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HUSSITES. The Hussite revolution was a protest movement for sociopolitical freedom and religious reform in fifteenth-century Bohemia. Visible in several manifestations prior to the Thirty Years' War, the term identifies followers of the martyred priest Jan Hus (c. 1372/731415), whose distinguishing and unconventional practices involved celebrating the Eucharist in species of both bread and wine.

The instability of the House of Luxembourg in Prague and repeated interference by Sigismund, aspiring Holy Roman emperor, created political uncertainty. Ecclesiastical affairs were no better; the papal schism directly affected Prague, and Czech resentment toward foreign religious domination escalated. Ecclesiastical property included up to fifty percent of Bohemia. Heavy taxation, a declining silver industry, static wages, rising prices, peasant devastation, and an impoverished gentry comprised a host of social and economic grievances. Conflicts between church and state, monarch and barons, and Czechs and Germans exacerbated the climate of discontent. Heretical movements like that of the Waldensians and the teachings of John Wycliffe (c. 13301384), combined with native reform movements, heightened the potential for protest and dissent.


The leading personality was university professor and preacher Jan Hus, who facilitated reform aimed at correcting abuses. Hus exerted unusual influence from his pulpit and wrote prolifically, but ran afoul of the Prague episcopal see, lost favor with the king, and was excommunicated and later accused of heresy. He attended the Council of Constance (14141415) hoping for a fair hearing, but was seized and executed. After his death, and the inability of King Wenceslas (Václav) IV (ruled 13781419) to govern effectively, university masters and Czech barons assumed political power. A league formed in 1415 to protect Hussite interests. Hussite ideologues led by Jakoubek of Stříbro (d. 1429) and Nicholas of Dresden (d. 1417) inaugurated Utraquism, the practice of Communion using both bread and wine. As Utraquism constituted a rejection of Roman ecclesiastical authority, it was condemned by the Council of Constance. Later, Utraquism included all the baptized, including infants. The chalice became the Hussite symbol. Crisis loomed when radical preachers and their followers engaged in thoroughgoing protests against religious and political establishments.

By 1417 Bohemia faced economic blockade. Prague's archbishop commenced active repression, refusing to ordain Hussite priests while evicting incumbents, but the Hussites struck back. The university ratified Utraquism while dissenters forced a suffragan bishop to perform ordinations. Catholic clerics were ejected and replaced with Hussites. The king undertook a largely ineffectual royal repression. By 1419 a crusade aimed at crushing resistance received papal approbation. The Hussites refused to submit and Reformation became revolution. Radical priest Jan Želivský (d. 1422) incited public demonstrations. Resistance rallies formed on hilltops in rural Bohemia throughout 1419, attended by thousands. In July a mob, led by Želivský, overthrew the Prague civil authorities. The king was forced to accept the Hussite coup, but died within a month.

In 1420 the radical community at Tábor began to contravene religious and social mores: vernacular replaced Latin, liturgical vestments and accessories were abandoned, and preaching and simple eucharistic piety predominated. Simultaneous communal experiments developed: private property was forbidden, taxes abolished, equality proclaimed, and community chests established. Radicals elected their own bishop. Originally pacifists, the Táborites became "warriors of God."

Greatly alarmed, Sigismund marched on Prague, suffering ignominious defeat at the hands of Jan Žižka's (c. 13601424) peasant forces. Four subsequent crusades were scattered. Throughout the 1420s the Hussites attempted social and religious reform. Refusing to accept Sigismund as king, they sought a ruler from the Polish-Lithuanian dynasty. The Hussite wars continued, spreading to neighboring regions after Žižka's death. The Four Articles of Prague functioned as a charter, calling for free preaching, Utraquism, divestment of church wealth, and punishment of serious sins. A massive propaganda campaign followed. Radicals advocated seizing property from the wealthy, correcting religious abuses wherever encountered, and promoting "saint" Jan Hus, the chalice, and the law of God. This latter component possessed both theological and social implications.

Forced to negotiate, the Council of Basel (1433) implemented strategic divide-and-conquer policies. When initial talks disintegrated and crisis gripped the Hussite leadership, conservative Utraquist barons colluded with Catholic forces, captured Prague, and forced a confrontation with the radicals in 1434. The Táborites were crushed. Bohemian had outwitted Bohemian in the interests of Rome. Jan Roháč of Dubá (d. 1437) and confederates resisted Sigismund until 1437.


