After I managed to stir up a bit of a quarrel over the matter of the good, the bad and the ugly in the historical conflict that KCD draws from, it brought me to an idea to create some more detailed introduction and background for those who would like to know more.
There is a couple of threads dealing with this already to a certain extent, like the “Story: Historical Background & Story suggestion”, “Historical events in 1403”, or “Map of the Act I and some information about the places on it”, but I would like to expand upon it a bit more and try to show some more of the general context of what was happening in the Kingdom of Bohemia and the Roman Empire at the time and what would eventually lead to the events of Kingdom Come: Deliverance.
Wikipedia is of course still the most straightforward way to get some info, but just like in most other cases even there you really get a better picture only after you compare a few different sources of information, which means (at the very least) both the Czech and English pages on both Václav IV (Wenceslaus IV), Zikmund Lucemburský (Sigismund of Luxembourg) and their father Karel IV (Charles IV) … if not really anything more.
Even those pages alone present a lot of information, although a bit fragmented.
Here, I attempted to put the varying bits and pieces together in some relatively sensible way.
If you don’t feel like going through some 5 pages of text in total and would rather like to cut to the chase directly, skip right to the Part 2.
Enjoy the reading…
PART 1) The fall and rise of the Kingdom of Bohemia in the 14th Century
King John of Luxembourg (John the Blind) [1296 - 1346]
In the year 1310, the young Count John of Luxembourg became a husband of Eliška Přemyslovna (or Elisabeth the Premyslid), the last descendant of the Premyslid house, the previous ruling house of the Kingdom of Bohemia. They were married in France, but soon moved to Prague where he officially took the reign as the new king, locally named Jan Lucemburský, while later becoming recognised abroad as John of Bohemia. He also formally became the king of Poland and Hungary and one of the seven prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire. These included three Archbishops and four political rulers which secured the election of the King of Romans (the same position as the King of Germany) who could eventually be crowned the Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope.
John unfortunately lost in the elections to Louis IV of Wittelsbach, but he kept supporting him in the position of the Roman King for a time. He also didn’t have much success as a king in his own new country, as much of the Czech nobility disliked being ruled by a foreigner through foreign policies. This led John to effectively leave the ruling and management to the local nobility, exchanging the ruler’s position to that of a diplomat, traveling the Europe and engaging in numerous wider political events to secure and upkeep further useful connections and favors for the future.
In 1333, his son Václav, then already known by his later name Karel/Charles, returned to Bohemia after many years spent on education abroad, with active interest in administering his homeland. John soon secured him the official position of his successor and Charles started putting the heavily mismanaged and ransacked country back together.
Meanwhile, king John continued actively engaging in international politics and warfare, even despite slowly becoming blind due to an inherited disease between 1336 and 1339. Ten years later, in 1346, he ultimately met his end in the last blaze of glory, fighting for France against the English invasion at the Battle of Crécy, which ended in a devastating loss of French forces to the English and their longbowmen.
During the battle, John of Bohemia reportedly asked a group of his most trusted and loyal knights to accompany him deep into the enemy lines so that he could have the enemy at the length of his sword even though he could not see. They rode to the battle with their horses tied to one another by ropes and eventually all died in the same place, far behind the enemy lines.
It is said that his last words were: “By God’s will it shall never be that a King of Bohemia runs from a fight!” Another rumor also says that Edward, the “Black Prince” of Wales (who commanded the English forces) adopted motives from John’s personal crest (black wings) and his motto “Ich dien” (I serve) into his badge of the Prince of Wales.
King Charles IV, or the Return of the King [1316 - 1378]
Originally born as Václav (Wenceslaus in Latin), named after his Czech grandfather king, he later chose his Christian name during the rites of Confirmation to be Charles, in honor of his uncle, the king of France, where he spent much of his youth getting an extensive education (including fluency in five languages). His father sent him there in part to keep him safe from the hostile political environment in Bohemia, where the local opposition even held the young heir imprisoned for a few years. After growing up in France, he also accompanied his father on some of his war journeys in Italy, before finally returning home only to find his homeland in the state of heavy decline and corruption.
The situation was so bad that even all the Crown’s real estates were either plundered or pawned, so he at first had to reside simply among local commoners, as he had no official building to settle in with even the Prague Castle being in ruin. With his father making him the Margrave of Moravia, he started managing the kingdom in his stead, raising money to pay off all the debts and buy back the pawned royal castles as well as reforming the general establishment to revitalize production, trade and the entire economy.
Even despite many difficulties (including the attempts by some of the nobility to boost conflicts between him and his father to keep Charles from power), Charles managed to keep improving the domestic situation and gaining control.
Later, with the help of his (and his father’s) longtime acquaintance with the newly elected Pope Clement IV, Charles has been put forward as a candidate for the new King of Romans, a counterweight to the increasing hostilities with the current emperor Louis IV. After the Emperor died in 1347 and the opposition failed to get a proper competitor, Charles IV became the new King of Romans, eventually being further crowned as the Holy Roman Emperor in 1355. He then managed to retain this position until his death in 1378.
