The Premyslid dynasty ruled Bohemia (and, at time, rather extensive surrounding areas) for centuries. As with any ruling family, it had more than its share of interesting characters, among which was Bretislaus (Bretislav) I.
Bretislaus came to be known as the “Czech Achilles”, as well as “Bretislaus the Restorer”. He was the son of Oldrich and a peasant woman named Bozena. Oldrich, who was already married, is said to have first set eyes on Bozena while on a hunting trip in Peruc. Upon meeting her, he gave up the idea of hunting game, and brought her back to Prague with him, where, after a time, Bretislaus was born (the year of his birth ranges from 1002 to 1005). Since Oldrich and Bozena were never married, and since Bozena was of the peasant class, their son could not expect to marry a member of a noble or royal family.
Bretislaus thought otherwise. He decided he would have Judith of Schweinfurt for his wife. She was a member of the nobility, the daughter of Henry of Schweinfurt. He neatly circumvented any objections to their marriage by simply kidnapping Judith from a monastery in 1019. Judith stayed with him, and the two eventually married, but several years were to pass before this happened.
Meanwhile, Bretislaus was busy earning his nickname of “Restorer” by taking back territory that had been seized by other countries. Moravia was won from Poland in 1019 or 1029, and in 1031, Bretislaus invaded Hungary to prevent King Stephen from expanding his territory. In addition, he gave much-needed support to his father, who was locked in a power struggle with his own brother, Jaromir. In 1034, Jaromir succeeded in deposing Oldrich, who had had him blinded many years earlier. Bretislaus fled Bohemia for a time, then returned to depose Jaromir and reinstate Oldrich. Oldrich died in 1035; Jaromir died the following year.
Bretislaus won one city after another, including Wroclaw and Poznan, in modern-day Poland. The destruction he wrought upon the city of Gniezno had a lasting effect on Poland. The devastation was so extensive that the capital was moved to Cracow, where it remained for centuries. He planned to create an archbishopric in Prague and form a country that would answer only to the Holy Roman Empire. Unfortunately, King Henry III of Germany marched into Bohemia in 1041. Bretislaus was currently dealing with an uprising among his noblemen; furthermore, Bishop Sebir of Prague betrayed him to Henry’s men. Henry took Prague, and Bretislaus was forced to return all the lands he had conquered, with the exception of Moravia.
Bretislaus was responsible for creating rules for ducal succession in Bohemia. The current monarch’s male siblings would inherit the throne upon the ruler’s death. Only when all the male siblings of that generation were dead, would the throne go to the oldest son of the monarch. Female family members were not to inherit the throne.
The ever-warring Bretislaus died in Chrudim in 1055 while preparing for yet another battle with Hungary. As he had no male siblings, and according to his own rules, the dukedom passed to his oldest son, Spytihnev.