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Ioannes Dantiscus. Biographic note

Ioannes Dantiscus was born on November 1, 1485 in Gdańsk, in a burgher family. His father was the Gdańsk brewer and merchant Hans (Johannes) von Höfen, called also Flachsbinder (died before 1532), his mother – Christina Scholcze (Schultze) of Puck (died 1539). Dantiscus' father came from the Lower German family von Höfen which had settled in Prussia. Ruined after the Thirteen Year War (1454-1466), he settled in Gdańsk as a rope-maker, hence the name Flachsbinder later used in the family beside von Höfen. Dantiscus had two younger brothers, Bernhard and George, and four sisters (three of them known by name: Catherina, Ursula and Anna).

The name, or rather nickname Dantyszek is a Polonized version of the word Dantiscus – "a Gdańsk man". Next to Ioannes de Curiis (which is a literal Latin translation of Johannes von Höfen), the name Ioannes Dantiscus is the form most often used by Dantiscus before he became a bishop. Dantiscus sometimes, though rarely, used the German form von Höfen and the nickname Flachsbinder, the latter also in the Greek translation: Linodesmon. I have seen the Polish form Dantyszek, which functions in Polish academic literature as the main form of his name, only once in manuscripts from the times of Dantiscus. He himself certainly never used it. He was a German speaker due to his home upbringing, and his known texts are in Latin and German.

Dantiscus completed the parish school in Graudenz (Grudziądz). In late 1499 / early 1500 he studied at the University of Greifswald. In the years 1500-1503 (with breaks) he studied at the Academy of Cracow, where, having passed his exams in the trivium, he obtained a baccalaureate degree. His tutor in Cracow was Paweł of Krosno. As early as in 1500 Dantiscus began his career at the court of the King Jan Olbracht (the king of Poland 1492-1501). In the years 1501-1503 he was appointed a scriba in the chancellery of Jan Łaski, who was at that time a royal secretary and since 1503 – Grand Chancellor of the Kingdom of Poland. In 1502 Dantiscus took part in the campaign against the Tatars and Wallachians. In 1504 he was appointed a scriba in the royal chancellery of Aleksander Jagiellon (the king of Poland 1501-1506). In November 1505 Dantiscus received a subvention from the King, enabling him to continue his studies in Italy. From Gdańsk, he traveled through Denmark, France and Germany to Venice, and from there – clearly seeing practical experience to be the best university – by sea via Corfu, the Peloponnese, Crete, Rodos and Cyprus to Jaffa. He then went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, during which he went as far as the border of Arabia. On his way back he stopped at Sicily, Naples, Campagna and Rome. He returned to the court of Sigismund I (the king of Poland 1506-1548) in February 1507.

In 1507-1515, as the referendary for Prussian affairs at the court of Sigismund I, he was an envoy to Prussian towns and to the Prussian assemblies.

In 1515 he accompanied King Sigismund I to the Pressburg-Vienna Congress. During the congress he was appointed secretary of the Polish legation at the Emperor's court. From that moment until 1532, his diplomatic career continued nearly uninterruptedly. In the years 1515-1517 he stayed with the Polish legation at the court of Emperor Maximilian I. During this stay he went three times (November 1515, February 1516, July 1516) to Venice, to mediate between the Emperor and the Venetian senate. The Emperor ennobled him, granted the title of doctor of both cannon and civil law (utriusque iuris), comes palatinus and poeta laureatus. In the beginning of 1517 he accompanied the Maximilian’s court to the Netherlands and took part in the negotiation about the marriage of Polish King with Burgundian duchess Eleonora. In August 1517 Dantiscus came back to Poland. At the end of 1518 he left the country again for next two years. In the course of that first diplomatic mission he visited Austria, Switzerland and Spain as an envoy to the courts of Emperor Maximilian and the King of Spain Charles I in the matter of validating the testament of Queen Joanna IV of Naples – grandmother of Poland’s Queen Bona Sforza d’Aragona. After his return to Poland, during the war with the Teutonic Order Dantiscus stayed near King Sigismund I at the army camp. In may 1522 he went on another legation to the court of Emperor Charles V, to deal with Prussian and Turkish matters, and the Neapolitan inheritance of Queen Bona Sforza. On his way there he visited Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, England and Spain. He met Archduke Ferdinand, Cardinal Mathias Lang, King of England Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey, regent of the Netherlands Princess Margaret and the exiled King Christian II of Denmark. Then he made a pilgrimage to Compostela and, visiting Wittemberg, he took the opportunity to carry on a long private conversation with Martin Luther. He came back to Poland in July 1523. As soon as next February he left for his longest 8-year diplomatic mission, at first accompanied by Lodovico Alifio (the chancellor of Queen Bona). First the envoys went to Bari – Italian possession of Isabel of Aragon (a mother of Bona), who had just died. Then Dantiscus left Alifio in Naples and went to the Spanish court of Charles V in order to obtain a formal validation of acquisition of the inheritance. There he stayed during the next 7 years as a resident Polish ambassador, trying (with changing fortunes) to order Queen Bona’s inheritance matters and dealing with other tasks, which were commissioned him successively by Polish court, e.g. negotiations concerning the secularization of the Teutonic Order or Turkish matters. His diplomatic activity was valued highly by the Polish royal court as well as the imperial court.

