The Hussite Wars/Chapter 2

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CHAPTER II

The armistice concluded in Prague on November 13, 1419, proved, as was perhaps inevitable, to be of short duration. It became every day more evident that King Sigismund, who, in spite of his somewhat scandalous private life, was a firm adherent of the Church of Rome, had no intention of making any concessions whatever to those whom he considered as heretics; this ill will extended even to matters such as Communion in the two kinds, which the Roman Church has itself on some occasions sanctioned.[1] Noman was, indeed, less likely to favour a system of compromise than Sigismund, who was devoid of all learning and consumed by puerile vanity, and who possessed neither statesmanship nor military talent nor even personal courage. Sigismund, on hearing of the disturbances in Prague, and of the armistice which was afterwards concluded, determined to abandon the war against Turkey in which he had been engaged and to proceed to his new dominions. He arrived on December 15, 1419, at Brno (in German, Brünn), the capital of Moravia, one of the lands of the Bohemian crown.[2] He was met here by the Dowager Queen Sophia—whose brief and stormy term of government now ended—by the principal nobles of Bohemia, and by the representatives of many towns in the country. The King maintained his evasive attitude with regard to all religious questions, but the nobles and some of the town representatives, in whom the dynastic feeling was very strong, did homage to their hereditary sovereign. Somewhat later than the other deputations, the representatives of the towns of Prague arrived at Brno. To the great displeasure of the King and his courtiers they entered the city preceded by trumpeters, and though the town had been declared to be under interdict, because of the presence of heretics, they insisted on celebrating mass according to their rites in the part of the town which had been assigned to them. When they were admitted to the royal presence Sigismund received them very ungraciously. He allowed them to kneel before him for a longer time than was customary, and blamed them severely for having barricaded their streets and besieged the royal castles of Hradčany and Vyšehrad. He ordered the citizens to remove immediately all street fortifications, and no longer to molest the monks and nuns at Prague. The envoys of that city, who belonged to the most moderate Hussite party, were intimidated by the threatening language of the King, and on their return to Prague caused the royal commands to be immediately obeyed. When the barricades and street fortifications were removed the Germans of Prague greatly rejoiced, saying: “Now there will be an end of these Hussites and Wycliffites.”[3]

As Queen Sophia had gladly cast off the burden of regency, Sigismund appointed as regent one of the high officials of the land, Lord Čeněk of Wartenberg; not, however, thoroughly trusting Wartenberg, he chose two other Bohemian noblemen, who were to act as co-regents. The career of Wartenberg has often been judged by historians more severely than it deserves. He was a firm believer in the teaching of Hus, and he attached to Communion in the two kinds the same importance as—for reasons which I have endeavoured to explain elsewhere—most Bohemians of his time did. He also, like most of his countrymen, believed that it was only by enforcing poverty on the clergy that a true moral reformation of the then very corrupt Bohemian churchmen could be brought about. At the same time Wartenberg shared with many other Bohemian nobles a feudal devotion to the princes of the house of Luxemburg, the legitimate and hereditary rulers of the lands of the Bohemian crown. The position of Wartenberg was, therefore, a very difficult one, and even a more talented and more conscientious man would probably have failed in attempting to conciliate two entirely antagonistic points of view. Many of the other Bohemian nobles were in the same difficult position, though there were also among the nobility, and yet more among the knighthood, many who unreservedly upheld the cause of Church reform.

After a short stay in Brno King Sigismund proceeded to Breslau, the capital of Silesia, then also one of the lands of the Bohemian crown. Æneas Sylvius, whose opinion was afterwards repeated by many writers, severely blamed Sigismund for having proceeded to Silesia instead of marching from Brno directly on Prague.[4] The citizens of that town appeared to be momentarily cowed, and many of the nobles and town delegates had done homage to Sigismund. Yet the King’s decision proves that he understood the feelings of the Bohemian people better than did the brilliant Italian humanist. Sigismund knew that he was indebted for the limited amount of popularity he then possessed entirely to the fact that he had been able hitherto to avoid expressing his views on the all-important subject of Communion in the two kinds. Many Bohemians, believing probable that which they hoped, thought that Sigismund would finally sanction the use of the revered chalice at the Communion of laymen. Sigismund, however, knew that it would be impossible to continue long his policy of silence. The Roman see had, on March 1, 1420, proclaimed a crusade against the Hussites, and the King, who required the aid of the crusaders to conquer Bohemia, knew that this would not be granted to him should he make even the slightest concession to heretics. The few but somewhat powerful Romanist nobles in Bohemia would also in this case have withdrawn their support. Sigismund’s own sympathies were also entirely in favour of an intransigent policy. He was, however, aware of the bitter and implacable hatred which his treacherous behaviour towards Hus had aroused in Bohemia. Life was not valued very highly at that period of incessant internal and foreign warfare, and the execution of a heretic was not an exceptional event; but the Bohemians rightly believed that Sigismund’s letter of safe conduct had stated that even if Hus were found guilty he should be allowed to leave Constance freely, and should be judged by the ecclesiastical authorities of his own country.[5]

Sigismund was, therefore, thoroughly justified in believing that he would meet with desperate resistance in Bohemia, where both national and religious enthusiasm were much stronger than in the sister-lands Moravia and Silesia. He therefore decided to remain at Breslau till the vast forces who were sure to assemble for the crusade proclaimed by the Pope had had time to meet. Other duties also awaited Sigismund at Breslau. He had summoned an imperial diet to that city, and on his arrival there,on January 5, 1420, was met by many German princes, the Dukes of Saxony, Silesia and Bavaria, the papal legate Ferdinand Bishop of Lucca, the margraves of Meissen and Brandenburg and many others. The margravate of Brandenburg had recently been conferred on Frederick Burgrave of Nürnberg by Sigismund at Constance. The new margrave was at that moment an intimate friend of Sigismund, and certainly one of his wisest councillors,[6] but for reasons that will be mentioned presently he took no part in the first crusade. There is no doubt that Frederick strongly advised Sigismund to pursue a conciliatory policy in the Bohemian question. Of the many other matters of state that were discussed at the diet of Breslau only one requires mention here, because of the very important part—overlooked by many historians—which Poland played in the Hussite wars. After their great victory at Tannenberg the Poles had overrun a large part of the territory of the Teutonic order. Their successes had not, however, been maintained, and they, as well as their antagonists, accepted the mediation of Sigismund on condition that he should terminate his arbitration not later than on January 6, 1420. The Polish envoys who appeared at Breslau were greatly displeased when Sigismund delayed giving his decision on the questions that had been submitted to him, and yet more when he finally pronounced judgment. Without entering into details, it is sufficient to state that on all moot points Sigismund’s decision was favourable to the Teutonic order. This influenced future events to a considerable extent, for in consequence of the bitter hate they felt for Sigismund, the Poles received the offer of the Bohemian crown to a Polish prince more favourably than they would have otherwise done.

Another unwise action of Sigismund greatly increased the hatred and animosity against the King which already prevailed in Bohemia. John Krasa, a greatly respected merchant of Prague, who had arrived at Breslau for the annual fair, had imprudently blamed the execution of Hus, and spoken in favour of Communion in the two kinds. He was arrested by the executioners of Sigismund, drawn by wild horses and then flayed; his body was then burnt.[7] This public spectacle caused general horror and deep indignation among the Utraquist nobles who had followed King Sigismund’s court. Some of them, such as Čeněk of Wartenberg, now became his bitter enemies.

