Monkish chroniclers sang the praises of Prince Wenceslaus. My spelling of this name is incorrect, but it is more familiar to English eyes than any other, as our Christmas carol "puts it with a 'we.'" I do not suggest that this St. Wenceslaus is identical with the "Good King Wenceslaus" we sing about—in fact, I have discovered another ruler of that name who fits the part much better; but of this more anon. The correct version of this saintly prince's name is Vaclav, pronounced Vatslav. It is as well to get a proper grip of this word, as the show street in the town is named Vaclavske Naměsti, which being interpreted meaneth Wenceslaus Place; the Germans call it Wenzel's Platz, but this designation is not popular at the moment. It is advisable to acquire the Czech version of the name, as the Vaclavske Naměsti is in the business and amusement quarter of the town. As to the pronunciation of Vaclavske Naměsti, it presents no particular difficulties, despite the profusion of accents (the Czechs are very liberal in this respect), they seem to make no noticeable difference with exception of the inverted circumflex, which makes "ye" out of plain "e." This is nothing to what the Czech language can do in the way of tongue-twisters.
The Vaclavske Naměsti rises gently towards another hill of Prague, Vinohrady. At the top of the rise, looking right down the broad avenue over the old town and beyond it to the Hradšany, is an equestrian statue of St. Wenceslaus. There are other likenesses of the Saint; a number of them adorn his chapel in the Cathedral of St. Vitus, and another statue stands near the castle entrance on the Hradšany, in the latter Wenceslaus is shown looking out over the city, his hand upraised in blessing, which is right and proper and quite what the city expects of him. The equestrian statue is the most recent portrait of the pious prince, and is really quite convincing. We know, or at least I am about to tell you, that Wenceslaus was a man of peace, he is therefore represented carrying a lance; the modern sense of propriety requires of a non-combatant that he should sit for his portrait armed. He need not introduce a bunch of bombs or a pot of poison gas into the composition, a sword will do. Wenceslaus brought his lance much as the up-to-date war-winner girds on a sword when he goes to be photographed. Swords may also be worn at weddings, at funerals, also at christenings I believe; anyway, on all filmable occasions.
As far as I can discover, St. Wenceslaus only had one fight in his life, and then he got killed.
Now that we have arrived at the first of authentically dated rulers over Bohemia, Wenceslaus I, 928-935, we may as well take a look round the Europe of that time. We find first of all that the peoples were capable of getting into just as bad a mess as they are in to-day, and that without the aid of any new diplomacy, League of Nations and International Conferences. England was, so to speak, nowhere in those days; Englishmen did not wander about the Continent making observations from terraces, did not even launch missions and commissions on harmless and unsuspecting countries, in order to impress the inhabitants thereof with our wealth and our good taste in getting rid of it. England was very busy with the Scots, Welsh and Danes, who were also causing a deal of trouble to the broken-up remnants of Charlemagne's Empire. The ideal of the Holy Roman Empire still lived and inspired a host of adventurous Counts of the Marches and other bearers of German culture to inroads into territory inhabited by Slavonic races. The idea seemed to be that as each Slavonic tribe, principality or kingdom adopted Christianity it should come under German domination and be held in trust for Mother Church by German princes as long as the Papacy conformed to their conception of right and wrong. The Papacy itself seems to have had no definite ideas of right and wrong at the time, or at least did not put them into practice; had, in fact, become thoroughly corrupt and ineffective for good. Christendom was in a parlous state, disunited and assailed by hosts of barbarians, Danes, Saracens, Hungarians. The latter had become especially dangerous to the Slavonic peoples. Before Arpad arrived at Pressburg (now called Bratislava, please) in 829, the territory inhabited by Slavonic tribes, mostly in principalities of varying size and importance, had extended with fluctuating frontiers, from Holstein south-eastward through Central Europe to the Adriatic and the Balkan range. Arpad drove a wedge into this Slavonic mass and broke it into two parts; Arpad's descendants still separate northern and southern Slavs. We have seen how the Empire of Moravia went down before the Magyars, and that the Bohemians, no longer able to count on support from that side, were forced to turn to Germany. The intrusion of the Magyars into Central Europe, by dividing the mass of Slavonic races, also weakened the influence of the Eastern Church among the Bohemians and forced those that were inclined towards Christianity into closer communion with Rome via Germanism. German priests were beginning to gain the ascendancy over those of the Eastern persuasion, they objected to services in the Vulgate, and as they knew no language but their own and only sufficient Latin for their clerical duties, their influence began to threaten the Slavonic genius of the Bohemians with extinction. This was undoubtedly their purpose, and it accounts for much of Bohemia's sufferings during the thousand years following the imposition of a German bishop on this country by the German King Arnulf to whom the immediate predecessors of St. Wenceslaus, Spytihnev and Vratislav had appealed for assistance.
Another social institution which was beginning to make its influence felt at the time under discussion was the feudal system. Hitherto, civilized Europe had depended for offensive and defensive operations on large slow-moving armies of foot-folk; these were ineffective against marauding barbarians, Vikings in their sharp-prowed ships, or the light cavalry of Hungarian or Saracen. Moreover, the governmental system organized by Charlemagne had fallen to pieces, and there was no central power to order the movements of a large army. Luckily for the cause of Christendom and western civilization such as it was, the subordinates of Charles's successors hit upon the right tactics to employ against the invaders. The nominal subordinates, Counts of the Marches, burgraves, barons, took a very free hand in those days of decentralized authority and bad lines of communication. Based on impregnable strongholds, they met the swiftly moving hosts of marauders with equally mobile troops of mailed horsemen, raised, trained and paid by themselves, and bound to their feudal lords by the ties of discipline out of which grew the tradition of military servitude. It was these feudal lords and their mailed horsemen who saved Western Europe; they took their own reward out of the lands they saved and out of the neighbours whom they insisted on saving, till they eventually became an unmitigated nuisance from which Bohemia suffered as much as any other country. But for the moment we are concerned with the times of St. Wenceslaus and the first half of the tenth century.
It is a pity that no one had thought of holding an International Conference in the early days of the tenth century; there were a great many things to discuss, and a Conference would have added to the gaiety of nations. There was the question of those Northern Slavonic tribes who had steadfastly refused the blessings of Christianity as purveyed by the Teuton; of course, no one could foresee that the Western Church's activities in those northern regions would eventually produce the modern Prussian. Then the Conference would have to decide whether or no Vikings, Hungarians and Saracens should be admitted to the comity of nations, and if not, how to start doing business with those people all the same. Then the place of the Conference would have to be decided; there was quite a fair choice of suitable localities. Paris was becoming popular, had already been discovered by people from over the seas—by the Vikings, who, in quest of souvenirs, on one occasion sacked the city, on another burnt it down. Aix-la-Chapelle had been popular for some centuries before the Vikings discovered the attractions of Paris; it had the waters to recommend it, and also memories of pious Charlemagne, on which members of the Conference might reflect when not engaged in feasting and providing the Press with fiction. Constantinople would also have been well suited to an International Conference in the tenth century. The Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus was rather a dull dog, but he kept a glittering court, and none but the most refined society is good enough for secretaries, bottlewashers and other numerous hangers-on of conferences. Kings and rulers would probably have attended the Conference in person, not being willing to afford the luxury of allowing a Prime Minister to neglect home affairs. It would have been a pretty gathering, Constantine Porphyrogenitus the bookworm probably as president, AEthelstan of England, Charles the Simple of France or as much as his neighbours allowed him, that doughty poacher Henry the Fowler, German King, and Pope Leo not on speaking terms with him, St. Wenceslaus of Bohemia trying to make peace with Henry, and a make-weight of German counts and churchmen, possibly representatives of Vikings, Hungarians and Saracens. The proceedings would have been marked by a "certain liveliness," as we used to say at the front when the fur began to fly. The Conference would have differed from those of the present day, by leading to a definite result if only in the form of a handsome row of corpses; Counts of the Marches, Vikings and others would have attended to that. It would have been interesting to note how monkish reporters would clothe, or rather veil, their account of proceedings in suitable language.
On the accession of Wenceslaus I the relations between his house and the German King were strained. This, we have seen, was due to Dragomira's anti-German foreign policy. Wenceslaus, however, as we know, had occasion to send his mother into exile; she cannot have gone very far, as according to popular belief the earth swallowed her up before she had had time to get clear of the Castle Hill. Later generations put up a chapel over the spot where Dragomira vanished; I consider this conduct lacking in tact.
