Wenceslas II (Bohemia)

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Wenceslaus II of Bohemia as a minstrel ( Codex Manesse , 14th century)

Wenceslas II (Václav in Czech, Wacław in Polish) (born September 27, 1271 ; † June 21, 1305 in Prague ) was King of Bohemia from 1297 and from 1300 as Wenceslaus I of Poland . He was the penultimate ruler from the Přemyslid dynasty .

As a child he lived from 1279 to 1283 under the strict supervision of his guardian Otto V in Brandenburg . After his return, the young king in Prague was under the influence of the Witigonen Zawisch von Falkenstein until 1288 . As the ruling king, he acquired the Polish in 1300 and from 1301 to 1303 for his son Wenceslaus III. the Hungarian crown.

In contrast to his father Přemysl Ottokar II. Wenceslaus II was not a conqueror, but above all a diplomat. Therefore, until the 20th century, posterity saw him as a weak ruler, who owed his success above all to money and was otherwise dependent on his advisers. As ruler of the Bohemian silver mines, he had enough resources to assert himself in European politics and to secure a long period of peace in Bohemia.


Wenceslaus was born in 1271 as the long-awaited heir to the throne of King Přemysl Ottokar II in Prague Castle . His father had been King of Bohemia since 1253 and had also acquired power in the duchies of Austria , Styria , Carinthia and Carniola from 1251 . His first marriage to Margarete von Babenberg remained childless. Of the children whose second wife Kunigunde von Halitsch gave birth , only two girls were still alive in 1271: Kunigunde and Agnes. Wenceslaus at birth was the only legitimate son and heir to a territory that stretched from the Giant Mountains to the Adriatic Sea.

However, the kingdom of Přemysl Ottokar II broke up due to the conflict with the Roman-German King Rudolf I of Habsburg . The Bohemian king had already rejected his election in 1273, and he also opposed the demand to have his lands confirmed as an imperial fief. 1275 Rudolf imposed on him the imperial ban . The hostility escalated into an armed clash in 1276, in which Přemysl was defeated. He lost all territories except for his hereditary lands and had to promise two children to Rudolf: Kunigunde was chosen to be the wife of Rudolf's son Hartmann , and Wenzel was to marry a daughter of the Habsburg family. The relationship between the two rulers continued to deteriorate and ended in 1278 with the Battle of Marchfeld , in which Přemysl Ottokar II fell. Seven-year-old Wenceslaus was now King of Bohemia.


Wenceslaus II spent the first months of his captivity in Bezděz Castle in 1279

Before the battle, Přemysl Ottokar II had designated his nephew Margrave Otto V of Brandenburg as guardian, who followed the call of the queen widow in the late summer of 1278 and entered Bohemia with an army of several hundred men. Otto's reign quickly developed into a reign of terror. The Brandenburg troops sacked the country. After a short time the margrave had the nobility, the church and the queen widow against him. Kunigunde asked Rudolf von Habsburg for mediation in October 1278, but the negotiating commission confirmed Otto as guardian and ruler of Bohemia. Rudolf kept Moravia under his control for a period of five years. To secure his power, Otto von Brandenburg had his ward brought from Kunigundes residence in the city to Prague Castle in January 1279. But this was not enough: On February 4th, Wenceslaus and his mother were transferred to the Bezděz Castle . From then on, the young king was hostage to the regent.

The queen was apparently not held captive. She left the castle after about two to three months in the direction of Troppau , where her widows' estates were located. Wenzel remained in Otto's power. In the late summer of 1279, the margrave took the king out of the country: the journey led via Zittau and Berlin to the Askanierburg Spandau , where the prisoner arrived at the end of December and stayed until 1282. The image of Wenceslas imprisonment in Brandenburg has long been shaped by the contemporary description in the Königssaaler Chronik , according to which he was kept hungry and in rags in misery - a hagiographic element that cannot be sustained in this way. In fact, Wenceslaus II and Otto V remained in close contact later on, and it seems as if the king had acquired the foundations of his education precisely at that time. He later spoke fluent German and Latin, had knowledge of theology, law and medicine, and wrote verses. However, he did not learn to read and write.

On the other hand, the country plunged into misery during the Brandenburg rule. In the years 1281–1282, one of the worst famines of the Middle Ages occurred in Bohemia, caused by ongoing fighting and two bad harvests . The country was ravaged by mercenaries and bands of robbers and threatened to sink into chaos. Representatives of the nobility, the clergy and some cities started negotiations with Otto to bring the king back into the country and to avert the threatening situation. These negotiations indicate a fundamental change in the state order. In the absence of a central power, the nobility appeared for the first time as a unified representative of the country and took responsibility for its fate. The first attempts at unification in the spring of 1282 failed because of the amount of the ransom . Otto brought his hostage to Prague, but demanded instead of the original 15,000 additional 20,000 pounds of silver. Wenzel was continued again and spent another year in Dresden at the court of the Margrave of Meißen. Only when the negotiators promised the margrave part of northern Bohemia as pledge did Otto release the prisoner. On May 24, 1283 Wenceslaus returned to Prague.

Zawisch von Falkenstein

The seal of Zawisch von Falkenstein

Prague enthusiastically celebrated the return of the king in May 1283, but the almost twelve-year-old was not yet able to govern independently. The aristocratic group that had campaigned for his release divided the highest court offices among themselves. Purkart von Janowitz became their leader, court master and thus educator and representative of the king . The constellation only lasted a few months. In the course of 1283, Wenzel called his mother Kunigunde back to Prague, and Zawisch von Falkenstein came to court with her . The career of the burgrave from the influential South Bohemian dynasty of the Witigones had already gone through some extraordinary turns at that time: in 1276 he had led a rebellion against Přemysl Ottokar II. In 1280 he entered the service of the queen widow in Opole and participated in the resistance against the Brandenburg reign. He came to Prague in 1283 as Kunigunde's husband and father of their youngest son Jan. The unequal marriage, secretly entered into without the knowledge of the families, was a scandal, but when it was completed it was valid under the law of the time. The young king accepted the alliance, and Kunigunde left Zawisch to Wenzel's upbringing. The Wittigone had thus effectively risen to become the ruler of the country. He did not take office himself, but in the winter of 1283/1284 he occupied all important court posts with his relatives and partisans. The disempowered aristocratic group went over to armed resistance, but had to accept a four-year armistice in May 1284. The official marriage was made by Zawisch and Kunigunde at an unknown time between 1283 and 1285.

Even if Zawisch's power in Bohemia seemed invulnerable, the climber remained unacceptable to the court of the Roman-German king. This was clearly evident in the course of Wenceslas own marriage to Guta von Habsburg . The two were engaged to be married in 1278/1279, possibly also married . However, the marriage could only be consummated in January 1285 at a meeting of the families in Eger , when the bride and groom were 13 years of age and thus almost of legal age. On this occasion, Wenzel also swore his father-in-law's oath for his hereditary lands. Zavish was not present at the ceremony, and when Rudolf I left Eger, he took his daughter back with him. It was not until the summer of 1287 that the Habsburgs gave in to the pressure of the Bohemian side and the Queen and her entourage moved into the Prague court. A year later, Wenceslaus II took the business of government into his own hands. One of his first independent official acts was in 1288 a conspiracy against his stepfather, who had just entered into a new marriage three years after Kunigunde's death and whose voluntary renunciation of power in the country was not to be expected. Wenzel had Zawisch called into the castle under a pretext and took him prisoner. After two years of imprisonment , Zawisch von Falkenstein died by the sword in front of the Hluboká Castle in 1290 . The deeply religious king is said to have had a hard time making his decision. According to contemporary sources, he founded the Cistercian monastery of Zbraslav as atonement for his betrayal.

Family coat of arms of the King of Bohemia


Both the comparison with his charismatic father Přemysl Ottokar II and the spectacular and scandalous events in the youth of Wenceslas II shaped the judgment of the king for centuries. He was considered a weak ruler, his personality was described as neurotic to morbid, and there was little interest in his reign. This is how his contemporary Dante Alighieri judged father and son:

Was Ott'kar, who, still dressed in diapers, appeared
better than Wenceslaus, his son,
The bearded man who feasts on opulence.

