Princely arms of the Radziwiłł family, incorporating the Trąby emblem
Current region Poland
Earlier spellings Radvila
Place of origin Kernavė, Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Connected families Astikai

The Radziwiłł family (Polish pronunciation: [radʑiˈviw]; Lithuanian: Radvila; Belarusian: Радзівіл, Radzivił; German: Radziwill) is an aristocratic family originating from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and later the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland.[1] The descendants of Kristinas Astikas, a Lithuanian and a close associate of the 14th century Lithuanian ruler Vytautas, were highly prominent for centuries, first in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, later in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Kingdom of Prussia. The family has produced many individuals notable in Lithuanian, Belarusian, Polish, German (particularly Prussian) and general European history and culture.[2] The Radziwiłł family received the title of Reichsfürst (prince, Polish: książę, Lithuanian: kunigaikštis, Belarusian: князь, kniaź), from the Holy Roman Empire.

The Nesvizh Castle complex, maintained by the family in Belarus between the 16th century and 1939, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.[3] The countries of Belarus, Finland, Lithuania, Poland, Russian Federation, and Ukraine jointly nominated its family archives to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2008, and they were inscribed on the Register in 2009.[4]

Name and origin

Trąby coat of arms, granted to Kristinas Astikas' family in 1413
The coat of arms as granted in 1547 by the Holy Roman Emperor.

The Radziwiłł family is a directly descended branch of the extinct Lithuanian noble Astikai family line.[5] Its first notable member, Kristinas Astikas (born 1363), a close associate of the Lithuanian ruler Vytautas, became Castellan of Vilnius.[6] The patronym Radvila arose following its use by his son Radvila Astikas and grandson Mikalojus Radvila.[6] A legendary version of the patronym's etymology associates it with a child raised by wolves (rado vilko).[7] The name has been primarily written in, and recognized by, the polonized version and spelling for several centuries.

The family descends from Lithuanian bajorai-ducal courtiers who advanced considerably in the 15th century politics of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Along with possessions of land near Kernavė, the family's traced place of origin, the Radziwiłł family also inherited the Trąby coat of arms.

Three of Mikalojus' sons, Mikołaj, Jan, and Jerzy, went on to become the progenitors of the three known Radziwiłł family lines.[8]

The Radziwiłł family divided by branch:

The Goniądz-Meteliai line became extinct by the next generation as Mikołaj's descendants consisted of one male heir, Mikołaj III, who entered the priesthood and became the Bishop of Samogitia, thus bearing no known offspring to extend the line.

The Biržai-Dubingiai line was moderately more successful and produced some very notable state officials and politicians, but also became extinct after the death of Ludwika Karolina Radziwiłł in 1695.

Mikołaj "the Black" Radziwiłł, perhaps the most influential member of the family. He rallied opposition to the Lublin Union between Lithuania and Poland.

The Nesvizh-Kletsk-Olyka line was the most successful and was further divided into smaller family lines in order to maintain clarity and specificity of descent and the passing of titles. Since the 18th century, all Radziwiłł family members have been descendants of this line. Three sons of Mikołaj "the Black", Mikołaj Krzysztof "Sierotka", Albrycht, and Stanisław "the Pious", are said to be the progenitors of the three smaller branches.[8] The branches are as follows:

Possibly both the Olyka and older Kletsk lines became extinct, the former in 1656 and the latter in 1690, but there are a lot of descendents in Europe, who had fled of the battles Russia-Poland, Poland-Sweden. The direct descendant of the Nesvizh line, Dominik Hieronim's son, Aleksander Dominik, was born before the marriage of his parents and formed the so-called Galician branch, which became extinct in 1938. The younger Kletsk line descends from Michał Hieronim, continued through his son Ludwik Mikolaj. The descendants of his other son, Antoni Henryk, formed the beginning of the so-called Ordynant branch. Other than the Ordynant branch, from the younger Kletsk line also descends the lesser titled branches of Szydłowiec and Połoneczka, as well as Dziatłava, Berdychiv, and Żyrmunów.[8] The younger Kletsk line has continued into the present day.

Coat of arms and motto

Together with other aristocrats, Kristinas Astikas, ancestor of the Radziwiłł family, was granted and adopted the emblem known as Trąby after the Union of Horodło in 1413. This emblem later became the hereditary coat of arms of the Radziwiłłs.

