Ottokar II of Bohemia

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Ottokar II of Bohemia
King of Bohemia
Ottokar II Premysl.jpg
Ottokar II (Zbraslav Chronicle)
Reign 1253–1278
Coronation 1261, Prague
Titles Duke of Austria, Styria, Carinthia and Carniola
Born c. 1233
Birthplace Městec Králové, Czech Republic
Died 26 August 1278 (aged c. 44–45)
Place of death Dürnkrut, Austria
Buried Saint Vitus Cathedral
Predecessor Wenceslaus I of Bohemia
Successor Wenceslaus II of Bohemia
Wives Margaret, Duchess of Austria
Kunigunda of Slavonia
Issue Kunigunde of Bohemia
Agnes of Bohemia
Wenceslaus II of Bohemia
Royal house Přemyslid dynasty
Father Wenceslaus I of Bohemia
Mother Kunigunde of Hohenstaufen

Ottokar II (Czech: Přemysl Otakar II; c. 1233 – 26 August 1278), called The Iron and Golden King, was the King of Bohemia from 1253 until 1278. He also held the titles Duke of Austria (1251–1276), Duke of Styria (1260–1276), Duke of Carinthia (1269–1276), Duke of Carniola (1269–1276), and lord of Pordenone.

Ottokar was the second son of King Wenceslaus I of the Přemyslid dynasty, and through his mother, Kunigunde of Hohenstaufen, was related to the Hohenstaufen family, being a grandson of Philip of Swabia.


Otacarvs II. rex. A statue by Ludwig von Schwanthaler (1847) placed at the National Museum in Prague (symbol of keep at his right foot is reminiscent of the many castles and towns, which he founded)

Rise to power[edit]

Ottokar was originally educated for the role of an ecclesiastical administrator. However, after the death in 1247 of Vladislaus, Margrave of Moravia, Ottokar's older brother and the heir of Bohemian Kingdom, Ottokar became the heir. According to popular oral tradition, Ottokar was profoundly shocked by his brother's death and did not involve himself in politics, becoming focused on hunting and drinking. In 1248 he was enticed by discontented nobles to lead a rebellion against his father, King Wenceslaus. During this rebellion he received the nickname "the younger King" (mladší král).

Wenceslaus managed to defeat the rebels and imprisoned his son.[1] Ottokar II held the title of King of Bohemia from 31 July 1248 to November 1249.[2]

Father and son were eventually reconciled to assist the King's aim of acquiring the neighboring Duchy of Austria. The Duchy had been without a ruler since the death of Duke Frederick II in 1246. Wenceslaus initially attempted to acquire the duchy by marrying his heir, Vladislav, to the last Duke's niece Gertrude. That match had been cut short by Vladislav's death and Gertrude's re-marriage to Herman VI, Margrave of Baden. The latter was rejected by the Austrian estates and could not establish his rule in Austria. Wenceslaus used this as pretext to invade Austria in 1250 — according to some sources, the estates called upon him in to restore order.

Wenceslaus released Ottokar very soon and in 1251 made him Margrave of Moravia and installed him, with the approval of the Austrian nobles, as governor of Austria. Ottokar entered Austria, where the estates acclaimed him as Duke. To legitimize his position, Ottokar married the late Duke Frederick II's sister Margaret, who was his senior by 30 years and the widow of Henry of Hohenstaufen (who, ironically, had been engaged to Ottokar's aunt Saint Agnes of Bohemia prior to marrying Margaret). Their marriage took place on 11 February 1252.[2][3]

In 1253, King Wenceslaus died and Ottokar succeeded his father as King of Bohemia. After the death of the German King Konrad IV in 1254, Ottokar also hoped to obtain the Imperial dignity for himself, but his election bid was unsuccessful and Richard of Cornwall was elected instead.

Building up of the empire[edit]

At the peak of his power, Ottokar II's realm stretched from the Krkonoše mountains to the Adriatic Sea.

