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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 3 — John Huss and the Hussite Wars

Chapter 16 — Second crusade againSt. Bohemia

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Procopius Elected Leader – The War Resumed – New Invasion of Bohemia – Battle of Aussig – -Total Rout and Fearful Slaughter of the Invaders – Ballad descriptive of the Battle

THE Hussites had lost their great leader; still the tide of success continued to flow. When dying Ziska had named Procopius as his successor, and his choice, so amply justified by its results, attests that his knowledge of men was not inferior to his skill in the field. When the Bohemians laid Ziska in the grave, they looked around with no hope of finding one equally great to fill his place. In Procopius they found a greater, though his fame has been less. Nor is this surprising. A few great qualities intensely, and it may be disproportionately developed, strike the world even more than an assemblage of gifts harmoniously blended.

Procopius was the son of a nobleman of small fortune. Besides an excellent education, which his maternal uncle, who had adopted him as his heir, took care he should receive, he had traveled in many foreign countries, the Holy Land among others, and his taste had been refined, and his understanding enlarged, by what he had seen and learned abroad. On his return he entered the Church – in compliance with his uncle's solicitations, it is said, not from his own bent – and hence he was sometimes termed the Tonsured. But when the war broke out he entered with his whole heart into his country's quarrel, and, forsaking the Church, placed himself under the standard of Ziska. His devotion to the cause was not less than Ziska's. If his spirit was less fiery it was not because it was less brave, but because it was better regulated. Ziska was the soldier and general; Procopius was the statesman in addition.

The enemies of the Hussites knowing that Ziska was dead, but not knowing that his place was filled by a greater, deemed the moment opportune for striking another blow. Victory they confidently hoped would now change sides. They did not reflect that the blood of Huss and Jerome was weighing upon their swords. The terrible blind warrior, before whom they had so often fled, they would never again encounter in battle; but that righteous Power that had made Ziska its instrument in chastising the perfidy which had torn in pieces the safe-conduct of Huss, and then burned his body at the stake, they should assuredly meet on every battle-field on Bohemian soil on which they should draw sword. But this they had yet to learn, and so they resolved to resume the war, which from this hour, as they fondly believed, would run in a prosperous groove.

The new summons to arms came from Rome. The emperor, who was beginning to disrelish being continually beaten, was in no great haste to resume the campaign. To encourage and stimulate him, the Pope wrote to the princes of Germany and the King of Poland, exhorting them to unite their arms with those of Sigismund, and deal a blow which should make an end, once for all, of this troublesome affair. Than the Hussite heretics, the Turk himself, he said, was less the foe of Christianity; and it was a more urgent as well as a more meritorious work to endeavor to bring about the extirpation of the Bohemian adversary than the overthrow of the Moslem one. [1]

This letter was speedily followed by a bull, ordaining a new crusade against the Hussites. In addition to the letter which the Pope caused to be forwarded to the King of Poland, exhorting him to extirpate the Bohemian heresy, he sent two legates to see after the execution of his wishes. He also ordered the Archbishop of Lemberg to levy in his diocese 20,000 golden ducats, to aid the king in prosecuting the war. The Pontiff wrote to the same effect to the Duke of Lithuania. There is also a bull of the same Pope, Martin V., addressed to the Archbishops of Mainz, of Treves, and of Cologne, confirming the decree of the Council of Constance against the Hussites, and the several parties into which they were divided. [2]

At the first mutterings of the distant tempest, the various sections of the Hussites drew together. On the death of Ziska they had unhappily divided. There were the Taborites, who acknowledged Procopius as leader; there were the Orphans, who had lost in Ziska a father, and would accept no one in his room; and there were the Calixtines, whom Coribut, a candidate for the Bohemian crown, commanded. But the sword, now so suddenly displayed above their heads, reminded them that they had a common country and a common faith to defend. They forgot their differences in presence of the danger that now menaced them, stood side by side, and waited the coming of the foe.

