The Reign Of Sigismund And The Hussite War


Three Emperors in Germany and Three Popes in Rome. --Sigismund sole

Emperor. --His Appearance and Character. --Religious Movements in

Bohemia. --John Huss and his Doctrines. --Division of the

University of Prague. --A Council of the Church called at

Constance. --Grand Assembly of all Nations. --Organization of the

Council. --Flight and Capture of Pope John XXIII. --Treatm
nt of

Huss. --His Trial and Execution. --Jerome of Prague burned.

--Religious Revolt in Bohemia. --Frederick of Hohenzollern receives

Brandenburg. --The Bohemians rise under Ziska. --Their two Parties.

--Ziska's Character. --The Bohemian Demands. --Ziska's Victories.

--Negotiations with Lithuania and Poland. --Ziska's Death.

--Victories of Procopius. --Hussite Invasions of Germany. --The

Fifth "Crusade" against Bohemia. --The Hussites Triumphant. --The

Council of Basel. --Peace made with the Hussites. --Their Internal

Wars. --Revolt against Sigismund. --His Death.

[Sidenote: 1410.]

In 1410, the year of Rupert's death, Europe was edified by the spectacle

of three Emperors in Germany, and three Popes of the Church of Rome, all

claiming to rule at the same time. The Diet was divided between

Sigismund and Jodocus of Moravia, both of whom were declared elected,

while Wenzel insisted that he was still Emperor. A Council held at Pisa,

about the same time, deposed Pope Gregory XII. in Rome and Pope Benedict

XIII. in Avignon, and elected a third, who took the name of Alexander V.

But neither of the former obeyed the decrees of the Council: Gregory

XII. betook himself to Rimini, Alexander, soon succeeded by John XXIII.,

reigned in Rome, and the three spiritual rivals began a renewed war of

proclamations and curses. In order to obtain money, they sold priestly

appointments to the highest bidder, carried on a trade in pardons and

indulgences, and brought such disgrace on the priestly office and the

Christian name, that the spirit of the so-called "heretical" sects,

though trampled down in fire and blood, was kept everywhere alive among

the people.

[Sidenote: 1411. THE EMPEROR SIGISMUND.]

The political rivalry in Germany did not last long. Jodocus of Moravia,

of whom an old historian says: "He was considered a great man, but there

was nothing great about him, except his beard," died soon after his

partial election, Wenzel was persuaded to give up his opposition, and

Sigismund was generally recognized as the sole Emperor. In addition to

the Mark of Brandenburg, which he had received from his father, Karl

IV., he had obtained the crown of Hungary through his wife, and he

claimed also the kingdoms of Bosnia and Dalmatia. He had fought the

Turks on the lower Danube, had visited Constantinople, and was already

distinguished for his courage and knightly bearing. Unlike his brother

Wenzel, who had the black hair and high cheek-bones of a Bohemian, he

was blonde-haired, blue-eyed and strikingly handsome. He spoke several

languages, was witty in speech, cheerful in demeanor, and popular with

all classes, but, unfortunately, both fickle and profligate. Moreover,

he was one of the vainest men that ever wore a crown.

Before Sigismund entered upon his reign, the depraved condition of the

Roman clergy, resulting from the general demoralization of the Church,

had given rise to a new and powerful religious movement in Bohemia. As

early as 1360, independent preachers had arisen among the people there,

advocating the pure truths of the Gospel, and exhorting their hearers to

turn their backs on the pride and luxury which prevailed, to live simply

and righteously, and do good to their fellow-men. Although persecuted by

the priests, they found many followers, and their example soon began to

be more widely felt, especially as Wickliffe, in England, was preaching

a similar doctrine at the same time. The latter's translation of the

Bible was finished in 1383, and portions of it, together with his other

writings in favor of a Reformation of the Christian Church, were carried

to Prague soon afterwards.

