BOHEMIA IN THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY
With the violent death of the youthful King Wenceslas III on 4 August 1306, the ancient dynastic line of the Premyslids became extinct; and the kingdom of Bohemia, which had flourished so splendidly under the last kings of the Premyslid line, was subjected to a severe test. From the foundation of the Bohemian State the Bohemians had chosen their ruler only from the Premyslid family, and from the end of the twelfth century there was no further need for such elections, because the throne came to be occupied always by the eldest, and as a rule the only, son of the previous ruler. Now there was no male Premyslid but only a few princesses of the Premyslid line. These laid claim to a privilege alleged to have been granted by a German king, who was said to have recognised the right of the female descendants of the family of Premysl to the Bohemian throne, but this charter was not regarded as valid. On the other hand, it was certain that, according to the Golden Bull of the Emperor Frederick II (1212), the Bohemians had the right to elect their king freely and that the function of the Emperor was merely to ratify the election by conferring the insignia of royal power. By making use of this right, the Bohemians could call to the throne at least the husband or the betrothed of one of the Premyslid princesses. As a matter of fact the majority of the Bohemian nobility was in favour of Henry of Carinthia, the husband of the eldest daughter of King Wenceslas II.
But by means of the proclamation that Bohemia was a vacant fief of the Empire, and with the help of gifts and promises, entreaties and threats, the German King Albert of Habsburg succeeded at last in causing the majority of the Bohemian nobles, in October 1306, to elect as their king his eldest son Rudolf. Thus the Bohemian throne was occupied for the first time by a member of the family whose lasting rule in Bohemia was not established until 200 years later. And perhaps the Habsburg dynasty might have been established in Bohemia even then on a permanent basis, if it had not been for the sudden death of the young king, who died on an expedition against some of the nobles in opposition to him, in July 1307, not quite nine months after his election.
According to the agreement made by King Albert with the Bohemian nobles, Rudolf’s successor in Bohemia was to have been his younger brother, Frederick the Handsome. But only part of the nobility were willing to accept him. The majority elected as king Duke Henry of Carinthia (1307-10). The King of the Romans, Albert, indeed did not recognise him, for he insisted on the right of his own sons to the throne of Bohemia, but when in the spring of the year 1308 he was murdered, his son Frederick the Handsome, by friendly agreement with Henry of Carinthia, renounced in return for a large sum of money all his rights to the Bohemian crown. Henry, however, did not prove a success in Bohemia and soon lost the favour of the Bohemians. The serious increase in disorder and the conflicts between the Bohemian nobles and the wealthy German burghers undermined all his prestige. Thus there arose in Bohemia the idea of getting rid of Henry of Carinthia with the help of the new King of the Romans, Henry VII, and of inviting to the Bohemian throne a member of his family if the latter took as his wife Elizabeth, the only unmarried daughter of King Wenceslas II. After some hesitation King Henry VII accepted this plan and agreed that his son John, at that time a boy of scarcely fourteen years of age, should become the husband of Elizabeth and ascend the throne of Bohemia. In August 1310 John was married to Princess Elizabeth, and his father granted him the kingdom of Bohemia in fief. Then, driving out Henry of Carinthia from Bohemia with armed force, John seized possession of the government before the end of the year 1310, and his power was soon recognised throughout the country.
The accession of John of Luxemburg (1310-46) meant that the Bohemian throne was now occupied by a new royal dynasty, in whose hands the Bohemian crown remained for more than a century. The election of Henry, John’s father, as King of the Romans had added considerable power and prestige to the Luxemburg family, and it was to be expected that the kingdom of Bohemia also would derive advantage from this fact. But Henry VII died in the summer of the year 1313 in Italy, where he was seeking to enforce his imperial rights, and thus the young King of Bohemia was suddenly deprived of the powerful support provided by his father’s personality and particularly by his rank as Emperor. He attempted, indeed, after his father’s death, to gain the German crown, but when the attempt failed, mainly on account of the influence of the Habsburgs, he satisfied himself with supporting the efforts of Lewis of Bavaria to secure the crown against the Habsburg candidate, Frederick the Handsome.
In Bohemia the young and inexperienced King John met with great difficulties from the beginning. When accepting John as king, the Bohemian nobility extracted from him some very onerous promises. It obtained substantial privileges and concessions as to military service and the payment of taxes, and also a considerable restriction of the royal power in the conferring of territorial administrative functions, which in the future were to be given only to men born within the country. Nevertheless, after his arrival in Bohemia, King John was surrounded by the German advisers of his father, and in the government, he leaned chiefly on them, to the great dissatisfaction of the Bohemian nobility. But at last, in 1315, King John was obliged to dismiss all the foreign nobles from his court and to replace them by Bohemian lords. Of the latter, Henry of Lipa, to whom the king entrusted the administration of the royal revenue, in particular gained great power. Owing to the activities of his opponents, among whom was Queen Elizabeth herself, he was for a time deprived of this power and even thrown into prison by order of the king. When he was released from his imprisonment, the hostility between his supporters and those of Queen Elizabeth continued, and culminated in armed encounters and mutual pillaging. Placing himself on the side of Queen Elizabeth, King John made use, in the autumn of 1317, of troops sent to his assistance by the German King Lewis. But he met with the concerted resistance of the entire nobility and was compelled to give way. In the spring of 1318 peace was restored between the king and the Bohemian nobility. The nobles returned to their allegiance when the king promised them that he would send the German mercenaries out of the country, that he would never confer on foreigners any official positions in the country, and that he would govern only with the assistance of a council composed of men born within the country. Through this settlement the Bohemian throne was preserved for the Luxemburg family, which the Bohemian nobility was already beginning to oppose by seeking an alliance with the Habsburgs; at the same time the administration of the country was put entirely into the hands of the Bohemian lords. The deciding power in the kingdom was again acquired by Henry of Lipa, under whose influence the king himself fell so completely that he believed his assertions that Queen Elizabeth was endeavouring to deprive him of the throne and to seize possession of the government as the guardian of their three-year-old son Wenceslas, who later became Charles IV. At the beginning of the year 1319 he separated, by violent means, the mother from the child, and ordered her to be guarded as a prisoner for a few weeks in the fortress of Loket (Elbogen).
But towards the end of that year he decided to leave the country, where his inconstant character, delighting in deeds of knightly prowess, did not find sufficient satisfaction. Entrusting the administration of the country to Henry of Lipa, who in the meantime had been raised to the rank of senior marshal, he crossed the frontier, never again to return to his own kingdom except for short visits. His subsequent restless and mostly magnificent activity is only to a small extent connected with the internal history of Bohemia. Leaving his kingdom entirely in the hands of the Bohemian nobles, with whom up to the year 1320 he had struggled to maintain his rights as monarch, he henceforth regarded it mainly as an important source of revenue. In this way peace returned to the country. The conflicts between the king and the nobility ceased, and the attempts to bring about a change of ruler came to an end. In time the Bohemian nobility even came to feel pride in the knightly fame of John and did not hesitate to take part in his adventurous expeditions. But this reconciliation was effected only because John relinquished the actual government in favour of a few noble families. These, of course, profited by this circumstance to consolidate their class privileges and to enrich themselves at the expense of the power, rights, and property of the king. Thus John’s reign was a period of great decline of the royal power within the county, and also a period of the stabilisation and increase of the class privileges of the Bohemian nobility.
To the political disputes were added, in the very first years of John’s reign, conflicts in the sphere of Church affairs. About the year 1310 there began in the neighbouring duchy of Austria a great persecution of Waldensian heretics, and soon afterwards it was ascertained that there were heretics also in Bohemia. In the year 1315 fourteen heretics, mostly Waldensians, were burnt in Prague. But certainly, there were many more heretics in Bohemia. It was asserted that there were hundreds of them and that they had an archbishop and seven bishops. It is thought that among them there was a physician named Richard (an Englishman?) who wrote a special tractate in defence of their errors. The correctness of all these assertions is rather doubtful. It is certain, however, that John of Drazice (1301-43), Bishop of Prague, who belonged to an old Bohemian family and was a man of education, a lover of art, and an ardent patriot, was more tolerant towards the heretics than was pleasing to certain zealots amongst the Bohemian clergy. For this and other reasons, therefore, he was denounced by them before Pope John XXII, who temporarily deprived him of his office and summoned him before the papal court at Avignon. In 1318 Bishop John departed for Avignon to attend the court, and although he was declared innocent, he was unable to return to his native land for eleven years.
