Hussite Revolutionary Movement

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Hussite Revolutionary Movement


a struggle of the Czech people during the first half of the 15th century against the Catholic Church, feudal exploitation, and German domination. This struggle merged into the so-called Hussite Wars (1419–37), which were characterized by F. Engels as “a national Czech peasant war against the German gentry and the superior power of the German emperor, a struggle which had a religious coloration” (K. Marx and F. Engels. Soch., 2nd ed.. vol. 6, p. 180).

The causes of the Hussite revolutionary movement were the intensification of the exploitation of the Czech peasantry by the secular and ecclesiastical feudal lords (an increase in requisitions and corvée obligations); the corruption of the Catholic Church, which evoked general hatred because of its wealth and the corrupt practices of its clergy; the evergrowing German domination; the struggle between craftsmen and patricians (primarily Germans) in the cities; and the difficult position of the urban poor (the plebians).

The reforming activities of the popular preachers, including Conrad of Waldhausen, Milíčof Kroměříž, and Matthias of Janov, and the positions taken by Jan Hus and his associates—Jerome of Prague and others—created the direct prerequisites for the development of the Hussite revolutionary movement. The executions of Hus (1415) and Jerome (1416) by decision of the Council of Constance evoked an outbreak of popular indignation throughout the country. The peasants raided monasteries, and in the spring of 1419, at the summons of the popular preachers Mikuláŝ z Husi, Jan Čapek, Víáclav Koranda, and others, masses of peasants in the thousands assembled on the mountains of Tábor, Horeb, Beranek, and others. They were adherents of reformation and called themselves Hussites.

The logically grounded demand (made by Jakoubek of Stříbro), which was also put into practice, for communion “in both kinds”—that is, bread and wine (the privilege of the priesthood according to Catholic teaching)—became a general demand of all Hussites, and the chalice became the movement’s symbol. On July 30, 1419, a revolutionary action of the Prague plebians took place, headed by Jan želivsky; this event marked the beginning of an armed struggle, which encompassed all of Bohemia. The cities of Prague, Plzeň, and Tábor became the centers of the movement. Bohemia was split into two warring camps—the feudal lords and Catholics against the Hussites. The camp of the feudal lords and Catholics included the higher clergy, many Czech lords, the German patricians of the cities, and a certain portion of the lesser knighthood. They acted in close consort with the Roman Catholic Curia, with the big feudal lords of the Western European countries, and with Sigismund I, the heir to the Bohemian throne. The Hussite camp included the overwhelming majority of the population of Bohemia. From the very beginning two wings with differing goals appeared—the moderates and the radicals; but in moments of danger, which threatened from the camp of the feudal lords and Catholics, they united forces. The moderate Hussites limited their efforts to the secularization of church lands and to ecclesiastical reform, and they fought for a national Czech church with reduced wealth. One of their principal demands was the granting of the communion cup (Latin, calix) to laymen (hence their name, Calixtines). The moderates included masters of theology of Charles University, a portion of the lords and knights, the middle clergy, and the rich craftsmen. Their program was set forth in the so-called Four Articles of Prague (July 1420). The radical wing—the Taborite Community (as they called themselves; hence their name, Taborites)-included broad strata of the peasantry, the city plebians, the poor clergy, part of the lower gentry, and craftsmen. The Taborites’ demands, as set forth in the program of the so-called Twelve Articles of Prague (August 1420), were directed at radical church reform, depriving it of wealth and power, and the abolition of private property and feudal privileges. At Tabor an attempt was made to implement common ownership of property and to establish a society of universal equality. In the sermons of the left-wing Taborite priests (who received the name Pickarts in Bohemia) there resounded chiliastic calls to establish before the end of the world a thousand-year kingdom of social justice by means of armed conflict.

In April 1420, Pope Martin V and Emperor Sigismund I declared a crusade against Bohemia. The crusaders besieged Prague, but on July 14 they were utterly defeated by the Hussites under the command of Jan Žižka at Vítková Mountain (which was subsequently renamed Žižka in his honor). Led by the talented generals žižka, Prokop the Great, and others, who utilized new battle tactics (farm wagons in the form of a mobile camp; also new combat arms—wagoneers and cannoneers), the Taborite armies became a formidable military force. During the years 1419–21 the popular character of the Hussite revolutionary movement manifested itself with particular vigor (historians in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic have called this period the time of the “hegemony of the poor”). Nevertheless, within the Taborite camp there developed a split between the radically minded peasant-plebian masses (the Pickarts) and the moderates, who expressed the interests of the well-to-do peasants. In 1421 representatives of the latter group revenged themselves upon the leaders of the Pickarts—Jan Bydlína, Martin Hous-ka, and others. The triumph of the burgher opposition culminated in the assassination of želivský on Mar. 9, 1422.

After the defeat of the participants in the first crusade at Vítková Mountain, reactionary forces in Europe organized several more crusades, which also ended in failure. Under the command of Žižka the Hussites defeated the second crusade (on Jan. 10, 1422, at Brod Némecký), and the third crusade ended with the rout of the crusaders at Tachov (in the autumn of 1422). Subsequently the imperial army was smashed by Prokop the Great at Ustí nad Labem (on June 16, 1426). The fourth and fifth crusades were also repulsed (on Aug. 4, 1427, at Tachov and on Aug. 14, 1431, at Domažlice). The Taborites and the “orphans” (which was the name adopted after žižka’s death in 1424 by the troops who had been directly under his command) carried out a number of “splendid” campaigns beyond the country’s borders (into Silesia, 1427–28; into Saxony, Upper Franconia, and Bavaria, 1429–30; into eastern Slovakia and to the Baltic Sea, 1433), which had a revolutionary influence upon the neighboring peoples.

Despite these military successes, the many years of conflict and the constant invasions of enemies who laid waste to the country destroyed the productive forces of Bohemia, and compelled the knights and burgher elements to seek a reconciliation with the emperor Sigismund I. However, the negotiations, which were carried on by a Czech delegation headed by Prokop the Great at the Church Council of Basel, did not meet with success. Then the Calixtines betrayed the movement; they openly allied themselves with the forces of reaction, and on May 30, 1434, at the battle of Lipany they routed the army of Prokop the Great. Detachments of Taborites under the command of Hetman Jan Rohač(Rokycana) from Dubá continued to offer resistance until 1437, when their last fortress, Zion, fell. The revolutionary movement had been suppressed. On the basis of the Compactata(1436) only “communion in both kinds” was recognized and granted.

The Hussite revolutionary movement was an important stage in the history of Bohemia and a source of the Czech people’s revolutionary and nationalistic traditions. During its course an effort was made to abolish the feudal structure by revolutionary means. Despite the defeat of the Taborites, a blow was inflicted on the Catholic Church, and the secondary enserfment of the peasants was arrested.

The Hussite revolutionary movement laid the foundations for the general European Reformation.


Rubtsov, B. T. Gusitskie voiny.Moscow, 1955.
Ozolin, A. I. Iz istorii gusitskogo revoliutsionnogo dvizheniia. Saratov, 1962. (Contains a survey of sources and historiography.)
Bartoŝ, F. M. Husitská revoluce,[vols.] 1–2. Prague, 1965–66.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
(He is graciously appreciative in his forward to this book for the support and assistance he received in these years from colleagues in Czechoslovakia and Poland, as well as from Western scholars.) Only in 1980, when he was appointed to an academic position in the Museum of the Hussite Revolutionary Movement in Tabor, was he able to begin publishing again in his own country, and his work on the Hussites in subsequent years led to the magnum opus noted above.