The great leader of the movement in Bohemia was John Huss, who was born

in 1369, studied at the University of Prague, became a teacher there,

and at the same time a defender of Wickliffe's doctrines, in 1398, and

four years afterwards, in spite of the fierce opposition of the clergy,

was made Rector of the University. With him was associated Jerome

(Hieronymus), a young Bohemian nobleman, who had studied at Oxford, and

was also inspired by Wickliffe's writings. The learning and lofty

personal character of both gave them an influence in Prague, which

gradually extended over all Bohemia. Huss preached with the greatest

earnestness and eloquence against the Roman doctrine of absolution, the

worship of saints and images, the Papal trade in offices and

indulgences, and the idea of a purgatory from which souls could be freed

by masses celebrated on their behalf. He advocated a return to the

simplicity of the early Christian Church, especially in the use of the

sacrament (communion). The Popes had changed the form of administering

the sacrament, giving only bread to the laymen, while the priests

partook of both bread and wine: Huss, and the sect which took his name,

demanded that it should be administered to all "in both forms." Thus the

cup or sacramental chalice, became the symbol of the latter, in the

struggle which followed.

[Sidenote: 1409.]

The first consequence of the preaching of Huss was a division between

the Bohemians and Germans, in the University of Prague. The Germans took

the part of Rome, but the Bohemians secured the support of king Wenzel

through his queen, who was a follower of Huss, and maintained their

ascendency. Thereupon the German professors and students, numbering

5,000, left Prague in a body, in 1409, and migrated to Leipzig, where

they founded a new University. These matters were reported to the Roman

Pope, who immediately excommunicated Huss and his followers. Soon

afterwards, the Pope (John XXIII.), desiring to subdue the king of

Naples, offered pardons and indulgences for crimes to all who would take

up arms on his side. Huss and Jerome preached against this as an

abomination, and the latter publicly burned the Pope's bull in the

streets of Prague. The conflict now became so fierce that Wenzel

banished both from the city, many of Huss's friends among the clergy

fell away from him, and he offered to submit his doctrines to a general

Council of the Church.

Such a Council, in fact, was then demanded by all Christendom. The

intelligent classes in all countries felt that the demoralization caused

by the corruption of the clergy and the scandalous quarrels of three

rival Popes could no longer be endured. The Council at Pisa, in 1409,

had only made matters worse by adding another Pope to the two at Rome

and Avignon; for, although it claimed the highest spiritual authority on

earth, it was not obeyed. The Chancellor of the University of Paris

called upon the Emperor Sigismund to move in favor of a new Council; all

the Christian powers of Europe promised their support, and finally one

of the Popes, John XXIII., being driven from Rome, was persuaded to

agree, so that a grand OEcumenical Council, with authority over the

Papacy, was summoned to meet in the city of Constance, in the autumn of

the year 1414.


It was one of the most imposing assemblies ever held in Europe. Pope

John XXIII. personally appeared, accompanied by 600 Italians; the other

two Popes sent ambassadors to represent their interests. The patriarchs

of Jerusalem, Constantinople and Aquileia, the Grand-Masters of the

knightly Orders, thirty-three Cardinals, twenty Archbishops, two hundred

Bishops and many thousand priests and monks, were present. Then came the

Emperor Sigismund, the representatives of all Christian powers,

including the Byzantine Emperor, and even an envoy from the Turkish

Sultan, with sixteen hundred princes and their followers. The entire

concourse of strangers at Constance was computed at 150,000, and thirty

different languages were heard at the same time. A writer of the day

thus describes the characteristics of the four principal races: "The

Germans are impetuous, but have much endurance, the French are boastful

and arrogant, the English prompt and sagacious, and the Italians subtle

and intriguing." Gamblers, mountebanks and dramatic performers were also

on hand; great tournaments, races and banquets were constantly held;

yet, although the Council lasted four years, there was no disturbance of

the public order, no increase in the cost of living, and no epidemic

diseases in the crowded camps.

The professed objects of the Council were: a reformation of the Church,

its reorganization under a single head, and the suppression of heresy.

The members were divided into four "Nations"--the German, including

the Bohemians, Hungarians, Poles, Russians and Greeks; the French,

including Normans, Spaniards and Portuguese; the English, including

Irish, Scotch, Danes, Norwegians and Swedes; and the Italian,

embracing all the different States from the Alps to Sicily. Each of

these nations held its own separate convention, and cast a single vote,

so that no measure could be carried, unless three of the four nations

were in favor of it. Germany and England advocated the reformation of

the Church, as the first and most important question; France and Italy

cared only to have the quarrel of the Popes settled, and finally

persuaded England to join them. Thus the reformation was postponed, and

that was practically the end of it.

