The Hussite Wars
This section comprises chapters 13 through 18 of Volume II. They are listed below. To go directly to any particular chapter click on the link to that chapter. Otherwise you can scroll down as you read chapter by chapter.
- Chapter 13 – Sigismund’s Army Before Prague
- Chapter 14 - The Defeat and Retreat of the Emperor
- Chapter 15 - Taborites and Calixtines
- Chapter 16 - The Campaigns of Zisca
- Chapter 17 - The Last Crusade, Defeat of the Imperialists
- Chapter 18 - The Council of Basle, Calixtine Ascendancy
Violence of Parties in Bohemia Sigismund’s Army Before Prague
The dissolution of the council of Constance, and the effort necessary on the part of Sigismund to restore the peace of his empire, gave a short respite to the Bohemians, if respite that condition could he called, in which the exterminating and persecuting bull of Martin V was continually suspended over them. This fulmination was to them the parting word of the council, its farewell of bitter malediction. It showed plainly enough on what terms alone peace could be made. Unable to secure the persons of the Bohemian countrymen of Huss, whom they might subject to a similar treatment, the council translated the act of his execution into words, and, in the bull itself, dispatched into Germany a written auto de fé, a legible funeral pile, every line aglow with the spirit of the inquisitor.
But the logic of this document was a two-edged sword. It cut both ways. Jacobel’s treatises on the cup did not contain arguments half so effectual to strengthen the faith of his party, as were contained in the decrees of the council and the bull of the pope. No conclusion is more firmly held than that which is reached by a reductio ad absurdum. The papal fulmination might have been headed by the creed of the Hussites, and followed by a Q. E. D., to signalize the fact that the truth of the theorem was demonstrated. At least this must have been so to many minds.
But the Bohemians did not choose to pass over in silence so extraordinary a document as this bull of a pope, elected for the purpose of evangelical reform. They answered it, and circulated the reply far and wide through the land. Although it does not appear to have been issued until some months after the publication of the bull, it may as well be given here, as showing the spirit in which the bull was received. It is entitled “A faithful and Christian exhortation of the Bohemians to kings and princes, to stir them up to the zeal of the gospel.” It speaks of the industrious efforts that had been made in certain quarters to excite hostility and persecution against the Bohemians. “As well on your part as on ours, many men, both noble and untitled, have foolishly lost their lives. Yet never hitherto have ye in any part understood our faith by our own confession; neither whether we be able to prove the same out of the scriptures or not, and yet in the meantime kings, princes, lords, and cities have sustained great damage. And hereof we do greatly marvel, that you do so much trust and believe the pope and his priests, which give you drink full of poison, and such comfort as no man can understand, in that they say they will give you forgiveness of sins, and grant grace and pardon to this end, that you should war upon us and destroy us, whereas their graces and pardons are none other than great lies, and a great seducing of the body and soul of all them that believe them, and put their trust in them. This we would prove to them, and convince them by the Holy Scripture; and we would suffer that whoever is desirous to hear, the same should hear it. For the pope and all his priests herein deal with you as the devil would have dealt with our Lord Jesus Christ. …
“So the devil deceiveth the pope and all his priests with the riches of the world, and with worldly power; and they think they can give grace and pardon when they will; and they themselves shall never find favor before Almighty God, except they repent, and make amends for their great deceiving of Christendom. And how can they give to others that which they themselves have not? So did the devil, who was rich in promising and poor in giving. And like as the devil is not ashamed to tell a lie, so all they are not ashamed to speak that which shall never be found true, nor be proved by the Holy Scriptures; because, for no cause they stir up kings, princes, lords, and citizens to make war against us, not to the end that the Christian faith should thereby be defended, but because they fear their secret vices and heresies shall be disclosed and made manifest. For if they had a true cause, and a godly love to the Christian faith, they would then take the books of the Holy Scripture, and would come to us, and confute us with the weapons of God’s word; and that is our chief desire. For so did the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, who came to the pagans and the Jews, and brought them from their infidelity to the true faith of our Lord Jesus Christ; and this they did in the spirit of meekness. … So ought they also to do, if they perceived that they were just and we unjust. … The truth ought not to be afraid of falsehood. … Zerobabel declareth that the truth is of all things the most mighty, and overcometh all things. For Christ is the truth. John 14. … Therefore, if the pope and his priests have the truth, let them overcome us by the word of God. But if they have lies, then they cannot long abide in their presumption.
“Wherefore we beseech and exhort all the imperial cities, all kings, princes, noblemen, rich and poor, for God’s sake, and for his righteousness, that one of them write hereof to another, and that there may be some means devised by which we may commune with you, safely and friendly, at some such place as shall be fit for both you and us; and do you bring with you your bishops and teachers, and let them and our teachers fight together with the word of God, and let us hear them; and let not the one overcome the other by violence or false subtlety, but only by the word of God. And if your bishops and teachers have better proofs of their faith out of the Holy Scripture than we, and our faith he found untrue, we will receive penance and satisfaction according to the gospel. But if your bishops and teachers be overcome of ours by the Holy Scripture, then do ye repent and hearken to us, and hold with us. And if your bishops and teachers will cease from their spiritual pride, and repent and make satisfaction, then will we help you according to our power. …
“And if ye will not determine to do any other thing than to fight against us, then will we take the Lord to our help, and his truth; and we will defend it to the death, and we will not be afraid for the excommunication or curse of the pope, or his cardinals, or of the bishops, because we know that the pope is not God, as he maketh himself, so that he may curse and excommunicate when he will, or bless when he will; who has now these many years cursed and excommunicated us, and yet, notwithstanding, God and his gracious blessing hath been our help.” To the objection supposed to be made, that they could not do without priests and bishops to baptize, hear confessions, and minister the holy mysteries, and that even though they should be evil and wicked, it was impossible to do without them, the Bohemians reply, that “when wicked bishops and priests shall be banished, then place shall be made for good priests and bishops.”
As to the charge that they did not believe in purgatory, the Virgin Mary, or the saints, they claim that they will prove by Holy Scripture how they ought to believe in regard to these things, better than the bishops or priests could tell them. As to obedience to the pope, they declare that they will render him obedience when he should be holy and just. In regard to their overthrow of public worship, “destroying monasteries, and banishing thence the wicked monks and nuns,” as was charged upon them by their enemies, they reply, “Truly we did it, thinking once that they were holy, that they did the reverend service of God; but after that we well observed and considered their life and works, then we perceived that they were hypocrites, falsely aping humility, and wicked builders on high, and sellers of pardons and masses for the dead, and such as devoured in themselves the sins of the people … Forasmuch as their selling of their prayers anal masses for the dead for gifts is no better than hypocrisy and heresy, therefore if we do speak against them, and destroy their monasteries, we do not therein destroy the service of God, but rather the service of the devil, and the school of heretics. And if ye knew them as we know them, ye would as diligently destroy them as we do. For Christ our Lord did not ordain any such order. … and he said, ‘Every plant which my Heavenly Father bath not planted, shall be rooted up.’”
In the close of their apology, the Bohemians bring forward several subjects to be considered. They are disposed in sixteen articles, intended mainly to expose the corruptions of the church, the avarice, extortion, lewdness, and hypocrisy of the clergy. Their articles are then stated, which they declare they will strive for and maintain unto the death. These are the prohibition of gross public sins, whether in laity or clergy; the inconsistency of large revenues and pomp with the simplicity of ministers of Jesus Christ; the freedom of the word of God to be read and preached in all places, “without any inhibition of either spiritual or earthly power”; and the communion of the body and blood of Christ as he ordained.
This apology of the Bohemians is signed by four of their leading captains, Procopius, Conrad, Samssmolich, and Smahors. It is honorable at once to their courage, their prudence, their Christian intelligence, and their regard for the supreme authority of the word of God. It undoubtedly expressed the general feeling and conviction of the nation.
To attempt to confute them by the logic of an armed invasion was but madness. Persecution would only exasperate. Nor were they wanting in men who dared, and who were competent, to place themselves at their head. Years before, Zisca had won high renown as a bold and able general. His promptitude and energy in dispelling the storm that threatened the Hussites when they had been summoned to appear unarmed before Wenzel, had secured the confidence and respect of the Bohemians. He was finally acknowledged their leader by an indisputable preeminence, and he was worthy of the post. His abilities, attested by subsequent campaigns, rank him as the greatest general of the age.
Never did any man unite in himself qualities more eminently fitting him to be at once the head of a party, and the leader of an army. His genius for planning a campaign or assault, was only equaled by his prompt energy in putting his plan in execution. He understood perfectly the art of rendering himself the master of the minds of the multitude. Bohemia was in arms for the communion of the cup. He holds up a sacramental cup before the army, and tells them to behold their standard. He has no troops but infantry. By an unexpected assault he surprises the army of the emperor, and carries off a thousand horses, thus at once providing himself with cavalry. He is without a fortified town to afford security for his troops. He ascends a high mountain with his soldiers, and there addresses them: “Do you want houses? Set up your tents here, and make your camp your city.” The thing is done, and Tabor is at once a fortress. From its impregnable heights Zisca can defy his foe. Thither, moreover, he may always securely retreat. Cromwell’s Ironsides could not surpass Zisca’s soldiers. The latter also felt the inspiration of their leader’s words—words derived from scripture, and glowing with the enthusiasm which it inspired. To the inhabitants of Tausch he writes: “May God grant, dear brethren, that performing good works, like the true children of your heavenly Father, you may remain steadfast in his fear; if he has visited you, let not affliction abate your courage; think of those who labor for the faith, and who suffer on account of the name of Jesus Christ. Imitate the old Bohemians, your ancestors, always ready to defend the cause of God and their own. Let us constantly have before our eyes the divine law, and the good of the common weal; let us be vigilant; and let whoever knows how to handle a knife, or to throw a stone, or to brandish a club, be ready to march. … Let your preachers encourage your people to war against Antichrist; let everyone, young and old, prepare for it. When I shall arrive among you, let there be no want of bread, or beer, or forage; lay up a store also of good works. Behold, the time is now come to arm yourselves, not only against your outward enemies, but also against those that you have within yourselves. Remember your first combat when you were few in number against many, and without arms against those that were well-provided. The hand of God is not shortened: courage, therefore, and be ready. Zisca of the Cup.”
This letter shown at once the spirit of Zisca, his skill in touching the chords of popular feeling, and his watchfulness over the cause which he had taken in hand. Cromwell, before the battle of Dunbar, charging his soldiers to “trust in God and keep their powder dry,” was manifesting the same exquisite combination of religious enthusiasm and good sense that Zisca did, when he urged the people in the came breath, to “let there be no want of bread, beer, and forage,” and to “lay up also a store of good works.” The soldiers of Zisca were trained by him as the great Englishman trained his Ironsides. The laity as well as clergy preached for both. The camp was a church, the army a religious assembly. Tabor was, in a new sense, the Mount of Transfiguration. From all parts of Bohemia throngs came flocking thither, and there—as a kind of national covenant—the communion of the cup as well as of bread was freely administered.
The intelligence of what was taking place at Tabor spread over Bohemia. The friends of Huss and of the cup were encouraged. The popular tide, directed by such a man as Zisca, was certain to bear down all before it. His army was not composed of mere soldiers of fortune. They were men of deep religious convictions—some of them, indeed, driven well-nigh mad by persecution—reckless of life in their indignant defiance of Martin’s bull, which seemed to combine in it the cruelty of the inquisition, the brutality of the dragoon, and the malice of the fiend. Many, undoubtedly, like Zisca himself, could speak of their own private wrongs. The image of an outraged sister, or of a friend bound in chains to the stake about which the flames raged, rose up before them at the sight of a monk or priest, and led them to those acts of resentment and vengeance with which they were so heavily charged. “If ye knew them as we know them,” said they in their apology for destroying the monasteries, “ye would as diligently destroy them as we do.”
These institutions were undoubtedly excessively corrupt, and so far as their friends at the council and the approvers of the violence of the bull were concerned, there could be no ground for reproof. Even for us, who regret the violence, it is difficult to say how far circumstances justified it, or how far, as John Knox urged, it was necessary to destroy the rookeries in order to drive out the foul birds, the harpies, from their roosts. As favorers of the bull, they were public persecutors, and their urgent application for foreign intervention and invasion, justly led to their being regarded as traitors.
It was on the twenty-second of July (1419) that the grand communion of the multitude was held at Tabor. Undesignedly, the priests in many places had contributed to favor the plans of Zisca. They had refused the communion of the cup to the laity in their own neighborhoods, and had thus forced them, in order to enjoy a privilege which they most highly prized, to swell the ranks of the Hussite leader. They would, of course, in the state in which things then were, go armed, and thus, beyond his expectations, the multitude of his followers was swelled by thousands. It is not surprising, when we consider the feelings with which they were inflamed, and the confidence which their visible strength and numbers must have inspired, that a plan should have been adopted for seizing or assaulting the city of Prague. The multitude could not all remain long together. Many of them doubtless belonged in Prague itself, or its neighborhood, and a march upon the city might be made as they returned to their own homes. The elements of disaffection were abundant within the walls, and on the thirtieth of July they broke out into open violence.
The king himself had withdrawn from Prague to one of his castles, some miles distant; but already the fear of his brother, the terrors of a crusade, or the leveling principles of some of the reformers, who imagined that monarchy might be superseded by a republic, had driven him over toward the side of the papal party. His officers and soldiers who were left behind, showed themselves similarly disposed with their mater. Violent assaults were made, and individuals were seized and imprisoned. The citizens of Prague could not therefore feel themselves safe while the soldiers of the king possessed within the walls a fortified position like that of the castle or royal palace, from which they might at any moment be assaulted. The host of Zisca, by his training had now assumed the aspect of a regular army. He led them on to the attack of the new city—the part of Prague occupied by the party which was opposed to the reformers, and supported by the court. The inhabitants of the city joined in the assault. Zisca seems however to have been content for the present merely to intimidate the papal party.
Some of his army—more intent on observing their religious rite, and improving the occasion for regaining the places of public worship, from which, in the absence of their advocate, Nicholas de Hussinitz, they had probably been again excluded by Wenzel’s orders—sought to enter St. Stephen’s church. They found it locked. Indignant at this exclusion, they assaulted it, and burst open the doors. The priest, who had ventured to resist them, became the object of their vengeance. They broke open his parsonage, and hung him from one of the windows.
After having enjoyed the freedom of the church and performed their favorite ceremonies, the party withdrew, and proceeded to the Carmelite monastery. Here they resolved to array themselves in proper order, and, forming themselves into a procession, march to the council-house of the new city, demanding that those of their friends who had been imprisoned should be released. The demand was presented. The council hesitated to grant it. Some were for holding out to the last. The people stood without, quietly awaiting an answer to their demand. At this moment, someone from one of the upper windows threw a stone, which struck the Hussite priest who bore the host. The people were enraged. Their patience was exhausted by delay, and they regarded the act as a signal for an assault. Resistance was vain. The indignant vengeance of the people, led on by Zisca, swept all before it. The council-house was taken by storm. Eleven of the Councilors escaped, but the seven others, all Germans, and, as such, hateful to the Bohemians, were thrown from the upper windows as they were seized, and impaled on the spears and lances of the multitude below. The prisoners were of course released.
It is a singular but instructive fact, that at this moment, when violence seemed to rule, when the attack of the royal garrison had been foiled, and when some of the council had been put to death, and others had fled, no thought of lawless license or ravage was allowed a place in the minds of the triumphing party. Their first care was to restore the forms of civil government. Proclamation was made, and, under pain of death or exile, all citizens were summoned to meet together at the council-house, to elect four magistrates, to whom the authority and seal of the city should be committed till the time for the next regular election of councilmen should substitute others in their place.
Meanwhile the assault upon the new city was continued. For five days, scenes of violence were constantly occurring. The court, it was now known, had taken an open stand against the Hussites. It was resolved that the leaders of the reform party should all be put to death. The attacks which had been made upon tile Hussite processions by the officers and soldiers of the king, and which had aggravated difficulties, had evidently been by the king’s order, of at least his connivance. The people saw nothing before them but victory on the one hand, and, on the other; persecution with a suppression of their worship. They therefore pursued the siege with ardor. But the queen with the royal party had retired to the castle in the upper city, and while they resisted the assault, dispatched, for the second time, messages to Sigismund for aid.
Zisca at this moment withdrew front the city. His biographer informs us that the excesses of the citizens, which he could not approve, was the reason of his departure. It is more probable that he foresaw the storm about to burst upon the city in response to the summons of Wenzel, and wished to be prepared for it. He withdrew to Pilsen, gathering his troops around him. The place was at the safe distance of fifty or sixty miles from Prague, and secured its defense from the direction of Nuremberg. Here Zisca quietly watched the progress of affairs, ready to suppress any attempt that might be made to carry into execution the designs of the enemy. He was sufficiently strong and secure to defy any probable assault.
Meanwhile the citizens of Prague bore with the greatest impatience the presence of the royal garrison within the walls. There it was, perched upon the lofty heights of the hill upon which the castle stood, ready at once to swoop down upon its victims. Though they had been forced to give over their assault upon it, the garrison was exposed to continued molestations. Efforts were made to secure a truce or a compromise, but the citizens would consent to none which did not allow them free liberty of worship. Thus negotiations were protracted. The castle was in fact in a state of siege, with little prospect of relief. But at this juncture, and while Sigismund, who had been appealed to for aid, was busily engaged in Hungary in protecting the rights of his hereditary states, a summons, more effectual than any that had been sent him hitherto, roused him to prompt and energetic action. This was the announcement of the death of his brother, the king of Bohemia. He died in a manner worthy of his life. Upon being informed of the commotion that had taken place at Prague on the thirtieth of July, he broke out in a torrent of passionate invective against its authors. Several of the courtiers who were present expressed their detestation of the enormities that had been perpetrated. One of his attendants, however, ventured to say that he had foreseen what was about to take place, probably intending to attribute it to Wenzel’s withdrawal from Prague. Such freedom of language aroused the tiger in the heart of the irascible and passionate king. He sprang upon the bold attendant who had dared to speak words so uncourteous to royal ears, and dashing him to the ground, was about to consummate his violence by plunging his dagger into the bosom of his prostrate victim. From this he was withheld by his attendants, and could scarcely be persuaded not to order the bold speaker at once to be executed. The excitement and frenzy which had thus been produced were too much for a frame already worn out by dissipation. He was struck with paralysis, and after lingering eighteen days, expired. He had marked the names of several Hussites whom he had doomed to death, but the blow that smote him rescued and delivered them.
The death of Wenzel (August 16, 1419) left the kingdom of Bohemia, in default of other heirs, to his brother Sigismund. The queen, Sophia, sought, on her husband’s death, not only to secure the aid of Sigismund, but to engage the citizens of Prague to conditions of peace, by which the emperor should be at once adopted as their king. But they refused to acknowledge him. His whole course had been such as to commend him only to the abhorrence of all who cherished the memory of Huss.
Meanwhile Sigismund himself was making preparations for taking possession of the kingdom, which he claimed to inherit from his brother. The citizens of Prague became alarmed. Their enemies still held the royal castle, as well as the Vissehrad, and anxiously awaited the emperor’s approach, to retaliate upon the citizens for the assaults they had endured. The only security of the latter was in a speedy reduction of the castle. They at once applied for aid to their allies. Zisca saw the importance of the enterprise. Accompanied by Coranda and Nicholas de Hussinitz, he hastened to the rescue. The new city, with the Vissehrad, was taken by the combined forces on November 4, 1419. The castle hardly escaped.
In order to understand fully the apprehension, on the part of the citizens of Prague, which led them to invite Zisca to their aid, we must recur to what had taken place since his first assault of the new city. The writer of the “Diary of the Hussite War” gives us a version of what transpired, which, though it differs in some respects from the statements of other historians, commends itself to our confidence by its superior credibility. The rage of the king on the announcement of what took place on the thirtieth of July was due, not so much to the scenes of violence which then transpired, as to the presumption of the citizens in electing their own magistrates, without waiting for his sanction. The fear that haunted him was that of being deposed from the throne. He watched with intense jealousy every movement which seemed to indicate the least disposition to put any other in his place. His threat, addressed to Nicholas de Hussinitz, grew out of this extreme sensitiveness to a dreaded danger. These fears were fully understood by the members of his court, some of whom favored the Hussite party. By their means a temporary peace was negotiated, the conditions of which were that the citizens should humbly submit themselves to the king, while he, on his part, and in maintenance of his authority, should acknowledge the four magistrates elected by the people, and give them his sanction. The Hussites, moreover, were to be allowed liberty of worship. On these conditions, peace was restored, and the commotion subsided. But it was only till the intelligence of Wenzel’s death excited new interest. On the next day scenes of violence again occurred.
The fury of the populace was directed chiefly against those churches in which the communion of the cup was not allowed. The organs and images were broken and destroyed. The clergy, apprehensive of danger, fled. As night drew on, the violence increased. The Carthusian monastery was attacked, and the wine found there was freely drunk, until many were intoxicated. The monastery itself was plundered, and the monks within were borne off to the council-house, to be restrained of their liberty, and perhaps otherwise punished for having consented to the death of Huss, and opposed the communion of the cup. On the next day the Carthusian monastery was taken anew by assault, and burned, leaving only its walls standing. The tomb of Archbishop Albic, in the Church of the Holy Virgin, was broken open, and the images dashed in pieces. The commotion spread to the neighboring cities and villages. The monastery of the preaching friars at Piska was completely sacked. A great multitude, drawn from various parts of the kingdom, assembled on a mountain near Ladwy, and after listening to various exhortations to love God, and abide by the truth, and enjoying the communion of the cup, marched in procession to Prague, and were hospitably welcomed by the citizens. Torches were carried and drums beaten as they entered the gates, and the multitude took possession of the Ambrosian monastery, where they were supplied with food for several days by the inhabitants of the city. The presence of the multitude had doubtless been sought, and it contributed effectually to expedite a second truce between the two parties. Upon this, the strangers, who had also tried their skill at image breaking, withdrew from Prague.
For several weeks the city continued quiet. The queen, however, and certain barons of the kingdom, the principal of whom were Czenko de Wartenberg, the governor of the castle, William of Hazmburgk, and John Chudoba, availing themselves of the treasures which Wenzel left behind him, called in the aid of the German forces, and began to act upon the aggressive. The citizens of Prague, asking for freedom of worship only, were too well aware of the vengeance which had been provoked by the violence of some among them, nor did they fail to arm themselves against the enemy. The city was thus in a state of insurrection. Its inhabitants felt that, with Sigismund advancing against them, there could be no security while the castle held out.
In these circumstances Zisca was appealed to. The cause in many respects was a common one, and he hastened to comply with the summons. Probably but a small part of his forces accompanied him. The report was spread in Prague that his enemies were disputing with him access to the city. The great drums were beaten. Multitudes obeyed the signal. The forces were joined, and the assault commenced. At first the royal party had the advantage. They disputed the passage of the bridge, and were able to do it by the strong positions which they held in the royal castle, the archiepiscopal palace, and the house of the Duke of Saxony. They were armed, moreover, with mortars—though these did but little execution, whether from want of skill in their management, or from their imperfect structure. The passage to the Kleine-Seite (parvam partam), though hotly disputed, was at length secured by breaking open a gate adjoining the house of the Duke of Saxony, although numbers were slain on both sides. The royal party at once commenced their retreat to the castle. Horses, arms, and various spoils left behind them, were eagerly seized and appropriated.
The whole night long the uproar continued. The bells were rung as if in defiance, and in order to continue the alarm. At midnight the queen fled, accompanied by but a small number, among whom was the Baron Ulric de Rosenberg. There was great danger that the castle itself would be forced to yield. During the night, however, the invading party had largely withdrawn to their homes. The royalists improved the occasion, and sallying forth from the castle, seized upon the council-house of the Kleine-Seite, and bearing off the treasures and records, set the building itself on fire. The flames spread to the adjoining houses, which were rapidly consumed.
These events took place at an early hour in the morning (November 5, 1419). The attack of the citizens was not resumed till a late hour of the day. The strength of each party—one favored by position, and the other by numbers—was nearly equal. The royal party burned several houses and dwellings, some of them of great value, among them the School of St. Nicholas. They bore off moreover to the castle a number of prisoners. The citizens on their part plundered and sacked the archiepiscopal palace and other buildings. Thus each party seemed to aspire to exceed the other in vandalism. Those of the castle could command, from their high position, an extensive view, and, among other means of offense, sought to prevent the entrance of provisions within the walls of the city.
Thus the contest lingered on undecisive. For several days there were frequent skirmishes. The citizens were reinforced by four thousand Taborites, who cut their way through the enemy and succeeded in making good their entrance into Prague, where they were received with acclamation. The royalist party saw themselves again forced to offer terms of peace. This was effected by the promise that the Bohemians should he allowed the communion of the cup, and that the law of God and the truth of the gospel should be maintained throughout the kingdom. On the other hand, the citizens bound themselves to refrain from any further violence toward the churches, and any further breaking of images. The Vissehrad also was to be no further molested. This truce was doubtless unacceptable to Zisca, who, with the Taborites, withdrew at once from the city. Subsequent events made its impolicy manifest. It left their enemies a stronghold, from which they could at their pleasure commence to act upon the aggressive.
Meanwhile the enemies of the Taborites, who had opposed them on their march to Prague, had not been idle. They were encouraged and directed by the emperor. Led on by Peter von Sternberg, they had begun to act upon the offensive. They had assaulted those cities which had contributed men to aid the citizens of Prague. At Ausch they had taken a number of prisoners; but when, encouraged by success, they had ventured an attack upon the heights of Knin, they were completely routed. As Zisca, dissatisfied with the results at Prague, had now rejoined his army, the enemy were constrained to limit their operations to mere skirmishes of little importance.
The truce agreed upon was to continue from November 12, 1419 to April 21, 1420. It was destined, however, soon to be broken. The Hussites zealously improved it, while it lasted, in preachings, communions, and lamentations over the death of Huss. They were, however, subject to continual molestations. Wherever their enemies prevailed, they were forced to undergo the greatest vexations and sufferings. Such of them as had been taken captive, were treated with great harshness. Some were cruelly imprisoned, and left in their dungeons to endure hunger and thirst. Some were sold for money, or subjected to every species of abuse. A favorite mode of disposing of them was to throw them, sometimes alive, and sometimes after being beheaded, into deep wells or pits, a barbarity which was generally practiced in the night-time. It was estimated that those who were thus destroyed amounted to the number of sixteen hundred persons. But such inhuman cruelty was as impolitic as it was inhuman. It only tended to inflame the Hussites to indignation and vengeance. In some cases it forced them to desperation.
It vas but a few days after the commencement of the truce, that a Hussite priest, John Naakuasa, engaged in visiting the sick, was taken on the highway near Glatow. He was sold for a large sum to the Germans of Bavaria, who had come to join Raczko in his assault upon that place. He was required by them to abjure the doctrine of the communion of the cup. This he refused to do. After insults and reproaches had been exhausted upon him in vain, he was bound to a tree for a stake. Cords were drawn through his hands first perforated by swords, and thus secured, he was burned, a martyr to his faith.