From Avignon Bishop John brought back to Bohemia many important ideas on art and other matters. In the episcopal town of Roudnice he founded a monastery of Augustinian Canons, building for it a magnificent structure with a church. Undoubtedly the builders were French architects called to Bohemia by the bishop. They also constructed a large stone bridge at the bishop’s request across the Elbe at Roudnice. Further, the bishop’s castle in that town was rebuilt in the time of John of Drazice in a manner revealing French influence, particularly that of Avignon. From France Bishop John also brought to Bohemia many rare manuscripts decorated with artistic miniatures, which became the models for the manuscripts illuminated in Bohemia and had a great influence on the development of Bohemian painting.
All this took place without the least assistance on the part of King John, who paid very little attention to the internal affairs of his kingdom. On the other hand, by reason of his knightly deeds and military enterprises he spread the fame of the Bohemian name throughout the whole of Europe, and zealously and very successfully fought for the territorial expansion of Bohemia. In 1314 the German King, Lewis of Bavaria, assigned to him as an imperial pledge the town and territory of Cheb (Eger), which under Premysl Ottokar II and Wenceslas II had been joined for a considerable period to Bohemia. After the battle of Mühldorf, in which King Lewis won in 1322, mainly owing to John’s assistance, a decisive victory over Frederick of Austria, John took charge of the government of the district of Cheb, which never again was to be separated from the Bohemian State and in the later centuries was completely incorporated in the kingdom of Bohemia.
John also added Upper Lusatia to the Bohemian Crown. After the year 1158, when the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa granted this territory as a fief to the Bohemian King Vladislav, it was united to Bohemia for nearly a hundred years. In the middle of the thirteenth century King Premysl Ottokar II pledged Upper Lusatia to his brother-in-law Otto, Margrave of Brandenburg, whose two sons later divided it between them so that it was split up into the Bautzen and Gorlitz sections. After the extinction of both branches of the Margrave of Brandenburg’s family (1317 and 1319), the whole of Upper Lusatia should have reverted to the Bohemian Crown. John succeeded in occupying first the district of Bautzen (1320), and later the town of Gorlitz and its surrounding territory (1329). He secured a hereditary claim also on the remainder of the district of Gorlitz, which had been seized by Henry of Jauer, Duke of Silesia, so that after the death of the childless Henry of Jauer the remainder of the district of Gorlitz was joined to the kingdom of Bohemia (1346). After that period the whole of Upper Lusatia was joined to Bohemia for nearly three hundred years.
King John increased the territories of the Bohemian State much more considerably when he obtained the sovereignty over a large part of the Silesian principalities. Already in the reign of King Wenceslas II four princes of Upper Silesia had accepted the overlordship of the King of Bohemia, who thus became the overlord of the whole of Upper Silesia. Afterwards, however, the feudal bond between Upper Silesia and the Bohemian Crown disappeared, while the disintegration of Upper Silesia into small principalities continued. Separating themselves more and more from Poland to which they originally belonged, these principalities again began to gravitate towards Bohemia. In 1327 Prince Henry of Breslau concluded with King John a treaty of inheritance, according to which the principality of Breslau was, after his death, to belong to Bohemia, and when in the same year King John undertook an expedition to Poland to urge the validity of old Bohemian claims to Poland, a number of other Silesian princes submitted themselves to his overlordship. During the succeeding years further Silesian principalities became fiefs of the Bohemian Crown, so that at the end of John’s reign only two of them, the principalities of Schweidnitz and Jauer, were not under Bohemian suzerainty. In 1335 King Casimir of Poland recognised the overlordship of Bohemia over Silesia in return for the renunciation by King John of the title of King of Poland and of the rights annexed thereto.
The extension and consolidation of John’s rule over Silesia were greatly furthered by the important and successful military expedition which in the winter of 1328-29 he undertook to Lithuania in order to assist the Order of Teutonic Knights against the pagan Prussians and Lithuanians: for during this expedition he was presented with the opportunity of intervening effectively against certain Polish and Silesian princes. In later years he undertook two further similar expeditions against Lithuania (1337 and 1345), but neither of these expeditions, in which his son Charles also took part, met with success.
Soon after his first expedition to Lithuania, his love of fighting took him southwards as far as Italy, where for a time he gained considerable power. He was led to this by his stay in southern Tyrol, where in 1330 he conducted negotiations with Henry, Duke of Carinthia and Count of Tyrol. King John had previously made his peace with this former Bohemian King and one-time rival by marrying his second son John to Henry’s younger daughter Margaret, who was to inherit all her father’s possessions. When in the autumn of 1330, after concluding the treaty of inheritance with Henry of Carinthia, he was staying with his son in the Trentino, he received a deputation from the Lombard city of Brescia which requested his assistance against the powerful lord of Verona, Mastino della Scala. King John set out once more in the winter with an army of mercenaries on an expedition to Italy, where not only Brescia but also many other Lombard cities, including Milan, and various magnates placed themselves under his protection. Thus in the course of the year 1331 the Bohemian king was master of the whole of central Lombardy and of the territories of the later principalities of Parma, Modena, and Lucca. This sudden and dazzling growth of power aroused against John all his powerful neighbours, whose hostility compelled him to accept his Italian territories from the Emperor as vicar of the Holy Roman Empire and after a time to depart from Italy altogether.
When he was not occupied with diplomatic negotiations and military expeditions, King John lived either in Luxemburg or at the court of the French King Charles IV, who had married his sister Mary. There he took part in knightly tournaments and magnificent festivities, and the fame of his bravery, generosity, and chivalrous manners spread throughout the whole of Europe. He came to Bohemia only rarely, generally to obtain money for the purpose of maintaining his luxurious standard of living and of equipping his military expeditions. His attitude towards Queen Elizabeth was always cool right up to her death (1330), and at times his relations with her were very strained. Fearing lest his eldest son Wenceslas might be proclaimed king, he took him away at the age of seven, in 1323, to be educated at the French court. At his confirmation, which took place there, Wenceslas received the name of Charles, which he kept for the rest of his life. In 1331 John called his son, aged fifteen, to Italy and made him governor of his Italian dominions. After the collapse of his rule in Italy, John sent Charles back to Bohemia, gave him the title of Margrave of Moravia, and entrusted him with the administration of Bohemia and Moravia (1333), which he conducted with great success. In 1336 King John sent Prince Charles to Tyrol to the assistance of his brother John Henry, who after the death of his father-in-law Henry of Carinthia fought for his inheritance against the Dukes of Austria and the Emperor Lewis. In the same year John ended this struggle by a treaty with the Dukes of Austria; Carinthia was ceded to them, so that Henry and his wife retained only Tyrol. Five years later, however, when Margaret divorced her husband and married the Emperor’s son Lewis, Margrave of Brandenburg, the rule of the Luxemburgs in Tyrol came to an end for ever. Before then, however, Charles had already in 1338 left Tyrol for Bohemia and had resumed the administration of the country. In 1341 King John also arrived in Bohemia; from an illness which he had contracted during his second expedition against Lithuania in 1337, he had become blind at first in one eye and then in both. At Domazlice the general Diet of all the countries under the Bohemian Crown recognised Margrave Charles as his successor on the Bohemian throne, and at the same time recognised the hereditary right of all the direct male descendants of Charles to the throne.
Five years later, when his father was still alive, Charles was elected King of the Romans in place of the Emperor Lewis. The friendship of King John for this Emperor, whom at the beginning he had helped with such self-sacrifice, had grown cool in the course of time. In the great conflicts of the Emperor with the papal Curia, King John sided more and more with the Popes, who at that time resided in Avignon and were in very close relations with the French Court, with which he was on such friendly terms. The consolidation of these friendly relations between the Bohemian King and his son on the one hand and the Papacy on the other was increased later when Clement VI, the former tutor and special supporter of Charles, was made Pope in 1342. Acceding to the desire of Charles, who accompanied by his father paid him a visit at Avignon, Pope Clement VI raised the Prague bishopric in 1344 to an archbishopric and subordinated to it the bishoprics of Olomouc (Olmütz) and Litomysl, the latter being newly established. At the same time he began to exert his influence in favour of the election of Charles to the throne in place of the Emperor Lewis, who had been repudiated by the Curia. At a further meeting of King John and his son with Pope Clement VI at Avignon in the spring of 1346, a complete agreement was reached in regard to this question, and on 11 July 1349 five Electors of the Holy Roman Empire elected Charles King of the Romans at Rense.
