HotFreeBooks.com
From a Terrace in Prague
by Lieut.-Col. B. Granville Baker
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

* * * * *

The shadow of the hand of Habsburg hung darkly over the southern frontiers of Bohemia. Rudolph, the first Habsburg Emperor, began the famous tactics of his house, gaining power by matrimonial alliances. His son Rudolph was to marry Agnes, daughter of Ottokar II, whose son Wenceslaus II was to marry Gutta, the Emperor's daughter.

Wenceslaus II was a minor when he succeeded his father, and suffered considerably under his guardian and cousin Otto of Brandenburg, who, in pursuit of an all-German policy, even imprisoned the young King. Anarchy reigned in Bohemia when young Wenceslaus, at the age of twelve, nominally assumed the reins of government. The actual ruler of the country, however, was Zavis of Falckenstein, an able man but of doubtful morality; there was some unsavoury story concerning him and Ottokar's widow Kunhuta, whom Zavis eventually married. Then again the young King had Zavis done to death in treacherous manner, while the condition of Bohemia as an ordered State went from bad to worse. Strange to relate, the country flourished economically—became, indeed, very prosperous—the increase of wealth being largely due to the fact that workings on the silver mines at Kutna Hora had been resumed. Towards the end of the reign of this Wenceslaus, whose rule was mild, matters improved somewhat. Bohemia became a sort of city of refuge, and neighbouring States, Hungary and Poland, being in a worse state of anarchy than any others, invited King Wenceslaus to reign over them. Bohemia and Poland thus became united for a while under one ruler, Wenceslaus, who had himself crowned King of the latter country at Gnesen. Hungary was given in charge of the King's son Wenceslaus, who was crowned as King of that country and resided some time at Ofen. Wenceslaus had taken a Polish Princess to wife after the death of Gutta, and had thus reinforced his connection with a Slavonic neighbour, but Germanism was in the ascendant in Bohemia and the hand of Habsburg was stretched out over it. It was yet some centuries before the power of the Habsburg should become absolute in the lands of the Přemysl dynasty, but that family's light was nearing extinction. Whether good or bad, the rulers who sprang from the soil, from the peasant stock of Libuša's choosing, had been of the people and had on the whole served their people's interests. With Wenceslaus III murdered by an unknown assassin while on his way to Poland, the male line of the Přemysl dynasty died out. It continued in the indirect line by the marriage of Elizabeth, daughter of Wenceslaus II, with Rudolph, a grandson of the Habsburg who dealt the death-blow to Bohemia's native rulers.

Whether for good or evil, alien influence was working strongly in Bohemia, and notably in Prague. Ottokar II had encouraged it as part of his policy towards keeping in check his turbulent nobles and towards raising up a reliable middle class. His nobles aided towards his downfall by their treachery, and the middle class of Prague, though loyal to the Crown, was alive chiefly to its own interests. Perhaps that foreign influence was weaving its spell over the burghers of Prague, a spell to which the Slav is somewhat susceptible.

During the reign of the last Přemysl sovereigns Prague offered the spectacle of a rich and prosperous city, but its brightness was rather that of lights round the bier of some illustrious dead. Many foreigners found themselves attracted to the capital of Bohemia during this period, among them some ardent souls who were to be found doing good, according to their lights, in other cities of Europe, namely, Irish monks. It is of interest to us to note that these monks were frequently called Scots: you will find traces of them under that designation in the Schotten Kirche at Ratisbon and the Schotten Ring in Vienna. In Prague they were recognized as Irish, and their name lives on in the Hybernska Ulice in the Old Town. A church, with an altar dedicated to St. Patrick, arose at the corner of that street by the cross-roads, under the hands of Irish monks; a church now used for secular purposes, and built over the original edifice, stands there still. Amidst all the turmoil of this busy centre of the city you may still in those small hours of the morning when the traffic dies down for a while pick up an echo or two of the voices of those zealous Irishmen, but you must listen with all your soul, for those sounds are very elusive. Again, looking out over the city from my terrace I notice a copper dome just across the Charles Bridge, a dome flanked by high towers, and all bearing the unmistakable mark of Jesuit architecture. Yet that building, now used as part of the University, recalls memories of pious souls who came to Prague at the invitation of Přemysl Ottokar II. These were the Knights Crucifer, or the Cruciferous Knights as the guide-book prefers to call them. Their Order, the members of which always carried a cross in the left hand, was founded by St. Cletus; their work was to tend the sick and offer hospitality to pilgrims. The Order went down on the death of the founder and sought refuge in Palestine, where St. Cyriak discovered it, reformed it, and eventually brought it to Rome. This is said to have happened in the latter half of the fourth century, but I should think the date extremely uncertain; nor does it matter much. The Order received new rules in the twelfth century from Pope Alexander III, who, being on good terms with Ottakar II at the time, allowed the Order to be transplanted to Prague. I do not in the least know what the good knights did all those years between their installation at Prague in 1256 and the dissolution of their Order in 1783. Anyone who wants to know may no doubt find records of their doings, which were probably concerned with adding up quarterings and deciding questions of etiquette. Still their name, Knights Crucifex, lingers round one of the most picturesque corners of Prague, under the shadow of a stately Gothic tower which silently but insistently claims reverence above the baroque structures of a later non-Bohemian age. It is just at this spot, with its lingering memories of Queen Judith, of Přemysl Ottokar and a yet greater King of Bohemia of whom I shall tell you shortly, that you realize how Prague is that Golden City of the days of glorious Gothic and the Renaissance, and not of the baroque superimposed by the Jesuits after Bohemia's glory had departed on the gentle slopes of the White Mountain.



CHAPTER VII

Introduces a picturesque character, King John of Bohemia, Count of Luxemburg, whose final exploit and end should be familiarly known by every Englishman. This chapter tells of the many chivalrous adventures undertaken by this monarch, of how little good and how much harm he did to his country. There is also mention of an English King, of the Black Prince, and of many other more or less famous persons, who have gone to swell the gorgeous pageant of those who all down the ages have worked weal or woe to Bohemia and its capital, Prague. Of John Henry of Carinthia and his interesting spouse, Margaret Maultasche, of the usual German machinations against any peace or contentment in Bohemia, of Popes and anti-Popes, you will hear in this chapter; and finally you will make the acquaintance of one of Bohemia's greatest rulers, Charles, first Bohemian King and fourth Roman Emperor of that name. You may gain some idea of the difficulties Charles had to overcome, and will begin to realize what he, the great founder, did for his country and its capital.

Prague was in holiday vein, happy and optimistic, its prevailing mood, on that day in 1311 when John, Count of Luxemburg, and Elizabeth, daughter of Wenceslaus II, were crowned. No doubt the ceremony took place on the Hradšany, and the steep approaches to the Castle Hill would be thronged with cheerful merrymakers; I wonder whether the Bohemians of those days said "Na zdar!" as frequently as they do to-day!

The Pragers had every reason to be happy and hopeful, for no change could bring about a worse state of affairs than that which had characterized the five years between the death of the last male Přemysl and the elevation of the first Luxemburg to the throne of Bohemia. That period was a sort of interregnum which was filled up with civil war, with murders among relatives, and was bringing Bohemia to the verge of anarchy.

The troubles of the time were largely caused by the newly arrived House of Habsburg, and the state of the Empire at that period reflects German mentality. The seven German Electors had been careful to go outside their own charmed circle for a King, and one who would carry out their wishes. They therefore picked out what we may call a second-class magnate as likely to be amenable. They met with disappointment. Rudolph was out for himself. His victory over Přemysl Ottokar II was welcomed by the Germans, who could never see a neighbour, especially a Slav, growing in importance, without showing signs of consuming jealousy. To break down the power of Ottokar the Bohemian was a meritorious act. To acquire for private and family use some of that King's finest possessions, Upper and Lower Austria, was not appreciated by the Electors. Therefore when Rudolph died the Electors turned down his son Albrecht, who put up for the imperial crown, and elected Adolph of Nassau instead. Adolph also tried to make something out of the post of Emperor, so the Electors threw him over, and he was shortly afterwards killed in battle. Albrecht of Habsburg then came to the throne, and taking up the family policy of profitable matrimonial alliances, married his son Rudolph to the widow of the Přemysl Wenceslaus II, Elizabeth, whom we have already met. I am rather sorry for this Elizabeth. Whether she liked her second husband or not, it must have been uncomfortable to find him becoming more and more unpopular among the people, who in any case had not expressed undue enthusiasm over his accession to their throne. He was chiefly unpopular on account of his meanness; the Bohemians, though thrifty almost to the verge of parsimony among themselves, do not like that trait in a foreigner, especially one who comes to cut some sort of figure as King or what-not amongst them. However, Rudolph died before a year of sovereignty was out, leaving that poor lady Elizabeth a widow for the second time, and under even more trying conditions. Despite all Habsburg precautions towards settling the crown of Bohemia on their own house, the nobles of the country proceeded to assemble a Diet at Prague in order to elect a new King. Elizabeth had to attend that function, and must have had a lurid time of it; the nobles raised no end of a storm, according to the Bohemian historian Palacky. There was one Tobias of Bechyn leading the case for the introduction of another foreigner as ruler, the opposition calling on him not to favour the claims of foreigners, possibly enemies, to rule over Bohemia, whereupon Tobias shouted: "If you wish at any price to obtain a native Prince, go to Stadic, among the peasants; there you will perhaps find a relation of the extinct royal family; bring him here and seat him on the throne of your country." Thereupon ensued pandemonium. One Ulrich of Lichtenburg slew Tobias forthwith, and several other nobles were killed in the fray before the Diet settled down to the conclusion that Henry, Duke of Carinthia, should be called in to rule over Bohemia. Henry was supposed to be popular chiefly because he had married a Přemysl, as we have already reported—Ann, daughter of Wenceslaus II; anyway, Prague received the couple with acclamations. Albrecht of Habsburg objected, as he had fixed on his son Frederick as heir to the Bohemian lands. There were the usual troubles: Albrecht's troops invaded Bohemia and Moravia, and some of them continued to hold a few frontier towns even after Albrecht had been killed by his nephew John and the Electors had gone elsewhere in search of an Emperor.

