Wenceslas and Boleslaus: Brothers or Enemies?

Photo by Ricardo Cruz on Unsplash

Disclaimer: This is the second part of the St. Wenceslas story, please read the first one here.

The relationship between Boleslaus the Cruel and St. Wenceslas is typically presented as a very straight-forward one – the first was bad, and the second was good. The first also killed the second. So, the first was really bad. But what if I told you that the story was not – in fact – that simple?

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By destroying the “opposition”, Boleslaus the Cruel centralized the power and created the borders of the Czech land. Wenceslas was and still is considered by some people to be a Saxonian collaborator, while a much more independent and aggressive Boleslaus – a fighter for the Bohemian Sovereignty. And last, but not least – Boleslaus ordered to bring the relics of St. Wenceslas to Prague castle and influenced the spread of the belief that his brother Wenceslas was a saint man.  I find two potential explanations to that: Boleslaus felt guilty for the death of his brother and was a smart and talented politician, who understood that one way to strengthen the position of his dynasty is to place a Saint among them. We should not forget that it was not the XXI century when human life is of the highest value, but the early medieval times when family murders, poisonings, massacres, and crusades were a pretty typical thing.  It is also very important to underline – most of the information sources of that time were legends written by clergy. Wenceslas treated representatives of the clergy as equals, but Boleslaus considered them subordinates, therefore, according to their legends, Wenceslas means good and Boleslaus is evil.

Historian Dušan Třeštík accepts the theory that even if Boleslaus was behind Wenceslas’s death, it all might have been a terrible accident. According to him, Boleslaus stopped Wenceslas on his way to the chapel in attempts to talk. After a fiery exchange, angry Boleslaus grabbed his sword, but a much stronger Wenceslas grabbed the weapon by its blade and pushed his little brother to the ground. Screaming Boleslaus caught the attention of his guards, who then saw the following picture: Boleslaus lies on the ground, Wenceslas stands above him with a bloody sword (he probably cut his own hands). Logically, they got the idea that Wenceslas was trying to kill Boleslaus. It is pure speculation, as the evidence is scarce.

Some historians had doubted the existence of Wenceslas, in general! Zavis Kalandra thought that Wenceslas and Boleslaus were the same person since “Boleslaus” is the Polish version of the name Wenceslas (can be translated as: more glory)

In the XIX century, during the wave of the Czech National Uprising, the Horse Market in the center of the New Town of Prague got the name „Wenceslas Square“. A famous Czech sculptor Josef Myslbek created one of the most famous statues in the Czech Republic – the St. Wenceslas statue in 1912 (it was completed with statues of accompanying saints in 1925). Nowadays, Wenceslas Square is a famous spot for demonstrations and celebrations. The popularity of the place is influenced by the image of St. Wenceslas, adding a fleur of the key person in Czech history.  Was he really? It’s up to you, but I would add that sometimes the person’s doings are not as important as the inspiration he passes to other people.

Don’t forget to check out the famous „mocking St. Wenceslas“ statue done by talented David Cerny and located in the passage Lucerna, just a couple of steps from the Wenceslas square.

Come back next week to learn about the first „family sacrifice“ before Wenceslas, and about the role his relatives played in his life and the Czech politics of the X century.

Asia Alexanian

Asia Alexanian

Asia Alexanian is an official tour guide and tourist industry professional, tutor, writer, and big history buff, who has been living in Prague since 2008.
Asia Alexanian

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Asia Alexanian is an official tour guide and tourist industry professional, tutor, writer, and big history buff, who has been living in Prague since 2008.