The Hussites of Bohemia

Contents

Hussite DBM

Hussite Picture gallery

The Prelude to War

Jan Zizka

The Hussite Wars 1419-1434

Introduction

The Protagonists

The Armies and Tactics,

For Royalists see Medieval German pages

Hussite Tactics and Organisation

The Battles and significant events

 


The Prelude to War

Bohemia of the 14 and 15 Centuries was a thriving Country, it was also part of the Holy Roman Empire. It had significant Silver deposits which produced an annual revenue of around 100,000 marks, 1 mark being half a pound of silver. For comparison The Royal Income of Hungary during Janos Hunyadis Governorship (1446- ????) only reached 100,000 Marks after significant tax reforms and military enforcement. Charles I encouraged German merchants, miners and craftsmen to move to Bohemia to help in exploiting the Mines. This resulted in towns like Kutna Hora (Kuttenberg) and Nemecky Brod (Deutschbrod) having mostly German populations. The Catholic Church in Bohmeia also had many Germans in its senior posititions. This influx of Germans caused much discontent among the native population particularily as German Merchant guilds developed strangleholds on much of the trade in the Country.

In 1419 the death of King Wenceslas of Bohemia and the inheritance of the Kingdom by the staunch Catholic Emperor Sigismund of the Holy Roman Empire ignited a civil war. This war had its origins in the teachings and theological writings of Jan Huss and what was perceived as the increasing influx of Germans into the Country.

John Huss was the Rector at the University of Prague. He publicly condemned many practises of the Catholic Church. These included the sale of Indulgences and the riches controlled by the Church. Huss had studied the writings of John Wytcliffe and supported many of his ideas. The Catholic Church declared over 40 of Wytcliffes Theses as Heretical. Jan Huss however continued to argue that the Church was inherently corrupt and in need of reform. This earned him many admirers and just as many enemies. One of the complaints against the Church that was widely supported was communion in both kinds, Catholic practises held that only the Clergy were allowed the communion Wine. King Wenceslas held some sympathy for Huss and his ideas especially as reform of the Church and the land it held would enrich the Monarchy. However in 1412 in an attempt to calm the situation between the Bohemians and Germans in the University Wenceslas expelled Huss and 4 Catholic German Professors. There followed an exodus of German students and Professors from Prague to Leipzig further polarising the parties.

In 1415 John Huss was arrested and condemned to death by the members of the Council of Constance. Huss had attended this Council under the protection of the Emperor Sigismund. The Emperor refused to honour his promise of safe conduct and allowed Huss to be tried and then executed as a heretic. The response in Bohemia was immediate, supporters of Huss demonstrated their displeasure. This display of outrage has been described as a revolt but there was little open violence or organised resistance. It was rather a movement for change. The groups organised and called themselves Calyxtines after their symbol of a Chalice (Calyx) representing one of their principal demands, that of communion in both kinds. The four main demands of the Calyxtines were,

Communion in both kinds.

Sin must be punished, no indulgences.

Reduction of the Church wealth.

Religious freedom.

The movement also had a Nationalistic side although this was mostly expressed by a violently anti-German sentiment.

King Wenceslas attempted to mediate between the Catholic Church and the Calyxtines but by 1419 under threats from his Brother, the Emperor Sigismund he was forced to reinstate the Catholic theologians at the University of Prague. This relatively minor incident ignited an armed revolt in Prague where 7 Catholic City Council members where thrown from the Town hall windows to be beaten to death by the waiting crowds. Upon hearing the news Wenceslas died, probably from a stroke. As the news of his death spread the rest of the Calyxtines rose in revolt, they realised that the Catholic Emperor Sigismund would inherit the throne and would not allow them to continue to exist.

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The Hussite Wars 1419-1434

Introduction

The Protagonists

The Armies and Tactics

For Royalists see Medieval German pages

Hussite Tactics and Organisation

The Battles and significant events

Introduction

Following the death of king Wenceslas there was 16 years of warfare where the Catholic forces would be repeatedly defeated. The Catholic forces never managed to gain the upper hand. The end of Hussite independence was finally due to negotiation and compromise. In 1433 The Catholic Church and the Emperor Sigismund agreed to recognise the Utraquist version of the catholic faith as "true and faithful children of the Church."

The Emperor also ratified all land taken from the Church during the wars as belonging to its current holders. Czech became the official language of Bohemia. The Hussite cause finally died on the battlefield of Lipany were Hussite fought Hussite, with the Utraquist victorious over the Taborites.

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The Protagonists of the Hussite Wars.

The Hussite Movement

Almost as soon as the armed revolt had begun there emerged two major Hussite parties, the Utraquist (also Calyxtines) and the Taborites.

Utraquists

The Utraquists represented the moderate elements of the Hussites, mostly Urban Merchants and minor Nobility. They still regarded themselves as Catholic but supported the calls for reform. This group did particularly well from the immediate confiscation of church property. Between 1419 and 1420 leaders of the Utraquists attempted, in secret, to negotiate with the Emperor Sigismund but his refusal to compromise led to their support for armed rebellion.

