HAPSBURG RULE, 1526-1867

Czech Republic Table of Contents

The Hapsburgs and the Czechoslovak Lands

Although the Bohemian Kingdom, the Margravate of Moravia, and Slovakia were all under Hapsburg rule, they followed different paths of development. The defeat at Mohacs in 1526 meant that most of Hungary proper was taken by the Turks; until Hungary's reconquest by the Hapsburgs in the second half of the seventeenth century, Slovakia became the center of Hungarian political, cultural, and economic life. The Hapsburg kings of Hungary were crowned in Bratislava, the present-day capital of Slovakia, and the Hungarian estates met there. Slovakia's importance in Hungarian life proved of no benefit, however, to the Slovaks. In essence, the Hungarian political nation consisted of an association of estates (primarily the nobility). Because Slovaks were primarily serfs, they were not considered members of a political nation and had no influence on politics in their own land. The Slovak peasant had only to perform duties: work for a landlord, pay taxes, and provide recruits for military service. Even under such hostile conditions, there were a few positive developments. The Protestant Reformation brought to Slovakia literature written in Czech, and Czech replaced Latin as the literary language of a small, educated Slovak elite. But on the whole, the Slovaks languished for centuries in a state of political, economic, and cultural deprivation.

Moravia had accepted the hereditary right of the Austrian Hapsburgs to rule it and thus escaped the intense struggle between native estates and the Hapsburg monarchy that was to characterize Bohemian history. The Moravians had a poorly developed historical or national consciousness, made few demands on the Hapsburgs, and were permitted to live in tranquillity. Late in the eighteenth century, the Margravate of Moravia was abolished and merged with Austrian Silesia.

In contrast to Moravia, the Bohemian Kingdom had entrenched estates that were ready to defend what they considered their rights and liberties. Because the Hapsburgs pursued a policy of centralization, conflict was inevitable. The conflict was further complicated by ethnic and religious issues and was subsequently seen by some as a struggle for the preservation of Czech institutions and the Czech nation.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress