Franz Anton von Sporck (in Czech, František Antonín von Sporck) was a true Renaissance man who was noted for his intellectual and cultural activities in the 17th century. He was born to a German family in Bohemia, and though he was largely uninterested in Czech culture, his works had a definite impact on life in this country.
Sporck’s father was from Westphalia, to a less than affluent family. As a member of the military, however, he distinguished himself for his service during the Thirty Years’ War. As a reward, he was given large estates that the Habsburg monarchy had seized from Czech Protestant nobles who had refused to convert to Catholicism following their crushing defeat at the Battle of Bílá Hora in 1620. Sporck, the oldest of four children, was born in Heřmanův Městec or in Lysá nad Labem on March 9, 1662. His father had received a baronetage in 1647; two years after Franz was born, he would become an imperial count.
In 1675, the teenaged Sporck attended the German school of Charles University, where he studied law and philosophy. At the age of 16, he graduated from the university. The following year, his father (Johann von Sporck) died in Heřmanův Městec at the age of 74. Johann left a rich legacy to his family; an annual income of 50,000 thalers, and estates worth 3 million thalers.
In 1680, the younger Sporck set out on extensive travels around Europe, seeing England, Brussels, Rome, Paris and the south of France, The Hague, Spain, and Turin. His time in France instilled in him a love of French literature that was to last a lifetime.
Sporck returned to Bohemia in 1681, making a brief visit to Paris the following year. In 1684, he was able to take control of his late father’s estates. They were extensive, including Malešov, Lysá nad Labem, Choustníkovo Hradiště, and Konojedy. Sporck himself built a residence, Kuks, at Choustníkovo Hradiště. He spent a great deal of time overseeing his estates, expanding them, and improving them. In 1686, he married Franziska Apollonia von Swéerts zu Reist, with whom he had two daughters and a son. Since their only son died the year he was born, Sporck kept the estates in the family by adopting his daughter Anna Katherina’s husband in 1718. In 1694, a doctor from Prague stated that the Choustníkovo Hradiště estate contained a spring with waters that held healing properties. Sporck then built the Kuks spa (which still exists), along with a hospital. Sporck retained the services of an Italian architect and an Italian mason, along with a sculptor, to create the elegant buildings and grounds.
Sporck is acknowledged to have introduced the French horn to Bohemia, upon his return from his travels in 1681. He often held theatrical performances at his Prague palace and his Kuks estate; in 1724, he allowed an Italian opera company to perform at the palace. This led to the establishment of a theatre in Prague, under the direction of Antonio Maria Peruzzi, who was soon replaced by Antonio Denzo. The theatre became so famous that even Antonio Vivaldi came to visit it, in the 1730s.
Sporck, having created such a vivid cultural scene, fell under the suspicion of the Habsburg authorities in 1729. He was suspected of having anti-Catholic leanings, and his entire (extensive) library was confiscated that year. He himself was arrested, and a great deal of time and money were spent before he was finally cleared of any and all wrongdoing in 1734. The ordeal had been so harrowing that he went into retirement. He died on March 30, 1738, at Lysá nad Labem.