Bretislaus III, Duke of Bohemia

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Henry Bretislaus
Duke of Bohemia
Jindřich Břetislav.jpg
17th century depiction
Reign 1193–1197
Predecessor Ottokar I
Successor Vladislaus Henry
Noble family Přemyslid dynasty
Died 15 June 1197
Buried Doksany Abbey

Henry Bretislaus (Czech: Jindřich Břetislav; died 15 or 19 June 1197), a member of the Přemyslid dynasty, was Bishop of Prague from 1182 and, known as Bretislaus III, Duke of Bohemia from 1193 to his death.


He was a son of Henry (d. after 1169), a younger brother of Duke Vladislaus II of Bohemia, and his wife Margaret. After brilliant studies at the University of Paris, he returned to Bohemia and was named provost at the Basilica of St Peter and St Paul in Vyšehrad. In 1182, he accepted the diaconate from the hands of his Přemyslid cousin Archbishop Adalbert III of Salzburg. Henry Bretislaus was elected on March 25 in the same year as successor of late Prague bishop Valentin, and went to Mainz to receive affirmation by Metropolitan Christian I. He was ordained a priest on 22 May and crowned bishop the following day.

Bretislaus soon came into conflict with Duke Frederick of Bohemia, who had regained the Prague throne in 1178 and ursurped discreationary power over ecclesiastical properties. In 1187 the bishop officially addressed Emperor Frederick Barbarossa to complain about the duke's infringements. In turn, the emperor elevated Henry Bretislaus to a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, providing that the Prague bishop was only subject to the Emperor. However, this immediate status did not outlast Bretislaus' tenure.

In the ongoing quarrels over the Prague throne between Duke Frederick and his successors Conrad II and Wenceslaus II, he supported Ottokar, a younger son of late King Vladislaus II with his second wife Judith of Thuringia. In 1192, Ottokar usurped the Bohemian throne from Wenceslaus II, allied with his younger brother Vladislaus Henry, Prince of Brno and Znojmo, whom he appointed Margrave of Moravia. Wenceslaus tried to petition Emperor Henry VI for assistance, but was captured. Henry Bretislaus supported Ottokar, but was unable to pay the necessary tribute of 6,000 écus to the emperor for the Bohemian crown and the Moravian margraviate. While on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, he was captured by Henry VI, who held him captive at his court.

Emperor Henry VI, however, was not ignorant of Bohemian affairs: when Ottokar joined a revolt of several German princes against the ruling House of Hohenstaufen, he and his brother and Vladislaus Henry were declared deposed in June 1193 by a decision of the Imperial Diet at Worms. Ottokar was abandoned by the nobility and fled; the emperor exempted his cousin Bishop Henry Bretislaus from the payment and enfeoffed him with the Bohemian duchy. Margrave Vladislaus Henry was summoned to Prague Castle, where he had to spend the following years suspiciousley eyed by Duke Bretislaus.

Bretislaus had to secure his duchy by force of arms. By Christmas, he was keeping court at Prague. In 1195, he drove Vladislaus out of Moravia and installed one of his supporters in the march. Bretislaus also took part in an Imperial campaign in Meissen, where his army plundered the churches. To make amends, he planned to take part in the German Crusade of 1197, decided on at the diet of Worms of December 1195, but due to his prolonged illness it was never actualised. When Ottokar marched against Prague, Henry Bretislaus proceeded to the Imperial Palace in Eger (Cheb), where he died on 15 or 19 June 1197. He is buried in the Doksany monastery church.

On June 23, the Bohemian nobles elected Margrave Vladislaus Henry his successor. Shortly afterwards he came to terms with his brother Ottokar, who finally ascended the Prague throne and the next year obtained the royal title from Philip of Swabia, confirmed by the German king Frederick II in the 1212 Golden Bull of Sicily.


Bretislaus III, Duke of Bohemia
Died: 15 June 1197
Preceded by
Ottokar I
Duke of Bohemia
Succeeded by
Vladislaus III