The Hussites quickly united on a programme that in effect were the conditions for their acceptance of Sigismund. They called for the lay chalice to be authorized, for simony (the act of paying to receive sacraments, in particular ordination to a holy office), to be rooted out, for priests to not hold civil office, and for bishops to display no discrimination between Catholics and Utraquists at ordination. Nationalist demands were also prominent. Czech was to be the language of judicial proceedings, and foreigners were not to take civil or ecclesiastical office if Czechs were available to fill them. The nobles and towns demanded further rights, or curbs on royal power that were to their advantage.
While the Hussites negotiated with Sigismund violence began to escalate. Jan Žižka, chamberlain to Queen Žofie and a professional soldier, sacked the Carthusian house at Smíchov and took over the castle at Vyšehrad. In November the first pitched battle took place near Živhošt. Žižka, disillusioned at the armistice agreed with Sikmund, left Prague and on March 25, 1420, defeated Royalist forces at the Battle of Sudomĕř, where Žižka, one of only seven generals in history to have never been defeated in battle, demonstrated his tactical ability and his innovation of using war-wagons and mobile cannon in a system of mobile defence and counterattack. Žižka soon found himself at Tabor, the newly founded Hussite military commune.
In February 1420 Sigismund decided on a direct military solution to the problem in Bohemia. The issue of a Papal Bull inviting all Christians to unite in a crusade against Hussites, Wyclifites, and other heretics in Bohemia byPope Martin V, whose election by the Council of Constance on November 11, 1417, ended the Western Schism, united the disparate forces of Hussitism. In Prague a military government was formed, and a manifesto called for Sigismund to be repelled. The Taborites under Žižka joined forces with the Utraquists and entered Prague in May after defeating the crusader force at Benešov and destroying a relief column sent with supplies to the royalist held castles of Hradčany and Vyšehrad.
Crusader forces began their siege of Prague on June 12 and on July 14 Žižka’s forces won the small-scale engagement at the strategically important height of Vitkov on the north-east of the city, effectively breaking the crusaders lines of communication. In defeat Sigismund had himself crowned in the cathedral and moved to Kutná Hora where he vacillated for several months. By November the Hussites had captured the Vyšehrad and defeated Sigismund’s relieving force at Pankrác. Sigismund left Bohemia in March 1421 leaving the field open to Žižka who continued to actively campaign against Catholic and royalist towns and fortresses.
Within Hussitism the debates over religion and points of doctrine continued. The Taborites, seeking to move Prague to their views, presented a programme to the city which would have imposed a puritanical regime and broken the position of the university as the doctrinal authority of the Utraquists. Repudiated by the more moderate majority the Taborites elected their own bishop, Nich olas of Pelhřimov, thereby marking their doctrinal breach with Prague Hussitism. Within the Taborites Martin Huska’s denial of any real presence of Christ in the Eucharist led to his condemnation for heresy and burning in August 1421 with the agreement of both Hussite wings. An offshoot from Huska’s teaching, the Adamites, were crushed by Žižka in battle. In Prague the radicalism of Želivský went against the more moderate views of most its citizens, with his support coming from the lower classes. The defeat of the Prague forces at Most led to his downfall and in March 1422 he was executed. In 1422 and 1423 fighting broke out between the two sides, while both were in disagreement over a substitute for Sigismund as king.
Despite near irreconcilable differences external threat prevented civil war. In August 1421 a German army laid siege to Žatec, and in December Sigismund entered Bohemia with a large force. Despite his numerical superiority Sigismund failed to defeat Žižka at Kutná Hora having surrounded him in the field and taken the city. Žižka’s use of his wagons as a mobile platform for a fighting retreat allowed him to break the royalist lines and make his escape. In January 1422 at Nebovidy and Habry Žižka defeated Hungarian forces before soundly defeating Sigismund at Německý Brod on January 10. Sigismund, distracted by Turkish attacks on Hungary and internal problems in his German lands, did not return to Bohemia for fourteen years.
Further crusades in 1422, 1427, and 1431 continued to provide the Utraquists and Taborites with common cause. Neither side was able to defend Bohemia alone but military action served only to delay the problem of the future of Hussitism. After Žižka’s death from plague the soldier-priest Prokop invaded Hungary, Silesia, Lusatia, Meissen and Saxony before the final crusade of 1431 was defeated at Domažlice. In 1433 a party of Bohemians entered Basle under safe-conduct to negotiate terms. The Hussites were perhaps naive in their hopes for acceptance by the Church, who in turn intended that even moderate changes would only be temporary.
In Bohemia the radicals tried to eliminate the last major support for Catholicim in Plzeň. This was a step too far for the moderates, particularly the nobles who distrusted the radicals. On May 30, 1434, the Bohemian League, a confederation of conservative forces, brought the radicals to battle at Lipany utterly defeating them. Among the dead lay Prokop. In 1436 at Jihlava the Bohemians promised peace and were reconciled to the Church.
Compromise was reached by allowing the chalice for all who wished it, but not declaring it to be holy, nor imposing it on the country. Promises that future bishops would be ready to ordain Utraquists and that the Council of Basle would send letters to Christian princes requiring them to accept the Utraquists as good sons of the Church proved false. Peace further saw the return of Sigismund, whose promises in private negotiations separate to Basle also proved of little worth. To his credit though Sigismund did permit Utraquist parishes to continue in the practice of Communion under both kinds. The will of the congregation, rather than that of the king, the Church, or the beliefs of the priest, was the decisive factor that should be taken into consideration.
Research from the Defence Studies Department, King's College London
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