The settlement of Kęty was founded around 1200. The earliest mention of the settlement is from 1238 and it concerns the confirmation of granting the Benedictine monastery in Staniątki the village of Kanthi. In 1260, the monastery gave Kęty along with Czeladź to Duke Władysław Opolski. In 1277, Kęty was granted the municipal rights under Lwówek law. At the same time, Duke Władysław gave a number of privileges to its administrator [Polish: wójt] and townspeople. When Władysław Opolski died in 1281, his domain was split up between his three sons. Kęty and Oświęcim land came under the rule of Mieszko I, the Duke of Cieszyn. In 1317, an independent Duchy of Oświęcim was established by Duke Władysław. Ten years later, another Duke of Oświęcim, Jan Scholastyk, did a feudal homage to John of Bohemia.
In 1340, Kęty was a town with 300 residents. In 1368, Casimir the Great granted the merchants from Kęty the so called salt statutes, that is the right to deliver salt in hundredweights. In 1391, the town was granted Magdeburg law, which was more favourable. This meant incorporation of the town on a wider area and marking the town square and streets following the checkerboard pattern. The townspeople were exempted from paying a fee for transported goods (toll road). A customs house was opened.
The first mention of a school is from 1446, and a few years later a plague struck the town, causing partial depopulation and impoverishment of people. In 1457, Janusz, the Duke of Oświęcim, sold Kęty and Oświęcim to the King of Poland, Casimir Jagiellon. The price was 50 thousand Prague grivnas (measure of weight, ca. 250 g). As a result, Kęty became a royal town.
In the first decade of the 16th century, a long-lasting conflict over salt trade between Kęty and its competitor, Oświęcim worsened. The two warring cities appealed to King Sigismund I the Old, who ruled in favour of Kęty. In 1519, the same monarch established the third fair in the town. It fell on the day of St Catherine, that is on November, 25. Other two fairs, which were confirmed, fell on July, 13 – the day of St Margaret and on September, 14 – the holiday of The Exaltation of the Holy Cross. He approved the right to a weekly markets and exempted people coming to the town from paying a tool bridge and other fees. He also established an office of mayor [Polish: burmistrz], appointed for six years. In 1529, Kęty had a town hall beside the town market, about 1 thousand residents and 68 homes. On February 25, 1564, by virtue of a privilege, the Duchy of Oświęcim was incorporated to the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland and Kęty, the royal town, adopted Polish laws system and customs. In 1565, King Sigismund Augustus continued his father’s plan and granted the town the privilege that allowed for the annual purchase of 80 blocks of salt.
In 1581, the issue of salt trade led to another conflict with Oświęcim. This time it was Stephen Báthory who ruled in favour of Kęty. Craftsmanship and trade flourished in the city. There were 130 workshops in Kęty, more than in the surrounding towns. Oświęcim had 74 workshops, Wadowice – 47, Zator – 60. Shoemakers, potters, butchers, drapers, bakers, blacksmiths, tailors, coopers, furriers and brewers constituted the most numerous group of workers.
In 1585, a plague broke out in the town and it was taking a terrible toll for a half of a year, form July until Christmas. After that, famine struck. In 1609, a war started between two chief administrators [Polish: starosta]: Komorowski from Oświęcim and Podlaski from Zator. The dispute involved several villages on the border of the Żywiec region, which Komorowski, a rake and adventurer who did not respect the right, wanted to take for himself. On November 10, 1609, the battle near Kęty took place and Podlaski defeated Komorowski, who lost 80 people.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, there was a significant centre of drapery and a strong centre of Calvinism in Kęty. In 1652, the plague struck again, causing depopulation of the town. In 1655, Swedish troops sacked the city, and in 1657, great fire destroyed the houses near the town market and the parish church. All these calamities caused a significant reduction in the number of inhabitants of Kęty. In 1683, a part of the troops of King Jan III Sobieski, a relief expedition to Vienna, went through the town. The reconstruction of the parish church was finished in 1685. An undamaged Gothic chancel dating from the 14th century was preserved, and the rest of the church was rebuilt in the Baroque style.
