Warrior Poets: Franciscus Gradovius and Helias Pilgrimovius

Mykolas Lietuvis, or Venclovas Mikalojaitis (Lat. Michalo Lituanus), the author of the treatise On the Customs of Tatars, Lithuanians and Muscovites could be justly regarded a predecessor of the entire dynasty of Lithuanian patriotic intelligentsia. His son, also called Venceslaus, having chosen the last name of Agrippa, which bears a resemblance to an antique name, created a piece work, the genre of which is difficult to define, under the title of A Mournful Speech about (…) the Life and Death of Jan Radziwiłł, Duke of Olyka and Nyasvizh (1553). In this piece of work, he glorifies not only the late person – the younger brother of Mikołaj Radziwiłł the Black, who passed away at a young age – but also the entire Lithuanian nation. He praised Lithuanians for their sense of justice and love of freedom, for their reserved and moderate behaviour, strength of character, military valour and even for their talents in sciences and innate eloquence. Having completed his studies in the German Protestant universities, Venceslaus Agrippa became a prominent Lithuanian statesman, a diplomat, an expert on Livonian affairs and a secretary to the King. He is known to have married a widow with two sons, whom he raised as his own.

A literary family

Helias Pilgrimovius (Piligrimas, Pielgrzymowski, ?–1605), Venceslaus Agrippa’s stepson, went to Königsberg university. Like his stepfather, he held Protestant views and was related to the Calvinist Dukes of Biržai and Dubingiai, Mikołaj Radziwiłł the Red and his son Krzysztof Radziwiłł the Thunderbolt. In 1581, he took part in the military march against Moscow and was enlisted in the troops led by Krzysztof Radziwiłł the Thunderbolt, who cherished ambitions to invade and plunder the enemy lands. About 1583, possibly after the stepfather’s intercession. Elias Pilgrimovius was appointed secretary to King Stephen Báthory, and in 1586 he got the position of the scribe of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Under the rule of Sigismund Vasa III, he was entrusted the task of managing various administrative matters in Livonia. In 1600, as member of the delegation headed by Lew Sapieha, Helias Pilgrimovius travelled to Moscow to negotiate a long-term peace agreement with Tsar Boris Godunov. Later, he immortalized this mission in verse and prose. Elias Pilgrimovius composed literary works of many genres, both in Latin and Polish languages.

It is assumed that namely Agrippa’s stepson compiled and published the first thematic set of historical documents in Lithuania, entitled The Virtuous Lithuanian (1592), aimed at giving enough proof that Poland had no rights to claim the Livonian territory.

Around 1545–1595, Venceslaus Agrippa’s stepdaughter Estera married Franciscus Gradovius (Pol. Gradowski; Lith. Gradauskas), a Protestant coming from the same social environment. Having completed his studies at the University of Wittenberg, Franciscus Gradovius was appointed royal secretary to King Stephen Báthory, later to Sigismund III Vasa. Similarly, to Elias Pilgrimovius, he took part on the Livonian war, serving in the aforementioned military unit led by Krzysztof Radziwiłł the Thunderbolt. Franciscus Gradovius wrote in Latin, even though he could speak Polish.

Both Elias Pilgrimovius and Franciscus Gradovius were members of the writers’ society, which was functioning under the patronage of the Protestant branch of the Radziwiłł family. The society also included Joannes Radvanus (Lith. Jonas Radvanas), Andreas Rymsza (Lith. Andrius Rimša), Andreas Volanus (Lith. Andrius Volanas), Joannes Lituanus Kozakowicz (Lith. Jonas Kazokas Lietuvis), Ioannis Abramowicz (Lith. Jonas Abramavičius) and some other individuals.