Anyway, Wenceslaus had to face a guileful, determined and quite unscrupulous adversary, who had even called at Prague with an army; so, being a man of peace, he came to terms with King Henry for a slight consideration, namely, an annual tribute of six hundred silver marks and one hundred and twenty head of cattle. This warded off trouble from the west, but there remained the danger of barbarian invasion from the east and there was every reason for erecting strongholds in Bohemia as in other countries of Europe. I have found no trace of any such work by Wenceslaus. He surely must have done something towards strengthening the Hradšany, Hrad S. Vaclav or something like that, as it seems to have been called at the time. Wenceslaus had built a chapel here in which to house the relic of St. Vitus; I cannot imagine him leaving such a treasure quite unprotected. This precious relic, namely, the arm of St. Vitus, had been presented to Wenceslaus by King Henry which was handsome of him, as he only got a trifling annual contribution of money and cattle out of Bohemia, whereas that country was started off with something of sufficient value to account for that noble fane the Cathedral of St. Vitus. Bohemia did very well in the way of saints and sacred relics; some of her kings were enthusiastic collectors, and we remember that Christianity among the Czechs started with a royal martyr, the saintly Ludmilla, who was shortly to be joined by another, as you will be told later on in this chapter.
We are still trying to find out what Wenceslaus did for his capital and country besides collecting odds and ends of saints and building a chapel here and there, and regretfully state that little record of anything but his piety is handed down to us. Piety, it seems, was no more compatible with statecraft in the early days of Christendom than it is to-day, and as Wenceslaus took the pious line, he gave way too much to the German menace, thus laying up a store of trouble for his successors and the sons of Czech which lasted well up to the present and does not appear to be exhausted yet. In the meantime Wenceslaus, evidently well pleased with himself, continued to set his people a godly ensample. I should like to know whether they appreciated him to the same extent as did some members of his family, Boleslav for instance, who helped Wenceslaus to a crown of celestial glory by the simple process of hitting him over the head. I am rather inclined to think that the piety of Wenceslaus interfered with some of the innocent amusements of his people, among whom paganism was not quite dead yet, as subsequent events show. There was an interesting burial ground lying on the route which Wenceslaus would follow when going from the Hradšany to Vyšehrad, which remained the seat of government for several generations of Přemysls after the pious prince's demise.... This burial ground, a very extensive one, is now covered by the Church of Emaus and its monastic buildings; you can see those twin towers, dark ochre in colour and topped by characteristic steeple and pinnacles, rising from among fruit-trees and red-tiled roofs. Na Morani was the name of this burial ground, after Morana, the goddess of death. It was the correct thing in pagan society to make pilgrimages to this place in spring: a pleasant afternoon in a cemetery was a pastime as popular then as it appears to be to-day. The cachet of Na Morani had been rather spoilt by the erection of a little church some time in the ninth century, perhaps by Wenceslaus himself. Anyway, the pious prince found this church a convenient half-way house between Vyšehrad and Hradšany, and he was wont to put up a prayer or two here before going on to drop a tear on the Hradšany relics. The little church was dedicated to Cosmas (not the chronicler) and Damian, saints of the third and fourth centuries. It is not known why these gentlemen clubbed together to have a day to themselves, but this need not act as deterrent to anyone who wishes to observe their day. Wherever pilgrims visit, there you will find settlements growing up, beginning with booths and shanties of those who sell appropriate commodities, candles, wreaths and such-like. The traffic in these articles continues; it was only last Palm Sunday that I was offered a variety of wreaths to choose from, small wreaths of snowdrops and fir twigs, to be worn on the wrist, to be blessed by the priest and then to be left lying about the sitting-room until fit for the dustbin. I resisted all temptation to deck myself with snowdrops and fir twigs; their subdued tones do not match my aura.
It seems to me that Wenceslaus did nothing in particular for his people; he concentrated on his part as royal saint and martyr, and was already posing for the statues of himself and the frescoes depicting his good deeds, which later ages produced. There was little to show for all this prince's good intentions. Pious, indeed, was Wenceslaus; he spent a great part of the night in prayer when he should have been recuperating for strenuous work on the following day: there was plenty to do for a country threatened on the one hand by marauding Magyars, on the other by insidious German influence. "He was in the habit of himself cutting off the wheat and grapes that the priests required to prepare the holy wafers and the wine for the sacrament"—I quote Count Luetzow, but his conception of political economy allowed him to pay a large tribute in exchange for German interference and the remains of a saint. He lavished money on the Church, whereas strongholds were required in defence of Christendom, and finally he adopted the tonsure. This struck home to the family and made Boleslav's cup of bitterness o'erflow; he plotted more persistently than ever against Wenceslaus. Another habit of the pious Prince was that of attending Church dedication festivals and their anniversaries, in every part of his dominion. The Church feast of Cosmas and Damian, much patronized by Wenceslaus at a little town called Boleslav, was due on September 28th. Wenceslaus was invited to attend this function by Brother Boleslav, who resided there. Boleslav, by this time very weary of his pious brother, sat up with a few friends of his own way of thinking, waylaid Wenceslaus, and killed him. This happened in 935, and the 28th of September is still kept sacred to the memory of St. Wenceslaus by those who feel inclined that way.
My sympathy with Boleslav does not blind me to the fact that he did wrong in killing his brother. I am glad to report that Boleslav showed signs of contrition. The town of Boleslav henceforth became distasteful to him, so he quitted it and raised another of the same name. Stara (Old) Boleslav, where Wenceslaus gained his degree of martyrdom, is a sedate little town near the banks of the Labe (known as Elbe in Germany) dozing among orchards and lush meadows and o'ershadowed by tall elm-trees. It is by no means a suitable setting for a sensational fratricide; I have been to see the place for myself and consider that the Wenceslaus-Boleslav, drama requires a different scenario. The newer town, Young Boleslav (Jung Bunzlau in German) is much better suited to the film; it stands up high on a rock and looks a likely habitation for an expert in assassination such as was Boleslav, brother of Wenceslaus.
Despite all Boleslav's efforts, popular opinion has it that Wenceslaus is not dead, but fast asleep inside a mountain, making up for nights spent in prayer no doubt. I do not believe this report.
* * * * *
Boleslav succeeded Wenceslaus as first Bohemian Prince of that name. His was a long and eventful reign, from 936 to 967, long at least for those days when rulers were apt to be removed abruptly. None knew this better than Boleslav himself. Monkish chroniclers have little good to say of Boleslav I—allegedly on account of that little affair at Stara Boleslav and of Boleslav's persistent paganism; actually, I imagine, on account of the anti-German attitude he adopted at the outset of his reign. Boleslav ruled with a firm hand; he subdued a number of Bohemian nobles who had allied themselves with the national enemy the German, before he resumed the conflict with Henry the Fowler which his mother had started. Henry, no doubt, was quite ready to quarrel, using the murder of his ally as a pretext, but he died before he had had time to settle down in the saddle, and left his son Otto to carry on. Now Otto, first German Emperor of that name, was a strong man, and is called Great on account of his success in reviving the Holy Roman Empire. Boleslav was a strong man too: Palacky, the famous Bohemian historian, describes him as "one of the most powerful monarchs that ever occupied the Bohemian throne." He succeeded in defending his country from the armies that Otto launched against it, and even the invasion of 950, led by the Emperor himself, brought no decisive victory for the Germans. Boleslav seems to have considered it futile to continue quarrelling with his western neighbour, especially as the usual trouble continued in the east, in which direction the Prince proposed to extend his dominions. By 955 we find Germans and Bohemians allied against the Magyars, who had acquired a habit of ravaging Western Europe once a year. They met their match on the Lechfeld, near Augsburg, and were utterly defeated in one of the most sanguinary and decisive battles fought during the Middle Ages. According to Count Luetzow it appears that a Bohemian contingent of a thousand men formed part of the victorious army. Boleslav himself, with the greater part of his troops, remained to guard the frontiers of his country. The defeated Magyars suffered another defeat at the hands of Boleslav on their retreat through Bohemia, and their leader, Lehel, was taken prisoner. With peace and friendliness on his western front and his eastern enemy thoroughly beaten, Boleslav was in a position to carry out his ambitious plans. He freed Moravia from the Magyars and united it to Bohemia, and he is said to have conquered a considerable part of the country between the Carpathian Mountains and the Danube; probably Slovakia of to-day. By his conquests Boleslav became a near neighbour of Poland and managed to come to a good understanding with Duke Mieceslav I, ruler of that country, by giving that prince his daughter Dubravka in marriage, which would no doubt be considered a friendly act. Dubravka succeeded in converting her husband and his yet heathen people to Christianity. Mieceslav must have taken to it very strongly, for between them he and Dubravka produced a pious son and heir who was to become known as Boleslav the Brave.
Boleslav II of Bohemia, called "the Pious," enjoyed an even longer reign than his father did, from 967 to 999, which is one of those easy dates to remember. Monkish chroniclers seem to have ascribed a good deal of the work done by Boleslav I to his son, probably on account of the former's lack of piety in his early days and the latter's exuberance in that line. Certain it is that Boleslav II was ruler over larger dominions than had ever been held by any Prince or King of Bohemia. Besides Bohemia itself the power of Boleslav II extended over Moravia, present-day Slovakia, a great part of Silesia, including Breslau, districts of Poland nearly up to the town of Lemberg, with a frontier touching that of the Russian rulers of Kiev. The Bohemian nobles who had troubled his father were entirely suppressed by Boleslav II, who appointed burgraves called "zǔpans," over the various districts into which his territories were divided, and the central authority became absolute.
