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The White Lady of Krumlov
The ghostly manifestation of a lady clad all in white is a peculiarity of the family of the lords of Rožmberk. Legends are related of her appearing in all of the castles of this noble house –at Český Krumlov, Rožmberk, Jindřichův Hradec and Třeboň. An actual basis for the tales of the White Lady is the historic personality of Lady Perchta z Rožmberka (1429 - 1476).
The beautiful daughter of Lord Oldřich of the Krumlov branch of the Rožmberks, she is said to have spent a happy childhood in the castle of Český Krumlov. When she grew to womanhood, many highly-born noblemen contested for her hand in marriage. However, the groom was invariably chosen by the father, and the daughter had no choice but to obey. Marriages among the nobility of that age were almost never a question of love, but exclusively the advantageous joining of noble families, properties, and political power.
A single meeting between Perchta and her future husband Jan z Lichtenštejna was enough to convince the young noblewoman that she never could love him. He was a widower, a man of birth and power to be sure, yet in his character harsh and wounding. His heart was of stone. The unhappy girl pleaded with her father to betroth her to another, yet Lord Oldřich would hear nothing of the kind. Soon the house of Rožmberk was celebrating the wedding festivities, and immediately after, the lord of Lichtenštejn took Perchta away, to the Moravian chateau of Mikulov.
Delicate and refined to the very marrow of her bones, Lady Perchta found the life to come an endless time of sorrow and suffering. In the Mikulov chateau of the Lichtenštejn family, there also lived the lord’s mother and the sister of his first wife, who turned her life into as great a torment as they possibly could. And the lord of Lichtenštejn not only watched them passively, but added his own share of cruelty and heartlessness to the mix. All in vain did Perchta write again and again letters of despair to her father and then her brother, begging them to free her from this hell. Yet they did not help: in this age, it was unimaginable that a woman would ever leave her husband, however cruelly he might treat her.
Only after many long years did Perchta’s sorrows come to an end, with the death of her husband. It is said that on his deathbed, he begged for her forgiveness, as he felt burdened by his conscience. Yet she refused to forgive him – and at that moment, the tale continues, the lord of Lichtenštejn cursed her for eternity.
As a widow, Lady Perchta returned to her native castle of Krumlov. The people knew her as a tall, slender, prematurely aged lady with a grave face, who never smiled. Yet since she had undergone such cruel trials and sorrows herself, her heart was full of compassion for all who suffered. She always helped as best she could, and never turned away a person in need.
When she died, quite soon the lords and ladies of the house of Rožmberk began to see her figure walking through the corridors of the family’s castles, always robed in pure white and with a sorrowful face, just as in her lifetime. Even after her departure from this world, she was thought to be looking after her relations, and informing them of events to come. Black gloves on her hands, for instance, told of misfortune or death. She greatly liked the small children born into the family. Whenever she heard, during the long nights, the crying of infants whose nurses had fallen asleep above the cradles, she would go to them, take the babies in her arms, and comfort them herself. The old family retainers knew her well, and never interfered with her. It was said that the White Lady particularly loved the last son of the Rožmberk line, little Petr Vok.
Once, though, a new nurse was brought in to care for the children, one who knew nothing of Lady Perchta. When she saw one night a vague white form bending over the cradle to caress the little boy, she shouted:
“What are you doing here? Put the child down at once …!”
Lady Perchta turned towards her, and answered angrily:
“This child is more mine than yours! You should take care to perform your duties with greater diligence, and not to leave infants to cry by themselves!” Then she came over to the nurse, petrified with fear, and added: “No more will I appear, take care of the child yourself. But when the boy grows up, tell him how I loved him. And show him the place where I took leave of his cradle.”
After these words, the White Lady walked over to one of the walls and disappeared into it.
From that time on, she has not been seen at the castle of Krumlov. However, the nurse could never forget the meeting, and when Petr Vok reached manhood, she told him what the White Lady had asked. Petr Vok then ordered an examination of the wall where the White Lady had disappeared, and when the workmen had broken through it, found behind it an enormous treasure of gold.
