Czech Genealogy: What do you know of The Great Bohemian ’48’ers?

Today we continue with more of The Great Bohemian ’48’ers as noted by the amazingly successful Czech-American entrepreneur and vintner, František Korbel!


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Straka, Adolf W.

Adolf Straka was a Czech writer born circa 1827 in Krabčice, Bohemia and died February 17, 1872 in London, England.

He studied theology in Leipzig where, in 1848, he met the Russian social anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin, and befriended him.  He went to Prague where he was active in the political movement, but because of the dangerous situation he found himself in there, he went back to Leipzig to continue in his studies.  Meanwhile Straka was sentenced to death by military court in Prague in contumacium (Latin for failing to appear in court in spite of a summons aka ‘in absentia’).

He escaped to London and started to work there as a teacher of the Latin and Greek languages.  In 1856 he became an assistant professor and in 1858 a Doctor of Philosophy there.  In 1861 he became a naturalized British citizen and was then able to spend vacations in his Old Country.  In 1869 in London he established the “Ceskomoravsky spolek ctenarsky” (the Bohemian-Moravian Readers Club) and he was its chairman until his death.  His wife, Catharina, returned to Bohemia upon Straka’s death.  Staka kept a close association, in London and afterwards, with Charles Jonas, the future Lieutenant Governor of the State of Wisconsin.

He wrote “Mluvnice anglicka” (English grammar) and he prepared to publish a full Czech-English dictionary.


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Villani, Karel Ignac Drahotin

Karel Ignac Drahotin Villani, was born on the 23rd of January 1818 in Susice and died on the 24th of March 1883 in Strizkov (today part of Struharov).  Villani was Czech nobleman (Baron), politician, patriot and poet.  His paternal ancestors came from Italy and settled at Bohemia as a result of The Thirty Years War.  At the age of 12 years, Karel started to study at Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt.  Thanks to his friendship with some schoolmates he met from Croatia, he chose a second name Drahotin.

After graduation Villani served in the army at both Prague and Caslav.  In 1846 he decided to leave the army because he refused to fight against the Polish patriots, who were in revolt.  Shortly before he left the military, he married Matylda Herz from a non-noble, but quite wealthy family.  Thanks to her dowry they were able to buy an estate at Strizkov, nearby Benesov.

Villani joined the Czech patriotic movement as one of very few Czech noblemen.  He joined the revolution in 1848 as one of the twenty-four members of the Petition Committee.  Soon he also became the commander of the revolutionary militia, known as “Svatovaclavske bratrstvo” (the Brotherhood of St. Wenceslas), which later was renamed “Svornost” (Concord).

He used his significant experiences from his military service and refused the radicalism of some members (such as J.V. Frič) who wished to immediately start an uprising.  However, he did not succeed as the radical wing of “Svornost” overtook the moderate one.  This is what led to the conflict with the armed forces and brought about the uprising.

When the uprising was defeated, Villani was taken custody and questioned, but they could not find any proof that he had any part in the uprising.  On the 14th of September in 1848 he was released and moved to Strizkov, where he lived under constant police oversight.

In 1850 Villani was voted to be the mayor of the nearby village of Jezera.  In 1861, after the fall of absolutism, Karel Villani began his political career.  From 1865-1869 he served as the governor of the Benesov district.  In 1867, he was elected as a member of the Bohemian Assembly in Prague and then later, in 1871, he was elected to the Imperial Council in Vienna.

He did not believe in an independent Czech country, but hoped for decentralization and federalization of the existing Austrian Empire.

He wrote several poems during his lifetime, but these are largely forgotten because he was not a talented poet and his literary works are rarely remembered today.

There is one exception!  It is his poem “Zasvit mi ty slunko zlate” (Golden Sun Shine On Me). To the text of his poem accompanying music was written by the composer Alois Jelen and this song is still played today, mainly at funerals.  You can hear this music at this YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jD21PNx-OJI

Tomorrow we will complete this series of biographies of Great Bohemian ’48’ers!

Onward To Our Past®

A Genealogical Historian, who is focused on family history and genealogy of the highest quality, but with a dose of fun. Avid about documentation and evidence. Loves helping folks of all levels in their genealogy pursuits, especially in the areas of Bohemia, Czech Republic, Italy, Cornwall, Kent, United Kingdom, U.S. Immigration and Cleveland, Ohio.

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