Saint Casimir (1458 – 1484)
Early life and education
A member of the Jagiellon dynasty, Casimir was born at Wawel, the royal palace in Kraków (in present-day Poland). Casimir was the third child and the second son of the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania Casimir IV and Queen Elisabeth Habsburg of Hungary. Elisabeth was a loving mother and took active interest in her children’s upbringing. The Queen and the children often accompanied the King in his annual trips to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
From the age of nine, Casimir and his brother Vladislaus II were educated by the Polish priest Jan Długosz. The boys were taught Latin and German, law, history, rhetoric, and classical literature. Długosz was a strict and conservative teacher who emphasized ethics, morality, and religious devotion. According to Stanisław Orzechowski (1513–1566), the princes were subject to corporal punishment which was approved by their father. Długosz noted Casimir’s skills in oratory when he delivered speeches to greet his father returning to Poland in 1469 and Jakub Sienienski, the Bishop of Kujawy, in 1470.
St. Casimir’s uncle Ladislaus the Posthumous, King of Hungary and Bohemia, died in 1457 at the age of 17, without leaving an heir. St. Casimir’s father, King Casimir IV, subsequently advanced his claims to Hungary and Bohemia, but could not enforce them due to the Thirteen Years’ War (1454–66). Instead, Hungarian nobles elected Matthias Corvinus and Bohemian nobles selected George of Poděbrady as their kings. George of Poděbrady died in March 1471. In May 1471, Vladislaus II, eldest son of Casimir IV, was elected to the throne of Bohemia. However, a group of Catholic Bohemian nobles supported Matthias Corvinus instead of Vladislaus II. In turn, a group of Hungarian nobles conspired against Matthias Corvinus and invited the Polish king to overthrow him. King Casimir IV decided to install his son, future Saint Casimir, in Hungary.
Poland amassed an army of 12,000 men, commanded by Piotr Dunin and Dziersław of Rytwiany. Both King Casimir and Prince Casimir participated in the campaign. In October 1471, the Polish army crossed the Hungarian border and slowly marched towards Buda. Matthias Corvinus managed to win over the majority of the Hungarian nobles, including the main conspirator Archbishop János Vitéz, and the Polish army did not receive the expected reinforcement. Only Deák, Perény and Rozgonyi families sent troops. Upon hearing that Corvinus’ army of 16,000 men camped outside of Pest, the Polish army decided to retreat from Hatvan to Nitra. There the soldiers battled food shortages, spreading infectious diseases, and the upcoming winter. The Polish King also lacked funds to pay the mercenaries. As a result, the Polish army decreased by about a third. In December 1471, Prince Casimir, fearing for his safety, was sent to Jihlava closer to the Polish border and further eroded their soldier’s morale. Corvinus took Nitra and a one-year truce was completed in March 1472 in Buda. Prince Casimir returned to Kraków to resume his studies with Długosz.
Długosz remarked that Prince Casimir felt “great sorrow and shame” regarding the failure in Hungary. Polish propaganda, however, portrayed him as a savior, sent by divine providence, to protect the people from a godless tyrant (i.e. Matthias Corvinus) and marauding pagans (i.e. Muslim Ottoman Turks). Prince Casimir was also exposed to the cult of his uncle King Władysław III of Poland who died in the 1444 Battle of Varna against the Ottomans. This led some researchers, including Jacob Caro, to conclude that the Hungarian campaign pushed Prince Casimir into religious life.
As his elder brother, Vladislaus II, ruled Bohemia, Prince Casimir became crown prince and heir apparent to the throne of Poland and Lithuania. Italian humanist writer Filippo Buonaccorsi (also known as Filip Callimachus) was hired to become Casimir’s tutor in political matters, but his Renaissance views had less influence on Casimir than Długosz. In 1474, the Italian merchant and traveler Ambrogio Contarini met with Prince Casimir and was impressed by his wisdom. Prince Casimir completed his formal education at age 16 and spent most of his time with his father. In 1476, Prince Casimir accompanied his father to Royal Prussia where he tried to resolve the conflict with the Prince-Bishopric of Warmia (see War of the Priests). In 1478 Seimas of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania demanded that King Casimir IV leave either Prince Casimir or Prince John I Albert in Lithuania as a regent. King Casimir IV feared separatist moods and refused, but after settling the conflict in Prussia, moved to Vilnius.
Between 1479 and 1484 his father spent most of his time in Vilnius attending to the affairs of Lithuania. In 1481, Mikhailo Olelkovich and his relatives planned to murder King Casimir and Prince Casimir during a hunt at a wedding of Feodor Ivanovich Belsky. The plan was discovered and Prince Casimir, perhaps fearing for his safety, was sent to Poland to act as vice-regent. Around the same time his father tried to arrange a marriage with Kunigunde of Austria, daughter of Emperor Frederick III. It is often claimed that Prince Casimir refused the match, preferring to remain celibate and sensing his approaching death. According to Maciej Miechowita, Prince Casimir developed tuberculosis. In May 1483, Prince Casimir joined his father in Vilnius. There, after the death of Andrzej Oporowski, Bishop and Vice-Chancellor of the Crown, Prince Casimir took over some of his duties in the chancellery. However, his health deteriorated while rumors about his piousness and good deeds spread further. He was known for his charitable work and help to the needy. In February 1484, the Polish parliament (general sejm) in Lublin was aborted as King Casimir IV rushed back to Lithuania to be with his ill son. Prince Casimir died on March 4, 1484, in Hrodna. His remains were interred in Vilnius Cathedral, where a dedicated Saint Casimir’s Chapel was built in 1636.