Ivan Mažuranić was a celebrated Croatian poet, linguist, lawyer, and politician. A commoner of humble origin, his parents farmed their own land on the northern Adriatic coast. There were five sons, three of whom became well-known writers. This excellent student from Novi Vinodolski rose through the ranks to become Chancellor for Croatia at the Habsburg court in Vienna. In 1872, Emperor Franz Josef appointed him ban (viceroy) of the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia. Mažuranić holds a very special place in Croatian cultural history as the first (and last) non-aristocratic ban. His realistic assessment of strengths and weaknesses of Croatia’s position between the hammer of Austrian bureaucracy and the anvil of Hungarian expansionist nationalism served his country well in times of political turmoil. Under his guidance, Croatia transformed from a semi-feudal legal and economic system to a modern civil society similar to those emerging elsewhere in nineteenth century central Europe. However, in protest against Franz Josef’s policy toward Croatia, he resigned this post in 1880. Ten years later, Mažuranić died of a heart attack shortly after the death of his sister-in-law, Ruža Demeter, who raised his children after the death of his wife Aleksandra (Leksa).
On the educational front, he modernized Croatia’s educational system by creating a public school system and reducing the importance of parochial schools. This polyglot’s early education in German, then in Latin at secondary school in Rijeka, may have prompted his becoming fluent in seven other languages, with a smattering of Portuguese and Spanish. He is credited with significantly shaping the Croatian language by co-authoring the German-Illyrian-Croatian Dictionary in 1842. This 40,000-entry dictionary is at the heart of modern Croatian civilization, having codified terms now commonplace in standard Croatian, with examples of the words for bank accounting, rhinoceros, sculptor, ice cream, market economy, high treason, and metropolis.