Stefan Tvrtko I Kotromanić (ban 1353 – 1377; king 1377 – 1391)

Tvrtko was the son of Vladislav, brother of ban Stefan II Kotromanić (1314 – 1353), and Jelena, daughter of a Hungarian noble of Croatian origin, Jurij Šubić (from 1102 Croatia is part of the Hungarian state). Tvrtko was related with Serbian dynasty of Nemanjići through his grandmother Jelisaveta, wife of ban Stefan I Kotromanić and daughter of the king Dragutin Nemanjić. Due to him being under age at the moment of coming into power, assistance in rule was provided by his father Vladislav, who died in 1354, and his mother Jelena.

At the start of his reign, Tvrtko was loyal vassal to the Hungarian king Louis I but after couple of years, disagreement between two rulers lead to Tvrtko having to give Zachlumia to Louis. This was not the last time Tvrtko and Louis quarreled with each other. Hungarian king initiated a campaign against Bosnia in 1363 but was defeated and had to retreat. Inner issues of the Bosnian state placed new problems before Tvrtko, especially his conflict with the domestic elite. Vuk, younger brother of Tvrtko, lead in 1366 rebellion against Tvrtko forcing him to take refuge in Dubrovnik together with his mother Jelena. Next year Tvrtko returned to Bosnia and restored his rule.

While he was still ban, Tvrtko was allied with knyaz Lazar Hrebeljanović and warred against zhupan Nikola Altomanović. Zhupan Nikola grew in power and was directly endangering both Tvrtko and Lazar. The two of them, in 1373, finally defeated Nikola and divided his territories amongst themselves. Ban Tvrtko received upper Podrinje, part of Polimlje with monastery Mileševo and city of Gacko.

As great-grandson of Stefan Dragutin, who from 1284 – 1316 ruled Usora and Soli (contemporary north Bosnia), after end of the Nemanjić dynasty, Tvrtko received the Serbian throne and was crowned as a king in monastery Mileševa in 1377. His royal title was: “king of Serbs, Bosnia, Primorje, Zachlumia, Donji Krajevi, Zapadne strane, Usora, Soli and Podrinje and the rest”. He adds name Stefan to his own, name which was carried by all rulers from the Nemanjić dynasty and even some Serbian rulers before them. This lead, sometimes between 1375 and 1377, to creation of genealogy which says: “Stefan the king, brother of king Milutin, Uroš II, who ruled Syrmia, with his wife Katalina, daughter of Hungarian king Vladislav, sired Urošica and Jelisaveta. And Jelisaveta gave birth to three sons: Stefan the ban of Bosnia, Inosav and Vladislav. And Vladislav sired Tvrtko the ban and Vukić.”

King Stefan Tvrtko, after his coronation with crown of Nemanjići, mentions in charter to Dubrovnik from 1378 that he went to “the Serbian land” and “secured the throne of his parents there” and that he was “crowned by God gifted laurel of his ancestors’ kingdom”.

Tvrtko crowned himself with “sugobim vijencem” which means he crowned himself with two crowns, Serbian one (Rascian) and Bosnian one. With his coronation, he entered into traditions of Nemanjići, given he was crowned as them, took the rulers name of Stefan and took traditional attitude of the Nemanjići house towards the Orthodox Church. In accordance with this tradition, which instructed Serbian rulers should be crowned on days marking more important Christian saints, Tvrtko was crowned on St. Demetrius day.

After coronation in Mileševa, Stefan Tvrtko emphasizes Orthodox formulae within his charters. For example, in his chrater to knyaz and voyevoda Hrvoje Vukčić Hrvatinić from 12th March of 1380, he begins in following manner: “In the beginning of the Father, fulfilment of the Son and descent of the Holy Spirit, amen. O beautiful high wisdom and knowledge of the Gods’ strength! How unperceivable are His decisions and innumerable are His paths which he filled with mercy and compassion through which, from the heights of His divinity, He joined with the entire universe and after human nature, fallen in sin, he made divine, he ascended to Heaven submitting to the will of the all keeping Father and finishing the work in manner he saw fit. Through him are the royal scepters fortified across the universe and celebrate the God all preserving. So do I, Stefan Tvrtko, by mercy of Lord God king of Serbs, Bosnia, Primorje, Zachlumia, Donji Krajevi, Zapadne strane, Usore, Soli and Podrinje and rest, was found worthy to rule in the lands of our parents and ancestors, reigning with mercy and noting everyone in accordance to their deed and merit….”.