His ascent to the Roman throne was not easy, but thanks to the careful use of diplomacy and issuing of many privileges, rights and eventual pardons to many important cities and politicians of the Empire, he managed to strengthen his position and build up respect within the realm. In 1356 he presented the new constitutional law of the Empire known as the Golden Bull of Charles IV, which remained in effect until the Empire’s end in 1806.
Charles IV’s legacy and succession
In Czech, Charles IV’s reign is generally viewed as the golden era of our history, when our country and especially Prague became an important center of culture, politics, economy and education of its time, while also being solely under the Czech rule. Charles IV has rebuilt a large portion of the city and the Castle as well as building a number of new important cultural landmarks, like the Charles University (Univerzita Karlova), the Charles Bridge (Karlův most), the Cathedral of Saint Vitus, or the brand new gothic castle Karlstein (Karlštejn) designed as a treasury and depository of the Czech crown jewels.
He also established a Roman Catholic Archdiocese in Prague with its own Archbishop, creating an independent cell within the Catholic Church for his kingdom.
Today, he is being known in Czech as The Father of the Homeland (Otec vlasti).
His rule also had a lot of long-standing effects on the future progress of the whole Empire and the Church. He introduced a new state organization within the Empire, giving more autonomy and privileges in trade and politics to many major imperial cities as well as the option to form new confederations and leagues between them to maintain peace and order. He also took steps to reform the government from a more general Christian monarchy filled with politicking and struggles for the throne into a more solid leadership with dynastic succession.
His actions also went along with the upcoming age of Renaissance. He supported progressive thinkers and philosophers, kept up a correspondence with the Italian poet and philosopher Petrarch and intended to invite the reformist preacher John Wycliffe to the Kingdom of Bohemia, which unfortunately did not happen in the end. After his death however, the educational environment of his University managed to produce an important local follower of Wycliffe, Jan Hus.
Still, while his political career far surpassed any other Czech sovereign in its scale and success, his personal life was not exactly a bed of roses. Or was, if we count in the numerous stingy thorns.
Aside from a strained relationship with his father, with whom he had numerous ongoing disputes and conflicts up until 1339 (when they finally managed to reconcile), during his life (1316-1378, 62 years) Charles also survived three of his four wives and several of his children, many of which died at a very early age.
1st wife: Blanche de Valois
- 1 son (lack of information, uncertain, probably died early), 2 daughters
- queen dies in 1348 as a result of a disease
2nd wife: Anna of Bavaria
- 1 son (first son named Václav, dies when over a year old)
- queen dies in 1353 after falling from a horse
3rd wife: Anna von Schweidnitz
- 1 daughter, 2 sons (another Václav - the future Václav IV, the other dies at birth)
- queen dies in 1362 during the birth of her second son
4th wife: Elizabeth of Pomerania
- 2 daughters, 4 sons (Zikmund/Sigismund and Jan, two others die within a year)
- queen survives her husband Charles by 15 years, dies in 1393
Aside from these there is also a mention of a possible bastard son named Vilém, but not much else is known about him.
The number of losses in the family including at that time his first two wives, his very first daughter and his first son Václav probably contributed to Charles becoming quite attached to his later second son and first surviving male heir, who would become known as Václav IV, or Weceslaus IV, or Wenzel Der Faule (the Idle).
During his life, Charles went on to do everything he could to secure his oldest son as the heir of his throne, even going as a far as to formally have him crowned the future king in his two years of age, before the coronation of his soon-to-be stepmother Elizabeth to give him a precedence. Charles also made a lot of effort (and expenses) to eventually have his son elected for the next King of Romans while he was still on the throne, making one of the votes himself.
Václav’s younger brother Zikmund (or Sigismund, also known as the Ginger Fox based on the color of his hair) was destined for a “secondary” position, maintaining one of the kingdoms within the Empire. As he was of part Czech and part Polish descent, Charles decided to have Sigismund married to Mary, the daughter and heiress of the Polish-Hungarian king Louis the Great, who was Charles’ good friend. Sigismund very soon became at home in Hungary and reportedly grew very fond of the country, so his place also seemed to be set for the time.
The third son and heir of Charles IV, in full name Jan Zhořelecký (John of Görlitz) received the titles of Margrave of Moravia and Brandenburg and became the Duke of Görlitz. He didn’t play any major part in the later events until his brother Václav IV got first imprisoned in 1394 by a rebelling faction of Czech nobility.
PART 2) The sons of Charles IV and the Western Schizm - the prelude to KC: D
Václav IV and his time as the King of Romans
From its very beginning after his father’s death, Václav’s rule became plagued with trouble. In open disapproval with the manner of Václav’s ascension to the Roman throne through favoritism, several Swabian cities used one of their privileges granted previously by Charles IV (to build cooperative leagues) to declare the Swabian League as an independent state, which ultimately led to a war in Swabia and Václav’s general ban of the given privilege. Over time he also went on to revoke some other of his father’s reforms, hoping to take away some more power from the hands of his possible opposition.
