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Brief History of the Czech Republic

Brief History of the Czech Republic

CZECH HISTORY

Basic historical outline followed by more detailed describtions of individual periods of Czech history - the Great Moravian Empire (9th century), the Premysl Dynasty (9th century - 1306), the Luxembourg Dynasty (1310 - 1437), the Hussite Revolution (1419 - 1436), The Jagellon Dynasty (1471 - 1526), the Habsburg Dynasty (1526 - 1918), the foundation of the modern Czech nation and Independent state (from 1918).

Basic Historical Outline

  • End of the 5th and beginning of the 6th century - arrival of Slavs in present-day Moravia and Slovakia

  • Second half of the 9th century - arrival of Christian missionaries

  • 9th century - 1306 a gradual strengthening of the Czech state during the reign of the Premyslid dynasty

  • 1346-1378 - the peak in the prestige and power of the kingdom of Bohemia during the reign of Charles IV

  • Beginning of the 15th century - a crisis of state leads to the Hussite movement

  • 1526 - the Habsburg dynasty succeeds to the throne of Bohemia - the formation of a multi-national empire

  • 1620 - the defeat of the Bohemian Estates at the Battle of White Mountain, continued centralization of the Habsburg Empire

  • 28.10.1918 - foundation of an independent state of Czechs and Slovaks

  • 15.3.1939 - 9.5.1945 - German occupation

  • February 1948 - Communist takeover

  • August 1968 - Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact countries brings an end to the "Prague Spring" and the Communist Party's attempt to build "Socialism with a human face"

  • November 1989 - fall of the Communist regime

  • 1.1. 1993 Czech Republic founded after the split of Czechoslovakia

Around the 4th century B.C. the present-day Czech Republic was populated by Celts. They were the first ethnic group to arrive in the area, according to historical evidence. The Celtic Boii tribe gave the country its Latin name - Boiohaemum (Bohemia). They were pushed out by the German tribes (Marcomanni, Quidi) before the beginning of our era.

At the end of 5th and the beginning of 6th century Slavs settled in the territory of Bohemia and Moravia during the period known as the Migration of Peoples. The first half of the 7th century marks the first successful attempt to unite Slavonic tribes. The so-called "Samo's kingdom" resisted the pressure of the powerful Avar empire centered in the Hungarian lowlands, and defended its territory against the forces of the Frank attackers from the west, with partial success.

At the end of 5th and the beginning of 6th century Slavs settled in the territory of Bohemia and Moravia during the period known as the Migration of Peoples. The first half of the 7th century marks the first successful attempt to unite Slavonic tribes. The so-called "Samo's kingdom" resisted the pressure of the powerful Avar empire centered in the Hungarian lowlands, and defended its territory against the forces of the Frank attackers from the west, with partial success.

The Great Moravian Empire (the last two-thirds of the 9th century - destroyed by the Magyars in the years 903-907)


The culture of the Great Moravian Empire greatly influenced the development of culture and religion among the Eastern and Southern Slavs in the Middle Ages. In 863, the Byzantine Christian missionaries Constantin and Methodius came to Moravia to introduce Slavic liturgy there. Very soon, however, the influence of the Roman Catholic Church expanded, proving to be decisive in the course of the history of Bohemia and Moravia.

The Premyslid Dynasty (9th century - 1306)


Bohemia became the center of an independent state-building process. During the reign of the native Premyslid dynasty, the Czech state gradually grew in strength and succeeded in preserving its actual sovereignty despite formal vassal ties to the Holy Roman Empire.


935 - death of Prince Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia


973-976 - establishment of the Prague Bishopric


1085 - Vratislav became the first Bohemian prince to be granted the right to use a royal title, as a reward for his support of the Emperor Henry IV during the struggle with Pope Gregory VII


1212 - Premysl Otakar I received The Golden Bull of Sicily, a decree proclaiming Bohemia a kingdom and Bohemian princes hereditary kings, and also declaring the indivisibility of the kingdom of Bohemia and regulating the relationship of the realm to the Holy Roman Empire. Bohemia then became one of the most important states within the framework of the Empire.


1253-1278 - the reign of the powerful king Premysl Otakar II was characterized by a policy of expansion of power. This expansionist tendency was continued during the reigns of the last Premyslid kings as well.


1306 - the murder of Wenceslas III and the Premyslid dynasty dies out in the spear - side.


The Luxembourg Dynasty (1310 - 1437)


The reign of the dynasty began when John of Luxembourg (1310-1346) was elected King of Bohemia in 1310. The Luxembourg kings added new regions to their kingdom. This realm was named The Crownlands of Bohemia, a term made official by a decree of Charles IV in 1348. The official Crownlands were made up of the kingdom of Bohemia and the so-called adjoining lands - the margravate of Moravia, the Silesian principalities, Upper Lusatia and, from 1368, Lower Lusatia too.


The kingdom of Bohemia reached its height of power and prestige during the reign of Charles IV (1346-1378), the second Luxembourg on the throne of Bohemia: In 1344, the Prague Archbishopric was founded. He established Charles University in 1348 - it was the first university founded north of the Alps. Charles IV was crowned Roman Emperor in Rome in 1355.


