Ottokar I (Premysl Otakar I) was the first true King of Bohemia. Prior to his time, the country had been ruled by dukes. He was a member of the famous Premyslid dynasty that ruled the nation for centuries. Under the reign of Ottokar I, the German population of Bohemia grew steadily, with towns and cities springing up around the region.
Bohemia was anything but a calm and peaceful place during the time of Ottokar. The future king was born circa 1155, but was not known as the ruler of Bohemia until 1192, when Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV granted him this recognition. Unfortunately, he was soon the former ruler, as he made the unwise decision to enter into a conspiracy to defeat the Hohenstaufen dynasty. Five years later, Ottokar succeeded in forcing his brother, Vladislaus III Henry, to partition the land he ruled. Vladislaus took Moravia, while Ottokar received Bohemia.
At that time, civil war was raging in Germany, and Ottokar seized the opportunity to declare himself King of Bohemia. Philip of Swabia, who was attempting to wrest control of Germany from Otto IV, supported Ottokar’s proclamation. (Philip was in dire need of Czech troops to help him in his efforts to oust Otto.)
The war in Germany dragged on and on, and finally, in the year 1200, Ottokar threw over Philip and voiced his support for Otto. Otto and the pope, Innocent III, promptly recognized Ottokar as King of Bohemia.
He may have been king to Otto and the pope, but Philip was not through with Ottokar. He invaded Bohemia, and Ottokar was forced to pay a fine, and to switch sides once again. In 1212, Frederick II acceded to the throne of Sicily, and the astute Ottokar gave his full support to the young royal. It was Frederick who granted the throne of Bohemia to Ottokar, in the Golden Bull of Sicily. Pursuant to this document, the king of Bohemia did not need to be appointed by the Holy Roman Emperor. While the king was required to attend diets, he was only expected to attend those in his area.
Never one to avoid a fight, Ottokar went to war against Duke Leopold VI of Austria in 1226. Ottokar’s daughter, Agnes, had been promised in marriage to Henry II of Sicily, the son of Frederick II. Leopold had sabotaged this marriage. Ottokar then planned to have Agnes marry Henry III of England. The emperor himself vetoed that idea. The emperor wanted to marry Agnes himself, but tired of being used as a political pawn, she entered the church. Centuries after her death, she was canonized St. Agnes of Bohemia.
Ottokar I died in Prague in 1230, aged approximately 75. He is buried in St. Vitus’ Cathedral. He was married twice, and fathered a total of 13 children. His most famous child was the aforementioned St. Agnes of Bohemia. Another daughter, Anne, was also noted for her piety and her support of the Catholic Church in Poland.