Taborites

The Taborite faction comprised mostly peasants and craftsmen and were more extreme in their views. They added communal ownership of property and rejected traditional feudal government preferring elected officials. Their primary leadership was by four 'captains'. Their main stronghold was the town of tabor, built by them in 1420.

Orebites

The Orebite faction appeared in 1423 when Jan Zizka led a splinter group away from the Taborites, their beliefs were mid way between the Utraquists and Taborites. They were briefly allied to the Utraquists and the City of Prague. Zizka's death while campaigning in Moravia saw the Orebites adopt the name 'Orphans' and re-affirm their close ties with the Taborites.

The City of Prague

The final major Hussite force was the City of Prague. Although Utraquist in belief they retained their independence from the two main factions. They used a city militia backed by mercenaries to supplement their forces. The City of Prague ceased to be an effective independent force in 1424 when Jan Zizka leading the Orebite forces inflicted a defeat on their main field army at the battle of Malesov. The City's army joined Utraquist and Orebite forces in a campaign in Moravia. The campaign was concluded on the death of Jan Zizka and Prague fell under the control of the main Utraquist party when the Orebites retreated to Taborite territory.

It should be noted that depending on the sources used the names of the factions and the number changes. Some refer to Prague as the main Utraquist centre, others use Orebite and Utraquist impartially.

Bohemian Cities

Most of the Bohemian Cities sided with the Utraquist Hussites, not all of them willingly. The poorer native elements of the cities, craftsmen and peasants, almost universally supported the Hussites and as a result many City leaders were forced into aqueissance. The native merchant classes also added their support to the Hussite cause, some for religious conviction many more for the 'nationalistic' anti-German views. This effectively broke the large German Guild monopolies.

Polish involvement

From 1421 to 1427 the Hussites also received military support from the Poles. Jan Zizka arranged for the Crown of Bohemia to be offered to Jagiello

King of Poland, who under pressure from his own clergy refused it. The Crown was then offered to Grand Duke Witold of Lithuania, he accepted but Jagiello's agreement was on condition that the Hussites reconciled with the Catholic Church. In 1424 Zizka accepted the Polish King's nephew, Zygmunt Korybut, as Regent of Bohemia for Witold. Korybut never managed to return the Hussites to the Catholic Church and even had to resort to force of arms when dealing with the various factions. On at least two occasions he fought battles against the Orebites and the Taborites. Large Polish involvement effectively ceased in 1427 when Korybut was held under close arrest by the Hussites after Polish plans to betray the Hussites to Sigismund and withdraw their military forces were discovered. The Polish King was forced into this dubious state by Papal calls for a Crusade against the Poles and Sigismund's very vocal support for the Teutonic Order. Withdrawal from Bohemia silenced the Polish Clergy and defused the threat of the Crusade.

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The Catholic Forces

Bohemian Catholic Forces

Support for the Hussite cause was not universal in Bohemia. The Royalist forces were a mix of City, Noble and Clerical troops. Those Cities that had a large Germanic population stayed or attempted to stay loyal to the Catholic Church and the Emperor. These Cities were usually near the borders of Bohemia and the rest of the Holy Roman Empire. On their own these Cities could not field sufficient troops to counter the Hussites in open battle. Their forces only sortied to accompany a larger Royalist force.

The Magnates and the Church lands of Bohemia rejected the Hussite beliefs, as they represented a threat to the established order and the Catholic faith. The Feudal forces of these Nobles and Prelates provided the bulk of Royalist troops in Bohemia. Again it was the Nobility and Church lands at the fringes of Bohemia that were best able to resist the Hussites. In the early years of the Hussite revolt the feudal forces did take to the field but met with repeated defeats. The Royalist troops adopted a defensive posture only launching large scale offensives in conjunction with Imperial forces or those of the Crusaders.

The Crusaders

Pope Martin V preached a series of crusades against the Hussites. The final crusade being in 1431. The largest number of crusaders joined Emperor Sigismund in the first crusade of 1420. They apparently included crusaders from a far a field as Spain and England. The majority however came from the lands surrounding Bohemia, the Holy Roman Empire supplying the most but with significant contingents of Poles, Wallachians and Serbs. The resounding defeat of Sigismund's initial attempt to subdue the Hussites lessened the appeal of future Crusades and as result those that rallied to the cause tended to be those most threatened by the Hussites. Although having said that, Joan of Arc threatened to lead the next Crusade if the Hussites did not conform.

Link to Joan of Arc's Letter (English translation)

Emperor Sigismund

Although the Holy Roman Emperor, Sigismund relied heavily on troops from his hereditary lands, mercenaries and those of Hungary, where he was King. See the German pages for why the emperor could not rely on feudal Imperial troops. The Emperor personally led his forces up until 1422 but after his defeat at Nemecky Brod

He left his armies to others to command. Sigismund only returned to Bohemia in 1436 after Moderate Utraquist forces crushed the Taborite field army at Lipany.

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Copyright 2002 Matthew Haywood

All images and text, unless otherwise noted, may not be copied without my written permission.