King Wenceslaus (Václav IV) was ruler of the Holy Roman Empire until 1400AD. In this fatal year he was disentitled by the electors and Prague lost its unique position as the empire’s capital city. A year afterwards allied German forces invaded Bohemia and if it wasn’t for Moravian Margrave Jošta the invasion could have ended in disaster because Wenceslaus didn’t attempt resistance. Part of the Czech nobility began colluding with Wenceslaus’ brother Sigismund (Zikmund), who was a ruler of Hungary. In 1403 he interned Wenceslaus in Vienna and almost became a king. However, his heartless policy didn’t win him many supporters and political situation in Hungary postponed Sigismund’s Czech enthronement for many years.
A number of small conflicts began to appear in the country and there were more robber barons. Wenceslaus put many gangs to the gallows but none of this helped. Loose morals and the pomposity of the Church created a breeding ground for preachers, who were pointing at its corruption. Prague was also influenced by the work of John Wyclif, a promoter of church reform. His work found many supporters at the Prague University such as Jakoubek of Stříbro, Jan of Jesenice, Křišťan of Prachatice and Jan Hus. Their aim was to reform the Church and society so they were in harmony to Christian modesty. Preachers found supporters especially among Czech society and Jan Hus’s preaching were visited by increasing numbers of people. Jan Hus had many supporters, among others also the queen Žofie and other members of the Czech court. Jan Hus’s preachings attracted Jan Žižka, who was at that time a member of royal court security in the Old Town.
The Age of the Reformation Approaches
The reformists were gradually prevailing and in 1408 Wenceslaus succumbed to their pressure and nominated new Old Town aldermen. For the first time Czech townsfolk dominated. The king discussed the nomination with eminent noblemen who were in favour of reforms and also with preachers and scholars such as Jeroným Pražský and Jan Hus. Wenceslaus’ sympathy to reform froze when the second Charles IV’s son Sigismund Luxemburg, the Hungarian king, was elected as the Holy Roman emperor. It was even more painful because Sigismund promised to Wenceslaus to support his candidacy for the emperor’s crown.
The University was definitely occupied by those in favour of reform. Students provoked the king by burning imitations of papal documents so he eventually changed his decision regarding the Old Town council and nominated a new one, where the Germans had majority again. The Germans also got ten years remission of tax and on top of that the king gave up on his privilege to nominate alderman. Another apparent advantage was a very strange privilege according which a person was not allowed to appeal from the Old Town court to the royal court. The Germans executed two of Czech alderman which was an obvious revenge for their activities in the council since 1408 and also for the issue of the Decree of Kutna Hora which gave priority to the Czechs in the Prague University. These doings once again changed Wenceslaus’ opinion; he nominated a new council which ruled till 1420 even after the king’s death. The Czech Old Town council was instrumental in spreading the Hussite ideas to other royal towns.
Jan Hus decided in 1414 to make a journey to the council in Constance to vindicate his reform council ideas. He was there declared as a heretic, put in prison and on 6th July 1415, burned to death. A year later also Jeroným pražský was burned. This caused significant indignation and Czech nobility sent the council in Constance a protest which carried 452 Czech nobleman’s seals. In Prague, churches began the Celebration of the Lord's Supper in both kinds (bread and wine to priests and laity alike). Those priests who refused communion in both kinds were driven out of the churches.
In 1417 Prague University issued a declaration approving communion in both kinds as correct and corresponding with Christ commandments. The Faculty of Theology was subsequently abolished, Medical Faculty activities were discontinued and only the Faculty of Arts remained.
Wenceslaus succumbed to the pressure of his brother (who threatened with military attack) and of the Pope, in 1419 he agreed to the return of catholic priests. On the other hand he allowed for three churches to stay in the hands of Hussites. Freshly nominated New Town aldermen, who were catholic supporters, imprisoned a few Hussite radicals. Subsequently a preacher Jan Želivský and his followers broke into the Town Hall and threw the alderman out of the window. Prague, with exception of Vyšehrad, became a Hussite city. Afterwards new aldermen were elected and shortly afterwards the king Wenceslaus died at his castle Novy Hradek near Kunratic.
