In the year of our Lord 1316, on May 14th, in the first hour, Wenceslas was born in the city of Prague, the firstborn of King John and Lady Elizabeth, the Bohemian and Polish Queen, and his birth brought joy and delight to all who loved the good of the King and the Kingdom.Petr Žitavský: Zbraslav Chronicle
May 14, 1316
Shortly after dawn on May 14th 1316, Elizabeth of Bohemia gives birth to the future heir to the throne of the King of Bohemia, John of Luxembourg. The boy is given the traditional name of Kings of Bohemia – Wenceslas.
The year of his birth is described by chroniclers as one having an exceptionally large number of natural disasters. First, a large part of Prague, including Prague Castle, was reduced to ashes in a devastating fire; therefore, the Royal son is born directly in the city, probably in Štupart’s House near the Church of St. James. Soon, the country also had to endure an unprecedented drought, followed by floods and a severe winter.
The atmosphere is also aggravated by political conflicts in Central Europe. In addition, the strong opposition of power-hungry nobles in Bohemia stands against the “Foreigner King”, John of Luxembourg.
The young King of Bohemia Wenceslas III is assassinated in Olomouc and in 1306 the Bohemian throne appears to be without a hereditary successor. Various groups of self-interested nobles and clergymen see their chance and seek a suitable groom for the sister of Wenceslas III - Elizabeth of Bohemia. However, she eventually thwarts their plans and flees to a convent.
The complicated negotiations are moved forward by influential Cistercian abbots, who, in 1309, manage to arrange the marriage of Elizabeth to John of Luxembourg, the son of the King of the Romans, Henry VII.
The nobles hope that the joining of the powerful houses will strengthen the position of the Bohemian lands in Europe. The wedding takes place on September 1st 1310 in the German city of Speyer, after which John gathers his entire army and travels to Prague as King of Bohemia.
After the birth of Wenceslas, the marriage of Elizabeth and John is considerably strained. Elizabeth, as a direct descendant of Kings of Bohemia, has strong support from Bohemian nobility. John, on the contrary, is a thorn in the side of many aristocrats, because his lavish lifestyle is emptying the land’s Treasury.
The dispute between the spouses escalates in 1319. John believes that Elizabeth, through her eldest son, seeks to pursue her own desire for power. Under strange circumstances, Elizabeth runs away with her children to Loket Castle.
An angry John decides to deal with the situation firmly. He arrives at the castle with his army, sends Elizabeth with the younger children to Mělník, and shuts Wenceslas away in the Loket prison essentially as a hostage. After a two-month stay, the Bohemian Prince spent several years in isolation at Křivoklát Castle.
Adoration of the Magi | Chapel of the Holy Cross, Karlštejn Castle
When I was seven years old, my father sent me in the year of our Lord 1323 to a French King in France. This King let the Bishop administer the confirmation and I received the same name as him, which was Charles.Charles IV: Vita Caroli
In the uncertain political situation, John of Luxembourg seeks to deepen relations with France. Therefore, he sends his eldest son to gain education at the court of the French King and finds him a wife from the same country.
Barely a few weeks after he leaves Křivoklát, the young Prince Wenceslas finds himself in Paris. At the confirmation he accepts the new name Charles and, probably on the same day, May 15th 1323, he marries Blanche of Valois.
The seven year old spouses are separated after the wedding – Blanche leaves Paris while the Bohemian Prince learns to read, write, count and master the fundamentals of French and Latin. Later, as he sits on the Czech throne, he is very likely the first King of Bohemia who can read and write.
Towards the end of his stay in France, Charles becomes close to his new teacher, Abbot Pierre de Rosières. He introduced the Bohemian Prince to the environment of the Sorbonne University in Paris, and significantly influenced his perspective on the importance of education.
De Rosières has numerous contacts and considerable influence, which will later take him to the papal throne. Charles’s friendship with him later helps John of Luxembourg when requesting the establishment of the Prague Archbishopric. Even later, de Rosières intercedes for Charles to become King of the Romans.
In his autobiography, Vita Caroli, Charles mentions a funny story of how both men predicted their future roles. \"Peter told me once, when I was in his home, “You will become King of the Romans”. I replied: “Before that you will become Pope”. “And both happened.”
The first wife of Charles, Blanche of Valois, who was called Blanche at the royal court due to her blond hair, stood by the young Prince during the most difficult years of his life.
Their marriage was accompanied by a long separation; the couple only began living together seven years after the wedding, when Charles was summoned by his father to Italy.
The relationship was also burdened by the riotous lifestyle of Charles in his youth, and the efforts of John of Luxembourg to interfere in the marriage due to the fact that Blanche failed to give birth to an heir for Charles.
