Political Communication of the Aristocratic Society in the Bohemian Lands at the Beginning of the Modern Era



Political Communication of the Aristocratic Society in the Bohemian Lands at the Beginning of the Modern Era


The early modern period in the development of the Bohemian State is one of the most interesting topics in our history. Its attractiveness rests in the dramatic tension that resulted from the rivalry between the estate idea and the monarchic approach attempting to gain domination in the Bohemian State. The established identification of the estate dissent with the Czech and European reformation and of the Habsburg monarchs with the Catholicism exaggerated the feeling of seriousness and fatality of their mutual conflicts even more. The result of this struggle which resulted in exodus of non-Catholics from the country and in significant limitation of the political independence of the Lands of the Bohemian Crown within the Habsburg monarchy started to be considered a real national tragedy at the time of establishment of the modern Czech nation. The failure of the estate system after the Battle of White Mountain and consequential failure of the late humanistic, mostly protestant culture, gained features of a myth. Such a myth penetrated into the historical awareness of the modern Czech nation quickly. The presented work does not aspire to provide a general picture of the early modern phase of the Czech history. It deals with the sphere of power relationships. It attempts to uncover the essence of their functioning by approaching the history of the early modern society as the history of communication between political elites, which means especially between the aristocracy and the ruler.

The initial section of the book contemplates the existing approaches to the selected topic. The modern Czech historiography has always been interested in the estate issue considering it the central point of the early modern era. František Palacký and the first generation of his followers presented two basic points of view regarding the relationship of the estates and the monarchy. Their theories emphasize the modernisation task of the strong central power of the state on one hand and the democratisation influence of the estate system on the other. The Marxist research line undertook to search for the causes of the pre-White Mountain development in the contradictions resulting from the economic and social base. This resulted in extreme simplification of the interpretation which paid little attention to other factors except the economic one. Similar opinions regarding historical or moral superiority of one historic phenomenon over another are apparently not identical with the present understanding of the complexness and ambiguity of our past. Notwithstanding this complexness, the key problem is whether the estate system could offer a viable and perspective alternative to the monarchist system. Providing the author of this book attempts to contribute to this issue, he does so since he is convinced that it is possible to find new or not fully utilised approaches.

Inspiration and impulses drawn from structuralism, the school of Annales and also from the Anglo-Saxon and German science which have been coming into the Czech historic science from the 1960s, show a realistic chance to cope critically with the traditional interpretation of the political history of the early modern Bohemian State. Research of the early forms of parliamentarianism and roots of republican systems which was initiated by the English scholar Helmut W. Koenigsberger resulted in greater interest of Central-European historians in estate institutions and the estate principles of organisation of the society in general. The influence of structuralism also became apparent from the intensive research of the relationships between individual groups of estates within the Bohemian State and the influence of changes in this relationship on the political and cultural development of the estate system in the Bohemian Lands. Historians were most interested in the relationship between the Bohemian and Moravian estate community which formed the core of the Czech statehood. Attempts to explain the political system of the early modern Bohemian State and its institutions was the natural conclusion drawn from the structural approach to the estate system as a phenomenon of the political culture.

Sociological and anthropological influences in the historic science changed the approach to political history significantly. Nowadays they are considered to be a part of the general history of one cultural system and its manifestations in a certain historic period. However, the cultural approach resulted in complete relinquishment of traditional schemes of political history and their replacement with the history of political culture. This concept was taken over from modern Anglo-Saxon sociology. That was why the first researches were oriented sociologically. But gradually the importance of anthropological and ethnological stimuli grew especially being influenced by the research of Clifford Geertz. The central phenomenon of the interpretation of political culture was the term "power" which has been understood as an opportunity to use various kinds of social relationships to influence the will of other entities.

Power connected political culture with political and historical anthropology and with their interest in the topics of violence, domination, subordination and resistance against power. At the same time power is asserted via social acting in an area usually defined as social or, in a narrower definition, political institutions. In the early modern era negotiations still had mostly symbolic character. Symbolic forms of acting connected with rituals have also been the subject of intensive interest of anthropologically oriented views of political culture. Political acting is realised through communication. Acting and communication are interconnected so closely that in certain meanings they could be understood as synonyms. This is suggested by the Geertz´s approach in which the political culture forms space for public demonstration of political communication. In this context it is not only important who communicates and what meanings are communicated, but especially why they are communicated. What the sense of symbols and signs produced in communication is.

