The Difficult Reign of Stjepan Tomas (1443 – 1461)

In November of 1463 Bosnian King Tvrtko II (1420-1443) died. Because he did not have a son to inherit his throne, by the end of his life he expresses he wanted his successor to be Stjepan Tomas, the son of Stjepan Ostoja, and not Tomas’s older brother Radivoj who, alreade in 1432 proclaimed himself Bosnian king with the help of the Turks, and thus was a rival to Tvrtko II. In truth, several days after the death of Tvrtko II, Bosnian nobles proclaimed Stjepan Tomas as the Bosnian king; thus he succeeded Tvrtko II on the Bosnian throne.
The Internal Situation in Bosnia

Stjepan Tomas, after becoming the Bosnian king, found a Bosnian kingdom in disarray: inside the state there were major disagreements among the nobles, the populace was religiously divided1, and on its borders there was a large Turkish army which would attack the Bosnian state from time to time and interfere in Bosnia’s state of affairs. Tvrtko II had already paid tribute to the Turks so they would leave him alone. Nevertheless, the Turks convinced Radivoj, the son of Stjepan Ostoja to proclaim himself Bosnian king, and thus they had a permanent influence on the Bosnian kingdom. King Tomas believed that the Bosnian state would not survive if the nobles did not stop fighting either amongst themselves or with the king. His first order of business was to placate his older brother Radivoj and live with him in peace. After a while he succeeded in this effort. After 1446, Radivoj was on the best terms with King Tomas and assisted him with everything.
Another noble without whom there could be no peace in Bosnia, was Stjepan Vukcic Kosaca. He was by nature, hard-working, and industrious but also shrewd and quarrelsome. At that time he was the most respected Bosnian nobleman. It was clear from the beginning to King Tomas that he would not have peace and safety in the Bosnian kingdom if he could not find a peaceful co-existence with this nobleman. So King Tomas searched for a means to smooth all differences with Stjepan Vukcic Kosaca and establish a peaceful relationship.
It helped Stjepan Tomas in this matter that he wanted to put his religious life into order. Stjepan Tomas was raised as a Bogumil or a Patarin. King Tvrtko II had already cautioned him to become a Catholic if he had wanted to amount to anything as king. Maybe Stjepan Tomas had already embraced the Catholic faith during Tvrtko II’s lifetime, but was certainly a Catholic at the start of his reign. Pope Eugene IV in1455 spoke of Stjepan Tomas as a proper Catholic.
When Tomas became a Catholic, he was already married to the commoner Vojaca, and had a son Stjepan with her, who was later called Stjepan Tomasevic. The Catholics considered Tomas’s marriage as not valid. Even Pope Eugene IV proclaimed Stjepan Tomas’s marriage as null because it was carried out according to the Bogumil faith. King Stjepan Tomas did not want to marry his former wife Vojaca according to Catholic custom, but rather found another wife. He found her actually in the person of twenty-two year old Katarina daughter of Stjepan Vukcic Kosaca. . Everything was prepared for the marriage, and the Bosnian king married Katarina in a solemn ceremony in Milodraz in May of 1446. With this marriage peace was made, at least for several years, between Stjepan Kosaca and the Bosnian king Stjepan Tomas.
The Turkish Threat

The main danger to the Christian world at this time came from the Turks who would attack western regions from time to time and would take over piece by piece the lands that were in their way. Bosnia was, during the reign of King Stjepan Tomas, on the forefront of Turkish attacks. Two routes were open to Stjepan Tomas: either submit to Turkish power, or to defend against it with the help of Christian states, who saw the Turkish threat and looked for methods to stop the Turkish expansion towards the West. For some time, the Pope was the main defender of the Christian people against the Turks.
Just prior to Stjepan Tomas coming to power in Bosnia, Pope Eugene IV called all Christians in the world on a military crusade against the Turks, either enlisting as soldiers or securing aid for the expenses of the crusader army. The Pope sent preachers to the then Christian regions to explain to the people the need for one Christian army and to collect various donations on that behalf.