[Sidenote: 1415.]

As soon as it became evident that all three of the Popes would be

deposed by the Council, John XXIII. fled from Constance in disguise,

with the assistance of the Hapsburg Duke, Frederick of Austria. Both

were captured; the Pope, whose immorality had already made him infamous,

was imprisoned at Heidelberg, and Frederick was declared to have

forfeited his lands. Although Austria was afterwards restored to him,

all the Hapsburg territory lying between Zurich, the Rhine and the Lake

of Constance was given to Switzerland, and has remained Swiss ever

since. A second Pope, Gregory XII., now voluntarily abdicated, but the

third, Benedict XIII., refused to follow the example, and maintained a

sort of Papal authority in Spain until his death. The Council elected a

member of the family of Colonna, in Rome, who took the name of Martin V.

He was no sooner chosen and installed in his office than, without

awaiting the decrees of the Council, he began to conclude separate

"Concordats" (agreements) with the princes. Thus the chief object of the

Council was already thwarted, and the four nations took up the question

of suppressing heresy.

Huss, to whom the Emperor had sent a safe-conduct for the journey to and

from Constance, and who was escorted by three Bohemian knights, was

favorably received by the people, on the way. He reached

Constance in November, 1414, and was soon afterwards--before any

examination--arrested and thrown into a dungeon so foul that he became

seriously ill. Sigismund insisted that he should be released, but the

cardinals and bishops were so embittered against him that they defied

the Emperor's authority. All that the latter could (or did) do for him,

was to procure for him a trial, which began on the 7th of June, 1415.

But instead of a trial, it was a savage farce. He was accused of the

absurdest doctrines, among others of asserting that there were four

Gods, and every time he attempted to speak in his own defence, his voice

was drowned by the outcries of the bishops and priests. He offered to

renounce any doctrine he had taught, if it were proved contrary to the

Gospel of Christ; but this proposition was received with derision. He

was simply offered the choice between instantly denying all that he

held as truth or being burned at the stake as a heretic.

[Sidenote: 1415. HUSS AND JEROME BURNED.]

On the 6th of July, the Council assembled in the Cathedral of Constance.

After mass had been celebrated, Huss, who had steadfastly refused to

recant, was led before the congregation of priests and princes, and

clothed as a priest, to make his condemnation more solemn. A bishop read

the charges against him, but every attempt he made to speak was forcibly

silenced. Once, however, he raised his voice and demanded the fair

hearing which had been promised, and to obtain which he had accepted the

Emperor's protection,--fixing his eyes sternly upon Sigismund, who could

not help blushing with shame. The sacramental cup was then placed in

Huss's hands, and immediately snatched from him with the words: "Thou

accursed Judas! we take from thee this cup, wherein the blood of Christ

is offered up for the forgiveness of sins!" to which Huss replied: "I

trust that to-day I shall drink of this cup in the Kingdom of God." Each

article of his priestly dress was stripped from him with a new curse,

and when, finally, all had been removed, his soul was solemnly commended

to the Devil; whereupon he exclaimed: "And I commend it to my Lord

Jesus Christ."

Huss was publicly burned to death the same day. On arriving at the stake

he knelt and prayed so fervently, that the common people began to doubt

whether he really was a heretic. Being again offered a chance to

retract, he declared in a loud voice that he would seal by his death the

truth of all he had taught. After the torch had been applied to the

pile, he was heard to cry out, three times, from the midst of the

flames: "Jesus Christ, son of the Living God, have mercy upon me!" Then

his voice failed, and in a short time nothing was left of the body of

the immortal martyr, except a handful of ashes which were thrown into

the Rhine.

Huss's friend, Jerome, who came to Constance on the express promise of

the Council that he should not be imprisoned before a fair hearing, was

thrown into a dungeon as soon as he arrived, and so broken down by

sickness and cruelty that in September, 1415, he promised to give up his

doctrines. But he soon recovered from this weakness, declared anew the

truth of all he had taught, and defended himself before the Council in a

speech of remarkable power and eloquence. He was condemned, and burned

at the stake on the 30th of May, 1416.

[Sidenote: 1416.]

