“The Emperor’s son, Don Julius, was feared throughout Bohemia. He ruled the town of Krumlov with Bloody Hands and a Black Heart.”
From The Riddle of Prague, Chapter Seventeen
Once upon time there was an old stone castle on a hill overlooking a river. The demented son of the King of the Land lived inside the castle. His name was Don Julius and he was known for his sadistic cruelty. One day he demanded the town’s barber-surgeon to send his beautiful daughter to live with him in the castle.
What reads like the start of a Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale is the true story of Don Julius, the illegitimate son of Emperor Rudolf II.
Don Julius suffered from delusions, abused his servants and tortured the menagerie of animals that lived at the royal compound in Prague. His father, the Emperor, sent Don Julius to live in a castle and rule over the picture-perfect village of Krumlov.
During this time, Don Julius became obsessed with a young woman named Marketa Pichlerova, the daughter of a barber-surgeon.
(Thanks to their expertise with a knife, barbers in those days also performed medical procedures like blood-letting and surgery.)
Don Julius forced Marketa to live in Krumlov Castle where he subjected her to increasingly vicious attacks. One time Marketa escaped and returned home after a particularly heinous assault. In retaliation, Don Julius imprisoned her father and threatened to kill all of her family unless she returned to the castle. She went back to face her tormentor.
Vaclav Brezan, an archivist in the village, wrote this account of Marketa’s death at Don Julius’ hands.
“On the 18th of February, Julius, that awful tyrant and devil, bastard of the Emperor, did an unbelievably terrible thing to his mistress, the daughter of a barber, when he cut off her head and other parts of her body, and people had to place her into her coffin in pieces.”
After this brutal crime, the Emperor could not, and perhaps would not, protect his son. Don Julius was locked in a tower under the watch of armed guards. They say he destroyed the linens in his room, refused to wash, and tried to attack the servants sent in to feed or care for him. Historical reports vary as to whether Don Julius died of natural causes or was put to death by his father. Archivist Vaclav Brezan, reported the following:
„On the night 25th June, Julius the bastard son of Emperor Rudolf II and tyrant of Krumlov, while imprisoned near the chapel, collapsed. The devil strangled him and sent his soul to hell.”
In The Riddle of Prague’s fictionalized account of Don Julius and Marketa, both characters survive their grisly encounter. But that’s a different story, and one that’s completely made up. Sadly, for Marketa, in real life there was no happily every after.