Anna Jagiellon

Portrait of Anna Jagiellon by Louis Cranach (1553). Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Amy-Jane Humphries

Anna Jagiellon (1523-1596) has the distinction of being the only woman in the early modern period to stand in a royal election—and the only woman to have won one, too. Anna rose to political prominence in the aftermath of her brother, Sigismund II’s, premature death in 1572.

After a period of interregnums, and the brief premiership of the future Henri III of France, Anna and her husband-to-be, Stephen Bathóry, were elected rulers of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Though the pair would never have the political partnership that both desired, Anna ruled with Stephen for eleven years and ruled alone for a year after his death in 1586.

Anna in coronation robes (1576) by Martin Kober. Image Credit: WikiCommons.

Anna was a highly skilled political mover and, although she could have quite capably ruled as queen regnant for the last decade of her life, she chose to promote her nephew, Catherine’s son Sigismund, in her place. In September 1587, Anna achieved the election of her nephew to the throne and, in doing so, guarded the Commonwealth against further monarchic instability.

Not only did Anna’s rule help to stabilise Poland-Lithuania during a period of flux, her decisive leadership also managed to preserve its future. Sigismund would go on to rule the Commonwealth for forty-five years and he, too, successfully passed the throne to his son before his death in 1633.

Recommended Reading

Katarzyna Kosior, “Anna Jagiellon: A Female Political Figure In the Early Modern Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth,” in A Companion to Global Queenship, edited by Elena Woodacre, 67-76 (Leeds: Arc Humanities Press, 2018). 

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