Central Europe experienced politically and economically in the years 1290-1305, in the time of Wenceslas II independent government, but a phase of calm and stability. In contrast to his predecessors, the king maintained a style of government that relied on expert advisers and diplomacy instead of war and conquest. He could not regain his father's property in the Alpine countries. He directed the main focus of Bohemian foreign policy to the north: to the margraviate of Meissen , the Pleißenland and especially to Poland . As elector , he was also one of the main actors in the politics of the Holy Roman Empire . The Roman-German kings Rudolf I , Adolf von Nassau and Albrecht I were his liege lords. The wealth and power of the Bohemian crown made them his negotiating partners and often opponents as well.


King Wenceslas II gives the Kuttenberg mine its mining regulations.
Prague groschen

Wenceslaus II took over a relatively stable rule from his stepfather. In order to finally pacify the country and to keep the strengthened nobility in check, the king relied on his court and, above all, on spiritual advisers. He put foreign policy in the hands of experienced diplomats: first he engaged Bishop Arnold von Bamberg (1290–92), then Bernhard von Kamenz (1292–1296) and finally Peter von Aspelt (1296–1304).

Economically, the situation had stabilized again around 1290 after the decline during the Brandenburg period. The expansion of the country during the inland colonization in the 13th century and, above all, the newly developed, rich silver deposits in Kutná Hora created the conditions for an economic upswing. Already before 1300 41% of European and 90% of Bohemian silver were mined here. In order to regulate the work in the mines and thus his most important source of income, Wenceslaus II commissioned the Ius regale montanorum between 1300 and 1305 , a mining law that at least in part remained valid until 1854. In 1300 he carried out a coin reform to improve the quality of the currency. The new Prague groschen also caught on in neighboring countries because of its stable value. Under King Wenceslaus II, as under his father, the Prague court remained a cultural center, especially of contemporary German literature. Ulrich von Etzenbach dedicated a novel to Alexander II in 30,000 verses to Wenzel II , and the King himself has preserved three Minnelieder in the Manessian song manuscript .

The coronation should be the glamorous climax and show of power of the royal couple . It had to be postponed several times and therefore only took place in 1297. The festival ended tragically: On the seventeenth day after the coronation, Queen Guta died of exhaustion giving birth to her tenth child. The continued existence of the dynasty was not sufficiently guaranteed despite the high number of children. Five children died as infants. Wenceslaus II was able to use three daughters to form diplomatic alliances: Agnes was married to Ruprecht von Nassau , Anna to Heinrich von Kärnten and Margarethe to Boleslaw von Liegnitz . Elisabeth , originally intended for the clergy, remained single during her father's lifetime. Only one son, the future King Wenceslaus III. , reached adulthood.


Shortly after taking over the government, Wenceslaus II joined the power struggles in Poland . The kingdom, which was split up into duchies, gradually succumbed to feudal particularism from the 12th century onwards . Wenceslaus began to look systematically for allies and to bring the partial rule under his control. In 1289, Casimir von Beuthen, the first Polish duke , made him the feudal oath for his duchy . In 1291 he gained sovereignty over a large part of the Duchy of Opole and Krakow and entered into an alliance with Duke Bolesław III. from Mazovia , to whom he gave his sister Kunigunde to wife. In 1292 he conquered the Sandomir held by Duke Władysław Ellenlang of Kujawia , his most powerful Polish adversary , and was now the strongest force in the Lesser Poland Province .

