Barbora Radziwiłł (1523-1551) came from one of the richest and most influential families of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the princes of Europe – the Radvilas. According to her contemporaries, Barbora was a very beautiful woman – tall, slender, blonde. Her parents gave her a good education, and she could speak Lithuanian, Ruthenian and Polish. Legends abounded about her appearance, her clothes, her estate, her interest in hunting, dancing, bathing, her passion for jewellery, exotic food and cosmetics.
At the age of 17, Barbara was already married to Count Stanisław Gasztołd, a descendant of another of Lithuania’s most powerful families. When the Count died, at the age of 21, Barbara became the lover of the future King, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Sigismund Augustus, and 4 years later, in August 1547, they were secretly married. The announcement of the marriage caused a scandal, with Polish nobles and the Queen Mother, Bona Sforza, furiously opposing the marriage.
The resistance was triggered by the fact that in the 16th century, geopolitical, military and economic alliances between countries were achieved in two ways: by conquest or by marriage between rulers. At the time, it was crucial for Lithuania and Poland to secure the support of the Central European countries and the then German and Austrian Empires against Russian aggression. This was achieved through marriage contracts. The secret marriage of the future ruler of Lithuania and Poland to a subordinate undermined the countries’ intended foreign policy strategy.
Barbara became a martyr to her own love and marriage. She was publicly accused of adultery, witchcraft and contagious diseases behind her eyes. Sigismund Augustus had to take every precaution to protect his beloved from rumours, from knowledge of her slander and from the real danger of her physical destruction. Even after Augustus became King, it was very difficult for him to protect his beloved from covert and overt mobbing in the royal court.
On 7 December 1550, Barbara Radziwiłł was recognised and crowned Queen of Poland at Wawel Cathedral in Kraków.
Barbara was the daughter of one of Lithuania’s most powerful families. She had Lithuanian, Ukrainian and Polish blood. Her father, Jurgis Radvila, was a commander of the Lithuanian army, Grand Hetman and Marshal of the Palace. Barbara married for the first time at the age of 17. She became the wife of Count Stanislovas Goštautas, a descendant of another powerful family, the Goštautas. Women of Barbara’s position were prepared to take care of the management of a large estate, to give birth and raise children. She also hoped to give birth to the heir to the throne and, after several miscarriages, was very distressed about it.
Barbara was concerned with her own aesthetics and that of her surroundings, and enjoyed bathing, sauna, massage, hunting, horse riding and dancing. The Queen’s favourite flowers were lavender, roses and pansies, which the servants decorated her rooms with. She collected jewellery and was as fond of it as the Grand Duke Sigismund Augustus. In their letters to each other, the two lovers also included an expensive, exquisite piece of jewellery.
In the portraits, Barbara Radziwiłł wears clothes made mainly in the fashion of Germany, and less frequently in Italy and Spain. Dresses of brocade, damask, satin and silk; waistcoats embroidered with gold and silver thread; furs of marmots and sable; openwork hats decorated with roses; berets made in the style of the Central European lands; gilded silver crowns, penyuars, black translucent ribbons; pearl-embroidered brooches, pearl headdresses, hoods, miniature caps of translucent fabric of the same colour. The beautiful noblewoman was fond of green and white, and most of all of red, but she was also fashionable and dressed in contrasting tones, as well as in white and black clothes. She wore jewelled and embroidered clothes. Embroidered pearls were particularly fashionable at the time and adorned all of Barbora’s clothes. Her coronation pearl stole caused a sensation in Europe, and is thought to have been acquired by the Queen of England through agents after her death.
Literary examples show that the lovers sometimes demonstrated unity by combining their clothes.
In accordance with the rules, food was served twice a day to the ruler and her courtiers. Between 9am and noon, everyone sat down to breakfast, and lunch was eaten between 3pm and 6pm. The daily meal was a soup of bow borscht, made from the stems, young leaves and shoots of the plant that had been specially harvested. Bow borscht was also popular in the courts of Western Europe: the Tudors in England, for example, had similar soups. In addition, Barbara’s table was always bursting with meat. Every day, the servants would pay the merchants as much as 50 gold coins for the various meats – the full year’s salary of a middle-ranking official (such as the King’s apothecary). Beef and veal predominated, mutton less so, and the Queen hardly ate any pork, apart from bacon, liver and cracklings. The cooks had to gut dozens of birds every day: chickens, ducks, geese, castrated roosters, sometimes peacocks, and all kinds of game, ranging from tavern fowl to wild pigeons and partridges. On fast days, meat was replaced by fish, such as pike, tench and salmon. In addition, several baskets of dairy products, such as butter, cheese, cottage cheese, milk and sour cream, were brought to the kitchen of the Palace every day. The sweet cream was used to make small round cheeses, and custards became one of Barbara Radziwiłł favourite dishes. She was a fan of bigos, a traditional Polish cabbage stew with chopped meat. The range of vegetables in her kitchen was almost identical to the preferences of a modern Lithuanian: peas, horseradish, spinach, onions, turnips, buckwheat, parsley, parsnips and cabbage.
