Duchy of Bohemia

Duchy of Bohemia
České knížectví (Czech)
Ducatus Bohemiæ (Latin)
Herzogtum Böhmen (German)
State of the Holy Roman Empire (from 1002)

Coat of arms of the
Přemyslid dynasty

Bohemian lands in the Holy Roman Empire, 11th century
Capital Prague
Languages Old West Slavic
Government Principality
   ca 875–888/9 Bořivoj I (first duke)
  1192–93, 1197–98 Ottokar I (last duke, king to 1230)
   Duchy established c.870
  Bořivoj I moved seat to Prague Castle 875
  Fief of the Holy Roman Empire 1002
   Raised to kingdom 1198
  Confirmed by Golden Bull of Sicily 1212
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Bohemians (tribe)
Great Moravia
Kingdom of Bohemia
Margraviate of Moravia

The Duchy of Bohemia, sometimes also referred to as the Czech Duchy[1][2] (Czech: České knížectví) was a West Slavic principality that first appeared around 870 as part of the Great Moravian realm. The Bohemian lands separated from disintegrating Moravia after Duke Spytihněv swore fidelity to the East Frankish king Arnulf in 895.

While the Bohemian dukes of the Přemyslid dynasty, at first ruling at Prague Castle and Levý Hradec, brought further estates under their control, the Christianization initiated by Saints Cyril and Methodius was continued by the Frankish bishops of Regensburg and Passau. In 973 the Diocese of Prague was founded through the joint efforts of Duke Boleslaus II and Emperor Otto I.[3] Late Duke Wenceslaus I of Bohemia, killed by his younger brother Boleslaus in 935, became the land's patron saint.

While the lands were occupied by the Polish king Bolesław I and internal struggles shook the Přemyslid dynasty, Duke Vladivoj received Bohemia as a fief from the hands of the East Frankish king Henry II in 1002. The Duchy of Bohemia was raised to a hereditary kingdom, when Duke Ottokar I ensured his elevation by the German king Philip of Swabia in 1198. The Přemyslids remained in power throughout the High Middle Ages, until the extinction of the male line with the death of King Wenceslaus III in 1306.


The lands encompassed by the Bohemian Forest, the Ore Mountains, the Sudetes and the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands were settled by Bohemian tribes about 550. In the 7th century the local Czech people were part of the union led by the Frankish merchant Samo (d. 658). Bohemia as a geographical term, probably derived from the Celtic (Gallic) Boii tribes, first appeared in 9th century Frankish sources. In 805 Emperor Charlemagne prepared to conquer the lands, invading Bohemia in 805 and laying siege to the fortress of Canburg. However the Czech forces shirked from open battle and retired into the deep forests to launch guerilla attacks. After forty days the emperor had to withdraw his forces for the lack of supplies. When the Frankish forces returned the next year burning and plundering the Bohemian lands, the local tribes finally had to submit and became dependent on the Carolingian Empire.

Great Moravia

Great Moravia under the rule of Svatopluk I (871–894)

While the Frankish realm disintegrated in the mid 9th century, Bohemia came in the reach of the Great Moravian state set up about 830. In 874 the Mojmir duke Svatopluk I reached an agreement with the East Frankish king Louis the German and confirmed his Bohemian dominion.[4] With the fragmentation of Great Moravia under the pressure of the Magyar incursions around 900, Bohemia began to form as an independent principality. Already in 880, the Přemyslid prince Bořivoj from Levý Hradec, initially a deputy of Duke Svatopluk I who had been baptised by the Great Moravian archbishop Methodius of Salonica in 874, moved his residence to Prague Castle and started to subjugate the Vltava Basin.

Great Moravia briefly regained control over the emerging Bohemian principality upon Bořivoj's death in 888/890 until in 895, his son Spytihněv together with the Slavník prince Witizla swore allegiance to the East Frankish king Arnulf of Carinthia in Regensburg. He and his younger brother Vratislaus then ruled over Central Bohemia around Prague. They were able to protect their realm from the Magyar forces which crushed an East Frankish army in the 907 Battle of Pressburg during the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin. Cut off from Byzantium by the Hungarian presence, the Bohemian principality existed as independent state though still in the shadow of East Francia; the dukes paid tribute to the Bavarian dukes in exchange for the confirmation of the peace treaty. Vratislaus' son Wenceslaus, who ruled from 921, was already accepted as head of the Bohemian tribal union, however, he had to cope with the enmity of his neighbour Duke Arnulf of Bavaria and his mighty ally, the Saxon king Henry I of Germany. Wenceslaus maintained his ducal authority by submitting to King Henry in 929, whereafter he was murdered by his brother Boleslaus.

Holy Roman Empire

Bohemian lands under Boleslaus I and Boleslaus II (935–999)

Assuming the Bohemian throne in 935, Duke Boleslaus conquered the adjacent lands of Moravia and Silesia, and expanded farther to Kraków in the east. He offered opposition to Henry's successor King Otto I, stopped paying the tribute, attacked an ally of the Saxons in northwest Bohemia and in 936 moved into Thuringia. After a prolonged armed conflict, King Otto I besieged a castle owned by Boleslaus' son in 950 and Boleslaus finally signed a peace treaty whereby he recognized Otto's suzerainty and promised to resume the payment of the tribute. As the king's ally his Bohemian troops together with the German forces fought in the 955 Battle of Lechfeld[5] and after the defeat of the Magyars received the lands of Moravia in recognition of his services. Overwhelming marauding Hungarians has the same benefits for Germans and Czechs. Less obvious is what Boleslav wanted to gain with his participation in the war against the Obotrite tribes in far north, when he later went on to crush an uprising of two Slavic dukes (Stojgněv and Nakon) in the Saxon Billung March. Probably Boleslav wanted to ensure that the German neighbors does not interfere him in spreading the Bohemian estates to the east.[6]

