“Sigismund I of Poland, Zygmunt I Stary, (1 January 1467 – 1 April 1548), of the Jagiellon dynasty, reigned as King of Poland and also as the Grand Duke of Lithuania from 1506 until 1548. Earlier, Sigismund had been invested as Duke of Silesia.
He set up the legal codes that formalized serfdom, locking the peasants into the estates of nobles. After marrying Bona Sforza of a leading Italian family he sparked a cultural renaissance by patronizing the arts and bringing in Italian architects and artists as well as chefs who introduced Italian cuisine. Sigismund I was a member of the Order of the Golden Fleece.
The son of King Casimir IV Jagiellon and Elisabeth of Austria, Sigismund followed his brothers John I of Poland and Alexander I of Poland to the Polish throne. Their elder brother Vladislaus II of Bohemia and Hungary became king of Hungary and Bohemia. Sigismund was christened as the namesake of his mother’s maternal grandfather, Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund, who had died in 1437.
Sigismund faced the challenge of consolidating internal power in order to face external threats to the country. During Alexander’s reign, the law of Nihil novi had been instituted, which forbade kings of Poland from enacting laws without the consent of the Sejm. This proved crippling to Sigismund’s dealings with the szlachta and magnates.
Despite this Achilles heel, he established (1527) a conscript army and the bureaucracy needed to finance it. He set up the legal codes that formalized serfdom in Poland, locking the peasants into the estates of nobles.
After the death of Janusz III of Masovia in 1526, he succeeded in annexing the Duchy of Masovia.
Intermittently at war with Vasily III of Muscovy, starting in 1507 (before his army was fully under his command), 1514 marked the fall of Smolensk (under Lithuanian domination) to the Muscovite forces (which lent force to his arguments for the necessity of a standing army). Those conflicts formed part of the Muscovite wars. 1515 he entered into alliance with the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I.
In return for Maximilian lending weight to the provisions of the Second Peace of Thorn (1466), Sigismund consented to the marriage of the children of Vladislaus II of Bohemia and Hungary, his brother, to the grandchildren of Maximilian. Through this double marriage contract, Bohemia and Hungary passed to the House of Habsburg in 1526, on the death of Sigismund’s nephew, Louis II.
Worried about the growing ties between the Habsburgs and Russia, in 1524 Sigismund signed a Franco-Polish alliance with King Francis I of France. The agreement fell through, however, when Francis I was vanquished by Charles V at the Battle of Pavia (1525).
The Polish wars against the Teutonic Knights ended in 1525, when Albert, Duke of Prussia, their marshal (and Sigismund’s nephew), converted to Lutheranism, secularized the order, and paid homage to Sigismund. In return, he was given the domains of the Order, as the First Duke of Prussia. This was called the ‘Prussian Homage’.
Sigismund’s eldest daughter Hedwig (1513–1573) married Joachim II Hector, Elector of Brandenburg.
In other matters of policy, Sigismund sought peaceful coexistence with the Khanate of Crimea, but was unable to completely end border skirmishes.
On Sigismund’s death, his son Sigismund II August became the last Jagiellon king of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania.” (source)
Portrait of Sigismund I the Old, Marcello Bacciarelli, 1768-1771.
The Prussian Homage, Jan Matejko, 1882.