Love Story, Which Is Four and a Half Centuries Old!
Whenever the gates of all the castles, manor houses and chateaux start their opening again in the spring, I suggest that you go to Breznice, which is a former water citadel, located close to Pribram in the western part of the Czech Republic.
The reason for going there is not only the fact that you will suddenly find yourselves surrounded by a marvellous countryside of wooded hills and wide blue-skies. but most probably, you will be at once situated in a special environment where you may most probably hear the singing of the Water nymph Rusalka.. Indeed, it was not far away from this location, in a smaller township Vysoka, where the music composer Antonin Dvorak got his inspiration for his famous opera. It may even happen that you might listen to the ringing in your ears, telling you : "Hey, Master...!" which are the beginning wordings from the Christmas Mass, composed by Jakub Jan Ryba. As a matter of fact, it is such a short distance from here that many people say the town Rozmital is only a stone's throw away.
Naturally, a tour docent will lead the way for a closer look at the manor house and acquaint you with its history. However, we want to call your attention to an unusually old event, which has definitely much charm for us, who are living at the beginnnig of the 21st. century.
In 1556, the twenty-nine-year old Filipina Welser arrived at Breznice. She came from Augsburg to visit her aunt Catherine, a widow of the Vice-Chancellor of Czech Lands, George from Loksany. The beautiful niece originated from a merchant's family, and she was supposed to help her aunt in administration of the estate. As the hunting period was just setting in, Mrs. Catherine invited among other persons also a dear and distinguished host, for whom Breznice had always been a favorite place to go . He was an Archduke Ferdinand Tyrolean, and also vice-regent of the Czech Kingdom. He lived in Prague. He was a son of Ferdinand I., who was an emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and a Czech king. Ferdinand Trolean was fascinated by the charming Filipina. Subsequently, he arrived at Breznice with frequent regularity under the pretext of " active duties ".
In those days, Ferdinand Tirolean was a very desirable wooer to many princesses. In fact, he rejected a lot of such offers to become their suitor. He even refused to accept a wedding proposal of the Sotch King's widow, Marie Stuart,. This shows more than anything else, how much he fell in love with the merchant's daughter. He loved her deeply and esteemed her at the same time. However, it was not his desire to tranform her into a concubine. Therefore, he asked her to marry him. However, the marriage had to be carried out quite secretly, i.e. without any knowledge of his father, the Emperor Ferdinand I. He knew that his father would never give his consent to a marriage with an ordinanry trader. It did not matter that such merchant was enormously rich!
On one of the January nights in 1557, the confessor John Cavalieri united the hands of Filipina and Ferdinand Tyrolean by way of a marriage sacrament. In the course of the time, this marriage proved to be one of the happiest in the history of all the Hapsburg clan. Even after accomplishement of this secret marriage, the young couple met stealthily. Catherine from Loksan was the only one who knew about it. Moreover, such dates were always subject to her special consent, so that if could materialize., It was only natural that before long, instead of just a couple, an additional family member had to be taken into account. In 1558, a boy was born and he was christened Andrew. The young Ferdinand Tyrolean kept his marriage constantly in secrecy both as regarded his father as well as in front of the whole world. It became a problem how to solve the availability of the new born child? I behooves one to quote that at that time, such a case was really not a single one, and the solution was well known. The newly born child was simply discharged at a door or gate, where somebody "found" it there and then, it was transferred to the pertaining person. In this instance it was of course Filipina. Naturally, she was, as a good Christian, obligated to take care of such a child and she accepted it as "her own". Needless to say she did not ponder about it for long.
