A Tale Of Two Brothers – The Great Creator Of Cesky Krumlov: William Rozmberk (A Czech Winter’s Journey: Part Five)

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.

Coming of Age - William of Rozmberk in his youth

Coming of Age – William of Rozmberk in his youth

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.

The Quintessential Renaissance Man - William of Rozmberk

The Quintessential Renaissance Man – William of Rozmberk

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 Man of Many Holdings - Roudnice Castle was among the properties owned by William of Rozmberk

A Man of Many Holdings – Roudnice Castle was among the properties owned by William of Rozmberk (Credit: Harke)

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.

Intimidate & Inspire – Sizing Up Cesky Krumlov’s Castle (A Czech Winter’s Journey: Part Four)

What is the difference between a castle and a chateau? To my mind, the former has battlements, crenellations, perhaps a moat, a multitude of portholes, menacing spires and was sculpted out of stone. A chateau evokes images of a palatial manor house that is meant to be both impressive and inviting. The castle was largely made for defensive purposes and as a power base, the chateau for relaxation and enjoyment. I am sure an official dictionary definition would be a bit different from my highly personalized conception of what each of these structures should be. Nonetheless, the difference between the two is one of degree rather than nuance. Castles were built for survival, chateaus for pleasure. At least that was what I believed before arriving at Cesky Krumlov.

A Castle Complex - Cesky Krumlov's Magnificent Castle

A Castle Complex – Cesky Krumlov’s Magnificent Castle

A Complex Situation – Defeated At A Glance
An incredibly well preserved and spruced up medieval townscape in Cesky Krumlov is home to the second largest castle in the Czech Republic or as some prefer to call it, the Chateau. It literally stretches the meaning of either word. At first glance, mostly due to its massive walls and infectiously stylized bell tower, I deemed the structure worthy of the castle moniker. While visiting I also noticed it had similarities with chateaus. Calling it a castle is something of misnomer because that designation is not plural. A more apt title might be the Cesky Krulov castle complex. That is because referring to it as a chateau happens to be a massive understatement. There are multiple structures inside the grounds that are worthy on their own of chateau status. The official name when translated is the State Castle of Cesky Krumlov. This officious title has all the appeal of bureaucratic necessity. The most appropriate designation I found was “castle complex”, a description which incorporates both the main structure and all associated ones.

Upon my first glance at the castle complex, in a haze of snow and floodlit illumination, the words formidable and impressive both came to mind. Here was a structure meant to intimidate while inspiring potential conquerors to retreat. I was not surprised to find that in the structure’s long and rich history it seems to have suffered little damage in warfare. Any potential conqueror would have likely been defeated by its appearance. My first encounter with the castle complex came, like that of most visitors to Cesky Krumlov, during a walk to the Old Town, passing beneath the Upper Castle’s covered bridge. This was the most massive thruway I have ever had the awe-inspiring pleasure of passing under. The covered bridge is so high above ground level that it is not easily discernible from below.

A Strategic Situation – Massive Castle, Crooked Meadow
Imagine walking beneath a towering railway viaduct or entering a massive Roman arena. Such examples come closest to explaining the effect of entering Cesky Krumlov’s Old Town beneath the covered bridge. At that point I was not in the castle or anywhere close to the main point of entry, but that fact was lost on me. There was so much to take in that I lost awareness of the immediate surroundings. This was due to the huge shadow cast both literally and figuratively by the complex over the rest of Cesky Krumlov’s Old Town which I would soon enter. I could not shake the massive edifice that loomed well above everything else. The outsized effect of the castle complex makes the rest of the Old Town seem even more quaint than it looks, as though it has been preserved in miniature.

The castle complex is so large that it is hard for the mind to grasp its sheer size and length. Much of this has to do with how it stretches for a kilometer along the Vltava River. Its situation, atop a large rock outcropping bordering Bohemia’s most important waterway, is easy to overlook. That is because the rock looks more like an appendage than a foundation due to the huge structures that have been overlaid atop it. The history of both Cesky Krumlov and the castle has been informed by the Vltava going all the way back to its very beginnings. It is even expressed in the town’s name, which is a translation of the German “Krumme Aue”, which means crooked meadow. The town and castle wrap around an S-shaped bend in the Vltava. This bend in the river was one of southern Bohemia’s most important strategic points going all the way back to the late Middle Ages.

Bending to the Rivers Will - Cesky Krumlov's Castle complex & Old Town border the Vltava River

Bending to the Rivers Will – Cesky Krumlov’s Castle complex & Old Town border the Vltava River

A Textbook Of History – Sculpted Out Of Stone
The first of the castle’s constructions took place during the 13th century when a tower was built to protect a river ford on an important commercial trade route crossing the Vltava. The castle really began to develop when the powerful Rozmberk family took control of it and the surrounding lands in the early 14th century. This was the beginning of a residency that would last for exactly three hundred years. It was during the Rozmberk’s (Rosenberg’s) reign that the Upper Castle area was first constructed and the structure that still exists today began to truly develop. Across the centuries, two other families, the Eggenberg’s and the Schwarzenberg’s, provided their own constructions, reconstructions and embellishments. The structure mirrors the military, economic and cultural history of southern Bohemia. It went from being a fortress, to a castle, economic engine and massive residence, to a plaything of the aristocratic nobility over the course of seven centuries.

The architecture is also reflective of a diverse range of styles with Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque elements standing side by side, piled atop each other or fused together. The Cesky Krumlov castle complex can best be understood as a textbook of history written in stone, a grand work that reveals more and more of its treasures upon close study. I found that approaching it not in the singular, as a castle or chateau, but as a multi-volume work was the best approach. The sections of this work could be divided by building or style, historic era or historical personages. It was that last one which most appealed to me, primarily because those who developed a work of art and architecture this compelling could only have done so by marshaling incredible amounts of imagination and ambition. This was the material that Cesky Krumlov’s castle complex was made of.

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