The City of the Winter Queen
Review of the talk by Douglas Skeggs
on May 22nd 2019
Douglas Skeggs presented this talk without notes, with excellent slides, but at breakneck speed! I found it a little difficult to take notes, but can offer the following:
In 1848 a revolution took place; one of the dissidents was Bedrich Smetana, who campaigned for a national identity. The Bohemians wanted Prague to be the capital of their country rather than of Czechoslovakia. There was a historic link with Bohemia – Wenceslas was Duke of Bohemia from 907 to 935. It is suggested that he murdered his pagan mother, as he, like his grandmother, was Christian. He in turn was murdered by his brother.
Leaping on a couple of centuries, we were told of King Charles IV of Luxemburg who was king of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor; no-one knows what he looked like. We do know that his uncle, John, was killed at the battle of Crecy, and that the Prince of Wales took his emblem of 3 feathers as his own symbol. Charles IV founded the University in 1334 and built the famous Charles Bridge to replace an earlier Judith Bridge. In 1344 work began on St Vitus’s Cathedral, under the supervision of the architect Peter Parler.
In the early 15th century, when Wenceslas IV was king, a movement was created when followers of the reformist cleric, Jan Hus, became a fighting force (the Hussites) opposing the Catholic Church. They achieved military success against the Emperor’s Catholic crusades, until Hus was excommunicated and eventually burnt at the stake. He has a memorial in the Town Square, which shows poetic licence, as he was a midget! In the same year (1410) the famous Astronomical Clock was built.
Between 1492 and 1502, King Vladislav Jagiello commissioned the building of the Vladislav Hall, which is still used for official ceremonies; military games are held there, and horses are ridden up to the 1st floor!
With the accession of the Hapsburgs, the Renaissance reached Prague under the patronage of Rudolph II, who indulged his passion for collecting and science. He was advised by a Danish astronomer, Tycho Brahe, and after his death by Johannes Kepler. In the Jewish Quarter, Rabbi Low was said to have invented an artificial man called Robot.
In 1619, Frederick of the Palatinate was elected king by the Czech nobles, who paid for their defiance at the Battle of the White Mountain, the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War. Whilst Frederick was in power, Elizabeth Stuart spent just one winter in Prague – hence the Winter Queen.
The successes of the military general Wallenstein during the War made him a favourite of Emperor Ferdinand II, as a result of which Wallenstein built his own palace. He was eventually murdered by mercenaries, on the Emperor’s orders.
With the end of the Thirty Years’ War, there followed the Counter Reformation, and the Catholic influence resulted in the destruction of Protestant churches, and the construction of Baroque cathedrals and churches, such as the Loreto.
Mention was made of the Strahov Monastery, with its Theological and Philosophical libraries, which is over 800 years old, and which escaped the dissolution of the monasteries in 1783, by changing its library into a research institute. It is now a working monastery and museum.
Finally, the foundation of the Czechslovak Republic was referred to, and the first democratically elected President, Tomas Masaryk.
Douglas concluded his talk by suggesting that Prague has made slow progress in its development over 1,000 years.