On March 1 Pope Martin V published a bull decreeing a crusade “against the Hussites, Wycliffites and their friends.”[8] This was done with the full approval of Sigismund, who believed that the enthusiastic Bohemians could only be subdued if their country were invaded by vastly superior hostile forces. Experience had shown that whenever a crusade was proclaimed vast numbers of men from all parts of Europe, some inspired by religious enthusiasm, others by the hope of plunder, flocked to the papal standards. On the Tuesday following Easter—April 9—Sigismund and his army left Breslau and marched to Schweidnitz, and then, crossing the Bohemian frontier at Nachod, arrived before the important city of Králové Hradec (Königgrätz).[9]

It was a bad omen for the campaign that Sigismund now undertook that one of his former great friends at this moment became estranged from him and took no part in the crusade. The Elector Frederick of Brandenburg left Breslau even before the end of the deliberations of the imperial diet. He strongly disapproved of the intransigent policy of Sigismund, which had imperilled his rule in his newly acquired dominions. In the then only partially Germanised lands of Pomerania and Mecklenburg the Slavic reaction was very strong at that moment, and the Pomeranian Prince of Stolpe treated the papal bull of excommunication with contempt. There was also the danger that the Poles, irritated by the hostile attitude of Sigismund, might aid their Slavic brethren, and Polish troops had already begun to attack the marches of Brandenburg. The Slavic dynasty of the Obotrites in Mecklenburg also rose in arms against the new margrave. By a rapid and victorious campaign against these numerous enemies Frederick isolated the Bohemians from their possible allies in Germany. He believed—wrongly, as events proved—that Sigismund had sufficient forces to crush all resistance in Bohemia.[10] Sigismund had, indeed, invaded Bohemia with a large army, and his forces were greatly increased when, somewhat later, numerous crusaders joined him before Prague. The beginning of the campaign was successful. Králové Hradec, one of the Hussite strongholds, was occupied after very slight resistance, and the royalist army then marched to Kutna Hora, a mining city whose inhabitants were almost all Germans and fervent adherents of the Church of Rome. Sigismund was, therefore, enthusiastically received at Kutna Hora and, sanguine as he sometimes was, he no doubt concluded from this friendly reception that the feeling of the Bohemian people was not as hostile to him as he had previously imagined.

Yet it was just at this moment that the Bohemian movement acquired a distinctly revolutionary character. Čeněk of Wartenberg had left Breslau deeply embittered, and his dynastic tendency disappeared, or at least became obscured for a time. He formally renounced his allegiance to Sigismund, dismissed the former Romanist commanders of the castles of Hradčany and Vyšehrad and appointed Hussites in their stead. A few days later—on April 20—he published a manifesto couched in very strong language, in which he, together with Lord Ulrich of Rosenberg, many knights and nobles, and “all who upheld the freedom of God’s law and the commonwealth of the Bohemian nation,” declared that Sigismund, King of Hungary, could not be accepted as King of Bohemia. Then followed a detailed enumeration of the grievances against Sigismund—far too lengthy to be reproduced here. It was stated that he had induced the papal legate to proclaim a crusade against the Bohemians because they maintained the custom of communicating in the two kinds, according to the traditions of the primitive Church. The execution of Hus—a subject on which the Bohemians were always implacable—was then mentioned, as well as the ruthless torture inflicted on John Krasa. Complaints concerning Sigismund’s political attitude towards the lands of the Bohemian crown were also raised. In opposition to the policy of his father, Charles IV, who had been a friend to Bohemia, Sigismund had on several occasions favoured Germany at the expense of Bohemia. Probably contrary to Wartenberg’s expectation, only part of the Bohemia nobility joined him in declaring that Sigismund had absolutely forfeited the Bohemian crown. The citizens of Prague, on the other hand, warmly approved of Wartenberg’s act. They had, a few days before the appearance of Wartenberg’s manifesto, published a proclamation which is interesting as proving how largely the racial feeling influenced that great uprising which we call the Hussite war. Religious questions play a secondary part in this proclamation, and Sigismund is not even mentioned by name. All the evils from which Bohemia had suffered are ascribed to the Germans, and they are accused of intending to exterminate the Slavic race in Bohemia, as they had already done in Saxony and Prussia. It is noteworthy that the memory of those then already ancient events still lingered among the Bohemian people. After the publication of the manifesto of the Praguers and of that of Wartenberg the few Germans who still remained in Prague were driven out of their houses, of which the Bohemians took possession. In view of the probability of a siege of the city the presence of Germans there was impossible.

At this moment the extreme party among the Hussites for a time completely obtained the upper hand. The citizens of Prague, led by the fanatical monk, John of Zělivo, committed many cruelties against Roman Catholic monks and nuns. Aided by the members of the new religious community, who were known as the Orebites—who derived their name from a hill near Králové Hradec, to which they had given the biblical name of Oreb—they plundered all the property of the adherents of the Roman Church, and destroyed most of the beautiful ancient cathedrals and churches that had been one of the glories of the land. This greatly aroused the indignation of Wartenberg, who upheld Communion in the two kinds and demanded severer regulations for the Roman clergy, but abhorred religious anarchism. The destruction of the ancient churches of his country appeared to him—if I may use an anachronism—as it would to an English High-Churchman. He was also probably impressed by the reluctance of many of the Bohemian nobles to join him, and by the first successes of Sigismund’s army.

Whatever his motives may have been it is certain that Wartenberg abandoned the national party after a few weeks, and—not for the last time—changed sides. He concluded a truce with Sigismund, according to which a full amnesty was granted to him and his family, and they, as well as the tenants on his estates, were to retain the right of communicating in the two kinds. Under these conditions Wartenberg consented to abandon the national cause, and on May 7 he opened the gates of the Hradčany and Vyšehrad castle to the soldiers of Sigismund. The Praguers attempted to regain possession of these strongholds. They were aided by members of the Orebite community, led by Lord Krušina of Lichtenburg and the monk Ambrose, one of the numerous warrior-priests of this period. Their repeated attacks were, however, repulsed, and the citizens were even obliged to evacuate part of the Malá Strana.

A great feeling of discouragement now prevailed among the citizens of Prague. They concluded a truce with the royalist commanders of the Hradčany and Vyšehrad castles and determined to enter into negotiations with Sigismund in view of peace. They elected six envoys—two city councillors, two doctors of the university and two townsmen—who were to proceed to Kutna Hora for this purpose. Their reception was most ungracious. Sigismund again subjected the envoys to the indignity of kneeling before him for a longer time than was customary. He then informed them that he was bound by oath to extirpate all heresies by fire and sword, and that he would not perjure himself even if he were obliged to destroy the whole Bohemian kingdom, reduce it to ashes and re-people it with foreigners. Then, brutally violent as he often was when dealing with those whom he believed to be weak, he “became as hard as steel and moved his limbs as one demented.”[11] The King finally again ordered the Praguers to remove all fortifications and barricades within their city and to deliver up all arms to the commanders of the royal garrisons of the Hradčany and Vyšehrad; on his arrival at Prague only would he be prepared to tell them what amount of mercy he would grant them. This, as Palacký has well said, meant war to the knife. When the envoys, on their return to Prague, informed the citizens of the result of their mission all, men and women, rich and poor, began to work incessantly at the fortifications of the town. The works were further strengthened after the Táborites, as will be mentioned presently, had arrived in Prague. About Whitsuntide, Březova writes,[12] the Táborite women, joined by the women of Žatec and Loun and a large number of women of Prague, dug a deep fosse from the Slavic—now called Emaus—monastery to the Karlov and the church of St. Apollinaris, thus guarding that part of the town that was most menaced by the neighbouring fortress of the Vyšehrad.[13] We have, as is so often the case in the annals of the Hussite wars, very insufficient information concerning the fortifications of Prague at that period, but subsequent events prove that they had been erected with some skill. While strengthening the defences of their town as much as the shortness of time permitted, the citizens also attempted to summon to their aid all Bohemian nobles and townships who had not submitted to Sigismund. The most important step was to appeal to the rising community of Tábor; this resolution was not made without some reluctance. The puritan severity and rigour of the Táborites was displeasing to many citizens, as indeed became obvious when the men of Tábor arrived at Prague. The teaching of the university of Prague, to which the Praguers conformed, was opposed to the rules and rites of Tábor, as the university rejected all innovations which could not be traced back to Hus himself. The common danger for a time silenced these differences. Immediately after the return of the envoys from Kutna Hora the citizens of Prague sent messengers to Tábor begging the Táborites, “if they wished verily to obey God’s law, to march to their aid without delay, and with as many men as they could muster.”

