She was probably born in 1569 into the powerful and wealthy noble family of Lobkovice. From her parents, Ladislav Popel and Magdalena Polyxena, she inherited business talent and creativity, and from her mother, she also inherited an unbreakable evangelical faith. She was probably given the education typical of noble girls to prepare her to take on the role of mistress of the house.
When she married Jan Trčka from Lípa a na Opočné on February 8, 1588, it didn’t matter that the groom was twelve years older. The age difference was balanced by his dizzying wealth and shared evangelical faith. The happy marriage gave birth to four children who lived to adulthood: the eldest Alžběta, the longed-for heir Adam Erdman, the younger son Vilém and the youngest daughter Johana.
Mr. and Mrs. Trček – especially Mrs. Magdalena – were skillful householders, but before Bíla Hora they were not very interested in politics. They belonged to a group of tolerant-minded nobles. Their best friends were the evangelical Štefan Jiří from Štemberk and the moderate Catholic Adam from Valdštejn, a relative of the famous Albrecht of Valdštejn.
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In Adam’s residence on Malá Strana, a diverse group of non-confessional people often met. They entertained themselves with home theater performances, played backgammon, hunted with hounds and reciprocated opulent feasts.
“Today I ate at Mr. Rudolf Trčka’s house, we had a lot of geese and many other good things,” noted a gluttonous Adam in his diary in November 1614.
Embarrassment over defenestration
Adam’s son Maxmilian married Kateřina from Harrach, his relative Albrecht married another daughter of Harrach, Isabela, and Adam Erdman married Maxmilian’s third sister. Alžběta Trčková married Vilém Kinski.
Her older sister, who was to marry Count Jindřich Matyáš of Thurn, died at the age of fifteen, but Thurn continued to maintain warm relations with Trčky. Friendship cemented by marriage policy thus created the community of Valdštejn, Trčk, Thurn and Kinsk.
Pavel Skála from Zhora described Jan Trčka as an “unstable double”, “a wagtail and a windy rooster”
But then a class uprising entered the peaceful noble life. In May 1618, rioters led by Matthias of Thurn threw two royal lieutenants and secretaries out of the windows of Prague Castle, thus protesting against the violation of religious freedom by Emperor Ferdinand II. Habsburg, who was a militant Catholic.
Part of the evangelicals accepted the defenestration with embarrassment, including the Trčkovs. They anxiously tried to avoid confrontation with the emperor while maintaining good relations with family friend Thurn.
However, the effort to compromise did not meet with success in a religiously turbulent time. Pavel Skála from Zhora – a historian who later emigrated – described Jan Rudolf Trčka as “an exceedingly unstable double in religion and in the sincerity of his patriotism”, “a fidget spinner and a windy rooster”.
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However, caution paid off. On Sunday, November 8, 1620, the combined armies of Ferdinand II dispersed. and the German Catholic League’s Czech estate army in the Battle of White Mountain. Rebellious rebels suddenly became humble supplicants who awaited with silent dread how the emperor would deal with them.
Grace and faith for a bribe
The more prudent – like Count Jindřich Matyáš Thurn – saved their lives by fleeing abroad. The optimists took refuge in their estates, hoping that the storm would pass. Five days after the White Mountain, 201 leaders of the rebellion sent Ferdinand II. a letter in which they expressed humble regret “that they rose up against His Grace the Emperor, as our proper, successive, crowned, anointed… king and lord”.
However, they did not soften the Habsburgs. While Jan Rudolf patiently waited for the next things under house arrest, the extraordinary execution commission headed by Karl of Liechtenstein handed down one death sentence after another.
Although Trčka did not directly participate in the uprising, his huge wealth was a great attraction. Therefore, the vigorous Mary Magdalene bribed wherever she could. Finally, she clearly declared her willingness to lend huge sums to the eternally indebted court, thanks to which her husband was rehabilitated.
Many others were not so lucky, on June 21, 1621, 27 Czech lords and townspeople were executed in a ghostly execution on the Old Town Square.
Albrecht of Valdštejn valued the “old countess” very much: If only Trčka was as smart as his wife!
The intimidation of the nation did not end with the mass execution. This was followed by property confiscations, which wiped out nearly a thousand Czech and Moravian noble families. While the fortunes of some were collapsing, others became fabulously rich – specifically the group gathered around Lichtenstein, who headed the confiscation commission.
Marie Magdalena Trčková received the first confiscated estates in 1622 as compensation for a loan to the imperial court. She unmistakably sensed an opportunity and a year later she was already buying confiscations in bulk.
Only Liechtenstein and Albrecht of Wallenstein were able to earn more. After all, he valued the “old countess” very much, regretted that he was not a man. If only Trčka was as smart as his wife!
Tongue torn out, right hand severed. The Old Town execution was a bloody theater
Science and schools
In 1628, the Emperor proclaimed the Restored Land Establishment, which enacted absolutism instead of estates and established the Catholic faith as the only permitted religion. Almost a fifth of the population left Bohemia and Moravia in a mass exodus.
Faith also divided the Trčk family. Daughter Alžběta went into exile with her husband Vilém Kinski, as did her brother Vilém. Jan Rudolf and older son Adam Erdman converted to Catholicism. Only Mary Magdalene received a special permission from the emperor to remain in her homeland and in the old faith until her death…
As a Protestant, she did not have access to the imperial court, but that did not bother her very much. Even without that, she was enjoying the benefits of the winners. In Eastern Bohemia, she built a complete estate, which included prosperous estates: Opočno, Smiřice, Náchod, Nové Město, Lipnice, Ledeč, Světlá, Žleby…
Trčkov’s fortune reached around four million guilders. Her husband and older son were elevated to the rank of earls in February 1628.
Europe was ravaged by the Thirty Years’ War, no one could be sure of their property or life. In November 1631, Catholic Prague was occupied by the Lutheran troops of the Elector of Saxony Jan Jiří. However, the Trčko estates were not affected by the looting.
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Marie Magdalena once again played both sides. Although she lent money to the Habsburgs, at the same time she remained in contact with estate emigration. “Messengers from Dresden often carried letters to the Žleby or Světlau castles in Trček. Mother and daughter (Alžběta) are said to have written ‘lemons’,” writes historian Josef Pekař in his book about Valdštejn. The secret writing written in lemon juice is not visible, it will only appear after heating.
Maria Magdalena also corresponded regularly with Count Thurn, who fought against the Catholics in the service of King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. When he was recruiting troops, she contributed a considerable amount to him with the condition that her estates would be spared during the invasion of Bohemia by the Saxons. The position of the family did not change even when the Saxons withdrew and Prague was occupied by the imperial generalissimo Albrecht of Wallenstein. It seemed that nothing could threaten Trčkovy.
How was it with Valdštejn?
In February 1631, Adam Erdman’s son was christened in Opočná. Albrecht from Wallenstein also appeared among the guests. Perhaps he just sought the background of the extended family after his temporary removal from the position of commander of the Imperial Army. Perhaps he began to consider betraying the emperor and indicated that he was willing to deal with Gustavus Adolphus. Perhaps for this, Matthias of Thurn promised him that if he betrayed the Habsburgs, he would become the king of Bohemia…
Or did Wallenstein become a thorn in the side of too many people as his military skills declined as the syphilis he contracted progressed? Hard to say. It is certain that on February 25, 1634 he fell at the hands of murderers at a secret meeting in Cheb. On the same day, four of his companions were also systematically murdered, among them Magdalena’s son Adam Erdman and her son-in-law Vilém Kinský. In the same year, Adam’s younger brother Vilém also died abroad.
The enormous property of the Valdštejn, Trčk and Kinsk was confiscated. As the judgment stated, “the memory of Jan Rudolf Trčka and his wife for their alleged crimes behind the curse has been proclaimed and all the property and estates left by them to the royal chamber are assigned”.
In 1634, the Trčk family died out by the sword. He fell from the pinnacle of power to the dustbin of history in just three years
Maria Magdalena did not live to see the tragic end of the family. She died a year earlier, on January 8, 1633, at her castle in Světlá nad Sázavou. Adam Erdman’s sons died in toddlerhood, so the only living male descendant of the Trčký z Lípa became almost 77-year-old Jan Rudolf. When he breathed his last in September 1634, a powerful family died by the sword. He fell from the pinnacle of power to the dustbin of history in just three years.
“The old lady knows about the whole secret and helps faithfully,” Count Thurn wrote to King Gustavus Adolphus after the christenings. Why did Mary Magdalene finally decide to take the risk and intrigue against the Habsburgs?
She was torn. She was definitely not going to give up the huge profits from the White Mountain confiscations, which ensured a great position for the Trčkov heir Adam Erdman, but she was troubled by re-Catholicization, the declining status of the ancient Czech families, and nostalgically yearned for the return of pre-White Mountain conditions. And of course also after the return of the daughter and younger son from emigration.
She therefore maneuvered between the emperor and his opponents, due to which both camps lost confidence in her. “Czech historiography attributed to her the label of a woman who was capable and energetic, but at the same time weak-willed, too hard and scheming,” states Jitka Mikysková in her bachelor’s thesis on Mary Magdalene.
“However, I think that she cannot be blamed for her toughness or purposefulness in a time full of major events, when it was necessary to mobilize all forces to save property and life,” states the student, adding: “Ms. Magdalena was equal to the men of her time in many ways. Perhaps that is precisely why she was not accepted unequivocally – she was a personality both admired and condemned, but in any case exceptional.”
What the rumors say…
- As the writer Josef Pavel tells in the book Tales of Czech Castles and Castles, the households of the Trčkov manor used to have a special log. When a subject was in debt, a notch was carved into him. During the Thirty Years’ War, many of the logs were riddled with indentations from top to bottom – and Mary Magdalene was disturbed by those indentations. When her husband once went hunting, she called the peasants to Opočno to repay them at once. Fortunately, the count returned unexpectedly early. “Why are you bringing it for firewood?” he asked his subjects. “Her Grace is asking numbers for us. Therefore, we go to collect them, even though God is our witness that we cannot pay,” said one of the peasants contritely. That’s when Mr. Trčka ordered the logs from the wagon to be piled up and set on fire: “You’re paid!”
- Another time, it is said, the countess wronged the hunter by supplying too little game to the kitchen. “How can I add, Your Grace, when packs of farm dogs are running through my woods, scaring and killing game?” he defended himself. “Cut off one leg of all the dogs! They will be slow and won’t catch up with the game,” instructed Mary Magdalene.
- When large-scale peasant riots engulfed the estate, she ordered the execution of a number of rebels. The luckier ones only lost their ears or their nose – that’s why the surnames Beznoska and Bezoušek are common in the region.
- As can be seen, the vigorous Mary Magdalene did not spare her subjects one bit. According to the chronicle of the village of Červená Hora, this earned her the nickname “Manda zlá zlá chtivá”. To this day, she is said to walk through the arcades of Opočen Castle on dark nights, accompanied by three-legged dogs with fiery eyes… “It is definitely not a good spirit. But I’ve been living here for five years, and I’ve never met her,” notes Tomáš Kořínek, an Opočna castellan.
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