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History of the Czech Republic

I. In Brief

  • End of the 5th and beginning of the 6th century - arrival of Slav tribes to the territory of Czech Lands
  • Beginning of the 9th century - arrival of Christian missionaries
  • Second half of the 9th century - 1306 - a gradual strengthening of the Czech state during the reign of the Premyslid dynasty
  • 1346-1378 - the peak in the prestige and power of the Kingdom of Bohemia during the reign of Charles IV
  • Beginning of the 15th century - a crisis of state leads to the Hussite movement
  • 1526 - the Habsburg dynasty succeeds to the throne of Bohemia - the formation of a multi-national empire
  • 1620 - the defeat of the Czech Estates at the Battle of White Mountain, continued centralization of the Habsburg Empire
  • 28.10.1918 - foundation of an independent state of Czechs and Slovaks - Czechoslovak Republic
  • 15.3.1939 - 8.5.1945 - German occupation
  • 25.2.1948 - Communist takeover
  • August 1968 - Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact countries brings an end to the "Prague Spring" and the attempt to build "Socialism with a human face"
  • November 1989 - fall of the Communist regime
  • 1993 Czech Republic founded after the split of Czechoslovakia

II. In more detail

Around the 4th century B.C. the present territory of the Czech Republic was populated by Celts. They were the first known ethnic group to arrive in the area, according to historical evidence. The Celtic Boii tribe gave the country its Latin name - Boiohaemum (Bohemia). They were replaced by the German tribes before the beginning of our era. The German tribes were present in the territory of Czech Lands till the beginning of 6th century when they either left or merged with Slav tribes.

At the end of the 5th and the beginning of 6th century Slav tribes settled in the territory of the Czech Lands during the period known as the Migration of Peoples. The first half of the 7thcentury marks the first successful attempt to unite these tribes under a Frankish duke Samo. The so-called "Kingdom of Samo" (623 - 659) resisted the pressure of the powerful Avar empire centered in the current territory of Hungarian lowlands, and defended its territory against the forces of the Franks from the west, with partial success.

The Great Moravian Empire (Beginning of the 830s - 907)

The first real state emerged in the territory of the Czech lands was the Great Moravian Empire known from the beginning of the 30s of the 9th century with its Prince Mojmír I. In 863 the successor of Mojmír, the Prince Rostislav called the Byzantine Christian missionaries Constantin and Methodius to Moravia to introduce Slav liturgy in the country. Prince Svatopluk, who succeeded Rostislav, reintroduced the Latin rite. This decision again confirmed the fact that the Czech Lands were the part of the Latin civilization.

The Premyslid Dynasty (the 9th century - 1306)

Bohemia became the center of an independent state-building process. During the reign of the native Premyslid dynasty, the Czech state gradually grew in strength and succeeded in preserving its actual sovereignty despite formal vassal ties to the Holy Roman Empire. Dukes and later kings of Bohemia had privileged positions of electors of emperors.

  • 935 - death of Duke Wenceslas, the patron saint of the Czech Lands
  • 973-976 - establishment of the Prague Bishopric
  • 1085 - Vratislav became the first Bohemian duke to be granted the right to use a royal title, as a reward for his support of the Emperor Henry IV during the struggle with Pope Gregory VII
  • 1212 - King of Bohemia Premysl Otakar I received The Golden Bull of Sicily, a decree proclaiming Bohemia a kingdom and Bohemian dukes hereditary kings, and also declaring the indivisibility of the Kingdom of Bohemia and regulating the relationship of the realm to the Holy Roman Empire. Bohemia then became one of the most important states within the framework of the Empire.
  • 1253-1278 - the reign of the powerful king Premysl Otakar II was characterized by a policy of expansion of power. This expansionist tendency was continued during the reigns of the last Premysl kings as well.
  • 1306 - the murder of Wenceslas III and the Premysl dynasty dies out in the spear - side.
  • The Luxembourg Dynasty (1310 - 1437)

The reign of the dynasty began when John of Luxembourg (1310-1346), the husband of the Premyslid Princess Elisabeth, was elected King of Bohemia in 1310. The Luxembourg kings added new regions to their kingdom. This realm was named The Crownlands of Bohemia, a term made official by a decree of Charles IV in 1348. The official Crownlands consisted of the Kingdom of Bohemia and the so-called adjoining lands - the Margravate of Moravia, the Silesian principalities, Upper Lusatia and, from 1368, Lower Lusatia too.

The Crowlands of Bohemia reached its height of power and prestige during the reign of Charles IV (1346-1378), the second Luxembourg on the throne of Bohemia: In 1344, the Prague Archbishopric was founded. He established Charles University in 1348 - it was the first university founded north of the Alps. Charles IV was crowned Roman Emperor in Rome in 1355.

The Hussite Movement (1419 - 1436)

Several conditions led to the creation of the Hussite reform movement. The first was the economic and political crisis during the reign of Wenceslas IV (1378-1419), the successor of Charles IV. This crisis was exacerbated by the problems in Europe of this time (the Great Schism, criticism of the Church).

