Leszek II the Black

Leszek II the Black

19th century portrait by Jan Matejko.
High Duke of Poland
Reign 1279–1288
Predecessor Bolesław V the Chaste
Successor Henryk IV Probus
Duke of Sieradz
Reign 1261–1288
Predecessor Casimir I of Kuyavia
Successor Władysław I the Elbow-high
Duke of Inowrocław
Reign 1273–1278
Predecessor Bolesław the Pious
Successor Ziemomysł
Born c. 1241
Brześć Kujawski
Died 30 September 1288
Burial Dominican Church of the Holy Trinity, Kraków
Spouse Gryfina of Halych
House House of Piast
Father Casimir I of Kuyavia
Mother Constance of Wrocław

Leszek II the Black (Polish: Leszek Czarny; c. 1241 – 30 September 1288), was a Polish prince member of the House of Piast, Duke of Sieradz since 1261, Duke of Łęczyca since 1267, Duke of Inowrocław during 1273-1278, Duke of Sandomierz and High Duke of Poland since 1279.


Birth and nickname. Early Years

Leszek II was the eldest son of Duke Casimir I of Kuyavia and his second wife Constance, daughter of Henry II the Pious from the Silesian branch of the Piast dynasty. His nickname, Black (Latin: Niger) appears for the first time in the 14th century Kronika Dzierzwy, and was probably given to him for his dark hair.

In 1257 his mother died, and shortly after his father married for the third time with Euphrosyne, daughter of Casimir I of Opole. Leszek's stepmother soon caused conflicts in the family with her attempts to obtain territorial benefits for her own children (the eldest of them was the future Polish king Władysław I the Elbow-high) in detriment of Leszek and his young full-brother Ziemomysł; some chronicles even accused Euphrosyne of attempting to poisoning both princes, however this wasn't proved.

Rebellion against his father

Leszek II and Ziemomysł rebelled against their father and stepmother in 1261 (although the participation of Ziemomysł is debated in historiography). The revolt initially failed because the local nobility, dissatisfied with their adventurous policy, retired their support; however, thanks to the help of the coalition formed with Bolesław V the Chaste, Siemowit I of Masovia and Bolesław the Pious, Leszek II eventually forced his father to give him the district of Sieradz as a separate Duchy.

Duke of Sieradz

Leszek the Black's Seal.

Leszek II rule as Duke of Sieradz lasted from 1261 until 1279. His new Duchy was formed with one of the less populated lands in the country. Only the colonization policy whom he pursued (including the foundation of cities like Nowa Brzeźnica, Lutomiersk, Wolbórz and Radomsko) and the close cooperation with the Church, slowly changed the image of the district.

In 1267 Casimir I died, leaving his domains to his five sons. Leszek II, as the oldest son and already in possession of Sieradz, only took Łęczyca. One year later, the citizens of Inowrocław rebelled against the pro-German policy of Ziemomysł and called Bolesław the Pious be their new ruler; however Ziemomysł managed to kept the government until 1271, when Bolesław finally invaded the Duchy, forcing Ziemomysł to escape. He kept the district for two years, until 1273, when Bolesław gave the district to Leszek II, who unexpectedly became also in Duke of Inowrocław. His government over this land lasted until 1278, when after a meeting at Ląd on 24 August, and thanks to the mediation of Przemysł II of Greater Poland, Leszek II returned the Duchy to his brother.

Adoption by Bolesław V the Chaste. Marital conflicts

After Leszek II obtained his political independence in 1261, he rapidly established good relations with Bolesław V the Chaste, ruler of Kraków and Sandomierz. The two princes meet for the first time in 1260, on occasion of the expedition against the Kingdom of Bohemia, which is part of a broader action during the Hungarian-Bohemian War for the Babenberg inheritance. Leszek II's participation in the war against Bohemia and his allies (Henryk IV Probus and Władysław Opolski) continued in later year, with particular intensity during 1271-1273.