At about the same time, an assault was made upon a neighboring city, Gurim. The magistrates and several of the prominent citizens, among whom was John Chodk (or Chodek), a former officer of the king and several priests, all adherents of the communion of the cup, were seized and borne off as captives. They were subjected to the most bitter wrongs and insults. Blazing torches were thrown at them, and they were cast into prison, where the severity and harshness of their treatment were aggravated by their being bound with iron chains and fetters.
In the midst of these transactions, a question arose demanding a practical answer, and as to which the minds of the Bohemians were much divided. This was in regard to the succession of Sigismund to the vacant throne. His complicity in the death of Huss had alienated from him the good-will of a large part of the Bohemian nation. Some of the Hussites were altogether in favor of having no king. They preferred a republic. Among these Zisca must probably be reckoned, although his preferences appear to have been far less decided than those of many of his compatriots.
When the emperor’s proclamation was published, summoning the states to meet him at Beraun (December 25, 1419), and to acknowledge him as rightful sovereign, some were for compliance, while others were for treating the proclamation and summons with contempt. The only promise which Sigismund had hitherto made, served only to excite distrust. It was an evident cover for duplicity. He declared that he would govern the kingdom as it had been governed under his father Charles IV. What did this mean? The Hussites had then no existence as a religious body. They could not well confide in a promise which simply ignored their existence. In spite, however, of all distrust, the citizens of Prague, were present by deputation at Beraun. The barons of the kingdom of Bohemia and the march of Moravia, as well as the magistrates of the royal cities and the officials of the kingdom generally, were present. The Queen Sophia, the legate of the pope, with many princes and magistrates, accompanied the emperor. The embassy from Prague reached Beraun on the twenty-seventh of December (1419). They entered the city with sound of trumpets, and in somewhat imposing array. The emperor, with the magnates of his court, and many of the clergy as well as laity, witnessed the entrance of the procession, and gazed with surprise at its numbers and array. It was hospitably received, in quarters set apart specially for its entertainment. Priests from Prague accompanied it, and performed their favorite rites of worship free from all molestation. The priests of the other party refused, however, to perform any of the sacred offices pertaining to their function, while the citizens of Prague remained within the walls. Beraun should suffer for permitting the entrance of the heretics. Such was the spirit in which the Hussites were still regarded.
On the third day the embassy presented itself before the emperor. On bended knees they saluted him in the name of their city, and accepted him as their hereditary king and master. Sigismund upbraided them with great severity, and imposed the conditions on which he was willing to receive them into favor. His feelings toward them were exceedingly embittered. The conduct of the clergy and legates of the papal party had increased his exasperation. The events that had taken place at Prague had aggravated his purpose of vengeance, and the disappointments which he had elsewhere experienced had only soured his spirit, till he was ready to sanction any measures, however atrocious, that might be necessary, in order to subdue his rebellious subjects. Several weeks before the meeting of this convention at Beraun, he had written to the magistrates at Prague a letter, in which, forgetful of the imperial dignity, he had indulged in a tone of sarcasm which was only calculated to irritate rather than conciliate revolt.
Addressing the magistrates, he says, in bitter irony, “Especially are we anxious that you should not give up your Wickliffite sanctity. Oh! what pleasure must it give a prince to have so large a number of such rulers and such subjects! He will establish his throne, and his glory will spread from the East to the West. Therefore, most dear and loyal, our heart is cheered to learn what is your prudence, wisdom, union! Indeed, you are a mirror for other lands, the light of the ignorant and such as wander in darkness, and the council of Constance is nothing but obscurity compared with your wisdom. Have you not illuminated by the fame of your learning? You may pass for pope, or even king, since you are so wise.” The emperor then reproaches them for the manner in which they had dealt with monasteries, convents, and parishes from which they had expelled the curates, because, as they said, they would not receive the law of God. Their treatment of the senators and judges; their iconoclastic propensities, which they indulged by breaking to pieces the images of the saints as useless idols; their disrespect for the relics of the saints, while they exalted Huss and Jerome to the rank of martyrs; their refusal to bow before the host; their neglect of the festivals of the saints; their readiness to hear preachers of both sexes, are the crimes which the emperor charges upon them. In view of these, he asks, “Who can suffice to chant your praises, if you are every day to make new progress in these holy innovations? Certainly the kings and princes of Christendom have admired, now do, and ever will admire, the extraordinary wisdom that has been infused into you, and of which the ancient fathers knew nothing. Thus, most beloved, if in time past we have written to you not to renounce the obedience of the Roman church, we have done it through ignorance, unaware of your exquisite discernment.” He then ironically praises their conduct on the occasion of the death of Wenzel, when, armed with various weapons, they ran through tile city, in cloisters, churches, and chapels, singing their fine funeral songs. “It only remains,” he adds, “for us urgently to beseech you to associate us with your college, and employ all your means to fit us for the government of Bohemia. But do not go about to say, as in the gospel, ‘We will not have this man to reign over us,’ or, ‘This is the heir—let us kill him,’ for we wish to profit by your counsels, and to be governed by your lights.”
Such a letter gave little assurance of favorable conditions for the citizens of Prague. Nothing but the emperor’s weakness forced him to temporize. Yet even under the pressure to which he was subjected by the state of his affairs, and notwithstanding the evident strength of the Hussite party, the conditions he imposed were sufficiently onerous. They were such as might most effectually promote any measures for completely subduing and suppressing the Hussite party. The citizens, as a pledge of their submission to his power and authority, were to remove all the chains from the streets of the city, as well as the statues which they had set up. They were to level and destroy all the entrenchments and fortifications which lead been constructed since the death of Wenzel, for the siege or the storming of the castle. The monks and priests should no longer be molested in any respect, and the citizens should make all ready for the coming of the emperor himself.
Not content with this, Sigismund deposed from office all those magistrates who adhered to the communion of the cup, substituting in their place such as were distinguished for having opposed this innovation. Several forts and strong places were at the same time to be given into the hands of the emperor, who stationed in them faithful partisans. Some of these contained large treasures, which were afterward employed to sustain the imperial arms.
After little more than a week’s absence, the embassy of the citizens returned to Prague (January 4, 1420). Hard as the conditions imposed were, and although accompanied by the act that substituted enemies in place of magistrates of their own choice, there seemed to prevail a sincere disposition to submit to Sigismund’s authority. The chains and statues were taken down from the streets and deposited in the council-house. The fortifications erected against the castle were leveled, even amid the derision of the Germans of the garrison and the royal party. “Now,” cried they, as they saw the work demolished by the hands of the builders, “Now these Wickliffite and Hussite heretics will be destroyed, and we shall have an end of them.” At the same time many of the royal party, who had fled the city, returned. Priests, monks, canons, and common people, who had withdrawn upon the violence that took place on occasion of the death of Wenzel, boldly appeared. Proclamation was made throughout the city in the name of the king and magistrates, that all persons who had left the city might now freely and safely reoccupy their dwellings. It was forbidden, moreover, to offer insult to priests or monks, as had been the practice of men as well as boys, when any passed them along the street.
The enemies of the Hussites, however, showed no disposition to relax their persecuting spirit and zeal. On the ninth of January (1420) John Chodk, of Gurim, who had been taken prisoner some weeks before by the enemy, and who had hitherto been kept a close prisoner, was put to death. He admonished his murderers of the guilt which they were committing in the cruelties which they practiced upon Christian believers, warning them to repent of these and their other sins. He, with three others, who were priests of the Hussite party, was thrown into a deep well (ad foveam profundam seu Sachtam). On the same night many laymen were put to death in a similar manner.
But the emperor himself more than approved—he encouraged, by word and example, this persecuting and barbarous treatment of the Hussites. From the conference in Beraun, he lead withdrawn to Breslau. Here he had manifested such a disposition to proceed against the followers of Huss, as to destroy the last vestige of confidence in his character or promise. He could not have pursued a course more directly calculated to defeat his own projects. The Hussites were already divided in sentiment upon many points. Some of them up to this time had been in favor of Sigismund for king, while others were bitterly opposed to him, and preferred a republic, or at least another person for their monarch. Persecution, too, had had its usual effect. Many had become wild enthusiasts. Driven to desperation, they had compared themselves to the ancient Israelites, and, as God’s chosen people, dealt out threatenings and denunciations against their foes as impious Canaanites and heathen. Political and religious interests, variously combined, had served to widen the divisions that already existed in the views and sentiments of such as bore the common name of Huss. The three principal parties were the Catholics, the Utraquists or Calixtines, so called from their devotion to the communion of the chalice or cup, and the Taborites. The first had lost much of their influence, or had become merged in the party of the Calixtines. These last were called the limping Hussites, by those who were more radical than themselves in their views of reform. And yet they were the most consistent and intelligent in their demands. They held to the communion of the cup, the free preaching of the word of God, the severe repression of public sins, as well of clergy as of laity, and the wrong of allowing to the priests landed property, or a share in the civil administration. The Calixtines were, in fact, the moderate or conservative party. They numbered among them the most influential men of Bohemia, and it was not long before they were joined by Archbishop Conrad himself.
The Taborites were so called, as composing mainly the army which founded the city of Tabor, of which they continued to retain possession. They were the soldiers of reform, and shared a deeper enthusiasm in the cause for which they bled, than their more peaceful brethren. They had lost, far more than their compatriots, all regard for the authority of popes, councils, or the church of Rome. They rejected altogether a hierarchy of priests, nor would they allow any mere outward symbol or external ceremonial as a spot upon the purity of scriptural worship. Many of them went beyond the views of Huss, Jerome, and Jacobel, whom they still reverenced, and rejected entirely the doctrine of transubstantiation. A great majority of the Taborites belonged to the lower classes, and some of them were excessively ignorant. Some doubtless, in rejecting priestly rule, gave themselves over to wholesale license. Contempt for the horrid vices and cupidity of the sacerdotal order would naturally smooth the way to violence and outrage, especially when that order became the aggressors. In this terrible reaction, the lower and more ignorant class would act a prominent part. Their leaders would almost insensibly be forced to conform to their tastes and yield to their prejudices. These were the men, some wild and raving in their vengeance, some more scriptural and even evangelical in their sentiments, who composed that terrible force that supplied Zisca with his armies, and made the name of Hussite terrible over all Europe.
Among the Taborites, and enjoying the liberty which they allowed, were mingled persons of other sects from which they must be carefully distinguished. The freedom which was vindicated in Bohemia, drew to it the free-thinkers and heretics of other lands. Some of these were possessed of a spirit, and adopted sentiments, utterly discordant with those of the Hussites. Among them were the Adamites, whose views of clothing much resembled those of the more fanatical of the early Quakers, who exposed themselves half naked to the public gaze. On other points they rendered themselves still more obnoxious. They carried the doctrine of modern free-love to a most licentious extreme. They do not seem at any time to have actually united themselves with the Taborites, nor do their views appear to have been adopted by the latter. Zisca considered them so criminal and dangerous, that he slew and exterminated them almost to a man.
The Taborites themselves were fanatical mainly in their forced interpretation of the prophecies. They made abundant use of the obscurities of the book of Revelation, yet, like some of the preachers of the council of Constance, applied them mainly to the harlotry of the Roman church. They held and preached the speedy coming of our Lord, to judge and to punish the world. The destruction of Sodom was a favorite figure, with them, of the approaching judgment of the nations. They went so far as to specify the cities of refuge—the Zoar of the purified church. These were five in number—Pilsen, Saatz, Launa, Slany, and Laatowia. The first of these they called the city of the Sun, and to it was conceded a preeminence above the others. The preachers of the Taborites scattered through Bohemia, propagated their peculiar views with great effect. Multitudes sold their possessions, no longer valuable to them, for a small sum, and hastened to take up their residence in the five cities of refuge. Letters were written and dispersed abroad, in which the doctrine of the coming of Christ was supported by the prophecies ill understood and falsely applied. Whole families would come, bringing the proceeds of their property with them, to swell the numbers of the Taborite hosts. Their money was freely devoted to promote the cause which they had espoused. Nothing could have been more favorable to the plans and measures of Zisca. The ranks of his army were kept full, and he was careful to train it to the most exact discipline. The enthusiasm of his soldiers, and their religious ardor, fitted them to follow the command of one whose genius as a General was combined with a devotion that made him, as a leader of armies, the Cromwell of his age.
There was obvious danger of a serious division among the Hussites, some favoring the Calixtines, some joining themselves to the Taborites. In fact, so strongly had the prejudices of men already taken root, that strong jealousies and rivalries had even now sprung up at Prague. The Calixtines prevailed in the old town, and the Taborites in the new, where their battles had been fought and their victories won. For twenty years there was a state of rivalry, sometimes approaching to open war, between the two parts of the city. It was owing to this fact undoubtedly in part, and the consequent jealousy produced by the presence of Zisca, that he was prevented from making a longer stay when he marched at different times to the relief of the city. The folly of Sigismund was manifest in adopting measures of severity which united, even temporarily, the discordant elements of opposition.
Defeat and Retreat of the Emperor
On the side of the Calixtines was ranged the larger portion of the Bohemian nobility. Among the Taborites, the common people almost exclusively were to be found. The former inclined to accept Sigismund as their king. The latter preferred, if not a republic, at least some other monarch than the emperor. Had the two parties been left to themselves, the issue might have been somewhat doubtful. Bohemia might have shared the fate of England in the seventeenth century, for Zisca manifested a signal ability, and a tact for managing popular enthusiasm and religious impulses equal to that of the Lord Protector of England. But the folly of Sigismund only tended to band together the repugnant elements into one common rebellion. The proceedings of the royal party had already alarmed the citizens of Prague. They were so far excited by their fears, as once more to lay aside their party aversions in presence of a common foe. Zisca was, by conceded ability, if not by general consent, acknowledged as the champion of the nation, although there were some, not enough perhaps to be called a party, who were in favor of placing Nicholas de Hussinitz upon the throne.
Mutual animosities, however, were for the time suppressed by the cruel policy pursued by the imperialists. The pretext for this was found in the excesses of the Taborites. The latter were fierce and relentless in the vengeance which they meted out to priests and monks. Their violence at Prague was copied throughout Bohemia. In some places their devastations were terrible. In the course of a few months, several hundred monasteries were sacked and burned. In Prague alone, during the year 1419, forty are said to have been destroyed by the Hussites.
But the imperialists needed no example from which to copy. They reduced cruelty to an art, and practiced their barbarities on system. If anyone was found, priest or layman, young or old, male or female, who refused to abjure the doctrine of the cup, the fate of such a one was sealed. No pity was shown, and no entreaty could rescue them from the flames, drowning, or the pits. The mines of Cuttemberg were pestilent with the stench of victims. The convention at Beraun did not stay the rage of the imperialists, who seemed to regard it as merely binding their enemies, and giving them over to their hands in unresisting submission. Some of Sigismund’s letters fell into the hands of the Hussites, and betrayed his bitter purpose of vengeance. To Czenko of Wartemberg, governor of the royal castle, he wrote, “Exterminate the Horebites.” At Breslau, the Hussites in a tumult had killed a magistrate. Sigismund took ample vengeance by putting twelve of them to death.
The passions of the Taborites were inflamed almost to madness by the studied cruelties and insults to which all those who adhered to the communion of the cup—whenever occasion offered—were subjected. In the early part of March, John Krasa, a merchant, or, according to others, a Calixtine priest of Prague, had visited Breslau whither Sigismund had withdrawn from the conference of Beraun on matters of business. In conversation, he happened to speak with disapproval of the burning of Huss, and in favor of the practice of the communion of the cup. For this crime he was seized and thrown into prison. On the following day, Nicolas of Bethlehem, who had been deputed from Prague to the emperor to inform him that he would be recognized as king of Bohemia only when he had declared himself in favor of the Calixtine dogma, was also seized and cast into the same prison with Krasa. The indignation of Sigismund against Nicolas was extreme. He was condemned to be burned. Krasa cheered him in the prison, reminding him of the sufferings of the old martyrs, and of the everlasting joy that would follow their momentary pains. On the fourteenth of March, 1420, Nicolas was led out to die; but when the ropes were fastened to his feet by which a horse was to drag him to the place of execution, he was seized with a panic fear, and, yielding to the fair promises of the legate, who was then present, he renounced the doctrines of Huss. But Krasa, notwithstanding the fate of his companion, and the promises and terrors by which it was attempted to shake his own constancy, continued immovable. He refused all the terms of pardon offered him. He was then slowly dragged through the streets. The legate, who would have preferred his recantation to his execution, followed him, several times ordering the procession to halt, and exhorting Krasa to recant and save his life. But his steadfast reply was, “I am ready to die for the gospel of Jesus.” He was already half dead when he reached the place of execution, where he was devoted to the flames. It was on the next day that the papal bull of excommunication and crusade against the Bohemians was published from the pulpits, and placarded on the walls of the churches.
Everywhere the most barbarous cruelties were practiced against the followers of Huss. A price was set upon the heads of the Taborites. For a priest, the sum paid was five guilders, for a layman, one. The most horrid butcheries were the result of this barbarous measure.
In May the burgomaster of Leitmeritz, Pichel by name, a cruel and deceitful wretch, seized in one night twenty-four respectable citizens, among whom was his own son-in-law, and threw them into a deep dungeon near St. Michael’s gate. When they were almost inanimate with cold and hunger, he took them out, with the assistance of some of the imperial officers, and, attended by a guard, pronounced upon them the sentence of death. They were then chained, borne in wagons to the banks of the Elbe, and thrown into the river. A great crowd, embracing the wives, children, and friends of the prisoners, witnessed the murderous spectacle, and could not restrain the utterance of their grief. The Burgomaster’s daughter—his only child—cast herself with clasped hands at his feet, interceding for the life of her husband. “Spare your tears,” was the stern and merciless reply, “you know not what you desire. Can you not have a letter husband than he?” The father was inexorable, and the daughter, driven to desperation, exclaimed, “Father, you shall not give me in marriage again.” Smiting her breast, and tearing her hair, she followed her husband with the rest. The victims, as they were cast into the river, protested their innocence, and, bidding their friends farewell, exhorted them to constancy and obedience to the word of God, rather than the commandments of men. They then prayed for their enemies, and commended their spirits to Heaven. With their hands and feet bound together, they were conveyed in boats to the middle of the river and then cast into the stream. Lest any should escape, the banks were lined with executioners armed with pikes, who stood ready to stab and force back any that floated toward the shore. All perished. The burgomaster’s daughter, after a vain struggle to save her husband, perished with him. The next day both were found, clasped in one another’s arms, and buried in the same grave.
Such violence produced a powerful reaction. At Prague it was like a spark falling on tinder. The passions of the Calixtines as well as the Taborites were inflamed anew. A violent leader, John, a Premonstrant priest of the Monastery of St. Mary, formerly a monk of Zelew, put himself at the head of the popular movement. He harangued the citizens, taking for his text the barbarous cruelty of the imperialists. He pronounced Sigismund the red horse of Apocalyptic vision—the sworn enemy of the cup—the author of the terrible excommunication which had overtaken the great body of the nation. “Will he treat you better,” he asked, “than he has those of Breslau?”
The excitement produced was intense. The populace swore never to receive Sigismund as their king. Circular letters were sent out to the several cities which the convention had agreed to give up to Sigismund, exhorting them never to admit him or his forces. He was pronounced an enemy of the Slavonian language, and responsible for the execution of Huss. He was charged with alienating portions of Bohemia for his own selfish interests, and with laboring for the excommunication and death of all the Hussite teachers.
In such circumstances, any further attempt to fulfil the terms of the convention was scarcely to be expected. Many of the Taborites of Prague, apprehensive of the result of the measure agreed upon at Beraun, had already left the city, and indignantly withdrawn to Tabor, or joined the forces under the command of John of Hussinitz. Wherever they went, they imparted to others their own indignation, and encouraged an open violation of the terms of the convention.
Zisca saw no prospect of peace for the kingdom if Sigismund was allowed the undisputed succession to the crown. With several Hussite knights, he foreswore obedience to a man who had allowed his safe-conduct to be violated with impunity in the case of Huss, and who already was appearing at the head of armies to subdue the kingdom, and trample upon its freedom of worship. This league, thus commenced, grew rapidly. Barons, knights, and cities joined it. They swore never to receive Sigismund as their king. With the increasing danger from abroad, the prospects of a fierce resistance from the union of the Hussites against the emperor brightened. His own cruelties, and the perfidy and violence of the royal party, were taking effect.
The Taborite preachers had been instrumental in filling the five “cities of refuge,” but especially Pilsen, full to overflowing. It became therefore an object for the enemy to gain possession of it. Indeed, it had been pledged to the emperor by the terms agreed upon by the convention, but to defeat them in this purpose, Zisca threw himself with his forces into the place, and held it for a time, refusing all conditions of surrender. He declined all negotiation with an enemy whom he dared not trust. He had with him in the city several eminent barons of the kingdom, among them Brzenko de Sswihow and Walkun de Adlar. Of the party opposed to the communion of the cup, many were driven without the walls. Several monasteries and palaces adjoining the city were destroyed, at the instance of Wenzel de Coranda, one of the Hussite priests.
But Zisca was not suffered to remain unmolested. The royal party, led by Bohwslaus de Swamberg, made an assault with a view to recover the city. He was defeated in his attempt, and put to flight, though the loss was considerable upon both sides. But the anxiety of the queen and the royal party to regain the place, led them promptly to reinforce the army of the siege. Skirmishes between the hostile armies were frequent, and the captives on both sides were treated with great cruelty.
Unable to make much progress, the royal party proposed to negotiate for the evacuation of the city by the Hussites. The latter declined all terms with a party in whose pledges they could place no confidence. At length, urged by a deputation sent to them from Prague, who still wished to conciliate the emperor by surrendering this as one of the cities claimed, they consented to treat for an evacuation of the place. The conditions were that the city should enjoy the freedom of the communion of the cup, and that such as wished to leave the city might withdraw unmolested to Hradisch, with their wives and children. To these conditions the royal party obligated themselves, under severe penalties. But, like the members of the council of Constance in the case of Huss, they seem to have fully imbibed the doctrine that no faith is to be kept with heretics. Several of their generals with a large force of cavalry lay at Pisek, to whom information of the capitulation of the city was dispatched, with directions to attack the Hussites on their march to Hradisch or Tabor. The necessary march of twenty miles in order to reach the latter place, would naturally afford the enemy many opportunities for assaulting them by a sudden and unexpected attack.
The advice was not neglected. The royal party overtook the Hussites near Sudomertz, and a battle was there fought. The Taborites, destitute of cavalry, were in danger of being surrounded. They protected their flanks by drawing their baggagewagons in a circle around them, and thus were enabled for several hours to repel assault. The enemy, foiled in their purpose, at length withdrew from the field, bearing off thirty of the Taborites prisoners. The army of Zisca, leaving its wounded to the care of the villagers, resumed its march unmolested to Tabor, where they received a hearty welcome, with rejoicings over their escape. The battle of Sudomertz was fought on March 25, 1420.
While these events were occurring at Pilsen, affairs were assuming at Prague a more threatening aspect. The Hussites became alarmed at the denunciations and threats of the royal party. Pilsen had been surrendered at their suggestion, partly, doubtless, in order to fulfil their promise to the emperor, as well as that Zisca might be left free to march, when necessity should require it, to their rescue. The zeal of the Hussite preachers was enkindled as their fears were excited. John, the Premonstrant priest, distinguished himself by his fervid declamations. Though possessed of no great learning, his eloquence was most effective. He was at this time expounding the revelation of St. John, and took occasion to apply its predictions to the events of the day. He was especially severe upon the emperor—the great red dragon of the Apocalyptic vision. The fact that he had allowed his courtiers to wear as a badge upon their breasts a dragon of gold, made the application more striking. The ardor of the was aroused to a higher pitch than ever. In the cause which they had espoused, many of them were ready to risk at once property and life.
Other causes, however, beside the fervid eloquence of their preachers, contributed to animate the spirit of the Hussites, and rouse them from their desponding submission to Sigismund to an attitude of bold defiance. The emperor’s violence at Breslau in Silesia, whither he had withdrawn from Beraun, was a great political blunder as well as crime. The cruel treatment of Krasa furnished an inexhaustible theme for fervid declamation. The emperor had consented to his execution. The grounds of his condemnation were, “that he would not hold, believe, affirm, and approve the following articles: that the council of Constance was legitimately congregated in the Holy Spirit; that whatsoever the aforesaid council enacted, decreed, and defined, was just, holy, and to be held by all Christian believers, under pain of mortal sin; that in whatever it reprobated and condemned, it acted justly, holily, and well; that the aforesaid council, in condemning John Huss to a most cruel death, proceeded in accordance with justice and holiness; and that its condemnation of the communing of the people under both kinds was just.” These articles Krasa refused to approve, and his cruel death renewed and aggravated among the Hussites the bitter memories of Constance, and stimulated the thirst for vengeance.
This execution took place on the fifteenth of March, 1420. On the seventeenth, a crusade against the Bohemians who favored the communion of the cup was published by the papal legate. On his ill success in attempting to bring back Bohemia to the obedience of the pope, he had withdrawn to Hungary. Soured with disappointment and disgust, he declared that nothing but force would subdue the spirit of the rebel. His representations, undoubtedly enforced by Sigismund, had so much weight with Martin V, that the latter was induced to proclaim throughout Christendom (March 1, 1420) a crusade against the heretics of Bohemia. They were to be proceeded against as “rebels against the Roman church, and as heretics.” The crusade was announced in the cathedral of Breslau, at the preaching of the sermon, while the emperor was present; and he exerted himself for the publication of the bull throughout the whole of his dominions.
This Bull of the crusade is a most remarkable document for the age in which it was published. It shows the same blind zeal and persecuting bigotry which characterized similar measures of preceding centuries. A Christian instead of a Mohammedan people were now, however, the objects of its vengeance—a people whose great heresy was that they made the word God their supreme authority, and contended for the institutions of the gospel in their primitive simplicity and integrity.
