The JLS is named after the Jagiellonian dynasty, an enlightened Polish–Lithuanian dynasty that peacefully ruled over and unified vast areas of current Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia. This unification created a society where religious freedoms were guaranteed, and elections were held, before other European countries afforded such rights.
The Jagiellonian era is commonly regarded as a period of enlightened political power, great economic prosperity, unparalleled religious tolerance, and growth of many educational and cultural institutions; generally, a golden era of Polish culture.
The Jagiellonian dynasty was created by the marriage of Queen Jadwiga of Poland (the first female monarch of Poland who ruled from 1384 till her death in 1399) to the Lithuanian Grand Duke Jagiello, after whom, the dynasty takes its name. This political marriage created Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth of Two Nations, one of the largest states in Europe for the next four centuries. After the marriage, Queen Jadwiga remained the sovereign or the "king" and co-ruled the Commonwealth with king Jagiello. Other members of the Jagiellonian dynasty ruled over Hungary, Bohemia and Slovakia, making them the most powerful dynasty of Europe at that time.
The Commonwealth was very diverse – ethnically and religiously - and this vast area straddled many sides of great cultural and civilizational divides: joining Poland with its Western Christian culture with the Lithuanian culture steeped in Eastern Christian Byzantine traditions, and a strong dose of various pagan religions, Islam and other Eastern religions. In addition, Poland has been home for many protestant churches and sects. The ethnic and religious diversity of the kingdom resulted in policies of religious freedom and religious tolerance, which were unique in the Europe of that time.
It was under the Jagiellonian dynasty that the Constitutional Act of Nihil Novi was adopted by the Polish Parliament (known as Sejm) in 1505. Under Nihil Novi, several legislative powers were transferred from the monarch to the Polish Sejm and the king was required to consult the entire Sejm (consisting of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies) before enacting any legislative changes. This event marked the beginning of the period known as "Golden Liberty", when the Polish Commonwealth was ruled in large measure by the "free and equal" members of the Polish nobility and gentry.
It was also a time of enormous cultural flowering during Renaissance, which cultural flowering was actively fostered by the late Jagiellonian kings Sigismund I the Old and Sigismund II Augustus, famous patrons of science, education and arts.
Akademia Krakowska (Cracow Academy), founded by the prior Piast dynasty king Casimir the Great, was re-capitalized, supported and protected by Queen Jadwiga (who donated her jewelry to finance it) and the other Jagiellonian dynasty members, which is reflected in its present name: the Jagiellonian University.
Jagiellonian University was home to Europes oldest department of mathematics and astronomy, which was established in 1405.
Among the pre-eminent students of the Jagiellonian University was Nicolaus Copernicus, Renaissance era astronomer and mathematician who formulated the heliocentric model of the universe (placing the Sun, instead of stationary Earth, at the center of our solar system). Copernican heliocentric model represented huge paradigm shift from the widely held Ptolemean doctrine and was essential in the development of Renaissance thought and philosophy.
It is not an accident that Pawel Włodkowic, initially student and subsequently the head of the Cracow Academy, was a preeminent legal scholar who advocated peaceful coexistence among nations and was forerunner of modern theories of human rights. Throughout his political, diplomatic and university career, Włodkowic expressed the view that a world guided by the principles of peace and mutual respect among nations is desirable and possible, and that all pagan or non-Christian nations had a right to peace and to possession of their own lands. He opposed forced Christianization and championed religious freedoms for all individuals. Włodkowic represented Poland at the Council of Constance where he outlined the theory of freedom of expression and defended, together with the entire Polish delegation, Jan Hus (who was a religious protestant reformer and forerunner of Martin Luther, a key figure in the Protestant Reformation).
In short, Jagiellonian dynasty managed to institutionalize spiritual, religious and intellectual freedoms and steered the Commonwealth away from religious wars which raged across Europe at that time. Unlike in the Western Europe, various protestant movements and reformation spread peacefully throughout the Commonwealth, giving rise to the several unique sects, such as Polish Brethren who operated openly and enjoyed freedom of expression and religion.
Starting in the medieval ages and continuing through the Jagiellonian period, Poland had become the home to Europes largest Jewish population, because of policies guaranteeing their personal safety and religious freedom. The first such edict was issued by king Boleslaw the Pious in 1264. In addition to freedom of religion, a royal privilege issued in 1532 granted freedom of trade anywhere within the Commonwealth to the Jewish population. These enlightened rights coupled with various massacres and expulsions in Western Europe resulted in the situation where by the mid-16th century, almost 80% of the worlds Jewish population lived and prospered in Poland and Lithuania.
Selected References for Further Reading
The Cambridge History of Poland – W. F. Reddaway, J. Penson, O. Halecki and R. Dyboski. eds. Octagon Books, New York, 1971.
God’s Playground: A History of Poland – Norman Davies, Columbia University Press, New York, 1982.
The Polish Way: A Thousand-year History of the Poles and Their Culture. – Adam Zamoyski, Watts, New York, 1988.
Poland: A History – Adam Zamoyski, Harpers Press, New York, 2009.
Being Poland: A New History of Polish Literature and Culture since 1918 - Tamara Trojanowska, ed. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2018.
Patronage and humanist literature in the age of the Jagiellons: Court and Career in the Writings of Rudolf Agricola Junior, Valentin Eck, and Leonard Cox. Jacqueline Glomski, Erasmus Studies 16. Toronto, 2007.
Our logo is based on the Jagiellonian dynasty coat of arms: a plain shield with a double cross on it (known also as the Jagiellonian Cross).