Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Hussite Wars, Part 6 - The Wagenburg

    After the withdrawal of the Catholic Crusaders from Prague on July 30, 1420, Sigismund and his remaining Bohemian and Moravian supporters established themselves at the Royalist/Catholic stronghold of Kutna Hora. Following his coronation as King f Bohemia outside Prague, these same followers had promised Sigismund that they could deliver Prague to him by negotiation if he would dismiss his foreign troops. When this proved to be impossible, Sigismund  was furious and began to suspect the Czech nobles of being secretly in collusion with the Hussites. The Holy Roman Emperor had a decidedly paranoid streak to his personality which, if perhaps not entirely unjustified, certainly made him difficult to deal with!

    Meanwhile, there was no chance that the citizens of Prague or the Hussites as a whole were ever going to accept Sigismund as ruler,. and they started their own diplomatic efforts with an emissary to the Serene Republic of Venice, which had its own reasons to distrust the Emperor. They also set about looking for a man to crown as their own KIng of Bohemia, a move which Jan Ziska supported,. as he felt that only a King could unify the various factions of the country. Their first choice was King Wladyslaw of Poland, who had been tentatively approached before. A letter and ambassador (whom Sigismund tried to capture, but failed) were sent to him in August, familiarizing him with their grievances against Sigismund and the Four Articles of Prague. This mission ultimately failed to obtain any firm commitment from the Polish King.


My entire Old Glory Hussite collection, deployed in a Wagenburg. 


Meanwhile, with the immediate threat to Praque removed, the Hussite factions fell to squabbling once again. The Taborites once again complained that the more moderate Hussites were too far from their own Puritanical beliefs, and once again issued demands fro controlling the teachings at the university, forbidding the wearing of luxurious clothes, and calling for the destructions of "unnecessary" churches and all monasteries. These buildings were the pride of Prague, and the source of her reputation as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and the more moderate Hussites were aghast at these patently ubnplataltable edicts.

    On August 10, 1420, a Taborite mob broke into the monastery that held the tombs of the Kings of Bohemia. Finding no monks to slaughter but abundant wine in the cellars, they became drunk, disinterred the body of the late Wenceslaus, and set the buildings on fire. Not content with this, on their return they made an intoxicated assault upon the Vysehrad castle. This was easily repulsed by the Royalist garrison, with the attackers suffering heavy casualties. Further Taborite demonstrations followed, whilst the city Counselors tried to delay a decision in the hopes that the Taborites would soften their hardline stance. Finally, on August 22nd, 1420, the entire Taborite contingent marched out of Praguie without giving any explanation. Likely their motivations were several, including the political gridlock, the fact that they were no longer needed to defend the city, and especially that the men, women, animals, and wagons were needed to bring in the harvest.


Somewhat oddly, the Old Glory Hussite range doesn't include ANY command figures, foot or mounted!


Therefore, I used these two spare Hussite cavalrymen to provide some leaders for my Hussite army. 


A rather clumsy application of green stuff on wire was used to fashion large maces, of the kind that Jan Ziska is often depicted bearing. 


   After telling off men needed to harvest the grain in the surrounding countryside, \Ziska and his forces promptly moved to Pisek, where they recruited fresh troops and began a campaign against Sigismund's strongest supporter in the area, Ulrich of Rozmberk. Ziska's men captured a number of Ulruich's towns and castles, and burned his fields and drove of his cattle. Ulrich, however, scored a success of his own when he captured Korabnda, the spiritual leader of the Taborite faction, who had been a moderating influence on some of the members of the increasingly radical community. This lead to the Taborites electing their own Bishop, and declaring their complete independence from the Pope and the Church of Rome, a move the more moderate Praguer Hussites were by no means ready for. Ziska supported the new Bishop, Nicholas, and together they atempted to reign in some of the more extreme and mystical sub sects arising in Tabor.

  In early October of 1420, Ziska attacked and captured the strategically important town and castle of Bor Pansky. The townspeople and Ulrich both called for assistance, which arrived in the form of three Royalist forces, including one lead by Bohuslav, who had fought Ziska previously. They arrived too late to prevent the loss of the city and castle, but outnumbered Ziska's mean heavily. They attacked, and Ziska established a wagenburg on top of a hill. The Royalist attacks were repulsed with heavy losses, while the Huskies suffered significant casualties as well.


