Heir To The Fall – The Collapsing House of Rozmberk (A Czech Winter’s Journey: Part Six)

The speed with which the House of Rozmberk’s three century long reign over southern Bohemia came to an end was breathtaking. It was the antithesis of slow decline and ossification as their wealth and power vanished in the space of a generation. In 1592 the magnificent reign of William of Rozmberk came to an end with his death. A decade later, the Rozmberk estates were bought out by the Habsburg Emperor, Rudolf II. William’s time in power had been marked by a seemingly endless array of economic, architectural and cultural achievements bringing the House of Rozmberk great acclaim. They had also come at great expense. Nonetheless, his reign was a true golden age as the Rozmberk dynasty brought the renaissance to southern Bohemia. Then it all fell apart. What happened? The person most responsible was a man as flawed as William was gifted. This was his brother Peter Vok, who led the House of Rozmberk into a precipitate decline from which it would never recover.

Ladies Man - Peter Vok in his younger years

Ladies Man – Peter Vok in his younger years

Heavy Debts – Marriage, Morals & Money
Peter Vok of Rozmberk did not seem to have much in common with his brother William, other than the fact that they both came from the same exalted family. The one common denominator in their personal lives was a fatal flaw that helped bring the House of Rozmberk down. Peter, like his older brother, failed to produce any offspring. Unlike William who was married four times, Peter was only married once. Unfortunately, the marriage turned out to be a disaster. He did not wed until he was forty-one years old. Prior to the marriage, Peter had a reputation as a frivolous playboy who was uninterested in a serious relationship. When he did finally decide to marry it was to Catherine of Ludanice. Catherine was a teenager, only 15 years old at the time. Peter was a quarter century older than his wife. This odd match got off to a surprisingly good start as Peter lavished attention on his young wife, but over time he grew increasingly hostile to her. The young lady began to show signs of mental instability. The couples’ failure to produce an heir only made matters worse.

Meanwhile, Peter was in dire financial shape. This was nothing new. His spendthrift ways had left him with little room to maneuver financially or politically. This was not the first time he had been on the verge of bankruptcy. In 1569 after purchasing Castle Bechyne, he set about on an uber expensive renovation of its dilapidated Gothic Castle into a Renaissance style chateau. He then used the chateau to throw lavish parties where alcohol flowed freely. Peter loved nothing more than drinking copious amounts of alcohol, carousing with women and being the center of attention at the parties he threw. This behavior led to massive amounts of debt. Even a man as disciplined and level headed as his brother William had trouble at times with his own financial situation. For someone of Peter’s dubious morals financial insolvency was more than just an existential threat. In the case of the debts he had incurred during this period, William ended up bailing Peter out for a promise of further financial rectitude. This worked, but only temporarily. The brothers would eventually have a falling out as William became increasingly exasperated with his brother’s behavior.

The Chateau at Trebon - Peter Vok's final home

The Chateau at Trebon – Peter Vok’s final home (Credit: Richard Mortel)

A Loss Of Credit-ability – Cost Of Living
By the last decade of the 16th century Peter was once again in bad financial straits, but William was now dead. In addition, there was no future family heir. This meant that there was no one to rescue Peter from himself.  Peter was the new head of the House of Rozmberk. This further increased the burden on his finances since he now took on William’s financial responsibilities. Peter first tried transferring many of the properties to his wife before she died. This did little to alleviate his indebtedness. Creditors continued to close in on him.

Peter was soon left with only one choice, to begin selling off Rozmberk estates. Despite sale after sale, Peter was only able to reduce his debt burden by a little over half. Paradoxically, he continued to spend excessive amounts to lead a life of luxury in Cesky Krumlov Castle. He kept almost 200 courtiers employed, a number that was unmatched even at the height of William’s reign. One outrageously expensive purchase – silver matrimonial beds from Italy – was indicative of Peter’s largesse. All the while, Peter struggled to keep his creditors at bay. He was incapable of frugality.

A Debt To Pay - Peter Vok late in life

A Debt To Pay – Peter Vok late in life

The Unrecovered – A Family’s Fortunes
Peter’s massive debts were such that he was finally left with no other choice but to sell what had been the family’s most important base of power, Cesky Krumlov Castle. In 1602, the Habsburg Emperor Rudolf II purchased the castle complex from him. This effectively put an end to three hundred years of Rozmberk rule over the castle and its surrounding area. All the incredible renaissance renovations done by William that had made Cesky Krumlov one of Europe’s greatest architectural set pieces was now under the ownership of Rudolf. Peter moved to Trebon, where he immediately proceeded to continue spending loads of money. This time he set out on a mission to create one of the great libraries in Europe. He succeeded, but at considerable expense.

Peter soon found himself in yet another unenviable fiscal situation when Bavarian soldiers from Passau began to ravage southern Bohemia. He was forced to pay them off in order to keep the peace. Peter only found refuge from his debts and permanent peace when he died in 1611. If anything, his lack of self-control and wastrel behavior had helped bring the situation about. When the Thirty Years’ War broke out less than a decade later, the Renaissance that had been led by the Rozmberks in southern Bohemia was once again viewed with great fondness. The architecture and culture had left a lasting impression of wealth and refinement. It had been a time of gifts bestowed upon the region and its people by William and Peter. That golden age had vanished into history, like the Rozmberk family it was never to return.

Click here: Patron’s Place – Cesky Krumlov & The Eggenbergs (A Czech Winter’s Journey: Part Seven)

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