According to surviving documents, Barbara Radziwiłł cooks ordered incredible quantities of eggs every day. Some of them were undoubtedly added to the gingerbread dough. Barbara loved them so much (especially with jam) that her table was laden with freshly baked eggs twice a day. In addition, the cooks would bake rolls and make sweets with rose water. Barbara Radziwiłł favourite fruits were oranges and pears. At the time, the apple and pear trees served daily at her table cost one gold coin per fruit. Most of her meals were taken with wine, although her servants would also buy her mead and beer.
When Prince Sigismund Augustus secretly married Barbara, he commissioned a set of ultra-clear glass dishes to protect her from poisoners during his long absence from Vilnius.
It was extremely difficult to clean quartz naturally, as the glass had greenish impurities. The Duchess’s special set of clear glass dishes was kept in a locked chest. It was unlocked by the person in charge before Barbara ate.
At the age of 28, just five months after her coronation, Queen Barbara died. It was rumoured that the poison of the Queen Mother, Bonn Sforza, had reached her. Investigators say the cause of her death was cancer of the reproductive organs. This is yet another enigma that has succumbed to the passage of time, because the Radziwiłł family was characterised by its health and endurance, and its descendants were long-lived. According to the testimonies of her contemporaries, Barbara was a very lively, active and sporty young woman. Although this story took place almost five hundred years ago, the power of the romantic myth continues to grow, and Barbara Radziwiłł is recognised as the mega-star of Lithuania and Vilnius of all time.
King Sigismund Augustus built a church on the grounds of the Lower Castle of Vilnius, intending it to be the burial place for himself and Queen Barbara. However, it was never finished. Queen Barbara Radziwiłł remains were brought from Krakow to Vilnius and ceremoniously buried in Vilnius Cathedral, under the same chapel where it is believed that Prince Sigismund Augustus married her in secret. According to eyewitnesses, the King accompanied her remains in a special carriage drawn by four black horses. At the settlements, Augustus dismounted from the horse and followed the carriage on foot.
The Queen’s burial place was forgotten for some time. In 1931, after the great flood of the Neris, the foundations and walls of the Basilica building had to be reinforced. At that time, the capital of Lithuania was ruled by Poland. By chance, the remains of the Grand Duke and King Alexander of Poland, and of the two wives of Sigismund Augustus, Elizabeth of Habsburg and Barbara Radziwiłł, were found during the renovation work.
After the remains were examined, they were buried in a special mausoleum in the crypts of Vilnius Cathedral and are currently open to the public.
Sigismund Augustus (1520-1572) was the last ruler of the Jagiellon dynasty. In 1544, at the age of 24, he settled in Vilnius as the Grand Duke of Lithuania and assumed full power in Lithuania. After the death of his father in 1548, Sigismund Augustus became ruler of Lithuania and Poland.
Until the age of 17, the young prince was cared for and pampered by his mother, Queen Bona Sforza. Surrounded by his mother’s ladies of honour, Augustus learned languages, philosophy, art and the mysteries of love.
He sowed a different way of thinking and new fashions in the country, based on the ideas of humanism, and his and his father’s reigns are known as the golden age of the GDL. For the Romantics, this ruler is best remembered as the hero of the immortal story of the king’s love, which made the name of Barbara Radziwiłł and her family famous for ever.
He was married three times, but never had children. His first and third wives were his sisters, Princesses Elisabeth and Catherine of the Habsburg dynasty. His second wife was Barbara Radziwiłł.
After becoming the de facto ruler of Lithuania, Sigismund Augustus established a magnificent manor in Vilnius, and completed the Renaissance-style palace of the Grand Dukes that his father had started on Castle Hill. During his reign, Vilnius became one of the most beautiful cities in eastern Europe, home to many Italian builders, craftsmen and humanist scientists. Sigismund Augustus had collected many works of art and a rich library, which he later donated to the Jesuit College.
