Constructing memory: holy war in the Chronicle of the Poles by Bishop Vincentius of Cracow
By Darius von Güttner
Journal of Medieval History, Volume 40, Issue 3 (2014)
Abstract: The Chronica Polonorum, written by Bishop Vincentius of Cracow (c.1150–1223), influenced the way Polish history was written by presenting a specific memory of the participation of the Piast dynasty in wars against the Prussians. This article presents the three major references to these wars against heathen tribes of the North in 1147, 1166 and 1192. Vincentius’ account gave meaning to the Piast expeditions as holy wars and influenced court tradition by establishing the image of individual Piasts as well as their dynasty as a whole. These accounts shaped how their participants were remembered in specific historical contexts and influenced the future participation of the Poles in crusading. The article reveals the use of the term ‘Saladinistas’, not found anywhere else in the surviving twelfth-century sources. The memory created by Vincentius became inseparable from the cultural heritage of the nation for whom he was the first native historian.
The Chronicle of the Poles by Bishop Vincentius of Cracow is a twelfth-century history of Poland and a recognised masterpiece of medieval scholarship. It was commissioned by Kazimierz II, Vincentius’ sovereign and the surprise victor of a bloody dynastic feud, which had claimed the lives of his uncle and three of his brothers. Kazimierz was the posthumous son of his celebrated father, Bolesław III, and won his throne in a coup against an elder brother, making him literally the last heir standing. The Chronicle presents Kazimierz’s credentials as God’s anointed sovereign and the Piast dynasty as Poland’s natural rulers. Kazimierz’s virtue and godliness are specifically manifest because of his support for and participation in holy war. The Chronicle is an apologist’s critique of Poland’s system of government under Kazimierz and traces its form and authority from Antiquity. It also instructs Poland’s elites on how they should obey and aid their sovereign in accordance with natural law and God’s command.
Darius von Guettner is also working on a translation of the Chronica Polonorum