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The future hero was the only son of the Czech prince Oldrich

In order to understand the motivation behind Břetislav’s unusual behaviour, it is necessary to go back to the roots, so to speak. The future hero was the only son of the Bohemian prince Oldrich. There would be nothing strange or unusual about this, but the key point is that he was born as a son essentially illegitimate. His father did not find his mother, Bozena, at any court, but found her on her way back from hunting while doing the laundry. Although she was an ordinary peasant and a married lady, the prince did not hesitate to take her as his wife. It did not matter to him that he had already had one wife at that time; finally, the first marriage had remained childless. Božena, on the other hand, gave him the desired son, who was Břetislav.

The hard life of a lion cub
However, the reality was not as idyllic as the above might suggest and the future prince had to earn his place the hard way. Although in the 11th century Oldřich’s advancement was not yet entirely unusual and clerical marriages were common, for example, the boy’s origins were already considered dubious to say the least. One way of establishing his legitimacy and claim to succession would have been a good marriage. Such was understood to be a union with a noble girl of a distinguished family. And just such a bride was Jitka or Judith. She was the daughter of Henry of Schweinfurt, Margrave of Bavaria, of the Babenberg family. Like other girls from prominent families, she was sent to a convent, not to become a nun herself, but to be educated there before she married.

Drama in Schweinfurt
Břetislav had two options: either to make a proper bid for Jitka and thus run the risk of rejection by her relatives, which was not exactly negligible in view of his not very brilliant background, or to try another way. We know which option he chose. One morning he saddled his horse and set off with a group of warriors for Schweinfurt in Franconia (called Svinibrod in present-day Bavaria), where the monastery was located. According to Kosmas‘ account, the kidnapping took place as follows: When Jitka and her companions went out in the evening to ring the vespers bell, Břetislav did not hesitate, quickly caught her and rushed to the exit. But he found the gate bound with a thick chain. Immediately he drew his sword, and at one swing cut the chain as if it were a straw. Thus he made his way out, and before the inhabitants of the monastery had recovered themselves, he and Jitka were long gone. But his men were worse off. Most of them were unable to find their bearings in time after this sudden reversal, so the guards caught them and punished them severely on the body – plucking out eyes, cutting off noses, and cutting off arms and legs. Břetislav and Jitka, however, arrived safely to their father Oldřich, who sent them straight to Moravia. So much for these strange courtship chronicler Kosmas.

Marriage and family
Břetislav chose Olomouc as his Moravian residence, where an important princely castle stood. It also became the scene of the first years of the young marriage. After his father’s death in 1034, Břetislav successfully took over the vacant seat of Prague’s prince, where he was accompanied by Jitka as the new Czech princess. We do not know much about the marriage of Břetislav and Jitka, apart from its excellent fertility; all that is certain is that it ended with Břetislav’s death in 1055. It occurred rather characteristically for Bohemian Achilles – during a military campaign, this time to Hungary. The rule in Bohemia was then taken over by the eldest son Spytihnev according to the newly established rule of the so-called seniority (see Who will be the ruler?), while his three younger brothers were entrusted by their father Břetislav with the administration of Moravia before his death. The remaining Jaromir was then destined for a spiritual career.


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