Providing political culture is studied through communication, existence of a certain type of a period discourse, which was by means of communication presented outwardly, is presumed. In this context it is a power discourse which represented relationships between a ruler and members of estate corporations, especially both the noble ones. The communicative practices used in the discourse included not only speeches but also rituals, symbols and strategies of political acting. The discourse includes also expressing of power targets and political programmes and also an ability to use, perceive and decipher certain attitudes, symbolic acting and rituals of power.

Regarding the type of the topic it was necessary to reconsider the possibilities offered by available sources. It was often the case that well known and often even published sources required a new point of view. Editions of written documents from family archives of the most important noble families were the foundation. Such editions contained mostly correspondence, diaries, memoirs and other sources of personal character mostly which depicted the public as well as private life of the noble society.

As far as unpublished sources are concerned, funds dealing with the activity of state administration, estate and church self-governance and the monarch were used. As regards regional sources, archives of the following noble families were used: the Pernštejns, the Rožmberks, the Lords of Hradec, the Slavatas, the Ditrichštejns and the Žerotíns. It is a matter of course that such a list does not include all the sources available. Combination of various kinds of sources makes it possible to create a starting point for a thorough analysis of the selected topic.

The time of this work is framed by 1500 and 1627. The roots of the estate system lie in the Luxembourg period. In spite of significant social changes during the Hussite revolution, the estate system was formed in the Jagellon period. The legal and institutional establishment of estate corporations at the turn of the 16th century was of key importance. It was expressed by distribution of seats at the Land Court among individual estates. After that the estate representatives looked for a way how to define their relationship to the ruler's power. This relationship was supposed to be codified by means of land constitutions. However, by the end of the Thirty Years´ War, at the latest, the estate system gave way to the monarchism.

The struggle between the estates and the dynasty did not take place in the Czech history only. This competition was generally the European heritage of the medieval contrast between the corporative and autocratic principle, in other words between the oligarchic government, which in fact allowed division of power, and the monarchist government, which strove for as big concentration of power as possible. The Czech development was involved in the network of international relationships for religious reasons as well. In addition to that the Habsburg dynasty was actually international. Its government opened possibilities for contacts with other countries within the monarchy. Moreover, the Habsburgs involved the Bohemian society in their struggle for the super-power status in Europe.

The attempt to interpret the Czech history in a wider geographic context is, however, connected with a number of serious problems. In the geographic sense the Bohemian state was represented by the lands of the Bohemian Crown at the turn of the early modern era. This large territory consisted of five historic units (the Bohemian Kingdom, the Margraviate of Moravia, the Silesian Duchy, the Margraviates of the Upper and Lower Lusatia) and also external fiefs of the Bohemian crown. The presented work does not aim to cover such a large platform. The focal point of our attention rests in the Bohemian Lands. They formed the old core of the Bohemian State in which Czechs were mostly settled in the early modern era. Such a geographic definition is also supported by the extant documents which could be used. That is actually the main reason why most of the model samples intended for analysis of the researched topics were chosen from the Bohemian and Moravian history. However, this approach does not make it possible to derive an idea that the Bohemian Lands (or the Bohemian Kingdom) were the centre of political and power events. The intention was to show how the ruler's authority was understood in a specific environment of power elites, of a certain estate community. The researcher was attracted to the Bohemian-Moravian territory due to the level of the present historical knowledge.

Political communication, due to its fundamental character, took place on the public level mostly. It dealt with public issues and publicly famous persons. It took place in public political institutions which were, at that time, open to all members of the political nation. The course and results of communication acts taking place in these public institutions were often recorded and such records were then easily accessible to a high number of people. Assemblies of noblemen and meetings of the municipal communities which were the basic elements of the estate political system gave lots of space for public communication and representation of the elements of political culture of individual estates. The estates entered a political discourse with the ruler at Land Diets, at the royal court and in negotiations with the royal clerks. At these points the ruler maintained directly or implicitly continuous mutual communication with representatives of the estates.

The research of this power discourse is carried out in two fields. The first of them is the topic of royal coronations. Participants of the coronation festivals left a number of various records in written documents. By means of verbal definitions they presented their opinion on the limits dividing the authority of the ruler and the estates. For the same purpose the non-verbal symbolic expression of meanings of the coronation ritual were used and so was the expression of their social stand by means of various ways of social behaviour. In the centre of attention is communication of ideas regarding distribution of political power and perception of power claims raised by other participants of the power discourse.

