|Czech Republic Table of Contents
The Hussite movement was a national, as well as a religious, manifestation. As a religious reform movement, it represented a challenge to papal authority and an assertion of national autonomy in ecclesiastical affairs. As a Czech national movement, it acquired anti-imperial and anti-German implications and thus can be considered a manifestation of a long-term Czech-German conflict. The Hussite movement is also viewed by many Czechs as a precursor to the Protestant reformation.
Hussitism began during the long reign of Wenceslas IV (1378-1419), a period of papal schism and concomitant anarchy in the Holy Roman Empire, and was precipitated by a controversy at Charles University. In 1403 Jan Hus became rector of the university. A reformist preacher, Hus espoused the antipapal and antihierarchical teachings of John Wyclif of England, often referred to as the "Morning Star of the Reformation." Hussitism--as Hus's teaching became known--was distinguished by its rejection of the wealth, corruption, and hierarchical tendencies of the Roman Catholic Church. It advocated the Wycliffite doctrine of clerical purity and poverty and insisted on communion under both kinds, bread and wine, for the laity. (The Roman Catholic Church reserved the cup--wine--for the clergy.) The more moderate followers of Hus, the Utraquists, took their name from the Latin sub utraque specie, meaning "under each kind." A more radical sect soon formed--the Taborite sect. The Taborites, who took their name from the city of Tabor, their stronghold in southern Bohemia, rejected church doctrine and upheld the Bible as the sole authority in all matters of belief.
Soon after Hus assumed office, German professors of theology demanded the condemnation of Wyclif's writings. Hus protested and received the support of the Czech element at the university. Having only one vote in policy decisions against three for the Germans, the Czechs were outvoted, and the orthodox position was maintained. In subsequent years the Czechs demanded a revision of the university charter, granting more adequate representation to the native, i.e., Czech, faculty.
The university controversy was intensified by the vacillating position of the Bohemian king. His insistence at first on favoring Germans in appointments to councillor and other administrative positions had aroused the national sentiments of the Czech nobility and rallied them to Hus's defense. The German faculties had the support of Archbishop Zbynek of Prague and the German clergy. Wenceslas, for political reasons, switched his support from the Germans to Hus and allied with the reformers. On January 18, 1409, Wenceslas issued the Kutna Hora Decree: the Czechs would have three votes; the foreigners, a single vote. Germans were expelled from administrative positions at the university, and Czechs were appointed. In consequence, Germans left Charles University en masse.
Hus's victory was short lived, however. He preached against the sale of indulgences, which lost him the support of the king, who received a percentage of the sales. In 1412 Hus and his followers were suspended from the university and expelled from Prague. For two years the reformers served as itinerant preachers throughout Bohemia. In 1414 Hus was summoned to the Council of Constance to defend his views. The council condemned him as a heretic and burned him at the stake in 1415.
Hus's death sparked decades of religious warfare. Sigismund, the pro-papal king of Hungary and successor to the Bohemian throne after the death of Wenceslas in 1419, failed repeatedly in attempts to gain control of the kingdom despite aid by Hungarian and German armies. Riots broke out in Prague. Led by a Czech yeoman, Jan Zizka, the Taborites streamed into the capital. Religious strife pervaded the entire kingdom and was particularly intense in the German-dominated towns. Czech burghers turned against the Roman Catholic Germans; many were massacred, and most survivors fled to the Holy Roman Empire. In the countryside Zizka's armies stormed monasteries, churches, and villages, expelling the Catholic clergy and expropriating ecclesiastical lands.
During the struggle against Sigismund, Taborite armies penetrated into Slovakia as well. Czech refugees from the religious wars in Bohemia and Moravia-Silesia settled there, and from 1438 to 1453 a Czech noble, Jiskra of Brandys, controlled most of southern Slovakia from the centers of Zvolen and Kosice. Thus Hussite doctrines and the Czech Bible were disseminated among the Slovaks, providing the basis for a future link between the Czechs and their Slovak neighbors.
When Sigismund died in 1437, the Bohemian estates elected Albert of Austria as his successor. Albert died, however, and his son, Ladislas the Posthumous--so called because he was born after his father's death--was acknowledged as king. During Ladislas's minority, Bohemia was ruled by a regency composed of moderate reform nobles who were Utraquists. Internal dissension among the Czechs provided the primary challenge to the regency. A part of the Czech nobility remained Catholic and loyal to the pope. A Utraquist delegation to the Council of Basel in 1433 had negotiated a seeming reconciliation with the Catholic Church. The Council's Compact of Basel accepted the basic tenets of Hussitism expressed in the Four Articles of Prague: communion under both kinds; free preaching of the Gospels; expropriation of church land; and exposure and punishment of public sinners. The pope, however, rejected the compact, thus preventing the reconciliation of Czech Catholics with the Utraquists.
George of Podebrady, later to become the "national" king of Bohemia, emerged as leader of the Utraquist regency. George installed a Utraquist, John of Rokycan, as archbishop of Prague and succeeded in uniting the more radical Taborites with the Czech Reformed Church. The Catholic party was driven out of Prague. Ladislas died of the plague in 1457, and in 1458 the Bohemian estates elected George of Podebrady king of Bohemia. The pope, however, refused to recognize the election. Czech Catholic nobles, joined in the League of Zelena Hora, continued to challenge the authority of George of Podebrady until his death in 1471.
Upon the death of the Hussite king, the Bohemian estates elected a Polish prince, Vladislav II, as king. In 1490 Vladislav also became king of Hungary, and the Polish Jagellonian line ruled both Bohemia and Hungary. The Jagellonians governed Bohemia as absentee monarchs; their influence in the kingdom was minimal, and effective government fell to the regional nobility. Czech Catholics accepted the Compact of Basel in 1485 and were reconciled with the Utraquists.
In 1526 Vladislav's son, King Louis, was decisively defeated by the Ottomans at Mohacs and subsequently died. As a result, the Turks conquered part of the Kingdom of Hungary; the rest (including Slovakia) came under Hapsburg rule. The Bohemian estates elected Archduke Ferdinand, younger brother of Emperor Charles V, to succeed Louis as king of Bohemia. Thus began almost three centuries of Hapsburg rule for both Bohemia and Slovakia.
In several instances, the Bohemian Kingdom had the possibility of becoming a Czech national monarchy. The failure to establish a native dynasty, however, prevented such an outcome and left the fate of the Bohemian Kingdom to dynastic politics and foreign rulers. Although the Bohemian Kingdom evolved neither into a national monarchy nor into a Czech nation-state, the memory of it served as a source of inspiration and pride for modern Czech nationalists.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress