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The Hussites, the Utraquists and Bohemian History

The University of Prague had become a cultural center in Bohemia. Here the ideas of Englishman John Wyclif were discussed and further developed. Leading among the religious freethinkers was Jan Hus; central among the ideas separating the Hussites was the communion in both kinds ("sub utraque specie", meaning both in bread and wine; hence Utraquists). Catholic rite still reserves the communion in wine only to the priest. Jan Hus also preached against papal Letters of Indulgence (1412).
Hussitism was a distinctly Czech movement; Jan Hus preached in Czech (and contributed to the standardization of Czech orthography). The German professors of Prague university - after the university had been, in 1409, declared a Czech university by royal decree, moved out in protest and founded new universities at Erfurt and Leipzig (outside Bohemia).
The Hussite church bears many similarities with the early Lutheran church about 100 years later, a major difference being it's appeal strictly limited to the speakers of Czech language.
In 1414 Jan Hus was called to appear in front of the Council of Konstanz, where he was to defend his teaching. Despite a letter of safe passage granted to him by Emperor Sigismund, he was arrested, sentenced and burnt at the stake (in 1415). Back in Bohemia, his community stood by him and protested against the treatment Hus received; a church ban was declared against the Hussites who were declared heretics, and from 1420 to 1433 crusades against the Hussites were organized every year. The Hussites, under the leadership of blind Jan Zizka defended themselves. A favourite tactics of theirs was that of the wagon ring formation, which the crusaders were unable to crack. In 1425 they ventured out, ravaging Austria, in 1427 Silesia, marching as far as Danzig, in 1430 pillaging Saxony and Franconia, marching on Nürnberg. The Hussite wars ended without accomplishing anything.
Emperor Sigismund was King of Bohemia only by name; he was the organizer of most of the insuccessful crusades. Most of Bohemia was ruled, in fact, by the Bohemian DIET, in which the nobility played a dominant role.
In 1433 a compromise solution was found; the Council of Basel accepted the Compacts of Basel which permitted the continued practice of communion in both kinds. The Hussite church meanwhile was split in the moderate Utraquists and the more radical Taborites; the Utraquists accepted the Compacts of Basel, the Taborites rejected them. The Taborites were defeated by the Utraquists in battle; the Hussite troubles were, for the moment, over.

Under Ladislaus Postumus (1440-1457) the Bohemian diet continued to rule, as Ladislaus was a minor. After him, the diet elected George of Podebrady King, a Bohemian nobleman and Hussite.
In 1462 Pope Pius II. cancelled the Compacts of Basel; in 1466 Pope Paul II. excommunicated King Georg and called for yet another crusade. It was lead by Mathias I. Corvinus, King of Hungary, who claimed the Bohemian crown for himself and in fact ruled over Moravia. from 1469 to 1490 there were two claimants to the Bohemian crown. Georg himself was succeeded by the Polish Jagiellons, Vladislaus and Louis. In 1485, Vladislaus II. signed the Agreement of Kutna Hora, in which he practically signed over the administration of Bohemia to the Estates.

The Hussite rmovement had been, largely, an affair of the Czech inhabitants of Bohemia proper; the Germans inhabiting the fringe regions of Bohemia, as well as the inhabitants of the Bohemian sidelands (Moravia, Silesia, Lusatia) no matter of their ethnicity - Slavic or German, did not participate in it. Yet the idea of the political union of these lands survived.
The years in which the Hussites found themselves pinned against the rest of the world were critical in shaping the Czech identity, an early national identity. The driving political force in the country was the diet rather than the kingship.

Czechoslovakia, from : Library of Congress, Country Studies
Jan Huss and the Hussite Wars, from History of Protestantism by James A. Wylie (1878), very extensive
Jan Hus and Jan Zizka, from Our History; Protestantism in Poland and Bohemia, Chapter 19 from History of Protestantism by James A. Wylie (1878), very extensive
Biography of Jan Hus, from Portraits of Faithful Saints, a Calvinist publication
Hussite Wars (Austria invaded 1425-1431), from aeiou
Articles Wenceslaus IV., Sigismund, Albert II. of Habsburg, Ladislaus the Postumus, George of Podebrady, Vladislaus II. of Bohemia and Hungary, Louis II. of Hungary and Bohemia, Hussite Wars, Utraquism, Taborites, Jan Hus, Jan Zizka, Wagenburg, Battle of Lipany, Prokop the Great, from Wikipedia
Hussitism and the Legacy of Jan Hus, from Czech Republic, Official Website
Inventing the Hussite Nation. Liberals, Catholics and Protestants in Conflict over Czech National Identity (2004). online paper posted by Petr Pabian
REFERENCE Derek Sayer, The Coasts of Bohemia, A Czech History, Princeton : Univ. Press 1998, pp.35-42

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 12th 2004

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