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Laski, Jan, The Elder

LASKI, JAN, THE ELDER (1456-1531), Polish statesman and ecclesiastic. The name of Laski, a noble and powerful Polish family, is taken from the town of Lask, the seat of their lordship.

Jan Laski appears to have been largely self-taught and to have owed everything to the remarkable mental alertness which was hereditary in the Laski family. He took orders betimes, and in 1495 was secretary to the Polish chancellor Zawisza Kurozwecki, in which position he acquired both influence and experience. The aged chancellor entrusted the sharp-witted young ecclesiastic with the conduct of several important missions. Twice, in 1495 and again in 1500, he was sent to Rome, and once on a special embassy to Flanders, of which he has left an account. On these occasions he had the opportunity of displaying diplomatic talent of a high order. On the accession to the Polish throne in 1501 of the indolent Alexander, who had little knowledge of Polish affairs and chiefly resided in Lithuania, Laski was appointed by the senate the king's secretary, in which capacity he successfully opposed the growing separatist tendencies of the grand-duchy and maintained the influence of Catholicism, now seriously threatened there by the Muscovite propaganda. So struck was the king by his ability that on the death of the Polish chancellor in 1503 he passed over the vice-chancellor Macics Dzewicki and confided the great seal to Laski. As chancellor Laski supported the szlachta, or country-gentlemen, against the lower orders, going so far as to pass an edict excluding henceforth all plebeians from the higher benefices of the church. Nevertheless he approved himself such an excellent public servant that the new king, Sigismund I., made him one of his chief counsellors. In 1511 the chancellor, who ecclesiastically was still only a canon of Cracow, obtained the coveted dignity of archbishop of Gnesen which carried with it the primacy of the Polish church. In the long negotiations with the restive and semi-rebellious Teutonic Order, Laski rendered Sigismund most important political services, proposing as a solution of the question that Sigismund should be elected grand master, while he, Laski, should surrender the primacy to the new candidate of the knights, Albert of Brandenburg, a solution which would have been far more profitable to Poland than the ultimate settlement of 1525. In 1513 Laski was sent to the Lateran council, convened by Pope Julius II., to plead the cause of Poland against the knights, where both as an orator and as a diplomatist he brilliantly distinguished himself. This mission was equally profitable to his country and himself, and he succeeded in obtaining from the pope for the archbishops of Gnesen the title of legali nati. In his old age Laski's partiality for his nephew, Hieronymus, led him to support the candidature of John Zapolya, the protege of the Turks, for the Hungarian crown so vehemently against the Habsburgs that Clement VII. excommunicated him, and the shock of this disgrace was the cause of his sudden death in 1531. Of his numerous works the most noteworthy are his collection of Polish statutes entitled: Slatuta provinciae gnesnensis antiqua, &V. (Cracow, 1525-1528) and De Ruthenorum nationibus eorumque erroribus, printed at Nuremberg.

See Heinrich R. von Zeissberg, Joh. Laski, Erzbischof in Gnesen (Vienna, 1874); and Jan Korytkowski, Jan Laski, Archbishop of Gnesen (Gnesen, 1880).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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