1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Žižka, John

ŽIŽKA, JOHN (c. 1376–1424), Bohemian general and Hussite leader, was born at Trocnov in Bohemia, of a family which belonged to the gentry. He took part in the civil wars in Bohemia in the reign of Wenceslaus IV., during which he lost one eye in a skirmish. He was from his youth connected with the court, and held the office of chamberlain to Queen Sophia. Žižka’s name first became prominent when the Hussite movement began. When in 1419 a Hussite procession was stoned at Prague from the town hall, Žižka headed those who threw the town councillors from its windows. When a temporary armistice was concluded between the partisans of King Sigismund and the citizens of Prague, Žižka marched to Plzeň (Pilsen) with his followers, but soon left that city, and, after defeating at Sudomer the partisans of Sigismund, arrived at Tabor, the newly founded stronghold of the advanced Hussites. Žižka took a large part in the organization of the new military community and became one of the four captains of the people (hejtmane) who were at its head. Meanwhile Sigismund, king of the Germans and king of Hungary, invaded Bohemia, claiming the crown as the heir of his brother Wenceslaus. Menaced by Sigismund, the citizens of Prague entreated the Taborites for assistance. Led by Žižka and their other captains, the Taborites set out to take part in the defence of the capital. At Prague Žižka and his men took up a strong position on the hill then known as the Vitkov, on the spot where Žižkoz, a suburb of Prague, now stands. At the end of June (1420) the siege of the city began, and on the 14th of July the armies of Sigismund made a general attack. A strong German force assaulted the position on the Vítkov which secured the Hussite communications with the open country. Mainly through the heroism of Žižka, the attack was repulsed, and the forces of Sigismund abandoned the siege. Shortly afterwards (August 22, 1420) the Taborites left Prague and returned to Tabor. Žižka was now engaged in constant warfare with the partisans of Sigismund, particularly with the powerful Romanist, Ulrich of Rosenberg. By this struggle, in which Žižka was invariably successful, the Hussites obtained possession of the greatest part of Bohemia, which Sigismund now left for a time. It was proposed to elect a Polish prince to the throne; but meanwhile the estates of Bohemia and Moravia, who met at Časlav on the 1st of June 1421, decided to appoint a provisional government, consisting of twenty members chosen from all the political and religious parties of the country. Žižka, who took part in the deliberations at Čáslav, being elected as one of the two representatives of Tabor. He summarily suppressed some disturbances on the part of a fanatical sect called the Adamites. He continued his campaigns against the Romanists and adherents of Sigismund; and having captured a small castle near Litoměřice (Leitmeritz) he retained possession of it—the only reward for his great services that he ever received or claimed. According to the Hussite custom he gave the biblical name of “Chalice” to this new possession, and henceforth adopted the signature of “Žižka of the Chalice.” Later, in 1421, he was severely wounded while besieging the castle of Rábí, and lost the use of his remaining eye. Though now totally blind, he continued to command the armies of Tabor. At the end of 1421 Sigismund, again attempting to subdue Bohemia, obtained possession of the important town of Kutna Hora (Kuttenberg). Žižka, who was at the head of the united armies of Tabor and Prague, at first retreated to Kolin; but after having received reinforcements he attacked and defeated Sigismund’s army at the village of Nebovid between Kolin and Kutna Hora (January 6, 1422). Sigismund lost 12,000 men and only escaped himself by rapid flight. Sigismund’s forces made a last stand at Německy Brod (Deutschbrod) on the 10th of January, but the city was stormed by the Bohemians, and, contrary to Žižka’s orders, its defenders were put to the sword. Early in 1423 internal dissensions among the Hussites led to civil war. Žižka, as leader of the Taborites, defeated the men of Prague and the Utraquist nobles at Hǒric on the 27th of April; but shortly afterwards the news that a new crusade against Bohemia was being prepared, induced the Hussites to conclude an armistice at Konopist on the 24th of June 1423. As soon, however, as the so-called crusaders had dispersed without even attempting to enter Bohemia, the internal dissensions broke out afresh. During his temporary rule over Bohemia Prince Sigismund Korybutovič of Poland had appointed as governor of the city of Králové Hradec (Königgrätz) Borek, lord of Miletinek, who belonged to the moderate Hussite, the so-called Utraquist, party. After the departure of the Polish prince the city of Králové Hradec, in which the democratic party now obtained the upper hand, refused to recognize Borek as its ruler, and called Žižka to its aid. He acceded to the demand, and defeated the Utraquists under Borek at the farm of Strachov, near the city of Králové Hradec (August 4, 1423). Žižka now attempted to invade Hungary, which was under the rule of his old enemy King Sigismund. Though this Hungarian campaign was unsuccessful owing to the great superiority of the Hungarians, it ranks among the greatest military exploits of Žižka, on account of the skill he displayed in retreat. In 1424, civil war having again broken out in Bohemia, Žižka decisively defeated the Praguers and Utraquist nobles at Skalic on the 6th of January, and at Malesov on the 7th of June. In September he marched on Prague, but on the 14th of that month peace was concluded between the Hussite parties through the influence of John of Rokycan, afterwards Utraquist archbishop of Prague. It was agreed that the now reunited Hussites should attack Moravia, part of which country was still held by Sigismund’s partisans, and that Žižka should be the leader in this campaign. But he died of the plague at Pribyslav (October 11, 1424) before reaching the Moravian frontier.

See Count Lutzow, Bohemia: an Historical Sketch (London, 1896); Louis Léger, Jean Žižka in “Nouvelles, etudes Slaves,deuxième série (Paris, 1886), the best account of Žižka’s career for those unacquainted with the Bohemian language; Tomek, Jan Žižka, and Dějepis Mesta Prahy; Palacky, History of Bohemia. Žižka is the hero of a novel by George Sand, of a German epic by Meissner, and of a Bohemian tragedy by Alois Jirasek.  (L.)