The fate of several noble women connected with the last Premyslid

10 2006 Dějiny English
obálka čísla

What were the lives of women, noble and ordinary, like in Europe, and especially in our country? At a very early age they became wives, mothers, widows, nuns. The lives of those who were not married were particularly difficult. Except for a few, we know very little about them. No matter what source you look at, you find an almost complete list and a brief characterization of men, including insignificant ones, but very few of women. In the Middle Ages there is sometimes the approximate year of their birth, more frequently of marriages, coronations, deaths, and that only for members of ruling families. This year seven hundred years ago the last Premyslid died - it was the only dynasty native to the Czech lands, and it had ruled there for almost five hundred years. At the turn from the thirteenth to the fourteenth century, the Arpad dynasty in Hungary and the Piast dynasty in Poland met with the same fate. In Central Europe there are still living descendants of the Habsburgs.

On the occasion of the anniversary of the death of the last Premyslid several articles appeared. Would you believe that the authors did not mention women, even those related by marriage, with a single word? I therefore decided to write a little about a few of those who were close to, and often influenced, men who descended from Premysl the Ploughman.(According to legend, Libuse, the ruler of Bohemia, found Premysl, a peasant ploughing his field, and chose him to be her husband.)

The two wives of Premysl II. Otakar - Marketa (Margaret), Kunhuta -whom fate treated harshly.

Margaret of Babenberg spent the days of her widowhood quietly, behind convent walls. When she was close to fifty, as lightening from a clear sky she received an offer of marriage. The nineteen year old Czech (or Bohemian) prince asked for her hand. Is it possible that it occurred to this mature woman that he loved her, and not because he hoped to acquire through that marriage Austria, her legal inheritance? We shall never know.

Back then and now we are amused by the foolishness of aging grooms and brides. She was more than old enough to be his mother. Besides, it was clear that she could not give him an heir. The fact that during the marriage she tried to be with him as much as possible indicates that she at least was very fond of him, if not actually in love. She did not hesitate to bear the hardships of military expeditions; she even gave him a beautifully embroidered tent for those expeditions. She was very generous toward her young husband. We don´t know how she felt when his passionate feelings for her court lady Agnes of Kuenring resulted in three healthy children. Perhaps she saw it as enabling her to spend the rest of her life with her admired and undoubtedly admirable husband.

When she accompanied him on the expedition against the Hungarian king Bela lV., against whom in the battle of Kressenbrunn he won a famous victory in 1260, she did not suspect that at the peace negotiations in Pressburg (Bratislava) they would meet the woman who greatly influenced Premysl´s fate. It was Bela´s about seventeen year old granddaughter, the temperamental, beautiful Kunhuta of Galicia. Against her the almost sixty-year old Margaret had no chance.

The almost thirty year old king, intoxicated by his military success, did not hesitate. He shamelessly used Margarets forgotten but never cancelled oath of virginal chastity, which she had sworn when she entered the convent. Without considering the Pope´s consent, he asked the bishop of Prague, who was devoted to him, for a divorce. The aging, tired woman did not protest and in October 1261 went to the convent in Krems, Austria. Later, evidently remembering the years she had lived with the man she admired, she moved to Cesky Krumlov where she died on October 28th, as king´s wife, quietly, mourned by noone. Premysl had not even granted her a coronation. Perhaps he had calculated that the divorce would be easier without one.

Kunhuta - the fiery beauty from Galicia. Kunhuta seems to have had a short, happy childhood and youth at then court of her grandfather, Bela lV, of the Arpad dynasty. The historical sources speak of her as an unusually attractive and virtuous girl. The marriage with the Czech (Bohemian) king was agreed on and realized very quickly and took place in Pressburg on the 25. of October 1261. The arrival in Prague shortly after the wedding was impressive. As early as Christmas of that year, Premysl prepared elaborate celebrations of her coronation. What he had denied his first wife he lavished on the young queen in abundance. The archbishop of Mainz, Walter von Eppenstein personally placed on her head the royal crown in Saint Vitus´ basilica. Prague was full of distinguished guests. From the wooden palaces on the Letna plane they could admire the fortified castle above the river.

Jana Volfová, translated by Vilma Iggers Continuing in next issue?

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