Žižka’s military genius had enabled him during his short stay at Tábor to organise his troops so thoroughly that they were ready to confront immediately the troops of Sigismund, a conflict with whom he had long considered inevitable. On the very day on which the messenger arrived the men of Tábor set out on their march to Prague; they numbered 9,000 warriors, and were, as had become customary, accompanied by many priests, women and children. The four captains of the people led the expedition, but supreme command was here already tacitly granted to Žižka. A considerable garrison was left at Tábor, which afterwards successfully repulsed an attack by Lord Ulrich of Rosenberg, who had now abandoned the national party, and who was aided in his attack by some Austrian troops sent by the Archduke Albert, son-in-law of Sigismund. The Táborites did not reach Prague unmolested. When crossing the Sazava river near Pořič they were attacked by a large royalist force led by Lord Peter Konopišt of Sternberg—their old enemy—and by the Italian condottiere Pipa of Ozora, who somewhat later played a considerable part in the Hussite wars. The royalist forces were, however, routed by Žižka after a short skirmish. The Táborites now reached Prague on May 20 without any further hindrance. When the Táborite columns, preceded by the priests who—as was now customary—carried the Sacrament in a monstrance before the soldiers, entered the city gates they were enthusiastically greeted and welcomed by the townsmen. Sigismund, whose forces were approaching Prague in the direction of the Sazava, retired on Stara Boleslav (Alt Bunzlau), evidently not wishing to encounter the Hussites in a pitched battle before the arrival of the numerous crusaders, who were expected from Germany.

Shortly after the arrival of the Táborites the citizens of Prague received another considerable reinforcement. The citizens of Žatec (Saaz), Loun and Slané sent to Prague an army consisting of several thousand men. As the Bohemian peasants and even the townsmen were then little accustomed to warfare, they, particularly at the beginning of the Hussite war, generally chose knights or nobles as their leaders. Thus this small army of townsmen was led by the Utraquist knights Bradatý and Obrovec, who brought with them a small force of cavalry, which, according to the chroniclers, who probably exaggerated, consisted of about 1,000 men.

After retiring from the neighbourhood of Prague Sigismund proceeded to raid the country districts of Bohemia, hoping thus to intimidate the population. He then, accompanied by his Queen Barbara and the Dowager Queen Sophia, proceeded from Stara Boleslav to Mělník, and then to Slané, which had already been captured by some of his adherents. He remained some time at Slané, and summoned to that city representatives of the town of Loun. The citizens of Loun made their submission to Sigismund and consented to receive a royalist garrison. It has already been mentioned that the more warlike citizens of Žatec and Loun had already marched to Prague to take part in the defence of the menaced capital. The passage of Sigismund’s army was everywhere marked by deeds of horrible cruelty. At Slané the papal legate, Bishop Ferdinand of Lucca, who accompanied Sigismund, caused a priest and a layman, who claimed the right to receive Communion in the two kinds, to be burnt alive. At Litoměřice, to which city the royal army marched from Slané, Sigismund himself ordered seventeen town-councillors, who had been imprisoned as being suspected of Utraquism, to be drowned in the Elbe. These evils deeds, when they became known in Prague, caused, as was inevitable, terrible reprisals.

The vast armies of the crusaders had meanwhile begun to arrive in Bohemia. As had been settled at the imperial diet of Breslau, the city of Prague was to be the rallying point for the varied host that was now intent on destroying the ancient liberty and nationality of the Bohemians. Sigismund, therefore, decided again to draw nearer to Prague; his access to the capital was always assured by the possession of the castles of Hradčany and Vyšehrad. On his march Sigismund halted at the town of Zbraslav (Königsaal) on the Vltava, where evil tidings awaited him. Lord Krušina of Lichtenburg, leader of the Orebites, had left Prague with the monk Ambrose, and passing safely through a country occupied by Sigismund’s troops, they arrived near Králové Hradec. They called to arms the fervently Utraquist inhabitants of that district and, aided by them, recaptured the Hussite stronghold of Králové Hradec. This was a matter of considerable importance, as it cut off Sigismund’s communications with Silesia. To the King of Hungary—who had none of the talents of a military leader—this appeared unimportant. He limited himself to sending to North-Eastern Bohemia an army of 10,000 men, which made an unsuccessful attempt to obtain possession of Králové Hradec. At Zbraslav Sigismund had been joined by several German princes, who were at the head of considerable forces, and it probably appeared to him unimportant that he was obliged to detach 10,000 men from so vast anarmy. Even a more talented leader than Sigismund might at that moment have felt sanguine. He had marched from Kutna Hora to Mélínk, Litoměřice, Slané, Loun, Zbraslav, and other places, and met with little or no resistance. Could he but possess himself of Prague—which holds in Bohemia the position that in France belongs to Paris—the conquest of the Hussite land was certain. Even of the redoubtable Táborite warriors, the great part were shut up in the capital, and the town itself appeared incapable of resistance. The Hradčany and Vyšehrad castles were in the hands of the royalists. The Malá Strana had been almost totally destroyed during the fighting at the foot of the Hradčany hill. It remained only to subdue the Old and the New Town.[14] The whole army of the crusaders encamped before Prague on June 29, and on the following day the King proceeded to St. Vitus’s cathedral on the Hradčany hill,[15] where high mass was just being celebrated.

The citizens of Prague—though they had long been reluctant to break off the negotiations—showed indomitable courage now that the decisive struggle had begun. They elected new magistrates, who all belonged to the party which had long considered war inevitable. There were occasional dissensions among the defenders. Thus the Táborite women took possession of a nunnery and expelled the nuns who had remained there, and some of the citizens complained that they and their wives and daughters had been insulted by Táborites whose puritanic feeling was offended by the richness of their garb. These occurrences had at the time little importance; all were at that moment busy in strengthening the fortifications. Žižka practically assumed sole command of the defending army. His colleague, Nicholas of Hus, had returned to Tábor and successfully repulsed an attack which the royalists made on that city. Though I find in the scanty contemporary records little proof of the antagonism between Nicholas and Žižka which has been assumed by most modern writers, it is certain that the departure of Nicholas of Hus was favourable to the unity of the commandership.

It was during the defence of Prague that Žižka first gave evidence of his military genius. With that intuition which only born leaders of armies possess, he had found that the key of his position was the Vitkov hill, and he immediately ordered that hill to be fortified, and he placed his scanty artillery behind the earthworks which had been hurriedly thrown up. The Vitkov hill consists of a narrow ridge parallel to the Vltava river, which is very steep, both in the direction of the river, and in that of the open country around Prague; from the city only the hill is easily accessible. Its possession secured to the defenders the possibility of communicating with the country districts of Bohemia, where some cities were still in the hands of the Hussites.[16]

By the end of June all the vast army of the crusaders had assembled around Prague. The strength of the forces cannot be determined with any degree of certainty. Dr. Grünhagen states that at the lowest valuation the army must have consisted of 80,000 men. This figure is probably too low. Lawrence of Březova states that the troops of Sigismund, including all the German and other crusaders, amounted to 150,000 men, and Æneas Sylvius writes—undoubtedly exaggerating—that the cavalry alone numbered 70,000 men. Among the crusaders, according to the account of Březova, who writes with justifiable national pride, were Bohemians (of the Roman party), Moravians, Hungarians and Croatians, Dalmatians and Bulgarians, Wallachians and Szeklers, Cini (sic) and Jasi (sic), Slavonians, Servians and Ruthenians, Styrians, men of Meissen, Bavarians, Saxons, Austrians, Franconians, Frenchmen, Englishmen, men of Brabant and Westphalia, Dutchmen, Switzers, Lusatians, Suabians, Carinthians, men of Aragon, Spaniards, Poles, Germans from the Rhine-lands and many others.[17] The princes and Church dignitaries who had now joined Sigismund were also very numerous; among the names which the chroniclers record we find Albert, Duke of Saxony, Frederick and William, margraves of Meissen, Albert, Archduke of Austria, many of the Silesian princes, Louis, patriarch of Aquileia, many archbishops, and numerous princes and counts of the empire. The army was one of the largest which ever at that period assembled for battle. Palacký, with his usual sagacity, greatly deplores that we find very little mention of the siege of Prague in the writings of the contemporary German chroniclers, who perhaps did not care to give a detailed account of events in which their countrymen had not played a very glorious part. We are, therefore, reduced to conjectures, even as regards many important events.[18] Of the Bohemian chroniclers only Lawrence of Březova gives a somewhat detailed account of the siege; it is true that at this moment, when Bohemia braved the world in arms against her, Březova’s national feeling and patriotism strongly asserts itself.

