Hussite Wars

Summary

The term Hussite Wars refers to a series of disputes and battles in the years 1419 to 1436, starting from the territory of the Kingdom of Bohemia.

The term Hussite is used to describe several reformatory or revolutionary currents that emerged after the burning of the theologian and reformer Jan Hus in 1415.

The national and social aspect

In some Bohemian towns, German-speaking settlers played a major role. These settlers and their descendants not infrequently constituted the urban upper class, the Czechs often rather the rural population. At first, the Western settlers were looked upon favorably because it was quite possible to learn from them, and the old Bohemian nobility, adopting the chivalric culture from German-speaking countries, joined in to some extent. However, all this changed at the turn of the 14th century. The German influx now experienced stagnation and the Czech Bohemians gradually emancipated themselves. The foundation for this was the Czech language. It connected the population with each other and separated them from the German settlers and their descendants. A Czech identity gradually developed. This became noticeable, among other things, in the fact that courtly literature, which came mainly from the German-speaking area, was translated into Czech. Religious texts were also increasingly translated. These translations were done by the Czech clergy, who were seen as pioneers of the burgeoning national consciousness: “Wherever there were social tensions in Bohemia in the 14th century, they could easily be linked to the language differences between people of Czech and German tongues.”

Due to the halt of immigration in the beginning of the 14th century, the Czech part of the population grew also in the towns. It was the latter who directed their dislike towards Germans in higher positions, for example in the city administration. The antagonism between the Czech lower class and the German upper class cemented itself. On the German side, distrust developed increasingly, especially against the lower Czech nobility, which, due to their growing level of education, occupied church offices more and more frequently. The German Bohemians also saw their top positions in the city as well as in the church threatened. Peter Hilsch notes that the national consciousness of the Czechs resulted from the preponderance of Germans in ecclesiastical offices – a competitive situation. The Bohemian King Wenceslas also promoted national aspirations in Bohemia. In 1408, he appointed a Prague council for the first time, the majority of whom were Czechs.

The religious aspect and Wyclif”s influence

In addition to the national aspirations of the Bohemians, the reform movement was caused primarily by the moral decay of the church and the desire for fundamental renewal. The church had lost its former credibility in the 14th century. In particular, simony, the accumulation of wealth through ecclesiastical benefices, and the church”s lack of credibility-especially as a result of the Occidental Schism in 1378 and the escalation of the crisis in 1409 at the Council of Pisa-caused resentment. “The schism had cost the Church prestige and credibility. Just think of the mutual cursing of the two popes or the necessary financing of two expensive papal courts.” For Josef Válka, the Hussite movement arose because of ecclesiastical ills, primarily the papal schism and the moral decay of the clergy.

In the times of crisis, the writings of the English philosopher John Wyclif were increasingly circulated at Prague University. Initially, his philosophical writings were studied in detail, before his theological and ecclesiastical treatises were also considered. With his texts he attacked “in the name of the Bible, the authority and rule of the entire ecclesiastical hierarchy itself.” For Wyclif, the Bible represented the foundation of his ideology, from which one had to proceed and argue without exception.

Thus, he attacked the secular rule of the church – thus its worldly possessions and riches – as it could not be justified according to the Bible. Based on this, secular lords are allowed to deprive sinful churches of their goods. Wyclif also proclaimed, among other things, that the pope could be a reprobate to whom one was not obliged to obey. Thus, it would be the responsibility of each individual believer to know the Bible for himself. On the basis of the Bible, he rejected sacraments such as baptism or confession. He also said that annual communion was not based in the Bible. A major criticism of his writings was his view of the Eucharist. He held that in the celebration of the Eucharist the transubstantiation of bread and wine did not take place. Thus, the substances bread and wine did not transform into the body and blood of Christ. Rather, it was to be regarded as a symbolic and added act – one of the few views that Hus later did not hold. He considered the sacraments administered by the church to be superfluous, thus inferentially questioning the church itself. He denied the right to obedience to any clergyman who was in mortal sin. He criticized the authority of the pope and the material wealth of the church, which spoke against the church”s ideology of living in poverty. He fundamentally questioned the authority of the pope. He said that the popes had arrogated to themselves their position in the church because there was no evidence of the papacy in the Bible. In his last works, he increasingly equated him with the devil or Antichrist, who was a forerunner of the Apocalypse.

Around the turn of the century, John Hus came into contact with these writings. He not only read them, but commented on individual passages and expanded some theses. The so-called 45 theses of Wyclif appeared for the first time in 1403. Originally, there were 24 theses compiled at the London Earthquake Synod of 1382. The Prague magister Johannes Hübner added another 21 to these 24. These now 45 theses were used in the following years and still at the following council against the Hussite reform movement and especially against John Hus.

Researchers today agree that “all the currents that were discernible in the Bohemian reform movement at the time: Wyclifism, the emphasis on Czech national reform, and the renewed urgency to criticize moral abuses” united in John Hus. He became the supporting, but also the tragic incarnation of Hussitism. Hus soon put Wyclif”s theories into practice.

The Council of Constance

The German king Sigismund assured Jan Hus of free escort (a salvus conductus for the outward and return journey and the time of the stay) for the convened Council of Constance (November 5, 1414 to April 22, 1418) and held out the prospect of a letter of escort. Hus reached Constance ahead of schedule on November 3, and on November 28, against the promises, he was imprisoned in the house of the cathedral cantor, and from December 6 he was held in a semicircular annex of the Dominican monastery. When King Sigismund arrived on December 24, 1414, he expressed anger at the breach of the escort letter, but did nothing to help Hus. Since he wanted to inherit the Bohemian crown from his brother Wenceslas, he was more interested in rehabilitating the reputation of Bohemia.

From March 24, 1415, Hus was moved to somewhat more tolerable quarters, the Barfüßerturm at the later Stefansschule. He was then incarcerated in the prison tower of Gottlieben Castle. On May 4, 1415, the council posthumously condemned Wyclif and his teaching. Hus was sent to the Franciscan monastery on June 5. There he spent the last weeks of his life. From June 5 to 8, Hus was interrogated in the refectory of the monastery. The council demanded that he publicly recant and abjure his teachings. Hus refused and remained steadfast until the end of June. On the morning of July 6, 1415, in a solemn plenary session of the Council in the Cathedral of Constance, Hus was condemned to death by fire as a heretic on the basis of his doctrine of the “Church as the invisible congregation of the predestined” and burned. The executioners scattered his ashes into the Rhine.

Defenestration and first battles (1419)

The actions of King Wenceslas against the Hussites led to an uprising. This resulted in the first Prague defenestration on July 30, 1419, when Hussites stormed the town hall and threw some councilmen out of the window. According to contemporary accounts, King Wenceslas was struck by the news of the defenestration when it reached him. On August 16, 1419, less than three weeks later, the Bohemian king died.

The Hussites did not want to recognize his brother Sigismund as king because he had not kept the safe conduct promised to Jan Hus at the time; he was virtually regarded as his murderer. In the days following the death of Wenceslas, Hussite crowds in Prague forcibly subjected churches and monasteries to chalice communion or destroyed and burned them. The uprising lasted for several weeks.

In November 1419, after the fighting between the radical Hussites and the mercenaries of Vincent of Wartenberg over the Prague Lesser Town, a temporary peace agreement was reached after the banishment of 135 nobles and of four royal towns, which lasted until April 1420. At the same time, the aldermen of the Prague New Town returned to the Czech regent Queen Sophie the Vyšehrad Castle, which had been occupied by the Hussites in 1419. The disappointed radical Hussites then left Prague. The Hussite leader Jan Žižka and his captains, led by Brenek of Fels, moved via Old Tabor to Pilsen, which was administered by the priest Václav Koranda and was by now a center of radical Hussites. Thus, this Hussite stronghold became the main target of the Catholic alliance led by the West Bohemian nobles – a reason for Žižka to protect the city against attacks. In December 1419, a royal Catholic unit near Pilsen suffered its first defeat against a small Hussite contingent.

