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King’s debts and king’s creditors in Poland in the first half of the 15th century

Clientelism, which is associated primarily with the early modern era, not only in Polish historiography, seems to be a concept that can as well be successfully applied to the late Middle Ages. Wojciech Falkowski, when writing about the policy of Vladislaus III and the knights accompanying the king abroad, characterized the mechanism of making a career in the following way:

[...] a trip to Hungary with a detachment of knights and a certain amount of cash to lend to the ruler became a real investment. [...] Consiliarus et servitor noster fidelis, sincere nobis dilectus, according to the royal records, received measurable benefits for his fidelity, usefulness and helpfulness; the greater the benefits, the more his services and assistance were recognized. This in turn depended on the knight’s position with the king, which was determined by a combination of several components: the offices held, personal authority and position within the elite of power as well as individual and direct contacts with the ruler. Maintaining a high position over a longer period of time required not only great dexterity, but also high fixed expenses and the ability to skilfully find support with other participants of this game. And the game was all about access to the king, his grace and favour, and about creating political support in a narrow circle of advisors and in broad milieus of the noble communitas.

(Falkowski 2004, pp. 11-12)

Therefore, if we take into account the obvious differences resulting from the specificity of the period, it seems justified to make an attempt at explaining some social and political phenomena as being part of the patron-client relationship. This is facilitated, on the one hand, by advanced prosopographical work, especially concerning the 15th century, and on the other hand, by the degree of recognition of the phenomenon in subsequent centuries as well as, consequently, by the methodology already developed. Nevertheless, the nature of the preserved sources including their numberand scope largely determine the scope of research possibilities by limiting them to the monarch’s court and possibly the clergy.

The pledge of royal estate fits into a wide range of different types of patron-client relationships. It is one of the many elements that permanently binds people who are in an asymmetric relationship. The element may not be the most important or decisive one, but definitely of considerable economic importance. The aim of this chapter is to present the scale of the phenomenon entailing the pledge of royal estate in the first half of the 15th century, to draw attention to the financial aspect of this area of monarchical activity, as well as to indicate new, non-economic, interpretative possibilities. The source basis consists of 203 preserved pledge documents issued by Vladislaus Jagiellon between 1386 and 1434, and published in the most important diplomatic collections (Akta grodzkie i ziemskie, 1870-1883, vols 2, 4, 5, 7; Kodeks dyplomatyczny Malopolski, 1905, vol. 4; Kodeks dyplomatyczny Polski, 1852, vols 1-2; Zbior dokumentow malopolskich, 1962-1975, parts 6-7; Kodeks dyplomatyczny Wielkopolski, 1908-1990, vols 5-9). There are approximately 2,500 documents issued by Vladislaus Jagiellon that we are aware of so the pledge documents subject to analysis constitute less than 8% of the available resources (Gqsiorowski 1974). Undoubtedly, the source material that we have used cannot be regarded as complete.

The pledge documents subject to analysis are a kind of random sample, yet they can be considered a sufficient basis for drawing conclusions about the phenomenon. The activity of Vladislaus Jagiellon will also be compared to a similar activity of his son, Vladislaus III, during his reign both in Poland and in Hungary, that is between 1440 and 1444, as known from Marcin Sepial’s research (Sepial 1998). In late medieval Poland, the most common type of pledge was the so-called ‘pledge involving control where the pledger gives the pledged asset to the pledgee for possession (and use)’ (Rymaszewski 1962, p. 119).

In the practice of 15th-century courts, the pledged assets ‘were almost everything of value’ (Rymaszewski 1962, p. 117), hence all kinds of movable property: jewels, ornaments, books, robes, etc., and real property: landed estates, agricultural lands, forests, ponds, mills (Matuszewski 1979) as well as gains, such as from customs duties or pensions. Two types of pledge involving control prevailed:

  • • a strict usufruct pledge (to be redeemed), in which ‘the value of the profits collected by the pledgee does not reduce the pledger’s debt’ (Rymaszewski p. 120), hence the pledgee collected gains from the pledged goods until the pledger returned the sum borrowed from the pledgee;
  • • a pledge subject to control, in which ‘the pledgee held the goods in pledge until the value of the profits derived from the goods reached the sum of the claims’ (Rymaszewski 1962, p. 121), that is the gains from the pledged goods represented the depreciation of the debt (Sepial 1998, p. 36).

In the royal practice, it is extremely rare to find a pledge subject to control which concerned the pledge of gains from, for example the salt mines (zupy). The pledge for redemption was dominant, which made it possible to circumvent the canonical ban on usury. The pledger returned the amount borrowed, while the profits collected from the pledged goods by the pledgee were an obvious type of interest, although interest was never mentioned in such circumstances.

The monarch made the assignment in his own name and that of his successors to the pledgee and his legal heirs, who had the goods at their disposal until the sum lent was repaid in full. Then the pledge would be returned to the king but until then, the pledgee could hold, possess, and use the pledge, although almost always the king indicated that he kept the right to stop by at the estate (Sepial 1998, pp. 36-7).

The general picture of the analysed pledges made by Vladislaus Jagiellon is as follows: there were 202 pledge documents for the total amount of: 32,619 marcs, mentioning 151 individual pledgees (plus the Lviv Archcathedral Chapter). In some cases, royal estates were not pledged to individuals, but to brothers, or father and son together. The documents contain information about at least 270 villages, 11 castles, and 16 towns which were pledged.

The number of preserved records issued in particular years manifests great diversity. The king did not often resort to this type of transactions, just four times a year on average. However, there were years, mainly in the first part of the reign: со-rule with Jadwiga and the beginnings of independent reign, where there is no trace of such transactions (1388-1389,1393-1395, 1398, 1400, 1403, 1407). On the other hand, the end of this monarch’s reign resulted in a significant increase in the intensity of this phenomenon. In 1431, Jagiello issued 25 pledge records and in 1433, as many as 36. There is also an increase in the volume of pledges issued in the years 1410-1411, 13 and 12 records, respectively (see Figure 5.1).

The frequency of the records overlaps with the amounts of pledges. On average, there were four pledges per calendar year during the reign, with a total value of approximately 665 marcs, except that there were years when the king did not resort to this type of transactions (or the sources have not been preserved) and years when the pledges amounted to substantial sums, such as 2,600 marcs in 1410 or 4,775 marcs in 1433.

As regards the unit value of the pledge, it amounted to approximately 160 marcs on average, although it could generally range from 20 to 1,000 marcs (see Figure 5.2). The majority of the records covered relatively small amounts, up to 100 marcs (127 records or 63%), while larger amounts were less frequent (between 101 and 200 marcs - 16.5%, between 201 and 300-6%, between 301 and 400-5.5%, between 401 and 500-4.5%, above 500 marcs - 4.5%).

The most numerous records with the lowest values in total involved the amount of 7,815 marcs, which was only less than 1,000 marcs more than 9

Number and value of pledge records issued by Vladislaus Jagiellon in specific years of his reign

Figure 5.1 Number and value of pledge records issued by Vladislaus Jagiellon in specific years of his reign.

Source: Akta grodzkie i ziemskie (1870-1883), vols. 2,4,5,7; Kodeks dyplomatyczny Malopolski ( 1905), vol. 4; Kodeks dyplomatyczny Polski ( 1852), vols. I -2;Zbiôr dokumentow malopolskich ( 1962-1975), parts 6-7; Kodeks dyplomatyczny Wielkopolski ( 1908-1990), vols. 5-9.

records for amounts exceeding 500 marcs (6,950). Pledges of medium value were much lower: 101-200 marcs - 5,972, 201-300 marcs - 3,280, 301-400 marcs-4,212 and 401-500 marcs-4,390 (see Figure 5,2). Interestingly, such a structure of the size of the pledges does not differ from the practices of the gentry (Morawski 1993, p. 93).

Once the frequency of issuing pledge documents during the year is traced (see Figure 5.3), it turns out that the royal activity in this field was permanent, although both in terms of the number of pledges issued and their value, the ‘peak season’ was March (31 records for the amount of 5,715 marcs) and November (23 records for the amount of 4,080 marcs), whereas both January and December were ‘low season’ months (January: 9 records for the amount of 1,080 marcs, December: 7 records for the amount of 820 marcs).