Those endeavors continued during the papacy of Nicholas V (1447-1455), during which in 1453 Constantinople fell into Turkish hands. It looked as though during the papacy of Callistus III (1455-1458) those endeavors might achieve at least some resultswhen in 1456 the crusaders defended Belgrade.
In the meanwhile, Stjepan Tomas did not see any use from these endeavors. It seemed to him that everybody had abandoned him, and that he would not be able to defend himself if the Turks attacked. For that reason in March or April of 1458 he requested of the Sultan conditions for peace among them. The Sultan promised that he would not bother him or attack him, if he were paid a set yearly tribute. Stjepan Tomas believed he had to accept that.
The Marriage of Stjepan Tomasevic
The son of Stjepan Tomas, who is commonly called Stjepan Tomasevic, was ready for marriage. Stjepan Tomas wanted that the marriage be beneficial for the Bosnian kingdom, especially in its defense against the Turks.
In July of 1456, Stjepan Tomas sent a delegation to Rome to see what the possibilities were of a marriage in Rome. This delegation had to ask the Pope in the name of the Bosnian king that his son Stjepan could get as wife the daughter of a prince or someone of royal blood.
Somehow, at the same time, the possibility arose that Stjepan Tomasevic could take the oldest daughter of Lazar Djordjevic, Despot of Serbia, as his wife2. Stjepan Tomas quickly made an agreement.
However, before the marriage of Stjepan Tomasevic and Lazar’s daughter Mara, also called Jelena, Jelaca or Margarita, Lazar Djordjevic died on January 20, 1458. Even though the vice-regency took over the administration of the despotate, an uncertain situation arose. Stjepan Tomas believed that nothing would come from the planned marriage. So he went elsewhere to find a wife for his son.
Stjepan Tomas heard that the doge of Milan, Francis I Sforza had a daugher for marriage. He sent his representative Nikola TestaTrogiranin to ask the doge’s daughter to marry Stjepan. Testa successfully began negotiations which needed to be concluded later.
After the uncertainty in the Serbian Despotate began, following the death of Lazar Djordjevic, in time the situation became clearer and safer. The vice-regency came to the decision that in these times it would be best for the despotate to invite Stjepan Tomasevic to rule and renew negotiations for his marriage to the daughter of Prince Lazar. The negotiations ended with the decision to unite Bosnia and the Serbian Despotate with the marriage of the successor to the despotate to the successor of the Bosnian kingdom. Hungary believed this was an acceptable decision. In January of 1459 the Hungarian parliament welcomed the unification of the Kingdom of Bosnia to the Serbian Despotate, because they believed it would be easier to resist the Turks. Stjepan Tomas who was present at the parliament, recognized the Hungarian king as his sovereign, and King Matthias3 promised to defend Bosnia from the Turks.
When the Turks heard the decision of the Hungarian parliament, they ordered their army to take Bobovac, where Stjepan Tomasevic resided, and Vranduk, where Tomas’s brother Radivoj lived. These two found out the Turk’s intentions and fled into the despotate. Stjepan Tomasevic took power there on March 21, 1459 and on April 1st of the same year married Lazar’s daugher Mara.
The arrival of Stjepan Tomasevic to rule the despotate was viewed as a provocation by the Turks. The Turks believed that their rights were infringed upon, because they saw the despotate as their vassal state. Stjepan Tomasevic was aware of that and asked for real and serious help from the Hungarians when he heard that the Turks were heading towards his state in the direction of Smederevo, where his throne was located. Because he did not receive any help, when the Turks came to Smederevo, Stjepan Tomasevic, together with his family abandoned the city. The Turks entered Smederevo on June 20, 1459.
The fall of Smederevo caused surprise and fear especially in Hungary. The doors to Hungary were open for the Turks. The Hungarians personally found it suspicious that Smederevo fell without a fight. King Matthias openly stated that the city fell because of betrayal.
Meeting in Mantua
Just prior to the fall of Smederevo, Pope Pius II convened a congress of Christian rulers in Mantua on June 1, 1449, which he called so they could discuss how to resist Turkish destruction.