Precisely at that period France was attacked by the army of Edward III of England. King John of Bohemia and his son Charles at once hastened to the assistance of the French King. Both of them took part in the decisive battle of Crecy on 26 August 1346, where the blind King John together with many Bohemian nobles died an heroic death; his valour could not turn the scales in favour of the French. It is said that, approaching the dead body of the Bohemian King, the victorious English King took from his helmet three ostrich feathers with the motto “Ich dien” (I serve), and gave them to his son the Black Prince who adopted them on his coat-of-arms. This may be a legend only, but it is certain that by his heroic death the blind King John contributed to the glory of the Bohemian State, the territory of which he considerably extended, although he remained foreign to the life of the State to the day of his death.
Accession of Charles IV
Charles IV (1346-78) was one of the most remarkable rulers that Bohemia ever had. A later age called him “the Father of his Country, and this title well describes his self-sacrificing and fruitful love for Bohemia, his wisdom and unwearyingly energy, and his truly paternal solicitude for the welfare of the people. Apart from his rare qualities of statesmanship as head of the Holy Roman Empire, he had also unusual opportunities to further the interests of his Bohemian fatherland, and he made very effective use of those opportunities. He was the first King of Bohemia to wear the German and then the imperial crown, and thereby Bohemia rose to the forefront of the political and cultural life of the Empire and of the whole of Central Europe.
At his father’s death Charles was thirty years of age, but he had already lived through a life packed with stirring events and distinguished activity. He had taken an important share in directing the fortunes of Bohemia even during his father’s lifetime. As representative of his father in the administration of the State, he had introduced good order, restored the declining power of the Crown, and had laboured also in other directions for the improvement of the condition of the country. The raising of the bishopric of Prague to an archbishopric in 1344, whereby the Bohemian State was emancipated from the tutelage of Germany in Church affairs, was due above all to him, although it took place while his father was still alive.
Ascending the throne after his father’s death, he utilised his position in the Empire above all to effect a far-reaching improvement in the constitutional conditions of the Bohemian State. At the general assembly of the Estates of the Bohemian Crown held at Prague in the spring of 1348 in the presence of some of the Electors and other magnates of the Empire, Charles issued, after careful deliberations, several important charters (7 April 1348). He confirmed separately the former privileges granted by the German kings and Emperors to Bohemia, especially the privileges granted in the years 1158,1212,1289, and 1290. Then in two charters he regulated the relations of Moravia, and also of Silesia and Upper Lusatia, to the Bohemian State. Moravia, including the bishopric of Olomouc and the duchy of Opava, Silesia, and Upper Lusatia were definitely joined to Bohemia, thus enlarging the Bohemian State to a broader constitutional structure, the size of which was now first stabilised. The individual parts of the extended Bohemian State, the individual components of the Bohemian Crown, could no longer be separated from this larger unit in accordance with the will of the German kings; they could not be assigned as a direct imperial fief to anyone else than the King of Bohemia. Yet the King of Bohemia could assign them as a fief of the Bohemian Crown. They remained in the German Empire only as a part of the territories of the Bohemian Crown.
At the spring assembly of 1348 Charles IV also made an important decision regarding the order of succession in Bohemia. Having confirmed in his capacity as German king the charter of the Emperor Frederick II (1212) on the election of the Kings of Bohemia, he appended to it the explanation that the right to elect the king resided in the Estates of the kingdom of Bohemia and of the territories belonging to it, but only when there was no legal male or female heir of the Bohemian royal family. Thus it was now expressly and clearly laid down that the female descendants of the Bohemian royal family also had the right of inheritance to the Bohemian throne. The term Bohemian royal family was clearly understood to mean only the direct descendants of Charles and not a lateral branch of the Luxemburg family. But soon afterwards Charles endeavoured to extend the right of inheritance to the Bohemian throne to his brother John Henry and to the latter’s male descendants. In accordance with the last will and testament of his father, Charles assigned the margravate of Moravia in 1349 to his brother as a fief of the Bohemian Crown, a fief which could be inherited only by male descendants. By a special charter he fixed, in agreement with the Bohemian Estates, the mutual hereditary precedence of the Bohemian and Moravian branches of the Luxemburg dynasty, so that after the extinction of the Bohemian branch the Kingdom of Bohemia and all the lands belonging to it would pass to the Moravian branch, whilst Moravia would pass to the Bohemian branch after the extinction of the Moravian branch. This provision was confirmed by Charles IV as Emperor at the general Diet of the Bohemian kingdom in September 1355, together with the charters of the year 1348 which regulated the constitutional conditions of the Bohemian Crown.
The relations of the Bohemian kingdom to the German Empire were regulated by the Emperor in the imperial law of 1356 which is known as the Golden Bull of Charles IV. Here the Bohemian king was solemnly proclaimed one of the seven Electors whose duty it was to elect the German king. In addition to the rights which the Golden Bull gave to all the Electors, the kings of Bohemia were granted certain important special rights. The Bohemian king was given the first place amongst the four temporal Electors, and it was laid down that at the meetings of the Diets and on other ceremonial occasions in the German Empire the King of Bohemia should enjoy the position of priority, even if any other king were present. The Golden Bull gave the Bohemian kingdom important privileges before the other electorates in the order of succession. Whereas after the extinction of the direct line of the ruling house other electorates were, as vacant fiefs, at the Emperor’s disposal, the kingdom of Bohemia retained its old rights and privileges, according to which the right to elect the king appertained in such a case to the Bohemian Estates. Thus it was again solemnly proclaimed that the Bohemian kingdom could never fall into the possession of the Empire like any other imperial land, that the Bohemian Crown was not transferable at the will of the German kings, because the Bohemian kings ascended the throne either by hereditary right or on the basis of election by the Estates. Of course even the Golden Bull declared that the Bohemian king, on being elected, acquired his full royal authority only when confirmed in his position by the Emperor. The Golden Bull ratified the special position of the kingdom of Bohemia also in the sphere of jurisdiction. Laying down that the inhabitants of any electorate were not to be brought before any foreign law-courts, and that they could appeal to the imperial law-court only if justice had been denied them, the Golden Bull declared that no inhabitant of the kingdom of Bohemia and of the territories belonging to it could be forced to appear before any law-court outside the frontiers of his State, and that no appeal whatever could be made from the Bohemian courts to foreign courts. According to the Golden Bull, the Bohemian kingdom differed from other electorates also in the fact that it lay outside the jurisdiction of the Emperor’s lieutenants or administrators, who exercised the rights of the Emperor if the imperial throne was unoccupied.
The Golden Bull, then, did not slacken the old connexion between Bohemia and the German Empire, but recognised to Bohemia the premier position in the Empire before all the other electorates and therefore also before all the imperial principalities. Likewise it recognised and solemnly confirmed the internal independence of the Bohemian State, which in preceding periods certain of the German kings had endeavoured to curtail.
Having ensured by the laws of 1348 and 1355 the unity and integrity of the possessions of the Bohemian Crown, Charles IV did not cease to busy himself with the task of enlarging its territories. Gradually gaining various rights to the possession of Lower Lusatia, he annexed this territory in 1369 to the Bohemian Crown, and a year later he proclaimed its permanent incorporation with the kingdom of Bohemia after the manner of Silesia and Upper Lusatia. At the same time as the incorporation of Lower Lusatia, the Bohemian Crown acquired the two Silesian principalities of Schweidnitz and Jauer which in the reign of King John had not submitted themselves to Bohemian suzerainty. Charles prepared the way to the acquisition of these two territories by marrying in 1353, after the death of his second wife Anna, the fourteen-year-old daughter of the last Prince of Jauer, who was also the niece of the last Prince of Schweidnitz. After the incorporation of the principalities of Schweidnitz and Jauer, the Bohemian Crown was in possession of the whole of Silesia. Through the simultaneous acquisition of these two principalities and of Lower Lusatia, the Bohemian State attained the area which it held until the Thirty Years’ War.
Five years before his death, Charles IV added to this State the Mark of Brandenburg also. In 1363 the Emperor Charles concluded with the two Margraves of Brandenburg, Lewis the Roman and Otto, sons of the deceased Emperor Lewis, a treaty of inheritance, according to which the Mark of Brandenburg was to pass, if they died childless, into the possession of the Bohemian royal family. When subsequently Otto, who after the death of his brother became the sole ruler of Brandenburg, endeavoured in disregard of the treaty of 1363 to transfer Brandenburg to his nephew Frederick of Bavaria, Charles invaded Brandenburg in 1373 with a considerable army and compelled Margrave Otto and his nephew, in their own name and in that of the entire Bavarian dynasty, to renounce the Marks of Brandenburg and to cede them to the sons of the Emperor. The Emperor immediately took over the administration of the Mark of Brandenburg on behalf of his sons, who in 1374, at the request of the Brandenburg Estates, laid down by charter that the Mark of Brandenburg was never to be separated from the Bohemian Crown, even if the Bohemian kings of the Luxemburg family were to die without legal issue. Charles immediately ratified this charter in his capacity as Emperor.
