A Polish Envoy in England - Ioannes Dantiscus’s Visit to ‘a Very Dear Island’

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A Polish Envoy in England - Five Hundredth Anniversary of

Dantiscus’s Ioannes

Visit to ‘a very dear Island’

A Polish Envoy in England - Five Hundredth Anniversary of

Ioannes Dantiscus’s

Visit to ‘a very dear Island’

Text: Katarzyna Jasińs K a- z dun

• University of Warsaw •

Translation: Clarinda Calma

• Embassy of the Republic of Poland • in London

Ioannes Dantiscus

(1485-1548) was a Renaissance humanist, Neo-Latin poet and author, and recipient of extensive cor respondence. He served as envoy and ambassador of Polish rulers. His diplomatic missions brought him to almost every country in Europe and earned him the bishoprics in Chełmno (1532) and Warmia (1537). Amongst the many countries he visited was England. He was sent there by King Sigismund I the Old (1467-1548) in the autumn of 1522, equipped with recommendation letters from the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand I of Habsburg, and Margaret of Austria, Governor of Hab sburg Netherlands, whose servant was supposed to have accompanied Dantiscus during his trip to England.

This relatively short stay of only two months is documented in let ters by Dantiscus himself to the Royal Court. To this day, six extensive letters written by the Polish diplomat still exist, four addressed to the Polish King, Sigismund I, and the other two to Piotr Tomicki (14641535), Vice-Chancellor of the Crown and Royal Secretary. These letters provide details of his trip. We read in them the accounts of his meetings with important representatives of the English Court, the circumstances of the trip and its financial aspects, weather conditions, accommodation, food and modes of transport. They also contain a surprising (when one takes into account the brief duration of the stay) amount of opinions about local customs and people, which prove that Dantiscus’s stay in England made an impression on the Polish diplomat, which he certainly thought worth conveying to his rulers.

We know that Dantiscus left Antwerp on 18 September 1522 and trav elled to Bruges in Flanders. From there he travelled to Calais to embark

Cover: Portrait of Ioannes Dantiscus, oil on oak panel, copy of a painting by a Nether landish painter after Jan Gossaert? c. 1654. © Royal Castle in Warsaw - Museum.

Photo credit: Małgorzata Niewiadomska.

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on a journey to England. He had to wait a couple of days before he could cross the sea, due, among other things, to the unfavourable weather conditions. Eventually, he reached the port of Sandwich on a ship, from where he travelled to Canterbury. There, he visited the shrine of St Thomas Beckett, which he writes a brief description of in his letter to Sigismund I from London dated 12 October 1522. ‘From Sandwich, I came on rented horses to Canterbury, where the relics of St Thomas are preserved in a sarcophagus deco rated with the most precious stones and many golden orna ments.’ This may seem a laconic comment and yet it is one of Dantiscus’s few descriptions of historical monuments. From Canterbury, the Polish diplomat travelled on post horses to London. The only dates which confirm any stop in the capital of England are 12 and 13 October, though it is cer tain that he arrived a little earlier. All other information can only be roughly reconstructed on the basis of the estimated speed of travel and the information included in the letters of Dantiscus. It seems that to travel a distance of c. 200 km by horse carriage from Antwerp to Calais at that time of the year could have taken the Polish envoy c. 10 days. To that, one must add a stay of a few days in Calais and the journey to Sandwich. This passage was not without any obstacles. The ship set out at sunrise in good weather conditions, but by around noon the sailors pointed out to Dantiscus ‘the devil with a tail’ in the sky (it may have been a storm cloud of a particular shape) and when the ship was close to the port, a hailstorm broke out.

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Figure 2 Map of England, Sebastian Münster, [in] Cosmographia, Basel: 1545. From the special collections of the Heinrich Heine University and State Library Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf. Shelfmark 20 K a 190(2).


Neil Samman, The Henri cian court during Cardinal Wolsey’s ascendancy c. 1514-1529, Bangor University, 1988.