Petr Chelčický (c. 1390c. 1460) a Táborite separatist, summarized Hussitism as a rejection of medieval society with its tripartite divisions. He exerted formative influence on the Unity of Brethren, a group that survived into the seventeenth century. Jan Rokycana (d. 1471) dominated the Utraquist party. The Hussite movement, together with the nobles organized in the Estates, remained the chief force in Bohemia until their disastrous defeat by the Habsburgs at the Battle of White Mountain (1620). Before White Mountain, Bohemian society and politics took the Hussites seriously. The political reality of the fifteenth-century revolution was a strengthened nobility. During the militant period, army captains Žižka and Prokop Holý (c. 13751434) exerted enormous political influence, while Tábor's bishop Mikuláš of Pelhimov (d. 1460) provided leadership for three decades. After 1440 two main Hussite groups continued: the Utraquists, who inclined toward Lutheranism after 1520, and the Calvinist Unity of Brethren.

Hussite strength and achievement are measured by the standardization of the Czech language (undertaken by Hus), restoration of lay Communion using both bread and wine, and survival through five imperial crusades. In the process, the Hussites achieved formal recognition by the official church (1433), a triumph of toleration exemplified in the "Peace of Kutná Hora" (1485), a common religious confession (1575), and maintained their uniqueness despite Lutheran and Calvinist Reformations. In 1609 the "Letter of Majesty" was published, recognizing the right of Hussite traditions to exist, and in 1596 the vernacular Bible of Kralice was produced. The Hussites thus reformed their religion before the age of the European Reformations. Their greatest weakness was twofold: a tendency toward internal dissension contributing to a major defeat in 1434, and their proclivity for negotiating with the official church, a stance that prevented full implementation of Hussite doctrine. Their defeat at White Mountain was total. During the Thirty Years' War Bohemia was forcibly re-Catholicized. Hussites were exiled or driven underground. A century later, however, the spiritual descendants of Hussites emerged: the Moravian Brethren, who persist to the present day. It cannot be maintained that Hussite ideals survived, except in very limited ways in small communities in eastern Moravia.

The Hussite ethos lasted two hundred years, shaping the Bohemian nation. Its influence on movements within the Protestant Reformation was considerable. Hussites were the first to produce a full-fledged reformation from a movement of heresy and protest, and in this way altered European civilization.

See also Bohemia ; Prague ; Reformation, Protestant ; Schmalkaldic War (15461547) ; Thirty Years' War (16181648) .


Primary Source

Fudge, Thomas A. The Crusade against Heretics in Bohemia, 14181437: Sources and Documents for the Hussite Crusades. Aldershot, U.K., 2002. Over 200 documents illustrating the radical period.

Secondary Sources

Bartoš, František Michálek. The Hussite Revolution, 14241437. Edited by John Klassen, translated by J. Weir. New York, 1986. Translation of Husitská revoluce. Study by a leading Czech scholar.

David, Zdenĕk V. Finding the Middle Way: The Utraquists' Liberal Challenge to Rome and Luther. Baltimore, 2003. Definitive study of the Hussite tradition during the Reformation.

Fudge, Thomas A. The Magnificent Ride: The First Reformation in Hussite Bohemia. Aldershot, U.K., 1998. Emphasis on heresy, propaganda, and theological motifs up to 1437.

Heymann, Frederick G. George of Bohemia: King of Heretics. Princeton, 1965. Political history of the movement up to the 1470s.

. John Žižka and the Hussite Revolution. New York, 1969. Fully documented with 11 sources appended.

Holeton, David R., and Zdenĕk V. David, eds. The Bohemian Reformation and Religious Practice. 5 vols. Prague, 19962004. Wide-ranging collection of essays by international scholars of Hussitism.

Kaminsky, Howard. A History of the Hussite Revolution. Berkeley, 1967. The definitive study; history-of-ideas approach that stops at 1424.

Klassen, John M. The Nobility and the Making of the Hussite Revolution. New York, 1978. Insightful perspective with emphasis on the barons and political aspects of the movement.

Odložilík, Otakar. The Hussite King: Bohemia in European Affairs 14401471. New Brunswick, N.J., 1965. Contextual study of Hussite Bohemia with emphasis on politics.

