Jan Hus, Jan Zizka and the hussite wars 1420-1434.

John Ball


Thomas Muenzer

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Jan Hus and Jan Zizka

During the 14th century, Bohemia became one of the richest countries in Europe because of the silver mines. Especially the mines of Kuttenberg which have been explored since 1237 gave an annual revenue of 100.000 Marks, 1 Mark equalled half a pound of silver. Mainly the king and the lords as well as the catholic church had the benefits and they in turn had to give a part to the pope. The members of the guilds became rich and progressively let others do their work. Instead they moved to Prague which literally became the "golden Prague". Prague got the first university in the German Empire (attention: do not confound The German Empire and Germany, because Nations as we know them today did not exist; within the German Empire were included parts of Italy and France, Belgium, the Netherlands etc.) With the money from the silver mines, production and commerce of normal and luxury goods developed.

This led to conflicts between the church on one side and the czech people on the other, between merchants, craftsmen and the lords who wanted to preserve their privileges, between the peasants who wanted to be free and no longer be serfs and the lords. These conflicts became even more important with prices going up, thus making  the rich citizens richer and ruining the peasants and the less wealthy lords. Then there was a national conflict. King Ottokar II and Charles I of Bohemia invited german peasants, craftsmen, artists and miners to come to Bohemia. The majority of the population of the cities of Kuttenberg, Deutschbrod and Iglau were germans. The university of Prague and the catholic church were dominated by germans. Wherever a czech met a german he considered the german as the rich exploiter or the serious competitor. On the other hand most germans were conservative in that they relied upon the existing relations and the power of the church to protect their interests.

[Jan Hus]
Jan Hus
The one who expressed what the czechs thought was Jan Hus (1369-1415), a professor of the university of Prague. Hus had studied the theories of John Wiclif and applied them to the situation he found in Bohemia. The answer of the catholic Church came promptly: 45 theses of Wiclif were declared heretic. The dispute escalated and finally king Wenceslas ordered, that the germans at the Prague university should have one vote and the czechs  three votes. The next day thousands of german students and their professors left Prague, mostly for Leipzig, where they founded a new university. Hus was shortly after that elected rector of the university in Prague. Pope John 23 was in war with the king of Naples and needed more money. That's why he ordered in 1412 to sell indulgences (a sort of loan on celestial forgiving of terrestrial sins). This led immediately to hurts between hussite czechs and catholic germans in Prague. King Wenceslas, trying to calm the situation expelled Hus, but also four catholic theologians.

In 1414 the church concile of Constance began, which mainly should elect a new pope (at that time there had been three at the same time) and which should resolve the problem of the czech heretics. This was important because of the serious risk of a disintegration of Bohemia out of the church and the german empire. Emperor Sigismund, the brother of king Wenceslas,  was afraid of the influence of Hus and obtained that Hus was invited to the concile under the guarantee of a safe-conduct. Hus accepted, confident that he preached only the truth and that everybody would understand him. Especially, he preached that prelates and bishops should live as poor and simple as the first christians and that mortal sins should be punished without regard of the person.

Indeed everybody understood and, as a consequence, Hus was arrested to force him to repeal his heresy. But as that didn't help he was burned on July 6, 1415. The flame that burned Hus lit the fire in Bohemia.

All over the country revolts began. This movement was called after is symbol, a cup, the Calyxtines. The calyx of the communion was reserved for the priest. Following the ancient traditions, the calyx should have been given also to the community. The Calyxtines wanted among other things re-establish this old custom. A symbol though, as good as any other.

The claims of the Calyxtines were put together in the four Articles of Prague:

  1. the communion must be possible in either form (see calyx above)
  2. every public and mortal sin must be punished
  3. confiscation of the ecclesiastic fortune
  4. religious liberty

The hussite movement consisted of two distinct parts, the moderate Utraquists (utrae means equal, because of the communion in either form) and the radical Taborites (after the town of Tabor which they founded).

The Utraquists were supported mainly by the lords who had taken the land of the church. Though the lords were bound strongly to the hussite movement. Next the rich of Prague, who also had had their profit of the confiscations and later the benefits of the war.

Jan Zizka
Jan Zizka
On the opposite, the peasants and craftsmen, who did not want  to simply exchange one master with another, all those, who really wanted to be free and equal stood firmly behind the Taborites. That was the vast majority of the people. Jan Zizka, though a Lord, was their General. The Taborites were against any king and any lord, they didn't recognize any secular master and particularly in Tabor they practised common property.

"In that time there will be no king on earth and no master, nor will there be a subject, and all taxes will have an end, no one will force any other to do something, because they all will be equally brothers and sisters."

"As in the city of Tabor there is no 'mine' and no 'yours', but all is in common, the like it shall be everywhere and nobody shall have a special property, and those who have such property commits a mortal sin."

King Wenceslas tried to oppose the different parties to each other until his brother threatened to invade the country. But when Wenceslas allowed the catholic theologians to return a revolt of the citizens of Prague began. On July 30, 1419 the city was under control of the hussites, their leader was Jan Zizka (1360-1424). It was that day when the first defenestration happened: 7 members of the city council were thrown out of the window of the city hall - and felt into spears put in place to that effect. When Wenceslas heard this he was hit by the stroke and died soon after. Bohemia now was a Republic.

map of the Hussite wars Secretly, the Utraquists of Prague tried to negotiate with the emperor Sigismund, without success because the emperor did not accept any compromise. Pope Martin V was even more harsh when he appealed the whole Christianity to a crusade against the hussites. This crusade started in 1420 and ended with a withdrawal of the catholic troops, beaten by a peasants army lead by Jan Zizka. Other "crusades followed, leading the hussite army to Saxony and the baltic sea in the north, to Hessen and Bavaria in the west and near Vienna in the south. Jan Zizka died in 1424, but his successor, the taborite Andrew Prokop (1380-1434) was as skilled as Zizka. The 4. crusade ended in 1427 at Mies when the imperial troops heard the war-crys of the hussites. the same happened to the 5. crusade in 1431 at Taus. After that there wasn't anybody who had enough courage to fight against the hussites.

Now intrigues were the last resort for the emperor. He and the pope made important concessions. They tried to divide their enemies, to bring up the moderate Utraquists against the radical Taborites, which means the lords and the rich merchants against the peasants and the craftsmen. The church "generously"  abandoned any revenge of the robbery of its lands, the lords kept them for sure. This was exactly what the lords, who had not taken part in the war wanted. Already in the beginning of the movement they took all they wanted. They had no further interest in the hussite movement besides a lasting right on their booty, if possible sealed by the victim and recognized by the emperor. The agreement was settled in 1433 and the lords forced the application through the battle of Liban on May 30, 1434. Even this was only possible because of treason. In this battle 25 000 mercenaries of the army of the lords were opposed to 18 000 Taborites. The battle continued long time without an advantage for any side, when suddenly the taborite cavalry left the battlefield. At the end, among the 18 000 Taborites 13 000 were killed. Their Power was broken.

Suggested Links:

A very detailed Hussite website
Map of Hussite lands and invasion routes
Short essay about Hus and a photo of his statue
This link was very interesting and it help me find a lot about Jan,Hus
Transcript of the Council of Constance 1414-18 including the case against Jan Hus

John Ball


Thomas Muenzer

Last modified: Nov 26, 2004, /english/hussitee.html