First Crusade (1420)

Pope Martin V”s Crusading Bull of March 17, 1420, led to a full-fledged crusade against heretical Bohemia. A few days after the bull was issued, Catholic troops unsuccessfully attacked a Hussite unit in southern Bohemia at the Battle of Sudoměř in late March. 400 Taborites under Jan Žižka withstood an attack by some 2000 imperial Catholic horsemen. The defeat established Žižka”s military fame and gave a prelude to the development of the tactics of the chariot on the Hussite side.

On April 7, Taborites under Nicholas of Hus conquered Sedlice, then Písek, Rabi Castle near Schüttenhofen, Strakonice and Prachatice. The reason for the siege and storming of Rabi Castle was the support given by Jan of Ryzmburk to King Sigismund. The monasteries of Mulhouse, Nepomuk and Goldenkron were destroyed one after the other. Around the same time, at the beginning of April, the Calixtines took power in Prague. The arrival of their commander Vincent of Wartenberg in Prague on April 17 strengthened the will of the Hussites to resist.

At the end of April a new crusader army crossed the Bohemian border, and on May 3 Königgrätz capitulated. On May 7, 1420, Czech and German mercenaries encircled Hradcany and occupied it on the same day. The Hussites, in order to prevent the supply of the royals, then set fire to the Lesser Town of Prague. The royals were subsequently reinforced by another 364 nobles, knights and townsmen who declared war on the Praguers. The terms of surrender negotiated between representatives of both parties in Kutna Hora were considered unacceptable by the Hussites. They therefore decided to call on the rural population for help in defending Prague.The call for help reached the Taborites only in the early morning of May 17. Already the following day, a battle group moved towards Prague. A first encounter with the enemy took place near Beneschau. Peter von Sternberg and his fellow soldiers, after a maneuver to circumvent the enemy, defeated 400 of the king”s loyalists who had tried to defend the city against the Taborites. After the battle, the Catholic troops were annihilated and Beneschau was burned down.

In the meantime, Hungarian horsemen approached the Hussites from Kutna Hora. When the captains of the Taborites, who were camped in Poříčí nad Sázavou not far from Benešov, heard about it, they gave the order to leave and set up a wagon fortress at a more strategic point. Despite the falling darkness, the Catholics under Janek of Chtenic and Philippo Scolari attacked on the evening of May 20. In the battle of Beneschau, the approximately two thousand horsemen of Žižka were put to flight.

During the further march to Prague there were no more battles and on May 20, 1420 the Hussites reached the city. Jan Žižka destroyed the imperial troop, which was supposed to secure supplies for the garrisons on the Prague castles of Hradcany and Vyšehrad. Meanwhile, Hungarian horsemen of the crusading army conquered the Hussite-abandoned towns of Schlan, Laun and Melnik.

At the beginning of June 1420 Austrian contingents joined the troops of the German king at Beraun. On June 12, Sigismund moved with a strong army from Breslau to Břevnov and began the siege of Prague Castle, Hradcany. However, the attempt to conquer all of Prague was prevented by a victory of Žižka”s troops on July 14, 1420 in the Battle of Prague”s St. Vitus Hill (on Vitkov Mountain).

Shortly before, the youthful Ulrich II of Rosenberg had also offered his services to Sigismund. Ulrich, together with Duke Ernst of Bavaria, besieged the Hussite stronghold of Tabor from June 23. When the Taborites heard about it, 350 Hussites under the leadership of Nicholas of Hus came to the aid of the besieged town. On June 30, there was a counterattack; the Rosenbergs suffered a defeat and withdrew. The Hussites then retreated to the castle. Ernst continued the siege and captured Tabor on July 9; the entire garrison of the town was slain or burned. Meanwhile, another formation of the Hussites with commander Jan Roháč captured the town of Lomnitz.

On September 15, 1420 the siege of Vyshehrad began. The Hussite artillery managed to stop the attack of the Hungarian and German horsemen. After that the Hussites attacked. Four hundred knights were killed by the Hussites, who took no prisoners. After the battle, the crusading troops retreated from Prague. Žižka led a tight regiment, which among other things led to the death and expulsion of many Germans from Bohemia.

