The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe/Volume 3/The Story of Zisca

The Story of Zisca.[1]

Immediately after the death of Wenceslaus, there was a certain nobleman named Zisca, born at Trosnovia, who, from his youth upwards, was brought up in the king's court, and had lost one of his eyes in a battle, where he had valiantly borne himself. This man, being sore grieved for the death of John Huss, and Jerome of Prague, minding to revenge the injuries which the council had done, greatly to the dishonour of the kingdom of Bohemia, upon their accomplices and adherents, gathered together a number of men of war, and subverted the monasteries and idolatrous temples, pulling down and breaking in pieces the images and idols, driving away the priests and monks, who, he said, were kept in their cloisters, like swine in their sties, to be fatted. After this his army being increased, having gathered together about forty thousand men, he attempted to take the castle of Vissegrade, which was but slenderly warded. Zisca getteth Pilsen.From thence the said Zisca, under the conduct of Coranda, went speedily unto Pilsen, where he knew he had many friends of his faction, and took the town into his power, fortifying the same very strongly, and those who tarried behind, took the castle of Vissegrade.

The queen sendeth for Sigismund.Then the queen Sophia, being very careful, sent letters and messengers unto the emperor Sigismund, and other nobles adjoined unto her, requiring aid and help; but the emperor made preparation against the Turk, who had then lately won certain castles of him. Whereupon the queen, seeing all aid so far off, together with Zenko Warterberge, gathered a host with the king's treasure, and fortified the castle of Prague, and the lesser city which joineth unto the castle, making gates and towers of wood upon the bridge, over the river Multain,[2] to stop that the protestants should have no passage that way. Then it happened that at the isle of St. Benedict, one Peter Steremberg fought an equal or indifferent battle with them.

In the mean time, the number of the protestants being increased in Prague, they fought for the bridge. In which battle many were slain on both parts, but at length the Hussites won the bridge and the nether part of lesser Prague; the queen's part flying into the upper part thereof: where they, turning again fiercely, renewed the battle, and fought continually day and night by the space of five days. Many were slain on both parts, and goodly buildings were rased, and the council-house, which was in a low place, was utterly defliced and burned.

The emperor's ambassadors agree with the citizens of Prague.During the time of this troublous estate, the ambassadors of the emperor Sigismund were come; who, taking upon them the rule and governance of the realm, made a truce or league with the city of Prague under this condition, that the castle of Vissegrade being surrendered, it should be lawful for them to send ambassadors to the emperor Sigismund to treat as touching their estate, and that Zisca should surrender Pilsen and Piesta with the other forts which he had taken. These conditions thus agreed upon and received, all the foreign protestants departed out of the city, and the senate of the city began to govern again according to their accustomed manner, and all things were quieted. Howbeit, the papists, who were gone out of the town, durst not return again, but still looked for the emperor, by whose presence they thought they should have been safe. But this their hope was frustrated by means of certain letters which were sent from the emperor, wherein it was written. That he would shortly come and rule the kingdom, even after the same order and manner as his father Charles had done before him. Whereupon the protestants understood that their sect and religion should be utterly banished; which was not begun during the reign of the said Charles.