Frontal view of the Wagon Fortress. In action,. the horse teams would be unharnessed, and the gaps filled with pavises and defenders.


The limited Hussite cavalry generally sheltered within the Fortress until the enemy had exhausted themselves with unsuccessful assaults. 


In many ways, the Wagon Fortress defensive tactics of the Hussites resembled the later entrenched positions taken up by the Spanish during the Great Italian Wars, such as those of Gonsalvo de Cordoba at Cerignola or the Marchese di Pescara at La Bicocca. 


Top down view!


        This post has been in the works for a long time. My motivation for finishing it is both the Hussite game that I am running at Historicon with "To the Strongest", and the resultant additional Hussite figures I am painting using the fine Kingmaker models. The first of those posts should be forthcoming soon as well!

20 comments:

  1. Very nice collection, Peter! Interesting bit of history too. As I have mentioned before, this is a period from which all of my familiarity to the period has been provided by you!

    I am interested in knowing what attracted you to this period and your impression of the Old Glory range.

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    1. I think the Old Glory figures are excellent - one of their best ranges, aside from the lack of command figures. Their prices can't be beat (in the US), especially for the War Wagons, which can otherwise add up to quite a lot of money!.

      As for what attracted me to this era, several things.

      First and foremost, the Hussite Wagon Fortress tactics are fairly unique, especially at the scale and with the success that they employed them. They formed past of the transition in warfare and the eclipse of the Mounted knight that took place from roughly 1200 - 1500, and included the Swiss pikemen, The English Longbowmen, and the Spanish Arquebusiers.

      Second, Ziska is a fascinating personality about whom we still don't know enough, but a military commander of the first order. He was never defeated, even after he became blind!

      Third, the Hussite movement is fascinating in many other ways.

      It was the prototype of the Reformation that followed Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to door of the castle in Wittenberg nearly a century later. As I have mentioned, upon (later) reading of the teachings of Jan Hus, Luther himself wrote that we ["Lutherans"] are all Hussites!" As a Protestant by faith myself, the Hussite beliefs in the ultimate authority of the bible, communion in both kinds, and the denial of secular power to the clergy are easy to identify with, if the atrocities perpetrated by both sides are not.

      It was also an intensely nationalistic movement, championing Slavic identity and independence from domination by German clergy and the Holy Roman Emperor. Obviously those themes continued to be issues throughout the centuries of Hapsburg rule, and even on to World War 2. One of my friends (and wargames buddies) from High school and beyond was of Slovak descent as well. I still remember the absolutely delicious Slovak cheese bread his mother made - Pagache is one of many terms for it:
      http://babushkaskitchen.blogspot.com/2014/01/potato-cheese-bread-pagach-pagash.html

      Finally, the Hussite rebellion has decided class strife undertones to it as well, as seen in the various Hussite factions. The former communist regime in Czechoslovakia used Zoska and the Hussite movement as socialist propaganda, with perhaps better justification than in most other cases!

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    2. Once again, Peter, excellent history lesson!

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    3. Tanks, Jon. Both Delbruck and Omand devote considerable space to the Hussites, although they both conclude that in the end, ics were a "dead end" as they lacked offensive potential. I think they are only partially correct there.

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  2. Very impressive, and it is great to see them all arranged together. I love the look of those Kingmaker models, but dare not start another period (well, another period in 28mm at least).

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    1. Thanks, Lawrence. Commendable restraint... at least for now! :-)

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  3. Great post Gonsalvo, the wagon burg looks fantastic arrayed like that.

    I like your point that it was an early way of using firearms to their greatest effect, mobile field fortifications that protected the gunners while they reloaded

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    1. Thanks, Oli. The Crossbows as well. The height advantage and sturdiness of the chained Wagons also pretty much forced the enemy Cavalry to dismount to fight, negating their own shock and height advantages. Of course, they still had to rely on the enemy to attack. "But they are mere peasants in farm carts- how hard could it be..."

