Historical story

The beer war in Wrocław

It all started with the confiscation of a transport of beer, which the Duke of Legnica, Rupert I, sent to Wrocław to his brother Henryk ... Then it was only worse. The beer war in Wrocław ended with the curse and plundering of church property.

The dispute between the bishopric and the bourgeoisie of Wrocław, known today as the "beer war" or "popia", took place in the years 1380–1382. The reason was simple:restrictions related to bringing to Ostrów Tumski, where the cathedral chapter was located, beer brewed outside the city. At that time, the Catholic Church was losing strength, and the secular authorities sought to free themselves from the clergy's influence.

In the Middle Ages, the rights to produce goods were obtained through privileges. This also applied to beer. Brewing was an extremely profitable industry at the time, so competition in the "beer market" was fierce. In the case of the Wrocław "beer war", the conflict between the brewers and the clergy became a pretext for ending the arbitrariness of the bishopric and strengthening the power of the city council.

Not everything stays in the family

Breweries from Wrocław were famous for beer production all over the world, and Wrocław brewers wanted to obtain a monopoly on the sale of beer in the capital of Lower Silesia. Meanwhile, there were also breweries famous in the area in the nearby Świdnica. Beer in Świdnica quite often caused disputes - convoys were notoriously plundered.

Despite the difficulties associated with transport, the brewery in Świdnica became popular especially among priests from the Wrocław diocese. They imported the golden drink not only for their own use, but also for sale. This, of course, translated into a decline in the profits of domestic producers. Wrocław councilors issued an edict banning the import and sale of beer from Świdnica to the city.

Despite the difficulties related to transport, the brewery in Świdnica became popular especially among priests from the Wrocław diocese (photo:public domain)

Wacław II of Legnica, the son of Wacław I, Prince of Legnica, and Anna, Princess of Cieszyn, was the bishop of Wrocław at that time. He had three brothers:Rupert I, Bolesław IV and Henry VIII. The latter was then a priest in the capital of Lower Silesia as a canon of the cathedral chapter.

The immediate cause of the dispute was the gift that Rupert I sent for Christmas in 1380 to his youngest brother, Henry. A gift in the form of a dozen barrels with the "forbidden" drink reached the city gates, and the messenger demanded from the councilors the right to enter Wrocław free of charge along with valuable shipment. However, they refused and ordered the city guards to imprison the coachman and confiscate the beer from Świdnica.

Read also:How many beers a day were medieval Poles able to drink?

Damn City

Wenceslaus II, known for his impetuosity, immediately reacted to the news of - in his opinion - the theft of beer. On January 7, 1381, he put a curse on the inhabitants of the capital of Lower Silesia. The rights of the inhabitants of Wrocław to receive all the sacraments (including the last anointing) were suspended . Religious ceremonies were also forbidden in the city.

Churches were deserted because priests ceased to perform their priestly ministry - were not given weddings or baptisms, and there were no church funerals, and the dead had to be buried "on their own" . Meanwhile, the cathedral chapter moved from Wrocław to Nysa.

As a result, when in June 1381 the Czech king Wenceslaus IV of Luxembourg visited the capital of Lower Silesia to receive the feudal tribute of the Silesian princes, it was not possible to celebrate a traditional, solemn mass.

When the Czech King Wenceslaus IV of Luxembourg visited Wrocław, it was not possible to celebrate a traditional mass (photo:public domain)

Taking advantage of the presence of the Czech ruler, the townspeople asked for help in settling the dispute with the bishopric. Wenceslaus IV pronounced the Church's guilt - most likely, this decision was influenced by the fact that the bishop had not previously lifted the curse for the duration of the monarch's stay in Wrocław.

As a punishment, the king allowed the inhabitants of Wrocław to plunder church property. Czech soldiers also took part in the plundering of monasteries and churches - at the express order of their ruler. The bishop's court, the houses of the canons and two abbeys - dedicated to St. Virgin Mary on Piasek Island and of St. Wincentego in Ostrów Tumski. The abbot of Piasek was taken hostage by Wenceslaus IV, and the abbot of Ostrów Tumski agreed to celebrate the mass under pressure, and then ... escaped.

Read also:Brygida loved beer so much that she turned it into dirty water after bathing. Get to know the profiles of the 5 patron saints of beer!

Stubborn Wenceslaus

Luxembourg's revenge against the clergy in Wrocław did not affect the attitude of the stubborn Wenceslaus II. This one was safe anyway. He was hiding in Nysa and it was only the abbot of the Cistercian monastery in Lubiąż, also Wenceslaus, who managed to convince him to find a solution.

Thanks to mediation, a compromise was finally reached. Wenceslaus II withdrew the interdict and agreed to pay a ransom of 5,000 marks. In return, the Czech king granted the Wrocław bishopric a special privilege. The document, dated May 15, 1382, allowed priests from the cathedral chapter to bring beer from outside the Duchy of Wrocław for their own use and to resell the drink to other clergymen.

Importantly, this privilege did not abolish the city councilors' monopoly on the "secular" beer trade . Only Wrocław brewers had the right to sell their products to the inhabitants of the city. Wenceslaus IV also approved the Duke of Legnica as the bishop's seat in Wrocław, thanks to which Wenceslaus II could officially take office and receive the throne of the Duchy of Nysa and Otmuchów, belonging to the Wrocław diocese.

A little earlier, Wenceslaus IV of Luxembourg forced the inhabitants of Wrocław to take an oath of allegiance, which protected himself against a possible rebellion of the bourgeoisie.

Read also:Was it the best profession of the Middle Ages? Of course, it had a lot to do with alcohol!

Solution by defenestation

The end of the beer war had far-reaching consequences. The bishopric of Wrocław lost some of its influence. The issue of the beer privilege was only one of the many disputes in which Wenceslaus II was involved, who was also involved in a dispute over priority during the procession between monasteries in Ołbin and on Piasek, or a dispute between the diocesan clergy and monasteries over the conduct of pastoral actions.

In the era of the Hussite wars, which took place in 1419–1436, it led to further weakening and, finally, the fall of the bishopric. The reconstruction of the Wrocław diocese began in 1482, after the death of Bishop Rudolf of Rüdesheim.

The compromise that ended the beer war was beneficial for all parties to the conflict, but it eventually led to a revolt of Wrocław craftsmen (photo:public domain)

The compromise that ended the beer war was beneficial for all sides of the conflict, but eventually led to a rebellion by Wrocław craftsmen . It was the trade monopoly that made their lives the most difficult. In the following years, representatives of various guilds (not only brewers) tried to limit the scope of competences of Wrocław councilors.

The struggle for profits was ended by the townspeople's revolt, hailed as the Wrocław defenestration, which took place between 18 and 22 July 1418. A group of craftsmen led by Jakob Kreuzberg stormed the town hall and purged the councilors there. Several people lost their lives, including the mayor.

The situation was taken over by patricians who appointed a new city council, including representatives of the guilds. The victory of the artisans was apparent, however, as power remained practically in the hands of the aristocracy.


  1. Czapliński, M., History of Silesia. Wrocław, 2002
  2. Jasiński, K., Pedigree of the Silesian Piasts. Krakow, 2007
  3. Kochańczyk, J., Beer:national drink !. E-book online publisher, 2012
  4. Łagiewski, M., Wrocław. A journey through the ages . EMKA, Warsaw, 2018