The vast armies which had assembled around Prague did not attempt an immediate attack on the city; perhaps the first symptoms of discord among these men who had entered on this campaign from very varied motives already appeared. Some were enthusiastic followers of Rome, eager to extirpate all heretics[19]; others were glad to continue, under the auspices of Rome, their habitual warfare against the Slavic race; others had followed their princes according to the duties of feudal allegiance; others, mere mercenaries, gave their services to that prince in whose pay they happened to be at that moment. The army was established in three large camps, which, as the chroniclers write, had the appearance of three vast cities. One of the armies of the crusaders was encamped in that part of the then almost desolate Malá Strana that is immediately opposite the Vltava river. The crusaders encamped there frequently insulted the Hussite outposts on the right bank of the river, by crying, “Ha! Ha! Hus! Hus! Ketzer! Ketzer![20] The bridge of Prague had remained in the hands of the national party, and the Hussite warriors, who had strongly fortified the tête de pont on the left bank, often sallied out to attack the crusaders. Skirmishes took place almost daily, and the crusaders were guilty of great cruelties; they burnt alive all the prisoners whom they could seize; only occasionally a Bohemian noble of Sigismund’s party was able to interfere and to save the life of his countryman. The soldiers in the other camps, whom the strong fortifications separated from the Bohemians, ravaged the neighbouring country districts and burnt alive all Bohemians whom they met in the villages. As they murdered quite indiscriminately, there were among their victims many fervent Roman Catholics, who had never received Communion in the two kinds.

It is difficult to understand why the crusading army so long delayed its attack on the capital. The delay was, of course, very advantageous to the patriots, who continued to strengthen the fortifications. It is true that the crusaders continued to receive reinforcements. Thus the Archduke of Austria, who had on his march unsuccessfully attacked Tábor, only joined the army of the crusaders early in July. It was now finally decided that a general attack on Prague should take place on July 14. Three simultaneous attacks were planned. The army which occupied the Hradčany hill and the neighbouring part of the Malá Strana was to drive back whatever Hussites might still be on the left bank of the Vitava, and then, forcing its passage across the bridge, to enter the old town. At the same time another army of crusaders was to descend from the Vyšehrad hill and attack the new town, whose formerly weak defences had recently been strengthened in consequence of the foresight of Žižka and by means of the constant and unsparing labour of the men and women of Prague. The third attack was to be made on the Vitkov hill, which assured the communications of the city with the country districts, in which the peasantry, infuriated by the unspeakable cruelties of Sigismund’s mercenaries, was everywhere rising in arms against the invaders. There is little doubt that the attack on the Vitkov was the one to which the besiegers attached most importance. Had it succeeded, it was certainly possible to subdue the city by starving it out.[21] An unconditional surrender would have delivered Sigismund from all his enemies, while, in the event of the city being stormed, it was not impossible that some of the undaunted Táborites and the other bravest men of the garrison might escape and continue the war. The troops from Meissen were chosen for the attack on the Vitkov. They numbered about 7,000 or 8,000 men, the majority of whom appear to have been horsemen. The contemporary records hardly enable us to obtain an exact idea of the fortifications on the Vitkov, which had been hurriedly erected under Žižka’s direction. The pious Březova is too intent on expounding the direct Divine aid which the Bohemians obtained on this memorable day to vouchsafe us much information. It is certain that by Žižka’s orders several blockhouses had been erected and provided with some of the rough field-guns of that period. These improvised forts were defended by Táborite men and women, whom national and religious enthusiasm rendered for a time almost invincible. One blockhouse, defended only by twenty-six men and two women and one girl, was only taken after desperate resistance; one of the women, though unarmed, surpassed the men in bravery, and refused to forsake her post, saying “A true Christian must never retire before Antichrist, and thus fighting bravely she was killed and gave up the ghost.”[22] Seeing the peril of his men, Žižka, who had previously remained on the part of the Vitkov nearest to the city,[23] now attacked in the flank the German soldiers who were ascending the hill. A desperate hand-to-hand fight ensued, and Žižka, who, as was his custom, fought in the fronk rank, was for a time in great danger, till the flails and fighting-clubs of his Táborites drove back the Germans. Meanwhile a new troop of Táborites arrived, led by priests carrying the Sacrament, as was customary, particularly in moments of great peril; many citizens of Prague, summoned by the ringing of the church bells in the numerous churches of the city, hurried to the aid of the defenders of the Vitkov. The defeat of the Germans was soon complete, and many of them, rushing down the slopes of the Vitkov—then much steeper than at present—perished in the Vltava. As soon as victory appeared certain the Táborites and Praguers knelt down and intoned the Te Deum Laudamus, while the whole city was filled with unspeakable joy. About the same time as the attack on the Vitkov took place, the crusaders in or near the Vyšehrad and Hradčany castles attacked the parts of the city which were near those strongholds; they were, however, easily repulsed, principally, as it appears, in consequence of the superiority of the Bohemian artillery.

The battle of the Vitkov—or rather of the Žižkov, as the hill since that memorable day bore, and still bears, the name of the victorious general—may be considered as the turning point, as the Valmy or Turnham Green, of the great Bohemian civil war. The Hussites had not, indeed, obtained a decisive victory; many of the crusaders had not even been engaged. Yet the Bohemians had stemmed the tide of hostile victories. The large number of men who, even in times of great political and religious enthusiasm, think mainly of their personal advantage, began to consider the Hussite as the winning side. The nobility in Bohemia, though not in Moravia, began to desert Sigismund. The conduct of the “Hungarian King,” as the Bohemians always called Sigismund, had not been heroic; contrary to the custom of princes in that warlike period he had taken no part in the fighting. A contemporary chronicler, who, being a fervent Catholic and a canon of St. Stephen’s cathedral in Vienna, cannot be considered hostile to the Roman and royalist cause, writes that, when Sigismund viewed the defeat of the crusaders, he returned to his camp “smiling at the defeat of the faithful Christians who had succumbed to the heretics.”[24]

The battle of the Žižkov was immediately followed by an attempt at reconciliation. The doctors of the university of Prague, who were the leading theologians of the moderate Utraquist party, look the initiative. They had previously drawn up a paper which enumerated the demands of the Utraquists; should these be granted by Sigismund, the theologians advised their countrymen to recognise him as their sovereign. These articles, as they were called, were shown to some of the knights and nobles of the national party, who strongly approved of them. The articles of Prague fully responded to the wishes of these men, whose demands in regard to ecclesiastical matters were limited to the right of communicating in the two kinds, and of freely preaching according to the teaching of Hus, and also to the establishment of a more rigorous discipline among the clergy. The possibility of an agreement with Sigismund also appeared most desirable to men who were always reluctant to take up arms against the descendant of their ancient kings. The citizens of Prague, however, declined to take part in any negotiations from which the men of Tábor were excluded. This matter, however, was settled amicably, and both parties decided that a conference should take place between the Utraquist and the Roman Catholic divines. In consequence of the intense mutual distrust and the ever-present recollection of the treachery committed against Hus, the Bohemians refused to meet their opponents within the walls of the royal Hradčany castle. It was finally settled that the deliberations should take place in the open air, on what may be called neutral ground, among the ruins of the Malá Strana, in view of both the contending armies. The principal papal representatives were Louis, Patriarch of Aquileia and Simon of Ragusa, Bishop of Trau in Dalmatia. They were accompanied by numerous theologians and some of the Bohemian nobles of the papal party. They were met by the principal theologians of the university of Prague, some of the Utraquist nobles, and representatives of the cities of Prague and of the community of Tábor. The famed articles of Prague were laid before the Roman churchmen, and it may be well to give their contents here. They declared:

I. The Word of God shall in the kingdom of Bohemia be freely and without impediment proclaimed and preached by Christian priests.