It is not certain whether Vyšehrad was still the actual seat of government or whether the Hradšany had taken its place. Certain it is that the Hradšany had grown in importance chiefly in the religious life of the nation. The foundations laid by St. Wenceslaus were extended. It appears that the Church of St. George on the Hradšany dates back to this early period; you can see its two rather stunted white steeples standing out over the complex of buildings near the eastern point of the Castle Hill before it dips down towards the Vltava. The earliest church on this point is attributed to Vratislav, uncle of St. Wenceslaus, but this sounds rather doubtful. Boleslav II, however, is known to have founded a convent here, probably the oldest in Bohemia, and he installed his sister Milada as first abbess. St. Ludmilla was also buried here, so the Hradšany was increasing in sanctity. Boleslav II is also responsible for providing Prague with her first bishop. We have seen that Henry the Fowler had incorporated Bohemia into the bishopric of Ratisbon; this was before that country could be considered as Christian, with right, as we have noticed the lapse after the demise of St. Wenceslaus. Boleslav II, however, was in a position to point to a much improved state of affairs, and so Otto I consented to the formation of a separate bishopric of Prague. The Pope consented likewise, under the express condition that the connection with the old Moravian archbishopric should be broken, and that the Latin liturgy only should be used. The German connection was further strengthened by placing Bohemia under the supremacy of the Archbishop of Maintz; Thietmar, a German, became the first Bishop of Prague. This worthy was succeeded after a few years by a native of Bohemia, Adalbert, who finally established Christianity in the country. He had a hard task, as many heathen customs, such as polygamy, were difficult to extirpate; there are even in this day very few churches dedicated to St. Anthony, a saint who does not seem to interest or convince the Bohemians. Adalbert carried his ideals farther afield, to the country of the heathen Prussians, who killed him for trespassing on ground dedicated to one of their deities. Adalbert became the third saint and martyr of Bohemian origin, and was adopted by the Poles as patron saint.
Though there are no buildings other than those on the Hradšany mentioned by the chroniclers, we may assume that a township was growing up by the river at the feet of the Castle Hill. We have the testimony of Ibrahim Ibn Jacub, who speaks of Prague as "a great commercial town of stone-built houses." Ibrahim's visit must have taken place in the reign of Boleslav II. I conclude that he was talking of a town on the left bank of the Vltava, because others of his race who came here in that Prince's day are said to have been allowed to found a school in the Mala Strana quarter. Some fifty years later yet more Jews came to Prague bringing presents for the ruler, Prince Vratislav, and Bishop Gebhard. They were allowed to build twelve little houses on the outskirts of the town, which would be somewhere about the Harrachove. These Jews promised to be of good behaviour and to pay double taxes, but in three months their numbers had increased to seven hundred, so half of them were ordered to go out over the river to where the old town now stands; another Jewish settlement was established there. The advent of these visitors is proof positive that Prague was becoming not only habitable but also a place of importance.
In which good and bad rulers of Bohemia make or mar the fortunes of the country, the points being chiefly in favour of the good rulers, despite the constant intrigues, quarrels and general misconduct of the Přemysls.
Of the harm done by Boleslav III, of the sons of Dubravka the Bohemian Princess, Boleslav the Brave and Vladivoj. Of a somewhat tiresome trio of brothers and how the line of Přemysl nearly died out. The romantic story of Ulrich and Božena the village maiden, and of their stout-hearted son Břetislav, who reigned from 1037 to 1055 and greatly restored the prestige of his country during those years. How St. Adalbert was recovered from Poland, and a few appropriate remarks on the subject. Of the buildings and other matters of interest which date from the tenth and eleventh centuries and are to be seen in Prague. Of the bridge built by Judith, Queen of Vladislav II, in 1167. Of some churches in Prague and the round chapels. Of Vratislav, first King of Bohemia, and his fights for the Empire. Of Břetislav II, and how he greatly exerted himself to extirpate paganism, forbidding pilgrimages to the shrines of heathen deities at Arkona on the Island of Ruegen, Of Soběslav, who became hereditary cup-bearer of the Empire. Of Vladislav II, contemporary and ally of Frederick Barbarossa. Vladislav's crusade and campaigns in Italy. Vladislav founder of the monastery called Mount Zion at Strahov. About Strahov and the beauty and interest thereof.
Boleslav II had left dominions more extensive than any Slavonic State before or since could boast of; moreover, he left the name of Přemysl in high repute for piety and ability. Boleslav III, his son, undid all the good his predecessors had brought to their dominions and their reputation; in fact, within a few years of his accession he found himself stripped of all his belongings save Bohemia, and his hold on even that country was under dispute at times. It appears that Boleslav III was constitutionally unable to agree with anyone; contemporary chroniclers describe this Prince as cruel, avaricious and distrustful. The sons of Czech have always had a strong objection to paying for what they do not want, and that is what Boleslav was always expecting of them. He became so unpopular among his own people, who were called upon to finance him in his troubles with his brothers, that they invited their Duke's cousin, Prince Vladivoj, brother of Boleslav the Brave of Poland, to intervene. Vladivoj died young, so his brother took charge of all that had been the Bohemian realm, and incorporated it with his own; Boleslav of Poland, it is said, even contemplated making Prague the capital of his Empire. There is no trace of anything he did for the city, so we must assume that he did not carry out his intention: he was probably prevented by the inevitable friction with the Germans, who always found some excuse for putting down any attempt at founding a strong Slavonic Empire. In this instance King Henry II intervened on behalf of Boleslav III, who had stooped to becoming a vassal of the German King, with the title of Duke. After the usual fighting, Boleslav III was restored to his country for a short period in which he distinguished himself by wholesale assassination of his opponents. He eventually died in Poland as prisoner of Boleslav the Brave. Meanwhile, what with his cantankerous brothers, with Polish ambitions and German ill-will, Bohemia was having a sorry time.
In all this unseemly wrangling among the members of the Přemysl family I find only one bright spot of human interest, and that is the little affair of Ulrich and Božena. All three brothers, Boleslav III, Jaromir and Ulrich, the last surviving Přemysls, were childless, and, failing heirs, their inheritance would pass to Poland, to the children of Dubravka. A Přemysl successor was wanted; Ulrich and Božena provided one. It is undoubtedly true that Ulrich was already married when he encountered Božena, the beautiful village maiden, while she was washing the family linen at the village pump. It was a picturesque event, this meeting of the young prince and the village maiden, and has been satisfactorily illustrated by a patriotic Bohemian painter. You will find highly coloured reproductions of that artist's work in a shop window on the Narodni Třida, all illustrating events in the history of the Přemysl family, and when you see what Božena looked like you will not blame Ulrich. Anyway, Ulrich married Božena. How he managed this without causing complications is not our affair; the ancient chroniclers were satisfied; they insist on the legality of this union, and as we know them to have been very particular in such matters, it is not for us to discuss the point. You must also remember that Christianity was yet young among the Czechs and that they had been strongly addicted to the amiable habit of polygamy. You may also gather what was the attitude of Bohemian chroniclers from the remark which Dalimil, the contemporary of Ulrich, puts into the latter's mouth: "Rather would I entrust myself to a Bohemian peasant girl than that I should take a German queen for my wife. Every heart clings to its own nation; therefore would a German woman less favour my language. A German woman will have German servants; German will she teach my children." From this remark you will understand that the Bohemians thoroughly appreciated their neighbours.
Ulrich reverted to type, and once again the stout peasant stock of Czech came to the rescue of a fading dynasty; the son of Ulrich and Božena, Břetislav I, was destined to restore the house of Přemysl to a position more in keeping with its great traditions. Before succeeding his father, Břetislav was given an opportunity of proving what good stock he came from. Boleslav of Poland had died, his sons quarrelled over their heritage, and their dissensions gave the neighbours an excuse for interfering. One of these neighbours was King Stephen of Hungary, afterwards called "the Saint." He had only recently been converted from paganism, but he took part in this Polish dispute just as if he had been a ripe old Christian monarch of some standing. Stephen had the happy thought of taking Moravia for himself, no doubt in pious memory of his ancestor who first stole it. The same idea occurred to Ulrich of Bohemia, who sent young Břetislav into Moravia, where the latter defeated the Magyars rather badly; Moravia thereupon was added to Bohemia, whereas Slovakia remained with Hungary.
Břetislav failed to realize his ideal of forming a strong national Slavonic State, independent of German rule—he had too strong an Emperor against him, Henry III; but he certainly restored Bohemia and the Přemysl dynasty to a position of some importance in Europe. He was, however, unable to shake off the German grasp of his country; German armies had arrived before Prague and threatened that city with destruction, so Břetislav submitted to the inevitable, paid tribute to the Emperor and spent the last and peaceful years of his reign in restoring order and prosperity to his country. The city of Prague benefited by the bravery of Břetislav, for as a result of that Prince's successful campaign against the Poles the body of St. Adalbert, whom you have met before as Bishop of Prague, was captured by the Bohemians and restored to their capital. There was, I believe, some trouble about this operation of Břetislav. The ruler and people of Poland had appointed Adalbert as their patron saint; he had been killed in their country, had been buried there some time, and had even a cathedral to himself at Gnesen. The Pope launched a bull or two at Břetislav over this business. I do not know whether any of them took effect. The Bohemians were ordered to return Adalbert to the Poles, but I do not know that they did so, neither have I seen him lying about in Prague, probably because I have not looked for him. Adalbert is the patron saint of Emaus in Prague among many other churches in Bohemia, but no doubt he can find time to patronize Poland as well. Anyway, I do not anticipate any strained relations between the Republics of Czecho-Slovakia and Poland on this account; both countries are more interested in a yet older fossilized form of creation—coal to wit.
With the best will in the world it is difficult to rise to any enthusiasm over the majority of Bohemia's rulers in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. There seems to have been nothing of beauty or interest in individual Přemysls to break the monotony of endless quarrels between brother claimants to the throne and appeals of unsuccessful rivals to their German neighbour, whose decision would be entirely guided by the desire for a further weakening of Bohemia. Prague has little to show in the way of architectural interest dating from the eleventh and twelfth centuries, but what there is is good. I doubt whether any other city in Europe has much to show of that period of transition from Romanesque to Gothic: whatever there was has generally been pulled down or built over when the great flood of Gothic poured over Europe some century or so later. But if there is little to see in Prague which can be clearly traced to the two centuries under discussion, it is of interest in showing the expansion of the town since Libuša's prophecy concerning it. The Hradšany came in for some attention. Another church, dedicated to All Saints and built up very near the Basilica of St. George, dates back to the eleventh century. There are, or were till recently, distinct traces of work dating from that century to be found in the Karmelitska Ulice, that thoroughfare which leads from the Malo Stranske Naměsti towards Smichov. We have already noted that the Jews had settled in this part of Prague towards the end of the tenth century and that some of them had been ordered across the river to another settlement of their kind, so there must have been good steady business to be done in Prague. I have often wondered how and where people crossed the Vltava previous to 1167 when Judith, Queen of Vladislav II, built a bridge very near the site of the present Charles Bridge. Judith's bridge was eventually carried away by floods, but the Mala Strana bridgehead tower remains; you see it with its squat tower and broad chisel-shaped steeple, rising up beside the more graceful and ornate tower of the present bridge, which was new in the early years of the fourteenth century. The stout tower built by Judith is a very interesting study of architecture; it has had a long life of usefulness, having been used for many years as a lock-up for the froward youth of the neighbourhood, and it is still inhabited. This sturdy remnant of Judith's bridge, which you can see from my terrace, is the only trace I have found of means of communication between the two banks of the river. There must have been considerable traffic, as we know, for instance, how St. Wenceslaus was in the habit of going to and fro between Hradšany and Vyšehrad. The river was probably fordable in several places, but it is rather a treacherous stream with a swift current and an uncertain bottom; some Hungarian troops attempted to cross it by a ford on a certain memorable occasion, and were swept away to perdition. Yet even before Judith's time there must have been need of a bridge. The town and various settlements around it were growing up, as is proved by the number of churches which were considered necessary or appropriate. The Hradšany was very well off in that respect. Then there was the Church of St. Cosmas and Damian, where you now see the towers of Emaus, and in the twelfth century, if not at the end of the eleventh, the foundations of the Tyn Church were laid. This period also has left three quaint little Romanesque chapels in various parts of Prague. They are very well preserved, these little round chapels, and the fact that they are pretty far apart suggests the extent to which Prague had expanded by the end of the twelfth century. There is one of these chapels dedicated to St. Martin, on Vyšehrad, another to St. Longinus, rather difficult to find, some half-mile north-east of Emaus; and a third, the oldest of all, the Chapel of the Holy Cross, stands near the old Town Tower of the Charles Bridge. There is also a seventeenth-century baroque imitation of these Romanesque chapels under the riverside slope of the Letna Hill, which is not worth troubling about.
While Christianity was striking its roots yet deeper into the soil of Bohemia, the rulers of that country were being drawn into the quarrel between the spiritual and the would-be temporal head of the Church; the "Investiture Strife" gave Vratislav, son of Břetislav I, an opportunity of strengthening his independence and increasing the importance of his country. He took sides with Emperor Henry IV against one of the strongest of the Popes, Gregory VII. The Emperor's Bohemian allies took part in many of that monarch's battles, chiefly against the Saxons, who appear to have been hereditary enemies of the sons of Czech, and the victory at Hohenburg on the Unstrutt in 1075 is attributed to the bravery of the Bohemian troops. Six years later Bohemian troops helped Henry IV in his attack on Rome, and their leader, Wiprecht of Groitch, was one of the first to scale the walls of the Eternal City. The Czechs have always been good hearty fighters, and of the three hundred who set out to help the Emperor against Rome only nine returned home to Bohemia. The Germans, even in those early days, were thorough utilitarians.
EHRAD. B.G.B. 1912.]
As reward for his many and great services Henry IV promoted Vratislav to the rank of King. It appears to have been, as it were, brevet-rank only; it was not hereditary. Nevertheless it was a great day for Prague when the ruler of Bohemia was crowned with the golden diadem, presented by the Emperor himself. There was no doubt that King Vratislav had earned the distinction—he had done well by himself, by his country and by his ally the Emperor—so no doubt the Basilica Church of St. George on the Hradšany and its congregation did all honour to the crowning of Bohemia's first King. It is also interesting to note that Vratislav had "contributed to the party funds"; he had lent money to the Emperor. This should strike a homely, familiar note among us.
The frescoes in St. George's Church probably date from the time of King Vratislav; there was a distinct revival of love for things beautiful in those days when the peoples were beginning to see the light that was rising, gently but persistently, over the subsiding chaos that had claimed Europe for the past three centuries and more. True, the world was still a confused and worrying sort of place to live in; apart from the soul-sickening public quarrels between Rome and the Empire, there was a good deal of private enterprise in that line between all manner of petty potentates. Nevertheless there was some improvement to be noted, first in the tendency of fostering national feeling in place of a confused cosmopolitanism, secondly by the effects of the Cluny movement in its endeavour to reform the Church. The tendency of the time expressed itself in beautiful illuminated manuscripts, and Prague is lucky in the possession of many such. It is probable that Duke Břetislav II, grandson of the first prince of that name, encouraged the expression of his people's religious and national sentiments, in those illuminated manuscripts of the Bible, of Missals, and the "Cantionales," those works so beautiful in design, so loyal and sincere of execution, their colours as fresh as when the artist's hand withdrew reluctantly from the finishing touch.
Břetislav II had had a misfortune in his youth; he had caused a courtier of the name of Zderad to be murdered. Zderad had insulted the young Prince; what with that and the courtier's unpronounceable name it is no wonder that Břetislav was roused to act indiscreetly. He found it advisable to spend some years abroad after this little affair, and only returned home when his father's neck was broken out hunting. Břetislav took up the anti-pagan line very strongly. It seems strange, but there was still a certain amount of paganism lurking in secret places in Bohemia. It was not safe to indulge in heathen rites at home, but there were places abroad where it was still possible. One of these places is still a fashionable holiday resort, the Island of Ruegen in the Baltic Sea. Here there was a temple at Arkona, to Svantovit, the god of air and light, besides a local and household deity president over all Ruegen, called Rugevit. I can quite imagine a couple of Czech householders, law-abiding and good church-goers, conspiring to get away from the family for a bit and take a trip to Ruegen, just for a flutter with the old gods. What with the secrecy required, as both Ruler and Church forbade the practice of worshipping Slavonic deities, the practice must have been quite as exciting as petits chevaux.
Whether it was this interference with the Ruegen pilgrims or his action in stamping out the custom of holding religious services in the language of the country, Břetislav II was not popular; he was eventually murdered by some of his nobles. The successors of Břetislav seem to have been cantankerous and inefficient; it is wearisome to read of those hopeless people throwing away the fruits of good work done by such stout fellows as Břetislav I or even the hearty heathen Boleslav. In all this distressing muddle of brothers, cousins, etc., fighting, getting beaten and running off to the German Emperor to howl to him about it, there are occasional bright spots. So for instance, one Soběslav, who came to the throne in 1125, and found things in the usual mess, with half the country against him; nevertheless he managed to beat Emperor Lothair most heartily. Lothair had crossed the Giant Mountains in order to support the claims of some other Přemysl, had met Soběslav's hastily gathered army at Kulm, near Teplitz, and had been handsomely beaten. Not only that, but Lothair and the remnants of his army were surrounded, and it was up to the Bohemian Prince to impose terms this time. Soběslav was thus able to improve the status of Bohemia considerably, and he added to his country's dignity by receiving the high office of hereditary cup-bearer of the Empire, from Conrad III, Lothair's successor. Cupbearer in perpetuam to an Empire sounds very important and suggests great possibilities of influencing people. As a matter of fact the office gave Bohemia certain rights within the Empire which went some way to balance the obligations; nevertheless German ties were fastened yet more securely on the sons of Czech.
