History

BIRUTE

Birute hill>>>

Prepared by “Encyclopedia Lituanica”. II. Boston, 1972. P. 361-362

Birute and Kestutis. Illustration from the Archives of the Palanga Amber MuseumBIRUTE (14th century), wife of Grand Prince Kestutis, mother of Vytautas the Great. As far as can be ascertained from historical sources, she belonged to a family of Samogitian magnates. Although the chronicles contain no information about her father, they do mention her father's brother Vidimantas and her nephew Butrimas, who was married to the daughter of Mantvydas. Later, when Vytautas became Grand Prince of Lithuania, Mantvydas and Butrimas occupied high official posts in the principality. This would indicate that they were indeed the relatives of his mother.
According to ancient traditions, Birute was born near Palanga on the Baltic seacoast and was a priestess (vaidilute) who guarded the sacred fire of an altar in Palanga. In popular tradition the marriage of Kestutis and Birute became a beautiful legend, which was recorded in the Lithuanian chronicle of Bychowiec as follows: “Kestutis, ruling in Trakai and Samogitia, heard of a maiden of Palanga named Birute, who, according to the pagan custom, had promised the gods to preserve her chastity and was herself honored as a goddess. And Prince Kestutis himself went there, and the maiden pleased the Prince because she was very beautiful and wise, and he asked her to be his wife, but she did not wish to consent and answered that she promised the gods to remain chaste until the end of her days. And the Prince took her from there by force, and with great respect accompanied her to Trakai, his capital. He invited his brothers, held a large wedding feast, and took Birute as his wife.”
Their first son, Vytautas, was born ca. 1350. They later had two more sons, Tautvilas and Zygimantas, and three daughters. One of the daughters, Miklause, married Prince Ivan of Tver' in 1375; Danute married Janusz, a Masurian Prince, in 1380; and Ringaile married Henryk, another Masurian prince, in 1392. There is definite information that Kestutis had at least four other sons (Vaisvilas, Patirgas, Vaidotas, and Butautas), all of whom were much older than Vytautas. It is surmised that they were the sons of Kestutis and his previous wife, and that Birute was probably his second wife.
From 1345 Lithuania was ruled by Algirdas and Kestutis, who were brothers. They ruled in harmony and wanted their sons to continue the diarchial system. When Algirdas died in 1377 his son Jogaila succeeded him. Kestutis had designated Vytautas to succeed him and attempted to co-operate with Jogaila in ruling the country. Jogaila was opposed to the diarchy, however, and wished to rule alone. The country was on the verge of civil war. Jogaila invited Kestutis and Vytautas for negotiations; when they arrived he seized and imprisoned them. Kestutis was murdered in 1382, but Vytautas succeeded in escaping to Prussia, where he sought aid from the Teutonic Knights. During this period of unrest Birute had been sent to Brasta (Brest-Litovsk), a good distance southwest of Vilnius, for safety. Some historical sources state that she was killed on Jogaila's orders; others, that she died later, ca. 1389. Her burial place is believed to be Palanga, where she spent her youth. It is entirely probable that her sons Vytautas and Zygimantas buried her there on her request. The Lithuanians have long venerated Birute, who gave Lithuania one of its greatest rulers, Vytautas; and the beautiful hill of Birute near Palanga is considered a national shrine.

 

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