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Kings of Bohemia from the House of Luxembourg and their extraordinary incomes

John the Blind exploited his regular financial resources - especially taxes, king's mining revenue (urbura), and coinage - but made use of incomes from mercenary service, alliance agreements, from booty, and ransom. He also extended the Bohemian kingdom to Lusatia and Silesia, imposing taxes on his new subjects. During his reign, King John amassed a disorganized and vast tangle of debts and their repayment by John’s successors - Emperor and King Charles IV and Wenceslaus, Duke of Luxembourg - was in some cases prolonged until 1370s. John’s last will from 1340 shows that the blind king was aware of the problem and appealed to his successors to continue repaying his debts. Among the executors of his last will, we can find royal financiers from the upper social classes - his uncle Baldwin, Archbishop of Trier, Rudolph, Duke of Saxony, noble Peter of Rosenberg and Vanek of Wartenberg - as well as Abbots of Cistercian monasteries in Bohemia, etc. Some important financiers, however, are not named in that document: Frenzlin (Franz) Jacobi from the patrician family of Prague, Gisco (Gisilbert) of Reste from Silesia, and Arnold of Arion from the County of Luxembourg (Zalud 2016, pp. 66-72). Many of the royal real estates and revenues were pledged, the burden of older royal debts was growing and so John’s heir of throne, Prince Charles, observed the almost complete pledging of real estates and castles in 1330s. Prince Charles tried to improve unfavourable situation of royal economy and established the annual taxation of monasteries in Moravia and later in Bohemia (Borovsky 2005, p. 123), yet he could not avoid taking out loans from the nobility as well as from wealthy patricians (Susta 1946, pp. 216-19). Charles’ complicated cooperation with his father by ruling in Bohemia and Moravia was finished by an agreement at the beginning of 1342. King John should stay beyond the kingdom two years in exchange of revenue of 5000 silver marks (Susta 1946, pp. 370-2). It seems that indebtedness of the kingdom did not decreased considerably during this period and so Charles forced his father to promise not to alienate other royal real estates, especially towns and castles, in the presence of pope Clement VI in Avignon in 1344 (Susta 1946, p. 415). The commitment was not fulfilled: increased expenses on the Charles’ election the King of the Romans in 1346 caused cancellation of such a restriction. Charles had to buy votes of the electors - except for his father - and that is why several capable financiers, especially Arnold of Arion and Rainhard of Schönau, were employed. Their loans were assured mostly by deeds of pledge. The vote of Charles great-uncle, Baldwin, Archbishop of Trier, was secured by pledging almost the whole County of Luxemburg (Knake 2010, p. 396).

Charles ascension to the throne of the King of the Romans coincides with the crushing defeat of his cavalry and the death of his father at the battle of Crecy. Over three years, Charles had to assert his rank in Germany against the Wittelsbach party and abundant deeds of pledge helped him to recruit political followers (Bender 1967). He ‘contracted nearly a third of all the pledges in the Middle Ages’ (in total about 1100 pledge contracts) but‘strictly avoided pledging his own hereditary territory’ (Isenmann 1999, p. 254). However, we must confess that pledging policy of Charles IV in his Central European domains remain unresearched. If we should mention only one important Charles’ financier from the first period of his rule (1346-1378), it would be Dietrich of Portitz, who rose from humble beginnings to the title of archbishop of Magdeburg (1361-1367) and was an important personality at the court of Charles IV. Never named to the office of chamberlain (subcamerarius), Dietrich as the king’s main creditor got an extraordinary privilege from him in 1357. Charles pledged him all royal revenues from the Bohemian kingdom till the repayment of his financial claims. Dietrich’s nephew was elevated to the Bohemian nobility and became the burgrave of Vysehrad in 1360 (Fajt 2015, pp. 144-96). After Dietrich’s departure for Magdeburg, his position in the administration of the royal finances was taken by Bohemian noblemen, honoured with title ‘Master of the royal chamber’ (magister cameras regalis): Zbynek Zaji'c of Hasenburg, Busek the Younger of Velhartice, Bores V. of Riesenburg, Hasek of Zvffetice, and Tema of Colditz (Kavka 1991, pp. 23-36). An accommodating creditor of the often-indebted king and (from 1355) emperor was his younger brother John Henry, margrave of Moravia (1322-1375). Thanks to Adolf Nuglisch, we have Charles’ revenues from the Holy Roman Empire relatively well documented. The emperor’s two campaigns to Italy in 1355 and 1368 were especially lucrative: the first ‘Romzug’ brought him - according to Nuglisch - more than 565,000 golden florins, the second provided him with more than 311,000 golden florins (Nuglisch 1899, pp. 112, 115).