The fate of Huss and Jerome created an instant and fierce excitement

among the Bohemians. An address, defending them against the charge of

heresy and protesting against the injustice and barbarity of the

Council, was signed by four or five hundred nobles, and forwarded to

Constance. The only result was that the Council decreed that no

safe-conduct could be allowed to protect a heretic, that the University

of Prague must be recognized, and the strongest measures applied to

suppress the Hussite doctrines in Bohemia. This was a defiance which the

Bohemians courageously accepted. Men of all classes united in

proclaiming that the doctrines of Huss should be freely taught and that

no Interdict of the Church should be enforced: the University, and even

Wenzel's queen, Sophia, favored this movement, which soon became so

powerful that all priests who refused to administer the sacrament "in

both forms" were driven from their churches.

The Council sat at Constance until May, 1418, when it was dissolved by

Pope Martin V. without having accomplished anything whatever tending to

a permanent reformation of the Church. The only political event of

importance during this time was a business transaction of Sigismund's,

the results of which, reaching to our day, have decided the fate of

Germany. In 1411, the Emperor was in great need of ready money, and

borrowed 100,000 florins of Frederick of Hohenzollern, the Burgrave

(Burggraf, "Count of the Castle") of Nuremberg, a direct descendant of

the Hohenzollern who had helped Rudolf of Hapsburg to the Imperial

crown. Sigismund gave his creditor a mortgage on the territory of

Brandenburg, which had fallen into a state of great disorder. Frederick

at once removed thither, and, in his own private interests, undertook to

govern the country. He showed so much ability, and was so successful in

quelling the robber-knights and establishing order, that in 1415

Sigismund offered to sell him the sovereignty of Brandenburg (which made

him, at the same time, an Elector of the Empire), for the additional sum

of 300,000 gold florins. Frederick accepted the terms, and settled

permanently in the little State which afterwards became the nucleus of

the kingdom of Prussia, of which his own lineal descendants are now the



When the Council of Constance was dissolved, Sigismund hastened to

Hungary to carry on a new war with the Turks, who were already extending

their conquests along the Danube. The Hussites in Bohemia employed this

opportunity to organize themselves for resistance; 40,000 of them, in

July, 1419, assembled on a mountain to which they gave the name of

"Tabor," and chose as their leader a nobleman who was surnamed Ziska,

"the one-eyed." The excitement soon rose to such a pitch that several

monasteries were stormed and plundered. King Wenzel arrested some of the

ringleaders, but this only inflamed the spirit of the people. They

formed a procession in Prague, marched through the city, carrying the

sacramental cup at their head, and took forcible possession of several

churches. When they halted before the city-hall, to demand the release

of their imprisoned brethren, stones were thrown at them from the

windows, whereupon they broke into the building and hurled the

Burgomaster and six other officials upon the upheld spears of those

below. The news of this event so excited Wenzel that he was stricken

with apoplexy, and died two weeks afterwards.

The Hussites were already divided into two parties, one moderate in its

demands, called the "Calixtines," from the Latin calix, a chalice,

which was their symbol, the other radical and fanatic, called the

"Taborites," who proclaimed their separation from the Church of Rome and

a new system of brotherly equality through which they expected to

establish the Millennium upon earth. The exigencies of their situation

obliged these two parties to unite in common defence against the forces

of the Church and the Empire, during the sixteen years of war which

followed; but they always remained separated in their religious views,

and mutually intolerant. Ziska, who called himself "John Ziska of the

Chalice, commander in the hope of God of the Taborites," had been a

friend and was an ardent follower of Huss. He was an old man,

bald-headed, short, broad-shouldered, with a deep furrow across his

brow, an enormous aquiline nose, and a short red moustache. In his

genius for military operations, he ranks among the great commanders of

the world: his quickness, energy and inventive talent were marvellous,

but at the same time he knew neither tolerance nor mercy.

[Sidenote: 1420.]

Ziska's first policy was to arm the Bohemians. He introduced among them

the "thunder-guns"--small field-pieces, which had been first used at the

battle of Agincourt, between England and France, three years before; he

shod the farmers' flails with iron, and taught them to crack helmets and

armor with iron maces; and he invented a system of constructing

temporary fortresses by binding strong wagons together with iron chains.

