the XVI century in Lithuanian Grand Principality there arose the
Radvilas family. It was prosperous and influential until the
second half of the XVII century, and it was not until the late
XVIII century that it lost its role in the political and
cultural life of the country.
- The Radvilas owned huge
territories of land and numbered their estates in hundreds.
Great wealth enabled them to maintain a private army which was
often stronger than that of the state. The family supplied 37
palatines, 22 ministers (chancellors, marshals, hetmans,
treasurers), 3 bishops, 1 cardinal, 1 queen and many other
dignitaries. In 1547 the Radvilas were awarded the title of
princes of the Holy Roman Empire.
- The Radvilas come from the family
of nobles whose patrimony was around Kernave. The energetic Kristinas
Astikas, being in close relationship with Vytautas,
became castellan of Vilnius in 1419. One of his sons, Radvilas
Astikaitis (d. 1477), also an energetic statesman,
palatine of Trakai, castellan of Vilnius, constant participator
in signing important state treaties, is considered the
progenitor of the family. His son Mikalojus
Radvila the Old (d. 1509, burred in Vilnius,
Bernardine Church) took on his father's name as his own surname,
which thereby became the family name.
- With Mikalojus the Old's heirs
the House of Radvilas divided into three branches:
Birzai-Dubingiai (Protestant), Nesvizh-Olyka (Catholic) and
Goniondz-Raigard, the latter being shortly broken up. The
Radvilas genealogical tree is very branchy. Only an extremely
long list makes it possible to enumerate the members of the
family, which includes politicians, military leaders, their
elegant wives, priests, knights, rebels. Among them one can find
very interesting and outstanding personalities.
Radvila the Red (1512-1584),
grandson of Mikalojus the Old, received his education in
Germany. On his arrival to Lithuania, he served as the great
hetman and became renowned as military leader. The famous battle
of Ula in 1564 spread his name throughout Europe - the much more
numerous army of Ivan the Terrible was defeated. Mikalojus the
Red defended the independence of Lithuania by his word and by
his sword. He headed the delegation of Lithuanian Grand
Principality at the Diet of Lublin and refused to sign the union
- Being a zealous supporter of
Reformation Mikalojus the Red reopened the former classical
school in Vilnius and founded a second such school in Birzai. He
also established Reformat parishes.
Radvila the Black (1515-1565), cousin of Mikalojus
the Red, was born in Nesvizh. After his studies in Cracow was
appointed marshal of Lithuanian Grand principality. Later on he
served as chancellor, palatine of Vilnius. Being a flexible
politician and tough negotiator Mikalojus the Black supported
his cousin's military operations via diplomatic channels. He
foresaw Russia's onslaught towards the Baltic Sea, therefore
defended Livonia, bought the mouth of Daugava river from
Curonian Principality, made plans of governing Neman until the
very Curonian Bay. During negotiations with Poland he demanded
that the grand prince resided in Lithuania, did not accept the
union project and considered it worse than death. As one of the
foremost spokesmen for Reformation he established a pritnting
house in Brest-
Litovsk, ordered to publish the Bible, built an Evangelical
Reformed Church in Vilnius. Not without his influence the rights
of all Christian nobles were equaled in Lithuanian Seym.
- Mikalojus the Black was one of
the most powerful chancellors of Lithuania and its actual ruler.
When Mikalojus the Black happened to be late to the Senate
meeting Sigismund Augustus used to stand up in order to greet
Radvila Thunderer (1547-1603), son of Mikalojus the
Red. A famous military leader in the times of Stephen Bathory, a
warrior since 17. Fought succesfully against Moscow for Livonia,
drove the Swedes off Vidzeme. Built a strong bastion castle in
Kristupas Radvila the Orphan (1549-16160), son of
Mikalojus the Black. Was of poor health, but of vast cultural
horizons and genuine Lithuanian views. Converted into
Catholicism under the influence of Peter Skarga, and from that
time on the Nesvizh-Olyka branch was called the Catholic branch.
Studied in Leipzig, Strasbourg, Rome, Paris. In 1582-1584 he was
the first among Lithuanian aristocrats who visited Palestine and
Egypt. Described his journey in letters which were published in
Latin, German, Polish, Russian. The book became a bestseller.
- After his marriage with Elzbieta
Eufemija Visniovecka Mikalojus the Orphan spent most of this
time in Nesvizh raising 9 children and promoting the development
of this town. Built a church for Jesuits, a college, a
Benedictine monastery. The Nesvizh estate had a large library,
archives, art collections, was famous for cartographical works.
At the behest of Radvilas data were collected for a detailed map
of Lithuania the final version of which was printed in 1613 in
Radvilaite (ca 1520-1551), sister of Mikalojus the
Red, famous for her beauty. After the death of her husband
Stanislovas Gostautas, palatine of Naugardukas, in five years
she married Sigismund Augustus. Coronated in Cracow, 1550.
Radvila (1556-1600), son of Mikalojus the Black, was
a priest. While studying in Leipzig and Vilnius college was
supported by Jesuits. Bishop of Vilnius Valerijonas
Protasevicius chose him as coadjutor with the right of
inheritance. However, the fulfilment of the bishop's request was
being delayed in Rome since Jurgis came from a Protestant family
and was then only 18. He visited Spain as missionary, was
consecrated bishop in the Cathedral of Vilnius in 1583, then
elevated to the rank of cardinal. Was appointed governor of
Livonia, therefore resided in Ryga for a while.