The pope addresses the bull “To the venerable brethren, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops; to his beloved children the administrators, abbots, priors, and other officers of churches and of monasteries, as well as to all professing the Christian religion, in what place soever, to whom these presents shall come.” After speaking of his duty and anxiety to recover the wandering sheep of the fold of that Lord of all, whose vicar he is on earth, he declares his purpose, “by the cooperating grace of God,” to restrain, by due severity, the minds of those who had cast off the divine fear. By the counsel of his venerable brethren, the cardinals of the holy Roman church, he had resolved, “by the treasures of the mystic dispensation,” to excite the soldiers and athletes of Christ more fervently to pursue this object. He praises the celebrated faith of his most dearly beloved son in Christ, the Emperor Sigismund, who, as it were by a divine inspiration, strove with great effort, and at great cost, to restore the church to its integrity. The zeal of his faith, the ardor of his devotion, the gentleness of his compassion, had led him to seek the wider diffusion of the Christian religion, in opposition to those reprobate men of profane malignity and iniquity, the followers of Wickliffe and Huss, as well as others, the eyes of whose understanding had been blinded; children of darkness, who by their superstitious doctrines and crude dogmas would put the Catholic church under restraint, overthrow the orthodox faith, and give over the flock, led astray by error, to the bondage of hell. These men, their favorers, abettors, and defenders, unless they give up their errors, and submit themselves to the traditions of the holy fathers, were to be exterminated from among the faithful, and the deadly virus of soul was to be eradicated even by the destruction of tile body. So happy a consummation is earnestly besought by the emperor, of the pope and of the Catholic church. Extolling the purpose of the emperor with the most emphatic eulogy, with eyes directed to heaven in prayer for his success, he exhorts “all kings, dukes, margraves, princes, barons, counts, lords, captains, magistrates, and all officials; states, free cities, universities, and villages, by the sprinkling of the blood of their most glorious Redeemer, and in hope of the remission of their sins, to the extermination of the followers of Wickliffe, Huss, and other heretics, with their favorers and abettors; and to this end they should mightily exert themselves in whatever should be necessary to the prosecution of this work.” He therefore charges and commands all ecclesiastical officers to whom the bull is directed, “to contribute all their power and influence to promote the purpose of the emperor, even to the raising and equipping of armies, if they are called upon to do it, in order to proceed against heretics and all who favor them.” They were to act as valiant heralds, lifting their voices loud in all states, dioceses, and regions where it should be found fit. They were to select such persons as they should deem proper, to extend the proclamation to all Christian believers as they might chance to be met, and who could be led to volunteer in the crusade. These were to be allowed, by the apostolic authority, relaxation for a hundred days of imposed penance, in consideration of their enlistment. By the preaching of the word of the cross, and by setting forth the symbol publicly, by exhortations and fitting admonitions, they were to be urged to put forth all their efforts for the overthrow of the heretics. The ecclesiastics were themselves to bestow the cross freely upon those who volunteered, and were to fasten it to their shoulders with their own hands. To animate them to greater fervor, the pope himself, “by the mercy of Almighty God, and the authority of the holy apostles St. Peter and St. Paul, as well as by the power of binding and loosing bestowed by God upon himself, grants to those who shall enter upon the crusade, or to such even as should die upon the road, plenary pardon of their sins, if repented of and confessed, and, in the retribution of the just, eternal salvation. Such as could not go in person, but contributed to the cause by sending others, and equipping them according to their ability, should have full remission of their sins. Even such as had laid violent hands upon the clergy, or had been guilty of arson or sacrilege, might hope to fight their way to heaven by warring against the followers of Wickliffe and Huss.” The ecclesiastics were to take special care to have this bull circulated as widely as possible.
The long dreaded blow was thus struck at last. All Christendom, with its generals and armies, was summoned to crush out the heresies of men whom the council chose to burn rather than refute. The affairs of the Bohemians presented indeed an ominous aspect. The imperial and papal powers leagued together, and summoned all bearing the Christian name to aid them in suppressing and exterminating a people, numbering at the most not more than three or four millions, who were at the same time beset by domestic foes, and who were far from unanimous among themselves in religious and political views. But the result disappointed all human expectations. The forces of the empire dashed and shattered themselves against the invincible resolution and desperate courage of a band of men sustained by religious enthusiasm, and conducted by able generals.
In fact, previous to the publication of the crusade, the tide had begun to set strongly in Bohemia against the pretensions of Sigismund. He had himself anticipated its fuller announcement, by an edict characterized by cruelty and injustice. He sent written orders through the land to all barons, and to all the magistrates, to the chief governor of the nation (Czenko), to the governors of royal towns, the officers and judges, to drive out, persecute, and as far as possible utterly exterminate the followers of Wickliffe and Huss, as well as the adherents to the communion of the cup.
This was enough to satisfy any that had hitherto been hesitating and doubtful in their allegiance, that Sigismund was the last man that should be allowed to ascend the vacant throne. Zisca’s league against him grew rapidly. Zatec, Slany, Launy, and other cities formed mutual alliance to resist him. Multitudes, driven to desperation, banded themselves together for security, or aggression in their own neighborhood.
It was in this way that the city of Ausch was taken. The governors had driven out of it all the Hussite citizens. A band of men composed of these, with Taborites and rustics from the villages, and led on by Zisca, lay hid in ambush in the woods for several days and nights, till, aided by friends within the walls, they seized upon an occasion when the city was given up to feasting and drunkenness, and were enabled successfully to assault it (February 2, 1420). Driving out their enemies, they took possession of the city, and were at once rendered secure in retaining it by the crowd of their friends who rushed thither as to a place of safety. It was shortly after this that the fortified town of Hradisch, in the immediate vicinity of Tabor, fell into their hands, and was delivered over into the charge of Procopius of Kamenitz, one of the ablest of the Hussite generals. On the destruction of Ausch by fire shortly afterward, its inhabitants transferred themselves with their wives and children to Hradisch of Tabor, whither Zisca and his forces directed their steps on withdrawing from Pilsen.
But at Prague the announcement of the crusade produced a most marked effect. Men could not but tremble at the thought of what that terrible word meant—with its signification written out in the havoc and carnage of past centuries, when the innocent and guilty, Catholic and heretic, were swept indiscriminately to one common doom. Indecision was allowable no longer. Even the moderate and noncommittal must take their side, and choose the party by which they would abide. The enemies of the Hussites were full of exultation. “These heretical wretches,” said they, ” will now be burned at last, or they, with their wives and children, will perish by the sword of the emperor. Let us fly from among them, to the most secure places, lest we miserably perish along with them.”
This was a wise precaution. There was certainly danger of indiscriminate massacre, when all alike were exposed to the blind fanaticism of a crusading army at least judging by the precedent of the last crusade against the Albigenses; and however consolatory to the blind actor in the tragedy it might be to know that in slaying all “God would know his own,” it did not present to the one in danger of becoming a victim, any very soothing reflections. The enemies of the Hussites in Prague were able fully to appreciate such considerations as these, and fearful of losing life and property together, they took refuge with their families and effects in the castle and Vissehrad. Seven hundred of the wealthiest citizens of Old Prague, and as many more of the New city—a large number of them Germans, and cherishing a national hostility against the Bohemians—were received within the fortified district, on condition of obligating themselves, under oath, on the expiration of the truce (April 23), to render their assistance in subduing the city, and, on the destruction or extirpation of the adherents of the cup, to return to their dwellings.
The citizens, alarmed at the intelligence of the crusade, and the measures and vaunts of their enemies, were not idle. Incited by their preachers, and especially by John, the Premonstrant monk, of whom mention has been already made, they assembled at the council-house of the Old city in order to deliberate on what it was most expedient for them to do. The assembly was large, and their priests and magistrates were present. They bound themselves together, in a covenant or league of mutual defense, against all persons whomsoever should presume to impugn the communion of the cup. They swore to be faithful in defense of the truth, and the oath was administered to them by the magistrates who still remained in office.
Four captains were elected for the Old, and four for the New city, to whose charge the keys of the council-house and gates were entrusted, and to whom an authority was committed, limited only by their discretion, for promoting or devising measures of defense. Beside these, forty persons were appointed from the Old, and forty from the New city, who were to act as officers or leaders, upon any emergency that might arise. After drawing up in a public act the doings of their assembly, and depositing the written document in safe hands, the people withdrew peaceably to their dwellings. Calixtine and Taborite were ready to join hands in a league of mutual defense. The Old city and the New forgot temporarily their aversions, and united to resist a common foe.
The prospects of the Hussites were dark indeed. Sigismund had already gathered a large army, constantly recruited from all parts of the empire. It was said to amount from 140,000 to 150,000 men. He moved on somewhat slowly, allowing the different reinforcements to overtake him, and endeavoring to make sure of the fortified places which he passed. Ziaca was not unmindful of the threatening danger. He saw the necessity of having some secure place upon which he might fall back in case of reverse. None appeared more favorable for his project than Tabor itself. Its natural position was such as to render it almost impregnable to the foe. It was almost a peninsula in shape, bounded on one side by the river Luznice, and on the other by a tributary stream of deep and rapid current. The place itself was lofty and precipitous. It was girt about by steep and almost inaccessible rocks. The only passage to it was by a narrow neck of land, which a few valiant men could make a posse of Thermopylae. Even this was defended by a deep fosse which Zisca caused to be dug, and by a triple wall, of such strength as to defy the assault of the most powerful engines. The walls were protected by numerous towers fitly located, and means of defense were devised by men who had rendered themselves already masters in the art of taking cities. Here Zisca directed his followers to build houses on the place where their tents stood, and at once the camp of the Taborites became a fortified city.
These precautions taken, Zisca listened to the urgent request of the citizens of Prague to aid them in the siege of the royal castle. Leaving Tabor itself to the hazard of an attack, he hastened to their aid. The Vissehrad was closely besieged, and subjected to great extremity. The garrison were reduced to the necessity of subsisting on the most loathsome food. Dogs, cats, and rats were ravenously devoured. At last the garrison agreed to surrender unless they were relieved by the emperor within fifteen days.
Meanwhile, the emperor was making his way to Prague. Czenko had sent him word of the danger to which the Vissehrad was exposed. He dispatched at once a force of cavalry, in order to raise the siege. Nor did he neglect other means for the relief of his friends at Prague. In order to draw off a portion of the besieging army, an attack upon Tabor was resolved upon. The Lord of Rosenberg, who had embraced the party of the Hussites, but who was now inspired by terror at the report of the invading army, was willing to make his peace with the emperor by turning his arms against his late allies. In proof of his sincerity, he prohibited, in his own district, the communion of the cup, and declared his readiness to assist the emperor in the prosecution of the war. To him, therefore, the attack upon Tabor was entrusted. The occasion was the most favorable, while so many of its inhabitants were absent at Prague. Accompanied by a powerful force, he advanced to the assault.
But intelligence of his movements was communicated to Zisca, who at once dispatched a force of three hundred and fifty cavalry, under Nicholas de Hussinitz, to the relief of Tabor. This force left Prague on the night of June 25 (1420). On the thirtieth of the month a severe and decisive battle was fought. The Taborites came down from the mountain, and made an attack upon the enemy on one side, while Nicholas de Hussinitz, of whose coming the Taborites had been made aware, assaulted them upon the other. The terror of the enemy was such that, after standing their ground for a short time, they turned and fled. Never was there a more signal rout. The imperial forces outnumbered those of the Taborites, it is said, twenty to one. They were pursued in their flight, and large numbers were slain or taken captive. An immense booty was left behind. Gold and silver goblets, ornaments and vestures of the most costly kind, warlike weapons and engines, provisions for the sustenance of the army, in great abundance and variety, rewarded the valor of the Taborites. Songs of thanksgiving to the God who had given them the victory, succeeded to the clash of resounding arms, and the conquering host, laden with spoil, exulted, as they retraced their steps, over the enemies of their faith.
The result of this attack was sadly ominous of the fate of the whole campaign. The Lord of Rosenberg was stung with shame at his ignominious defeat. In his resentment he sought to wreak a weak and unmanly vengeance upon the adherents of the cup. He hunted them out wherever they could be found, took them captive, and, shutting them up in prison, vainly endeavored to force them to abjure the doctrine which he himself had once avowed. Several of his castles were filled with these unfortunate men. Most of them were subjected to the severest and harshest treatment for many months. Some of them were put to death. But the Hussites did not forget the traitor. They exacted a severe penalty for his treason and his cruelty, in the ravage of his estates.
Other victories were won by the Hussites. At Voticz, between Tabor and Prague, a battle was fought, in which an imperial army of four thousand cavalry was routed. The walled town of Hradisch had been taken by surprise. A band of rustics and colliers, led by three zealous Hussites, and accompanied by a priest who encouraged them, secured possession of it on the night of June 25. The enemies of the communion of the cup were driven out of the city, of which the Hussites maintained possession, forming themselves at the same time into a military organization, and choosing themselves leaders.
The fall of Hradisch was a sore blow to the imperial cause. Sigismund sent at once an army of ten thousand men to retake the place. These were composed of the élite of his army. But they did not choose to make any assault. They contented themselves with seeking to regain the city under false pretences of negotiations, but the Hussites were not to be duped by them, and they were forced to return without accomplishing their object.
But all eyes were now directed anxiously toward Prague. As the capital of the kingdom, its possession was of the greatest importance to each party. On the twelfth of June the news arrived that the emperor was on his march, accompanied with an overwhelming force of more than 100,000 men. The citizens of Prague pressed the siege of the Vissehrad, and endeavored to increase the number of their allies. Among these came Hinko Krussina, with his Horebites. These were the most fierce and cruel of all the Hussite forces. They breathed vengeance against all priests and monks, and seemed to find no satisfaction equal to that of torturing, mangling, insulting, and murdering them. Merciless as they were desperate, Prague needed them, with all their fanatic thirst of blood, to defend her against the hosts of the crusading army. They were received with congratulations and shouts of welcome. Krussina was made one of the chief commanders of the city.
The emperor had sent forward a body of eleven thousand men to the relief of his party in Prague. He stopped himself for a short time at Koniggratz, where he had met a friendly reception, and sent an embassy to Prague, reminding the city of its promise of fealty, and requiring it to keep its word. He demanded that the citizens should give up their arms, and deposit them in the Vissehrad.
This message was delivered on the twenty-fourth of June, the emperor meanwhile resuming his march, and advancing toward Prague. His conduct was marked by a vindictive cruelty. Under pretence of retaliation, he drowned twenty-four Hussites in the Elbe. The monasteries fared little better in his hands than in those of Zisca. He plundered them to pay his troops. Some of them were immensely wealthy, and invited spoliation. The Hussites might rob them as enemies, but it was hard that they should experience the same fate from the hands of one who came as their avenger. Yet the pillage of churches and convents was the resource of both parties, and the immense wealth of the church furnished fuel for the fire that consumed it.
The number of monasteries destroyed by Zisca has been reckoned by historians at more than five hundred. None had manifested a more bigoted hostility to reform and to the communion of the cup, no class had become more corrupt, and none could be more properly regarded as implicated in compassing the death of Huss, by invective and false accusation, than the monks; and Zisca’s memory treasured the affront that had been offered to his own sister—an affront to be expiated by blood alone. His vengeance was terrible. By flying marches he swept the country, and spread on every side the terror of his name. Convents and monasteries were sacked and burned, sometimes with all who resided within the walls. Krussina, with his Horebites, did not yield to Zisca in the promptitude and energy of a cruel vengeance. The Cistercian monastery of Graditz fell into their hands, and was utterly destroyed. The monastery of Cromau was possessed of such wealth and splendor as to be an object of attractive curiosity to travelers. They turned aside to behold it. The Taborites paid it a visit—curious also in their way to see what it contained—and only its ruins were left to invite the curiosity of the pilgrim. At Prague, the Cistercian monastery of the royal court was doomed to a similar fate. One of its inmates, James, a scholastic of wonderful eloquence, and former rector of the university, was spared by Zisca only at the earnest intercession of the senate. Truly it might be still said, as it had been months before, that “the cart drew the horse.” Laws were silent in the midst of arms. Zisca was the dictator of Prague.
The emperor’s army in all recklessness and cruelty was fully equal to that of Zisca. It was only inferior in strong religious conviction, fanatic feeling, and desperate courage. It was a conglomerate of all the refuse of Christendom, though led by kings, margraves, dukes, barons, princes, and knights, and accompanied by archbishops, bishops, doctors, prelates, and a host of ecclesiastics. Some twenty years before, Cardinal D’Ailly had expressed his wish that the pope would proclaim a crusade as a means of drawing off the festering masses of corruption, and relieving the church by the Sangrado prescription of letting of blood. His wish was now realized. With all the splendor of the empire, the scum of the nations accompanied and mainly composed the imperial armies. Almost every tribe and nation of Europe was represented in the motley host. Bohemians and Moravians in arms against their countrymen, Hungarians and Croatians, Dalmatians and Bulgarians, Wallachians and Servians, Slavonians and Thuringians, Bavarians and Austrians, met in the same host with inhabitants of England, France, Brabant, Westphalia, Holland, Switzerland, Aragon, Spain, Portugal, Poland, and Italy. The East and Vilest joined hands for the plunder and the vengeance of a crusade. There was a Babel of nations and of tongues. If the council of Constance could claim to be Œcumenical, much more might Sigismund’s army. Such was the host which had been marshaled to maintain the cause of the papacy, and put down a cause that vainly had challenged the council to confute it from scripture. How well it performed its task the sequel will show.
Bohemia presented, certainly, between the two contending parties, a strange picture of anarchy, rapine, cruelty, and sacrilege. Here we shall find the tombs of kings profaned, their dust no longer protected by coffins, the golden plates of which could pay the wages of a ruffian soldiery. There the fragments of marble altars, and pavements on which the knees of devout pilgrims had rested, are used to charge the catapults of the invading host. The carcasses of the slain putrefy and poison the air, or are flung piecemeal into besieged towns, till pestilence helps famine to do its work. Indiscriminate massacre involves the innocent and guilty, friend and foe, in one common doom. Retaliation and vengeance, sometimes, though rarely, conducted under legal fortes, supply each party with its hosts of martyrs. “Dreadful traditions have perpetuated the memory of so many frightful scenes: near Toplitz, it was said, might be seen a pear-tree, which blossomed every year, and never yielded fruit—a tree accursed from the streams of blood that had saturated its roots. At Commotau, near a church where thousands of victims perished, slaughtered by Zisca, it was asserted that the soil was formed of the remains of bones, and that at whatever depth search was made, nothing could be found but human teeth.”
Sigismund himself acted as if he considered Bohemia a land doomed and accursed. The progress of his march was signalized by new atrocities, and deeds of reckless cruelty. He, as well as Zisca, would inspire terror. But in his case the project failed. There was alarm, but there was resentment and desperation also. The soldiers of Zisca were ready to be martyrs. The soldiers of Sigismund showed but a feeble faith, and a weak desire for that eternal glory awarded to those that fell, by the bull of the pope. The heterogeneous mass of plunderers and robbers lacked the spirit that animated the terrible soldiers who took the cup for a banner.
It was on the thirtieth of June that the emperor with the body of his army approached the neighborhood of Prague. He was fortunate in finding any part of the city still retaining its allegiance. Czenko, by a double treason—or perhaps, and more probably, by stratagem—had preserved for him the castle of Wenzel. He had pretended to surrender it to the demands of the citizens who closely besieged it, and who offered him his choice to proclaim the freedom of the communion of the cup, or withdraw from the castle. He assumed to yield to the last demand, and, it was said, withdrew with a large treasure to his own chateau. He had however secretly informed the emperor of the step which he had taken, urging his speedy advance, and by his connivance or treachery the castle was still held; or, if it had been surrendered, was regained for the emperor. The first step therefore of the latter was, if possible, to raise the siege of the Vissehrad. A single day only remained for the term of its surrender to expire. The approach of the imperial army to its relief was announced by drums and trumpets and bells, while strains of martial music mingled with the hymns and songs of the clergy, as they accompanied the emperor in grand procession to the royal castle. The army itself encamped on the wide plain about Bruska and Owenecz, ready to commence the siege of the city. Its numbers, if not its strength, received continually new accessions, till the pride of superiority, and the taunts of bigotry, found vent in insults that would more wisely have been reserved for a vanquished foe.
From day to day the soldiers of the imperial army, front a height on the bank of the river overlooking the city, and over against the Monastery of the Holy Cross and the Church of St. Valentine, uttered their howls and barking., like dogs, accompanied by sneers, and taunting words, and cries of “Huss, Huss! Heretic, Heretic!” If a Bohemian fell into their hands, unless speedily rescued by parties of his friends who still maintained themselves in roving about the precincts of the imperial army, he was mercilessly burned, without regard to the fact of his favoring the doctrine of the communion of the cup. His nationality was accounted a sufficient crime. Skirmishes were of frequent occurrence. Small bands of Taborites, issuing from the city, would sometimes rout great numbers of the foe. With their favorite weapon, an iron flail, they threshed down the invaders, armed in all the pride and pomp of war. The enemy attempted to take or burn the machines by which the citizens hurled masses of stone upon those who approached the walls, but all their attempts were vain. They were repulsed with loss upon all occasions.
Sigismund soon perceived that in order to reduce the city, the only method which promised success was to starve it to surrender. For this purpose it was necessary for him to occupy some position which would command the Moldau, by which provisions were still brought into the city. He determined therefore to take possession with a strong force of the high steep hill Witkow, or Galgenberg (Gibbet-hill), as it is called. Zisca had either had some intimation of his purpose, or discerned the danger to which the city was evidently exposed. Sigismund in possession of Witkow would moreover be able to invest Prague upon three sides at once.
Anticipating his movements, the Hussite general promptly seized upon the height, and fortified it, by wooden entrenchments, a fosse, and walls of stone and earth. The extreme promptitude with which Zisca acted, prevented any measures of opposition from the imperial forces being taken till his entrenchments were nearly complete. An assault was made upon the city (July 13) in which the citizens, although they repulsed the enemy, suffered some loss. But on the next day (July 14) preparations were made for an attack upon the Galgenberg, which it was determined to carry by storm. The city, moreover, was to be assaulted at the same time from three different directions, mainly with the purpose of rendering any measure of sending aid from the city to Zisca impracticable. From the castle it was ordered that there should be a sortie against the palace of the Duke of Saxony, which the citizens had strongly fortified, and 16,000 men were detailed for this purpose. From the Vissehrad a like sortie was to be made against the New city, while from the plain on which the army lay encamped, a force was to march to the assault of the Old city.
While these arrangements were taking effect, eight thousand cavalry of Misnia, led by their margrave, and strengthened by a large force from the imperial army, marched to storm the Galgenberg. They ascended the hill at quick step and with sound of trumpets, and took possession of some of the advanced works. A defensive roofed tower was taken, which was abandoned by all but twenty-six men and three women, who emulated one another in the courage and energy with which for a time they repelled the assailants. They defended themselves with stones and pikes. One of the women, though herself destitute of defensive armor, encouraged her associates by refusing to fly, and exhorting them not to yield. “A Christian believer,” she said, “ought not to give ground to Antichrist.” She fell fighting at her post. Zisca himself was at one time in great danger. He had lost his footing and had fallen to the ground, when his friends with their flails rushed to his rescue, and saved him from being captured by the enemy.
The city itself was meanwhile full of alarm. All human help seemed vain, and the greatest apprehension was felt lest the combined assault should prove successful. At this moment a strange sight presented itself. The citizens gathered with the women and children in sad groups, and with tears and groans supplicated aid from Heaven. While fathers and brothers stood by the walls or marched to the terrible encounter, those who were left behind commended them to the God of armies. The voice of prayer mingled with the clash of arms, and at the critical moment a priest, filled with enthusiastic courage, and bearing with him the holy sacrament, rushed forth from the gates, followed by only fifty bowmen and a crowd of peasants armed with flails. The bells rang, and the shouts of the people echoed far beyond the walls, as the little band issued from the gate of the city to face thousands of the invading host. A sudden panic seized the imperialists, who probably imagined that the whole force of the city was marching out against them. Zisca and his soldiers were inspirited by this opportune aid. The enemy were driven back from the entrenchments, and hurled headlong down the steep rocks. Horse and rider perished alike by the fall, and in a single hour several hundred were slain, beside many fatally wounded, or carried off as captives. The rout was complete. The emperor, from a high point on the banks of the Moldau, witnessed the defeat of his most cherished hopes. Overwhelmed with grief, indignation, and shame, he withdrew from the field, and led the array back to the camp.
The citizens regarded their success as a deliverance wrought out for them by the hand of God. They knelt down upon the field of battle, and sang their Te Deum with grateful joy. In long processions they marched through the streets of the city, ascribing their success to the interposition of Heaven. It was not by their own strength, but by the wonderful power of God (miraculose), that a small band had won such a victory over a numerous host. Hymns and songs filled the air with the music of triumph. Grief was turned into joy, and the whole city echoed with exultant praise. The little children sang hymns which were composed on the occasion, and which breathed the spirit of the song of Moses over the defeat of the Egyptian host. The scene of the battle was made memorable by the name of the great general whose skill and courage had foiled the power and designs of the emperor. The hill, formerly known as Galgenberg, or Witkow, was now known as Ziscaberg.
The results of the battle were made more manifest in the imperial camp than in the rout of the army. National animosities were awakened among the soldiers, composed in large part of Bohemians and Germans. Many things conspired to aggravate these dissensions. The very name of Bohemia became a term of reproach. If a Bohemian fell into the hands of the Germans, it made little difference whether he was Hussite, Calixtine, or Catholic, so far as the treatment which he received was concerned. The cruelties which were perpetrated upon their countrymen aroused the indignation of those Bohemians in whose bosoms a spark of nationality yet glowed. Deeds of atrocity were committed, the recital of which could awaken only horror or a spirit of vengeance—such vengeance as Zisca took, in ample measure.
On the sixth of July, a few days previous to the assault upon the city, while the Duke of Austria with a large reinforcement for the imperial army was on his march from Militcz to Prague, a band of sixty cavalry turned aside to the neighboring village of Arnosstowitsch, and at the treacherous suggestion of certain priests, seized upon the Calixtine preacher of the place, and his vicar, and placing both upon one horse, brought them to the Duke at Bystizitsch, presenting them as heretics to he punished for their stubborn pertinacity. The preacher, whose name was Wenzel, was a man greatly respected and beloved. He and his vicar had become known as decided Calixtines. The duke sent them to the bishop of the place, that he might determine how they should be dealt with. The bishop sent them back again to the duke—thus from Caiaphas to Pilate, says the old historian. They were insulted and abused, and threatened with the flames unless they would recant. Calmly but firmly they resisted all the efforts made to induce them to yield. “It is the gospel,” said Wenzel, “and the practice of the primitive church, and thus it is in your missal: blot out the scripture, and destroy this gospel.” At this, one of the knights who stood by struck Wenzel with his iron glove. The blood flowed in streams from his face. At last, as night wore on, the soldiers, wearied in their insults, left them. The next morning they were led out to be burned. But the number of the victims was now increased by three old men, peasants of the neighborhood, and four children—one of seven, one of eight, and another of eleven years—who had been found guilty of the same crime of holding the doctrine of the cup. When all had been brought near to the funeral pile, they were urged, if they had any wish to live, to abjure. “Far be it from us,” replied Wenzel, “far be it from us to yield to your persuasions; sooner would we undergo not one, but a hundred deaths, rather than deny so plain a doctrine of the gospel.” Upon this the executioners lighted the fagots. The children, leaning upon Wenzel’s bosom, sang aloud as the flames rose around them. One after another yielded up his life, and at last Wenzel himself expired.
At Budweis a similar scene was witnessed. Two Hussite preachers, after a harsh and tedious imprisonment, were burned, on their refusal to abjure the communion of the cup. Similar occurrences, which took place in various parts of the kingdom, could only aggravate the existing divisions, and excite anew the thirst for vengeance. Their frequency, and the odium which at the same time rested upon all that bore the Bohemian name, or whose national spirit resented the barbarous cruelties and unjust prejudice of the Germans, aroused the most excited passions in the camp of the imperial army. There was great danger that the mighty host would dissolve and melt away. It was evident that further assault upon the city would be for the present utterly futile.