The future enlargement of the Bohemian State was furthered also by the treaty of inheritance concluded in 1364 between the Luxemburg royal family and the Habsburg ducal line, which in the preceding years had added Carinthia and Tyrol to its original Austro-Styrian possessions. The former hostility between the two families had been fed partly by their opposition to each other in the struggles for the throne of Germany in the reign of King John, and partly by the contest for Carinthia and Tyrol after the death of the former Bohemian King, Henry of Carinthia. This hostility afterwards gave place to friendly relations, which were shewn by the fact that Charles’ daughter Catherine became in 1357 the wife of the Austrian Duke Rudolf IV. By the treaty of 1364 which was concluded at Brno (Brünn), with the written consent of the leading Bohemian nobles and of Charles, on behalf of his infant son Wenceslas, it was laid down that, after the extinction of the male and female lines of the Emperor Charles IV and of his brother the Moravian Margrave John Henry, the lands of the Bohemian Crown were to pass into the possession of the Austrian dukes; and conversely, the Bohemian king was to inherit the Austrian lands after the extinction of the male and female lines of the Austrian ducal family and of the Hungarian royal family, with which the Austrian dukes two years previously had concluded a similar treaty of inheritance. Soon afterwards, at the instigation of Charles, this Austro-Hungarian treaty of inheritance was denounced by both parties, and the Austro-Bohemian treaty of 1364 was renewed in 1366 with the full consent of the Estates of both countries, and with the omission of the provision relating to the hereditary claims of the Hungarian royal family to the Austrian territories. Owing to the fact that the Luxemburg family was extinct before the Austrian dynasty, all the gains were forfeited which could and, according to the intention of Charles, undoubtedly would have accrued to his family and to the Bohemian Crown from the treaty of inheritance with the Habsburg family. On the contrary, this treaty later became one of the factors that helped the Habsburg family to obtain possession of the Bohemian throne.
His unwearying zeal in the territorial enlargement and external improvement of the Bohemian State did not in any degree prevent Charles from paying fatherly attention to the betterment of its conditions. Indeed, his work in this direction was particularly great and enduring. Even in the period when he acted as his father’s representative, Charles accomplished much for the restoration of order in the country and for the exaltation of the royal power. On becoming king, he made great efforts to rid the country of robbers and violent men who harassed the defenceless common people and attacked and plundered wealthy persons. According to the words of a contemporary chronicler, he introduced into the land “such peace as had not been in the memory of man nor had even been read of in the chronicles.” Crushing violence in general, Charles strove to prevent the violent tactics adopted by the authorities towards the common people. At the Diet of 1356 a special law guaranteed to the latter the right to prosecute their lords before the territorial law-court, a procedure which the nobility of the time opposed. It is said that the Emperor himself was frequently present in person at the sessions of the territorial court in order to see that the lordly assessors did not side with the lords against the common people.
Connected with the endeavour of Charles to put down all violence and to protect the weak from oppression, was the attention which he paid to the improvement of the administration of justice in Bohemia. In the very first years of his government he prohibited, in concert with Ernest, Archbishop of Prague, the superstitious ordeal by hot iron. Again, soon after his accession to the throne, he gave orders for the compilation of the code of laws known as Maiestas Carolina, the purpose of which was to give a firm foundation for the activities of the territorial law-courts. The opposition of the Bohemian Estates, however, frustrated the issue of this code, just as it had frustrated the similar attempts of the earlier kings, Premysl Ottokar II and Wenceslas II. This code contained old and new decrees in the field of public, civil, and criminal law, regulations relating to the system of judicature, and various police regulations. It reflected the endeavour to strengthen and raise the royal power, an endeavour which in places manifested itself also by statements derived from Roman jurisprudence as to the sovereignty of the monarch. This tendency explains why Charles’ proposed code of laws met with such determined opposition on the part of the Bohemian Estates, who were proud of the fact that in the territorial law-courts they did not come within the scope of the written law, and who resisted every attempt to lay down fixed juridical rules in a written code. Yielding to the opposition of the Bohemian Estates, Charles withdrew the proposed code and declared at the same time that its ratification and the bringing of it into operation depended on the good will of the Bohemian princes and lords.
Great attention was paid by Charles to the economic development of his hereditary lands. By a law of the year 1358 he ordered vineyards to be established on the bare heights and slopes around Prague and elsewhere in Bohemia. Further, he ordered excellent vines to be brought from Austria and perhaps also from Burgundy, so that in a short time Prague was provided with a wide belt of vineyards, while elsewhere, particularly in the neighbourhood of Melnik, there was an increase in the cultivation of the vine, and in some places the vineyards have been maintained up to this day. Another novelty was also introduced by Charles into Bohemia when he established large fish-ponds in various places, and by his example he stimulated other landowners to increase the productivity of their estates.
Foundation of the University of Prague
It is to the undying credit of Charles that he greatly furthered the development of intellectual and cultural progress in his State, and especially among the Bohemian people, by the foundation of Prague University. For this purpose he secured in advance the consent of the papal Curia, which was given by the bull of Pope Clement VI in January 1347. In his capacity as King of Bohemia he issued in April 1348 the Prague University foundation charter, which he confirmed in January 1849 in his capacity as King of Germany. By this charter Charles granted to the new university all the liberties enjoyed by the two famous Universities of Paris and Bologna. Immediately afterwards Charles appointed the first professors, who consisted both of men born in Bohemia and of foreigners specially invited for this purpose, so that teaching was commenced at Prague University in the course of the year 1348. The final organisation of the university was perhaps not stabilised until after many conflicts between the members of the young institution. In 1872 the law-students seceded and established a new university which was connected with the remaining three faculties only by the common Chancellor, who was the Archbishop of Prague. Each of the two universities was divided from the outset into four “nations”, Bohemian, Polish, Bavarian, and Saxon. The Bohemian “nation” included also Hungarians and South Slavs; in addition to Poles, the Polish “nation” included Silesians, Lithuanians, and Russians; the Bavarian “nation” included Austrians, Swabians, Franconians, and Rhinelanders; and the Saxon “nation” included students from Meissen, Thuringians, Danes, and Swedes. This distribution was of great importance, particularly on such occasions as the election of the Rector and the appointment of other university officers and officials. In spite of its international character and the great prevalence of foreigners, particularly Germans, both among the professors and the students, the University of Prague soon attained a position of considerable importance for the intellectual life of the Bohemian nation, which after a time took a leading and decisive part in its activities. From the outset the university added brilliance to the life of the Bohemian capital by filling it with crowds of foreigners, who came there in order to study or at least to enjoy the legal privileges of student life.
The external appearance of Prague and Bohemia was considerably improved by the numerous great buildings erected by Charles. During the first period of his rule (1333-35) he began to build at the Castle of Prague on the ruins of the royal palace, which had been burnt down, a new palace on the model of the French royal seat at the Louvre; this building was greatly praised by contemporaries, but has been completely overshadowed by later reconstructions. It was undoubtedly owing to the initiative of Charles that in the lifetime of his father, and in connexion with the establishment of the archbishopric of Prague, the foundation stone was laid of the magnificent structure of St Vitus’ Cathedral in the Castle of Prague. The building operations were directed first by the French architect Matthew of Arras whom Charles brought from France, and after his death in 1352 by the German Peter Parler of Gmünd who worked for over forty years on the building. Although the building operations continued throughout the entire period of Charles’ reign, only part of the new cathedral, namely the magnificent chapel of St Wenceslas, was completed in his lifetime. In addition to this, several other large churches were erected in Prague in the reign of Charles IV. Prague was not big enough for the influx of foreigners, and in order to enlarge the city Charles founded the New Town in 1348. The new stone bridge across the Vltava at Prague was also constructed by Charles’ orders under the direction of the above-mentioned Peter Parler. Further, Charles built in the lands belonging to the Bohemian State several castles, monasteries, and churches. The most celebrated of these buildings is the castle of Karlstejn, which was founded in 1348 and possesses splendid internal decorations. It was here that Charles deposited the State jewels of the kingdom of Bohemia, which he had had made during the lifetime of his father in place of the old jewels which were lost in the reign of King John (the new crown dedicated to St Wenceslas was afterwards known as the Crown of St Wenceslas), all the important State documents of Bohemia, the imperial jewels and German sacred insignia, and many relics of the saints.
