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Chapter 25

CHAPTER XXV: THE HUSSITES (AD 1418-1431)

The news of Huss's death naturally raised a general feeling of anger
in Bohemia, where his followers treated his memory as that of a
saint, and kept a festival in his honour. And when the emperor
Sigismund, in 1419, succeeded his brother Wenceslaus in the kingdom
of Bohemia, he found that he was hated by his new subjects on
account of his share in the death of Huss.

But, although most of the Bohemians might now be called Hussites,
there were great divisions among the Hussites themselves. Some had
lately begun to insist that in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper
both the bread and the wine should be given to all the people,
according to our Lord's own example, instead of allowing no one but
the priest to receive the wine, according to the Roman practice.
These people who insisted on the sacramental cup were called
Calixtines, from the Latin calix, which means a cup or chalice. But
among those who agreed in this opinion there were serious
differences as to some other points.

In the summer of 1419, the first public communion was celebrated at
a place where the town of Tabor was afterwards built. It was a very
different kind of ceremony from what had been usual. There were
three hundred altars, but they were without any covering; the
chalices were of wood, the clergy wore only their every-day dress;
and a love-feast followed, at which the rich shared with their
poorer brethren. The wilder party among the Hussites were called
Taborites, from Tabor, which became the chief abode of this party.
They now took to putting their opinions into practice. They declared
churches and their ornaments, pictures, images, organs, and the
like, to be abominable; and they went about in bands, destroying
everything that they thought superstitious. And thus Bohemia, which
had been famous for the size and beauty of its churches, was so
desolated that hardly a church was left in it; and those which are
now standing have almost all been built since the time when the
Hussites destroyed the older churches.

The chief leader of the Taborites was John Ziska, whose name is said
by some to mean one-eyed; and at least he had lost an eye in early
life. Ziska had such a talent for war that, although his men were
only rough peasants, armed with nothing better than clubs, flails,
and such like tools, which they had been accustomed to use in
husbandry, he trained them to encounter regular armies, and always
came off with victory. He taught his soldiers to make their flails
very dangerous weapons by tipping them with iron; and to place their
waggons together in such a way that each block of waggons made a
sort of little fortress, against which the force of the enemy dashed
in vain. But Ziska's bravery and skill were disgraced by his savage
fierceness. He never spared an enemy; he took delight in putting
clergy and monks to the sword, or in burning them in pitch, and in
burning and pulling down churches and monasteries. In the course of
the war he lost his remaining eye; but he still continued to act as
general with the same skill and success as before. His cruelty
became greater continually, and the last year of his life was the
bloodiest.

Ziska died in October, 1424. It is said that he directed that his
skin should be taken off his body, and made into the covering of a
drum, at the sound of which he expected all enemies to flee in
terror, but the story is probably not true. At his death, a part of
his old companions called themselves "orphans", as if they had lost
their father, and could never find another. But other generals arose
to carry on the same kind of war, while their wild followers were
wrought up to a sort of fury which nothing could withstand.

On the side of the Church a holy war was planned, and vast armies,
made up from all nations of Europe, were gathered for the invasion
of Bohemia. One of these crusades was led by Cardinal Beaufort,
bishop of Winchester, and great-uncle of King Henry VI of England;
another, by a famous Italian cardinal, Julian Cesarini. But the
courage and fury of the Bohemians, with their savage appearance and
their strange manner of fighting, drove back all assaults, with
immense loss, in one campaign after another, until Cesarini, the
leader in the last crusade, was convinced that there was no hope of
putting the Bohemians down by force, and that some other means must
be tried.