History of Czech Castles in the Work of August Sedlacek
August Sedlacek was born 1843 in Mlada Vozice. He studied at the secondary grammar school in Jindrichuv Hradec, Jihlava and Pisek. Since 1863 he studied at the Prague University, the Faculty of Philosophy. As an assistant he tought at the secondary grammar school in Litomysl (1867-1869), Rychnov nad Kneznou (1869-1875), where he became a professor. From here he moved to Tabor where he lived and worked untill 1899. As a retired man he moved to Pisek to spend the rest of his life there.
For the first time the idea of composing a larger work on the history of Czech castles hit him at the secondary grammar school. Father piqued his interest in drawing maps and thereby in topography. In the years 1861-1863 the young Sedlacek tried to compose the topography of the Pisek area. In 1859 it was finished, 13 notebooks written in German, each of them consisted in history of castles and strong-holds, some of them containing plans. Later he was evoked by patriotism so that he began to write about Czech history only in Czech. He started to complete a new collection where recorded history of castles was excerpted mainly from literature and separated into regions. Thanks to that he gained a survey about geographical lay-out of individual castles in Bohemia.
He began to gather detailed data at the university. In 1875 a variety of sources and findings helped him with the decision to start issuing the edition. His teacher Josef Emler helped him to find a publisher Frantisek Simacek who also had a positive influence on the work.
At the beginning Sedlacek wanted to compose only a brief history of castle possessors, based on archival research, but the publisher tried to convince him of the importance of its business purpose too, so that the final product would not just be aimed at a group of academics. The publisher also wanted to enrich it with cultural history and several tales, accompanied by illustrations. Sedlacek approved the use of fictional tales. As advisers helped so too professors Kalousek, Smolik, architect Baum or artistic conservator Benes who recommended to rework it with more details, to add all of the most important castles and comments concerning genealogy, heraldry, numismatics, memoirs of ancient laws and habits, so that there could be recorded life of the highest aristocracy as well as of the lower one. Included were many of the private letters or documents of the Czech aristocracy for its ancient various language.
In Praha Sedlacek visited the University Library and Land Registry Office. Later he started to visit different archives, sometimes with his friend Martin Kolar. In addition, Sedlacek obtained permission to research private aristocratic archives, church archives, archives of the Home Department and he worked arduously with land or court registers. Often he found documents or files which were supposed to be lost or nobody knew that those old records existed.
It was not always easy to get the necessary data for the work. Sedlacek paid for many of his journeys to archives out of his pocket to travel through Bohemia and to some archives abroad. Most of his archival journeys to archives were on foot since the railway infrastructure was not fully developed. In addition, tickets were too expensive for him to afford regular travelling. It is interesting that his father again influenced him in childhood, in this case by often taking walks into surrounding areas. August Sedlacek visited several archives abroad where Czech documents were housed, e.g. Dresden, München, Berlin, Wien, Wroclaw, Kaliningrad. During travels to different archives in Bohemia, Sedlacek was asked for cooperation in reorganizing the files, e.g. in Bechyne, Breznice, Lnare, Pisek. His travels enabled him to meet several researchers who he continued to correspondence with later on.
His findings helped to different researchers too, who asked Sedláèek for help getting them to enrich their history projects, usually of local importance. To prepare a more detailed history, influenced by professor Martin Kolar, he focused eagerly on genealogy, heraldry and sphragistry. Thanks to new findings the professor Sedlacek became so famous that many common people asked him for help with their family genealogy. It was sometimes not easy for him to reply that he was unable to help or his advice was not accepted by people who usually wanted to prove their relationship to aristocracy at any price.
Before issue of the edition, it was necessary to acquaint public with the project, undertaken by the publisher Simacek in the journal "Pokrok" where it was explained the necessity of the work for readers, for a lack of similar projects in Bohemia. At the end of 1880 the first book was to be issued without proper corrections since the project competed with another edition which was prepared by the publisher Jan Otto, with the title "Cechy". A few of these first issued books were sent as a sample to several bookstores, but without sufficient interest. It was estimated that at least 1600 readers were necessary to cover the cost of production.
Since 1880, when the first book (volume) was issued, the remaining 15 were issued (the last one in 1923). Among the recorded regions, the areas omitted were Cheb (for a long time it was not a part of Bohemia), Kladsko or other lands lost by the Kingdom of Bohemia, and even the aritocratic residencies where no castle was built. The castles built after the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) were mentioned only briefly, mainly just references to topographical books. The entire work contained descriptions of 415 large and small ancient castles, 117 younger castles and 2423 strong-holds.
It was not possible to
dedicate each volume to an individual region. Subsequent reissued volumes
sometimes contained newly found data. The volumes exist for the following
Small decorations, especially coats of arms, seals, initials, vignettes, copies of the castle plans and old drawings were done by Vojtech Kral of Dobra Voda, who drafted a larger number of maps for the volumes. Besides him, Baltazar Kutina drafted several maps for volume numbers 5 and 6 and J. V. Simak did it for volume numbers 14 and 15 plus the general map. Floor plans of castles in volume numbers 14 and 15 were drafted by R. Simecek, many plans were lent by the Archeological committee of the Czech Academy. The publisher F. Simacek supervised the work untill his death in 1885, then his sons Bohuslav and Jaroslav continued with it, since 1919 the agency "Solc & Simacek". Volume numbers 14 and 15 were issued under the supervision and supply of the Ministry of Education and the Czech Academy.
Contemporary researchers use this exceptional work for several reasons. They can obtain a preliminary survey to begin their projects in different research fields. Thanks to the references of the sources used, researchers can save time and avoid complicated search in land registers and many other documents that may no longer exist. It is a welcome aid especially in doing history of manors, genealogy of manorial possessors, and local topography.
Published in "Nase rodina", St. Paul, MN, Volume 14, Number 4, December 2002, Page 129-133