The history of Cesky Krumlov is as much the history of three families as is it of anything else. These families had a tremendous effect upon the development of the Castle and Old Town. The names Rozmberk, Eggenberg and Schwarzenberg are as central to the town’s identity as the winding cobblestone streets. It is not an overstatement to say that without these three families, Cesky Krumlov would probably not have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. When that designation took place all the families had long since become part of history, but it was their legacy that brought international recognition to the town’s architectural and cultural wonders.
Family Affair – The Lords Of Krumlov
It is daunting to consider just how much power these families had in earlier centuries. Some held the power of life over their subjects, while all held the power that allowed their subjects to earn a livelihood. There is also something rather comforting in learning just how much certain family members influenced the history of both Cesky Krumlov and southern Bohemia. They serve to remind us that history has been propelled forward as much by individuals as it has been by events, economic forces and social movements. There is no better illustration of this than several members of the Rozmberk family.
The Rozmberk family inherited Krumlov Castle when the last Lords of Krumlov died without an heir in 1302. The Lords of Krumlov and the Rozmberks both hailed from branches of the Vitkovci, a powerful family of Czech nobles.
While the seat of power for the Lords of Krumlov had been in Cesky Krumlov, the Rozmberk’s ancestral home was farther upstream at another castle on the Vltava River, close to the present-day village of Rozmberk nad Vltavou. Only after inheriting the Cesky Krumlov Castle did it become the family’s power base. Of the many different Rozmberk’s who called Cesky Krumlov castle home, two men stand out. One for his many successes, the other for ultimately being a failure. Ironically, the two were brothers, William of Rozmberk (William of Rosenberg) and Peter Vok (Peter Vok of Rosenberg). In the space of a couple of generations, it was William who presided over a golden age for the Castle and town. Conversely, Peter’s time in power effectively ended the Rozmberk reign over Cesky Krumlov forever.
Positioned For Greatness – A Renaissance Man
William Rozmberk was the prototypical Renaissance man. He was astoundingly good at almost everything he did. A precocious talent, William began administering the family possessions at the tender age of sixteen. It was also at this age that he took a trip to Italy, one that would bring him into contact with Renaissance art and architecture. This would influence his patronage activities for years to come. At the age of twenty-one, William took the high chancellor of Bohemia to court over the prominence of Czech noblemen. He won the case and proceeded to embellish the famous Rozmberk five petaled rose coat of arms with color and imagery that linked them to a famous Italian family.
At the age of twenty-five, Hapsburg Emperor Ferdinand I appointed William as the powerful High Treasurer of Bohemia. He soon added commander of the Bohemian Army to his duties. By the time he turned thirty-five, William had risen to the highest office in Bohemia. In this position he was a master diplomat, mediating in such politically fraught decisions as war with the Ottoman Turks and advocating on behalf of Habsburg candidates to the Polish throne. William’s meteoric rise was well deserved as his efforts to cultivate private enterprise turned out to be just as successful as his government service. His achievements included business start-ups in areas as diverse as mining and fisheries. Every aspect of brewing interested William to the point where he cultivated enterprises that farmed hops, stored malt and brewed beer.
William was just as active in arts and architecture. Among his more notable achievements, William collected a library that grew to 11,000 volumes, one of the largest at the time. He patronized education initiatives, starting schools, including a Jesuit College on the premises of Cesky Krumlov castle. The castle became his main residence though he owned many others. He made his most lasting impression in architecture, creating a legacy that can still be seen today. There was the expansion of the Rozmberk Palace at Prague Castle, renovations of Trebon and Roudnice Castle, as well as the new Kratochvile Castle at Netolice. Then there was his intense interest in redesigning the Cesky Krumlov Castle. It was soon transformed into a Renaissance residence beyond compare. Gothic edifices were re-stylized with Renaissance faces, decorative effects were added on both interior and exterior surfaces while vaulted ceilings became all the rage. The castle as it is seen today is primarily the work of William and the master artisans he brought from Italy to reimagine the castle and its associated structures.
A Fatal Flaw – Tragedy Without Triumph
There was really only one area that William did not meet with success. Several of his marriages ended in tragedy. Unfortunately, this would have a decisive effect upon the Rozmberk family’s future. This was not through much fault of his own or his wives. William was married four times. None of his first three wives lived beyond the age of twenty-five. He married his third one, Anna Maria of Baden, when she was only 15. Just six years after the couple married, Anna was dead. William must have loved her dearly, as he was buried beside her in Trebon.
William’s fourth wife would outlive him and remarry, but none of the marriages produced an heir. This was his only flaw, one that would prove fatal to the family’s prospects. The Rozmberk family’s future would end up falling to William’s younger brother. Peter Vok became the most powerful living family member after William’s death in 1592. Peter could not match any of William’s stellar achievements. He would be unable to escape his brother’s shadow and most importantly his own. A disaster waiting to happen, major problems for Peter and the Rozmberk estates were just a matter of time. That time arrived in the last years of the 16th century.