Estates revolt in Bohemia (1618)

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With the Battle of White Mountain , the class uprising in Bohemia (1618-1620) came to a defeat

In the uprising of estates in Bohemia , also known as the Bohemian Uprising , the nobility there rebelled against the hegemonic policy of the Habsburgs in the countries of the Bohemian Crown, which had been going on for almost 100 years . The uprising was the result of the religious, economic and political crisis in Central Europe at the beginning of the 17th century and at the same time one of the main causes for the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War .


At the end of the 16th century, there were two religious camps in Bohemia : on the one hand, the followers of the doctrine of the Holy Communion ( Hussites , later Bohemian Brothers or Brothers Unity), which now numbered a large part of the believers in Bohemia, on the other hand the Catholics . The Brothers Unity and its representatives were repeatedly banned by the Roman Church and their activities were forbidden. Their churches were closed, their books burned. At the beginning of the 1520s, Lutheranism also spread , mostly among German Bohemians and German Moravians . During the Reformation there were also some Calvinists and Anabaptists in Bohemia.

1609 issued Emperor Rudolf II. A decree in which he in gratitude for the support of the Czech Estates in the fight against Archduke Matthias , the freedom of religion securitized and the religious coercion by rulers forbade ( Letter of Majesty ). To protect the non-Catholic believers, a defensors' college was set up, which consisted of ten commoners, knights and representatives of the gentry .

Archduke Matthias was crowned King of Bohemia on May 23, 1611 and, after Rudolf's death on January 20, 1612, was also elected Emperor. When he moved his residence to Vienna , his governors strengthened the Catholic forces in Bohemia. In 1615 the religious, but also the political situation in the whole of Europe worsened. The ceasefire between the Protestant Netherlands and strongly Catholic Spain no longer lasted, and open armed conflicts were foreseeable. The succession to the throne for Matthias, who was meanwhile seriously ill in Bohemia, was also fraught with conflict from the outset. King Philip III came into question . of Spain , but also Archduke Ferdinand from the Habsburg line in Styria. In the Oñate Treaty , Philip renounced his claims in Bohemia and Hungary . Ferdinand was thus able to succeed him.


Archduke Ferdinand was elected King of Bohemia on June 6, 1617. Ferdinand immediately set about implementing extensive re-Catholicisation measures in Bohemia and restricting the rights of the estates . Both measures ran counter to the text of the treaty in the letter of majesty and put a heavy burden on the relationship between the estates and the new ruler.

In 1617 the internal conflict resulted in open enmity. When the Catholic League closed a Protestant church in Braunau and a non-Catholic church was demolished on the archbishop's land in the monastery grave, the nobles gathered in March 1618 and wrote a letter of protest addressed to Matthias. This then banned further professional meetings.

However, the disobedience of the Protestant Bohemian estates continued. They met on May 21, 1618 in the Karolinum in Prague . There were no representatives of the royal cities . After a speech by Heinrich Matthias von Thurn, what was initially a quiet meeting turned into a tumultuous event.

On May 23, 1618 some of the participants, including Matthias Thurn, Albrecht Jan Smiřický von Smiřice , Count Joachim Andreas von Schlick , Wenzel Wilhelm von Roupov , the brothers Říčan, the brothers Ulrich and Wilhelm Kinsky , a brother of Wilhelm von Slawata, Leonhard went Colonna von Fels and Wilhelm von Lobkowitz at Prague Castle . After a long argument with the governors Ladislaus von Sternberg , Diepold von Lobkowitz, Jaroslav Borsita von Martinic and Wilhelm Slawata von Chlum and Koschumberg , who were staying there, they held an improvised court and threw the imperial governors Slavata and Martinic and the chancellery secretary Philipp Fabricius out of the castle windows . These injured themselves only slightly and got away with the horror (“ Prague Lintel ”).

Prague window lintel: This contemporary leaflet from 1618 shows no dung heap, but stones

After this so-called Defenestration the insurgents chose on 24 May 1618 its ranks a thirty-member Board and dismissed the previous rulers their power. The board of directors consisted of ten representatives from each stand. Wenzel Wilhelm von Roupov was elected chairman. Shortly afterwards, an army began to be built up and Matthias Thurn became its commander-in-chief .

