Duke of Poland

as imagined by Jan Matejko.
Reign 1031–1032
Predecessor Mieszko II Lambert
Successor Mieszko II Lambert
Born c. 986
Died 1032
Dynasty Piast dynasty
Father Bolesław I the Brave
Mother Judith of Hungary

Bezprym (c. 986 – 1032) was a Duke of Poland during 1031–1032.

He was the eldest son of Bolesław I the Brave, King of Poland, but was deprived of the succession by his father, who around 1001 sent him to Italy, in order to become a monk at one of Saint Romuald's hermitages in Ravenna.

Expelled by his half-brother Mieszko II Lambert after the death of their father, in 1031 Bezprym became ruler of large areas of Poland following simultaneous attack of the German and Kievan forces and Mieszko II's escape to Bohemia. His reign was short-lived and, according to some sources, extremely cruel. He was murdered in 1032 and Mieszko II returned to the throne of Poland. It's speculated that Pagan Reaction began during his short reign


Origin of his name

In primary sources Bezprym appears as: Besprim (Chronicles of Thietmar of Merseburg) Besfrim (Annalista Saxo), Bezbriem (Chronicles of Hildesheim and Altaic Chronicles). This name wasn't used among the Polish nobility but was known in the Bohemian sources, where it appears as: Bezprim, Bezprem, Bezperem. According to one of the hypotheses the name is of Slavonic origin, and was probably originally pronounced as Bezprzem or Bezprzym.[1] Due to tradition and the impossibility of determining the correct version of the name, Bezprym remains the form used, although, according to K. Jasiński, it probably requires modifications.[2]

Older historiography frequently combined the figures of Bolesław I's two sons, Otto and Bezprym, or even attributed to Bezprym the middle name of Otto. Marian Gumowski also suggested, on the basis of numismatic research that this "combined" prince could have governed Bohemia in 1003. These theories are based on the chronicle of Wipo of Burgundy, who described only one brother of Mieszko II, Otto. Modern historians assume, however, that Bezprym in fact did exist, and that the chronicler erroneously combined Otto and Bezprym into one person.

Early Years

Bezprym was the only child of Bolesław I the Brave born from his second marriage with an unknown Hungarian princess[3] who, in older literature, was identified as Judith, daughter of Géza, Grand Duke of Hungary.[4] Though opinions vary about the identity of Bolesław I 's second wife, there is a number of researchers who still support the hypothesis of her being the daughter of Géza.[5] Soon after his birth, the marriage of his parents ended, probably because of the deterioration in political relations between Poland and Hungary. Bezprym's mother was repudiated and sent away, although probably she remained in Poland and died soon afterwards.[6]

Shortly after his divorce, Bolesław I remarried with Emnilda, who bore him five children. The eldest son of this union, the future Mieszko II Lambert, born in 990.

About Bezprym's first years of life almost nothing is known, in contrast with his half-brother Mieszko II, whose youth was fully described in several contemporary sources. This probably showed that his father disliked him and considered Mieszko II as his successor since his birth, which was already confirmed by Bolesław I's later political activity.

Bezprym was then destined to a Church career, a fact who is demonstrated in the Vita of St. Saint Romuald, a hermit from Ravenna. There it is stated that in one of the hermitages resided a son of a Polish Duke, who in 1001 gave him a horse. According to modern historians, this Polish prince could only be Bezprym.[7] However, in earlier historiography, it was theorised that the Polish prince who lived in the hermitage of Ravenna was Lambert, son of Mieszko I[8] or an unknown son of Bolesław I from his first marriage with the daughter of Rikdag, Margrave of Meissen.[9]

It's possible that he was in Hungary and there he was appointed head of Veszprém and Zala county. In this case the name "Veszprém" originated from his name.[10] Nevertheless, this hypothesis proposed by a Hungarian researcher didn't find acceptance among Polish historians. It is also probable that Bezprym was present at the coronation of his father as King of Poland in Gniezno Cathedral on 25 April 1025.[11]

Duke of Poland

Assumption of power

Probably after Mieszko II took control over the government of Poland, both Bezprym and his youngest half-brother Otto resided in Poland for a short time. However, soon Mieszko II expelled Bezprym from the country,[12] and probably he did the same with Otto in 1030, when he discovered that they conspired against him with the help of Emperor Conrad II.

Bezprym took refuge in Kievan Rus and probably used the weakened position of Mieszko II as an excuse to gain the alliance of the Rurikids ruler Yaroslav I the Wise and Mstislav.[13] In 1031, while Mieszko II was defending the western border from the German expedition of Conrad II, Bezprym and the Kievan forces entered into Poland. Mieszko II at that time was busy defending Lusatia and consequently was unable to repel the Kievan attack. He then was forced to escape to Bohemia, where he was imprisoned and castrated by orders of Duke Oldrich. Yaroslav I the Wise annexed Red Ruthenia to his domains and Bezprym ascended to the Polish throne. Yaroslav I's troops intervened directly in the central provinces of the country, aiming at embedding the new Duke on the throne, but this fact is now considered doubtful. It's possible that the new rule of Bezprym was attractive to the population. Some scholars assume that he could even stand at the head of the so-called Pagan Reaction.[14]


Shortly after taking power, Bezprym sent the Royal crown and regalia to the Emperor. Thus, he resigned from the royal title and accepted the primacy of his western neighbor. The Royal crown and regalia were personally delivered by Mieszko II's wife, Queen Richeza. In 1031, together with her children Casimir, Ryksa and Gertruda, she left the country. At the court of Emperor Conrad II, the deposed Queen was received with all honors, and also was allowed to continue to use the royal title. The departure of Richeza, and especially of her son, was extremely beneficial for Bezprym, because (at least temporarily) this eliminated a possible pretender to the throne. Mieszko II wasn't considered too dangerous at that time, since he was imprisoned and castrated in Bohemia by orders of Duke Oldrich.