With characteristic distrust of each other or of any German of first-rate importance, the Electors went to the second-class magnates again, and this time their choice fell on Henry, Count of Luxemburg. Carlyle derives this name of Luxemburg via Luzzenburg from Luetzelburg, which he translates into Littleborough. Carlyle is very pleased with this derivation, and uses it to "point a moral and adorn a tale." In all humility I differ from Carlyle in this derivation, my only excuse being that I happen to know the dialect as spoken round about Luxemburg and among the Eiffel people, sufficiently well, and that in their vernacular there is no such word as could be distorted from Luetzel-via Luzzen-into Luxem-and then mean "little." It is really refreshing to be able to differ thoroughly, heartily, unreservedly, with a philosopher of old-established authority.

Carlyle likes to point out that this insignificant little dynasty of Luxemburg produced some great men as Emperors. He is quite right there too; but so also did Habsburg. As to the Luxemburgers, it must be borne in mind that though of German origin they were French by sentiment and upbringing—I quote Dr. Seton Watson from memory.

German origin, a phrase that has been very freely used of late years, is a somewhat elastic term, and frequently implies a mental rather than a racial qualification. Of the old original Teutons, the Germans of yore, there are few representatives left over—you may find some in Frisia and about the Porta Westphalica, on the east coast of Yorkshire, too, perhaps; the all-Germans, the Allemanni, as I believe they called themselves at one time, have seldom, if ever, formed a clearly defined political entity. The Franks in the early days of the Merovingians, by no means an estimable people, were probably purely Teuton; they separated more and more from their less civilized race-kindred, and by the time the Frankish Empire had reached its zenith its people had absorbed a good deal of other blood, which mixture crystallized into the French nation and soon broke away from any racial relations with the Teutons. Then the arch-enemies of the Franks, the Saxons, mixed freely with Slavonic races which extended well into the Hanover country and all over Mecklenburg at one time, so that those who are now called Saxons are, next to the Prussians, more thoroughly mixed with Slavs than any other Germans. The Bavarians, again, must have in them a good deal of the persistent Celtic element which they inherited from the Boievari who at one time left Bohemia for Bavaria. The amusing thing is that those who most loudly declaim on the subject of Deutschland ueber Alles are the most thoroughly mixed of the lot. It is idle to speculate on what would have become of German imperial conceits if the German race and its admixtures, like that of our islands, had been isolated from its neighbours by water instead of being constantly exposed to inroads from all sides, and consequently moved to follow up any success at arms into a neighbour's country. It seems as if a permanent Germanic Empire—material, not only sentimental—were never destined to a long and prosperous existence. These speculations, however, are best left to the historian, and we will return to the city of Prague.

We have seen John of Luxemburg and his wife Elizabeth happily crowned on the Hradšany at Prague and the city relieved by this event from the prospect of prolonged internal disorder. Henry of Carinthia, who succeeded Rudolph, had not proved satisfactory. He also had taken the precaution of marrying a Přemysl, was in fact John's brother-in-law, but he failed to maintain the popularity which he enjoyed when called to the throne, and was eventually chased out of Bohemia to make room for John. Now John was heavily handicapped and did little to remove his disabilities, in fact he rather aggravated them. He was only fourteen when he found himself a King and a married man. His father, a shrewd and enterprising monarch, died before John had really become acquainted with his capital, and so there was no unbiassed adviser to whom the young ruler could turn. John did not live on the best of terms with his mother-in-law, who from the dower-house at Kralove Hradec, called by the Germans Koeniggratz, interfered a good deal in the affairs of state; the trouble is said to have arisen originally between the two Elizabeths, mother and daughter, and even led to some fighting in which the city of Prague took an active part. By temperament John was not equal to his task; he was, it appears, thoroughly unpractical and entirely embued with all sorts of romantic notions. Those who watched John's doings from afar, and were not immediately affected by their results, could afford to approve of him and call him corona militiae as did King Edward III of England. John was what may be called the "soul of chivalry," in his opinion Paris was the most chivalrous city in the world, and that is probably why he felt called upon to roam Europe as a knight-errant instead of looking after his wife and her relatives, and incidentally his Kingdom of Bohemia. According to Count Luetzow, John intended to re-establish the Round Table of King Arthur, and to this end he invited all the most celebrated knights of Europe to a tournament at Prague; "nobody responded to the call." So John went abroad for his amusement and found it in plenty. To begin with, there was always something doing in his line between rival German Kings and Emperors, so we find him helping Louis, Duke of Bavaria, at Wittelsbach, to victory over the Habsburger Frederick at Muehldorf. Expeditions to Hungary, Italy, France and against the heathen Lithuanians all helped to pass away John's time pleasurably and unprofitably; as Palacky says: "It would be necessary to write the history of all Europe if we attempted to describe all the feuds into which King John entered with chivalrous bravery, but also with frivolity. It then became a proverb, that 'nothing can be done without the help of God and of the King of Bohemia.'"

John proved an expensive luxury to Bohemia, and he reigned for thirty-six years, so his country, although rich, yet peopled by a canny and thrifty population, must have been thankful when at last he was knocked on the head at Crecy. The story is well known to us all, so we need not linger on it. John bequeathed his motto to the Black Prince, who could well afford to pay a graceful compliment by accepting it; after all, not he, but Bohemia, had to pay for John's fun. John kept the mint of his country busy striking ducats, a coin of his own conception, a very good and full-weight coin too, but he probably took most of the ducats abroad for his various diversions; there are, however, a few left in the museum of Prague, I believe. John had quaint ways of raising money; one of them must have led to a great deal of inconvenience to the citizens of Prague, who on Sundays and holidays were wont to make excursions into the country. No one was allowed a drink within a certain radius of the capital; this was all very fine for the publicans of Prague, who no doubt had come to a suitable arrangement with the King, but it fills me with sorrow to reflect on the streams of excursionists and travellers doing the last lap home on a hot summer's day.

There is nothing of beauty in the panorama of Prague as seen from my terrace, which I can ascribe to Bohemia's chivalrous and eccentric King. He was too busy spending his country's wealth in trying to settle other people's quarrels, and raising others of his own, to think of beautifying his capital. Nevertheless I could point out to you traces of beautiful work for which John may indirectly derive some credit. This enterprising monarch had, as I have already mentioned, found occasion to go fighting about in Italy. He was induced thereto by the usual picturesque lack of sufficient reason just at the moment when he was attempting something useful. John's predecessor on the throne, Henry of Carinthia, with whom he had become reconciled, had no male heirs, so Bohemia's King called on Henry at Innsbruck in order to arrange a marriage between the former's second son John Henry and the latter's daughter Margaret, known in German history as Maultasche, of whom Carlyle speaks so unkindly. While at Innsbruck, John was invited by the Lombard town of Brescia to assist it against the Lord of Verona, Mastino della Scala. King John at once dropped the useful business, dashed in amongst the squabbling Italians and won a number of victories which gave him possession of a fair slice of Italy. He proved quite incapable of holding it, and his gains rapidly melted away like snow on the sunny southern slopes of those mountains that shut off the smiling plains of Venetia against the barbarous north. Here John's eldest son Charles comes upon the scene, and this is perhaps the only real good that ever came out of the first Luxemburg ruler of Bohemia, namely, an heir who should live to set up a Golden Prague as fitting capital to a happy and prosperous country.

Charles had had an unhappy childhood between his grandmother, the unfortunate widow Elizabeth, a somewhat uneven-tempered mother, and an erratic and unreasonable father. The unhappy lad had even been imprisoned by his father on suspicion of being concerned in a conspiracy with his mother to dethrone John. Charles must have been about five years at the time, for he was only seven when, a few years after his release, King John took him to the French Court for his education. Here Charles acquired his love of learning, his refined sense of beauty and steadfastness of purpose, all of which he devoted without stint to his country, and to him is chiefly due the glorious composition of the towers and steeples which rise up out of mysterious old Prague. Charles, and through him Prague, benefited by John's Italian venture, in that the gracious spirit of the Renaissance came to Bohemia out of his father's chivalrous exploits. Moreover, Charles, though only seventeen years of age, was thus given an opportunity of proving his metal in the field; he won several victories which, however, were fruitless, and above all learnt the art of governing. So when John and he left Italy, under pressure from the natives, Charles was competent to represent his father at home, while the latter went off on his knight-errantry.