Dantyszek returned to Poland for good in July 1532. The last episode in his diplomatic career was his legation, together with Janusz Latalski, to Wrocław (Breslau), to the King of Rome Ferdinand Habsburg on the matter of Sigismund II August Jagiellon's marriage to Elizabeth Habsburg.

While fulfilling his official functions, Dantiscus established a great many contacts in the academic and cultural community of Renaissance Europe. His love of fun is known from as early as his Cracow period, when he together with his friends Jan Zambocki and Mikołaj Nipszyc, formed the triumvirate leading the group of courtiers fond of entertainment. He believed, probably rightly, that establishing personal contacts with the great people of his world was one of the main tasks of a diplomat, so he eagerly combined diplomatic activity with a rich social life. The friendships formed in the years of his diplomatic travels lasted a long time after Dantiscus returned to Poland, e.g. the imperial diplomats Cornelis De Schepper and Sigmund von Herberstein, Christian II's chancellor Godschalk Ericksen, the Spanish humanist Alfonso de Valdés, philologists such as Ioannes Campensis, Lazaro Bonamico, Conrad Goclenius, the geographer and astronomer Gemma Frisius, the German poet Helius Eobanus Hessus, the banker Anton Fugger, factors of the Welzers' bank Albrecht Cuon, Hieronymus Sailer and Heinrich Ehinger, Spanish conqueror of the New World Hernán Cortés, and many other personages of the political, cultural and economic elite of the time. These friendships were continued for many years through correspondence. The list of Dantiscus' correspondents known to us today includes about 650 names.

Dantiscus was a neo-Latin poet valued by his contemporaries. His poetic output dates back to his student days. In 1517 he received a poet's laurels from Emperor Maximilian. He wrote works from different poetic genres throughout his life – epigrams, elegies, epithalamia, silvae, occasional poems, epitaphs. His poems, like his letters, include a variety of topics – court life, love, politics, history, mythology, autobiographical elements, and finally theology. What seems worth noting are the occasional verses, circulating in manuscript and printed copies, which can be treated as the special type of a “poetical journalism”. With those poems the author presented his own opinions as well as his ruler’s views about the current political affairs, for example the poem De virtutis et fortunae differentia somnium (in the first printed volume of Dantiscus verse, 1510), Epithalamium Sigismundi et Barbarae (on the marriage of the Polish King Sigismund I with Barbara Zapolya, 1512), De victoria Sigismundi (the poem about the victory gained by Polish king over Moscow in the battle of Orsza, 1514), Epithalamium reginae Bonae (on the marriage of the Polish King Sigismund I with Bona Sforza d’Aragona, 1518), De nostrorum temporum calamitatibus silva, (on the occasion of the coronation of the emperor Charles V, 1530), De vita Ioannis Dantisci (autobiography, 1534). A collection of his religious hymns (Hymni aliquot ecclesiastici, variis versuum generibus, de Quadragesimae Ieiunio, et sex eius diebus Dominicis, deque horis Canonicis Christi Passionis tempore. Et de Resurrectione, Ascensione, Spiritussancti missione, Matreque gloriosissima Maria Virgine, recens aediti(!), 1548) was published near the end of Dantiscus' life. As for his prose, apart from his huge correspondence (including a report from the Battle of Obertin (Victoria Serenissimi Poloniae Regis contra Voieuodam Moldauiae Turcae tributarium et subditum parta 22 Augusti 1531 published in the form of a letter), there are mainly some official records, several envoy's speeches and memorials.