This led to a final break with the rulers in Vienna, who initially reacted to the situation in Prague without a concept and in confusion. The emperor Matthias, surprised by the events, not a man of quick decisions, didn't know what to do next. The designated successor, Archduke Ferdinand, applied for the Crown of St. Stephen in Pressburg at the same time . The first minister, Archbishop Melchior Khlesl , was also at a loss.

The background to this act, the desire of the Bohemians for religious freedom, found little response from the bourgeoisie and the people. The rebels acted on their own initiative, without consulting the representatives of the rest of the estates. They tried to compensate for the internal weakness from which the movement suffered from the beginning by establishing contacts with the Protestant Union , the Netherlands and Calvinists in England . At the same time, they hoped for military but also financial support from there, but there was little response. Only Moravia joined the resistance on May 2, 1619.

In the initial phase, the nobles still recognized the hegemony of the Habsburgs . Nevertheless, they began to drive out the Jesuits and confiscate Catholic property to finance their campaigns.

After the death of Emperor Matthias in March 1619, they completely refused allegiance to their successor Ferdinand II , especially since the situation for the rebels improved due to internal crises in the House of Habsburg. As the administrator of Moravia, Charles the Elder of Žerotín was forced to hand over his power to the combative Ladislav Velen of Zerotein .

On July 31, 1619, the new constitution was passed. Bohemia became a confederation of equal countries, led by an elected ruler. Part of the Austrian nobility also joined this confederation . On August 19, 1619 Ferdinand was finally deposed and on August 26, 1619 the leader of the German Calvinists Friedrich von der Pfalz was elected king. The Directory hoped to win England over to its cause, but also Denmark and the Dutch governor Moritz of Orange . Earlier, Elector Johann Georg I of Saxony had rejected the Bohemian royal crown.

In the meantime, despite the events in Bohemia , Ferdinand was elected the new emperor by the German electors on August 28, 1619 .

In the power struggle, the insurgents were initially able to prevail. Sometimes they also threatened the supremacy of the divided Habsburgs in Vienna. The Bohemian cause and the political weakness of Vienna also took advantage of Gabriel Bethlen and invaded Slovakia. Under his influence, the Hungarian Parliament decided in January 1620 to join the Bohemian Confederation. But disagreements in their own ranks, jealousies and a lack of financial support from the Bohemian nobility hampered the rebels' success.

The Habsburg emperor made sure, however, of the financial and ideal support of the Spanish crown, the Pope and above all the Catholic League . Ferdinand allied himself with Maximilian of Bavaria , to whom he promised the electoral vote of Friedrich von der Pfalz in the event of victory . The mighty Saxony under the leadership of Johann Georg von Sachsen , which had plans to expand into Lusatia and Silesia, behaved neutrally. On July 3, 1620, a neutrality agreement was finally concluded between the Protestant Union and the Catholic League.

The overwhelming power of the Emperor Ferdinand thus grew, while the Bohemian nobles increasingly fell into isolation. After the capitulation of the Austrian estates on August 20, 1620 and their secession from the Confederation, preparations began for the imperial army to enter Bohemia, supported by armies of the League. 1620 the troops marched under the leadership of the league general Johann t'Serclaes von Tilly over Gratzen , set course for Budweis and besieged western Bohemia. Christian von Anhalt moved with a second army via Moravia to Bohemia. They occupied strategically important positions on the White Mountain near Prague. When the Bohemian estates, a bunch of undisciplined, tired and poorly paid mercenaries , finally arrived on November 8, 1620, the League decided the battle in their favor within two hours.

King Friedrich fled abroad with representatives of the board of directors and his court. The mercenaries of the Directory withdrew to Prague. When the promised pay failed to materialize, they began looting and entered the service of the Catholic general Karl Bonaventure Buquoy .

The imperial army took power under the administration of Karl von Liechtenstein , Paul Graf Michna von Waitzenau (Czech Pavel Michna z Vacínova), Adam von Waldstein , Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Waldstein and Bonaventur Buquoy in Bohemia and Franz Seraph von Dietrichstein in Moravia.


