
Jadwiga's herbs homepage:
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also
appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.
<the end>
Edited by Mark S. Harris
Page 10 of 10