It was at this moment, in itself critical, that another event came to fill to overflowing the cup of the emperor’s disappointment and humiliation. On the nineteenth of July the tents of the imperial army caught fire and were utterly consumed. The loss in other respects was great. The high wind which prevailed prevented the success of all the efforts made to quench the conflagration. The fire was attributed, although there seems no valid ground for the charge, to the malice of a Hussite.
The Taborites, envenomed against the Germans, who slew all the Bohemians indiscriminately that fell into their hands, insisted that such of them as had been taken captive should be dealt with as they had dealt with others. National animosity strengthened, or at least combined with fanatic passions, to demand these victims. A rush was made upon the council-house where the prisoners were confined, and the demand was made that they should be given up to be burned. The authorities unwillingly yielded, for they had no power to resist. Sixteen prisoners were led forth without the walls, and all, with one exception, were burned in sight of the Germans of the imperial army. The one who was spared was a monk, who promised that he would administer the communion to the people under both kinds.
The citizens of Prague, exulting in their present deliverance, were not unmindful of future danger, when the imperial army might be reinforced or equipped anew. They were ready to treat with the emperor on the basis of the four famous articles, which may be said to have composed their creed. They were the more ready to do it from the aversion which was generally felt toward the Taborites, and their peculiar opinions and practices. The followers of Zisca had little taste for hierarchical pomp. The simple letter of the gospel was their supreme authority. Traditions and ceremonies were with them like images and statues—only the rags of superstition, the flaunting robes of Rome’s harlotry. The splendor and magnificence of churches and monasteries they deemed to be libels upon the simplicity of the gospel. Scarcely had the imperial army fallen back from the walls of the city, when the priest Coranda, accompanied by a multitude of Taborites, many of them women, among whom were “the sisters of Pilsen,” rushed into the Church of St. Michael, and tore up the seats of the priests as well as the laity, asserting that their best use and true value was to strengthen the entrenchments and fortifications of Zisca on the Galgenberg. The issue showed, however, that his aim was more to rebuke the vanity of superstitious worship, as he would undoubtedly have phrased it, than use the plundered materials for the purpose which he avowed. Most of them were carried off and burned. Few at least ever reached the Galgenberg, although Zisca did not neglect to provide for the defense of a fortress that now bore his name—though by some it was called “the mountain of the cup.”
The well-known disposition of the Taborites, which threatened ruin to some of the most splendid structures of the city, combined with the daily ravages of the enemy to urge the barons of the kingdom, most of whom were Calixtines, to propose negotiations for peace. The emperor showed himself not altogether disinclined to see what could be done by treaty, now that force had failed. He saw the sad divisions and dissensions of his army, which had now risen to such a pitch that there were continual broils between the Bohemian and the German soldiers, the latter charging the former with treason, and declaring that if they had been left alone to fight the battle, they would have won the victory. The German soldiers had, moreover, learned of their superiors at Constance the art of burning human beings, and their taste for it had become so strong that it was difficult to restrain its indulgence. The whole region about Prague was ravaged with a merciless ferocity. Villages and castles were sacked and burned. Women and children, with indiscriminate cruelty, were thrown into the flames.
In such a work of desolation and atrocious crime, the pride and ferocity found vent which had at first insulted the citizens, but now, leaving them unmolested, turned to wreak its vengeance upon the helpless and unoffending. The barons sighed for peace. The citizens of Prague were equally anxious to be relieved of the presence of the imperialists and Taborites—the first, terrible enemies, the last, unwelcome guests. But these could not be dismissed till those had withdrawn.
The Bohemian barons, Calixtines and Catholics, held a conference to consider what measures could be taken in order to secure a cessation of hostilities. Those who represented Prague declined to enter into any compact, without the knowledge and consent of other cities with which they were in league. Anxious, however, for peace, they besought, for their own sake and for that of the kingdom, that with their teachers and priests they might obtain an audience of the king, at which they might in the four languages—Bohemian, Hungarian, German, and Latin—publicly declare the truth of their four articles, which were the ground of dispute, and might be allowed to sustain them clearly by scripture before the whole army, and thus vindicate the nation from the slanders which had covered it with infamy. If it was thought necessary, the doctors on the emperor’s side might answer, as they saw fit, whatever was presented. These terms seem at first to have proved acceptable, as a basis for initiating negotiation, to the Bohemian barons of the imperial party. A question was raised at this point in regard to an exchange of hostages pending the negotiation, in which the imperial party were allowed their own terms. But when the whole matter was submitted to Sigismund, he refused to approve the proposed measures. His disinclination to do so was doubtless strengthened by the bigoted refusal of the papal legate, Ferdinand of Lucca, to sanction any such step as the one which the citizens of Prague desired to have taken.
Foiled in their purpose therefore, the latter resolved to publish, in their defense, the four articles on which they mainly insisted, and with this end in view drew them up, and addressed them “to all Christian believers,” prefacing them with the expression of their purpose to abide by them, living or dying, and to maintain them to the utmost of their power. The four articles as thus drawn up were (1) the full and unrestricted freedom of the preaching of the gospel throughout Bohemia, (2) the freedom of the communion of the cup, (3) the exclusion of the clergy from large temporal possessions or civil authority, and (4) the strict repression and punishment of gross public sins, whether in clergy or laity.
Embodied in the articles are the complaints which the Calixtine party, represented by the citizens, have to make of the more reprehensible abuses of the church, and of the more grievous corruptions of the clergy—their pride, sensuality, tyranny, the sale of indulgences, simony in the disposal of ecclesiastical benefices, etc. Each article is fortified with a mass of scriptural quotations, and under the one on the subject of the communion of the cup, figure the names of popes, councils, and fathers. We shall soon have occasion to notice these articles—the formal manifesto of the Calixtine party—more at length, and pause here only to remark, that any compromise which did not concede them freely, on the part of the emperor, was out of the question.
His whole course, from the outset, was one continuous blunder. The very measures adopted by him to regain his authority in Bohemia led to results the direct reverse of what he had intended and expected. He had forced those who had hitherto wavered, to a decision. The invading army must be welcomed, or resisted; and many, who would have preferred to have remained in the old communion, were under the necessity of doing so, if at all, at the expense of their patriotism, and in face of the manifest injustice and horrors of the crusade.
In these circumstances, it is not surprising that the more moderate portion of the nation, averse alike to the excesses of the Taborites and the atrocities of the imperialists, should incline to take sides with the Calixtines. We shall soon see Czenko, governor of the castle, as well as Archbishop Conrad himself, open and avowed advocates of the communion of the cup.
Sigismund’s present campaign, notwithstanding the mighty host which the publication of the crusade had ranged under his banner, had proved a total failure. The only object for which he still lingered at Prague, after all hope of conciliation had vanished, was his coronation. This took place at mid-day, July 28, in the castle of Wenzel. Few of the barons of the kingdom were present; and the knights whom he created upon the occasion only disgraced the ceremonial by which it was attempted to honor them. Most of them were unacquainted with war. Some had never shared in a battle. The coronation scene was a mockery. Those who should have been present were regarded as rebels, and Sigismund only assumed the crown to fly before the terror of their triumphant arms.
Taborites and Calixtines
The retreat of the imperial army from Prague withdrew that external pressure which had constrained the Calixtines and the Taborites, notwithstanding their mutual repugnance, and diversity of taste and opinion, to unite in league against a common foe. With the proposal for a truce, by the barons of the kingdom, one of the conditions of which, of course, was, that Sigismund should be acknowledged as king, Zisca had nothing to do. The Taborites almost unanimously preferred a republic, at least an elected king; the citizens of Prague, with the barons of the kingdom, were willing, and even anxious to receive Sigismund as their monarch, on the sole condition that their demands in regard to the four articles should be granted.
These diverse views of public policy, although held by some on the bare ground of their fitness and expediency, were yet, as a general thing, rooted in a diversity of religious sentiment. The citizens of Old Prague, and the Bohemian barons, were mostly Calixtines, and they were confirmed in their conservatism by what they regarded as the insane fancies, the barbarous taste, and radical views of the Taborites. Although there was unquestionably great diversity, even among them, some leaning to the most radical reformers, and others scarcely differing, except on the single point of the cup, from the Roman Catholic church, yet as a body they stood, from the first, committed to the four articles already referred to, in which the peculiarities of their creed were substantially embodied. For a full century at least, these articles were uniformly and consistently maintained.
They were drawn up with great care and deliberation, and after full conference of the Calixtine nobles and citizens of Prague. They were introduced by the declaration, “Be it known to all Christian believers, that the faithful in the kingdom of Bohemia insist, and by the help of God, propose to insist, in life or death, as far as may be, in behalf of the following articles:
“1. That the word of God be preached orderly, without let or hindrance, throughout the kingdom of Bohemia, by the priests of the Lord, according the charge of Christ in the last of Mark, ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature,’ for, according to the apostle, ‘The word of the Lord is not bound,’ but is to be declared, so that ‘the word of the Lord shall run and be glorified.’ 2 Thessalonians 3. ‘And no one shall be prohibited from speaking with tongues in the church of God.’ 1 Corinthians 14.
“2. That the sacrament of the divine eucharist under each kind, viz., of bread and wine, be freely administered to all the faithful of Christ, not disqualified to receive it by reason of mortal sin, according to the sentence and institution of the Savior, who said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body,’ and ‘Drink ye all, from this; for this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many.’”
This article is sustained at length by large citations from the scriptures and the Christian fathers. The council of Carthage, the twenty-sixth canon, and the authorities of Gregory, Augustine, Jerome, Dionysius, Cyprian, Ambrose, Origen, Beda, Fulgentius, Remigius, Innocent, Paschasius, Lyra, and Albertus Magnus, are adduced in support of this article.
“3. That the secular dominion which the clergy exercise, against the precept of Christ, over worldly goods and possession, to the prejudice of their office and the damage of civil rule, be taken away and withdrawn from them, and the clergy itself be brought back to the evangelical rule and the apostolic practice, as Christ lived with his disciples, according to the charge of the Savior, Matthew 10, saying, ‘Possess neither gold nor silver nor money in your purse.’ And Matthew 20, ‘The princes of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and they who have authority over them are called benefactors; but it shall not be so among you; but whoever is greatest among you, let him be your servant; and whoever is preeminent, let him be your minister.’ So also Mark 10.”
Numerous other passages from scripture are cited to the same purport, beside the authority of Jerome, Augustine, Ambrose, and Boniface, in his letter to Pope Eugenius.
“4. That all mortal sins, especially such as are public, and other disorders contrary to the law of God, in each estate soever, be prohibited and prevented, by those to whom it pertains. For not only those who do these things, but those who consent to them, are worthy of death, occasioning among the people fornications, revels, thefts, homicides, falsehoods, perjuries; vain, knavish, or superstitious arts; avaricious gains, usury, and the like. Among the clergy, moreover, are simoniacal heresies, exactions of money for baptism, confirmation, confession, the sacrament of the eucharist, holy oil, marriage, wafers, prayers for the dead, festivals, preachings, burials, consecrations of churches, altars, and chapels, prebends, benefices, prelatic dignities, episcopal acts, sale of indulgences, beside many other heresies which arise from these and pollute the church of Christ.
“Moreover, there are impious and unjust practices, as unchastity of concubinage, and other fornications; anger, strife, contentions; frivolous citations, and vexations and spoliations of simple men, according to caprice; exactions of assessments, and innumerable deceptions of the simple by false promises. Each and all of these, every Christian believer and true son of mother church is bound to exterminate, in himself and others, even as he should hate and detest the devil himself, the order and estate of his calling being ever observed.
“And if anyone ascribe to us, beyond this our pious and holy intent, anything that is unchaste and scandalous, let him be held by Christian believers as a false and unjust witness, since we have this only in our hearts, with all our strength and according to our entire ability, to please the Lord Jesus Christ, and to follow and fulfil his law and precepts, and these four catholic articles, with all fidelity.”
They then declare their purpose to stand firmly in defense of the truth of the gospel, and to oppose all that shall impugn it, with such means as they can command, withstanding them to the last as the most cruel tyrant and Antichrist. And if, by any that adhere to them, anything should be done of a scandalous nature, they protest that it is against their intention, and their earnest purpose to prevent it, and that they hold themselves ever ready to be better instructed from Holy Scripture.
Such were the articles of the Calixtines, deliberately adopted and firmly maintained. The author of them did not seem to perceive that their appeal to scripture was inconsistent with their assumed conservative position, and with some practices which they still retained. They were still in bondage to the ancient usages of the church, and revolted from the greater liberty of their Taborite brethren.
But if the former were superior in education, refinement, and the general moderation of their views, the last were immensely superior in deep feeling, earnest conviction, and that desperate and fanatical courage which made them terrible on the battlefield. Without them, Prague lay at the mercy of the emperor. Zisca’s soldiers alone had earned the epithet of invincible. They could not be vanquished till the last man was slain. Nor were they altogether unconscious of their power, although under Zisca’s generalship they were not inclined to employ it to secure any undue advantage. As occasion demanded, or the pressure of external attack was applied, the Calixtines asked and received the aid of their terrible allies, the Taborites.
The distinction between them, however, was already marked, and was continually widening, as the sentiments and tastes of each became more fully developed. Each party naturally desired that its own views might prevail. On August 5, 1420, less than a week after the imperialists had withdrawn, the Taborites presented their articles to the city, with the alternative that if not accepted they would leave the city at once. The New city, where the Taborites were in the majority, accepted them without hesitation. The Old city demanded time for deliberation, and one of the masters of the university, an Englishman named Peter, discussed the articles, each in its order, in presence of the magistrates and the citizens, showing how far and in what sense they might be approved or rejected “with a safe conscience.” The articles thus discussed pertained rather to moral conduct and rules of life, than to points of faith. They condemn gross public sins among laity and clergy; require the severe repression and punishment of all forms of licentiousness, tavern-drinking, luxury and extravagance of dress, fraud, robbery, and usury. They demand that laws, which they describe as “Pagan and Teutonic,” inconsistent with the law of God, shall be repealed, and all things be ordered and arranged according to the rules of divine justice; that the priests shall observe an apostolic simplicity, in keeping with the divine command; that the magistrates be held subject to the law of God, and that their enactments be registered in the council-house, where they may be read by all the people; that such enemies of the truth of God as had shown themselves faithless to God and man, should be banished from the city and no favor shown them; that heretical monasteries be broken up and destroyed, as well as unnecessary churches and altars, with their images, robes, gold and silver chalices, and every antichristian abomination savoring of idolatry or simony, all which are not from God our Heavenly Father.
In the defense of the truths expressed by these articles, the Taborites declare that they have already, in obedience to the divine will, risked property and life, while many of their brethren had shed their blood to maintain them. They declare their own purpose, whether the articles shall be received or rejected, to stand by them to the last. But these articles were not accepted or approved by the magistrates and citizens of Old Prague, who were for the most part Calixtines. The last article, on the subject of destroying monasteries and unnecessary churches, which the Taborites would have called rookeries of superstition, was especially objectionable. Nor was the conduct of the Taborites such as to smooth the difficulties which lay in their way. On the next day after the articles had been presented, a portion of the Taborites made an assault on the St. Clement monastery, and a few days later, sacked and burned the cloisters of the Royal Court, thus reducing—as they had often done already—the theory of their articles to practice. They bore off with them fragments of the broken images and tables of the monasteries, and, forgetful of their wonted sobriety, made a large and free use of the wine found in the vaults of the cloisters. As evening approached, some of them projected an attack upon the Vissehrad, which still held out for Sigismund; but the tumultuous and disorderly assault was repulsed with great loss by the garrison.
The Taborites of New Prague wished still to retain their brethren within its walls. The only condition on which this wish could be realized was the acceptance by the Old city of the articles of the Taborites. But the magistrates opposed them. It was therefore resolved to call a meeting of the citizens, depose the present magistracy, and elect a new, who should be known to favor the Taborite articles. This project was executed on August 18. In spite of this measure, however, Zisca, with his followers, left the city a few days after. He did not, however, abandon his project for bringing Prague over to his views. As he left the city, his followers pledged themselves not to rest till they had routed or destroyed the enemies of the cup. His plan was to conquer the Calixtines by annihilating their allies throughout Bohemia. As it was, he saw clearly the impolicy of attempting at present to force upon the citizens the objectionable articles.
The articles themselves, not excepting the last, expressed the sincere convictions of the Taborites. While terrible on the battlefield, and signal in their vengeance, even their enemies are, to a remarkable degree, unanimous in testifying to their sobriety, and their exemplary freedom from the gross vices of the age. A Puritanic severity characterized their demeanor. The corruptions of the priesthood, as well as persecuting edicts, repelled them from the communion of the Roman church. With a stern and inexorable justice they repressed whatever they deemed inconsistent with the truth of the gospel. If Zisca took exemplary vengeance upon the Adamites, with their free-love doctrine and licentious practices, it was because, whatever their heresy, their teachings and proceedings struck at the root of all purity, and of social order and morals.
At first the views of the Taborites had coincided almost entirely with those of the Calixtines. They had no distinct name except as they held it in common with all who were known as Hussites. They were brought together in one community, as the Presbyterians of Scotland were under Charles II, that they might enjoy the privilege of worship without molestation. It was during the year 1419 that their assemblies were first held in the neighborhood of Bechin, not far from Tabor, some twenty leagues distant from Prague. The people gathered, reared their tents, and for several days engaged in religious services, enjoying also the communion of the cup. The vast multitudes, on some occasions, numbered more than forty thousand people. Everything was conducted with the utmost decorum. Some of the Taborite priests preached, some heard confessions, and others administered the communion under both kinds. Different groups were formed, which were severally addressed by speakers or preachers selected for the purpose. The men, the women, and the children formed each a body by themselves. These days, thus observed, were a sort of Pentecostal season, and from far and near came the multitudes who thronged to the sacred festivity. Peaceably they came, and peaceably they returned. Songs of praise and joy lightened the tedium of the journey, as the processions moved along their way. Nothing was allowed inconsistent with the objects of the assemblage.
No wantonness or levity, no dancing or drunkenness, was to be witnessed. Everything which could tend to disturb the seriousness, or interfere with the devotion proper to the occasion, was carefully repressed. Even the sportiveness of childhood was checked, and no sound of musical instruments was allowed to break in upon the quiet of the place and the solemnity of the worship. At the close of the religious exercises, each partook of a moderate repast which they had brought with them from their homes. All outward distinctions were neglected or forgotten. The rich and the poor sat down together, and priest and layman were undistinguished by garb. They addressed one another by the appellation of brother and sister, each sharing his portion with such as were more needy than himself. As in the apostolic and primitive church—says the Calixtine narrative—there was but one heart, one will. Nothing was thought of, nothing was transacted, save what pertained to the welfare of souls, or concerned the restoration of the church to its primitive model. Their humble repast was concluded by a solemn thanksgiving to God, and the exercises of the day closed with a procession of the vast multitude around Tabor—where the assemblies were usually held—in which all united in singing psalms of praise to God. They then bade one another farewell—strangers before, but brethren now—and each returned by the way he came, back to his own dwelling. They were even careful in this respect, that they might not unnecessarily trample down the harvest fields.
As these seasons continued to be observed, the multitudes who assembled increased. From the most distant parts of Bohemia—from Pisek, Wodnian, Necolicz, Heyman, Ausch, Janovicz, Ledlezan, Pilsen; from Prague itself, and from many parts of Moravia—they came, some with horses, others on foot, pilgrims to that spot, precious above every other, because there they might enjoy, unmolested, their peculiar worship and the communion of the cup. Undoubtedly many were drawn thither by curiosity. Nor would it always be as easy as at first, to restrain and repress the tendencies to excess or unwarranted indulgence. Sharp things would naturally be spoken of a corrupt clergy, opposed to what these Taborites believed the authentic and authoritative command of Christ in the institution of the Supper. With all the general quietness of their demeanor, the Taborites had bitter enemies, and Wenzel himself, taught by experience how easy it was for him to pass from a throne to a prison, grew suspicious. He feared lest the report, industriously spread by their enemies, that such a multitude would soon choose their own king and their own archbishop, might be true. An effort was therefore made to suppress these assemblies. The barons forbade their vassals and subjects to visit Tabor, under penalty of death or confiscation of their goods.
But all these measures were vain. The current of popular religious feeling had acquired a force and fervor that defied resistance. Sooner than forego his privilege, the peasant chose to abandon his home altogether, and, disposing of his property, escape at once the oppression of priest and baron. Tabor attracted them, says the old annalist, as the magnet attracts iron. Thus the very attempt to repress the popular enthusiasm defeated its own object. The people were taught rebellion by unwise restrictions; and Tabor, from a camping ground of religious assemblies, became at once a populous city. The opportune death of Wenzel favored this movement. Zisca, with his rare combination of sagacity, enthusiastic devotion, and military genius, found the materials of an army already at hand. They needed only to be molded by that discipline of which he was so perfect a master, and inspired with confidence in their cause as the cause of truth, and in the indisputable ability of their leader, to become well-nigh invincible.
Tabor thus became the refuge and the fortress of the Hussites. But already many had advanced beyond the point that had been reached by him whom they still honored as a martyr. He had bequeathed to them, with his dying breath, and amid the fires of the stake, the invaluable principle of the sole authority of the word of God. With this as their starting-point, they went beyond him. Even Jacobel and the Calixtines generally were laggards in their views of reform. Not only a single sacrament, but all the institutions, doctrines, and rites of the church were to be subjected to a scripture test. Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory, they said, were but men. There was no need of consulting the sentences of the school, or giving heed to learned doctors, when all things essential to salvation were to be found in scripture.
On the basis of these principles, they maintained that no sayings or writings of learned men were to be held or believed as catholic by the faithful, unless they were contained explicitly in the canon of the Bible; that everyone who pursues the study of the liberal arts or accepts degrees in them is vain and heathenish, and sins against the gospel of Christ; that no decrees of the holy fathers, no institutions of the ancients, no rites or traditions of human invention, were to be held, but all such were to be abolished and destroyed as works of Antichrist, since Christ and his apostles had nowhere enjoined them in the New Testament. On this ground they rejected chrism, the anointing with oil, and sprinkling with holy water; the exorcising, blessing, and hallowing of the chalice, church furniture, and robes; the observing of canonical hours; the dress, ceremonies, and order of the mass; the chanting of the priests, and the baptizing of children with exorcisms, holy water, and sponsors, instead of the simple rite by the application of pure water. For books of missals, or chants, gold and silver chalices, priestly vestments, etc., they felt equal aversion. All these things were to be destroyed or burned, and it was more proper for the laity to wear the priestly robes, or cut them up for their own apparel, than for the priests themselves to perform in them the divine offices. Auricular confession, the fast of Lent, vigils, festivals of saints, or other seasons of special devotion, except the Lord’s day, were treated with no more respect. A priest, tricked out in his robes with their useless ornaments, and celebrating mass in the customary manner, was but like the harlot of the Apocalypse, to be despised by the faithful. The sacrament of the eucharist should be celebrated in the manner practiced by Christ and his apostles, in the ordinary garb, without an altar, and in any place that might fitly serve. The bread was not itself to be lifted up for the adoration of the worshippers, but was to be administered in a plain and audible tone of voice. The clergy, moreover, were to be like the Levites of the Old Testament in regard to the possession of property; they were to be directly dependent on the contributions of the people. As to purgatory, and prayers for the dead, or works of piety in their behalf, all these were rejected as silly and inane superstition. Invocation of the saints was condemned as savoring either of heresy or idolatry. All images, or the likeness of anything as an object of worship, stood charged with savoring of idolatry, and all such, as idols, were to be destroyed and burned.
These articles were published in the year 1420, soon after the Taborites had withdrawn from Prague. They gave great scandal to the Calixtines, who appealed to the world for testimony to the moderation of their views. It is evident that from the time when the Taborites first commenced their assemblies during the previous year, there had been great progress made in breaking away from the ceremonies, institutions, and doctrine, of the Roman church. The explanation of this is to be found in the free and friendly conferences enjoyed at Tabor by men who interchanged their views on religious subjects, with the open Bible before them as their only supreme authority. Tabor was the one asylum for the persecuted in the kingdom, where perfect freedom of religious opinion was allowed. “You may think as you like here,” wrote an orthodox Roman Catholic, on a visit to Tabor, to one of his friends.
Thus persecution abroad drove into a single community the men who were foremost in their views of reform, and most advanced in apprehending the true spirit of the gospel, and the simplicity of its ritual. With the scriptures acknowledged, on all sides, as the only supreme authority in matters of faith, it was no difficult or tedious work to adduce ample testimony of the superfluous ceremonies and false doctrines with which the purity of the gospel had been overlaid by a corrupt church.
With the views of the Taborites on religious subjects, some of a peculiar cast, in regard to social and political matters, were naturally allied. They were all anti-imperialists, and nearly all republicans, or at least in favor of an elective king. Their experience of a corrupt priesthood had produced in them an aversion to the learning of schools and colleges, whose degrees they treated with contempt as heathenish and antichristian innovations. Their study of the Apocalypse—a favorite book of the Bible, from its denunciations of the Great Apostasy—led them into many extravagances of belief and practice.
All however did not go to the same extreme with Martin Loqui, one of their preachers, who derived his name from his eminence as a speaker, and whose principal associates were John Oilezin, Marcold, Coranda, and a certain Wenzel of Prague. These men, with a large portion of the Taborites, held the doctrine of the speedy advent of Christ, and the approaching mission of “the seven last plagues,” by which all Christ’s enemies should be destroyed. In this vengeance the faithful of Christ are to bear a part; all who shall hear the word of Christ, are to receive the warning to “flee to the mountains,” where the Taborites were already assembled; and whoever neglects to do this, shall perish by the plagues. At this time, the Taborites should be the holy angels sent out to rescue the faithful and bring them to a place of safety, as Lot was rescued from Sodom; they should be the executioners of God’s justice upon the guilty nations, while only the five cities, which they named “places of refuge,” should be spared. The riches of the Gentiles, or the property of Christ’s enemies, should be taken from them by the faithful, and destroyed or burned. In this consummation of all things, Christ will himself visibly descend to earth and assume the government of the world; and all who have not on the wedding garment, will be cast into outer darkness. All the kingdoms of the world will come to an end. There will be no more exaction, no more paying of tribute. Sin will be destroyed. There will be no more scandal, abomination, and falsehood; no more persecution or suffering, for all will be the elect children of God. The glory of this kingdom, thus restored, will be greater—before the resurrection of the dead—than that of the primitive church. The sun of human intelligence will no longer shine; none will need to teach another to know the Lord, for all shall be taught of God. The law of grace will then no longer have place; it will be done away. The use of churches will be dispensed with, for God himself will be the temple, and, like hope and faith, lost in sight and fruition, all outward structures will disappear. Then shall come the resurrection of the dead—the first resurrection, in which the dead in Christ shall be raised, among whom John Huss shall appear; and thus for his elect’s sake God would hasten the final destiny of the world.
In this renovation of all things, man will be restored to the state of innocence enjoyed by Adam before his fall. There will no longer be pains attending childbirth, no such thing as original sin, no necessity for the waters of baptism, no more need of the sacrament of the eucharist, for men shall eat angels’ food, and never die.
