Bona Maria Sforza – the Queen of Poland


While Bona was growing up, Italian states struggled with foreign invaders. The Sforza family was forced to leave Milan and settle in Naples. When French and Spanish troops conquered Naples, Isabella de Aragon and her two daughters were forced to go into exile. Faced with limited options, Princess Isabella recognized the supremacy of the Spanish King Ferdinand the Catholic and was able to take the throne in Bari and Rossano.

Isabella was very strong and self-determined and she knew what it took to achieve her political goals. She managed the budget and resources very well and they soon started bringing profits. Isabella provided her daughter Bona with an excellent education. She read classic masterpieces and studied law and history. In addition to her native Italian, she was fluent in Spanish and Latin. She knew how to dance and horse riding was never a problem to her. It is worth noting that Polish princesses of that time would never dream of such education.

Journey to Poland

Zygmunt IIsabella de Aragon was aware of the position and splendor the Aragon and Sforza dynasties once enjoyed in Europe. She was very careful with finding the right husband for her daughter. Several candidates were taken into consideration including Philip de Sabaudia and Maximilian Sforza and even future emperor Ferdinand von Habsburg. Finally, the Emperor Maximilian von Habsburg intervened and found the candidate who could satisfy Isabella and her daughter.

The right candidate was 51-year old Sigmund I, the King of Poland and the Great Prince of Lithuania. He had been holding Polish throne since 1506 and was recently widowed by Barbara Zapolya. The age difference did not matter at the time and in 1518, 24-year old Bona left Italy to meet her future husband of the appropriate wealth and legacy.

Bona was traveling for six weeks. Although brave at heart, she probably experienced a lot of anxiety related to the northern, cold country where she was to live. Poland welcomed her with beautiful spring weather and Sigmund waiting at the border. The future husband accompanied the princess throughout the final part of the journey. Bona’s arrival was celebrated at the Lobzow castle. The reception was illustrious, as the occasion was unique.

The Wedding

The wedding took place on April 18, 1518 and was a political and cultural international event of great importance. The cream of European elites was present. The chronicles describe the event as follows:

„The waves of a colorful, loud and excited crowd could be seen. More and more groups of people were trying to get to the first row of spectators, close to the cordon of Tatars. The air above the colorful, dense crowd was full of words shouted in Polish, Latin, German, Hungarian, Russian and Czech…

-The King is coming! The King! – The crowd of people became silent and motionless. The short ones tiptoed and stretched their necks and heads. At the gate of the castle expensive fabrics such as velvet and silk shined in the sun. Proceeded by the high-ranking clergy and noble senators marched Sigmund, by the grace of God, King of Poland and Great Prince of Lithuania, Russia and Prussia. The monarch’s head was adorned with a golden crown that contrasted with his black. The King wore a scarlet coat decorated with sable fur. The spectators eagerly stared at this dignified figure as if they tried to read from his face what their fate and the fate of the Polish Republic would be like.”

Sigmund was following the steps of the first state dignitary, proud chancellor Christopher Szydlowiecki. The chancellor carried a velvet pillow with a royal scepter on it. Right next to him marched the Poznan Governor, Nicholas Lubranski carrying the royal apple. The King Sigmund was a heavy but well-built dark haired man at the peak of his manhood. His shoulders were wide and his head was like the head of an ancient Roman soldier, with a characteristic profile. With piercing eyes and a lower lip that stuck forward, he took after his mother, Elizabeth of Austria.

„Following the King was Bona, dressed in a blue satin dress embroidered with gold. Her pride and dignity testified that she really had hundreds of royals in her family. She was beautiful, with the kind of beauty that was foreign to the eyes of Krakow people. As her small figure moved forward, the crowd released a sigh. After the queen, marched maids and courtiers. They wore furs, or dresses, embroidered with pearls, adorned with golden chains. Expensive rings and signets glittered in the sun.”

The whole road to the Cathedral was covered with the red cloth protected by the military royal guardians and Tatars on horses. The church was full of state dignitaries and illustrious guests. Sigmund and Bona were seated in front of the altar in the throne-like chairs, surrounded by the King of Hungary, princes and princesses of Silesia and Mazowsze, representatives of the Emperor Maximilian, and all the Polish bishops. After the wedding, Bona was crowned the Queen of Poland. The golden crown placed on her head by cardinal Jan Laski was in perfect harmony with the golden locks of this young queen.

Departing from the Cathedral the King and the Queen received a lot of wishes of good luck and happiness from the best Polish families. Nobody could predict that a lot of people, who admired beautiful Bona today, would soon become her fierce enemies.

Bona as mother and wife

On the Wawel Hill Bona was introduced to the children of Sigmund and deceased Elizabeth. They were: nineteen year old Jan, future bishop of Vilnius and Poznan, five year old Jadwiga, who later married Joachim II, the elector of Brandenburg and little princess Ann, who died in 1520. The stepmother did not care much about the children from her husband’s previous marriage. According to the chronicles, she was a faithful wife and good mother for her own children, who were born between 1519-1527.

Isabella, future wife of Jan Zapolya and future Queen of Hungary, was Bona’s firstborn. In 1520, Bona gave birth to her favorite son, Sigmund August. Two years later, the daughter Sophia was bom. In 1923, Bona had another daughter, Anna, who later married Stefan Batory and became the Queen of Poland. The youngest surviving daughter, Catherine, was bom in1926 and she later became the wife of the Swedish King Jan III Waza. Bona’s last child, Olbracht, died shortly after birth.

The Queen educated her children very well, taking particular care of the education of her two oldest children Isabella and Sigmund August. Unfortunately, she did overlook the financial security of Anna and Catherine, leaving them without a dowry.

The marriage of Bona and Sigmund initially appeared to be happy. Sigmund was very much in love with his wife and he was nearly crazy about her. He admired her beauty, was impressed by her education and praised her sense of humor. For the first few years of their marriage he did not see any bad qualities or cruelty in her. Later in their marriage, Bona’s vicious side greatly troubled the King and killed his joy of life.


By Aleksander Wietrzyk

trans. Anna Witowska