In 1518, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I created Mikalojus Radvila's son, Mikołaj, Reichsfürst ("Imperial Prince") of Goniądz and Meteliai after the Jagiellonian-Habsburg congress at Vienna.[5][8] Mikołaj Radziwiłł also received an expanded, more solemn coat of arms: as princes of the Holy Roman Empire, the Radziwiłłs bore a black eagle, on whose breast is a shield with Trąby and other emblems. The family motto is "God advises us"[9] (Polish: Bóg nam radzi, Belarusian: Бог нам раіць, Boh nam rajić).

In 1547, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, created Mikołaj "the Black" and his brother, Jan,[10] hereditary Reichsfürsten of Nesvizh and Olyka;[1][8] their cousin Mikołaj "the Red" Radziwiłł[10] was created Reichsfürst[1] of Biržai and Dubingiai.[8] King Sigismund II Augustus of Poland confirmed these titles in 1549.[9] So high a title was rare among the szlachta (the Polish nobility): just five Polish families, including the Radziwiłłs, received the title of imperial prince from the Holy Roman emperor.[11]


The Radziwiłł family also branched regarding religion. Following the Protestant and Polish Reformation, two branches converted to Calvinism. One branch, the Nesvizh–Kletsk-Olyka line, remained as Calvinists for two generations until the children of Mikołaj "the Black" converted to Catholicism before the end of the century. The Biržai-Dubingiai line remained in the Protestant faith until the extinction of their line one century later.[12] Both Mikołaj "the Black" and Mikołaj "the Red" were zealous promoters and active participants of the Protestant religion within the GDL. Mikołaj "the Black" funded the printing of a second version, and first completed, Polish translation of a Protestant bible,[13] titled the "Radziwiłł Bible" (also known as "Biblia Brzeska"), which was published in the town of Brest in 1564. His death in 1565 was seen as a severe loss to the Protestant cause in Lithuania. However, Mikołaj "the Red" continued his cousin's work by founding and endowing land to several churches and schools.[14]


Several prominent family members have been involved in domestic and foreign political arenas. They took an active part in the political life of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and its importance is manifested by family relations with such famous nobility dynasties in Belarus, Ukraine, Poland, the Great Duchy of Lithuania, Samogitia, and Rus like Zaslawski, Rohatinski, Lukomski, and Olshanski-Dobrowicki. The Radziwiłł family joined the rest of the nobility as the elite of the state after the signing the Union of Krewo in 1385.

The significance of the Radziwiłł family is proved by the marriage of Anna to Konrad III Rudy, duke of Masovia, who owned the largest Polish principality. In 1550 a member of the Radziwiłł family was married to Sigismund II Augustus, thus becoming the Queen of Poland. Later the Radziwiłłs established family relations not only with the most important families of the Polish, Belarusian and Lithuanian magnate families like Sanguszko, Sapieha or Chodkiewicz, but also with members of royal families like Wiśniowiecki, Sobieski, and Leszczyński.

The political position of the Radziwiłłs enhanced in the 16th century. In 1515, Mikołaj, as a member of a delegation, headed by King Sigismund I the Old took part in the First Congress of Vienna in Pressburg and Vienna where Emperor Maximilian I met kings of Poland, Hungary and Bohemia. Additionally, Mikolaj "the Black" was the deputy to the Grand Prince when the latter was abroad. From that time on, the Radziwiłłs were also granted the privilege of keeping legal acts and other state documents in Nesvizh.

During this time until the first half of the 17th century, the Radziwiłłs were the most influential and richest family among the magnate dynasties of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. This status enabled them, along with very few other families, to have their own army. In 1528, the Radziwiłłs owned 18,240 houses thus being able to have cavalry of 760 horsemen. In 1567, 28,170 houses provided for an expanded 939 horsemen and 1586 infantrymen. In the 18th century, the army of Hieronim Florian, for instance, had 6,000 men, and was equal to the entire armed forces of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

Members of the Radziwiłł family held important state posts in the Rzeczpospolita and in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. 8 chancellors, 7 hetmans, 15 castellans, 19 marszałeks, and 19 voivodes, almost exclusively representing the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, rather than the Crown, belonged to the dynasty. Radziwiłłs were members of the parliament and of the Tribunal of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. They also held high military posts and took part in the Livonian War, Russo-Polish War of 1647–1667, Northern Wars, participated in the Napoleonic campaign, and the Kościuszko Uprising. Michał Gedeon was the commander-in-chief of the November Uprising, and his cousin Stanislaw Radziwiłł was the aide-de-camp to the Commander-in-chief Józef Piłsudski.

