Sigismund I, known as Sigismund the Old
Kozienice 1467 - Kraków 1548
Sigismund I, known as Sigismund the Old
Sigismund I, the fifth son of Casimir IV and Elizabeth of Habsburg, became Grand Prince of Lithuania and King of Poland in 1506. He made his kingdom flourish for decades by establishing fiscal and monetary reforms, and contributing to cultural development of the state.
In 1512 he married Barbara, daughter of Prince Stephen Zápolya of Hungary, to secure a defense treaty and produce a heir; however, Barbara died three years later leaving only daughters.
In 1518 Sigismund married Bona Sforza of Milan, niece of the Holy Roman emperor Maximilian. She gave him one son, Sigismund II Augustus, and four daughters. One of them later married John III of Sweden, from whom the Vasa kings of Sweden were descended.
In 1521 Sigismund's army, under the command of Jan Tarnowski, defeated the Order of the Teutonic Knights that ruled East Prussia. In 1525 the Teutonic grand master Albert paid public homage to Sigismund, and in return was granted the title of secular duke of Prussia. The order was then dissolved by Albert and Ducal Prussia came under Polish suzerainty. In 1529, after the death of the last of its Piast dynasty rulers, Sigismund added the duchy of Mazovia to the Polish state. In the following decade his army, again led by Tarnowski, safeguarded Poland's eastern borders, by defeating the invading forces of Moldavia at Obertyn in 1531, and Muscovy in 1535.
Influenced by his wife Bona, Sigismund invited Italian artists to Krakow, who contributed to the development of the Polish variety of the Italian Renaissance. Although a devout Catholic, he accorded religious toleration to Greek Orthodox Christians and Lutherans, and guaranteed royal protection to Jews..
Vigevano 1494 - Bari 1557
Bona was the daughter of Gian Galeazzo Sforza and Isabella of Aragon. Raised by her mother Isabella after her father's untimely death, she received a thorough education, including the study of Vergil, Cicero, Petrarca, history, music, dance, horseback riding and hunting.
Her uncle, Maximillian I of Austria found for her a husband, the recently widowed Sigismund I (the Old) of Poland. The Polish king spoke Italian, German and Latin, had a versatile humanistic knowledge, a penchant for art and architecture, and ruled a country that territorially was the fifth or sixth largest.
The formal engagement "per procura" took place at the Castle of Capuano near Naples, and in Spring 1518 Bona arrived in Krakow, accompanied by a court of 345 ladies and gentlemen. On April, 18 the nuptial and coronation ceremonies began. Bona introduced Italian art to Poland - not only did she arrive with her courtiers, but she also brought with her builders, architects, artisans and painters.
She influenced language, lifestyle, fashion and cuisine of her new country, introduced new crops, erected churches, established parishes, improved hygienic conditions, even showed the advantages of building houses along a straight street, instead of randomly.
After the death of Sigismund the Old she returned to Italy, leaving all her Polish estates to her son. She left with an entourage of 280 and sailed in 5 galleys to Bari. She died two years later.
Queen Bona succeeded in bringing Italy and Poland, two countries seemingly so different, close together. Her compatriot and poet, Gianbattista Garini, once said about the two nations: "I luoghi son ben lontani, ma gil aninu son vicini" (the two places are very distant from each other, but they are close in spirit).
Toruń 1473 - Frombork 1543
Polish astronomer who proposed the heliocentric system, according to which the planets have the Sun as the fixed point to which their motions are to be referred; that the Earth is a planet which, besides orbiting the Sun annually, also turns once daily on its own axis; and that very slow, long-term changes in the direction of this axis account for the precession of the equinoxes.
Between 1491 and 1494 he studied astronomy, astrology and other liberal arts at the University of Kraków. He continued his education at the University of Bologna (1496-1500) where he lived in the same house as Domenico Maria de Novara - the principal astronomer of the university. Then he studied at the University of Padua, where he pursued medicine between 1501 and 1503, and in May 1503 he received a doctorate in canon law from the University of Ferrara.
