Fidelity in the Chronicle of the Czechs by Cosmas of Prague

Věrnost v Kosmově kronice

This study focuses on the Chronica Boemorum by Cosmas of Prague, which is one of the most important narrative sources for Czech history in the era of the Přemyslid dynasty. An analysis of this literary work attempts to address the question of how the chronicler worked with the category of fidelity that is nowadays considered to be one of the fundamental ideas and widespread legal forms through which the medieval society expressed its hierarchical order. It is no coincidence that domestic rulers and noble persons closely related to the throne found themselves at the centre of attention, as most of the information that Prague dean Cosmas left behind is related to members of the political elite. Following the pioneering monograph of Dušan Třeštík, the concept of fidelity in the Chronica Boemorum is discussed and reinterpreted. The main reason is that Třeštík’s approach is based on traditional fief terminology and doctrine, which has been recently attacked by postmodern deconstructivists headed by prominent British historian Susan Reynolds. At first, legal rituals, such as promises and oaths, are presented as means to establish, strengthen, or terminate fidelity ties, binding together Přemyslids and provincial magnates. The major part of the study is then devoted to the content of fidelity commitments. Although it was based predominantly on the duty of loyalty and service, medieval fides or fidelitas was not at all uniform. On the contrary, it flexibly adapted to the socio-cultural and geographical context. Therefore, it seems appropriate to examine this topic with the help of an analytical probe that captures the (un)loyal rulers and their servants depicted in the Chronica Boemorum as heroes providing encouragement to be followed, or villains worthy of condemnation. While doing so, a methodological inspiration may be drawn from the classical work of František Graus and, under his influence, it is possible to distinguish one-sided uncompromising obedience (obedientia) from two-sided fidelity based on reciprocity (fides, fidelitas).