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Bohemia

Dedicated to Baron Humpk D’Bohunk and all of V’tavia

by Friar Thomas Bacon (David Moreno)
Orignally published in the September 1981, A.S. XVI issue of the Dragonflyre, a publication of the Barony of Vatavia.

The kingdom of Bohemia occupied what is now western Czechoslovakia. Its borders were defined by mountains, but is influence spread over a much larger area. With a history that lasted almost exactly a thousand years, it was at one time the center of the Holy Roman Empire. Bohemia came to an end in the Thirty Years War, to be reincarnated two centuries later.

Written Bohemian history began in 623 when Samo, either a Slavic chieftain or a Frankish tradesman, established a kingdom which lasted until his death in 658. Having united the Czech people against the Avars, a nomadic tribe from the Russian steppes, Samo was able to repulse the Franks under King Dagobert in 631.

After Samo’s death, the Avars regained Bohemia. In six campaigns, spanning from 788 to 805, Charlemagne destroyed the Avars and brought Bohemia into his empire. Bohemia and her sister region of Moravia to the east were created marches, which were special military commands.

In 833 Mojmir founded the kingdom of Moravia, which included Bohemia. His successor, Rastislav, in 862 opened communications with the Byzantine Empire, in part to counter Frankish pressure. A year later two brothers, Cyril and Methodius, monks from Saloniki, began the conversion of Moravia to Christianity. They are usually credited with the invention of the Cyrillic script, the basis for most Eastern European alphabets. Despite this initial missionary work by the Eastern Church Moravia came under the control of the Roman Church soon after the death of Methodius in 885. Rastislav was captured in 869 by Louis the German and was succeeded by Sviatopluk, who created the Great Moravian Empire, which contained parts of Hungary, Poland and Germany. Sviatopluk died in 894 and his empire collapsed in 906 under the onslaught of the Magyars, who founded Hungary.

At this time, Bohemia came under the rule of the first of the Premyslids, St. Wenceslas. Despite the ancient carol, Wenceslas was not a king, but a duke, having been forced to recognize the suzerainty of King Henry I or Germany. Wenceslas was martyred on Sept. 25, 935, St. Wenceslas Day, at the instigation of his heathen brother Boleslav, who succeeded him.

The rest of the century saw the expansion of Bohemian power to the east, including much of southern Poland. In 973, the bishopric of Prague was founded, marking the final victory of Christianity.

In 1003, Boleslav Chrobry (the Brave) of Poland was able to take Bohemia, due to internal disputes in Germany and Bohemia. The Emperor Henry II drove him out the next year, but disorder continued in Bohemia. In 1034, Bretislav the Restorer came to power in Bohemia and began a series of conquests that led to the taking of Poland. In 1041, however, the Emperor Henry III, alarmed at the growth of Bohemian power, invaded Bohemia and forced Bretislav to relinquish Poland.

The next century was fairly quiet. In 1086 Vratislav II was allowed the use of the title of king as a reward for his support of the Emperor Henry IV against the Papacy in the Investiture Struggle. The title died with him, however, in 1092. The title was permanently acquired in 1154 by Vladislav II for his support of Frederick Barbarossa in his Italian campaigns.

The first true king of Bohemia was Ottokar I, reigning from 1198 to 1230. In the struggles that followed Emperor Henry VI’s premature death in 1197, Ottokar was able to make Bohemia virtually independent and an important power within the empire. He secured this independence in the Golden Bull of 1212 of Frederick II, which served as a sort of constitution for the empire for the rest of the Middle Ages.

In the reign of Ottokar’s son, Wenceslas I (1230-1253) there was the first large influx of German settlers, which he had encouraged and which continued throughout the period. This resulted in several revolts by his nobles in the latter part of his reign.

The peak of Bohemian power and greatness came under Ottokar II (1253-1278). In 1251 he had been elected Duke of Austria. And in a series of battles in 1260-61, he conquered the lands to the south to the Adriatic. He continued his father’s policy of encouraging German immigration until nearly all the towns of Bohemia and Moravia were Germanic. The silver mines of Kutna Hora began operation and laid the foundation of Bohemia’s prosperity for the next several centuries.

Ottokar’s ambitions were checked, however, with the election of Rudolf of Hapsburg as emperor in 1263. After his refusal to recognize Rudolf, the Diet of Regensburg, in the following year declared his conquests void and authorized Rudolf to retake them. When his nobles refused to support him, Ottokar was forced to surrender and to recognize Rudolf’s suzerainty over Bohemia. In 1278 Ottokar revolted and at the Battle of Marchfeld was again deserted by his nobles, and killed.

Ottokar’s son, Wenceslas II, ruled until 1302. He was succeeded by Wenceslas II, King of Hungary since 1301, who was murdered in 1306, thus ending the Premyslid line.

In 1310, John of Luxemburg, son of Emperor Henry VII, was elected King of Bohemia. John, however, was something of a knight-errant and generally neglected Bohemia. He died fighting for the French at Crecy in 1346. His son, Charles, was elected emperor in 1346, beginning a “golden age” for Bohemia. Neglecting most of the empire, Charles spent his energies building up Bohemia. He rebuilt Prague and in 1348 founded the University of Prague, the first university in central Europe.

Charles’s son, Wenceslas IV, succeeded him in 1378, and continued to build up Bohemia at the expense of the empire. Wenceslas, however, would take a stand only when forced and usually avoided issues by being drunk. In 1400 the Diet summoned him and, when he refuse to leave Bohemia, elected Rupert of Wittelsback as emperor. Wenceslas would not recognize Rupert’s election, but did not do anything to retain the title. When Rupert died in 1410, Wenceslas’ brother, Sigismund of Brandenburg, was elected emperor, with Wenceslas’ grudging approval.

When Wenceslas died in 1419, the throne passed to Sigismund. But under Wenceslas, the Hussite movement -- half religious, half-nationalistic -- arose and prevented him from taking it. This period is worth of an article of its own, and so will be taken up in a later issue.

The political history of the Hussite movement ended in 1471 when Ladislas II took the throne, Son of the King of Poland, he was also the King of Hungary and spent most of his time there. A weak king, he allowed power to flow to the nobles, who in turn subjected the towns and the peasants. His son, Louis, was a boy through most of his short reign as was further plagued by the spread of Lutheranism. Louis was killed by the Turks in 1526 and the crown passed to Ferdinand of Hapsburg. In 1547, Bohemia was absorbed into the growing Hapsburg Empire. In 1618, Bohemia made one last gasp for independence, starting the Thirty Years War. That gasp ended on Nov. 8, 1620, at the Battle of White Mountain.

Thus ended the country of Bohemia. Submerged in the vast Hapsburg Empire, it would not emerge again for two centuries. And although a shadow of its former self, its fate would lead to one world war, and nearly start another. History is not yet through with Bohemia.

 

Bibliography

Durant, Will, and Ariel Durant. The Story of Civilization: The Age of Faith, A History of Medieval Civilization. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1950.

Graus, Frantisek. Eastern and Western Europe in the Middles Ages. Ed. Geoffrey Barraclough. London: London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc., 1970.

Kinder, Hermann, and Werner Hilgemann. The Anchor Atlas of World History Vol. 1. Garden City: Anchor Books, 1974.

LaMonte, John L. The World of the Middle Ages. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts Inc., 1949.

Langer, William L. An Encyclopedia of World History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1972.

 

Copyright © 1981 - present His Lordship Friar Thomas Bacon (David Moreno). All rights reserved.

 

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