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Loans and debts of the Bohemian kings in the Middle Ages: From the last Premyslids until the end of the pre-Hussite period (1262-1419)


The loans of medieval rulers are extraordinary incomes which, at some points of reign, supplemented insufficient regular incomes. From the historical sources, we are often worse informed about the credit terms than about consequence of a loan, that is about debt and conditions of its payment, often in the form of a pledge. Medieval rulers of Bohemia and Moravia from the Premyslid dynasty, who became the last bearers of the kingship in Central Europe at the beginning of the 13th century, used their revenues not only for the purpose of government, but also for prestige promotion and propaganda. In Italy, Ottokar II Premysl, called the ‘king of iron and gold’, was rumoured to have 200,000 golden marks and 800,000 silver marks in his four castles in four towers, not to mention golden and silver dishes, jewels, and countless decorations (Kuthan 1993, p. 39). According to the Description of Germany (Descript io Theutoniae) from about 1290, the Bohemian king had a revenue of 100,000 silver marks annually and an unknown author, describing Eastern Europe in 1308, argues that Bohemian kings are mighty not thanks to number of inhabitants, but because of monetary resources flowing from silver mines used for the hiring of mercenaries (Zemlicka 2011, 246; Jan 2015, p. 13).

The key concept for the better understanding of medieval royal economy in Bohemia is the royal chamber (camera regts), which denotes not only the place, where the royal revenues were directed, but also the summary of king’s property and incomes flowing from it (Zemlicka 2011, pp. 246-7). The Bohemian exile Pavel Stransky, only in 17th century, tried to aptly express what the revenues of Bohemian kings are based on. His words are, however, applicable for the High and Late Middle Ages as well: ‘Regular royal incomes in Bohemia flow partly from annual pay of monasteries and free towns, partly from golden and silver mines, partly from duties and partly from real estates, called chamber or alimental or land registry estates’ (Zemlicka 2011, pp. 232-3). One part of the regular royal revenues originated not only from taxation of various economic activities ofsubordinated institutions, but also from real estates, which were managed by kings via their loyal administrators. During the high-medieval colonisation in Central Europe, the structure of pays, levies, and burdens transformed from natural taxes into pecuniary taxes. Kings monopolised some rights connected with revenues - since then the so-called royal rights (iura regalia) - they could also lease or pledge them. Royal incomes and expenses fluctuated depending on wars, paying of wealthy dowries, recompenses, occupation of new territories, etc. Extant records of these fluctuations are so unsatisfactory that it is usually difficult to associate these tendencies with particular amounts of money.

Accounts of the Bohemian king and his court do not survive before the second half of the 14th century and the later situation for Czech lands is, unfortunately, not satisfactory either. Therefore, it is not surprising that studies on the finances of earlier periods are based on documents, forms, letters and narrative sources rather than accounting books.

(Zalud 2016, p. 59)

In spite of dismal state of historical records, we often ascertain loans and debts of Bohemian kings of high and late middle ages. We should remember that ‘ordinary revenues of the majority of the medieval rulers often barely sufficed for their everyday needs and did not allow them to accumulate substantial reserves. Therefore, it would be mistaken to attribute to medieval rulers some budgetary irresponsibility’ (Postan 1979, p. 431). It is rather appropriate to speak about the chaotic complexity of royal financial transactions. A large part of regular incomes did not come to the royal chamber in order to be distributed but was sent by the kings directly from its source to recipients or creditors. The contemporary researcher is neither able to find out how the repayments of debts were supervised nor to discover the financial value of property of pledge in relation to amounts which were paid from it as payment of debts. That is why the following study presents the first and only rough outline (or chronological survey) of the finance-flow between Bohemian kings as debtors, on the one hand, and their creditors, on the other.

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