As may be easily imagined, the people of Bohemia, and notably the burghers of Prague, had become discontented under the exactions imposed upon them by their extravagant King and were not inclined to look kindly upon a Luxemburg successor. Prague, like other continental cities, had become aware of its importance, and was quite prepared to resort to arms in order to emphasize its opinion. The city had already taken to arms in support of their native Queen Elizabeth against her stranger husband John, so Charles had no easy time at first. However, he had the qualities his father lacked, complete self-possession and steadfastness of purpose; moreover, unlike his father, he was in thorough sympathy with his people, which John never was, and spoke their language well, which feat, it appears, John never attempted. Father and son seldom agreed on any subject; probably John considered Charles no sportsman, and told him so frequently. I cannot imagine John's conversation as anything but ad hominem, and his jokes as weighty as a kick from a troop-horse, and as pleasant. With a little thinking you can find another, quite recent monarch, who takes after John of Luxemburg in some respects, though he failed to achieve such a picturesque ending. And the occasion of John's chivalrous exit arose out of his second marriage. It really makes a pretty picture if you try to figure to yourself John and his son Charles setting out together for Paris both with the intention of marrying a French Princess, for John, undeniably brave, was braced up for this second venture. John married Beatrice of Bourbon, Charles Blanche of Valois; if I know anything of John, he probably stayed in Paris, whereas Charles would hurry back to Prague to continue his programme of improvements. Amongst these improvements is one directly inspired by Blanche, his "snow-white" bride, which you may see to this day. I could just point it out to you, the Church of "St. Mary of the Snow," but it is difficult to pick out among the sea of roofs. Although it is the tallest church in Prague, it no longer has steeple or spire pointing to the sky; whatever of the kind there was disappeared during some street-fighting or other which frequently took place around this church. If you follow the Narodni Třida straight along from the river towards the Vaclavske Naměsti you will see "St. Mary's of the Snow" on the right, tucked away behind some quaint old buildings formerly the Carmelite Monastery founded by Charles.

It would seem that Charles, when in doubt, either built a new church or restored an old one. There was a good deal to do in Prague in the latter line of business especially, and Charles, with the real founder's zeal, set about putting his capital in order. He was rather handicapped by an expensive father, who, however, had no particular objection to repairing religious institutions, his trouble being that he generally had no money left for constructive work after he had been round dealing out destruction, impelled thereto by his chivalrous conceit. I can quite imagine John as a man subconsciously religious and intermittently pious, so, for instance, he would probably invoke all the saints he could think of, to aid him in some warlike enterprise, then dash into the fray forgetting all about the saints; one does. He might perchance remember one or other of those he had invoked, after the fun was over, and stand them a candle or so, if he could borrow the money for this gift from his loyal subjects. I know of one case at least where John bestowed largess upon a deserving institution. This happened in 1342, six years before Bohemia's adventurous King had died in the King of England's tent on the battlefield of Crecy. The object of the monarch's generosity was the monastery of Emaus. John, though always jealous of his son's popularity, had handed a considerable share of the government of Bohemia and Moravia to the latter and probably let Charles carry on as long as he, John, was not bothered with domestic details, and always could touch a bit for any tempting military expedition that offered. Emaus seems to have been a favourite enterprise of Charles. You remember that I have pointed out the place to you; I can just see it from the terrace with its twin towers of raw sienna tone. I also told you about the heathen burial ground, Na Morani, about the Church of St. Cosmas and Damian, and how St. Wenceslaus worshipped at their shrine. King Charles seems to have acquired the same general regard for those two saints, and this may have decided him to found a monastery on the rocky eminence whereon Emaus has withstood many vicissitudes during the stormy course of several centuries of Bohemia's history. Charles must have conceived the plan of founding this monastery some time before the middle of the fourteenth century, for we find the following entry in its chronicles which speaks of John and Charles, and in a Latin quaintly picturesque and careless: "Nos Johannes dei gracia Boemie rex ac Lucemburgensis comes et Karolus eius primogenitus marchio Morawie." It would not be easy to get any more mistakes of grammar and spelling into this sentence. So John had made a donation to the new foundation—out of some one else's pocket; the butchers of Prague were privileged to pay for the King's generosity.

Charles was of a careful, saving disposition; he also raised funds out of other people's purses for his good works. So we find again among the records of Emaus that he called upon the butchers to find the necessary money; the meatstalls of the Mala Strana were privileged to find a revenue of sixteen Bohemian silver groschen, a coin dating from the days of Wenceslaus II, towards the new foundation. The different taxes and excise duties were also made to contribute, a tithe of the wine tax, some appropriate sums from bridge and water tolls; besides these sources of revenue Charles endowed Emaus with landed property, farms and fields and vineyards. Begun in the reign of John, the building and institution of this new monastery was not completed until 1372, when Charles had for many years been in a position to describe himself as "Carolus Dei gratiae Rom. rex, semper augustus et Boemiae rex." Monday after Easter 1372 was the great day on which the Church and monastery were solemnly consecrated and dedicated to Saints Hieronymus, Adalbert, Procop, Cyril and Methodius, but as the consecration gospel told the moving story of the Risen Saviour walking with two disciples, who knew Him not, towards Emaus, the name of that place clung to church and monastery ever after. Though Emaus started out under such very august patronage, it had to put up with many vicissitudes, among the minor ones being acts of trangression on its grounds by neighbours; so, for instance, we hear of one good man Odelenus, who would dig under the monastery wall to the endangering of the same, and as the stout burgher would not desist nor fill up the excavations he had made, he was excommunicated with all due solemnity.

It is said that Charles intended Emaus solely for the benefit of those who still held to the Slavonic liturgy, from the very outset. But I find that Charles did not approach the Pope on this subject and get his sanction for the Archbishop of Prague to grant the Benedictine monks of Emaus licence to perform the Slavonic ritual, until the papacy of Clement VI. I gather that he had waited until he could find an amenable pontiff; what is more, Clement VI as anti-Pope, probably did not cut much ice even had he been addicted to that practice. It was undoubtedly due to the fact that the Slavonic liturgy was still in force that Emaus escaped destruction at the hands of the Hussites, as the monks were Utraquists and remained of that persuasion until the last Slavonic abbot, Adam Benedict Bawarowsky, with two surviving monks, was turned out to make room for Spanish Benedictines from Montserrat under their abbot, Benedict di Pennabosa y Mondragon. These Spaniards were inducted by Emperor Ferdinand III, King of Bohemia, himself.

Of those early, ardent days in the annals of Emaus there is but little left to recall Charles and his works. The library of the Benedictines was destroyed by fire; only two works were saved, the "Emaus-Reimser Evangelium" and the "Registrum Literarum monasterii Slavorum." The frescoes which adorn the cloisters seem as fresh to-day as when the Italian masters, brought to Prague by Charles, stood aside to let the monarch see the finished work, and that was several years before the consecration festival. The interior of the church is beautiful, its slender Gothic columns vanishing into the hallowed shadows of the roof. The "plain song" of the remaining monks still rings with the fervour of simple, steadfast faith. The main building of the monastery is now an academy of music where the rising generation is being taught to appreciate the latest eccentricities of modern music.

Charles IV, first Bohemian King of that name, ruled from 1346 to 1378, so the building of Emaus covered pretty nearly all the years of his reign and in fact went back to the unhappy times before he ascended the throne. His father was evidently a difficult person to live with; not only his extravagance and erratic habits, but also a thoroughly unjustified suspicion of his elder son, must have caused the latter a great deal of misery. Instead of following the precedent of the Přemysls in dynastic disputes, Charles wisely abstained from open opposition to John, although the people's affection had been transferred from father to son. Added to this there were the usual troubles caused by the German Princes. John had never even been "placed" in the running for the imperial crown; goodness knows what would have happened if the weal of the Holy Roman Empire had depended on him. Louis of Wittelsbach, who contested the imperial throne with Frederick the Fair of Austria, and had beaten the latter handsomely at Muehldorf, was nevertheless none too safely seated, and became involved in the unending squabbles with the Papacy, aggravated in his case by the removal of the Pope to Avignon. John, of course, sided against Louis and with the Pope, so Louis joined with the German Princes in trying to deprive John Henry of the Tyrol and Carinthia, which the latter considered his property on marrying Margaret Maultasche; he was lucky enough to retain possession of the Tyrol while the Austrian Dukes kept Carinthia. That little matter settled, John went off and fought the Lithuanians again—he called it a crusade—and came home from that campaign without the sight of one eye, which he had lost through illness, a loss which soon led to complete blindness but not to any disinclination to go out anywhere and fight anyone. Father John must have been a considerable nuisance in the family. In the meantime Margaret added her mite to the general gaiety of nations by falling in love with Louis of Brandenburg, the handsome son of Emperor Louis; she counterbalanced this by a violent hatred of her husband, the unlucky John Henry. So Charles had his hands full, and he seems to have been the only level-headed member of the family. With all these troubles about him he nevertheless continued to manage the affairs of Bohemia and Moravia, to straighten out the finances of the Kingdom while finding sufficient pocket-money for his father's hobby of serving any other cause but his own, and also to soothe the ruffled feelings of John Henry and keep some of that Prince's property for the House of Luxemburg. It was during this hectic time that Charles managed to get the Pope to raise the Bishop of Prague to the rank of Archbishop, an important step, as it set the new Archbishopric free from that of Maintz and thus gave it an opportunity of developing on its own rather than on German lines. Count Luetzow points out the absurdity of the situation caused by keeping the Bishopric of Prague under the Archbishop of Maintz as follows: "It is curious to read that Charles was obliged to declare on his oath that the language of Bohemia was a Slavonic one, entirely different from the German language; that the distance from Prague to Maintz was of about twelve day-journeys; and that the road lay through other dioceses."

