Krumlov has long been considered a living, breathing, working museum.
With its location at the source of the Vltava River, and its perfectly
preserved Medieval Castle and surroundings, the city is fast becoming
the must-see city of Central Europe, tour guides and web sites that
push off the beaten path holidays are even going so far as to declare:
'skip Prague, go to Cesky Krumlov.'
But for all her beauty, her perfections, and her well-deserved recognition in many national and international organizations, the city of Cesky Krumlov still carries with it one dark secret from her Medieval past. A secret that has been covered up for two centuries, and one that remains hidden from present day historians and tourists alike. For while both Czech and tourist go to the town to experience art, beauty, sport and history, Cesky Krumlov was and remains the sight of one of the worst desecrations of human corpses in the history of Central Europe. It is a history that many Czechs had never known existed, let alone knew existed in their paradisal town of Cesky Krumlov.
The event happened during the reign of the Austrian Hungarian Queen, Marie-Tereza. Her reign was a time of great change within the vast Austrian Hungarian Empire, an empire which ruled over not only present day Austria and Hungary, but as well, the Kingdom of Bohemia--which is the present day Czech Republic in which the famed city of Cesky Krumlov sits--Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia, parts of Italy, Germany, Poland, Romania and Serbia. The changes that occurred under her rule were monumental, not least of which was the fact that Marie Tereza was the first female ruler of this vast Central European territory.
But while Marie Tereza was making a name for herself in the male dominated world of politics in Vienna, solely a hundred and sixty-five kilometers away from the empire's capital, another woman of royal birth was making a name for herself among the peasant classes. Her name was one that struck fear. And it was a name that would infect an empire, causing the rustic superstitions of the peasant classes to become a cause for revolt, a rallying cry that would start in the northern Bohemian territories of the land that was Marie Tereza's Empire and go all the way to her southern-most Balkan state of Serbia. Her name was Elenore von Schwartzenberg, and while for decades vampirologists, horror fans and fans of the literature of Bram Stoker have invaded Transylvania in Romania to celebrate and pay tribute to the famed folkloric blood sucking beings that have haunted book, screen, and the nightmares of millions since the 1897 release of Bram Stoker's Dracula, at least one professor seriously believes that those fans of the undead should instead go to Saint Vitus' Church in Cesky Krumlov, where buried under layers of marble, cement, stone, and dirt from the Holy Land, lay the remains of Elenore von Schwartzenberg, the alleged inspiration for Bram Stoker's dark novel of terror.
Lady Elenore von Schwartzenberg was born Elenore von Lobkowicz in the Bohemian town of Melnik. After her marriage to Adam von Schwartzenberg, she was moved to the southern Bohemian city of Cesky Krumlov, where she developed a passion for hunting, which was at that time mostly a man's game. Though this sport was not enough to develop cries of 'vampire' throughout the empire, Elenore von Schwartzenberg's edict that wolves were not to be killed on her lands was--wolves at that time being associated with witchcraft, the devil, and, to the Slav peoples of Central Europe at least: vampirism. But if her protection of the creatures that stalked the forests and plains around Krumlov weren't enough, Lady von Schwartzenberg, desperate to provide a male heir for her husband, took to the drinking of wolves' milk, a non-proven cure for infertile women. All night long servants would milk the female wolves, their howls heard by the local peasantry, a sound that was heard continuously until Elenore von Schwartzenberg, at the age of 41, gave birth to a son. It was to be a royal birth that was celebrated lackluster by the local peasantry, Lady Elenore von Schwartzenberg having a child at that age in a time when most women had already passed on, let alone stopped having children. Needless to say, the birth did not do anything to enhance her reputation as a 'normal' member of the royal court. And though the nobility tended to look down on the folklore and myths of the peasant classes, Lady von Schwartzenberg had developed a need for certain homeopathic potions that seemed to keep her alive, the Lady not seeming to age at all. Yet, while records of the time describe her as pallid, sickly, and with an inability to face sunlight, all description recognized by modern day vampirologists, it was her death that would set the peasant classes on a course of action that would lead to a desecration of corpses throughout Austria-Hungary's Slav territories, from Krumlov in the north, to Serbia in the south.