The Hussite movement was inspired by the ideas of Master Jan Hus, a preacher who was burnt at the stake in 1415 at Constance. Despite his death, his supporters successfully continued in their efforts to reform the Church.

Heir to the Crown of Bohemia, the Roman Emperor Sigismund, tried to defeat the growing revolution with force, but the Hussites defeated his five consecutive crusades in the years 1420-1431. Only the victory of 1434, when the moderates defeated the radicals, opened the way for a temporary agreement between Hussite Bohemia and Catholic Europe. This agreement, The Compacts of Basle was proclaimed in 1436 and confirmed the Hussite denomination, and would later be paralleled by the Reformation of the 16th century. The Hussite movement changed the structure of society in many ways. It created religious dualism for the first time in Christian Europe. There was a decline in the power and prosperity of the Church from which the nobility and towns were able to profit. The Czech nation and Czech culture came to the forefront of social

 life. In the years of unrest, a Czech noble - George of Podebrady, a skillful diplomat and a man of outstanding personality, became the leader of Czech political life. He was elected King of Bohemia in 1458. His diplomatic activities - notably his effort to establish a peace confederation of the European sovereigns - even reached beyond the horizon of central Europe.

The Jagellon Dynasty (1471-1526)

1471-1516 - Vladislav Jagellon, a son of King Cazimir of Poland and also a descendant of the Luxembourg dynasty, was elected King of Bohemia. During the reigns of Vladislav and his son Louis, the power of the Estates grew, however, royal power diminished. Various conflicts also took place: a conflict between royal towns and nobles, and religious struggles between the Hussite Church and the minority Catholic Church which aimed to regain its former power.

The Habsburg Dynasty (1526-1918)

The Jagellon dynasty died out due to the death of Louis of Jagellon at the battle of Mohacz. The husband of Princess Anna Jagellon, Ferdinand of Austria was elected King of Bohemia and the Habsburgs of Austria succeeded to the throne of Bohemia. The Habsburg rule brought the re-introduction of the Roman Catholic faith, centralisation and the construction of a multi-national empire. The Habsburgs included the Crownlands of Bohemia in their monarchy, and they remained a part of the Habsburg empire until 1918.

When Rudolf II (1576-1611), during his reign, left Vienna for Prague, Czech capital grew into an important center of European culture. The Czech Estates forced Rudolf II to issue a decree - so called "Maiestatus" - proclaiming freedom of religious confession. The Emperors Matthias and Ferdinand tried to limit this freedom and their efforts sparked a civil war between the Estates and the Catholic Emperor. The Estates were defeated in 1620 at the Battle of the White Mountain. The following period of the Thirty Years' War brought political disorder and economic devastation to the Czech lands which had far-reaching consequences on the future development of the country. The Czech people were forced to accept the Catholic faith or to emigrate. The throne of Bohemia was made hereditary in the Habsburg dynasty.

In the period after the end of the Thirty Years' War high Baroque culture became deeply rooted in Bohemia and Moravia. Baroque influenced the architecture of Czech towns and villages for several centuries.

A crisis of feudalism and the fiscal interests of the state led to the Enlightment reforms of Maria Theresa and Joseph II in the second half of the 18th century. The reforms brought some positive results as Bohemia and the margravate of Moravia each became an independent part of the Habsburg Monarchy and enabled the rapid growth of industry.

Foundation of the Modern Czech Nation

Although the Czech national revival movement aspired at first only to a revival of the Czech language and culture, it soon began to strive for political emancipation. In the revolutionary year 1848, Czech politicians made the first coherent political propositions aimed at rebuilding the empire into a federal state. A desire for national emancipation was supported by the quick industrialization of Bohemia, which made the country the most developed land of the monarchy in the second half of the 19th century.

Independent State (from 1918)

The defeat of the Austria-Hungarian Empire in the World War I cleared the way for the foundation of an independent state of Czechs and Slovaks (28.10.1918). The Czechoslovak Republic gradually became one of the highly developed countries of the world with several big industrial groups as Baťa and Škoda. A period of twenty years of democracy and prosperity was ended by the aggression of Hitler's Germany. The conference in Munich and the following German occupation in March 1939 brought the end of the independent Czechoslovak state.

After World War II, the restored republic became part of the Soviet sphere of power. A period of "limited" democracy was ended by a Communist takeover in February 1948. All private property was expropriated and political and human rights were suppressed. An attempt to change and humanize Communist totality and to weaken ties to the Soviet Union failed when the Soviet Army invaded the country in August 1968.

The gradual decay of the Communist regime and the Soviet empire, and the mass protests and demonstrations of the Czechoslovak people culminated in the overthrow of the Communist regime in November 1989 and in the re-installation of parliamentary democracy. The changes were confirmed by the election of Václav Havel as President of the Republic.

On 1 January 1993, the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic was peacefully divided and the independent Czech and Slovak Republics were founded. The Czech Republic is now a parliamentary democracy with a functioning market economy striving for the European Union membership with 1 January 2003 as its reference date for accession set by the Czech Government.

On May 1, 2004 the Czech Republic became a Member State of the European Union.