This concession on the part of the Pope was probably the result of the visit John and Charles paid to the pontiff at Avignon; it had as corollary that in future the Kings of Bohemia should be crowned by the Archbishop of Prague. The first Archbishop of the new See was a Czech and a strong man—Ernest of Pardubic. Another result of the trip which father and son took to Avignon together seems to have been a more complete reconciliation between the two.

We may linger for a while longer on that pathetic figure, the blind King of Bohemia, before his exciting but futile career closes on the field of Crecy. First we see him taking part in the solemn ceremony of installing the new Archbishop; this would have taken place at the Cathedral Church of St. Vitus on the Hradšany, amid surroundings bearing strong evidence of the harm John's reign had brought on Bohemia, and on Prague in particular, for we read that Charles found the castle, and probably the church as well, in a state nearly approaching ruin from neglect. Here again he had work to hand, and did it nobly; of this more later on. After Ernest of Pardubic had been safely installed, King John started off on another crusade against the heathen Lithuanians, probably as payment for the concessions on the part of the Pope. No sooner was John thoroughly engaged with his northern enemies than the German Louis stirred up Hungary and Poland, and several others, against him. John hurriedly returned home, beating Casimir of Poland and a Hungarian army on the way, made some sort of an alliance with other enemies of his, and eventually, with the aid of the Pope and five German Electors, got Louis chased from the throne and his son Charles elected as German King instead. All this happened in the early months of 1346. Meanwhile, by July of that year, on the day following Charles's election, King Edward III of England and the Black Prince had landed on the coast of France, and were setting out through Normandy for Paris. On August 26th, St. Rufus Day again, the anniversary of the death of Přemysl Ottokar II, John, King of Bohemia, brave, chivalrous and utterly misguided, died in the tent of a knightly enemy, leaving him as device the appropriate motto "Ich dien!"

Indeed, John had served every interest but his own; and Charles his son, elected Emperor as fourth of that name, and first as King of Bohemia, took into his own firm hands the tangled coils of Central European affairs, making as centre of his activities his own city of Prague.



CHAPTER VIII

Deals with Charles IV, Roman Emperor, King of the Germans, first Bohemian King of that name, and Father of his country. Charles as a warrior and the part he took at Crecy. Some remarks about Crecy. Friendly relations between Charles and Edward III of England, who at Charles's suggestion declines the imperial crown. Charles concerns himself with the welfare of his people. He builds and restores churches. A short story about St. Wenceslaus, and a description of the chapel dedicated to him. Of "St. Mary under the Chain" and the house of the Knights of Malta. Of George Podiebrad, of Frederick the Winter King and his wife Elizabeth. A word or two about the Hussites and the host of crusaders that came out of the West and were defeated by Žiška. A pageant of those whose life and work was connected with the Cathedral of St. Vitus. Charles and Church Reform, and of a Pope who was himself in need of reform. St. Henry and Kunigunde his wife, and the church dedicated to them. Frederick II of Prussia and the church which Charles had built and consecrated to the Virgin and St. Charles. St. Stephen's Church. Some remarks on the saints who are patrons of Bohemia or in one way or another interested in that country. A passing reference to London's patron saint Erkenwald and some remarks about a students' feast-day.

Despite his undoubted gallantry in battle, Charles, as a warrior, was overshadowed by his picturesque sire; moreover, he shone more brightly as a man of peace, as scholar, as founder and builder, even as author; in the latter capacity he has left behind a remarkable work, his autobiography, written in Latin: "Commentarius de Vita Caroli Bohemiae Regis ab ipso Carolo conscriptus." Yet, had he done nothing else, his military achievements would probably have brought him lasting renown. As we have seen, he acquitted himself well, when quite a young man, in his father's campaigns in Italy. He took part with conspicuous gallantry in the Battle of Crecy. I gather that it was his advice not to attack with tired troops, but he was overruled; not but what the result might have been the same had the French agreed to wait another day. It was the Bohemian cavalry that had already distinguished itself by preventing the passage by the English Army of the bridge of St. Remy, and it was not their fault that the ford of Blanche-Taque was insufficiently guarded and thus left open a crossing over the Somme. Many of us know that country about Abbeville well, the lush meadows and clumps of trees not so unlike our own river scenery. Some of us may even have recalled memories out of school of that battle fought out in so small a space compared to the "shows" to which we had become used. While out of the line in that neighbourhood I myself met the direct descendant of French warriors who fought at Crecy, the mayor of a small village. I happened to refer lightly to that page of long-ago history, but the mayor corrected me—it had indeed been a most serious affair; he had lost thirteen ancestors on that occasion, and the family had not recovered to this day. As a social function the Battle of Crecy was certainly an important affair; many of the best people in Europe were represented there, four kings among others, and a brave show of nobles many of whom indeed, did not recover.

John and Charles had undertaken this trip to France together no doubt drawn by their relationship to the French royal family, and Charles had fought valiantly by his father's side until forced to withdraw by his nobles, who, according to Beneš de Weitmil, were "fearful of losing both their Kings."

One would think that this the first introduction to the English of Bohemia's King would not make for cordial relations; as a matter of fact, it led to an alliance between Charles and Edward III arising out of circumstances which prove both these monarchs to have been wise men. England had risen considerably in the estimation of continental Europe in consequence of this victory, and an attempt was made, perhaps the first in history—for you cannot take Richard of Cornwall seriously—to draw our country into the sea of troubles that raged as usual in the Holy Roman Empire. There was, of course, a section of German nobles who opposed Charles and who on the death of King Louis offered the imperial crown to the victor of Crecy. Edward III was wise enough to decline, influenced, it is said, by a mission which Charles had sent to England; what is more, a treaty of alliance was arranged between these two countries, and this, to my thinking, had far-reaching effects on their future relations, intermittent but extending over several centuries.

Charles had to rest awhile in France before returning to his country in order to recover from his wounds received at Crecy. I wonder whether he tried the waters of Carlsbad on his return home. Charles had been led to discover the healing qualities of Carlsbad water when out hunting one day among the lovely wood-clad heights just inside the frontier of Bohemia. The legend is that Charles heard one of his hounds yelping in pain, and discovered that the poor beast had plunged into a spring of hot water. Charles had the water analysed (which sounds very up to date), and being informed of its healing qualities, built himself a castle on the spot round which grew up that charming health resort Carlsbad.

The history of Charles IV as German King and Roman Emperor is consequently also that of the Holy Roman Empire, but would lead us much too afar afield from Prague, where this excellent monarch resided by preference. He had grand schemes for improving the state of the country and its capital, which he carried out systematically. He must have begrudged the time he was obliged to spend in travelling abroad in various imperial interests, when there was so much to claim his attention at home. He certainly never went abroad for pleasure, for his trips to Italy and Burgundy, undertaken at different times, were matters of duty. It was the correct thing for an Emperor to be crowned at Rome, and Charles was always strictly correct. On the way to Rome it was obviously the right thing to call at Milan for the iron crown of the Lombard Kings, which was also an imperial perquisite. Then on another occasion Charles called at Arles to receive the crown of the Kingdom of Burgundy, which country formed part of the Empire. Charles had some business to transact with the Pope at Avignon near by, business connected with Church Reform, which movement was gaining in strength in Bohemia and which caused that country much suffering for conscience' sake. These journeys were episodes in the life of the Emperor; the work of the King of Bohemia lay in and about his capital, ancient Prague. From my terrace I will point out to you some of the glorious monuments raised by that Founder King.

