Ride of the Kings: An ancient Czech tradition that's still alive today

This weekend saw the return of an ages old processional featuring a 12-year-old boy king; what's behind this resplendent rite of passage?

Expats.cz Staff

Written by Expats.cz Staff Published on 03.07.2022 19:09:00 (updated on 03.07.2022) Reading time: 2 minutes

The Ride of the Kings (Jízda králů) passed through Hluk in the Uherskohradišť region on Sunday. In Hluk, the customary procession takes place once every three years but was postponed due to the coronavirus epidemic, which means that it is returning after a five-year hiatus.

The time-honored rite of passage is observed in the villages of Slovácko in South Moravia. Traditionally it takes place during the spring, as a part of the Pentecost traditions, in the towns of Hluk and Kunovice and the villages of Skoronice and Vlčnov

The Ride of the Kings is a Sunday morning processional featuring young men on horseback, some of them chanting, some of them wielding swords, all of them “protecting” a ceremonial king, a young man whose face is hidden by embroidered ribbon and who carries a single rose in his mouth.

Jízda králů (Slovácký rok, Kyjov 2011)
Jízda králů (Slovácký rok, Kyjov 2011)

The king and his entourage dress in the elaborate women’s folk dress that is typical of the region and stop to heckle spectators who are expected to slip money into their riding boots. 

Like so many other Czech holidays, the Ride of Kings is said to have its roots in pagan times when boys competed with each other in driving cattle.

But it's primarily considered to be a re-enactment of the 1469 retreat of a Hungarian king who fled the country via the village of Vlčnov after having been defeated in the Battle of Bilovec by his father-in-law, the Bohemian King Jíři of Poděbrady.

In order not to reveal himself by his appearance and speech, the king dressed in a woman's costume and put a rose in his mouth.

As the Ride of Kings is considered a symbolic rite of passage for young unmarried men, the boys chosen to play the king are typically 10-12 years old. Sunday's festivities were no exception, with 12-year-old King Marek Šuránek and his retinue of horsemen doing the honors with gusto.

"I was really looking forward to it, I slept well, I wasn't even nervous," Šuránek told ČTK adding that he didn't even mind dressing in the ornate costume. "I was preparing for it to be long and that I would have a rose in my mouth," said the boy, who will enter the seventh grade in September. 

It is an honor for families to have a son chosen as king. The family festively decorates their home and offers visitors cakes and slivovice. The traditional paper decorations for the horses and the ceremonial costumes, in particular, are made by hand in color patterns and shapes specific to each village.

Jízda králů (Slovácký rok, Kyjov 2011-08-12)
Jízda králů (Slovácký rok, Kyjov 2011-08-12)

The ride of the kings is part of has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Intangible Cultural Heritage List since 2011. It also takes place every year in neighboring Vlčnov, every other year in Kunovice, and is also held in Skoronice in Hodonínsk.

This year, the Ride of the Kings will gradually take place at all four locations.

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