Wenceslaus II with the Bohemian and Polish crown. Illustration from the Chronicon Aulae Regiae

Wenceslas II's policy suffered a setback in 1295 when Duke Przemysław II , the strongest man in Wielkopolska and Pomerania , was surprisingly crowned King of Poland . However, he fell victim to an assassination attempt a year later. As his successor, Władysław Ellenlang initially prevailed in his capacity as Duke of Greater Poland and Pomerania. In 1299 the indebted duke signed a contract with Wenceslaus II, in which he undertook to take the bohemian king's feudal oath in return for a cash payment. He did not keep the agreement, thereupon the Bohemian in 1300 forced him into exile. In addition to owning Malopolska, Wenceslaus II also asserted himself as ruler in the provinces of Greater Poland , Pomerania, Kuyavia and Central Poland with the main castles of Sieradz and Łęczyca . From then on, only individual Polish territories were still outside his immediate power, for example Mazovia, which was allied with him . As a precaution, Wenceslaus II obtained the consent of his own liege lord, the Roman-German King Albert I, and asked for the hand of Rixa , the only daughter of the murdered King Przemysław. When both were positive, Wenceslaus II again marched into Poland with an army. The armed escort only served as a demonstration of power, because there was no longer any serious resistance. He was crowned in Gnesen in August 1300 by Archbishop Jakub Świnka . He secured his rule with a series of administrative reforms. Among other things, he introduced the office of a starost as royal representative, which remained in use even after his death. The new Polish king stayed in his kingdom until the end of 1300, when he moved back to Prague. He never went back to Poland.

The king's second wife was twelve years old in 1300. Despite this already sufficient age, there was initially no marriage, only an engagement. Then Wenceslaus sent the girl to his aunt Griffina at Budyně Castle . The marriage was not consummated until 1303, and Rixa, who took the name Elisabeth after the marriage, became the mother of Wenceslas youngest daughter Agnes. It is unclear why Wenceslaus II remained a widower for six years after Guta's death instead of worrying about more legitimate sons. If one believes the author of the Austrian rhyming chronicle, relaxed manners prevailed at the Prague court during these years, wild festivals were celebrated and a lover of Wenceslas named Agnes set the tone. After all, there was already an heir to the throne for the two kingdoms.


Shortly before the death of Wenceslas II, Hungary , a third crown land, came into the possession of the Přemyslids. Heir to the throne Wenceslaus III. was betrothed to the Hungarian princess Elisabeth in 1298. When their father Andreas III. 1301 died, among others, Karl Robert von Anjou raised claims to the throne. However, the magnates decided in favor of the Přemyslids and offered the Bohemian king the crown of St. Stephen . Wenceslaus II hesitated, the financial burden and risk were great. But finally he agreed and sent his son to Hungary. In May 1301 the election took place in Buda and the coronation in August in Székesfehérvár . To illustrate his descent from the Arpad , Wenceslaus III took. the name Ladislaus V.

The Hungarian rule failed after two years because of the veto of Pope Boniface VIII and Albrecht von Habsburg, both of whom tried to reduce the power of the Přemyslids. The Pope was initially neutral, but on May 31, 1303 he declared Charles of Anjou the rightful King of Hungary. Boniface VIII died in September 1303, but the situation for the Bohemian kings also changed under his successor Benedict XI. Nothing. Wenceslaus II was forced to enter into negotiations with the Roman-German king. Its conditions were unacceptable: Albrecht demanded the renunciation of the Hungarian and Polish crown, the territorial claims to Eger , Meissen and the Upper Palatinate as well as a share in the silver mines in Kutná Hora. When Wenceslaus II refused such a compromise, he was granted imperial ban at the end of June 1304, and a battle between the two powers was imminent. In the spring of 1304, Wenceslaus II first moved to Hungary to help his son. His most important adviser had to leave the country, the young king was in fact a prisoner in his own country. The armed clash did not materialize, but the magnates switched sides and refused to support the elected king. After two months, Wenceslaus II withdrew to Prague with his son and gave up Hungary. On his return the king fell ill with tuberculosis as a result of the efforts of the campaign .

Wenceslaus II had to face the last dispute a few months later. In August 1304 Albrecht von Habsburg and his allies, Cuman cavalry troops, invaded Moravia. The Bohemian and Moravian nobility stood united on the side of their king, but Wenceslaus II did not allow himself to be provoked to fight this time either. The Habsburg army was nevertheless wiped out: First the miners in Kutná Hora poisoned the enemy's drinking water with silver dust, and when Albrecht prepared to withdraw because of the beginning of winter, the Bohemian troops attacked the returnees. Wenzel was still preparing the peace negotiations in 1305, but he did not live to see the peace agreement.