Charles's first concern seems to have been for his people's spiritual welfare: from all accounts some attention to this side of the national life of Bohemia was sorely needed. The first and most obvious duty was to set about the restoration of the Royal Castle, the Hradšany, with its venerable cathedral. Both castle and cathedral were inadequate to the high mission of Prague as a royal and imperial residence. The castle had been repaired fitfully by one king or another as we have seen, and had been provided with strong towers chiefly used as dungeons, and had been allowed to fall into disrepair by the impecunious and extravagant John. The cathedral was probably in not much better case. We have seen glimpses of that sacred fane with its memories of royal saints and martyrs, how St. Wenceslaus built the first church on the site of the present one, as a casket to hold that precious relic the arm of St. Vitus, given him by Henry the Fowler. The words of the chronicler will give you some idea of this first church: "Ecclesiam Sancti Viti quam Sanctus Wenceslaus construxerat ad similitudinem Romanae ecclesiae rotundam." This building was yet unfinished when Wenceslaus was martyred. The body of the saint was conveyed from Stara Boleslav to St. Vitus for burial, and this was not allowed to pass without a miraculous manifestation. The old wooden bridge, connecting the right bank of the Vltava with the Mala Strana, had been partly destroyed by floods; nevertheless the bearers passed over the half-ruined bridge as if they had no burden to carry at all. This was very wonderful, and redounded greatly to the saint's growing reputation, which was enhanced a little farther along the route to be traversed. As the procession passed the town-hall prison its inmates, clutching the bars, cried out for mercy; the bearers were forced to halt, and found themselves quite unable to proceed until all the captives had been released. Now this was very beautiful, and it happened long ago.

Prince Spytihnev II, also a pious soul, considered the church built by Wenceslaus too small for his religious requirements; he had it demolished, and another one, also in the Romanesque style, erected in its place. The church that Spytihnev built was also destroyed to make way for the present edifice, which in its inception is due to Charles. It must have been about the time when Charles joined his father at Luxemburg, in 1344, that the former interviewed the master-builder Matthew of Arras, to discuss plans for the reconstruction of Prague's Cathedral Church. John and Charles, as we have seen, then went on together to visit the Pope at Avignon. It seems to have been on this occasion that Prague was raised to the dignity of an archbishopric, and Charles wished to build a temple worthy of the high dignity to which in matters spiritual, as temporal, his country had arisen; and so under the hand of skilled craftsmen, from out the ruins of earlier shrines, rose that crowning glory of Golden Prague, the Cathedral of St. Vitus. This great temple was many years a-building, and is not completed yet. Great men devoted their labours to this glorious fane: Peter Parler and his son John, Beneš of Loun and others were among the master-builders, while many artists, goldsmiths and other craftsmen famous in their day contributed to the decoration of "the Father's House." Great men lie buried under its shadowy arches, and their memory lives on in sculpture, in paintings and wonders of wrought iron. In a chapel dedicated to St. Wenceslaus rests that princely martyr; you may see his epitaph and the shirt of mail he wore. In the bronze gates of this chapel you are shown a ring to which the saint is said to have clung when his murderers hacked him down. The walls of the chapels are inlaid with the precious stones of Bohemia—jasper and achates, chalcedon, amethyst and carneol—and are adorned with frescoes illustrating incidents in the life of the saint, most of them dating from the reign of Charles; the scene of his martyrdom is from the brush of Lucas Cranach. The candelabra and statue of St. Wenceslaus are attributed to Peter Fischer. King Charles, the founder, father of his country, lies buried here with his four wives, so do other Kings of Bohemia, Ladislas Posthumus, George Podiebrad, Ferdinand I and Maximilian.

Looking out over my terrace to where the Cathedral of St. Vitus points its tapering spires towards high heaven, a misty pageant seems to pass beneath it. Following rapidly on the golden peace of Charles come the troublous days of religious strife, for with his son began the Hussite wars which left Bohemia desolate and a prey to the eagles of Habsburg. Angry flames rising up out the township below the Hradšany cast clouds of smoke over the cathedral what time the Hussites failed to capture the Royal Castle and in their zeal for reform set fire to various quarters of the Mala Strana. The Bishop's Palace, which stood near the left bank bridgehead, was utterly destroyed, the glorious Church of "St. Mary under the Chain," and with it the home of the Knights of Malta, suffered the same fate. Of St. Mary's Church there remain the chancel and two stout towers; I can see them from my embowered terrace, the blunt red roofs rising above a glorious riot of fruit blossom. The pageant moves on, giving a flash here and there of some one who stood up above his fellows like George Podiebrad, or the strong men who precipitated the Thirty Years' War. Then follows a fleeting vision of a stranger King, a German Protestant with his wife Elizabeth, daughter of "douce Jamie." A short reign this of Frederick Count Palatine, the "Winter King." We see him enter by the Strahov Gate to be crowned at St. Vitus on November 4, 1619. We may imagine the indignation of his people at Frederick's Calvinist divines who wished to remove the altar and paintings from the cathedral. We see Frederick a year later, again entering the city by the Strahov Gate, fleeing in hot haste from the stricken field of the White Mountain where Bohemia's freedom went under before the foreign mercenaries of the Emperor. Not for the first time either that the troops of Western Europe had marched on Prague to conquer it in the name of religion. Shortly after the burning of "St. Mary under the Chain" the Pope called upon Western Europe to undertake a crusade against the Hussites. A contemporary chronicler, Lawrence of Brežova, gives us a list of the nationalities represented in this host of crusaders raised by Sigismund, King of Bohemia, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and led by an English Cardinal. According to Lawrence there were Bavarians, Saxons, Austrians, Frenchmen, men of Brabant and Dutchmen, Switzers, Lusatians and Spaniards, a compact body of English, and soldiers of many other nationalities; their number is estimated at between one hundred thousand and one hundred and fifty thousand. Sigismund entered the Castle of Prague and his motley forces encamped around the town, but "the Empire's mismanaged feudal levy was no match for an infuriated people which stood shoulder to shoulder in the service of the same inspiring idea." I quote from Europe in the Middle Age, by Thatcher and Schwill. Moreover, the Hussites were led and inspired by one of the greatest military leaders of all ages, John Žiška. This is not the place to tell of the doings of those Hussite armies and their exploits, and how they kept all Europe at bay so that every Bohemian might feel secure in the faith that was in him. Right away in the hazy background of hills against which stand up the towers and spires of Prague you may see an incline sloping down towards the river and to northward. This incline is now all built over, and this quarter of the town is called Žiškov in memory of the great Hussite who held this hill against repeated attacks until he was in a position to go over to the offensive. Dissensions had broken out among the crusaders, the imperial armies melted away and left Sigismund to face his people alone. He came to some agreement with the leaders of the opposition and was even solemnly crowned at St. Vitus; but the battle on Žiška's hill marked the beginning of the Hussite wars.



With the defeat of the Bohemian army on the White Mountain ends the story of St. Vitus as the cathedral of a free country. The building was resumed after the Thirty Years' War came to an end, and other kings were crowned in the church that had known the glory of Charles IV and George Podiebrad; but those who came after were aliens to Bohemia, neither came they to that country intent only on its interests; a succession of Habsburgs passes by in pageant, to receive the crown of Bohemia as one among many distinctions to which their house was heir. Ferdinand III and Leopold I pass by, and Leopold's second son Charles VI second as King of Bohemia, last male representative of the House of Habsburg, who was succeeded by his daughter Maria Theresia. Troubles began again as in the days when the Přemysl dynasty died out, and the German Electors decided to choose a new Emperor. The choice fell on Charles of Bavaria, so old St. Vitus saw again a coronation pageant and one which much resembled that of Frederick the Winter King. Charles of Bavaria was crowned at Prague with all the usual pomp and ceremony; he then left Bohemia never to return. Officially this Charles' coronation seems to count for nothing in the history of Austria into which that of Bohemia was merged. Bohemia became for years a pawn in the stern game between Maria Theresia and Frederick of Prussia, and St. Vitus suffered damage from the latter's guns; the glory of Golden Prague had departed and the stately cathedral looked down for nearly three centuries on a city that had been put aside, out of the way of the world's commerce and its great affairs, to dream of the days when Charles IV was King and Bohemia the land of a free and prosperous people.