The two spouses did however form a strong emotional bond, and when Blanche died at the age of 32, it was a severe blow for Charles.
Sainte-Chapelle, interior, Paris, France | © Shutterstock
Then we left for Lucca in Tuscany, arranged preparations for the battle against the Florentines, built the beautiful castle (...) and gave it the name of Monte Carlo.Charles IV: Vita Caroli
John of Luxembourg is trying to take over a city in northern Italy, leading to a series of bloody clashes. For the first time, the young Prince Charles appears at his side. And the Italian adventure nearly becomes fatal for him.
Shortly after his arrival, in Easter 1331, he miraculously survives an attempted poisoning. A year later, he finds himself in the middle of a military uprising against the Luxembourgs. In the battle of Fort San Felice, he for the first time leads the army and is badly injured.
At the same time, he is acquiring statesmanship and political skills whilst negotiating treaties, and strengthens the defence of the territory gained. Near the city of Lucca, he establishes the strategic castle bearing his name – Montecarlo.
Also, he meets his younger brother John Henry for the first time.
In his youth, Charles did not miss any opportunity to take part in jousting, and enjoyed the entertainment and adventure of jousting tournaments even after he became King of the Romans and King of Bohemia. He often participated under an assumed name and with a different coat of arms.
Not always did he manage to conceal his true identity, and so his former teacher Pierre de Rosières, now Pope Clement VI, found out about his misdemeanours. He wrote in a letter to Charles:
“We have learned from many reports that some German nobleman, who truly love your honour, complain and find it hard to bear, that you, wearing your clothes too short and tight, do not show the serious-mindedness, which befits the dignity of the Emperor.\"
During tournaments, Charles suffered numerous minor wounds, but also a serious injury to the jaw and cervical spine after being hit by a lance. Thus, for of the rest of his life, his head tilted to one side and his left cheek bore scars – that is why in most paintings he is depicted in profile.
\"When he resided in Parma, many said he committed adultery. He also spent lavishly as a youth, and did not cease to do so even after being reprimanded by his father.\"
This is how the Italian stay of Charles was described by his personal chronicler Beneš Krabice of Weitmile, and given the fact that the Holy Roman Emperor and King himself later apologized for his youthful deeds in his biography Vita Caroli, it was probably not far from the truth. Charles's father John could not be described as a model of Christian virtues either.
The Prince realised the importance of modesty and decency supposedly due to a prophetic dream he had in August 1333. In this dream, he witnessed the story of Dauphin of Viennois, who was punished by an Angel of the Lord for his immoral life by having his penis cut off.
When Charles recounted his dream to his father, he is said to have replied: \"Don't believe in dreams.\" However, Charles’s approach to life did fundamentally change.
Lucca, Italy | © Shutterstock
We arrived in Bohemia, where we have not been for eleven years. There we learned that a few years ago our mother Elizabeth died.Charles IV: Vita Caroli
October 30, 1333
In 1333 the strategic interests of the Luxembourgs takes Charles to Bohemia. He returns to his homeland after eleven years, basically as a foreigner – unable to speak his own language anymore.
At the end of October, he appears at the gates of Prague, which lies in ruins. Prague Castle is virtually uninhabitable, therefore, Charles settles in the city and orders that the most urgent reconstructions be implemented. He wants to bring his wife Blanche to Prague as soon as possible.
However, he manages to push through changes only with difficulty. John of Luxembourg, apparently out of fear that Charles could dislodge him from the Bohemian throne, does not let him lead the country as the “Young King\", but creates a special position for him, Margrave of Moravia. However, for this role, he does not establish any specific authority, and so a sharp struggle for power between father and son soon begins.
Soon after arriving in Bohemia, Charles gradually begins to consolidate the royal power. Relations with the nobility have always been erratic; therefore, he decides to rely mainly on cities, monasteries and his own domain.
John of Luxembourg doesn't need to hear the warning of the nobles to know that the ambitious steps of the Prince are aimed at seizing the throne. He is sufficiently far-sighted to understand Charles’s actions.
In 1335, John returns to Prague to consolidate his position. Once again, he usurps the title of Margrave of Moravia - and, in an instance, Charles is \"just\" the royal son without significant power. He thus travels to Tyrol to his brother John Henry, and continues to be involved in the administration of the Luxembourg domain as needed.
The reconciliation of father and son happens in 1339, when an aging John gradually passes on his royal duties to Charles.
“We found this Kingdom so devastated that we could not find a single free castle, which would not be pledged with all the royal estates, where we could stay... Prague Castle was completely abandoned, demolished and destroyed.\"
Charles’s description preserved in Vita Caroli, is of course prone to a degree of artistic license. The truth is however, that under the guidance of John of Luxembourg, the Kingdom of Bohemia did not flourish.
