One thing I realized very quickly after starting to research my family’s genealogy is that not all of our ancestors are ‘nice’ guys or gals. Wenzel I and Boleslave “der Grausame, the Cruel” is only one of many I have found, and I’m sure I’ll find more.
In this post, I describe my children’s 33rd great grandfather, Boleslav “der Grausame” or “the Cruel”, Duke of the Bohemians.
Boleslav, the dear boy, was the brother of Wenzel I, Duke of the Bohemians, most commonly known in our day as “Good King Wenceslaus” of the age old Christmas carol. These two are just another example of two brothers who grow up to be the epitome of ‘good’ (Wenzel) and ‘evil’ (Boleslav).
Wenzel and Boleslav were sons of Vratislav I, Duke of the Bohemians and his wife Drahomira. They were raised at a time of religious upheaval, their own father being Christian and their mother being the daughter of a pagan chief. She was, however, baptised at the time of her marriage to Vratislav. Vratislav was killed in battle in 1921 at the rather young age of 33.
Wenzel, born about 907, although the oldest of the two boys, was only 14 when he succeeded his father upon his death.
He was raised as a Christian thereafter by his grandmother, Saint Ludmila and was known as a humble, pious and intelligent young man. Ludmila was soon forced to seek sanctuary near Beroun at Tetin Castle as a result of a dispute with her daughter-in-law, Wenzel and Boleslav’s mother.
This did not prove safe for Ludmila though, as her daughter-in-law Drahomira, furious at her loss of control of her son, had Ludmila strangled on September 15, 921 at Tetin.
At about 18 years of age, Wenzel began controlling government and had his mother exiled. He founded St. Veit, Prague Castle in Prague. This still exists today as St. Vitus Cathedral.
Although at one time his father had been allied with Duke Arnulf of Bavaria, Duke Arnulf had since formed an alliance with King Henry I “the Fowler” and they joined forces to attack and force Wenzel to resume paying a tribute that had been assessed first in 895.
Henry I had needed the tribute to pay tribute himself to the Magyars in 926. Another reason for the attack may have been an alliance formed between Bohemia, the Magyars and the Polabian Slavs.
A group of nobles allied with Wenzel’s brother Boleslav after a quarrel between the brothers, plotting to kill Wenzel. Not suspecting a thing, Wenzel attended the feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian upon Boleslav’s invitation on September 28, 935 and three allies of Boleslav’s, Tira, Hněvsa and Čsta murdered him on his way to church, clearing the way for Boleslav to succeed as Duke of the Bohemians. Wenzel was buried at St. Veit.
Soon considered a martyr and saint, a cult of Wenzel arose in Bohemia and England. Within a few decades of his death, there were four biographies of Wenzel published and they had great influence on the perception of the ‘rex justus’ or ‘righteous king’. The common belief was that his power arose from great piety.
Boleslav became known as “der Grausame” or “the Cruel” as a result of his participation in the plot to kill his brother. His governance was a period of hostile relations with the empire until Otto I, King of Germany, forced him to pay tribute fourteen years later.
The Bohemians helped King Otto defeat the Hungarians at Lechfeld in 955, and later they crossed the Carpathian mountains and occupied Krakow and Silesia. In 965, Duke Boleslav formed an alliance with Mieszko I, Prince of Poland. Their alliance was confirmed by Mieszko’s marriage to Dobrawa, Boleslav’s daughter.
Duke Boleslav supported the rebellion of Heinrich II, Duke of Bavaria, against Emperor Otto II. Once Emperor Otto had confiscated the duke’s territories, Heinrich II fled for refuge with Duke Boleslav in Bohemia. Boleslaw had married a woman named Biagota and died in 967.
Foundation for Medieval Genealogy; http://fmg.ac/Projects/MedLands/BOHEMIA.htm#BoleslavIIdied99.