It was the 21st june of 1621 and the 27 leaders of the Bohemian Revolt against Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor (house of Habsburg) were awaiting their execution at the Old Town Square of Prague.
Before the execution
Battle of White Mountain defeat
The Battle of White Mountain was fought at the beginning of the Thirty Year War, on November 8, 1620. It was the army of Bohemians and hired mercenaries against the combined armies of the Holy Roman Emperor and several other noblemen almost double in size. The Bohemians were defeated, part of the leaders of the revolt fled to exile and those who were captured were going to stand in court.
Part of the accused denied to make a statement claiming that due to their age (they were almost 90) they didn’t remember what had happened. Jindřich Otta z Losu, another elderly accused, caused quite a fuss when he decided to defend the actions of the Bohemians. He even dared to say that he sold the gems from the Emperor’s treasury because they had been bought with Bohemian money so it was only fair to sell them and use the proceeds to buy army equipment for the Bohemians. He explained that the revolt was directed at Ferdinand II. because he was never a rightful King of Bohemia. After the Emperor won the battle, Otta z Losu claimed he now recognized him as King of Bohemia, however, this declaration didn’t help him and he was sentenced just like the others.
Václav z Michalovic confessed only to deeds which had been mentioned previously by other prisoners and mentioned only names of people who he knew managed to escape abroad. Jáchym Ondřej Šlik, on the other hand, said everything he knew naming even people who shared the prison cell with him. He asked the Emperor for mercy…and didn’t get it.
The outcome of the court proceedings was set from the beginning. According to the Emperor’s orders there was to be no defense because the guilt of the accused was “universally known”.
Interestingly, some of the men who were originally sentenced to death had their sentences reduced to a year in prison and, additionally, Mikuláš Diviš z Doubravína had his tongue nailed to the gallows for two hours.
Other 27 men (3 noblemen, 7 knights and 18 citizens) were not so lucky. They were executed in june of 1621 but that’s not all that happened to them. Some of the men were supposed to be tortured and their bodies mutilated. Martin Fruwein z Podolí, who spoke a lot against the Holy Roman Emperor was to have his tongue cut out. Just before the guards took him to the execution site he asked to go to the toilet. While on the toilet in the White Tower, he jumped out of the window into the Deer Moat. The executioner cut out the tongue off of his dead body anyway.
Some of the prisoners had their limbs cut off before they had their heads cut off. Some were even cut into quarters.
The whole town gathered around the stage to watch the execution performed by the most famous Czech executioner Jan Mydlář. He used four swords in total and he was paid enough to buy a house in Prague. It was considered a mercy shown by the executioner that he let the men finish their prayers. He shared their Ultraquism beliefs. The heads of the beheaded prisoners were hung from the tower as a warning.
The house of Habsburg had suppresses the civilian revolts, there was not even an upheaval at the execution that some predicted.
The property of the families was confiscated and most of the widows of the executed men lived till the end of their days in poverty (some in Bohemia, some in exile). Several of them converted to catholicism and re-married.
Some of the children met the same fate but some found protection and even became noblemen and politicians.
27 crosses on the pavement of the Old Town Square in Prague remind the pedestrians of the execution of 27 men on this spot 400 years ago.
And so does the memorial plaque with their names.
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