In 2007, a DVD was released by the Smithsonian Museum. While the DVD's success wasn't international, most Czechs having never heard of it, the subject of the DVD, the Lady von Schwartzenberg Czech vampire, and as well, the literary tales that she inspired, set me on a course of study. To research this long dead ghost buried under layers of protective stone in Cesky Krumlov, and to see if she, as a literary character, was based on fact. The DVD starts with some interesting facts: that in the town of Cesky Krumlov, several corpses were uncovered that were not buried in the traditional Catholic east-west position, but which were instead buried in a north-south direction. Though this distinction is enough to evoke curiosity, it was the desecration of the corpses that sparked the interest of the Smithsonian Museum and University of Vienna Professor Rainer Koppl. The corpses were all staked through the heart, the heads were removed and put between their legs, and as well, their hands were bound with rosary beads and their shoulders were weighed down with rocks. While these rituals may seem Hollywood-esque, these rituals were well-known practice in Europe before the Age of Reason. The cause of such rites being put into practice: the victims of these postmortem desecrations were believed to be vampires.
What provoked these mass desecrations, desecrations that are believed to have taken place in May 1741? Lady Elenore von Schwartzenberg, who had finally been moved from her Cesky Krumlov Castle to a Vienna family palace to await her death and eventual burial in the von Schwartzenberg family crypt in the empire's capital city, passed away. Her final wish: to be buried in Krumlov. While the Catholic Church began preparations for the lady, including her burial in a crypt from which she could not escape, the peasants themselves began to look for others like her. Suicides had always been believed to be vampires. As were the dug up bodies of friends and neighbors who appeared fuller, more rounded, with 'newer' nails or hair. Some of the corpses that were dug up were even believed to have blood around the mouth, or had even had holes or fingernail marks in their coffin's cover, the latter now accepted to be the tombs of victims who had been buried alive. And while all of the priors were things that could be chalked up to the body reacting to its own mortality, Europe’s Slav population was not willing to allow Lady Elenore von Schwartzenberg the opportunity to call up her army of the ‘undead.’ For not only were the serfs of Krumlov fearing the approaching night, soon the peasantry of the whole of Bohemia were desecrating graves, joined almost immediately by their Slav brothers in other regions of the empire, from northern Poland, all the way down to southern Serbia. Eventually, the vampire panic abated, the steam running out when Queen Marie-Tereza, attempting to calm her riotous subjects, sent her personal physician, Gerard von Swietan, to Prague to explain the physical changes the body undergoes postmortem.
But while Elenore von Schwartzenberg's place in history is long forgotten by chroniclers and Czech nationals alike, her place in literature has forever taken hold. The vampire is a relatively new literary medium, only a few centuries old. But solely the second time that a vampire appeared in a major literary work was the poem Lenore, by Prussian poet Gottfield August Burger. It has been established that the poet had written this work for his friend, Joseph I of the House of Schwartzenberg, the son born to the forty-one year old Lady Elenore von Schwartzenberg. While the poem could be considered Romantic, dealing with and in the tenors of its time, what is more important is the poem is considered by scholars and novices alike to be the perfect merging of the supernatural and real world, the poem even featuring the line: 'The dead travel fast,' a line of poetry that would later appear in Bram Stoker's masterpiece: Dracula, the line appearing on the grave of an Austrian princess that the hero, Jonathan Harker visits in an earlier draft of the novel. But not only did Lady Elenore von Schwartzenberg seal her place in European tales of nightly lore, she also made her way across the Atlantic, her name even haunting that master of horror Edgar Allen Poe, whose poems, Lenore and the Raven, sing of a late night undead visitor named: Lenore. Though Poe's works may not be so inspired by Lady Elenore von Schwartzenberg, as much as he was giving an answer and a reply to Burger's work in itself, one would like to imagine that Edgar Allen Poe was hearing Burger's warning: that Lady Elenore von Schwartzenberg, restless in her grave, does not only travel fast, but across centuries. That the life and mysteries that is this woman are not resting soundly or peacefully in a tomb in Cesky Krumlov . . . but are in a state of flux or even in a disturbed and tumultuous sleep . . . for now!