Other important economic and political changes are also linked to the name of Sigismund Augustus, most notably the Wallachian Reform and the Union of Lublin, which were conceived by his mother, Bonn Sforza.
The Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland, Sigismund Augustus, professed the Catholic faith, but was also sympathetic to Reformed ideas.
The Reformation movement (16th-17th centuries) was more widespread in Lithuania and Poland during the reign of Sigismund Augustus than in other periods. For political and personal reasons (Barbara Radziwiłł brother and cousin were Reformed), Sigismund Augustus tolerated the movement for a while, but, especially towards the end of his reign, he supported the Catholics, and did not prevent them from fighting the Reformation.
The Lublin Union (Unia lubelska in Polish) is the 1569 merger of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania into the Republic of the Two Nations. The most important external factor leading to the union was the regional wars of the 16th century. The wars over Lithuanian Ruthenian lands with the strengthening Grand Duchy of Moscow resulted in the loss of many territories, and devastated state finances and society. When the Livonian War broke out in 1558, the army of the GDL had to fight on two fronts. In 1560, Russia captured a large part of Livonia. 25 February 1564 On February 25th, the Russian army captured Polotsk and prepared to attack Vilnius. The defence required the support of Poland, which agreed to help only after the conclusion of a union. 13 March 1564 On 13 March, the Warsaw Sejm adopted a protocol providing for the union of the GDL with the Kingdom of Poland.
Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania, the city of rulers, and the main cultural and scientific centre. The name Vilnius comes from the Vilnia River, which flows through the city. Unofficially, the area where the two rivers, the Vilnia and the Vilija (today’s Neris) meet has been inhabited since the 2nd century BC. Officially, the city traces its origins to a letter from the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Gediminas, to the rulers of all European countries, announcing the establishment of the capital in 1323.
The city is situated on low hills and is famous for its Unesco-protected Old Town, its Romanesque atmosphere and its abundant green parks. Today, Lithuania’s capital is a modern, contemporary, yet cosy and welcoming city full of culture and creativity. It’s a city where sculptures speak, music plays, online start-ups and games are created, and good food and adventure smell. You can arrive in the centre of Vilnius by boat, take a hot air balloon ride off the lawn, pick violets in the spring forest in the middle of the city, or count the stars by climbing any of the greener hills in the city centre.
The most vivid and famous romantic story of Vilnius in the 16th century is the legend of the love between the future King Sigismund Augustus and the beautiful, noble young widow of Vilnius, Barbara Radziwiłł.
It has forever generated the romantic code of Vilnius, familiar to every local resident and felt by every visitor.
The royal love story of Vilnius is a legacy of the Renaissance and a cherished invisible diadem of the city. Vilnius was the place where the fate of more than one person of royal blood was decided.
In October 1562, Catherine, the sister of the Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland, Sigismund Augustus, married John Vasa, Grand Duke of Finland, in Vilnius.
Six years later, Catherine and John became rulers of the Kingdom of Sweden and their descendants ruled Lithuania and Poland in the 17th century. Catherine married in Vilnius at the age of 36 to a prince 11 years her junior.
On their way to Finland, Catherine was stopped and kidnapped by the Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible’s army because he also wanted to marry a Polish princess, but King Sigismund Augustus refused to let his sister marry the Russian ruler.
The newlyweds managed to avoid the ambush of the Tsar’s army and after a very rough and adventurous journey lasting two months, the couple finally reached Turku, the city of Turku, then the capital of Finland.
John’s brother, King Eric the 16th of Sweden, was suffering from mental illness. The Swedish nobles united, rebelled and dethroned Erik. In 1569, Catherine and John were crowned Queen and King in Uppsala Cathedral.
Uppsala is one of Sweden’s oldest cities, 71 km from the capital Stockholm. It was known as Östra Aros until the 13th century, when it took over the name Uppsala. Today, Uppsala is one of Sweden’s four largest cities and is famous for its history, its universities and its magnificent cathedral, among other things.
Uppsala is the seat of the Archbishop of Sweden and for hundreds of years Swedish kings and queens have been crowned here. Although the cathedral was built in 1270, it was not consecrated until 1425, almost 200 years later. King Eric the 16th was assassinated in the castle and succeeded by Catherine the Great’s husband, John the 3rd. Catherine Jagiellon is buried in Uppsala Cathedral.
Kraków is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Located on the Vistula River in the Lesser Poland Voivodeship, the city dates back to the 7th century. Krakow was the official capital of Poland until 1596 and has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Poland’s academic, economic, cultural and artistic life. One of Europe’s most beautiful cities, the Old Town with its Royal Castle of Wawel has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The city has grown from a Stone Age settlement into Poland’s second most important city. Krakow is Poland’s main national academic and artistic centre.