Soběslav was succeeded by his nephew Vladislav, another Přemysl to rise to royal rank. This Prince passed through the usual troubles before securing the throne to himself, and was perforce driven to invoke the German Emperor Conrad in order to establish his sovereign rights over the whole of Bohemia and Moravia. The reign of Vladislav I (as King) is relieved by a certain picturesqueness, by a touch of romance, from the usual sordid course of events in the life of the Přemysl dynasty with its rivalries, treachery, conspiracies and other social amenities of the time. There is even something picturesque in the fact that the Pope had felt obliged to send Cardinal Guido with a special mission to establish order among the Bohemian clergy. These amiable gentlemen would persist in entering the bonds of matrimony; if Bohemian ladies were as attractive then as they are to-day, I feel the sincerest sympathy with those gallant priests. It is easy to imagine what trouble arose when Cardinal Guido insisted that all married priests should either separate from their wives or renounce their dignities, and there were some clerics of the highest rank, among them a couple of deans, who were called upon to this act of renunciation. The immediate result of the Pope's interference was that the Bohemians chased his legate from Prague to Eger, where the latter succumbed to his injuries. This was certainly a picturesque incident, but it was not appreciated by the Papacy, which was hotly in favour of Cluniac principles. There were other picturesque events pending which forced a compromise even on Rome; the second crusade, much encouraged by Cluny, was in course of preparation, and as all Christian countries of Europe were expected to take part, the time was not propitious for bringing pressure to bear on Bohemia's ruler. He had not arrived at royal dignity when the Guido episode took place; it was within the first year of his reign. The royal crown was bestowed on Vladislav a few years later by another romantic personage, Frederick Barbarossa, in consideration of Bohemian assistance against the Emperor's enemies in Northern Italy. Vladislav marched an army of ten thousand men from Bohemia, took part in the siege of Milan, and himself killed Dacio, one of the leaders of the Milanese.
I doubt whether Vladislav is entitled to an effigy with feet crossed, as his part in the second crusade was not remarkable. He took his troops to Asia, left them there under the charge of King Louis VII of France, and returned to his own country via Constantinople, where he indulged in a little intriguing with the Greek Emperor Emanuel. This seems to have given the flamboyant Greeks the impression that Bohemia's King had become a vassal of their Emperor; they were disillusioned some years later when Vladislav assisted Stephen III on to the throne of Hungary against the Emperor Emanuel's choice.
It is all very fine and thrilling to read about picturesque princes, romantic rulers, and we shall hear of several in the history of Prague, but they are not necessarily an asset to a country that wishes to develop in peace and consolidate within its own boundaries. It is difficult to see what good Vladislav did by his trip to Asia with the crusaders; he left his troops in charge of a foreigner and created a distinctly wrong impression on another people while on his way home. Again, he was romantically brave in Italy at the head of a Bohemian army which was much in excess of the numbers required of him by his agreement with Barbarossa. Of this large army very few returned to their native country. There is, however, one deed by which Vladislav becomes entitled to undying merit: he founded the Monastery of Strahov.
Where the strip of land which connects the Hradšany Hill with that of Petřin, mentioned in Libuša's forecast, dips a bit before rising again, there Vladislav laid the foundations of Strahov. This happened in 1140, what time Vladislav was beset by enemies of his own house, who disputed his right to the throne; he was even assailed in his capital, Prague, by another Přemysl, Conrad of Znoymo. Nevertheless the walls of Strahov Monastery rose over the terraced valley that dips down into Prague between Petřin and Castle Hill. The good monks of Strahov, illumined by the light that spread from Cluny, soon made of their house a home of learning and piety, a haunt of peace where weary souls found rest from strife and turmoil; Mount Zion, the people called this sacred spot, and the name still clings to it despite the many vicissitudes through which it has passed. It must have been a-building when the enemies of Vladislav attacked the city, it was destroyed when the Hussite wars broke out over Bohemia, and it suffered at the hands of the Swedes during the War of Thirty Years. But the good work that Vladislav the King had started on Mount Zion of Strahov was not allowed to perish; the monastery re-arose from its ashes after each visitation, with renewed strength, arose to look out over Prague from its terraced height. While looking out over the city with the eye of a friend full of loving understanding, the congregation on Mount Zion pursued the even tenor of its way, collecting treasures for the benefit of future generations. The library, a wonderful sight and soothing after the turmoil in the streets of Prague, contains many of those collected treasures, instruments used by the astronomer Tycho de Brahe, the works of Racusani the philosopher, a gift of Sir Thomas Saville to Hajek the sixteenth-century biologist, astronomer, professor of Prague University, who had studied in Milan and Bologna and had visited England in 1589. Then there are the poetical works of Elizabeth Weston of a noble English family, who had made her home in Prague and died here in 1612. A very learned lady this, but, it would seem, unhappy. You may see her tomb in St. Thomas's Church in Mala Strana, just beyond that imposing Jesuit Church of St. Nicholas, on it the following inscription:—
D. O. M. S. B. M.
Elisabethae Joannae Westonae
Nobilitate patriae Britanniae, Seculi nostri Sulpitiae, Cui nomen dant litterae illibati
Minervae floris Suadae decoris Musarum delicii Foeminarum exempli.
Strahov Monastery has, I hope, passed through its vicissitudes and has entered at last into an existence of undisturbed usefulness. Of its earliest appearance there are neither record nor any traces left; the storms that passed over Bohemia have obliterated any outward sign of the Mount Zion which Vladislav founded and whither generations of the pious sons of Czech went up to find peace. One of the first of these was Vladislav himself; weary of war and worn out by internal dissensions, he abdicated and retired to Strahov to end his days.
Strahov was entirely rebuilt in the seventeenth century, and has withstood the enemies of Bohemia from without and within, taking no irreparable harm from the open attack of Frederick of Prussia in the eighteenth century or the covert attack of those hostile to the faith it has stood for down the ages. The quaintly shaped spires of St. Mary's Church with its three aisles, its glorious organ the largest in all Bohemia, stand out in bold relief amidst the terraced garden and orchards tended with fond care. The belfry is silent, its bells were sacrificed to the cause of the Habsburgs in the Great War; you may see plaster casts of them in the library. Here you may feast your eye on gloriously illuminated manuscripts and wonder at the ingenious inventions of one or other good brother who sojourned here a while on his way to the "Abiding City." There is, for instance, a model of the first lightning-conductor. Country folk, when they first saw it, crossed themselves, thinking this the work of the devil. The visitors' book in the library shows signatures of men famous in history, among them our Nelson, who, in company of Sir William and Lady Hamilton, visited Strahov on September 29, 1800. The strict rules of the congregation of Premonstratensians allow ladies to visit only the library, which is approached from the outer courtyard; the picture gallery is unfortunately closed to them, a small collection but of value, its gem is Duerer's "Rosary Feast."
So stands Strahov, Mount Zion, between the Castle Hill and Petřin looking out over Prague from its terraced gardens and its bower of fruit-trees. It is always beautiful, this haunt of old-world peace, whether the garden and the orchard be all a mass of blossom creamy white in the sunshine, pale purples in the shadows, in the shade of midsummer foliage when Golden Prague below glitters in the midday heat, or in autumn when the valley is all a blaze of gold and russet, and the distant hills stand out in strong blue masses. Winter also brings fascination. Strahov, its many windows severely closed and reflecting a sullen sky, seems to stand out more austerely from among the gaunt tree-trunks, their grey and sombre outlines broken by a fantasia of gnarled and twisted branches glittering under snow. But within those walls, in the high altar's mysterious depth, in the long bare corridors and tiny cells where useful work continues as it has done for centuries, there is the "peace that passeth understanding."
Deals in succession with five Kings of the House of Přemysl, Ottokar I, Wenceslaus I, Ottokar II, Wenceslaus II and III, with whom the male line of this famous dynasty became extinct. This chapter also touches on the story of the Jews of Prague and tells about one Dalibor who provided a hero for Smetana's opera of that name. Mentions buildings and improvements undertaken by the Kings above named; tells of their troubles and trials, and how for a time they overcame them. Introduces the first Habsburg to Bohemia and makes mention of other visitors to Prague.