About Christmas the emperor Sigismund came to Brunn, a city of Moravia, and there he pardoned the citizens of Prague, under condition that they would let down the chains and bars of the city, and receive his rulers and magistrates; whereunto the whole city obeyed, and the magistrates thereof, lifting up their hands unto heaven, rejoiced at the coming of the new king. But the emperor turned another way, and went unto Uratislavia,[3] the head city of Silesia, where, a little before, the commonalty of the city had slain, in an insurrection, the magistrates, whom his brother Wenceslaus had set in authority: the principals whereof be beheaded. Prague falls from the emperor.The news whereof when it was reported at Prague, the citizens being feared by the example of the Uratislavians, distrusting their pardon, rebelled out of hand; and having obtained Zenko on their part, who had the government of the castle of Prague, The complaint of the city of Prague against Sigismund.they sent letters into all the realm, that no man should suffer the emperor to enter, who was an enemy unto Bohemia, and sought nothing else but to destroy the kingdom: who also bound the ancient city of the Prutenians under order by pledges, and put the marquis of Brandenburg from the Bohemian crown; and had not only suffered John Huss and Jerome of Prague to be burned at the council of Constance, but also procured the same, and with all his endeavour did impugn the doctrine and faith which they taught and followed. While these things were thus done, Zisca, having given over Pilsen by composition, was twice assaulted by his enemies, but, through policy, he was always victor. The places where they fought were rough and unknown, his enemies were on horseback, and his soldiers on foot, neither could there be any battle fought but on foot. The policiy of Zisca.Whereupon, when his enemies were alighted from their horses, Zisca commanded the women who customably followed the host, to cast their kerchiefs upon the ground, wherein the horsemen being entangled by their spurs, were slain before they could unloose their feet.

After this, he went unto Ausca,[4] a town situate upon the river Lucinitius,[5] out of which town Procopius and Ulricius, two brethren papists, had cast out many protestants. This town Zisca took by force of arms the first night of Lent, rased it, and set it on fire. He also took the castle of Litius, which was a mile off, whither Ulricius was fled, and put Ulricius and all his family to the sword, saving one only.

The city of Tabor builded.Then, forasmuch as he had no walled or fenced town to inhabit, he chose out a certain place upon the same river, which was fenced by nature, about eight miles from the city of Ausca. This place he compassed in with walls, and commanded all men to build them houses, where they had pitched their tents, and named this city Tabor, and the inhabitants, his companions, Taborites; because their city, by all like, was builded upon the top of some hill or mount. This city, albeit it was fenced with high rocks and cliffs, yet was it compassed with a wall and vaumure,[6] and the river of Lucinitius fenceth a great part of the town; the rest is compassed in with a great brook, which running straight into the river Lucinitius, is stopped by a great rock, and driven back towards the right hand all the length of the city, and, at the further end, it joineth with the great river. The way unto it by land is scarcely thirty feet broad, for it is almost an island. In this place there was a deep ditch cast, and a triple wall made, of such thickness, that it could not be broken with any engine. The wall was full of towers and forts set in their convenient and meet places. Zisca was the first that builded the castle, and those that came after him fortified it, every man according to his own device. At that time the Taborites had no horsemen amongst them, until such time as Nicholas, master of the Mint (whom the emperor had sent into Bohemia with a thousand horsemen to set things in order, and to withstand the Taborites, lodging all night in a village named Vogize), was surprised by Zisca coming upon him suddenly in the night, taking away all his horse and armour, and setting fire to the village. Then Zisca taught his soldiers to mount on horseback, to leap, to run, to turn, and to cast a ring, so that after this he never led army without his wings of horsemen.

Sigismund getteth the castle of Prague.In this mean time Sigismund, the emperor, gathering together the nobles of Silesia, entered unto Bohemia, and went unto Græcium,[7] and from thence with a great army unto Cutna, alluring Zenko, with many great and large promises, to render up the castle of Prague unto him, and there placed himself to annoy the town. This Zenko, infamed with double treason, returned home. Zisca getteth the city of Prague.The citizens of Prague sent for Zisca, who, speeding himself thither with the Taborites, received the city under his governance. In the Bohemians' host, there were but only two barons, Hilco Crusina of Lutemperg, and Hilco Waldestene, with a few other nobles; all the residue were of the common people. They went about, first, to subdue the castle, which was by nature very strongly fenced, and could not be won by any other means than by famine: whereupon all the passages were stopped, that no victuals should be carried in. Besieged by Sigismund.But the emperor opened the passages by dint of sword, and when he had given unto those who were besieged all things necessary, having sent for aid out of the empire, he determined, shortly after, to besiege the city. There were, in the emperor's camp, the dukes of Saxony, the marquis of Brandenburg and his son-in-law, Albert of Austria. The city was assaulted by the space of six weeks. The emperor Sigismund was crowned in the metropolitan house in the castle, Conrad, the archbishop, solemnizing the ceremonies of the coronation. The city was straitly besieged. In the mean time the captains Rosenses and Chragery, who had taken the tents of the Taborites, being overcome in battle by Nicholas Huss, whom Zisca had sent with part of his power, for that purpose, were driven out of their tents, and Græcium, the queen's city, was also taken.