We know that on the day of his arrival in London or shortly afterwards, Dantiscus together with a company of merchants from Gdańsk went to church, which may suggest that this was a Sunday. One can therefore very cautiously conclude that the diplomat was in the capital of England on 5 October 1522. In any case, a day after his arrival, Dan tiscus travelled to Hampton Court, to meet the Lord High Chancellor, the Cardinal of York, Thomas Wolsey (1473-1530), who was described by the Polish envoy as a man ‘omnipotent in the whole Kingdom, who commands the King and State’. Dantiscus journeyed to the meeting place by a small ship and reached a town some two miles from the court (pos sibly East Molesey). The entire journey, according to his calculation, was about 15 miles. The Cardinal was ill then, as though suffering from coe liac disease, but which, in the opinion of Dantiscus, was in fact syphilis. The meeting between the Cardinal and the Polish envoy lasted about two hours, during which the latter gave a short speech (the text has been lost) and which included a private conversation. The next day, Dantiscus was sent to London with the Cardinal’s blessing, to the envy of Dietrich von Schönberg (1484-1525), the diplomatic envoy of the Duke of Prussia, Albrecht von Hohenzollern (1490-1568), who was actively criticising the Polish cause in the English Royal Court at the time. The aforementioned meeting must have taken place before 9 October 1522, because on that day Cardinal Wolsey left Hampton Court. The next day, that is the third day since Dantiscus arrived in London, the Cardinal sent John Daunce (1484-1545), advisor and treasurer to the King of England, Henry VIII (1491-1547), and two other servants, who led Dantiscus and the four of his companions to the Royal quarters. Dantiscus did not mention their names, writing only that they found themselves in a castle some 27 miles from London, with no taverns within 2 miles of it. And there, once again, one has to extrapolate from the approximated date of Dantiscus’s arrival in London, his stay in Hampton Court and the distance of this castle from London, as provided by the scholar Neil Samman in his itinerary of Henry VIII and Cardinal Thomas Wolsey.* This leads to the conclusion that the meeting must have taken place in New Hall, where the English King was staying until October 1522. The next point on the journey of

Henry VIII was Campes Castle, which was located 50 miles from London and which was where the King stayed from 7 to 8 October 1522. Dantiscus might have therefore met King Henry VIII on the last day of his stay in New Hall. After it ended, both the Polish envoy and the King of England would have had to travel further: Dantiscus some 27 miles to London and King Henry VIII some 23 miles to Campes Castle. This was a distance that could be travelled on horseback over the course of one day, even at that time of the year.

Figure 3 Fragment of letter by Ioannes Dantiscus to King Sigismund I the Old, 12 October 1522. MS BJ 6557 III f. 33v. © Jagiellonian University Library, Kraków.

A Polish Envoy in EnglandFive Hundredth Anniversary of Ioannes Dantiscus’s Visit to ‘a very dear Island’ years 7 6

Figure 4 Fragment of a letter by Ioannes

Dantiscus to King Sigismund I the Old, 12 October 1522. MS BJ 6557 III f. 34r.

© Jagiellonian University Library, Kraków.

We know that the Polish diplomat was received by the English Mon arch with great favour and honour. He was provided with an exquisite chamber, and wine and beer from the Royal breweries were brought to him. Dantiscus described King Henry VIII as a man of exceptional charm, beyond compare. Only the first fragment of an earlier-prepared