The numerous large buildings erected by Charles led to a golden age in the history of decorative ait in Bohemia. Architecture, sculpture, and painting flourished. The mural paintings and pictures executed for the decoration of the chapels and churches attained a high artistic level and had a character of their own, so that we may rightly speak of a special Bohemian school of painting in that period. Great progress was also made in the painting of miniatures and in small artistic objects.
Charles’ endeavours in the direction of the territorial enlargement of the Bohemian State and his internal activities as a founder of institutions necessarily involved a large expenditure. Hence, although he was very economical and a model organiser, he was very often obliged to make extraordinary financial demands on the population of the State and to impose heavy taxes. In addition to this, the financial obligations undertaken by King John and also by Charles himself made it necessary on each occasion to seek the approval of the Estates. Thus whenever Charles wished to impose a tax, he was obliged to enter into negotiations beforehand with the Estates. In this way the Estates acquired a regular and constantly increasing influence on public affairs. All the decrees of Charles regarding the Bohemian throne, all his laws regulating the external and internal conditions of the Bohemian State, were issued with the participation and consent of the Bohemian Estates. And Charles’ great legislative work, the Maiestas Carolina, did not acquire validity, because the Estates did not agree to it. The Estates shewed their agreement or disagreement with the intentions and actions of the king both through their representatives in the highest departments of the State administration and in the territorial law-courts, and also in the general diets which gradually became regular institutions. In addition to the diets of the separate countries, Charles used to summon, when it was a question of matters affecting the interests of the State as a whole, common or general diets of all the lands of the Bohemian Crown. Thus, although he had a great opinion of his royal rights and used to declare his adherence to Roman juridical views of the sovereignty of the monarch, Charles lent his support to the development which tended towards the stabilisation and deepening of the conception that the king was not the sole and unrestricted holder of the supreme power of the State, but shared it with the representatives of the free classes of the nation, i.e. with the Estates. The Bohemian Crown, the Bohemian State, was no longer represented by the king alone, but also by “all the community of the Bohemian Kingdom,” i.e. by the Estates. Both together, the king and the Estates, formed a higher State unit, the symbol of which was the crown of St Wenceslas; supplied in the year 1346 by Charles IV, it rested on the head of the saint in St Vitus’ Cathedral, and only at coronations and on other ceremonial occasions was it worn by the Bohemian kings.
Ecclesiastical affairs. Conrad Waldhauser
The period of Charles’ reign was one of splendid development for the Church and its institutions. Through the raising of the bishopric of Prague to an archbishopric, effected with the help of Charles in 1344, all Bohemia and Moravia were freed, in regard to ecclesiastical affairs, from dependence on the archbishop of Mainz, who up till then had been the metropolitan of the Bohemian Church. To the archbishop of Prague was transferred the existing right of the archbishop of Mainz to crown the Bohemian king. Bishop Ernest of Pardubice, a truly eminent man and one of the greatest ornaments of the Bohemian Church, became the first Archbishop of Prague. Like John of Drazice, his predecessor on the episcopal throne in Prague, Ernest sprang from a Czech noble family. He studied for fourteen years at the celebrated Italian universities of Bologna and Padua, and acquired not only a thorough knowledge of theology and Church law but also a classical education which was unusual for that period. By this, and also by the rare delicacy of his moral conscience, he aroused the admiration of Petrarch himself. Ernest of Pardubice combined a genuine love for the arts and sciences with deep piety, moral earnestness, and zeal in the fulfilment of the great duties of his office. It was only under him that the victory of Church principles was completed in Bohemia in the relations between the spiritual and temporal authorities; it was not until then that all the rights were entirely realised which Premysl Ottokar I had granted in principle to the Bohemian Church after the great struggle with Bishop Andrew.
In addition to great rights the Church at that time possessed enormous wealth; one-half of all the land in Bohemia belonged partly to the secular clergy and partly to the monasteries. This wealth, however, was divided very unequally; there were prebends with immense incomes and also benefices which were quite poor. In that period the proportion of clergy to population in Bohemia was much greater than it is today. It is calculated that in Prague alone, which at that time had less than 40,000 inhabitants, there were at least 1200 clergy and monks. Being almost entirely freed from the jurisdiction of the temporal authorities, they were subordinated only to the ecclesiastical authorities, and thus they had a privileged position as compared with the rest of the population. Combined with the great wealth of the Church, this had a very unfavourable effect on the morals of the clergy; their conduct was generally on a rather low level. The unhealthy development of Church life in Bohemia was furthered by the Curia itself owing to its excessive and unfortunate intervention in the internal affairs of the Bohemian Church. Having the chief voice in the bestowal of Church benefices in Bohemia and in the appointment of the higher dignitaries, the Curia derived financial profit therefrom and contributed in the highest degree to the accumulation of benefices and other abuses.
These evils were opposed by the Emperor Charles as well as by Archbishop Ernest. In 1352 it was laid down by law in Bohemia that no one could give or bequeath his property to Church dignitaries or institutions without the special permission of the king. The reforming mind and endeavours of Archbishop Ernest are shewn particularly in the statutes which he gave to the clergy in 1349 and later supplemented in the different synods; by these regulations all the evil habits and immoral proceedings of the clergy of that time were prohibited and severely punished.
The Emperor Charles and Archbishop Ernest showed their favour towards the efforts of reform in the Church most clearly by the support which they extended to two eminent preachers. In 1363 Charles called to Prague an Augustinian canon, Conrad Waldhauser (of Waldhaus in Upper Austria), who for many years had been court-preacher to the Dukes of Austria and had gained a great reputation by reason of his moral earnestness. Being a German with no knowledge of Czech, Waldhauser preached in Prague chiefly to the German inhabitants who, owing to their wealth, were particularly addicted to lives of pleasure. The success of Waldhauser’s sermons was very great. Germans and Czechs thronged to hear him, and under the influence of his words many of them turned away from sinful living. Soon, however, the preaching activities of Waldhauser aroused the hostility of the mendicant friars, who were jealous of his success and disturbed by his attacks on the abuses which were prevalent among them. They laid complaints against the bold preacher before the archbishop, and spread rumours that he dealt in heresies. Refusing to desist from his preaching, Waldhauser defended himself, and after a time, in concert with the other Prague priests, he charged all mendicant Orders before the Pope with conducting interments in their convents contrary to Canon Law. For this purpose he travelled to Rome, but returning before the conclusion of the conflict he died in Prague towards the end of 1369.
Almost at the same time as Waldhauser, a native-born preacher began to preach in Prague, whose fame soon outshone that of the Austrian Augustinian and who far surpasses him in the historical significance of his work. This was the Moravian, John Milic of Kromeriz, who after giving up his Church dignities began to preach in Prague about the autumn of 1364. His sermons soon became unusually popular and attracted large congregations, particularly of the Czech population. Surpassing Waldhauser by his fiery eloquence and soaring enthusiasm, Milic acted even more powerfully than he on the minds of the common people. The effect of his words was enhanced by the splendid example which he gave in his own life. He lived in absolute poverty and exercised the strictest bodily asceticism. He never allowed himself any rest, but devoted himself constantly to prayer, study, and a severely ascetic mode of life; he despised all bodily comfort and fasted often.
This mode of life and the disturbed conditions of contemporary Christendom stimulated in Milic a natural tendency towards mysticism He formed the conviction that in the years 1365-67 Antichrist was to appear in the world in accordance with the prophecy of Daniel. In 1366, while delivering a sermon on Antichrist, he pointed with his finger directly at the Emperor Charles who was present and declared him to be the great Antichrist spoken of in the Scriptures. On account of this statement, Archbishop John Ocko, the successor of Ernest, had Milic put in prison and the monks of Prague laid an accusation against him, but he was not sentenced to any punishment. A year later he departed to Rome, where Pope Urban V was expected to arrive shortly from Avignon. When, however, in May 1367, he announced in Rome a public sermon on Antichrist with the declaration that Antichrist had already come to the world, Milic was imprisoned by order of the Inquisitors and brought before the Court of the Inquisition. In prison he wrote for an inquisitor his “Tractate on Antichrist”, in which he recommended the summoning of an ecumenical council as the only means of removing the evils in the corrupted Church. The same counsel was contained also in a letter which he wrote to Pope Urban V in about the year 1368. After the arrival of the Pope in Rome, Milic was released from prison and returned to Prague. In 1369 he set out on a second journey to Rome, but on receiving news of the death of Waldhauser he quickly returned.