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  4. lovely sight of painted figures and wagons and historical notes too - good post Pete!

    cheers,

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  5. Excellent stuff Peter. I have long been fascinated by the Hussite rebellion as well, and still have a large bag of 15mm Lead Hussite miniatures from an abortive attempt to collect the period. (I was actually referencing the Hussite rebellion in my Physics Class today on a presentation on the build up to Kepler's laws.) Your wagenburg is impressive and imposing.

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    1. They do make an imposing show, don't they? Since you;re already doing the Great Italian Wars, the Hussites form part of a continuum of the "revolution" in warfare with the aforementioned Swiss, HYW English, Landsknechts, and later Arquebusiers. That is part of my plot, to ultimately cover the HYW, Swiss Burgundian Wars, the Condotierre, and the Wars of the Roses through the Italian Wars. There is considerable overlap in the troop types needed for these, which helps a lot. I actually have quite a lot of HYW cavalry to paint... a unit or two might make it into the queue before Historicon, as they are actually very simple to paint.

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  6. Another amazing subject and painted miniatures to boot Peter. Sort of wonder if the Ottoman used the wagon "fort" concept from the Hussites.... or they learned the use from the Ottomans. The Ottoman wagon "fort" of course was passive, in the rear, and not for general combat.
    Great stuff and painted miniatures Peter. Slow drip from the drool.... I cannot go back to Medieval gaming....not yet. Unused painted medieval collection since the early 90's but the "pull" is leaning the rabbit. Still have the notes and maps from our former 47 gamer/player War of the Roses 25mm campaign based from hand made "Kingmaker" game (the old English version, not the AH version). I ran Wales and Ireland zones as COAT-2 (Creator of All Things #2). Friend John Greer ran the English and Scottish fronts.

    Michael

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    1. The Hussites and Jan Ziska clearly did not originate the use of Wagons as a sort of mobile defensive position. It is speculated but unproven that Ziska was exposed to them in Poland/Lithuania prior to the Hussite rebellion, and some of that may have come from their own exposure to the Ottomans. Ziska however certainly seized on the concept as a way to allow his armies of mostly peasants to both be mobile but yet be able to rapidly adopt a very strong defensive position capable of repelling better trained and equipped enemies, and utilized them systematically in a way that has not really been seen before or since.

      47 gamers - pretty much one per major Noble as far as the WotR! That must have been cut throat beyond belief!

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    2. Sounds about right for the wagon burg... Ottomans to Polish armies then into central Europe. I have to paint one for Ottomans. Will look into the OG miniatures.
      Few survivors from the public Parliament sessions I clearly remember. Had the Burger King paper crown for the king. Players played one major and maybe one or two minor lords. John encouraged research on the family tree for each historical lord family to find marriageable daughters and sons. The material fills volumes of notes. All the fun... and treachery on the tabletop like the real battles. Had trade, international events...disease and death. Battle in Chester have the hooded dude of death tapping a unit for miniature deaths from disease. Assassin with bow in the tower. some lords (Jasper Tudor for example, went to the siege at Constantinople in 1453. Like your LANNES campaign... tabletop battle experience raised your lord and his ratings. Players had to paint or have painted their miniatures for the raised units in their livery. Ran for 3.5 years till no more royalty left. Last ruler was one of the family Somerset. All before computers and email.... written moves and notes mailed once a month to COAT HQ's.

      M

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    3. What a fantastic group project, Michael. hat deserves a bit of a "retrospective" summary post some day. We did a short-lived, much less ambitious project when I was a Freshman at UConn, and the rest of the guys were seniors, where we were each a Duke of France, contending for the Throne. IIRC, I had Dauphiné, Steve had Burgundy, Jim had ? Brittany, etc. Joe (with some Swedish ancestry) had the Vikings!

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  7. Great to see all the hussites together, a very impressive sight all the wagons look particularly good and some bonus history on an area I'm not too hot at, thanks a lot.
    Best Iain

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    1. Thanks, Ian. There are still at least a few more Hussite posts to come over time!

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