There is, also, above the town of Prague, a high hill, which is called Videchon. On this hill had Zisca strongly planted a garrison, that his enemies should not possess it, with whom the marquis of Misnia skirmishing, lost a great part of his soldiers. For when the Misnians had gotten to the top of the hill, being driven back into a corner which was broken and steep, and fiercely set upon, The marquis of Misnia overcome.
Sigismund raiseth his siege.
when they could no longer withstand the violent force of their enemies, some of them were slain, and some, falling headlong from the hill, were destroyed. Whereupon the emperor Sigismund, raising his siege, departed into Cutna; and Zisca, with his company, departed unto Tabor, and subdued many places; among which he subverted a town pertaining to the captain of Vissegrade. During this time the castle of Vissegrade was strongly besieged, where, when other victuals wanted, they were compelled to eat horse-flesh. Last of all, except the emperor did aid them by a certain day, they promised to yield it up; but under this condition: that if the emperor did come, they within the castle should be no more molested.

The emperor, fighting against Zisca, has the overthrow.The emperor was present before the day, but being ignorant of the truce taken, entering into a strait underneath the castle, was suddenly set upon by the soldiers of Prague, where he had a great overthrow; and so leaving his purpose unperformed, returned back again. There were slain in that conflict fourteen noblemen of the Moravians and Hungarians, and others, a great number. The castle was delivered up unto them. While these things were in doing, Zisca took Boslaus, a captain who was surnamed Cigneus, by force, in a very strong town of his, and brought him unto his religion; who, a few years after, leading the protestants' host in Austria, was wounded before Rhetium, and died. The abbeys of Pilsen subverted.There were in the territory of Pilsen many monasteries, of which Zisca subverted and burned five; and forasmuch as the monastery of St. Clare was the strongest, there he pitched himself.

Zisca putteth the emperor to flight.Thither also came the emperor with his army; but when Zisca brought forth his power against him, he most cowardly fled, and not long after, he departed and left Bohemia. Then Zisca went with his army unto Pilsen; but forasmuch as he saw the city so fenced, that he was in doubt of winning the same, he went from thence to Committavia, a famous city, which he took by force, burning all the priests therein. Zisca loseth his other eye, yet would not forsake his army.Afterwards, as he lay before the town of Raby,[8] and strongly besieged the same, he was stricken with a shaft in the eye; having but that one before to see withal. From thence he was carried by physicians to Prague, where, being cured of his wound, and his life saved, he yet lost his sight; and for all that, he would not forsake his army, but still took the charge of them. A.D. 1421.

Zisca taketh divers towns.After this the garrisons of Prague went unto Verona, where there was a great garrison of the emperor's, and took it by force, many being slain of either part. They also took the town of Broda in Germany, and slew the garrison; and afterwards took Cutna and many other cities by composition. Further, as they led their army unto a town called Pons, which is inhabited by the Misnians, The Saxons retire.the Saxons meeting them by the way, because they durst not join battle, they returned back. After all this, the emperor appointed the princes electors a day, that at Bartholomew-tide they should, with their army, invade the west part of Bohemia, and he, with a host of Hungarians, would enter into the east part. There came unto his aid the archbishop of Mentz, the county palatine of the Rhine, the dukes of Saxony, the marquis of Brandenburg, and many other bishops out of Almaine: all the rest sent their aids. They encamped before the town of Sozius, a strong and well fenced place, which they could by no means subdue. The country was spoiled and wasted round about, and the siege continued until the feast of St. Galle. The emperor with his power entereth again into Bohemia; but afraid of Zisca flieth.Then it was broken up, because the emperor was not come at his day appointed; but he, having gathered together a great army of the Hungarians and West Moravians, about Christmas entered into Bohemia, and took certain towns by force; and Cutna was yielded unto him. But when Zisca (although he was blind) came towards him, and set upon him, he, being afraid, and many of his nobles slain, fled: but first he burned Cutna, which the Taborites, by means of the silver-mines, called The pouch of Antichrist.'The Pouch of Antichrist.' Zisca pursuing the emperor a day's journey, got great and rich spoil, and taking the town of Broda by force, set it on fire; which afterwards, almost by the space of fourteen years, remained disinhabited. The emperor passed, by a bridge, over the river of Iglaria; Noble victory of Zisca.and Piso, a Florentine, who had brought fifteen thousand horsemen out of Hungary to these wars, passed over the ice; which, by the multitude and number of his horsemen being broken, devoured and destroyed a great number. Zisca destroyeth images and idols in churches.