However, there probably remained a large group of supporters of the former ruler. It's believed that Bezprym began his bloody persecution against them shortly after he began his government. Many representatives of the Polish social elite were forced to flee as a result. According to sources, some of them took refuge in Masovia. Perhaps among the victims of the repression, there were two Bishops, whose date of death is recorded in 1032 in the Chronicles of the Chapter of Kraków: Roman and Lambert. The brutal fight with the opposition could have led to the above-mentioned Pagan Reaction, however it was probably instigated by discontent against the power of the Church and with the state apparatus. Contemporary historiography places the riots in 1031–1032, during the reign of Bezprym. The reaction wasn't only of a religious background, but social. Mainly it was a reflection of the economic state caused by the aggressive policy of Bolesław I the Brave and less successful rule of Mieszko II. The defeat in the battle in the west during that period cut off the basic source of livelihood of the Polish troops, who were forced to loot the western lands. As a result, the cost of maintaining the existence of an extensive army was probably too much for the population. In addition, the devastating incursions of foreign troops was another cause of dissatisfaction among the citizenship.[15]

It is noteworthy that one can find in older historiography the currently generally rejected theory of the existence of an older son of Mieszko II, called Bolesław the Forgotten (Polish: Bolesław Zapomniany) —who apparently succeeded his father in 1034 until his death in 1038—, and, according to some historians[16] was the real instigator of the Pagan Reaction, who in consequence took power around 1034.

Death and Aftermaths

The rule of Bezprym didn't last long. The reason for his downfall was his extreme cruelty. According to the Chronicles of Hildesheim, he was murdered by his own men no later than spring of 1032. Probably the instigators of his death were his half-brothers, although the main conspirator was Otto, who remained free in Germany. The place of his burial is unknown.

The Polish state as a result of Bezprym's rule had been substantially weakened. After his death the country was split into three parts: between Mieszko II, Otto, and their cousin Dytryk. This significantly increased the impact of the Holy Roman Empire on Polish affairs. Poland also lost its status as "kingdom" for nearly a half century .


See also

External links



  1. Hypothesis of Jacek Hertel (Imiennictwo dynastii piastowskiej we wczesnym średniowieczu, PWN, Warsaw 1980, pp. 106-109).
  2. K. Jasiński, Rodowód pierwszych Piastów, p. 106.
  3. Kazimierz Jasiński: Rodowód pierwszych Piastów, Warsaw 1993
  4. Oswald Balzer: Genealogia Piastów, Kraków 1895, pp. 39-41
  5. S. A. Sroka, Historia Węgier do 1526 roku w zarysie, p. 19.
  7. K. Jasiński, Rodowód pierwszych Piastów, pp. 105-107; J. Wyrozumski, Dzieje Polski piastowskiej (VIII wiek - 1370), p. 103.
  8. A hypothesis presented by Tadeusz Wojciechowski and Anatol Lewicki.
  9. Oswald Balzer, Genealogia Piastów, Kraków 1895.
  10. György Györffy, Kontakty Polski i Węgier w dobie tworzenia się obu państw, explained by Izabela Szyszkowska-Andruszko in "Kwartalnik Historyczny”, vol. XCV, 1988, No 4, p. 9.
  11. A. F. Grabski, Bolesław Chrobry, Warsaw 1964, p. 292.
  12. According to chronicles of Wipo the Polish prince banished by Mieszko II soon after his succession was Otto; however, modern historians assume that in fact was Bezprym, and the author made a mistake by confusing the identity of the two princes.
  13. Roman Grodecki, Bezprym in Polskim Słowniku Biograficznym.
  14. A stronger supporter of this theory was Gerard Labuda, Mieszko II król Polski, pp. 85-86; Roman Grodecki, by the other hand, was opposed to this idea, saying that the że brak jakichkolwiek, choćby pośrednich wskazówek, które by pozwalały przypuszczać, że Bezprym - do niedawna, choć wbrew woli, zakonnik - oparł swe dążności na żywiołach pogańskich w Polsce (...) i że ofiarą jego padł Kościół polski. Prawo Bezpryma do tronu, jako pierworodnego, uznawać mogły najbardziej schrystianizowane żywioły (Dzieje Polski średniowiecznej, p. 107).
  15. This pattern of events the Stanisław Szczur (Historia Polski Średniowiecze, p. 80). Close to him are the views of Zbyszko Górczak (Bunt Bezpryma jako początek tzw. reakcji pogańskiej w Polsce). G. Labuda put the thesis already mentioned above, that the reaction led to the same Bezprym. In turn, Danuta Borawska stated that the social problems during the government of Bezprym were only one of several reactions, the first of which was to occur as early as 1022 (Kryzys monarchii wczesnopiastowskiej w latach trzydziestych XI wieku). This idea is opposite to the theory of Roman Grodecki, according to which the problems both social and religious have come only in the second half of the 1030s (Dzieje Polski średniowiecznej, vol. I, pp. 103-114).
  16. Theory supported, among others, by Roman Grodecki.
Piast Dynasty
Born: c. 986 Died: 1032
Preceded by
Mieszko II Lambert
as King
Duke of Poland
Succeeded by
Mieszko II Lambert
as Duke
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