The childlessness of Bolesław V and close cooperation with Leszek II resulted in the latter expectation to become his heir. The document of adoption was issued in 1265; eight years later, Władysław Opolski organized a military expedition to Kraków, because he refused to accept the adoption. On 4 June 1273 took place the Battle of Bogucin Mały, where the Opole-Racibórz army was defeated. At the end of October, Bolesław V made a retaliatory expedition against Opole-Racibórz; however, the forces were limited only to destroy specific areas of the duchy. In 1274 Władysław and Bolesław V the Chaste decided to conclude a peace, under which the Duke of Opole-Racibórz gave up his claims over the throne of Kraków in exchange of some territory adjacent to his Duchy, and stretching as far as the Skawinka river.

Gryfina and Leszek, painting by Jan Matejko, 1879.

In 1265 Leszek II married with Gryfina (also named Agrippina), daughter of the Rurikid prince Rostislav Mikhailovich, Ban of Slavonia and Duke of Macsó. The union was completely unhappy; in 1271 erupted the scandal when she fled to Kraków and publicly accused her husband of impotence, and for this their marriage was never consummated.

The reconciliation of the couple took place only four years later, due to the intervention of Bolesław V the Chaste and his wife Kinga; Gryfina returned with her husband on 6 August 1275. Leszek II then decided to follow a treatment of the well-known doctor Mikołaj of Kraków. His prescription included ate frogs and snakes, because of which -as was stated on the Rocznik Traski- "the lack of offspring caused a great abomination into the nation". Ultimately, Leszek II and Gryfina never had children.

Ruler over Kraków and Sandomierz. War against Kievan Rus', Lithuania and Yotvingia

On 7 December 1279 Bolesław V the Chaste died. In accordance with his wishes, the Duchies of Kraków and Sandomierz where inherited by Leszek II, who became in the new High Duke. The succession took place without much problems, although is probable that Leszek II was forced to agree to a formal election as Duke of Kraków.

However, the beginning of his reign wasn't peaceful. Unexpectedly Leo I of Halych-Peremyshl, with the help of King Wenceslaus II of Bohemia, planned the invasion of Kraków. With the help of Lithuanians, Tartars and some Russian principalities, in February 1280 he invaded Lublin, crossed the Vistula and besieged Sandomierz, who managed to resisted; thanks to this, Leszek II was able to reunited enough forces to repel the invasion. The final battle took place in Goźlice on 23 February, where the Polish forces (under the command of Peter, voivode of Kraków and Janusz, voivode of Sandomierz), forced the Halych army to flee. Later in that year, Leszek II organized a retaliatory expedition, who burned and destroyed border areas until Lviv.

The following year, Leszek II attacked the Duchy of Wrocław, who belonged to Henryk IV Probus; this was in response for the imprisonment of Leszek II's ally Przemysł II after a meeting in probably Barycz. This expedition, besides the significant loot who bring to him, didn't gave the expected result.

Also the following years were not peaceful. In 1282 the Yotvingians invaded Lublin and plundered several villages; thanks to this unexpected attack they advanced to Łopiennik Górny. Leszek II, after the initial surprise, managed to pursuit the invasors and somewhere behind the Narew river they clashed into a bloody battle. The Yotvingians where slaughtered, and this defeat effectively destroyed the combat strength of the tribe. One year later, the Lithuanians made a retaliatory expedition, but Leszek II was able to defeat them in the Battle of Rowiny.

Conflict with Paweł of Przemankowo, Bishop of Kraków

Despite all his military victories, Leszek II's position in Kraków-Sandomierz was not too strong. During almost all his reign he had to fight with the internal opposition. One of the leading opponents to his rule where Paweł of Przemankowo, Bishop of Kraków and Janusz Starża, voivode of Sandomierz. The dispute with Bishop Paweł started at the beginning of the 1280s, when he refused to approve Leszek II's restrictive policy against the Church. In this conflict also had an important part the widow of Bolesław V, Kinga of Hungary, who, according to her husband's will, received the district of Stary Sącz as her Oprawa wdowia; this district was very important and strategic (because connected with Hungary) and, according to Leszek II, too valuable to be in the hands of the Dowager High Duchess (although another motive could be that he wanted to give that land to his own wife Gryfina). During 1282-1283, the conflict came in the most dramatic stage, when Bishop Paweł (who fiercely supported the rights of Kinga) was captured after a meeting at Łagów and imprisoned in Sieradz. The Bishop of Kraków only regained his freedom thanks to the intervention of the Polish Church. A final settlement was signed only on 30 November 1286, when Leszek II agreed to pay Bishop Paweł 3,000 fines as compensation for damages and the recognition of the Bishopric's privileges.

