Historical story

Was Władysław Herman a complete failure?

Last updated:2022-07-25

He is one of those rulers whom history and historians have no mercy on. A pusher of the powerful, a German's henchman, the most ordinary figurehead with no merit. This is how Władysław Herman, reigning in the years 1079-1102, was remembered in Poland. According to Professor Kazimierz M. Barański - completely wrong.

Władysław Herman's career is usually judged only through the prism of its beginning and end. And none of these stages has been particularly glorious. Władysław sat on the throne after his brother Bolesław Szczodry was overthrown as a result of a conspiracy by magnates. Perhaps he was even involved in the coup d'état, but as a tool in the hands of the perpetrators, rather than a front-runner. In turn, at the end of his reign, Władysław Herman completely lost control over the state to his palatine Sieciech. He also got into a serious conflict, first with one and then with both of his sons. Before his death, he ruled only in one province of the entire state (in Mazovia), and his sovereignty over Poland was only symbolic.

Okay, but what was our prince doing in the meantime? It turns out quite a lot.

First off Władysław Herman neutralized the opposition (the previous supporters of his exiled brother) and won over the reluctant elite. When Bolesław, unfortunately, died somewhere in Hungary (it can be suspected that he fell on his own sword in an extremely unfortunate manner, many times), the new prince brought his body and solemnly buried it in Tyniec. He also brought in the widow of Bolesław and his son Mieszko, taking care of both of them. He closed his mouth to all his opponents with these two gestures.

Władysław Herman - two 19th-century ideas.

Second emphasized his authority. He did not try to follow in his brother's footsteps and to spite all the neighbors on crowns. But he made it clear to everyone who is in charge now. As Kazimierz M. Barański explains in his book "Historia Polska Medieval": He made his enthronement look as great [as the coronation of Bolesław]. For this purpose, he probably used the ceremony of the enthronement of the prince (...) described in the eleventh-century bishop's pontifical in Krakow.

Duke's denarii. Tangible proof of Władysław Herman's entrepreneurship.

Third he cleaned up the whole mess left by Bolesław. Władysław Herman's brother was perhaps brave and militant, but he definitely lacked political intuition (which is probably why he ended so badly). Władysław Herman, on the contrary, had a lot of feelings. He quickly reconciled with all his neighbors. First, he married the daughter of the Czech prince Vratislav. He entered into an alliance with Czech and began to pay him tribute from Silesia, thanks to which he saved Poland from the evil plans of the German Emperor Henry IV. In 1085, the emperor crowned Vratislav as king and ordered him to subjugate Poland by armed forces, which from then on was to become a subordinate part of one Slavic kingdom. Vratislav accepted the crown eagerly, of course, but he was not going to start any war. And why should he attack his son-in-law and also a faithful friend?

This is not the end. After the death of his first wife, Władysław Herman devised a real diplomatic masterpiece. He married the sister of Henry IV, who was also the widow of King Solomon of Hungary. In this way, he averted all conflicts in both Polish-German and Polish-Hungarian relations. He also made a lasting peace with Rus. In a few years he achieved what other Piasts usually did not do all their lives:there was peace on all borders of his country.

Władysław Herman turned out to be a great accountant. Bolesław left some voids in the treasury. Władysław filled the prince's purse again, minted full-fledged coins, and achieved fiscal success without inciting the peasants.

Fifth he was a patron of the church organization (and in those days the Church was an inseparable part of the state) and it was very reasonable. Instead of confining himself to erecting magnificent, but of little use, cathedrals, he financed the development of local Church structures - primarily archdeaconries. Thanks to this, he strengthened Christianity in Poland and secured his successors against another pagan revolt.

he did not hoe into the sun. He started to start wars only after all borders had been secured. And he set off on the only opponent who could not harm him in diplomacy or enter into effective alliances - the pagan Pomeranians.

The first decade of Władysław Herman's rule was therefore a success story . Only later - as a result of his deteriorating health, old age, and perhaps what we now call professional burnout - did the prince begin to lose control over the situation and submit to his surroundings. But that's not a reason to take away all his achievements. It was a good ruler. Only until then.


Trivia is the essence of our website. Short materials devoted to interesting anecdotes, surprising details from the past, strange news from the old press. Reading that will take you no more than 3 minutes, based on single sources. This particular material is based on:

  • Marek Kazimierz Barański, History of Medieval Poland , Zysk i S-ka, 2012.