The Death and Legacy of Ottokar II, King of Bohemia

Note: click here to read Part I of this article


Ottokar, despite his massive political strength, had failed to become King of Romans; that title went to William II of Holland in 1254, then to Alfonso of Castile upon William’s death a few years later. Alfonso X of Castile and Richard of Cornwall (who was crowned King of Germany in 1257) were locked in a power struggle over the German throne; four Electoral Princes voted for Richard, while three voted for Alfonso.

Richard died in April 1272, leaving the German throne vacant once more. Alfonso, who had already won the title of King of Romans so coveted by Ottokar, now made a bid to become King of Germany. He was unsuccessful, as was Ottokar. In the end, the election of 1273 gave the throne to Rudolf of Habsburg.

Ottokar proved to be a sore loser, and refused to accept the outcome of the election. Furthermore, he encouraged the pope to follow his lead. Rudolf, for his part, took advantage of his new status to proclaim (at the Imperial Diet in Nuremburg) that the lands belonging to the Holy Roman Empire that had fallen under new ownership since the death of Frederick II were to be given back to the crown. This was a heavy blow for Ottokar, as it would deprive him of the lands that lay between Bohemia and the Adriatic.

It was not long before Ottokar was feeling the heat, both at home and abroad. In Vienna, his residence was besieged by Rudolf. In Bohemia, Zavis of Falkenstein fomented a rebellion. In November 1276, Ottokar was forced to give up his Austrian and other hard-won territories, shrinking his kingdom to the lands of Bohemia and Moravia. Furthermore, it was agreed that Ottokar’s son Wenceslas would marry Rudolf’s daughter Judith.

Ottokar, down but not out, attempted to regain his lost territories through war two years later. He rallied political allies in Poland, Brandenburg, and Bavaria. They were arrayed against a formidable army consisting of the troops of Rudolf of Habsburg and King Ladislaus I of Hungary. The two warring factions met at the Battle on the Marchfeld on August 26, 1278. Ottokar II was killed in battle, aged approximately 45.

Ottokar’s son, Wenceslas II, succeeded him as King of Bohemia. To show off his victory, Ottokar’s enemy, Rudolf of Habsburg, had Ottokar’s body laid in state at the Minorites Church in Vienna. It was to be almost 20 years before the monarch’s remains were repatriated to Bohemia, where they were laid to rest in St. Vitus’s Cathedral in 1297. Ottokar’s fame was such that he was featured as a character in Dante’s Divine Comedy, standing at the gates of Purgatory with his former enemy, Rudolf.

During his tumultuous reign, Ottokar was responsible for establishing around 30 new towns in Bohemia and Moravia, as well as in Styria and Austria. Under his reign, the only feudal obligations that existed were the obligation to pay rent and (depending on the situation) tax. In a time of rabid anti-Semitism, Ottokar worked to integrate Jewish citizens into the everyday lives of his other subjects. Jewish citizens were, under Ottokar II, able to work in more areas than had been available to them previously (for example, they could work as servants of the crown). He also allowed immigrants from Germany to live and work in the large cities of his territory.

Ottokar had several impressive castles and fortresses built, including Vienna’s Hofburg Palace and the Czech Republic’s Zvikov and Krivoklat castles. Another, Bezdez Castle, would be used as a prison for Ottokar’s son, Wenceslas II, after the battle. Wenceslas would turn out to be a very capable (and warlike) leader, whose own son, Wenceslas III, was the last male of the Premyslid line.

Erin Naillon

Erin Naillon

I am an American living and working in Prague. I freelance in various areas, including photography/film, voice work, and, of course, writing.
Erin Naillon
About Erin Naillon 290 Articles
I am an American living and working in Prague. I freelance in various areas, including photography/film, voice work, and, of course, writing.