The Last Rožmberk
The character of those born in the sign of Libra is composed in roughly equal measures of kindliness, benevolence, justice, pig-headed irasibility, philosophical logic, and indecisiveness. They seek for harmony, are exceptionally polite, love people, and can't endure crowds. They admire everything fine, including good food and drink, and, as a rule, have a handsome face.
On 1 October 1539, the last son of Jošt of Rožmberk and his second wife Anna of Rogendorf was born. He was christened Petr after the name of his eminent ancestor, the founder of the beautiful Gothic monastery at Vyšší Brod, whose delicate Gothic tower to this day shines in the valley of the Vltava river. The family, one of the foremost in the kingdom, had six children -- four daughters and two sons.
However, Jošt's health was weak and he died a mere fourteen days after the birth of his youngest son. According to the custom of the times, the property of minors was looked after by their mother together with a guardian. The first was Petr, called Kulhavý, the children's uncle. He was an unusually conscientious man, who diligently looked after the property entrusted to him. After the great fire of Prague in 1541 he had a luxurious family residence in the Renaissance style built in the Hradčany area of Prague-- the first in the new style in Prague. The arcaded courtyard was completed by Jošt's eldest son Vilém, after uncle Petr suddenly died when the youngest son Petr was only six and the eldest, Vilém, ten. Further guardians appointed for the children also conscientiously took care of the extensive estate of the Lords of the Red Rose. Vilém became lord of the extensive family holdings in south Bohemia when he reached the age of 16. Vilém learnt the art of ruling by brother-in-law Jáchym of Hradec, the Lord of the Estates of the Golden Rose. Jáchym's wife Anna, the half-sister of Petr and Vilém, later successfully managed the estate of the lords of Hradec for sixteen years after her husband's death and was a tower of strength for her brothers.
Petr was brought up by his mother and teachers at the family residence in Krumlov. He received a good education, supplemented by several trips around Europe. The boy showed a lively temperament. In contrast to his serious-natured elder brother, who at an early age had the responsibility of managing the family estate thrust upon him, the young Petr Vok did not have such worries and lived the typical life of a Renaissance cavalier. He was interested in all the arts, especially literature, history, painting, architecture and music.
Life was moving from the fortresses of somewhat gloomy and cold Gothic castles to spacious and airy palaces full of light, equipped with beautiful and comfortable furniture, and to gardens with arcades and fountains. Petr Vok, who had a command of several languages, takes part in a journey to the Netherlands, which has successfully escaped from the rule of the Habsburgs and is flourishing under the house of Orange. In England, he is received by Elizabeth I and attends the Globe theatre. He spends some time at the court of Maxmilian II., and establishes contacts with a number of Protestant princes in Germany. At the age of 26, he becomes independent, even though he must still present accounts of the management of his estates to his brother Vilém, the head of the house of Rožmberk. He settles down in Bechyně, where he has the castle reconstructed in the Renaissance spirit and richly decorated by painter Gabriel de Blondl. The unmarried, handsome, pleasant, sociable man is surrounded by a cheerful court of beautiful women and artists. Like many of his wealthy contemporaries, he studies alchemy and astrology. The life of a Renaissance grandee of the 16th century demands considerable expense. However, brother Vilém, though he himself spends no small sum on representing the family, does not have much understanding for Petr's outlays, as evidenced by his reply to a request from Petr for financial help. Concisely and pithily he characterizes the way of life of his younger brother: "...lord brother does not think about paying for Bechyně, ... he took for himself ten to twelve maidens to dwell in the castle that are his chambermaids and that look after him unfaithfully and serve him at table. In addition, there is no godliness, no order, no administration in anything, limitless expenditure, a great number of unnecessary and idle servants with wives, it pains my heart to hear this, ... God protect me from supporting him in such unruly disorder." However, in spite of his vexation, lord Vilém helped his profligate brother Petr. His puritanical outlook was given by his character, poor health, and premature care of the family property. In the last quarter of the 16th century Vilém was the first man of the kingdom: he had the decisive word in both domestic and foreign policy. This was the golden age of religious tolerance. In the midst of a Europe stricken by religious conflicts, in the Czech Lands Protestants and Catholics lived peacefully side by side, and married without regard to religious denomination. Although Vilém was a Catholic, his first three wives came from a Lutheran background. The fourth, and last, Polyxena was a Catholic, and of a iron faith. It was she who, in the palace of her second husband the Lord of Lobkovic, gave medical care to and hid the governor thrown from the office of the castle.
However, by that time, the last male of the house of Rožmberk was no longer alive. The cheerful, life-loving Petr Vok was acquainted not only with Lutherans, but also knew several members of the Protestant brethren, and he recognized the genuineness of their faith. At the age of 39, Petr at last decided to marry. As his bride he choose the fourteen-year-old Katherine from Ludanice, from a family of minor Moravian gentry who belonged to the brethren. For his new wife Petr arranged a luxurious environment and appointed a large court of servants to look after the lady of the house in which there were both girls from the gentry and from town burgher families. In 1584, four years after the wedding, Petr himself joined the brethren. His decision attracted much attention in society and earned him the lasting displeasure of the royal court of Rudolf II. It also led to a rift with his brother Vilém: Petr did not participate in the celebrations for Vilém's fourth wedding. He wrote a description of his reception into the brethren, which along with a Czech bible he had placed at the top of the tower of the castle in Bechyňe. The manuscript was recently found in the archive of the monastery at Vyšší Brod. In it we read: "...I have not noticed any flaws or indignity among the members of the brethren. On the contrary, they live according to the bible in love and concord, and that is why I have joined them..." In November 1582 and in 1587 he publicly participated in services in the brethren's finest church in Mladá Boleslav. The beautiful Renaissance building is still today one of the adornments of the town.
