Castellans of Vilnius castles in the 16th–the beginning of the 17th centuries

From the middle of the 15th century, in the towns of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, where there were strong castles, one of the main officials appointed by the ruler was a castellan of the castle. In the sources he is referred to as a castellan (Lat. praefectus castrorum, Pol. horodniczy, Rus’. городничый). He was in charge of supervising the condition of the castle buildings and fortifications (construction and repair works), provision of the residents of the castles, he administrated the allocated part of the town – the castellan’s district in which he freely disposed of the land in its territory. He did all that with the help of sub-castellans, the prefect of the castellan’s district, and the clerks of the castle. The direct chief of the Higher and Lower, as well as castellan’s district – the castellan of Vilnius had great influence. Though this position started to function in Vilnius in the middle of the 15th century (one of the first known castellans of Vilnius Iwaszko Podbipieta was mentioned in 1452), the castellans of Vilnius acquired the greatest significance to the castles, the town and the state in the 16th century. That was the century when the rulers of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Poland resided in the capital of the GDL permanently and for a long time, construction and repair works of a large scope were carried out in the Lower Castle of Vilnius, and the rhythm of the residential palace in its intensity outstripped the everyday routine of the residence in Krakow. In the 16th – at the beginning of the 17th the castellans of Vilnius were important social persons of that time.

Several names that history has preserved

In 1496–1619, eleven people fulfilled the duties of the castellans of Vilnius (from the 16th century lifelong), beginning with Zanka Iwanowicz and ending with Jan Wloszek. For some time, following traditions, people of the local origin were appointed to fulfil these duties. It was only from the middle of the 16th century that the number of foreigners began to increase. There were Germans, Poles and Dutchmen among the castellans. Ulrich and his son Jan Hozi who became castellans were Germans. Ulrich was born in the family of the town-dwellers in Pforzheim, Baden Markgrafschaft. Though they could speak Polish and Latin, the Hozis communicated in German. The Dutchman Job Breitfus found a new motherland in Lithuania. In everyday life he communicated in Polish. Both Orthodox Believers and Catholics, and Protestants, if there were any, they constituted the minority, were appointed to that position.

More often town-dwellers or the so-called new noblemen were appointed to the position of castellans of the castle.

The castellan Jan Hozi was of urban origin. At one time his father Ulrich started using the coat-of-arms in which “a leg on a shield and two wings of the eagle above the helmet” were represented. Most probably he bought it from the Roman Emperor Maximilian. In 1561, Jan Hozi, together with his brother, had their nobility confirmed by new ennoblement, and supplemented their father’s coat-of-arms with the new element – six bullets.

Some castellans had no permanent surnames, the latter were only in the process of formation. Therefore, in the first half of the 16th century castellans were called by a monomial name or by the name and the patronymic, as Kutchiuk or Kalėda Fiodorovicz. They added the patronymic to the name but did not hand it over to their children. For example, Ivan’s son, a castellan of Vilnius, was Zanka Ivanovitcz but the latter’s son Alexander was called Zankawicz. Macka Andrushkewicz son became a castellan of Vilnius Szymka Mackewicz, but his son was called Szymkawicz.

How does one become a castellan?

The castellans of Vilnius of that time were not descendants of famous families but they were known in the Ruler’s court and succeeded in winning the Ruler’s trust in them. Usually those people started their career from lower position in the Rulers’ courts. There were people (Kalėda Fiodorowicz, Wojciech Przetocki) whose career began in the estates of the nobility of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. At first Kalėda was an employee of Vilnius castellan Jerzy Radziwiłł, in 1547 he was mentioned in a letter by the widow of the castellan Barbara Radziwiłł. In 1544, he supervised construction works of the castellan of Vilnius Michał Radziwiłł the Red in the territory of the Lower castle. With the intercession of the noble, in 1549, he became a castellan of Vilnius. And Przetocki worked for the Bishop of Vilnius Paweł Holszansky as a Latin scribe, a secretary. From 1558 he moved to the estate of Michał Radziwiłł the Black and became a clerk in Vilnius mint, and the manager of the mint’s affairs, finally he became a castellan of Vilnius. Queen Bona played a significant role in appointing castellans of Vilnius. This is testified to by the Queen’s letter written in 1537 to her confidential agent Szymko Mackewicz. Having interceded for her subordinate, the Queen wrote as follows:

“So that you, in fulfilling the duties of a castellan, would serve his grace in managing the Castle of Vilnius, that you would not refuse [those duties] and would promise joyfully to his grace to serve him thereby”.

The architect J. Breitfus was the most professional of all to fill the position of a castellan, and Kalėda had experience of administration and building. Other castellans were distinguished farmers – administrators or businesspeople.

Duties, the economic activity and the rulers’ estates that they had to manage enabled the castellans of Vilnius to amass great assets. All of them belonged to the middle or even well-to-do (U. Hozi and Sh. Mackevitch) part of the nobility and the town-dwellers, many of them had houses or estates in the centre of Vilnius, and all of them had small estates in the districts of Vilnius, Ashmyany, Lida, and other places.

Managers of the castle construction works

Do You Know?

The mention of castellans of Vilnius found in the sources shows the beginning of the formation of the surnames: the petronimic was added to the name, however, it was not handed over to the children. For example, Ivan‘s son, the castellan of Vilnius, was Zanka Ivanovitch, but his son Alexander was called Zankavitch. Macka Andrushkevitch‘s son became a castellan of Vilnius Shimka Mackevitch but his sons were called Shimkevitch.

Castellans had an administrative apparatus, solved business and administration issues in the office, and took part in the courts of the Ruler or Vilnius Voivode. They administrated the singled out part of the town of Vilnius – the castellan’s district, which was still being expanded in the 16th century. There they took care of the Ruler’s immovable property, constructed buildings at their own expense, allotted the estates to different people. From the territories within their jurisdiction castellans collected taxes (inn taxes, mill taxes, or levies for land measuring). The main function fulfilled by the castellans was supervising the palace of the Lower Castle of Vilnius. All castellans of Vilnius in the 16th century carried out construction and reconstruction works. U. Hozi, Szymka Mackiewicz, Kalėda, J. Breitfus were confronted with the greatest challenges. Like Boner in Krakow, Mackiewicz supervised the construction works of the palace in Vilnius. Before being appointed a castellan he prepared “bricks, lime and other necessary materials” for construction, he had rented a brickyard that belonged to the monastery of the Holy Spirit beyond the Vilnelė River for 10 years. Every year he gave 3 000 bricks and two rafts of timber rent to the monks. In the spring and summer of 1539, the castellan supervised construction works of the passage from the eastern side of the residential palace to the royal garden, which the Italian Bernardine de Gianotti carried out. 

Though castellans were appointed until the end of the existence of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the last known castellan of Vilnius was Piotr Geralt who fulfilled these duties until 1792. From the middle of the 17th century, after the castles became less significant and buildings started to fall down, the position became nominal.

Literature: R. Ragauskienė, XVI amžiaus Vilniaus pilininkai: kolektyvinis portretas, Lietuvos pilys, 2009, Nr. 5, p. 130–145.

Raimonda Ragauskienė