Historical story

What was Barbara Radziwiłłówna's childhood like?

Kept short and away from books. If not beaten, it must be ignored. She grew up in luxury. But she didn't have a fairy-tale childhood at all.

Barbara was born on December 6, 1520 as the second daughter and the third, youngest child of her parents. She was half Lithuanian, half Polish. Her mother came from the Kola family, who played the leading role in Halych Ruthenia. After her, the girl inherited her name - Barbara.

The father of the aristocrat was Jerzy Radziwiłł:the great Lithuanian hetman, an outstanding commander, and a fabulously rich magnate, with thirty manors and palaces and seventy thousand subjects.

Contrary to what writers have told for centuries, Barbara did not have a fairy-tale childhood. She did not spend her first years among the most gifted teachers, the most pious chaplains, and the best-organized courts.

Her youth was overshadowed by ancestral wealth, but certainly not in modern luxury. The Radziwiłł way of life was still strict. Perhaps they had grown into great manners, but they were crude and rooted in medieval traditions. They resembled Moscow, ruled in a tyrannical way, rather than drawing Poland to the West.

Jerzy Radziwiłł, Barbara Radziwiłłówna's father.

Strict manners

There could be no question of modern education at their court, no training for worldly life. Nobody had planned such a life for Barbara. Just like her mother and her mother's mother, she would become an obedient wife and resourceful housewife in the future.

It was expected that she would be able to conduct the service and take care of property in the absence of her husband. She was supposed to stay away from politics and government, so there was no need for her to study the works of philosophers. Instead of memorizing the texts of Petrarch, Virgil and Cicero, she learned to embroider. Instead of studying etiquette and the art of beautifully expressing herself, she got to know her mother's fraucymer and watched her father's feasts. She was preparing to perform in the company of, but on a par with provincial Vilnius - and not Krakow, Prague or Vienna.

It can be assumed that she was treated severely, and she feared her father more than she loved. Children in Lithuania were kept for a short time, as evidenced by the customs of the Jagiellonian dynasty. Zygmunt Stary's father, Kazimierz Jagiellończyk, loved to listen to "the voice of his son crying as he beat him with a rod". He was not alone in his approach. Children from wealthy families were to eat little, exercise humility, and remain serious and modest at all times. If this is how the descendants of the grand-ducal family were buried for centuries, then similar customs should be expected from the Radziwiłł family. After all, they dreamed of nothing more than catching up with the Jagiellonians.

School without books

Their lack of sophistication differed from the royal family. They treated Barbara harshly, but did not pay much attention to her education. His daughter's education was perfunctory even for the conditions of the place and the era. In the future, an unfavorable relative would write about Barbara: "He has, I dare say, little or almost no manners. [And there are these] almost peasant customs. ”

Barbara Radziwiłłówna's mother, Barbara Kolanka, in an 18th-century engraving.

It is also known for certain that Radziwiłłówna never learned Latin , which is the official speech in the Republic of Poland. She also did not know any other foreign languages. She only spoke Ruthenian and Polish.

In fact, at the time, no one cared about what she knew and what she couldn't. For her father, she was primarily a bargaining chip in deals with another powerful Lithuanian family:the Gasztołd. The subject for sale on the marriage exchange. Under the conditions of Lithuanian politics, it did not matter whether she was beautiful, ugly, smart or completely blunt. The planned matrimonial arrangement to guarantee the power of the two families in the Grand Duchy went far beyond such mundane problems.


You can learn more about the confusing history of the Radziwiłł family in Kamil Janicki's book Ladies of the golden age (Horizon Label 2014). The article is based on the literature and materials collected by the author during the work on the book. You can buy it at a discount on empik.com.