WENCESLAUS (1361–1419), German king, and, as Wenceslaus IV., king of Bohemia, was the son of the emperor Charles IV. and Anna, daughter of Henry II., duke of Schweidnitz. Born at Nuremberg on the 26th of February 1361, he was crowned king of Bohemia in June 1363, and invested with the margraviate of Brandenburg in 1373. In September 1370 he married Joanna (d. 1386) daughter of Albert I., duke of Bavaria, and was elected king of the Romans or German king at Frankfort on the 10th of June 1376, and crowned at Aix-la-Chapelle on the 6th of July following. He took some part in the government of the empire during his father's lifetime, and when Charles died in November 1378 became sole ruler of Germany and Bohemia, but handed over Brandenburg to his half-brother Sigismund. His reign was a period of confusion both in church and state, and although he appears to have begun to rule with excellent intentions, he was totally unfit to cope with the forces of disorder. Germany was torn with feuds, the various orders for the establishment of peace were disregarded, and after 1389 the king paid very little attention to German affairs. In 1383 he inherited the duchy of Luxemburg from his uncle Wenceslaus and in 1387 assisted his half-brother Sigismund to obtain the Hungarian throne.
For some time Wenceslaus ruled Bohemia successfully, but he fell under the influence of favourites and aroused the irritation of the nobles. A quarrel with John II., archbishop of Prague, which led to the murder of John's vicar-general, John of Pomuk, at the instigation of the king, provoked a rising led by Jobst, margrave of Moravia, a cousin of Wenceslaus; and in 1394 the king was taken prisoner and only released under pressure of threats from the German princes. Having consented to limitations on his power in Bohemia, he made a further but spasmodic effort to restore peace in Germany. He then met Charles VI., king of France at Reims, where the monarchs decided to persuade the rival popes Benedict XIII. and Boniface IX. to resign, and to end the papal schisms by the election of a new pontiff. Many of the princes were angry at this abandonment of Boniface by Wenceslaus, who had also aroused much indignation by his long absence from Germany and by selling the title of duke of Milan to Gian Galleazzo Visconti. The consequence was that in August 1400 the four Rhenish electors met at Oberlahnstein and declared Wenceslaus deposed. He was charged with attempting to dismember the empire to his own advantage, with neglecting to end the schism in the church, with allowing favourites to enrich themselves, and was further accused of murder. Though he remained in Bohemia he took no steps against Rupert III. count palatine of the Rhine, who had been elected as his successor. He soon quarrelled with Sigismund, who took him prisoner in 1402 and sent him to Vienna, where he remained in captivity for nineteen months after abdicating in Bohemia. In 1404, when Sigismund was recaUed to Hungary, Wenceslaus regained his freedom and with it his authority in Bohemia; and after the death of the German king Rupert in 1410 appears to have entertained hopes of recovering his former throne. Abandoning this idea, however, he voted for the election of Sigismund in 1411, but stipulated that he should retain the title of king of the Romans. His concluding years were disturbed by the troubles which arose in Bohemia over the death of John Huss, and which the vacillating king did nothing to check until compelled by Sigismund. In the midst of these disturbances he died at Prague on the 16th of August 1419. His second wife was Sophia, daughter of John, duke of Bavaria-Munich, but he left no children. Wenceslaus was a capable and educated man, but was lacking in perseverance and industry. He neglected business for pleasure and was much addicted to drunkenness. He favoured the teaching of Huss, probably on political grounds, but exercised very little influence during the Hussite struggle.
See Th. Lindner, Geschichte des deutschen Reiches vom Ende des 14ten Jahrhunderts bis zur Reformation, part i. (Brunswick, 1875–1880), and "Die Wahl Wenzels," in the Forschungen zur deutschen Geschichte, Band xiv. (Göttingen, 1862–1886), F. M. Pelzel, Lebensgeschichte des römischen und böhmischen Königs Wenceslaus (Prague, 1788–1790); F. Palacky, Geschichte von Böhmen, Bände iii. and iv. (Prague, 1864–1874); H. Mau, König Wenzel und die rheinischen Kurfürsten (RostocK, 1887). The article by Th. Lindner in the Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, Band xli should also be consulted for a bibliography, and also the same writer's work. Das Urkundenwesen Karls IV und seiner Nachfolger (Stuttgart, 1882).