Říčan, Rudolf. The History of the Unity of Brethren. Translated by C. Daniel Crews. Bethlehem, Pa., 1992. Translation of a Czech work and essential for understanding the larger dimensions of the Hussites up to the 1620s.

Šmahel, František. "The Idea of the 'Nation' in Hussite Bohemia." Translated by R. F. Samsour. Historica 16 (1969): 143247 and 17 (1970): 93197. Vigorous assessment of ideological and political aspects of national identity.

Wagner, Murray L. Petr Chelčický: A Radical Separatist in Hussite Bohemia. Scottdale, Pa., 1983. Excellent monograph emphasizing radical theology and political thought.

Thomas A. Fudge

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Hussites (hŭs´īts), followers of John Huss. After the burning of Huss (1415) and Jerome of Prague (1416), the Hussites continued as a powerful group in Bohemia and Moravia. They drew up (1420) the Four Articles of Prague, demanding freedom of preaching, communion in both kinds (i.e., both wine and bread) for the laity as well as priests, the limitation of property holding by the church, and civil punishment of mortal sin, including simony.

Although it ultimately failed, the Hussite movement is of permanent historical significance. It was the first substantial attack upon the two bulwarks of medieval society, feudalism and the Roman Catholic Church. As such it helped pave the way for both the Protestant Reformation and the rise of modern nationalism.

The Utraquists and the Taborites

In 1419 the Hussite Wars began, and in their course the Hussite movement splintered into several groups. The moderate group, called Utraquists [Lat. sub utraque specie=in both kinds] or Calixtines [Lat.,=chalice], consisted chiefly of the lesser nobility and the bourgeoisie. The Univ. of Prague was their center and Master Jan Rokycana their principal leader. Except for the demands made in the Four Articles, they agreed substantially with the Roman Catholic Church.

The more radical Hussites, the Taborites, named after their religious center and stronghold at Tabor, went further than the Utraquists in accepting the doctrines of John Wyclif. Consisting largely of peasants, this group expressed the messianic hopes of the oppressed. They regarded the Four Articles as minimal concessions. Their real goal was the total abolition of the feudal system and the establishment of a classless society without private property. From among their number came such leaders as John Zizka and Procopius the Great. Puritanical and iconoclastic, the Taborites reduced the sacraments to communion and baptism, denied the Real Presence, and abolished the veneration of saints and holy images.

The Hussite Wars necessitated a temporary alliance between the two groups. However, when the Utraquists were reconciled (1436) with the church through the agreement known as the Compactata, the Taborites refused to acquiesce. Of the demands of the original Four Articles, the Catholic Church conceded only on communion in both kinds. The obstinacy of the Taborites led to the alliance between the Utraquists and the Catholics and to the military defeat of the Taborites at Lipany (1534). After this, Taborite influence vanished from Bohemia. The Bohemian and Moravian Brethren are, however, probably descended from this group (see Moravian Church).

Further Division and Suppression

The Utraquists obtained (1436) royal recognition of the Compactata, which remained the fundamental religious law of Bohemia until 1567. By that time Protestantism had made great progress in Bohemia, and the Utraquists themselves were divided. The Old Utraquists remained Catholic; the New Utraquists joined with the Lutherans and drew up (1575) the Confessio Bohemia, which achieved official status (1609) in the Letter of Majesty of Emperor Rudolph II (see Bohemia). The violation of this letter was the prelude to the Thirty Years War. Bohemia, which was overwhelmingly Protestant in the mid-16th cent., was returned to Catholicism by both force and persuasion. Nevertheless, the Evangelicals, as the Lutheran Utraquists were called, did not entirely disappear, and neither did the other major communion, the Moravian Church.


See H. Kaminsky, A History of the Hussite Revolution (1967); F. M. Bartos, The Hussite Revolution, 1424–1437 (1986).

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Hussites Bohemian and Moravian followers of the 15th-century religious reformer Jan Hus. The execution of Hus in 1415 provoked the Hussite Wars against Emperor Sigismund. The Council of Basel (1431) brought peace, but the Taborites, the radical wing of the Hussites, rejected the terms. Sigismund defeated the Taborites at the Battle of Lipany in 1434.

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