Vladislaus Jagiellon issued pledge documents to at least 151 people (142 individuals, 3 siblings, and 1 family) and the Lviv Archcathedral Chapter. The vast majority of creditors (75.5%) received a pledge from this king once in their lifetime (see Figure 5.4). The others acted as creditors twice (17%), three times (4.1%), four times (2%), five times (0.7%) or six times (0.7%).

Number ofVIadislaus Jagiellon’s records by pledge value

Figure 5.2 Number ofVIadislaus Jagiellon’s records by pledge value.

Source: Akta grodzkie i ziemskie (1870-1883), vols. 2, 4, 5, 7; Kodeks dyplomatyczny Malopolski (1905), vol. 4; Kodeks dyplomatyczny Polski (1852), vols. 1-2; Zbiôr dokumentôw malopolskich ( 1962-1975), parts 6-7; Kodeks dyplomatyczny Wielkopolski ( 1908-1990), vols. 5-9.

Slightly more than half (52.5%) of the royal claims relate to individuals who acted as pledgees only once (17,122 marcs in total). More than 32.2% of the total debt was covered by documents issued to individuals twice (10,492 marcs), 7.7% three times (2,510 marcs), 5.8% four times (1,902 marcs), 0.9% five times (300 marcs) and 0.9% six times (290 marcs).

If the average value of the pledge record in individual groups of pledgees is considered (isolated by the frequency of acting as a pledgee), the differences are insignificant: in the most numerous groups the value ranges from 139.4 to almost 210 marcs. The average value of pledges of individuals acting as pledgees five and six times differs from this, but these are single cases.

It can be inferred from the analysis of the reasons why the king issued the documents that they were usually remuneration for various types of service (the provided reasons are rather terse: for merit, for service, for faithful service, for participation in the war, and also to strengthen the pledgee in his previous and current attitude) rather than real money loans. Hence, the pledges were non-cash transactions. An intermediate option can be encountered at times, when the king simultaneously remunerates for service and confirms the fact of taking out a loan. For example, on 30 June 1433, the king recorded a pledge of 200 marcs of the villages of Rqczyna

Pledge documents issued byVIadislaus Jagiellon in specific months of the year

Figure 5.3 Pledge documents issued byVIadislaus Jagiellon in specific months of the year.

Source: Akta grodzkie i ziemskie (1870-1883), vols. 2, 4, 5, 7; Kodeks dyplomatyczny Malopolski (1905), vol. 4; Kodeks dyplomatyczny Polski (1852), vols. 1-2; Zbior dokumentow malopolskich ( 1962-1975), parts 6-7; Kodeks dyplomatyczny Wielkopolski ( 1908-1990), vols. 5-9.

and Zagorze to the benefit of Jan Koniecpolski for his wartime merits and loan (Zbior dokumentow malopolskich, 1962-1975, 7, no. 2147). There are also incidents when the ruler, having purchased some valuable items, instead of paying cash to the owner, recorded their value against the royal estate: for example, on 17 April 1434, to the benefit of Jan of Olesnica, 100 marcs as a pledge for a velvet, sable-lined overcoat of the castle of Solee and the villages being part of the castle (Zbior dokumentow malopolskich, 1962-1975, 7, no. 2168); on 3 November 1431 to the benefit of Michal Wapowski 50 marcs as a pledge of the village of Tarnowce for three horses (Zbior dokumentow malopolskich, 1962-1975, 7, no. 2090).

Both the low frequency of pledging of the royal estate (four times a year on average) and the value of liabilities are proof not so much of the perfection and efficiency of the fiscal administration of the time, but rather of the well-thought-out royal policy and a relatively low financial deficit level. Maybe this also manifests minor needs of the court. Makeshift calculations made by Hubert Wajs demonstrate that the consumption of Jadwiga’s court cost the royal treasury about 30 marcs per week (Wajs 1993, p. III). It seems highly unlikely that pledges for small sums of money could result from the

Frequency of acting as a pledgee in the analysed documents concerning Vladislaus Jagiellon

Figure 5.4 Frequency of acting as a pledgee in the analysed documents concerning Vladislaus Jagiellon.