The Radziwiłłs also gained international importance manifested in family relations with German princely dynasties, first established by Albrecht Radziwiłł from Olyka who married Anna, princess of Courland. Such conjugal unions continued in 17th and 18th centuries. After the three partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in the late 18th century, towns and estates owned by the Radziwiłłs became parts of territories belonged to Russia, Prussia and Austria. However all three states recognized the title of princes of the Radziwiłł dynasty and the right of its members for the family properties. Many members of the Radziwiłł family held high civil and military posts. They had family ties with King of Prussia Ferdinand, the Castellan dukes, and the Aldringen and Wittgenstein princes. The significance of the Radziwiłł family is proved by the fact that Stanislaw Albrecht was a chargé d'affaires in the League of Nations.[15]


Possessions of Radziwiłł family are marked in dark blue

The family acquired and maintained great wealth and influence from the 15th-16th century until the beginning of the Second World War in 1939. The Radziwiłł family reached the heights of its importance and power during the Polish Golden Age. However, due to the activities of Janusz Radziwilłł during The Deluge, the family lost much of its wealth and power.

Regarding their wealth, the Radziwiłłs were not inferior to the royal family. In total, the Radziwiłł family has had in its possession 23 palaces, 426 large and small towns, 2032 estates, and 10,053 villages. In Belarus they possessed towns and boroughs like Haranyony, Davyd-Haradok, Kletsk, Dzyarzhynsk, Kopys, Dakhva, Mir, Nesvizh, Charnauchitsy, and Shchuchyn; in Ukraine – Olyka with dozens of villages in the Wolyn province (Polish: wojewodztwo); in Poland- Szydłowiec with villages in the Sandomierz province; and in Lithuania – Biržai, Dubingiai, Kėdainiai and others.

The Goniądz-Meteliai line possessed in 15th – 16th centuries estates like Goniądz and Zaigrad and Podlaskie Lowlands in Poland. In 1612 the Slutsk Principality passed over to the Radziwiłłs. Their possessions were expanded also with Brest, Ashmyany, Krychau, Lida, Mazyr and other administrative territories (starostwos). The Radziwiłłs were granted a life-time privilege of being governors (starostas) of those territories.

In 1586, the sons of Mikolaj "the Black" arranged for their fortunes to follow an ordynat, which was to have individual properties inherited by their male descendants. The ordynats of Nesvizh, Kletsk, and Olyka were thus formed. In the 19th century the Davyd-Haradok and Przygodzice ordynats were also established. Other possessions could be inherited by female heirs or alienated. Depending on the importance and size of owned lands, they were called either principalities (Nesvizh, Olyka, Biržai, Dubingiai, Kapyl, Slutsk, Staryi Chortoryisk, Stary Zbaraz, Goniądz and Medele), counties (Mir, Biała Podlaska, Dzyarzhynsk, Kopys, Zabłudów, Kėdainiai, Zolkow, Pomorzani, Belykamen, Kražiai), or estates (Nevel, Krasnoye, Sebezh, Musninkai, Sereya, Horodok, Sobolew, Slovatichi, Ruchai, Kolki, Vyazyn, Rafałówka, Zhmigrod, Beloozero, Yampol, Shumsk, Sverzhen, Drisvyaty, Naliboki).[15]

After the extinction of the Olyka and older Kletsk lines, their fortunes were passed to those of the Nesvizh line. With the death of the heirless Dominik Hieronim in 1813, the Nesvizh line lost its right to the ordynat. Dominik Heronim's son, Aleksander Dominik, was born before the marriage of his parents and was thus denied the title and inheritance of his forefathers. He and his descendants had their princely title confirmed by the Austrian Empire. Thus, the ordynat of Nesvizh and Olyka fell into the hands of the younger Kletsk line. In this way, all three Radziwiłł ordynats ended up in the possession of one line, represented by the sons of Michal Hieronim, Ludwik Mikolaj of Kletsk and Antoni Henryk of Nesvizh and Olyka. The descendants of Antoni Henryk formed the beginning of the so-called Ordynant branch, out of the younger Kletsk line, in whose possession, other than the three older ordynats of Nesvizh, Kletsk, and Olyka, they also received the two additional titles of Przygodzice and Davyd-Haradok.[8]