II. The Sacrament of the Body and Blood of God shall in the two kinds, that is in bread and wine, be freely administered to all faithful Christians, according to the order and teaching of our Saviour.

III. The priests and monks, according to secular law, possess great worldly wealth, contrarily to the teaching of Christ. Of this wealth they shall be deprived.

IV. All mortal sins, particularly those that are public, as well as all disorders which are opposed to God’s law, shall in all classes be suppressed by those whose office it is to do so. All evil and untruthful rumours[25] shall be suppressed for the good of the commonwealth, the kingdom and the nation.

It cannot be said that these demands were very extreme, and the contents of the articles are very similar to those of the compacts which ended the Hussite wars. Yet sixteen years of almost incessant warfare were to pass before this compromise was finally accepted. Though both the Romanist and the nationalist nobles approved of the articles, it was necessary that a disputation between the theologians should now take place. Dr. Peter Paul de Vergeriis, one of the theologians attached to the papal legate, acted as spokesman for the Roman Catholics, and Master John of Přibram, one of the foremost Utraquist divines, defended the cause of the Church reformers. It is characteristic of the customs of the period that the chroniclers find it necessary to state that the proceedings were carried on in a courteous and orderly fashion. While the three first articles were being discussed it did not seem impossible that the contending parties would arrive at an agreement. The representatives of the town of Prague loudly exclaimed: “God be praised.” They were doomed to disappointment. When the Utraquists suggested that—as was indeed natural—each party should make some concessions in regard to the questions still in dispute, the representatives of Rome absolutely rejected the proposal. “We cannot discuss these matters with you,” they said, “because they have already been decided by the council; even if in our own minds we were convinced by your arguments we could not agree with you on matters which are opposed to the teaching of the Church.”[26] The conference then immediately broke up.

Almost immediately afterwards the vast armies of the crusaders began to disperse. All writers on the Hussite wars have attempted to discover the causes of this unexpected event, and it can be affirmed—though this may appear paradoxical—that all their various explanations contain a certain amount of truth. It is certain that immediately after the unsuccessful attack on the Vitkov very strong mutual distrust between the German crusaders and the Bohemian Catholic nobles who upheld Sigismund began to arise. It is equally certain that both his German and his Bohemian soldiers distrusted Sigismund. The Germans maintained that the King had not on July 14 allowed the artillery to fire on the town of Prague, for fear of destroying a city which he considered his own property. Ebendorffer of Haselbach, who has already been quoted, lays great stress on this point.[27] He was imbued with that dislike of the Austrian for the Bohemian which has endured for centuries, and is by no means extinct at the present day. He and other writers have even, quite unjustly, accused Sigismund of having caused the disaster of the Vitkov by withholding reinforcements. The Bohemian nobles of the party of Sigismund were also incensed against him. They thought—and as subsequent events proved, rightly—that the King’s influence, if effectively used, could have induced the papal see to make the not very far-reaching concessions which then appeared to be sufficient. They also believed that the horrible cruelties committed by German soldiers against Bohemians, quite irrespectively of their religious creed, had exasperated the people, whom it would be easier to pacify if the foreigners departed. Other causes contributed to the dispersion of the crusaders; in the absence of all sanitary regulations various epidemics—collectively described by the contemporary chroniclers as “the plague”—broke out among the vast agglomeration of men which surrounded the walls of Prague. Great fires broke out, which destroyed numerous tents in the camps. Their origin was never known, but the Germans strongly suspected their Bohemian allies. It is more probable that the incendiaries were Táborite women, who managed to pass secretly into the enemy’s lines. Other difficulties also arose. Many of the crusaders, at the moment when Pope Martin’s bull had caused great enthusiasm, had enlisted for a limited time. These men—as did the American volunteers at the beginning of the civil war—now began to declare that their term of service had elapsed, and begged permission to return to their homes. When this was refused many, none the less, left the camps. Other men, professed mercenaries, were indeed prepared to stay, but demanded that their pay should be given them regularly.[28] To Sigismund, who was always in financial trouble, this was a matter of great difficulty, even after he had, following the example of his opponents, begun to sell the monstrances and other sacred vessels in the churches that were in his power.

As soon as it appeared certain that the camps of the crusaders would break up, Sigismund determined also to leave the neighbourhood of Prague. He would, indeed, still retain a large following, as the Roman Catholic nobles of Bohemia and Moravia remained with him, and he had also a strong force from Silesia, which was ready to continue the war. He was in that country supported, not only by the Catholic nobles, but also by the townsmen, who were mostly Germans and ardent Roman Catholics; these terms were indeed synonymous in the lands of the Bohemian crown at that period. These considerations did not affect Sigismund’s decision, though he afterwards again appeared near Prague. Great doubt has been thrown on the personal courage of Sigismund, who certainly differed widely from his grandfather King John, “the crown of chivalry.”[29] The annals constantly refer to the brave deeds of Žižka, Krušina of Lichtenburg, Bořek of Miletinek, and on the Catholic side of Ulrich of Rosenberg—to mention but a few names—but Sigismund never appears in these often very picturesque battle-pieces except occasionally as a spectator. Before retreating from Prague Sigismund was, on the advice of the Bohemian Catholic nobles, crowned as King of Bohemia in St. Vitus’s cathedral on the Hradčany hill. It is not my intention to refer here—I have done so elsewhere—to the great importance which the Bohemians attach to the coronation of their kings. The ceremony took place on July 28. Sigismund was crowned by the archbishop of Prague, Conrad of Vechta, in the presence of numerous German princes, among whom was his son-in-law, Albert, archduke of Austria. Some Bohemian nobles of the Catholic party were also present. Two days later Sigismund and his forces retired to Kutna Hora, where they remained for a considerable time.

In Prague the citizens, who now enjoyed temporary quiet, began to take counsel as to the future government of their country. They now already decided to send an embassy to Ladislas, King of Poland, which was to offer him the Bohemian crown. Žižka, who, though an implacable hater of Sigismund, was not opposed to the monarchical system of government, gave his support to this scheme. The proposal was, however, rejected by King Ladislas, who, a heathen by birth, had only recently been received into the Roman Church, and was strongly averse to any conflict with the head of the Church which he had just joined. As appeared later, the Bohemians would probably have been received more favourably had they offered the crown to Prince Vitold of Lithuania, a relation of King Ladislas.[30] Vitold, also born a heathen, had afterwards joined the Greek Church, but was now a Roman Catholic. His intense ambition was, however, little troubled by religious scruples. Though it has been necessary to mention here already these plans of the restoration of monarchy under a Slavic prince, it will be better to refer again to these negotiations later, when they had become more fully developed. The short period of respite which the citizens of the capital had secured was, unfortunately, also marked by the beginning of discord between the Táborites and the moderate Utraquists or Praguers, as they began to be called, that city being the centre of moderate Hussitism. The presence of Táborite priests in Prague had greatly influenced many of the citizens whose religious views had hitherto conformed to the teaching of the masters of the university, particularly of those who, like John of Přibram, Jacobellus of Střibro, Christian of Prachatice, had been intimate friends of Hus.[31] The teaching of the Táborites went far beyond anything ever contemplated by the master. They founded their doctrine entirely on the Bible, and rejected all later dogmas as human inventions. They rejected private confession as a sacrament, and admitted only a general public confession of sins. They entirely refused to admit the existence of purgatory, and demanded an extreme simplicity in the religious services; the churches were to have no altars; only a plain table was to be used for Communion; they also strongly objected to the use of vestments and of costly vessels at the religious services. The situation became very serious. The demand of these innovations, which were abhorred by most of the Praguers, was made by an armed peasantry who, after defeating the chivalry of Europe, were not likely to prove conciliatory towards the citizens of Prague. Intestine warfare then already appeared probable. That it was for a time averted is due to the statesmanship of Žižka. He was no friend of religious anarchism, and we will shortly find him severely punishing crazy fanatics. The extreme veneration which he cherished for the memory of Hus rendered him very reluctant to oppose the old friends of the master. His link with the advanced party consisted mainly in their common abhorrence of Sigismund, whose candidature to the Bohemian throne some of the Utraquist nobles and a few conservative citizens still considered as admissible, should he frankly accept the articles of Prague. Žižka announced to his followers that the possibility of an attack on Tábor by Sigismund’s partisans necessitated their presence in Southern Bohemia, and on August 22 the Táborites left Prague.

