Czech Uprising of 1618–20

Czech Uprising of 1618–20

 

an anti-Hapsburg uprising of the Czech estates that heralded the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48).

The causes of the uprising lay in the Hapsburgs’ encroachment, intensified in 1617 and 1618, on the political and religious rights of the Czech lands, which still enjoyed a measure of independence within the Hapsburg monarchy. The uprising was sparked by the defenestration on May 23, 1618, of the Hapsburg vicegerents in the Czech lands, the Catholic landowners J. Martinic and V. Slavata, who were thrown from a window of the Pražský Hrad.

Although the uprising was headed by the great feudal lords, an important role in it was played by the lesser nobility, whose demands figured prominently in the insurgents’ program, adopted by the Diet in July 1619. The Hundred Articles of the Act of Confederation, as the program was called, reaffirmed the elective nature of the Czech crown and called for the abrogation of all the Hapsburgs’ anti-Protestant decrees. After the death of Emperor Matthias, the Czech estates refused to recognize his successor, Ferdinand II, and in August 1619 elected to the Bohemian throne Frederick V of the Palatinate, the head of the Protestant Union.

Initially, the army of the Czech estates, commanded by J. Thurn, and the mercenary army led by E. Mansfeld dealt a series of defeats to the imperial troops. Twice the insurgent armies besieged Vienna (in June and in October-December 1619) without taking the city. Meanwhile, Ferdinand II concluded a military alliance with the Catholic League and received the support of the pope and Spain. The Protestant Union virtually abandoned the Czech lands to their fate after reaching an agreement with the Catholic League in July 1620. Within Bohemia, the social base of support for the uprising was eroded by the policies of the Czech feudal estates, which ignored the interests of the townspeople and especially those of the peasants, who were rebelling and demanding the abolition of serfdom.

At the decisive battle of the White Mountain (Bílá Hora) on Nov. 8,1620, the Czech forces were crushed. Frederick of the Palatinate fled Prague. Twenty-seven of the uprising’s leaders were executed, and the Czech lands were completely subjugated by the Hapsburgs, losing their national independence for three centuries. The suppression of the uprising, by shifting the balance of power in Europe, ensured the defeat of the anti-Hapsburg coalition in the first, or Czech, phase of the Thirty Years’ War.

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