Longsword by David Pilling

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Soldier of Fortune 2, complete with Hussites

It's been a while since my last post, for which the festive season and my own unpardonable lethargy can be blamed. Now, though, with the New Year kicking in amid endless downpours and rainwater rising through the carpet in my house (yes, January in West Wales is every bit as grim as it sounds) I'm all fired up and ready to shed the Christmas waistline.

The first bit of news is that I've started work on the sequel to Soldier of Fortune (I): The Wolf Cub, which was a something of a hit on the Amazon Bestsellers list and floated around the Top Five in the Historical Fantasy section for a few months. The adventures of Sir John Page, an English mercenary captain knocking around Europe in the early 1400s, seem to have struck a chord, and there are plenty more to come.

The death of Jan Hus
Still holed up in the Sultan's prison in Constantinople, obliged to tell (possibly slightly exaggerated) stories of his own life in order to stay alive, Page's second enforced memoir concentrates on his exploits during the Hussite Wars. These were religious wars fought in Bohemia (the modern-day Czech Republic) between the followers of Jan Hus and the various hostile kingdoms that surrounded their country. When they weren't fighting external enemies, the 'Hussites' often split into factions and fought each other, making poor Bohemia quite the battleground.

Jan Hus was a Bohemian priest who spoke out against the corruption of the Catholic church. One of his main bugbears was the sale of indulgences, whereby the church effectively sold pardons, guaranteeing an individual redemption for his or her sins, in exchange for cash. Anyone from the lower classes who spoke out against this practice was beheaded, and these victims were later considered the first Hussite martyrs. Hus himself, after many years preaching against the abuses of the church, was lured to an assembly at Constance in Germany in 1415 with the promise of a safe conduct. There he was betrayed and burned at the stake, his ashes thrown into the Rhine. His last reported words were 'Christ, son of the Living God, have mercy on us!"

Hussites at war
The death of Hus sparked outrage in Bohemia. Four years after his death open war broke out between the followers of his teachings, the Hussites, and the supporters of Sigismund, King of Hungary, brother of the late King of Bohemia. Sigismund wanted the crown of Bohemia for himself, but there was one rather large snag: it was Sigismund who had lured Hus to Constance, and Sigismund who tore up the hapless preacher's safe conduct and had him consigned to the flames. The chances of Hus's followers, of which there were thousands in Bohemia, especially among the peasantry, accepting Sigismund as their monarch were therefore less than zero.

With the support of the Pope, and the military backing of his own kingdom as well as allies in Germany and a huge number of mercenaries, Sigismund might have expected to roll over Bohemia's apparently feeble defences. Against his enormous and well-equipped army, bursting at the seams with armoured knights and men-at-arms equipped with all the latest gear, the Hussites could only muster a few thousand peasants and a tiny number of loyal Bohemian nobles, nowhere near enough to face the might of their enemies in the open field. It should have been a wipe-out, a massacre, all over inside a few weeks if not days, similar to the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939.

Statue of Jan Zizka in Prague
One man, however, rescued this apparently hopeless situation. His name, as any Czechs who might be reading this will know, was Jan Zizka. My next post will focus on Zizka, one of the genuinely great commanders of history, and to this day considered a national hero in the Czech Republic.


  1. Thank you for referring to Polish history, David, although rather the sad bit of it. But, it just so happens that there is one more Polish connection in your post, namely Sigismund's mother, Elizabeth of Pomerania, the fourth wife of Charles IV, was the granddaughter of our King Kazimierz III Wielki [Casimir III the Great], meaning that there was also Polish blood running in Sigismund's veins.

    Fascinating post. As always. Thank you and stay warm and dry in your grim part of Wales ;)

    1. Isn't it more Czech history? Though with Polish connections.

    2. Of course it is Czech history ;) What I meant was your mention about the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 :)

    3. Just a comparison - best I could think of offhand!