Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia married four times. His fourth and last wife was Elizabeth of Pomerania. She was the wife who gave the emperor the most children – six. She was also the only wife to outlive him.
Granddaughter of the Polish King
Elizabeth of Pomerania was born around 1346 or 1347. She was the only surviving daughter of Bogislaw V, Duke of Pomerania, and his first wife, Elizabeth of Poland. Through her mother, she was a granddaughter of Casimir III, King of Poland, and his first wife, Aldona-Anna of Lithuania.
Elizabeth’s mother died in 1361. Soon afterwards, King Casimir took Elizabeth and her brother Casimir to live at his court. He treated Casimir of Pomerania as his possible successor and was probably hoping to arrange a prestigious marriage for Elizabeth. He did not have to wait long. In July 1362, the King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor, Charles IV, lost his third wife, Anna of Swidnica in childbirth. Even though he had surviving children, it would be best for him to stay married. Elizabeth, being Anna’s second cousin, and a granddaughter of a king seemed like a good match.
The Strong Empress
Charles and Elizabeth were married on 21 May 1363 in Krakow, Poland. Charles was forty-seven, and Elizabeth was about sixteen. This marriage broke a coalition against Charles led by his son-in-law, Duke Rudolf IV of Austria, and renewed his alliances with the Polish and Hungarian kings. About a month after the wedding, Charles crowned his two-year-old son, Wenceslaus, from his previous marriage, as King of Bohemia. Three days later, on 18 June 1363, Elizabeth was crowned as Queen of Bohemia in St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague. The coronation of Wenceslaus was to show that he was Charles legitimate successor, and in the event of Elizabeth having sons, Wenceslaus would remain ahead of them in the succession.
The next year, a grand feast and congress of monarchs were held in Weirzynek, Poland. Elizabeth was present at the feast with her husband, grandfather, and the kings of Hungary and Cyprus. Elizabeth was described as a physically strong, lively and confident woman. Many tales are told about her legendary strength. According to these legends, she often entertained guests by bending horseshoes, breaking swords and tearing armour with her own bare hands! Some believe her strength was inherited from her Lithuanian grandmother, Aldona-Anna. Apparently, the Lithuanians were famous for their physical strength. Others suggest that it came from her father or her maternal grandfather, the Polish king.
In 1366, Elizabeth gave birth to her first child Anne, who would later marry Richard II of England. On 15 February 1368, she gave birth to her first son, Sigismund. Since he was the second surviving son, his birth was probably not greeted with the same rejoicing as that of his elder half-brother Wenceslaus, seven years earlier. That same year Elizabeth received an extraordinary honour, and she travelled with Charles to Rome. There on 1 November, she was crowned Holy Roman Empress by Pope Urban V.
Elizabeth would give Charles four more children. In 1370, a son – John, in 1372, a son – Charles, in 1373, a daughter – Margaret, and finally in 1377, a son – Henry. Charles and Henry only lived for a year, but John and Margaret would both reach adulthood. Wenceslaus, being the Emperor’s eldest son, was favoured by him over Elizabeth’s children. Elizabeth does not seem to have been happy by this and clearly preferred her own children. It seems that she would have preferred her eldest son, Sigismund, to be Charles’ heir over Wenceslaus. Apparently, relations between Wenceslaus and Sigismund were never good. Sigismund, however, would eventually be married to an heiress of Hungary, which seems to have pleased Elizabeth.
Despite Charles’ preference of his older son, relations between him and Elizabeth seem to have been harmonious. In 1371, Charles was seriously ill, and Elizabeth made a pilgrimage for his health. She walked from their main residence of Karlstejn to St. Vitus Cathedral, where she prayed and offered up gifts for his health. Eventually, Charles recovered, but he still did not have much time left. Charles died on 29 November 1378 in Prague. Wenceslaus became the new king of Bohemia and Germany. Due to Elizabeth’s strained relationship with Wenceslaus, she left court soon afterwards.
Life After Empress
In her widowhood, Elizabeth spent her time raising her four surviving children who were between five and twelve years of age at Charles’ death. Her eldest son, Sigismund, left for Hungary soon afterwards, due to his betrothal to the heiress of Hungary, Mary. In December 1381, her eldest daughter Anne, left for England to marry King Richard II. Around the same time, a less impressive marriage was arranged for her second daughter, Margaret. She was married to John III, Burgrave of Nuremberg, a vassal of the Holy Roman Empire. Her second son John received the Duchy of Gorlitz.
Elizabeth was not politically active, but she seems to have supported Sigismund’s claim to Hungary. When he was crowned King of Hungary in 1387, Elizabeth must have been proud. She was also known to have kept a correspondence with her daughter, Queen Anne. Elizabeth lived the rest of her life in seclusion at Hradec Kralove, the dower town for Bohemian queens. She seems to have stayed away from Prague because of her poor relationship with her stepson.
Elizabeth died in Hradec Kralove on 14 February 1393 and was buried beside Charles in St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague. Although she did not live to see it, her son Sigismund triumphed over his brother Wenceslaus in the end. In 1400, Wenceslaus was deposed as King of Germany. Sigismund was then elected as King of Germany in 1411. Wenceslaus died childless in 1419, and Sigismund succeeded him as King of Bohemia. And finally, in 1433, he was crowned Holy Roman Emperor.1
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Guryca, Richard; “Elizabeth of Pomerania: Queen who broke the swords.”
Hronik, Ales: “History of the Czech Nation- Elizabeth of Pomerania.”
Kosatkova, Anna and Suchanek, Drahomir; “Elizabeth of Pomerania”