Immediately after arriving, Charles initiates the first changes. Based on the palaces, in which he resided as a youth in France, he orders the reconstruction of Prague Castle with the monumental Great Hall, which at that time had no equal in Bohemia.
He gradually tries to retrieve the former royal castles, which his father pledged to raise money for his military campaigns. He also looks for allies among nobles, on whom he can rely when enforcing his plans.
Prague | © Michal Vitásek, CzechTourism
When they with their numerous prelates and nobles came from the Prague Church, they arrived to a place dug up and prepared for new foundations. Four of them entered into this excavation, namely the Archbishop, the King and his two sons, they went down to the bottom and laid, with reverence, piety and in a suitable manner, the first stone for the construction of the new church.Petr Žitavský: Zbraslav Chronicle
The friendship of Charles and Pope Clement helps Prague to achieve the status of Archbishop's residence. To celebrate this event, the Luxembourgs establish the new Cathedral. The laying of the foundation stone takes place on November 21st in the presence of King John and both of his sons. Shortly afterwards, John and Charles set out on a crusade to Lithuania.
Following the French concept, the new Cathedral should be a place for coronations and the last resting place of Kings of Bohemia. Out of respect to his ancestors, Charles brings the remains of the Přemyslid Kings here.
John of Luxembourg tries to ensure sufficient financial resources for the construction of the sumptuous Cathedral – its construction will be partially financed from the profits of silver mines in Kutná Hora. But even that is not enough and the construction progresses only slowly. It is not fully completed until 1929.
Charles brought great luck to his closest friends and colleagues. One of the most important was Ernest of Pardubice.
The son of the Burgrave of the royal castle of Kladsko acquired a great education in northern Italy. He even got to the papal court, where he formed valuable contacts and probed behind the scenes of papal politics.
After returning to Bohemia, he quickly became Bishop and in 1344 also the first Archbishop of Prague. It was he who consecrated the foundation stone of the new Cathedral.
For Charles, Ernest of Pardubice was a priceless adviser. He even led some of his diplomatic missions and significantly contributed to the development of Prague University.
In addition, he was also a great woodcarver. His statue of the Virgin Mary of Svatá Hora is said to have shed tears.
Charles met the first builder of St. Vitus Cathedral, Matthias of Arras, during his stay in Avignon. When the French master began to work on plans for the new Church, he was already a very respectable 55 years of age.
Matthias built eight chapels, which form the rear part of the Cathedral today. After his death, it took Charles four years to find a suitable new architect.
Finally, he invited the young Peter Parler to Prague; he fundamentally reworked Arras’s plans and he managed to vault the eastern part of the chancel during the lifetime of Charles. Above the entrance to the Cathedral, he formed the unique Last Judgement mosaic also depicting Charles and his fourth wife Elizabeth of Pomerania.
St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague | © Martin Mařák, CzechTourism
God, the creator and lover of peace, restored in the victorious church the supreme peace, in the warring church in his extreme noble generosity the very beneficial beginning of peace, encouraging the Pope and Roman Electors to choose for the King of the Romans a peaceable prince, who shall remove the enemies of peace and their companions.Chronicle of Francis of Prague
July 11, 1346
Though the power struggle with his aging father John of Luxembourg had abated, Charles had a new political battle waiting on European soil.
The Holy Roman Emperor, Louis of Bavaria, with his interventions in the running of the Church, increasingly irritates Pope Clement VI. Church dignitaries seeking a suitable rival candidate find the name of the Bohemian prince is often mentioned for the role.
On July 11th 1346, a meeting of imperial electors takes place in the city of Rhen, where Charles is elected King of the Romans. This starts an open power struggle in the Empire.
In this turbulent atmosphere, the traditional coronation cities of Roman Kings refuse to allow Charles to enter through their gates, so the ceremony is untraditionally held in Bonn, on November 26 th, 1346.
John of Luxembourg does not live long enough to see the solemn coronation of his son as King of the Romans. During the time between the election and the coronation, the fateful battle of Crécy takes place.
In one of the largest conflicts of the Hundred Years War, the Luxembourgs set out to help their French allies - however, not even the significant numerical superiority of the French army can avert the overwhelming victory of the English.
Charles takes part in the battle alongside his at that time already completely blind father, about whose heroic death numerous historical testimonies are preserved.