speech by Dantiscus that he presented to the English King and his Court has been preserved. It concerned, amongst others, the threats to the Christian world from the Turks and Tartars and the plots made by Albrecht von Hohenzollern against the Polish rulers. To the greetings conveyed to the English King on behalf of Sigismund I and the Polish envoy's speech, a reply was returned by the Royal Treasurer, Thomas More. He, as Dantiscus writes, was a ‘man very learned in Latin and Greek’ who emphasised the damage done to England in the name of Christianity by the King of France, Francis I (1494-1547), who had bro ken agreements. Henry  VIII agreed to a private audience with the Pol ish envoy without the presence of representatives of the Court. We do not know the details of that conversation, which Dantiscus recorded on a separate piece of paper attached to a letter to Sigismund I, a piece of paper that has been lost. We know only that the conversation largely touched upon the affairs of the Teutonic Order and after it ended, Dan tiscus was escorted by the same people to the inn where he stayed in London. Having accomplished his diplomatic mission, the Polish envoy began his preparations to travel to Spain, where, in line with the instruc tions received from his King, he was to travel to the court of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V (1500-1558). The Imperial envoys, whom he met in London, suggested that he travel to Plymouth, some 200 miles from London. Travelling from there in November, a month of little rain fall, they suggested, meant that Dantiscus would stand a chance of reach ing the coast of Spain in three days, provided the winds were favourable. And this was what the diplomat did. On 13 October 1522, Dantiscus left London on six rented horses, which after his arrival were returned to their owner by a servant employed for this purpose. Having reached Plymouth on 22 October, Dantiscus stayed in an inn while he awaited fa vourable weather conditions to continue his journey on a ship. That stay had to be extended until the evening of 18 November, which was when the Polish diplomat was able to finally leave the English port on board a Portuguese ship. Unfortunately, the journey did not go as planned. Headwinds blew during the night, followed by a powerful storm that intensified towards early dawn, ‘lifting’, as Dantiscus wrote, ‘the waves up to the sky’. The crew had to quickly seek refuge in the nearest port, from

A Polish Envoy in EnglandFive Hundredth Anniversary of Ioannes Dantiscus’s Visit to ‘a very dear Island’ years 9 8

where help was sent to those stranded in the endangered ship. Hence, it was in these circumstances that Dantiscus reached Penzance in Cornwall on 19 November. One should add that during that same storm, from which the ship carrying Dantiscus was saved, three other much bigger ships were damaged or lost, including an English ship with her captain, who, according to Dantiscus, ‘was one of the most important people in England’. In Penzance, the Polish envoy once again had to wait for a while for favourable weather conditions for sailing, and when they occurred, on 28 November, Dantiscus boarded an Imperial postal ship sailing to Spain. After five days full of danger, Dantiscus finally reached the port of Cudillero in Asturias in Spain on 3 December 1522.

That is an account of Dantiscus’s stay in England. One now has to discuss what his stay in England was like. Let us begin with the finan cial matters. The Polish diplomat in his letters addressed to the Court concerning the stay in other places abroad, as in letters written from the British Isles, often mentioned financial matters. This was out of fear that the expenses he had incurred abroad would not be understood, approved of and reimbursed by his superiors, who were not familiar enough with the cost of living abroad. He also feared that he might be accused by his adversaries at Court of squandering Royal funds. It is impossible to say today to what extent Dantiscus gave true information about his expenses. In any case, from the details contained in letters addressed to the Royal Court, we know that during his stay in England, he spent more than 200 ducats, which he seemingly had to convert into English nobles using an unfavourable exchange rate. The most expensive costs he incurred were travel expenses (by land and sea), accommodation, hire of horses and maintenance of servants. This is most probably why he thought Eng land was the most expensive place where he had ever lived. ‘At the inn,’ he wrote, ‘everything is purchased for three times the price. Whatever they bring to my table, every single dish, bread, beer, or fire, I am forced to pay as the host wishes. Here, I spend more every day without horses than I do in Germany with horses. There is a separate bill for rooms, beds and household appliances and they do not allow you to buy anything outside the house. So, I live here miserably at a great expense hour by hour, fearing that I will fall ill, for I have already had stomach aches and

Figure 5 Model of the bust of Ioannes Dantiscus, woodcut, Christoph Weidlitz, 1529.

© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Münzkabinett, Berlin. Inventory no. 18200344.

Photo credit: Lutz-Jürgen Lübke.

