The origins of Bohemia

Bohemia was named after the Boii, a Celtic tribe who once dwelt there in the times of the Roman Empire, but later was settled by the Slavic Czechs sometime in the sixth and seventh centuries. Since the medieval Czechs seemed to have referred to their nation only with such phrases as the "Lands of the Czech Crown", everyone else continued using the old Latin name of Bohemia, although today it would be the Czech Republic.

It was the legendary Queen Libussa, who married a peasant by the name of Premysl, that supposedly founded the first Bohemian dynasty sometime in the ninth century, and subsequent historical rulers of Bohemia from Borivoi I onwards would claim descent from Premysl.

The early Bohemian rulers was over-shadowed by the Great Moravian Empire that dominated the area during the mid and late ninth century. It was only when the intrusion of the Magyars and their defeat of Great Moravian Empire in 906, that Bohemia could emerge as an independent nation.

The Premyslid rulers

The first great Bohemian ruler was Wenceslaus known as Saint Wenceslaus (and otherwise known as 'Good King Wenceslas') who successfully resisted German domination but not the spread of German influence. His brother and successor Boleslav I (929–67), was forced in the year 950 to recognise the feudal supremacy to the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I and therefore Bohemia despite its Slavic origins was draw within the ambit of the Empire.

As a result German influence and settlement within Bohemia increased and Bohemia came to be considered part of Germany and its rulers took part in the election of the Holy Roman Emperor. In the year 1198, Ottokar I was crowned king of Bohemia, in recognition of his support for the Emperor Otto and this royal distinction was made hereditary in 1212 by the Golden Sicilian Bull.

Thus Bohemia became an independent kingdom within the Empire and the only territory within the Empire to be accorded the status of a kingdom.

The Premyslid kings gradually expanded their kingdom to include both Moravia and Silesia as well as parts of western Slovakia and under Ottokar II even penetrated Austria and reached the Adriatic coast. Ottokar II was however defeated by the Habsburg Rudolf I at the battle at Marchfeld in 1278 , and Bohemia lost much of its conquests.

Ottokar II was succeeded by his seven year old son, Wenceslaus II but the crown of Bohemia was taken by Otto of Brandenburg who held Wenceslaus prisoner until the year 1283 when Wenceslaus was allowed to inherit the throne. Wenceslaus, possibly in reaction to the territorial losses of his father sought to create a confederation between Bohemia and Poland and therefore appears as a ruler of Poland as well. His son Wenceslaus III continued this policy but when he died in 1306 at the age of only seventeen, his death brought both the Polish-Bohemian union and the line of Premyslid kings to an end.

The Luxembourg kings

After the brief intrusion of Rudolph I and a flirtation with Henry of Tirol the Bohemians settled on a dynasty of French kings, the first of which was the fourteen year old John who married a sister of the late Wenceslaus III to cement his claim to the throne.

John proved to be a competent ruler and managed to acquire the territories of Cheb, Lusatia and Silesia but his fondness of a good fight proved to be his undoing as he decided to fight on the side of the king of France at the battle of Crecy in 1346. The throne therefore passed to his son, who despite being named 'Wenceslaus' was called 'Charles' by his French relations and therefore goes under the name of Charles of Karel but is better known as the Holy Roman EmperorCharles IV.

Under Charles rule medieval Bohemia reached the peak of its power and influence, which is why he is known as the Father of the Czech Nation. His son Wenceslaus was however far less capable if not downright incompetent and his successor Sigismund was king in name only as the Hussite Wars which lasted between 1419 and 1436 rendered Bohemia essentially ungovernable.

Habsburg and Prodebady

Neither of the succeeding Habsburg kings amounted to much; Albert did not last very long (died of dysentery) and the reign of his infant son Ladislaus plagued by the usual problems with regents and the question of his disputed claims to the crown of Hungary.

Bohemia had by now become one of the centres for the new Protestant version of Christianity which had been enthusiastically adopted by the Bohemian nobility (if nothing else, it provided a pretext to assert their own rights at the expense of those of the crown).

As a result power had shifted from the crown to the nobility and this was demonstrated most clearly when they chose George Podebrady or Jiri to replace the deceased Ladislaus in the year 1457. George was thus the first truly elected king of Bohemia. He was known as the 'Heretic' or the 'Hussite' king because of his Protestant beliefs which prompted conflict with the staunchly Catholic king of Hungary Matthias Corvinus and resulted in a loss of territory to the Hungarians.