This is how chronicler Beneš Krabice of Weitmile depicted it:
\"When King John was asked to escape to save his own life and the lives of his people, he replied irritatedly: \"God forbid a Bohemian King should ever flee from a battle... The Lord be with us, be not afraid, just protect my son carefully!” He was brought to the battlefield, and it came to pass that on the eve of Holy Martyr Rolf, on August 26th, King John who had been wounded many times, fell prey to death.\"
Since the election of Charles IV as King of the Romans, the Holy Roman Empire now has two rulers. Bavaria, with powerful cities such as Munich and Nuremberg, does not recognize the election of Charles and continues to consider Louis of Bavaria as King. No one doubts that this situation cannot last long.
In autumn 1347, everything points towards open military conflict. Charles summons his vassals to attend his standard and sets out at the head of his army from Bohemia to Bavaria.
In Tachov, he receives a message that good fate has yet again intervened in his life. Louis of Bavaria is dead and therefore the Empire has but a single ruler once again.
For the Duke of Bavaria, his fondness for hunting bears became fatal. In the middle of a hunt on October 11th,1347, he suffered a stroke, fell from his horse and broke his neck.
Charles is now able to start consolidating his position in the Empire. He finally succeeds in 1349, when he is again crowned in Aachen and gains symbolic support from nobles who were once his enemies.
In 1355, he accepts the Crown and blessing from the Pope. From now on, he may use the title of Holy Roman Emperor.
Seven Prince-electors electing Charles’s grandfather Henry VII| Codex balduini trevirensis, around 1340
I want to give to successors, who will sit on my double throne, the double knowledge of life in this world to choose the better of them.Charles IV: Vita Caroli
September 2, 1347
After being crowned King of the Romans in Bonn, Charles must return to Bohemia through enemy territory loyal to Louis of Bavaria. He decides not to risk it and travels to his homeland disguised as a squire.
For Charles’s coronation as King of Bohemia, everything is prepared long in advance. His father John had already confirmed to the Bohemian nobles in 1341 that he was to be his successor and by then, Charles had already given orders to create the new Crown jewels and others.
During his father's lifetime, Charles must have already given thought to the form and symbolic significance of the coronation ceremony. This explains why the new Coronation Rules of Czech Kings were already put in place in the summer of 1347. Accordingly, the ceremony takes place in September 1347.
The new Crown of the Czech Kingdom had an extraordinary symbolic importance for Charles. Also through the tiara, the new Czech monarch wanted to consolidate the position of his countries within Europe.
Therefore, he entrusted the Crown to Papal protection. Anyone, who would attempt to abuse it, would be excommunicated from the Church.
The Crown did not formally belong to any monarch, but to the patron of the Czech lands, St. Wenceslas. It was kept on his skull in Prague Cathedral, from where the ruler could bestow it only for the coronation and other similarly significant occasions.
For its creation, the older Crown was used and probably also part of the belt of Blanche of Valois, the first wife of Charles, which was a wedding gift from the King of France.
The Crown of Saint Wenceslas in numbers
“Without any pain, one molar fell out while he was asleep, and in its place another tooth grew, although this Emperor was already fifty-seven years old. What a unique and quite unheard of event, that at this age teeth would grow again, and yet I am writing the truth, because I saw it.\"
Similar curiosities from Charles’s private life are known today thanks to his personal chroniclers.
The Prague Canon, Beneš Krabice of Weitmile, who spent most of his life at Charles’s side, was truthfully recording his political achievements, military campaigns and the foundations of his work. His chronicle is most valuable thanks to the observations which are not preserved elsewhere.
Beneš Krabice of Weitmile was by far not only a recorder of events happening around him. He was also a capable organizer, who directed the construction of St. Vitus Cathedral, and who took care of the logistically challenging move of the Přemyslid remains to their chapels.
Karel IV. | iStock
What Augustus did for Rome, Charles IV did for the capital city of Bohemia.Umberto Decembrio, 1399
April 7, 1348
1348 does not start happily. Northern Italy and Carinthia are hit by a devastating earthquake, which is followed in European cities by one of the worst plague epidemics in history.
Although the tragedy also concerns his empire, Charles concentrates on events in Bohemia. In the first year of his reign, he takes steps which elevate Prague to one of the most important cities in Central Europe.
In March, he personally helps to build the new city walls. Shortly afterwards, on April 7th, he issues a set of state charters, including the incorporation charter of Prague University and New Town.
However, in the same year, the King suffers a personal tragedy. After a short illness, at the age of just 32, his first wife, Blanche of Valois dies.
Although its first years are modest, the very foundation of Prague University significantly increases the prestige of the capital city and makes it one of the centres of European education.
Charles entrusts his faithful friend Ernest of Pardubice with the negotiations about the establishment of the University, which soon proves to be a far-sighted choice. Ernest also becomes the first Chancellor of the University, and significantly shapes its appearance.
