Přemysl and Libuše

Around the 8th century there ruled a king named Krok. During his reign, King Krok founded a school where they taught religion, hymns, prophecy, and magic. At this time Magic was considered the highest form of learning. The king had three daughters: Kazi, Teta and Libuše. Each of his daughters were gifted and knowledgeable. Kazi knew every herbaceous plant and was a healer, a pythoness (a woman who practices divination), and Fate. Teta was very knowledgeable of their pagan religion, teaching the people how to worship their deities, idols, and nymphs. The youngest of the three, Libuše, was gifted with the ability to prophesy. She would often go into trances and make predictions. People were sometimes afraid of her when she would go into these trances. Nonetheless, she was the wisest and most beautiful of the king’s three daughters.

King Krok lived in his castle that was built on a cliff looking over the Vltava river, which he called Vyšehrad, meaning ‘High Castle.’ The three princesses lived in their own castles, each named after them, Kazín, Tetín, and Libušín. The king eventually died, and it was Libuše who became the next ruler in his place. She lived in Vyšehrad from henceforth, and continued to reign justly as her father did.

During Libuše’s reign there was peace throughout the land. There were no courts during this time, but the people would still come see Libuše to seek her advice. She would sit under a tree in the courtyard, surrounding herself with twelve of the wisest men in the realm, and the people would come to her to help them settle disputes.

Although the people respected her wisdom, there were some, especially the elders, who were not keen on having a woman rule over them. One day, Libuše was helping two neighbors settle a land dispute. She decided to side with the younger individual, which angered the elder. The elder screamed so that all could hear:


“What kind of justice can we expect from a woman? Long-haired, but short on brains! Let her sew and spin, but not be a ruler and a judge! Where else does a woman rule over men, except here? We are the laughing-stock among nations, and we cannot stand for such a judge any longer!” (Legends of Old Bohemia, Alois Jirasek)


The people were dumbfounded, but no one stood up for Libuše. Being deeply saddened by this, Libuše turned to her critic and said:


“You are right! I am a woman, and I rule like a woman, not with a rod of iron, but with compassion, which you take for weakness. You need a stricter ruler, and your demand shall be fulfilled. Go home now, in peace! Let the people choose a duke to rule them, and I shall marry whomsoever they choose.”


With that, she left and visited her older two sisters somewhere deep in the secret castle garden where no one else was allowed to come. There in the secret garden was a statue of the highest god Perun, who was the god of thunder and lightning (kind of like a Slavic version of Thor). There, Libuše stood in front of the statue and communed with Perun and her sisters for the rest of the day, going on until morning.

When the next day came, she called for all of the heads of the clans to visit. All the men who were asked to come were very excited and anxious to find out who Libuše would choose. When all the men who were heads of the different clans throughout the realm had assembled, Libuše gave her speech:


“All of you know why I called you together. You did not appreciate the freedom I gave you, so the gods inspired me to tell you that I shall rule you no longer. You want a man, a duke who will take away your children to serve him, who will choose the best of your cattle and horses for taxes according to his whims. You want to serve a master and to pay for it, as so far you have not had to do. In return, you will not have to be ashamed of having a woman ruler. So be it! Go ahead and choose a duke, but do so wisely and carefully, because it is easy to put someone in power but hard to get rid of him. However, if you wish, I can advise you as to whom to choose.”


All in attendance were waiting for her answer tentatively. Suddenly Libuše fell into a prophetic trance. Her voice had changed, sounding as if it were somewhere off in the distance as she began to prophesy:


“Beyond the hills is a small stream called Bilina. On its banks, where it makes a bend, there is a little village, Stadice. A hundred and twenty paces beyond the village, upstream, in a narrow valley, there is a field where you will find your future duke, a ploughman. He has two oxen: one is brown, with a white head, the other one is brown with a white streak down its back, and white hind legs. Go, take along the clothing fit for a duke, give the man my message, and bring him back here to be your ruler and my husband. His name is Přemysl and our descendants will rule here forever. You will not have to ask the way. My white horse will lead you, just follow him. When the horse stops by a ploughman and neighs, that man will be Premysl. You will be certain it is he when you see him eating off an iron table.”


The men who had come had never heard of this Přemysl, but trusted in Libuše’s prophetic abilities. The followed the horse, and just has the prophecy had stated, they found a young man named Přemysl ploughing his field with the two oxen that fit the description in the little village of Stadice. They took him to the castle and he and Libuše were married. This was the start of the Přemyslid dynasty, as legend has it. The prophecy wasn’t correct however, the actual Přemyslid dynasty did not reign forever. It officially ended after the death of Václav III (Wenceslaus III in English) 1306. However, the sister of Václav III had married into the Luxembourg family, and her son would be Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor.

Libuše is also attributed to making a prophecy about Prague. According to the historian Kosmos, she stood from the Vyšehrad castle and said:


‘Behold, I see a great city, whose fame will touch the stars.’


In this prophecy, she was setting the foundations of Prague, predicting how great it would become. Although Prague is a great city, unfortunately Kosmos credited Libuše with a quote that actually comes from the Greco-Roman epic poem by Virgil, Aeneid.

Nonetheless, this popular and important Czech legend has influenced many artists. Famous Czech composer Bedřich Smetana, wrote an opera that is highly celebrated in the Czech Republic.

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  1. Šemík The Talking Horse | Journey Prague
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