The Jagellon kings

With the death of George Podebrady the throne of Bohemia passed into the hands of the Catholic and Polish-Lithuanian Vladislav who was more interested in enjoying the dignity of being king rather than imposing his authority and was quite prepared to allow the Protestant nobility to continue as before.

Vladislav similarly obtained for himself the crown of Hungary in 1490 and established a Bohemian-Hungarian union that persisted until the death of Ludwig Jagellon or Louis II at the battle of Mohacs in 1526.

Habsburgs Again

The throne of Bohemia was claimed by one Ferdinand the archduke of Austria and later Holy Roman Emperor (he also had a stab at being king of Hungary as well) by virtue of the fact that he was Ludwig's brother-in-law. Ferdinand set out to re-establish the authority of the crown in Bohemia, which prompted a rebellion in 1547. The rebellion was put down which served only to advance Ferdinand's project which was continued by his successors Maxmilian II and Rudolf II.

Rudolf II relocated his court from Vienna to Prague signalling that Bohemia was now being seen as the centre of the Habsburg domain. The monarchy however remained notion ally elective and subject to the approval of the Estates, as the assembly of the of the nobility was concerned and the Habsburg kings were forced to grant religious toleration.

After Rudolf was forced to retire in 1611 (dementia due to syphilis), his replacement Matthias was prompted to disregard the previously agreed conventions and impose the Catholic faith. The Bohemians promptly rebelled and threw two of his representatives out of the windows of Hradcin Castle in Prague on the 23rd May 1618.

When Matthias died the following year the Estates ignored Matthias designated heir and elected Frederick V of Wittelsbach the Elector Palatine (also known as Frederick the Winter King) as king of Bohemia. The Habsburgs were soon back in control after defeating Frederick at the battle of the White Mountain in 1620. For their pains the Bohemians suffered the Thirty Years' War, during which the nation was late waste, with half the population killed.

When the Habsburgs regained control of the country they demoted Bohemia to the status of an imperial crown land and Bohemia thus became simply one of the constituent parts of the long-lasting Habsburg Empire and although the odd Habsburg sometimes went to the trouble of being formally crowned as king of Bohemia (the last to do so was Leopold II in 1791), Bohemia had no real independence.

Aftermath

Bohemia eventually re-emerged with the final demise of the Habsburg Empire (in the guise of Austro-Hungarian Empire) in 1918, when with the addition of Slovakia it was known as the republic Czechoslovakia. But its previous history as part of the Holy Roman Empire and a significant German speaking population put it towards the top of Herr Hitler's shopping list. Czechoslovakia re-emerged after the end of World War II, fell under communist domination until 1989, when it re-emerged as a democratic republic only to disappear once again on the 1st January 1993 as it divided itself into the Czech Republic (i.e. Bohemia) and Slovakia.


It seems as if it has been decided that the numbering of Bohemian rulers should start again with the elevation in status of the early dukes to the status of hereditary kings. There are therefore two sets of 'Wenceslaus', which is confusing but thetre you go.

Some of the early dukes such as Vladislav II where also granted the right to call themselves kings, but this was a specifically personal honour, only from the time of the Golden Sicilian Bull and the reign of Ottokar II was this right made hereditary.


MONARCHS OF BOHEMIA

Dukes of Bohemia

Premyslid

Kings of Bohemia

Premyslid

Brandenburg

Premyslid

Habsburg

Tirol

Luxembourg

Habsburg

Podebrady

Jagellon

Habsburg
All of whom also served as Holy Roman Emperors

Wittelsbach

Ruled by the Habsburg family thereafter until 1918.


SOURCES

Information on the sucession of Bohemian monarchs from
http://www.friesian.com/perifran.htm
http://www.angelfire.com/in3/theodore/sovereigns/countries/bohemia.html
http://mujweb.atlas.cz/zabava/historie/kings.html

Information on Bohemian history from;
Radio Prague's History Online at http://archiv.radio.cz/history_96/history02.html

Bohemia from The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition 2001 at http://www.bartleby.com/65/bo/Bohemia.html

A brief history of Bohemia in the 12th-13th Century at http://isd.usc.edu/~aflesch/bohemia.html

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