1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Charles IV. (Roman Emperor)
CHARLES IV. (1316-1378), Roman emperor and king of Bohemia, was the eldest son of John of Luxemburg, king of Bohemia, and Elizabeth, sister of Wenceslas III., the last Bohemian king of the Premyslides dynasty. He was born at Prague on the 14th of May 1316, and in 1323 went to the court of his uncle, Charles IV., king of France, and exchanged his baptismal name of Wenceslas for that of Charles. He remained for seven years in France, where he was well educated and learnt five languages; and there he married Blanche, sister of King Philip VI., the successor of Charles IV. In 1331 he gained some experience of warfare in Italy with his father; and on his return to Bohemia in 1333 he was made margrave of Moravia. Three years later he undertook the government of Tirol on behalf of his brother John Henry, and was soon actively concerned in a struggle for the possession of this county. In consequence of an alliance between his father and Pope Clement VI., the relentless enemy of the emperor Louis IV., Charles was chosen German king in opposition to Louis by some of the princes at Rense on the 11th of July 1346. As he had previously promised to be subservient to Clement he made extensive concessions to the pope in 1347. Confirming the papacy in the possession of wide territories, he promised to annul the acts of Louis against Clement, to take no part in Italian affairs, and to defend and protect the church. Meanwhile he had accompanied his father into France and had taken part in the battle of Crecy in August 1346, when John was killed and Charles escaped wounded from the field. As king of Bohemia he returned to Germany, and after being crowned German king at Bonn on the 26th of November 1346, prepared to attack Louis. Hostilities were interrupted by the death of the emperor in October 1347, and Gunther, count of Schwarzburg, who was chosen king by the partisans of Louis, soon abandoned the struggle. Charles, having made good use of the difficulties of his opponents, was recrowned at Aix-la-Chapelle on the 25th of July 1349, and was soon the undisputed ruler of Germany. Gifts or promises had won the support of the Rhenish and Swabian towns; a marriage alliance secured the friendship of the Habsburgs; and that of Rudolph II., count palatine of the Rhine, was obtained when Charles, who had become a widower in 1348, married his daughter Anna.
In 1350 the king was visited at Prague by Cola di Rienzi, who urged him to go to Italy, where the poet Petrarch and the citizens of Florence also implored his presence. Turning a deaf ear to these entreaties, Charles kept Rienzi in prison for a year, and then handed him as a prisoner to Clement at Avignon. Four years later, however, he crossed the Alps without an army, received the Lombard crown at Milan on the 6th of January 1355, and was crowned emperor at Rome by a cardinal on the 5th of April in the same year. His sole object appears to have been to obtain the imperial crown in peace, and in accordance with a promise previously made to Pope Clement he only remained in the city for a few hours, in spite of the expressed wishes of the Romans. Having virtually abandoned all the imperial rights in Italy, the emperor recrossed the Alps, pursued by the scornful words of Petrarch but laden with considerable wealth. On his return Charles was occupied with the administration of Germany, then just recovering from the Black Death, and in 1356 he promulgated the Golden Bull (q.v.) to regulate the election of the king. Having given Moravia to one brother, John Henry, and erected the county of Luxemburg into a duchy for another, Wenceslas, he was unremitting in his efforts to secure other territories as compensation and to strengthen the Bohemian monarchy. To this end he purchased part of the upper Palatinate of the Rhine in 1353, and in 1367 annexed Lower Lusatia to Bohemia and bought numerous estates in various parts of Germany. On the death in 1363 of Meinhard, duke of Upper Bavaria and count of Tirol, Upper Bavaria was claimed by the sons of the emperor Louis IV., and Tirol by Rudolph IV., duke of Austria. Both claims were admitted by Charles on the understanding that if these families died out both territories should pass to the house of Luxemburg. About the same time he was promised the succession to the margraviate of Brandenburg, which he actually obtained for his son Wenceslas in 1373. He also gained a considerable portion of Silesian territory, partly by inheritance through his third wife, Anna, daughter of Henry II., duke of Schweidnitz. In 1365 Charles visited Pope Urban V. at Avignon and undertook to escort him to Rome; and on the same occasion was crowned king of Burgundy, or Arles, at Arles on the 4th of June 1365.
His second journey to Italy took place in 1368, when he had a meeting with Urban at Viterbo, was besieged in his palace at Siena, and left the country before the end of the year 1369. During his later years the emperor took little part in German affairs beyond securing the election of his son Wenceslas as king of the Romans in 1376, and negotiating a peace between the Swabian league and some nobles in 1378. After dividing his lands between his three sons, he died on the 29th of November 1378 at Prague, where he was buried, and where a statue was erected to his memory in 1848.
Charles, who according to the emperor Maximilian I. was the step-father of the Empire, but the father of Bohemia, brought the latter country to a high state of prosperity. He reformed the finances, caused roads to be made, provided for greater security to life and property, and introduced or encouraged various forms of industry. In 1348 he founded the university of Prague, and afterwards made this city the seat of an archbishop, and beautified it by the erection of several fine buildings. He was an accomplished diplomatist, possessed a penetrating intellect, and was capable of much trickery in order to gain his ends. By refusing to become entangled in Italian troubles and confining himself to Bohemia, he proved that he preferred the substance of power to its shadow. Apparently the most pliant of men, he had in reality great persistence of character, and if foiled in one set of plans readily turned round and reached his goal by a totally different path. He was superstitious and peace loving, had few personal wants, and is described as a round shouldered man of medium height, with black hair and beard, and sallow cheeks.
His autobiography the “Vita Caroli IV.,” which deals with events down to the year 1346, and various other documents relating to his life and times, are published in the Fontes rerum Germanicarum, Band I., edited by J. F. Böhmer (Leipzig, 1885). For other documents relating to the time see Die Regesten des Kaiserreichs unter Kaiser Karl IV., edited by J. F. Böhmer and A. Huber (Innsbruck, 1889); Acta Karoli IV. imperatoris inedita (Innsbruck, 1891); E. Werunsky, Excerpta ex registris Clementis VI. et Innocentii VI. (Innsbruck, 1885). See also E. Werunsky, Geschichte Kaiser Karls IV. und seiner Zeit (Innsbruck, 1880–1892); H. Friedjung, Kaiser Karl IV. und sein Antheil am geistigen Leben seiner Zeit (Vienna, 1876); A. Gottlob, Karls IV. private und politische Beziehungen zu Frankreich (Innsbruck, 1883); O. Winckelmann, Die Beziehungen Kaiser Karls IV. zum Königreich Arelat (Strassburg, 1882); K. Palm, “Zu Karls IV. Politik gegen Baiern,” in the Forschungen zur deutschen Geschichte, Band xv. (Göttingen, 1862–1866); Th. Lindner, “Karl IV. und die Wittelsbacher,” and S. Stienherz, “Die Beziehungen Ludwigs I. von Ungarn zu Karl IV.,” and “Karl IV. und die österreichischen Freiheitsbriefe,” in the Mittheilungen des Instituts für österreichische Geschichtsforschung (Innsbruck, 1880).