* * * * *

We were really still in the days of Charles IV when it occurred to me to sketch out a special pageant for the Cathedral Church of St. Vitus. Charles, as I have said before, was particularly interested in churches, was altogether a good, pious soul, and never missed an opportunity of bearing testimony to his faith by deeds as well as words. This does not mean that he submitted his judgment, even in things spiritual, entirely to the ruling of the Church; on the contrary, he found that there was more need of reform among the clergy of his land than of churches. He did not hesitate, either, to point out to the Pope what reforms were needed, and, moreover, took his part in improving matters, with his usual energy and thoroughness. Indeed, according to all accounts, the Bohemian clergy were sorely in need of the curb: they allowed their sporting proclivities to run to excess in such pastimes as warfare, tournaments, hunting and gambling, and the law of celibacy had fallen into complete disuse. I have already noted that the St. Anthony of one particular kind of temptation (I forget whether he was of Padua or elsewhere) was not as popular in Bohemia as were many other saints. After all, the clergy of Bohemia were probably no worse than that of other countries, and Rome was not of much use as a "godly ensample"; there is, for instance, that little story told by Richenthal in his chronicle about one of the Popes travelling across the Alps to some council or other. This pontiff, it appears, "clothed himself with curses as with a garment" and his horrible imprecations filled with terror the souls of the pious peasants who flocked to see him. So when by some accident the carriage of His Holiness was upset and himself pitched into the road he exclaimed: "Here I lie in the name of the devil." This sounds a bit feeble, and I could probably do better myself under similar provocation; but such language at all is very shocking in a clergyman. It is chiefly German historians who complain of Charles as being priest-ridden, and also of neglecting the affairs of the Empire while concentrating too much on Bohemia. This is a matter for historians to wrangle about; personally I consider that by his Golden Bull, which very much restricted the power of the Popes to interfere with the election of Kings of the Germans, and in the protection he extended to priests accused of heresy for their ardour on reform, Charles proved himself a strong man, free from undue outside influence, and no bigot. But we are concerned with what Charles did for Prague, and will take a look round the churches which meant so much to him, many of which he built or restored himself. One of these appeals to me particularly; I cannot say why exactly, perhaps because I heard some glorious music there, one grey evening in Lent. St. Henry's has long been famous for its Musical Society. I have mentioned this church before; it is dedicated to St. Henry and his wife Kunigunde. It is interesting and unusual to find a married saint; in fact, as in this case, a couple of them. The portraits of these two may be seen in the chancel of St. Henry's Church, but it was too dark for me to distinguish anything on the occasion of my visits there; moreover, I was sufficiently impressed with the shapely Gothic pillars, the work of Charles IV's craftsmen, which rose over the dilapidations of a much earlier building. Charles lost no time about the restoration of St. Henry's, as he seems to have begun it in 1348 and it was finished two years later. This church stands back from the rushing traffic of the Henry Street—Jindřišska Ulice, to give it its Czech name; the campanile of St. Henry's, a graceful tower with characteristic turrets and saddle-roof, is set apart and looks down the broad thoroughfare. This campanile is of more recent times than the church: it dates from the early days of Vladislav II, about the end of the fifteenth century. A sixteenth-century bell hangs in the campanile of St. Henry's Church; its inscription recalls the famous lines of Schiller's Die Glocke: "En ego campana, nunquam pronuntio vana, Ignam, vel festum, bellum, vel funus honestum." About the time of the restoration of St. Henry's, since much rebuilt outside, Charles set about building another church on the rising ground north-east of Vyšehrad; it is quaint rather than beautiful. You may note this church by its squat appearance, a broad cupola flanked by a couple of more slender ones, and the whole group is generally concealed by scaffolding. This church has had as hard a time as any of those in Prague. King Charles built it in 1350 and intended it to remind him of the cathedral at Aachen where Charlemagne is buried. There certainly is a good deal of resemblance still within this church dedicated appropriately to the Virgin and St. Charles, for the original outlines remain, as also the crypt below. But this church has suffered heavily both at the hands of wilful destroyers and of the restorer. Matthew of Arras was the architect. I wonder whether he would recognize his work to-day, so much has happened to it since he completed it. Consecrated in 1377 and given over to the monks of the Augustine Order, church and monastery were thoroughly destroyed by the Hussites less than a century later. The church was rebuilt in 1498, seriously damaged in 1611, and left in a state of disrepair for forty years. It had not long been restored for the second time, when Frederick II of Prussia made a target of it in his siege of Prague. Some eight hundred hot shot are said to have struck this church and set it on fire more than fifty times: quite good shooting but bad manners. No wonder, then, that this Church of the Virgin and St. Charles has lost its pristine beauty; yet it has an attraction of its own to those who sympathize with its misfortunes, and there are still some quaint old corners of the Hermitage attached to the edifice, built by Dienzenhofer, for those who like baroque.

We have noted Charles's interest in his cathedral on the Hradšany; he also paid a delicate compliment to the Lady Abbess of the convent attached to St. George's Church within the castle precincts. You will remember how Boleslav II, of pious memory, founded this convent and that his sister Milada was the first abbess. Charles raised that lady's successors to princely rank and gave them the right to place the crown on the head of the King at his coronation.



There are several other churches which have survived the chances and changes of centuries, among these one which appeals to me on account of its modesty. This church is tucked away among a congerie of respectable elderly buildings that cluster to eastward of the Stepanska Ulice, one of the thoroughfares that link up the higher lying part of the Nove Město, the New Town, with the Vaclavske Naměsti. This church has indeed a somewhat neglected look: its quaint pointed steeple rises almost apologetically above some scrubby trees, and hardly ventures to o'ertop the grimy houses, that close it round. Nevertheless this ancient church should have reason to hold high its head, for Bohemia's great King and Father built it and dedicated it to a carefully selected saint, to wit St. Stephen. St. Stephen's Church shows pleasant traces of the gracious spirit which informed the master mind in those golden days of Charles IV. Moreover, St. Stephen's Church has kept the best of exclusive company during the six centuries of its existence, for close by, separated only by a narrow lane, stands one of Prague's oldest temples, the romanesque chapel of St. Longinus which from its memories harking back to the first Přeysl King, Vladislav, probably looks upon its neighbour as a mere child.

You will have noticed how many and varied are the names of saints mentioned in these my reflections from "a Terrace in Prague." I do not profess deep knowledge of saints, and do not as a rule venture on the hallowed ground where saints disport themselves. Nevertheless, while dealing with the city of Prague in particular or the Bohemian people in general, and endeavouring to become acquainted with them, you are faced with the fact that there is in this country a strong and no doubt commendable attraction towards saints of all possible varieties, and, let us hope, a favourable reaction on the part of the latter. I do not suggest that a saints' day merely means a holiday.

To begin with, the Bohemians, on taking to Christianity at all, started with some very fine vintage saints of their own growing. You have heard all about them: Ludmilla, Wenceslaus, Milada, Adalbert. These estimable people were, after all, following the precepts of those who had brought the "Glad Tidings" to Bohemia, and therefore were entitled to high consideration and respect. We have met some of these most worthy people. There were the brothers Constantine (better known as Cyril) and Methodius, who did much missionary work in Central Europe, especially among those of their own, the Slavonic race, for these two were citizens of Solun (Salonika), where pure Slavonic was spoken in the ninth century. As Slavs these two missionaries were disliked by the Germans, but both Popes Adrian I and John VIII approved of them; we have heard how Methodius converted that stubborn pagan Prince Bořivoj. Another couple of saints whom I have mentioned before, Cosmas and Damian, have always been most popular in Bohemia. They came from the West, or at least their reputation did, for they had been martyred in the third or fourth century, before Czech and his merry men had arrived at Řip, before the Slavs had appeared in Europe in fact. Pope Felix III held these two gentlemen in high esteem, had dedicated a church to them in Rome, and his successors had no doubt recommended this worthy couple to the Bohemians when the latter began to ask for spiritual patronage. Cosmas and Damian, the oldest patron saints of Bohemian Christendom, became very popular, and many churches were dedicated to them; in fact, as we have seen, it was zeal in their cause that brought about the martyrdom of St. Wenceslaus. I believe these two, Cosmas and Damian, were precursors of that excellent body of medical missionaries who wisely get at a man's soul by healing his body. There must be something in my theory about Cosmas and Damian, as the medical faculty of Prague University put up a sculptured group supposed to represent these two saints, on the Charles Bridge, early in the eighteenth century. As portraiture this group is not convincing.

The leading patron saint of Prague seems to be St. Vitus; at least in the great cathedral dedicated to him he dominates not only the city but also his co-patron saints of this most famous of all the city's many churches. You will remember that in course of a friendly exchange of concessions between St. Wenceslaus and King Henry the Fowler the latter presented Bohemia's ruler with an arm of St. Vitus. I do not quite understand how St. Vitus came to hold such high importance in Bohemia. He was born in Sicily of pagan parents, poor perhaps, possibly honest, about the beginning of the fourth century. Two Christians, Modestus and Crescentia, taught young Vitus and converted him without his father's knowledge. There was nothing unusual in this. Vitus was martyred in Rome, an experience which might happen to any Christian in those days, and we hear no more about him until he appears as patron saint of a church founded about the middle of the ninth century on the Island of Ruegen, by the monks of Corvey in Saxony. These monks had by some means or other got hold of the relics of St. Vitus; perhaps they parted with a bit to King Henry the Fowler, who then handed it on to Wenceslaus. The Slavonic islanders of Ruegen relapsed into paganism but kept green the memory of St. Vitus, whom they worshipped as a god.

Whereas St. Wenceslaus secured only an arm of St. Vitus, King Charles acquired the rest of his body. St. Wenceslaus was, I fear, caught napping on several occasions. He is not dead, according to popular tradition, but sleeps inside a mountain, and sleeps soundly too, for he seems to have missed the resurrection of his people. By way of useful information I may tell you that the shrine of St. Wenceslaus is sanctuary for murderers, but I cannot say whether this custom still obtains under the constitution of the new Czecho-Slovak Republic.