Second and Third Crusades (1421, 1422)

The second crusade in 1421 also failed miserably. Frederick of Meissen”s victory over the Hussites at the Battle of Brüx in August had no lasting effect. The victory at Brüx did not have a major impact on the further course of the Hussite wars; the militarily superior Hussites soon regained the upper hand for several years. For Frederick, the tactical success later led to his ascension to Duke and Elector of Saxony, while his opponent Želivský was executed soon after in March 1422.

The Habsburg Albrecht V, after an agreement with Sigismund in Bratislava, took over the supreme leadership of the royal troops against the Hussites on September 28, 1421.

On October 2, a crusading army broke the siege of nearby Saaz and cleared the country in wild flight after a rumor that a Hussite army was approaching. Subsequently, Ostroh Castle, which they called “The New Tabor”, became a military center of the Hussites in southeastern Moravia. From here they attacked the Velehrad monastery on January 12, 1421 and burned it down. In the same year, Olomouc Bishop John of Bucca tried to reconquer Ostroh with Austrian reinforcements without success.

The third crusade ended in January 1422 after two more defeats of the imperial Catholic armies at Kuttenberg and Deutschbrod.

Internal conflicts (1423 and 1424)

The cruelties of which the Taborites were guilty so enraged the Calixtines that they seceded and chose their own king in the person of the Lithuanian prince Zygmond Korybut. The Polish king Vladyslav Jagiello supported his nephew in this enterprise, because the independence of Bohemia as a buffer state to the empire was welcome to him. Together with his brother Duke Witold (Vytautas), Korybut entered Prague on May 17, 1422 with a strong army. Because the crown of Bohemia was missing for the coronation, there was an unsuccessful five-month siege of Karlstein Castle. After Pope Martin V insisted that the King of Poland recall Prince Korybut immediately, the Polish-Lithuanian troops had to withdraw from Bohemia again on December 24.

In the spring of 1423, serious differences broke out within the various Hussite currents. In the battle of Horschitz in April 1423, the radical Taborites under Jan Žižka prevailed over the Prague Utraquists. In June, a temporary settlement was reached between the various parties at Konopischt. After peace negotiations between the Utraquists and Sigismund failed in Prague in October 1423, the inner-Hussite opposition broke out again.

In June 1424, Žižka once again maintained the upper hand against the Praguers in the Battle of Maleshau. The focus of the fighting now shifted to Moravia. While Duke Albrecht tried to take control of the country from the south in July, a devastating Hussite attack began from the west. Habsburg Catholic-minded towns were captured and razed to the ground.

After the death of Žižka, who succumbed to an epidemic during the siege of Pribislau Castle on October 11, 1424, Prokop the Great took over the leadership of the Hussites. The Hussites remained victorious under his command as well. With Bohemia”s economic resources already plundered by the war, the Hussites” further raids now had to be extended.

Advances of the Hussites (from 1425)

In 1425, the Hussites advanced into Silesia for the first time, but otherwise the fighting, which was conducted with great ferocity by both sides, was still largely confined to Moravian-Bohemian territory until the fall of 1425.

In November 1425, Hussites under their new leader Prokop the Great again advanced into Lower Austria in order to distract Duke Albrecht, who was operating successfully in Moravia, to reduce the burden on his own land and to take booty. The Bohemians captured Trebitsch and destroyed the monastery of Klosterbruck near Znojmo on November 12. On November 25, 1425, they captured Retz and Pulkau; numerous monasteries and towns were plundered. Duke Albrecht feared that the Hussites would also advance into the Waldviertel, whereupon the Lower Austrian land marshal Otto von Maissau took precautionary countermeasures.

In the spring of 1426, Moravia was hit by a heavy invasion, and immediately after that northern Bohemia was covered with war; Weißwasser, Leipa, Trebnitz, Teplice and Graupen fell into the hands of the Hussites.