The second field relates to the conflicts between the ruler and representatives of the political nation. In many aspects it is connected with the previous topic of coronations. During negotiations about election capitulations and coronation reverses more or less open conflicts between the estate community and the future ruler occurred. The key question in analysis of conflicts is the reflection of the rivalry between the estates principle and the monarchic one. It means how the ideas about their own role in the power space were presented during conflicts; how the ruler defined the limits of his ruling authority and how it was perceived by the estates.

Although the subject matter of political communication was the course of public events, communication occurred not only in the publicly presented form. Formation of political opinions and programmes, their distribution connected with the effort to find supporters and followers, and also reporting news about public events always formed a significant portion of communication in the private field of human relationships. Also in the estate society in the early modern Bohemian Lands this kind of communication had its natural place. Especially the research of private correspondence makes it possible to consider the way how receivers of the news were selected, what was communicated and with what purpose it was communicated by the authors of such news. In rarer cases researcher can learn what opinions the receivers and senders of such news had.

The study of extant sources suggests that early modern aristocratic courts and residences were the real centres of power and communication. Information of any kind was gathered there and then distributed further on. For research of the content and forms of political communication on the personal level several representatives of the Bohemian and Moravian aristocracy from the beginning of the modern era were selected; these representatives held the key land and royal offices or they possibly actively participated in the public life in the Bohemian Lands in another way.

This was the basis for an attempt to explain the common communication techniques and forms which appeared in the communication practice of noble persons. In addition to that the analysis of personal correspondence was hoped to result in description of some basic types of personal relationships which determined the character and content of the communicative interaction. This term means a long-term, mutually active relationship maintained between persons who consider each other to be communicative partners. The character of such a relationship is determined by a strictly defined type of social relationships between those who carry the communicative interaction. In communication which existed between aristocratic courts, various versions of interpersonal relationships applied, from kinship to the feeling of intellectual and interest affiliation. All these relationships influenced the course of personal communication and the content of passed information.

The basis of the communicative interaction was a network created from a wide circle of "lords and friends" around a noble person. Its structure consisted of multilateral relationships among those who were related by blood as well as those who were not related by blood (first of all brothers-in-law or godparents) and usually bilateral relationships between partners of unequal social status (patronage) or equal social status (friendship in the current meaning of the word). The key position was reserved to the blood and non-blood relations which was the most important social relationship in the society in general. Very important seemed the relationship between a patron and a client. And besides there were friendships in the modern meaning of the word based on the feeling of mutual importance and solidarity. An important feature of formation of clientelism were mutual interests, including sharing of a certain cultural system and the territorial origin. The sense of territorial "alliance" played an important role in the life of Bohemian and Moravian aristocracy especially when relationships with the courts of the Habsburg monarchs were established which only noble members of the respective crown lands were allowed to enter. In the relationships between members of the aristocratic society on the land level, membership in the same church gained more and more importance gradually. This was connected with various confession versions of the ways the upper and lower nobility were educated.

By analysing these topics the discussion about political communication was far from being fully utilised. The role of political institutions as communicative centres would certainly deserve more attention. In this aspect we at least succeeded in pointing out their importance for the verbal form of personal communication. Especially the Land Diets and Courts were suitable platforms for personal as well as public communication. More attention should be paid to the methods of distribution of news regarding the domestic and foreign affairs, and information flows within the estate community. Just a brief notice deals with the issue of the importance of written and printed newspapers regarding the spread of information. Nearly no space remained for research of "public opinions". We only know that it was strongly influenced by the period information means such as leaflets, pamphlets, political prophecies or sermons. The presented list outlines the variety of tasks the communication system had in the society. Communication as a research topic raises a number of mutually connected questions. Some aspects of some of the questions have been studied by the modern historiography.

Due to a number of interconnecting points it is nearly impossible to divide strictly between the public and private communication. It can be clearly presented on the example of aristocratic courts in the role of communication centres that both the levels penetrated into each other. One possibility how to distinguish between them is to divide them according to the purpose of communication. The purpose of the public communication was to demonstrate publicly the opinions and standpoints by means of verbal expressions (speeches, texts), however, very common was also symbolic acting. The scene where the public communication took place was the public space of political institutions (Land Diets, Courts, royal and land authorities). Providing private communication took place there, it retired behind the stage and tried to utilise all possible methods of retaining confidentiality. The domain of private communication was the level of personal relationships. In such relationships written and oral form of communication prevailed, while symbolic means and non-verbal communication tools in general were not as widely used as in the public communication.

