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The Emperor’s Spooky Night

Emperor Charles IV reveals in his autobiography what happened to him one night at Prague Castle, and how he saw a huge swarm of locusts.

Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor from 1355 to 1378, is remembered as one of the best rulers of the 14th century, in particular for the Czechs. It was under his rule that major landmarks in Prague were built, including a university, the Charles Bridge, and Prague Castle. He also wrote an autobiography, one of the few that were written in the Middle Ages, in which he covers the events of his youth, and how he came to manage the Kingdom of Bohemia as his father, John of Luxemburg, gradually lost his eyesight. This fascinating account includes this story of something very strange that happened one night at Prague Castle:

We arrived at a late hour at the castle of Prague at the old house of the burgrave, where we had lived for several years before the great palace had been built. When night came we went to our bed, and Busko of Wilhartitz senior was in another in front of us. There was a great fire in the room because it was winter time, and there were many candles burning. too, so that it was quite light. All doors and windows were closed.  

When we had just fallen asleep, something moved about in the room, and we both awoke. We had Busko get up to see what it was. He got up and went around the room searching, but saw nothing and was able to find nothing. Then he built up the fire, lit more candles, and went to the cups which stood full of wine on the benches, drank from them, and put one cup near one of the great burning candles. Having drunk, he lay down again on his bed. We sat upright in bed covered by our blanket and heard someone walking about but were not able to see anyone.

And while we were looking with Busko at the cups and the candles, we saw a cup thrown. It was thrown – we did not know by whom – over Busko’s bed from one end of the room to the far wall, it bounced off and fell in the middle of the room. Seeing this, were were terribly afraid; we could still hear someone continuing to move about, but saw no one. After making the sign of the cross in Christ’s name we slept until morning.  Getting up in the morning, we found the cup which had been thrown in the middle of the room, and we showed all this to our servants when they came to us in the morning. 

Bust of Charles IV in St. Vitus Cathedral, 1370s - photo by Packare / Wikimedia Commons
Bust of Charles IV in St. Vitus Cathedral, 1370s – photo by Packare / Wikimedia Commons

Charles also writes about what he saw in July of 1338 while in Austria:

After this, when our brother-in-law had invited us to breakfast for the following day, about sunrise one of the soldiers wakened us from sleep, saying “Lord, get up, for the last days are upon us and the whole world is full of locusts!” We got up, mounted a horse and quickly galloped off, wanting to see where the swarm ended.

We rode all the way to Pulkau. That was where it ended; was seven miles long,  and there was no way we could tell how wide it was.  Their voice was like the sound of a great tumult. Their wings looked as if they had black letters written on them, and they were as thick as a snow storm, so that it was not possible to see the sun because of them. A great stink arose from them. They divided, some going toward Bavaria, some towards Franconia, some towards Lombardy, others scattering everywhere throughout the world. They multiplied rapidly, because in one night two became twenty and more. They were small, but they grew quickly, and they were found for the next three years. 

The book Autobiography of Emperor Charles IV and his Legend of St. Wenceslas, is edited and translated by Balazs Nagy and Frank Schaer and is published by Central European University Press.

Click here to learn more about the book from the publisher’s website.

Top Image: Night view of the Castle and Charles Bridge, Prague, Czech Republic. Photo by Jorge Royan

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