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Hussite Wars

Hussite Wars
Middle Ages Friday, 15. March 2024

Hussite Wars

On 30 July 1419 the violent events of the first Defenestration of Prague initiated the Hussite Wars. The mood in society, already stirred by the burning of Master Jan Hus in July 1415  and then the burning of Jerome of Prague in May 1416, became even worse after the death of bohemian King Wenceslas IV in August 1419 as his brother King Sigismund of Hungary was to claim a right to the throne of Bohemia. Large part of the society in the Kingdom of Bohemia – the so-called Hussites – was ready to accept Sigismund as a King on condition that he will respects the ideas of Jan Hus and the communion in both kinds (by bread and wine – sub utraque specie – i. e. Utraquism). Society was thus divided into supporters of Hus' religious ideas, which now became a political agenda, and his opponents who supported Sigismund of Hungary – these other ones were mainly the Catholic nobility members and the traditionally Catholic cities and towns. Yet during the Autumn of 1419 the Hussites from the countryside were already forming larger units and subsequently wanted to enter into a closer alliance with the Hussite cities and especially with Prague. At the same time Bohemian Catholics tried to strike the first blow to prevent the creation of the Hussite unity.

In these circumstances the first battles of Živohošt' (November 1419), Nekmíř (turn of 1419-1420) and Sudoměř (March 1420) took place. Although the Hussites suffered the significant losses in the form of casualties and prisoners-of-war because of the battles of Živohošt' and Sudoměř, the results of these combats and especially the battle of Sudoměř proved unsuccessfulness of the Catholics. At the same time the Hussites founded the town of Tábor in South Bohemia as a main bastion of radical Hussitism. Also in this period the Hussites went on the offensive and began to attack Catholic properties and especially Church estates. At the same time, on 1 March 1420, Pope Martin V announced the First Crusade against the Hussites under the leading of Sigismund of Hungary. Since it was obvious that Prague would be the main objective of the crusade, the Hussites began to reinforce the capital via the provisions and men from the countryside. The Crusader army, which actually besieged Prague in the early Summer of 1420, eventually suffered a defeat in the Battle of Vítkov. Sigismund still tried to hold the castle of Vyšehrad near Prague in November 1420, but after the losing main battle of Vyšehrad castle was lost and the Catholic garrison remained only in Prague Castle, which capitulated in June 1421. Meanwhile, the main Hussite bastions of southern (Tábor) and eastern (Hradec Králové) Bohemia maintained their alliances and were about to conquere the Catholic strongholds in Bohemia. Among them, the strong Catholic cities of Pilsen, České Budějovice and the territory of lord Oldřich II. of Rožmberk stood firm and resisted.

The Second Crusade against the Hussites (Summer 1421 - January 1422) was tragic. At the end of the Summer The first part of the expedition led by imperial princes-electors unsuccessfully tried to conquer the Hussite town of Žatec and then retreated or fled back across the border. The second part of the expedition under Sigismund of Hungary and Albert II of Germany did not begin operations until October. This part of expedition was initially successful against the Hussites in Moravia, but failed in the battle of Kutná Hora in December 1421 and at Nebovid in first days of January1422. Once retreated Sigismund's Crusaders suffered a further crushing defeat in the Battle of Habry on 8 January 1422, after which the Hussites burned the Catholic town of Nemecký Brod.

The years 1423-1426 were marked by internal Hussite divisions and clashes, especially between Prague and Jan Žižka (the battle of Strauchův dvůr in 1423 and the battle of Malešov in 1424). The Hussites eventually emerged from this period successfully and the mutual reconciliation led the alliances of Hussite towns and nobility to continue of the cooperation. In 1425, city of Prague, town of Tábor and eastern Bohemia-origin Orphans (formerly Orebites) were joined by the new union of towns of Žatec and Louny. In June 1426, the Hussites ended this difficult period by the significant defeat of the Saxon army in the Battle of Ústí nad Labem.

In 1427, the 3rd Crusade against the Hussites was set out under the leading of the Elector of Brandenburg, Margrave Frederick I of House Hohenzollern, and Otto of Ziegenheim, the Archbishop of Trier. However, the expedition ended by the defeat of Crusaders in the Battle of Tachov, and a period of the so-called "glorious raids" (or "chevauchées") of the Hussite armies followed between 1427-1433. These operations were characteristic by combination of bringing the war to the enemy's territory with the attempts to spread the ideas of Hussitisme and collecting of equipment and supplies by looting as well – especially the last point was conditioned by the fact that Bohemian lands suffered a series of crop failures at that time and the general trade embargo against the Hussites proclaimed from 1420 onwards almost stopped the international trade with neighbouring countries.

The last attempt to defeat the Hussites in the field was the 4th Crusade, which ended in mid-August 1431 by the defeat and flight of the Crusaders from the Battle of Domažlice. Just after this moment the Catholic Europe take the path of diplomacy and invite the Hussites to the Council of Basel. There (and for a long afterwards) the Hussites defended the basis of their ideas, the so-called Four Articles of Prague. Negotiations and the search for compromises dragged on.

However, the efforts to compromise and end the wars were undermined not only by the biased Catholics and the Pope, but also by the Hussite radicals and especially their striking force. Initially, the basis of the Hussites' military strength were the summoned armies of individual alliances uniting the troops from towns, countryside and the Hussite nobility – i. e. alliances of Prague, Tábor, Orphans (formerly Orebites in the region of Eastern Bohemia) and Žatec-Louny towns – but alongside them, permanent field armies of radicals gradually emerged and became the main force for expeditions beyond the borders. The refusal of the field armies to deal with Catholics had a purely secular reason in addition to the religious one – the field armies would lose the purpose of their existence and the basis of their livelihood by potential ending of the wars. In 1431-1433, regardless of any negotiations, the field armies also besieged the Catholic bastion of the city of Pilsen but unsuccessfully. This situation eventually resulted to the formation of a fragile coalition of moderate Hussites with Catholics against the Hussite radicals and their field armies. The final clash between the two sides took place on 30 May 1434 in the Battle of Lipany, where the radical field armies were defeated and largely destroyed and the radical leader Prokop the Great fell.

This result finally opened the way for further negotiations, which ended in the adoption and promulgation of the so-called Basel Compacts on 5 July 1436. Sigismund was then accepted as a King of Bohemia by virtually all the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Bohemia. Only the last of the hardest Hussite radicals like Jan Roháč of Dubá continued their armed resistance. The last combat operations of the Hussite wars are considered to be the Battle of Křeč 1435, in which the troops of Oldřich II of Rožmberk defeated the marching army of the Taborites and the final end is considered to be the storming of Jan Roháč´s Castle of Sion on 6 September 1437 followed by the capture and subsequent execution of Jan Roháč of Dubá in Prague.

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