The martyrdom of certain godly Bohemians, falsely circumventerd, and killed with the sword.
Zisca, having obtained this victory, would not suffer any image or idol to be in the churches, neither thought it to be borne withal, that priests should minister with copes or vestments: for which cause he was much the more envied amongst the states of Bohemia. And the consuls of Prague, being aggrieved at the insolency of John Premonstratensis, called him and nine other of his adherents, whom they supposed to be the principals of this faction, into the council-house, as though they would confer with them as touching the commonwealth: and when they were come in, they slew them, and afterwards departed home every man to his own house, thinking the city had been quiet, as though nothing had been done. But their servants, being not circumspect enough, washing down the court or yard, washed out also the blood of those that were slain, through the sinks or channels; which being once seen, the people understood what was done. Privy murder at length comes out.By and by there was a great tumult; the council-house was straightway overthrown, and eleven of the principal citizens, who were thought to be the authors thereof, were slain, and divers houses spoiled.

About the same time the castle of Purgel, wherein the emperor had left a small garrison (whither also many papists with their wives and children were fled), was, through negligence, burned, and those who escaped out of the fire went unto Pilsen. After this, divers of the Bohemian captains, and the senate of Prague, sent ambassadors to Vitold, duke of Lithuania, and made him their king. This did Zisca and his adherents gainsay. This Vitold sent Sigismund Goributus with two thousand horsemen into Bohemia, who was honourably received by the inhabitants of Prague. At his coming they determined to lay siege to a castle situated upon a hill, which was called Charles' Stone.

Here Sigismund had left, for a garrison, four centurions of soldiers. The tents were pitched in three places. The siege continued six months, and the assault never ceased day and night. Five great slings threw continually great stones over the walls, and about two thousand vessels, tubs, or baskets, filled with dead carcases and other excrements, were cast in amongst those who were besieged; Stench very hurtful to the teeth.which thing did so infect them with stench, that their teeth did either fall ouc, or were all loose. Notwithstanding they bare it out with stout courage, and continued their fight until the winter, having privily received medicine out of Prague, to fasten their teeth again.

In the mean time Frederic the elder, prince of Brandenburg, entering into Bohemia with a great power, caused them of Prague to raise the siege; and Vitold, at the request of Uladislaus, king of Poland, who had talked with the emperor on the borders of Hungary, called Coributus, his uncle, with his whole army, out of Bohemia. Whereupon the emperor supposed that the protestants, being destitute of foreign aid, would the sooner do his commandment; but he was far deceived therein, for they, leading their armies out of Bohemia, subdued the borders thereupon adjoining. Another warlike policy of Zisca.It is also reported that Zisca went into Austria, and when the husbandmen of the country had carried away a great number of their cattle by water unto an isle of the river Danube, and by chance had left certain calves and swine in their villages behind them; Zisca drave them unto the river side, and kept them there so long, beating them, and causing them to roar out and cry, till the cattle feeding in the island, hearing the lowing and grunting of the cattle on the other side of the water, for the desire of their like, did swim over the river; by means whereof he got and drave away a great booty.

