E. Ann Matter

title.none: Wos, Alessandro di Massovia

identifier.other: baj9928.9409.001 94.09.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: E. Ann Matter, University of Pennsylvania

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1994

identifier.citation: Wos, Jan Wladyslaw. Alessandro di Masovia: Vescovo-Principe di Trento (1423-1444). Pisa: Giardini Editori, 1994. Pp. 172. Lit. 40,000.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 94.09.01

Wos, Jan Wladyslaw. Alessandro di Masovia: Vescovo-Principe di Trento (1423-1444). Pisa: Giardini Editori, 1994. Pp. 172. Lit. 40,000.

Reviewed by:

E. Ann Matter
University of Pennsylvania

A senior member of the Department of History at the University of Trent, Jan Wladyslaw Wos is one of a small number of scholars who has the language skills for archival research in libraries in both the eastern and the western Europe. He is has published widely on the history of Poland (In finibus Christianitatis, Florence: Città di Vita, 1988) and on the eastern European influence on medieval and renaissance Italian history (Polacchi à Firenze, Trent: 1987). Wos's latest book, a study of a Polish aristocrat who ruled as the Vescovo-Principe of Trent in the early fifteenth century, is a natural outgrowth of these interests and talents.

Alexander of Masovia was born in 1400 in Plock, son of Ziemowit IV, Duke of Masovia. Ziemowit was of the line of the royal Polish house of the Piast; his wife, Alexandra, was the sister of Ladislav II, King of Poland. Alexander spent much of his boyhood at the court of his uncle the king. By the age of fourteen, when Alexander received his first benefice in the city of Gniez, it was clear that he was destined for an episcopacy. In 1417, Alexander was enrolled in the University of Cracow. He earned no degree at this university , but was elected in 1422 as its Rector. He was twenty-two years old. The next year, 1423, Pope Martin V appointed Alexander of Masovia Bishop of Trent, a position which had for several hundred years carried with it the title of "Prince-Bishop" and a goodly amount of secular power.

In the 21 years Alexander remained officially in this post (1423-1444) he centralized, expanded, and abused the power of the Vescovo Principe as had never been done before. He won a series of standoffs with the Count of the Tirol, Frederick IV Tascavuota, about their respective boundaries of power. He had lively and heated exchanges with two of the greatest ecclesiastical powers of fifteenth-century Italy, the Franciscan preacher Giovanni da Capistrano, and the noted humanist Enea Silvio Piccolomini. Piccolomini was the secretary of the Council of Basil, which Alexander attended sporadically during the 1430's, and after Alexander's death, was elected to the papacy, reigning from 1458-1464 as Pope Pius II. But none of his encounters with these noted figures of his day made much of a difference to the way Alexander of Masovia related to his episcopal post. It took an uprising of the citizens of Trent to do that.

Wos dedicates an entire chapter to the formal Act of Accusation drawn up against Alexander by the citizens of Trent, a document dated May 15, 1436. There are twenty-three points of accusation against the bishop; they include multiple examples of every one of the deadly sins, as well as many cultural offenses. Alexander did not respect the customs of the citizens of Trent. He placed Poles in all of the positions of power and influence in the city. He did not punish any crimes committed by his fellow Poles. He raised the percentage of interest that could be charged by the Jewish moneylenders, reserving a part to himself. He lived in open concubinage in the Castello del Buonconsiglio. He caused the death of at least 500 men of Trent in his futile wars against the Duchy of Milan, the Republic of Venice, and the Count of the Tirol. He tortured a certain rich man named Giustiniano until the poor man committed suicide, at which point the bishop appropriated his worldly goods. He swindled others in less colorful ways. He ran games of chance, from which he profited greatly. Perhaps the most outrageous accusation is the sixth, which describes how Alexander victimized a man and woman passing through Trent from an unspecified northern city, on pilgrimage to Rome. Hearing of the beauty of the woman, Alexander had her brought to the castle and the husband thrown in prison. When the citizens of Trent prevailed upon him to release the man, Alexander nevertheless kept all of his worldly goods, and forced him to return home for written proof of his marriage before he would allow the wife to leave with her husband. In short, Alexander of Masovia was a textbook example of a corrupt Renaissance prince of the church.

These complaints were presented to Frederick IV Tascavuota, Count of the Tirol, while Alexander was in Basel at the Council. The citizens of Trent begged the count not to let Alexander return to his see, something the count was unable to do. But the formal complaint made the situation in Trent somewhat unpleasant for Alexander; he returned to Trent only briefly. Soon, with the patronage of his nephew, Emperor Frederick III, son of his mother's sister Cymbarka, Alexander arranged for a position as a canon in the Cathedral of Saint Stephen in Vienna. Alexander of Masovia died in Vienna in 1444, at the age of forty-four. He is buried in the Cathedral of St. Stephen. At the time of his death, he was still the titular Vescovo Principe of Trent.

As Wos points out in his conclusion, Alexander of Masovia was not a completely unusual bishop of the fifteenth century, at least in the pattern of his ecclesiastical career. This detailed portrait of his abuses helps remind medievalists of the real need for the reforms preached over the next century on both the Catholic and the Protestant sides. The documents appended at the end of the book show the terrifying efficiency with which the world of Alexander of Masovia colluded with his rise to ecclesiastical power. This book will be of interest to all students of the hierarchical Church on the eve of the reformations of the sixteenth century.