On the death of Vladislav II, in fact on his retirement to the cloistered peace of Strahov, it became evident that there were too many Přemysls about in Bohemia to make for that country's peace and contentment. These worthies were constantly falling over each other in the scramble for the throne, and their disunited efforts resulted in ten changes in the person of the sovereign over a period of twenty-four years. This filled Bohemia's German neighbours with unholy joy and brought the distracted country more and more under Teuton domination, so much so that Frederick Barbarossa thought fit to summon one or other pretender and a bunch of obstreperous Bohemian nobles to appear before him at the Imperial Court at Ratisbon, in order that he might exercise the right he had assumed of settling the affairs of the Přemysl dynasty. By way of a picturesque touch to the proceedings, Barbarossa is said to have arranged for a suitable display of executioners' axes at the meeting. Nevertheless this pretty imperial conceit settled no affairs one way or another, and it was not until Přemysl Ottokar became undisputed ruler of Bohemia, and eventually of Moravia as well, that order of a sort was restored. Death had also been busy among members of the Přemysl family and had brought considerable relief to the distracted country.
By the time Ottokar I had settled himself firmly on the throne he found that the confused, almost anarchic, state which Germany had drifted into could mean many advantages to Bohemia, if the situation were properly handled. The House of Hohenstaufen began to go downhill after the death of Henry VI, and we find a lusty Welf, Otto, clamouring for the imperial diadem, assisted by a number of German Electors. This gave the ruler of Bohemia his opportunity, and Ottokar took it. His son Wenceslaus I and grandson Ottokar II followed the same line of policy, a purely dynastic one. They took sides with one or other of the rivals for the crown of the Holy Roman Empire, changing as considerations of domestic interests required, and making skilful use of the perennial quarrel between Empire and Papacy over the Investitures. While the Hohenstaufens were trickling out until the luckless Conradin lost his head at Naples, while fierce Welfs like Otto of Brunswick wrecked themselves on the rock of papal insistence, Bohemia's rulers were profiting. Ottokar I seems to have been particularly astute in this line of business. He supported two rival Emperors in turn and got something useful out of both, he upheld the cause of Pope Innocent III against one or other imperial rival and induced that pontiff to recognize the Přemysl's title to royalty. Ottokar even found himself sufficiently strong to try a throw with the Pope himself on the vexed subject of Investiture, simply by way of a little private sport on his own account and not as part of the general European brawl. It happened that Andrew, Bishop of Prague, was one of those didactic prelates who insisted on all the little things the Papacy was out for—immunity for his clerics from the temporal law-courts, from taxes, and so on. Above all, Andrew was strong on the right of conferring ecclesiatical office, albeit he had himself accepted investiture at the hands of Ottokar. This led to quite a hearty quarrel in which Andrew got the worst of it; he had to seek refuge in Rome, whence he let off all the customary fulminations, declaring Bohemia to be under interdict and so on. Nobody in Bohemia took the least notice of Andrew's little efforts; Church and people went solidly with their King on this occasion, and carried on their devotional exercises as before.
We have to thank Ottokar for several picturesque flashes which brighten up the gloomy picture of this period. So for instance, he took a trip to Maintz, where he was solemnly crowned as King. No doubt Prague would have been a more suitable setting for this function, but Ottokar had so timed his arrangements as to come in for a double event, for Philip of Suabia with assistance from Bohemia's ruler, secured the German crown at the same time. Then again this thoughtful Přemysl Ottokar provided Bohemia with yet another patron saint of the blood royal, and not by the old-fashioned family method of killing a relative. Ottokar had married Constance of Hungary, and it was their daughter Agnes who next joined the distinguished and hallowed company of Ludmilla and Wenceslaus. Agnes, educated by St. Hedwig, early distinguished herself by refusing to marry Emperor Frederick II. She decided to become a bride of heaven instead, founded the Order of Clarissa, entered it herself and eventually died as abbess in the odour of sanctity. Frederick consoled himself with one wife after another (a wife seems to have lasted no time in those days), his third and last being Isabella, daughter of King John of England, whose son, Richard of Cornwall, also comes into the story a little farther on in this chapter. St. Agnes was held in great reverence by the citizens of Bruex, is still so held, I hope, for she did them a good turn in 1424. The Pragers had been indulging in a feud with the Bruexers, and had taken a bad beating on one occasion. The former prepared a surprise attack and marched on Bruex hoping to take it by a midnight assault. St. Agnes happened to be watching while the fat burghers slept; she roused them from slumber, drove them to the walls and aided them in beating off the attacking Pragers, Then the Bruexers went to sleep again. It is also pleasant to reflect that Agnes's refusal to marry Frederick did not mar the excellent relations that sprang up between that monarch and Ottokar whenever the latter happened to want something out of the former. It is true that Ottokar had changed about a good deal between one rival emperor and another, but he remained loyal to Frederick in the end, and the latter outlived him by some thirty years. The relations between the two must have been quite pleasant and comfortable, as you may judge from the concessions made by the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire to Bohemia's King. A pretty and tactful compliment it was on the part of Frederick to allow Ottokar's heralds, when preceding their royal master to the Imperial Diet, to carry lighted torches on poles before him, and this to signify that the Bohemian excursionists were at liberty to burn down anything they had a mind to. It is these little considerations that have ever played such an important though unrecognized part in the diplomatic relations between nations. The Bohemians are still quite nice about accepting little acts of kindness and consideration from anybody.
Přemysl Ottokar I had reigned for twenty-eight years when his son Wenceslaus, first King of that name, succeeded him, and, strange to say, practically without opposition. By this time Bohemia had risen to a position of importance in the councils of Europe not only by the skilful, not to say artful, policy of its rulers, but also owing to the growing prosperity of the country which was reflected in the life of Prague its capital.
Prague consisted of three distinct settlements each apparently under separate administration. There was the old original settlement on Vyšehrad which seems to have been under the sway of the abbot presiding over the monastic institutions on that hill. Then there was Libuša's foundation on the Hradšany and extending down to the river, probably under the rule of the King's lieutenant or burgrave, and finally the Old Town on the right bank with its own municipal institutions. These three parts of Prague were separately walled in, but little remains of any architectural work earlier in date than the Kings of Bohemia of whom this Wenceslaus is generally counted as the first though his father's royal rank had been recognized by the Pope and at least two emperors.
By the time Wenceslaus I came to the throne, the changes were in full swing which were to lead up to the golden age of Prague a century or so later. We have already noticed a tendency of German immigrants towards Prague and other cities of Bohemia. The Germans, mostly tradesmen and artisans, came with the civic instinct well developed, whereas the sons of Czech were, and still are, more of the fields and forests and the free life without walls. The Germans, bringing with them the appreciation of walled security, were responsible in great measure for the fortified cities of Bohemia and Moravia. It cannot be said of the later Přemysl rulers preceding the Kings of Bohemia that they were inspired by the founder's ardour. Then again the Bohemian nobility had risen to a strong sense of its own importance encouraged by the lamentable dissensions in the reigning house, and not uninfluenced by an infusion of German blood; they also had taken to walling themselves in on convenient hill-tops. As these nobles were become increasingly troublesome, it is not surprising that Přemysl rulers induced more and more Germans to settle in the cities of Bohemia and Moravia, thus starting a steady-going middle class which might be expected to pay for peace and protection and which when walled in was conveniently in hand for the tax-collector's operations. That this scheme was beginning to succeed even in the early days of the twelfth century is proved by the fact that Jews were flocking to Prague in ever increasing numbers, so there must have been business doing in the capital and other cities of the land, under conditions of reasonable security. It may be taken for granted that improvements and additions to the defences of Prague, the decoration of the town by stately churches and other monuments, however much directed by the sovereign, were paid for by the burghers.
The story of the Jews in Prague makes very interesting reading; it is, however, beyond the scope of this work to give more than an indication of the part that the Children of Israel took in the development of the city. You will remember that a travelling commercial gentleman of Semitic origin, one Ibrahim Ibn Jacub, had visited Prague in the tenth century and had noted the place with approval. As far as I can make out he makes no reference to a colony of his co-religionists already in existence here, so the story that Jews settled here before the destruction of Jerusalem seems little likely. It was, indeed, averred by the Jews of Prague that they had their settlement here long before Libuša launched her prophecies, before the birth of Christ in fact, so that they at least might be considered guiltless of the Divine Tragedy on Golgotha. Their legend calls the place Buiarnum, which suggests some acquaintance with the Celtic tribe that rested for a while in Bohemia, gave its name to the country and then wandered to Bavaria, where it repeated the performance. I find this legend of the Jews difficult to believe despite my earnest endeavour to find something of truth in Saga's ebullitions. How, for instance, is it possible that the gifted lady Libuša did not discover the advantages of a Jewish colony and that she omitted to prophesy a contribution out of the sons of Israel towards her new foundation? No, if there had been any Jews within signing distance of this city when it arose, Praha would have started with a mortgage on her, and the entertainment tax would probably be double what it is this day.
You may take it as a general principle that every country has the Jews it deserves. If you oppress them, trample them in the mud as was customary in pre-war Russia, they will turn and rend you when their turn comes round; this is happening in Russia at present. If you despoil a Jew by violence, he will do the same to you by guile, and you may or may not be left with your full complement of cuticle. If you treat the Jew as one entitled to equal rights with equal responsibilities, you will find him an excellent citizen.