The Radziwiłł family as no other aristocratic family of such level possessed numerous castles, their number reaching 23. The most fortified of them were in Nesvizh, Olyka, Biržai, Biała, Slutsk, Zolkow, Pomorzany and Zolochiv. The Radziwiłłs possessed palaces in most important cities of the Rzeczpospolita including those where the Sejm had its sessions (Warsaw, Hrodna), or the Tribunal held its meetings (Vilnius, Lublin, Navahrudak), in province centres where the Radziwiłłs had their estates (Minsk and Lviv), and in the cties where the Radziwiłłs were economically active (Gdańsk, Wrocław). In 19th and 20th centuries the Radziwiłłs owned property in European capitals like Vienna, Dresden, Berlin and Paris. Residences that emerged in the centres of the possessions of the Radziwiłłs reflected the importance of a town in the history of the family. One of this type of residences was Nesvizh in Belarus which by the 18th century had developed into a most important princely town.[15]


Over the generations the family members have resided in some notable historic homes. The Radziwiłł family owned a total of 23 palaces. Some of the more prominent of these are:

Notable members

Reburial ceremony of Radvillas in Dubingiai, Lithuania
A 17th-century tile with the coat of arms and initials of Ludwika Karolina Radziwiłł from Biržai Castle
Corpus Christi Church, Nesvizh (1587-93) is the family sepulchre of the Radziwiłł family in Niasvizh.

The Radziwiłł family members include:

Since 1515 both Mikolajs and the Radziwiłł family were elevated to Reichsfürsten of the Holy Roman Empire.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Jerzy Jan Lerski; Piotr Wróbel; Richard J. Kozicki (1996). Historical Dictionary of Poland, 966-1945. Greenwood Publishing. p. 415. ISBN 978-0-313-26007-0.
  2. Short history of the Radziwill Family
  3. "Architectural, Residential and Cultural Complex of the Radziwiłł Family at Nesvizh". United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Retrieved 2009-06-16.
  4. "Radziwills' Archives and Niasvizh (Nieśwież) Library Collection". United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Retrieved 2009-06-16.
  5. 1 2 Stone, Daniel (2001). The Polish–Lithuanian state, 1386–1795. University of Washington Press. p. 52. ISBN 978-0-295-98093-5.
  6. 1 2 "THE RADVILAS". Lithuanian Art Museum. Retrieved 2010-01-06.
  7. "Radvilų giminė" (in Lithuanian). Lithuanian Art Museum, archived by the Wayback Machine. Archived from the original on March 14, 2008. Retrieved 2016-05-18.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Mackiewicz, Stanisław (1990). Dom Radziwiłłów. Warszawa: Czytelnik. ISBN 83-07-01971-0.
  9. 1 2 National History and Culture Museum-Reserve "Nyasvizh". The history of the Radzivills’ family. Retrieved on 2015-04-05
  10. 1 2 Rimša, Edmundas (1998). The Heraldry of Lithuania, Volume 1. Vilnius: Baltos Lankos. p. 35. ISBN 9986-861-34-9.
  11. Polish Genealogical Society of America. The Titled Families of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Retrieved on 2007-10-15
  12. Krasinski, Valerian (1851). Sketch of the Religious History of the Slavonic Nations. Johnstone and Hunter. p. 153.
  13. The American Quarterly Register, Volume 4. American Education Society. 1832. p. 111.
  14. McClintock, John (1889). Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Volume 8. Harper & Brothers. p. 339.
  15. 1 2 3 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. World Heritage Scanned Nomination. Excerpt from the Decisions of the 29th Session of the World Heritage Committee. Retrieved on 2007-10-18
  16. "Chopin u Radziwiłła — Berlin 1829" by Henryk Siemiradzki. In. Biblioteka chopinowska , Tom 7 Polskie Wydawn. Muzyczne, 1960
  17. Frederick Chopin as a Man and Musician by Frederick Niecks; Chopin: The Man and His Music by James Huneker
  18. "History of Birzai". Birzai District Municipality. Retrieved 2009-10-18.
  19. "Archaeological Site in Dubingiai". The Castle Research Center „Lietuvos pilys“. Retrieved 2009-10-19.
  20. "Radvilos Palace". Lithuanian Art Museum. Retrieved 2009-10-20.

Further reading

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