These peculiar views were an excrescence upon the religious system of the Taborites, and were shortly modified very essentially by succeeding events. The prophecy in regard to the five cities of refuge was effectually defeated, and many of the peculiar teachings in regard to Christ’s advent were abandoned. They were all based upon an unwarranted interpretation of obscure texts; and when their novelty wore off, they were for the most part cast aside.
The Taborites however clung fondly to the notion that they were God’s peculiar people, and were specially designated by him for the reformation of the church and the defense of the faithful. This belief led them to interpose for the destruction of what they regarded as idolatry, superstition, and Antichrist. Their creed on these points was not a dead letter, and they went about their work with an energy and a courage which might challenge the reproach, but was too serious and earnest for the derision of their foes. They did not shrink—however it might scandalize their Calixtine brethren, or the so-called Catholic church—from carrying the theory of a creed which they embraced with all the fervor of their spirits, to a practical application. Wherever they went, they observed with all fidelity the simple rite of their worship. Their priests ministered the communion under both kinds, without the aid of rubric, missal, priest’s robe, or the Latin tongue. They spoke and prayed in their own vernacular. They were not careful to use a gold or silver chalice for the wine of the communion. An iron, earthen, or wooden cup answered their purpose full as well. If they declared the churches and altars, which had been desecrated by “the mammon of unrighteousness” and the simony of the priests, to be churches and altars “of the devil and of idols,” or spoke of monasteries as dens of robbers, sties where the swine of lazy and useless monks were fattened, they sometimes suited the action to the speech, sacked the church, shivered the altar, and burned the monastery. If some unfortunate monk attempted to remonstrate, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel,” was the prompt reply. “Christ never told men to serve him by shutting themselves up in indolence.” Such was the argument by which the Taborites answered all objections. Monasteries thus became the special objects of their vengeance. Hundreds of them were sacked and burned. Some of the nuns, whom the terror of the Taborites had effectually converted to the communion of the cup, married—to the horror and scandal of the Calixtines.
The Taborites treated many of the reputed holy things of the age with the most sacrilegious disrespect. Relics of the saints were ruthlessly flung out of the churches, like common earth. The holy oil was unceremoniously applied to a most profane use, unless it was emptied, like the chrism and holy water, upon the ground. The vessels that contained these liquids were broken, or polluted; for the Taborites held in contempt holy sprinklings and extreme unction. Their form of baptism was the application of water, with the simple formula of administration in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Auricular confession they dismissed with the brief logic of adopting the formal division of sins by the church, and declaring that if venial—by this probably meaning sins of the heart—it was enough to confess them to God; if mortal (public and gross), they should be confessed in presence of the brethren. As to purgatory, they maintained that by the discipline of probation God prepares such as will be saved, to enter upon their reward and their eternal immunity from sin with the close of their earthly existence. They who die in mortal sin go at once to their retribution of eternal justice in hell. Consequently prayer for the dead is vain and futile. The Taborites neither prayed to the saints, nor paid regard to their images and pictures in the churches. “What was Peter, or Paul, or any other of the saints?” they asked. “Were they not men, saved like us by the help of God alone, and in prayer to him, by the intercession of no saint, but of Christ only?” They resented the superstitious worship which the pictures and statues of the saints received. The sternness of the prophet on Carmel, while he mocked the worshippers of Baal, seemed to relax into a grim smile; and we can imagine with what cool derision the Taborite could look up, in the pretence of his gaping and credulous enemies, to the gouged eye or slit nose (erutis oculis et nasis abscissis) of some mangled image, crying out, in his so-called blasphemy, “If you are God or his saint, defend yourself, and we will believe you.” (Si Deus aut ejus santus es, tunc te defende, et credimus tibi.) The place of his worship was to be disfigured by no image, desecrated by no sculpture. A handful of filth, or a thrust of his sword, or a blow of his terrible flail, relieved him from all the apprehension which a beautiful painting might excite as to his worshipping in a desecrated place. Monasteries were “dens of robbers,” and wickedly founded against the law of Christ. The disciples were commanded to go forth into all the world, and not shut themselves up as hermits; hence the cloisters and monasteries were to be utterly overthrown and destroyed. The fasts of the Roman church were unhesitatingly rejected. Only such days were observed as the Taborite preachers directed. On these occasions no one ate or drank, from morning till night, or even till the following day.
As to naming churches after particular saints, the views of the Taborite would have fully accorded with the sentiments of the most rigid Puritan of the Commonwealth. Even Jerome and Augustine, whom Huss and Jacobel loved to quote as authority, did not pass unquestioned by the Taborites. By confirming or multiplying ecclesiastical rites, it was possible, they maintained, that these men had done the church more evil than good. To give churches their names, or the names of others who were merely men, was an impious and accursed thing, and such churches, with the splendid dwellings of their pastors, ought to be burned and destroyed. The apostles never consecrated churches by such titles, or dwelt in such houses; they were content with alms, and went about all over the world, preaching the gospel, without tithes or endowed churches.
The leaders of the Taborites laid it down as a fundamental principle, that the law of Christ was sufficient for the government of his church. All that was necessary to salvation, he had declared in the New Testament. Human institutions and ceremonies were of no account. As Christ said to the scribes and Pharisees, “ye have nullified the law by your tradition,” so also might modern scribes and Pharisees be addressed. Unless they desisted from their error, they might expect all the plagues of the Apocalypse to light upon them.
In consistency with these views, the Taborite priests endeavored to reduce the ordinances of worship to the simplicity of the primitive church. They rejected the use of sacerdotal vestments, declined observance of canonical hours, administered the divine rites, not from the altar, but from a simple table, in the open air, or in houses where they might be assembled. First of all, the priests knelt, with heads bowed toward the earth, while one repeated the Lord’s prayer. He that was selected to solemnize the sacrament then rose, uttered in a clear voice the words of consecration, and broke and administered the bread; afterward the wine, in a vessel of iron, clay, wood, or other material, as might happen to be convenient.
The Taborites evidently knew how to defend their doctrines by word; but their most effectual logic resided in their terrible flails, that threshed down all opposition that dared to lift its head. Councils and crusades and denunciations of all kinds were ineffectual to put them down. They relinquished none of their peculiar tenets, except those which they derived from the study of the Apocalypse. Time showed the futility of many of the interpretations which some of their preachers gave to the prophecies of this book. Others seem to have been generally abandoned, insomuch that the Roman Catholic historian, Natalis Alexander, in giving account of their doctrines, makes no mention of those which are said to have originated with Martin Loqui. The only tenets which he ascribes to them, beside those of which the Calixtine author of “The Diary of the Hussite War” makes mention, and which have been already given, are such as we might naturally suppose would be associated with them. He speaks of their denial of the supremacy of the Papal See, their doctrine of the parity of the clergy, their maintaining that whoever was guilty of mortal sin was, ipso facto, deprived of all secular and ecclesiastical authority, and was not to be obeyed. According to him, they held that prayer for the dead was an invention of the avarice of the priesthood; that there was no need of consecrated cemeteries, for it made no difference with what kind of earth human bodies were covered; and that the religious orders of the monks were a device of devils.
It is easy to perceive, that notwithstanding some fanatical views, and some opinions which were nurtured by the ignorance and prejudice of many among them, their sincere as well as avowed purpose was to restore the church, as near as possible, to its primitive model. Most of their doctrines were based clearly upon the authority of scripture; and we are only surprised to find them, within so short a period after the death of Huss, so far in advance of what Huss and Jerome, or even Jacobel, had taught. Many of them—not all, however—utterly rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation, which Huss and Jerome had avowed to the last, and which Jacobel had maintained in his peculiar sense, by distinguishing between Christ’s material and his spiritual body, the latter of which only was present in the sacrament of the altar. The doctrine of justification by faith alone, so distinctly apprehended and taught by Luther, does not appear to have attracted their special attention. Their circumstances and position ranged them on the negative side of most of the questions between them and the Roman church, and their principal work was more to tear down than construct, more to refute a false system than to build up a new theology. They had little leisure and little learning, or intellectual discipline, to apply themselves to the philosophy of their own belief, or study the order and harmony of doctrines which they derived from the simple word of scripture, and adopted with an unquestioning faith.
The doctrines of the Taborites proved especially disastrous to the monasteries. These were regarded as nuisances to be abated. Monks and nuns were dispersed, or forced to accept the communion of the cup. Refusal to comply was met with violence. This was the case even in Prague. The Monastery of the Holy Spirit was given up to the Germans for the preaching of the word of God. Those of St. Francis and St. James were stored with warlike machines and implements. The cups and furniture were sold for money. The sacred chrism and holy water were emptied on the earth.
Zisca carried out these principles, in letter and in spirit. As city after city came into the hands of the Taborites, the monasteries were devoted to destruction, and their inmates scattered. In the spirit of the ancient Israelites invading Canaan, the idolatrous rites of the Roman church were all to be suppressed.
This picture of the Taborites would be incomplete, without adding to it the features preserved to us by a letter of Æneas Sylvius to the Cardinal de Carvajal, in which he gives an account of the visit paid them by himself, in company with others, at a date some years after the siege of Prague. As ambassadors sent to treat with the Taborites, they demanded and received their hospitality. They were cheerfully welcomed by the Taborites, who went out to meet them, and they were entertained with cordiality and respect. “A most remarkable spectacle was now witnessed—an indiscriminate rabble, mostly composed of peasants, who wished however to appear genteel and refined. Although a cold rainstorm, such as frequently occurs in Bohemia, prevailed at the time, many had no other protection than a mere frock. Some wore robes made of skins, some of their horsemen had no saddles, some had no bridle, and others were without stirrups. One was booted, another not. One had lost an eye, another a hand, so that, to borrow the language of Virgil, it was a shame to see populataque tempora raptis auribus, et truncas inhonesto vulnere nares. There was no order of proceeding, no reserve in speech, and we were received in a rough and peasant style. Yet presents were made us of fish, wine, and beer. Having entered the town, we took a view of it, and if I were not to call it a town or asylum for heretics, I should be at a loss for a name to give it. For whatever monsters of impiety and of blasphemies are unmasked among Christians, flock together here, and find security in a place where there are as many heresies as there are heads, and full liberty to believe what you like. On the outer gate of the city there are two shields suspended. On one of these is a picture of an angel holding a cup, which he represented as extending to the people as if to invite them to the communion of the cup. On the other there is a portrait of Zisca, who is represented as an old man and entirely blind. … What more fitting for such a people, who have no understanding of divine things, no religion. No apprehension of what is just and right, than a blind leader! In this case that word of the Savior is fulfilled, ‘If the blind lead the blind, both fall into the ditch.’ … These people have no greater anxiety for anything than to hear a sermon. If anyone neglects this, and lies asleep at home, or busies himself with work or play during the time of sermon, he is beaten for it, and is compelled to obligate himself to hear the word of God. Their place of worship is built of wood, and is much like a barn; this they call their temple. Here they preach to the people; here they daily expound the law. They have here but one altar, neither consecrated, nor to be consecrated, and from this they exhibit the sacrament to the people. The priests neither wear crowns, nor shave their beards. The Taborites voluntarily provide by gifts for their support. They offer nothing upon the altar; they condemn tithes; of first fruits, they hold neither to the name nor to the thing itself. Yet they do not accord in one and the same belief. One thinks in one way, and another in another; each follows his own liking. Neither do they live by a single rule.”
It is to be borne in mind that we have no account of the Taborites, except from persons who were either their avowed enemies, or were strongly prejudiced against them. They undoubtedly were guilty of many imprudent acts, many deeds of violence, many excesses utterly unwarrantable. Many elements of fanaticism were mingled with their creed. Many and strong prejudices, peculiar to the class of which they were mostly composed, possessed their minds; but when their circumstances are considered—the persecution that drove them from their dwellings, the crusade that forced them in self-defense to take the weapons of war into their hands, the contempt and cruelty with which they were treated, and the necessities of their outlawed condition—the severe measures which they dealt out to the monasteries, whose inmates they regarded as accomplices of the council that burned Huss, and the terrible examples of vengeance, provoked by their own sufferings and wrong, and by which they made themselves formidable to their foes, these excesses of a ferocity fit only to foil and frighten a crusading army, and cease to wear that aspect of utter and ruthless malignity which they would otherwise bear. The creed of the Taborites was in the main scriptural, and we cannot but approve that wise policy by which they allowed all the diversities of opinion which prevailed among them, a full and perfect tolerance. Centuries passed away, and their representatives were seen spreading themselves over the world in the persons of the Moravian missionaries, to whose simple confidence in God, John Wesley acknowledged himself indebted for lessons of a faith wiser and stronger than his own.
On the battlefield the Taborites maintained their undisputed superiority and preeminence, even after the death of Zisca. They fought under the impulse of the most powerful motives which can inspire the soul. Each soldier was a hero. He was ready to be a martyr. His valor was not that of the soldier of fortune, inspired by earthly ambition and panting for an earthly prize. He was a champion of his faith, and his firm belief was, that in pouring out his blood, and laying down his life, he was rendering but a poor and unworthy tribute to that “truth of God,” in defense of which it was an honor to die.
The Calixtines formed—as they would wish to be regarded—the conservative reformers of the Bohemian nation. They remained steadfast in their regard for the memory of Huss, and in their attachment to the celebrated four articles which formed that portion of their creed in which they differed from the church of Rome. Once only they compromised matters with the Taborites, by declaring the wearing of priests’ vestments a matter of indifference, a non-essential. They wished to preserve the order and the institutions of the church intact, except so far as they would be modified by the admission of the four articles. They declared themselves opposed to all unnecessary innovations. They wished to commend themselves to the Christian world as faithful adherents to the Catholic faith. They took pains therefore to distinguish their cause and views from those of the Taborites, in as marked a manner as possible.
In a council held at Prague, in the year 1421, they drew up twenty-three articles, which they set forth in a document intended to serve as the exponent of their faith. In these they maintained transubstantiation, the necessity of the seven sacraments, the Catholic forms and rites of baptism with sponsors, chrism, the holy oil, and triple immersion in holy water, auricular confession, episcopal authority, the exclusive power of the keys by the priesthood, extreme unction, the invocation of the saints, purgatory and prayer fur the dead, the propriety of the priestly robes, and the offices connected with the mass, the observance of fast-days and the festivals of the saints, the consecration and sanctity of churches, the necessity of sacred vessels and ornaments, as well as a peculiar and distinctive dress for priests, the observance of canonical hours, and obedience to episcopal authority. On all these points, the Calixtines, however inconsistent or neglectful of the consequences flowing from their first article, as to the supreme authority of scripture, wished to abide by the rule and observance of the Roman church.
In reply to the twenty-three articles of the Calixtines, the Taborites drew up an equal number of an opposite tenor. But for a long time the two parties were so evenly balanced, that neither could claim a manifest preponderance. The great majority of the barons of the kingdom, with the citizens of Old Prague, were Calixtines, and Zisca himself, though the general of the Taborites, had evidently a strong leaning toward this party, at least on many points. The citizens of the New city, and the lower classes of the nation generally, composed the body of the Taborites. The danger of foreign invasion did not allow the two parties to risk their common security in fratricidal quarrels. It was evident, however, that only the power and wisdom of Zisca prevented an open division and hostility between them. If a compromise was ever to be affected with the so-called Catholic church, it could only be on a Calixtine basis.
The Campaigns of Zisca
Although the emperor had been forced to raise the siege of Prague, he did not abandon his designs against Bohemia. He determined to levy fresh armies, and make another attempt to recover the kingdom. His retreat from Prague was as desolating to the region through which he passed as his invading march lead been. With his hussars, he stopped for a while at Kuttenberg, and the valor and energies of his army were devoted to the work of ravage and plunder.
His retreat allowed the differences that existed between the Calixtines and Taborites to show themselves. The twelve articles of the latter, for which they demanded the approval and sanction of the city, and one of which threatened danger to the churches and monasteries, were at first rejected, and afterward approved only through a revolutionary movement that secured new magistrates, whom the Taborites nominated. In spite of this, however, they determined to leave the city. Their friends in New Prague strongly urged them to remain, but the Calixtines of Old Prague were more than willing to have them depart. Their radical views of reform, and their unyielding hostility to images, statues, pictures, the old church forms, and whatever savored in their opinion of superstition and Antichrist, diverged so far from the moderation of the Calixtines, who would be satisfied with securing the granting of their four articles, that Zisca acted only a prudent part in withdrawing his forces from Prague (August 22, 1420).
But his object in doing this was not merely to prevent a collision between the Taborites and Calixtines. He wished to keep his forces employed, and suppress through Bohemia any movements in favor of Sigismund. The monks and priests soon felt the weight of his vengeance. With sword in hand, he swore never to rest till the power of the papacy in Bohemia was utterly prostrate. The cities which resisted the freedom of the communion of the cup, but especially the monasteries, were marked for assault and pillage. Kniczan, about a league from Prague, was the first to feel his vengeance. The castle was taken, the church destroyed, and seven priests burned. Zisca then directed his steps to the Circle of Prachin. Desolation marked his course. The city of Pisek fell into his hands. He presented himself before the walls of Prachatitz. It stood charged with having treated the Hussites with harsh cruelty. Zisca for once was disposed to be lenient. It was at Prachatitz that he had spent his early years as a student. He wished to spare the city, if possible, as a tribute to the memory of the happy days and the friendships he had enjoyed there. He summoned it to open its gates to him, promising it favorable and lenient terms, but was met by a blunt refusal. Upon this he stormed the city (November 12, 1420). It was taken, and no mercy shown. Two hundred and thirty were left dead in the streets, and more than fourscore persons were burned. Even women and children were driven into exile. To the plea for mercy, Zisca’s stern reply was, “We must fulfil the law of the Lord Christ in your blood.”
Meanwhile Sigismund had gathered a new army, and advanced to resume the siege of Prague. During the past two months (September and October, 1420) he had amused the barons of the empire by frequent assemblies, which he summoned with the ostensible purpose of restoring peace and order throughout the kingdom. But all these efforts were futile. His own character would not allow his subjects to trust him. His complicity in the death of Huss could not easily be blotted front the memories of men who regarded the victim of his perfidy as a martyr for the truth.
By great exertions this second army had been brought together. The march of the emperor was expedited by intelligence of the danger which threatened the garrison of the Vissehrad. With his Moravian recruits, and all that he retained of his former army, he reached Prague before the Vissehrad fell into the hands of the besiegers. But a letter which he had written to the garrison, revealing his plans, fell into the hands of the Hussites and put them on their guard. The arrangements which he had made to raise the siege by an attack upon the city simultaneous with a sortie by the garrison, were frustrated. The latter remained quiet, whether they had lost hope of successful resistance, or did not understand the emperor’s signal. The next day they surrendered. Great was the rejoicing of the citizens, and great the mortification of Sigismund.
Yet he was not disposed to abandon his purposes without again trying the fortune of arms. He hazarded a battle, but it proved disastrous to his army. In the absence of Zisca, the citizens of Prague had called in Krussina, with his Horebites, to their assistance. They had the reputation of being full as brave, and more merciless even than the Taborites. The emperor saw his forces beaten and flying like chaff before the terrible blows dealt by the flails of the undisciplined peasantry. “I want to come to blows,” said he, “with those flail-bearers.” “Sire,” replied Plumlovisc, a Moravian nobleman, “I fear that we shall all perish; those iron flails are exceedingly formidable.” “Oh! you Moravians,” replied Sigismund, “I know you; you are afraid!” The Moravians were stung to desperation by the rash and unworthy taunt. Flinging themselves from their horses, they rushed—where the emperor did not choose to venture—upon the entrenchments of the Hussites. But their assault was futile. A sortie from the city rushed to the rescue of its brave defenders. The besiegers were forced to give way. They fled on all sides, and fell by thousands before the swords and flails of their pursuers. A great part of the Moravian nobility were left on the field of battle. The rout of the army was complete, and again Sigismund was constrained to retire from before the walls of Prague.
The patience and hopes of the Hussites, who had relied upon Sigismund’s disposition to conciliate and give peace to his kingdom, were alike exhausted. The Calixtines even, by the force of circumstances, found themselves brought to occupy the position, politically, of the Taborites. The pride of Sigismund, his haughty demeanor, and his intractable purpose to subdue Bohemia and dictate his own terms, had forced the great majority to the conviction that he was unfit to occupy the throne. It was finally determined to call a convention of the states of the kingdom, and elect a new king (December 30, 1420). An effort also was made to compromise the differences between the Calixtines and Taborites. This was a difficult matter. One main subject of controversy was whether the priests should wear their robes in celebrating mass, according to the old rites of the church. Some favored and some opposed it, and each party was strenuous. In some places even the Bohemian women had interfered to prevent the priests wearing the robes. The difference was at last compromised, on the suggestion of Jacobel that the wearing of the robes should be accounted a matter of indifference. It was easier to frame the decree than to carry it into effect. It however answered its purpose of effecting a present conciliation in the convention. In regard to the choice of a king there was some division. Nicholas de Hussinitz had aspired to be a candidate. His claims, however, were set aside, and he withdrew in angry disappointment from the city, swearing never again to enter it. At a short distance from Prague his horse fell. He was seriously injured, and was brought back to the city to die. His followers, on the loss of their leader, went over to Zisca.
The crown was offered to the king of Poland. But the embassy sent to announce the proceedings of the Bohemians was captured by the emperor and thrown into prison. The pope, moreover, interfered to prevent the king of Poland from listening to the proposal, or accepting the offered crown.
In this measure of the states Zisca had taken part. Leaving most of his troops behind, he accepted the invitation, extended to himself and other barons, to be present at the convention which was held at the council-house of Prague. On his entering the city he was received with great honors, and his views harmonized with those of the great majority of the assembly. The discords of the kingdom were now for a time hushed, and Sigismund found himself almost unanimously rejected by the nation.
Zisca again left Prague to pay visits to his “good friends,” the monks. He marched in the direction of Pilsen. The rich cloisters of Choteschau and Kladrub were seized, and fortified instead of being destroyed. Zisca had resolved to make his conquest of permanent service to his cause. Whatever he could garrison and maintain as a Hussite fortress was seized and held for this purpose. In fact, this method of procedure was essential to the success of the plan which he had projected, of driving his enemies out of the kingdom. Sigismund’s third defeat was due to the wisdom of this policy.
One of the emperor’s generals was still maintaining his cause in Bohemia. Bohuslaus von Schwamberg held himself secure in the strong fortress of Kastikow. Zisca surprised him by a night march, and took the castle. Bohuslaus was imprisoned at the instance of the Taborites, who wished to have him treated harshly, but Zisca, feigning compliance, at length set him free.
Some of the soldiers who followed him, whether from this or other causes, or both combined, left him. They formed an army by themselves, and attempted to prosecute their plans under leaders of their own choice. But the imperial general, Flaschko, of Kuttenberg, fell upon and routed them. This partial success encouraged Sigismund, and he expedited measures in order again to invade the kingdom. He saw that Zisca was the great obstacle to his success. His spirit seemed to diffuse itself throughout Bohemia, and his name alone was a tower of strength. The occasion seemed favorable, since the Hussite general was weakened by the loss of a part of his army. But the emperor’s movements were too dilatory. Allies from Prague and Tabor flocked at once to Zisca’s standards. The enemy who had ventured to besiege Kladrub were suddenly confronted by the Taborite hosts. A panic terror seized them, and instead of a battle there was only a rout and pursuit. Sigismund fled first to Leitmeritz, then to Kuttenberg, and at last to Moravia.
His defeat and absence from the kingdom left room for divisions and jealousies to spring up anew. Pilsen, in some way, had merited Zisca’s displeasure. He marched against it, but the city shut its gates. Zisca besieged it for the space of seventeen days, but it still resisted. At length a truce was effected. The cities of Pilsen, Miess, Domatzlitz, and others entered into a league with Prague, on the basis of ratifying the four articles of the Calixtines. This truce was effected in the early part of 1421, and continued in force through the year. Zisca was not idle, however. Commotau, Launy, and Slany fell into his bands. Other places were threatened, and some priests were burned.
The junction of the Calixtines and Taborites in their measures for rejecting Sigismund and electing a new king, seems to have tended to restrain the excesses of the Taborites. Strange views had been adopted by some of them, especially by those who followed Martin Loqui. Beside his extravagant interpretations of the Apocalypse, he seems to have taught other doctrines peculiarly offensive. He denied transubstantiation—although on this point many of the Taborites agreed with him. He taught that God was in man; that neither was He to be sought in heaven, nor the devil in hell; that all books, and forms of faith, and church ceremonies were needless and superfluous; that the marriage vow was not indissolubly binding. To these doctrines, of which we can only gather a general idea, he added others which he appears to have derived from the Adamites, or to have held in common with them. His followers, to whom he gave the promise of eternal life, became numerous. He was first banished from Tabor, but afterward pursued by Zisca, who heard of his proceedings at Beraun, where he was disseminating his views.
The Taborite general determined to put a stop to his course. Although a Calixtine himself, he had allowed a perfect toleration among his own soldiers; but when their doctrines were carried to licentiousness, or an excess which threatened dangerous results, he was prompt in putting a check upon them. At Beraun some of Loqui’s followers were burned, and some recanted. Loqui himself was also put to death according to some, by Zisca, according to others, by Archbishop Conrad. The probability is that Zisca, who was a Calixtine, banished the unfortunate and misguided man from Tabor, or possibly sent him to Conrad, that he might determine what should be done with him. It seems quite evident, at least, that he fell a victim to that jealousy which the Calixtines felt for their reputation.
It is fully evident, that although Zisca well understood how to manage the enthusiasm, not to say the fanaticism of his followers, his own good sense was not blinded by any fanatic views of his own. It was the policy of the general, full as much as any taste for religious symbolism, that led him to adopt the plan of having a priest bearing a cup in his hand, lead the army in its attacks. At the crude fancies of some of his followers, he only smiled, except when he could employ them as his allies in the camp or on the battlefield. He even delighted oftentimes in seeing the would-be prophets of the army exposed to division. On one occasion, wishing to encamp upon a certain field, the prophets forbade it, with the assurance that the next day fire from heaven would descend to consume the harvests that covered it, and endanger the safety of the army. The next day, however, proved rainy, and the prophets found themselves exposed to the derision of those whom they had attempted to overrule. It became a proverb in the camp, that the prophecies of the priests and their fulfillment came as near together as fire and water. However Zisca and his soldiers might favor the pretended inspiration of some of their spiritual guides, no dreams, or impressions, or inspired fancies were allowed to prevent their assaults when they promised success, or induce the hazarding of a battle when good sense or military sagacity forbade it.
The alliance of the Bohemian cities on the basis of the articles of Prague continued to extend. New accessions were continually made to this—which might now be called a national league. Chrudim, Mant, Polictzka, Leitomischel, Trautenau, and Konigshof joined it. Jaromirtz, which refused, was sacked, and many of its inhabitants were drowned or burned. Twenty-three priests fell victims to their obstinacy in resisting the liberty of the communion of the cup. Leitmeritz still held out against the league. Zisca with his forces marched against it, but the city refused to surrender to him. “Let them of Prague come,” said they, “and we will yield the city up into their hands.” Zisca chose to make another assault, but it proved unsuccessful, and the citizens had the satisfaction of capitulating to the army of Prague, which hastened to receive their surrender, and witness their oaths to maintain inviolate the four articles.