As soon as Stjepan Tomas heard about the meeting in Mantua, he sent his representative Nikola Testa to secretly inform the gathered rulers and their representatives of the situation in Bosnia and to request aid against the Turks.
The Bosnian representative left Mantua before the news of Smederevo’s fall arrived there. When it arrived, news spread that StjepanTomasevic sold out Smederevo.
Stjepan Tomas was disheartened with the fall of Smederevo, because he found himself in a hopeless situation: he couldn’t resist by himself, and he didn’t believe he would get help from the Christian leaders ever since they heard that his son sold out Smederevo.
In this situation, he could either surrender to the Turks or try to convince the Christian peoples that he honestly and with all his power wanted to resist the Turks.
Because Bosnia had a strong group of heretics, the Bogumils or Patarins, Bosnia was considered an unstable country for a long time. Stjepan Tomas came to the belief that he had to destroy religious division in his country and model it on other Christian countries. At this opportunity he chose a decisive step. He stated that all Bogumils become Catholics. Who didn’t follow the king’s decree would have to leave the kingdom and leave all their possessions.
Tomas’s decree was given during the second half of 1459, after a letter from King Matthias which on July 12, 1459 accused King Tomas for treason and before June 7 1460, when Pope Pius II stated to King Matthias that Stjepan Tomas wanted to be a proper Catholic, and the proof was that he had expelled the dangerous Patarins.
Stjepan Tomas wanted to inform the meeting at Mantua and especially the Pope of his decision to expel heretics from his country. Tomas could not ask Tomo the Bishop of Hvar, who had done him many favors in the past because he was old and it was difficult for him to travel to Mantua, but rather he went to Natal to the Bishop of Nin, who in December of 1459 went to Mantua to inform the Pope and the meeting of the new situation in the Bosnian kingdom.
A large number of Bogumils had accepted Stjepan Tomas’s decree. But acceptance did not mean a change in lifestyle. They had to learn what it meant to live as a Catholic. Which is why Stjepan Tomas, without suspicion in an agreement with Bishop Natal, sent three well-known Bogumils to Rome so that the Pope could teach them in the Catholic faith and living. In this trio were Jure Kucinic, Stojsav Tvrtkovic, and Radmil Vecinic. They went to Rome in October of 1460. Arriving in Rome, Natal took this trio to the Pope. They came to the Pope bound. Maybe Natal had wanted to give an illustrated meaning to this arrival. Pope Pius II put the three Bogumils in monasteries in Rome where they had the opportunity to study the Christian truth.
These three Bogumils stayed in Rome for half a year to study Christian doctrine. They were helped by priests that spoke Croatian and who lived in Rome. . At the end, the Pope had requested that the well known Cardinal Juan de Torquemada gather all manichaean sinners, at least the major ones, because the Bosnian Bogumils were introduced in Rome as manichaeans, and show the reasons for which hey were wrong and because of which should be rejected. On the basis of that list, the three Bogumils could later, to be sure of their faith and if they had forgotten something, they could renew themselves by looking at the list.
Cardinal de Torquemada studied the manichaean doctrine, tested the Bogumils and found 50 errors. He had Croatian priests with him, especially Luka de Talentis the Archdeacon of Korcula who was in the service of the Papal Curate. He finally translated the listof Cardinal de Torquemada to the trio and on the basis of that list, on May 14, 1461 they renounced all manichaean errors and promised that they would persuade all of their former like minded believers so they could renounce manichaean errors.
After a ceremonial rejection of errors, the trio returned to Bosnia. Two of them held to their promise, while the third returned to his old faith and went into the regions which were ruled by Stjepan Vukcic Kosaca.
Bishop Natal – The Pope’s Representative to Bosnia

When Bishop Natal handed over the three Bogumils in Rome, he returned to Zadar to prepare for his journey into Bosnia, because the Pope had verbally named him as his representative to King Tomas. He found friar Marijan from Siena, a Franciscan from the Tuscany province in Zadar whose last name was Cecchi Sozini. Since 1456 he preached a military crusade against the Turks on the Eastern coast of the Adriatic sea, collected help in money and promises and trained people who would join the army as crusaders.
