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The Luxembourgs and King Charles IV

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After the death of Wenceslas III, the last king of the Přemyslids, several kings supplanted each other as head of state, but none could consolidate their position. Certain members of the nobility and the abbots, who were dissatisfied with the reign of Jindřich Korutanský, concocted a coup. They deposed the king with the agreement of Emperor Henry VII of Luxembourg. The emperor consented to the marriage of his son John to Elizabeth (Eliška), the as-yet-unmarried sister of the last Přemyslid king. Thus, John of Luxembourg became King of Bohemia from 1310 to 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.”

He 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. 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.

Charles IV was already an experienced politician by the time of his accession to the throne. In 1344, he negotiated the elevation of the Prague bishopric to an archbishopric with Pope Clement VI, who had been his teacher in France. The last bishop, Ernest (Arnošt) of Pardubice, thus became the first archbishop. On April 7, 1348, what is now the oldest university in Central Europe was established – known as Charles University today. It was founded as a university for scholars from all over the empire, so it had a preponderance of foreign nations in its administration. Charles IV authorized the construction of Prague’s New Town and Charles Bridge linking Prague’s Old Town to Malá Strana (“the Lesser Quarter”). He also began the reconstruction of St. Vitus’ Cathedral and built a number of castles. The most famous of these is Karlštejn, named after its founder. The current appearance of the Crown of St. Wenceslas, one of the most important pieces of the Bohemian Crown Jewels, stems from the reign of Charles IV.

In 1355, Charles IV was crowned Holy Roman Emperor, the highest-ranking secular title. A year later he issued a Golden Bull for the Empire. This stated that a simple majority of electors was all that was needed to elect the Roman king, and that the Bohemian sovereign was first among these electors. Moreover, in comparison with other secular electorates, the Czech throne was hereditary even on the distaff side. Therefore, even the daughter of the sovereign could succeed to the Bohemian throne.

Charles IV strived to prevent tension and strife with the nobility. He also knew how to make concessions. When he formulated a state legal code, the Maiestas Carolina, in the 1350s, which the nobility saw as an attack on their privileges, Charles IV preferred to declare that he had burned the manuscript. The Church was a source of support for his reign. Thanks to his backing, its influence and property gradually increased.

Charles married four times in his life. He entered into politically motivated weddings with a view to making territorial gains or consolidating his international standing. Charles IV wrote his own Latin autobiography entitled Vita Caroli. Because of his contribution to Czech statehood and his significance in Czech history, he has been given the soubriquet of Father of the Country.
Added: 17.12.2009

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