The “Good King” (actually a duke) was the second Christian ruler of Czech lands, succeeding his grandfather Bořivoj. Wenceslas I solidified ties with Rome and with German merchants. Murdered by his brother Boleslav the Cruel in 935, he was later canonized.
Grandson of an emperor and son of a Přemyslid princess, Charles could hardly help rising to the Bohemian throne in 1347 and to the Roman one in 1355. Prague became the seat of imperial power under his reign, as well as an archbishopric and the home of Central Europe’s first university.
After the Church Council at Constance burned Catholic reformer Jan Hus at the stake in 1415, his followers literally beat their ploughshares into swords and rebelled against both church and crown. The animosity that resulted between Protestant Czechs and German Catholics would continue to rage for centuries.
The melancholy Rudolf II (1552–1611), who became Holy Roman Emperor in 1576, was not much good as a statesman and was under threat from his ambitious brother, Matthias, but he was a liberal benefactor of the arts and sciences. Among Rudolf’s achievements were the support of Johannes Kepler’s studies of planetary motion. The emperor also promoted religious freedom.
The Protestant nobility and the emperor continued to provoke each other until hostilities broke into open war. Imperial forces devastated the Czechs in the first battle of the Thirty Years’ War in 1620 (see Prague’s Defenestrations). Czech lands were re-Catholicized, but resentment against Vienna and Rome continued to smoulder.
While World War I raged, National Revival leaders such as Tomáš Masaryk turned to the United States for support for an independent Czechoslovakia. As the war drew to a close in 1918, the Czechoslovak Republic was born.
The First Republic had barely stretched its legs when the Munich Agreement of 1938 gave Czech lands to Nazi Germany. Nearly 80,000 Czech Jews and Romany died in the Holocaust. After the war, the nation exacted revenge by expelling its German citizens.
Grateful to the Russian Red Army for liberating the city of Prague in 1945, Czechoslovakia gave Soviet Communism the benefit of the doubt in the February 1948 elections.
In 1968 First Secretary of the Communist Party Alexander Dubček introduced economic and social reforms that did not sit well with Moscow. Warsaw Pact troops and tanks swept through the streets of Prague, killing scores of protestors.
After 10 days of mass protests in 1989, the Communist government bowed to the population’s indignation. Czechs proudly recall that not even a single window was broken during the revolt.
St Agnes, devout sister of Wenceslas I, built a convent for the order of the Poor Clares (the female counterpart of the Franciscans).
Wenceslas IV killed Nepomuk over the election of an abbot and threw his body from Charles Bridge.
Philosopher priest Jan Hus preached against church corruption and was burned as a heretic.
The Jewish mayor (see Mordechai Maisel’s Grave) was one of the richest men in Europe.
Astronomer at Rudolf’s court, Brahe suffered a burst bladder when he refused to leave the emperor’s side at a banquet.
The English charlatans gained the trust of Rudolf II by converting lead into gold, but were said to be more interested in necromancy.
The German astronomer pioneered studies of planetary motion.
Leader of the Catholics during the Thirty Years’ War, General Wallenstein built a vast palace in Prague.
Prague’s best-known author, Kafka was largely unpublished in his lifetime.
“The Locomotive” won three gold medals for long-distance events at the 1952 Olympic Games.