Book Review: The Hussite Revolution: 1424-1437

The Hussite Revolution:  1424-1437, by F.M. Bartosh

For English-language readers, the Hussite revolution in Bohemia and Moravia (now the Czech Republic) is an obscure subject that is known to few except those who are passionately interested in late medieval history or religious history or military history, or all three of them as the case may be for some of us.  Within that larger conflict, the more obscure part of it is the second half of the conflict, where the Bohemians reached their greatest success against overwhelming numbers of German (and other) knights before falling prey to the characteristic Czech tendency for internal division and disagreement that prevented them from providing a unified front against their religious and ethnic enemies.  This is not an isolated problem, but it makes for melancholy reading as we see a fragmented and divided revolutionary situation fall prey to better organized and more unified opposition while at the same time seeking at least some sort of religious freedom that kept the Hussite defeat from being total.  This book is well worth reading if the Hussite wars, particularly the second half of them, is an interest of yours, and it is worthwhile that this work has been translated into English for those who want to read about an important period of Czech history.

This book is a short one at just a bit more than 150 pages.  It begins with an introduction and a preface to the English edition (by the author), as well as a list of abbreviations.  After that the author discusses the struggle for Zizka’s legacy among the surviving Hussites after his death in 1424 (1).  After that the author discusses the Hussite campaign to Usti and the fall of Korybut (2) as well as the fourth crusade and the beginning of the Hussite offensive (3).  This leads to a discussion of the glorious campaign that marked the apogee of Hussite fortunes (4).  After that the author discusses the battle of Domazlice and the invitation of the Hussites to Basel (5), and the next few chapters discuss the fighting over who would go to Basel to represent Bohemia (6), the discussion between the Hussites and the representatives of European Catholicism (7), as well as what happened between the Basel conference and the return to Prague (8).  This leads to a discussion of the fateful battle of Lipany that marked the defeat of the Hussite state (9), the events that took place between that battle and the resulting peace of Jihlava (10), and a discussion of Sigismund’s return and death (11) as well as the achievements of the Hussite revolution (12).  The book ends with notes and an index.

What relevance does the Hussite revolution have for readers who are not Czech?  It so happens that the Hussites were greatly influenced by the reformist thinking of John Wycliffe, and Hus himself suffered the fate of being tortured and burned at the stake as a heretic for the radical belief of seeking to obey God rather than men as he understood the scriptures.  If this does not seem radical to many of us today, it is because we ourselves have been strongly influenced by individualistic ideas concerning sola scriptura that the Hussites were at the forefront of.  The division between the Hussites into at least three different camps suggests the way that reformers are frequently divided among themselves while those who defend the status quo are typically better able to unify in the face of threats.  Those who represent weak and small nations, as has always been the case for the Czechs in the face of the larger and more powerful states around them (particularly the Germans) have all the more need of unity in order to preserve some freedom of action, and over and over again the Czechs have not heeded this message or been able to preserve their cohesion as a society, to their great detriment.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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