After his return to Poland, he looked after administrative and medical matters at the bishopric palace in Wrocław. Then he became a secretary and physician (1503-1510) of his uncle at the Prince-Bishopric of Warmia, and resided in the Bishop's castle at Lidzbark (Heilsberg), where he started work on his heliocentric theory.
His theory significantly influenced later thinkers of the scientific revolution, including such major figures as Galileo, Kepler, Descartes, and Newton. The book with the final version of his theory De revolutionibus orbium coelestium libri vi ("Six Books Concerning the Revolutions of the Heavenly Orbs"), was printed as late as 1543, the year of his death.
A legend has it that a copy of De revolutionibus was placed in Copernicus's hands a few days after he lost consciousness from a stroke. He awoke long enough to realise that he was holding his great book and then died.
Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski
Wolbórz 1503 - Wolbórz 1572
Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski
The claim that 'there can be no true freedom without laws' made the Polish Renaissance scholar, humanist and theologian Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski (Latin: Andreas Fricius Modrevius) not only 'the father of Polish democracy' as he was later known, but an important voice in the European dialogue on the relations between church and state, which he joined with an open mind typical of the Renaissance.
Modrzewski was born to a noble family and studied at the Kraków Academy (today: Jagiellonian University) before being ordained a Roman Catholic priest. In this role he studied in Germany at the Lutheran University and personally met Martin Luther and other early Protestant reformers in Wittenberg. He was entrusted with the library of Erasmus that his patron, the Primate of Poland, had purchased. When in Poland, he moved in like manner in the circles of reformers and artists, notably Mikołaj Rej of Nagłowice - one of the first men of letters writing in Polish and a Calvinist. He also made friends in the Church of the Polish Brethren (Arians).
When sent as a delegate of the Polish Roman Catholic Church to the Ecumenical Council of Trent, he proved himself a mainstay of the democratic and ecumenical element in the Church.
Yet what made Frycz Modrzewski even better known and remembered is his written heritage, notably the book De Republica emendanda, whose full title reads Five Books of Commentaries on the Improvement of Commonwealth, widely read and praised across most of Renaissance Europe. Although advocating a monarchy with plenty of power, he believed it only to be right if exercised to protect the rights of all citizens. While his highly progressive postulate of equality of all, including peasants, was articulated before such a law was widely discussed, it was his expression of opinions on secular education, and the separation of church and state that had the Pope enter his treatise on the list of prohibited books.
Although a priest, Modrzewski left descendants, and his progeny include the late President of Poland Lech Kaczyński and Princess Mathilde, Duchess of Brabant.
Iustus Ludovicius Decius
Wissembourg around 1485 - Kraków 1545
Iustus Ludovicius Decius
Iustus Ludovicius Decius, a Latinised form of the original name, Jost Ludwig Dietz, which Dietz used in Poland, was an Alsatian by birth. He was born around 1485 to the family of the Mayor of Wissemburg. Having arrived in Kraków in 1508 or 1509, Decius began working together with his compatriot, Jakub Boner, the royal banker and Administrator of the Kraków Salt Mine, fulfilling the functions of secretary, accountant, and trusted deputy in matters of trade, and from 1515 - also manager of the salt mines in Wieliczka and Bochnia. Decius quickly became a skilful diplomat, sophisticated financier, and royal dignitary of high position. Commissioned by his superior, he went on numerous foreign missions. As his duties included the preparation of the royal wedding to Princess Bona, he set forth for Venice in 1517 where he bought the engagement ring for King Sigismund I and a store of lavishly decorated fabric to embellish the nuptial ceremonies. His efforts were appreciated by influential figures in the royal court, and thanks to the support of Bishop Piotr Tomicki, Decius was nominated secretary to King Sigismund the Old in May 1520.
Thanks to his array of talents, the literary and historical treatises he wrote, and a penchant for science, Decius enjoyed the respect and friendship of the most eminent humanists in Europe. During his numerous travels, he had the opportunity to meet the greatest minds of his time and became personally acquainted with Martin Luther and Erasmus of Rotterdam, as proved by the lavish correspondence they conducted. Worth special attention is his close friendship with Erasmus, who dedicated his work devoted to the paraphrase of the Lord's Prayer (Praecatio Dominica, 1523) to Decius. This is what Erasmus wrote to Decius in a letter from Freiburg: Jost, dearest, I've long been in debt to you, and that in all respects, and you, doing to me continuous favours, make my sense of gratitude rise with every day. What gives me greatest pleasure is the fact that you are informing me about all the developments in Poland in such great detail. Moreover, Decius also remained in close contact with the Habsburg court.