The Pontiff's summons had been but too generally responded to. The army now advancing against this devoted land numbered not less than 70,000 picked men; some historians say 100,000. [3] They brought with them 3,000 wagons and 180 pieces of cannon. On Saturday, June 15th, 1426, they entered Bohemia in three columns, marching in the direction of Aussig, which the Hussites were besieging, and which lies on the great plain between Dresden and Toplitz, on the confines of the Slavonic and German worlds. On Sabbath morning, as they drew near the Hussite camp, Procopius sent a proposal to the invaders that quarter should be given on both sides. The Germans, who did not expect to need quarter for themselves, refused the promise of it to the Hussites, saying that they were under the curse of the Pope, and that to spare them would be to violate their duty to the Church. "Let it be so, then," replied Procopius, "and let no quarter be given on either side."

On Sabbath forenoon, the 16th of June, the battle began. The Bohemians were entrenched behind 500

wagons, fastened to one another by chains, and forming a somewhat formidable rampart. The Germans attacked with great impetuosity. They stormed the first line of defense, hewing in pieces with their battle-axes the iron fastenings of the wagons, and breaking through them. Pressing onward they threw down the second and weaker line, which consisted of the wooden shields stuck into the ground. They arrived in the area within, weary with the labor it had cost them to break through into it. The Bohemians the while were resting on their arms, and discharging an occasional shot from their swivel guns on the foe as he struggled with the wagons. Now that they were face to face with the enemy they raised their war-cry, they swung their terrible flails, they plied their long hooks, and pulling the Germans from their horses, they enacted fearful slaughter upon them as they lay on the ground. Rank after rank of the invaders pressed forward, only to be blended in the terrible carnage which was going on, on this fatal spot. The battle raged till a late hour of the afternoon. The German knights contested the action with great valor and obstinacy, on a soil slippery with the blood and cumbered with the corpses of their comrades. But their bravery was in vain. The Bohemian ranks were almost untouched; the Germans were every moment going down in the fearful tempest of arrows and shot that beat upon them, and in the yet more terrible buffeting of the iron flails, which crushed the hapless warrior on whom they fell. The day closed with the total rout of the invaders, who fled from the field in confusion, and sought refuge in the mountains and woods around the scene of action. [4]

The fugitives when overtaken implored quarter, but themselves had settled it, before going into battle, and, accordingly, no quarter was given. Twenty-four counts and barons stuck their swords in the ground, and knelt before their captors, praying that their lives might be spared. But in vain. In one place three hundred slain knights are said to have been found lying together in a single heap. The loss in killed of the Germans, according to Palacky, whose history of Bohemia is based upon original documents, and the accuracy of which has never been called in question, was fifteen thousand. The wounded and missing may have swelled the total loss to fifty thousand, the number given in the Bohemian ballad, a part of which we are about to quote. The German nobility suffered tremendous loss, nearly all their leaders being left on the field. Of the Hussites there fell in battle thirty men.

A rich booty was reaped by the victors. All the wagons, artillery, and tents, and a large supply of provisions and coin fell into their hands. "The Pope," said the Hussites jeeringly, "owes the Germans his curse, for having enriched us heretics with such boundless store of treasure." But the main advantage of this victory was the splendid prestige it gave the Hussites. From that day their arms were looked upon as invincible.

The national poets of Bohemia celebrated in song this great triumph. The following fragment is not unlike the ballads in which some of the early conflicts of our own country were commemorated. In its mingled dialogue and description, its piquant interrogatories and stinging retorts, it bears evidence of being contemporary, or nearly so, with the battle. It is only a portion of this spirited poem for which we can here find room.

