The Lobkowicz family is among the oldest and most distinguished Bohemian noble families and has played a prominent role in Central European history for over six hundred years. Successive generations have held the highest of noble titles, including Princes of the Holy Roman Empire, High Chancellors of Bohemia, Dukes of Sagan and of Roudnice, and Knights of the Order of the Golden Fleece. On a scale unimaginable today, they commissioned magnificent architectural projects and ground-breaking music and collected paintings, manuscripts, books, musical instruments and decorative arts that enhanced their numerous residences and increased their prestige in the courts and circles in which they moved and exerted power.
Early in the 17th century, prior to the start of the Thirty Years’ War, the Lobkowicz family began to assert its role in the Catholic inner circle of the Habsburg court. Zdeněk Vojtěch, 1st Prince Lobkowicz (1568–1628), served as Chancellor to Emperors Rudolf II, Mathias and Ferdinand II. Through the marriage of Zdeněk Vojtěch to Polyxena Pernštejn, numerous properties (including Lobkowicz Palace and Roudnice Castle), important Spanish portraits and books, and great political influence came into the Lobkowicz family. The crucial Catholic victory at the Battle of White Mountain in 1620 solidified the family’s fortunes and enabled the purchase of Nelahozeves Castle in 1623.
Zdeněk Vojtěch and Polyxena’s only son, Václav Eusebius, 2nd Prince Lobkowicz (1609–1677), served Emperors Ferdinand III and Leopold I as a Member of the Imperial Council and became one of the most influential European statesmen of the 17th century. He raised his own regiment to fight in the Thirty Years’ War and subsequently held high appointments in Vienna as President of the Imperial War Cabinet (from 1652) and President of the Imperial Privy Council (from 1669). Among his most lasting accomplishments, however, were the family palaces he had reconstructed in the baroque style by Italian architects and artists, including Lobkowicz Palace in Prague and the immense Roudnice Castle, in Central Bohemia.
Josef František Maxmilián, 7th Prince Lobkowicz (1772–1816), was named Duke of Roudnice in 1786 by Emperor Joseph II. Though a talented singer, violinist and cellist, his greatest contribution to the history of music, and indeed world history, was in his role as great patron of the composer and pianist Ludwig van Beethoven. The generous annual stipend he provided allowed the musical genius to create some of his most significant and now famous works. In recognition of his patronage, Beethoven dedicated numerous important works to Josef František Maxmilián, including the 3rd (Eroica), 5th and 6th (Pastoral) symphonies; the Opus 18 String Quartets; the Triple Concerto and the song cycle “An die ferne Geliebte”.
The family and The Lobkowicz Collections were dramatically impacted by events of the 20th century. Maximilian Lobkowicz (1888–1967), a lawyer, politician and diplomat, provided crucial support to the newly formed democratic Czechoslovak state (1918), in spite of the government’s decision to disallow the use of noble titles and to redistribute inherited property. This collaboration, combined with his service as Ambassador of Czechoslovakia to Great Britain during World War II, led directly to the confiscation of the family’s properties and possessions by the Nazis in 1939.
Though returned to the family in 1945, all the properties and The Collections were confiscated again a short time later, this time by the Communist regime that took power in 1948. Maximilian and his immediate family were left with nothing and forced into exile.
After the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and the opening of Czechoslovakia, President Václav Havel signed three legislative acts that provided for the return of property confiscated by the Communists. Maximilian’s son, Martin (b. 1928), with his youngest son, William (b. 1961), together undertook the enormous task of tracing and reclaiming The Collections and the many properties in which those treasures had been housed.
With the successful restitution came an immense family responsibility: to preserve, protect and restore these newly returned cultural monuments in spite of greatly reduced resources. The family established Lobkowicz Collections o.p.s., Lobkowicz Events Management and the American Friends for the Preservation of Czech Culture with the overarching mission of making these important cultural resources available to the public.
Through bold vision, careful planning and great determination, the family has already opened three properties – Lobkowicz Palace, Nelahozeves Castle and Střekov Castle – to over half a million visitors, placing thousands of cultural objects on permanent display. Roudnice Castle, said to be the fourth largest castle in the Czech Republic, is open to the public while plans for its revitalization are being developed.
Magnificently perched on a steep cliff above the Elbe River and overlooking the city of Ustí nad Labem, Střekov Castle is one of the most visited cultural monuments in North Bohemia. Now a romantic ruin, there still remains a central hall, a cylindrical Gothic tower, and other rooms. Its dramatic silhouette can be seen from kilometers away, as well as from the trains running between Prague and Dresden that pass directly along the opposite bank.
The fortress-like Střekov Castle was built in 1316 for John of Luxemburg by his royal architect and engineer, Pešík of Veitmile. It originally guarded the important trade route to Germany.
After 1479, the family Glacs´of Starý Dvůr acquired the Castle, repaired the fortifications and built two houses next to the smaller tower and eastern wall. The castle continued to change hands until 1563, when it was purchased by Václav Lobkowicz. It was inherited in 1599 by Adam Havel Lobkowicz, from whom it passed in 1615 to the Roudnice branch of the Lobkowicz family.
Because of its strategic importance, the Castle suffered severe damage during the Thirty Years' War under successive Imperial, Saxon and Swedish occupations because of its strategic importance. During the Seven Years' War the castle was again alternately besieged and captured by Austrian and Prussian armies, resulting in further destruction. Stabilization repairs were also carried out.
The castle area is divided into two parts, which are connected by an arched bridge that spans a natural moat. Still remaining from the earliest period of construction are an irregular oblong section of the palace, its connecting monumental round tower, and a smaller tower that guarded the castle entrance. Semi-round bastions fortify the structure.
A single castle with two connected sections was an unusual architectural style for the period in which Střekov Castle was built. The structure’s bastions are also a rare feature. Inspired by French examples, Střekov Castle’s bastions are perhaps the first example of this type of defensive architecture in Bohemia.
In the 19th century, a renewed interest in old ruins set in romantic natural settings motivated poets, painters and musicians to visit Střekov Castle. Goethe declared the view from the property’s perch above the Elbe to be the most beautiful in Central Europe. Richard Wagner’s sojourn in the Castle is said to have inspired him to write his opera Tannhäuser.
Like other Lobkowicz properties, Střekov Castle was confiscated by the Nazi regime and later by the Communist government. The property was restituted to the family in the early 1990s.
Today, Střekov Castle contains an historical exhibition that includes reproductions of guns and knights' armor, drawings and pictures of the property, as well as a scale wooden model of the Castle complex. Periodic temporary exhibits are also organized each year.