Thus each day saw the hopes of Sigismund for recovering the crown, becoming weaker and more desperate. The castle of Wenzel still held out for him in Prague, but it was now resolved that this should be reduced. Zisca from Leitmeritz marched to Prague, with this object in view. He built a fort over against the city for the security of his own soldiers, and from this he directed his attacks against the castle. It surrendered after a resistance of fourteen days, and the last vestige of Sigismund’s authority vanished from the capital of Bohemia. Czenko, the governor, had now thrown off all reserve, and boldly united himself with the Calixtine barons, with whom he was already agreed in religious sentiment.
At this opportune moment, and after unprecedented successes against the enemy, the convention of the states met at Czaslau (July, 1421). Representatives appeared in large numbers, not only from every part of Bohemia, but also from Moravia. A regency was appointed, of twenty members, taken from the different orders of the nation. Zisca appeared in it, in the first rank of the nobles. It was resolved, with remarkable unanimity, that the four articles of Prague should be universally received; that they should be maintained and defended to the last extremity, to the risk of property and life. Some wished that to these, two others should be added—one, to the effect that Sigismund should be forever excluded from the throne; the other, that instead of a king, a commission should be appointed to discharge his duties. To these two, however, the Moravians objected. Much as they disliked Sigismund, they wished to leave the future policy of the kingdom open, to be modified by circumstances. They may, moreover, have been apprehensive—far more than the Bohemians—of the vengeance of the emperor upon such a step being taken. His ambassadors in fact appeared before the convention, and attempted by threats to overawe the body, and induce them to accept Sigismund as king. But it was all in vain.
The barons, however, were not content with a mere rejection of the demand. They replied by drawing up an apology and vindication, containing fourteen articles, in which they stated their reasons for solemnly refusing to Sigismund all allegiance. They complain of the atrocious injuries, as well as slanderous calumnies of their enemies, the desolating and burning of their cities and villages, the inhuman and cruel massacres, not only of men, but of women and children, that had been perpetrated by a foreign foe, and the loss and damage which they had suffered from the invading army. They then arraign the conduct of Sigismund for his complicity in the death of Huss; for the various acts of injustice from the council which he had sanctioned; for the publication of the crusade, his levying armies against the kingdom, and studiously defaming it abroad, in order to swell the league against it; for his acts at Breslau in burning a Calixtine, and putting many eminent citizens to death; for the plunder and devastation committed by his army; for carrying off the crown of the kingdom, with its tables and the treasures for the poor; for giving away and alienating the march of Brandenburg, which belonged to Bohemia; for his slanders against the barons of the kingdom, calling them all traitors, and industriously circulating reports, far and near, prejudicial to the reputation of Bohemia, and tending to its irreparable injury; for his violation of the liberties and rights of the kingdom; and his unjust exactions, cruelly enforced, to the ruin and desolation of many cities.
On these grounds, they demand that reparation be made, and that the freedom of their four articles be granted there without reserve or limitation.
To these articles Sigismund attempted a reply, but it made only a feeble impression. It is amusing to observe how the historian, or rather the caricaturist, of the Hussites, Cochleius, attempts to vindicate Sigismund from the charges of the barons. He begins by assuming that the barony are all heretics; and, on the authority of Jerome, he defines the heretic, in the language of scripture, as one in whose mouth is no truth, whose heart is vain, whose throat is an open sepulchre, and whose tongue is full of deceit. He thence infers that the apology of the barons, as the production of heretics, is false and vain, and that Sigismund, whose faith and virtue have been so highly praised, could not have been guilty of the things laid to his charge. His carrying away the crown and the archives of the kingdom, however, is defended on the plea of its necessity.
The convention had not yet dispersed, when news arrived of an invasion on the borders of Silesia. The barons at once made arrangements to repel the enemy. Czenko and Krussina—a strange alliance of Horebite and Calixtine—marched against them. The Silesians were awed by the opposing force, and hastily retreated across the border.
Zisca, previous to this, had gone to Wodnian, near Prachin. Thence he marched to the siege of Raby. It was here that he met with the misfortune of the loss of his other eye. He had mounted a tree in order to inspect the entrenchments of the enemy, when an arrow from the walls pierced it. After he had fully ascertained his danger, he consented to be removed to Prague that he might have the aid of the physicians of that city, in the hope that its sight might possibly be restored. But his own imprudence and recklessness destroyed the last chance of any such favorable result. The old hero was incurably and hopelessly blind. Yet even now he could not forego his favorite employment. His friends sought to retain him at Prague. But he withstood all their entreaties. “Let me go,” said he, “I have blood yet to shed.” A message from his army reached him. It urgently pressed his return. The soldiers would march under no other general. This determined the matter, and Zisca hastened to rejoin his army.
It was time for him to do it. The emperor had made extensive though ill-advised preparations for another invasion of the kingdom. A large army from Germany was to enter Bohemia from the west, while he was at the same time to march against it from the east. But his own dilatoriness defeated his plan. The western army, soon after the time agreed upon—the day of St. Bartholomew, destined to become still more memorable in the annals of persecution—crossed the Bohemian frontier and commenced the siege of Sozium. But the resistance they met, together with their disappointment in hearing no tidings of the emperor, disconcerted and disheartened them, and leaving their work undone, they returned to Germany. Their immense force, estimated at 200,000 men, was dissolved and scattered.
The emperor at length appeared on the Bohemian frontier toward the close of the year (December 25, 1421). Great efforts had been made to gather an army capable of resisting him. It was agreed that its officers should be appointed by the city of Prague. But all would have been in vain probably, without the aid of Zisca. The mere presence of the blind old warrior was a terror to the foe.
Sigismund with his powerful army was slow approaching Prague. Several places had already been taken. Zisca, meanwhile, had been busy in suppressing all movements throughout Bohemia in favor of the emperor. At Pilsen, however, he was met with an obstinate resistance, and was forced to raise the siege and retreat before the foe, who had reassembled and resumed the offensive upon receiving intelligence of the emperor’s invasion. Blind as he was, Zisca conducted a three days’ retreat to Saatz in a most masterly manner. But already the emperor had collected his scattered forces, and was prepared to encircle, with his mighty host, the doomed city. Prague was alarmed, and summoned the blind old hero again to her aid. Zisca was received within her walls, almost with royal honors.
Gathering his forces, he marched first to Kuttenberg, and then to Czaslau. But the citizens of Kuttenberg were ill-pleased with the visit of the Taborites. The occasion was not a favorable one. The invading army strengthened at once their fears and their orthodoxy. They saw for the first time the ceremonial, or rather the want of ceremonial, of Taborite worship. Scarcely had the soldiers entered the city, when they hasted to improve their privilege of the freedom of communion. With all their dusty clothing upon them, just as they were when they dismounted from their horses, they made their appearance in the sacred assembly. It seemed to the Kuttenbergers almost a sacrilege thus to hurry from their horses to the altar; and when they had witnessed their communion with common bread, and the use of a tin or wooden cup for the wine, with the short prayer and simple words of consecration, they turned away in distrust. So strong was their aversion to such allies, so widely divergent was the practice of the Taborites in the communion from the old forms of the mass which the Kuttenbergers still retained, that scarcely had Zisca with his forces left the city, when they opened their gates to receive the army of the emperor.
Zisca strengthened the fortifications of Czaslau, and then returned to cope with the hostile army. Sigismund had already marched upon Humpoletz and Ludetz, when the antagonist forces approached each other, and the pickets of the two armies exchanged blows. At this critical moment the treason of the Kuttentergers gave Sigismund the advantage. Putting their city in his rear to protect it, he prepared to confront Zisca. The Hussite general saw himself forced to retreat. The citizens of Prague, uncertain of the issue, fearful of incurring the vengeance of Sigismund, and encouraged by the example of Kuttenberg, began to drop away from Zisca’s army. As the enemy approached, he fell back upon the hill Transkauk; and here it was that the emperor felt that he had his sure grasp upon his destined victim. He carefully spread out the wings of his army to enclose the Taborites. Night settled down in darkness over the scene, and the morning threatened to dawn upon a beleaguered host, with no alternative but that of sure and hopeless defeat or unconditional surrender.
But the blind Zisca was not to be so easily caught. He waited, indeed, another day, retaining his position upon the hill, whence his enemies did not venture the attempt to dislodge him; but on the second night his plans were matured and ready for execution. Quietly marshalling all his army, he led them, nearly without loss, and with scarcely striking a blow, through the camp of the enemy. The emperor saw himself again defeated in his plans—completely outgeneraled by an antagonist whom he regarded as already within his toils.
Zisca marched first to Colin, thence to Gieziu and Turnau, recruiting his forces. Sigismund was not prepared to attack him before he had recovered himself sufficiently to be able to turn and face his pursuer. He encamped on the banks of the Nebonid, ready for battle. But Sigismund no longer thought of attacking him. He withdrew to Moravia, laying Kuttenberg—probably deeming its fidelity to him in this time of his reverse utterly unreliable—in ashes. Zisca followed him in his retreat. He overtook him (January 9, 1422) at Deutschbrod, where a fierce battle was fought, which lasted for three hours. At length victory declared in favor of the Taborites. The eneemy fled, but their retreat proved more disastrous than the battlefield. The crowd of fugitives was such that, in attempting to cross the bridge of the Sazanna, their progress was checked, and fifteen thousand cavalry, led by their general, Pipo of Florence, attempted to cross the river on the ice. But the weight of men and horses proved too much for its strength to support. It gave way beneath them, and nearly all were drowned. Sigismund continued his retreat to Iglau. He left behind him seven standards, five hundred baggage-wagons, and an imrnense booty, which Zisca distributed to his soldiers.
Blind though he was, the Taborite general could not content himself with merely acting on the defensive. The loss of sight forced him to employ the eyes of others, and from their observations he formed his plans of attack or defense. His memory of localities was wonderful. His frequent campaigns had made him familiar with almost every part of Bohemia. The whole region was spread out before his mind’s eye like a map, and his measures were taken with the utmost wisdom and precaution. In battle, he took his stand upon a baggage-wagon, near the standard, and, by the eyes of others, closely watched each stage of the conflict, and the necessities of his position. Nothing escaped him. He discerned as if by instinct, and by a military genius for which the age in which he lived could not furnish a parallel or a rival, the strong and the weak points of each army, and the measures by which they might be turned to his own advantage.
As a general, friends and enemies vie with one another in elevating him to the first rank. “Scarce any history of Hebrews, Greek, or Latins,” says Cochleius, “brings before us any leader of armies of such capacity as Zisca was.” An undisciplined peasantry were trained by him to withstand and repel the shock imperial cavalry. A restless energy in his iron frame defied fatigue, and scorned to rest, and into his troops he infused his own activity and daring. But prudent sagacity supplied the means of energy and courage, and new expedients were devised as necessity required, till his soldiers attained a perfect confidence in the almost magic skill and enterprise of their leader. Many of his most signal and successful battles were fought after he had become entirely blind; and never, till the breath left his body, did the terror of his name cease to make his foes tremble.
Returning from the pursuit of Sigismund, he found some of his partisans still active in Bohemia. The Bishop of Leitomischel, the bitter enemy of Huss and Jerome at Constance, and the persecutor of the Calixtines, now appears again upon the stage. He had been promoted to the bishopric of Olmutz, and on Conrad’s secession to the Calixtines he was elevated to the vacant archbishopric. Sigismund had not a more faithful and daring ally, nor the Bohemians a more bitter or dangerous foe. At the moment of the threatened invasion, with a sword for his crosier and an armed band for his flock, he attempted to promote at once the cause of the emperor and his own by violent methods. He heal deservedly earned the epithet of “The Iron Bishop.” From the altar where he celebrated mass, he would haste to the camp, mount on horseback, with his helmet on his head and his body cased in armor, and sink the churchman in the warrior, the bishop in the general. His rage against the Hussites was almost fiendish. He boasted of the number he had slain with his own hand. But the defeat of Sigismund was the prelude to his own. His army was cut to pieces in the neighborhood of Broda, and completely annihilated. Zisca, assuming the authority which his victories assured him, seated upon the ruins of the fortress, and under the captured standards, knighted the bravest of his soldiers, and distributed among them an immense booty.
Not content with thus prostrating the enemy in Bohemia, Zisca extended his arms into Moravia. He had already reached the borders of the Austrian territory, when he was summoned back to Prague. Leaving behind him his ablest general, Procopius Magnus, or Rasus as he was called, to prosecute the war, he returned with a portion of his army into Bohemia.
Events at Prague had assumed, suddenly, an ominous aspect. On the refusal of the king of Poland to accept the crown, it had been offered to Withold, Grand Duke of Lithuania. He also had declined to accept it, but had recommended to the Bohemian barons his near relative, Sigismund Corybut. Accompanying him to Prague, they had both sealed their Calixtine faith by partaking of the communion of the cup. But at this juncture, many of the nobility, disappointed, perhaps gladly, by the king of Poland’s declinature of the crown, had fallen back upon their old preference for Sigismund. Doubtless they imagined that successive defeats had made him wiser, while freedom from foreign invasion allowed the antagonistic elements of the Taborites and Calixtines again to show themselves.
At Prague the Calixtine party had recovered their supremacy, and had elected magistrates who favored their views. The old hostility against the Taborites was revived. They cited before them the bold Premonstrant monk, John, whom they accused of tyranny and sanguinary acts. The monk obeyed the summons. With nine of his companions he presented himself at the council-house. He was at once arrested, and the whole number were summarily tried and executed. It was attempted to keep the deed secret; but the blood of the victims flowing out into the street, told their friends of their sad fate. This was the signal for vengeance. Jacobel, whom we now find on the side of the Taborites, encouraged the multitude. He held up to their view the head of the monk, whom he called a martyr. In their rage, the Taborites assaulted and massacred the magistrates who had ordered the execution. The council-house was taken, and the library destroyed.
This event was the signal for hostilities to recommence. The presence of Corybut had no effect to repress passion or restore order. Although a Calixtine, there was a strong party opposed to him. When the coronation was to take place, it was found impossible to obtain the regalia. Some of these Sigismund had carried away with him. But for this, it is possible, as Cochleius suggests, that Sigismund would never have recovered his throne. At first Zisca favored the cause of Corybut. He urged the people generally to accept him as king. But the favorable moment had now passed. The nation was divided into fierce parties, embittered by prejudice and mutual aggressions. The old church party began again to raise its head, and these at one extreme, and the Taborites at the other, were irreconcilably opposed to Corybut. It was in vain that Zisca, here differing from the Taborites, espoused his cause.
The diet that was held at Prague toward the close of the year (November, 1421) to determine the question in regard to the election of a king, was much divided. Zisca urged harmony, and the exercise of a kindly and forbearing spirit. “Forgive one another,” said he, “that you may unite in saying ‘Our Father.’” On the other hand, he did not fail to reprove the violence of the Taborites. He exhorted them to “honor the elders, and deal justly, not with violence, so that God may be with us.” But his counsels and persuasions were vain. There was an utter lack of unanimity. Corybut, for the present at least, despaired of the election, and prepared to leave Prague.
It was not such words as those of Zisca that would heal the division. The vengeance of the Taborites for the murder of the Premonstrant monk had been signal, and had embittered their foes. They had unwittingly given the latter a great advantage. In their excitement the mob had proceeded to great lengths. They had plundered the library of the university, and destroyed the records of the council-house. They had sacked the houses of the councilors, and had even assaulted the dwellings of the Jews.
As if this provocation was not enough, the citizens of Prague were indignant and took offense at the tone in which Zisca had addressed them. They complained of it as too authoritative. They disliked him the more that, while on many points he differed from the Taborites, he was still their general, and lent to them the strength and sanction of his name. Against him therefore their animosity was now directed.
But Zisca was not a man to be trampled upon by those whom he had so often protected from invasion. Their insults could not be directed against him with impunity. He saw, moreover, that unless the present movement in favor of Sigismund was checked, Bohemia would be subjected to his control, and not only the Taborites, but the Calixtines would be given over to the counsels of such men as the Bishop of Leitomischel, who were living embodiments of the spirit of the crusade. Even Corybut, favoring the Calixtines as the stronger party, and the one from whom he had the most to expect, was, however unwittingly, playing into the emperor’s hands. Zisca withdrew from Prague, brooding over his plans of vengeance, which he was not slow to execute against those barons whose counsels were betraying the freedom and the interests of their country. He attacked their partisans and ravaged their estates.
The Calixtines promptly armed to repel his assaults, and endeavored to crush him whom they now regarded as an open enemy. All their former jealousies were revived and embittered. He stood in the way of their coming to terms with Sigismund—terms which, however ignominious, they were willing to accept. Czenko of Wartemberg, former governor of the castle, gathered an army, largely composed of the nobility, and marched against Zisca. But the Taborite general was victorious, and the Calixtines were severely beaten. Distributing the booty among his soldiers, Zisca with only three days’ delay pushed on to Kozagedy, which he took by storm. Terror preceded him, and devastation marked his track. He mercilessly cut down all that opposed him, and laid castle and fortress, as well as all that offered resistance, in ashes.
But his incessant activity and unwearied energy were too much for his soldiers. When he ordered a night march upon Koniggratz, they began to complain. “Zisca,” said they, “is blind, but we are not. We cannot fight like him in the dark.” They threatened to halt upon their march, and the plans of their general against Koniggratz were in danger of being defeated. Zisca reasoned with them. He endeavored to overcome their reluctance to fellow him. Himself a Calixtine in sentiment, though not in sympathy, his arguments were the more forcible. “It is for your sake,” said he, “that I fight. It is no concern of mine, personally. I could make peace for myself if I chose. All is for your good.”
Soothing their minds with these reasonings, he at once changed his course of remark, and surprised them by one of those strokes of policy which show the inexhaustible resources of his mind. “Come now,” he added, “listen to counsel. In what neighborhood are we now?” “Between the hills Podmokly and Cziniswes,” was the reply. Zisca, who in a moment apprehended the position of the army, was ready with an expedient to meet their objection of the darkness of the night, “Go with all dispatch,” said he, “and light up the village of Miestecz, so that we may see our way.” The command was obeyed, and the conflagration of that village lighted their march to the walls of Koniggratz. The city fell into Zisca’s hands, with scarce the show of resistance. A friendly party within aided the victors.
But the Calixtines of Prague felt the loss of the place too severely not to make strenuous efforts for its recovery. Borzek, a former governor of Prague, led out an army to attack Zisca and regain Koniggratz. The Taborite general did not decline the offered battle. He marched out to meet the foe, and a terrible conflict ensued. The Calixtines suffered a complete and annihilating defeat.
The course of events had wrought a change in Zisca’s policy. Driven to desperation by the Calixtines, he now conformed to the Taborite ceremonial. The priests before him no longer said mass in their robes, according to the rites of the old church. He had been willing and even anxious before, that former differences between Calixtine and Taborite should be compromised by uniting upon Corybut as king. But this expedient failed to secure unanimity, and Corybut, in throwing himself into the arms of the Calixtines, had alienated himself more than ever from the Taborites. Zisca now treated him as an enemy. He had, in fact, introduced foreign troops, to the aid of the army of Prague, and stood ready to lead them against the Taborites. At this aspect of things Zisca felt the necessity of strengthening his army. Procopius, whom he had left behind him when summoned to meet the diet at Prague, and who had followed the enemy across the frontier, was probably recalled; at least he now rejoined Zisca with his forces (May, 1422).
Borzek, on his defeat, in which he was badly wounded, withdrew to his castle. Zisca returned to Koniggratz, and, destroying its fortifications that it might be defenseless in case it was seized by the enemy, marched to Czaslau. Here he strengthened himself, and put the place in a state of defense against the new army which was marching against him from Prague. One of his generals, Lupak, with the force under his command, was cut off by the enemy. Zisca upon this seems to have withdrawn from Czaslau, willing probably to have it stand a siege and delay the foe, while he hastened to Moravia, where the Archduke Albert, nephew of Sigismund, was recovering the cities which Procopius had taken. The archduke laid claim to Moravia as a gift from the emperor, and exerted all his energies to drive out the Hussites and subject it to his own dominion. He was engaged in beleaguering Suntenberg, when Procopius was dispatched to relieve it. At the news of the approach of Zisca’s army (August 12, 1422), the archduke consulted his safety by a hasty retreat. He was not anxious even to face the terrible army of the blind old Taborite general.
Zisca, taking summary vengeance upon all parties that had shown any inclination to favor the archduke, followed him in his retreat. He advanced into Austria as far as Stokerau, on the Danube, and only four leagues from Vienna. The archduke, however, had escaped him, and lay upon the opposite bank. Zisca turned aside for the siege of Kremsen, when the army from Prague, which had followed on his track, came up with him. Procopius promptly marched to his relief; and the army of Prague, led by John—possibly the archbishop—was foiled. Zisca, secure for the present from the archduke, whom he left to be looked after by his general Procopius, returned to Bohemia.
Never had a harder task than the present one been confided even to his hands. The Calixtines and the imperialists were virtually in league together against him. The one within, and the other without the kingdom, attempted to crush him as the common enemy of both. But the spirit of the blind hero breathed defiance, and his genius and skill were equal to the emergency. With Procopius left behind him to hold the foreign enemy in check, he now turned to suppress internal hostilities. At Ckalitz, in the neighborhood of Koniggratz, he fell in with a body of troops from Prague, which he cut to pieces and dispersed. Arnau, however, nine miles north of Koniggratz, repulsed his assault (January 6, 1423). The castle of Mlazowicza was less fortunate. It fell into his hands, and he signalized his vengeance by hewing its commander in pieces. For several months he continued his ravages by flying marches, increasing as much as possible the strength of his army. Klattau was taken by storm, but when Zisca reached Saatz, his whole force consisted of only 7,000 foot and 500 horse. Yet with this force he directed his marshal, John Bzdinka, to march in the direction of Czaslau and Prague. At Kostelez he fell in with the Calixtine army, under the command of Czenko. The Elbe now threatened to cut off all opportunity of retreat, and Czenko’s army was too strong to be safely withstood. The Taborites, however, discovered a ford by which they were enabled to cross the Elbe, and for three days the army of Czenko followed in close pursuit. Zisca was overtaken near Kuttenberg, and finding the ground favorable, no longer declined battle. Corybut, who now made common cause with the Calixtine army of Prague, arrived with a reinforcement, and Zisca, who had animated his soldiers by a speech, in which he pointed them to the ruins of Kuttenberg as an illustration of imperial mercy, saw the opportunity of gaining a decisive victory unexpectedly snatched from his grasp. Feigning an apprehension of defeat, he slowly retreated, till by his maneuvers he had drawn the enemy into a position in which he could safely engage.
Again victorious, Zisca now commenced his march directly for Prague, which he reached on September 11 (1423). He had now thrice defeated the most powerful armies which his enemies at Prague could marshal, and the intelligence of his approach filled them with consternation. They determined, however, to resist his attack, and closing the gates against him, forced him to the necessity of storming the city. But here his soldiers began to hesitate and murmur. They had too often fought to defend those walls which they were now to assault, not to shrink from an act, however necessary in their circumstances, which only the genius and the vengeance of Zisca could have conceived and dared. Though accustomed to blood, and hardened to all the atrocities of the battlefield, their hearts were affected, and complaints were heard when Zisca proceeded with his measures for storming the city.
But the blind old warrior could speak as well as fight, and could marshal and guide the passions of men with a skill equal to that with which he conducted armies. Standing on a cask, where he might be seen of those whom he no longer saw, he harangued his troops, and his powerful voice at once kindled all hearts by its familiar yet stirring tones. “Companions,” said he, “why do you murmur? I am not your enemy, but your general. It is by me that you have gained so many victories—by me that you have won fame and wealth. And yet, for you I have lost my sight, I am condemned to ceaseless darkness. … For all my labors, what is my reward? Nothing but a name! It is then for you that I have acted, that I have conquered. It is not my own interest that arms me against this city. It is not the blood of a blind old man that it thirsts after, but it dreads your intrepid hearts and your invincible arms. When they shall have taken me in their nets, they will lay snares for you, from which you will scarcely escape. Let us therefore take Prague. Let us crush the sedition before Sigismund is informed of it. A few men, well united, will do more against the emperor than a vast multitude divided. Let no person therefore accuse me, for I act in your interest. Now make your choice. Will you have peace? Take care that it does not cover some ambush! Will you have war? Here I am!”
These words had the desired effect. There was no more murmuring. The Taborites invested the city, and suffered no one to issue forth from the gates. Everything was ready for the assault, but Zisca delayed his order to storm the city. Perhaps he had ever hoped, and still believed, that he would be spared the terrible necessity. If he had laid his plans to subdue the city by terror, he was not disappointed. The citizens had no wish to engage in conflict with the man who rarely lost a battle, never succumbed under defeat, never abandoned his purpose. They could not bear to imagine what results might follow the storming of the city, or the revival within it of the spirit of the Premonstrant monk, a spirit suppressed and almost stifled, but still ready to show itself, if occasion permitted, as fierce and as terrible as ever. They met to deliberate, and determined to send a deputation to Zisca to induce him to relent.
At the head of the deputation was John of Rokyzan, a Calixtine preacher of great credit and ability, subsequently archbishop, who from the obscurity and poverty of his birth had raised himself by his talents to a high position. His representations were effectual with Zisca, who in all probability was only too willing to listen to counsels which might at once spare his own honor and the execution of his terrible threat. To the entreaties of the deputation he lent a favorable ear, and the terms of the treaty of peace were at once settled. It was signed in the camp; and, as a monument of the alliance, and from regard for ancient customs, a pile of stones was raised upon the spot, as if to intimate that the party which should violate its provisions should perish beneath the stones that formed the rude altar. Zisca then made a public entry into Prague, where he was received with the greatest honors, and was allowed to exercise a paramount authority.
The emperor’s hopes, which he had based upon the divisions of the Bohemian nation, were baffled by the truce which restored to Zisca the control of the kingdom. He saw that arms and counsels were alike futile to regain it, while he had such a foe to watch and counterwork his designs. He sought therefore to win him over by the most liberal promises. “For himself,” he said, “it was sufficient that he should merely be proclaimed king of Bohemia. To Zisca should be left the government of the kingdom.” To all these honors Sigismund joined the promise to Zisca of immense wealth.
This was to the emperor a must humiliating posture of affairs. After all his efforts, supported by the bull of the pope and successive crusading armies, he saw himself reduced to the ignominy of offering to accept the aid and reward the valor of the man who, in defense of what had been branded as heresy, had demolished and annihilated all his armies. Æneas Sylvius grows indignant in narrating a proceeding which he condemns as a disgrace to the emperor and a stain upon his royal name. That a man whom all Christendom venerated, and of whom heathen nations stood in awe—the son of an emperor, and an emperor himself—in the vigor of his years, should be reduced to treat upon such terms with “a man hardly noble by birth, old, blind, heretical, sacrilegious, with audacity for any enormity”; that he should offer him the government of the kingdom, the command of its armies, and an immense yearly revenue, in order to secure his alliance and aid; all this was indeed, in the eyes of the Roman historian, as disgraceful as it was humiliating. If Huss had ever longed for revenge upon his murderers, if he had wished them an earthly retribution fur their crime, he could not have imagined anything more bitter as a dreg in their cup, than that they should see their chosen champion, supported by the papal bull and immense armies, forced to bend the knee to a man who was regarded at once as a rebel and a heretic, and whose very blindness made the homage paid him more bitterly if not ludicrously humiliating.
