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Wenceslaus

Wenceslaus, 1361–1419, Holy Roman emperor (uncrowned) and German king (1378–1400), king of Bohemia (1378–1419) as Wenceslaus IV, elector of Brandenburg (1373–76), son and successor of Emperor Charles IV. He was, even more than his father, a Bohemian rather than German king. Although gifted, he was given to drunkenness and violent fits of temper. It was largely through his support that his half-brother Sigismund was able to take possession (1387) of Hungary.

Residing in Bohemia, Wenceslaus could do little to end the conflict in Germany between the nobles and the imperial towns. In the general war from 1386 to 1389, Wenceslaus finally sided with the nobles, who were favored by the Peace of Eger (or Peace of Cheb). In the Great Schism, Wenceslaus, like his father, at first supported the Roman pope, Urban VI, but in 1398 he agreed with Charles VI of France that both rival popes should resign and a new pope be elected. The two weak monarchs were unable to execute this plan.

As early as 1380, Wenceslaus's neglect of German affairs caused the princes to demand that he name a vicar for Germany. Dissatisfied with his appointment (1396) of Sigismund, they were further provoked by his entente with France and his sale (1395) of Milan as a hereditary fief to Gian Galeazzo Visconti (see under Visconti). They deposed him from the German kingship and elected (1400) Rupert of the Palatinate. Wenceslaus refused to recognize the deposition, but he retired to Bohemia; in 1411, after Rupert's death, he surrendered his claim to Germany to Sigismund.

In Bohemia, Wenceslaus was early embroiled with the nobles and higher clergy, especially with the archbishop of Prague. Constant civil war with the nobles twice led to Wenceslaus's imprisonment (1394, 1402–3); Sigismund was both times involved in the plot. As an enemy of the higher clergy, Wenceslaus supported John Huss, the Czech religious reformer. The Decree of Kutna Hora (1409), which gave the Czechs preponderance in voting for the rector of the Univ. of Prague led to the election of Huss as rector. The king attempted to prevent the burning of the writings of John Wyclif and the termination of Huss's preaching and sought to persuade John XXIII (see Cossa, Baldassare) to suspend proceedings against Huss. When the interdict was laid on Prague (1412), he persuaded the reformer to leave the city, but continued to support him covertly.

Wenceslaus avoided suppressing the national and religious outburst that followed the burning of Huss, but pressure from Sigismund, then German king, and the rise of the radical Hussite leader John Zizka cooled his feelings toward the Hussites. The reform took on a rebellious character, and after serious riots several town councilors appointed by the king were thrown from the windows of the town hall (the first Defenestration of Prague, July 30, 1419) and were killed. Wenceslaus died shortly afterward and was succeeded by Sigismund as king of Bohemia. The Hussite Wars prevented Sigismund from being accepted as king until 1436.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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