The imperial days summoned by King Sigismund to Vienna in February and to Nuremberg in May 1426 were poorly attended, and the resolutions passed there against heretical Bohemia could not be implemented. The Hussites then threatened the Margraviate of Meissen and besieged the town of Aussig from May 26. The city was shelled daily, but the population under Jakob von Wresowitz put up fierce resistance, hoping for relief. The Counts Vizthum, Weiden and Schwarzburg succeeded in assembling a strong army from troops of Meissen, Saxony, Thuringia and Upper Lusatia, which marched off towards Bohemia on June 11, 1426. The allegedly 36,000-strong relief army split into several groups. One came via the Janauer Weg near Brüx, the second crossed the border at Ossegg, the third stream came via Graupen and Teplitz.

On the morning of June 16, 1426, the Battle of Aussig began, the returned Prince Korybut and Prokop the Bald awaited the Meissen attack on a hill of the village of Predlitz. The Hussites again barricaded themselves behind a wagon castle and anchored it with chains. The German knights tried to break through into the fortified camp, but the Hussites made a lunge and threw the enemy cavalry over the top, using special forks to pull the riders out of the saddle. Thousands of casualties remained on the battlefield. Most of the army commanders and bannermen, counts, barons and lords of Meissen and Thuringia fell. Among the 500 dead from the nobility were Heinrich II of Hartenstein as the last Burgrave of Meissen, Burgrave Oswald of Kirchberg, Counts Ernst I of Hohnstein and Count Friedrich XIV of Beichlingen-Wiehe. The victory cost the Bohemians only about 2000 men, and the entire cavalry of the knights” army fell into their hands. The following morning Aussig was also stormed and after plundering it was set on fire.

Since March 1426, other Hussite armies advanced into the eastern Weinviertel, and towards the end of the year a Hussite army under Heinrich von Platz crossed the border near Weitra. On January 3, 1427, these units departed via Windigsteig and Dobersberg, not refraining from the usual looting. On March 12, 1427, strong army troops under Prokop besieged the town of Zwettl. On March 25, probably on the nearby vineyard, a bloody battle took place, which the Austrian relief army initially won. However, while plundering the wagon fortress, they were again attacked by the quickly organized ranks of the Hussites and had to save themselves behind the fortifications of Zwettl. After three days of plundering, Prokop”s troops left the scene, plundered Altenburg Abbey and departed via Horn.

Fourth crusade, Hussite raids into neighboring countries (from 1427)

Pope Martin V urged a new crusade, and his legate Cardinal Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, assumed supreme leadership. On the side of the Roman Catholic army, according to unknown sources, eighty thousand men, including thousands of English archers, were gathered for the attack, advancing from the Upper Palatinate to Bohemia. The battle showed that the battle technique with chariot castles, supported by a powerful troop, could not be used successfully by every army, but it required an army that knew how to use the chariots successfully in attack and defense. The Catholic troops were defeated on August 4, 1427 during the Battle of Mies (also known as Tachau). Cardinal Beaufort and the rest of the troops had trouble escaping westward over the Bohemian Forest passes. At Bärnau near Tirschenreuth, John of Palatinate-Neumarkt was able to repel a pursuing mercenary force of Hussites. The fourth crusade in 1427 ended in a heavy defeat for the Catholic troops, and no more crusades were undertaken in the following four years.

In order to raise new troops, the Diet of Frankfurt under the Roman-German King Sigismund passed a tax, also called the Hussite penny, on December 2, 1427.

As early as 1428, the Hussites under Prokop the Great went on the attack against Catholic bastions. The 1428 campaign devastated Lower Austria and parts of Silesia, followed by a new advance into Lower Austria and Lusatia in 1429. In the process, the town of Guben (on the Neisse River) and the monastery of Neuzelle (near present-day Eisenhüttenstadt) were destroyed, and the monks murdered or abducted. On July 25, 1429, the Wettins formed an alliance with the Hohenzollerns against the Hussites in Plauen. But only three months later Altendresden was burned down by the Hussites, followed a few months later by an attack of the Hussites down the Mulde through the Vogtland with the conquest of Altenburg (January 12-16, 1430), Plauen (January 24, 1430), Oelsnitz

The Hussite campaign of 1430 also affected Silesia, Brandenburg, Upper Palatinate and Upper Franconia, and that of 1431 again Brandenburg and parts of Hungary (western Slovakia).

