The Kingdom (Circle) of Bohemia [*]
Under this name is included the margravate of Moravia, and formerly Silesia and Lusatia likewise belonged to it. It borders to the west on the circle of Franconia and the Upper Palatinate; to the cast, on Moravia and Silesia; to the north, on Lusatia and Misnia; and to the south, on Austria and Bavaria. It was called Bojenheim, from the Boji, a Celtic nation, which settled in the country, and was in process of time driven out by the Marcomanni.
It was afterwards a province of the monarchy of the East Goths, Lombards, Thuringians, and Franks, till at length, in the year 534, a multitude of Slavi, or Tschechs (which name the present inhabitants still retain), established themselves in Bohemia. Charlemagne and some of his successors made these new inhabitants tributary; but they soon regained their independence, although they still preserved a certain connexion with the German Empire. The dukes of Bohemia sometimes obtained of the emperors the title of kings for their own lives, and at last the Emperor Philip granted that dignity to Premiflas II. and his successors, which was afterwards confirmed by Frederick II.; and from that time Bohemia has retained the rank of a kingdom.
The male line of the ancient kings became extinct in 1305, by the death of Winceslaus V. whereupon the crown devolved to the house of Luxemburg by marriage. Out of this family was Charles I. (as Emperor Charles lV.), who made great improvements in Bohemia; but his son Sigismund was near losing this kingdom by the religious war with the Hussites. His son-in-law, Albert of Austria, succeeded him; after whose premature death, the crown was with difficulty secured for his son Ladislaus, born after his father’s decease. He dying likewise very young, George Podiebrad, a Bohemian nobleman, who had before been regent, became king. After him the states chose the Polish prince Wladislaw, and both he and his son Lewis were also kings of Hungary. The latter was killed in a battle with the Turks, at Mohacz, in 1526.
Bohemia ought then to have reverted to the House of Austria, according to an agreement concluded between the Emperor Maximilian I. and King Wladislaw, that Maximilian’s second grandson, the Archduke Ferdinand, should succeed King Lewis, whose sister Anna he had married. The states conceiving this plan was to be put in execution without their concurrence, convened a meeting for the purpose of electing a king; but after all, their choice fell upon the above-mentioned archduke. Ferdinand endeavoured to compel the Bohemians to take a part in the war of Smalkald against the Elector of Saxony; but such was their aversion to that measure, that they threatened to throw off their allegiance to him; whereupon he began to treat them with extraordinary severity, and declared Bohemia an arbitrary, hereditary kingdom.
He was succeeded by his son Maximilian, who was followed by his sons Rudolf and Matthias. Towards the end of the reign of the latter the troubles broke out, on account of the infringement of the religious privileges of the Protestants, which brought on the thirty years war, and had well nigh dismembered Bohemia from the House of Austria. For having set aside Ferdinand II. who in the lifetime of his uncle Matthias had been crowned King of Bohemia, the states chose the Elector Palatine Frederick V.; but the battle of Prague, in 1620, decided the fate of Bohemia, and it became in fact what Ferdinand I. had declared it to be; since which period it has, without interruption, belonged to the House of Austria, although after Charles Il.’s (otherwise Charles VI.), death, in 1740, Charles Albert, Elector of Bavaria, laid claim to Bohemia, with the assistance of his allies, conquered great part of it, and was proclaimed king at Prague.
This country being frequently the theatre of the wars in which the empress Maria Theresia was engaged with the King of Prussia, it thereby suffered very severely. A famine was also very fatal in the years 1770 and 1771, and swept off 250,000 inhabitants, notwithstanding the efficacious relief afforded by the Emperor Joseph II. An insurrection of the peasants, in 1774, was followed the next year by an Imperial edict, whereby the situation was greatly ameliorated. Since the year 1751 Bohemia has been divided into sixteen circles (with the exception of Prague, the capital), over each of which a captain is appointed. The number of inhabitants exceeds 2,500,000; and in 1784, amongst them were upwards of 25,000 Calvinists, and 9000 Lutherans: the remainder arc Catholics.
The language of the ancient inhabitants is the Bohemian or the Tschechish dialect of the Sclavonian. An attempt was made in the year 1765, but without success, to introduce German teachers in all the schools, so that the Bohemian language might, by degrees, be entirely disused. Any one having business to transact with all the states of Bohemia, must understand four languages, the Latin (on account of the clergy and literati), the French (in use among the nobility), German (spoken by tradespeople, burghers, and civil officers), and the Bohemian (which is still used by some of the burghers, the common people, and peasantry). At the coronation of a king, the opening of a provincial diet, and other public transactions, many matters must necessarily be discussed in the Bohemian language.
Notwithstanding the slavery of the peasantry, which it has not yet been possible to abolish, and does not only extend to the country people, but likewise to market towns and cities, and is very detrimental to industry and commerce, yet Bohemia has made great improvements in fabrics and manufactures, through the bounty of nature and the encouragement of government, particularly since the peace of Hubertsburg. Bleaching has indeed not been brought to such perfection in Bohemia as in Silesia: but nevertheless the exportation of linen brings annually 200,000 l. sterling into the country. The total revenues amount to 6,104,830 gulden, or above 800,000 l. sterling.
The states of Bohemia are composed of four classes, the prelates, the lords (under which name are included princes, counts, and barons), the knights, and cities, The executive power is in the hands of a chief burgrave, assisted by several higher colleges. The King of Bohemia is arch-cupbearer of the Holy Roman Empire, and has the counts of Althan as hereditary cup-bearers. He is also an elector of the Empire. Notwithstanding the Bohemian kings, for various reasons, did not always make use of their right to vote at elections, still that right was incontrovertible; and as a suitable opportunity for renewing it presented itself at the commencement of the eighteenth century, in the year 1708, with the concurrence of all three Imperial colleges, the crown of Bohemia was readmitted to all the diets, deputations, and assemblies of the colleges, and to all ordinary and extraordinary meetings of the Empire; on the other hand, it engaged to furnish its quota to all Imperial and circular contributions, and to pay a yearly sum of 300 florins to the Imperial chamber.
Thus Bohemia constitutes a circle by itself, has the first seat among the temporal electors, and the fourth in the electoral college; the King follows immediately after the Emperor at all solemnities, and upon such like occasions precedes all other kings who may happen to be present. He is not obliged to do homage at the Imperial court: but the Emperor must go into Bohemia, or at least to some neighbouring town, to receive it. The succession is not limited to male heirs, but extends likewise to the female; and as the crown and electoral dignity are inseparable, an heiress to the crown of Bohemia can give her vote at an election; nevertheless, after the death of Charles VI. this right was called in question, and the vote of Bohemia was not admitted at the election of Charles VlI. The arms of the kingdom of Bohemia are, a silver lion, with a double tail, in a field gules. The crest is a crown, with an extended eagle’s wing, enamelled with silver hearts.
[*] Jakob Gottlieb Isaak Boetticher, A Geographical, historical, and political Description of the Empire of Germany, Holland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Prussia, Italy, Sicily, Corsica, and Sardinia, trans. from the German (London 1800), 81–84. Map: ibid., frontispiece, “Reduced Index to Chauchard’s Maps.” Back.
Translation © 2018 Doug Stott