John the Blind: The Legend of a Knight
The legendary figure of the Count of Luxembourg and King of Bohemia, also known as John the Blind, is intrinsic to Luxembourg’s collective identity, and was largely responsible for the Duchy’s development and cultural flowering. However, John the Blind was not just a monarch; he was the quintessence of chivalric heroism whose exploits attained mythological proportions commensurate with the Arthurian legends of the Knights of the Round Table.
The apprentice king
Although there is some doubt as to his birthplace, the general consensus among historians is that the Bohemian king was born in the County of Luxembourg on 10 August 1296. He was the eldest son of Holy Roman Emperor elect, Henri VII, Count of Luxembourg, and Margaret of Brabant, and at an early age came face-to-face with the internal politics and power struggles in medieval Europe. He was fourteen years old when his father conferred upon him the title of Count of Luxembourg, and in the same year, he was designated King of Bohemia when he married Elisabeth, daughter of the late King Wenceslaus II.
When John was seventeen, his father, only recently crowned as Holy Roman Emperor, died at Buonconvento in Siena, but despite the young man’s claim to the title, he was considered too young to take command of the empire. Instead, he swore allegiance to Louis of Bavaria, who was elected King of the Romans, and in 1314, was crowned Holy Roman Emperor under the name of Louis IV.
“His resounding victories enabled him to expand his kingdom.”
A knight in every sense of the word
The King of Bohemia was not one to rest on his laurels within the confines of his ivory tower. He much preferred the tumult of the battlefield to palace intrigues. In the conflict between the Habsburg and the Wittelsbach Houses, John renewed his allegiance to Louis IV and fought at the emperor’s side; and in 1322, largely due to the Bohemian king’s valour, they won a comprehensive victory at the battle of Mühldorf. King and knight extraordinaire, John the Blind was also on excellent terms with France, and in 1328, he came to the aid of the French king Philippe VI in his struggle against the Flemish army led by Nicholaas Zannekin. Once again, the Bohemian king’s intrepid conduct at the Battle of Cassel resulted in a decisive victory for the French troops, and further established his reputation as a heroic knight. His military campaigns took him from Prussia to southern Europe, and his resounding victories enabled him to expand his kingdom, which included Lusatia, Silesia and a large part of Lombardy.
A legend is born
Despite some critics who called the King of Bohemia’s rule into question, the knight’s heroic exploits were already a myth in the making. Financial support from the King of France allowed him to further increase the County of Luxembourg’s territories and reinforce its fortifications. He also conferred city status upon the La Roche, Durbuy, and Bastogne districts. In 1340, John of Bohemia founded the Luxembourg Fair (Schueberfouer), which was a huge, annual international trade market strategically placed at the crossroads of the European north to south trade routes. Although stricken by ophthalmia, a progressive eye disease, the king was not deterred from engaging in battle. In 1346, Philippe VI once again called him to arms, and with boundless courage, John the Blind rode in the front line at the Battle of Crecy, where he fell in action at the age of fifty.