The most complicated military and diplomatic operation of Charles’ territorial politics was conquest of the Margraviate of Brandenburg in 1373. Although the land was conquered by armed forces, the circumspect emperor prepared for the defeated Wittelsbach Margrave Otto financial compensation of 500,000 guilders. The main creditors of this munificent amount were Bohemian towns, the margrave of Moravia along with his adult sons (64,000 florins), whereas Charles’ domain in the Upper Palatinate (in Bavaria) were given to the Wittelsbachs as a pledge (Kavka 1993, pp. 150-5). Charles IV paid for the election of his first son Wenceslaus IV as King of the Romans in 1376 with another huge amount of 120,000 florins, which was later collected from the free imperial cities in form of an extraordinary tax (Rapp 2007, p. 224; Kavka 1993, pp. 176-92). Such ambitious foreign politics was not conceivable without considerable credits. According to F. Kavka and F. Smahel, Charles IV drew from his pledged family domains (Bohemia, Moravia, etc.) ca 50,000 threescore groschen, whereas his deeds of pledge in the Roman Empire brought him credits of 445,000 silver marks, 270,000 halers, and 698,000 golden florins. These enormous deeds of pledge weakened economic potential of the royal chamber until the reign of his successor, King Wenceslaus IV. The slow repayment of the pledges, which dragged on for years, brought financial losses to the royal chamber (Smahel 1995, p. 208).

Between 1330 and 1350, the production of silver ore in Kutna Hora declined from 20-30,000 kg annually to ca 10,000. Moreover, the constant outflow of precious metals from the Bohemian kingdom abroad weakened the economic potential of the land. Both rulers, Charles as well as Wenceslaus, tried to compensate these losses by the debasement of the quality of the Prague groschen and of its small change, they both strived for restriction of metal export, but in vain. The value of Prague groschen in relation to Hungarian ducat was depreciated by 42 per cent during Charles’ reign and by 50 per cent during Wenceslaus’ reign, to 1419 (Smahel 1995, pp. 210-11). However, the evaluation of this development is not unequivocal nowadays (Cechura 2012, p. 325).

Just as his father, Wenceslaus IV was inventive in relation to the means of the enrichment of the royal chamber. It is documented by the loan of 20,000 guilders from his expectant brother-in-law King Richard II of England in 1381 (Bartlova & Bobkova 2003, p. 304), yields of three papal tithes in 1380-1400 (in sum ca 4200 threescore Prague groschen) or by his onetime amortization of Christian debts towards Jews in the free imperial cities in Germany, which made him a profit of 40,000 golden florins (Smahel 1995, p. 219; Hruza 2005, p. 125). On the one hand, Wenceslaus collected valuables (or treasure) and protected them at his royal castles, on the other hand, he callously exploited repeated taxation of royal towns and monasteries, often during a single year. The king was afflicted by several political disasters - prisoner of the Bohemian nobility in 1395, deposition from the kingship of the Romans and war with Ruprecht of Palatinate in 1400, prisoner of his brother Sigismund in 1402 - accompanied by economic disasters - the pillaging of Kutna Hora, the most important mining town in Bohemia, along with the loss of valuables in 1403, substantial debasement of the quality of the Prague groschen and of its small change in 1407 (Castelin 1953, pp. 142-3). According to F. Smahel, repeated debasement together with lack of precious metals in Bohemia caused a profound decline of the royal finances as well as of the Bohemian coin system in 1417-18 (Smahel 1995, pp. 214, 220).

Delineation of the economic situation of the royal chamber is more explicit at the end of the 14th century. Not only charters, forms, and narrative sources are preserved, but also extensive remains of royal registers of real estates, the arrangement of the collection of taxes from royal towns and monasteries, and a roll of expenditures of the royal chamber in 1418. This roll shows that about 55 per cent of royal incomes from towns and monasteries was sent by kings directly from their sources to creditors. We are able to gain precise data; however, such lists of revenues are not all-inclusive (Smahel 1995, pp. 217-19). From the royal registers of real estates, we can gain a realistic idea about the amount and social status of the royal creditors under Wenceslaus IV. The dukes and margraves of Moravia held the highest position among them, then the Bohemian Lords - Jan Krusina of Lichenburg, Tema of Colditz, Bocek of Podebrad, Petr Zmrzlik of Svojsln or Jan Tavak of Schwamberg - but the most numerous was lesser nobility and rich townspeople - Jan of Lestkov, Zikmund Huler, Mikulas called the Poor of Lobkovic, Jan of Chotemic, Jan Sadlo of Smilkov, Vlasek of Kladno, Filip Lout of Dedice, Petr of Netvofice or Konrad of Vechta. Many of them became holders of important royal castles and strongholds or court offices. The most important financial offices of the king remained the chamberlain (subcamerarius) and the Masters of the royal chamber (magistri camerae regalis) but we are not able to distinguish their official authority more clearly nowadays.

After the debasement of 1407, it seems the king took into account the descending value of coins when he issued some deeds. Real estates, that were pledged by Wenceslaus at that time, got two monetary values: the first, lower, in case of redeeming it by Wenceslaus himself, the second, higher, in case of redeeming it by his successors. These options are documented for the pledged estates Potstejn and Kostelec nad OrlicI (1409), Dvur Kralove nad Labem (1410), and for some properties in Moravia in 1413. In this troubled era associated with plundering companies, many people of noble birth, but impoverished, became robbers or mercenaries. That is why Wenceslaus often used his revenues as soldier’s pay or as recompense.

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