Wenceslaus IV, King of Bohemia

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Reigned 1378 to Aug. 16, 1419; German king, 1378 to 1410; b. Nuremberg, Germany, Feb. 2, 1361; d. Prague. The son of Emperor Charles IV, he was crowned king of Bohemia when three years old. He was elected king of the Romans in 1376, and after his father's death in 1378, German king. Despite Charles's attempt to prepare him for his royal duties, Wenceslaus further complicated the social, political, and religious problems of Bohemia by his unstable and violent temper. He was sympathetic to the townsmen and lower nobility, often appointing them to high offices, but he alienated the nobles. Wenceslaus made some attempts to enforce general peace, but the civil strife continued until the Bavarian cities were defeated by the lords in 1388 and the town leagues were dissolved. However, the public peace proclaimed at the Reichstag in Cheb (1389) gave the townsmen equal participation in the government with the nobles.

Wenceslaus ruined the good church-state relationship in Bohemia by his clashes with Abp. John of Jenštein, especially over his own desire to found a new bishopric. Further, he had John's vicar-general, (St.) john of nepomuc, drowned in the River Moldau (1393) for defending the archbishop. The dissatisfied nobles, organized into the League of the Lords, allied with the archbishop; and when Wenceslaus refused the League's demands, he was imprisoned (1394), although later rescued by his brother John, Duke of Görlitz. However, the archbishop failed to obtain the backing of Boniface IX and abdicated, retiring to Rome.

On the international scene, which was then complicated by the Hundred Years' War and the western schism, Wenceslaus abandoned the alliance with France, forming instead one with the king of England, Richard II, an alliance sealed by Richard's marriage to Wenceslaus' sister, Anne (1382). As for the church, Wenceslaus was a faithful supporter of the popes in Rome, namely, urban vi and boniface ix, against the Avignon antipope clement vii. In an attempt to end the schism he urged French King Charles IV to convoke a general council for the purpose of electing a new pope. This angered Boniface IX who then allied himself with the king's enemies in Germany, and subsequently the princes deposed Wenceslaus, three ecclesiastical electors choosing Rupert in his place (1400). Encouraged by this defeat of Wenceslaus in Germany, the Bohemian lords renewed the civil war against him. In an attempt to defend his rights, Wenceslaus invited his brother sigismund to Prague, offering him the coregency of Bohemia. But in 1402 Sigismund imprisoned Wenceslaus and appointed the bishop of Litomyšl regent of Bohemia. Wenceslaus escaped from Vienna to Prague, where he resumed full sovereignty over his lands (1404). After Rupert's death in 1410 Wenceslaus retained his title of king of the Romans but resigned his claims to the imperial dignity in favor of Sigismund, who was then elected to the German throne. When Sigismund convoked the Council at constance (141418), Wenceslaus remained secluded in Bohemia trying in vain to resolve its political and religious problems. Meanwhile the hussites were growing stronger there. Wenceslaus died of apoplexy.

Bibliography: k. kneebusch, Die Politik König Wenzels (Dortmund 1889). r. helmke, König Wenzel und seine bömischen Günstlinge im Reiche (Diss. Halle 1913). p. kluckhohn, Wenzels Jungenjahre (Diss. Halle 1914). s. steinherz, Ein Fürstenspiegel Karls IV (Prague 1925). i. hlavÁČek, "Studien zur Diplomatik König Wenzels," Mitteilungen des Instituts für österreichische Geschichtsforschung 69 (1961) 292330. p. de vooght, L'Hérésie de Jean Huss (Louvain 1960); Hussiana (Louvain 1960).

[j. papin]