Old Serbian noble and ruler family of Kosače originated from the village of the same name in vicinity of Goražde (towards Foča-Srbinje), where initial family estates where before spreading their rule to Herzegovina.

Famous Serbian voyevoda Vlatko Hranić-Vuković (1389-1390) belonged to this family and was the commander of the force sent by king Tvrtko to battle of Kosovo in 1389. Noblemen Vlać Belić was within this army who was heavily wounded during the battle. Afterwards he returned to Vlahoviće near Ljubinje, in Herzegovina, and was buried there, in a church where until this day stand an inscription carved into a stone plate referring to Belić participation in the Kosovo Battle. 

Vlatko had three sons: Sandalj, Vukac and Vuk. Sandalj Hranić, the successor, was the great voyevoda of Bosnia and voyevoda of Zachlumia with court in Ključ near Cernica, in vicinity of Gacko and was married with Jelena Balšić, daughter of knyaz Lazar, (previous wife of Đurađ Balšić from Zeta). Sandalj domain stretched from estuary of Neretva and Neretvljanska Krajina across Drina and Lim with following cities and territories: Novi (Herceg Novi in Dračevica), Risan, Onogošt (Nikšić), Budoš city (towards Ostrog), Samobor near Goražde, Đurđevac on the left bank of Drina (near Ustiprača), Kosman between Foča and estuary of Sutjeska, Soko on the intersection of rivers Piva and Tara, Soko on Drina near Čajniče, Ključ near Cernica (Gacko), Drobnjaci, Pljevlja and monastery of Mileševo with Prijepolje. He controlled complete Zachlumia – from Soko city in Konavli and Klobuk and Mičevac near Trebinje, until Vidoš (Stolac) in Dubrave and Blagaj (at the spring of river Buna), Nevesinje (city of Vjenačac) and Konjic, lower Neretva, Ljubuški, Neretvljanska Krajina and area until Omiš (city of Čačvina on the left bank of Cetina).  

After death of Sandalj Hranić (15th March 1435) he was succeeded by son of his younger brother Vukac – Stefan Vukčić (born in 1404, his mother was named Katarina +1456) great voyevoda of Bosnia and herzog of Saint Sava. After him Zachlumia get its current name of Herzegovina. He was mentioned for the first time in 1419 when he issues charters, with his father and uncles, regarding sale of Konavle to Dubrovnik given he was already set out by his uncle Sandalj, who had no children, as an heir. Stefan was married in 1424 with Jelena, daughter of Balša III Balšić and in 1435 began his reign.

Like his uncle Sandalj before him, he acknowledged the authority of the Turkish sultan Murat II (1421-1444; 1446-1451), while continuing peaceful relations his uncle initiated with Dubrovnik. Stefan requested Dubrovnik help by mediating between him and Hungarian king Sigismund, promising he will serve him as vassal. Hungarians refuse and entrust rule of Zachlumia to knyaz Matko Talovac, their appointee for “Slavonic ban” while at the same time demanding from Dubrovnik that established Zachlumia tax, for centuries a prerogative of Serbian rulers, has to be payed to Talovac instead of Stefan. With assistance from Turkish troops Stefan defeats the rebels, amongst them noble houses of Đurđevići and Radivojevići. On 10th of October 1435 Stefan affirmed to Dubrovnik all the privileges under the city Vjenčac near Nevesinje (ruins of this city still exist). With Stefans’ voyevoda Sanko, who ruled area of Nevesinje, heralds of Dubrovnik went to Radoslav Pavlović for peace settlement, but to no avail. After failure of this mission, Stefan took from Radoslav Trebinje, Banjane and zhupa Vrm. At this time Stefan searched for ways to increase trade of his realm and relieve himself from economic dependence on Dubrovnik so with that goal in mind, he set up his customs in Trebinje (Mičevac), Sutjeska (Tjentište) and Podrinac. The following tension in relations with Dubrovnik ceased after some time but given these were unstable times, these tensions would be renewed on several occasions.