At the beginning of the 18th century, the town was dogged by another series of misfortunes. In 1707, during the dispute over the right to the throne between the supporters of Augustus II of Saxony and Stanisław Leszczyński, the town was plundered by the Russian army. In 1708, another plague broke out in the town; in 1712 all forests, meadows, grain fields and other corps in the town and surrounding area were destroyed by the swarms of locust. In 1716, the Saxon army went through the town, burning and pillaging it. In 1768, during the assembly in Kęty, the nobility of the Duchy of Oświęcim and Zator announced its partaking in the Bar Confederation and as a result, the town was occupied by the Russian troops several times in 1768-1770.
From 1772, Kęty was under the Austrian partition. In 1785-1786, three earthquakes were reported. In 1793, Austrian Emperor, Francis II granted Kęty a status of a municipal town. He approved a new crest of the town, which has been used to this day. In 1797, serious fire gutted almost all buildings in the town. After the disaster, the Austrian authorities imposed a ban on building wooden houses. In 1813, great flood damaged the town. The Soła river breached the dam and the river bed was altered. Many farm animals drowned and the crops were destroyed. People had to use rafts and the water encroached on the building of the town hall.
According to a decision of the Congress of Vienna of 1815, Kęty was incorporated into the Austrian Empire. German Language became an official language. In 1831, a retreating brigade led by general Różycki transported the cholera epidemic into the town. The Austrian authorities introduced quarantine on the line of the Kęckie Mountains which concerned all travellers. Kęty became a closed town. While examining the history of Kęty, one get impression that all kinds of epidemics ‘favoured’ the town as in 1844-1846, typhus called the potato blight struck the place; 700 people died, there was famine and the riots sparked off. The Galician slaughter, which occurred shortly after the epidemic (1846-1848) was not as serious as it had been expected. Only on one occasion were the cannons brought on the road leading to Nowa Wieś as the rebels from Osieka had been expected to come from this direction. Luckily, there was no need to use them.
In 1851, Emperor Franz Joseph I visited the town. After Galicia gained autonomy, Polish language came back to schools, offices and courts. From 1867, Kęty an Oświęcim became a part of Bielsko-Biała administrative area [Polish: starostwo]. In the same year, Fabryka Wyrobów Wełnianych, a wool product factory, was founded by F. and E. Zajączek and K. Lankosz. It produced coarse fabric. In 1874, a volunteer fire department was founded. The equipment consisted of fire engines trailed to a horse team. A church bell and a factory siren were used to sound an alarm. In 1876, six firefighter barrels which provided water to fire pumps were purchased. In 1888, a railway connection with Biała Krakowska (its current name is Bielsko-Biała) was opened.
During World War One, on January 24, 1915, 1st Brigade of the Polish Legions led by Józef Pilsudski stopped in Kęty. The Brigade underwent a reorganisation here and on 28 February, 1915 set off to central Poland. In 1918, Kęty was incorporated into Poland. The interwar period was a time of rapid development of the town.
During World War Two, on September 4, 1939, Kęty was occupied by the German troops. The town was incorporated into the Third Reich. On June 28, 1945 Kęty was captured by the Soviet troops The retreating Germans blew up the bridge on the Sola River.
Numerous famous personalities were born in Kęty: John Cantius, one of the most known Polish saints, professor of the Kraków Academy; Ambroży Grabowski, an author of the first tourist guide book on Cracow; Eugeniusz Arnold Janota, one of the first founders of the Tatra Society [Towarzystwo Tatrzańskie]; Stanisław Krzyżanowski, the creator of the Archives of the City of Kraków [Archiwum Miasta Krakowa] and the Society of Friends of History and Monuments of Krakow [Towarzystwa Miłośników Historii i Zabytków Krakowa] and Antoni Hawełka, the founder of one of the most famous restaurants in Cracow, which exists to this day and is located in the Main Square.
Since 1999, the town has belonged to the Oświęcim district [Polish: powiat], Mąłopolskie province [Polish: województwo].
- Droździk K., Z dziejów Kęt, Cracow 1979.