Jan Zizka (c1360 - 1424)

 

Jan Zizka of Troznow was born into a minor noble family. Little is know of his early years except that as a child he was blinded in one eye. His first appearance in history is in 1409 as a leader of rioting 'taborites' , the name being added later, at the time they were merely radical supporters of Hus and his ideas. As a mercenary he fought for the Poles at Tannenberg(Grunwald) in 1410. Some sources attest that he led the Bohemian mercenaries there. His return to Bohemia coincided with the religious upheaval following the death of Jan Hus. Jan's support for the Hus beliefs was apparantly vocal as it lost him the ear of the King, of whom he was once one of his favourites.

        Jan Zizka led the storming of Pragues town hall in 1419 and after the death of King Wenceslas took a key role in the organising of armed resistance against forces loyal to the Emperor Sigismund. The 'phoney war' that temporily gripped the rival forces allowed Zizka time to organise and train his essentially peasant army. Zizka was responsible for the innovative wagon tactics that served the Hussite cause well over the following years.

In 1421 while besieging Raby Zizka lost the sight in his other eye. Some sources say by natural causes others by a crossbow bolt. Even blind Zizka continued to direct his army in battle, using the eyes of trusted captains. Prokop the Great and Propok the lesser were two such men.

In 1423 Zizka split from the Taborites creating the more moderate Orebite faction which he led until his death of the plague at the siege of Prysbislav, in 1424. On his death the Orebites renamed themselves the Orphans.

At his death Jan Zizka had fought 16 major battles, innumerable skirmishes and sieges, involved the Polish in Bohemian affairs and left an army of well trained soldiers who would continue to defeat their enemies time and time again.

Zizka although a National hero in the Czech Republic was until recently a little known General in the West. His 'combined arms' tactics are increasingly being seen as the fore runner to Polish and Swedish tactics of the following century.

 

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Copyright 2002 Matthew Haywood

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