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)

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.