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The Emperor in Politics and Love: The Four Wives of Charles IV

By Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik

1353 saw Charles IV of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor, a married man again. The marriage between him and his thrid wife took place towards the end of May. The splendid wedding ceremony was carried out at Buda, Hungary, where his new bride had been raised under the wings of her great-aunt, Queen Elizabeth of Poland.

This was the third time Charles entered a marital union. Twice widowed, with only one surviving daughter from his first marriage he was determined to take another try. His reasons were purely political. Hoping to sire a son and heir, he planned to expand his dominions. All in one shot. And he did. But before Anna of Świdnica there were two other wives and one more was to follow after her untimely death. Here are the stories of these four wives and their marriages to the emperor.

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Blanche de Valois (Czech: Blanka z Valois)

Charles’s first marriage was arranged by his father, King John (the Blind) of Bohemia in 1323. The details were discussed and deal struck during meeting with Philip IV of France at Toulouse. Charles was to marry Philip’s niece, Margaret called Blanche, the daughter of Count Charles of Valois and his third wife Mahaut de Chatillon. At the time both Charles and Blanche were seven years old, and they were lucky to know each other as children.

The wedding ceremony took place on the occasion of Charles’ aunt Marie’s coronation as Queen of France. Blanche came to Bohemia in 1334 with a splendid retinue. Eighteen years old, famed for her beauty and grace she won the hearts of her new subjects easily, although she spoke no Czech, only French. But she was a fast learner and soon remedied that.

Bust of Blanche de Valois. St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The couple’s first child, a daughter named Margaret arrived in 1335. She was born at Křivoklát Castle, where her father spent a lot of time as a child. The common tale has it that upon her arrival Charles, overcome with joy gave an order to catch all the nightingales living in the surroundings so that they could sing for his beloved wife and newborn daughter. The next child, a daughter, Katherine was born in 1342.

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After John the Blind’s death at the Battle of Crecy (1346) Charles and Blanche were crowned King and Queen of Bohemia on 2 September 1347 in Prague. A year later tragedy struck when Blanche was suddenly taken ill and died, aged 32. For her husband, it was a great personal loss, for he had come to love her dearly, but he could not stay a widower long. He still had a son and heir to sire.

Anne of Palatinate (Anna Falcká)

Charles married his second wife on 11 March 1349. Her name was Anne and she was the daughter of Rudolph II of Bavaria. This marriage was a result of Charles’s policy to break up the forming Wittelsbach coalition and consolidate his position in Germany, which he did. He was crowned King of the Romans on 25 July 1349 at Aachen.

Anne was crowned the following day. Her coronation as Queen of Bohemia did not take place until November, when the newlyweds travelled to Prague. Anne was seven months pregnant at the time. On 17 January 1350 she was safely delivered of a son, who was given a traditional name of the rulers of Bohemia.

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Bust of Anne of Palatinate. St Vitus Cathedral, Prague. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Little Wenceslaus, the much-awaited heir, brought great joy to his father and the entire realm. Charles almost immediately began to make plans for the boy‘s future. He found a perfect match for him, one that would bring the last missing Silesian duchy into his domains. Bolko II the Small was the nephew of King Casimir the Great of Poland and the ruler of a small but strategically important duchy of Świdnica. Since Charles intended to annex the entirety of Silesia to the Kingdom of Bohemia, Bolko’s duchy, being the only missing part, was crucial to his plans. Loyal to his uncle, Bolko did not follow in the footsteps of other Silesian Piasts and did not pay homage to the kings of Bohemia. But he reconsidered his position after Casimir and Charles came to terms and signed the Treaty of Namysłów. Bolko agreed to marry his niece Anne to Charles‘ son Wenceslaus. The children who would come of this union were to inherit the duchy upon Bolko‘s and his wife‘s death.

These plans came to naught, however, when little Wenceslaus died in December in 1351, a month shy of his second birthday. Not a year passed and his mother, Anne was dead, too. A story has it that she was heartbroken and never recovered after her only child’s death, but according to another version of the events her untimely passing was the result of a fall from a horse. She was 23 at the time. As Blanche of Valois before her, she was buried at St Vitus Cathedral, Prague.

