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15 Essential Facts about the Hussite Wars

The Hussite Wars, also known as the Bohemian Wars were part of a whole religious motion called the Hussite Revolution. The basis of the revolution was the protestant faith of the Hussites who stood in opposition to the regular religion of the Roman Catholic church. They were the followers of a Bohemian (nowadays Czech) priest and reformer by the name Jan Hus. The monarchs along with the Church tried to dissuade the Hussites from their faith and as a consequence, they rebelled. The wars continued from ca. 1419 to 1434. Here are some must-know facts about this particular event.

Jan Hus before the Council of Constance
Jan Hus before the Council of Constance

1. The Hussite community was mainly found in the Kingdom of Bohemia.

The Kingdom of Bohemia, or the Czech Kingdom, came into existence in the 12 century, with the onset of the Přemyslid dynasty from the Duchy of Bohemia. The Kingdom was a monarchy predeceasing the modern Czech Republic, also in terms of the occupied territory. However, it was part of the Holy Roman Empire, and thus was responsive to the Pope. Therefore, any religious turbulences were frowned upon. Sometimes, in the 14th century, the kings of Bohemia would be also elected Holy Roman Emperors themselves. Prague also played a role as an imperial center.

2. Hussite Wars were the first conflict where hand-held firearms were used.

Apart from using the standard varieties of artillery, the Hussites also used hand cannons, which were a simple device, consisting of a barrel filled with gunpowder, to which a handle would be attached. They were new to European warfare by then, but were far from a modern design. The Chinese perfected the art several hundred years earlier, constructing similar weapons using bamboo tubes instead of metal and wood. To fire a hand cannon, it had to be held in two hands, while a helper would load the gunpowder or other type of ammunition. The range of the hand cannon was average, but it was more easy to move than the heavy arms.

Hussite firearms
Hussite firearms

3. The cause of the war was the rebellion of Jan Hus, who supported John Wycliffe in Church reformation.

In the year 1402, Jan Hus announced his contradictory stand against the corruption of the Church and the Papacy. He met with John Wycliffe, an English theologist, and joined him in the reformation movement, following his ideas. Then he went on to preach his reformatory concept in the Kingdom of Bohemia, gaining many supporters. This earned him a reputation of a heretic and ‘persona non grata’ in the Roman Catholic Church. Also after the 1411 Western Schism, Hus declined the offer to join the Antipope John XXII in a crusade against King Ladislaus of Naples. This, again made him an official enemy of the Catholic Church.

4. Jan Hus was tried and executed by the Council of Constance in 1415.

In the year 1414, the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund made an attempt to put an end to the schism and summoned the Council of Constance for this purpose. Hus arrived at the Council, but was tricked into imprisonment and execution by the Church officials. The nobles of the Kingdom of Bohemia send a document called protestatio Bohemorum to the Council, criticizing the Church’s actions severely. This led to a hostile atmosphere between Bohemia and the Papacy, with threats being sent to both Hussites and Wycliffites.

The execution of Jan Hus
The execution of Jan Hus

5. The Hussites were divided into two ‘groups’.

Even before Jan Hus’s death, there were some differences of opinion among the Hussites, which led to two factions being formed. Jan Hus himself had accepted the Utraquist doctrine, which stated that the Holy Communion should be received as bread and wine. However, a zealous priest called Jan Žižka thought that no Communion was needed at all, in either form. Their name comes from the city of Tabor, where the movement had its strongest supporters. The Taborites were also radical about many scholastic questions, rapidly breaking away from the Catholic tradition.

6. The act commencing the wars is known as the “Defenestration of Prague”.

On July 30 1419, the Hussites led a drastic protest in Prague. Being outraged by the death of their leader and lack of religious freedom, they decided to burst into the New Town Hall and throw several Czech government officials out of the window. The event echoed immensely throughout Prague. Some historians even suggest that it had a direct impact on king Wenceslaus’s health, as he died soon after the event. This correlation is not confirmed. We do know, however, that the Defenestration of Prague marks the beginning of Hussite Wars played out ‘in the field’.

The Defenestration of Prague
The Defenestration of Prague

7. The Battle of Sudoměř was the first major battle of the Hussite Wars.

The Battle of Sudomĕř took place on 25 March 1420 and was a clash of the Catholic and the Hussite forces. The Hussites fought under the command of Břeněk of Švihov and Jan Žižka. They both had their own armies, and whereas Břeněk of Švihov did not survive the battle, Jan Žižka’s forces prevailed. Although there was an earlier battle fought in the Hussite Wars, the Battle of Nekmíř, not all historians recognize it, claiming that the Hussite forces retreated too quickly to call it a true encounter. The Battle of Sudomĕř was even a bigger success for the Hussites, due to the fact that they were outnumbered 5-1 by the Catholics and carried fewer weapons.

