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Hussite Wars (St. George's Night)

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Hussite Wars
Part of St. George's Night
Hus Execution
Jan Hus is burnt at the stake in Constance - his execution would later ignite the devastating Hussite Wars.
Date 1419 - 1434
Location Bohemia, Poland, Holy Roman Empire
Result Hussite victory
  • Hussite Bohemia preserves independence, Hussite Church established
  • Much of southern Poland falls under Bohemian rule
Belligerents
HussiteBannerHussite rebels
  • Taborites
  • Utraquists
  • Sirotci

Polish flagPolish rebels
Supported by:

  • Lithuania
Banner of the Holy Roman EmperorHoly Roman Empire
  • Coat of Arms of HungaryHungary-Croatia
  • Archduchy of Austria
  • Papal States


TeutonicOrderFlagTeutonic Knights

Commanders and leaders
HussiteBannerJan Zizka

HussiteBanner Vytautas I (1430-34)
HussiteBanner Prokop the Great

Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund I
  • Banner of the Holy Roman EmperorRudolf IV of Austra
Strength
Total of approx. 40,000 Total of approx. 60,000
Casualties and losses
15,000 30,000

The Hussite Wars was a major conflict fought in Central Europe from 1419 - 1434. It was incited by the execution of the Czech priest and Church reformer Jan Hus, who was burnt at the Council of Constance on the orders of Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund. In response to his execution, Hus' followers, known as Hussites, revolted against both Sigismund and the established church hierarchy, declaring an independent Church. In response, Sigismund, with Papal support, attempted to suppress the rebellion, which failed. Under the leadership of military visionary Jan Zizka, the Hussites defeated repeated attempts by Imperial troops and crusaders to suppress the rebellion, and eventually formed an independent kingdom, proclaiming as their king Vytautas, a member of the House of Jagiellon.

Background

The Holy Roman Empire, under the rule of Sigismund of Luxembourg, had been gradual expanded its control into Central Europe for decades. Sigismund, using his dynastic connections skillfully, augmented his domains greatly, first acquiring Hungary and Croatia, then, after the death of Casimir the Great, King of Poland, claiming the Polish throne. Although Polish nobles initially rejected his claim, Casimir's daughter, Jadwiga, was killed by an assassin (most likely on Sigismund's orders), leaving him, through his wife, Casimir's second daughter, with the best claim. Dissent grew in Poland, however, after Sigismund began to split his Polish territories apart and transfer their rule to neighbouring German principalities, in an effort to buy support for a crusade against the Ottomans. A Polish revolt was brutally crushed with the assistance of a crusade called by the Roman Pope on Sigismund's behalf, arguing that any rebellion against a God-appointed sovereign was justification for a crusade.

Theologian Jan Hus condemned crusading, arguing that no earthly individual could call a holy war. In general, he argued for a reduction of clerical power, saying that only an individual could reach salvation through their own interpretation of the Bible. He therefore argued for the translation of the Bible into Czech and its wide dissemination. These ideas were hugely threatening to the clergy and to secular rulers, who saw in it an undermining of their supposedly divinely appointed rule, but gathered wide support in Bohemia, particularly after Hus published Czech versions of English dissident John Wycliffe's unorthodox Bible translation and his scathing criticisms of the Church. Both the Avignon and Roman papacies were eager to gain clerical support, as they were attempting to end the Western Schism and elect a new Pope to unite both churches, and they aggressively condemned the new theology. At the Council of Constance, summoned under Sigismund's aegis to end the schism, Hus, who had been summoned under a letter of safe conduct, was tried, found guilty of heresy, and burnt. The new pope, Martin VII, aggressively condemned his teachings.

Hus' followers in Bohemia responded aggressively, attacking monks and other clerics (even wounding an archbishop). Stressed by the ongoing turmoil in his kingdom, King Wenceslaus of Bohemia died in 1419 of apoplexy, leaving his Kingdom to Sigismund, an aggressive anti-Hussite. This provoked further unrest; many Catholics, mainly Germans, were expelled from Bohemia, provoking royal retaiation. Several Hussite groups existed; the radical Taborites and Sirotci, who wholly rejected most Church rituals except for the Eucharist and Communion, and the more moderate Utraquists, who accepted most Church rituals. Although most nobles were hesitant to join the revolt, being members of the more moderate group, Sigismund's suppression of noble privileges in Poland won them over to the rebellion.

Meanwhile, Jan Zizka, a mercenary who had been fighting on behalf of Polish rebels in Masuria, returned to Bohemia with a large contingent of Bohemian mercenaries, who joined the Taborite radicals. Sigismund sent a force of German mercenaries and Hungarians to garrison Prague Castle, which had been stormed by Hussites under a radical priest named Jan Zelivsky; this force found themselves facing Zizka's Taborites at Nemkir on the frontier. They demanded passage; Zizka indignantly refused, saying that "no foreign king's troops will enter Bohemia without its king's permission"; a strange assertion, as its king was dead. This echoed the Bohemians protests throughout the war that, rather than fighting for heresy, they were fighting for their rights as a free people. Sigismund's troops attacked, but were beaten back by the Taborites, who launched a counterattack that destroyed the opposing force. This would prove the opening act in a series of conflicts that would drag on for decades.

Vltava Campaigns

Swiftly reinforced by several thousand Polish rebels fleeing defeat in Masuria, Zizka advanced on Prgue, expelling the Utraquists and placing it firmly under radical control. The Utraquists, with around 10,000 men, including many of the country's leading nobles, marched to meet Zizka, with tensions between both sides high. Conflict was likely; however, before the two sides could meet, Sigismund, having gathered an army in Lombardy and Bavaria, attacked the Utraquists as they camped near the frontier. His elite heavy cavalry shattered their troops, and the Imperial forces slaughtered several thousands. Sigismund did not learn that he had attacked the moderate Hussites until a moderate noble, Jan Rohac, was brought before. Rohac is said to have remarked "Your majesty, yoou have driven Bohemia into the radical's arms." Sigismund, by killing most of the Utraquist nobles, had killed any chance of compromise.

Zizka, joined by the remnants of the Utraquists' forces, advanced to Vysrehad, where he dug in his troops in a wagon laager. The next day, an attack by Sigismund's cavalry was beaten off; the disordered horsmen were slaughtered by Bohemian infantry. Chastened by his Pyrrhic victory and then bloody failure, Sigismund fell back to Vienna to winter. He was joined by Rudolf IV, Duke of Austria. In Bohemia, Zizka seized the opportunity to crush the moderate forces, establishing secure links with the Polish rebel lords of the Carpathians. Moderate or pro-Imperial forces were defeated piecemeal, and Zizka garrisoned strategic towns with loyal miitias.

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