The British in Prague

Medieval times

The movement of English lords into the Czech kingdom dates back to the 13th Century. On a higher level, it was mostly marriages what made the relations substantial: back in 1228, Henry III made attempts to marry Czech princess Agnes, for instance (she refused).

It was more than 150 years later that such a tie was made: Anne, daughter of Charles IV, married Richard II and known as Anne of Bohemia since, she was popular a queen. While this event helped Czech image abroad, what mattered as we speak of culture was the cultural exchange. This started after the Charles University was founded (1348). The following years witnessed English scholars coming to Prague. The then- popular teachings of the English reformer John Wycliff strongly inspired the Hussite movement and had at least one substantial voice from the British Isles: Peter Payne, a scholar from Oxford, often called “Mistr Engliš” (“the English master”), who became an outright defender of the movement.

Modern age

In the 1570s, Prague was visited by the poet Philip Sydney on his travels around Europe. His quest was one of a negotiator, though he spent much of the time consulting European intellectuals on themes including religion. In Klementinum in the Old Town, he disputed an influential Jesuit priest and Christian martyr Edmund Campion, executed in England in 1581 for rejecting the Anglican Church.

In 1585, the court of Rudolf II was visited by John Dee, a Cambridge scholar and alchemist. He was accompanied by Edward Kelley, who became a somewhat legendary figure. During the years of his imprisonment, his sister Elizabeth Weston gained sympathies of European artists as she struggled to move the king to forgiveness through poetry. Dee, back in England, also attempted to have the English alchemist extradited to his homeland.

Among other visitors there was John Taylor, the often satirical “Water poet”, as he called himself after spending many years as a waterman on Thames. This was in 1620, at the time a new queen was installed in the Czech Kingdom, a princess of the Stuart dynasty, Elizabeth Stuart, also called “the winter Queen”. She had to leave Bohemia soon, at the end of the year, as Habsburg armies defeated the Czechs at the battle of the White Mountain near Prague (now a part of the city).

Recent history

Throughout the following years it was more difficult to establish closer relationships as the German influence was clearly dominant. There was certain number of British students coming to Prague to the University. The Irish were coming, for instance, some as part of the infamous Butler’s regiment, serving the Habsburg side, later Irish students and scholars. Smith of Balore, Silvester O’ Heir or William MacNeven reached high posts on the university.

At the end of the 19th century, German- English historian Frantisek Lutzow expressed great interest in the city (The Story of Prague) and the whole country (he supported the Czech nationalists). Herbert George Wells was impressed by T. G. Masaryk’s liberal views and, after visiting the president in the capital, he wrote an enthusiastic article about the statesman. Less known than Masaryk’s role is that of R. W. Seton- Watson, a historian, who contributed strongly to the recognition of Czechoslovakia and the eastern European studies. We could name Reginald Robert Betts as his follower, a specialist on the Husite movement and later a BBC correspondent in Czechoslovakia.

There are, of course, many more interesting points on offer, the mentioned may work as an illustration.

Aug 13, 09:33 (Filed under: Foreign influence in Prague )

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