Father of the Homeland, the greatest Czech, or just simply the Emperor Charles IV. Walking through Prague it is almost impossible not to “encounter” him or his legacy at least. As the Czech king and the Emperor of Holy Roman Empire, he still is an icon of Prague, Czechs and the whole country. But why?

Charles was born in 1316 to John of Luxembourg and Eliška Přemyslovna. His original name was Václav, in honour to the king Wenceslas (from whose line his mother came from). Once he was seven years old, he was sent to the French court to get a proper education (and also change name to Charles, this time in honour to Charles the Great). He made several friends there, who would shape his destiny afterwards. One of them was a man who later became pope – Clement VII. Also, in France he met his first wife, beautiful Blanche of Valois. Though both of them were only seven years old, they married, and united Czech and French kingdoms. Unfortunately Blanche died in her thirties, in 1348, and Charles decided to marry another princes. Ultimately, he had four wives altogether:

  • Blanche of Valois (1317-1348)
  • Anna of Bavaria (1329-1353)
  • Anna von Schweidnitz (1339-1362)
  • and Elizabeth of Pomerania (1347-1393)

After some time Charles returned back to Bohemia. In 1346, when his father died, Charles inherited the title King of Bohemia and was also elected by the prince-electors as the King of the Romans. He chose Prague as the capital of his Empire and started a big development in this city and country as well.


Charles achieved many steps in his long life that still influence our country or just Prague, even today. What are the most important?

1) The promotion of Prague bishopric to an Archbishopric

The bishopric of Prague was established in 973 but only in 14th century elevated to an archbishopric. By doing so, Czech countries were removed from the jurisdiction of an archbishopric in Mainz. The first archbishop was Arnošt of Pardubice, Charles’ close counsellor and advisor. In the same year, the construction of St. Vitus cathedral in Prague Castle had begun, which was to serve as a new seat for the archbishop.

St. Vitus Cathedral – Prague Castle

2) Charles University

The oldest university in Central Europe was founded in 1348 and ranks among the world’s best contemporary universities. The model for Prague’s university was the university of Sorbonne, with four faculties. Today, there are 17 faculties at the University, mostly based in Prague. It’s not just one campus, but several building throughout the city of Prague and in the other two cities in Czech Republic.

Charles University

3) Extensive construction projects in Prague

The New Emperor of Holy Roman Empire decided to make Prague as his seat, as we have mentioned. That’s why he had invested a lot of effort to its development. And many of those traces we can still see today. Charles did a lot for Prague, and here is a short list of those you can easily spot or notice just by walking through the city.

  • Charles Bridge which is the oldest preserved stone bridge in Prague
  • St. Vitus Cathedral  at the Prague Castle
  • Church of Our Lady of Snow  in New Town
  • New Town itself
  • Emmaus Monastery in New Town
Old Town Tower Bridge – Charles Bridge

4) Legacy outside of Prague

Charles was the king of Holy Roman Empire, so his steps can be found all over the Europe. Even though his name is not being mentioned too often elsewhere, he was truly one of the greatest kings at all. What can you visit outside Prague and maybe even outside of the Czech lands?

  • Karlovy Vary – spa city west from Prague, on the borders with Germany
  • Karlštejn Castle – close to Prague, Charles’ favourite place to stay
  • Lauf – castle near Nuremberg
  • Montecarlo – medieval city near Italian Lucca
Karlštejn Castle

Charles IV died from pneumonia in 1378. His son from the third marriage, Wenceslaus, became the new King of Bohemia and also Emperor-elect of the Holy Roman Empire. History knows him as Wenceslaus IV. Although Charles was amazing king, he was not very good father-teacher, so his son was in a big difficulties to reign such a big kingdom. Yet his story might be probably a theme for another article 🙂

Karlovy Vary

photos and text by Jana Michalcová