King Casimir the Great

Kimg Casimir the Great reaffirming privileges to Jewish Poles
Kazimierz Wielki


"Casimir by the grace of God king of Poland, lord and inheritor of the land of Krakow, Sandomierz, Sieradz, Leczyca, Kuyavia, Pomerania, and Ruthenia."
                                                  - Translation of King Casimir the Great's official title.

Only twice in recorded history have Poles given the title "the Great" to native sons - King Casimir III and Pope John Paul II. Born in 1310, Casimir found himself in a fragmented kingdom that was in shambles, underpopulated and nearly ruined by three successive Mongol invasions. Upon his coronation in 1333, he immediately rolled up his sleeves and began to leave his indelible mark on Poland.

In 1334, King Casimir reaffirmed privileges granted to Jewish Poles by King Boleslaw IV in 1264. Additionally, he declared them to be "a people of the king" and created new laws to further protect them. He then invited Jews from elsewhere in Europe, who were persecuted and blamed for the plagues, to join him in his Kingdom of Poland. Today, about 70% of Ashkenazi, European Jewry, have their ancestral roots in Poland due to the benevolence of Casimir III. He also invited Saxons, Moravians, Dutchmen, and others to emigrate and become pioneers in the resettlement of the kingdom.

Hundreds of towns received their official town charters from King Casimir III. New settlements and hamlets sprung up where there had been untamed frontiers. Many villages which had been depopulated found an influx of new residents. A renewed vitality crept over the kingdom.

Based upon the destruction that he viewed from the Mongol Invasions, whenever he undertook public works projects, he insisted on the use of brick and stone. He wanted his kingdom to safely endure all perils for generations to come. This is the basis for the famous Polish saying regarding King Casimir III: "Zastal Polske drewniana a zostawil murowana" - "He found a Poland made of wood and left it made of stone".

During his reign, the territory of Poland more than doubled in size. As much through diplomacy as force of arms, he incorporated additional regions into his Kingdom of Poland - Sieradz Region in 1339, Przemysl Region in 1344, Halicz and Rus Halicka in 1349, Mazovia along with the Plock Region in 1351, Dobrzyn Region in 1352, Gorzow in 1365, Chelm, Belz, Wlodzimierz, and Podolia in 1366, Czaplinek in 1368.

With four wives, several mistresses, and countless other likely liaisons, King Casimir III might be called "the father of his country" in jest. What we do know is this. Casimir II fathered two daughters by his first wife Aldonad of Lita and three daughters by his fourth wife Jadwiga of Zagari. He fathered three sons by Cudka, wife of one of his castellans. It is also said that he fathered three additional children with the Jewess Esterka (Esther), but this might be merely a legend. In any event, say what you want, the man had his charm.

He reorganized government and promulgated new civil and commercial laws. He laid the foundation for the Poland that was yet to come. Casimir III, Casimir the Great, Kazimierz Wielki, the Peasant's King died in 1370 naming his nephew, King Louis I of Hungary, as his successor.

But a real prosperity would not begin until Jadwiga, daughter of Casimir's nephew, ascended to the Polish throne. With the Union of Krewo, Poles and Lithuanians finally had the opportunity to develop their economies and a lucrative agricultural export market that became the foundation for Poland's wealth and prosperity.

King Casimir III (1310-1370)

"He found a Poland made of wood
and left it made of stone"

The Peasant's King

Esterka: More than just a friend?

Background music: Chopin Polonaise Opus 40
Dennis Benarz, Chicagoland USA 2009