Friar Marijan accepted without hesitation the invitation of the Bishop of Nin, Natal to accompany him on his journey to Bosnia. They left Zadar in January of 1461. They bought the necessary horses and on them and went towards the Bosnian kingdom. The bishop’s nephew Petar who permanently resided with the bishop went with them. They came to Livno, which was then called Bistrica. Unaccustomed to riding, the bishop fell from his horse here and was fatally injured. Because of his major wounds, the bishop quickly died.
Friar Marijan nursed the bishop’s wounds. At the time of his death, friar Marijan performed last rites and listened to his final wishes. He buried his mortal remains on January 28, 1461 near Livno’s Bistrica castle. Afterwards he returned to Zadar together with the bishop’s nephew Petar. They arrived in Zadar on February 7th of the same year.
The Death of King Stjepan Tomas
Stjepan Tomas waited the Pope’s aid to strengthen his kingdom in those difficult times. He did not live much longer after the death of Bishop Natal. According to the chronicler Ivan Tomasic, he died on July 10, 1461. According to his statements, Stjepan Tomas was killed by his brother Radivoj and son Stjepan4, when they moved their army against the Princes of Krbava, the Kurjakovics. Even though we do not have contemporary news of Tomas’s death, it is certain that he died before August of that year, and led his army against the Kurjakovics prior to that, in July.
1 This statement is somewhat misleading. Catholicism was the main religion of Bosnia, but most of the nobles were Bogumils. With only one exception, all of the Bosnian Kings were or became Catholic. Noel Malcom postulates in his book Bosnia A ShortHistory that the Bogumil or Bosnian Church never had a huge membership (page 42). There was a minority of people that belonged to the Orthodox Church as well.
2 The Despotate of Serbia was a Turkish vassal that existed for some 70 years after the Battle of Kosova. With the fall of Smederevo in 1459, the medieval Serbian state ceases to exist. The Hungarians would hold on to Belgrade for another 60 years after that.
3 Matthias Corvinus (1443?-1490) was king of Hungary from 1458-90. He gained a reputation as a crusader against the Ottomans.
4 According to Vjekoslav Klaic, a noted Croatian historian, Tomasic’s account is suspect. Had Radivoj and Stjepan Tomasevic killed Stjepan Tomas there certainly would have been a contemporary account of the incident. Klaic points out that on August 20 that Venice had heard that Stjepan Tomas died one day, and that Stjepan Tomasevic ascended onto the Bosnian throne. Povijest Hrvata. Knjiga 4 pp 46-46.
Source: Bazilije Pandzic, “Teska Vladavina Stjepana Tomasa (1443.-1461.)” Hrvatski Kalendar 1995 pp. 128-133
Bosnian Queen Katarina

On Capitoline Hill in Rome there is a church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is customarily called Aracoeli church1. According to legend it was built above a pagan altar, which had Haec ara fili Dei est written on it. Greek monks were in it from the beginning, after them the Benedictines, and in 1250 it was given to the Franciscans, who had their general residence next to it. Since the Middle Ages, Aracoeli church has been considered to be the official church of the municipality of Rome.
Throughout the past Croatians had close ties to this church. While the general residence for the Franciscans was next to it, many Croatian Franciscans because of their own work in academia while in Rome, were put up near this church. But it was also a gathering point because Katarina Vukcic Kosaca, the wife of Bosnian king Stjepan Tomas (1441-1461), is buried here; she who and who hoped and yearned for her homeland died on October 25, 1478 in Rome.
Katarina was the daughter of the Bosnian nobleman Stjepan Vukcic Kosaca. She was born around 1424. Her childhood and life coincided with a difficult period for the Bosnian kingdom. Turks attacked periodically, looting and burning and giving a clear sign that they intended to conquer it all together.
Bosnian nobles in these times of general insecurity were not able to successfully take a united stand against the destruction, which threatened them every day. In fact they were suspicious of one another, often they individually attempted to step into contact with the Turks, in the hope that they could lessen the force of Turkish attacks in their areas and save themselves if the Turks decided to conquer the Bosnian kingdom.
