After the sudden death of his first wife, Joanna of Bavaria, Wenceslaus IV, King of Bohemia and Germany, needed to marry again. The chosen bride, Sophia, came from the same dynasty as his first wife – the Wittelsbachs, and she was Joanna’s first cousin-once-removed.
Sophia of Bavaria was born around 1376 as the daughter of John II, Duke of Bavaria-Munich and Catherine of Gorizia. She was her parent’s only daughter and had two brothers. In 1388, Sophia visited Prague with her uncle, Frederick, Duke of Bavaria-Landshut. He seems to have taken her there with the intention of finding a husband for her – particularly the widowed King Wenceslaus. In 1385, Frederick also helped arrange the marriage of one of his other nieces, Isabeau, to King Charles VI of France. Apparently, Sophia was impressed with Wenceslaus, which must have made her uncle happy. Sophia and Wenceslaus were married on 2 May 1389 in Prague.
The Uncrowned Queen
Soon after her marriage, Sophia should have been crowned as Queen of Bohemia, but at the time, Wenceslaus was in dispute with the Archbishop of Prague, the only person who could perform the ceremony. Because of this, Sophia’s coronation did not happen until eleven years after her marriage. By the time of the marriage, Wenceslaus was already known to be ill-tempered at times and somewhat of a drunkard. He seems to have spent more time hunting than on matters of state, and he kept a pack of hunting hounds with him. In fact, it is believed that his first wife, Joanna, was killed by one of his dogs.
The early years of Sophia and Wenceslaus’ marriage seemed to be happy, or at least peaceful. Wenceslaus celebrated the marriage by making some illuminated manuscripts, such as the Wenceslaus Bible, in which an image of Sophia appears. Together in 1392, Sophia and Wenceslaus held a feast to celebrate the laying of the foundation of the nave of St. Vitus Cathedral.
In March 1393, Wenceslaus had the priest John of Nepomuk tortured and drowned. Later accounts say that John was Sophia’s confessor, and Wenceslaus sentenced him after he refused to reveal her confession. In one of these accounts, Sophia is not mentioned by name, but Wenceslaus is. In this account, Wenceslaus suspected that Sophia had a lover. Thinking that John, being her confessor, would know the name of her lover, Wenceslaus ordered him to reveal his name, which he did not. However, it is more likely that Wenceslaus had John of Nepomuk drowned because he was involved in some conflicts with him and the Archbishop of Prague.
The Hussite Queen
On 15 March 1400, nearly eleven years into her marriage, Sophia was finally crowned as Queen of Bohemia. She was crowned by Olbram of Skvorec, the new Archbishop of Prague. However, in August of that same year, Wenceslaus was deposed as King of Germany and replaced by Rupert of the Palatinate. Rupert was a cousin of Sophia and also from the Wittelsbach dynasty.
In 1401, a rebellion broke out against Wenceslaus. His younger half-brother, Sigismund, King of Hungary, captured and imprisoned Wenceslaus in 1402 in Vienna. During this time, Sigismund also ruled Bohemia himself. While her husband was imprisoned, Sophia lived in the town of Hradec Kralove. Around this time, Sophia became a follower of the theologian Jan Hus.
Jan Hus was calling for the reformation of the church, and his actions inspired the Hussite movement. Hussitism is considered a predecessor of Protestantism. Sophia is thought to have regularly attended his sermons. She also gave him her protection and defended his teachings.
Wenceslaus was released and returned to Bohemia in 1403. The couple were still childless, but probably by this time, Sophia had lost all hope of having any children. The blame for their childlessness was on Wenceslaus instead of Sophia. Due to Wenceslaus’ alcoholism, he was believed to be infertile or impotent.
Sophia continued to support Jan Hus. In 1410, she wrote letters to the papacy defending him. That same year, Hus was excommunicated. Sophia continued writing to the Pope, asking for the ex-communication to be lifted. However, she was forced to withdraw her support. Despite this, Sophia appeared to continue believing in Hus’s teachings, and for the rest of his life, Hus talked about Sophia with great love and respect. In 1415, Jan Hus was put on trial before a papal court, and he was condemned to death. Jan Hus was burnt at the stake on 6 July 1415. Sophia is said to have predicted the death of Hus leading to a riot. Soon afterwards, riots broke out in Prague, with several priests being thrown into the river and the Archbishop of Prague being besieged in his palace.
Sophia continued to promote Hus’s teachings. This caused her to be disliked by many of her subjects and even her own family. In 1418, Sophia’s brother, Ernest, visited her in Prague. During the visit, the two siblings got into an argument about the Hussite movement, and Ernest ended up slapping Sophia.
On 30 July 1419, more riots would break out, which were considered the start of the Hussite Wars. By this time, Wenceslaus was already ill, and these events may have hastened his death on 16 August 1419. His brother, Sigismund, became the new King of Bohemia. Since Sigismund was busy in Hungary at the time, Sophia acted as regent of Bohemia. Sigismund arrived in Bohemia at the end of 1419, and Sophia gave up the regency and supported his accession to the throne.
Throughout the year 1420, Sophia travelled through Bohemia with Sigismund and his wife, Barbara of Cilli. During this time, there were rumours that Sophia and Sigismund were having an affair, which were probably false. In 1421, Sophia left Bohemia and settled in Hungary. Soon afterwards, Sigismund considered marrying Sophia to King Wladyslaw II Jagiello of Poland. Wladyslaw II was three times a widower and had one surviving daughter. His first two wives had stronger claims to the crown of Poland than him. His surviving daughter, from his second wife, was already being seen as his successor. Sophia was past her childbearing years by now, so maybe this proposed marriage was seen as an alliance between the two kings rather than to provide Wladyslaw with an heir. However, these plans came to nothing, and in February 1422, Wladyslaw married another Sophia, the much-younger Sophia of Halshany.
Sophia of Bavaria spent her final years in Pressburg, Hungary, which is now Bratislava, Slovakia. Near the end of her life, she joined the order of the Poor Clares. Sophia died on 4 November 1428 in Pressburg and was buried in the cathedral there, although she wished to be buried in her native Munich. 1
“Sophia of Bavaria” on Husitstvi.cz
Bayerova, Sarka; “She lived with an alcoholic and admired Jan Hus” on idnes.cz
Bobikova, Lenka; “Sophia of Bavaria did not experience marital idyll.” on Novinky.cz
Higgins, Sophia Elizabeth; Women of Europe in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, Volume 2