Book Series East Central Europe, 476–1795 AD/CE, vol. 4

Royal Jewels of Poland and Lithuania

Collections of the Jagiellon and Vasa Dynasts

Ewa Letkiewicz

  • Pages: 400 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Illustrations:8 b/w, 96 col.
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2024

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-60577-7
  • Hardback
  • Forthcoming (Nov/24)


This volume unravels the rich collections of the Jagiellon and Vasa dynasties, where jewellery symbolised power, piety, and politics, showcasing an era where even elk hooves and eagle stones became treasures, embodying cultural beliefs and elite prestige.


Professor Ewa Letkiewicz is an art historian working at the Department of Art History, Faculty of Arts, University of Marie Curie-Skłodowska, Lublin. Her research concentrates on jewellery and jewellery collections, their history as well as the antiquarian trade and other ways of acquiring jewellery. She has published widely on techniques of jewellery making and on the creators and designers of jewellery. She is the author of three monographs and over a hundred articles, and also edited and co-edited the series “Body, dress, jewellery” (Lublin, 2019) which examined cultural, social and political contexts of bodies, dresses and jewellery.


This volume delves into the rich histories of the Jagiellon and Vasa dynasties, shedding light on the profound interplay between jewellery and socio-political forces. Readers are invited into an era where jewellery bore multifaceted significance, from symbolising power and piety to facilitating economic engagements. The royal perception of value extended beyond traditional treasures, with a keen interest in animal-derived artefacts. These unconventional items, such as elk hooves or eagle stones, were highly esteemed, reflecting both luxury’s diverse nature and the era’s cultural and mystical beliefs. Rather than merely cataloguing these artefacts, this study animates them, intertwining narratives of monarchs, nobles, craftsmen, and the lands from which these treasures emerged. It delves into a world where a gem’s glint signifies might, gold hints at empires’ expanse, and a narwhal’s horn could determine kingdoms’ destinies. Jewellery has long held a central position in history, particularly among the elite. These pieces were not simply decorative; they conveyed prestige, societal position, and authority. They symbolised both worldly and spiritual prominence, enriched with a complex symbolism. Beyond showcasing wealth, jewellery played crucial roles in diplomacy and politics. What meanings did these unique gems carry for their initial owners? This book uncovers the tales, magnetism, and mystery surrounding these jewellery collections. It paints a picture where jewellery transcends mere ornamentation, serving as a powerful testament to influence, devotion, and grandeur.



Chapter 1. In the Service of the Ruler and the Dynasty

  • Jewels with Royal Monograms
  • Jewels with Heraldic Representations
  • Medals
  • Gifts of Rulers and Magnates
  • Gifts of Towns
  • Jewels as Hoarded Objects
  • Jewels for God and Saints
Chapter 2. The Splendour of Jewels. Ornaments for the Body and Attire

  • Ornaments for Hair and Headgear
  • Earrings Decorations
  • Rings
  • Manele, Armlets
  • Chains, Karkans, Alzbants, Kanaks, Collars
  • Noszenia, Pendants, Clasps, Enseignes
  • Pontały, Ferety and other Jewels sewn onto Clothes
  • Buttons, Hooks and Eyes, Pins
  • Belts and their Accessories
  • Rosaries, Chaplets, Decymki
Chapter 3. Leges sumptuariae—Laws against Excessive Luxury

Chapter 4. Apotropaic and Medicinal Functions attributed to Jewels

Chapter 5. Jewels at the Jagiellon Court

  • The Jewels of Sigismund I and Bona Sforza
  • The Jewels of Isabella Jagiellon
  • The Heir of the Jagiellon Fortune. The Jewels of Sigismund Augustus
  • The Jewels of Sigismund Augustus’s Wives
  • The Jewels of the Younger Daughters of Sigismund I and Bona
  • The Jewels of Stephen Báthory
Chapter 6. Jewels at the Court of the Vasa Monarchs

  • Sigismund III and his Family
  • Anna Vasa
  • The Jewels of Sigismund III’s Wives
  • Władysław IV and his Family
  • John Casimir
  • The Jewels of Sigismund III’s other Children