Feeling threatened by Ottokar's growing regional power, his cousin Béla IV, King of Hungary, challenged the young king. Béla formed a loose alliance with the Duke of Bavaria and claimed the Duchy of Styria, which had been a component of Austria since 1192. The conflict was quelled through papal mediation. It was agreed that Ottokar was to yield large parts of Styria to Béla in exchange for recognition of his right to the remainder of Austria. However, after a few years the conflict resumed and Ottokar defeated the Hungarians in July 1260 at the Battle of Kressenbrunn, ending years of disputes over Styria with Béla IV.

Béla now ceded Styria back to Ottokar, and his claim to those territories was formally recognized by Richard of Cornwall, king of Germany, the nominal ruler of all German lands. This peace agreement was also sealed by a royal marriage. Ottokar ended his marriage to Margaret and married Béla's young granddaughter Kunigunda of Slavonia. Kunigunde became the mother of his children. The youngest of them became his only legitimate son, Wenceslaus.

Ottokar II also led two crusade expeditions against the pagan Old Prussians. Königsberg (now Kaliningrad, Russia), founded in 1255 by the Teutonic Order, was named in his honour and later became the capital of Ducal Prussia.

In 1266 he inherited the Egerland, in 1269 Carinthia and part of Carniola, and in 1272 he acquired Friuli. His claim was once again contested by the Hungarians on the field of battle. After another victory he became the most powerful king within the Empire.

The way to the final battle[edit]

A new election for the Imperial German throne took place in 1273. But Ottokar was again not the successful candidate. He refused to recognize his victorious rival, Rudolf of Habsburg, and urged the Pope to adopt a similar policy. At a convention of the Imperial Diet at Nuremberg in 1274, Rudolf decreed that all imperial lands that had changed hands since the death of Emperor Frederick II must be returned to the crown. This would have deprived Ottokar of Styria, Austria, and Carinthia.

In 1276 Rudolf placed Ottokar under the ban of the empire and besieged Vienna. This compelled Ottokar in November 1276 to sign a new treaty by which he gave up all claims to Austria and the neighboring duchies, retaining for himself only Bohemia and Moravia. Ottokar's son Wenceslaus was also betrothed to Rudolf's daughter Judith. It was an uneasy peace. Two years later, the Bohemian king tried to recover his lost lands by force. Ottokar found allies and collected a large army, but he was defeated with Hungarian assistance and killed at the Battle of Dürnkrut and Jedenspeigen on the March on 26 August 1278. That year his son Wenceslaus II of Bohemia succeeded him as King of Bohemia.

Marriage and children[edit]

On 11 February 1252, Ottokar married Margaret, Duchess of Austria. Margaret was sick and left the marriage childless when she was repudiated in 1261.[3] On 25 October 1261, Ottokar married his second wife Kunigunda of Slavonia. They probably had four children.[4]

Ottokar also had two natural sons and some daughters. The most important of this issue was Nicholas I, Duke of Troppau (Czech: Mikuláš I. Opavský, Polish: Mikołaj I Opawski). His first-born child was never accepted as the crown prince to the Bohemian crown by the sitting pope, and was therefore in 1269 given the Duchy of Opava instead.

The most significant of Ottokar's natural children are as follows:

  • Nicholas I, Duke of Troppau (1255–1318) (Mikuláš I. Opavský), the king's first-born son and also an ancestor of the Přemyslid dynasty in Opava.

From the marriage with Kunigunda there were four children:


Ottokar is considered one of the greatest kings of Bohemia, along with Charles IV. He was a founder of many new towns (about 30 — not only in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, but also in Austria and Styria) and incorporated many existing settlements through civic charters, giving them new privileges. He was a strong proponent of trade, law and order. Furthermore, he instituted open immigration policies through which skilled German-speaking immigrants settled in major cities throughout his domains. As noted, the historic East Prussian city of Königsberg (King's Mountain) was named in his honor as a tribute to his support of the Teutonic Knights in their war with the pagan Old Prussians.