In order to fill the gap left by Waldhauser’s decease, Milic now also began to preach regularly in German; his preaching activities were considerably increased, for he used to deliver four or five sermons daily in different languages and before different congregations, becoming at the same time more and more strict in his asceticism. The glamour of his words manifested itself particularly in the year 1372, when under the influence of his preaching a large number of Prague prostitutes abandoned their immoral mode of life and resolved to serve God. Milic established for them a special institution, where they were taught to pray and to work and were prepared for a return to normal life. Having obtained from the Emperor the once famous house of sin called Benátky (Venice) and having secured by purchase and in the form of gifts the neighbouring houses, Milic built there a chapel and homes to house the women, who sometimes numbered over 80. The new institution was named Jerusalem, and as it was freed from duties to the neighbouring parishes, it became practically an independent parish community. This aroused the resentment of the parish-priests of Prague, who joined the monks, the former opponents of Milic, and laid a charge against him, accusing him of heresy. When their attempt failed in Prague, the parish-priests charged Milic with heresy directly before the papal Court, which in the meantime had again moved to Avignon. They found fault with Milic for introducing in Jerusalem the daily receiving of the sacrament, for condemning all trade, for proclaiming that the clergy ought to live in poverty, and for denouncing the study of the liberal arts. As a result of these complaints, Pope Gregory XI instructed the Archbishop of Prague and the other Bohemian bishops to make a strict investigation and to punish Milic as a warning to others of like mind. Milic now set out once more on a journey to the papal Court at Avignon, where he was well received and given permission to deliver ceremonial sermons before the cardinals. But before the suit was concluded, he died in Avignon in August 1374. His influence in his native country, however, did not cease with his death, but became one of the main sources of the great movement which later led to the burning of Hus at the stake and to the revolt of the Czech nation from the Roman Church.
Just as the reign of Charles manifested clearly the beginnings of the later severe religious struggles in Bohemia, so also it prepared and proclaimed the struggle between the Czech and German nationalities, a struggle which developed in connexion with the religious conflicts and for the most part was combined with them. The gradually increasing influence of the Czech element at the University of Prague, which originally was almost entirely in the hands of German foreigners, prepared the way for the later victory of the Czechs in this foremost educational institution of the Bohemian State. In the towns also the Czech element grew stronger, almost entirely unnoticed and by a natural process, through the influx of peasants from the surrounding country districts; for the towns had been founded and at the beginning completely dominated by immigrant families of German burghers. In Prague Charles contributed to this development by establishing the New Town, not exclusively for Germans as had been the custom on previous occasions when towns were founded in the Bohemian lands, but for everyone who wished to settle there. So it came about that from the very outset New Town was overwhelmingly Czech, and thus had an indirect influence on the development of a Czech character in other parts of Prague. Although he liked the German culture and the German language, the Emperor gave many proofs of his genuine love for the Czech nation and the Czech language which was his mother tongue.
The religious and national factors in the history of the period announced the great movement which soon afterwards burst into flame. As a harbinger of the more distant future, we may consider the beginnings of the humanistic predilections and endeavours which we find in the environment of Charles. Their actual seeding-place was his chancery, at the head of which, during a considerable part of his reign, stood Bishop John of Streda (von Neumarkt, de Novoforo), who was an eminent humanist, an enthusiastic collector of classical manuscripts, and a friend of Petrarch. The predilection for humanism spread from Charles’ chancery to the highest levels of Bohemian society. The Emperor himself was strongly influenced by this current of humanism, and had confidential meetings both with the native exponents of humanism and also with the most important foreign humanists. In 1356 Petrarch, with whom the Emperor was in correspondence, paid him a visit in Prague; the Court overwhelmed the distinguished visitor with enthusiastic praise. Six years before that, Prague received a visit from the Roman tribune, Cola di Rienzo, who wished to induce the Emperor to take up his residence in Rome as the sole and absolute monarch of a united Italy and of the whole Christian world. Considering the views of the visionary Roman on Church matters to be obnoxious, the cautious Emperor handed him over to the Archbishop of Prague for instruction and improvement. Thus Cola spent some time in imprisonment in the archbishop’s castle at Roudnice, and afterwards was sent to the papal court in Avignon.
At the end of his life the Emperor concerned himself with the question of the distribution of his hereditary lands among the members of his family. The eldest son Wenceslas, who in 1363 had been crowned King of Bohemia and in 1376 had been elected King of the Romans, was to rule in Bohemia and Silesia, over parts of Upper and Lower Lusatia, and over scattered fiefs of Bohemia in Bavaria and Saxony. The second son Sigismund obtained the district of Brandenburg, while for the third son John a special duchy of Gorlitz was formed from parts of Upper and Lower Lusatia. Jost, the first-born son of Charles’ brother the Margrave John Henry, ruled in Moravia after his father’s death in 1376, while his younger brothers John Sobeslav, later Patriarch of Aquileia, and Prokop received from him subordinate fiefs. Of the Emperor’s daughters, Anne, a child by his last wife Elizabeth of Pomerania, became in 1382, three years after her father’s death, the wife of the English King Richard II, and gained in England the very honourable name of “Good Queen Anne.”
Having lived to see the beginning of the Great Schism in the Western Church, the Emperor Charles IV died on 29 November 1378 in his sixty-third year.
Accession of Wenceslas IV
Wenceslas IV (1378-1419) was not yet quite eighteen when by his father’s death he was called to rule over the territories of the Bohemian Crown and over the German Empire. For the fulfilment of the heavy duties which now fell to his share he possessed not only natural gifts and a considerable degree of education, but also a practical knowledge of State affairs which he had acquired owing to the fact that his father had from his childhood associated him with himself on important occasions in Bohemia and in foreign countries. He certainly had much good will, but he lacked judgment and perseverance. From the outset his passion for hunting prevented him from carrying out his duties as a monarch. In addition, he had a decided tendency towards immoderate drinking, and as the years passed the habit grew on him to such an extent that at times he lost command of his reason, for by nature he was irritable and violent. Thus it happened on more than one occasion that Wenceslas allowed himself, in an excess of rage, to act in a hasty, harsh, and even cruel manner. His actions on these occasions only increased the strife of which the period of his rule was full, and stained his memory in after times.
Not all of the great extent of territory under the rule of the Emperor Charles IV passed into the hands of Wenceslas. According to the dispositions of his father, the second son Sigismund obtained the district of Brandenburg, the third son John received the district of Gorlitz, while Moravia remained under the rule of Charles’ nephew, Margrave Jost. This wealthy and learned man obtained also, in 1388, the county of Luxemburg from King Wenceslas, who had inherited it in 1382 from Wenceslas, his father’s second brother. In addition, Jost received the district of Brandenburg from Sigismund, who in 1385 had become King of Hungary. Later, in 1401, King Wenceslas, who by the death of his brother John had obtained the district of Gorlitz, ceded to him Upper and Lower Lusatia. After the death of Jost (1411) the two Lusatias returned into the possession of Wenceslas and the district of Brandenburg was restored to Sigismund. The latter, however, immediately pledged the Mark of Brandenburg to Frederick of Hohenzollern, the Burgrave of Nuremberg, in whose family it now remained permanently.
Wenceslas’ rule in the German Empire was by no means of a happy character, for his heavy task was rendered still more difficult both by the schism in the Church and by the internal dissensions of the Estates in the Empire. Although he strove hard to obtain the recognition of the Pope in the Empire and in his own lands, and constantly prepared to set out on an expedition to Rome in order to obtain the imperial crown, he did not succeed either in contributing towards the removal of papal dualism or in realising the plan of a Roman expedition. And although his intervention in the disputes between the Estates of the Empire was often timely and justified, it produced for him in the Empire many enemies who in 1384 began to intrigue for his deposition. This took place in 1400, when King Wenceslas was deprived of the German throne by the Electors, who chose Rupert of the Rhine as king.
This inglorious end of Wenceslas’ reign in the German Empire was prepared in no small measure by the unfavourable development of internal conditions in Bohemia. For some time, indeed, Wenceslas’ reign appeared to be a worthy continuation of the excellent reign of his father, but later serious unrest arose from the conflicts of the king both with the Bohemian lords and also with the dignitaries and officials of the Church.
