St. Wenceslas I von Böhmen Duke of Bohemia
- Born: 907, Prague, Bohemia
- Died: Abt 935, Stara Boleslav, Bohemia about age 28
Wenceslas (or Wenceslaus; Czech: Václav; German: Wenzel), styled Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia (b. 907, d. 935 or 929 - see death controversy below) was the son of Vratislav I, Duke of Bohemia. His father was raised in a Christian milieu through his father, Borivoj's, who was a conversion by Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, the "apostles to the Slavs". His mother Drahomira, however, was the daughter of a pagan tribal chief who held on to the pagan belief system, as did many Czech nobles at the time, fearing that the arrival of Christian bishops would threaten their authority. Wenseslas himself is venerated as Saint Wenceslas (see below).
When Wenceslas was thirteen his father was killed in battle and he was brought up by his grandmother, Saint Ludmila, who raised him as a Christian. A dispute between the fervently Christian regent and her daughter-in-law drove Ludmilla to seek sanctuary at Tetin Castle near Beroun. Drahomira, who was trying to garner support from the pagan nobility, was furious at her son's conversion and arranged to have Ludmilla strangled at Tetin on September 15th 921. Drahomira then assumed the regency and, according to one source, ruled well - notably in fortifying the Czech border against foreign raiders and suppressing the rival Slavnik clan of Libice. Having regained control of her son, Drahomira set out to convert him to the old pagan religion. Wenceslas, however, continued to practice Christianity in secrecy.
Career In 924 or 925 Wenceslas assumed government for himself and had Drahomira exiled. After gaining the throne at the age of eighteen, he promoted the spread of Christianity throughout Bohemia. This was accomplished not only by building churches and cathedrals, such as St Vitus Cathedral (named after a Saxon saint) at Hradcany Hill in Prague, but also by his acquiescence to the influence of the Holy Roman Empire. Wenceslas was emersed in the Catholic teachings of Ludmilla, who he arranged to be canonised as the first Czech martyr. As such, the pagan nobility of Bohemia saw Wenceslas and his faith as not only a threat to their pagan tradition, but also to their very sovereignity.
Early in 929 Wenceslas became a vassal of the German King Henry I the Fowler, although it remains unclear as to whether this was the result of a voluntary submission or forced upon Wenceslas by a German invasion. Some chroniclers place either the growing German influence, or hostility to Wenceslas' religious policies as the main reason for his death.
Death and controversy In September of 935 (or 929), a group of these nobles allied with Wenceslas' younger brother, Boleslas, in a plot to kill the prince. In addition to having been raised in the pagan tradition by Drahomira, Boleslas had the added incentive of being Wenceslas' successor to the throne. After inviting his brother to the feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian, he murdered him on his way to church and thus succeeded him as the Prince of Bohemia. (Note the title Prince, indicating independence from the Catholic Holy Roman Empire, as opposed to Duke, the title granted by the Empire to Wenceslas.) The actual murder was purported as being hacked to death at the door of the church in the town now called Stara Boleslav.
There are discrepancies in the records regarding the date of Wenceslas' death. It has been argued that Wenceslas' remains were transferred to St Vitus's Church in 932, ruling out the later date; however, the year 935 is now favoured by historians as a date of his murder.
Preceded by: Vratislav I Duke of Bohemia Succeeded by: Boleslaus I
After his death, Wenceslas was canonized as a saint due to his martyr's death, as well as several purported miracles that occurred after his death. Wenceslas is the patron saint of the Czech people and the Czech Republic. His feast day is September 28. Since the year 2000, this day is a public holiday in Czech Republic, celebrated as Czech Statehood Day.
In his honor, a statue of Wenceslas clad in armour on horseback stands in Prague's Václavské námestí (Wenceslas Square). This statue has little basis in history, however, in view of the Duke's lacklustre (if non-existent) military career.
Various "King in the mountain" legends have been told about Wenceslas. He is best known outside the Czech Republic as the subject of the Christmas carol "Good King Wenceslas".