Charles IV: turbulent childhood and youth shape future king

Karel IV

Charles IV was born on May 16, 1316, in Prague, the eldest son of King Jan of Luxembourg and Eliška. His parents represented the unification of the Luxembourg dynasty and the Přemyslid royal house which had succeeded in creating the Bohemian kingdom.

Wedding of Jan of Luxembourg and Eliška Přemyslovna
The marriage was clearly one of those arranged dynastic ones, today it might be regarded as slightly dysfunctional. Eliška was four years older than Jan, and according to historians had a different idea of how the kingdom should be run according to the old Přemyslid way of doing things. Jan, who was often abroad on dynastic business, liked tournaments and going down the equivalent of the pub. And he apparently drifted away from his wife and was not above drifting into other women’s beds as well.

Parental relations deteriorated in the years after Charles IV’s birth, he was initially named Václav after the country’s patron saint and his grandfather. Jan of Luxembourg was also facing problems from rebellious barons. In fact, he had to make concession to them in 1318 at the so called Domažlice agreement. And that deal was also a source of new marital discord between the royal couple.

Things came to a head a year later when Jan suspected his wife of plotting with nobles to overthrow him and put his young son on the throne in his place. Eliška took refuge in the western border stronghold of Loket with her son. According to rumour, Jan tricked his way into the castle and later imprisoned his eldest son in harsh conditions there and banished his wife to another castle outside Prague, at Mělník. He was determined that his wife’s dangerous influence over their children cease. Radek Šmíd is a guide at the castle:

Charles IV
“Charles the Fourth, born as King Wenceslas, was three years old when he was imprisoned here at Loket castle. He was imprisoned by his father, the King of Bohemia, John of Luxembourg, also known as John of Bohemia or John the Blind. It was a fight between the parties of his father, King John, and his mother, Queen Elizabeth. King John spent a lot of time abroad and Queen Elizabeth wanted him to spend time in the country and take care of the state’s problems.”

How long the imprisonment at Loket lasted is unclear. Radek Šmíd again:

“We do not know exactly. Some sources say two months, some say 11 months, it is not known exactly.”

Eventually, Charles was moved to a castle nearer Prague, Křivoklát. He remained there until the Spring of 1323 when it was decided that he would be sent to court of his uncle the French king, Charles the Fourth, known as Charles the Fair. The court in Paris must have probably had a great effect on the seven-year-old and the young boy was apparently a firm favourite of the French king. During his time in Paris, Karel learnt to write in both French and Latin, no mean feat at a time when many nobles were still illiterate.

In 1331, at the age of 15, Charles was sent to Italy to protect the territories that the Luxembourgs were rapidly taking holding of in the north of the country. Early on in Pavia, Karel was the victim of an attempt to poison him as enemies of the Luxembourg’s conspired against them. The plot was put down to the powerful Visconti family from Milan. A little over a year later Charles won an unexpected victory at Modena. He was afterwards made a knight. Charles also devoted himself to making laws and defending his beloved city of Lucca. Charles returned to Prague in late 1333, no longer a youth but an experience lawmaker, warrior, and diplomat.

Loket,  photo: Miloš Turek
And he apparently bore no grudges against the town of Loket as Radek Šmíd explains.

“In 1333 he bought this castle from a private owner. His father, John, needed a lot of money to campaign in Europe and Prince Charles after returning from abroad bought this royal property back to the crown, Loket was one of these places that were bought. As king he also visited Loket many times.”