Knighthood revolts of 1282 and 1285

The government of Leszek II also caused the opposition of the local knighthood, which could be surprising given the numerous times that they served the High Duke in his expeditions. The first revolt took place in 1282, when the voivode Janusz Starża, using the absence of Leszek II, gave the fortresses of Sandomierz and Radom to Konrad II of Czersk. This rebellion (if really occurred, because the first information about it came from Jan Długosz, and strangely the voivode remained in his post) was quickly suppressed.

A more serious revolt took place three years later, in April 1285, when Otto Toporczyk, voivode of Sandomierz, Janusz Starża, the former voivode and now castellan of Kraków and Żegota, voivode of Kraków, raised an army against Leszek II, who taken by surprise, was forced to escape to Hungary. Fortunately for Leszek II, the candidate for the throne supported by the rebels, Konrad II of Czersk, failed to take the Wawel Castle, defended by the faithful local burghers, led by High Duchess Gryfina. On 3 May 1285 took place a decisive battle in Bogucice, where with the help of the Hungarians Leszek II obtained a great victory, forcing the rebels to leave the country. This overcoming opposition forced Leszek II to modified his local policy, so until the end of his reign the government was more stable.

Mongol Invasion in Poland

In 1287-1288 took place the third invasion of the Tatars to Lesser Poland led by Nogai Khan and Talabuga. Their forces, with the support of some Kievan Rus' principalities where too great to face them in battle, so the knights and population took refuge in fortresses. Leszek II traveled to Hungary to ask for help. This time, Lesser Poland was better prepared for the Mongol invasion than in the previous two incursions - with several fortresses in Kraków and Sandomierz to defend the lands. The destruction, however, was quite significant.

The First Piast Coalition. Death

It's believed that Leszek II initiated the process of unification of Poland. According to the theory of historian Oswald Balzer, he inspired the called First Piast Coalition, formed by four princes: Leszek II, Henryk IV Probus, Przemysł II and Henry III of Głogów, around 1287 and whose main purprose was to arrange the order of succession in Lesser Poland. This hypothesis is refuted by modern historiography, as a result of the known bad relations between Leszek II, Przemysł II and Henryk Iv Probus during this period. On the other hand, another fact who could showed an apparent national unification, was the growing cult to Stanislaus of Szczepanów.

Leszek II died on 30 September 1288 at Kraków, and was buried in the local Dominican Church of the Holy Trinity. After his death a violent dispute erupted among the main Piasts rulers for the Seniorate; eventually, Henryk IV Probus became in the new High Duke in 1289, but his sudden death one year later caused that the Seniorate passed to Przemysł II, but soon after (1291) he was deposed on behalf of King Wenceslaus II of Bohemia, who became in the new High Duke and King of Poland; having no legal grounds to reign, he managed to obtain a document from the Dowager Duchess Gryfina, under which she ceded to his nephew the Bohemian King the district of Stary Sącz, whom she finally received as her Oprawa wdowia, with the doubtful inclusion of all the Seniorate.


Konrad I of Masovia
d. August 31, 1247
Casimir I of Kuyavia
died December 14, 1267
Agafia of Rus
d. after August 31, 1247
Leszek II the Black
d. September 30, 1288
Henry II the Pious
died April 9, 1241
Constance of Wrocław
d. February 21 between 1253 and 1257
Anne of Bohemia
d. June 23, 1265

See also


Leszek II the Black
Born: c. 1241 Died: 30 September 1288
Preceded by
Bolesław V the Chaste
High Duke of Poland
Duke of Kraków

Succeeded by
Henryk IV Probus
Preceded by
Casimir I
Duke of Sieradz
Succeeded by
Władysław I the Elbow-high
Duke of Łęczyca
Succeeded by
Casimir II
Preceded by
Bolesław the Pious
Duke of Inowrocław
Succeeded by
Duke of Sandomierz
Succeeded by
Bolesław II
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