top of page


A Novel by Jeffrey R. Prince

        In the Matter of the King’s Marriage is a novel that recreates the love story of Barbara Radziwill and Augustus, later King of Poland, and the political maelstrom it engendered. 

It does two things simultaneously. It invokes an epoch that intrigues because of its beauty and exotic energy and repels because of its repression, and it depicts the struggle of the protagonists to find each other and rise above their times. The epoch, of course, was the high Renaissance, known as the Golden Age in Poland, and the rebellion of the protagonists, because they were so “high born,” made history.

        Their story has come down to us in many forms. The first and most influential can be summed up as follows: A debauched widow, deployed by a power-hungry political faction, seduces the immature and lecherous heir to the throne and dupes him into marriage, only to be challenged by a mother determined to preserve the sanctity of her family. That is Queen Bona’s account of her son Augustus’s love affair with Barbara when, in 1547, she exposes it to public condemnation and organizes resistance to his succession.

          Angelo, Augustus’s Latin secretary—naïve, apparently epicene, but remarkably empathetic—observes it all and ultimately tells a more nuanced tale. 

Married off at 14, widowed at 20, Barbara is indeed urged by her baronial family to seduce and subdue the Prince. She is, however, too intrigued by the measure of independence widowhood has bequeathed her to comply. At their celebrated, first encounter at Gieranony, she engages with Augustus by saying no.

          Although raised to be the perfect Renaissance prince, Augustus is cynical enough to see through her family’s schemes and skeptical enough to question his own dynastic obligations. Defying all expectations, the two set aside their imposed roles and slowly build an enduring and compassionate bond. Just before his father dies, Augustus, with eyes wide open, allows himself to be tricked into marrying Barbara in order to preserve that bond.

          Queen Bona, who is a product of Borgia Italy, determines to block her son’s succession and eliminate his bride through a vicious smear campaign, or poison, whichever works first. Augustus scrambles to save his crown, his marriage and his wife’s life. Drawing on his natural eloquence, a mastery of pageantry and parade, and political skills he didn’t know he possessed, he struggles to contain the overwhelming opposition at court, in parliament and in the market square.

          In 1547—the year England’s Henry VIII died and Augustus and Barbara married—the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea, was at the peak of its power, creativity and Renaissance splendor. Magnates, philosophers, teachers, builders, artists and artisans were busy remaking their world and themselves according to models drawn from antiquity. Their kings and queens maintained a court in Krakow that was the center of this burgeoning culture as well as intrigue. They were locked in existential combat with neighboring powers and endless contention with their own nobility and the Church. And again, like all the dynastic rulers of Europe, they were preoccupied with the necessity of breeding healthy male heirs. The American fans of early Philippa Gregory, later Alison Weir and recent Hilary Mantel will find the Krakow court very like the Tudor court they know so well, but also refreshingly different. And Angelo, our narrator, busily scaling the hierarchy of Polish society, demystifies the differences as he encounters them.


bottom of page