Chapter 8: An Account of the Persecutions in Bohemia Under the Papacy (8/15)
In the spring of 1421, Zisca commenced the campaign, as before, by destroying all the monasteries in his way. He laid siege to the castle of Wisgrade, and the emperor coming to relieve it, fell into a snare, was defeated with dreadful slaughter, and this important fortress was taken. Our general had now leisure to attend to the work of reformation, but he was much disgusted with the gross ignorance and superstition of the Bohemian clergy, who rendered themselves contemptible in the eyes of the whole army. When he saw any symptoms of uneasiness in the camp, he would spread alarm in order to divert them, and draw his men into action. In one of these expeditions, he encamped before the town of Rubi, and while pointing out the place for an assault, an arrow shot from the wall struck him in the eye. At Prague it was extracted, but, being barbed, it tore the eye out with it. A fever succeeded, and his life was with difficulty preserved. He was now totally blind, but still desirous of attending the army. The emperor, having summoned the states of the empire to assist him, resolved, with their assistance, to attack Zisca in the winter, when many of his troops departed until the return of spring.
The confederate princes undertook the siege of Soisin, but at the approach merely of the Bohemian general, they retreated. Sigismond nevertheless advanced with his formidable army, consisting of 15,000 Hungarian horse and 25,000 infantry, well equipped for a winter campaign. This army spread terror through all the east of Bohemia. Wherever Sigismond marched, the magistrates laid their keys at his feet, and were treated with severity or favor, according to their merits in his cause. Zisca, however, with speedy marches, approached, and the emperor resolved to try his fortune once more with that invincible chief. On the thirteenth of January, 1422, the two armies met on a spacious plain near Kremnitz. Zisca appeared in the center of his front line, guarded, or rather conducted, by a horseman on each side, armed with a pole-axe. His troops having sung a hymn, with a determined coolness drew their swords, and waited for a signal. When his officers had informed him that the ranks were all well closed, he waved his sabre round his head, which was the sign of battle.
This battle is described as a most awful sight. The extent of the plain was one continued scene of disorder. The imperial army fled towards the confines of Moravia, the Taborites, without intermission, galling their rear. The river Igla, then frozen opposed their flight. The enemy pressing furiously, many of the infantry and in a manner the whole body of the cavalry, attempted the river. The ice gave way, and not fewer than two thousand were swallowed up in the water. Zisca now returned to Tabor, laden with all the spoils and trophies which the most complete victory could give.
Zisca now began again to pay attention to the Reformation; he forbid all the prayers for the dead, images, sacerdotal vestments, fasts, and festivals. Priests were to be preferred according to their merits, and no one to be persecuted for religious opinions. In everything Zisca consulted the liberal minded, and did nothing without general concurrence. An alarming disagreement now arose at Prague between the magistrates who were Calixtans, or receivers of the Sacraments in both kinds, and the Taborites, nine of the chiefs of whom were privately arraigned, and put to death. The populace, enraged, sacrificed the magistrates, and the affair terminated without any particular consequence. The Calixtans having sunk into contempt, Zisca was solicited to assume the crown of Bohemia; but this he nobly refused, and prepared for the next campaign, in which Sigismond resolved to make his last effort. While the marquis of Misnia penetrated into Upper Saxony, the emperor proposed to enter Moravia, on the side of Hungary. Before the marquis had taken the field, Zisca sat down before the strong town of Aussig, situated on the Elbe. The marquis flew to its relief with a superior army, and, after an obstinate engagement, was totally defeated and Aussig capitulated. Zisca then went to the assistance of Procop, a young general whom he had appointed to keep Sigismond in check, and whom he compelled to abandon the siege of Pernitz, after laying eight weeks before it.