Warrior of God: Jan Zizka and the Hussite Revolution
Author: Victor Verney
Publisher: Frontline Books (June 2009)
When discussing Western civilization and the growth of society in medieval Europe, historians seem to give little attention to the events that shaped Central and East-Central Europe and how those events influenced the West. Victor Verney, in his book Warrior of God, details an important time in medieval history when religious upheaval in this region impacted Europe and set the stage for events which would later change the world and modern society.
The Hussite Revolution was a religious movement in the 14th and 15th centuries aimed at reforming the Catholic Church. At its heart stood two leaders: the scholar and fiery orator Jan Hus, representing the religious arm of the movement, and Jan Zizka — a Czech noble — representing the military arm. Zizka was arguably the most important general to lead the Hussites in battle, a true Czech patriot that wanted the best for the Bohemian nation and his fellow countrymen. He embodied the principles and spirit of Hus, and it was those qualities that affected his moral, ethical and oftentimes military decisions as he fought for a unified Bohemian kingdom.
Verney spends the majority of the book discussing Jan Zizka and his ability as a military commander. A brilliant tactician, Zizka instilled discipline and organization in his troops, which translated into many victories on the battlefield. Zizka, Verney states, never lost an encounter, preferring almost always to take the defensive position in an engagement, a strategy that in a broader sense determined how he perceived war in moral terms. For the Hussites, war must be just and fought for defensive reasons only. Due to these beliefs, Zizka rarely invaded an enemy’s territory, going only so far as to push enemy armies out of Czech lands without pursuing them across borders. Based on his military knowledge, nationalist pride and ethical choices (on most occasions), you cannot help but respect Zizka as a leader, though you never really get to know Zizka as a person outside of these military, political, and religious encounters.
At 230 pages, this book reads quickly. Verney’s writing is detailed yet concise, academic yet easy-to-understand, a book meant for the academic or student or enthusiast. His descriptions of the military engagements are vivid, and if you enjoy tactics and strategy, you will most certainly enjoy this book. Verney discusses the Hussite battles in great length, but he also explains the broader religious and political ramifications on Bohemia. For example, the Hussites struggled for decades with Sigismund (King of Hungary, Holy Roman Emperor, and King of Bohemia) and with the Pope, who excommunicated the nation of Bohemia. The Hussites also fought against themselves, as factions within the group argued over specific doctrinal principles.
The last chapter in the book details Zizka’s death and the fate of the revolution afterwards. In his life, Zizka returned nationalist pride to the Bohemian nation and carried with him the religious principles of Jan Hus, founding principles shared by the likes of John Wyclif and later Martin Luther, principles that would spark a reformation and change the face of Europe and the modern world forever.
My rating: 3.5 stars