As elsewhere in the Europe of the Middle Ages, the Children of Israel in Prague were confined to certain quarters of the town. We have heard how a number of them were ordered to leave the Hradsšany side of the river and settle in the Old Town. The quarter allotted to the Jews was in that part of the Old Town known as Josefov, and the Old Ghetto stood approximately in that complex of narrow streets between the river at the Rudolfinum Bridge and the broad thoroughfare Mikulašska Třida. I could point out the place from my terrace if I were minded to give its locality away and to depart from my principle of making every man choose his own point of view.
The life of the Ghetto centred round the old Jewish Town Hall, with its quaint, indeed rather unsightly, tower on which is a clock that you are expected to treat as one of the sights of the place. On the face of this clock the numbers are marked by Hebrew letters and the hands of this clock move from right to left. The fact that the Jews had a Town Hall to themselves in ancient Prague is significant; it stood for the semi-autonomous constitution of the Jewish community which was subject to the sovereign as a corporate body with its own municipal institutions and responsibilities. This peculiar segregation of the Jewish community as an imperium in imperio, apart in matters of local administration as in matters of religion, from their fellow-citizens, must have done a great deal towards forming the character of its members, and the result has been of advantage to the city of Prague in times of stress.
Close by the Jewish Town Hall stands another yet more ancient landmark of cultural history, the "Staronova Škola", or Old New School. Close by the side of that broad thoroughfare the Mikulasška Třida, with the electric trams clanging along it, stands this strange temple. Dr. Jeřabek, in his excellent booklet on Beautiful Old Prague likens this ancient building to a gigantic hand of Aaron held up in blessing over the Ghetto; I think you will agree with me that this is a very happy simile. Built in the severe style of transition from Romanesque to Gothic, of massive stone walls heavily buttressed, with steep red-tiled sloping roof, blackened with age and the grime of the walled-in Ghetto, this temple served not only as a place of worship for the sons of Israel, but also as a casket for the remains of a yet older one said to date back to the sixth century and probably the oldest temple on the Continent of Europe. The present fane itself is of venerable age and aspect; its building fell into the reign of King Wenceslaus I and Ottokar II, and took ten years, from 1250 to 1260. Men only are allowed to worship in the inner temple, dingy and dark; whatever light penetrates through the narrow windows calls forth reluctant glints from the many brass candelabra, work of long centuries ago. Women may look on from an outer court through glazed openings that look like gun-embrasures.
The Jews required strong defences in the dark days of the Middle Ages; their Ghetto was shut off from the rest of the city by heavy iron gates, but even these proved of no avail when once the mob got loose and undertook a raid. On several occasions organized massacres took toll of the "Children of the Ghetto," who on other occasions were banished, bag and baggage, from Prague and driven out into the country. Though now and again they suffered intolerably, yet were they on the whole better treated than in many other parts of Europe, were allowed to develop along their own lines, and produced many men of mark and learning, and women of distinction, among the latter one who was raised to the nobility by a Habsburg Emperor and King of Bohemia, Bas-Schevi called "of Treunberg." Among the prominent men whose light shone out beyond the Ghetto of Prague, I may mention the poet-Rabbi Abigdor Caro, the bibliophile Rabbi Oppenheim whose library is now in Oxford, then the chronicler and mathematician David Gans, a friend of Keppler and Tycho de Brahe, and Solomon de Medigo de Candia the pupil of Galileo Galilei.
Tall modern houses look down upon the smoke-blackened temple; the Ghetto gates have fallen long ago, and nothing remains of its former crowded dwelling-places but a quaint ramshackle old house of Oriental aspect, and the old cemetery, Beth-Chaim, "the House of Life," as the Jews call it. This is no doubt the oldest existing and still preserved Jewish cemetery in Europe. Here tombstones stand closely crowded together, or lean one against the other under the thickets of ancient elder-bushes; glints of sunlight flicker through the dense foliage over graven sign of stag, of vine or flower, or the hand upraised in benediction of some son of Aaron, light up Hebrew script in its severely decorative characters, inscriptions half effaced but not forgotten, for careful record has been kept. This old burial ground seems far removed from Central Europe, yet it is intimately connected with the story of Prague. Though old landmarks are vanishing, yet a mist of legend hangs close over this strange, alien part of the city, legends of cabalists, reputed sorcerers like Aaron Spira or the more famous Rabbi Jehuda ben Bezalel Loew. The latter is supposed to have been in league with the Powers of Darkness which bestowed on him superhuman gifts. This Rabbi is said to have created an Homunculus which became so troublesome that it had to be incarcerated. The spot chosen as prison for this evil being was high up in the wall of the temple. A row of iron clamps leads up to a small door on the outside wall facing the Mikulašska Třida, leads up to where Homunculus is still believed to be in durance.
Prague got better Jews than it deserved, for they showed great loyalty to the city of their adoption, and, despite persecution, even took an active part in the defence of the town. This happened towards the end of the Thirty Years' War, when the Swedes were making this part of Europe unsafe. The Swedes broke into Prague by the Strahov Gate and attempted to seize the Old Town. They had almost succeeded, for the usual precautions against surprise had been neglected, but luckily the students, butchers and Jews of Prague managed to rally to the defence. After fierce fighting on the Charles Bridge, the Swedes had to abandon their attempt on the Old Town and retired altogether. On this occasion the Jews showed not only public spirit but commendable bravery, and were rewarded by the Emperor with a banner, a mighty imposing affair with ten poles, as it takes ten men to carry it; you may see this interesting trophy in the old temple still.
The Jews of Prague have continued to do good work not only for and in the city of their adoption, but well beyond its confines, both in public utility work and in science. It is especially in the science of healing that the Jews of Prague have risen to eminence, not only by reason of their depth of learning and their unremitting labour, but also by the generosity and impartiality which actuates them in their dealings with sufferers. I myself have personal knowledge of such instances, and I speak of people as I find them.
No doubt some of the Jews joined in the picturesque cry which did so much to cheer up our Christian enemies of the Central Powers, "Gott strafe England!" but I cannot quite imagine any responsible son of Israel doing so with Christian fervour; the "jealous God" of the Hebrews, having reserved to Himself the right of vengeance, would be sure to resent any instructions from "the sheep of His pasture" as to how a case of the kind should be dealt with. Moreover, the punishment of England may safely be left in the hands of her politicians, who are also in one sense or another "Chosen People."
When rewarding those who distinguished themselves in the defence of Prague against the Swedes, the Emperor also remembered the butchers of the town. These stout fellows brought to their guild, as tokens of imperial gratitude and goodwill, the permission to bear as cognizance the White Lion of Bohemia clutching an axe; a very rampant lion reinforced by a double tail—in fact "some lion," more power to him!
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Of Wenceslaus II there is not much to relate in regard to lasting monuments of his reign in the capital of his kingdom. He was kept thoroughly busy with the quarrels between Pope and Emperor, taking sides as best suited his country's interests, making for safety as a rule. He also found time for a private quarrel with Leopold, Duke of Austria, but he also took that ruler's part against the Emperor Frederick II as occasion served. While Central Europe and the Holy Roman Empire was thus disporting itself, a diversion was caused by a particularly noxious swarm of Tartars which had broken loose from somewhere in Asia, probably from the region of Lake Baikal. They swept over Russia, swamping the domains of the disunited princes of that country, defeated Poles and Silesians at Liegnitz, and generally set up a healthy scare in disordered Europe. Wenceslaus rose to the occasion like a good stout Přemysl. He fortified the passes leading into Bohemia from Silesia, and there his sturdy soldiery defeated the Tartars, who turned off towards Moravia, Hungary and Austria, and vanished again from Europe as quickly as they had come. Thereupon Pope and Emperor, Bohemian King and Austrian Duke, and all the smaller fry, resumed their fighting of each other, launching bulls and banns and such-like amenities into space on the chance of some one or other being affected thereby. The Bohemian nobility thought fit to add to the gaiety of nations by starting an insurrection against Wenceslaus, a movement led, according to time-honoured custom, by the King's son Ottokar, who had been entrusted with the government of Moravia. This Ottokar eventually ascended the throne of Bohemia as second King of that name, and became one of the most notable rulers of his time and race.
The early days of Ottokar II are noteworthy on account of the close connection established between Bohemia and Austria which led to endless complications and eventual disaster for the former country. Ottokar thought fit to marry Adela, sister of Duke Frederick of Austria, Frederick the Warlike, the last of the long line of Babenberg. The lady was forty-six, Ottokar twenty-five, but that does not matter when there is a chance of inheriting something. Ottokar was elected Duke by the Estates of Austria, and endeavoured to incorporate Styria into his dominions. In this he met with opposition from Bela, King of Hungary, with whom he came to an agreement after the usual fighting. Thereupon Ottokar turned his attention to the heathen Prussians, who were supposed to be getting ripe for conversion to Christianity. He defeated them in several battles, which made his task much easier, and founded a strong city, named Koenigsberg after him, to keep the Prussians from back-sliding.
It is interesting to note that Ottokar's policy brought him into a certain degree of contact with England. The Holy Roman Empire was making very heavy weather at the time, the German Electors being thoroughly at variance amongst themselves, and so it came about that after a period of intense anarchy euphemistically called the "Interregnum," two rivals were put up of whom neither could be said to have occupied the throne. These rivals were both foreigners to Germany, one being a Spaniard, the other Richard of Cornwall, second son of King John of England. Ottokar thought fit to support Richard, who in return did little things to oblige Ottokar, such as investing him with other people's lands and fiefs, and all went well for a while. Ottokar had extended his dominions considerably, had brought a number of smaller States, some of them German, under his sway and virtually controlled all Central Europe from the Baltic to the Adriatic Seas. He had beaten the Hungarian King Bela and his friends, Daniel Romanovic the King of Russia and Prince of Kiev, a Prince of Cracow and odd assortments of Serbs, Bulgars, and Wallachians, most handsomely at Kressenbrunn on the plains of the River March.
Ottokar's political conception of the part which Bohemia should play in Central Europe is particularly interesting. By conquest, alliances and understandings with his neighbours he had acquired a preponderating influence in the councils of Europe. The power he had concentrated round the Slavonic nucleus of his native country lay almost entirely in German-speaking districts, so that a situation arose in which Count Luetzov finds some analogy between the policy of this Přemysl Ottokar and that pursued by the Austrian Government from 1815, when the Habsburgs finally abandoned the notion of a Holy Roman Empire, to 1864 and 1866, when Prussia took the first decisive step towards reviving the same idea under the title Deutsches Reich. There is a good deal in Count Luetzov's contention, and this subject might well be taken up by some leisured student of history. It seems to me that the history of Central Europe shows several instances of attempted breaks from tradition and striving after a more lasting political re-grouping such as Ottokar seemed to have aimed at; I hope to return to this subject later, though I may only touch the fringe of it.
Ottokar's plans were completely upset, first by the death of his obliging friend Richard of Cornwall, next by events attending and arising out of the choice of a new Emperor by the German Electors. Ottokar being a Slav, and a very powerful one at that, was heartily hated by all German Princes, so they, being in a majority, disallowed Ottokar's right to vote at all, and elected as Emperor one Rudolph Count of Habsburg. History of this time was recorded by Germans chiefly, and they have spared no trouble to blacken Ottokar's character, by which process Rudolph of Habsburg is made to stand out as a light shining in the darkness. In Germanic eyes Ottokar's fault was that of being a Slav, successful and of great ability. I cannot agree with the German chronicler's estimate of Rudolph. We are expected to accept him as a modest sort of backwoods peer, the kind that wears flannel next its skin and keeps its small estates unencumbered. We have also a pretty picture in verse of this Rudolph. He is described as meeting a priest carrying the Host, on the bank of a foaming mountain torrent somewhere among the Alps where the ruins of the Habsburg still show against the sky like an abandoned hawk's nest; the name probably derives from Habichts Burg, Hawk's Castle. Rudolph dismounted, placed the priest on his horse and humbly, cap in hand, led it across the stream. Years after this picturesque event the priest, carefully disguised, attended the Council of Electors and at the psychological moment, produced his harp, burst into song on the subject of Rudolph, and so swayed the Electors that they offered the German crown to that modest and retiring Habsburg. I cannot believe this story of the priest among the Electors, and my disbelief is based on experience of elective bodies. Can you imagine the Parish Council, in the throes of electing a suitable person to keep the village pump in order, being confronted by a mysterious stranger who suddenly interrupts the proceedings by singing the praises of "good old Jarge" to the accompaniment of an accordion? No, there is something wrong about that election story; I believe Rudolph was a schemer, and the whole affair cut and dried before he stood for election at all. Certain it is that Rudolph, supported by all Germany, attacked Ottokar; this was the first rencontre between Bohemia and the House of Habsburg, and it ended in disaster for the former. Ottokar was deprived of all the lands he had acquired, betrayed by his own nobles, and finally killed in battle near the scene of his victory over the Hungarians.
Despite the troublous times of the two Ottokars and of Wenceslaus I, the city of Prague, or rather the communities composing it, had expanded into a place of considerable extent and importance, and was already spoken of as the City of many Towers. The three above-mentioned sovereigns, as also Wenceslaus II, son and successor of Ottokar II, had found time and means to do a considerable amount of building of which some traces are still evident. We have already noted that Wenceslaus I girt the Old Town around with walls, likewise the hill of Vyšehrad, and he took the strengthening of the Hradšany in hand. This latter job was completed for the time being by Ottokar II, who caused those imposing-looking towers on the north front of the castle to be built. These towers are named respectively Black Tower, White Tower, and Daliborka, by which latter hangs a tale which I will relate to you by and by. Some of the authorities I have consulted differ as to the actual date of these towers, and are inclined to place the building of Daliborka in the fourteenth century, probably into the period when Charles IV found the royal castle to be badly in need of repair and set about the work forthwith. It is certain, however, that both the Wenceslaus and Ottokars interested themselves in strengthening the fortifications of Prague, and are not likely to have neglected the Hradšany, which stronghold was furnished with a permanent garrison of ten knights and three hundred men-at-arms. The north side of the castle has preserved the mediaeval appearance which has been improved away on the other sides, chiefly by fatuous Habsburger in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; the north side overhanging the deep-cut Stags' Moat shows you the formidable nature of this fortress with its stout towers rising up over the tops of tall trees that struggle up out of the valley mentioned by Libuša, for a glimpse of the sun.
The towers of the Hradšany were suitably fitted out as dungeons, with the latest thing in trap-doors warranted to give the visitor a sudden and complete change of air. One of these towers soon found a lodger, one Dalibor after whom the tower was named for ever after. There is an opera all about Dalibor composed by Smetana; the music is very beautiful, but as the singing is all in Czech, I have not quite got the hang of the story, so will give as nearly as I can and by the aid of my own imagination, what happened to Dalibor.
Dalibor, it appears, was a Bohemian knight with views in advance of his time: he was a socialist. One day he assembled his friends, relatives and retainers in the castle yard and appeared among them armed and on horseback. He dismounted and commenced proceedings by scraping off his shield the heraldic emblems with which it was charged. Lions and bears, rampant, couchant, gardant, and other fauna in becoming attitudes, bends, bars, engrailed, dancetty, raguly, gules, azure, argent or otherwise—all these things of beauty vanished from Dalibor's scutcheon while the assembled multitude wondered "What next?" Thereupon Dalibor held forth, in impressive manner and impassioned tones, on the iniquity of the system, the inequality of condition, under which they were all forced to exist. Having made his assembled fellow-men his equals by removing the aforesaid heraldic devices, he would further show his sense of equality by leading them in person and on foot to real freedom; so said Dalibor. Thereupon the multitude, at Dalibor's heels, set off down the hill and started spreading equality all around them. Their method was quite simple, indeed it lacked originality: they just helped themselves to the goods of those who happened to live by the way. Those who failed to rise to this lofty conception of Dalibor and his comrades were knocked on the head—also quite a simple and homely method of appeal; and so this happy band of pilgrims left behind them a dead-level of equality. These their efforts at social regeneration, their illustration of economic principles, were not appreciated. Dalibor was captured and invited to take up his residence beneath the trap-door of the tower that was henceforth to be known by his name.
As soon as he was safely housed, Rumour, the mother of Legend, got busy about him. Folk began to whisper to each other the news that wonderful music was heard proceeding from out of the stern walls of Dalibor's prison; the sound of a violin was heard by the many who were attracted to the spot by Rumour. No doubt Dalibor learnt to play the violin: the Czech is so intensely musical that he will master any instrument before he has got the hang of the grammar of his own language, the fiddle is so much easier. The strange thing is that the musical performance continued long after Dalibor's death—here Legend steps in with the assertion that an angel, a fairy, or at least some sort of supernatural being, is continuing Dalibor's programme.
There were many other visitors to Daliborka, and in course of time the lower stratum of the tower filled up with human relics. As the defunct visitors were mostly Czechs, and therefore full of music, I should think that they could form at least a string quartette—it only requires a little enterprise and a good strong medium. I make a present of this suggestion to the Prague Society for Psychical Research, if there be one.
Prague must have been a fair city in those days when Ottokar II rode out of the gate to meet Rudolph of Habsburg. Although the ban of the Empire and the interdict of the Church were upon their King, the people of Prague, clergy and laymen, accompanied him to the city gate with prayers and tears. When news of his death came to Prague the bells of one hundred churches tolled out on that 26th of August, the Feast of St. Rufus, a day destined to be of ill-omen to Bohemia's Kings.