Anne of Świdnica (Anna Svídnická)

Thirty-seven years old, widowed, and without a male heir, Charles decided to marry his late son’s fiancee and thus secure the Świdnica inheritance. The union received a papal sanction obtained by Archbishop Arnost of Pardubice.

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Anne was the only child of Henry II of Świdnica, the grandson of King Władysław I of Poland (Ladislaus the Elbowhigh). On her father’s death, she was placed under the care of her uncle, Bolko II the Small, the last independent Silesian Piast.

Raised at a highly sophisticated royal court in Buda, Hungary, Anne received a first-class education. She married Charles in the closing days of May 1353, being fourteen. Shortly afterwards, the succession treaty was signed at Świdnica according to which the duchy was to be inherited by Anne and her children by Charles upon the death of Bolko and his wife Agnes of Habsburg.

Bust of Anne of Świdnica. St Vitus Cathedral, Prague. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On 28 July 1353, Anna was crowned Queen of Bohemia and the following year, on 9 February 1354, German queen. The year 1355 saw the royal couple in Italy, where on Easter Sunday (5 April) they were crowned Holy Roman Emperor and Holy Roman Empress in the Basilica of Saint Peter, Rome. The couple’s first child, a daughter Elizabeth, was born three years later. Charles was overjoyed, although Anne herself felt she failed him (this we know thanks to her surviving correspondence with Petrarch). But in 1361 a much-awaited son and heir followed, named Wenceslaus. He was to become Charles’ beloved and favoured child.

The following year a tragedy struck and Anne died in childbirth, aged 23. She and the baby who also did not survive, were buried together in St Vitus Cathedral, Prague. Famed for her sweet and gentle nature Anne’s reputation as a great beauty rests on the surviving images created during her lifetime or shortly after her untimely death. According to the popular tradition, of Charles’ four wives, it was Anne he loved most.

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Elizabeth of Pomerania (Eliška Pomořanská)

Stricken with grief after Anne’s death, Charles did not remarry until a political situation forced him to. There was a coalition forming against him. The kings of Poland and Hungary and the dukes of Austria and Bavaria had united against him. In July 1362 Casimir the Great of Poland and his nephew Louis the Great of Hungary were gathering with their forces on the border of Bohemia. The opposing parties found themselves on the verge of war.

It did not break out, however, perhaps due to Anne of Schweidnitz’s untimely death. The rulers came to terms and a marriage was forged to consolidate their agreement. Charles was to marry Casimir’s granddaughter, Elizabeth. He was thrice Elizabeth’s age, her being fourteen, he, forty-seven. The fiancee was described as beautiful, full of life, and as fit as a fiddle. Stories had it that she could break horseshoes with her own hands. She was an avid horse rider and hunter.

Bust of Elizabeth of Pomerania. St Vitus Cathedral, Prague. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Whatever her personal opinion of the match, both her grandfather and her bridegroom were sufficiently keen on it, and the wedding ceremony was celebrated in Kraków on 21 May 1363. Afterwards the couple travelled together to Prague where Elizabeth was crowned Queen of Bohemia. Five years later her imperial coronation at Rome followed.

Despite the age difference she and Charles got along well, being married for fifteen years, until Charles’ death in 1378. Their union produced six children, four of whom were to reach adulthood. Charles and Elizabeth’s eldest child, a daughter Anne, was to marry Richard II and become Queen consort of England. Her brother Sigismund was to be crowned King of Bohemia, Hungary and Holy Roman Emperor. Elizabeth herself was to outlive her husband for fifteen years. She died in 1393 and like Blanche and two Annes before her she was buried in St Vitus Cathedral, Prague.

It is worth noting that both Anne of Świdnica and Elizabeth of Pomerania were descended from Ladislaus the Elbow-high, the King of Poland (1320-33). They were his great-granddaughters.

Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik is a teacher, amateur historian and freelance writer. She works with different magazines and websites on Polish and European history. She runs a blog dedicated to Henry the Young King.

Top Image: Fresco made c.1357, of Charles IV, King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor, and his third wife Anne of Świdnica. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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