“We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.” -Chuck Palahniuk
Despite being the king of the Czech lands for a brief period of time, Jiří z Poděbrad is overlooked by many. He did not lead any wars or kill anyone famous, perhaps that is why he is being left out of European history. However, we all have much to learn and respect about him, as we might surprisingly share a lot of values with this medieval Bohemian king. He struggled for peace within and outside of his land, and worked tirelessly to achieve even greater unity throughout Europe. He was the first person to ever think of a unified and yet diverse Europe, an idea that later evolved into what we now know as the European Union.
Here is his story:
Jiří z Poděbrad was born in 1420 in Poděbrady, as the bastard son of Viktorín z Kunštátu a na Poděbradech, who at that time served in the Hussite army. Allegedly, the name day of St. George was dedicated to the 23.04. in the Bohemian calendar (alleged day of birth) so the boy was named Jiří. Another possibility is that this happened vice versa, that due to the future king, the day of his birth was designated as the feast day of St. George, thus the name day of anyone called Jiří (George) from that point on. While there are some guesses, his mother is not definitely known. This leads us to an important thing about this Jiří. He did not come from a dynasty of kings. On the other hand, he was royalty.
Early throughout his life, many of his relatives including his father died during the Hussite wars, which tore the country apart. He soon also had to take part in them, when he was just 14. During the war, he had very little time to acquire education. Despite this, his personal Hussite tutor managed to make him into the intellectual he became. Most likely, it was the combination of all these events that made him into the king he became, a passionate pacifist and diplomat, trying to avoid conflict at all costs.
Nevertheless, there were some points in his life where he had to use power. It was still medieval Europe after all. After a German duke did not pay to a massive army of mercenaries he recruited in Bohemia in 1447, Jíří used this incident as an excuse to muster all his forces, acquired through inheritance, diplomacy and marriage, and take over Prague. By taking this last Catholic stronghold in the otherwise ‘protestant’ hussite country, he essentially became the king of the Czech lands. This was just the start of his achievements, as he had to unify a very divided country destroyed by a war.
As the king of Bohemia between 1458 and 1471 he set out to restore the glory of the once prosperous lands. He started by finally ending the war between his Catholic and Hussite people, a tremendous feat on its own. He also heavily supported the education of the rightful next Czech ruler from the Habsburg dynasty, Ladislaus the Posthumous, through which he tried to ensure at least some level of prosperity for the country after his demise. However, this child died before he could become the king, so Jiří had to continue his quest to hold together the foundations of a country that was falling apart. His job got even harder, when his lack of showing force against the ‘infidel’ Hussites angered the pope. However, he had a brilliant plan to go around the stubborn Pope, and ensure peace and safety for all his people, despite their differences. This became know as the idea of a Treaty of Establishing Peace Throughout Christianity. Unfortunately, this idea was hundreds of years ahead of its time, so much so that it failed completely.
This Union was to be led by France, and nations according to their origins (Gaelic, Germanic, Italian, Hispanic) were to each have one vote. The role of the then all-powerful pope would then be significantly diminished. Jiří travelled throughout Europe, far and wide, to try to spread his idea of peace and unity. Unfortunately he was not even able to protect his own ‘Christian’ country against the Catholic Pope, who excommunicated him, and thus basically ended the rule of the last culturally Czech King ever, Jiří z Poděbrad. After his demise in 1471, the Czech lands would fall firmly into the hands of foreign rulers until the start of the 20th century.
Please, do not let him be forgotten.