As a reward for his diplomatic activity, Dantiscus received church benefices: in 1521 the parish of Gołąb, in 1523 the parish of the Church of the Holy Virgin Mary in Gdańsk, in 1529 the Kulm canonry, in 1530 – the Kulm bishopric (ordained as a priest in March 1533, consecrated as Kulm bishop 14th of September 1533), in December 1536 he was designated by the Ermland Chapter for coadjutor of Ermland Bishop Maurycy Ferber, and finally in 1537 he became the bishop of Ermland (September 20 – elected by the Ermland Chapter; December 18 – moving into Heilsberg, the seat of Ermland bishops). Dantiscus held this office until his death in 1548.

Though Dantiscus kept in touch with the initiators and supporters of church reform – he exchanged correspondence with Philip Melanchthon, knew Luther personally, and exchanged letters with Erasmus of Rotterdam – as a church official in Prussia he sharply counteracted the spread of the Reformation.

Royal Prussia, where Dantiscus’ bishoprics were situated, was a province of Poland, which had a special status. It was formed of the part of Teutonic Order State as a result of the Toruń peace treatment after the thirteen-year war (1454-1466). It consisted with Gdańsk Pomerania (Gdańsk city included), the Lands of Kulm and Michałowo, the Ermland Duchy and the region of Marienburg and Elbing. Till 1569 the Royal Prussia had an internal autonomy. It possessed its own Parliament consisted with Assembly and Council, its own Treasure and its own coin with the impression of Prussian arm. The bishop of Ermland was formally the chairman of the Prussian Assembly and Council. The Kulm bishop was a deputy on those offices, when the Ermland bishop was ill or away. This way Dantiscus was the most prominent politician in the region, and mainly he was responsible for the Royal Prussian Council's contacts with the court of Sigismund I. He represented the Council at the Diet of the Kingdom in 1536/37, and at the ceremonies of the marriage of princess Jadwiga Jagiellon with the Brandenburg margrave Joachim II (1535) and of King Sigismund II August Jagiellon with Elisabeth Habsburg (1543) in Cracow. He also maintained animated contacts with the court of Prussian Duke Albrecht Hohenzollern. Copies of fragments of correspondence that Dantiscus received from all over Europe, which he attached to his letters to Albrecht, were often a source of information for the prince on current political events.

As bishop of Kulm and Ermland, Dantiscus also contributed to the development of education in his dioceses. He was an effective patron of the restitution of the deteriorating school in Kulm into a new, Catholic school in the humanities whose high standards aimed to bring it on a par with rival Protestant schools. Few years after Dantiscus’ death, in 1554 the school in Kulm was transformed in the academy, which functioned with short intervals till 1814. Dantiscus turned Heilsberg into cultural center. He founded the episcopal library, collected works of art (paintings, sculptures, beautiful and valuable utility items), kept artists at the bishop's court (e.g. the painter Hans Heffner), supported the publication of his friends' works (e.g. Ioannes Campensis). He also funded foreign scholarships for talented young people (e.g. Eustachius Knobelsdorf, Stanisław Aichler).

His brothers Georg and Bernhard took part in Dantiscus' diplomatic travels, as members of the legation suite. During his term as bishop Dantiscus took care of his cousins (Caspar and Johann Hannau, Johann Lehmann, Johann von Höfen Hartowski), paying for their education. Being the eldest son, Dantiscus funded his mother's tombstone.

While he was in Spain (1519, 1522-1523, 1524-1529) Dantiscus started an informal family in Valladolid – he consorted with Isabel Delgada, with whom he had a daughter, Juana Dantisca (1527 – 1601) and a son, Juan (1529 – 1530). For several years after the children were born, Dantiscus took care of them and their mother through friends. Later, as a result of various misunderstandings, the contacts were broken off. From among Juana Dantisca and her husband, imperial secretary, Diego Gracián de Alderete's many children, four sons are counted among the outstanding Spanish humanists: Antonio Gracián was the trusted royal secretary and librarian of King Philip II of Spain; Jeronimo Gracián was a theologian, a mystic writer, reformer of the Carmelite Order and confessor to St. Teresa of Avila; Lucas Gracián was a writer whose great contribution to Spanish literature was the adaptation of Giovanni della Casa's Galateo overo de' costumi (El Galateo Español), and he was also the court chaplain and the royal notary; Thomas Gracián was a royal secretary and a translator from French.

Dantiscus died in Heilsberg on October 27, 1548. He most probably left no will, and preserved documents show that his assets were split between his siblings in Prussia and the Ermland chapter.

Anna Skolimowska

Translated from Polish by Joanna Dutkiewicz and Maria Bożenna Fedewicz