Chancellor (Poland)

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Chancellor of Poland
Coat of arms of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.svg
AppointerMonarch of Poland
Polish Parliament (Sejm)
Formation12th century
First holderJan?
Final holderJacek Małachowski (officially)
Antoni Sułkowski

Chancellor of Poland (Polish: Kanclerz - Polish pronunciation: [ˈkant͡slɛʂ], from Latin: cancellarius) was one of the highest officials in the historic Poland. This office functioned from the early Polish kingdom of the 12th century until the end of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795. A respective office also existed in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania since the 16th century. Today the office of the chancellor has been replaced by that of the Prime Minister.

Chancellors' powers rose together with the increasing importance of written documents. In the 14th century the office of Chancellor of Kraków (Polish: Kanclerz krakowski) evolved into the Chancellor of the Crown (Polish: Kanclerz koronny) and from that period the chancellor powers were greatly increased, as they became responsible for the foreign policy of the entire Kingdom (later, the Commonwealth). The Chancellor was also supposed to ensure the legality of monarch's actions, especially whether or not they could be considered illegal in the context of pacta conventa (an early set of documents containing important laws, in some aspects resembling today's constitutions). Finally, the Chancellor was also responsible for his office, the chancellery (Polish: kancelaria). A 16th-century Polish lawyer, Jakub Przybylski, described the Chancellor as the king's hand, eye and ear, translator of his thoughts and will.

From 15th century onward there were two separate Chancellor offices, neither of them subordinate to the other: Great Chancellor (Polish: Kanclerz wielki) and Vice-Chancellor (Polish: Podkanclerzy). In the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, there were four Chancellors: Great Chancellor of the Crown (Polish: Kanclerz wielki koronny), Great Chancellor of Lithuania (Polish: Kanclerz wielki litewski), Vice-Chancellor of the Crown (Polish: Podkanclerzy koronny), and Vice-Chancellor of Lithuania (Polish: Podkanclerzy litewski).


During the times of fragmentation of Poland, each Polish prince had his own chancellor, but with the reunification of Poland, the office of Chancellor of Kraków (contemporary capital of the Kingdom of Poland) became dominant and other, local chancellors disappeared by the early 15th century. Also in the 15th century, the Chancellor's office was split into that of the Great Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor. The Vice-Chancellor was, however, not a subordinate of the Chancellor and his independence was specifically confirmed by the laws passed during the reign of king Alexander Jagiellon. The Sejm of 1504 confirmed the Chancellor's office as well as its powers and responsibilities for the first time, specifically stating that one person cannot hold both Chancellors' offices, and established the Grand Lithuanian Chancellor's office. The Lithuanian Vice-Chancellor was created later, in the mid-16th century

After the Union of Lublin in 1569 there were four Chancellors (one Grand Chancellor and one Vice-Chancellor for Crown, and another pair for Lithuania).

At first, the Chancellor's office was always given to an ecclesiastic person. From 1507, Sigismund I the Old decided that the title of Great Crown Chancellor would be rotated between secular and ecclesiastic nobles, and at least one Chancellor (both in the Great and Deputy pair and in the Crown and Lithuanian one after the Union of Lublin) was required to be a secular person.

Power and responsibilities[edit]

Jan Zamoyski (1542–1605), chancellor and friend of king Stefan Batory
Hugo Kołłątaj (1750–1812), Vice-Chancellor, and co-author of the Constitution of 3 May 1791

Chancellors, as most of the other offices in Poland and later, the Commonwealth, were nominated to the office for life by the King during the Sejm (Parliament) session. From the 15th and 16th centuries, after the reforms of Alexander, Sigismund I and the Union of Lublin, the power and importance of the Chancellor's office was stabilised, as a senatorial office lesser than that of the hetmans (military commanders who had, however, no right to vote in the Senat) and the Grand Marshals, but more important than that of the Grand Treasurers, Court Marshal and others.

By custom, the Greater Chancellor of the Crown directed the Commonwealth foreign policies towards the west – Western Europe and south – Ottoman Empire, while the Greater Chancellor of Lithuania the policies towards the east – Muscovy (later, the Russian Empire).

The Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor (who was not a direct subordinate of the chancellor) were responsible for the work of their chancelleries, respectively Greater and Minor. They were supposed to be in constant contact and develop common policies, since their powers were equal. They were specifically forbidden from issuing illegal and contradictory documents, and could judge any documents contrary to the existing law 'irrelevant and without power'. In theory, the power of the Chancellors were equal. In practice, much depended on their personalities and political influence. Conflicts between Chancellors, while rare, when it occurred, could paralyse the entire country. This was the case during the conflict between Krzesław z Kurozwęk and Maciej Drzewicki between 1501 and 1503.

Among their other responsibilities were the matters of foreign policy (correspondence with other countries) and to a smaller extent, internal affairs, as they had also judiciary powers, presiding over the 'assessors' courts' (Polish: Asesoria), that were the highest appeal courts for people subjected to crown laws (i.e. not subjected to ecclesiastic or magnates courts, but when a chancellor was an ecclesiastic person, he could judge the priests of the king's court). They could judge in various cases, with the exception of when the sides had already reached a compromise or in cases of territorial disputes.

The Chancellors' offices were the Chancelleries (respectively Crown and Lithuanian, Greater and Minor ones). Chancelleries were staffed with officials known as the chancellists (Polish: kancelista): the regent (regent kancelarii), secretaries (sekretarz in Crown)1, writers (pisarz in Lithuania, equivalent to the secretary in Crown), archivists (Polish: archiwista), metricants (Polish: metrykant) and other clerks. The Regent divided the work between the clerks. 2 secretaries (one responsible for private correspondence, the second for official) presented prepared letters to the king for his signature. Writers designed the letters; clerks readied the final drafts. No copies were made, but were instead entered in the archives – books called Metrics (Polish: Metryki), who were taken care of by the two metricans (respectively 2 in Poland and 2 in Lithuania). The Metrican of the Great Chancellor was called the Great Metrican, one serving the Vice-Chancellor was a Minor Metrican. The Chancellery staff had no wages, just like the Chancellors, but in the middle of each reception room was the box into which all clients were supposed to deposit a varying amount of money, and nobody who planned on coming back could afford to be mean. Of much smaller importance were the local, provincial chancelleries, which mostly served as archives for copies of various documents.

Besides their official functions, the royal chancelleries functioned as a kind of semi-official, very prestigious schools. The officials of the chancelleries, who often started their work after their studies, after several years of work, often went forward in the administrative hierarchy, often reaching important posts of bishops or other ecclesiastic or secular offices. Many enlightened chancellors did not restrict the positions in their staff to nobility (szlachta), and often sponsored intelligent applicants from other social classes, not only by hiring them to the chancellery but by paying for their studies at universities in Poland and abroad. Among the most esteemed 'graduates' of chancelleries were Jan Długosz, Martin Kromer and Jan Zamoyski.

The Chancellor often gave speeches representing the royal will. The symbol of their office was the seal, which was used to seal all documents passing through his office. He also sealed documents signed by the monarch and could refuse to seal a document he considered illegal or damaging to the country (such documents had no power without his seal). When the king died, the seal was destroyed during funeral and a new one given to him by the succeeding king. The seal's importance gave a rise to another name for the Chancellor – the sealer (Polish pieczętarz). Due to their important power the Chancellors were considered the guardians of the king and country, making sure a king's folly would not endanger the country by forcing it into an unnecessary war (among the wars prevented by the chancellors was a great crusade against the Ottoman Empire planned by King Władysław IV in the 1630s).

The chancellor's powers combined with the fact that wars required funds which were given by the Senat. The nobles (the szlachta) who controlled the Senate were usually unwilling to increase taxes and levied upon them, which meant that Poland very rarely declared wars on its own. Usually it was attacked by its neighbors, and while it repelled all attacks till the end of the 18th century, it almost never utilised any of its victories. The army was undermanned and under equipped (since usually any suggestion of bigger military budget when enemy was not on the doorstep was labeled as warmongering) and lands of Rzeczpospolita were constantly ravaged by new invasions, crippling its economy.

Other chancellors[edit]

There were many less important chancellors in the country. There was the Chancellor of the Queen. He had much less power than other (King's) Chancellors, he guarded the queen's seal and was the second most important official of her court, after her Court Marshall. He had no right to a seat in the Senate. Even less important were the chancellors of crown princes and princesses, first introduced around the reign of Sigismund I. Then there was the chancellor of the most important of bishops, Primate of Poland, Archbishop of Gniezno. Finally some proud magnates had officials who titled themselves chancellors.