After inheriting the crown of Nemanjići, Tvrtko showed high level of respect to saintly protector of the Nemanjići family, St. Stephen (contemporary patron saint of the Republic of Srpska) and built a city in his honor, naming it Sveti Stefan. Today, that city is known as Herceg Novi. In charter from 2nd December of 1382, Tvrtko mentions this: “It is blessed and very pleasant and worthy to praise this with dignified faith and dedicated it to you Protomartyr of Christ, Stephen, for you prayed for those who struck you down by saying: “Lord, don’t count this as their sin, for they know not what they do.” Therefore, you who have prayed for those who struck you, pray even more to my Episcope the Christ God for those who forever pray unto thee and call out for you and follow your teachings, you who have fallen for Christ the God and who do all good deeds to my Lord God, you who I beseech, for through your prayer did I receive Divine grace and was made worthy of the honor and imperial scepter of my first parents, Serbian lords, kings and emperors, and whose life and faith I follow, and by royal law do I rule and correct all imperfections in the lands of the kingdom given to me by God. And so, my kingdom found in zhupa Dračevica, near the sea, a place suitable to raise a city and in that moment did I call upon help of my Lord God and holy Greatmartyr and Archdeacon Stefan, as I said above, and in his name did I build a city in the said place and named it Sveti Stefan…”

While preparing to take traditions and throne of his parents and ancestors, the Nemanjići, couple of years before the royal coronation, Tvrtko started using Serbian cursive writing, as seen in one of his letters to Dubrovnik. After that, Bosnian chancellery adopts cursive Cyrillic, formed in Rascian chancellery during reign of Milutin Nemanjić, which became general chancellery writing for acts written in Serbian language. Significantly earlier, cursive writing was widely used in Zachlumia which was within Nemanjići state when typological variant of Cyrillic was formed in Rascia. 

After coronation, Tvrtko refers to himself, in his title, as king of Serbs, Bosnia, Primorje and so one. We can see he placed his new title in the first place, unlike, for example, emperor Dušan who, in his own title, leaves Serbs in first position wishing to make his foreign and usurped title Serbian by proclaiming he is first and foremost emperor of Serbs.

Between inhabitants of Bosnia and Rascia there was no ethnic divided as between Serbs and Greeks, thus Tvrtko had no reason to suppress his new title and emphasize Bosnia in first place. In other words, ruler of Serbs or “Serbian land” had ancient and legitimate right to carry the royal authority and kingly crown.

After death of his old enemy, Louis I of Hungary, in 1382, Stefan Tvrtko joined the side warring against queen Mary, daughter of Louis I, focusing his actions against southern Croatia, back then in possession of Bribir counts of Šubić family, to which his mother belonged to. However, Tvrtkos’ progress was disrupted by Turkish incursions into his lands and military success of king Sigismund of Luxembourg, husband to queen Mary.

King Tvrtko, direct ruler of Serbian lands on the left side of river Drina, and in title and spirit, king of all Serbs and inheritor of traditions from the holy dynasty of Nemanjići, saw the danger approaching from the east in the moment Turks threatened lands of the Serbian feudal lords Vuk Branković and Lazar Hrebljanović in 1389. Due to this, he abandons his conquest of the Dalmatian cities and sends part of his army to Kosovo Field, in defense of his kingdom and his people. Commander of the troops sent to Kosovo, Vlatko Vuković, was from Zachlumia and belonged to family of Kosače, the same family to which Herzog of Saint Sava, Stefan Vukčić Kosača, belonged to, man from whom Herzegovina will receive its contemporary name.         

At the end of his life, Tvrtko was successful in his Dalmatian campaign, taking cities of Split, Trogir and Šibenik. After his death in 1391 he was succeeded by king Stefan Dabiša Kotromanić.

Literature: A. Ivić, Genealogical tables and coats of arms of Serbian dynasties and nobility, Belgrade 1991; Ž. Fajfrić, Kotromanići, Belgrade 2000; M. Blagojević, Serbian statehood in the Middle Ages, Belgrade, 2011; M. Dinić, From Serbian history of the Middle Ages, Belgrade, 2003; N. Radojčić, Ritual of coronation of the Bosnian King Tvrtko I, Belgrade, 1948; S. Stanojević, All Serbian rulers, Beograd, 1989;


Author: Boris Radaković

Translate: Ljubisa Malenica

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