Fifth Crusade (from 1431)

Even a decision to fight the Hussites at the Diet of Nuremberg in 1431 could not turn the fortunes of war. The fifth crusade under Cardinal Giuliano Cesarini ended on August 14, 1431 with a disgraceful defeat at Taus. The emperor then sought a negotiated solution.

Meanwhile followed 1432

Since the imperial and papal troops were denied victory against the Hussites except for minor battles, negotiations with them took place between 1431 and 1433. Although Elector Frederick II of Saxony had already concluded a special peace with the Hussites on August 23, 1432 for a period of two years, it was not until 1436 that hostilities ended everywhere.

At the Council of Basel, the Hussites were granted some concessions with the Prague Compacts. Pressure was exerted on the Council by the Bohemians under Prokop through the siege of the Catholic and empire-stretching city of Pilsen from the middle of 1433. The “Upper Palatinate”, today the Upper Palatinate, was threatened by raids of the Hussites, as it had been many times before. On September 21, 1433, a partial contingent of the Hussite siege army, which had entered the “Upper Palatinate” for fouraging, was devastatingly defeated by the much smaller army of Count Palatine Johann von Pfalz-Neumarkt, the “Hussite Scourge”, near Hiltersried.

Compromise with the moderate Hussites, defeat of the radicals (1433 to 1436)

In January 1433, the new Pope Eugene IV yielded to the dictates of the Council of Basel, which was supported by King Sigismund. On May 31, 1433, he carried out Sigismund”s imperial coronation in Rome, and in April 1434 the balance between the council, the emperor and the pope was established. The way was finally clear for a common church reform, which now also cleared the way for an agreement with the Hussites. In October 1433, a Bohemian delegation appeared in Basel and there were renewed unsuccessful disputations of ecclesiastical differences. Emperor Sigismund, who had left Italy in August 1433, managed by his diplomatic skill to have a deputation sent from Basel to Prague to negotiate. Finally, on November 30, 1433, an agreement was reached on the Prague Compacts, which were approved by the Council and confirmed by the Bohemian Diet.

During these negotiations, the more moderate Hussite wing of the Utraquists or Calixtines (“Chalice Brethren”) returned to the fold of the Catholic Church and even allied with the imperial troops against the more radical Taborites. The latter were finally crushed on May 30, 1434, at the Battle of Lipan (Czech: Lipany) after a tactical error by Prokop. The battle ended in a massacre, with the victors liquidating most of the prisoners, thus wiping out the core of the Taborites. Some of the prisoners of the original 12,000-man Taborite army sided with the moderates, who originally had about 20,000 men, and some of the survivors enlisted as mercenaries in foreign armies. Only a small detachment under Jan Roháč z Dubé saved itself at the latter”s castle of Sion near Kutna Hora until this too was conquered in 1437 and Roháč was executed in Prague.

Due to the death of King Vladislav of Poland at the end of May 1434, the situation in the East changed considerably; the political alliance of the Hussites with the Poles was no longer to be feared. The Battle of Brüx on September 23, 1434 is usually considered the last battle of the Hussite Wars, in which the Hussites, now allied with the Poles, suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of Emperor Sigismund, Frederick II and Henry of Schwarzburg.

In the summer of 1435, both parties finally negotiated in Brno in endless debates about the handling of the Prague compacts and the conditions under which Sigismund could be recognized in Bohemia. Without waiting for a result, the emperor entered Prague on August 23, 1436. On July 5, 1436, at the Diet of Iglau, the Hussites had come to terms with the compacts of the Council of Basel and had to recognize Sigismund as king of Bohemia.

The political and economic victors of the Hussite Wars were the lower nobility of the Czech lands. As a result of the Hussite Wars, the Czech lands lost their leading economic and cultural position in Europe in the 14th century for several generations.

Some of the following battles are also attributed to the Hussite Wars:

Sources

  1. Hussitenkriege
  2. Hussite Wars