While King Wenceslas was popular among the common people on account of his good nature and because he did not exact such heavy taxes as his father, he soon incurred the displeasure of the higher nobility by choosing for his advisers mainly members of the lower nobility and burghers, and by staffing the public offices with persons devoted to himself and belonging to these classes. After a while the dissatisfied nobles formed against the king a conspiracy which was joined even by the king’s cousin Jost, Margrave of Moravia. In the spring of the year 1394, Jost entered quite formally into a union with the leading Bohemian nobles, the aim of which was declared to be the removal of various defects in the territorial administration and in the law-courts. With a large number of armed men they took the king by surprise at his country-seat near Prague, cast him into prison in the Castle of Prague, and after a time even removed him to a castle in Austria. About three months later the king’s brother John of Gorlitz compelled the rebellious nobles by armed force to release the king from imprisonment, on the promise that a decision would be made with reference to their complaints. New conflicts, however, soon arose between the king and the nobles, who towards the end of 1394 organised a new coalition against him. In addition to Margrave Jost, the conspiracy was joined by the Dukes of Austria. The complaints and demands which the rebellious nobles submitted to the king involved an unheard-of limitation of his power. When the king hesitated to comply with these demands and the nobles began to wage open war against him, he requested his brother Sigismund, the Hungarian King, to undertake, after the death of John of Gorlitz, the office of mediator between the parties. Sigismund induced the parties to entrust the decision regarding their complaints and demands to him and to Margrave Jost. Their award, made in the spring of the year 1396, signified a great success for the nobles. Almost all the highest offices of the land were adjudicated to them, and at the side of the king was established a council composed of the Bohemian and Moravian nobles and bishops. Without this council the king was not to undertake any action in internal affairs.
Owing to the fact that King Wenceslas submitted only with unwillingness to this award and that the nobles did not cease to strive to obtain a further restriction of the king’s power, new disputes arose between the king and the nobles in the course of time and became exceedingly embittered. In 1397 certain of the nobles who were members of the king’s council murdered four of the leading advisers of King Wenceslas at Karlstejn. All attempts at a reconciliation were in vain, and in the winter of 1400 the Bohemian nobles headed by Margrave Jost formed an alliance with King Rupert and his German adherents. In the spring of 1401 King Wenceslas was besieged in Prague for more than eight weeks by the armed forces of the native and German members of this association. In the summer the king and the Bohemian nobles concluded a treaty, whereby King Wenceslas agreed to accept a standing council consisting of four nobles and enjoying great powers. Thus was established a permanent committee of nobles whose task was to govern in common with the king; they had a deciding voice also in the administration of the royal estates and revenues which up to that time had been under the control of the Bohemian kings alone. At the beginning of 1402, however, the power of this council was transferred to King Sigismund of Hungary, whom King Wenceslas appointed administrator of the kingdom of Bohemia while he himself was preparing to go on another expedition to Rome, which once more did not take effect. Soon conflicts again arose between the royal brothers, and Sigismund, whom Wenceslas had a short time before generously assisted to gain his release from imprisonment in Hungary, gave orders for his brother to be arrested in the spring of 1402 and to be imprisoned in Prague Castle, where he had been incarcerated eight years previously. After a time, however, on leaving the country, he brought King Wenceslas with him, and finally, in August 1402, took him to Vienna, where he was kept under the protection of the Dukes of Austria. Only in the autumn of 1403 did King Wenceslas succeed in escaping from his imprisonment at Vienna and returning to Bohemia. In the meantime the party which supported him had grown in strength, so that he was received practically as a deliverer, even by many of his former opponents. Wenceslas made use of this favourable state of things to abolish the new regulations by which his royal power had not long before been limited, and to restore the former method of government.
In the last years of Wenceslas’ reign the conflict over the boundaries of the royal power and that of the Estates was replaced by great disputes in the field of ecclesiastical affairs. These disputes were preceded by numerous and mostly very serious conflicts between King Wenceslas and the Church authorities. The first collision was that between the king and the cathedral chapter in Breslau, the capital of Silesia. When King Wenceslas visited the town in the summer of 1381, it had just been placed under an interdict by the cathedral chapter (the bishopric being then vacant), because at Christmas 1380 some barrels of foreign beer had been confiscated which had been ordered for the canons in defiance of the general regulations of the municipal authorities. When the chapter refused to comply with the king’s request that the interdict should be removed at least for a time, he felt that his royal authority was flouted and caused the chapter’s estates in the vicinity of Breslau to be occupied and pillaged. At the request of the king the interdict was removed shortly afterwards by order of the Pope, and the dispute with the Breslau chapter was settled in the spring of 1382, so that the power of the Bohemian Crown over the bishopric of Breslau was considerably strengthened.
More serious and more fateful were the disputes between the king and John of Jenstejn, the Archbishop of Prague. Conspicuously gifted and possessed of an extensive education which he had acquired through his studies at several Italian and French universities, particularly at Paris, this young man (he was scarcely twenty years old when in 1379 he took over the administration of the archbishopric of Prague) lived at first in an effeminate and worldly manner. But his severe illness and the terrible death of the Archbishop of Magdeburg at a dancing entertainment brought about a change in his mind and manner of living. He turned away from the world and lived like a penitent, devoting himself to fasting and bodily mortification, prayer, religious meditation, and the writing of religious treatises of a mystical tendency. At the same time, however, he had an excessively high opinion of his ecclesiastical authority and did not cease to surround himself with splendour, being convinced that this was required for the maintenance of his dignity. He was very sensitive about the rights of his office, and thus found himself engaged in numerous conflicts with the higher clergy of his diocese as well as with several laymen and with the temporal authorities. In 1384 he had a very sharp dispute with King Wenceslas himself over a dam on the River Elbe, and thus incurred his displeasure. This fact was exploited by some of the favourite officials and advisers of the king, who began to interfere more boldly with matters belonging to the sphere of the ecclesiastical authorities and did not always respect the rights which had previously been granted to the Church in Bohemia. Thus in 1392-93, on the order of one of these officials, two priests were executed in Prague for various base crimes; and in other directions also the temporal authorities disregarded the liberties which were claimed at that time by the Church. In view of these circumstances the archbishop presented a complaint to the king in 1393, and also summoned before the archiepiscopal court the royal official who had ordered the execution of the two priests. This action greatly enraged the proud and irascible king against the archbishop and his officials. The king, however, lost his self-control completely over another event which happened soon afterwards.
Murder of John of Pomuk
Intending to establish a new bishopric in western Bohemia and to endow it with the estates of the Benedictine monastery at Kladruby, Wenceslas desired that after the death of the abbot his position should remain vacant. But when the abbot died, the monks at Kladruby elected a successor and Archbishop John, although he knew of the king’s intention, gave instructions for the election to be confirmed by his vicar-general, John of Pomuk. The news of this enraged the king to such an extent that during the negotiations regarding the archbishop’s complaints he ordered the arrest of the archbishop and his three advisers, including the vicar-general John of Pomuk. The archbishop was released, but his advisers remained in the power of the king, who cross-examined them and then ordered them to be tortured; in particular John of Pomuk was burnt with torches and lighted candles so that he almost lost consciousness. Finally, the king ordered them all to be drowned, but on reflection promised to grant them their lives on condition that they undertook on oath to tell no one that they had been imprisoned and tortured. The others did so, but John of Pomuk, exhausted by his tortures, was unable to sign the document presented to him. The king then ordered him to be taken away to his death. John of Pomuk was dragged away to the stone bridge built by the Emperor Charles IV, and bound hand and foot was thrown into the Vltava on 20 March 1393.
