The
HUSSITE WARS (1419-1434)
Image of Hussite war wagon, believe taken from the anonymous Hussite War manuscript in the Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna. "A Bohemian waggon-fort of the 1420's, bristling with weapons: guns of different sizes, crossbows, a war-flail and a morning star, with one man apparently hurling a stone. The Hussite emblem of a chalice is on the tent and the drawing is contemporary." [p.93, Trevor Cairns, The Middle Ages, Cambridge U. Press, 1972]
However, there is doubt that the so-called 'Hussite Manuscript' is really contemporary with the wars. The MS was probably executed ca 1470-80, and the weapons depicted may reflect configurations of of even a post Hundred Years' War Era. See Burt Hall.
The Hussite Wars (1419-1434) developed when the Catholic Hungarian King, Sigismund of Luxemburg (1368-1437) invaded Bohemia to put down a revolt of Czech followers of Jan (John) Hus 'the Martar' (1369-1415), who were perscuted as heretics. Sigismund became the German Emperor of the so-called 'Holy Roman Empire' ('King of the Romans') from 1411 to 1437. Emperor Sigismund was humiliatingly beaten in a series of battles by the Hussite leader Ziska (1360?-1424), at Vysehrad, Saaz and Deutschbrod between 1420 and 1422.
Ziska was an extraordinary military leader with organization skills. He demonstrated a genius in grasping innovative tactics that adapted to his resources and military situtation situtation. Ziska developed a discplined infantry of peasants that withstood repeated encounters with large armies of mounted and well armed knights of the German Emperor. The Hussites employed a special tactical defense that usually consisted of a quadrangle of wagon-forts (wagenburg), enforced by hastily dug moat on the outside. Their systematic use of wagon-protection was later reflected in the nineteenth-century American West and by the Dutch in the Boer War.
The Hussite army consisted primarily of infantrymen armed with pikes, crossbows and swords. Initially, most were peasants, armed with flails. However, the heavy reliance on gunpowder weapons (small cannon and hand-held*) was a distinctive feature. The Hussites use of gunpowder weapons in open battles can be described as an early effort at ‘field artillery’. For five years, the Hussite army was invincible and acquire renown. After Ziska's death, an equally capable commander, Prokop (1438?-1434), was able to maintain the effort for ten more years. From 1426 to 1432, the Hussites conducted campaigns into Germany, Hungary, and Silesia. In 1436, Sigismund was forced to accept Bohemia's virtual independence.

[*] The specific configuration of the 'hand-held' guns remains an important issue. It is unlikely that they were shoulder supported. Rather they were probably supported by the long wood shaft being braced under the gunner's arm -- not an ideal position for marksman aiming. However, a mass of such guns would contribute in disrupting an enemy's attack. If the serpentine lock for alining the lit match to the powder hole were part of the guns, then there is a possibility of the gunner being able to point (aim) his peace with more precision. Little archival evidence that can be reliabily dated remains of such early matchlock guns. There is a more probable configuration of supported hand guns. The barrel of such guns rested on a wall, wagon side, a large shield, a pole support.)
Hussite victories:

Sudomer (25 March 1419 [20?])

Vítkov (Prague) (14 July 1420),

Kutná Hora (21 December 1421)

Kuttenberg (1421) [?]

(the sequel) Nemecky Brod (8 January 1422)

Nebovid (1422) [?] Malesov (7 June 1424).

Tachov (11 & 14 August 1427)

Taus (14 Auagust 1431)

Sigmund Korybut answered the Praguers' call for a new king. The Hussites split in factions: the radicals, known as Taborites, and Utraquists.

Later battle between factions:
The Taborites won at Ustí on the Elbe (16 June 1425), and ultimatley forced Korybut's departure in 1427.

The radicals made military thrust into Moravia and Saxony in the late 1420s, producing a new wave of crusading zeal among the German cities. This also failed at battle of Tachov (11 and 14 August 1427).

Germans' effort to employ the Wagenburg failed at Taus (14 August 1431).

A combined Catholic and moderate Hussite army defeated the Taborites at Lipany (30 May 1434).
SUMMARY and ANALYSIS
Frederick G. Heymann's John Ziska and the Hussite Revolution (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1955) provided an enthusastic argument for recognizing the contribution of the Hussite Wars to European warfare. Heymann's articulates as well as any that the Hussite armies, under Ziska realy revolutionized warfare. At least as much as the famous mercenary infantry of the Swiss, and perhaps even more effectively, it was the Hussite forms of military organization, Hussite methods of fighting, and the development of the recently invented fire weapons by the Hussites under Ziska which led to the eclipse of the knightly cavalry of the Middle Ages.’ [p.13]. Heymann claims [p.452] that the Hussite Wars provided an "enormous influence upon the development of armies, weapons and tactics in fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, especially in central and eastern Europe." His examination and claims deserve careful consideration. Nevertheless, Heymann does not develop a tanangable link from events or persons from the Hussite Wars that directly tie into tactical developments in Western Europe. In fact, Ziska's experience as a participant at the Battle of Agincourt (25 October 1415) [claimed by Heymann] suggests that Ziska may have learned from the military operations in Western Europe of the advantage for infantry missilemen to be in a tactical defensive posture, and on carefully selected terrain, when confronting a host of mounted armed knights.
The success of gunpowder weapons in Western Europe depended upon technical developments still to come -- improved gunpowder mixture and lock firing mechanisms. [The latter may have been in the Hussite army. There may be evidence that the Bohemians had early forms of 'matchlock' handguns]. It is certainly arguable that that the Hussite experience encouraged the roboust gun manufacturing that emerged early in southern Germany, and spread quickly to adjacent Flemish and Northern Italian, communities. [1] It is conjecture whether the Hussite tactical scheme was conscientiously copied by the French and Spanish at the end of the fifteenth century. However, these armies, wanting the advantage of massed missile fire, also solved their deficiency of an aviable large resource of trained bowmen by the acquisition of handgunners and employment of medium to small sized cannon in the field.

[1] Nicolle, Hungary and the Fall of Eastern Europe (1000-1568), illustrations by Angus McBride, Osprey Men-at-Arms Series (195), London, 1988. p.6. shows sketch of 'early' fifteenth-century matchlock in the Brukenthal Museum, Sibiu, Romania.
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Page established February 2000; last updated 17 February 2000.

This page was created in February 2000 and was last updated 18 February 2000.
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