He was an adventurous youth. Having no expectation of reaching the throne during the reign of his uncle Soběslav I, he moved to Bavaria. He returned at the death of Soběslav in 1140 and, with the help of his brother-in-law, the king of Germany, Conrad III, he was elected Duke of Bohemia by the Bohemian nobility.
At first, Vladislav had to contend with the claims of his cousin, the son of Soběslav who was also named Vladislav. At Soběslav's request, Emperor Lothair II recognised the rights of his son at the Diet of Bamberg in May 1138. Then, in June, the nobility affirmed them at Sadská. Another diet at Bamberg confirmed the succession of the son of Vladislav, however, in April 1140. The local dukes Conrad II of Znojmo, Vratislaus II of Brno, and Otto III of Olomouc, gave him trouble. They were excommunicated by Jindřich Zdík, bishop of Olomouc, who was then driven out of his diocese. The territorial dukes then defeated Vladislav through treason at Vysoká on 22 April 1142, but their siege of Prague failed. Vladislav kept his throne with the assistance of Conrad III of Germany, whose half-sister Gertrude of Babenberg he married.