Still, not all of the legends of the White Lady date back to the depths of history. It is still said that she appeared in the castle of Rožmberku in the year 1944. Then, under the tragic occupation of the Czech lands by the troops of Nazi Germany, the castle was the home to a training camp for members of a Nazi women’s organisation. One morning, two girls climbed up to the tower, to hang a swastika flag from it as usual. At a great height above the tower, the saw hovering in the air a transparent female form in a white gown, who stared angrily at them. Almost insane with fear, they called for their commander, at whom the White Lady shook her fist and then vanished. The entire case was instantly subjected to investigation by the Gestapo, convinced that it must be a provocation by local residents, yet the appearance of the White Lady was never logically explained. The two girls, however, lost their minds shortly after their sighting of the spectre and never recovered.
The last incident in which a report of the White Lady was recorded happened at Rožmberk in 1996. During that year, the castle was undergoing extensive restoration, and on nearly all sides was surrounded by scaffolding. One house-painter, at work in one room on the first floor, saw outside, past the window, the figure of a woman in a white veil walking back and forth. At first, he believed that a trespasser was climbing along the scaffolding, yet at once he recalled with horror that on that one side of the castle, the scaffolding had been removed. When he leaned out of the window, the phantom of the White Lady slowly dissolved before his very eyes…
Perhaps the White Lady is still guarding the patrimony of the Rožmberk family even today. And since she never threatens or harms anyone, let us believe that she is satisfied.
The legend of Execution Meadow
When King Václav II ascended the throne of Bohemia, following the death of his father Přemysl Otakar II, “the king of iron and gold”, he was only twelve years old.
His chief advisor and the regent of the kingdom became Záviš z Falkenštejna, a powerful and wealthy lord from the South Bohemian noble house of Vítkovec. With equal skills on the field of battle and in the council chamber, he brought the kingdom to further strength and prosperity. And, through marriage to the widowed queen Kunhuta, the mother of Václav, Záviš became the stepfather of the youthful king. He had great prominence and extensive power, and it seemed that nothing could ever pose a threat to him.
Yet Kunhuta died tragically young, and crushed by his burden of sorrow, Záviš decided for a time to leave the royal court. He left Prague for his castle of Svojanov in the Bohemian-Moravian highlands. Shortly thereafter, though, he married again and soon after fathered a son. Once again, his life blossomed with renewed joy, and Záviš yearned to share it with his former protégé. He ordered his horse to be saddled and set off with his retinue to Prague Castle, to invite Václav to the christening ceremony.
At the royal court, however, much had changed in the intervening time. A coterie of nobles had carefully intrigued their way into the king’s favour; they strongly disliked the lord of Falkenštejn and hoped to destroy his position and his power. For a long time, they had striven to persuade the young king that Záviš intended to seize the throne for himself, until the king himself believed their words. Once Václav was informed that Záviš was on his way, he issued orders detailing how he was to be received.
The lord of Falkenštejn arrived with a light heart, pleased at the thought of seeing the court and the king after such a long absence. In the courtyard of Prague Castle, he leapt from his horse, and hurried to the palace.
His way, though, was soon blocked by the royal chamberlain.
“Good health to you, chamberlain. I have come for the king – is he in his palace?“
”My greetings to you, Lord Záviš. His royal majesty is today not receiving any visitors”.
“The knights of Falkenštejn may come to the king at any time,” Záviš answered with a frown. “Stand aside and let me pass!”
The chamberlain, however, remained where he was, with mockery in his eyes. All at once, as if from nowhere, the royal guard appeared with drawn swords. Lord Záviš finally understood what had happened. Treachery!
“You are a captive of his majesty, Lord Záviš,” said the royal chamberlain. “Once his majesty the king desires to receive you, he will explain himself what your misdeeds have been!”
Many days did the lord of Falkenštejn spend in the dark dungeon, until finally the guards escorted him from his cell and brought him in front of the king.
King Václav gazed down at his prisoner, whom his guards had forced to kneel at his feet. His former friend, advisor, and the wedded husband of his deceased mother knelt before him, emaciated, filthy, in tattered rags and his hands in fetters.
“Falkenštejn,” spoke the king, “you and your house of Vítkovec hold the castles that from time immemorial have been the property of the crown. You have gained them dishonestly. Hence it is my decision that you shall remain my prisoner as long as your family refuses to return its castles to the rightful royal ownership!”
“That is a blasphemous lie, your majesty!” shouted Záviš. “Who has whispered this slander into your ear? You know as well as I that we have paid for these castles honestly and to the royal treasury …!“
The king merely waved his hand, and Záviš was dragged back to his cell.
