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Copernicus' Inventory of 1520

Original: Archive of the Warmia Archdiocese, Olsztyn, Dok. Kap., V 9, k. 1-7

In compliance with papal policy, the Varmia Chapter preserved important documents affecting its status and rights. The earliest inventory, consisting of more than thirty documents, was compiled about the middle of the fifteenth century. Then, a decade or so later, the second inventory listed 38 documents, which in the main were different from those in the first inventory. The latter had identified its documents by assigning an Arabic numeral to each of them, but that method was not followed in the second inventory, whose documents were stored in a special wooden box kept in Frombork. The storage plan was changed at the time of the third inventory, which consisted of two sections. The first, comprising 32 documents, was assembled in Frombork on 7 March 1502. Then, by order of the venerable Varmia Chapter on l October 1502 A.D., I, Balthasar Stockfisch, canon and administrator, collected all the aforementioned documents in the Frombork Cathedral, and took them to Olsztyn, and deposited them in the treasury of the castle. Among them were the following twenty1 documents, making a total of 52. Frombork was dangerously near the border with the Chapter's hostile neighbor, the Order of Teutonic Knights. The wisdom of the transfer from Frombork to the Chapter's most heavily fortified castle in Olsztyn was later confirmed in the war of 1520-1521, when Frombork was overrun whereas Olsztyn remained intact.

The fourth inventory begins with a preamble explaining that it was drawn up in the course of the year 1508 by me, George of De1au, cantor and canon of Varmia, and administrator... in the sixth and last year of my office2.

Delau arranged the "rights and other documents in alphabetic order." The number of entries having risen to 144, the Chapter acquired for its treasury in Olsztyn Castle a chest of drawers, each of which was designated by a letter of the alphabet. The drawers were protected by two doors which were hinged at the sides and opened outward from the center. The Olsztyn chest has not been preserved. But a similar (albeit somewhat larger) chest survives to this very day in Wrocław. Instead of assigning an individual designation to each document, as had been done previously, Delau grouped related documents in a drawer, and listed them in his inventory under the letter of that drawer.

The next administrator served only one year, and did not compile a new inventory. Neither did his successor, Tiedemann Giese (1509-1515), who did, however, add some entries to the 1508 inventory, and also some notes. His successor, like his predecessor, served only one year, and was followed by Copernicus. But in his first term as administrator (1516-1519) Copernicus was occupied with more pressing problems than the inventory. His successor, who served only one year, likewise treated the inventory with benign neglect. After Copernicus had begun his second term as administrator on 11 November 1520, however, he compiled the Chapter's fifth inventory in the next few weeks, since he dated the document 1520. The war against the Teutonic Knights was then in full swing, preventing Copernicus from leaving Olsztyn, as he had frequently in pursuance of his duties during his first term as administrator. But in November-December 1520 an up-to-date inventory was urgently needed in case the Knights penetrated Olsztyn's defenses. In April 1521 an armistice went into effect, and Giese replaced Copernicus as administrator after 31 May 1521, when Copernicus was reassigned.

In the 1520 inventory Copernicus followed Delau's procedure in the 1508 inventory by refraining from assigning an individual number to each document. Instead, he placed related documents in the same drawer. Each drawer was designated by a letter of the alphabet, beginning with A and ending with R. He used 17 drawers in all, since in those days J was not recognized as a letter independent of I but rather as its consonantal variant.

The total number of entries under all the letters from A to R is 161. This total indicates the number of entries in the inventory, not the number of documents in the drawers. Thus, entry C 3 mentions "Seven bulls of indulgences," and G 14 refers to "Various wills." Hence, the number of documents inventoried exceeds 161. Although Copernicus did not indicate the general subject of the documents placed in any one drawer, he seems to have followed a plan, which will be indicated below in square brackets following the letter of the drawer. In three cases, at first glance Copernicus classified a particular document as belonging in a certain drawer, but on second thought he changed its classification. For instance, he originally placed a letter from the king of France after no. 9 under B, with communications from other potentates concerning the boundaries of the diocese of Varmia. But then he rea1ized that the king's letter dealt with a gift, and therefore more properly belonged under C, where it is listed as no. 6. By the same token he moved the entry following no. 7 under P, whose contents are mainly concerned with vicariates, to Q 6, where its subject matter (an annual rent) links it with Q 4. Less clear is his reason for shifting the entry originally listed after no. 14 under E to F l.

After writing the first eight entries under F, Copernicus deleted all this material by drawing three parallel vertical lines through it. Leaving the rest of this column blank, he rewrote the deleted entries, with the addition of a ninth entry, under F on a second sheet. He shifted to another sheet at this point in order to preserve the alphabetical order of his inventory. He wrote it on paper that was approximately three times as long as it was wide Folding a sheet in half vertically, and then in half again, he obtained long, narrow columns. On the recto of the first column he placed only the title:

Inventory of the Documents and Legal Papers in the Treasury of the Castle in Olsztyn 1520 A.D.

On the verso of the first column he put sections A and B, with sections C and D on the recto of the second column, and E on its verso. Below E, his longest section, he wrote the capital letter F, which he deleted when he realized that there was not enough space to accommodate the whole of section F on the verso of column 2. He therefore turned to the recto of column 3, and under F he wrote the first eight entries. But then he became aware that when he inserted the needed second sheet, section F would be hopelessly out of alphabetic order. Hence, folding the second sheet in the same way as the first, but cutting it once down the middle, he placed the second sheet inside the first and sewed them together. As a result, he could now write sections F and G in the proper alphabetic order on the recto of the first column of the inside sheet. Proceeding in this way, he wrote the rest of his inventory on the inside sheet, with his last two sections, Q and R, appearing on the recto of its fourth column. Thus he had no need for the verso of the fourth column of the inside sheet, and for the last two columns of the outside sheet.

vTo the left of most of the 161 entries, there is a dot. This may signify that the presence of the document (or documents) in the drawer was verified. In seven cases a horizontal stroke stands to the left of the entry3. In two of these cases4] there is also a curlicue, which appears by itself in 16 other cases5. What these signs mean separate1y and together has not yet been clarified.

vAlthough Copernicus' inventory is not yet completely understood in every detail, it has already thrown welcome added light on his second term as administrator of his Chapter as well as on the Chapter's earlier history.

From Edward Rosen's Introduction published in: Nicholas Copernicus Minor Works (Warsaw-Cracow, 1985).

1 Mikołaja Kopernika lokacje łanów opuszczonych, ed. Marian Biskup (Olsztyn, 1970), p. 33, 28-29

Leopold Prowe, Nicolaus Coppernicus (Berlin, 1883), vol. I, part II, 82, n.

2 Jan Obłąk, Mikołaja Kopernika inwentarz dokumentów w skarbcu na zamku w Olsztynie, "Studia Warmińskie", 1972, 9, p. 76.

3 H 7, 8; I 6; N 6, 7; O 5; R 2.

4 H 8, I 6.

5 D 12; G 8, 13, 14; H 6; K 3. 9, 10; L 11; M 4, 5, 6; N 4, 5, 8; O 10.

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