When his rage had passed, the king tried to make amends. Making use of the advantages of the quinquagenary year which was just then proclaimed in Prague by permission of the Pope, he obtained absolution from the Church by carrying out the prescribed acts of penitence. He also invited the archbishop to enter into negotiations with a view to a reconciliation. The archbishop accepted the invitation, but when the negotiations fell through, he began to entertain fears as to his safety; he fled from Prague and went to Rome. There he presented to the papal Court a lengthy report containing all his complaints against King Wenceslas, and requested the Pope to appoint judges to try the king and his assistants and to inflict ecclesiastical penalties on them as sacrilegious persons and murderers. However, he achieved no success at the papal court; none of his complaints, not even the report on the cruel death of the vicar-general John of Pomuk, induced Pope Boniface IX to take action against King Wenceslas in defence of the rights of the Church. At that time the Pope was expecting the king to arrive in Italy and to help him to gain a final victory over his enemies there and over the Pope at Avignon. Hence the Curia turned a favourable ear towards the king’s request that Archbishop John should be removed from his position. In these circumstances Archbishop John considered it advisable to give up his office of his own free will towards the end of the year 1395; he remained in Rome, where five years later he died. Thus if the Curia abandoned without hesitation such a distinguished prelate as Archbishop John of Jenstejn in his struggle against the king for the liberty and rights of the Church, it is little wonder that it passed over in silence the martyrdom of his vicar-general, John of Pomuk, a man otherwise of small importance, who was given a martyr’s halo only on account, of the religious struggles of a later date, and was raised to the position of a great national saint under the name of John of Nepomuk (for in the meantime the name of his birth-place had been changed from Pomuk to Nepomuk) by the victorious Counter-Reformation. The attitude of the Pope towards the king changed when the latter endeavoured to bring about the end of the papal schism by the resignation of both Popes. Then Pope Boniface IX took the side of Wenceslas’ opponents in the German Empire and contributed considerably towards his deposition.
In all these conflicts with the dignitaries and officials of the Church, King Wenceslas appears to us as determined an upholder of royal rights as he was an opponent of Church principles and claims that affected the power of the king. It might be thought that a king who so energetically defended his rights against priests and Church institutions at home would also have resisted no less resolutely the excessive interference of the Curia with the ecclesiastical administration in his lands, and have stopped the abuses which arose therefrom in the Church of his time. Wenceslas, however, not only did not do this; he tolerated and even supported the growth of the Pope’s influence on the ecclesiastical administration in Bohemia and willingly reconciled himself to the harmful sides of the papal administrative system; it was precisely at this period that this harmfulness reached its zenith, and the king did not hesitate to draw benefit for himself from the fact. Perhaps the greatest culprit in respect of accumulation of benefices in territories governed by Wenceslas was one of his foremost advisers and favourites, Wenceslas Králik, who probably obtained all his benefices by the Pope’s favour. The Pope’s tithe was exacted year by year in the early part of Wenceslas’ reign, and the collection of the plenary indulgences, authorised at the occasion of the quinquagenary year of grace given to Wenceslas’ territories in 1393, was likewise permitted and supported by the king, who did not fail, of course, to secure a share for himself. Thus while the Bohemian clergy and ecclesiastical institutions were engaged in disputes with the temporal authorities, there existed between King Wenceslas and the Curia a full agreement, which both parties bought, of course, by making mutual political but morally very doubtful concessions.
There is no wonder that in such circumstances as these the moral deficiencies and abuses, the beginnings of which may be observed in the reign of Charles IV, greatly gained ground in the Church of Bohemia. But the resistance to them also increased, for it was strengthened by the genuinely moral movement which was stimulated in the reign of Charles IV by the activities of the famous preachers Waldhauser and Milic, and grew wider and deeper during the reign of Wenceslas IV. Milic was succeeded in his labours by Thomas of Stitny and Matthias of Janov, two distinguished Czech thinkers of the first period of Wenceslas’ reign. Thomas of Stitny (ob. c. 1401), a devout and educated landowner, wrote in Czech, and mostly following foreign models, a number of works of a moralising and religious character; they clearly demonstrate the influence of Milic’s thought and spirit. Some of the masters of arts of the university found fault with him for writing on difficult religious and philosophical questions in the language of the common people, but Stitny paid no heed to such reproaches. Genuinely devoted to the Church, he avoided all dogmatic deviations from Church doctrine and disagreements with the Church authorities. Matthias of Janov (ob.1394) obtained the degree of master of arts at the University of Paris and studied theology there. As a preacher and writer in the spirit of Milic, he followed his example by recommending frequent attendance at the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, but he also condemned an excessive worship of the saints, relics, pictures, and miracles, and opposed in general external and ostentatious manifestations of piety. His views aroused the anger of the Church authorities. At the Prague synod in 1388 it was strictly forbidden to give the Holy Eucharist to the laity more frequently than once a month. A year later Matthias of Janov, together with two priests of the same way of thinking, was compelled at the synod to recant in public his views concerning the worship of the saints, their relics and pictures, and the frequent receiving of the Holy Eucharist. He recanted, of course, unwillingly, nor did he give up his views afterwards. But he soon died, leaving a great Latin work entitled De regulis veteris et novi testamenti. This work makes a comparison between true and false Christianity and contains a severe criticism of the Church and its abuses at that time; later, in the time of John Hus, by reason of its explanation of the need for frequent Communion, it provided the impulse for the introduction of the habit of receiving the Eucharist in both kinds.
The movement of reform aroused by the work of Milic continued to live amongst the common people even after his death. The proof of this may be seen in the predilection of the people of Prague for sermons dealing with the need for moral improvement. It was for this reason that the Bethlehem Chapel was founded in the year 1391. Its founders, a knight and a burgher, imposed on the administrators of this chapel the duty of preaching in Czech twice on every feast day, and it was certainly their intention that the preaching should be in the spirit of Milic. This, however, was only completely fulfilled a few years later when in 1402 the Bethlehem Chapel was placed under the charge of John Hus.
This moral and intellectual movement arose and developed outside the Prague University, which was the highest cultural institution of the Bohemian State. The international character and special purpose of the university did not allow it to influence directly the moral and spiritual life of the country. Nevertheless, the university could not remain entirely shut off from the questions and problems of the day in Bohemia. Several of the foreigners who taught at the University of Prague were famous as writers and preachers of a reforming tendency. The celebrated Heidelberg professor, Nicholaus Magni de Javor, a Silesian, who was in Prague during the years 1378-1402, not only wrote there religious works of a reforming character, but was also the German preacher in the church where Waldhauser used to preach. In the years 1365-90 there lived in Prague the celebrated Matthias of Cracow, who is generally recognised as the author of two famous works, Speculum aureum de titulis beneficiorum and De squaloribus curiae Romanae, in which he criticises with extraordinary sharpness the system of Church administration adopted by the Curia. Albert Engelschalk of Straubing, who is considered by some to be the author of the first of these works, lectured at the University of Prague in the years 1373-1402. The two works in question were only finished after the departure of these two scholars from Bohemia, but it seems that their origin was in Prague.
Although it is difficult to imagine that the activities of these men produced no effect upon their environment in Prague, it is impossible to ascertain their direct connexion with the Bohemian religious movement. A direct connexion between this movement and the University of Prague was only formed when the foreign and mainly German element at that institution (at the beginning the foreigners formed the absolute majority began to give way before the Czech element). This was brought about partly by the gradual departure of the foreign professors and students to other universities which were established in Central Europe during the years following the foundation of Prague University (the Universities of Cracow, Vienna, Heidelberg, Cologne, and Erfurt), and partly by the natural development of learning in the Czech nation. From the steady strengthening of the Czech element at the university, and from its growing national consciousness, there naturally arose the endeavour to provide the Czech masters of arts with a greater degree of influence over the administration of the university and with a larger share of its income than they had received at its foundation. Hence arose the conflicts between the Bohemian “nation”, and the other three “nations” at the university. For example, a dispute arose in the year 1384 over the places in the university colleges of the Emperor Charles IV and King Wenceslas IV. In order to settle the dispute, it was decided to grant the Czech masters of arts five places out of six in each of the two colleges, the sixth being reserved for the foreign masters of arts. In the succeeding years the Czech influence at the university became still stronger. There was an increase in the number of Czech professors, and their influence over the administration of the university grew in consequence of the fact that more and more of the higher offices within it were given to Czechs. At the beginning of the fifteenth century the number of Czech masters of arts at the University of Prague was only a little lower than that of the foreign masters, while in the most important Faculty, Theology, the Czech masters were now beginning to form the majority.
It was just at this time that a confidential relationship developed between the university and the Bohemian movement of reform. The connecting link in this relationship was John Hus. A special chapter will be devoted to this great figure of Bohemian history in the next volume of this work. There, in due connexion with historical events in Bohemia, a detailed account will be given of his great conflict with the Church of Rome, a conflict which brought him in 1415 to a martyr’s death at the stake at Constance. Here it is sufficient to say that King Wenceslas, who survived Hus by four years, lived to see the beginnings of the great struggle which the Czech nation was preparing to wage in memory of Hus against almost the whole of Christendom. The king’s death was accelerated by the first revolutionary outbursts that accompanied this decision by the Czech people. Excited by the news of the violent treatment meted out by the riotous crowd to the Prague councillors who opposed the ideas of Hus, the king had an apoplectic seizure to which he succumbed on 16 August 1419.