The other lords of the house of Vítkovec soon learned of Záviš’s imprisonment, yet there was nothing they could do to help. As for discussions with the king, he absolutely refused to hear their petitions. For two years, King Václav held Záviš in his dungeons, and in return for his freedom demanded all of the castles of the Vítkovec family. And for two years, Záviš repeatedly refused. Then, the king sent his soldiers to lead Záviš in chains around the kingdom, demanding the surrender of the castles for the sparing of the life of the lord of Falkenštejn. Several castles in fact surrendered under this threat.
In August of the year 1290, the sad procession made its way to the castle of Hluboká, where the burgrave was Záviš’s brother Vítek. By then, the much-tormented Záviš could hardly remain standing. In the meadow below the castle, the royal herald once more proclaimed the king’s command.
“His majesty the king demands that you surrender the castle. Otherwise, Falkenštejn shall be instantly executed!”
Vítek’s heart was wrenched at the sight of his brother in chains. Yet he could not sully the honour of his family by confessing to a crime that had never been committed, even to save his brother’s life.
“I shall not surrender my castle. The house of Vítkovec gained it honestly, and paid the king for it in full!”
Vítek watched from the ramparts as the executioner drew the sword from its sheath. Two serfs rolled out the wooden block, and the soldiers raised Záviš to his knees. The blade flashed in the sunlight, and below the blue sky of August, the head of Lord Záviš fell to the ground.
On the spot where the noble blood of the lord of Falkenštejn was shed, for many years – so the legend runs – only red grass would grow. Today, all that remains is the name “Execution Meadow” for the field beside the much later chateau at Hluboká.
The Path of the Nightingales
The future King Charles IV, son of King John of Luxembourg and Eliška Přemyslovna, was brought up in France at the royal court in Paris. He returned to his homeland in 1333 as a youth of seventeen, so that in succession to his father he could take over the rule of the kingdom. It was hardly an easy task – the kingdom of Bohemia had long been neglected, and young Charles had an enormous amount of work awaiting him. Very soon, he was followed by his charming French consort, Queen Blanche de Valois, whose beauty and character soon made her a favourite of the royal court and the ordinary citizens.
Charles worked tirelessly on the rebuilding of deserted castles, re-purchased the royal manor farms, and started the construction of a new palace inside Prague Castle. It soon became clear that he had a much greater talent for the ruling of the kingdom than his frivolously-minded father. When King John of Luxembourg after a time decided to pay a visit to Bohemia, Charles proudly informed him of what he had done there. But praise was not forthcoming, as the king had begun to believe those slanderers who insisted that Charles was plotting to overthrow him and claim the throne for himself. In a fit of anger, he commanded that his son depart with Blanche to the castle of Křivoklát and not to leave without his consent.
Blanche had spent her previous life in the aesthetic splendour and gay sociability of the court in Paris, surrounded by artistry and beauty. She found it hard to reconcile herself to the silence of Křivoklát, buried deep in nearly impenetrable forests. Yet never did she complain to Charles. She knew how deeply he suffered from his father’s ill will, and had no wish to add to his worries. Nonetheless, she wandered through the castle’s stone corridors like a body without a soul, pale and bent.
Charles, of course, knew very well of his consort’s sorrow. Never was the question far from his thoughts of how to make her happier. One warm summer evening, he was standing by the window of the great hall, gazing into the forested valley. The sun was setting, and its last rays touched the tree-tops with gold, where the birds sang. Blanche was just setting out with her ladies-in-waiting along the path below the castle. She walked there nearly every day, simply to enjoy the birdsong, the scents of the forest, and the evening quiet as it spread across the valley.
And at that very moment it came to Charles what to do to give his wife the greatest joy. He called for all the gamekeepers of the Křivoklát forests, and ordered them to purchase from the bird-sellers all the songbirds that they caught, especially the nightingales. Every few days afterwards, the royal servants released into the thickets below the castle new birds from their wicker cages, until the valley resounded to their songs like the very Garden of Eden.
Blanche blushed with joy when Charles revealed to her that it was for her sake alone that he set the entire forest singing. Could she ever have received a gift more filled with love..?
The nightingales settled in the trees below the castle, and continued to sing there for many a year. And the path below the castle, where the princess enjoyed walking down to the valley, came to be known as the Path of Nightingales.