The topics in which the public level of political communication was analysed tried to focus on the main rules and strategies of its use. The subject-matter of the determined topics forced us to compare individual events which developed in long temporal lines. Even though their research proceeded continuously from the peak Middle Ages to the beginning of the Thirty Years´ War, it aimed to determine the stratification according to the changes in the political culture. The analysis was interested in discontinuity rather than continuity, it was interested in the moments of division and differentiation.

In spite of successful use of an "archaeological" analysis there are doubts regarding definition of conflict relationships. Attempts to compare conflicts in a longer period of time encounter problems regarding their classification. The reason lies in the variety of causes which evoked the conflict situations and also the powers which entered the given conflicts. In conflicts it is possible to distinguish the effort to control political institutions as well as religious and personal motives. However, we are aware of their mutual mingling. The main subject of the research is thus the method and content of mutual communication of ideas about division of power in the society. They show us what individual participants communicated, what they wanted to inform the other parties about, and what they wanted to keep for themselves. The discovered motives and foundations of ideas make it possible to discover the attitudes and life values. The ways in which information was communicated show the intellectual horizon of the acting persons, their attitude to technical means of communication and the level of political thinking.

In conflicts related to the control of political institutions, the interests of the ruler and the dynasty clashed with the requirements of the estate dissent. Their content was strikingly stable in the Bohemian Lands for the whole 16th century and further on until the battle of the White Mountain. The conservative features of the estate policy became apparent from them, since the estates did not like changes and were reluctant to accept them, preferring traditional values. However at the background of the recurring questions there stood issues which had not been solved for decades and which consisted in the need to define the power aspirations of the estates towards the ruler. At this point we can talk about the "political programme of the pre-White Mountain estate system", a summary of basic privileges and freedoms related to the use of political institutions. Representatives of the estates repeatedly attempted to put it into practice during the 16th and at the beginning of the 17th century.

As it became apparent from the analysis of programme documents of the estate dissent, the key issue was the struggle for control over the political institutions in the Bohemian State in the pre-White Mountain period (the Land Diet, Land Court and royal authorities). In the power competition the ruler was favoured by the fact that he maintained his right to supervise the staff in the state authorities and bodies including the land governments and to check on the negotiations of Land Diets. He did not hesitate to appoint his favourites to the land authorities without any respect to the opinions of the estate community. The permanent pressure of the court asserting the control over the power tools limited the power space of the estates. This situation resulted in a crisis of the political system which peaked in two attempts of the estate dissent to change the system by means of armed resistance.

Religious conflicts were closely connected with assertion of political programmes from mid-16th century, at the latest. Both the parties included institutionalisation of their own churches in their political programmes. From the point of view of the estate dissent, assertion of the freedom of belief and legalisation of non-Catholic confessions were the key issues. The real emancipation of non-Catholics also expected creation of an independent land Church organisation. The Habsburgs were not willing to allow any type of institutionalisation of the non-Catholic beliefs. On the contrary by strengthening the Catholic institutions (the Prague archbishoprics, supporting of the Jesuits) they demonstrated their effort to control the religious administration as a means of religious unification and centralisation. Unlike the Habsburg "institutional" approach, the non-Catholic estate dissent used such methods of acting and communicative techniques which rested in the power of corporations. An association of a higher number of members of the estates who had the same opinions protected them from potential sanctions implemented by the ruler. At the same time such an association was more likely to assert the religious targets especially where they succeeded in joining them with the interests of the estates community.

Identification of the confession orientation with the political programme, however, often resulted in creation of serious disputes inside the estate communities. The logical consequence was gradual expulsion of evangelicals from the communities. And this was one of the main reasons why the non-Catholic aristocracy attempted to change the development of the situation even for the price of change in the dynasty. Especially the evangelic burghers and noblemen from the Bohemian Lands were pushed by the policy of the Habsburg dynasty to a dilemma whether to give up the religious freedom or access to power institutions.

The personal attitudes, values and life orientation stood behind personal disputes with the monarch. At this time conflicts of this kind were often interpreted as crimes of contempt of the majesty. Analysis of the best documented cases showed that individual Habsburg kings understood the boundary between the acceptable demonstration of the political thinking of their subjects and the unacceptable disturbance of loyalty very differently. The decisive factor was probably the extent to which the king considered his royal authority endangered. Only an analysis of a higher number of cases showed us clearly the frame within which the understanding of the royal authority by representatives of various estate groups ranged (a utraquist knight, Catholic lord).

