You may have heard of the Palmwood wreck: a shipwreck from the middle of the seventeenth century, found near the Dutch island of Texel. What is less well known, is that wreck has an exciting link with Poland! In 2014, local enthusiasts began to dive up objects from the wreck, which proved full of seventeenth-century treasures. The most eye-catching example is a silk dress, which survived in remarkably good condition. The cargo also included a kaftan, book covers, jewellery, and many other precious objects. However, the wreck itself has not been recovered, and much of its cargo still lies buried in the seabed near Texel.
Researchers have carefully studied the objects which have been found so far, trying to piece together the history of the ship: where did it come from, where was it going, who did the objects belong to? One interesting theory pertains to Poland. At least one of the book covers recovered from the wreck came from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth: it carries the arms of the Ostrogski family. In the sixteenth century, the Ostrogski’s were a powerful and influential noble family, which owned large estates in Ukraine (the male line ended in 1620). The book in question must have come from their library.
Dutch journalists travelled to Warsaw, where they spoke with Polish historians about the Ostrogski’s and early modern Polish fashion: could the dress and kaftan belong to a family from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, perhaps to descendants of the Ostrogski family? Their answer: it’s possible, since similar eastern-style kaftans were popular with noblemen, while noblewomen preferred western-style dresses. However, since there is no hard proof to support this theory, it is merely conjecture. Still, the book cover carrying the arms of the Ostrogski’s is exciting in itself, since it shows that books from their collection travelled across seventeenth-century Europe, and also reached the Northern Netherlands. Now, the book cover is part of one of the most fascinating maritime treasures ever discovered.
A recent documentary series about the wreck is nominated for the prestigious Nipkowschijf award. Dutch journalists also recorded a podcast about their investigations. See this link for the episode about the Ostrogski’s and Polish fashion.
The image shows the book cover with the arms of the Ostrogski family. The photograph was made by historian dr. Janet Dickinson, who published this article on the various book covers found in the wreck.
*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 45.