According to the tradition it was Wenceslaus’ brother the emperor Sigismund who was supposed to succeed him on the throne. However, he didn’t take power until the fratricidal battle of Czechs at Lipany in 1620. Hussites together with the nobility and Prague council demanded the emperor to allow for communion in both kinds and the annexation of Church property. Furthermore they asked for priests to be excluded from secular authorities, foreigners not to be allowed to carry state functions and the University privileges to be restored. They also insisted on legal proceedings to be carried out in the Czech language and towns with a Czech majority should have councils with a majority of Czech alderman. Sigismund refused to submit to these demands and attacked Prague, as he was well aware of the fact that those who held Prague can rule the whole of Bohemia. In 1420 he struck two battles and lost. Firstly he came with a huge army, which (according to some historical source books) amounted to 145 thousand soldiers. Against him stood the Praguers and the Taborites, who were lead by Jan Žižka. Sigismund let himself be crowned as a Czech king and shortly after the lost battle left the city. He came back in autumn (together with him came Moravian noblemen) when he wanted to help Vyšehrad, which was the only place remaining faithful to the king. He was defeated at Pankrácka plan, where some of the noblemen also died.
The moderate Hussites were searching for new king but the radical ones didn’t desire foreign rule. Europe sent many crusades against the Hussites but these were always defeated. However, there had been dissents between the Hussites for many years which ended up in uniting of conservative Utraquists or Calixtines (the chalice was their symbol) with Catholics. These were defeated by Jan Žižka at the U Malešova battle. Žižka’s desire was to unite Bohemia but he didn’t succeed as he died in 1424. Ten years later the disputes between different Hussite fractions ended up in the Battle U Lipan where the moderate Hussite faction, the Utraquists (in alliance with Catholics), defeated the more radical faction, the Taborites. After their victory the conservative Hussites negotiated with the emperor Sigismund. The agreement granted the communion in both kinds and Sigismund agreed to support the Czech language and to ban foreigners working in official posts. On top of that the Prague townsfolk extorted an issue of a document, stating that they don’t have to receive back those who emigrated during the revolution. Sigismund entered Prague on 23rd August 1436, half year later his wife Barbora was crowned empresses in St. Vitus Cathedral and on 12th April 1437 reconciliation with Roman Church was declared. Sigismund died in December 1437.
After his death anarchy sat in and this was interrupted only by a few efforts from the Czech nobility to restore royal power. Prague didn’t benefit form this state of affairs at all. The conservative Utraquist took power and Prague was ruled by Pešík of Kunvald and Pavel Detřichovice, who didn’t meddle in the city life affairs and minded their own business. In 1448 George of Podiebrad (Jiří z Poděbrad) entered the stage. This wealthy Utraquist nobleman acted as the Czech bailiff for ten years. When the Czech king Ladislaus the Postumous died (Ladislav Pohrobek in Czech, he ruled for only three years), George of Podiebrad was elected as the Czech king. He was elected by the assembly, which took place at the Old Town Hall. This election was uniquely democratic if we take into consideration that at these times the royal titles were mostly hereditary.
George of Podiebrad ruled in Bohemia until his death in 1471AD and his governance stabilised the situation. The Hussite’s motto “Truth wins” became also Gorge of Podiebrad’s motto and found its way onto the president standard after the Czechoslovakia Republic’s creation in 1918. Hussite Prague loved its king and built him two memorials during his lifetime. The first one, an equestrian statue with motto “Truth wins” was installed by the Prague archbishop Jan Rokycana in Tynsky church. Another statue, possibly also equestrian, wasn’t preserved. It may have used to stand on Charles Bridge, where today a Piet? is located. Prague suffered from the Hussite Wars as did the University. The Pope confirmed the University a Christian status in 1447. However, as all the teachers had to swear communion in both kinds in 1458, the University became second-rate as many teachers couldn’t work in Prague for religious reasons. The Hussite movement was distant and didn’t manage to establish contacts with Europe. That’s why it has been argued that Bohemian fell behind the rest of Europe. We can’t, however, deny that Hussites brought an unknown phenomenon - a profound national awakening which was to come in the rest of Europe only later.