The Hussite Revolt
The Hussite Revolution was a series of wars fought in the 15th century between the followers of religious reformer Jan Hus, and the forces of the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy. The Hussites were comprised in the main of the population of Bohemia – today’s Czech Republic. Declared heretics by the Catholic Church, the Hussites defeated five crusades sent against them in the 1420s, and went on the offensive, participating in the wars of neighboring countries. Their rebellion was marked by the adoption of innovative military tactics and technologies that revolutionized warfare.
Jan Hus was a pre-Protestant Bohemian advocate of religious reform, who was condemned by the Catholic Church and burned at the stake for heresy in 1415. After Hus’ death, many Bohemian nobles and knights vowed to protect his followers from further persecution, and were tolerated by Bohemia’s king Vaclav IV. Vaclav died in 1419, however, and was succeeded by his brother Sigismund, who loathed the Hussites.
When the Hussites prevented Sigismund from entering Prague, he secured a Papal Bull, declaring a crusade against them. Forming themselves into a largely infantry force, the Hussites became history’s first combatants to make extensive use of handheld gunpowder weapons such as muskets and hand cannons. The Hussites also adopted innovative tactics such as the use of war wagons in circular formations similar to those of American Pioneers fighting off Plains Indians.
Supplemented by trenches in front of the wagons, the Hussite army could quickly turn any grounds they occupied into a fort. From behind their defenses, the Hussites could beat back charges by armored knights, shooting them down with bullets or crossbows, before going on the counterattack and putting their foes to flight. It was a script they would follow time and again. The Hussites maintained strict discipline, and between that, the new weapons, and creative tactics, they won a series of stunning victories under the leadership of Jan Zizka, until his death in 1424.
The revolution finally ended in 1434, after the moderate Utraquist faction of the Hussites defeated the more radical Taborite faction. The Utraquists then negotiated a peace with the Catholic Church and the Kingdom of Bohemia, whereby the agreed to submit, in exchange for the right to practice Catholicism with a Hussite bent, and using modified rites.