From the very beginning, the Prague Studium Generale has four faculties, based on the Sorbonne model - artistic, medical, legal and theological. But it still lacks a permanent seat and accommodation facilities.
The lectures take place in Prague's monasteries, churches and in the unfinished Cathedral of St. Vitus. Students often have to live in the homes of their teachers, to whom they pay rent.
Improvement comes only after the Austrian Duke Rudolf founds the University of Vienna in 1365. Charles sees it as dangerous competition, and thus, without hesitation, he invests considerable resources into Prague University. In July 1366, he establishes the first college, which provides the necessary facilities for students and their masters.
The foundation of New Town in Prague is aimed at making Prague not only an impressive European metropolis, but also the new spiritual centre for all Christians.
New Town is thus designed as a worldly New Jerusalem, and Charles has St. Vitus Cathedral and the Holy Cross Chapel at Karlštejn decorated with its heavenly image.
This sophisticated concept with a significant spiritual overlap has no precedent in the 14th century. For example, the five New Town churches are placed at regular intervals so that, when viewed from above, they form a cross blessing the city.
The area of the central square – Cattle Market - surpasses the public spaces of all European cities, even St. Peter's Square in Rome.
Under the reign of Charles, the total area of Prague reaches 650 hectares. The residence of Czech Kings is larger than London or Paris at that time, only Rome and Constantinople can match it.
Historical view of the city of Prague from 1593| Civitates orbis terrarum
... to honour all armies of heaven, we built our Karlštejn Castle, which we built from its foundations as completely new and decided to call it for its lasting memory by our name, the two chapels...Charles IV: Vita Caroli
June 10, 1348
Soon after taking over the Bohemian throne, Charles discusses the idea of building a summer residence based on a French design where he could stay with his court for part of the year to escape the ever busy Prague.
He finally chooses the strategically quite disadvantageous valley in the immediate vicinity of the Berounka River. Charles attaches the utmost importance to the construction of the new castle, evidence of which is the fact that for the laying of the foundation stone in June 1348, he sends Archbishop Ernest of Pardubice as his representative.
Only during the construction of the castle does a plan emerge to make it the main Imperial Treasury. It becomes a place for both Czech and Roman regalia, as well as numerous rare relics and jewellery, which Charles has managed to collect.
Charles conceives the St. Cross Chapel as the most sacred area not only within Karlštejn Castle, but also throughout the entire Empire. Historians agree that the King was very likely directly involved in the design of the final appearance of the Chapel and its artistic decoration.
It is so symbolically rich that, despite centuries of research, historians are still discovering new findings in it to this day.
In addition to the gilded walls lined with precious stones, the most important part is also the completely unique set of panel paintings of saints, which was created on Charles’s orders by the court painter, Master Theodoric.
This extraordinary art work later impresses the Empress Maria Theresa to such a degree, that she sends the paintings for examination to Vienna. However, of the original 130 pieces, she only returns 129.
The popular theatre comedy of Jaroslav Vrchlický, A Night at Karlštejn, perhaps better known as the musical film made in 1973, spread the famous myth that, in the premises of Karlštejn, women were not allowed to stay overnight.
But this is only partially true. In fact, Charles IV forbade women access to only the most sacred areas of the Castle, the large tower with the Holy Cross Chapel.
Most of all, he wanted to ensure that no intimate relations between men and women could occur at this sacred place. At that time, it was considered to be a grave sin and similar measures were thus quite common.
Mistakenly, Václav Hájek of Libočany expanded the ban to the entire castle; in fact his Czech Chronicle was full of similar distortions. However, such historical inaccuracies had no impact on the popularity of his story.
Karlštejn Castle | © Ladislav Renner, CzechTourism
Rejoice already by the delight of the uplifting joy of hearts of all of our faithful. Sing all the serfs and the entire nation, celebrate the general merriment to the benefit of our King. Behold, the Royal trunk grew a young noble branch. We have a son, cheer my dear faithful!Charles IV announces the birth of his son Wenceslas
The death of Blanche of Valois in 1348 greatly grieved Charles. However, as he still does not have a male heir, he must think pragmatically and soon marries Anna of Bavaria.
A year later, the couple has a son, whom they name Wenceslas. But Charles’s hopes for the continuation of the family line are sadly premature. The boy dies when he is less than two years old. Moreover, shortly after that, in 1353, the Czech King becomes a widower for the second time when Anna of Bavaria falls from a horse and breaks her neck.
Charles marries for the third time and takes steps, which would, if necessary, allow the succession of his younger brother, John Henry, or possibly his son. He eventually gains his long desired successor in 1361.