"In mind let all Bohemians bear,
How God the Lord did for them care,
And victory at Aussig gave,
When war they waged their faith to save.
The year of grace – the time to fix –
Was fourteen hundred twenty-six;
The Sunday after holy Vite
The German host dispersed in flight.
Many there were 1ook'd on the while,
Looked on Bohemia's risk with guile,
For gladsome they to see had been
Bohemians suffer woe and teen.
But thanks to God the Lord we raise,
To God we glory give and praise,
Who aided us with mighty hand
To drive the German from our land.
The host doth nigh Bavaria war,
Crusading foes to chase afar,
Foes that the Pope of Rome had sent,
That all the faithful might be shent.
The tale of woe all hearts doth rend,
Thus to the host for aid they send:
'Bohemia's faith doth stand upright,
If comrade comrade aids in fight.'
The Count of Meissen said in sight,
'If the Bohemian bands unite,
Evil, methinks, will us betide;
Asunder let us keep them wide.
Fear strikes me, when the flails I see,
And those black lads so bold and free!
'Tis said that each doth crush the foe
Upon whose mail he sets a blow.'
Our Marshal, good Lord Vanek, spake:
'Whoe'er God's war will undertake,
Whoe'er will wage it free from guile,
Himself with God must reconcile.'
On Friday then, at morning light,
The Czechians service held aright,
Received God's body and His blood,
Ere for their faith in fight they stood.
Prince Sigmund did the same likewise,
And prayed to God with tearful eyes,
And urged the warriors firm to stand,
And cheer'd the people of the land.
By Predlitz, on Behani's height,
The armies met and closed in fight;
Stout Germans there, Bohemians here,
Like hungry lions, know no fear.

Germans loud proclaim'd that day,
The Czechians must their creed unsay,
Submit themselves and sue for grace,
Or leave their lives upon the place.
''Gainst us ye cannot stand,' they said,
'Against our host ye are but dead;
Look at our numbers; what are ye?
A cask of poppy-seed are we.' [5]

The bold Bohemians made reply:
'Our creed we hold until we die,
Our fatherland we will defend,
Though in the fight we meet our end.
And though a little band to see,
A spoonful small of mustard we,
Yet none the less we'll sharply bite,
If Christ but aid us in the fight.
But be this pact betwixt us twain:
Whoe'er's by either army ta'en,
Bind him and keep him, slay him not;
Expect from us the selfsame lot.'
Said they: 'This thing we cannot do;
The Pope's dread curse is laid on you,
And we must slay in fury wild
Both old and young, both maid and child.'
The Czechians too same pact did make,
No German prisoners to take;
Then each man call'd his God upon,
And thought his faith, his honor on.
The Germans jeer'd them as they stood,
On came their horsemen like a flood:
'Our foes,' they say, 'like geese [6]

With axe, with dirk, with mace we'll slay.
Soon lose shall many a maid and wife,
Sire, brother, husband in the strife,
In sad bereavement shall remain;
Woe waits the orphans of the slain.'
When each on other 'gan to fall,
The Czechians on their God did call;
They saw before their van in view
A stranger knight, whom no man knew.
The Taborites begin the fight,
Like men they forwards press and smite;
Where'er the Orphans took their road,
There streams of blood like brooklets flow'd.
And many a knight display'd his might,
And many a lord was good in fight,
'Twere vain to strive each name to say –
Lord! bless them and their seed for aye!
For there with valor without end
They did the truth of God defend,
They gave their lives right valiantly,
With thee, O Lord! in heav'n to be.
When long the fight had fiercely burn'd,
The wind against the Germans turn'd,
Their backs the bold Bohemians see,
Quick to the woods and hills they flee.
And those that 'scaped the bloody scene
Right sadly told the Margravine,
For faith and creed how fierce and wood
The Czechian heretics had stood.
Then fourteen counts and lords of might
Did from their coursers all alight,
Their sword-points deep in earth did place
And to the Czechians sued for grace.
For prayers and cries they cared not aught,
Silver and gold they set at naught,
E'en as themselves had made reply,
So ev'ry man they did to die.
Thus thousands fifty, thousands twain,
Or more, were of the Germans slain,
Besides the youths, that did abide
In helmets by the army's side;
But these they kept alive, to tell
Their lady how her people fell,
That all might think the fight upon,
At Aussig that for God was won.
Ho! all ye faithful Christian men!
Each lord and knight and citizen!
Follow and hold your fathers' creed
And show ye are their sons indeed!
Be steadfast in God's truth always,
And so from God ye shall have praise;
God on your offspring blessings pour,
And grant you life for evermore!"

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