Hussites in Poland

Jan Škvrňák
At the beginning of the 15th century, many Poles, especially from Silesia - Silesia belonged to the union of the Czech Crown lands - studied or taught at the University of Prague and thus encountered the teachings of Czech reformers every day. Many Poles from Silesia, however, became followers of the teachings of Jan Hus - Silesia had the most partisans of Hussitism, and throughout the Hussite Revolution Silesia was predominantly anti-Hussite.

The contacts between the Poles and the Prague reform centre declined after the issue of the Decree of Kutná Hora in 1409, and the Prague University was no longer as attractive to foreigners as it had been in earlier times. Nor did the journey of Jerome of Prague to Poland and Lithuania in 1413 bring greater sympathy to Hussitism. When the Polish delegation defended Jan Hus at the Council of Constance, it did not signify an endorsement of his beliefs, but a protest against the manner in which his trial was conducted.

There was no shortage of intellectuals in Poland who, like the Hussites, wanted to reform the Church, centred mainly around the royal court in Kraków and the local university. Like Hus, they were sharply critical of the Pope (the Great Schism) and other abuses in the Church, but they saw the solution in the conciliar movement. The problems, in their view, were to be solved by the great councils (Constance, Pisa, Basel), from above. With this position they opposed the Hussite movement moderately or sharply. Among the most important representatives of the Polish intellectuals were Maciej from Sandomierz, Mateusz from Kraków, Bartholomew from Jasło, Stanislaus from Skalbmierz, Mikolaj Wigand and Jan Stekna from Bohemia.

The Polish Catholic Church took a clearly intolerant attitude towards Hussitism. The most ardent opponent was the bishop of Cracow, Zbigniew of Oleśnice, and the Dominican Order. Hussites and other heretics (heretic and Hussite were often merged into one at that time, so it is impossible to distinguish Hussites from other heretical movements in the sources) were severely prosecuted by the Inquisition. The highest Polish inquisitor for Poland between 1419 and 1431 was Mikolaj of Pniew. The Catholic Church actively opposed the Hussites at the beginning of the Revolution. In 1420, on the initiative of the Archbishop of Gniezno, Mikolaj Trąba, the Synodal Statute of Kalisz-Wielun adopted the article Remedia contra hereticos, which stipulated the visitation of parishes by the bishop or archdeacon, and the prosecution of heretics also on the estates of the nobility. Under the influence of the Church, in 1424 the Polish king Vladislav Jagiello issued the Edict of Wieluń, which enacted the above-mentioned statutes in Poland, putting into the hands of the Church the instruments of royal power in the suppression of heretics (i.e. mainly Hussites). Anyone who came from Bohemia after a certain date was to be automatically brought to trial and tried for heresy.

The attitude of the Polish royal court towards Hussitism was not so simple. František Šmahel evaluates it as neutral and mutually beneficial. In 1420, the moderate Hussites offered Vladislav the Czech crown, but he preferred not to accept it because he did not want to get into a war with the Roman Emperor Sigismund, but rather expected his help in his dispute with the Order of German Knights. The Hussites therefore began to negotiate with Vitold, his cousin, and his relative Sigismund Korybut was eventually sent to Bohemia as a land administrator. He returned in 1423, at a moment when the Polish court was beginning to lean towards an anti-Hussite policy (the Edict of Wieluń mentioned a year later). In time, the situation stabilized to military cooperation against external enemies of both sides. Polish soldiers served in the Hussite field armies (as an example Wyszek Raczyński of Raczyn coat of arms Nałęcz, who was executed together with Jan Roháč of Dubá after the fall of Sion Castle). The Jagiellonian monarch, on the other hand, used the fighting power of the Hussites against the Order. In 1431 (after the defeat at Domažlice), voices began to rise in the European Church for an agreement with the Hussites, who could not be subdued militarily. In the spirit of these tendencies, which were accepted by Pope Eugene, the Polish ruler began to negotiate with the Hussites - to his own advantage. He pursued his aims by calling an orphan army to fight against the Order. In 1433 (after the previous Pabianic agreements) the Hussites, led by Jan Čapek of San, appeared, and the campaign ended with the capture of Tczew.

Hugo Schüllinger - Czechs at the Baltic Sea

Believers in both faiths existed in Poland - but they were always individuals or small groups, never any extended church. There were two main reasons why the movement was not so widespread here. Firstly, the narrowing of contacts with the University of Prague after the Decree of Kutná Hora and secondly the vigorous anti-Hussite propaganda of the Catholic Church coupled with effective repression. The Hussites are recorded as enemies mainly in the vicinity of Plock, Włocławek and in the Dobrzyń country. A numerous community existed in Zbąszyń in the circle of the Poznań judge Abraham.

Hussitism also had its political supporters among the Polish nobility - its leaders included Spytko of Melsztyn, the aforementioned Abraham of Zbąszyn and Piotr Polak of Lichwin, a former leader of the Hussites in Silesia. After the death of Władysław (1434), Bishop Oleśnicki ruled as regent for the minor Władysław Warnenczyk, who refused any cooperation with Bohemia (during the period when the Polish candidate had the opportunity to become King of Bohemia). Its leader was the Hussite Spytko of Melsztyn and it consisted of 168 representatives of the nobility from Kraków, Sandomierz and Lublin. When the Confederation proved too weak, the Queen Dowager Sophie refused to support it and the following day the Confederation was defeated by the Bishop’s forces at the Battle of Grotniki. Spytko was killed, Abraham surrendered the chalice (symbol of Hussites). Most of the Polish Hussites lost their noble protectors and were subjected to persecution by the Polish Inquisition.

The year 1480 is cited as the end of Hussitism in Poland, when a great trial took place in Włoclawek, led by Zbigniew Oleśnicki the Younger. Even before that, Hussites had to hide and practice their faith in secret, e.g. in a stable, and outwardly pretend to be Catholics - to participate in Catholic ceremonies. By the end of the 15th century, Polish Hussitism was dead, thanks to the Catholic Church.


Stanisław Bylina, Ryszard Gładkiewicz (red.): Polskie echa husytyzmu

Stanisław Bylina: Hussitica

Paweł Jasienica: Polska Jagiellonów

František Šmahel: Idea národa v husitských Čechách