The Prague Castle with the typical silhouette of the Basilica of St Vitus was the symbol of royal and ecclesiastical power in medieval Bohemia.
Lenka Jiroušková


The history of the Bohemian regions in the 14th and at the beginning of the 15th century was shaped by the rulership of the Luxembourgs. Under John of Luxemburg, elected king of Bohemia in 1310, and especially under Charles IV (1346 king of Bohemia, king of Germany) the economic and political centre of gravity in the Empire shifted towards Bohemia. The ‘Crown of Bohemia’ (as the Luxembourg centre of power was itself styled after 1348) became an integral part of the Holy Roman Empire and gradually gained in importance after the imperial coronation of Charles (1356).

The ‘Crown of Bohemia’ gradually gained in importance after the imperial coronation of Charles IV (1356).

Prague was transformed from being a city on the periphery to a central location of western European tradition. The multicultural and multinational characteristics of the society in Bohemian regions were expressed though the trilingualism of their literary production: the Latin literary production and its German counterpart – cultivated at Court in Prague since the time of the Přemyslids – were complemented by the Czech that blossomed under the Luxembourgs themselves, either through translations or original Czech writings. These were then integrated into European literary traditions. Furthermore, there is evidence for texts written in Church Slavic, Hebraic, Arabic and other eastern languages produced or circulated in Prague in this period. The death of Wenceslas IV in 1419 marked a caesura in the political development of Bohemia; although King Sigismund was the last Luxembourg ruler on the Bohemian throne, this cultural blossoming was interrupted during his reign by the Hussite wars.

The medieval stone bridge known as the “Charles Bridge” was the most important connection between the Prague Castle and the Old Town; its construction started in 1357

The years 1310 to 1419 present therefore a relatively self-contained period, in terms of cultural history, during the broader span of the late medieval history of Bohemia and can be adjudged as especially conducive to cultural exchange. The geographically delimited region of the Luxembourg centre of power in Bohemia formed the frame in which different processes of dissemination in language, literature, architecture, art, music etc. can be observed. The interaction of a variety of cultures in this region, the international orientation of the Court in Prague, the political consolidation of west and east European nations and the incorporation of peripheral areas in the political-cultural history of Central Europe, as was the case in fourteenth-century Bohemia, seem to anticipate tendencies and goals of all today’s designs concerning Europe as a whole. 

The library of Strahov monastery (built 1182), containing of one of the oldest monastic book collections in Bohemia

As a result of such political preconditions, cultural contact between Bohemia and other European nations was intensified, especially with what are nowadays Germany, Italy, France, and England; it was in this context that the achievements of the imperial Court of Charles, the newly-formed university (1348), various monasteries, and later also the Court of Wenceslas IV, shone. In this period numerous manuscripts with texts and literary materials – mainly Latin, but also German – arrived in Bohemia; materials that had already long been widespread in Europe. The dissemination of these European textual and cultural traditions within Bohemia and their reformulation and adaptation to the new milieu by those shaping the reception will be taken as a methodological paradigm for this contribution. The ‘recontextualisation’ of European literary materials in medieval Bohemia-- as well as the literary production of different cultural centres such as Charles’ Chancery, the University of Prague, some monasteries and other institutions-- will thus be presented in a comparative view.