- Jurgis was a zealous, exemplary
and pious bishop, promoted education, founded the first
theological seminary in Vilnius with the stipulation that
seminary admission requirements include a fluent knowledge of
Lithuanian. His intelligence and tact were made use of by kings
who wanted to settle down their relationships with neighbors.
Died and was burried in Rome.
Radvila (1585-1640), son of Kristupas Thunderer,
grandson of Mikalojus the Red, like his father and grandfather
was a warrior. Managed to achieve the rank of great hetman,
though being a spokesman for Reformation he had a hard time
making his career in the times of Sigismund Vasa. When not at
war (though he was at constant war, especially with the Swedes),
Christopher lived in Birzai, fortified the castle. There he
wrote "Thoughts on the Beginning of War in Livonia".
-  Jonusas Radvila
(1612-1655), son of Kristupas Radvila, studied at Leipzig and
Leiden Universities. He is known not only as ambitious
politican, gifted military leader and great hetman, but also as
culture guardian, spokesman for Evangelical Reformats. Received
an excellent education abroad, was conversant in several
- Jonusas Radvila took care of his
beloved town Kedainiai - introduced local self-government,
established a printing house and a paper factory. Built an
Orthodox church in the honor of his second wife Marija Lupu. His
first wife Kotryna Potocka was a Catholic, whereas Jonusas
Radvila was a Calvinist.
Radvila (1620-1669), great grandson of Mikalojus the
Red, one of the Lithuanian military leaders. Took part in the
Netherlands fights for liberation against Spain. Married Ona
Marija, daughter of his cousin Jonusas Radvila. Their sole
daughter married a Brandenbourg count and all the family's
treasures passed over to Konigsberg. But even there Liudvika
Karolina Radvilaite (1667-1695) took care of
Calvinist Churches making sure that the service is held in
Lithuanian. Promted financial support for those going to study
theology at Berlin, Frankfurt on Oder, Oxford Universities.
- To his distant and respectable
cousin Mykolas Kazimieras Radvila (1625-1680) of the
Nesvizh-Olyka branch Boguslovas among other family relics
bequethed (in 1668) "several drawings of books, which
contain pen-drawn images of our ancestors and their deeds".
Unfortunately, the drawings (1772) together with Nesvizh
archives and a 20.000 volume library were taken to St Petersburg
as war loot (a monography called "Radvilas Portraits of the
XVII c." was >written by Laima Sinkunaite. At the moment
these drawings are kept in the Hermitage).
Mykolas Kazimieras Radvila the Small Fish (1702-1762)
together with his wife Pranciska Ursule
Visniovecka resided mostly in Nesvizh. Tried to
rebuild their estate partly destroyed by wars and plague,
enriched the library, accumulated collections of numismatics and
history of nature. Founded a theatre, where among other plays,
plays written by the duchess used to be performed, as well as
musical comedies. The famous waist-band weaving workshop in
Slutsk was also established by this Radvilas.
- Mykolas Kazimieras the Small Fish
is also closely connected with this hall as he commissioned the
court painter Herszek Leybowicz to reproduce grafically the
Radvilas portraits of Nesvizh gallery. Thus appeared 165 stamps
- Herszek Leybowicz
(1700-1770) was a self-educated artist, and not all of his
carvings were a success. Most of the portrayed seem very alike,
their individual traits are distinct only in some of the works. H.
Leybowic carved on copper tablets. This technique was widely
applied in reproduction of paintings.
- The Nesvizh mansion, a dozen
times devastated and robbed by foreign armies, was being revived
again and again. In the times of Motiejus
Radvila (1749-1821) the mansion was filled with
music. The prince kept a large orchestra, wrote music for the
piano, violin, as well as librettoes of operas and vaudeviles.
Plays used to be performed even for extremely honorable
personalities (King Stanislavas II Augustus). The theatre that
often went on tours was even ready to face the Warsaw audience.
- The Radvilas knew not only how to
accumulate wealth, but how to lose it honorably as well. Mykolas
Gadeonas Radvila (1778-1850),
general of Polish army, took part in Napaleon's march to Russia.
Was one of the leaders of the 1831 rebellion. After its defeat
was arrested and exiled to the heart of Russia, held in prison
for several years, his estates confiscated.
(1755-1833), brother of Mykolas Gedeonas was a professional
musician - singer and violoncellist. Was born in Vilnius, studied
music in Berlin and remained there after the last division of the
Lithuanian-Polish state (1795). Was in close relationship with F.
Chopin, was aquainted with Beethoven, who, appreciating Antoninas'
help in publishing Mass D-dur, dedicated to him the Overture for
symphonic orchestra op. 115. Radvila created songs and wrote a
tune for J. W. Goethe's "Faust".
was another impatient warrior, fought on Napoleon's side with an
uhlan squad. Participated in the famous "battle of
nations" near Leipzig. Wounded near Hanau, died in France.
- This was the last Radvilas of
Nesvizh. With the death of his sole daughter Stefanija the
family branch vanished. We remember Dominykas Radvila not only
as honorable cavalry-man, but also as the last host of this
mansion. Formerly the whole block was occupied by the mansion
belonging to Mikalojus the Black, and later on by the brick
Renaissance one built by great hetman Jonusas Radvila in the
- In the early XIX century it was
already crumbled. But the Philantropist Society founded in 1807
was happy to get at least a part of the building from the
prince's presents. Later on this institution was constantly
being expanded and strengthened by the most famous Lithuanian
- Prepared by V. Gasiunas, R.
- Photo by D. Mukiene