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Zawisza Czarny - The True Black Knight

Born circa 1379 in Stary Garbów, a small village in south central Poland, Zawisza Czarny was the son of the local castellan of Konary-Sieradz. He was born in a time of turmoil in Poland as the Germanic states were struggling under the Holy Roman Empire and the minor kings of the various states’ leadership and pitted frequently against each other in wars for land, food, power and religious beliefs.

Zawisza Czarny became renowned for his diplomatic skills as well as his fighting talents, serving under the leadership of Polish King Władysław II who utilized him as a diplomatic envoy throughout the region. He was also eventually engaged by King Sigismund of the House of Luxembourg as he struggled to rule both Bohemia and Hungary, nestled next to Czarny’s homeland of Southern Poland. Hungary in particular, resented the absentee King who tended to stay in Bohemia and Czarny proved to be an able addition to helping him with his diplomatic and warfare tactics.

Both Kings were instrumental in the religious development of Faith of their times. King Władysław II was originally from Luthuania and was baptized in 1386 and proceeded to convert Luthuania to Christianity. His baptism was questioned by the Teutonic Knights, the strong arm of the Church in that era and they wanted this Luthuania “pagan” to be be put back in Luthania, not believing that his baptism was a true conversion. The Order began a campaign against him, attempting to isolate him to Luthuania. Eventually, King Wladyslaw’s combined territories became the largest Christian state in the Christian world and his power was among the greatest in Christian Europe but still the Teutonic Knights warred with him and consequently, became fodder for ‘The Black Knight,” as Zawisza Czarny was known.

His dark hair and oil darkened armor gave him his nickname combined with his fiercesome skill in both fighting and leadership of troops for King Wladyslaw. Zawisza Czarny was instrumental in his diplomatic service and his war craft during the turmoil as he was able to remain true to the King’s wishes and convinced the Knights to back down, either through diplomacy or military skill.. The Battle of Grunwald was the final turning point in 1410 and the defeat of the Knights led to their final loss of power and influence in the area. Zawisza Czarny was responsible for the Treaty that established peace between King Sigismund and King Wladsyslaw after the Teutonic order was eliminated in the area that lead to the Luthuanian-Polish Union as the leader in both political and military domination of the region.

 In 1412, a tournament was held at a conference that Zawisza Czarny was involved with some of the negotiations. This was being held between King Wladsyslaw and King Sigismund who were meeting with King Tvrtko of Bosnia. 1500 knights participated in the tournament and the Black Knight won. Other stories of tournament wins also emerge during the next few years with his service with both kings.

King Sigismund eventually expanded his holdings to become the Holy Roman Emperor and was largely responsible for resolving the Papal Schism during his lifetime, unfortunately leading to the Hussite Wars which occupied his later rule. He utilized Zawisza Czarny as well during his rise to power in both military and diplomatic capacity.

Another person who must be discussed with Zawisza Czarny is Jan Hus, a Czech priest and Master at the University of Prague. Jan Hus is known as ‘the father of Early Church Reformers” as he was the major influence 100 years later for Martin Luther and other Church dissidents of that era. He heavily influenced reform in Europe of the Church that led to Bohemia developing another religious denomination, the first that survived, but led to the Hussite Wars after his martyrdom. He was tried for heresy and burned at the stake following trial at The Council of Constance, where Zawisza Czarny served as one of six diplomats of Polish King Władysław II in judging him. Zawisza was one of the few who defended Jan Hus and was strongly against his imprisonment and subsequent execution.

Considering his defense of Jan Hus, Zawisza Czarny may have found it ironic that his well known armor ended up at The Jasna Góra Monastery, the most famous Polish shrine to the Virgin Mary and considered the spiritual capital of Poland. There, the most important icon in that part of Europe resides, Our Lady of Częstochowa, best known as the Black Madonna. It is fitting that the armor of Zawisza the Black has this as its final resting place.

Known for his loyalty, famed for his reliability, Zawisza Czarny, the Black Knight, Zawisza the Black of Garbów, remains a folk hero to the people of Poland, becoming a symbol of courage and honor. He is recognized in the oath of the Boy Scouts of Poland ((“[you can] rely on [a boyscout] as on Zawisza”)and continues today to be the inspiration of sports teams and football clubs in the country.

A monument to Zawisza at Golubac fortress, Serbia, bears the inscription: "In Golubac, his life was taken by the Turks in 1428, the famous Polish knight, the symbol of courage and honor, Zawisza the Black. Glory to the hero!"

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