Book Review: Bohemia: An Historical Sketch

Bohemia:  An Historical Sketch, by Count Lutzow

The subject of the history of the Czech people is not one that is well-known to English language readers.  This book presents a reasonably sized and reasonably scholarly effort at discussing the trends and patterns of Czech history with a focus on political and military history as one might expect, along with some comments on social history where it is appropriate.  It is no surprise that reading about Bohemian history is a highly melancholy task.  Indeed, reading about Czech history is not so different from reading about Polish history.  The neighboring Slavic peoples have a similar kind of history when it comes to their efforts to gain national glory, their problematic location next to German-speaking Europe (and subject also to the influence of Russia, a more serious problem for Poland, but not absent for the Czechs either), and the lack of unity that all of these nations showed throughout their history is a key aspect of their vanishing for long periods of time from the independent states of Europe.  For a nation to endure, it requires a certain degree of cohesion and unity, and this is especially true when a nation is so much smaller than those who would seek to gobble it up.

This particular work is about 350 pages long or so and it is divided into eight large and frequently melancholy chapters.  The book begins with a short discussion of the earliest inhabitants of Bohemia in the realm of legend and prehistory up to about 451 AD (1).  After this the author discusses the period from the arrival of the Czechs in Bohemia to the death of prince Boleslav in 999, at which point the Czechs had entered into the mainstream of European power politics and culture (2).  This leads to a discussion of the Bohemian dukes and princes that ruled over the area for the next two centuries in a state of frequent chaos and confusion (3).  The next two chapters cover the peak period of Czech power first under native dynasties and then the rule of the Luxembourg dynasty (4) and then in the period from 1346 to 1420 as Bohemia was involved in the various attempts of the Luxembourg house to control Central Europe (5).  After that comes a discussion of the period from 1420 to 1526 as first the Hussite Wars and then the unification with Poland and/or Hungary offered the Czechs a taste of freedom (6).  The book then ends with two chapters that cover the rule of the Czechs under the Habsburg dynasty up to the fateful Battle of the White Mountain (7) and then the melancholy period from the defeat of the Czech state to the time the book was written in 1910 (8) as well as an index.

Among the most interesting aspects of this book is that it was written in the twilight period of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  However much the rule of this late and not very lamented state was to be preferred over the domination that the Czechs would face later on in the 19th century by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, this book demonstrates the resentment and hostility felt by the Czechs to the Germans who had dominated them for centuries, sought to destroy their history, and crush their language and identity.  And despite some grim periods in the 17th and 18th centuries, this book is demonstrative of the ability of the Czechs to preserve their language and the memory of their independent status as one of the nations of Europe that allowed them the ability to overcome their domination by the Germans.  The fact that the Germans who had long dominated them were exiled from land that they had held for centuries demonstrates that minority populations which are hostile threats to larger nations they are a part of will seldom find themselves in a safe and secure position, a reminder that contemporary minorities would do well to remember when seeking to disrupt the harmony of other areas.  This book also demonstrates the way that identity can long endure centuries of domination by others, which is also a highly relevant point.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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