In 1414, the Czech reformist priest Jan Hus (or John Huss, if you prefer) was summoned before a general council of the Roman Catholic Church in Constance, Germany to defend his reformist views. Refusing to recant, he was condemned to death and burned at stake on this day in 1415. His death led to a major uprising in the Lands of the Czech Crown (at that time, Bohemia, Moravia, and Upper and Lower Silesia), followed by the establishment of Hussitism, the first successful reformist Christian religion. Civil war followed, as did Church-led crusades to root out the Hussite heresy. Intense strife continued until the most radical wing of the Hussites, the Taborites, was defeated in the Battle of Lipany in 1434. The Hussite wars and the economic and social strife that followed them significantly weakened the Czech Kingdom, which had until then been a major regional power in Central Europe, a position the Czech nation never again regained.
Jan Hus, who was influenced by the teachings of John Wycliffe, did not seek to reform the Church per se, merely to make it simpler and more ethical. He thought that churchmen should live simple and humble lives and should not exploit the people. He preached in the vernacular and demanded that all people, not just priests, receive the sacrament of both bread and wine. He wrote:
“One pays for confession, for mass, for the sacrament, for indulgences, for churching a woman, for a blessing, for burials, for funeral services and prayers. The very last penny which an old woman has hidden in her bundle for fear of thieves or robbery will not be saved. The villainous priest will grab it.”
Because of Hussite military successes against the Crusades (see also here and here) and because of major strife elsewhere in Christendom, the Holy See agreed, in the Basel Compacts of 1433, to the establishment of the Hussite version of Christianity in the Czech Lands. Thus the Czech Lands, became, in effect, the first genuinely Protestant kingdom. Most Hussite reforms were rolled back during the counter-Reformation, and subsequent defeat of the Czechs and incorporation into the Habsburg Empire (1620-1918). But the spirit of reformation remained and was later to exercise profound influence on Martin Luther and John Calvin.
The Czechoslovak Hussite Church of today follows in Huss’s footsteps.