“If only those walls could talk.” That phrase has popped into my mind on innumerable occasions while traveling across Eastern and Central Europe. Astride the old city walls of Pecs and Sibiu, outside the crumbling remains of the Gothic church at Zsambek, while staring at a red brick World War I fortress in the woods on the edge of Prezmysl, I wondered just what stories were hidden by those walls. I tried to imagine all the things I did not know and would never know. The human and historical dramas that were hidden by walls that now stand as a final testament of all that has vanished. This “hidden history” seemed so far away, but it was closer than I imagined. Much of it lies buried deep within history books, waiting for the curious or serendipitous to do research leading to a rediscovery. It was in this manner that I stumbled upon a piece of murderous history from Cesky Krumlov Castle that by turns fascinated and horrified me. I would soon discover that if those castle walls could talk, they would let out a howl. This would be the cry of a once powerful madman who will be forever notorious. That is because of an horrific act he carried out behind the castle walls.
Cesky Krumlov’s Castle is so fantastical that it seems to be from another world. Seeing it for the first time, illuminated under the cover of darkness amid falling snow, I felt a childlike sense of enchantment. This feeling never left me during my visit. The castle did not take me back in time, instead it took me to a place that stood outside of time. A castle and town situated in a forever land. Here was the ultimate destiny of dreams, where the mythical supersedes reality. I saw the castle as a heroic place with a happy history marked by fearless leaders, spectacular feats of high culture and satisfied courtiers. I could not imagine that hidden behind, and in one horrifying case within the castle walls, was a story of madness, mayhem and murder. A tale of horrifying degeneracy that arose from schizophrenic insanity. A shadowy, sordid tale that began in a bed chamber of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II and his most beloved mistress.
A Passion For The Bizarre – Bedroom Manners
Rudolf II was a cross between an ineffective ruler, crazed wunderkind and outrageous eccentric. Politically, he made a host of bad decisions that helped bring about the Thirty Years’ War. The most egregious of which was a badly conceived plan to unite all Christian forces in a crusade against the Ottoman Turks. The fact that Rudolf was aloof, moody, and indecisive at the best of times only made matters worse. His willful ambivalence helped ignite what became known as the Long War (1593 – 1606), which eventually led to his ouster. Rudolf’s political mistakes pale in comparison to his remarkable eccentricities. He moved the royal court from Vienna to Prague where he obsessed over the newest developments in astrology and alchemy. Imperial affairs often came a distant second to his scientific pursuits. There was also his love of art, which tended toward the obsessive. At times he could be found staring for hours on end at a painting that had captured his imagination.
Many of Rudolf’s passions were outright bizarre. He allowed a lion and tiger to roam Prague Castle where they attacked and even devoured the unwitting. Rudolf’s private life added to his less than savory reputation. He never married, but instead had a succession of affairs with both women and men. This was an attempt to satisfy his ravenous sexual appetite. Rudolf’s most noteworthy affair was with his favorite mistress, the highly intelligent, Viennese educated Catherina Strada (Katerina Stradova) who bore him six illegitimate children. The eldest of these, the magnificently named Don Julius Caesar d’Austria, was groomed for greater things by his father. Rudolf saw to it that the boy received a first-class education along with an exalted position in his court. Despite his father’s focus on ensuring he received the proper schooling, there was no amount of education that could rescue Don Julius from his natural proclivities.
No Escape From Sadism – The Scourge of Schizophrenia
During his youth, Don Julius displayed a tendency towards the sadistic, namely torturing animals and exceedingly violent behavior toward his own friends. By the time he reached adulthood, Don Julian was already a raging alcoholic. Sexual assault soon became an outlet for his violence. He traipsed around the Bohemian countryside with a gang of like-minded lackeys who took to raping women and pillaging in local villages. It was nothing for them to kidnap and sexually assault peasant girls. The situation grew to such extreme proportions that Rudolf was forced into action. Don Julius was sent against his will to a Carthusian monastery where he was forcibly held in the hope that his behavior might improve. His treatment involved denying him the vices he so dearly craved. The confinement soon became a failed attempt to correct his degeneracy, on the contrary it seemed to inflame his madness.
Denial as a form of punishment may have worked for some, but Don Julius lacked self-control. In truth, he just could not help himself. He suffered from schizophrenia which manifested itself in extremely violent and self-destructive behavior. Don Julius showed little sign of improvement, but Rudolf tended towards forgiveness. After Don Julius was granted his freedom, Rudolf provided him with another gift. Don Julius was given Cesky Krumlov and the surrounding region as his domain. This was a sort of internal exile where it was hoped the wayward son might correct his erring ways. Once firmly ensconced at the castle, Don Julius and his henchmen went on the rampage again. Soon those in the town and countryside were being terrorized. Violence, lewd sexual behavior and the most depraved activities were fomented on an alarming scale.
Close To Untouchable – A Path To The Truly Terrible
The Emperor’s officials did their best to cover up the worsening situation. This did nothing to help matters. Don Julius was plagued by a sadistic madness that could never be satisfied. Sex and violence went hand in hand. The more he got, the more he wanted. His exalted position made him close to untouchable. This was a recipe for something truly terrible to happen. That was exactly what would happen.