Source: Akta grodzkie i ziemskie (1870-1883), vols 2,4,5,7; Kodeks dyplomatyczny Malopolski ( 1905), vol. 4; Kodeks dyplomatyczny Polski (1852), vol 1-2; Zbior dokumentow malopolskich (1962-1975), parts 6-7; Kodeks dyplomatyczny Wielkopolski (1908-1990), vols 5-9.

king’s urgent need for a quick cash injection. This could be a more realistic option with larger amounts of money. Both parties were probably more prone to pay and receive remuneration in the form of a pledge rather than in cash; the ruler did not dispose of the money (which he might not have had), and the pledgee was given a chance to draw a sum from the royal estate, significantly exceeding the contractual value of the pledge.

While assuming that there is more than just economics to the phenomenon of pledging royal goods by Vladislaus Jagiellon, we will refer here to the definition and characteristics of clientelism (Mqczak 2003, pp. 40-51). Firstly, according to the general wording of the definition of clientelism, there is a situation of disposition of resources. The king has two kinds of resources; firstly, the material resources in the form of royal goods, which he can give away or pledge. Moreover, it is the king who largely enables access to the public sphere.

Secondly, direct relations and personal ties tended to develop between the king and the pledgees. The pledgees mainly included central officials (e.g. the marshal/marszalek of the kingdom, Jan of Olesnica, the subchancellor/

podkanclerzy, Klemens of Laskazew), officials of the lands (voivodes/ wojewodotvie, castellans/kasztelanowie, chamberlains/podfeomorzy, etc.) as well as court officials and court servants (familiares of various kinds). All of them had close ties to the monarch. Some of these people’s biographies can be found in the Polish Biographical Dictionary (PSB), whose authors, writing the dictionary at a time when the term clientelism was still absent in Polish scientific literature, summarized their characteristics in the following way: ‘he stood faithfully by his lord ruler’ (Piotrowicz 1939, pp. 306-7) or ‘he was a supporter of the dynasty and enjoyed the special trust of the court’ (Gorski 1963, p. 483). Yet, it should also be noted that only a few people such as: Klemens of Moskorzewo, Piotr Szafraniec, Domarat of Kobylany, Jan of Szczekociny, Andrzej of Donaborz or Paszko Zlodziej appeared with great frequency as witnesses on Jagiellon’s perpetual documents, which may provide proof that they belonged to the circle of royal advisors or at least to the wider elite ruling the country (Sulkowska-Kurasiowa 1982; Klimecka 1990).

Undoubtedly, in the case of relations between the king and the pledgees, the existence of‘reciprocity’ is a fact. The pledgees served the king as soldiers, deputies, administrators or in any other capacity. They also performed political functions. It is not without reason that the greatest intensity of the phenomenon of the pledge is connected with the last years of Vladislaus Jagiellon’s reign and his succession efforts. Among the 35 lay witnesses mentioned on the Jedlnia privilege, 10 are royal pledgees: Piotr Szafraniec, Piotr Bninski, Domarat of Kobylany, Jan of Olesnica, Piotr of Pieskowa Skala, Piotr Korczbok, Stanislaw of Szczkowo, Pawel of Bogumilowice, Abraham of Zbqszyno, Zawisza of Olesnica (Volumina legum, 1859, vol. 1, p. 42).

