Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Luxarazzi 101: John the Blind

King John of Bohemia
To include a King of Bohemia among the Luxarazzi 101 posts might not be completely obvious, but history links this fascinating figure with the House of Luxembourg. What is more, this medieval King of Bohemia is recognized as a national hero in Luxembourg and is even recognized as the founder of the Schueberfouer back in 1340. In addition, it is said that today's birthday boy, Grand Duke Jean, was named for this very man.

John, alternately Jean, Johann or Jang, was born in 1296 and likely in what is now the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. He was the son of Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII, a King of Germany and one of the early acknowledged members of the House of Luxembourg. (The first of this House is usually recognized as Henry V, the Blondell, and Henry VII was his grandson.) John, who was only around 17 years old when his father died, grew up in the French court but was inevitably embroiled more in the politics of the different Germanic courts.  In 1310, Henry VII arranged for his 14-year-old son to marry Elisabeth, the 14-year-old daughter of the late King Wenzeslaus III of Bohemia, making John a potential inheritor of the Bohemian title. It is worth mentioning that the wedding occurred after John, or rather the forces in support of him, invaded Bohemia and claimed his bride, as well as the crown. The coronation of King John and Queen Elisabeth of Bohemia was held in early 1311.

The marriage of John and Elisabeth.
Perhaps not surprisingly, this start at kinghood did not endear John to his new subjects, and he faced an uphill battle in establishing himself as a rightful King of Bohemia. Additionally, he and his wife struggled to produce a male heir, and it was not until 1316 that a son Charles (the future King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV) was born. As a result, John spent much of his time traveling and resided also in Luxembourg and France. The travels also reflected John's other potential titles, which included a claim to the throne of Poland; John took the time to visit Poland during his travels and also extracted a sizable tribute from the king there as compensation for John giving up his own claim to the throne.

In 1336, though, John faced the physical challenge that would come to define him historically. During a crusade in Lithuania, he contracted ophthalmia and lost his vision. This did not seem to stop him for long, as John became an ally of King Philip VI of France during the Hundred Years' War which began in 1337. But in 1346, around age 50, John rode into the Battle of Crécy, with his son Charles, and lost his life near the front lines. In fact, a medieval historian named Jean Froissart recorded the following about John's participation in the battle:

"The king his father [Charles's father King John] was so far forward that he strake a stroke with his sword, yea and more than four, and fought valiantly and so did his company; and they adventured themselves so forward, that they were there all slain, and the next day they were found in the place about the king, and all their horses tied each to other."

The seal of King John, reading IOHANNES
During the battle, King John wore a crest with the motto "Ich dien," or "I serve." This was later adopted by Edward, the Black Prince - also Prince of Wales - and the motto has remained a part of the Prince of Wales's coat of arms since that time. Additionally, King John can be credited, at least in part, with expressions that refer to "fighting blindly," although the exact attribution of this must remain somewhat apocryphal.

The burial of John the Blind has proven to be something of an historical curiosity, as his remains have been moved several times. He was buried first in Altmünster Abbey in Luxembourg, but his body was later moved to Neumünster Abbey. As a point of historical interest, Altmünster Abbey was brought down, with the exception of the still-remaining tower, in 1543 during the Italian War of 1542–46. But when the French Revolution threatened Luxembourg, King John's remains were moved once again: members of the Boch family (of Villeroy & Boch fame) hid them in an attic to prevent them from being harmed. They later shared the information with King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia (then just Prince Friedrich Wilhelm), and between 1834 and 1835, the prince commissioned a chapel to house the Bohemian king. Finally, the government of Luxembourg moved the remains to the Cathédrale Notre-Dame where they remain today.

While John's son Charles became King of Bohemia and, eventually, Holy Roman Emperor, it was his second son Wenzeslaus who followed up his role as the first officially titled Duke of Luxembourg. Wenzeslaus left no children, however, and it was Charles's son, also named Wenzeslaus, who followed his uncle as Duke of Luxembourg.

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