Though, in consequence of the very short range of the primitive artillery of that day, the citizens of Prague were in a state of comparative security, the royal garrisons in the fortresses of the Hradčany and Vyšehrad were yet a permanent menace to the city. The Praguers therefore determined to lay siege to the Vyšehrad, from which stronghold the neighbouring parts of the new town were always open to an attack. On Sunday, September 15, some of the troops of the Praguers and their allies left the city and occupied the village of Pankrác and the church of that name, which lie on the high road that then as now runs from Southern Bohemia to Prague by way of the Vyšehrad. This new position was immediately fortified by earthworks. Somewhat later the Praguers also succeeded in occupying positions to the left and the right of the fortress, thus joining the fortifications at Pankrác to those of the city, and surrounding the Vyšehrad in every direction.

Before continuing the account of the siege it is, however, necessary to mention a new attempt at mediation. The nobles of the district of Králové Hradec, whose leader was probably Čeněk of Wartenberg, attempted to persuade Sigismund to accept the articles of Prague and conclude a truce in view of a possible pacification. An envoy from Králové Hradec undertook the mission of informing Sigismund of this proposal. The King, as usual, evading a direct answer, but raising counter-demands, declared that it was necessary that the citizens of Prague should previously abandon the siege of the Vyšehrad. When the envoy arrived at Prague he found the citizens determinately opposed to this demand. They, however, put forth another proposal, which cannot be considered unfair; both besiegers and defenders were for a time to evacuate the Vyšehrad and its neighbourhood, which, during the peace negotiations, were provisionally to be occupied by the nobles of Králové Hradec, who attempted to mediate between the contending parties. When the envoy returned to Beroun bearing this message, Sigismund was seized by one of those attacks of fury verging on madness to which, like his brother Venceslas, he was subject. Using the most filthy language,[32] he declared that he felt far more inclined grossly to insult the citizens of Prague than to surrender the Vyšehrad; “rather,” he continued, “let these peasants[33] surrender the city of Králově Hradec to me.” He then drove the envoy from his presence, after having grossly insulted him.

It was again obvious that Sigismund would only accept the unconditional surrender of the Bohemian nation, and the Praguers continued the investment of the Vyšehrad with increased energy. They again appealed to their allies for aid, and this was readily granted them, as the Bohemians now felt certain that the result of the great civil war depended on the possession of Prague—as proved true at the end of the war. The citizens received immediate aid from the men of the Orebite community, who, led by their gallant commander, Krušina of Lichtenburg, marched to Prague with a force of 7,000 soldiers. The faithful citizens of Žatec and Loun sent a contingent to Prague, again commanded by Bradatý, who had previously taken part in the defence of the city. Victorin of Poděbrad, one of the greatest territorial nobles of Bohemia (father of George of Poděbrad, who became King of Bohemia), now renounced the allegiance of Sigismund, and with a large force marched to the aid of the capital. The Táborites also promised to send troops, but did not do so immediately, as they were then engaged in warfare with the Catholic Lord Ulrich of Rosenberg, who was raiding the country near Tábor and murdering mercilessly all whom he suspected of having received Communion in the two kinds. It was only somewhat later that Nicholas of Hus arrived at Prague with forty Táborite horsemen.

The Praguers and their allies now encircled the Vyšehrad in every direction, intending—in the fashion so frequent in the Bohemian warfare of that period—to enforce by starvation the surrender of the garrison. The encampment of the Praguers was near the village of Pankrác; next to them were placed the troops of Lord Victorin of Poděbrad and the men of the Orebite community under Lord Krušina of Lichtenburg, who was chosen as commander-in-chief of the whole national army. Close to this encampment the men of Žatec and Loun under Bradatý took up their position on the declivity below the Karlov church. The three camps were protected by a deep fosse that extended from the lines of Pankrác to the position of Bradatý and the city walls. The Vyšehrad was thus surrounded in every direction, except where almost perpendicular cliffs descend from the hill to the Vltava. It was attempted to bring provisions to the castle from the river, but this attempt failed, as Sigismund’s ill-conceived plans generally did. The last events connected with the siege of the Vyšehrad and its capitulation are best told in the words of Lawrence of Březova, the contemporary chronicler, whose narrative is here at its best. He shares with most mediæval chroniclers the defect of great prolixity, and it is often necessary to abridge his narration. He writes:[34] “By this time John of Sembera and the other captains of the castle of Vyšehrad, having observed that the King still deferred supplying them with provisions, and that many, tormented by hunger and not having even horse-flesh, appeared pale as the dead, while others died of hunger, on the day of St. Simon and St. Jude (October 28) held a conference with Lord Krušina and the other barons and commanders of the army of Prague, meeting in an amicable fashion at a spot midway between the Vyšehrad and the church of St. Pancrace; now while this conference was proceeding a wondrous rainbow appeared in the skies. While some masters of the liberal arts and bachelors were sitting on the summit of a hill named Kavec, overlooking the Vltava river, and were waiting for a good result of the happy conference, and were talking on various subjects, there appeared in the air a rainbow such as we[35] had never seen before. Its arc arose almost at our feet in the Vltava river and it extended over the city as far as a spot near St. Pancrace’s church, where soldiers were standing, awaiting the result of the conference. Thus only in the space between that church and the hill on which we were sitting the circle was incomplete, and this space was not greater than a fourth of the whole circle. And while many were giving various opinions as to the significance of this rainbow, we joyfully sat down again, for this miraculous rainbow was [i. e. signified] that the Praguers would soon take possession of the Vyšehrad; and indeed it befell thus, as will be told later. For by the will of God a treaty was concluded between the parties according to which, if the King did not send sufficient provisions before the fifteenth hour[36] on the 1st of November, which was the day of All Saints, then the possessors of the castle were on their faith and honour to surrender the Vyšehrad to the citizens of Prague.” Březova then gives the document containing the details of this conditional surrender, as it may be called, as well as the names and titles of all the warriors and chiefs of both parties who signed the agreement.

It is interesting to quote again Březova’s account of the last events of the campaign of the Vyšehrad. He continues: “On the vigil of the day of All Saints, the King, who had arrived at Nový Hrad early in the morning, was afraid of attacking the men of Prague early on that day, hoping to receive further reinforcements from the Moravian barons. These arrived at Nový Hrad towards evening, and remained in the woods in full armour during the night, that they might be prepared in the morning to repulse from their camp the men of Prague and all their allies. During the night the King also sent a message to his mercenaries in the (Hradčany) castle of Prague, ordering them to be under arms early next morning, and, descending from their fortress, to attack the bridge-tower[37] or the house of the Duke of Saxony[38] and burn them down if possible; he himself would, with a large force of soldiers who had joined him on that evening, drive the Praguers from the field at the same time. But God, who opposes the proud and favours the humble, delivered the messenger with his letter into the hands of the Praguers, who, informed by the letter, fully understood the plans of the King. The captains of the men of Prague, therefore, carefully disposed their soldiers, showing each of them which place he would with his men occupy on the morrow and bravely defend against the attacks of the enemy.[39]