But the terms proposed were never executed. We do not even know how they were regarded by Zisca. It is more than possible that he thought favorably of them. Specious pretexts were not wanting for their acceptance. He might have been king himself in all but name, and none better than he united a knowledge of the people with a capacity to govern them.
But at this culminating point of Zisca’s fortune, death overtook him. He lived to foil the purposes of Sigismund, and died at the moment when his death was in some respects another defeat to blast his hopes. Had he been longer spared to his country, it is reasonable to suppose that the nation would have been harmonized, if that were possible, and that under his government national prosperity and freedom of worship would have gone hand in hand. The plague, however, which was at the time ravaging Bohemia, numbered him among its victims. He died October 11, 1424, while engaged in the siege of a small town on the Moravian border. Perhaps, with a foresight of the hostility that might hunt out his bones and drag them like Wickliffe’s from their grave, he ordered his soldiers to abandon his body to the birds of prey, and to have his skin made into a drum, the mere sound of which would make their enemies tremble.
The command of Zisca was not, however, obeyed. His body was interred with honors in the cathedral church at Czaslau, and his iron mace was suspended near his tomb. Upon his monument was placed, according to Theobald, in his history of the Hussite wars, the following inscription: “Here lies John Zisca, inferior to no other general in military science, the rigorous punisher of the pride and avarice of the priesthood, and the zealous defender of his country. What the blind Appius Claudius did for the Romans by his counsel, and Curius Camillus by his actions, I accomplished for the Bohemians. I never failed fortune, nor she me; and although blind, I always perceived what ought to be done. I have fought eleven times with standards displayed, and I have always conquered. I was unceasingly seen defending the cause of the unfortunate and the poor, against sensual and bloated priests, and therefore did God sustain me. If their hatred did not oppose it, I should be reckoned among the most illustrious; and yet, in spite of the pope, my bones repose in this holy place.”
In the biography of Zisca published at Prague, another epitaph is given, more in keeping with the character of the man, and which may have been inscribed after the former was defaced. “Here rests John Zisca, the leader of oppressed freedom in the name and for the name of God.” We are told, moreover, that not far from his tomb was engraved the inscription, “Huss, here reposes John Zisca, thy avenger; and the emperor himself has quailed before him.”
Zisca’s person was of middle stature, of a strong and muscular frame, especially in the shoulders and chest. His head was large, round, and closely shaven. His nose was aquiline, and his long moustaches added to the ferocity of a countenance that spoke out, in its bold and eagle eye, the penetration and the energy of the man. His complexion was dark and bilious, bespeaking his capacity for long and patient endurance; and his forehead presented that indenture, falling perpendicularly down it, which has been remarked in several famous warriors—and has in consequence been called the martial line.
His outward aspect was no unworthy index of the spirit within. In all that pertained to war or strategy, Zisca was the man of his age, and it is even doubtful whether the world has ever presented any leaders of armies who might not be honored by being accounted rivals of Zisca in ability. With a kingdom rent by dissensions, and the weaker and less powerful class only on his side, he had to repel successive assaults from armies immensely superior, and led by able generals. He had to stand—single-handed as it were—against the hosts of Christendom animated by the spirit of religious bigotry, and breathing exterminating vengeance against all that bore the name of Huss, or expressed sympathy for him. But he met the tide successfully; he stemmed it and turned it back. In the most desperate circumstances, he never quailed or wavered. Unforeseen and overwhelming difficulties only brought out the inexhaustible resources of his genius and sagacity, and he never offered to capitulate, but always waited to accept terms of surrender from the foe. He did not make his suit to Prague, but Prague made its suit to him. He did not solicit the emperor’s alliance; the emperor, however, solicited his. The tactics, equipage, and defenses of his army, as well as their unshrinking courage and resolute energy, betrayed the impress, and manifested at once the sagacity and the inspiring power of Zisca’s genius. His enemies might condemn him as a heretic. They might blacken his memory with charges of crimes that make us shudder, but his ability as a general, and his unapproachable mastery in the art of conducting battles and managing armies, were never questioned.
What his real character was as a man, is somewhat more doubtful. His enemies have drawn his portrait; and no friendly hand, unless that which inscribed his epitaph, has rescued it from their caricature. It is evident that his soul glowed with the deepest resentment and indignation at the wrongs of Huss, and the injustice of the council that ordered his execution. He saw a whole nation virtually condemned unheard, and hemmed around by a league of Christendom, marshaled by a papal crusade to carry out the sentence. He felt himself called to be an avenger of the wronged, and he fulfilled his mission with an inexorable severity. No tears flowed from his blind eyes. Pity was in his view a weakness, of which he was rarely known to be guilty. His system of army discipline was inflexibly rigid, and it extended to all the acts and circumstances of a state of war. It was truly a military code, and every infraction was punished with death.
Zisca was undoubtedly ambitious, as he was cruel, but grosser vices were foreign to his character. He distributed the plunder to the army, never anxious to retain it himself. Every soldier was a brother, and that was the epithet which he employed in his familiar intercourse with his army. He was moreover a Bohemian in heart and soul. He loved his country. He resented her wrongs, and burned to avenge her insulted honor. With too sound a mind to be carried away by fanaticism, he knew how to employ the fanaticism of others; and yet, in his own way he was scrupulously devout and religious. In spite of all his cruelty and his ambition, we must account him a great and an honest man, sincere in his convictions as he was terrible in his vengeance.
The Last Crusade Defeat Of The Imperialists
The success of the Taborites was largely due to the impolitic and cruel measures of the papal party. At the very time when Zisca was most closely pressed by the imperialists, he found a most effective, although involuntary, ally in an unexpected quarter. In its thirty-ninth session, the council of Constance had decreed that another council should be convoked, to prosecute still further the reform which it assumed to have initiated. It was to be convoked within the space of six years from the close of its own sessions.
The council thus decreed was convoked by a bull of Martin V, and its opening session was held at Pavia early in May, 1423. But the thin attendance, and the dread of the plague, which had commenced its ravages in the city, led to its transfer to Sienna, whither the members were directed to repair by the first of November of the same year. The first session was held upon the twenty-fifth, and the council proceeded to fulminate the most severe decrees against the followers of Wickliffe and Huss. Temporal princes were enjoined to drive them out of their dominions; spiritual rewards were promised to such as should inform against them, or give them over into the hands of the inquisitors. It was ordained, moreover, that the decree granting indulgences should be read yearly to the people, in an audible voice, on the first and fourth Sundays of Lent, and on several of the festivals of the church. All intercourse with the condemned heretics was forbidden. Such as furnished them with food, spices, salt, or weapons of war, were to be subjected to severe penalties. Secular princes were to spare no effort for their complete extermination.
No measure could have been more unwise than this of the council. It could not fail to strengthen the prejudice, and exasperate anew the feelings of the Bohemians against the papal party. Undoubtedly it strengthened the cause it was meant to crush, and deferred for years the hope of compromise.
The death of Zisca left the Taborites without an acknowledged leader. Some of them, to indicate their deep sense of the loss which they had sustained, called themselves The Orphans. Zisca had been a father to them, and his death was bewailed with an unaffected grief. Others were absorbed by the Horebites, while others still chose to retain their old name.
Among the ablest generals who survived Zisca, were Procopius Magnus (or Rasus, for he had originally been a monk) and Procopius Parvus, the former of whom had been thoroughly trained in Zisca’s school, and had eminently justified the confidence which the latter reposed in his ability. The course of events soon elevated him to the position of virtual, if not acknowledged, leader of the party. But the death of Zisca had been equivalent to a sore defeat. It was impossible that some degree of disorganization should not follow upon the loss of a leader of such preeminence. Civil disorders again prevailed. Sigismund and Martin V were not inattentive observers of events, and with renewed hope, determined to avail themselves of this favorable moment for the execution of their long-cherished but oft-defeated designs. A renewal of the crusade was preached at the instigation of the pope, and an army 100,000 imperialists was gathered under the invading banners. They marched to the relief of the town of Ausch which had been besieged by the Hussites, but were repulsed with a severe loss of from nine to twelve thousand men. The battle was fought June 15, 1426, and the intelligence was speedily carried to Nuremberg, where a diet had been assembled, and where another invasion of Bohemia had been resolved upon, at the instigation of the papal legate, Pontanus Orsini. But the terror caused by this defeat was such that all measures for executing this resolve of the diet were at once stayed.
A year was suffered to pass before the electoral and other princes could unite on any further measures. A diet was then held at Frankfurt, at which it was unanimously resolved that four distinct armies should be assembled for the invasion of Bohemia. Every soldier was required to confess and hear mass once a week. Nothing was neglected to secure, by ritual devotion, the divine favor. The Cardinal of Winchester assumed the chief command. Acting under the special directions of the pope, and authorized to use at discretion the spiritual or the temporal sword, he urged forward the preparations for a decisive campaign. A numerous army was gathered, a portion of which proceeded to the siege of Miess, a small town on the western borders of Bohemia, in the circle of Pilsen.
Intelligence of the invasion soon reached the Taborites. All internal dissensions were immediately at an end. They marched with the utmost promptitude to the relief of the beleaguered city. Scarcely was the German army aware of their approach, when they appeared within sight of the walls. A panic terror seized the imperial host. Without waiting to meet a foe which their fears magnified, they broke and fled in confusion. Their terror was infectious. The next division of the imperial army was thrown into hopeless disorder, and the iron flails of the Horebites did fearful execution upon the broken ranks of the invaders. An immense booty, composed of almost every description of military stores, was the reward of Bohemian valor.
The princes of the empire had learned a lesson which was not soon forgotten. Several years passed before the attempts to subdue Bohemia were renewed. The removal, however, of external danger, again allowed scope for internal dissension. The Calixtines and Taborites were soon at variance. No one showed himself more anxious to conciliate the opposing parties, and restore peace to the kingdom, than Procopius Magnus. By his able generalship and terrible victories, he had acquired a fame second only to that of Zisca. But he was less ambitious of military distinction than anxious to secure civil peace and order. As occasion required, he appeared by turns the theologian, the negotiator, the general.
At the commencement of the year 1428, a convention was held at Beraun to see what could be done toward a general pacification of the nation. The Taborites, Orphans, and Calixtines from Prague were present. But there was no possibility of bringing the different parties to stand upon a common platform. Procopius and his Taborites contended that sacerdotal habits were not necessary to the proper solemnization of the eucharist, and that there was no need of elevating or adoring the host. The Calixtine view of the seven sacraments was rejected by those whom he represented, while differences were also developed in regard to the doctrines of free-will, justification, and predestination.
The convention broke up without accomplishing anything. Procopius, somewhat provoked at the course of the Calixtines, withdrew to Raudnitz, there to meet and welcome the Taborite Smirckzic, who had been imprisoned at Prague for sedition, but who had managed to escape. The Orphans of Kuttenberg planned and executed an invasion of Silesia, marking their way by ravaged villages and desolated monasteries. At Nissa they were arrested by an obstinate resistance; and, even when Procopius had marched to their relief, were forced to retreat with loss. This was only the earnest of a more serious defeat suffered by the Taborites and Orphans at Brünn, in Moravia.
The imperialists prudently declined to pursue their advantage. They did not wish to confront men who might be goaded to desperate courage by another assault. The Taborites were suffered to withdraw to Austria, and the Orphans to Bohemia. They first extended their ravages to Cornenburg and Vienna; but, apprehensive of an attack froth Hungary, withdrew to Tabor. The fortified town of Bechin had meanwhile begun to act upon the offensive. Procopius took it, after a siege of four months, and garrisoned it with Taborites.
The Orphans, at the same time, prosecuted the siege of Lichtenberg. In want of food, they marched into Silesia, leaving but a small portion of their forces behind them. The besieged did not fail to improve the occasion to make a sortie. A partial success encouraged them in their hopes of a successful resistance, but in December (1428) they were forced to surrender.
Assisted by a junction with a portion of the Taborites, the Orphans now executed their plan of a new invasion of Silesia. Everything was put to fire or sword. Several of the nobility who offered resistance were slain. After a bloody conflict the Silesians were completely routed, and left to the Bohemians their wagons and baggage. The severity of the winter arrested the progress of the invaders, and they returned to Bohemia.
The emperor had been no inattentive spectator of what was taking place. While the different parties were vainly seeking a common basis of conciliation, he again proposed, by a deputation—which at Kuttenberg met the citizens of Prague, the Orphans, and the Taborites—that the Bohemians should accept him as king. He urged his rights to the kingdom, and seemed to be willing to make some concessions. But the Bohemians could not trust him. They replied that Sigismund, by the effusion of blood which he had occasioned, and by his complicity in the death of Huss and Jerome, as well as in the crusades to the dishonor of the nation, had forfeited all right to the kingdom, since his whole conduct showed that he had sworn its destruction.
Procopius, who was still at Bechin, invited the ambassadors to visit him at Tabor. It is more than possible that he hoped to obtain for himself the same conditions which had been offered by the emperor to Zisca, and thus close the war with honor to himself, and restore peace and security to a desolated land. The ambassadors furnished him a safe-conduct, that he might visit Sigismund and confer with him in person. He did so, but the emperor spurned the terms which Procopius was disposed to offer; and the latter, irritated by such treatment, returned to Tabor “meditating vengeance.”
The motives of Sigismund it is not difficult to surmise. Events throughout Bohemia, and especially at Prague, showed that the division between the two parties of the Bohemians was bitter and irreconcilable. Early in the year (January 30, 1429) the citizens of Old and New Prague had come to an open rupture. Each party chose itself leaders, and the city was for the whole day a scene of desperate and deadly conflict. A truce for a few days was effected, which was subsequently extended till the twenty-fifth of July, when the states of the kingdom met at Prague, to effect, if possible, a general pacification. Procopius was present at the assembly. He proposed to receive Sigismund as king, provided that he, with his Hungarian subjects, would receive and follow the Holy Scripture, commune under both kinds, and grant such requests as they should see fit to make.
These terms were laid before the diet which soon met at Presburg. Procopius was at the head of the Bohemian deputation, which consisted of several nobles and Calixtines from Old Prague. For eight days the deliberations were continued, without attaining any satisfactory result. At length, after consulting with parties at Prague, it was determined to accept Sigismund as king. Deputies from the different orders were named, to go and inform Sigismund of the conclusion which had been reached. But the Orphans boldly opposed the measure. “A free people,” they said, “needed no king.” This was the signal for the recommencement of hostilities. At Prague, and throughout Bohemia, the civil strife was immediately renewed.
But the refusal of Sigismund to accept the terms offered by the Bohemians, had the effect of producing a conciliatory spirit between the opposing parties. Glorying in his orthodoxy as the patron of the church, he rejected alike the articles of the Calixtines and the Taborites. It was now quite evident that the acceptance of Sigismund by the nation would be the signal for the commencement of a bitter persecution against all who refused to return to the communion of the Roman church. Under the direction and by the management of Procopius, a plan of conciliation between the opposing parties of Calixtines and Taborites was agreed upon. An enormous fine was the penalty of infringing it; and Procopius, the principal author of this compact, was elected generalissimo.
Conscious of the difficulties of his position, aware of the necessity of still inspiring his foes with terror, and sagacious enough to perceive that the best security for internal peace was the employment abroad of an army accustomed to action, Procopius resolved to seize the occasion for punishing the presumption of the Misnians, from whose attacks the Bohemians had often suffered. “It is the moment to act,” said he, “the hour of great things has arrived.” The words were greeted with loud acclamation. Procopius led forth his army, crossed the Elbe, and fell on Misnia, Saxony, Brandenberg, Bavaria, and Austria. Dreadful ravages marked his progress. Churches and monasteries were destroyed. Many towns were reduced to ashes, and their defenders perished with them. Over the smoking ruins the conquerors shouted, “Behold the funeral obsequies of John Huss!”
Returning from this campaign, the Taborites distributed themselves into several bands in different places, adopting names according to their fancy. Some were known as Collectors, some asSmall-Caps, some as Little Cousins, others as Wolf-bands. The winter was no sooner passed than they were ready (1430) again to unite for a new campaign. With 20,000 cavalry, 30,000 infantry, and 3,000 chariots, and with Procopius the Great and other able generals at their head, they again renewed their invasion of Misnia. Continuing their march to Dresden, they left behind them, desolated or reduced to ashes, Kolditz, Mogeln, Dablen, Godelberg, and more than a hundred towns and villages. The Elector of Brandenberg vainly attempted to arrest their progress. John of Pollentz met with no better success. Several of the neighboring princes, impelled by a common apprehension lest their own turn for invasion should at last come, prepared to offer a united resistance; but divisions of feeling and opinion paralyzed their energies, and the Bohemians were left almost unmolested. In the region of Grim, Colditz, and Altemburg, the invaders successively spread their ravages. At Leipsig the news of their approach produced great apprehension. Verden, Reichembac, Averbach, and Olsnisch were laid in ashes. Germany took the alarm, and began to rouse itself to a sense of the necessity of measures to resist the terrible invaders. City after city had been forced to purchase immunity by pecuniary bribes. The Bishop of Bamberg ransomed the place by the payment of 9,000 golden ducats. Nuremberg paid a still larger sum.
The policy of Martin V toward the Hussites was summed up in one word—a crusade. For twelve years this had been his uniform reply, when pressed for a solution of the Bohemian question. He exhorted the emperor and kings and princes to unite, and crush out forever the dangerous heresy. To the king of Poland he sent a master of the sacred palace, Andrew of Constantinople, as his ambassador to induce him to take active measures in concert with Sigismund. He represented, in a letter which the ambassador bore with him, that prudence as well as religion required the suppression of a people whose dogmas were fatal to all government, opposed to the authority of kings, and destructive of all human legislation. They favored, he said, many dangerous errors and superstitions, denied sovereigns their tribute, and held that all property was common and all men equal. The attempt to check and subdue them had been vain hitherto, and it seemed that providence had expressly reserved the work that the king of Poland might have this left him to crown his other conquests.
The pontiff, in a second letter, renewed his application (January 13, 1430), representing to the king that he could do “nothing more acceptable to God, more useful to the world, or glorious to himself, than to turn all his thoughts and all his strength to the extirpation of the perfidious heresy” of the Bohemians. Help, however, was not to come from this quarter. Domestic dissensions—even had the king of Poland been disposed—effectually prevented his compliance with the exhortation of the pope.
Sigismund, meanwhile, had been diligently pursuing his own measures. The untoward fortune of his campaigns against the Turk had materially affected the energy with which he had prosecuted his purpose to recover Bohemia to his allegiance. But the alarm excited by the Hussite invasions aided his project, and a diet was summoned to meet at Vienna, November 1, 1429, before which the matter was to be brought. The delay of Sigismund in reaching the place led to a transfer of the diet to Presburg. The subject which invited attention was the course which should be adopted to restore peace to the empire, so that its entire strength might be concentrated upon an invasion of Bohemia. After some deliberation, several of the princes urged a postponement of any decisive action until after another diet, in which the German states should be more fully represented, and which should be held at Nuremberg or Frankfort. Sigismund reluctantly acquiesced in the proposal to meet at Nuremberg. He spoke, in his indignation, of throwing down the imperial scepter, and relieving himself of the burdensome and vexatious duties of his position. “Hungary,” he said, “is enough to furnish me with bread.” But his threats availed nothing. The German princes were resolved to hold a diet on their own soil.
The object of the assembly was to find a solution for the standing problem of the Bohemian heresy. After many delays, enough were assembled to proceed to business. For eight months the deliberations were protracted, and at length nearly all the prelates and princes of the empire were brought together, either in person or by ambassadors. Martin V sent to the diet the Cardinal St. Angelo, Juliano Cæsarini, who afterward presided at the council of Basle. By his influence the reluctance of the diet to act upon the offensive was overcome. It was finally resolved to make still another invasion of Bohemia. The papal legate came, provided for the emergency. He had brought with him a bull of Martin V ordaining a crusade, which was now opportunely to be published. It exhorted all believers to assume the cross, and set forth on this holy expedition. Indulgences were profusely promised to those who should engage in the enterprise, or contribute to its promotion. Those who should fast and pray for its success, should have a remission of penance for sixty days. From other vows interfering with enlistment in the holy war, a dispensation should be freely bestowed.
The greatest efforts were now put forth to secure a successful issue for this, the sixth invasion of Bohemia by the imperialists. The time fixed for the expedition was June 24, 1431. The princes and prelates exerted themselves to assemble a powerful army. To John Hoffman—the old opponent of Huss doubtless, but now Bishop of Misnia—the legate wrote a letter, in which he exhorted him to unite in “the holy league.” “Alas!” he exclaims, “the abominable heresy of the Wickliffites and Hussites exceeds today in cruelty all the heresies of preceding ages. It has inspired them to a fierce obstinacy, so that, like the adder, they shut their ears to the voice and doctrine of the church their mother, reckless of all the methods which she may take to bring them back to reason. Not content with their poisonous dogmas and their blasphemies, they have despoiled all humanity and all piety, and have become like ferocious beasts, to be satisfied only with the blood of Catholics.”
He then dwells indignantly upon the violence, plunderings, and sacrilege of the Hussites, vindicating the wisdom of the princes in arming for their extermination. He closes with the solemn and formal command to proclaim, or have proclaimed, without delay, in all cathedral and parish churches of his diocese, the bull of “Apostolic Indulgences.”
The bishop rendered a prompt obedience. Similar measures doubtless were taken in most of the other dioceses of the empire. The emperor meanwhile, to test the spirit of the Bohemians, advanced to Egra, and sent two of his nobles forward to Prague, to propose terms upon which he should be received as king. The Taborites and Calixtines were engaged in warm disputes. At the opportune moment, the two nobles interposed their propositions. The citizens of Prague, and Procopius and Kerski, the leaders of the Taborites, favored them as a basis of negotiation. In spite of the opposition of the Orphans, a deputation of four, one of whom was a Taborite priest, were sent to confer with the emperor.
More than two weeks were spent in useless conference, when the deputation from Prague became satisfied that the only object of the emperor was to amuse and deceive them till he was ready to strike a decisive blow. Complaining of this to the emperor himself, they protested that henceforth their enemies alone were responsible for the continuance of this terrible and bloody conflict. For themselves, they were ready for peace, and the fault of preventing it did not rest upon their heads.
The deputation returned to Prague. Their report produced great consternation in the city. The magistrates took measures for publishing throughout Bohemia the immanency of the threatened danger. The populace were bitter in their maledictions and curses of the emperor. The most moderate and cautious were satisfied that he had attempted to dupe and betray them, and that his proposed negotiations for peace were only intended to mislead them into a false confidence.
Prompt measures were immediately taken. The states of the kingdom were informed of the danger of a new crusade, and the Taborites and Orphans were recalled from foreign conquests to defend their native land. In execution of their purpose at the close of the previous campaign, they had gone abroad spreading on every side the desolation of their ravages and the terror of their arms. Divided among themselves, and not rarely at open variance, this dread of a common foe was necessary to luring them again together. The old leagues and confederation were revived. Old feuds were forgotten. The barons of Bohemia and Moravia, the Calixtines of Prague, and the indomitable Taborites and Orphans, again united to repel the invader. In a few weeks 50,000 infantry, 7,000 cavalry, and 3,600 chariots were gathered for review at Chotischau, in the circle of Pilsen.
Meanwhile, with some unexpected delay, the crusading forces had been got together. They were estimated to number 130,000 men. But they were not ready to march until the month of August. The Elector of Brandenberg was appointed to the chief command. Amid scenes of the most imposing ceremonial, the sword was placed in his hand by the cardinal legate. The Count of Hohenlohe presented him with the imperial banner, and the highest hopes were entertained of the success of the campaign.
But before the invading army crossed the frontiers of Bohemia, the cardinal determined to see what could be accomplished by persuasion and argument. He addressed a letter to the Bohemians, overflowing with tenderness and anxiety for their spiritual welfare. He vaunted the tender mercies of the church, and protested that the aim of the invaders was kind and Christian, and that if the Bohemians would only submit and return to the unity of the church, they should be left entirely unharmed. In a tone of earnest entreaty, as if any act of violence or cruelty was most remote from his thought, he urged and besought them to give up their heresies, and accept the charity which the church was ready to bestow.
The eloquence of the letter in other circumstances might have been credited in part to sincerity and affectionate anxiety, but the author of it must himself have felt that its success—if it met any—would be due to the armed legions who stood ready to enforce its application. No doubt a large number of the Bohemians were prepared to meet it with a favorable response, but as a general thing, Calixtine as well as Taborite had learned only too thoroughly to distrust the professions of the enemy and the good faith of Sigismund. The reply that was made was one in which all parties could unite, and one which betrayed no trace of variance between the different elements of opposition. While laying down the four Calixtine articles as the only basis upon which any measures of negotiation or conciliation were possible, it proceeds in an unsparing manner to expose the policy hitherto pursued by the imperialists and the enemies of Bohemia. It was a document well calculated to kindle anew the patriotic zeal of the nation, and fire it to fierce indignation against the arts and arms of the invader. Its closing paragraphs glowed with an indomitable and defiant spirit worthy of Zisca himself. It declared that the Bohemians would maintain their rights to the end, and repel force by force, by whomsoever offered. “Your trust,” say the authors of the letter, addressing the party of the cardinal, “is in an arm of flesh; but our trust is in the God of armies.”
This reply to the cardinal’s letter was in reality the manifesto of the Bohemians, and it was sent not only to the cardinal, but to the different states of the kingdom. This correspondence took place during the months of June and July (1431), while the imperialists were marshalling their army, and the different parties in Bohemia were uniting their forces for a desperate resistance.
The cardinal legate attended in person the march of the main body of the imperialists. He sought, by all the ecclesiastical resources at his command, to enkindle the fanatic zeal of the crusaders. The son-in-law of the emperor, Albert of Austria, was prepared to make a diversion in favor of the imperialists on the side of Moravia, while 80,000 infantry, 40,000 cavalry, and a formidable artillery approached the western frontiers of Bohemia. The Elector of Saxony invested Taschau, while another corps proceeded to Ratisbon. At the entrance of the Frauenberg forest, the imperialists halted. A council of war was held, and scouts sent out to make explorations. Procopius, not unmindful of his danger, took pains to deceive them, and lead them into the belief that the Hussites were divided. The imperialists were duped, and in the confidence of security entered the forest near Tausch. Of a sudden the report spread that the Hussites were united, and were rapidly advancing in order of battle. The Archduke of Bavaria, and all his troops, seized with a panic, broke up in the night and fled. Abandoning all their stores, they hurried back in the greatest disorder to Riesenburg. The Elector of Brandenberg, with the division under his command, betrayed the same terror. His soldiers tore up their standards and fled.
