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A Polish swindler in the English court

In the early 16th century, Poland and England did not maintain strong diplomatic ties. At that time, very few Western Europeans traveled eastwards to learn about the lands around the Vistula River. The only contacts were those among scholars and royal envoys.

A well-known name in the history of these rare diplomatic missions is that of Stanislas Lasota. His visit to the English court in 1547 was especially memorable, but not for its diplomatic merit. An audacious impostor got wind of this royal mission and decided to act fast...

Florian Susliga was a professional swindler with a lot of charm. Infamous across Europe for his elaborate cons, this Warsaw burgher traveled widely, spoke several languages, had impeccable manners and knew everything about court relations on the Continent. After graduating from the Royal College in Paris, Susliga concentrated on the rather worldly task of accumulating his own wealth. To that end, he used machinations and trickery. His favorite lands were Germany, Spain, Portugal and Italy.

Intelligent and articulate, Susliga gave the impression he was a distinguished nobleman on his European travels. He seemed to know everybody who was in power at that time. He boasted of his connections in royal, military and church circles. He had the gift of gaining confidence wherever he went. Those who trusted him, only to part with their money a short time later, included kings and princes, diplomats and humanists, professors and even personages like the religious reformer, John Calvin, and the founder of the Jesuit Society, Ignatius Loyola!

Florian Susliga came to London in 1547, preceding the Polish envoy Stanislas Lasota by days. The real diplomat was coming to offer the new English king, Edward VI, his condolences after the death of his father, Henry VIII. Lasota also meant to congratulate Edward on his coming to the throne. But Suliga was first. The swindler played the role of the Polish emissary so well that the whole English court believed him unreservedly. When Susliga was brought to the king, he gave a stunning speech.

In return for his services, Susliga received a truly royal gift. King Edward gave the impostor two thousand gold coins. As if that wasn’t enough, the fake envoy managed to borrow another large sum of money from some London merchants, a loan that he promised to repay immediately after returning to Poland, of course.

Before long, the real emissary arrived in London. Stanislas Lasota was received by the king. Understandably, Edward VI decided not to make his mistake public for fear of appearing too gullible in the eyes of the English public. The official version was that he didn’t want to put all Polish people in a bad light because of such a minor incident.

Florian Susliga was finally arrested in 1556 in Italy. His fate is unknown but judging from the number and importance of his victims, the first international Polish criminal was most likely executed.

Aleksandra Sołtan-Lipska


Translated by Jerzy Chyb

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