The death of Jan Hus and its consequences

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8. The death of Jan Hus and its consequences

Wenzel inherited almost none of the good qualities of his father. He hardly cared about the empire and spent most of his time in Bohemia. In response to his conduct, the electors deposed him and crowned Ruprecht, the Little of the Palatinate, and later (1410) Wenzel's much younger brother Sigismund as German king [crowned Kaiser 1433, King of Bohemia 1419]. Wenzel and Sigismund played important roles in the Hussite revolution and in the tragedy that followed. Kaiser Wenzel did nothing to counteract the schism in the church, which arose when alternative popes began to reside at Avignon. As a result the church also suffered a loss of authority. Heretical movements with underlying social causes were not only spreading across Bohemia. The philosophic-theological foundations of the church showed their first dissonances in the 14th century. Around that time, King Wenzel had Johann von Nepomuk tortured and thrown into the Moldau River. Jan Hus developed his ideas on church reform along the concepts of John Wycliffe, and mainly national minded Czechs from towns and rural areas became his followers. He did not sympathize with the German reform movement for new religiosity and inward-looking piety appearing at that time. The differences deepened further when many German mentors and students left the University of Prague and continued at newly founded universities such as Leipzig, Heidelberg, Tübingen or Vienna. The Council of Constance, convened on insistence of King Sigismund, summoned Jan Hus and, as he did not revoke his theses, condemned him and had him burned outside the gates of Constance on July 6, 1415.

Word of Hus having died a martyr's death aroused a powerful national movement in Bohemia. The religious reform movements in Germany as well as in Bohemia had evolved into a Czech-national revolution. The flame lit with the stake at Constance struck onwards with raging force when King Wenzel died of a heart attack in 1419 and Kaiser Sigismund claimed the Bohemian crown on grounds of the Luxemburg law of succession. This expanded into the horrific Hussite Wars, which brought dreadful sufferings on the people far beyond Bohemia and Moravia, the effects of which need not be described here. Although the linguistic divides had hardly been shifted by the wars, the towns were Czechized, the language of the legislative assembly became Czech; the Germans were now grudgingly tolerated subjects, and the economic bloom of the land had passed. The only winners were the landed nobility who had broken the power of the royalty and of the burghers. For a century they relished their power to the full. The Czech people had taken dreadful vengeance for their martyr, but this did not make them richer or happier. Here perhaps lies one of the roots for the later misfortunes.


Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation
(Geographical extent of 1806)

The home of the Sudetengermans from 918 to 1806 was part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. In 1348, Karl IV founded the first German university in Prague, then capital of the empire.



German Confederacy
(Geographical extent of 1848)

In 1526 the Habsburg dynasty became sovereign of the Bohemian lands which included the homelands of the Sudetengermans. Thereby these lands became part of Austria, which belonged up to 1806 to the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and from 1815-1866 to the German Confederacy.


Under Archduke Ferdinand of Austria (1503-64) the lands of Bohemia, Austria, Hungary and Croatia were again unified and ruled by a strong hand and remained so for 400 years, but thereby, the Germans in Bohemia found themselves in a completely different geographical situation. They had become the borderline population of a multi-ethnic state. The more the center of events moved from Prague to Vienna the more divisive became the borderlines with Saxony and Silesia. A second far-reaching development began around 1520 with Luther's rebellion against the Pope and ended with the 30 Years War during which especially the common man paid with life, blood and possessions and had to change his faith or leave his home at the whim of his master. Reformation and Counter-Reformation took their toll. In the Sudetenlands, Catholicism gained in influence and importance towards the end of the 16th century. It was especially the work of the Jesuits with their modern schools and educational methods as well as their reform of church services and church music.


Copyright © by Inge Schwarz 1997 (Heimatstelle Maffersdorf) 
Copyright © by Anton Möller • 2005

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