New Delhi: The knights, who first rose to prominence in the medieval period as cavalry warriors, shaped much of the history of Europe at that time. Sometimes they were vassals who owned lands as fiefs. The process of becoming a knight began very early in the life of prospective warriors. When a person was able and had the money to purchase of his knightly equipment, he would be dubbed a knight. Over the years, the ideals of knighthood evolved and the knights became chivalrous warriors who would respect the Church, protect the poor and execute their duty totally and faithfully.
Everything comes to an end with time, and so does the usefulness of those knights. With the invention of modern weapons for wars, the concept of knights carrying a sword and riding a horse became obsolete. Knights went out of vogue long ago, and that is why, it feels a bit unreal to know that there was a knight who used to live in the 20th century and even tried to fight the Nazis during World War II.
The legend of Josef Mencik
Josef Mencik lived at a time when digital footprint was yet to grace the human civilisation. And on top of that, Mencik used to live like it was still the medieval age.
Mencik was a descendant of a small noble family whose roots can be traced to the Holy Roman Empire. He was curious about medieval history and in 1911, he purchased a castle which was constructed in the 14th century. Before Mencik purchased the castle, heavy rainfall and a fire that broke out on the property severely damaged it. After purchasing the structure, Mencik began to resurrect the castle and decorate it with historical artefacts.
Not just that, Mencik even started to live like a knight. He amassed a large collection of antiques and began to follow the lifestyle of Medieval knights. He renounced modern amenities like cars and electricity. He rode on a horse and used candles and torches to light his castle. He even wore armour, practised archery, and fencing and carried a sword whenever he went outside. He used to roam around on horseback, dressed in armour, and tried to interest young people in the history and ideals of chivalry. He invited school trips to his castle. The castle also became a museum for the children of the town to whom he happily imparted his knowledge.
Mencik also used to organise feasts and tournaments and invited people to his castle. He was loved by the local community and was called the Knight of Strakonice. Mencik was an honourable man who lived by his principles, helped everyone and donated to charities.
When Josef Mencik stood against Nazi Germany
In 1938, the Nazi Germany was gearing up to invade Czechoslovakia. They were aiming to conquer Sudetenland, a border region with a large German population. Accordingly, the forces of Nazi Germany began to move towards Czechoslovakia.
And Josef Mencik was waiting for them near the Buccina border. Dressed in full medieval armour, carrying a sword and riding a horse, he stood against the Nazi tanks. It was a confusing sight for the Germans. Mencik could have been blown up with a single shot of a gun. But the Germans, amused and surprised, decided to ignore him and continue on their way. It has been opined by historians that Mencik was spared because the Germans thought him to be a madman. However, Mencik was courageous, he shouted insults at the Nazis and even attacked their tanks and slashed at them with swords. He even tried to block their way, threw bottles and rocks and even shot arrows.
Josef Mencik could not stop the Nazi Germany, but his act of defiance became the stuff of legends and was admired by many. Mencik continued to live in the castle like a knight and had cordial terms with the German soldiers who did not harass him. But after World War II, the communist regime took control of Czechoslovakia. Then they nationalised the property and confiscated Mencik’s property. Mencik was evicted from his home and he died a few days later at the age of 75 with a broken heart.
The legacy and legend of Josef Mencik lives on even today. The castle has become a museum where Mencik’s possessions are displayed. Books have been written on the brave knight and his act of valour has become a source of inspiration to many.