Charles IV of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia and King of the Romans, lost both his young son and his second wife, the boy’s mother, respectively. Twice widowed he decided to marry his son’s fiancee, the young Anna of Schweidnitz and thus secure the Schweidnitz inheritance. Anna was the only child of Henry II, the grandson of King Władysław I of Poland. On her father’s death she was placed under the care of his elder brother, her uncle, Bolko II the Small. The ruler of the small, but politically important duchy of Schweidnitz (today Lower Silesia, Poland), Bolko was the last independent Silesian Piast. And since Charles intended to annex the entirety of Silesia to the Kingdom of Bohemia, Bolko’s duchy, being the only missing part, was crucial to his plans.
According to custom, when Anna reached proper age, she was sent to be raised at a royal court. Uncle Bolko had her placed at his aunt Elizabeth’s splendid and highly sophisticated court at Buda, Hungary. There his niece received the first-class education. She learned how to read and write, skills she would put to good use in the future. A few letters survive, written in Anna’s own hand and addressed to Petrarch himself, whom she was to meet in Italy and kept up a correspondence with.
Anna and Charles married in the closing days of May 1353 at Buda. Their wedding ceremony took place at the same time as the wedding ceremony of Louis the Great and his second wife, Elizabeth of Bosnia. Both Anna and Elizabeth had been raised together at the Hungarian Court and became close friends. From Buda, Anna and Charles returned to Prague. Shortly afterwards they paid a visit to Schweidnitz, where they were entertained at Bolko II’s court. The succession treaty was signed according to which the duchy was to be inherited by Anna and her children by Charles upon the death of Bolko and his wife Agnes of Habsburg.
On 28 July 1353, Anna was crowned Queen of Bohemia and the following year, on 9 February 1354, German queen. The year 1355 saw the royal couple in Italy, where on Easter Sunday (5 April 1355) they were crowned Holy Roman Emperor and Holy Roman Empress in a splendid ceremony in the Basilica of Saint Peter, Rome. Anna was sixteen at the time.
On their return journey, the imperial couple were staying at Pisa for a couple of weeks, when violent riots broke out. The Palazzo degli Anziani, where Anna and Charles were living, was set on fire. They barely escaped with their lives. Clad only in their night gowns, they headed to the market square where Charles sent Anna away to safety. She left the town in haste, on horseback. The fire consumed not only the palazzo itself, but also all of Anna’s belongings. Later the citizens paid for all her dresses and jewels.
Anna’s sweet nature and personal charm were well known. Her reputation as a great beauty rests on the surviving images created during her lifetime or shortly after her untimely death. If we are to believe popular tradition, of Charles’ four wives, it was Anna he loved most. He was delighted when their first child, a daughter Elizabeth, was born in 1358, although Anna herself felt she failed her husband (this we know thanks to her surviving correspondence with Petrarch). Three years later a much awaited son and heir followed, named Wenceslaus, in memory of St. Wenceslaus, patron saint of Bohemia. He was to become Charles’ beloved and favoured child, although the emperor was to have more children by his fourth wife.
Anna died on 11 July 1362, in childbirth, aged 23. She and the child (a son) who also did not survive, were buried together in St Vitus Cathedral, Prague. Charles, stricken with grief, closed himself behind the walls of his favourite castle, Karlstejn. A year later he married his fourth wife, Anna’s kin, also a great-grandaughter of King Władysław of Poland, Elżbieta [Elizabeth] of Pomerania.
Further reading: Prof. PhDr. Marie Bláhová,CSc. (Filozofická fakulta UK Praha) Císařovna Anna Svídnická – manželka Karla IV. (2000), Jasiński Kazimierz, Genealogia Piastów Śląskich, Wrocław 1974, Dąbrowski, Jan. Elżbieta Łokietkówna 1305-1380, Kraków 2007