“Thus it happened that the King, with 15,000 or 20,000 well-armed men, descending from Nový Hrad, approached the spot where his army stood. Then, standing on the summit of a hill from which the road descends in the direction of St. Pancrace’s church, he drew his sword and brandished it in the air, thus signalling to the men on the Vyšehrad that they should make a sortie from their castle and attack the enemies, because he, with a large army, which they could see from the Vyšehrad, was preparing to attack the Praguers. But as the King by the will of God had neglected to arrive at the hour fixed by the agreement, the captains of the Vyšehrad closed the gates of the castle and allowed no one from the Vyšehrad to attack the Praguers, though many, principally those who were Germans, wished to do so. When the nobles of the King’s army saw that the troops on the Vyšehrad did not stir, and that the Praguers were well entrenched, they advised the King not to attack them if he wished to avoid serious losses to his army. Then the King said, ‘Far be this from me! It is altogether necessary that I should fight with these peasants to-day.’ Then Lord Henry of Plumlov,[40] courteously addressing the King, said: ‘Be it known to you, lord King, that you will incur great losses to-day and retreat in disorder; for I’—he said—‘dread the fighting-clubs of these peasants. Then the King: ‘I know,’ he said, ‘that you Moravians are cowards, and not loyal to me.’ Then the said Lord Henry, with the other barons of Moravia, speedily dismounted, and said: ‘Behold, we are ready to go where thou sendest us, and we shall be there, O King, where thou shalt not be.’[41] Then the King assigned to them the most dangerous post, ordering them to advance through low-lying ground, passing along marshes and fishponds, and then bravely attack the Praguers. He ordered the Hungarians to march over higher ground along the high road and attack the men of Prague. And when the troops had formed in this order and attacked bravely the Praguers in their entrenchments, these [the Praguers] were terrified, and at first began to fly, and crowded round the church of St. Pancrace. Seeing this Lord Krušina said with a loud voice: ‘O good brethren, turn back and be to-day brave soldiers in Christ’s battle; for it is not our war, but God’s that we are waging; for you see that the Lord God to-day delivers all our enemies and His own into our hands.’ Before he had finished his speech some one exclaimed: ‘The enemies fly! they fly!’ On hearing this they all rushed forward, drove the enemies back from the entrenchments and turned them to flight. Then the Praguers with their nobles,[42] pursuing them cruelly, killed some in the marshes and fish-ponds, as well as those who were flying in every direction, through the vineyards and the fields. The peasants struck them [the enemies] down with their fighting-clubs, sparing none, though some surrendered and promised to observe God’s law[43] up to their death. The nobles[44] in armour, who had fought bravely during the battle, made many prisoners and, even at their own peril, saved many from the fighting-clubs of the brethren. Thus Lord Henry of Plumlov, who had been mortally wounded and made a prisoner, was carried to the churchyard of St. Pancrace, made confession, and died while asking to receive Communion in the two kinds. Similarly Lord Henry of Lefl[45] died lying in his tent after having confessed and received Communion in the two kinds. Thus few of the barons of Moravia who opposed Communion in the two kinds remained alive. Here Lord Henry of Plumlov, supreme captain of Moravia, who, according to his promise, joined the King with 2,000 men, Jaroslav of Veseli, Vok of Holštýn . . . with many barons and knights of Bohemia and Moravia, were cruelly killed like pigs, and deprived of their armour and all their clothing except their shirts. What man who was not a pagan could pass through those fields and vineyards and view the brave bodies of the dead without compassion? What Bohemian, unless he were a madman, could see these dainty and robust warriors, these youths so curly-haired and so comely, without deeply bewailing their fate[46]; particularly as many, by order of the [Táborite] priests, remained in the vineyards and fields, and thus became the food of wolves, dogs, and the birds of the air, and the terror of those who beheld them? Some of them were, however, buried by faithful and pious men at night-time. The number of those killed was counted as being about 400 men in armour, besides those who were wounded and died at Brod and on the way; so that it was said that about 500 men of the King’s army had perished, while it was also said that scarcely thirty men of the army of Prague had been killed. Of these the most important was Ješek, son of Ješek the goldsmith, who, with Krušina, Bocko, and Nicholas of Hus, fighting knightly, deserved the sword-belt of knighthood. Now there was on this day a strong and very cold wind, which was more harmful to the knights in armour than to the lightly-clad footmen. There appeared, also in the air, a column in the fashion of a rainbow, and the many who gazed at it wondered what it signified.

“At the time of the battle the mercenaries also descended from the [Hradčany] castle of Prague and attacked the Saxon house, but when they saw that their attack was useless they burnt down a few houses in the Mala Strana and then returned to the castle from which they had descended.

“The King, as has been said, during the battle stood on the summit of a hill, and when he saw the pitiable destruction of his men, struck by terror, and feeling with his followers, he retired with tears. And, after having placed the wounded on carts, he evacuated Nový Hrad and marched by the shortest road to Brod. After having here buried a Hungarian nobleman he returned to Kutna Hora greatly lamenting. Wishing, however, to conceal the death of so many of his men, he declared that more Praguers than soldiers of his own army had been killed. There, on this day and on the following one, he and his queen placed green wreaths on their heads, pretending to show joy which in their hearts they did not feel.”

I have devoted a considerable amount of space to the transcription of this, the finest of Březova battle-pieces; he writes, of course, on some occasions as an eye-witness. Březova’s own views, which were those of the Utraquist nobles and the university of Prague—what Dr. V. Bezold has very strikingly called the “Hussite High Church”—appear very clearly from the passages which I have quoted. Březova firmly believed in the justice of the Hussite cause, and was certain that men such as Lord Krušina of Lichtenburg were fighting God's battle. On the other hand, he severely blames the cruelty of fanatical peasants instigated by visionary priests. The abnormal condition of Bohemia at this period appears very clearly when we read of knights and nobles who march to Bohemia to extirpate all Utraquists, and yet piously receive Communion in the two kinds before dying. Březova’s narrative also seems to predict the future divisions among the Hussites which afterwards led to bloodshed, and finally to the downfall of the Hussite cause.

The fortress of the Vyšehrad capitulated to the victorious army of Prague immediately after the retreat of Sigismund; on this occasion also the zeal of fanatical peasants caused the destruction of many ancient churches and monuments. It is not, however, true that, as has been often stated, all buildings on the Vyšehrad hill were destroyed, and that it then already began to acquire that appearance of solitude and decay which it now wears. The last warlike events of the year 1420 took place in Southern Bohemia. Žižka had, as previously mentioned, returned to that district as soon as the safety of Prague had been at least momentarily assured. He first marched to Pisek, a city that had already joined the brotherhood of Tábor. From this centre he invaded the extensive domains of Lord Ulrich of Rosenberg, and on October 12 he defeated the forces of Rosenberg and other Roman Catholic nobles. Before the end of the year he had also obtained possession of the important city of Prachatice.