Stefan was a pious Orthodox Christian and his personal priest was episcope David from monastery of Mileševa. Stefan built several Orthodox temples, such as church of St. George in Sopotnica near Goražde, his endowment, where even today, an inscription in stone plate above the entrance reads: “In summer of 6954 (1454), I servant of Christ God, lord Herzog Stefan raised temple to Saint Greatmartyr of Christ, George. Pray to him so he would pray for me, the sinner, to my Episcope the Christ.” Other churches Stefan built were the one dedicated to St. Luke in Smokovac in Boka, church of St. Srđ and Vlachos in Podim above Herceg-Novi and most probably the oldest part of the temple within monastery Dobrićevo with the temple in village of Zagrađe, beneath his capital city of Soko (in Šćepan polje) which he choose as his resting place. After receiving offer from Rome on establishment of relations with the Pope, he first refused, only to seek the same thing himself in spring of 1439, through envoys contacting Pope Eugene IV (who was presiding the council with Orthodox clergy and dignitaries from Byzantium in Ferrara), apparently, requesting a bishop from the Pope for purposes of church union. After receiving the request on 15th of September 1439, Pope sends letter from Firenze to bishop of Hvar, Toma, declaring him as envoy for Hungary, Croatia and Zachlumia. Reason is unknown but this attempt at union failed, probably because Stefan was only using it as a political tactics, given his dedication to the Orthodox religion. For a time, Stefan was vassal to the Alfonso of Aragon, king of Naples, whose ships in 1445 arrived in Novi.

In 1448 Stefan publically proclaims himself for independent “Herzog of Saint Sava” in this manner linking himself with tradition and heritage of Nemanjići, given he had monastery Mileševa, where body of St. Sava was at the time, in his possession and given that Rastko Nemanjić (St. Sava) ruled Zachlumia before dedicating his life to church. Wife of Herzog Stefan was Jelena, daughter of Balša III Balšić, who, being without male heirs, left his Zeta to his uncle despot Stefan and he left it to Đurađ Branković. After fall of Đurađ Despotate in 1439, only remaining territory Đurađ had was Zeta, at that moment claimed by Herzog Stefan. In 1441, Herzog Stefan takes the Upper Zeta and in 1442 Lower Zeta and city of Bar submit to his authority but the other cities refused. However, soon enough Herzog himself withdraws from Zeta which more and more falls under the rule of Venetians. Not long after, in the west of Herzegovina, Poljica and Omiš surrender to Venetians.

In autumn 1443 Crusade of the Hungarian and Polish king with despot Đurađ against the Ottomans begin and in 1444 by peace treaty in Szeged, Serbian Despotate was restored with Đurađ taking the control of the Upper Zeta as well. Stefan made peace with Đurađ and in the spring of 1445 returned all territories he took earlier afterwards entering kinship relations. Afterwards, Stefan concluded peace with Venetians as well, renouncing his claim on Omiš and Bar while Venetians returned to him his premises in Kotor and Zadar, while promising a residence in Venetia. For the next few years (1451-1454) Stefan waged war with Dubrovnik, only to make peace with them as well, which can be seen in his testament. Herzog Stefan Kosača died on 22nd of May 1466.

Testament of the Herzog was dictated on 21st of May 1466 to Mileševa metropolitan David, with presence of guest Radin and chamberlain Pribisav Vukotić, and was opened on the 20th December of 1467 (SSPP II, 87-92).


“Testament of great and famous lord Herzog Stjepan Kosača, reading thus:

In the name of great Savaot, our magnificent Lord God, but I will say: in the beginning of the Father, fulfilment of the Son and descent of the Holy Spirit. O Glorious Trinity, praise thee. God gave unto lord Herzog Stjepan all manner of goodness and which started in goodness may it end in goodness, in health and joy and salvation of the soul. And let all know this: So spoke lord Herzog Stjepan, because on 20th of May, on Tuesday, in the year of our Lord 1466 in the city of Novi at the sea I made this testament on our creation and estates God has provided us with. First of all, for my soul, in glory and service of God, 10 thousand golden ducats; then to my son knyaz Vlatko 30 thousand golden ducats, then to my son knyaz Stjepan 30 thousand golden ducats; then to madam Cecilia 1 thousand golden ducats…(here he lists everything else bequeathed to her)…And furthermore, to my son Stjepan I leave my remains and my icons which were carried with me, encased in silver and gold and pearls. Besides this, pearl crown for Stjepan…(here he lists everything else bequeathed to Stjepan). Rest of the treasury, what remains is to be divided between three of my sons, all my possessions great and small, all of that to my three sons: Vladislav, Vlatko, Stjepan, to one, and the other and the third, everything in three parts. All of my belongings mentioned above and my estate I left in my residence in Dubrovnik, with faith in God and our good and dear friends, old and new, Knyaz and nobility of Dubrovnik. All this is my will, not of my sons, or any man from the Municipality, but everything written and mentioned above is my will. If I leave this world before my sons, mentioned above, let my sons have what each of them is due according to this testament. For this and by my will I choose my dear friends: knyaz Šišmund Žunjević, knyaz Bartol Gočetić, knyaz Andruško Sorkočević so that three of them may, when the time comes, fulfill my word and my testament enact and settle everything as it is said in this testament, especially and first for my soul. I placed my trust, for everything written and named above, into three of my servants and trustworthy members of my household (court routine): sir gost Radin, and my lord metropolitan David and knyaz Pribisav Vukotić, for three of them are witnesses to everything written here. And for everything said and written the three of them will be one side while the other side will be the knyaz knyaz Šišmund Žunjević, knyaz Bartol Gočetić, knyaz Andruško Sorkočević – and let them divided and distribute all according to my will and command. For more credibility and veracity I have sealed this document with my authentic lawful great seal so it may not and cannot come to less nor for will of any of my sons. I pledge and swear in my good and kind friends, my knyaz and nobility of Dubrovnik and I further swear with Almighty God and all the saints whose work pleased God, that everything said and listed above is the reach you in its fullness, for I did this while very sick of body but very sharp of mind and free of will. And so do I, Stjepan, say: if Vlatko would die before Stjepan, Vlatko and Stepan share to Stjepan, and if Stjepan dies first, Stjepan share to Vlatko and I recommend Stjepan to Vlatko with his share and my endowment – God and soul!”             

“+In summer of 1466, on 21st of May, I Andrija, son of Franko Sorkočević, am witness to everything written above”…

- This is followed with further statements and signatures by two more witnesses from Dubrovnik, Manoldo Viganti and Tadioko, son of Maroje Nalješković.

- This is followed by confirmation of testament authenticity on 29th of May 1466 before knyaz do Dubrovnik and in presence of witnesses where, as an answer to a question from knyaz regarding the author of the testament, it says: “It was written by honest man lord metropolitan David, on command from lord Herzog Stjepan, before his son”…

- This was followed with opening of the will on 1st of June 1466 before knyaz and Small Council in Dubrovnik where “honest man David the Metropolitan was summoned…and asked as man of God to speak the truth regarding his knowledge of the testament of lord Herzog Stjepan and David said the he was the metropolitan in question who, with his own hand, wrote the mentioned act, on command by Herzog Stjepan, who was of sound mind and complete intelligence and who order, after document was completed, that it be read back to him and after it was done, Herzog called as witnesses the mentioned metropolitan, gost Radin and knyaz Pribisav Vukotić, his servants, and three more citizens of Dubrovnik”…(here the metropolitan repeats the names and reiterates everything already said)…

“And on the day of 9th December in the year of our Lord 1466, in Dubrovnik, in the palace of Dubrovnik” before knyaz and others, in presence of representatives of voyevoda Vladislav – “knyaz Manuel Kantakouzenos and voyevoda Radič Paskačić” - and other from Herzog Vlatko and his brother knyaz Stjepan, in presence of gost Radin and metropolitan David and knight knyaz Pribisav Vukotić “by the request of all three above mentioned brothers” testament was opened and fulfilled only partially. Execution of the testament proceeded slowly due to Hungarian pressure upon Dubrovnik not to issue Herzog property and money to his sons. However, little later, voyevoda Vladislav, Herzog Vlatko and knyaz Stepan confirm reception of the fathers inheritance (1469-1470) while the first item of the testament will remain unfulfilled by Dubrovnik, as we shall see further.      

Text ends with: “Written by Marinko, God mention him.” (SSPP, 2, 87-92).

Unfortunately, Dubrovnik did not fulfil Herzog Stefan Kosača complete will, thus indicating that authorities of Dubrovnik were not always true to their word and that they were subjectively very pro Catholic inclined. Even when it received Orthodox Christians as its “citizens”, Dubrovnik did it mostly due to their money, treasure, valuables, which they left there for safekeeping. Namely, the 10.000 golden ducats Herzog Stefan indicated as “for my soul”, that is, they were to be distributed to churches and monasteries which prayed for his soul – he, as an Orthodox Christian, felt sinful and unworthy before God – were actually, on recommendation of the Pope, given over to Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus for his “Crusade” against the Turks.

Dr. Gregor Čremošnik writes about this: “Herzog Stjepan, within his testament, intended for “my soul and glory and service of God 10 thousand golden ducats” but he didn’t went into details regarding distribution of the said sum. Dubrovnik as executioner of the will and guardian of Herzog’s treasure, acted extremely disloyally and without agreement with the Herzog heirs, Vladislav and Vlatko, they put this, for that time huge amount, at disposal of the Pope who ordered them on the 10th February 1467 to give it to the Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus as Soldier of Christianity against the Turks. For a long time Dubrovnik hid this offense, although it had to be known to a larger or lesser extent. Justified anger of Vlatko and Vladislav is not hard to assume. “  

Source: + Episcope Atanasije Jevtić, On Herzog Stefan Kosača (1435-1466) and his testament, Šćepan polje and its holy sights through ages, Anthology of works from scientific convention (Plužine, 24-25. September 2006), Berane: Sveviđe – monastery Zagrađe 2010.  

Prepared by: Boris Radaković

Translate: Ljubiša Malenica

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