Kraków’s Wawel Castle has long been the seat of the Polish kings, and King Sigismund Augustus is buried there.
13 February 1549. Sigismund and Barbara arrived in Krakow, then the royal city of Poland. In Wawel, Augustus pampered Barbara with a luxurious lifestyle and expensive gifts. With her enormous influence on Sigismund Augustus, she had no interest in politics, unlike her ambitious cousin Mikołaj Krzysztof Radziwiłł and her brother Mikołaj “the Red” Radziwiłł. While they worked with Augustus to secure her the Polish crown, she made no gestures to win the support of the nobility or the favour of the people. When a compromise solution was offered – recognising Barbara as the wife of Sigismund Augustus but not crowning her Queen of Poland – Sigismund Augustus refused. In the summer of 1549, to protect himself from a possible armed rebellion, Augustus made an alliance with King Ferdinand of Hungary. In order to obtain a papal order to crown Barbara, Augustus issued a decree forbidding heresy, a controversial move in a country with a large Eastern Orthodox population. He also tried to threaten, bribe or otherwise persuade Polish nobles not to oppose the marriage. His mother and one of his most vocal opponents, Queen Bona Sforza, was expelled from the royal court and sent to Masovia.
On 7 December 1550, Barbara Radziwiłł was recognised and crowned Queen of Poland in the cathedral of Wawel (Kraków).
Secret Love is a cultural start-up, a platform dedicated to history and a contemporary romantic design for a Vilnius and Krakow gift brand based on the facts and myths of the dramatic 16th century royal love story of Sigismund Augustus and Barbara Radziwiłł.
In the 16th century (1543-1551), Vilnius and Krakow were stunned by a forbidden and unrepeatable love story. The scandal and drama it caused made it the most romantic Vilnius legend of all time about a secret royal love.
The Grand Duke of Lithuania, Sigismund Augustus, and his beautiful ward, Barbora Radvilaitė, fell in love. In those days, marriages between rulers were economic and military alliances between countries. States joined with partners to help them defend themselves and grow, so the royal offspring were matched according to the interests of the countries. The future king dared to give in to his feelings and married the woman he loved in secret.
After becoming King of Poland, Sigismund Augustus had Barbara recognised as his lawful wife and crowned Grand Duchess of Lithuania and Queen of Poland. The star of Barbara Radziwiłł, who has attracted attention for more than four centuries with her mystery and charm, shone in Vilnius.
In 2022, Julija Janus began to slowly build a professional design platform – an online showroom – inviting various producers, creators and scholars of history, art history, design, technology and anthropology to collaborate. The collection of design products and services being developed next is called Secret Love.
Secret Love is the name of the audioguide that Julia Janus (designer, interdisciplinary artist, place-maker) wrote and prepared for use. The audio guide, written and voiced like Barbara Radziwiłł diary, takes you through the Old Town of Vilnius to places that are directly linked to the famous Renaissance love story.
In 2021, the website www.slaptameile.lt was created, where the audio guide is available in four languages. It is accessible from any mobile device and is linked to a Google map, making it easy to find all the points of the audio tour. The tool can be used by both professional guides and independent travellers.
A showroom is the exhibition room of a cultural start-up’s collaborative exhibitions. It looks like a shop, but when you select a product or service you like, a black buy button takes you directly to the e-shop of the producer of that product or service.
All products are based on the facts and myths of the 16th century love story of Sigismund Augustus and Barbara Radziwiłł. Although the products are available from different manufacturers and in different e-shops, Showroom Secret Love is the only place where they can be seen all in one place as a collection.
All the products are united not only by the intimate royal love story of the 16th century, but also by a single mysterious packaging, based on a full-length portrait of the royal couple created by the painter Miglė Kosinskaitė, the original of which can be seen in the reception hall of the restaurant “Lokys” in Vilnius, at 6 Stiklių Street.
Would you like to create or produce a gift: a product, a service, an experience related to the events and people described in this story? Write to us email@example.com with the word PARTNERSHIP in the subject line.
If you represent a manufacturer or service provider, it is a prerequisite to have an online presence.
If you are a developer, experience in product design (CV form) and clear sketches – visualisations are a prerequisite.
Secret Love products can be sold individually, together as a collection, or in gift groups – sets. In each case, if you wish to sell them, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the word SALES in the subject line and we will help you to contact our partners in the best way that suits you.