Charles becomes a widower three times, and each time very quickly finds a new wife. This marriage policy significantly helps him to consolidate his position in the Empire. He also selects spouses for all of his children very carefully.
Coming to the Czech lands was quite difficult for the Princess as she was brought up at the French court. Even worse is when she is forced to send her entire court home due to the animosity of Prague inhabitants. Although cohabitation with Charles is not simple, she becomes his most important supporter.
There is not much known about the life of Anne of Bavaria, probably because her marriage to Charles did not last long. Her marriage to Charles helps to calm the situation in the Holy Roman Empire. But the cohabitation of the spouses is soon affected by the death of Charles’s first son.
At first, Charles chooses Anna of Schweidnitz as a suitable wife for his firstborn son Wenceslas. However, he does not outlive his second year, and when Charles's wife dies shortly afterwards, he decides to marry Anna himself.
The last wife of Charles has extraordinary strength, rumours soon spread through the Kingdom that she can bend a horseshoe with her bare hands. Charles is more than 30 years older than his wife. As the only Czech Queen, she is crowned by the Pope himself.
During his lifetime, Charles has 12 children. Four of them die shortly after their birth or in childhood. The eldest sons are destined to take over their father's Empire, but the sovereign status also belongs to several of Charles’s daughters. An unknown chapter of Charles’s life includes his illegitimate offspring. According to historical records, the Emperor acknowledged paternity to a boy named Guillaume, whom he fathered in 1365 on his way to Avignon.
When on February 26th 1361, Charles and Anna of Schweidnitz welcome the birth of their son in Nuremberg, the entire city resounds with the sound of bells. A delighted Charles frees Nuremberg from St. Martin’s Imperial Tax and declares a general amnesty. For the eldest son, he ensures succession to the Bohemian and Roman throne. But Wenceslas does not have the political skills of his father, he gets into disputes with the Church and, by the end of his reign, the Czech Kingdom is on the brink of war. Wenceslas becomes famous for his fondness for hunts and alcohol. In the Royal Garden, he establishes a large lion pen, which he supplies with daily imports of the highest quality meat.
The second eldest son of Charles is nicknamed “ginger fox” due to his red hair. This, in the Czech lands, rather unpopular monarch, is politically an extremely capable man. Sometimes, he is referred to as the last of the medieval Emperors. As the only Luxembourg, he sits on the Hungarian throne and manages to maintain it for 50 years. At the Council of Constance, in Bohemia, associated mainly with the burning of Jan Hus, he significantly endeavours to resolve the split within the Church. He is also actively involved in the fight against the Turks. Despite the fact that he gains the Czech Crown in 1420, he rules the country only briefly between the years 1436-1437.
\"Shortly after the marriage, King Richard accompanied the Queen from Windsor and they lived together very happily.\" This is how French poet Jean Froissart described the marriage of Charles's daughter Anne and Richard II, King of England. But reality is for the Czech Princess a little more complicated. At first, England does not accept her, one chronicler even writes about her as \"human waste.\" But gradually, Anna wins the hearts of the King's servants, and when she dies in 1394 during the plague epidemic, it is a big blow for Richard. He has the castle of Sheen, where Anna breathed her last, demolished.
Blanche of Valois | © Pražský hrad, Jan Gloc
You have no idea how monstrous it is to rule!Charles IV in a letter to Francesco Petrarca
Although the Czech Kingdom flourishes, Charles encounters one of his greatest political failures here.
Similarly to Ottokar II and Wenceslas II before him, he also attempts to set out provincial rights and bring order to relationships between the monarch and the aristocracy.
The so-called Maiestas Carolina was established to define how the monarch may dispose of Royal property and to modify the conditions of succession in order to avoid disputes relating to the Crown. It also strengthened the power of the monarch against the aristocracy.
But, in this matter, Charles encounters stiff resistance from the aristocrats, who are satisfied with the existing customary rights and do not want to change them. As soon as Charles discovers that the new Provincial Code has no chance of being approved, he decides to refrain from his original aims.
What Charles fails to do with the Provincial Code in Bohemia, he manages to accomplish at the level of the Holy Roman Empire in 1356, when he issues the Golden Bull.
It adjusts the rules for the election of the King of the Romans and redefines his powers. It is remarkable what requirements Charles puts on the language skills of the electors, who vote for the King of the Romans. They are supposed to master not only German and Italian, but also Czech language.
Thanks to the Golden Bull, the Czech lands significantly strengthen their position in the Holy Roman Empire. The Holy Roman Emperor can no longer grant the Czech lands as a fiefdom or appoint the Czech King.