Sigismund does not seem to have been aware of the formidable character

of the movement until the end of his war with the Turks, some months

afterwards, and he then persuaded the Pope to summon all Christendom to

a crusade against Bohemia. During the year 1420 a force of 100,000

soldiers was collected, and Sigismund marched at their head to Prague.

The Hussites met him with the demand for the acceptance of the following

articles: 1.--The word of God to be freely preached; 2.--The sacrament

to be administered in both forms; 3.--The clergy to possess no property

or temporal authority; 4.--All sins to be punished by the proper

authorities. Sigismund was ready to accept these articles as the price

of their submission, but the Papal Legate forbade the agreement, and war


On the 1st of November, 1420, the "Crusaders" were totally defeated by

Ziska, and all Bohemia was soon relieved of their presence. The dispute

between the moderates and the radicals broke out again; the idea of a

community of property began to prevail among the Taborites, and most of

the Bohemian nobles refused to act with them. Ziska left Prague with his

troops and for a time devoted himself to the task of suppressing all

opposition through the country with fire and sword. He burned no less

than 550 convents and monasteries, slaying the priests and monks who

refused to accept the new doctrines; but he proceeded with equal

severity against a new sect called the Adamites, who were endeavoring to

restore Paradise by living without clothes. While besieging the town of

Raby, an arrow destroyed his remaining eye, yet he continued to plan

battles and sieges as before. The very name of the blind warrior became

a terror throughout Germany.

In September, 1421, a second Crusade of 200,000 men, commanded by five

German Electors, entered Bohemia from the west. It had been planned that

the Emperor Sigismund, assisted by Duke Albert of Austria, to whom he

had given his daughter in marriage, and who was now also supported by

many of the Bohemian nobles, should invade the country from the east at

exactly the same time. The Hussites were thus to be crushed between the

upper and the nether millstones. But the blind Ziska, nothing daunted,

led his wagons, his flail-men and mace-wielders against the Electors,

whose troops began to fly before them. No battle was fought; the 200,000

Crusaders were scattered in all directions, and lost heavily during

their retreat. Then Ziska wheeled about and marched against Sigismund,

who was late in making his appearance. The two armies met on the 8th of

January, 1422, and the Hussite victory was so complete that the Emperor

narrowly escaped falling into their hands. It is hardly to be wondered

that they should consider themselves to be the chosen people of God,

after such astonishing successes.


At this juncture, Prince Witold of Lithuania, supported by king Jagello

of Poland, offered to accept the four articles of the Hussites, provided

they would give him the crown of Bohemia. The Moderates were all in his

favor, and even Ziska left the Taborites when, true to their republican

principles, they refused to accept Witold's proposition. The separation

between the two parties of the Hussites was now complete. Witold sent

his nephew Koribut, who swore to maintain the four articles, and was

installed at Prague, as "Vicegerent of Bohemia." Thereupon Sigismund

made such representations to king Jagello of Poland, that Koribut was

soon recalled by his uncle. About the same time a third Crusade was

arranged, and Frederick of Brandenburg (the Hohenzollern) selected to

command it, but the plan failed from lack of support. The dissensions

among the Hussites became fiercer than ever; Ziska was at one time on

the point of attacking Prague, but the leaders of the moderate party

succeeded in coming to an understanding with him, and he entered the

city in triumph. In October, 1424, while marching against Duke Albert of

Austria, who had invaded Moravia, he fell a victim to the plague. Even

after death he continued to terrify the German soldiers, who believed

that his skin had been made into a drum, and still called the Hussites

to battle.

[Sidenote: 1426.]

A majority of the Taborites elected a priest, called Procopius the

Great, as their commander in Ziska's stead; the others, who thenceforth

styled themselves "Orphans," united under another priest, Procopius the

Little. The approach of another Imperial army, in 1426, compelled them

to forget their differences, and the result was a splendid victory over

their enemies. Procopius the Great then invaded Austria and Silesia,

which he laid waste without mercy. The Pope called a fourth Crusade,

which met the same fate as the former ones: the united armies of the

Archbishop of Treves, the Elector Frederick of Brandenburg and the Duke

of Saxony, 200,000 strong, were utterly defeated, and fled in disorder,

leaving an enormous quantity of stores and munitions of war in the hands

of the Bohemians.