The importance of the time factor is also easily discernible. Although the vast majority of pledgees appeared in this role only once, a pledge usually tied for life. This is most evident in people who received pledge documents several times as exemplified by the most frequent pledgees in the documents, such as Jakub of Malice, Pelka of Sluzowo, Piotr Szafraniec, and Piotr Korczbok. Jakub of Malice, referred to as familiaris, received subsequent pledge records from the king in the years 1411 - the village of Buczykow for the amount of 60 marcs (Zbior dokumentow malopolskich, 1974, vol. 6, no. 1757), 1421 - the hamlet (pustkowie) of Okno for the amount of 40 marcs (Zbior dokumentow malopolskich, 1962-1975, vol. 7, no. 1905), 1422 - the village of Buczykow again for the amount of 20 marcs (Zbior dokumentow malopolskich, 1962-1975, vol. 7, no. 1929), 1423 - this time Okno already being a village for the amount of 20 marcs (Zbior dokumentow malopolskich, 1962-1975, vol. 7, no. 1936), 1431 -the village of Rynkaszow for the amount of 20 marcs (Zbior dokumentow malopolskich, 1962-1975, vol. 7, no. 2093) and 1433-5 villages: Buczykow, Okno, Semenow, Cerkwica, and Nastaszyn for the amount of 110 marcs (Zbior dokumentow malopolskich, 1962-1975, vol. 7, no. 2151). Hence, there are 6 pledges issued over 22 years with a total value of 290 marcs recorded for 5 villages. It is also worth noting that at the end of Jagiellon’s reign, familiaris Jakub was already the wojski of Przemysl, that is an official reporting to the castellan (Przybos 1987, p. 163).

In May 1415, the king renewed the burnt (and thus earlier) pledge document worth 100 marcs for the village of Makuniow in the Przemysl poviat to his knight Pelka of Sluzowo (Zbior dokumentow malopolskich, 1974, vol. 6, no. 1795). A few months later (in November) strenuus miles Pelka received another pledge of the same village for the amount of 20 marcs (Zbior dokumentow malopolskich, 1974, vol. 6, no. 1801). The next two come from 1433, from the beginning and end of the year, amounted to 50 marcs twice and concerned the same village of Makuniow (Zbior dokumentow malopolskich, 1962-1975, vol. 7, nos 2120, 2154).

The two cases of pledging royal estate were by no means connected with covering the royal debt. Rather, they were a form of remuneration for service, probably military. The situation was slightly different in the case of more affluent pledgees. A different scale, as regards both the value of the pledge and the type of service, referred to a similar practice of burdening the same places. Multiple pledges of the same estate that the pledgees had held before were very beneficial from their point of view. According to M. Sepial, ‘Increasing the amount that the king had to repay in order to recover the estate reduced the likelihood of redemption in the absence of money in the treasury’ (Sepial 1998, p. 47).

In the years 1410 and 1411, Piotr Szafraniec, the chamberlain of Cracow, lent the king money twice, in the amounts of 200 and 100 marcs. The pledge comprised the town and castle of Chyciny and 11 villages (Zbior dokumentow malopolskich, 1962-1975, vol. 7, no. 1747; Kodeks dyplomatycznym Malopolski, 1905, vol. 4, no. 1128). In 1421, he saved the royal budget again at the request of Vladislaus Jagiellon with another 200 marcs (Zbior dokumentow malopolskich, 1975, vol. 7, no. 1915) (another pledge of Chyciny and the neighbouring villages), and in 1425, for his merits not only as chamberlain of Cracow, but also as governor (starosta) of Sieradz, he received a pledge record for 300 marcs of the village of Fajslawice (Zbior dokumentow malopolskich, 1975, vol. 7, no. 1989).

Piotr Korczbok (Korzbok), the chamberlain of Poznan, was rewarded at least three times between 1426 and 1433 by the king with pledges for the following amounts: twice 100 marcs and once 140, of the town, the castle of Babimost and the villages belonging to them (Kodeks dyplomatyczny Wielkopolski, 1990, vol. 9, no. 1306; Kodeks dyplomatyczny Polski, 1852, vol. l,no. 172; Kodeks dyplomatyczny Wielkopolski, 1908, vol. 5, no. 468). Since the beginning of the 15th century, Korczbok had been a royal courtier, fulfilling diplomatic missions several times (Gqsiorowski 1969, pp. 159-60). Numerous examples of this kind can be found in the records. For instance, three out of four pledges issued between 1429 and 1434 to Piotr Bninski, the castellan of Gniezno, referred to the town of Mosina (Kodeks dyplomatyczny Wielkopolski, 1982, vol. 5, nos 506, 530, 543), while Pawet of Bogumilowice, the castellan of Polaniec and later on a Cracow judge, received in 1410 and in 1421 two pledges of the town of Stopnica (Zbior dokumentow malopolskich, 1974, vol. 6, no. 1746; 1975, vol. 7, no. 1710), and Piotr of Smolice was awarded two pledges in 1421 and 1423 of the village of Targowiska (Zbior dokumentow malopolskich, 1975, vol. 7, nos 1912, 1934), etc.