The cardinal legate alone showed more presence of mind. He rallied the fugitives again at Riesenburg, a few miles distant from Tausch, and his glowing words restored shame if not enthusiasm to the soldiery. But the approach of the Bohemians renewed the old terror. The army was dispirited and disorganized. They fled, and the flight was a complete rout. The Bohemians met no resistance. They had nothing to do but massacre the fugitives and seize the booty. The mass of the imperialists obstructed their own escape. Eight thousand wagons full of military stores, with all the heavy artillery, fell into the hands of Procopius and his Hussite soldiers. The strong chest of the imperial army was seized, and the cardinal himself barely escaped, with the loss of his hat, cross, sacerdotal robes, and the bull of the crusade. The last was long preserved at Tausch as a glorious trophy of the Hussite victory.
So disastrous a defeat effectually crushed the hopes that had hitherto been cherished of subjecting the Bohemians by force of arms. Even the cardinal Julian, who had instigated the crusade so effectually, now declared himself in favor of adopting more conciliatory measures. The time was approaching for the assembling of the council summoned at Basle, and he wrote a letter to the Bohemians in the most gentle tone, inviting them to be present and discuss their grievances and present their demands, with the assurance that they should be allowed the fullest freedom. The council itself (which met December, 1431) renewed the invitation. It was accompanied by a safe-conduct, the substance of which declared that they should have entire liberty to remain at Basle, to act, decide, treat, and enter into arrangements with the council; that they should celebrate with perfect liberty, in their own houses, their peculiar forms of worship; that in public and in private, they should be allowed from scripture and the holy doctors to advance proof of their four articles, against which no preaching of the Catholics should be allowed while they remained within the city; that any attempt at the violation of their safe-conduct should be severely punished, and that on their return they should be accompanied by a safe escort to the Bohemian frontier. But even these conditions, favorable as they were, could not at once overcome their deep distrust. In fact, the source from which they came could not fail to excite suspicion. They who but just now breathed only a spirit of exterminating invasion—who had incited all Christendom to engage in a crusade to be marked by plunder and carnage—assume a tone too gentle to accord with their former threats.
The Council of Basle Calixtine Ascendency
Meanwhile, however, changes were taking place in the relative position of the parties hitherto combined against Bohemia—changes which enforced the policy of conciliation. Germany was loudly and urgently insisting upon her demand for ecclesiastical reform. The disappointment of her hopes at the council of Constance only made her more earnest that some measures should now be adopted, which should effectually check the corruption of the church. The cardinal legate, who had carefully surveyed the ground, and had received information which excited his alarm, felt that it would no longer answer to trifle with the demand. He boldly declared that unless something was done it would be to no purpose to eradicate the Bohemian heresy. Other heresies would spring up to supply its place, and introduce new divisions into the church. Unless there was a reformation in the clergy, the result was inevitable. The license and excesses of the German clergy—so he wrote to Pope Eugenius IV (Gabriel Condulmer, who had succeeded to the tiara on the death of Martin V, February 20, 1431)—”had irritated the laity beyond measure against the ecclesiastical order,” so that it was to be feared lest, imitating the example of the Hussites, the popular indignation should rise up and sweep away the entire hierarchy.
Nor was this all. The Bohemians would be so encouraged by the corrupt state of things in Germany, as to be inspired to greater audacity in their invectives and complaints. To shut their mouths, and to take away every excuse for their course, it was absolutely essential that the council should proceed with the task of reform. If a general council was not held, a provincial council was absolutely essential. The danger was imminent. The entire hierarchy was threatened with destruction.
Such were the views of the legate, boldly expressed. They were shared fully by most of those acquainted with the facts of the case. Sigismund himself felt that hostile measures for the invasion of Bohemia were no longer wise or practicable. With his ready dissimulation he assumed a supplicating attitude, and hypocritically assured the Bohemians in writing of his good-will and of his present inclination to come to terms, to which they made reply—indicative of their distrust—that his real intention was to draw them away from the truth. In these circumstances his only hope was in the conciliatory policy of the council.
This policy was strongly urged by the cardinal legate. He had seen enough to satisfy him that the hope of subjecting Bohemia by crusading zeal was vain and illusive. He had no wish to try again his previous experiment. Yet he was deeply in earnest to bring back the Bohemians to the unity of the church. By means of the council which was now to be convoked, he hoped that the object might be accomplished.
The spiritual and temporal lords generally took the same view of the case. They were strongly inclined to make concessions. But this did not suit the plans of the new pontiff. He was opposed to all negotiation or compromise. He was urgent for a renewal of the crusade, and scorned the humiliation of treating with heretics who assumed a defiant attitude. Perhaps his fear of the council, which he dreaded scarcely less than the Bohemian infection, had not a little to do with it.
He beheld with apprehension the convocation of a council in a city not only beyond his own jurisdiction, but where it would be subject to imperial influence. He dreaded the freedom of its utterance. He had reason to fear the bearing of its decisions upon himself. The precedent of the council of Constance filled him with alarm. The result was that, in spite of the emperor, the council of Basle was pronounced to be dissolved, and was convoked anew to meet at Bologna (November 11, 1431). The reasons adduced by the pope for this procedure, were that Basle was not a place sufficiently secure, in part, on account of the Hussites, and in part, on account of the internal conflicts of the German princes; and that it was too distant for the deputation from the Greek church, in case they wished to prosecute the business of their union with the church of Rome. For this purpose an Italian city would be far preferable.
This measure of the pope took the assembled bishops and theologians by surprise. Even the Cardinal Julian was dissatisfied with it, as at least impolitic. He replied to each of the reasons which the pope had adduced for the transfer of the council. The Greeks, he said, had been talking for three hundred years about union, but nothing had come of it; and as to the Hussites, or the civil discords and conflicts in Germany, no danger was to be apprehended. An uncertainty should not be surrendered for a certainty. The emperor and the princes regarded the council as the last resource for restoring peace to Bohemia; and, beside all, it was to be feared that if there were no speedy reform in the morals of the German clergy, the laity, who already had them in derision, would treat them no better then they had been treated by the Hussites.
In spite of the papal mandate, the council resolved unanimously to remain at Basle, and proceed to business. The condition of Bohemia first invited their attention, but the papal urgency for the crusade was rendered futile by the open controversy between Eugenius and the council. At Basle it was no longer the question whether Bohemia should be subdued by force of arms. The Archduke of Austria and the Duke of Burgundy, who would have been selected as leaders in case of a crusade, were at open variance. It would be no longer possible to combine in a single enterprise the forces of the empire. The invitation, moreover, given by the council to the Bohemians to be present at Basle, with the assurance that they should be indulgently heard, was a step which the pope represented as prejudicial to the authority of previous councils which had condemned them as heretical. He therefore renewed his decree removing the council to Bologna.
The old difficulty of the council of Constance was thus renewed. The pope and the council were at variance. It was in vain that Cardinal Julian attempted to dissuade Eugenius from the inflexibility of his purpose. “What,” he asks, “will the heretics say who have been already invited to Basle? Will they not be more strenuous, and must not the church confess itself overcome, if it refuses to await the arrival of those whom it has invited? Will they not think they see the finger of God in it, that after so many armies have been routed, the church itself flees before them, making it plain that the heretics can be overcome neither by arms, nor by learning and conviction? What will the world say of the clergy? Will they not hold that its corruption must be perpetual, and that if so many councils have been held in vain, its reformation is hopeless? The whole world is waiting in expectation of some result. If this is again to be defeated, men will say that we are making a mock of God and man; and as the hope of reform vanishes, the laity will persecute us as the Hussites have done.” In a similar strain the emperor himself addressed the pope. But all was in vain. Either the court of Rome had gone too far in its course of opposition to retreat with honor, or it was inspired by a deeper policy than that which it avowed. The council of Basle was an object of profound distrust. There was no relying upon it unless it was removed to some Italian city. The cry of reformation had become exceedingly obnoxious, and the pope could not be dissuaded from his purpose to suppress it.
But on its side, the council was equally firm. It felt that the eyes of the world were directed toward the measures which it should adopt for restoring Bohemia to the unity of the church. It was said openly at Basle that the Roman court was opposed to all reform, and resolved to sacrifice the welfare of all Christendom to its own interest. The decrees of the fourth and fifth sessions of the council of Constance were confirmed, establishing the superiority of general councils to the authority of the pope. The decisions of Eugenius against the rights of the assembly were declared null, and it was decided that in case the Holy See should become vacant, the election should take place at Basle and nowhere else. The nomination of cardinals, pending the sessions of the council, was forbidden, and the pope himself was summoned to appear at Basle within the space of three months.
These decisions were regarded at Rome as a formal declaration of war against the papal authority. Nor were the measures of Eugenius more favorably interpreted at Basle. Each party prepared itself for the conflict, determined to maintain its superiority. The ground was disputed, step by step. Eugenius imagined that he had one decisive advantage. Sigismund had never yet received the imperial crown at the hands of the pope. He was now anxious for his coronation. Eugenius determined to make his own terms, and these were the submission or transfer of the council. Sigismund was in no condition to enforce his demand. For a year he lingered in Italy, and vainly summoned the German princes to his aid. None came. But even thus Sigismund held out. He would not betray the cause of the council. Eugenius at last receded so far as to consent that a general council summoned by him should be held at Basle. But this would not satisfy the council already assembled. What would be the fate of the sessions already held? They persevered in their cause in spite alike of the threats and intrigues of the pope. At length, in the eleventh session, they cited him again to appear at Basle, threatening him with suspension if he failed to comply, and in case of continued persistence in his refusal, with deposition. Again the pope yielded, but the capitulation was partial. He recalled his decree dissolving or transferring the council. The return of the emperor from Italy suspended further hostile proceedings, and the year (1432) closed with an apparent reconciliation of the two parties, whose mutual irritation and violent designs were cloaked by hypocritical professions.
The Bohemians at length were led to confide in the sincerity of the invitations that had been extended to them from Basle. Conscious of their own strength, they saw that the Roman church was no longer in a condition to prosecute hostile measures against them, and the obvious weakness produced by its threatened schism secured a confidence in its assurances which promises and safe-conducts alone never could have afforded. It was in the beginning of the next year (January 4, 1433) that the Bohemian deputation, numbering three hundred, was chosen, from among the most noble in the land, and with Procopius the Great, the colleague of Zisca, the hero of many battles, the leader of many invasions, at its head. A curious spectacle was this—the reception with public honors, by a council representing the orthodoxy of Catholic Christendom, of a body of men who had stood forth for years, with arms in hand, as the champions of the martyred Huss—the heretic of Constance. They came in the consciousness of strength, with the hard-won reputation of invincible, and in their bold, fearless, and haughty bearing, presented a striking contrast to the entrance of Huss or Jerome upon the scenes of their trial and martyrdom. They came with no tokens of inferiority or marks of submission, but to treat on equal terms with a body which represented the power and authority of the whole Catholic church.
The greatest curiosity prevailed to see these men who had rendered their names terrible throughout the world, and against whose impetuous heroism successive imperial armies had been dashed and shattered. Strange stories of their valor had gone abroad. The very means employed by calumny to make them odious and even horrible, had lifted them to fame. Procopius, with his hawk nose and his dark and ominous-looking countenance, led the band. He was attended by the shrewd and crafty Rokyzan, the head of the Bohemian clergy, Nicolas Biscupek, “The Little Bishop,” the leading preacher among the Taborites, Ulric, the principal speaker among the Orphans, and Peter Payne, the Englishman.
As the Bohemians approached the city, they were met by an immense crowd, embracing a large number of the members of the council itself, who had dispersed themselves without the walls in anticipation of their arrival. “The public places and streets along their passage, were thronged with spectators. Women, children, and even young girls filled the windows and occupied the roofs of the houses. The lookers-on pointed out to each other these foreign costumes, which had never before been seen there. They gazed with surprise at the visages marked with scars, and those terrible eyes; and in beholding men of stern appearance, they were the less astonished at the things which fame related of them.” But it was to Procopius himself that particular attention was drawn. He, the hero of so many sieges and battles, the destroyer of so many towns, who had subdued mighty armies, and was scarcely less terrible to his own countrymen by his massacres and plunderings than to the enemy by his victories, was the object of universal curiosity.
It had been only by pressing invitations, and strenuous efforts to overcome their distrust, that the Bohemians had been drawn to Basle. The first letters sent them had remained unanswered. No notice even was given the council that they had been received. They had been first sent to Egra, and thence transmitted to Prague. The deputies of the council, anxious for the success of their mission, sent through the senate of Nuremberg to inquire of the citizens of Egra how the invitation had been received at Prague. On learning that the Calixtine party, which preponderated there, had been inclined to regard it with favor, they renewed their application in hope of finally succeeding in their object. A reply was returned, proposing a conference at Egra between the deputies of the council and the neighboring princes on one side, and the Hussites on the other, for the purpose of securing safe-conducts. The twenty-seventh day of April (1432) was appointed for the conference. But the Bohemians, on the ground that no assurance had been given for their safety, even at the conference, failed to appear. This difficulty was at last overcome; but the Bohemians, complaining of the injuries and wrongs they had suffered, and not unmindful of the violation of the safe-conduct of John Huss, demanded hostages for the fulfillment of the promises made by the deputies of the council. Nor would they accept any but those of princely or noble birth. At length the princes pledged themselves to see that the safe-conducts were faithfully observed. Even thus, however, the distrust of the Bohemians could not be overcome until they had sent two of their countrymen to Basle to be more fully certified of the honest intentions of the council. Upon their favorable report that the invitation was sincerely and truly given, the deputation of the Bohemian nation was elected.
The next day after their arrival at Basle, the Bohemian deputation appeared before the council. They were graciously received, and addressed by Cardinal Julian, who presided at its sessions. In behalf of the Bohemians, Rokyzan replied. His address, composed for the most part of select passages of scripture skillfully adapted to express the feelings and views of the Bohemians, and expressing a measured confidence in the council, closed with demanding that a day should be appointed on which they might be heard. The sixteenth day of January was appointed for opening the discussion, which was continued with few intervals for more than two months.
The Bohemians presented and defended their four Calixtine articles. “These articles,” say they, “we present to you, that, apprehending the unusual desire felt for peace and security, you may consent to approve them in the form subscribed, so that they may be freely held, taught, and irrevocably observed in the kingdom of Bohemia and the march of Moravia, and such places as adhere to the views they hold.”
In evidence of the sincerity of their desire for peace, the Bohemians say, “We are ready to be united, and to become one in the way in which all Christian believers are bound to be united, according to the law of God, and to adhere to and obey all legitimate ecclesiastical rulers in whatever they command accordant to the divine law. So that if council, pope, or prelate shall determine or command that to be done which is forbidden of God, or shall pass over, or command to pass over, what is written in the canon of the Bible—since the canons pronounce such things execrable and anathema—we shall be under no obligation to respect them or render them obedience. These conditions we offer, to be accepted and concluded mutually between you and us.”
The Bohemians also insisted, that in case of the acceptance of their articles, the council should unitedly use its influence to produce concord in Bohemia and Moravia, silencing or restraining by its authority such as might be disposed to make disturbance, so that a safe and permanent peace might be the result.
The discussion of the articles was commenced by Rokyzan, who spoke for three days in defense of the first, on the communion of the cup. The second was argued by Nicholas de Peletz, who occupied two days; the third by Ulric, who occupied two more, and the fourth by Peter Payne, who spoke for three successive days. A perfect freedom of speech was allowed, and the council was compelled patiently to hear Wickliffe and Huss, who had been condemned as heretics at Constance, spoken of as evangelical doctors. In conclusion, the Bohemians thanked the council for the gracious hearing which had been allowed them.
John of Ragusa, a theological professor, afterward a cardinal, then demanded to be heard in reply on the subject of the first article. For eight successive days he disputed the positions taken by Rokyzan. Before he commenced, however, John, a Cistercian abbot, exhorted the Bohemians to submit to the decisions of the church as represented by the council. But a blind submission was not to their taste, and they indignantly rejected the offensive proposal. They preferred a full and free discussion. John of Ragusa then proceeded with his remarks, but the terms “heretic” and “heresies” were so frequent upon his lips, that the patience of Procopius was exhausted. He rose up and indignantly complained to the council against such injustice. “This our countryman,” said he, “does us great wrong, so often calling us heretics.” “As I am your countryman both by tongue and nation,” replied the speaker, “I do the more desire to bring you back to the church.” Some of the Bohemians were, however, so offended, that they left the council, and would not hear the remainder of his disputation. Ten days more were occupied by others in reply to the three remaining articles, till the Bohemians grew weary of the tedious and protracted discussion. Still they maintained their ground. Rokyzan defended his first positions for six successive days.
At last it was evident that the parties were brought no nearer together by prolonged disputations, and at the instance of the Duke of Bavaria, protector of the council, another plan was devised to reconcile matters. This was, that a certain number of the Bohemians and a certain number from the council should meet together, and in friendly conference decide upon terms of agreement. But here again they were met by an insuperable difficulty. Those of the council demanded that the Bohemians should first unite with the council, and then be bound by its decisions. But to this it was replied that there must first be a decision in regard to the four articles. All present union would be frivolous which resulted in a final disagreement. It was in vain that Cardinal Julian urged the Bohemians to acquiesce in the decisions of the council. They only replied that they came to Basle to propound their four articles, and that not in their own name, but in the name of the whole kingdom of Bohemia. At length, as the Bohemians were preparing for their return home, it was resolved to send a deputation of the council with them, to see what could be effected at Prague.
The citizens of Prague, however, were no more inclined to sacrifice the integrity of their four articles than their ambassadors to the council had been. The eloquence of the deputation was wasted upon ears that had listened to the powerful arguments and representations of Rokyzan. The resolution of the Bohemians was inflexible, and the deputation could only carry back to Basle the four articles as the ultimatum. The council was reluctantly compelled so far to acquiesce as to send back word that if the Bohemians would accept, with the three articles, the union of the church, they should not be molested in regard to the fourth on the communion of the cup. To this, their reply—indicative of their wise and just caution—was that they could give no decisive answer until they had a clearer understanding of what was to be done on the subject of the communion of the cup.
The formulary of the council’s reply was drawn up with great art. It granted for a time permission to the Bohemian clergy to administer the communion in both kinds, enjoining however upon the communicants to believe that the body of Jesus Christ was not merely in the bread, and that his blood was not merely in the wine, but that his body entire was to be found in the sacrament under both kinds.
With these concessions many of the Calixtines were fain to acquiesce. The ambition of Rokyzan was flattered with the hope of obtaining the archbishopric of Prague, and multitudes, weary of civil war and intestine conflict, were ready to accept almost any conditions on which peace could be restored. In the city of Prague the party composed of these had the preponderance, and through their influence deputies were sent to the council. In the following year the definitive conditions of union, known in history as the Compactata, were signed by both parties.
But if these measures were intended to secure the peace of the kingdom, they failed in their design. The Taborites could scarcely have been satisfied, even with the full and entire concession of the four Calixtine articles. They had other demands and grievances which these did not meet. The proposed agreement became therefore the occasion of new disquiet. Civil war broke out in the kingdom more furiously than ever. The Catholics and the Calixtines, with a large portion of the nobility anxious for peace, formed one party, however incongruous in its elements, while the Taborites, Orphans, and Horebites, united under the two Procopii, formed the other. By the last, the concessions of the council were regarded as perfectly illusory, and for the most part no union was desired with the Catholic church. But their former violence and the memory of their terrible ravages stood in the way of their success. The nobility were anxious that their vassals and serfs should return to the cultivation of their neglected domains, and that a stop should be put to the desolations of marauding bands.
The first open conflict occurred at Prague. The Calixtines of the Old town rose against the Taborites and Orphans who predominated in the New. A bloody battle was fought, and the Calixtines were victorious. Twenty thousand men were left on the field; and the lesser Procopius with the survivors joined his namesake, who was engaged in the siege of Pilsen.
Upon intelligence of the calamitous battle of Prague, the siege was raised, and the two Procopii, with all their forces, marched, in imitation of Zisca’s former policy, upon the capital. They were met four miles and a half from Prague by the opposing army under Rosemberg, Newhauss, and Koska. Procopius resolved not to engage unless at a manifest advantage. But the indiscretion of a part of his troops precipitated the conflict. Confusion ensued on the part of the Taborites, and the orders of Procopius were imperfectly understood. His chariots were captured, and the general of his cavalry fled from the field. Gathering his bravest men around him, Procopius threw himself into the thickest of the fight, and made a manful stand against the hostile squadrons. But he was at last overcome by numbers, and, amid the unceasing shower of darts by which he was overwhelmed, he fell pierced by an unknown hand, “tired of conquering, rather than vanquished.” Procopius the Less also fell in this terrible battle, and the prophecy of Sigismund was fulfilled, that “the Bohemians will only be conquered by themselves.”
The Taborites never recovered from this defeat. Internal peace was to a certain extent restored, but Bohemia was terrible no longer. The heroism of the nation was quenched in Taborite blood. While it lived, it resisted and defied pope, council, and emperor combined. It had met the successive hosts of crusading armies, and hurled them back routed from the Bohemian frontier. But the treacherous concessions of the council had shorn it of its unity, and Calixtine and Catholic banded together to crush what they regarded as a common foe. The last of the more prominent Taborites, Pardo Von Czorka, was hunted down like a wild beast, found under a rock, and hanged.
No obstacle stood any longer in the way of Sigismund’s recovery of his hereditary kingdom, except such feeble demands as the emasculated energy of the Calixtine party might choose to present. But even these demands, which Sigismund did not dare to refuse, show how strongly the doctrines of Huss and Jacobel had rooted themselves in the Bohemian mind. The Compactatabetween the council and the states of Bohemia were approved by the emperor, July 12, 1436, but still further concessions were demanded and secured in treating with him. The citizens of Tabor were allowed for five years full and entire liberty of conscience. The emperor promised not to recall the banished monks, to leave the present possessors of ecclesiastical property unmolested, and to confirm Rokyzan in the archbishopric of Prague. But these promises were extorted by fear, and were soon violated. The necessity of the occasion forced his assent to what his inclinations disavowed. He put his own—a papal—interpretation upon the Compactata; restored the Roman worship in the kingdom; reopened the monasteries; recalled the monks; and, with a retribution just in providence, but iniquitous on his part, defeated the grasping ambition of Rokyzan by withholding from him the promised archbishopric unless he consented to abjure.
But the spirit of Huss was not yet extinct in Bohemia, and the rashness of Sigismund almost lost him his hard-won crown. The states of Bohemia presented their complaints and demands at the council of Basle, in 1438, and by their tenor was manifested the tenacity with which the nation still clung to the four articles. Among other things, they ask that the permission of the use of the cup shall not be temporary only, and that the “gospels, epistles, and creed may be sung and read in our vulgar tongue before the people, to move them to devotion.” But the danger to Sigismund was not merely in the yet unsubdued spirit of the nation, which might be provoked too far, but it found a place within his own household. He had designed his rich inheritance for Albert, Archduke of Austria, his son-in-law; but his second wife, by culpable intrigues, countermined and frustrated his projects. She represented to the Bohemians the danger which threatened them in case the scepter should fall into the hands of an ardent Catholic like Albert of Austria, and she hoped to inflame the ambition of the king of Poland by the offer of her hand and the rich inheritance of the empire, upon the death of Sigismund, prospectively near.
The intelligence of the conspiracy reached Sigismund at Prague. There, dangerously ill, almost alone, and surrounded by a populace in which he could not confide, he saw and felt the impending danger. Calling around him his Hungarian nobility, objects like himself of popular odium, he spoke to them of his approaching death, and warned them for their own safety to flee with him from a city in which their lives would be no longer safe, the moment he expired. He procured the circulation of a report that he was going forth to meet his daughter whom he wished to embrace before he died, and then, “resuming all his dignity, he wreathed his brow with laurel leaves, as on solemn feast-days, invested himself with his imperial robes and insignia, and decorated still more with his long white hair which flowed freely over his shoulders, with his long majestic beard, and the nobility stamped on his pale visage, he had himself borne through the city, in an open litter, in the sight of all, followed by his faithful Hungarians. It is said that he shed tears in regarding this city where his ancestors had so gloriously reigned, and which he was beholding for the last time. The people, affected at this unexpected and imposing spectacle, forgot their vengeance, and saluted, with their adieus, their aged emperor.” The illness and fatigue of the emperor allowed him to proceed no further than Znoima in Moravia. Here he had the empress arrested and imprisoned, and held a long and secret conference with his son-in-law, Albert of Austria. As his death drew near, he charged the Hungarian, Moravian, and Bohemian noblemen around him to remain united and loyal to the archduke, whom he designated as worthiest to succeed him, even if he was not his relative. Obtaining their assent, he named deputies who should secure the recognition of Albert as his successor to the throne. Among these was his able chancellor, Caspar Schlick, who had so resented the sentence of the council of Constance against Jerome. Almost immediately Sigismund expired (1437).
The death of Sigismund left Bohemia again a prey to faction and popular turbulence. The accession of Albert of Austria to the Bohemian crown provoked opposition at Prague, where Cassamir, a younger brother of the king of Poland, was set up against him by those who still cherished the memory of Huss. Scarcely had he grasped the scepter, when death snatched it from his hands (1439), and under the minority of his infant son, the control of the kingdom was a prize for the ambition of the nobility. In spiritual matters Rokyzan regained his former supremacy, and in temporal affairs Ptaczeck and George de Podiebrad were the real masters. The last was elected king on the death of Ladislaus (1457), although for many years the supreme power had been vested in his hands.
For fourteen years more George de Podiebrad governed Bohemia. His abilities and energy secured respect, and restored peace to the kingdom. A Calixtine in sentiment, policy forced him sometimes to violate his more humane convictions, and he yielded to the pressure which impelled him to treat the remnants of the Taborite party at times with great severity. He hoped to appease the pope and the Calixtine party by making them a sacrifice to religious bigotry. In this course he was abetted by the time-serving Rokyzan. But it was not long before he discovered his error. The pope’s favor was not to be secured even at such a price. In maintaining what he conceived the course of justice—the concordat of Iglau—George drew down upon himself the anger of the pontiff, Pius II, which manifested itself in the form of interdict. The articles of Prague—the Compactata—were revoked, under the pretext that no pope had signed there. The Catholics were incited to rise against the Calixtines, and when Paul II succeeded to the tiara, the zeal of the Roman court against the Bohemian heretics became still more violent.
Meanwhile the warlike Taborites had disappeared from the scene. They no longer formed a national party. But the feeble remnants of that multitude that had once followed the standards of Zisca and Procopius still clung to their cherished faith, and, with the word of God as their only supreme authority, the United Brethren appear as their lineal representatives. How from such an origin should have sprung a people whose peaceful virtues and missionary zeal have been acknowledged by the world, is a problem only to be solved by admitting, that in the faith of the old Taborites, however they may leave been guilty of fanatical excesses, there was to he found that fundamental principle of reverence for the authority of scripture alone, which they bequeathed as a cherished legacy to thus who could apply and act upon it in more favorable circumstances and in more peaceful times.