List of chancellors[edit]

  • Kanclerz – Chancellor – various local chancellors, until late 14/early 15th century
  • Kanclerz krakowski – Chancellor of Kraków – until the 14th century, when he superseded all other Polish local chancellors and transformed into
  • Kanclerz koronny – Chancellor of the Crown – from the 14th century until 1569. Sometimes also called Kanclerz Królestwa Polskiego – Chancellor of the Polish Kingdom'
  • Kanclerz wielki koronny – Great Chancellor of the Crown – from 1659 until 1795 (end of Commonwealth)
  • Kanclerz wielki litewski – Great Chancellor of Lithuania – as above
  • Podkanclerzy koronny – Vice-Chancellor of the Crown – as above
  • Podkanclerzy litewski – Vice-Chancellor of Lithuania – as above

Great Chancellors of Poland[edit]

Portrait Name Lifespan Term began Term ended
Sin foto.svg Jan ? 1107 1112
Sin foto.svg Michał Awdaniec ? 1112 1113
Sin foto.svg Goswin ? 1113 1138
Sin foto.svg Lupus ? 1138 1145
Sin foto.svg Pean died in 1152 1145 1152
Sin foto.svg Cherubin died in 1180 1152 1172
Sin foto.svg Klemens ? 1172 1173
Sin foto.svg Stefan ? 1173 1206
Iwo Odrowąż, Bishop of Kraków.PNG Iwo Odrowąż died 21 August 1229 1206 1208
Sin foto.svg Wincenty z Niałka died in 1232 1208 1211
Sin foto.svg Jarost ? 1211 1212
Sin foto.svg Marcin ? 1212 1213
Sin foto.svg Nanker died in 1250 1213 1241
Sin foto.svg Wawrzęta Gutowski ? 1241 1243
Sin foto.svg Rambold ? 1243 1262
Paweł z Przemankowa.JPG Paweł z Przemankowa died on 29 November 1292 1262 1266
Sin foto.svg Stanisław z Krakowa ? 1266 1270
Sin foto.svg Prokop died in 1295 1270 1280
Andrzej Zaremba.JPG Andrzej Zaremba died in 1318 1280 1290
Sin foto.svg Wincenty ? 1290 1296
Sin foto.svg Jan died on 26 August 1296 1296 1296
Sin foto.svg Piotr Angeli ? 1296 1306
Sin foto.svg Franciszek z Krakowa ? 1306 1320
Sin foto.svg Zbigniew z Szczyrzyca ? 1320 1356
Janusz Suchywilk.PNG Janusz Suchywilk 1310-5 April 1382 1357 1373
POL COA Poraj.svg Zawisza Kurozwęcki died on 12 January 1382 1373 1379
POL COA Korab.svg Jan Radlica died on 12 January 1392 1380 1386
Sin foto.svg Mikołaj Zaklika died in 1408 1386 1404
Mikołaj Kurowski 1.PNG Mikołaj Kurowski 1355-1411 1404 1411
Wojciech Jastrzębiec.PNG Wojciech Jastrzębiec 1362-1436 1411 1423
POL COA Starykoń.svg Jan Szafraniec 1363-28 July 1433 1423 1433
POL COA Pobog.svg Jan Taszka Koniecpolski died on 26 March 1455 1433 or 1434 1454
Jan Gruszczyński.PNG Jan Gruszczyński 1405-8 October 1473 1454 1469
POL COA Odrowąż.svg Jakub Dembiński 1427-15 January 1490 1469 1473
POL COA Łodzia.svg Uriel Górka 1435-21 January 1498 1473 1479
POL COA Poraj.svg Stanisław Kurozwęcki 1440-1482 1479 1482
POL COA Poraj.svg Krzesław Kurozwęcki 1440-1503 1483 1503
Jan Łaski primate of Poland.PNG Jan Łaski 1456-19 May 1531 1503 1510
Maciej Drzewiecki Primate of Poland.PNG Maciej Drzewicki 22 February 1467 – 22 August 1535 1510 1513
Szydlowiecki przywilej opat.jpg Krzysztof Szydłowiecki 1467-1532 1513 or 1515 1532
Jan Chojeński.jpg Jan Chojeński 17 March 1486 – 11 March 1538 1532 1538
