In 1305, the young king Wenceslaus III of Bohemia wed Viola of Teschen much to the surprise and disapproval of his subjects. For years he had been betrothed to the heiress of Hungary, Elizabeth. He was even still betrothed to her when he married Viola. What made him chose Viola, a daughter of one of his vassals – an insignificant prince with a small duchy over a royal heiress whom he long planned on marrying?
Practically nothing is known about Viola of Teschen before her marriage. It is hard to determine a birth year for her, but it is usually thought to be in 1290 or 1291. She was probably a little younger than her future husband, Wenceslaus III, who was born in 1289. Even the identity of Viola’s mother is unknown. Viola’s name was quite unusual, and she was probably named after her Bulgarian great-grandmother. Her father was Mieszko I, Duke of Teschen. Viola was born into the Piast dynasty, the same family that ruled Poland. She was from a cadet branch of the family who had little power. Mieszko belonged to the Silesian branch of the Piasts. Over the past century, Silesia was divided between all of the surviving sons of this line, leaving the junior members, such as Mieszko with little land. Viola had two brothers, who in turn would have their father’s small duchy split between them.
The Unexpected Queen
Viola first entered the scene on 5 October 1305, when she married the sixteen-year-old King of Bohemia, Wenceslaus III in Brno, Bohemia. The wedding was performed relatively hastily, and it was not a grand affair like most royal weddings. It remains a mystery why Wenceslaus married Viola, especially since he was already betrothed to a royal heiress. Apparently, Viola was very beautiful, and some thought that was why Wenceslaus chose her. However, this seems to be a romantic exaggeration. There were probably some political motivations behind the marriage as well. Viola’s father’s duchy of Techen was strategically located between Bohemia and Poland – of which Wenceslaus claimed the crown. This marriage could have been an effort to strengthen Wenceslaus’ influence in Poland. Because Viola’s name was odd, she was renamed Elizabeth at the Bohemian court. This was the same thing that happened to her predecessor, Elizabeth-Richeza of Poland, on her marriage.
Four days after the wedding, Wenceslaus broke off his betrothal to Elizabeth of Hungary and renounced his claims to the Hungarian throne. Apparently, the marriage was not very happy. Wenceslaus’ sisters and many of his subjects were not happy that he chose Viola. They considered her too low-born to be a Queen. Wenceslaus was also not a faithful husband. The young king had a reputation for being reckless and a womaniser.
Just ten months later, on 4 August 1306, Wenceslaus was assassinated under mysterious circumstances. Viola was suddenly left a young widow. No children were born from this short-lived marriage, so Bohemia’s royal Premyslid dynasty became extinct. A succession crisis broke out, with Viola’s sisters-in-law, Anne and Elizabeth, as well as her husband’s stepmother, Elizabeth-Richeza of Poland, at the centre of it. However, Viola does not seem to have any involvement with it. Unlike the other women of the Premyslid dynasty, she appears to have been unambitious.
To this day, it remains a mystery as to why Wenceslaus was assassinated, and who ordered the assassination. Some later historians speculated that Viola might have been behind the murder herself, apparently because she felt neglected by the king and disapproved of his lifestyle. However, it is more likely that Wenceslaus’ murder was organised by his rivals for the Polish throne, or Bohemian nobles, who apparently had enough of his reckless rule.
The Forgotten Widowed Queen
Unlike her predecessor, Elizabeth-Richeza of Poland, Viola was not financially secured when she was widowed after a short marriage. Because the wedding was arranged so quickly, there was no contract for Viola to receive a dower or pension if she was widowed. For the next ten years, the whereabouts and activities of Viola are unknown. She most likely took shelter in a monastery, where she may or may not have taken vows. For the next four years, Viola would have seen the Bohemian throne change hands a few more times; first to her older sister-in-law, Anne, and her husband Henry of Carinthia, then to Elizabeth-Richeza, and her second husband, Rudolf of Habsburg, and then back to Anne and Henry, and then finally to her other sister-in-law, Elizabeth, and her husband, John of Luxembourg.
Viola resurfaces in 1316, ten years after her first husband’s death. At this time, Elizabeth of Bohemia and John of Luxembourg were on the Bohemian throne, but they were facing opposition from the other Bohemian Queen Dowager, Elizabeth-Richeza and her lover, Henry of Lipa. John and Elizabeth had Henry of Lipa imprisoned at this time, but they still wanted to win over the support of the most powerful Bohemian nobles. One of them, Peter of Rosenberg, was engaged to Henry’s daughter. It was then decided that he would break off this engagement, and marry the other widowed Queen, Viola, instead.
Viola and Peter of Rosenburg married in 1316. Like Viola’s first marriage, this was also a socially unequal marriage, but this time it was Viola who was the higher-ranking spouse. This marriage increased Peter’s status and won him over to the side of the current king, John. However, like Viola’s first marriage, this one was also short-lived and childless. Viola died just a year later on 21 September 1317, less than thirty years old. She was buried in the Rosenburg family’s vault at Vyssi Brod Monastery.
It is worth mentioning that there are some similarities between Viola and her predecessor, Elizabeth-Richeza of Poland. They both came from the Piast dynasty, but Elizabeth-Richeza was from a more higher-ranking branch. Because their first names were unusual in Bohemia, they were both renamed “Elizabeth” upon their marriages. Unlike Elizabeth-Richeza, Viola never seems to have used this name personally. Also, they were both widowed after short marriages to Bohemian kings. There are also some significant differences between these two Queens too. Elizabeth-Richeza was financially secured when she was widowed, while Viola was not. Elizabeth-Richeza also proved to be a capable and ambitious politician, while Viola faded into obscurity. As a result, Elizabeth-Richeza of Poland made more of a mark on history, while Viola is hidden in the footnotes.1