Throughout his life, Charles maintains an active correspondence with many prominent personalities of his time. An example of this is the regular letters exchanged with the Italian humanist and poet, Francesco Petrarca.
The author of the amorous Sonnets to Laura first met with Charles in Italy. Here, he also accepted his invitation to visit Prague, which he did in 1356.
Both men mutually respected and admired each other, however, as is clear from the preserved letters, they had different opinions on numerous topics.
In particular, Petrarca could not abide Charles’s love of Bohemia and he often accused him of caring more about the Czech lands than the Empire. When after the imperial coronation in 1356 Charles left Rome in a hurry, he wrote to him reproachfully:
\"You, the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, do not long for anything but Bohemia... Although I believe that you do not lack knowledge of ruling and warfare: you miss the source of all actions - the will.\"
Golden Bull of 1356
The Emperor laid the foundation or the first stone in the foundation of the new bridge on the banks near the Monastery of St. Clement.Chronicle of Beneš Krabice of Weitmile
After the death of the first architect of St. Vitus Cathedral, Charles searches in Europe for a suitable successor.
Finally, he invites to Prague the builder Peter Parler, who at that time was only twenty four years old. Together, they begin the next stage of the reconstruction of Prague and the entire Kingdom.
After the floods in 1342, the ever expanding Prague is clearly lacking a stone bridge – and the Emperor's attention is aimed in this direction. In 1357, Charles lays the foundation stone of a new bridge and Peter Parler’s stonemasons start work.
Thanks to their efforts, in mere decades Prague becomes an important centre of trade routes, by which Charles tries to link the Kingdom with the rest of Western Europe.
According to the famous legend, the mortar used for the construction of Charles Bridge included eggs, which were brought to Prague from all over the Kingdom. Certain versions of the legend also mention other special ingredients, such as curds from Unhošt’ and cheese.
Even today, this legend has not been reliably confirmed or refuted, despite the fact that, during the recent reconstruction of the bridge, scientists deployed the most advanced analytical methods to explore the original mortar.
While one of the teams confirmed the presence of eggs, the conclusions of the other team were rather sceptical of the legend.
However, the surveys discovered another interesting thing. According to the experts, the bridge was built out of a special mortar, which was already used as a suitable binding agent for water structures by the ancient Romans. Nobody knew that the knowledge of this high-quality material had spread so far north.
Thus, Charles Bridge has another mystery. The truth is that the story of the mortar, which is, with its properties similar to concrete, explains its unusual strength somewhat better than the eggs.
The basis for the extraordinary flourishing of the Czech Kingdom lay in Charles’s economic policy. The monarch was personally involved in the creation of ponds, vineyards and hop fields, as well as strategic plans for the development of trade routes. With his measures, he wanted the country to be prepared for among other things the consequences of floods and long-term drought, which at the time of his reign plagued Bohemia unusually frequently.
In 1366, Charles gave rise to the establishment of the so-called Large Pond, which he introduced fish into, including breeding bearded barbel.
In Prague, Mělník and around Litoměřice, Charles founded numerous new vineyards. At the end of his reign, there were over 700 hectares of vineyards in the Kingdom. As he knew fine Italian and French wines from his youth, he was also interested in the quality of the local production. He gave orders to bring the best grape varieties from Austria, Burgundy and Champagne to Bohemia.
According to legend, Charles founded what is today Karlovy Vary on the spot, where he found a deer while hunting. The newly established spa later brought economic prosperity to the region.
Charles was long bothered by the fact that no strategic trade route of European importance led through Bohemia. He found the possible solution in extending the existing Golden Trail further to the north. In the west of Bohemia, he built two castles, Kašperk (Karlsberg) and Radyne (Karlskrone), which not only guarded the land border, but were also intended to be used for the future trade route. But this endeavour of Charles only partially bore fruit.
The Emperor's interest was also directed toward growing fruit. He introduced to Bohemia, for example, an unknown variety of plums, which are still today called \"karlata” (Charles’s).
The ambitions of the Czech King were clearly seen when he suggested the idea of connecting the Baltic and Mediterranean Sea by a canal between the Danube and the Vltava River, which he discussed with the Venetian, Dozet. But in the end, only the plans remained. However, Charles pushed strongly for proper regulation of the Vltava and Elbe River, on which a series of ports and sluices were built during his reign.
Silver mining was a fundamental source of income for the Royal Treasury. Throughout his reign, however, Charles had to deal with the worsening exchange rate between silver and gold, as well as with the declining quality of Prague groschen as the extraction of silver ore grew ever more expensive. Just before his death, Charles published the Sterling Order, which was supposed to ensure the quality of silver coins but his followers failed to comply with its requirements.