Procopius, who was almost the equal of Ziska as a military leader, made

several unsuccessful attempts to unite the Hussites in one religious

body. In order to prevent their dissensions from becoming dangerous to

the common cause, he kept the soldiers of all sects under his command,

and undertook fierce invasions into Bavaria, Saxony and Brandenburg,

which made the Hussite name a terror to all Germany. During these

expeditions one hundred towns were destroyed, more than fifteen hundred

villages burned, tens of thousands of the inhabitants slain, and such

quantities of plunder collected that it was impossible to transport the

whole of it to Bohemia. Frederick of Brandenburg and several other

princes were compelled to pay heavy tributes to the Hussites: the Empire

was thoroughly humiliated, the people weary of slaughter, yet the Pope

refused even to call a Council for the discussion of the difficulty.

As for the Emperor Sigismund, he had grown tired of the quarrel, long

before. Leaving the other German States to fight Bohemia, he withdrew to

Hungary and for some years found enough to do in repelling the inroads

of the Turks. It was not until the beginning of the year 1431, when

there was peace along the Danube, that he took any measures for putting

an end to the Hussite war. Pope Martin V. was dead, and his successor,

Eugene IV., reluctantly consented to call a Council to meet at Basel.

First, however, he insisted on a fifth Crusade, which was proclaimed

for the complete extermination of the Hussites. The German princes made

a last and desperate effort: an army of 130,000 men, 40,000 of whom were

cavalry, was brought together, under the command of Frederick of

Brandenburg, while Albert of Austria was to support it by invading

Bohemia from the south.

[Sidenote: 1434. END OF THE HUSSITE WARS.]

Procopius and his dauntless Hussites met the Crusaders on the 14th of

August, 1431, at a place called Thauss, and won another of their

marvellous victories. The Imperial army was literally cut to pieces:

8,000 wagons, filled with provisions and munitions of war, and 150

cannons, were left upon the field. The Hussites marched northward to the

Baltic, and eastward into Hungary, burning, slaying and plundering as

they went. Even the Pope now yielded, and the Hussites were invited to

attend the Council at Basel, with the most solemn stipulations in regard

to personal safety and a fair discussion of their demands. Sigismund, in

the meantime, had gone to Italy and been crowned Emperor in Rome, on

condition of showing himself publicly as a personal servant of the Pope.

He spent nearly two years in Italy, leading an idle and immoral life,

and went back to Germany when his money was exhausted.

In 1433, finally, three hundred Hussites, headed by Procopius, appeared

in Basel. They demanded nothing more than the acceptance of the four

articles upon which they had united in 1420; but after seven weeks of

talk, during which the Council agreed upon nothing and promised nothing,

they marched away, after stating that any further negotiation must be

carried on in Prague. This course compelled the Council to act; an

embassy was appointed, which proceeded to Prague, and on the 30th of

November, the same year, concluded a treaty with the Hussites. The four

demands were granted, but each with a condition attached which gave the

Church a chance to regain its lost power. For this reason, the Taborites

and "Orphans" refused to accept the compact; the moderate party united

with the nobles and undertook to suppress the former by force. A fierce

internal war followed, but it was of short duration. In 1434, the

Taborites were defeated, their fortified mountain taken, Procopius the

Great and the Little were both slain, and the members of the sect

dispersed. The Bohemian Reformation was never again dangerous to the

Church of Rome.

[Sidenote: 1437.]

The Emperor Sigismund, after proclaiming a general amnesty, entered

Prague in 1436. He made some attempt to restore order and prosperity to

the devastated country, but his measures in favor of the Church provoked

a conspiracy against him, in which his second wife, the Empress Barbara,

was implicated. Being warned by his son-in-law, Duke Albert of Austria,

he left Prague for Hungary. On reaching Znaim, the capital of Moravia,

he felt the approach of death, whereupon, after naming Albert his

successor, he had himself clothed in his Imperial robes and seated in a

chair, so that, after a worthless life, he was able to die in great

state, on the 9th of December, 1437. With him expired the Luxemburg

dynasty, after having weakened, distracted, humiliated and almost ruined

Germany for exactly ninety years.