Wihoda (2017 Congress)

Martin Wihoda
(Institute of History
Masarykova Univerzita, Brno

“Rulership in Early Medieval Bohemia:
Between Ideals and Everyday Reality”

Abstract of Paper
To be Presented at the 52nd International Congress on Medieval Studies
(Kalamazoo, 2017)

Session on “Rulership in Medieval Central Europe
(Bohemia, Hungary, and Poland):
Ideal and Practice”

Co-sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence and
the Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Florida
Organized by Mildred Budny and Florin Curta
2017 Congress Program

Abstract of Paper

[Published on 14 March 2017]

The beginnings of ducal power in early medieval Bohemia date probably as far back as the year 806, when Emperor Charlemagne defeated the Czech Slavs, who then swore allegiance to him and undertook to pay a tribute. As they needed to collect the set fee every year, the rival Czech elites were forced to cooperate more closely. Everything important was discussed at periodic meetings, or Diets, convened at the place where Prague Castle emerged at the end of the 9th century. The imposed obligations and the regular visits to the imperial court gradually made it necessary to transfer powers into the hands of a single representative. Shortly before the year 900, that representative was a duke (dux) from the Přemyslid family. Nevertheless, the Czech Diet retained considerable influence and continued to make decisions on special taxes, war, and peace with neighbours, and mainly preserved the right to confirm the legitimacy of the new duke by voting.

The ruling system was explained by the enthronement myth recorded in writing by Christianus’ Legend from the end of the 10th century and Cosmas’ Chronicle from the early 12th century. Both versions consistently emphasised that the Czechs had selected a ruler from the Přemyslid family voluntarily, but they also specified what were the rights and obligations of the duke and what the Czech lords were allowed to do. The emphasis on the rights and obligations was not accidental, because the systematic efforts of the dukes on the one hand and the lords on the other to strengthen their own positions led to minor skirmishes as well as serious crises. Even so, the community never disintegrated, because both parties acknowledged Saint Wenceslas, who was, already around 1000, perceived as the heavenly patron and eternal ruler of all Czechs.