Charles Bridge, Prague | © Dagmar Veselková, CzechTourism
When the Emperor resided in Italy, in the city of Milan, he sent messengers to the city of Pavia, and insisted that the body of St. Vitus the martyr, the patron saint of the Czech Kingdom, was given to him, which has rested for many years in the Monastery of St. Augustine. And so he brought the body to St. Vitus Cathedral, and numerous bodies and relics of other saints to the Prague Church, and he adorned them with gold, silver and precious stones.Chronicle of Beneš Krabice of Weitmile
Since 1354, every year at Easter at the Cattle Market, Charles allows the public to view the Roman Crown Jewels and rare relics, which he acquired while travelling through Europe.
On the so-called Feast of the Holy Lance and the Nails of Our Lord, Christians from all over Europe gather in Prague. Charles is fulfilling his lifelong dream. Prague is alive and importantly, is flourishing.
Charles’s interest in collecting relics culminated in 1369. According to chroniclers, that year the city on the Vltava River attracted up to 100 thousand pilgrims.
In the early 1350’s, Charles has a special Coronation Cross made, in which the rarest relics of the Czech Kingdom are to be inserted, including thorns from Christ's Crown, parts of the Holy Cross and Holy Nails.
The Cross is decorated with nine exceptionally valuable cameos. The oldest of them depicts an ancient monarch's head and probably dates back to the 3rd century.
Originally, the Cross was located at Karlštejn Castle, today it is part of the so-called St. Vitus Treasure. According to experts, its value is much greater than the value of the Crown itself.
Charles is sometimes referred to as the greatest collector since the days of antiquity. His interest was mainly aimed at holy relics, the acquisition of which was an expression of his deep spiritual feelings.
Acquiring relics was not easy. It was not possible to buy them; therefore, they were often subject to difficult diplomatic negotiations.
In 1355, Charles gained for his collection the almost complete skeleton of St. Vitus, by which Prague become an important iconic centre of this saint. But the Royal collection also included a number of minerals, pearls and other natural articles. For example, he brought to Karlštejn a skeleton of a “dragon\" (which was probably a crocodile).
After the Emperor's death, a complete inventory of Charles’s treasure was recorded, which is preserved to this day. Therefore, we know that it included, for example, more than 300 items made from precious materials and over 600 Ancient or Byzantine cameos.
Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV placing a piece of the Holly Cross into the Reliquary Cross | A detail from the Relic Scenes, around 1360, Karlštejn
I, the fourth Charles, an Emperor unbeaten by the great horrors of the world, now overwhelmed by death, under this grave I am hidden; noble Lord, please, let my soul pierce the stars.the inscription on the gravestone of Charles IV quoted at the funeral speech by Jan Očko of Vlašim
November 29, 1378
In the last years of his life, Charles is trying to transfer the largest possible amount of his obligations to his sons.
Although for his whole life he has suffered from gout, the immediate cause of his death is an accident. After an unfortunate fall from a horse, he breaks his hip and is confined to bed. Shortly afterwards, he gets pneumonia, to which he succumbs on the evening of November 29th,1378.
Several days pass between his death and funeral, during which mourners from all over the Kingdom gather in Prague.
On Saturday, December 11 th, the Emperor, accompanied by 564 link-boys, sets out on his final journey.
It is surprising that, despite his lifelong efforts to unite the Empire, Charles in his last will decided to divide it between his sons.
In addition, the otherwise conscientious ruler committed a certain injustice, when in his last will he awarded a much more prominent position to his eldest son Wenceslas, for whom, before his death, he managed to also gain the title of King of the Romans.
Therefore, Wenceslas acquired mainly the Czech lands, and the Polish and Silesian principalities. The centre of power of the younger son Sigismund was Brandenburg. For the third son, Henry, Charles created a new position of Duke of Zhořelec.
It is interesting that, in his last will, Charles also remembered his youngest son John, who was born to Elizabeth of Pomerania just one year before his death. But John unfortunately died as a toddler.
The Requiem Mass for the deceased monarch was held by the second Prague Archbishop, Charles’s personal friend, Jan Očko of Vlašim. Charles became close to the later to be Archbishop during his trip to Rome in 1355. Since then, the affection of the two deepened and Jan Očko became Charles’s confidant.
He was also known as a great supporter of the arts. The Votive painting, which he commissioned around 1371, is considered to be the most precise depiction of Charles’s appearance.
Coincidentally, a few days before the death of the King, Jan Očko received a message that the Pope had appointed him, as the first Czech in history, as Cardinal.
Read more about the life and work of Charles IV at the website of Charles University, www.cuni.cz.
Golden Gate, St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague | © Sergey Kohl Shutterstock