Hussite Wars 1419-1436
Hussite Wars, series of conflicts in the 15th cent., caused by the rise of the Hussites in Bohemia and Moravia. It was a religious struggle between Hussites and the Roman Catholic Church, a national struggle between Czechs and Germans, and a social struggle between the landed and peasant classes. On the death (1419) of Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia (see Wenceslaus, emperor), the Hussites in Bohemia and Moravia took up arms to prevent his brother—their archenemy, Emperor Sigismund—from entering into his succession. John Zizka, the Hussite military leader, expelled Sigismund in 1420 and routed him again at Kutna Hora in 1422. From 1419 to 1436, Bohemia had no effective king, although Witowt of Lithuania was elected (1421) antiking and sent his nephew, Sigismund Korybut, to Bohemia as his vicar. Korybut took the crown in 1424 and held it until 1427. After the death (1424) of Zizka the division between the radical and the moderate parties of the Hussites—the Taborites and the Utraquists—widened. A Taborite, Procopius the Great, succeeded Zizka as military commander of the Hussites. In 1425–26 a Hussite army invaded Silesia and Saxony, and in 1429–30 the united Hussite forces penetrated as far as Franconia. Several crusades against the Hussites were utterly routed by the Czechs, whose military organization and tactics were much superior to those of their opponents. Negotiations with the Council of Basel began, especially through the Univ. of Prague, and in 1433 the Czech delegates arrived at Basel (see Basel, Council of). The result was the conclusion of the Compactata, by which the moderate Hussites were taken back into the Catholic Church. The Compactata were rejected by the Taborites. Civil war now broke out between the Utraquists and the Taborites (predominantly the party of the lower classes). At the decisive battle of Lipany (1434) the Taborites were routed and Procopius was killed. At a council meeting (1436) at Jihlava the Compactata were ratified and Sigismund was recognized as king of Bohemia. On the death (1439) of Sigismund's successor, Albert II, the Utraquist leader George of Podebrad governed Bohemia—first in the name of Ladislaus V and from 1458 as king. He refused to accept the papal revocation (1462) of the Compactata and was declared deposed in 1466. A new war began between George and the nobles, and in 1468, Matthias Corvinus of Hungary attacked Bohemia. By the time peace was made (1478), long after George's death, the religious element of the wars had largely disappeared.
See H. Kaminsky, History of the Hussite Revolution (1967).
John Zizka (zĬs´kə), Czech Jan Žižka (yän zhēsh´kä), d. 1424, Bohemian military leader and head of the Hussite forces during the anti-Hussite crusades of Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund. Before the Hussite Wars, which gave his military genius the opportunity to develop fully, Zizka served under various lords; he fought (1410) on the Polish side in the battle of Tannenberg, in which the Teutonic Knights were defeated. When the Hussite Wars broke out in 1420, Zizka was about 60 years old and blind in one eye. Having joined the Taborites (the radical Hussite wing), Zizka made Tábor in Bohemia into an almost impregnable fortress and led (July, 1420) the Taborite troops in their victory over Sigismund at Visehrad (now a part of Prague). In the following years he successfully withstood the anti-Hussite crusades and took one Catholic stronghold after another, continuing to command in person although he had become totally blind in 1421. He did not agree with the extreme religious views of the Taborites, and in 1423 formed his own Hussite wing, which, however, remained in close alliance with the Taborites. In the same year the tension between the Taborites and the moderate Utraquists, whose stronghold was at Prague, flared into open conflict, and late in 1424, Zizka led his army against Prague in order to compel that city to adhere to his uncompromising anti-Catholic policy. An armistice averted the outbreak of civil war between the two Hussite parties, which then decided on a joint expedition into Moravia under Zizka's command. Zizka died suddenly during the campaign. Although Zizka's fame is overshadowed by that of other commanders, he ranks with the great military innovators of all time. The bulk of his army consisted of peasants and townspeople, untrained in arms. Zizka did not attempt to make them adopt the conventional armament and tactics of the time, but let them make use of such weapons as iron-tipped flails and armored farm wagons, surmounted by small cannons of the howitzer type. His armored wagons, when used for offense, easily broke through the enemy lines, firing as they went, and thus enabled him to cut superior forces into pieces. When used for defense, the wagons were arranged into an impregnable barrier surrounding the foot soldiers; they also served to transport his men. Zizka thus fully anticipated the principles of tank warfare.
After Huss's execution the Hussites took up arms against the Holy Roman Empire and demanded a set of reforms that anticipated the Reformation. Most of the demands were granted (1436), and a Church was established that remained independent of the Roman Catholic Church until 1620. An early Protestant group that arose among the Hussites, the Bohemian Brethren, is thought to have formed the basis of the Moravian Church.