Christian martyr and patron saint of the Czech Republic, Wenceslas I, was the duke of Bohemia from 921 until his death in 929 (or 935). Posthumously declared a king, he is the subject of the popular Christmas carol, “Good King Wenceslas.” His younger brother, Boleslaus I, is widely considered to be the perpetrator of his assassination, which occurred when Wenceslas was en route to mass at the church door.
Charles IV., also known as Charles of Luxembourg, was king of Bohemia from 1346 and Holy Roman Emperor from 1355. Literate and fluent in five languages, Charles IV. left a strong legacy, with his reign considered the Golden Age of Bohemia. Under his reign, he organized the empire into peace-keeping confederations and made Prague the imperial city. Charles IV transformed Prague, ordering the creation of Charles University, Charles Bridge, New Town with Charles Square, a vast majority of Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral, Karlštejn, and much more.
Jan Hus was a Czech theologian, philosopher, and church reformer. Known as the main representative of the Bohemian Reformation, aka the Hussite Reformation, Hus spoke out against the pope’s selling of indulgences. Jan Hus was a master, dean, and rector at Charles University. He was burned at the stake for heresy on 6 July 1415.
Considered the father of modern education, John Amos Comenius was a Czech philosopher, pedagogue, and theologian. Comenius believed in universal knowledge and introduced several concepts in his book "Didactica Magna," including pictorial textbooks, gradual development of education, lifelong learning focused on logical thinking, equal education opportunities for children, education for women, and more.
Ruler of the Habsburg dominions from 1740 until her death in 1780, Maria Theresa was the only woman to hold the position. Maria Theresa was an absolute sovereign who ruled with the counsel of her advisers, including her husband and eldest son, who were officially her co-rulers. Maria Theresa implemented enduring institutional, financial, medical, and educational reforms during her reign.
Antonín Dvořák was a Czech composer famous for his romantic compositions and melodic operas featuring folk music and stories about small villages in Bohemia and Moravia. Dvorak’s works include operas, choral, symphonic, and chamber music. He is most famous for his New World Symphony, Slavonic Dances, and the opera Rusalka. This extremely prolific artist left behind many unfinished works and is buried in the National Cemetery in Vyšehrad.
Franz Kafka was born in Prague (then Austria-Hungary) to a German-speaking Jewish family of middle-class status. His work, most of which was published against his will posthumously by Max Brod with the majority of it unfinished, is considered to be among the top influential writings of the 20th century in the genres of Modernism and Existentialism. "The Metamorphosis,” “The Trial,” and “The Castle” are some of his best-known works.
Milada Horáková was a Czech politician, lawyer, Nazi resister, and a victim of judicial murder by the Communist Party. She was arrested and charged on fabricated charges of conspiracy and treason in 1950. Her show trial was meant to show that the Communist Party had zero tolerance for any criticism and would stop at nothing to impose its policies. She was executed by hanging. Several figures in the West petitioned for her life including Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Albert Einstein.
Václav Havel, a Czech playwright, and former dissident was the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first president of the Czech Republic. Admired and respected for his humanitarian ideals, Havel wrote over 20 plays and various non-fiction works dealing with human rights, globalization, and the relationship between the Czechs and Europe. Václav Havel is most famous for his participation as opposition leader and co-author of Charter 77, which eventually led to his arrest during the Communist regime. After years of imprisonment, Havel was thrust into the Czech presidency after the fall of Communism and the Velvet Revolution in 1989.