He began activity in the field of literature with a description of the preparation for the wedding of King Sigismund I to the Italian Princess Bona, which he contained in his Wedding Diary of Sigismund and Bona (Polish: Diariusz zaślubin Zygmunta i Bony, Latin: Diarii et earum, quae memoratu digna in splendidissimis). In addition to this, the literary output of Iustus Ludovicius Decius contains a publication of his collected historical works (1521) containing the history of the Jagiellonian dynasty (De Jagellonum familia) and a treatment of the latest developments in it (De Sigismundi regis temporibus. The description of the victory of Duke Konstanty Ostrogski at Olszanica in 1527 and his other texts testify very well to Decius's literary culture and skills.
Decius has also rendered great services as an economist, making a highly significant contribution to the introduction of monetary reform in Poland. He put together the principles he proposed, and which were to improve the condition of the economy, in the Treaty on Coinage (Latin title: De monete cussione ratio, 1525). At the same time, the same question was tackled by Mikołaj Kopernik (Nicolas Copernicus), who most probably was the author of a letter To Just Decius, a Citizen of Kraków, on Mending the Coin. Yet it was Decius's proposal that was approved by the Parliament (Diet) in Piotrków, and it was he (together with the Treasurer of the Crown, Krzysztof Szydłowiecki) who was entrusted with the implementation of the decisions of the Diet. Moreover, Decius was nominated by the king as Administrator of the royal mints in Kraków and Toruń, and later also in Królewiec (Königsberg, today Kaliningrad).
The number of talents and interests that Decius - a 'versatile man' typical of the Renaissance - certainly exhibited also included charity and community work: which included the supervision of the revamping of the tower of St Mary's in Kraków. He was a Kraków alderman (member of the city council), and Supervisor of the St Roch Hospital (in ul. Szpitalna in Kraków, no longer extant), and Headman of Piotrków.
In 1528, Iustus Decius purchased the village of Wola Chełmska and part of Przegorzały in the environs of Kraków in order to build there a suburban villa modelled on the estates fashionable around Florence and Rome, providing space for recreation, meetings, and philosophical disputations. For its construction, he employed three Italian architects: Giovanni Cini of Siena, Bernardino de Gianotis from Rome, and Filippo of Fiesole. Situated picturesquely on the eastern slope of Sowiniec hill and surrounded by a spacious Renaissance garden, the residence was completed in 1535 and soon provided a place for meetings, exchange of ideas, and creative confrontation of beliefs between representatives of various cultures and nationalities.
A true man of the Renaissance, Decius played a number of roles: he was a royal dignitary, a perfect diplomat, and the administrator of the largest trade empire in contemporary Poland, the Salt Mines of Wieliczka and Bochnia, and also the owner of a number of mines, including lead and silver mines in Olkusz. A man of literary talent, he was also the publisher and author of precious economic treatises. His personality disclosed a man of great heart, gifted with infinite imagination, liked in Kraków and beyond the Polish borders. He knew how to gain the favours of both Kraków aldermen and the Hapsburg court, and became an adviser to the King of Poland and the manager of the mints. Despite so many merits and achievements, we know neither the place of his burial nor that of any other member of the Kraków line of his family. His heritage includes his home - today known as Willa Decjusza na Woli Justowskiej, the district of Kraków that has derived its name from his. The Villa is a monument to a great man, which today not only teems with life but also commemorates and publicises that interesting and still undiscovered figure throughout Europe. As a poet, Andrzej Trzecieski Jr, noted: However many memorials Decius the Father has left, and [however] worthy he is to be praised for ever and ever, it must be considered no lesser deed of his, Dear Guest, that he established this refuge, so favoured by the Muses (...).