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Poland’s Early Kings – Part 6

A series focusing on the Poland of old, when warring tribes were common and kings were really tested by the mettle in their swords, the strength in their words, the philosophy of their politics, and the honor in their hearts…..

  

PART 6:
“Poland’s Golden Age”

  In the early 16th century learning and the arts flourished as never before. Polish artists produced works fired with the spirit of Renaissance culture, to which local elements added original beauty. Many foreign artists, Italian in particular, came to Poland. The beginning of the Golden Age coincided with the accession of Sigismund the Old to the throne. Wars between Lithuania and Prussia (1507-08, 1512-22) drew Poland into the dangerous whirlpool of eastern politics. Between 1519 and 1521, Poland conducted unsuccessful military operations against her unruly enemy the Teutonic Knights. Echoes of the Refor-mation, penetrating from Germany, combined with strong protests against the power of the Catholic Church in Poland.

  The Reformation began in Germany with Martin Luther announcing his 95 theses in 1517. It spread rapidly gaining strength all the time, particularly after the publication of John Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion” in France in 1536. In 1534, Henry VIII of England established the Church of England.

  Christopher Columbus discovered America. Vasco da Gama was the first to sail from Europe to India around the Cape of Good Hope, Vasco de Balboa, the Spanish conquistador, discovered the Pacific Ocean.

  There were no Poles among the great discoverers, they had no part in discovering new routes and exploring unknown lands. But Poland may be justly proud of a scholar who made a great geographical discovery without leaving his professor’s podium Maciej of Miechow, physician, chronicler, professor at the Cracow Academy, several times its rector, diligently collected information from Prussian prisoners and Poles who have travelled in Prussia. On the basis of this information he established that the Dnieper and several other rivers did not have their sources in the Refeyan Mountains, but “in a vast marshy plain, all within short distances of each other,” and that in fact the Refeyan Mountains had never existed. Reading the work of Maciej of Miechow in 1518, the great humanist Ulrich von Hutten exclaimed: “What times! What scholars! It is good to be alive ….. Learning is progressing, talent is flourishing. Barbarity is being sent into exile!”

  The last Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, Albert von Hohenzollern, refused to swear the oath of allegiance he owed King Sigismund as a vassal of the Realm. To bring this recalcitrant vessal to obedience, Poland declared war, but thanks to the strong support from the empire, Albert came out of the war unscathed. A truce was concluded, during which the Grand Master announced that after adopting Lutheranism he would swear allegiance to the Polish king as a secular vessal and accept Prussia as his hereditary fief. The king consented to this proposal. Albert von Hohenzollern swore the oath of allegiance to the king in Cracow in 1525. Shortly after, Prussia came under the rule of the Brandenburg line of the Hohenzollerns.

  The first book to be printed in Poland was a Latin Calendar of the Year, published in Cracow in 1474. The first works printed in Polish were three prayers published in the Latin “Synod Statutes” in Wroclaw in 1475. The first work published in Polish in Poland was the text of the hymn “Bogurodzica” (Mother of God: a hymn sung by Polish knights going into battle). It was published in the Latin Statutes of Jan Laski in Cracow in 1506. The first book printed in Polish was “Raj Duszny” (The Soul’s Paradise) by Biernat of Lublin, published in Cracow in 1513.

  The Polish printer Stanislaw, who at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries worked in Naples and subsequently in Seville, signed the books he printed with the initial S and the addition Polonus. It is thought that Stanislaw Polonus came from Gdansk, as indicated by elements of the armories of Gdansk he included in his signatures.

  Louis Jagiellon, King of Bohemia and Hungary, son of King Ladislaus, grandson of Casimir Jagiellon, was killed at the battle of Mohacs fought against the Turks in 1526. Those Silesian dukedoms, which were still ruled by members of the Piast Dynasty, now came under the sovereignty of the Habsburgs in their capacity as kings of Bohemia: Opole was ruled by Piast dukes until 1532, Cieszyn until 1625 and the dukedom of Legnica and Brzeg until 1675. The rest of Silesia had been under direct Bohemian rule since the 14th and 15th centuries.

  In the first half of the 16th century, the Habsburgs attained the peak of their power under the Emperors Maximilian I and Charles V. The Habsburg dominion extended to Austria, Bohemia, Hungary, the Netherlands and Spain, including the Spanish overseas territories in Latin America. The power of the Habsburg Dynasty assured them the elective Imperial Crown for several centuries.

  In 1526, the Mazovian branch of the Piast Dynasty became extinct. With the death of Janusz III, Duke of Mazovia, this province returned to the Polish Crown.

  Between 1507 and 1537 the Royal Castle of Wawel was restored and extended. The royal residence became the most magnificent example of Renaissance architecture in Poland. The work was directed by Franciscus the Florentine and later by Bartolomeo Berecci, an Italian settled in Poland, assisted by Benedykt of Sandomierz. The sculptors, painters, various artists and craftsmen came both from abroad and from Poland. The most striking features of Wawel Castle are the huge courtyard, surrounded by three stores of arcaded cloisters, the Deputies’ Chamber and with its casement ceiling embellished with 194 heads carved in wood, and the Sigismund Chapel in Wawel Cathedral. The Renaissance became the dominant style in 16th century Poland.

  Splendid Renaissance residence were built and existing buildings were converted to the Renaissance style, such as the townhalls in Cracow, Poznan, Tarnow and Chelmno, the Cloth Hall in Cracow, and manorhouses in Wola Justowska, Szymbark and Pabianice. Jan Michalowicz of Urzedow, the greatest Polish Renaissance sculptor, was responsible for many sepulchral monuments of imposing magnificence.

      . . . . SEE YOU SOON, GOD BE WILLING . . .