Tvrtko II, the last king of the Kotromanic line, died in 1443. By Tvrtko II’s will, Stjepan Tomas succeeded him onto the throne, even though his illegitimate older son Stjepan Ostoja Radivoj had the right of succession.
Stjepan Tomas was the illegitimate son of Bosnian King Stjepan Ostoja, who died in 1418. Up until his election as king, StjepanTomas kept his origins secret because of security. Moreover, he took a commoner, named Vojaca, and promised her according to patrician ways that he would marry her if she was good and faithful and served him well. When he became king, the nobles advised him to leave his wife because she was of a lower class and was unsuited to be queen. Tomas who became a Catholic didn’t think he could do this without the personal permission of the Holy See. That’s why he went to Pope Eugene IV to get permission to take another wife, even though he promised to marry the commoner and already had a son with her. On May 29, 1445 the Pope released him from his promise and allowed him to marry as he planned.
At the same time, Stjepan Tomas who was also illegitimate, asked the Pope to recognize all legal rights to his son. The Pope granted that request on the same day.
Now Stjepan Tomas could freely contemplate marriage. In all likelihood under the influence of his advisors he chose Katarina, the daughter of Stjepan Vukcic Kosaca, who was then 21 years old. It was believed that she could strengthen the Bosnian kingdom, because with their marriage, the Bosnian king Stjepan Tomas would be tied together with his nobleman Stjepan Vukcic Kosaca.
Stjepan Vukcic Kosaca was then the most respected nobleman in Bosnia. Clever and enterprising, he was able to spread his holdings to all of today’s Herzegovina, southern portions of Bosnia, some portions of Serbia and Montenegro, central Dalmatia, and places from Dubrovnik to Kotor.
Stjepan Vukcic Kosaca believed early on that Bosnia could not win the struggle against Turkish superiority and that they should get in contact with the Turks, so that the difficult future of the Bosnian kingdom would be less sad. Because of his stance with the Turks, Stjepan Vukcic Kosaca was against Stjepan Tomas’s arrival on the throne of the Bosnian kingdom. He was for Radivoj, also an illegitimate son of Stjepan Ostoja, who had already served the Turks and for 10 years called himself the Bosnian king under Turkish patronage.
But the stronger side was the one that was against an agreement with the Turks and which sided with the Christian west, particularly with the Pope. This side grew stronger when Pope Eugene IV on January 1, 1443 called the entire Christian world to battle against Turkey. That also helped bring Stjepan Tomas onto the Bosnian throne.
As soon as he arrived onto the throne, Stjepan Tomas worked to tie himself closer to Stjepan Vukcic Kosaca and to bring about unity in the kingdom. It was believed that Stjepan Tomas could best achieve that if he married Stjepan Vukcic Kosaca’s daughter Katarina.
Katarina was raised as a patrician. Prior to her marriage, she converted to Catholicism and wed Stjepan Tomas according to the Catholic rite. In all likelihood the marriage was held on Assumption on May 26, 1446.
After the death of Stjepan Tomas in 1461, Katarina was left with two weak children, Sigismund and Katarina. Stjepan Tomasevic, the son Stjepan Tomas had with Vojaca, became the Bosnian king. He was the first Bosnian king to be crowned with a crown from Rome. His main concern was also to be on good terms with Stjepan Vukcic Kosaca. Because of that, even before he was crowned as king, he recognized Queen Katarina all rights as the Queen Mother.
Katarina stayed at the royal court until the fatal year of 1463, when Mehmed II the Turkish sultan attacked and conquered Bosnia with a large army. Stjepan Tomasevic was captured and killed, and the two weak children of Queen Katarina were taken into Turkish captivity, however she was able to escape, because she was with her brother Vladislav in the southern regions.
At the beginning of July 1463, she moved to the Republic of Dubrovnik where she acted as the legal representative of the Bosnian kingdom.
