Friday, July 20, 2007


It's not every day that I learn something new about my neck of the woods on Wikipedia, but every such occasion is a joyous one and this particular bit of information is certainly worth sharing.
It concerns Sigismund of Luxembourg, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Hungary, King of Bohemia etc. etc. (1368-1437), better known around here as Žigmund Luxemburský/Zikmund Lucemburský. A colorful figure, this one: known to his enemies as "That double-crossing sly red fox" and famous for his lavish lifestyle and constant financial problems, he is said to have once exclaimed "This whole kingdom is bankrupt, you can't squeeze more than 40.000 gold pieces out of it!". He even pawned 13 cities of Spiš to Poland to finance his war against Venice (and/or his expensive tastes, depending on whom you chose to believe). These cities were only returned to the Kingdom of Hungary (and thus Slovak territory) in 1772, which is how come Henryk Sienkiewicz's Potop (The Deluge) has the Polish king John II Casimir (Jan Kazimierz) travel to the Polish city of Lubowla (today's Slovak Stará Ľubovňa) to receive a hero's welcome and to plan the resistance against the Swedish invasion.
But what Sigismund is most (in)famous for is his part in the Hus affair and the resulting Hussite wars. He was the one who guaranteed Jan Hus a safe passage to and from the Council of Constance. The lying cheating bastard politician that he was, Sigismund broke his promise and the rest is history. Which brings us to our amusing anecdote.
It was at the opening session of the Council that the following transpired:

"Right Reverend Fathers, date operam ut illa nefanda schisma eradicetur," exclaims Sigismund, intent on having the Bohemian Schism well dealt with,--which he reckons to be of the feminine gender. To which a Cardinal mildly remarking, "Domine, schisma est generis neutrius (Schisma is neuter, your Majesty)," --Sigismund loftily replies, "Ego sum Rex Romanus et super grammaticam (I am King of the Romans, and above grammar)!"

Well, at least he did not say "Ego deciderator sum"... Anyway, it is quite interesting that in my study of the Hussite wars I have never stumbled upon this bit of trivia. One would have thought that the Czechs with their hate for Sigismund would particularly enjoy this bit, but neither the history books I consulted, nor the historians I spoke to had ever heard of this incident.
By the way, the quote above is not from the Wikipedia, but it's a description of that incident from Thomas Carlyle's History of Friedrich II of Prussia, Called Frederick the Great (Volume II) who quotes from Wolfgang Mentzel's Geschichte der Deutschen. It would seem that Carlyle is the main source for this anecdote, at least in the English-speaking world, though it crops up in Italian, too. I haven't been able to find Mentzel's work to check his sources. Anyone out there has a copy?
The Wikipedia article, referring to The Nutall Encyclopedia, adds that "this reply caused him to receive the nickname "Super-Grammaticam". Again, I scouted the vast plains of the Internet and consulted my library only to arrive at the conclusion that "Super-Grammaticam" probably wasn't a nickname given to Sigismund by his contemporaries, but rather an invention of Carlyle's, as he himself admits in the very same passage I quoted from above:

For which reason I call him in my Note-books Sigismund SUPER GRAMMATICAM, to distinguish him in the imbroglio of Kaisers.

It would appear that the nickname comment is a slight oversight on the part of the Wikipedia users. Someone should correct it immediately.

And on an unrelated note: this record temperatures shit has got to stop. I don't mind the heat that much, it's quite manageable with proper hydration and the right choice of underwear (don't ask). But Bratislava being what it is* and the ladies summer attire being what it is... Let's just say I almost got slapped twice yesterday for, well, staring. Enough, I say.

* The city with the highest proportion of gorgeous women per capita in the world, that's what!


Johanka said...

Interesting anecdote!
Just one thing I can’t help pointing out: The historians I’ve consulted (or their books) say that Sigismund has been unjustly accused concerning the Hus case. As you say, he guaranteed Hus a safe passage to and from the Council, but he couldn’t possibly have guaranteed his security during the Council. Hus was tried by the ecclesiastical (not secular) authorities.

Matt said...

Actually, a good way to work off your current intellectual debt to Wikipedia would be to fix it yourself.

bulbul said...


actually, the irony switch was on as I made that comment.


so have the ones I spoke with, it seems that the bad press Sigismund gets in this case is largely a relict of Marxist historiography. Still, most agree that had he been serious about protecting Hus, he could have done more. And he certainly wasn't unhappy too see Hus gone.

zmježd said...

What a great comeback and a lovely bit of history.

MMcM said...

It's usually Menzel without a t. And so it is in Google Books.

Here is the chapter in question. The footnote didn't OCR very well, so search won't find it. But there it is.

John Emerson said...

My alternative history of Europe has Jagiello becoming a Hussite and helping Zizka definitively squash the Evil Empire. There was a real relationship between Zizka and Jagiello (OK, OK, Jogaila) and it almost did happen. The last pagan and the first Protestant.

bulbul said...


do you read Polish? If you do, get yourself a copy of Sapkowski's latest work, the Hussite Trilogy (Narrenturm - Boży Bojownicy - Lux Perpetua). Žižka is dead there, too, but at one point, Sapkowski has Prokop Holý standing over a map of Europe planning a new Bohemia - from sea to shining sea. Cool stuff.

bulbul said...


thanks, I knew you'd solve this one :o)
Now if only I could access that book. Could I possibly trouble you for a screenshot?

David Marjanović said...


Is that a typo, or did someone really change [ks] into [ts]? That would be interesting.

bulbul said...


nope, no typo:

David Marjanović said...

Ah. So it is interesting then. :-)

I read somewhere (in primary literature -- I don't normally read linguistic primary literature) that the existence of [ts] in German explains why x is always pronounced [ks] over here, unlike in English and French where it likes turning into [gz] or even [z]: German speakers were already used to the concept of (even word-initial) assibilates, people farther west were not.

David Marjanović said...

And, strangely, it really is does not even exist, not even as a redirect. :-o

John Emerson said...

Damn, I wish I read Polish.

The Hussites did reach the Baltic at one point.

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