King Charles arranged a great festival when the remains of St. Vitus reached the cathedral dedicated to him. With his own hands Charles placed a crown of gold upon the saintly head, or, as one old chronicler puts it with unexpected humour, upon the head of one or other St. Vitus. Charles was peculiarly expert in the matter of relics and a zealous collector, which shows his constant concern for his people's welfare, not only spiritual but physical as well. So, for instance, did that pious monarch cause the remains of St. Sigismund to be conveyed to Prague. St. Sigismund was a good sound sixth-century saint of France who in the days of Gregory of Tours had frequently been invoked to ward off fever; his remains would therefore be a useful asset as complement to the limited knowledge of the art of healing in those days. Not that I attach much importance to the opinion of Gregory of Tours. You may remember that he admired one Chlodovech, King of all the Franks, who outdid any other Teuton founder of kingdoms by his record of crime, of murder and treachery, and generally speaking he had a tough lot to compete against. Londoners have probably forgotten that they also have a famous febrifuge in their city's patron saint, St. Erkenwald, to whose shrine came many pilgrims for relief from pain. Modern pilgrims to London come in their thousands to watch football matches—there is little of healing in this. Other relics collected by Charles were the spear, a bit of the cross and a nail, and the tablecloth used at the Last Supper. All these precious relics, together with the crown jewels, were kept in a strong castle built by Charles for the purpose. You may catch a glimpse of this castle, Karlov Tyn, Karlstein, as you pass down the valley of the winding Berounka of a summer's evening, coming to Prague from Paris via Cheb. A day was set apart for the Feast of Relics, the Allatio Reliquiarum. On this day the relics were conveyed to the cathedral and exhibited to the people, and Charles had arranged that all who attended this solemn function should be granted indulgence. I take it there was no work done that day in Prague; as it happens this feast coincided with that set apart for several saints, Macarius and Abel, besides being the octave of St. Stephen, a further reason for holiday-making.

Talking of holidays in Prague, I came across one such fixed for August 9th, and seriously described by a sound old writer on the manners and customs of Bohemia. This feast was observed, I cannot say religiously, but with great enthusiasm, by the students of the University. It was called quite simply Beano. This will sound familiar to you, and you will probably pronounce it as if derived from the bean, the common or garden bean and the feast thereof. Not so. This Beano should be pronounced with due stress on each particular vowel, as if it were an Italian word; indeed, it is derived from the Latin. Attempts have been made to trace this word to early French influence at Prague University, and to derive it from bec-jaune, pronounced with a certain abandon. This, again, is wrong. Beano is, or was, the great day on which the new students, the "freshers," were initiated into the mysteries of scholastic life with all manner of weird ceremony and horrible observances. There was used much, indeed undue, emphasis, said some, in order to impress upon the youngsters that a serious change of life was upon them, for, quoth the elders: "Beanus est animal nesciens vitam studiosorum."



CHAPTER IX

Showing how Prague grew and added beautiful buildings to its glory under the rule of Charles, the Father of his Country. Tells also of Charles's troubles, and introduces his son Wenceslaus. Shows why this son should be considered as the "Good King Wenceslaus" of our Christmas carol. Makes mention also of Sister Anne and her husband, Richard II of England. Tells about Susanna and the King. Introduces well-known names of those who pass in filmy pageant across the old historic Charles Bridge—John Nepomuk, John Hus, and others. Gives a fleeting vision of another native King, a great man, and of other rulers who had their day and passed on. Talks at some length of the river of Prague, the Vltava, and gives some of its reflections. Leads up from earliest aquatic habits of the Slavonic inhabitants to those of the present day, and is, though a long chapter, by no means a dull one.

Prague, as you may imagine, had grown, despite the troubles it had passed through, both in importance and in extent. When Charles IV came to the throne, the city still consisted of three parts as before; during his reign a new town was added, and this was made necessary by the rise of the University which Charles had founded. Charles must have been considering the idea of creating a seat of learning in Prague before he accompanied his father to Crecy, for we find him writing to the Pope on the subject while he was yet recovering from his wounds and before he returned to Bohemia. It was at a Diet held at Prague in 1348 that Charles announced his intention of founding a University, and he set about it with his customary energy. The King himself took in hand the organization of this his new foundation, ably assisted by the Archbishop, Ernest of Pardubic, as Chancellor. Students of many countries, many nations, flocked to Prague, evidence of the fact of the city's central position in Europe, and soon the new University ranked with those older institutions—the only ones of the kind in Europe—Bologna, Paris and Oxford. The number of students increased rapidly: by the end of Charles's reign there were some six or seven thousand of them. The trouble was to accommodate them all. The professors held lectures in their own apartments, in monasteries if they happened to belong to one or other of the many congregations in Prague, and theology courses were held in the Cathedral. This was well enough at first, but even then there was no provision for the students' lodgings. They could not live in colleges, as there were none; in fact, the only university buildings in existence, which probably served various ceremonial occasions, was a congeries of buildings called the Carolinum, after its founder. These buildings stood in the Old Town, and there were probably others used for university purposes dotted about the town, as is the case to-day. Still, the students remain unhoused. There must have been a good many houses without the walls of the Old Town and Vyšehrad, the ancient borough, and I take it that Charles collected all these houses under one administration of its own, walled the place in securely and called it Nove Město, New Town, quite simply. Charles laid the foundation-stone of the New Town in the same year as that in which he started the University, fitted the former out with various necessaries, a town-hall, a church or two, perhaps St. Stephen's, and so provided more housing room for the good people of Prague and their guests the students.



All went very well, no doubt, for several years, when a calamity befell the city of Prague: the old bridge, built at her own expense by Queen Judith, the only link between Prague on the right bank and the Mala Strana, was damaged beyond repair by winter's floods. Charles, as usual, rose to the occasion: he built a new one, again laying a foundation with his own royal hand, and this happened in 1358—on July 9th, to be strictly accurate. I do not propose to describe the Charles Bridge to you, as I am supplying an illustration showing it, but I wish to remark here that Charles is not guilty of the groups of statuary which distinguish this bridge from others in the world. The only bit of statuary anywhere near the Charles Bridge which dates from his period stands near the Mala Strana end of it on the upstream side. This is the sculptured figure of a knight in armour, bearing the coat of arms of the Old Town and holding aloft his drawn sword. Dr. Jeřabek calls this figure "Bruncvik," others call it "Roland"; it was probably put up to inform passers-by that they had better pay their toll quietly or there would be trouble.

The piles of the Charles Bridge nearest to the left bank of the river stand on a little island called Kampa. You cannot see much of this island from the bridge: I recommend you to go down the steps, under the bridge, and then look under the second arch, and you will see the view which I have sketched for you. It is not the view which you will find on the postcards illustrating this particular spot and calling it "Venice on the Vltava." In this the Pragers fall into the snobbish habit of going outside their own country for the sake of finding some inept comparison. I grant that they are not the only sinners in this respect; we may even have a "Venice in London," according to those who label the views on postcards, for all I know. I have, on postcards, met "Venice in Whatsisname" and elsewhere, wherever there was sufficient sluggish water reflecting tall houses that have seen better days and conceal their dilapidations behind motley garments drying in a lazy breeze. But Prague need not descend to this; here is no "Venice in Prague," but simply a charming bit of an old town, a fascinating backwater where quaint old houses exchange reminiscences with their broken reflections in the water. This ought to be good enough for Prague, anyway.

So Charles threw this bridge across the water, a lasting, glorious monument to a father ever careful of his children's welfare, and its stout pillars and graceful arches bid fair to call up reflections for yet further centuries on the face of Bohemia's own river, the Vltava.

The River Vltava rises away down in the south among the mountains of the Bohemian Forest. It has its happy infancy in "green days in forest," leaping over rocks, playing with pebbles, and generally disporting itself until it comes out into the world and moves among men. Not empty handed either, for it carries the sound of the forest and the rhythm of running water to those that have their being on its banks; if you doubt it, come and hear Smetana's work at the National Theatre reflected in the waters of Prague. The Vltava arrives at Prague reinforced by its tributary, the Berounka, and flows almost due north until it meets the Castle Hill. Then it makes a bold sweep due east, turns north and west again, and so makes a peninsula of Castle Hill; then it resumes, with many windings, its northward course. Nothing could have been better arranged than this bold sweep encircling the Hradšany and the wooded slopes of Letna; it is this feature that adds so much interest to the attractive composition of Prague. This must also have impressed that far-seeing lady, Libuša—it inspired her as it has inspired many people since.

* * * * *

The psychology of rivers has not been sufficiently studied. Most people just call a river blue, or golden or muddy, and pass on to other subjects. In reality every river of importance has a definite character all its own; so, for that matter, has every stream of running water, however insignificant it may seem. Our ancestors recognized the fact, but preferred to endow brooks and streams with a definite personality in the form of nymphs, pixies, or whatever they were called. The Cross has driven these harmless and pathetic little beings out of the world they lived in; only a few were allowed to linger, such as Isa, who till quite recently came ashore from the Danube between Passau and Vienna because she felt so lonely, poor dear! Then there is Undine, but she only appears on the operatic stage, and that but rarely. Under our present strenuous existence, where all is bent towards material success, there is no place for the sprites whose voices the ancients heard in the twilight silence. How could any properly constituted nymph play hide-and-seek with the moonbeams, or cast an eye upon a handsome boatman, from under the well-regulated bank of a river of to-day? As far as present-day mortals are concerned, any stream means water-power, any river means a waterway for commerce, and those thus engaged after the day's work turn away from river and stream without waiting to hear what they have to say when the din of industry dies down and the voice of the running water can be heard again.