A Polish Envoy in England
Five Hundredth Anniversary of
Dantiscus’s Visit
very dear Island’ years 11 10
to ‘a

‘The Count of Tarnów’ probably refers to Jan Tarnowski (1488-1561). In the years 1518-1521, he travelled around Europe, visiting, amongst others, England. In the years 1522-1527, he served as Castellan of Wojnicz, in the years 1525-1552, he was Starost of Sando mierz and from 1527 to 1559, he worked as Grand Crown Hetman (Commander-in-Chief). He was also the Voivode of Ruthenia from 1527 to 1535 and was made Sta rost of Żydaczów in 1528. In the years 1535-1536, he was appointed Voivode of Kraków and promoted to Castellan in the years 1536-1561. He was Count of the Holy Roman Em pire and one of the most trusted advisors of King Sigismund II Augustus at the beginning of his rule.

intestinal spasms’. The digestive problems of the Polish diplomat more accustomed to a different cuisine undoubtedly influenced his opinion of English cooking. ‘I have spent in England,’ he wrote, ‘so much gold on butter and meat cooked in huge portions, as is customary here, living poorly on thick beer. I was afraid of nothing more than falling ill of some disease, especially because of fish, which they cook, like everything else here, badly’. His bitterness at the need to incur excessive expenses and to deal with people who were, in his opinion, dishonest, led Dantiscus to assess the inhabitants of the British Isles as follows: ‘There are people here who know very well what money is. I have not seen people more greedy in any other country that I have travelled. One should ask those who have been here, especially the noble Count of Tarnów. He will tell of how evil and how distrustful people here are and how expensive is their coinage. Whatever one needs to buy here, even the smallest thing, will cost a stooter, which for us is worth three grosze. People here do not fear God and have no conscience.’**

Dantiscus, who was not used to the weather conditions in England, was also somewhat filled with fear and depression by the strong winds that blew in Plymouth in late autumn and the powerful hailstorms, which ‘could knock over not only trees but also mountains’, particularly when he heard ‘the murmurs and thunders that the sea makes’. Addi tional distress was caused to the Polish diplomat in Plymouth by the news of numerous French warships prowling in English waters, which posed a threat even to what he described as ‘a very wealthy city’, with its port unwalled and protected only by a coastal fortress and a handful of pieces of machinery spaced out in the port entry.

The details of the servants who accompanied Dantiscus to England are unknown, but they were most likely the same four with whom Dantiscus left Kraków on his diplomatic mission on 1 June 1522 and with whom he travelled from England to Spain. There is no information as to whether the servant of Margaret of Austria ultimately accompanied Dantiscus. We know, however, that, not knowing the language, the Polish envoy had to hire a translator in London, an elderly man knowledgeable in the local context, who accompanied Dantiscus to Plymouth. There, around 10 No vember, the Polish diplomat had to employ someone else in his place.

Figure 6 Ioannes Dantiscus episcopus Culmensis, engraving, Philippe Galle, [in] Imagines L. doctorum virorum, Antwerp: 1587-1606.

© Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Object number: r P-P -1912-730.

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A Polish Envoy in EnglandFive Hundredth Anniversary of Ioannes Dantiscus’s Visit to ‘a very dear Island’ years

As for more interesting anecdotes on Dantiscus’s stay in England, one could add that it was in this country, rich, in his opinion, ‘not with gold, but with tin and lead’, that the Polish diplomat commissioned an image of himself to be cast (most certainly on medallions). One of these he sent from there to his friend, the Royal Courtier, Mikołaj Nipszyc (c. 1483-1541).

The stay in England in the autumn of 1522 was the only trip that Dantiscus made to the British Isles. The Polish envoy would never return to England. On his later countless journeys, he made contacts, and some times also friendships, with English diplomats. It was in a letter to one of them, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), in 1540 that he wrote of England: ‘A rich Island, very dear to me for the great kindness which I have experienced on it.’ His stay in that Kingdom, thus, ultimately left him with positive and even pleasant memories.

The epistolary and literary legacy of Dantiscus can be accessed online via the website ‘The Corpus of Ioannes Dantiscus Texts & Correspond ence’ (dantiscus.al.uw.edu.pl ). This database is currently being developed and is under the management of the Laboratory for Source Editing and Digital Humanities of the Faculty of “Artes Liberales” at the University of Warsaw.


Publication financed by the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in London Embassy of the Republic of Poland in London

47 Portland Place

London W1B 1JH

Email: london@msz.gov.pl

Website: gov.pl/unitedkingdom

Social media: @PolishEmbassyUK

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