The Hussite Revolution (1419 - 1436)


Several conditions led to the creation of the Hussite reform movement. The first was the economic and political crisis during the reign of Wenceslas IV (1378-1419), the successor of Charles IV. This crisis was exacerbated by the problems in Europe of this time (the Great Schism, criticism of the Church). The Hussite movement was inspired by the ideas of Master Jan Hus, a preacher who was burnt at the stake in 1415 at Constance. Despite his death, his supporters successfully continued in their efforts to reform the Church.


Heir to the crown of Bohemia, the Roman Emperor Sigismund, tried to defeat the growing revolution with force, but the Hussites defeated his five consecutive crusades in the years 1420-1431. Only the victory of 1434, when the moderates defeated the radicals, opened the way for a temporary agreement between Hussite Bohemia and Catholic Europe. This agreement, The Compacts of Basle was proclaimed in 1436 and confirmed the Hussite denomination, and would later be paralleled by the Reformation of the 16th century . The Hussite movement changed the structure of society in many ways. It created religious dualism for the first time in Christian Europe. There was a decline in the power and prosperity of the Church from which the nobility and towns were able to profit. The Czech nation and Czech culture came to the forefront of social life. In the years of unrest, a Czech noble - George of Podebrady, a skillful diplomat and a man of outstanding personality, became the leader of Czech political life. He was elected King of Bohemia in 1458. His diplomatic activities - notably his effort to establish a peace confederation of the European sovereigns - even reached beyond the horizon of central Europe.


The Jagellon Dynasty (1471-1526)


1471-1516 - Vladislav Jagellon, a son of King Cazimir of Poland, was elected King of Bohemia.
During the reigns of Vladislav and his son Louis, the power of the Estates grew, however, royal power diminished. Various conflicts also took place: a conflict between royal towns and nobles, and religious struggles between the Hussite Church and the minority Catholic Church which aimed to regain its former power.


The Habsburg Dynasty (1526-1918)


The Habsburgs of Austria succeeded to the throne of Bohemia when the Jagellon line died out . The Habsburg rule brought the re-introduction of the Roman Catholic faith, centralization and the construction of a multi-national empire. The Habsburgs included the Crownlands of Bohemia in their monarchy, and they remained a part of the Habsburg empire until 1918.


When Rudolf II (1576-1611), during his reign, left Vienna for Prague, Bohemian capital grew into an important center of European culture. The Czech Estates forced Rudolf II to issue a decree - so called "Maiestatus" - proclaiming freedom of religious confession. The Emperors Matthias and Ferdinand tried to limit this freedom and their efforts sparked a civil war between the Estates and the Catholic Emperor which later spread into Europe underthe name of the Thirty Years' War. The Czechs elected an independent king.. The Estates were defeated in 1620 at the Battle of the White Mountain and the Kingdom of Bohemia lost its independence for the following almost 300 years. The period of the Thirty Years' War brought political disorder and economic devastation to Bohemia which had far-reaching consequences on the future development of the country. The people of Bohemia were forced to accept the Catholic faith or to emigrate. The throne of Bohemia was made hereditary in the Habsburg dynasty and the most important offices were transferred permanently to Vienna.


In the period after the end of the Thirty Years' War high Baroque culture became deeply rooted in Bohemia. Czech Baroque influenced the architecture of Czech towns and villages for several centuries.


A crisis of feudalism and the fiscal interests of the state led to the Enlightment reforms of Maria Theresa and Joseph II in the second half of the 18th century. The reforms brought some positive results as Bohemia and the margravate of Moravia each became an independent part of the Habsburg Monarchy. There were some negative results however. The reforms contributed to the centralization of power and to Germanization, which proved to be a serious threat to the identity of the Slavic nationalities of the empire.


Foundation of the Modern Czech Nation


Although the Czech national revival movement aspired at first only to a revival of the Czech language and culture, it soon began to strive for political emancipation. In the revolutionary year 1848, Czech politicians made the first coherent political propositions aimed at rebuilding the empire into a federalist state. A desire for national emancipation was supported by the quick industrialization of Bohemia, which made the country the most developed land of the monarchy in the second half of the 19th century.


Renewal of the Independent State (since 1918)


In the years during World War I Czech politics took a turn towards radicalism as a result of the activities abroad of T. G. Masaryk and E. Benes, the future presidents. The defeat of the Austria-Hungary cleared the way for the foundation of an independent state of Czechs and Slovaks (28.10.1918). The Czechoslovak Republic became one of the ten most developed countries of the world. A period of twenty years of democracy and prosperity was ended by the aggression of Hitler's Germany. The conference in Munich and the following German occupation in March 1939 brought the end of the independent Czech state.


After World War II, the restored republic became part of the Soviet sphere of power. A period of "limited" democracy was ended by a Communist takeover in February 1948. All private property was expropriated and political and human rights were supressed. An attempt to change and humanize Communist totality and to weaken ties to the Soviet Union failed when the Soviet Army invaded the country in August 1968.


The gradual decay of the Communist regime and the Soviet empire, and the mass protests and demonstrations of the Czechoslovak people culminated in the overthrow of the Communist regime in November 1989. The changes were confirmed by the election of Vaclav Havel as president of the republic.


On January 1, 1993, the Czechoslovak state was peacefully divided and the independent Czech and Slovak Republics were founded. Václav Havel was elected its first president. In the following years the Czech Republic joined the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development-OECD (1994) and joined the NATO (1999) and EU (2004). The Czechs have now completed the transformation of the formerly centralized state system into a parliamentary democracy and market economy.