The execution of the bohemian rebels on a contemporary woodcut

The part of the Directory that was unable to escape was arrested, and 43 of them were sentenced to death . On June 21, 1621, 27 of them were executed in front of the Old Town Hall in Prague . Three of the executed , Joachim Andreas von Schlick , Wenzel von Budovec and Christoph Harant von Polschitz and Weseritz , came from the gentry , seven were knights and 17 representatives of the bourgeoisie. In addition to the three men mentioned, the following people were beheaded by the executioner Johann Seifenmacher : the knights Kaspar Cappleri de Sulewicz , Prokop Dwořecký von Olbramowitz, Friedrich von Bila , Heinrich Otto von Loß, Wilhelm Konechlumský, Bohuslav von Michalovice, Diwisch Czernin von Chudenitz , as well as the Prague citizens Valentin Kochan, Tobias Šteffek, Christoph Kober, Wenzel Maštĕřowský Gizbicky and Johann Theodor Sixt, the Kuttenberg mayor Johann Schultys, the Saaz mayor Maximilian Hošťálek von Javořice, the rector of Charles University in Prague Jan Jessenius , the councilor on the Prague suburbs Heinrich Kozel and Andreas Kocour, Georg Řečický, Michael Witman, Simon Wokáč, Leander Rüppel and Georg Haunschild . The Prague councilors Johann Kutnauer, Simon Sušický and Nathanael Wodňanský were hanged. Martin Fruwein was convicted but died in prison before he was executed. The heads of twelve convicts were put on long poles on Prague's Old Town Bridge Tower for ten years as a deterrent and warning . The death sentences against Wilhelm Popel von Lobkowitz and Paul von Říčan were not carried out. Johann Wostrowec, Matthias Borbonius, Caspar Huzlar, Melchior Teyprecht, Georg Zawieta, Paul Prezka, Niklas Diwisch and Felix Petipeski received life sentences at Raab Fortress. The latter was pardoned after converting to Catholicism. The property and lands of the exiles and the executed were confiscated, including 115 manors and farms. Bohemian aristocrats who had proven to be loyal to the Habsburg castle were rewarded with large parts of the confiscated goods, including Albrecht von Wallenstein.

The consequences of the uprising were catastrophic for the Bohemian nation and strengthened the centralistic position of power of the Habsburgs. In 1627 Vienna ratified a new constitution, the so-called " Renewed Land Order ", in which the Habsburgs' right of inheritance to the Bohemian throne was established, Catholic teaching was allowed as the only religion and the German language was put on an equal footing with the Czech language. King Ferdinand cut up Rudolf II's letter of majesty with his own hand. The right to elect and confirm a king was revoked from the Bohemian estates. Legislation in Bohemia was also in the hands of the king, only in Moravia the estates had the right to initiate legislation. The land reform was reorganized according to feudal norms, land could now be confiscated and redistributed by the crown at any time. The power of the cities and the bourgeoisie was severely curtailed.

In the empire, the conflict widened massively with the intervention of Friedrich's allies and Bavaria's grip on the Palatinate electoral dignity and finally set the Thirty Years' War in motion , which had previously only smoldered .


  • Hans Sturmberger : Uprising in Bohemia. The beginning of the Thirty Years War. Munich 1959.
  • Golo Mann : Wallenstein. His life is told by Golo Mann . 133ff., ISBN 3-10-347904-2 .
  • Anton Gindely : History of the Thirty Years' War: Section 2: The penal decrees of Ferdinand II and the Palatinate War, (1621-1623). 2002, ISBN 1-4212-2709-6 .
  • Robert Rebitsch (Ed.): 1618. The beginning of the Thirty Years War. Vienna - Cologne - Weimar, 2017.
  • Peter H. Wilson : The Thirty Years War. A European tragedy. (Translated by Thomas Bertram, Tobias Gabel and Michael Haupt), Darmstadt 2017, pp. 344–400.
  • Thomas Bilek: Northwestern Bohemia and the uprising in 1618 , in: Mittheilungen des Verein für Geschichte der Deutschen in Böhmen , Volume 24, Prague 1886, pp. 155–185 ( online ) and pp. 233–303 ( online ).

Web links

Commons : Insurrection in Bohemia  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Historical illustration from 1627: Execution, So zu Prag the 11/21 Iunii 1621 hired and drawn up ( digitized )