Radvilas’ Arms. Photo by Danute MukieneIn 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.
Mikalojus 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 treaty (1569).
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.
Mikalojus 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 him.
 Kristupas 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 Birzai.
Mikalojus 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 Amsterdam.
Barbora 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.
Jurgis 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.
Kristupas 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".
[54] 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 languages.
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.
Boguslovas 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).
Hetman 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 exhibited here.
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.
Antoninas Henrikas Radvila (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".
Dominykas Radvila (1786-1813) 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 XVII c.
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 people.
Prepared by V. Gasiunas, R. Adomaitiene 
Photo by D. Mukiene

  Lithuanian Art Museum, Fund of Samogitian Culture, Institute of Mathematics and Informatics 
     Comments, remarks send to:
     Page updated 2006.03.27