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  • Weihnachten im Foyer der Neuen Uni am Sanderring. Bild: Robert Emmerich
University Archives

A student as principal

How a 13-year-old became Rector Magnificus

Part 3 of 7

Prince bishops and the high clergy of Würzburg dominated among the rectors of the first centuries. Barely 20 years after the reopening, however, there was the spectacular election of a 13-year-old student to head the university, who would later make headlines throughout Europe and change the history of Russia.

 

Especially many Polish students visit Würzburg

After its reopening, Würzburg University soon developed international appeal. Starting in 1593, a larger group of Polish students enrolled each semester, accounting for almost 7% of new enrollments in the years 1593-1619. However, the actual number of Polish students was higher. In particular, members of the high nobility demonstrably did not enroll in the matriculation register, as they did not need the privilege and special protection of university membership due to their high status.

The only student in the principal's chair

Even in the case of the rector elected in 1601, "Nicolaus de Magna Concice Mnischek Palatinides Sendomiriensis", the only student in the rector's office, enrollment took place only on the day of his election, since enrollment was an unavoidable requirement for the office.

Political unrest around the Russian tsar family

The Polish student rector, who was 13 or 14 years old when he was elected, was Mikołaj Mniszech, the brother of the later Russian Tsarina Marina. Mikołaj's father, the voivode* of Sandomierz, during the Russian Civil War after the death of Ivan the Terrible, with the support of numerous Polish nobles, twice operated the coronation of an alleged heir to the throne married to his daughter ("false Dimitris") as tsar. In this "time of turmoil" the conquest of Moscow succeeded in 1605, some time later the fortunes of war changed and the Mniszech family was imprisoned for several years. Once again the Mniszechs were able to turn fortunes in their favor and bring large parts of Russia under their control. In the end, however, the Romanovs emerged victorious from the dispute over the throne. Mikołaj Mniszech, his brother Zygmunt, who had also studied in Würzburg, as well as his father and sister the tsarina Marina with her son were killed in these disputes in 1613/14.

By electing a Polish magnate's son as rector, the university acknowledged the special importance of Polish students and at the same time created an increased incentive to study in Würzburg. In fact, the attendance of Polish students increased in the following years. However, the Thirty Years' War and Poland's wars with Sweden and Russia ended this phase, and Mniszech remained a curious exception as the only student to hold the office of university rector in Würzburg.

* The term "voivode" generally referred to an army commander and was used in particular for a Slavic noble rank below a prince (knjaz) or for a military governor, comparable to the title of a Germanic duke. On the military border with the Ottoman Empire, the voivode was the commander of a 50-man detachment of military conscripts recruited from the border population. Such a unit was called a "voivode".