As usual, the most questionable is the issue of the ‘informality’ of a relationship involving clientelism. It cannot be said in this case that the issue of pledges remained in the private sphere, but it cannot be closed within the formal rigours of governance, either. Until 1440, there were no formal restrictions on the distribution of royal estate, hence the law did not regulate this phenomenon, and it remained somewhat in the sphere of custom (Matuszewski 1985, pp. 101-20). Vladislaus Jagiellon’s rule was, in a way, groundbreaking. Assignments, perpetual and lifelong, as well as pledges, had been unheard of on such a significant scale before (Lucinski 1970, pp. 21-43). On the other hand, at the time of assuming the throne, Vladislaus Jagiellon was the first monarch who was forced to resort to this type of transactions in order to ensure the sustainability of the dynasty’s rule in the country.

Pledges during Vladislaus Jagiellon’s reign were both a form of remuneration for faithful service to the king and a way to quickly obtain cash. Whether they referred to less influential knights or mighty lords, they meant strong ties with the ruler and his policy. Sometimes they tied the gentry and the monarch throughout several generations.

The custom, initiated by Jagiellon, of offering royal estate as a pledge, not yet dangerous during his rule, and not really significantly affecting the finances of the state, was brought to a pathological form by his son, Vladislaus III who, during only four years of joint reign in Poland and Hungary, issued pledge documents for a total of almost 122,000 marcs (Sepial 1998, p. 38) even though the Statutes of 1440 forbade a pledge of the great government of Cracow. This practice continued later on as well (Boroda & Guzowski 2016). Kazimierz Tymieniecki made a calculation that during the entire reign of Kazimierz Jagiellonczyk, 406 records of new pledges were registered in the Crown Metric (Metryka Koronna), while for Jan Olbracht there were 131 of them (Tymieniecki 1934, p. 106).

Although both historians of the time and later historians assessed the phenomenon as extremely negative (Kiryk 1967,p. 10;Sucheni-Grabowska 1967, pp. 27-32, as well as the works cited above; from a slightly different point of view: Matuszewski 1979, no. 6)., from the point of view of both the king and his pledgees, the matter did not look so unambiguously. When writing about clientelism at the 17,h-century French court, A. Mqczak stressed the role of the monarch’s tactics in shaping it: *[...] grant graces as short-term as possible so that the applicants would have to come back for them all the time. Using the vocabulary of the business: not sale, not emphyteusis, but short term lease’ (Maczak 2003, pp. 105-6). In the circumstances of the Crown, in the 15th century, this was not always possible, for example because of the life-long nature of many offices. However, the pledge was perfectly fit for purpose. It combined the elements of a medieval feudal system - domain state (Ormrod 1995; Bonney 1999) with modern financial and political operations. The king did not permanently dispose of domain elements. Although the pledges may have served as an apparent, hidden assignment, the king himself valued the services rendered to him, chose the estate as well as, in fact, the period for which it was pledged. The king was able to redeem the estate at any time or, more likely, allow another pledgee to redeem it. In the period between 1447 and 1501, as many as 360 previous pledges were recorded in the Crown Metric (Tymieniecki 1934, p. 106). Moreover, the creditors of Jagiellon came into possession of the royal estate as a result of redemption of previously pledged villages or towns. In this way, the king was able to use the phenomenon, seemingly of a purely economic nature, for political purposes. His creditors were also aware of this and many of them, after the death of the old monarch, were bound to his sons in exactly the same manner. They became the creditors of the dynasty. Or, perhaps, its clients.


This chapter was prepared as part of the project: Financial capacity of Jagiellonian states in the 16th century in the comparative perspective (no. 2017/27/L/HS3/03242) financed by the National Science Centre, Poland.


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