A Rich Cultural History: Wenceslas III – An Enduring Mystery

The last member of the famous Premyslid dynasty to rule Bohemia was Wenceslas (Vaclav) III. His mysterious death has given rise to many theories.

PARTNER CONTENT

Wenceslas was born in Prague on October 6, 1289. He was one of ten children, and the only male to survive childhood. His parents were Wenceslas II and Judith of Habsburg. When he was only 8 years old, Wenceslas was betrothed to Elizabeth of Hungary, the only child of Andrew III of Hungary. Conflict over the Hungarian throne began less than three years later. Andrew III died on January 14, 1301, and, as he had no male heir, Charles of Anjou hurried to Hungary to have himself crowned king. (Charles’s claim to the throne was that he was the great-great-grandson of Bela IV of Hungary.)

Charles’s attempted coronation was not performed according to Hungarian law, and the nobles of the country feared that this would-be king would deprive them of their freedoms. Fortunately for them, this coronation was declared invalid on May 13 of that year.

Jan Muskata, the Bishop of Cracow, was an advisor to Wenceslas II. It was he who suggested that the young Wenceslas III become the new King of Hungary. Not only was he engaged to the daughter of the late king, he was also a great-great-grandson of Bela IV. After a fair amount of talk and bribery from agents of Wenceslas II, most of the Hungarian lords agreed to send a delegation to Bohemia to offer him the throne. Wenceslas II accepted the offer in his son’s name. Wenceslas III was then only eleven years old.

Wenceslas III traveled to Hungary, where he was crowned king on August 27, 1301. Upon his return to Bohemia, the clever Jan Muskata was assigned as his principal advisor in all Hungarian matters. Meanwhile, Pope Boniface III was, to say the least, unhappy that Charles of Anjou had been rejected. (The Pope had been responsible for the invalid coronation earlier that year.) Niccolo Boccasini, the papal legate, visited Hungary in an attempt to gain support for the re-coronation of Charles of Anjou.

Wenceslas – undoubtedly with the advice of Muskata – promptly bribed the lords again, granting them offices and estates. However, the nobles of Hungary gradually abandoned their support for Wenceslas (who, upon coronation, had taken on the name Ladislaus). Charles of Anjou, recognizing his opportunity, laid siege to Buda in an attempt to overthrow his rival. However, the citizens of Buda stood by Wenceslas, and in a short time, reinforcements arrived, forcing Charles to withdraw.

On May 31, 1303, the pope declared that his favorite, Charles of Anjou, was the rightful king of Hungary. Albert II of Germany called upon Wenceslas to relinquish the throne (Albert was uncle to both Wenceslas and Charles). In May of 1304 Wenceslas II arrived with a large army to support his son, but upon finding that the young king’s support was extremely weak, he decided to take him back to Bohemia. Before leaving, the boy made Ivan Koszegi, one of his supporters, governor. In a magnificent act of spite, he took the crown of Hungary with him.

Charles of Anjou, along with Rudolf III of Austria, attacked Moravia, only to be repulsed by the stronger troops of Wenceslas II. Meanwhile, a Pole with the interesting name of Wladislaw the Elbow-high began to occupy Poland, which had been claimed by Wenceslas II.

Wenceslas II died on June 21, 1305. Wenceslas III, as the only surviving male offspring, claimed the thrones of both Bohemia and Poland, though Wladislaw was making great strides in becoming the next king of Poland. Wisely, Wenceslas dropped all claims to the throne of Hungary. Instead of relinquishing the throne to Charles of Anjou, however, Wenceslas chose Otto III of Bavaria as the rightful king (Otto was a grandson of Bela IV). In Brno on October 9, 1305, Wenceslas gave the crown of Hungary to Otto. The former King of Hungary, and the current King of Bohemia and (possibly) Poland was only 16 years old.

Wenceslas broke his engagement with Elizabeth of Hungary and married Viola of Teschen (Tesin), most likely to strengthen his claim to the Polish throne. Ten months later, the teenager set out for Olomouc, which was to be the starting point for his campaign against Wladislaw.

On August 4, 1306, the king – not yet 17 years old – was stabbed to death in Olomouc. According to the Zbraslav Chronicle, a knight by the name of Conrad of Botenstein was seen jumping from the window of the house in which Wenceslas was staying. The knight held a blood-soaked dagger in one hand. As he attempted to leave the scene, a mob captured and killed him. Nobody can be sure who murdered Wenceslas, or why.

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.