The Přemyslid Dynasty
After the glorious period of the Great Moravian Empire, the centre of the state moved westward to Bohemia. Power was concentrated here in the hands of the Přemyslids, who held it for more than 400 years until 1306, when it passed to the hands of the Luxembourg family after a brief transitional period.
The first historically documented Přemyslid was Bořivoj, with whom we are already are familiar. He had himself baptized at the Great Moravian court of Prince Svatopluk. He was initially based in the fortified settlement of Levý Hradec, which is where the oldest preserved church in Bohemia is located. He subsequently relocated to Prague. Bořivoj’s wife Ludmila became one of the first Czech saints because she educated her grandson and future patron of Bohemia - Wenceslas - in the Catholic faith. Until his maturity, the position of monarch was filled by his mother, Drahomíra, who resented Ludmila's influence on her son to such an extent that she let her be throttled.
Ludmila and Bořivoj’s grandson Wenceslas went down in history as one of the most famous Přemyslids. He lived from 907 to 935. After losing a war to the Saxon King Henry I, he undertook to pay a tribute to the victor. He also requested the shoulder of St. Vitus from him (which was originally deposited at Saint Dennis) so that he could construct a Church of St. Vitus over his relics at Prague Castle. His younger brother Boleslav, who was dissatisfied with Wenceslas’ policies and coveted princely power himself, had Wenceslas murdered on September 28, 935, at his settlement in Stará Boleslav. He took charge of government as Boleslav I, and was later called Boleslav the Cruel by medieval chroniclers. His war with the Saxon King Otto I, however, ended in defeat.
With the creation of the state, it was desirable to build a separate church administration. Consequently, a bishopric was established in 973, which was subordinate to the archbishopric in Mainz. Saxon Dětmar became the first Prague bishop. After him, Adalbert (Vojtěch) was appointed Prague bishop at the church in Levý Hradec in 982. Adalbert was a member of the powerful Slavnik family, whose importance was comparable with that of the Přemyslids. They, however, did not want any threat to their reign. In 995, Přemyslid forces attacked the Slavník settlement in Libice. All of its inhabitants were massacred. Adalbert and his two brothers were residing abroad at the time. He then left for Prussia to spread Christianity and on April 23, 997, he was killed by pagans while promulgating the Christian faith.
Adalbert's fame and the power of his legend were exploited by the Bohemian Prince Břetislav in 1039 for a campaign in Gniezno. He captured the city and had Adalbert's remains brought back to Prague. In order to prevent confusion and power struggles between the Přemyslids, Břetislav set rules of succession. Consequently, Břetislav introduced the so-called Seniority Principle, whereby the oldest living Přemyslid always occupied the throne. Later, the principle of primogeniture was applied, which meant that the succession went to the firstborn son of the ruling monarch.
Vratislav I, who reigned from 1061 to 1092, was the first Bohemian sovereign to receive the royal crown in 1085. However, it was only bestowed on him personally, and was not given on a hereditary basis. He received the crown from Emperor Henry IV for assisting in a struggle with Pope Gregory VII over investiture, which was a Europe-wide dispute as to whether the Church had precedence over or was subject to secular power.
In 1126, Bohemian forces under the leadership of Prince Sobeslav defeated the army of Emperor Lothar III in a battle near Kulm (Chlumec). The emperor had wanted to strengthen his influence in Bohemia by intervening in the power struggles of the Přemyslids. The Bohemian forces, who went into battle under the banner of St. Adalbert, which was attached to the lance of St. Wenceslas, prompted the chaplain Vitus to have a vision. Allegedly, he saw how St. Wenceslas was fighting for Bohemia on a white horse and in a white robe above the point of the lance. Lothar III was defeated in the battle and Soběslav had the rotunda of St. George built at Říp out of gratitude. It still stands there to this day.
Vladislav I became the second Bohemian king in 1158. He also received the royal crown for assisting an emperor. A Bohemian division led by the sovereign himself was of considerable help to Emperor Frederick Barbarossa in a campaign against the city of Milan.
Přemysl Otakar I (who reigned 1197–1230) skillfully used struggles for the imperial throne in the empire. First in 1198 he achieved the renewal of the royal title for the Bohemian prince, and in 1212 Emperor Frederick II elevated Bohemia to the status of a kingdom in his document called the Golden Sicilian Bull.
The Přemyslid King Otakar II (Premysl Otakar II), who reigned 1253–1278, earned the nickname of “the King of Gold and Iron” due to his military power and wealth. He came to the throne during a favorable foreign-political situation and enjoyed the position of the strongest sovereign in the empire. In order to receive the inheritance of the Babenbergs, who owned Austria and Styria, he married Margarethe von Babenberg, who was 10 years his senior. In the first phase of his reign, he ruled in agreement with the nobility, which profited from the territorial expansion of the Bohemian kingdom.
On a crusade to Prussia in 1255, he founded the city of Královec (Königsberg), which is known as Kaliningrad today. Five years later, he defeated the Hungarian King Béla IV near Kressenbrunn and managed to hold on to Styria, which was the cause of the war. A dispute between the king and the nobility on status within the kingdom culminated in a revolt by the nobles. After its suppression, mutual relations remained tense. Přemysl Otakar II met his death on a Moravian battlefield in 1278 in a war with his rival, the Roman king Rudolph Habsburg.
His son Wenceslas II (1278–1305) was still a child at the time his father died. A dispute broke out among relatives over who would be the young Wenceslas’ guardian in a rich kingdom. For five years, the country was occupied by Brandenberg forces, and there was a threat that the state would break up. The nobility, however, came together and paid out money for the prince royal Wenceslas to be released from Brandenberg captivity. They then demanded a greater share of power for this. One of the nobles – Záviš of Falckenstein – married Kunigunde, Přemysl Otakar’s widow. He held the important position of regent, but this was followed by his downfall. Opponents managed to have him arrested, and Záviš was executed in front of Hluboká Castle.
At the end of the 13th century, a “confluence” of people occurred at Kutná Hora, when rich deposits of silver ore were discovered. The number of inhabitants of the city rose sharply. With the aid of Italian experts, Wenceslas II put a new coin into circulation – the “Prague Penny." The penny was minted in Kutná Hora until 1547. To support the development of mining, Wenceslas II issued a Mining Code (Ius regale montanorum) in 1300. The wealth of the Kutná Hora mines enabled Wenceslas to extend the kingdom to include Chebsko and territory north of the Ore Mountains.
He also obtained the Polish crown, and his son Wenceslas tried to take over the vacant Hungarian throne. However, the Přemyslids failed to attain the succession following the extinct Arpad family line.
Wenceslas III came to the throne after the death of his father in 1305. A year later, he was murdered in Olomouc while preparing to go to Poland to protect the Polish crown. His death concluded over 400 years of government rule by the Přemyslid family on the Bohemian throne.
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