Zisca (or Zizka), John

Zisca (or Zizka), John the military leader of the Hussites, was born at Trocznow, in the circle of Budweis, Bohemia, about 1360. He was of a noble Bohemian family, and in his boyhood lost an eye. At the age of twelve he became a page to king Wenceslas at the court of Prague, but his gloomy and thoughtful temperament unfitted him at this period for the frivolous occupations of the court. Embracing the career of arms, he served as a volunteer in the English army in France, and afterwards joined king Ladislas of Poland, with a body of Bohemian and Moravian auxiliaries. and greatly distinguished himself in the war against the Teutonic knights, deciding the battle of Tannenberg (July 15, 1410), in which the knights suffered a terrible defeat. High honors were heaped upon him by the king; but the war being now over, his restless spirit led him to join the Austrians against the Turks in Hungary, and afterwards to enter the English army, in which he engaged in the battle of Agincourt in 1415. He returned, to Bohemia soon after the death of John Huss, and became chamberlain to king Wenceslas. He had early embraced the doctrines of the Hussites, and entered deeply into the feelings of resentment which the execution of Huss and Jerome of Prague excited throughout Bohemia. A powerful party was soon formed, which urged upon the king a policy of resistance to the decisions of the Council of Constance. Zisca was one of the prominent leaders of this party, and his personal influence with the king gained for it the latter's sanction to offer resistance, though the king's vacillating disposition incapacitated him from giving effect to his own honest convictions, and taking open part with his subjects against their oppressors. About the time of the outbreak at Prague (July 30, 1419), Zisca was chosen leader of the Hussite party. On that day, as a procession of Hussite priests was marching to St. Stephen's Church, one of them was struck by a stone which came from the town house, where the magistrates (Roman Catholics) were assembled. Zisca and his followers immediately stormed. the building, and threw thirteen of the city council into the yard below, where they were instantly killed by the mob. This was the beginning of the first great religious controversy of Germany, known as the Ulussited war. The shock produced by the news of this outbreak was fatal to Wenceslas, and his death gave more of a political character to the contest, for when his brother, the emperor Sigismund, attempted to obtain the throne by advancing an army of 40,000 men into the country, his project was frustrated for a time by the Hussites, who insisted on their religious and political liberties being secured, and totally defeated his army with a force of not more than 4000. In this contest he had captured Prague in the spring of 1420, and he completed the conquest of Bohemia by capturing the castle of Prague in 1421. He secured his hold of the country by the erection of fortresses, the chief of which was that of Tabor, whence his party received the name of Taborites (q.v.). The varied experience acquired by Zisca in foreign warfare was now of immense service to his party; his followers were armed with small firearms, and his almost total deficiency in cavalry was compensated for by the introduction of the wagenburg, or "cart-fort," constructed of the baggage-wagons, to protect his little army from the attacks of the mailclad knights. In 1421 he lost his remaining eye by an arrow shot from the enemy while besieging the castle of Raby; and, though now entirely blind, he continued to lead his armies with the same masterly generalship. He was carried in a car at the head of his troops, and was enabled to give orders for their disposition from the description of the ground given him by his officers, and from his own minute knowledge of the country. About the close of 1421 Sigismund led a second large army into Bohemia, which included a splendid body of 15,000 Hungarian horse. A battle took place at Deutsch-Brod in January, 1422, in which the imperial army was totally routed. Followed closely by Zisca in their retreat to Moravia, the fleeing troops, in crossing the Iglawa on the ice, broke through and 2000 were drowned. He repeatedly vanquished the citizens of Prague who were not disposed to obey his orders, and the uniform success of his arms at last convinced Sigismund that there was no prospect of the reduction of Bohemia. After a short time, therefore, he proposed an arrangement with the Hussites, by which full religious liberty was allowed; and Zisca, who had an interview with the emperor on the footing of an independent chief, was to be appointed governor of Bohemia and her dependencies. But the war-worn old chief did not live long enough to complete the treaty, for while besieging the castle of Przibislaw he was seized with the plague, and died October 12, 1424. He was buried in a church at Czaslaw, and his battle-axe was hung up over his tomb. The story that, in accordance with his express injunction, his skin was flayed off, tanned, and used for the cover of a drum which was afterwards employed in the Hussite army, is a fable. Zisca was victor in more than one hundred engagements, and won thirteen pitched battles. Once only, at Kremsir, in Moravia, he suffered a reverse; and even then the evil consequences were warded off by the skilful manner in which he conducted his retreat. The only accusation which can with justice be made against Zisca is on the ground of excessive cruelty, the victims being the monks who fell into his hands. It would have been strange if Zisca had not laid himself open to such a reproach; for the burning alive of the propagators of the faith to which he adhered, the atrocious cruelties practiced on such Hussite priests as fell into the hands of the imperialists, and the seduction of his own favorite sister by a monk, were events in calculated to induce him to moderate the hatred entertained by himself and his followers against their opponents. Zisca considered himself the chosen instrument of the Lord to visit his wrath upon the nations, and a fanaticism which asked no mercy for its defenders gave none to its opposers. His line of march could be traced through a country laid waste with fire and sword, and over the ruins of plundered towns. One of the dogmas held by his followers was, "that when all the cities of the earth should be burned down and reduced to the number of five, then would come the new kingdom of the Lord;. therefore it was now the time of vengeance, and God was a God of wrath." The cries and groans of the monks and priests whom he sent to the stake he was wont to call the bridal song of his sister. His victories were generally won by the decisive charge of a chosen band of his followers named the invincible brethren. In his great victory at Aussig over the German crusading army, commanded by Frederick the Warlike of Saxony, and the elector of Brandenburg, the furious onset of the Hussites was steadily sustained by the Saxons, and the Bohemians recoiled in astonishment at a successful resistance which they had never before encountered Zisca, being apprised of the circumstance, approached on his cart, thanked the men for their past services, and added, "If you have now done your utmost, let us retire." Thus stimulated, they made a second charge, still more furious than before, broke the Saxon ranks, and left 9000 of the enemy dead on the field. See Millatuer, Diplomatisch-historische Aufsutze uber Johann Ziska von Trocznow (Prague, 1824). SEE HUSSITES; SEE TABORITES.

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