Furthermore, alongside the emperor Charles IV, another important figure to die in the Empire in 1378 was the pope Gregory XI. The following papal election managed to produce two different and opposing, though both legally established Popes in a short succession due to strong disagreements within the leading circles of the Church. This eventually developed into a major schism within the Church followed by a political crisis spanning the entire Europe, including the Kingdom of Bohemia. There it contributed to a major dispute between the King on one side and the Archbishop supported by most of the higher nobility on the other.
Václav IV was in favor of the current Roman pope Urban VI, a more pro-reform leader of the Church, which was also in accord with Václav’s later partial support of Jan Hus. The Archbishop, a more orthodox Catholic himself, was supporting the antipope Clement VII in Avignon, but his own support by the higher Czech nobility stemmed mainly from the king’s domestic issues - his closer cooperation with the lower nobility and increasing amount of time spent on hunting, entertainment and local issues of lower importance instead of the more pressing matters of the Crown… with some more general conflicts of political power and influence included.
The whole issue reached a breaking point in 1393 when, after a politicized appointment of a new abbot for the Abbey in Kladruby, Václav had his men arrest the responsible vicar-general Jan Nepomucký (John of Nepomuk) who afterwards got tortured to death and his body ended up dumped into the river from the Charles Bridge. While his suffering later led to Nepomucký being canonized as a martyr and a saint, in Václav’s case it only presented a legitimate reason for the opposing nobles to make a move against their king.
During the following year, the Czech higher nobility formed a movement called Panská jednota (The Unity of Lords) which first presented the king with a formal complaint on his mismanagement of his issues and duties, then proceeded to arrest him and imprison him.
Václav’s imprisonment shortly brought his youngest brother Jan Zhořelecký back into the play. Jan raised a considerable armed initiative for his brother’s release, but due to poor management the whole campaign ended in a very disadvantageous draw for both him and Václav. Jan ended up in debts and trouble he could not handle and eventually retreated into the Monastery in Neuzelle where he died under unclear circumstances in 1396. In the same year, Zikmund intervened in Václav’s issues in Bohemia and managed to arrange a truce between the King and the nobles, for which Václav recognised him as his official heir.
However, four years later in the year 1400 Václav received a similar reaction to his rule from the high circles of the Empire itself. This time he was challenged to defend his failure to fulfill his duties to the Empire and when he did not come, he was deposed on the account of his futility, negligence, idleness and ignobility. Rupert III, one of the current Prince-electors, has been chosen as the new King of Romans instead and remained in the position for the next ten years. Václav never acknowledged his dethronement and in a desperate move to reach out for his coronation to an Emperor he once again turned for help to his brother Zikmund, offering him the administration of Bohemia in return.
Zikmund Lucemburský and his time in Hungaria
Zikmund’s path to get the Polish-Hungarian throne was also a way more difficult than it first appeared. Even though he grew close to his new country and had the favor of Louis the Great himself, after the king’s death the Polish started to call for independence and crowned themselves a queen of their own, splitting the kingdom. In addition to this, Zikmund becoming the husband of the heiress to the now weakened Hungarian throne did not meet much approval with the rest of the local nobility.
While Mary became the new Queen of Hungary by her birthright, the position of her husband the King was a constant struggle to both acquire and keep for Zikmund in the following years. After lengthy conflicts, negotiations and large expenses in the royal property, he eventually managed to gather enough local support. To his bad luck, his wife Mary eventually died pregnant in 1395, leaving the rule in the foreigner king Zikmund’s hands alone. Going further from the bad to worse, in 1396 his highly popular crusade against Turks of the Ottoman Empire ended up in a defeat at the Battle of Nicopolis, which managed to further destabilize his position again.
He then decided to turn to his brother Václav to get more support in the Empire itself and earned some further recognition by helping him in his crisis with the uprising Czech nobles. Unfortunately their mutual cooperation was also plagued with ongoing disagreements and conflicts. Around 1401 even Zikmund himself was imprisoned for a while due to a local rebellion in Hungary, while his brother got dethroned in Germany in the meantime.
Trying not to lose his ground, Václav called to Zikmund again and promised to give him the Czech lands if he helps him in a last-ditch run for the Emperor’s title. This time however, Zikmund decided to side with some of his brother’s opponents within the Czech nobility, had him imprisoned in Wien and then proceeded to take the Bohemia over by military.
When his forces secured the Kingdom and despite some resistance Bohemia now effectively came under his rule, Zikmund turned his attention back to the issues in Hungary, where a group of nobles swore oath to Ladislaus of Naples (who was of Hungarian royal bloodline) and started yet another conflict in both Hungary and Italy.
And this is approximately the point where the story of Kingdom Come: Deliverance would be taking place…