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1310-1437 - Luxemburg Dynasty

The Imperial throne, always elective, was conferred, in 1308, on the princes of the House of Luxembourg, who occupied it till 1438, when the House of Hapsburg obtained the Imperial dignity. It was under the reign of these two dynasties that the government of the Empire, which till then had been vacillating and uncertain, began to assume a constitutional form, and a new and settled code of laws.

As soon as the death in 1308 of the Holy Roman Emperoro Albert was known, Philip IV. of France (surnamed le Bel, the handsome) claimed the imperial crown on behalf of his brother Charles ; but his pretensions were at once rejected by the electors. Still less were they inclined to choose another prince of the house of Habsburg ; for Albert had taught them that a sovereign who possessed extensive hereditary dominions of his own was not likely to be a very conscientious respecter of those rights which his independent resources gave him the means of violating. They determined therefore to look around them for some knight of high military reputation, but small possessions: and in order to conciliate the favor of the Holy See, agreed that the election should fall on him who obtained the greatest number of votes among the spiritual electors. It happened at this time that the city of Treves was on terms of close friendship and alliance with its neighbour Count Henry of Luxembourg, an instance of amity not very common in those disturbed days.

Few of the German sovereigns have done such credit to the choice of the electors as Henry VII.; from the moment of his ascending the throne he took Charlemagne, Barbarossa, and Frederick II. for his models; the mean selfish policy of his predecessors was entirely discarded, and instead of aiming at the aggrandizement of his hereditary dominions, he thought only how he could best strengthen and consolidate the empire. Being fully aware of his present weakness in Germany amidst a crowd of ambitious nobles, each of whom sought only his own interest, he resolved on first gaining for himself a glorious name abroad by freeing Italy from French usurpation.

The ancient Slavonic dynasty of the Dukes and Kings of Bohemia became extinct with Wenceslaus III, who was assassinated in 1306. After the death of Wenceslas III, the last king of the Przemyslid Dynasty, several kings supplanted each other as the head of state, but none could consolidate their position. A portion of the nobility and the abbots, who were dissatisfied with the reign of Jindrich Korutanský, [r. 1307-10] concocted a coup. They deposed the king with the agreement of Emperor Henry VII of Luxemburg. The emperor consented to the marriage of his son, the 14-year-old John of Luxembourg, to Elizabeth (Eliska), the as-yet-unmarried sister of the late Wenceslas III, the last Premyslid king.

The Emperor Henry VII, of the House of Luxembourg, seized this opportunity of transferring to his own family the kingdom of Bohemia, in which he invested his son John / Jan / Jean - (1309), who had married the Princess Elizabeth, Bister to the last King of Bohemia. John, having made considerable acquisitions in Bohemia, was induced to cede, by treaty with Poland, the sovereignty of that province. The Emperor Charles IV., son of John, incorporated Silesia, as also Lusatia, with the kingdom of Bohemia, by the Pragmatics which he published in 1355 and 1370. Thus, John of Luxemburg became the king of Bohemia between 1310 and 1346.

The nobility forced inauguration charters on the new king, in which the sovereign undertook to respect and observe their rights and privileges. They guarded these so vigilantly that John of Luxemburg gradually gave up implementing an internal policy and used Bohemia solely as a hinterland for dynastic and imperial interests. His major influence on international events was borne out by the fact that in Europe at that time the saying held true that "without the Bohemian king, nobody can settle their business."

Under John of Luxembourg's rule, more territories - including the regions of Cheb, Lusatia and Silesia - were joined to Bohemia. All of these regions together, under the rule of John of Luxembourg, came to be known as the "Lands of the Czech Crown." So you see, there never was an easy "one-word" way (like 'Czechia') to describe this part of the world, not even in way back in the 14th century.

John of Luxembourg was a good king, but he had a fatal weakness for chivalry, knighthood, honor - and especially, for battles. He loved to fight. When there weren't any battles in his immediate neighborhood, he went abroad to help his friends fight their battles. By this time, John of Luxemburg was completely blind, but this did not prevent him from participating in the Battle of Crécy on the side of the French king in 1346. This battle, which was fought at the beginning of the so-called Hundred Years' War, ended in a major victory for the English. John of Luxemburg was among those killed in the battle. His son Charles was also injured, but fortunately for the land of the Bohemian crown he was not seriously wounded. And so he was succeeded by his young son, Charles IV.

The medieval Czech state reached the zenith of its power and importance under Charles IV. He was the King of Bohemia, later also Holy Roman Emperor, and today he is known as the Father of the Czech Nation. John of Luxembourg sent his firstborn son Wenceslas - the future Emperor Charles IV - to be educated at the royal court in France. Charles became margrave of Moravia while his father still reigned, and then also became king of Rome. His father also voted for him as king of Bohemia.

Wenceslas IV (1378-1419), son of Charles IV and heir to the Czech and Roman crowns, was a weak and ineffective ruler. He was also mean, a drunk, and wildly unpopular. He was imprisoned twice during his reign. Had times been different, this may not have mattered much. As luck would have it, however, he became king during a particularly turbulent time in Czech history.

Unfortunately, Wenceslas IV was much more interested in drinking than in ruling. He was terribly spoiled, and even as an adult he would throw fits when people didn't do exactly as he wished them to. He is remembered by history today in two ways: sometimes as a wishy- washy, good-for-nothing drunkard, and sometimes as a benefactor of the common man. The way in which this latter reputation was earned is usually explained in this way: Wenceslas IV used to go around Prague dressed as a commoner. He would go to pubs and shops this way, and whenever he found a merchant giving the public short measures, he would punish them by having them thrown off Charles Bridge into the river to drown. If this legend is based on fact, then it is probably likely that Wenceslas IV pursued this hobby not so much to help the common man, but rather from the pleasure he derived from having people thrown into the river.

Probably the most famous person Wenceslas IV had thrown into the river was an insignificant court clerk by name of John of Pomuk. During the Counter-Reformation, the Catholic Church recovered the story of John of Pomuk's death and entirely overhauled it - making John's name John of Nepomuk, making his job the confessor to the Queen (instead of an office clerk), and making the reason for his execution the "fact" that John refused to divulge the Queen's secrets - told in Confession - to the king. John of Nepumuk was eventually made a saint on the basis of this story, but the Vatican rescinded the decision in 1961, explaining that testimony of his miracles and other evidence of his deeds was "fishy."

It's hard to say what the common people of the time really thought of Wenceslas IV, as common people don't usually have much of a say in the writing of history. It is known that he was wildly unpopular with the nobility, who had him imprisoned not once but several times during his reign.

He wasn't exactly revered by his brother, Sigismund, either. Even as the careless blood of his grandfather, John of Luxembourg, coursed through Vaclav IV's veins - so did the power-hungry blood of the early Przemyslide rulers flow freely through the arteries of Sigismund. In short, he wanted to be king, and it was he who was behind at least one of the conspiracies to imprison King Vaclav IV.

While this court intrigue was going on, things couldn't really have been all that good for the common man, else he'd not have been spending much of his leisure time listening to the rabble-rousing preachers who started travelling around the country at this time, full of criticism for the excesses of the Catholic Church. One such religious reformer was to play a pivotal (though posthumous) role in deciding the country's fate for the next several hundred years.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:53:27 ZULU