Jan Dlugosz - Encyclopedia

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JAN DLUGOSZ [JOHANNES LONGINUS] (1415-1480), Polish statesman and historian, was the son of Jan Dlugosz, burgrave of Bozeznica. Born in 1415, he graduated at the university of Cracow and in 1431 entered the service of Bishop Zbygniew Olesnicki (1389-1455), the statesman and diplomatist. He speedily won the favour of his master, who induced him to take orders and made him his secretary. His preferment was rapid. In 1436 we find him one of the canons of Cracow and the administrator of Olesnicki's vast estates. In 1440, on returning from Hungary, whither his master had escorted King Wladislaus II., Dlugosz saved the life of Olesnicki from robbers. The prelate now employed Dlugosz on the most delicate and important political missions. Dlugosz brought Olesnicki the red hat from Rome in 1449, and shortly afterwards was despatched to Hungary to mediate between Hunyadi and the Bohemian condottiere Giszkra, a difficult mission which he most successfully accomplished. Both these embassies were undertaken contrary to the wishes of King Casimir IV., who was altogether opposed to Olesnicki's ecclesiastical policy. But though he thus sacrificed his own prospects to the cardinal's good pleasure, Dlugosz was far too sagacious to approve of the provocative attitude of Olesnicki, and frequently and fearlessly remonstrated with him on his conduct. In his account, however, of the quarrel between Casimir and Olesnicki concerning the question of priority between the cardinal and the primate of Poland he warmly embraced the cause of the former, and even pronounced Casimir worthy of dethronement. Such outbursts against Casimir IV. are not infrequent in Dlugosz's Historia Polonica, and his strong personal bias must certainly be taken into consideration in any critical estimate of that famous work. Yet as a high-minded patriot Dlugosz had no sympathy whatever with Olesnicki's opposition to Casimir's Prussian policy, and steadily supported the king during the whole course of the war with the Teutonic knights. When Olesnicki died in 1455 he left Dlugosz his principal executor. The office of administering the cardinal's estate was a very ungrateful one, for the family resented the liberal benefactions of their kinsman to the Church and the univesity, and accused Dlugosz of exercising undue influence, from which charge he triumphantly vindicated himself. It was in the year of his patron's death that he began to write his Historia Polonica. This great book, the first and still one of the best historical works on Poland in the modern sense of the word, was only undertaken after mature consideration and an exhaustive study of all the original sources then available, some of which are now lost. The principal archives of Poland and Hungary were ransacked for the purpose, and in his account of his own times Dlugosz's intimate acquaintance with the leading scholars and statesmen of his day stood him in good stead. The style is modelled on that of Livy, of whom Dlugosz was a warm admirer. As a proof of the thoroughness and conscientiousness of Dlugosz it may be mentioned that he learned the Cyrillic alphabet and took up the study of Ruthenian, "in order that this our history may be as plain and perfect as possible." The first of the numerous imprints of the Historia Polonica appeared in 1614, the first complete edition in 1711.

Dlugosz's literary labours did not interfere with his political activity. In 1467 the generous and discerning Casimir IV. entrusted Dlugosz with the education of his sons, the eldest of whom, Wladislaus, at the urgent request of the king, he accompanied to Prague when in 1471 the young prince was elected king of Bohemia. Dlugosz refused the archbishopric of Prague because of his strong dislike of the land of the Hussites; but seven years later he accepted the archbishopric of Lemberg. His last years were devoted to his history, which he completed in 1479. He died on the 19th of May 1480, at Piatek.

See Aleksander Semkowicz, Critical Considerations of the Polish Works of Dlugosz (Pol.; Cracow, 1874); Michael Bobrzynski and Stanislaw Smolka, Life of Dlugosz and his Position in Literature (Pol.; Cracow, 1893). (R. N. B.)

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