Collegium Maius (university building, c. 1400), Cracow
Sebastian Sobecki


Writers in late-fourteenth-century Cracow quickly found themselves at the centre of a rapidly expanding realm with significant new political, administrative, and ideological needs. In March 1386, Poland’s thirteen-year-old monarch, Jadwiga of Anjou, married the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Jogaila, who had renounced his paganism and was baptised as Władysław Jagiełło only a month earlier. What Jagiełło brought to the table was Europe’s biggest political prize: the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a vast territorial expanse that stretched from the Baltic coast to the Black Sea, covering modern-day Belarus, the Ukraine, and Western Russia. Politically distinct, the two realms were increasingly ruled as one commonwealth from Poland’s capital city, Cracow. Although the Lithuanians were mostly pagans, the core of the territory conquered by the Grand Duchy, Ruthenia, followed the Eastern rite, and Orthodoxy emerged as the main - though not the most prestigious - denomination in a multi-ethnic realm ruled from Catholic Cracow. 

While many devotional and historiographical works continued to be produced, the city’s strong Latin writing tradition supplied new secular works for the growing kingdom: John of Czarnkow produced the first Polish memoir, the Chronicon Polonorum, while Jagiełło’s secretary, Bishop Stanisław Ciołek, extolled the city’s virtues in his panegyrics. Throughout much of the period patronage of learning and literature centred on the royal court and on the queen in particular. In 1400 Jadwiga re-founded Casimir the Great’s University, and it is believed that the splendid Psałterz floriański, a trilingual psalter written in Latin, Polish, and German that would become a milestone in the development of vernacular Polish literature, was produced for her.