Also the questions connected with the topic of royal coronations had to be sorted out and organised clearly. Firstly there was a significant period discourse between the eligibility of the throne and the dynastic succession. The estates abode to a long acknowledged rule (since the Middle Ages) that the ruler cannot hold power without at least formal approval of the political nation. Rulers, on the other hand, tried to limit the influence of representatives of the political nation on the line of succession to the throne. The election and the heritage principle competed until the mid-17th century. In the political thinking of the estates an idea was ingrained that they are authorised to participate in selection of the future king and in confirmation of the legitimacy of taking over of the royal power. For the monarch the principle of hereditary right to the throne was an essential prerequisite for formation of a dynasty. The principle of eligibility could thus only be asserted when the ruler's authority was weakened or at the time of a dynastic crisis.

In negotiations regarding election capitulations and coronation promises both the parties expressed their own ideas about their share in the political power. The awareness of the necessity and sometimes even the benefits of power cooperation moderated the mutual confrontation. That was why the "coronation" negotiations ran in the atmosphere of mutual effort to find a compromise. This dialogue started anew with every change of the government, however, the conditions always differed. Its basic principle, which means the contract between the political nation and the ruler regarding the conditions of legitimisation of the new power, remained the same from the Luxembourg era until the issuing of the Constitution in 1627 (so called Obnovené zřízení zemské) Nevertheless, the specific program guidelines and the used strategies differed more or less. The requirements presented at the coronations by the nobility, and from the Hussite period by the estate community, reflected the long-term interests of the privileged groups. Securing of such interests guaranteed the share in the political power. A more significant change occurred only during the Hussite period which rose the question of religious freedom. At the turn of the 17th century current elements of corporative political thinking penetrated into the requirements of the estates.

Conclusion of a contract between the ruler and the political nation was confirmed by the ritual of the royal coronation. As regards the coronation ceremonies the issue of symbolic communication became more apparent, and it was demonstrated during respective ceremonial acts as well as during the general framework of coronation festivals. When uncovering the development of a coronation ceremony of Czech Kings, layer by layer, from the Middle Ages to the beginning of the Modern Era, a striking feature of repetition and keeping of a set of ritualised acts and symbolic gestures appeared. This strategy of repetition apparently followed a main target, the unquestionable legitimacy of the coming king. That was why even in the case of the coronation ceremony of Frederic V. of Palatinate in November 1619, which was significantly influenced by the Calvinistic belief of the new king, efforts to maintain the basic framework of the coronation ritual are apparent.

Moreover, more detailed research of the techniques and means of personal communication showed a relatively continuous development. The Bohemian communicative practice in the late Middle Ages did not differ significantly from the situation in the 17th century. This circumstance is connected mainly with the level of the period technical means. That was why that even establishment of the state postal services could not offer a more developed alternative to private means of communication during the monitored period. Similarly the research of the communication itself is based on the kinds of social interaction could be carried out in the Jagellon era as well as during the following "Habsburg" century. The methods of construction of social interactions remained on the same social basis. From the general point of view communication was the most important manifestation of the existing social relationships.

The relationship of personal communication to the political power was subject to changes. This development is most apparent in the position of aristocratic courts. Their communication function was preserved. However, the possibilities of use of communication connections in the power struggle were limited by the centralisation pressure of the royal court. As long as the power dualism between the ruler and the land aristocracy lasted, its courts played the role of power and communication centres in the rural as well as municipal residences. Once the political system which was subject to the ruler's control was created, the aristocratic courts started losing these functions.

Observation of the levels of political communication suggests that the estate state was characterised by a relatively compact power structure. Most analogies and comparisons can be easily carried out for the whole period from the peak Middle Ages to the Thirty Years´ War. Though, it was not a fully homogenous development, the discovered disputes signalised only partial changes in communicative relationships. However, during the 1620s-1640s a new political system was created which was subject to dominant control of the ruling court. This fact was also reflected in the informal communication and thinking of the noble classes. The changes probably affected not only the communication but also the whole complex of political culture. The second anti-Habsburg uprising and an attempt to establish a federalised constitutional monarchy represented the most significant crack in the present course of the power discourse between the land estates and the ruler. At the same time these events resulted in a radical solution of the estate- monarchic dualism in favour of the royal court.