The rift with his brother was patched up six long years later. In 1590, he visited Krumlov together with his wife Katherine. He did not guess that, a mere two years later, he would accompany his so different brother in a lavish funeral procession to Vilém's final place of rest in Krumlov, where he was buried beside his third wife in a grave in the church of St. Vitus. Despite his four wives, Vilém died childless. The governance of the house of Rožmberk passed to fifty-year-old Petr Vok. However, neither was his marriage with Katherine yet blessed with children. Moreover, Katherine began, more and more frequently, to show signs of mental illness, which meant in practice an end to hopes of an heir. Petr, however, did not desert his wife, though as the last of the male line of an ancient family few would have reproached him for abandoning a childless union. He became more active in public life and politics. The inheritance of the estate brought him the concern of paying-off the massive debts that came with it. Because he did not enjoy the favour of Rudolf II., at whose court a small clique was gaining ever more power, he was not granted an audience that he requested. It took him two years to overturn an erroneous inventory of the family property, which had been compiled inaccurately apparently from revenge.
The affronting behaviour of Emperor Rudolf deepened Vok's antipathy towards him and the intrigues of the Catholic court. He therefore took part in events and discussions directed against the ruler. However, the court clique was unable to exclude the last Rožmberk from political influence. In the parliament of the time voting was performed not according to the number of heads but in accordance with the weight of the vote, and in parliament and the estates court, the house of Rožmberk had first place. In spite of his bitter experience with the emperor, when Moravia was threatened by the Turks, Petr Vok, after justified hesitation, accepted command of the army. Of interest are his reasons for at first refusing: health [he was 55], lack of experience in commanding an army, debts, and not least his rejection of his ruler's standpoint of "for faith and drink." Vok wrote: "...as if there was no such person in the estates or royal court, and I for the fame of this world will not deny my faith..." On the urging of friends he eventually accepted the leadership: "he has more regard for the general good than for his own life and estates." He was conscious that "...at this time there is no obedience and proficiency in the needs of war among the noble and knightly states in the Czech Lands..." (Twenty years later, in 1618, the uprising of the estates took place.) The expedition of Lord Vok saved the town of Komárno, but at home caused the Rožmberks large financial losses. He did not receive the promised sum from the state coffers and lent the enterprise a considerable sum that he never saw again.
On the other hand, the command of the army raised his prestige, silenced his creditors, and enabled him to devote himself to the administration of his property. However, the emperor not only never settled his debts to lord Vok, but colluded with Vok's opponents, or rather those envious of him, who eventually enabled the emperor to acquire Krumlov, Vok's birthplace. Krumlov, the traditional centre of the house of Rožmberks, for centuries the most powerful house in south Bohemia, was for the emperor probably a question of settling accounts with the recalcitrant "heretic." The exact background of the sale of Krumlov is not known. It may be that closer to Petr's heart was the Bechyně of his happy youth. Possibly, he wanted to enable his nephew Jan Zrinský a smooth taking over of his inheritance. However, the purchase of Krumlov did not bring the emperor's family happiness. The murder committed by Rudolf's eldest illegitimate son don Julio of the young girl Markéta shocked courts all over Europe.
In 1601 the ill Katherine from ;Ludanice died, and in 1602 Petr secretly left Krumlov, in order to spend the rest of his life in Třebon. He once again built a lavish residence to which he transferred his collections. Archivist Václav Březan set up a family archive and wrote a chronicle of the Rožmberks, which is still a valuable source for historians. Widower Petr disbanded the ladies' court of lady Katherine: some young women returned to their families, some married. Only ten chambermaids remained. Petr granted one of the ladies of the court, Zuzana Vojířova, "...for her so faithful and diligent service to his wife and for her good and honest behaviour," a house in ;Soběslav.
The head of the house of Rožmberk devoted more and more time to politics, especially to ensuring the status of non-Catholics in the kingdom. He cooperated with Václav Budovec and in 1609 their efforts were crowned by the issue of the "Majestát," which guaranteed freedom of religion to the "aristocratic and knightly estates, and also the burghers of Prague, miners, and other towns with their subjects, and in sum everyone."
In 1611 the so-called Passau army burst into and mercilessly plundered the land. No one wanted to pay for the mercenaries and Petr Vok, for the last time, showed his magnanimity and love of his homeland. He sacrificed the entire Rožmberk treasure of silver in order to pay off the mercenaries, who then left the country.
Exhausted from the numerous negotiations, constant tension and anxiety, in autumn 1611 Petr Vok was confined to bed. He never rose again and on November 11, nine years and two days before the battle of the White Mountain, he died in Třebon.
Emperor Rudolf II. outlived him by less than two months. Petr Vok was laid to rest at the monastery in Vyšší Brod, next to his wife, in the grave established by his ancestors. His funeral was attended by a number of princes and Czech lords. At the end of the service, the crest of Rožmberk was broken into pieces and thrown from the pulpit, since Petr was the last of the male line of the family.
After his death Petr's reputation was damaged by the margrave of Třeboň Vavřinec Benedikt Mecera, who, in the spirit of anti-reform Catholicism, wrote a chronicle in which he mixed up hearsay and fact, exaggerated the excesses of Petr's youth, and neglected to mention many of Petr's achievements.
Jana Volfová, translated by Ian Finley Stone
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