The Lobkowicz family

And now it's time for this week's edition of Czechs in History, and today, instead of examining the lives of one Czech, Nick Carey takes a look at a whole family, the Roudnice branch of the Lobkowicz dynasty:

The reason for choosing a whole family for Czechs in History, rather than just one at this point, is to try and give you a flavour of Czech nobility and its development over the centuries, with a look at some of the leading and more colourful members. And where better to start than the Lobkowicz family, with a recorded history spanning seven hundred years. In the course of its history the family played a role in the struggle between Catholics and Protestants that led to the Battle of White Mountain, and a later Prince Lobkowicz was a leading benefactor of Ludwig van Beethoven.

The earliest records of the Lobkowicz family go back about seven hundred years, to when it was one of the less well-known noble families in the Czech Lands. According to one of the members of the family of the present day, William Lobkowicz, over the course of a few hundred years, the family gradually rose to a position of authority and power: The Lobkowicz family was Catholic, and had remained so throughout the Hussite Wars in the Czech Lands. When the Habsburgs took over the title of Holy Roman Emperor, the influence of Catholic nobles, through the strongly Catholic Habsburg court, increased, while that of Protestant nobles faded. In 1583, Emperor Rudolf II moved his court to Prague from Vienna, to escape the threat of Turkish invasion, and Catholic families such as the Lobkowiczes benefited from the fact that Prague was the temporary capital of the Holy Roman Empire.

Shortly thereafter, the 1st Prince Lobkowicz, Zdenek Popel, born in 1568, rose to the lofty position of Chancellor of the Czech Lands, and served three successive emperors, Rudolf II, Mathias and Ferdinand II. He and his wife, Polyxena were leading Catholics in the country and as such played a role in an important event in Czech history in the early seventeenth century.

The political stalemate that existed between the Protestants and Catholics in the Czech Lands at that time led to the defenestration in 1618 of two of the Emperor's ministers at Prague Castle, i.e., they were thrown out the window, by Protestant nobles. They survived the fall and took refuge from a Protestant mob in the Lobkowicz Palace below the castle. They were protected there by Polyxena Lobkowicz, but exactly how is open to question. William Lobkowicz again: The successes of Zdenek and Polyxena were continued by their only son, Vaclav Eusebius, the 2nd Prince of Lobkowicz, who served two emperors, first Ferdinand III and Leopold I. He made a name for himself in the Thirty Years' War, and rose, like his father before him, to become the Chancellor of the Czech Lands. He embarked upon the construction and reconstruction of several castles, including the family's seat at Roudnice on the River Labe. Later in life, however, his fortunes changed. William Lobkowicz again: Throughout the following centuries, the Lobkowicz princes continued to hold high positions in the Habsburg empire. They became one of the wealthiest families in Central Europe, with holdings throughout the region. Although still powerful, the family reached its political zenith with Vaclav Eusebius. Several of the subsequent Lobkowicz princes, however, took a different path and used to their considerable wealth and influence to become patrons of the arts. Franz Josef Maximilian Lobkowicz's patronage of Ludwig van Beethoven lasted many years, and Beethoven dedicated numerous pieces to the prince, including, amongst others, the 3rd symphony, which was originally meant to be dedicated to Napoleon, his 5th symphony, and the 6th, otherwise known as the Pastoral.

In the lead up to the First World War, the family continued to prosper, with a staggering amount of property under their control. William Lobkowicz again: The end of the First World War and the foundation of the Czechoslovak Republic changed the fortunes of the nobility in Czechoslovakia. The young Prince Lobkowicz at the time, Maximilian, was progressive and threw himself wholeheartedly behind the new democracy. A fervent Czech patriot, he opposed the rise of Hitler in Nazi Germany, and was one of those on a list of people who were to be arrested after the occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. He escaped at the last moment, and served as Czechoslovakia's ambassador in London during the war. After the communist take-over in 1948, he again fled, and all of the family's property was seized.

The Lobkowicz family has now regained some of the property that it lost in 1948, and research is still going on into the family's extensive history, its politics, cultural interests and its property. This edition of Czechs in History is merely the tip of the iceberg.