Patriotic literature of the 16th century: bloody battles and longing for the glorious past

A recently discovered letter, written in 1578 by Venceslaus Agrippa to Mikołaj Radziwiłł the Red reveals that during the last decades of the 16th century, the literary activity of this society was not a spontaneous phenomenon. Venceslaus Agrippa claimed in this letter that patriotic forces had to be united to regain the statehood lost after the Union of Lublin, liberate the country from the “captivity of Moscow and the oppression of our cousins” (i.e. the Poles). To achieve that, national consciousness had to be awakened. According to Venceslaus Agrippa, the best way in pursuing this goal is to compose a new History of Lithuania from ancient times until the Livonian war, so that all Lithuanians understood that prior to being torn apart by the Polish nobility, Lithuania was strong enough to rebuff Moscow’s attacks’. During the process of writing the history, the motherland’s image, distorted in the old chronicles (them “having been written not by a Lithuanian”), could be corrected.

Most likely, Venceslaus Agrippa had never heard of the Catholic Maciej Stryjkowski, who had just completed his first version of the Chronicles (1577, remaining as a manuscript). It is hard to say whether the son of Michalo Lituanus was referring to a complete and extensive treatise on Lithuanian history or something else. The project devised by Venceslaus Agrippa was entrusted to the writers’ society under the patronage of the Radziwiłł. The literary members of the society contributed to the project as best as they could, composing separate pieces of the history in accordance with their talent and capabilities. Stephan Báthory.

The first to produce his contribution was Franciscus Gradovius.  In 1582, his poem in Latin, entitled Hymn on the March to Moscow (Lat. Hodoeporicon Moschicum), dedicated to Krzysztof Radziwiłł the Thunderbolt and published in Vilnius. The poem is both of eulogical and historiographic character. The author gives a consistent and chronological narration of the Livonian war episodes, highlighting the role of Krzysztof Radziwiłł the Thunderbolt and his son. However, the author’s artistic aspirations are only too obvious: as befits a poem of the Renaissance epoch, the  narrative is stylishly ornamented with antique realities, expressive images of bloody clashes are drawn, the horror of war is highlighted, and a realistic description of the atrocities performed by the insiders is provided.

In the poem Hymn on the March to Moscow, the facts and details are mentioned, which are not to be found in the works on the same topic written by other authors. For example, a description of how after the Battle of Ula, thousands of enemy corpses were thrown into the same grace, having removed from their bodies all the valuable things.

A year later, a Eulogy for Krzysztof Radziwiłł, signed by Helias Pilgrimovius, was published in Latin. Unfortunately, this was almost a work of plagiarism (the approach to copyright back then was different from the one applied today). Helias Pilgrimovius contributed to the project launched by Venceslaus Agrippa at a later time, after the appearance of the poems by Andreas Rymsza and Joannes Radvanus. In 1594, in Jakub Markowitz printing-house, he published a literary work of considerable volume in Polish under the title A Truthful Dialogue of the Lithuanian Nobleman about (…) King Stephanus (…) Livonian war with the Duke of Moscow. Actually, the literary work is arranged not as a dialogue but as a talk about the causes and course of the war, held between three individuals – an official in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania  (Lith. žygūnas), a Czech inn-owner and a nobleman of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania returning home from the Livonian war. The author seems to have pursued two objectives: to compose a versed eulogy to the late King Stefan Báthory and to provide an in-depth description of all the known facts about the Livonian war from the beginning to the end. Despite considerable effort to avoid monotony, the Dialogue is the least artistic realization within Venceslaus Agrippa’s project. This notwithstanding, it should be regarded as a valuable collection of factual material.

One more original piece of artwork is assigned to the authorship of Elias Pilgrimovius. This literary piece under the title of Lover of Homeland to the Senate and the Nation, was written anonymously in Latin and published in 1597. Once again, the poem is arranged as a discourse. However, this time the author chooses to portray a personified “mother Lithuania” who talks to her children – still existing and torn away lands and towns of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (such as Volhynia, the Kiev Voivodeship, Smolensk, Polotsk, Pskov, even Novgorod). All of them are trying to comfort the wronged and weakened “mother”; those torn away from her crave to return to her. This piece of artwork is believed to best reflect the self-identity of a great power and a longing for the Vytautan times, characteristic of the patriotic Lithuanian literature of the late 16th century.

Eglė Patiejūnienė