The coat of arms of the Přemyslid dynasty (until 1253-62).
Bohemia was made a part of the early Slavic state of Great Moravia, under the rule of Svatopluk I (r. 870–894). After Svatopluk’s death Great Moravia was weakened by years of internal conflict and constant warfare, ultimately collapsing and fragmenting due to the continual incursions of the invading nomadic Magyars. Bohemia’s initial incorporation into the Moravian Empire resulted in the extensive Christianization of the population. A native monarchy arose to the throne, and Bohemia came under the rule of the Přemyslid dynasty, which would rule the Czech lands for the next several hundred years.
The Přemyslids secured their frontiers from the remnant Asian interlocurs, after the collapse of the Moravian state, by entering into a state of semi-vassalage to the Frankish rulers. This alliance was facilitated by Bohemia’s conversion to Christianity, in the 9th century. Continuing close relations were developed with the East Frankish kingdom, which devolved from the Carolingian Empire, into East Francia, eventually becoming the Holy Roman Empire.
After a decisive victory of the Holy Roman Empire and Bohemia over invading Magyars in the 955 Battle of Lechfeld, Boleslaus I of Bohemia was granted the March of Moravia by German emperor Otto the Great. Bohemia would remain a largely autonomous state under the Holy Roman Empire for several decades. The jurisdiction of the Holy Roman Empire was definitively reasserted when Jaromír of Bohemia was granted fief of the Kingdom of Bohemia by Emperor King Henry II of the Holy Roman Empire, with the promise that he hold it as a vassal once he re-occupied Prague with a German army in 1004, ending the rule of Boleslaw I of Poland.
The first to use the title of “King of Bohemia” were the Přemyslid dukes Vratislav II (1085) and Vladislav II (1158), but their heirs would return to the title of duke. The title of king became hereditary under Ottokar I (1198). His grandson Ottokar II (king from 1253–1278) conquered a short-lived empire which contained modern Austria and Slovenia. The mid-13th century saw the beginning of substantial German immigration as the court sought to replace losses from the brief Mongol invasion of Europe in 1241. Germans settled primarily along the northern, western, and southern borders of Bohemia, although many lived in towns throughout the kingdom.
The coat of arms of the Kingdom of Bohemia.
The House of Luxembourg accepted the invitation to the Bohemian throne with the marriage to the Premyslid heiress, Elizabeth and the crowning subsequent of John I of Bohemia in 1310. His son, Charles IV became King of Bohemia in 1346. He founded Charles University in Prague, central Europe’s first university, two years later.
His reign brought Bohemia to its peak both politically and in total area, resulting in his being the first King of Bohemia to also be elected as Holy Roman Emperor. Under his rule the Bohemian crown controlled such diverse lands as Moravia, Silesia, Upper Lusatia and Lower Lusatia, Brandenburg, an area around Nuremberg called New Bohemia, Luxembourg, and several small towns scattered around Germany.
During the ecumenical Council of Constance in 1415, Jan Hus, the rector of Charles University and a prominent reformer and religious thinker, was sentenced to be burnt at the stake as a heretic. The verdict was passed despite the fact that Hus was granted formal protection by Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg prior to the journey. Hus was invited to attend the council to defend himself and the Czech positions in the religious court, but with the emperor’s approval, he was executed on 6 July 1415. The execution of Hus, as well as five consecutive papal crusades against followers of Hus, forced the Bohemians to defend themselves in the Hussite Wars.
The uprising against imperial forces was led by a former mercenary, Jan Žižka of Trocnov. As the leader of the Hussite armies, he used innovative tactics and weapons, such as howitzers, pistols, and fortified wagons, which were revolutionary for the time, and established Žižka as a great general who never lost a battle.
After Žižka’s death, Prokop the Great took over the command for the army, and under his lead the Hussites were victorious for another ten years, to the sheer terror of Europe. The Hussite cause gradually splintered into two main factions, the moderate Utraquists and the more fanatic Taborites. The Utraquists began to lay the groundwork for an agreement with the Catholic Church and found the more radical views of the Taborites distasteful. Additionally, with general war-weariness and yearning for order, the Utraquists were able to eventually defeat the Taborites in the Battle of Lipany in 1434. Sigismund said after the battle that “only the Bohemians could defeat the Bohemians.”
Despite an apparent victory for the Catholics, the Bohemian Utraquists were still strong enough to negotiate freedom of religion in 1436. This happened in the so-called Basel Compacts, declaring peace and freedom between Catholics and Utraquists. It would only last for a short period of time, as Pope Pius II declared the Basel Compacts to be invalid in 1462.