As soon as the Emperor Ferdinand I. moved to Prague in 1558, the relevant message concerning his son had reached him. Fotunately, he solved the precarious situation in a very diplomatic manner. Obviously, he could not undertake anything against this marriage covenant, as this was blessed by a priest. However, as regarded the children, he denied them whatever rights they could claim, i.e. to get socially on the same level or even the status of their father, Ferdinand Tyrolean. Furthermore, he was agreeable for the Archduke's family to move to the King's castle Krivoklat, which served at that time as a King's jail. Filipina found that out pretty soon, because on her strolls in the king's courtyard, she noticed that from the windows of the underground cells, the very emaciated hands of those imprisoned there were reaching out at her. Those were the hands of the two bishops of the Czech Brethren, i.e. Jan Augusta and Jakub Bilek, who were both jailed there since 1548. When Filipina heard about the very sad incidents of these prisoners, she emphatically urged her husband to relieve their misery and even to shorten their punishments. Apparently, it was she who had to be credited for the final release of these prisoners in 1564.
In November 1560, Filipina gave birth to a second son, Charles, at the castle Krivoklat. However, this time the child was a legitimate offspring. Even the emperor confirmed it by a letter. In spite of it, also in this instance,the process of a "foundling" and its "adoption " by their own parents was to take place. Allegedly, such was the custom, prevailing in those days. Not until 1561, the old Emperor Ferdinand I. set up the legal and property rights regarding his son Archduke Ferdinand Tyrolean and his family. Nevertheless, even on such an occasion, not everything was forgiven! In 1561, the twins Marie and Filip were additionally born at Krivoklat, but they lived only a very short time. In fact, the emperor ordered their secret transportion to Prague, where their clandestine funeral took place thereafter. Filipina had met neither her father-in-law nor the brothers of her husband. But she maintained contacts with the exquisite German or Czech aristocracy. She also used to say that she was looking after simple people. In 1564, Archduke Ferdinand was commisioned by his father to become an administrator of the territory of Tyrol. Actually, only after the elapse of a three-year period, he moved there with his family Henceforth, their marriage was still kept secret. Consequently, Filipina was living with her court at the castle Ambras, and her husband had his residence in Innsbruck. Notwithstanding, he did not forget them. As a proof and confirmation of his deep love, he rejected an offer of the Polish Crown in 1572, because its bestowing was conditioned by his divorce. Moreover, he again refused the Crown in spite of the fact that Filipina recommended his accepting it.
Based on the pattern of her mother Anna, Filipina dedicated her efforts to medical treatment. That's why she set up a dispensary at the castle. Into the bargain, she was renowned by her culinary skills. Also, she helped the poor and ill people. In the course of the time, she earned the affection of the nobility and even of Pope Rehor XIII., who officially recognized her marriage with the Archduke Ferdinand in 1576. In April, 1580 Filipina died at the castle Ambras. As the preserved documents confirm, she was mourned by everybody.
And what about the Archduke Ferdinand, who became a widower ? Well, he married anew, after some time had elapsed. This time, the marriage was based on good sense. His niece Anna Catherine Gonzaga Matovska became his new wife. But it is most probable that he dedicated more attention to his collector's passion than to her. That is to say, he was collecting not only portraits of famous persons, but at the same time, some exotic art and natural objects, as well as man uscripts. It is also worth mentioning that in 1586, he proclaimed the First Tyrolean School Rules for the whole territory of Tyrol, where he was a governor.
Furthermore, we cannot overlook that he established in the court church hat Innsbruck, a crypt, called Silver Chapel. In this place, Filipina was then burried. and in 1593, also the Archduke Ferdinand Tyrolean was laid to rest beside his great love. So it happened that they both were united in their eternal dreams.
By the way of completeness, it is worth quoting that the Polish crown, which the Archduke Ferdiinand refused to accept, was acquired by his brother Maxmilian I.
So, after all this is said, wouldn't it be really a pity not to visit the setting of such an extraordinary love romance?
In fact, it is very easy to get to the castle of Breznice, and you may be sure that you will be very welcome there at all times. Authoring this feature story, I can tell you that I had enjoyed there such an agreeable experience.
Sources: Hapsburgs - Biographical Ecyclopedia, edition Brana/Book Club, 1996 (Prepared for publication by Brigitte Hermann) Sigrid-Marie Groessingova, Merchant's daughter in the Hapsburg House, Filipina Welserova and her medical skills, edition Melantrich, 1993Olga Rohelová Translated by Charles Opatrny
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