There must be a certain and strong connection between a river and the people that live on its banks; one surely reacts upon the other, and in the process the character of both develops. Not only the sky, but the works of man, are reflected in rivers, have been so reflected since man began to work at all; so the character of a people must be influenced by rivers: witness the lazy reflections of the "Ponte Vecchio" in the golden Arno, the comfortable parks and lawns and country houses mirrored by the Thames until it gradually becomes busy, and very dirty, on its way to join the sea, with a sigh of relief after such a very strenuous "last lap."

The river at Prague is worthy of careful study, but whatever I may suggest as to its influence on the people of Prague, I still advise you to come here and judge for yourself. Remember, its name is "Vltava," out of which the Germans had made "Moldau," by which you have probably known it till now; but the map of Europe has been readjusted lately, names have changed back to their original version, and so the river at Prague has resumed definitely its Slavonic designation, which, though not given on any map, yet lived in the memory of the people.

* * * * *

An atmosphere of serenity seems to me to cling to the memory of Charles's reign, a sort of "world went very well then" feeling. Certainly Charles was doing his best, and his serenity and singleness of purpose were reflected in the soul of his people, as were the works of his hands reflected in the waters of the Vltava. Some historians credit Charles with deep and sinister designs, such as raising a vast Slav Empire to counter the growing ascendancy of Germany. This seems rather nonsensical. Charles was a good King of Bohemia, albeit German by race and French by upbringing, and was doing his best for his country. He saw distinctly, as very few people only have seen before or since, that Bohemia and its capital, Prague, was admirably suited to form the centre of a large Empire; he therefore developed the resources of his country in order to fit it for the part it should play. Charles is also accused of Pan-Slavism, a wide and generally misinterpreted term; indeed, he spoke Czech well, unlike his father John, and encouraged literary effort in that language—it was his duty to do this, and not to force French or German on his people as he might have tried to do. Again, the fact of his having founded the Benedictine monastery at Emaus for the purpose of reviving the traditions of the former monastery of St. Prokop! To this end came monks from Dalmatia, Croatia, Bosnia, all Slavs who brought back to Bohemia the Cyrillac alphabet and the Slavonic liturgy. The Pope had granted express permission at the request of Charles, who had pointed out that it was of little use preaching to his people in Latin. The Pope had, indeed, stipulated that Emaus should be the only congregation to use Slavonic rites within the frontiers of Bohemia.



Charles was probably the sort of man who would walk about on foot among his people, and I like to think of him crossing the bridge he built when going about his business, and there was plenty of that. First of all, the Royal Castle, where he seems to have resided, was badly in need of repair; at the same time there were several churches building on the right bank, and Charles would surely go to see how they were getting on. Then again, the New Town was growing up and being walled in, and the New Town Hall was in course of construction. This latter building is another pleasant monument to "the Father of his Country," as it rears its graceful saddle-roofed tower, with the characteristic pointed turrets, over the trees and flowering shrubs that make of the Charles Square such a delectable resting-place. Vyšehrad was also having its ancient defences repaired and strengthened, and the sides of the hill rising up out of the Old Town, Vinohrad, were being turned into vineyards and gardens by order of the King. Charles was also in the habit of attending learned discourses at the University, or of dropping in at lectures. Then there were many grave affairs of the State to keep him anxiously busy. I can almost see him, a stoutish, sturdy man of round and kindly countenance, passing across the bridge, reflecting deeply on many difficult questions. There were, for instance, the zealous preachers Conrad Waldhauser and Milič of Kroměřiže, who were causing such a stir. These two worthies were holding forth in the churches against the luxury and immorality of the time, with such effect that well-known, great and gaudy sinners were moved to acts of public repentance and women to cast off their jewellery and to dress themselves in sober fashion. All this was very beautiful and edifying, but it was not likely to last, and what with the ill-will of the Pope and the opposition of the monastic orders it took Charles all his tact and ability to steer a course among the rocks and rapids of imperial and Bohemian affairs. For all Charles's efforts the outlook was losing its air of serenity—was, in fact, becoming ominously cloudy towards the end of his reign. The papal conflict had brought about the Great Schism in the Western Church; this led to an aggravation of the Church Reform movement in Bohemia. In fact, the storm was rising which was to sweep over Bohemia, thence over all Central Europe, leaving it eventually broken and desolate, under the hand of Habsburg. At this moment, when a strong and steady hand was wanted more than ever, Charles died. He was only sixty-two, and might have been good for a few more years. However, he had prepared to meet events that might follow on his death, and had secured the succession to his son Wenceslaus, fourth and last Bohemian King of that name. Wenceslaus was the son of Anne of Schweidnitz, third wife of Charles; he had been crowned King of Bohemia at the age of two, his succession to the throne of Germany had been secured, so Wenceslaus, though only seventeen years old, started with the odds in his favour. There were plenty of troubles about which must have puzzled the young King considerably: rival Popes were hurling bans, bulls, excommunications, anathemas and such-like Church property at each other, and all the little dogs were barking at the heels of those precious pontiffs. Luckily young Wenceslaus could count upon a number of his father's old friends and councillors, and he started out trying to carry on his father's policy. He also took a line, a private one of his own, which was harmless enough at the outset, but became inconvenient as time went on. Wenceslaus was all out for popularity among his people, especially among his Pragers. He would go about the city looking into minor matters of his people's welfare, so he would measure the mercer's cloth-yard and if it were not up to standard would crack the saucy knave's head therewith. He went among his people performing acts of charity; in fact, he generally disported himself right royally, if with an occasional lapse from discretion. Now this Wenceslaus drew the relations between England and Bohemia closer together. Wenceslaus had a sister Anne, who married our Richard II. Anne was surely a very dear lady—an expensive one, in fact—for Richard had to pay eighty thousand golden guldens to Wenceslaus within a fortnight of Anne's landing in England, and had also lent the genial Bohemian King a further sum of twenty thousand golden guldens, which went away to the Ewigkeit—at least England never saw them again.

Costly as was the bride of Richard II of England, I like to linger on her memory, feeling convinced that we all have benefited by the outlay. It is my firm opinion that we owe our grand old Christmas carol about "Good King Wenceslaus" to Anne of Bohemia directly. I have consulted various living Bohemian authorities on this subject. They had not even heard of our carol: I hummed the tune to them—it told them nothing. They tried to palm me off with St. Wenceslaus, but I declined him; he is not quite suitable as "theme" of a rollicking carol; besides, he gets plenty of attention in his own country. I grant that St. Wenceslaus was full of good works, all of the kind that looks well in frescoes, and in which everybody moves with feet in the first position, it was de rigueur. King Wenceslaus IV, also performed acts of kindness among his people, so the reference in the carol to "flesh and wine" suits this merry monarch thoroughly: he would certainly have called for both these forms of sustenance. St. Wenceslaus might have forgotten the wine; King Wenceslaus would have thought of that at once; in fact, he was a firm believer in the French adage, "l'alcool conserve." Then we learn from the carol that the page found warmth in the footsteps of the King, and Wenceslaus was certainly "hot stuff," as you will agree when I have told you more about him. Moreover, what is more likely than that Anne should have told her new English friends all about that jolly, popular brother of hers? The tune and its quaint harmonization is surely from some time in the joyous fifteenth century; if it had to deal with St. Wenceslaus it would have to grunt about in Gregorian phrasing. No doubt Anne's ladies who accompanied her from Bohemia would invoke the patron saint from time to time, and English people, hearing a strange and difficult name, and thinking it impossible that several well-known men had borne it, would be likely enough to get saintly prince and jovial monarch thoroughly mixed up. Anyway, I am firmly convinced that the "Good King Wenceslaus" we sing about at Christmas is no other than the brother of Anne, German King, King of Bohemia, fourth of that name, and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

Meanwhile the River Vltava continued to reflect indifferently the doings of small and great, and among others those of Wenceslaus.

The laudable habit of bathing met with every encouragement from "Good King Wenceslaus," who was generally to be found ready to take part in any popular diversion. It was he who raised those humble but useful citizens, the keepers of bathing establishments, to prominent rank among their fellows. And hereby hangs a tale.

King Wenceslaus did not always see eye to eye with the leaders among the people; there were misunderstandings and bickerings, and despite his popularity among the more jovial elements, he had enemies even in his own capital. On the occasion of one such unpleasantness his enemies had detained him at the Old Town Hall. The King, finding this very irksome, deliberated on some method of escaping, and had the happy thought of insisting on a bath. It was in the autumn of the year 1394; the weather was warm and the river close by. A few turns down the narrow winding street named after his father would bring Wenceslaus to the river, where, somewhat above the old town mill, was a bathing establishment. The name of the owner of these baths seems to have been lost to history. Not so that of his daughter Susanna. Now the name Susanna has appeared before in recorded history also in connection with bathing—a most irreproachable Susanna. We draw no parallel; we make no comparisons, especially as no elders enter immediately into this story; we merely state historic facts. Moreover, it was not Susanna who was taking the bath this time, it was the King, and Susanna seems merely to have been hovering about in a punt. Here was the monarch's opportunity. He persuaded Susanna to take him across the river. Thus he escaped from his enemies. Now there is no hint of an assignation, no suggestion that Susanna was an accessory before the fact, merely the chronicler's statement that the lady happened to be there and that she helped the King to escape.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse