Medieval London as Seen through the Eyes of Czech and German Travellers
By Ivona Mišterová
Acta Fakulty filozofické Západočeské univerzity v Plzni, Vol.2 (2010)
Abstract: The aim of this article is to analyze the first depictions of London in Czech literature, namely in travel journals of the Czech writer and traveller Wenzel Schaseck of Birkov and the German burgher Gabriel Tetzel of Gräfenberg and Nuremburg who accompanied the Czech nobleman Leo of Rozmital and Blatna on his diplomatic mission through western European countries in the years 1465 to 1467. Furthermore, similarities and differences between Schaseck’s and Tetzel’s accounts of London are pointed out and discussed. The comparative analysis of both travel journals and historical sources will uncover not only the similarities and differences regarding the depiction of their mission and particularly the city of London, but also the credibility of their observations. Finally, the article concludes that Schaseck’s and Tetzel’s travel journals present not only a valuable illustration of late Medieval Europe and a specific Medieval way of thinking, but also a unique picture of Medieval London as seen through the eyes of non-English writers and travellers.
Introduction: This article attempts to analyze the first depictions of London in Czech literature, namely in the travel records of the medieval author and traveller Wenzel Schaseck of Birkov and the German patrician Gabriel Tetzel of Gräfenberg and Nuremburg. These two figures made up a part of the delegation of the Czech nobleman Leo of Rozmital and Blatna on his diplomatic mission through western European states in the years 1465 to 1467, regarding relevant historical and social events of the time, such as the reign of the Hussite king George of Podebrady and the rule of English King Edward IV. The comparative analysis of both travel diaries and historical sources will uncover not only the similarities and differences regarding the depiction of their mission and particularly the city of London, but also the credibility of their observations.
Original Czech travel works held quite a specific position in older Czech literature, as they gradually began to come into their own only after the cessation of the Hussite wars. The hyperbolic and often unreliable travel accounts of Sir John Mandeville gained relatively significant popularity in the Czech lands and on the British Islands, later inspiring authors such as Richard Hakluyt and Walter Raleigh with their fantastic and naive concepts which drew on the travel writings of Pliny. In the lands of the Czech crown, the travel literature of the Venetian merchant Marco Polo was well-known, telling the author’s authentic experiences from his travels to Mongolia and China, which was paradoxically regarded as untrustworthy and dubbed to be a “million lies”. It is also interesting to note that Mandeville’s travel writings – unlike Polo’s – held their popularity until the Czech National Revival (from the 1780s to the 1850s).