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Wenceslas IV (1378-1419), son of Charles IV and heir to the Czech and Roman crowns, was a weak and ineffective ruler. He was also mean, a drunk, and wildly unpopular. He was imprisoned twice during his reign. Had times been different, this may not have mattered much. As luck would have it, however, he became king during a particularly turbulent time in Czech history.
The Hussite movement, inspired by the philosophic ideals of the religious reformer Jan Hus (who had himself been been influenced by John Wycliffe), was gaining popularity and power in the Czech lands. Meanwhile, these ideas were particularly unpopular in other areas of the Holy Roman Empire, leading to the burning of Master Jan Hus at the stake at the Council at Constance on July 6, 1415 (despite that he had letter of safe conduct from Wenceslas' wicked brother, Sigismund) The brutal murder of their leader only served to fuel the fervor of his followers, the Hussites.
The Hussites were highly critical of the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church, and, in the Four Articles of Prague, they demanded that 1) all believers be permitted to receive Communion in both species; 2) all mortal and public sins be punished equally, regardless of the sinner's status 3) the Word of God be freely preached; and 4) the clergy give up their worldly wealth.
The year 1419 proved to be a busy one. Not content to wait around for the Catholic Church to meet their demands, the Hussite priests began to give their followers communion in both species. They also threw 7 members of the Czech Town Council out of the Prague Town Hall Council window and to their deaths on the points of Hussite- weilded pikes below in the First Defenestration of Prague. To top it all off, King Wenceslas IV, upon learning of the defenestration, died of a heart attack.
After the death of Wenceslas IV, his brother and heir, the wicked King Sigismund of Luxembourg, also Holy Roman Emperor, sought to subdue this growing tide of religious revolution. But he did not succeed. Initially led by the one-eyed military genius, Jan Zizka, the mighty Hussites defeated five waves of crusaders in a row: in 1420, 1421, 1422, 1427, and in 1437. Actually, the fifth army of crusaders sent to battle the Hussites turned tail and fled before even catching sight of the famed warriors - because they were so terrified at hearing the refrain of the terrible Hussite battle song, "Ye Warriors of God." It was either that, or maybe just that the warriors didn't sing very well.
Well, in addition to fear-inspiring songs, the Hussites had many other military and marketing strategies up their sleeves. Their symbol was the chalice and their motto, "Truth Prevails," was used by the first President of Czechoslovakia, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, as well as by a later President of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel - during the Velvet Revolution. Their military strategies were unmatched and ingenious - for instance, they used artillery in battle (it had theretofore only been used to beseige castles), they linked their wagons together to form a sort of temporary and portable fortress in battle, and they used countless tricks - like putting their horses' horseshoes on backwards, so that their enemies could not track them. Since many of the Hussites were poor farmers who did not have the money to buy weapons, they turned their plowshares into weapons (instead of the other way around) and the Hussite women even fought alongside men.
Well, despite these military successes, all was not well within the Hussite movement itself. From the very start, the Hussite movement had been divided into factions - the most prominent division was along economic lines.
The peasant Hussites made camp at the site of the present-day town of Tabor - in fact, "tabor" means "camp" in Czech - and they became known as the "Taborites." They also had some very communist-like ideas, as they thought that not only clerical wealth - but all wealth - should be split up among all the people. They thought nothing of robbing churches or setting them aflame (even when there were people inside them).
On the side of the Hussite movement were the rich Utraquists - who take their name from the Latin for "in both kinds" (sub utraque specie) - and who found this Taborite behavior to be rather tasteless and uncouth.
This internal conflict came to a head at the Battle of Lipany on May 30, 1434, at which the Czech Hussite factions fought among themselves. The Battle of Lipany is also commemorated in a monstrous "panorama" by artist Ludek Marold at the Prague Exhibition grounds.
Well, the victory of the moderate Utraquist Hussites - mostly rich members of the nobility - over the radical Taborite Hussites - mostly peasants - paved the way for an agreement to be reached between the Utraquists of Bohemia and the Roman Catholic Church.
The Basel Compact, ceremoniously announced in 1436, permitted the Utraquist Hussites to take Communion in both kinds, to have their church services conducted in the Czech language, and absolved the Hussites of having to pay dues to Rome. (The Pope later refused to recognize the agreement).
The more extremist Taborite Hussites were not a party to this agreement. They went underground, forming the Church of the Moravian Brethren. The Taborites, or Brethren, went on to set up their own churches and ordain their own bishops, pioneer public education, and secretly print Czech-language copies of the Kralice Bible - which is a bit like the King James Bible in that it is still in use in the Czech lands today despite that it is often hard for modern speakers of the language to understand. The Brethren also sent missionaries to the original 13 American colonies.
With the reconciliation between the Utraquist Hussites and the Catholic Church, the Hussite wars came to an end, and religious dualism was re-established in the Czech lands -- at least until 1620.
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