During her time in Dubrovnik, Katarina followed the situation in Bosnia, and hoped that her kingdom would quickly be liberated. But as days passed, liberation did not happen, and she moved to Rome in 1466.
In Rome Katarina found refuge with Pope Paul II who decreed that she receive permanent help from the papal treasury. From 1467 to 1478 she received at least 6541 gold ducats for support. She had a small court of Bosnian nobles with her, and in her last ten years, she lived near the church of St. Mark, where the Croatian brotherhood of St. Jerome had their houses, and it isn’t impossible that she may have lived and died in one of them.
During the entire time that she lived in Rome, she thought about the liberation of her kingdom, and in particular the liberation of her two weak children who were taken to Istanbul, to the sultan’s court and educated in the Islamic faith. It happened that on occasion the Turks would return captured children for a good price, so she believed that she could also free her children from captivity. With that aim, she asked various Italian rulers for financial help. That is how in 1470, for example, she sent two members of her court, Nikola Zubranic and Abraham Radic to Mantova and Milan, to ask for help in her name. At the time she wrote to the Mantuan prince among others:
“Facit mea adversa fortuna, quae viro rege ac liberis et regno opibusque spoliavit, ut non solum ad pontificem maximum patrem clementissimum, sed etiam ad alios principes christianos me confugere oproteat pro implorado subsidio.” (I am forced by my unfortunate destiny, which took away from me my husband the king, my children and property, to ask for help not only from you, Pontiff and good father, but also to other christian princes.)
In 1474 she had decided to go to the Turkish border because she had heard that the sultan had promised to free her children. All of her efforts were in vain. She never saw her children again, and she took the hope of their liberation to her grave.
When she was 54, she became sicker. So that death didn’t catch her unexpectedly she immediately called the imperial notary Ante, a priest from Split, who was in the post at St. Peter’s church in Rome and, according to the law at the time she was ready to make her last will. She called as witnesses Jure de Marinellis the Archdeacon of Rab on duty in Rome, and six Franciscans from the Aracoeli monastery.
In her testament, Katarina asked that she be buried in the Aracoeli church. She left 200 ducats for that. She also left the church her royal robe and a silk altar cloth.
To the Croatian church of St. Jerome, she left her royal chapel: books, dishes, and church clothing.
She even remembered the church of St. Catherine in Jajce, which she ordered to be built, and bequeathed to it all of her relics.
But the main will of Queen Katarina as legal representative of the Bosnian kingdom, related to the Kingdom of Bosnia: she left it to the Holy See, if her children could not be returned to the Catholic faith.
Katarina died five days after she gave her last will. According to her wishes, she was buried in the Aracoeli church in front of the main altar where they made her a beautiful tombstone, which depicted her in her actual size and with the royal crown on her head. An inscription in bosancica2 was also put on the tombstone.
Of course Bosnian refugees in Rome came to pay respects at the grave of their Queen, who was considered a holy woman and the ideal of all virtue. But with time, even her grave was somewhat forgotten. In 1590, when the Franciscans had decided to move the great altar forward, they had no difficulties in covering the grave of the Bosnian Queen. They moved her tombstone onto the right pillar in front of the main altar, where it is remains today.
In all likelihood that is when the Croatian inscription on the tombstone was changed to a new Latin inscription which, as we see today, had several modifications added to the translation:
Catherine Reginae Bosnensi
Stephani Ducis San (c) ti Sabbae Sorori,
Et genere Helene et Domo Principis
Stephani natae, Tomae Regis Bosnae
Uxori. Quantum vixit annorum LIIII
Et odbormivit Romae Anno Domini
Et odbormivit Romae Anno Domini MCCCCLXXVIII
DIE XXV Octobris
Monumentum ipsius scriptis positum.
Croatian pilgrims through the long centuries after the death of Queen Katarina have come to her grave and stopped in front of her tombstone. Her painful life and her conscience of royal responsibility, even though covered with the veil of oblivion, still today leave an indelible mark in the spirits of Croatian visitors.
1 The church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli
2 Bosancica is the medieval alphabet of Bosnia. It is also called Croatian cyrillic.