Initial from the Chronicon Aulae Regiae with a miniature of Wenceslas II.

The king was dying for half a year. Since his residence in the castle burned down in 1303, the patient lay in the house of goldsmith Konrad in Prague's old town . The Königssaaler Chronik describes in detail how the dying man organized his affairs: He paid his debts, looked after his widow and gave part of his property to the church and the poor. Then he repented . After his death on June 21, 1305, his body was taken by ship to the Königsaal monastery and buried in full royal regalia in the monastery church. The account of the king's death could have been written as a basis for argumentation for his later canonization . However, this step did not occur.

When the Royal Hall monastery was destroyed by the Taborites under Václav Koranda , the coffins in the royal crypt were broken into and robbed, and the remains of the last Přemyslids were scattered in the church. Later, the Přemyslid bones were presented in a shrine in the sacristy. After Maximilian Millauer questioned the authenticity of all the bones in the shrine in the middle of the 19th century, the paleoanthropologist Emanuel Vlček was able to confirm in the second half of the 20th century that King Wenceslas II and his daughter Elisabeth of Bohemia were attributed bones actually came from these individuals. The Bones of the Přemyslids were solemnly transferred to the Church of St. James in Zbraslav and buried there in the floor of the presbytery.

Wenceslaus II was the penultimate Přemyslid king. With his son and successor Wenceslaus III, who fell victim to an assassination attempt in 1306, the dynasty died out in the royal line after over 400 years of reign over Bohemia.


Georg Friedrich Handel created the Dramma per musica and Pasticcio Venceslao (HWV A4) in 1731 .


  • Used literature :
    • Charvátová, Kateřina. Václav II. Král český a polský. Praha: Vyšehrad, 2007. ISBN 978-80-7021-841-9 .
    • Žemlička, Josef u. U. Schulze: Wenzel II. In: Lexikon des Mittelalters 8 (1977), sp. 2188-2190
  • Further reading :
    • Příběhy krále Přemysla Otakara II. Zlá léta po smrti krále Přemysla Otakara II. Praha: Nakladatelství Vyšehrad, 1947.
    • Jan, Libor: Václav II. A Struktury panovnické moci . Brno: Matice moravská, 2006. ISBN 80-86488-27-6 .
    • Šusta, Josef: Dvě knihy českých dějin. Kus středověké historie našeho kraje . 2nd volumes, Praha: Argo, 2001 and 2002. ISBN 80-7203-376-X (Vol. 1), ISBN 80-7203-377-8 (Vol. 2)
    • Adolf BachmannWenzel II. In: General German Biography (ADB). Volume 42, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1897, pp. 753-756.
  • Sources :
    • Chronicon Aulae Regiae (1311–1339): The Königsaaler historical sources. With the additions and continuation of Canon Francis of Prague. Ed. Johann Loserth, Vienna 1875, reprint in the series Fontes rerum Austriacarum: Abt. 1, Scriptores; 8, Graz 1970
    • Ottokar's Austrian rhyming chronicle : Monumenta Germaniae Historica: [Scriptores. 8], German Chronicles = (Scriptores qui vernacula lingua usi sunt); 5.1

Web links

Commons : Wenceslaus II.  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Wenceslaus II (Bohemia)  - Sources and full texts


  1. Charvátová, Kateřina: Václav II. Král český a polský, pp. 9–11.
  2. Dante Aligihieri: Divine Comedy, seventh song, translated by Carl Streckfuß, Leipzig 1876
  3. Franz Xaver Maximilian Millauer: The gravesites and tombs of the sovereigns of Bohemia Gottlieb Haase sons 1830
predecessor Office successor
Ottokar II. King of Bohemia
Wenceslaus III
Przemyslaw King of Poland
Wenceslaus III