8. The Hussites employed Wagenburg tactics.

The Wagenburg tactic used by the Hussites made use of wagon forts, which were mobile fortifications constructed with battle wagons arranged into a makeshift military camp. Before each battle, the Hussites carefully studied the layout of the terrain and adjusted the setting of the carts accordingly. The carts were attached to each other by the means of chains on wheels. The carts made up an impenetrable row, and additionally a ditch was dug up right in front of them. Each cart was manned by 16-22 people and had its own team of crossbowmen, hand gunners, and soldiers throwing pikes or flails, the Hussite flag weapon. Two other man carried shields, and 2 drove the cart.

A Hussite war wagon
A Hussite war wagon

9. Pope Martin V issued a bull calling “for the destruction of the Wycliffites, Hussites and all other heretics in Bohemia”

Pope Martin V was elected in 11 November 1417 and was in office until 1431. He was the Pope whose election contributed to the resolution of the Western Schism. Yet, the religious unrests were far from over. On 17 March 1420 the Pope issued a bull, which very harshly addressed the followers of the Reformation movement, which the emphasis on Hussites and Wycliffes. Soon Sigismund, the Holy Roman Emperor, and several German princes joined him and together led a crusade against the dissidents, i.e. the followers of different faith. The siege of Prague followed, starting June 30 1420.

10. The Hussites expressed their demands in the “Four Articles of Prague”.

After the siege of Prague, both sides sat down to negotiate a peace treaty. The attempt at settlement started with the Hussites presenting the Roman Catholics with their “Four Articles of Prague”. According to a contemporary Czech historian and annalist, Laurence of Brezova, article 1 called for religious freedom; article 2 stated that the Holy Communion should be both in the form of bread and wine; the third article mentioned taking riches away from the Church, and article 4 once again complained about the sale of ‘indulgences’ leaving the power to clear sins to the God’s providence.

Anti-Hussite crusade
Anti-Hussite crusade

11. Sigismund the Emperor was defeated by the Hussites at the Battle of Vítkov Hill.

The Articles presented by the Hussites were not accepted by the Church officials and the military conflict continued. This resulted in Emperor Sigismund ordering an execution of Jan Krasa, a Hussite leader on the Polish lands, who also led the Wroclaw Uprising of 1418. Poland was, like the Kingdom of Bohemia, a country of great religious differentiation, where the dissidents were welcome and were not prosecuted. Thus, also the Czech Reformation movements allied with the Polish leaders. The Battle took place near the edge of the city of Prague, in an old vineyard owned by Sigismund’s father.

12. Numerous Polish cities took part in the Hussite Wars.

Not only did the Czech Hussites ally with Polish religious dissidents during the Wroclaw Uprising, they also fought side by side many other times. For example, one of the battles took place in modern day Świdnica, and the Polish lands were generally an asylum for all the Reformationists. This religious tolerance and hospitality held up incessantly until the end of the XVI century. In the year 1433 some Polish nobles also joined the Hussites in a military campaign to the Teutonic Order territory, all the way to the Baltic Sea.

The Battle of Lipany
The Battle of Lipany

13. The Polish were officially prohibited to support the Hussites.

Even though the nobles acted for themselves, irrespective of what the official stand of the Crown was, supporting Hussites was made illegal in Poland by means of the Edict of Wieluń. This was a law issued in 1424 by the King of Poland Władysław II Jagiełło, who was pressured by the Catholic Church. The edict stated that anyone supporting the Hussite movement would face charges and his property and goods would be confiscated. What is more, the delinquent could even lose his noble status, which was very dear to the Polish upper classes. The edict also forbade doing any trade with the Kingdom of Bohemia.

14. During the Hussite Wars, the Hussites also tried to occupy bordering German duchies.

As it turns out the Hussite were not only interested in gaining religious freedom, they also wanted to gain some territory. Therefore they made a series of raids, which they christened Spanilé jízdy [spa-nee-leh yiz-di] (“beautiful rides”). Along the course of this raids, they managed to partly occupy Silesia, Saxony, Hungary, Lusatia, and Meissen. The raids had also another function, which was to get rid of the German forces helping the Holy Roman Empire. In the end, the Hussites gained some influence in the duchies but failed to dissuade them from further participation in the conflict.

The Battle of Kutna Hora
The Battle of Kutná Hora

15. The Hussite Wars ended with the Religious peace of Kutná Hora.

The peace agreement ending the military conflict between the Hussites and the Catholic Church was signed in March 1485 in Kutná Hora. Its provisions stated that both the Catholic and the Hussite faiths would be treated as legally equal and that peace between the two should be maintained for at least 31 years following the agreement. A Diet issued in 1512 legitimized the religious peace and helped to introduce the concept of religious tolerance. This helped the Czech country grow, also economically.

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