Significantly, the Bishopric of Prague, founded in 973 during the reign of Duke Boleslaus II, was subordinated to the Archbishopric of Mainz. Thus, at the same time that Přemyslid rulers used the German alliance to consolidate their rule against a perpetually rebellious regional nobility, they struggled to retain their autonomy in relation to the empire. The Bohemian principality was definitively consolidated in 995, when the Přemyslids defeated their Slavník rivals, unified the Czech tribes and established a form of centralized rule, however shaken by internal dynastic struggles. Already in 1002 Duke Vladivoj reached his enfeoffment with the Duchy of Bohemia from the hands of King Henry II of Germany, whereupon the internally fully sovereign Bohemian Duchy became part of the Holy Roman Empire. After Vladivoj died the next year, the Polish duke Bolesław I Chrobry invaded Bohemia and Moravia. In 1004, after the Poles were again expelled from Bohemia with help from the German King Henry II, Duke Jaromír received his country in fief from the king.[7]

Duke Bretislaus I of Bohemia re-acquired the Moravian lands in 1029, which from that time on then usually was ruled by a younger son of the Bohemian king. About 1031 Bretislaus invaded Hungary in order to prevent its future expansion and in 1035 he helped Emperor against the Lusatians. In 1039 he invaded Poland, captured Poznań and ravaged Gniezno, after that he conquered part of Silesia including Wrocław. The destruction of Gniezno pushed the Polish rulers to move their capital to Kraków. In 1040 Bretislaus defeated the German King Henry's invasion into Bohemia in the battle at Brůdek. But next year Henry sieged Bretislaus in Prague and forced him to renounce all of his conquests except Moravia. In 1047 Henry negotiated a peace treaty between Bretislaus and the Poles.

The son of Bretislaus, Vratislaus II. supported Henry against the Pope, anti-kings and rebellions in Saxony in his long reign. The Bohemian troops showed conspicuous bravery and in 1083 he entered with Henry and their armed forces the Rome. Henry granted him for his support the royal lifetime title and Vratislaus became the first King of Bohemia in 1085. For his successor Bretislaus II foreign policy was aimed mainly against the Silesian conflict, when the Poles did not pay a fee for resigned areas by Bretislaus I.

In 1147 Bohemian Duke Vladislaus II accompanied German King Conrad III on the Second Crusade, but halted his march at Constantinople. Thanks to his military support against northern Italian cities (especially Milan) for the emperor Frederick Barbarossa, Vladislav was elected king of Bohemia on 11 January 1158, becoming the second Bohemian king.


Mining of tin and silver began in Ore mountains in early 12th century.

Kingdom of Bohemia

Territory under the control of the Přemyslid dynasty around 1301
Main article: Kingdom of Bohemia

During the German civil war between the Hohenstaufen king Philip of Swabia and his Welf rival Otto IV, Duke Ottokar I of Bohemia decided to support Philip, for which he was awarded by a royal coronation in 1198, this time the title was hereditary. In 1200, however, Ottokar abandoned his pact with Philip and declared for the Welf faction. Both Otto and Pope Innocent III subsequently accepted Ottokar as hereditary King of Bohemia. The Bohemian principality was then reborn into the Bohemian kingdom.

In 1212, Ottokar I, bearing the title "king" since 1198,[8] extracted the Golden Bull of Sicily a formal edict by the Hohenstaufen emperor Frederick II confirming the royal title for Ottokar and his descendants, wehreby his duchy was formally raised to a Kingdom. The Bohemian king should be exempt from all future obligations to the Holy Roman Empire except for participation in the imperial councils. The imperial prerogative to ratify each Bohemian ruler and to appoint the Bishop of Prague was revoked. To make it possible for his son to rule the country, Ottokar established inheritance by male-preference primogeniture, before which the oldest child could rule the country, irrespective of gender. The country then reached its greatest territorial extent and is considered as the Golden Age.

After the extinction of the Přemyslid dynasty, the Lands of the Bohemian Crown were ruled by the House of Luxembourg from 1310, until the death of Emperor Sigismund in 1437. After the Middle Ages, the Kingdom of Bohemia remained under the rule of the Austrian House of Habsburg rule from 1526 until the collapse of Austria-Hungary after the First World War.

See also


 This article incorporates public domain material from the Library of Congress Country Studies website http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/.

  1. Bradshaw, George (1867). Bradshaw's illustrated hand-book to Germany. London. p. 223. Retrieved 12 July 2014.
  2. Chotěbor, Petr (2005). Prague Castle : Detailed Guide (2nd complemente ed.). Prague: Prague Castle Administration. pp. 19, 27. ISBN 80-86161-61-7.
  3. Bohemia to the Extinction of the Premyslids, Kamil Krofta, Cambridge Medieval History:Victory of the Papacy, Vol. VI, ed. J.R. Tanner, C.W. Previte-Orton and Z.N. Brooke, (Cambridge University Press, 1957), 432.
  4. Berend, Urbańczyk & Wiszewski 2013, p. 58.
  5. Ruckser, David. "Boleslav I (the Cruel) - c. 935-c. 972" (PDF). Retrieved 4 September 2013.
  6. "Boje polabských Slovanů za nezávislost v letech 928 – 955" (in Czech). E-středověk.cz. Retrieved 7 September 2013.
  7. "Národní archiv".
  8. Bradbury 2004, p. 70.


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