Prague, November 8, 1620
On the afternoon of November 8, 1620, news spread through Prague that the army of the rebellious Bohemian estateshad been defeated on the nearby Bělohorská (White Mountain) plain by the combined forces of the Imperial and German Catholic Leagues. The following day, the flight of King Frederick of the Palatinate only increased the fears of Prague’s townsmen. In the ensuing chaos, he had left Prague in great haste and travelled to Wrocław in Silesia. At the same time, the Habsburg army commanders entered the city with a large military escort. In the following days, those of the top leaders of the revolt who remained in Prague officially surrendered and handed over the confederation treaties to the victors.
Pavel Škréta’s career
The concerns of the townspeople were certainly shared by the highest official of the Prague mint, the Prague mintmaster Pavel Škréta Šotnovský from Závořice. And he knew why. His career had long been linked to Kutná Hora. In 1604 he had become a scribe at the Kutná Hora mint and in 1608 a mintmaster. He was dismissed from the Mintmaster’s Office in 1612 under unclear circumstances. However, he undoubtedly remained one of the influential townsmen of Kutná Hora. After the Prague defenestration, he subscribed to the ideals of the Estates Revolt and was appointed an administrator of Kutná Hora, one of the richest towns in the Kingdom of Bohemia. His political activity bore fruit. As early as in the autumn of 1619, he became the mintmaster of the Prague mint. We can only speculate that his brother Daniel Škréta, an influential lawyer, economist, member of the Unity of the Brethren, and also a member of the Estates Directory, i.e., the rebel estates government for the royal towns, may have helped pave his way to the lucrative
Imperial coins with the portrait of Ferdinand II minted after the Estates’ surrender
After November 8, 1620, however, the situation changed fundamentally. The connections that had previously helped to make for a more or less deserved career were now a burden. And Pavel Škréta was certainly aware of this. After all, his brother Daniel was one of the few who understood the approaching danger in time and fled to Poland, thus saving his life, unlike most directors. Meanwhile, the victorious Catholic Party was investigating alleged and real transgressions and rewarding its loyalists and careerists of all kinds. The wealthy Office of Prague’s Mintmaster could not escape its notice. Sometime during the winter months of 1621, Škréta was removed from office and replaced by Beneš Hübmer, an experienced professional who provided valuable services to de Witte’s coin consortium. This subsequently became notorious for “kaláda” – the drastic devaluation of the currency at the expense of the broadest sections of the population, leading to state bankruptcy.
In an effort to save his lucrative office, Pavel Škréta began minting imperial coins with the portrait and titles of Ferdinand II immediately after the Estates’ surrender. After all, as a civil servant he had no choice unless he wanted to leave office voluntarily. This is evidenced by several mostly rare gold and silver coins with Škréta’s mintmark in the form of a double lily and the year 1620. Škréta’s stay in office even after the New Year is evidenced by his coins with the year 1621. They are very rare, so it is likely that Škréta’s engagement did not last long, perhaps as little as a few weeks. By mid-March 1621 Beneš Hübmer was already the head of the Mintmaster’s Office.
Our 29th auction will feature an exceptionally well-preserved specimen of Škréta Ducat 1620
Today, only a few pieces of rare ducats of Ferdinand II with Škréta’s mintmark and the year 1620 are known. The great rarity of the ducat is also evidenced by the fact that it was missing from all large private collections of Bohemian coins of the 19th and 20th centuries. It is all the more gratifying that an excellently preserved specimen of Škréta’s 1620 ducat from the estate of a very important official from the First Czechoslovak Republic and the London government-in-exile from 1941-1945 will be on offer in the 29th auction of the Macho & Chlapovič auction house. The hammer price will certainly not be low, but the coin will be an ornament in any collection of Czech coins.
Last but not least, it can be added that Pavel Škréta was also the uncle and guardian of the most important Czech painter of the 17th century, Karel Škréta. His career and artistic development were perhaps helped by the turbulent fate of his family, with whom he was forced to go into exile after the defeat at the Battle of White Mountain. He travelled all over Europe and only returned to his homeland as a mature artist in 1638.