1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Laski

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LASKI, the name of a noble and powerful Polish family, is taken from the town of Lask, the seat of their lordship.

Jan Laski, the elder (1456–1531), Polish statesman and ecclesiastic, 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 legati nati. In his old age Laski’s partiality for his nephew, Hieronymus, led him to support the candidature of John Zapolya, the protégé 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: Statuta provinciae gnesnensis antiqua, &c. (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).

Hieronymus Jaroslaw Laski (1496–1542), Polish diplomatist, nephew of Archbishop Laski, was successively palatine of Inowroclaw and of Sieradia. His first important mission was to Paris in 1524, ostensibly to contract an anti-Turkish league with the French king, but really to bring about a matrimonial alliance between the dauphin, afterwards Henry II., and the daughter of King Sigismund I., a project which failed through no fault of Laski’s. The collapse of the Hungarian monarchy at Mohacs (1526) first opened up a wider career to Laski’s adventurous activity. Contrary to the wishes of his own sovereign, Sigismund I., whose pro-Austrian policy he detested, Laski entered the service of John Zapolya, the Magyar competitor for the Hungarian throne, thereby seriously compromising Poland both with the emperor and the pope. Zapolya despatched him on an embassy to Paris, Copenhagen and Munich for help, but on his return he found his patron a refugee in Transylvania, whither he had retired after his defeat by the German king Ferdinand I. at Tokay in 1527. In his extremity Zapolya placed himself under the protection of the sultan, Laski being sent to Constantinople as his intermediary. On his way thither he was attacked and robbed of everything, including his credentials and the rich presents without which no negotiations were deemed possible at the Porte. But Laski was nothing if not audacious. Proceeding on his way to the Turkish capital empty-handed, he nevertheless succeeded in gaining the confidence of Gritti, the favourite of the grand vizier, and ultimately persuaded the sultan to befriend Zapolya and to proclaim him king of Hungary. He went still further, and without the slightest authority for his action concluded a ten years’ truce between his old master King Sigismund of Poland and the Porte. He then returned to Hungary at the head of 10,000 men, with whose aid he enabled Zapolya to re-establish his position and defeat Ferdinand at Saros-Patak. He was rewarded with the countship of Zips and the governor-generalship of Transylvania. But his influence excited the jealousy of the Magyars, and Zapolya was persuaded to imprison him. On being released by the interposition of the Polish grand hetman, Tarnowski, he became the most violent opponent of Zapolya. Shortly after his return to Poland, Laski died suddenly at Cracow, probably poisoned by one of his innumerable enemies.

See Alexander Hirschberg, Hieronymus Laski (Pol.) (Lemberg, 1888).

Jan Laski, the younger (1499–1560), also known as Johannes a Lasco, Polish reformer, son of Jaroslaw (d. 1523), voivode of Sieradia and nephew of the famous Archbishop Laski. During his academical course abroad he made the acquaintance of Zwingli and Erasmus and returned to Poland in 1526 saturated with the new doctrines. Nevertheless he took orders, and owing to the influence of his uncle obtained the bishopric of Veszprem in Hungary from King John Zapolya, besides holding a canonry of Cracow and the office of royal secretary. In 1531 he resigned all his benefices rather than give up a woman whom he had secretly married, and having incurred general reprobation and the lasting displeasure of his uncle the archbishop, he fled to Germany, where ultimately (1543) he adopted the Augsburg Confession. For the next thirteen years Laski was a wandering apostle of the new doctrines. He was successively superintendent at Emden and in Friesland, passed from thence to London where he became a member of the so-called ecclesia peregrinorum, a congregation of foreign Protestants exiled in consequence of the Augsburg Interim of 1548 and, on being expelled by Queen Mary, took refuge first in Denmark and subsequently at Frankfort-on-Main, where he was greatly esteemed. From Frankfort he addressed three letters (printed at Basel) to King Sigismund, Augustus, and the Polish gentry and people, urging the conversion of Poland to Protestantism. In 1556, during the brief triumph of the anti-catholics, he returned to his native land, took part in the synod of Brzesc, and published a number of polemical works, the most noteworthy of which were Forma ac ratio tota ecclesiastici ministerii in peregrinorum Ecclesiae instituta (Pinczow, 1560), and in Polish, History of the Cruel Persecution of the Church of God in 1567, republished in his Opera, edited by A. Kuyper at Amsterdam in 1866. He died at Pinczow in January 1560 and was buried with great pomp by the Polish Protestants, who also struck a medal in his honour. Twice married, he left two sons and two daughters. His nephew (?) Albert Laski, who visited England in 1583, wasted a fortune in aid of Dr Dee’s craze for the “philosopher’s stone.” Laski’s writings are important for the organization of the ecclesia peregrinorum, and he was concerned in the Polish version of the Bible, not published till 1563.

See H. Dalton, Johannes a Lasco (1881), English version of the earlier portion by J. Evans (1886); Bartels, Johannes a Lasco (1860); Harboe, Schicksale des Johannes a Lasco (1758); R. Wallace, Antitrinitarian Biography (1850); Bonet-Maury, Early Sources of Eng. Unit. Christianity (1884); W. A. J. Archbold in Dict. Nat. Biog. (1892) under “Laski,” George Pascal, Jean de Lasco (Paris, 1894); Life in Polish by Antoni Walewski (Warsaw, 1872); and Julian Bukowski, History of the Reformation in Poland (Pol.) (Cracow, 1883).  (R. N. B.)