The Medieval Review 16.07.03


Wihoda, Martin. Vladislaus Henry: The Formation of Moravian Identity . East Central and Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 450-1450, 33. Leiden: Brill, 2016. pp. xxv, 351. $175.00/€135.00 (hardback). ISBN: 9789004250499 (hardback).



Reviewed by:


Nora Berend
University of Cambridge
nb213@cam.ac.uk

This biography of Vladislav Jindřich (or Vladislaus Henry), youngest son of Vladislav II, and brother of Přemysl Otakar I, tries to rescue him from the shadows that have obscured him. While this obscurity has been partly due to the fame of his brother, who became King of Bohemia, unfortunately in greater part it is due to the lack of source material. Wihoda points out that we lack basic information, including his year of birth, his role at the time of the coup that temporarily removed his brother as duke, and his motivations for giving up the ducal title after he briefly held it in 1197. As he tactfully puts it, "our expedition against the flow of time is slightly complicated by a lack of resources" (10), but he suggests a remedy to that in the "imaginative interpretation" of the sources.

The introduction briefly discusses the historiography on land, lordship, and the state, based almost exclusively on German scholarship. Therefore he ignores major works on the topic including Thomas Bisson's The Crisis of the Twelfth Century, and the seminal articles on the (non)existence of medieval states by R. R. Davies and Susan Reynolds ("The Medieval State: The Tyranny of a Concept?" Journal of Historical Sociology 16 [2003], 280-300; and "There Were States in Medieval Europe," ibid., 550-555).

The following chapters then provide an exhaustive background on Czech and Moravian history in the late twelfth and early thirteenth century, and attempt to reconstruct Vladislav Jindřich's career. Wihoda presents in great detail the reasoning of earlier historians on many issues, often in order to discount them, and presents his own. He argues that a communal Moravian identity started to take shape during Vladislav Jindřich's tenure of the title of Margrave of Moravia in the first two decades of the thirteenth century. Wihoda traces the title itself to 1179 and discusses the controversy over its emergence and meaning. He suggests that after 1197, when Vladislav Jindřich and Přemysl Otakar I agreed on some form of co-rule, the former initially only controlled some of southern Moravia, yet the princes of the Empire considered him as their equal, as he was regularly invited to the imperial assemblies (Hoftage). Several charters attest to Přemysl Otakar I seeking his brother's consent for donations; Vladislav Jindřich was also present as a witness on several occasions, and at councils.

A long section of the book is dedicated to the privileges granted probably to the margrave by Frederick II in 1212, known as Mocran et Mocran from the cryptic words designating the possessions bestowed on Vladislav Jindřich. Since 1901, scholars have grappled with making sense of these terms, and Wihoda summarizes the various efforts, before suggesting that 1212 signals the moment when ducal Moravia was transformed into margravial Moravia, comprised of two parts. Wihoda discusses the available evidence on ducal Moravia, including the contradictions in the medieval sources.

He also analyses evidence for Vladislav Jindřich's activities as margrave, and the administrative, judicial, and ecclesiastical arrangements in Moravia in so far as they can be known. In all these, "the first quarter of the 13th century is not a turning point. It is, rather, a significant long-term chapter, whose lines were written by Vladislaus Henry and Moravian lords with the same quill" (167). Moravian taxation is also discussed in detail, and we find out that "The margrave of Moravia evidently did not resist the adoption of foreign standards, which, however, does not mean that he was an enlightened ruler. It rather seems that he reacted to the amount of income flowing into his chamber and adjusted the payment structure in an attempt to increase them" (178). The section on town laws and urban foundation in Moravia presents rich evidence, but from periods subsequent to Vladislav Jindřich's margraviate. Vladislav Jindřich also appears as a generous donor to a variety of ecclesiastical institutions, but most of these assertions appeared in forgeries and in the later Middle Ages.

With contemporary sources saying little about Vladislav Jindřich (narrative texts consecrate a few lines to him, and he issued seven known charters, although he appeared in others, acting together with his brother or on the witness list), later material, of dubious relevance, is also used. A tympanum from 1438 and late medieval tradition serves as proof that Vladislav Jindřich had endowed the church at Mariazell in Styria. There is much firmer ground in discussing the margrave's historical memory as it appears in later narrative sources. Wihoda discounts the negative portrayals, and suggests that the positive ones conserve true information. A short section is consecrated to the Romantic reimaginations of the story of Vladislav Jindřich's resignation as duke, in favour of his brother.

The last chapter discusses Vladislav Jindřich's legacy. This encompasses later formulations of Moravian land law and Moravian identity. Wihoda claims that such collective identity rested on the creation of the margraviate by Vladislav Jindřich, although Moravia's distinctive identity was truly born only after his death, after 1233. This assertion rests mainly on the seal of the margrave Přemysl from 1234, on which the Moravian eagle is included on the margrave's coat of arms. No use is made of the social sciences on what identity may mean in this case. Finally, Wihoda suggests that as Moravia was born without significant intervention by rulers, so too the whole region of Central Europe in the ninth and tenth centuries emerged from a meeting of old customs and novelties from western Europe without much effort from the ruling elites.

Lengthy accounts of political events in Bohemia as well as the Empire, and digressions, such as the possible motivations of Richard I, King of England, concerning his return route after his crusade (which takes up an entire page) are included, sometimes to the detriment of a clear line of argument. There are numerous black and white illustrations, mainly of charters, seals, and buildings. Some of these are photographs, but others are only drawings, which is a pity in the case of seals whose inscriptions are used as proof in the text.

Wihoda's strength lies in demonstrating problems with many of the earlier hypothetical interpretations of various pieces of evidence. He also provides thorough analyses for what survives. Unfortunately, in many cases, there is a lack of evidence that no flight of imagination can substitute for, and therefore many of the arguments remain tenuous.



Copyright (c) 2016 Nora Berend



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