  1. For instance in the case of the Uniates in Poland.
  2. See my Bohemia, a Historical Sketch, p. 1, and note 1 on the same page.
  3. Jam heretici ille Hussite et Wikleffiste peribunt et finem habebunt” (Březova, p. 354, Professor Goll’s edition). When quoting Březova I have always preserved his somewhat eccentric system of spelling.
  4. “Nec dubium videbatur quin tota Bohemia labes Hussitarum excessisset, si ex Bruna Sigismundus recta via se Pragam contulisset. Sed divertit ille, ut fortasse fati sui erat, Vratislaviamque Silesiæ caput accessit” (Historia Bohemiæ, cap. xxxix).
  5. I cannot enter into this subject here. The question is fully treated in my Master John Hus, pp. 290–292.
  6. Droysen in the first volume of his brilliant Geschichte der preussischen Politik lays great stress on this point. Droysen’s work is undoubtedly a panegyric on the house of Hohenzollern, but he has shown more clearly than any other writer to how large an extent the Hussite wars form part of the great struggle between Slav and Teuton.
  7. In a letter addressed to the Venetians—published by Palacký, Urkundliche Beiträge, Vol. 1. pp. 39–42—the citizens of Prague wrote:Novissime in Wratislavia famosum virum Johannem Krasa integrum fide et virtute constantissimum inclytæ urbis Prag. civem in notam et maculam regni nostri perpetuam nonnisi occasione communionis prædictæ [i. e. in the two kinds] jussit [Sigismund] inhumaniter equis trahi et absiliente carne ad nuda corpora laniari et tandem constantem virum damnari et comburi.” The letter, too long to quote in its entirety—throws a terrible light on the unspeakable cruelty of Sigismund. It is well to insist on this, as most writers lay great stress on the cruelties committed by the Hussites, while almost ignoring the far greater cruelty of their antagonists.
  8. Wycliffistarum Hussitarum ceterorumque hæreticorum, fautorum receptatorum et defensorum.” (The bull is printed by Palacký, Urkundlicke Beiträge, Vol. I. pp. 17–20).
  9. Grünhagen, Die Hussitenkämpfe der Schlesier, p. 31.
  10. Schon hatte in Pommern die hussitische Lehre Eingang gefunden, die fürstliche Familie im Stolper Lande neigte ihr zu und ertrug mit hussitischem Gleichmuthe den Bann, den der Papst über sie verhängte. . . . Und wieder um den Kampf gegen die Marken desto entscheidender zu machen kam ein polnischer Streithaufen von 5000 Mann nach Pommern. . . . Während sich in Böhmen alles zum Kampfe auf Leben und Tod gegen den König und die Deutschen rüstete und die Freunde Böhmens, Skandinavien und Polen über Pommern und Mecklenburg sich die Hände reichten, brach Markgraf Friedrich mit raschem Entschlusse gegen den Bund los. . . . Ihn [Margrave Frederick] fesselten dringendere Sorgen an die Marken; nur erst der Anfang war gemacht Böhmen zu isolieren. . . . Es steht urkundlich fest dass er während des ganzen Feldzuges 1420 in den Marken blieb; er hatte dort vollauf zu schaffen! Und das Kreuzheer das sich vor Prag versammelte war gross genug um den Kampf zu stehen.” (Droysen, Geschichte der preussischen Politik, Vol. I. pp. 293 and ff.)
  11. Contra quas crudeles insolentias nobis ipsum [Sigismund] pie alloquentibus et omni subjecta humilitate deprecantibus ut saltem aliis obmissis ante justiciam ministraret ac præstaret regnicolis audientiam expeditam; sed ipse cum sic a nobis humiliter et modeste peteretur factus adamante durior velut si aculeis stringeretur cœpit ad furiosi similitudinem membra agitare.” (From the letter of the citizens of Prague to the Venetians, which has already been quoted.)
  12. Lawrence of Březova, p. 373 of Professor Goll’s edition. I may here mention that I always quote that edition.
  13. See my Prague (“Mediæval Towns” series).
  14. See note 2, p. 5.
  15. I must here again refer my readers to my Prague.
  16. See General Köhler, Die Entwicklung des Kriegswesen in der Ritterzeit. Vol. V. pp. 389–390. Though General Köhler was, like all writers on this campaign, obliged to rely mainly on Březova—who is here somewhat carried away by national enthusiasm—Köhler’s account of the attack on the Žižkov is far more lucid than that of any other modern writer.
  17. Lawrence of Březova, p. 384.
  18. The German contemporary chroniclers are almost entirely silent as regards the events of the first crusade. Monstrelet gives a brief account of the siege, which is interesting also as evidence of the fanatical hatred of the Bohemians that had already sprung up in all parts of Europe. It is this hatred which induced the people to give credence to any, even the most absurd, accusations against the Bohemian nation. Monstrelet writes (Vol. IV. chap. cclix), “En cest an le roy des Rommains, empereur des Alemaignes, fist une moult grande assemblée de gens d’armes de plusieurs pays de la chrestienté pour combattre et résister aux entreprinses des faux puans hérétiques, qui se tenoient en la cité de Prague et au pays d’environ deux ou trois journées. Auquel mandement alèrent grand quantité de princes, prélas, chevaliers et communes tant de pié que de cheval, des pays d’Alemaigne, de Liège, de Holande et de Sélande, Haynnau et autres lieux. Et y arriva tant de gens que a peine se povoient ils nombrer. Mais les hérétiques tindrent si fort la cité de Prague, qu’on ne les povoient guères dommager, si non en aucuns rencontres, où il y en eu plusieurs mis à mort. Et etoient en si grand nombre et si fort que par faulte de vivres convient lesdiz Chrestiens retourner. Et pour vray iceulx mauldis hérétiques estoient si obstinez en leurs erreurs qu’ils ne craignoient nulz martires dont es les feist mourir. Et mesmement se desguisoient, armoient les femmes ainsi que dyables pleines de toutes cruaultez et en furent trouvées plusieurs mortes et occises ès dessusdiz rencontres.” I have of course preserved Monstrelet’s spelling.
  19. Of these men Březova writes: “Gentes multe et varie . . . confluebant pro expugnanda inclita et magnifica Pragensi civitate ac sic calicis communione annullanda et cassanda per hoc indulgencias a pena et a culpa obtinere se sperantes quod spirituales ipsis licet false promittebant ad destruendum fideles Boemos utriusque sexus multipliciter animando.
  20. i. e. “heretic.”
  21. This method was frequently employed in Bohemian warfare; thus Sigismund’s father, Charles IV, subdued the castle of Žampach by starvation—to quote but one of many examples.
  22. Lawrence of Březova.
  23. General Köhler states that Žižka remained within the city walls during the beginning of the fight; this appears very improbable to one who is acquainted with the topography of Prague.
  24. Quod [the defeat on the Vitkov] cum Sigismundus rex cerneret ad castra revertit subridens (ut fertur) casum fortium Christianorum succumbentium in hæreticos qui contra eos triumpharunt” (Thomæ Ebendorfferi de Haselbach Chronicon Austriacum; in Pez, “Scriptores Rerum Austriacarum,” Vol. II. p. 849).
  25. This mainly refers to the statement frequently made by the Germans that the Bohemians were heretics; this was considered a mortal insult. The version of the articles given above is the one read before the conference. There is a more extensive version containing further statements and many biblical quotations. It is of interest rather to theologians than to students of history.
  26. Tomek. Dějepis města Prahy (History of the Town of Prague), Vol. IV. p. 85.
  27. Ebendorffer of Haselbach has placed in Sigismund’s mouth a very eloquent harangue in which he protests against the destruction of his capital (Pez, “Scriptores rerum Austriacarum,” Vol. II. p. 850).
  28. How greatly financial difficulties contributed to the dispersion of the crusaders is proved by a very laconic statement of a contemporary Bohemian chronicler. He writes: “Afterwards [i. e. after the defeat of the Vitkov] the King dismissed the Germans, for he had nothing more to give them” (“ Scriptores rerum Bohemicarum,” Vol. III. p. 38).
  29. See my Bohemia, a Historical Sketch, pp. 68–69.
  30. They were both grandsons of Gedymin, Prince of Lithuania.
  31. See my Master John Huss, passim.
  32. I do not dare to repeat Sigismund’s words, through even the learned Professor Tomek has not hesitated to repeat (in the original Latin) the King’s words as recorded by Březova.
  33. The persons referred to being mostly knights and nobles, calling them “peasants” was, of course, at that feudal period a gross insult.
  34. pp. 435 and ff. of Březova’s chronicle.
  35. Březova was one of the party and therefore writes as an eye-witness.
  36. That is, 9 A.M. according to our present system of counting time.
  37. On the left bank of the Vitava.
  38. This house, the former Prague residence of the Dukes of Saxony, was situated in the Malá Strana close to the bridge-tower.
  39. Březova obviously refers to orders given by the commanding general to his officers.
  40. The leader,of the Moravian nobles.
  41. This taunt was, of course, an allusion to the widespread rumour that Sigismund was deficient in personal courage.
  42. i. e. the nobles who fought on their side.
  43. i. e. the articles of Prague.
  44. Of the Hussite party.
  45. Lefl had been a friend of Hus, who mentions him in his last letter. (See my Master John Hus, p. 275.)
  46. This passage has been greatly admired by all readers of Březova. The humanity and compassion expressed in it form a very welcome respite in the midst of an almost uninterrupted record of ferocity and cruelty. Professor Denis, in his brilliant Hus et la guerre des Hussites, expresses particular admiration for this passage.