white mountain
Culture & Science History

On this day in 1620: Battle of White Mountain

The Battle of White Mountain in which the Bohemian estates were defeated determined the direction of the Bohemian politics for centuries to come.

November 8th, 1620 is one of the most important dates Czech children learn at school from the early modern history of their country. The Battle of White Mountain (Bitva na Bílé hoře) at the north of Prague ended the Bohemian Revolt of the estates which were defeated by the armies of the Holy Roman Emperor and the Catholic League. One of the consequences of this defeat was the Old Town Square Execution.

Bohemian Revolt

The uprising of the Bohemian estates against the rule of the Habsburg dynasty was triggered by the Defenestration of Prague in 1618 (sometimes described as the second or third defenestration of Prague) and this event started the Thirty Years’ War. The estates, being mostly Protestant Hussites (and some German Lutheran), had many religious and power disputes with the ruling dynasty. They feared they might loose some of their religious freedoms granted by Rudolph II and since Matthias, Holy Roman Emperor, didn’t produce an heir, the estates supported Frederick V, Elector Palatine, who was a protestant (Calvinist), against the catholic Ferdinand of Styria. However, a part of the Protestants supported the stance taken by the Catholics and Ferdinand was elected crown prince in 1617. In May 1618, Ferdinand sent two councilors to the Prague Castle to administer the government in his absence. On May 23, an assembly of Protestants seized them and threw them and their secretary out of the window on the 2nd floor (they were injured but survived the 17 meter/56 ft fall). Soon after, this conflict spread across the land of the Bohemian Crown (Moravia was already embroiled in a conflict between Catholics and Protestants) and not long after across the whole European continent which eventually lead to the 30 Year’s War.

Battle of White Mountain

The dispute in the Bohemian Crown culminated on the 8th of November 1620 in the Battle of White Mountain. Two armies were combined to fight the army of the estates – the army of the Holy Roman Emperor and the Catholic League. Ferdinand asked his cousin, King Philip II of Spain for help. Spain had their interests in keeping the Bohemian Crown a catholic ally. The Bohemian estates, on the other hand, united under the Protestant Union lead by Frederick V. Frederick, who at first counted on the help of James I of England, his father-in-law, lost his support due to the fact that whilst a part of the Bohemian estates supported Frederick to become the King of Bohemia, other part of the protestant estates offered the same thing to the Duke of Savoy.

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Battle of White Mountain by Pieter Snayers

Although the odds were in favor of the estates at first (they were supported also by the Austrian Lutherans), we know that after loosing the possibility of being supported by England, the estates were defeated in the decisive battle.

Consequences of the Defeat of the Estates

This defeat started the violent re-Catholisation of the Bohemian Crown, in addition to making the conflict spread across Europe and devastating the central-European region. The Protestant Union was dissolved, directories were appointed and Frederick was outlawed from the Holy Roman Empire, and his territories were given to Catholic nobility. Bohemia would remain under the rule of the House of Habsburg for nearly three hundred years.

Nowadays, history aficionados sometimes reconstruct this important turning point in Czech history:

You can find more articles about the history of the Czech Republic right here.

Featured picture by Pieter Snayers

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