If Cesky Krumlov Castle and its surroundings are largely the history of three families than the middle child of that triumvirate, the Eggenbergs, get the least notice. There are two reasons for this oversight. First and foremost, their reign over the region was by far the shortest. The Rozmberk family held Cesky Krumlov three times as long as the Eggenbergs. While the Schwarzenberg family’s reign was over twice as long. One of the more prominent members of the Eggenberg family, Johann Ulrich von Eggenberg received Cesky Krumlov Castle and the surrounding lands as payment from Habsburg Emperor Ferdinand II in 1622. Less than a century later, in 1719, the family would lose their holdings after failing to produce an heir.
The Eggenberg’s are also overlooked because they neither started not ended the period of family reign over Cesky Krumlov. It is always easier to remember the beginning or the end of something, the in between period is another story altogether. A story that is most often not told. Historically, the Eggenberg’s act as a bridge, stuck between the medieval and the modern, the Renaissance and Baroque eras. They were gifted ownership of Cesky Krumlov during a time of war and would later die out in a period of peace. It is little wonder that they have languished in relative obscurity when it comes to the history of the castle they once lorded over.
Opposites Attract – The Rise Of A Family, The Decline Of A Castle
Originally a merchant family from the region of Styria, the Eggenberg’s enjoyed a meteoric rise to power and prominence. The family member most responsible for their ascendancy was Johann Ulrich von Eggenberg. His conversion to Catholicism at a time when Protestant families were losing their power and property to the Habsburgs sealed his position among the most powerful men in central Europe. He became Emperor Ferdinand II’s closest advisor. According to several accounts Johann Ulrich was present for everyone of the Emperor’s most important decisions. He was awarded several noble titles and vast compensation for his services. Among these were governor of Inner Austria, First Minister to the Emperor and Duke of Krumlov. The Eggenberg’s newly acquired land in southern Bohemia would soon be designated as a Duchy. They were even given the right to mind their own coinage. The family now radiated wealth and power.
The Eggenberg reign at Cesky Krumlov may have been relatively short, but it was also notable. The family’s ownership would save the castle from falling into total disrepair. It is worth remembering that during the twenty-year period (1602 – 1622) after Peter von Rozmberk sold the castle that the structure was badly neglected. Habsburg Emperor Rudolf II was its owner, but he never took the time to visit the castle. Rudolf did allow an illegitimate son to use it as a base of power for a few years. The son then decided to murder a woman he lured to the castle. At that point Rudolf made sure he got a new home, prison for life. Meanwhile, other calamities plagued the castle. A fire damaged one of the courtyards and Bavarian troops occupied the grounds. This led to the usual excesses of foreign soldiers. The castle had become less than useful. It was no longer the administrative, social or cultural hub for the surrounding region. That would slowly begin to change after the Eggenberg’s took over.
Theatrical Personalities – Setting The Scenes
Neither Johann Ulrich nor his son Johann Anton would make the castle their residence. Instead they continued to reside in Inner Austria. It would not be until Johann Anton’s son, Johann Christian, took it upon himself to make Cesky Krumlov the family’s residence that a new era in the castle’s history began. He and his wife Marie Ernestine were lovers of the arts. As such, they would kick start an artistic renaissance at the Castle. This would lead to renovations that transformed it into a structure worthy of the Baroque era. Lavish theatrical productions began to be staged in what was then known as the Deer Hall. The productions were elaborate in the extreme with the creation of 15 different scene settings. Among these were a village, military camp, winter and summer forest scenes, in addition to heaven and hell. This only whetted the appetites of Johann Christian and Marie for more. This led to the creation of the first standalone theater at the castle complex. It was constructed in one of the courtyards.
The theater was far from the only upgrade during the Eggenberg’s reign. The entire upper part of the castle was reconstructed over a five-year period. During this time work also started on the Castle Mint. It is still of the most noticeable buildings at the castle complex still today. This is due to its location, the four-story ochre colored Baroque edifice looming above the Vltava River. The Castle Mint never produced a single coin, instead it became headquarters for the Castle’s hunting master. The reconstruction also included a covered walkway leading to the splendid Castle Gardens. All the work on the castle was done in a style of spectacular refinement, indicative of the Baroque era. The couple succeeded in putting their own indelible personal stamp on the Castle. This would be the most enduring legacy of Eggenberg family rule at the castle.
Short Lived – A Brief Glory
Johann Christian and Marie could afford to focus on their shared passion for high culture. The fact that they did not have children allowed them more time to patronize the arts. It also meant that the Eggenberg family’s reign at Cesky Krumlov Castle was short lived. Johann Christian died in 1710, Marie lived on a bit longer. When she passed away in 1719, Cesky Krumlov went to her nephew Adam zu Franz Schwarzenberg. The Schwarzenberg family name would become synonymous with the early modern and modern periods in Cesky Krumlov’s history. Despite its brevity, the Eggenberg family’s time in power had been a success, one worth remembering for its architectural restorations and cultural achievements. The Eggenberg’s reign was remarkable even though it did not last for very long.