About the same time the Emperor Sigismund gave to his son-in-law Albert, duke of Austria, the country of Moravia, because it should not want a ruler. At the same time, also, Eric, king of Denmark, and Peter Infant, brother to the king of Portugal and father of James, cardinal of St. Eustace, came to the emperor (being both very expert men in the affairs of war), who did augment the emperor's host with their aid and power: whereupon they straightway pitched their camp before Lutemperge, a town of Moravia, and continued the siege for the space of three months. There was at that time a certain knight at Prague surnamed Aqua, who was very rich and of great authority. This man, forasmuch as he had no child of his own, adopted unto him his sister's son, named Procopius; whom, when he was of mean stature and age, he carried with him into France, Spain, and Italy, and unto Jerusalem; and, at his return, caused him to be made priest. This man, when the gospel began to flourish in Bohemia, took part with Zisca, and, forasmuch as he was strong and valiant, and also painful, he was greatly esteemed.

Valiant courage of Procopius Magnus.This Procopius for his valiant acts was afterwards called Procopius Magnus, and had committed unto him the whole charge of the province of Moravia, and the defence of the Lutemperges, who, receiving a great power by force (maugre all the whole power which lay in the siege) carried victuals into the town which was besieged, and so did frustrate the emperor's siege. The emperor, before this, had delivered to the marquises of Misnia the bridge and town of Ausca,[9] upon the river Albis,[10] that they should fortify them with their garrisons. Whereupon Zisca besieged Ausca; and Frederic, the marquis of Misnia, with his brother, the landgrave of Thuringia, gathering together a great army out of Saxony, Thuringia, Misnia, and both the Lusaces, determined to rescue and aid those who were besieged. Victory of the protestants.There was a great battle fought before the city, and the victory depended long uncertain; but at last it fell on the protestants' part. There were slain in the battle the burgraves of Misnia or Chyrpogenses, the barons of Gleichen and many other nobles, besides nine thousand common soldiers; and the town of Ausca was taken and utterly rased.

Battle between the city of Prague and Zisca.At last, dissension arising between Zisca and them of Prague, they of Prague prepared an army against him, wherewith he, perceiving himself overmatched, fled unto the river of Albis, and was almost taken, but that he had passage through the town of Poggiebras; but they of Prague, pursuing the tail of the battle, slew many of his Taborites. At length they came to certain hills, where Zisca, going into the valley, and knowing the straits of the place, that his enemies could not spread their army, commanded his standard to stand still; and exhorting and encouraging his soldiers, he gave them battle.

Noble victory of Zisca.This battle was very fierce and cruel: but Zisca, having the upper hand, slew three thousand of them of Prague, and put the rest to flight, and straightways took the city of Cutna by force (which they of Prague had repaired), and set it on fire: then, with all speed, he went with his army to besiege Prague, and encamped within a bow-shot of the town. There were many both in the city, and also in his host, who grudged sore at that siege; some accusing Zisca, others them of Prague. There were great tumults in the camp, the soldiers saying that it was not reasonable, that the city should be suppressed, which was both the head of the kingdom, and did not dissent from them in opinion; adding, that the Bohemians' power would soon decay, if their enemies should know that they were divided within themselves; also that they had sufficient wars against the emperor, and that it was but a foolish device to move wars amongst themselves. This talk came unto the ear of Zisca, who, calling together his army, and standing upon a place to be heard, spake these words.

  1. Out of Æneas Silvius.
  2. The "Multain," the Moldau.—Ed.
  3. "Uratislavia," Breslau.—Ed.
  4. "Ausca," Austrachitz.—Ed.
  5. "Lucinitius," the Lauschintz.—Ed.
  6. A bulwark or outwork.—Ed.
  7. "Græcium," Gratz.—Ed.
  8. "Raby," on the river Wattawa.—Ed.
  9. "Ausca," Auche.—Ed.
  10. "Albis," the Elbe.—Ed.