As Czech traditional law was different from that of his other domains, many principles introduced during his reign formed core of the Czech law for the following centuries. From his time stems the oldest preserved source of Czech law, Zemské desky, and also the oldest written Czech communal law, recorded in the founding deeds of the respective towns. By supporting the city of Jihlava (German: Iglau) with its mines, he laid foundation of the silver wealth of later Bohemian kings. Privileges of civic charters usually excluded the towns from obedience to the traditional courts held by members of nobility. This can be seen as a step towards equality and a precursor of modern civil law.

In the country, Ottokar's introduction of the Law of Emphyteusis into the Czech law is sometimes interpreted as "Germanization". In fact it was progressive, for it freed subjects from feudal obligations, except for rent — and tax, if such was levied. Free selling and leaving of estates could also be bought and soon became common. Thus, Ottokar can be reckoned an early Bohemian ruler who furthered legal equality in Medieval times. This change of legal environment in Bohemia was introduced by systematic founding of villages chartered under this law.

He issued also a general privilege to the Jews (1254), which established principles of integration of the Jews into the Czech society until 1848. The Jews were now eligible for various positions, such as servants of crown, thereby being somewhat less subject to discrimination. Instead of being able to claim only the support of individual lords, the Jews could from then on claim support of any royal officer.

Ottokar followed with a systematic policy of strengthening his domains by building fortifications. Besides supporting towns, he built many fortresses himself — Zvíkov Castle, Křivoklát Castle or Bezděz Castle in Bohemia, and the famed Hofburg Palace in Vienna — and also induced his vassals to build castles. A sign of rising strength of Bohemia, it was also a reaction to the Mongol raids of the 13th century (see Béla IV of Hungary). Conflict for the title of ownership to these fortified places built by members of nobility was probably the source of an uprising in 1276, which cost Ottokar the Austrian lands, and two years later (in an attempt for reconquest) his life.

Some of the fortresses built by Ottokar were for centuries the strongest in Bohemia. Ironically, Bezděz Castle served as a prison for his son Wenceslaus II of Bohemia for short time after Ottokar's death. The castle housed Bohemian legal records Zemské desky and many spiritual and temporal treasures during the destructive civil strife of the Hussite wars (1419–1434) in Bohemia. It was conquered in 1620, during the 30 Years' War, but by then it was long deserted, and in that state was defended by rebelling subjects against an Imperial army.

Before his conflict with Rudolf of Habsburg, Ottokar exacted influence over a number of relatives, allies and vassals in Germany, such as the Margraviate of Brandenburg — and spiritual principalities, including the Archbishopric of Salzburg and the Patriarchate of Aquileia. After the death of Konradin in 1268 he was an heir of the House of Hohenstaufen's claim to the imperial crown. However, he did not raise this claim, remaining content with informal influence in Germany. In 1267 he was appointed protector of the royal domains (of the Holy Roman Empire) east of the Rhine by the German king, Richard of Cornwall. He held this office till 1273.

Ottokar is a significant figure in history and legend. In the Divine Comedy by Dante, Ottokar is seen outside the gates of Purgatory, in amiable companionship with his imperial rival Rudolf. He is also the protagonist of a tragedy by the 19th-century Austrian playwright Franz Grillparzer, titled König Ottokars Glück und Ende.

In the painting,Přemysl Otakar II: The Union of Slavic Dynasties, part of Alfons Mucha's 20-canvas work The Slav Epic, Ottokar is depicted at his niece's wedding celebration, forging alliances with other Slavic rulers in attendance.


In Popular Culture[edit]

King Ottokar probably served as inspiration for Herges' King Ottokar's Sceptre. In the Adventures of Tintin, Ottokar is a legendary King of the fictitious realm of Syldavia, geographically overlapping, loosely, some southern parts of the real Ottokar II's Kingdom.

External links[edit]



Ottokar II of Bohemia
Born: c. 1233 Died: 26 August 1278
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Wenceslaus I
King of Bohemia
Succeeded by
Wenceslaus II
Preceded by
Frederick II
Duke of Austria and Styria
Succeeded by
Rudolph I
Preceded by
Ulrich III
Duke of Carinthia and of Carniola