Love In Lviv & Lithuania: From First To Last Sight – The Romance of King Wladyslaw IV & Mistress Jadwiska (Lviv: The History of One City Part 25)

Change, it seems like it will never come and then suddenly it arrives all at once. It is a cliché that life can change in a matter of moments, but improbably it happens. After the change occurs, it becomes hard to imagine what life was like before then. That brings us to a famous Eastern European love story, a romance that involved a monumental change in circumstances for one young lady. A break with her past that set her and her exalted lover on a star crossed course. On a spring day in 1648 at Merkine Castle in the woods of southern Lithuania, the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania Wladyslaw IV Vasa was clinging to life. He was suffering from kidney stones and a dose of medication had made the problem much worse.  At his bedside was his longtime mistress Jadwiszka.  The King was dying and a romantic dream was going to die with him. When Wladyslaw finally succumbed after several days of suffering, his life and legacy moved into history. Jadwiszka lived on, but after her lover’s death she disappeared from the scene. What happened to her next is left to the imagination, but the romantic dream she had lived with King Wladyslaw would live on forever in the heart of a city 600 kilometers (372 miles) to the south, that city was Lviv, the hometown of Jadwiszka.

House at 30 Rynok Square

House at 30 Rynok Square – where Jadwiszka Luszkowska looked at King Wladyslaw for the first time (Credit: Сергій Криниця)

A Conquest Of Love
In 1634, during the second year of his reign, King Wladyslaw IV visited Lwow (Polish name for Lviv). The city, one of the most important and prosperous in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, was a hub for East-West trade. The King and his entourage made their way straight to the city’s commercial heart, Rynok Square. As Wladyslaw strode past the houses and mansions which lined the square a woman caught his eye. Looking out from one of the windows of the house at 30 Rynok Square was a beautiful young lady. She, like so many others that day, was paying her respects to the monarch. Her beauty immediately grabbed the King’s attention and possessed him. Wladyslaw was enraptured from the moment he laid his eyes on her. The lady was Jadwiszka Luszkowska, the daughter of an impoverished merchant. They fell deeply in love. That first glance spawned an unlikely romance. It upended Jadwiszka’s formerly mundane life. As for the King, she not only melted his heart, but also sent the royal court around him into an uproar.

King Wladyslaw IV Vas

A Love Supreme – King Wladyslaw IV Vasa (Credit: Paul Peter Rubens)

The king’s courtiers attempted to cure him of love sickness. The powers that be in the Roman Catholic Church sprinkled Holy Water upon him to no avail. The archbishops believed that Jadwiszka might hold supernatural powers. She did not possess any otherworldly powers, but she did cast a spell, one known as love. The would-be lovers were from different classes and backgrounds. Jadwiszka was seen as inferior to Wladyslaw. How could the King stoop to such a level? This just goes to show that the churchmen and courtiers did not understand the power of passion and an all-consuming love. Nevertheless, they were able to ensure that Wladyslaw did not marry Jadwiszka. The court arranged a traditional marriage of royalty, whereby the King wed Archduchess Cecilia Renata of Austria. The archduchess was pious, polite and a woman who treated those around her as equals. What she was not known for…her looks. Portraits from the time show the Archduchess sporting an outsized chin. The marriage was a political one, done to keep the royal blood pure and Wladyslaw under control. There was still the problem of what to do with Jadwiszka.

Archduchess Cecillia Renata of Austria

Archduchess Cecillia Renata of Austria – first wife of King Wladyslaw IV Vasa (Credit: Peter Danckerts de Rij)

Of Romantic Affairs  – Arranged Marriages & the  Madness of Love
Cecilia Renata, with help from the King’s courtiers, arranged for a marriage between Jadwiszka and the Lithuanian nobleman, John Wypyski. She moved with him to a large landed estate in the beautiful Trakai area of Lithuania which he had received from the court as a gift for the marriage. This estate, a hunter’s paradise, was then frequented by Wladyslaw who went to spend time with Jadwiszka there on numerous occasions. As for the King’s arranged marriage, Cecillia bore him three children, none of which lived past the age of seven. The last one was stillborn, with the Archduchess dying of an infection a day after labor. The King was said to have taken the loss very hard, but it did not keep him away from his beloved Jadwiszka, even after he married again. Wladyslaw’s second marriage was to a French Princess Marie Louise Gonzaga, a lady who would achieve a rare feat, marrying not one but two Polish Kings (after Wladyslaw’s death she would marry his brother John Casimir II). Marie Louise was not exactly a beauty queen. In Justus Van Egmont’s contemporary portrait of her, she has a second chin and arms that look about the size of her shoulders. This was also a political marriage, conjured up by French royalty to inflict grievous harm to the alliance between the Austrian Habsburgs and Poland.  Marie Louise bore Wladyslaw no children. The King would not take political advice from her. He was a man known to follow his own course stubbornly, no matter the outcome. Of course he continued seeing Jadwiszka.

Marie Louise Gonzaga

Marie Louise Gonzaga – second wife of King Wladyslaw IV Vasa (Credit: Justus van Egmont)

Much is known about the political affairs of Wladyslaw, but hardly anything is known about his private world with Jadwiszka. She was probably the closest anyone ever came to being his true soul mate. Perhaps her beauty, romance and grace eroded his legendary stubbornness. He was known to be self-centered and vain. This is not surprising since men who are in love with themselves often fall under the spell of beautiful women (unfortunately no pictures exist of Jadwiszka).  Maybe Jadwiszka acted as a reflection of his vanity. No one can say for sure. The only thing certain is that from the first time their eyes met that day in Rynok Square in Lviv, a fourteen year whirlwind of romance ensued. Fourteen years is a long time, but not long enough for those who are madly in love, yet unable to be together for extended periods. The periods of absence from each other may have served to further stoke the fires of passion or remind them how improbable their romance actually was. The fact that they were unable to be together on a consistent basis likely made them savor their intimate moments even more. In this case, absence made hearts grow closer.

Merkine mound in southern Lithuania

Merkine mound in southern Lithuania -site of the castle where King Wladyslaw IV Vasa died (Credit: Arz)

Love At Last Sight – To End As The Beginning
It is said that in the days prior to his death Wladyslaw was coherent. This gave him time to set his affairs in order. He would have had much to ponder regarding the royal line of succession and what would happen to his policies, peoples, castles and lands. All of this was of importance, as it pertains to the realm of high politics, but what about the realm of the romantic heart. This realm was where the King and Jadwiszka had lived together, away from the courtiers, arranged marriages and intrigues, away from all the whispering campaigns tried in vain to thwart their relationship. They had been able to overcome all of the petty political obstacles because theirs was a true, lasting romance.  This was the kind of love that changes a man and a woman irreparably, to the point where they cannot imagine the world before they knew one another or without each other. A romance that makes a clean break with the past and in the process creates a reality unto itself. This was not the story of a fairy tale. It was the story of two people destined to be together, to begin the wedding of their hearts at the very heart of a great city. And to end in a castle amid the woods of Lithuania, with the dying King looking at his beloved mistress for the last time, just like the first time in Lviv when the King saw that beautiful young woman looking at him.

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