Herb Łabędź 1.svg Paweł Dunin-Wolski 1487-1546 1539 1540
POL COA Doliwa.svg Tomasz Sobocki 1508-1547 1540 1541
POL Samuel Maciejowski.jpg Samuel Maciejowski 15 January 1499 – 26 October 1550 1541 1550
Sin foto.svg Jan Ocieski 1501-12 May 1563 1550 or 1552 1563
POL COA Rawicz.svg Walenty Dembiński died in 1585 1564 1576
Piotr Dunin-Wolski.PNG Piotr Dunin-Wolski 1531-1590 1576 1578
Jan Zamoyski.PNG Jan Zamoyski 19 March 1542 – 3 June 1605 1578 1605
Sin foto.svg Maciej Pstrokoński 1553-1609 1606 1609
Wawrzyniec Gembicki Primate of Poland.PNG Wawrzyniec Gembicki 5 August 1559 – 10 February 1624 1609 1613
Drobin 07 (2009).jpg Feliks Kryski 1562-1618 1613 1618
Stanisław Żółkiewski 11.PNG Stanisław Żółkiewski 1547-7 October 1620 1618 1620
POL COA Grabie.svg Andrzej Lipski 1572-4 September 1631 1620 1623
Wacław Leszczyński kanclerz.PNG Wacław Leszczyński 1576-17 May 1628 1625 1628
Jakub Zadzik.JPG Jakub Zadzik 1582 – 17 March 1642 1628 1635
Tomasz Zamoyski.PNG Tomasz Zamoyski 1594–7 January 1638 1635 1635
PGembicki.JPG Piotr Gembicki 10 October 1585 – 14 July 1657 1635 1643
Strobel Jerzy Ossoliński.jpg Jerzy Ossoliński 15 December 1595 – 9 August 1650 1643 1650
Andrzej Leszczyński 1.PNG Andrzej Leszczyński 1608-1658 1650 1652
Sin foto.svg Stefan Koryciński 1617-4 July 1658 1652 1658
Mikołaj Jan Prażmowski.PNG Mikołaj Prażmowski 1617-15 April 1673 1658 1666
Sin foto.svg Jan Leszczyński 1603-1678 1666 1678
Johannes Stephan Wydzga, polsk biskop (1659-79), målad 1688-1703 - Skoklosters slott - 98171 (cropped).tif Jan Stefan Wydżga 1610-6 September 1685 1678 1678
Jan Wielopolski (1630-1688).jpg Jan Wielopolski 1630-15 February 1688 1678 1688
Jerzy Albrecht Denhoff.JPG Jerzy Albrecht Denhoff 1640-1702 1688 1702
Topor arms.png Karol Tarło 1639-1702 1702 1702
Andrzej Chryzostom Załuski.PNG Andrzej Chryzostom Załuski 1650-12 May 1711 1702 1706
Jan Stanisław Jabłonowski.png Jan Stanisław Jabłonowski 1669-28 April 1731 1706 1709
Jan Sebastian Szembek.PNG Jan Szembek died on 9 April 1731 1712 1731
Andrzej Stanisław Załuski.PNG Andrzej Stanisław Załuski 2 December 1695 – 16 December 1758 1735 1746
Sin foto.svg Jan Małachowski 26 January 1698 – 25 June 1762 1746 1762
Andrzej Hieronim Zamoyski.PNG Andrzej Zamoyski 12 February 1716 – 10 February 1792 1764 1767
Andrzej Mikołaj Młodziejowski.PNG Andrzej Młodziejowski 1717-1780 1767 1780
Jan Andrzej Borch.PNG Jan Andrzej Borch 1715-1780 1780 1780
Antoni Okęcki.PNG Antoni Onufry Okęcki 13 June 1729 – 15 June 1793 1780 1786
Jacek Małachowski.JPG Jacek Małachowski 25 August 1737 – 27 March 1821 1786 1793
POL COA Sułkowski.svg Antoni Sułkowski 11 June 1735 – 16 April 1796 1793 1795

See also[edit]


  1. Secretaries in Crown and writers in Lithuania were often just an honorary title given to people for their service to the state in the areas of administration and such. The normal secretaries should not be confused with the Great Secretaries, who served as Chancellors when the Chancellors were absent, but had no right to vote in the Senat.