Born a son of Eliška, the last member of Premysl dynasty, and John of Louxembourg, who was Czech king only on paper and spent most of his life in France, it is no wonder that Charles’ childhood was very complicated. Born under the name of Wenceslas, young prince was taken away from his mother and spent his childhood at the French Court. There he received top education, one of his teachers was later Pope Clement VI. Out of respect for his French upbringing, the young prince changed his name into Charles.
In his early twenties, he became Margrave of Moravia and King of the Holy Roman Empire. He fought alongside his father in 1346 at the battle of Crecy, the deciding clash of the Hundred Years War. John of Louxembourg, one of Europe’s greatest warriors, was blind at the time and lost his life in the battle. Charles became Czech King and nine years later was voted head of the Holy Roman Empire.
His love for the Czech Kingdom made Charles IV one of the biggest patriots the country ever had. He spent most of his time on political reforms. He changed the Kingdom’s name into “Lands of the Czech Crown” dividing it territorially and economically. Charles himself said that the country doesn’t belong to the king – the king belongs to the country.
Charles revived the legend of Saint Wenceslas seeing him not only as a sensible ruler but as a perfect model of Christianity. Indeed, Charles spent a lot of time in prayer and was a skilled woodcarver. Many of his sculptures and carvings, depicting Jesus and the Saints, can be found in Karlštejn, a castle near Prague where the king liked to spend his time. A legend says, that no woman could set foot here.
And speaking of women, Charles had many of them. He had four wives and loved each one of them, but married primarily for political reasons. His last wife, Eliška, is very well remembered, for the chroniclers claimed that she was strong as a man and could break swords. Charles himself was very tall for his time (173 cm), but developed severe back problems and wasn’t very physically fit.
During his reign, the Church gained power. He supported it materially and also founded Prague Archbishopric. Although Catholic, he tried to revive the Slavic holy service of Cyril and Method in Emause, a Prague monastery at the Charles Square. The growing authority of Church proved to be one of his biggest mistakes, because it led to the Hussite revolution in which his two sons, Wenceslas IV and Sigmund, were the main villains.
In the latest opinion poll on who was the greatest Czech, Charles IV was a definite choice. Not only did he give Prague its architecture and world fame, but he did it out of sheer patriotism, love for his country and its tradition.