Jan Městecký of Opočno

Jan Škvrňák
Jan Městecký of Dobruška and Opočno, better known as Jan Městecký of Opočno (1380? - 1432 Hostinné) was an East Bohemian nobleman, the last of the family of the lords of Dobruška and Opočno and one of the personalities of the Hussite wars and one of the most important personalities of the so-called Opočno Party.

His father was Štěpán of Opočno, who was killed at Karlštejn in 1397 together with 3 other minions of King Wenceslas IV. Jan Městecký gave birth to Kačna of Bergov sometime before this date. Through her, Jan was related to Otto IV of Bergov. He probably inherited the name from his uncle (+1430).

After the death of his father, his uncle Jaroslav (from Opočno) was the guardian of the minor Jan, and another uncle - Jan (the Elder) - took over part of the property. Jan became an adult before 1410, when he appears as a witness to the decree of the court. Jan Městecký was not a very rich nobleman, he owned two estates - Heřmanův Městec (a small town) and Opočno (a castle). He held Dobruška together with his uncle Jan.

Coat fo arms of Jan Městecký of Opočno

Unlike his father, who was the governor of Wrocław, John did not try to increase his wealth by serving in the ruler’s service. John did not become a man of eloquence, but a man of the sword, including mercenary service to other feudal lords, violent disputes with neighbours and attempts to usurp their property, and last but not least, activities on the edge of the law.

His first action was his participation in the Battle of Grunwald on the side of the Order of the Teutonic Knights. According to the Order’s accounts, John of Opočno brought (or at least wanted to pay for) 8 lances (a tactical unit of 3 horsemen) and one archer to the field. The battle ended in defeat for the Order and captivity for Jan Městecký, who was not released until the spring of 1412.

After this fiasco, Městecký devoted himself to a career in the Czech lands. In 1412 he became involved in a dispute between Henry Lacembok of Chlum and Nicholas of Žampach. When Henry was captured, Jan Městecký, together with Jan Puška of Kunštát and Otto of Bergov, began to plunder the estates of Henry of Chlum. Městecký probably expanded his estates by this action, and Henry, after his release, appealed to Pope John XXIII for the return of his estates. The bishop of Litomyšl, Jan Železný, was supposed to be the mediator, but the dispute was eventually lost.

Jan of Opočno signed the letter of complaint of the Bohemian nobility against execution of Jan Hus, at the same time in the same year he plundered the Opatovice monastery (together with Ota of Bergova). Religious motivation caused by the teachings of Jan Hus may not be sought here, these ideas may have served as a cover. Both invaders held the monastery and its possessions until January 1416, when king Wenceslaus IV granted them a pardon.

During 1418 Městecký took Miletín, which previously belonged to the Order of German Knights. In doing so, he pointed to unpaid debts from the previous war. He apparently did not hold the place for long, but the whole incident was without consequences.

Before the start of the Hussite wars, Jan Městecký of Opočno had several years of experience in minor military activities, i.e. roughly the same qualifications as many Hussite warlords. Jan Městecký of Opočno and other leaders of the so-called Opočno party hesitated throughout 1419 about their orientation in the coming wars, and they did not take the Catholic side confidently until 1420.

Jan Městecký joined the royal forces led by Petr of Šternberk; we do not know whether he took part in the skirmishes at Živohošt’ and Nekmíř. Certainly not until the Battle of Sudoměř, in which his side lost again. He then returned home together with the Kutná Hora mintsmaster Mikes Divůček from Jemniště. Soon after, he is appointed governor of the kings town of Chrudim.

It is not known whether he took part in the First Crusade, but it can be assumed. It is also highly probable that Městecký commanded, or at least participated in, the effort to capture the Orebite Hradec Králové at the end of June. However, the city was well defended, so no attack was made - the Catholic side took some strong garrisons, Městecký specifically the Opatovice monastery.

At the beginning of 1421, Jan Městecký began military operations against the Tabor groups in the region. On 14 January, at dawn, he and his allies from Kutná Hora raided Přelouč, won, killed many Hussites, and the prisoners were thrown into the Kutná Hora shafts. On 2 February he besieged Chotěboř in Tabor with a stronger army (supplemented by Catholic lords of eastern Bohemia and a contingent from Čáslav). The defenders against the stronger attackers surrendered on 4 February in return for a promise of a free departure. Instead of keeping their promise, however, they are all massacred, and the Hussite leader Petr Hromádka from Jistebnice is executed together with 2 priests on the square in Chrudim. Subsequently, Jan Městecký’s men attempt unsuccessfully to take the monastery of St. James near Strádov, which is held by the Calixtines.

The earlier reinforcement of the garrison in Opatovice proved to be providential - on 21 March the attack of the Orebites was repulsed here with great losses of the invaders. This, however, was the end of Jan of Opočno’s success for a long time. In April, a great offensive of the Taborites and the Pragueers began in central and eastern Bohemia. Kouřim, Kolín, Čáslav, Nymburk and Kutná Hora were captured in quick sequence. On 26 April 1421, Chrudim was besieged by the combined armies of the Taborites, the Pragueers and the Orebites. Jan Městecký still tried to resist and negotiate in the besieged town. But in the end he had to capitulate - he promised to stick to the Hussite side and to abide by the 4 Articles.

This conversion forced by force, as it later turned out, was anything but sincere. For Jan Městecký it was probably the only way to preserve his life (after the cruel massacres in Přelouč and Chotěbor) and his property. Together with the Hussites, Městecký took part in the siege of Jaroměř. In October 1421 he did not defend the 4 Articles of Prague anymore - he joined the Silesian campaign against Viktorin of Kunštát and Jan of Žampach. After the news of Jan Městecký’s betrayal, the people of Prague hoisted his flag on the pillory of Old Town. In the Catholic camp his conversion had no consequences - in Jihlava he renounced the chalice before Bishop Jan Železný and swore allegiance to King Sigismund. Together with him he marched to Německý Brod, where another crusade was defeated.

For most of the year 1422 there is no news of Jan Městecký, but this does not mean that he ceased his combat activity. In August, his Opočno was besieged by the forces of Sigismund Korybut, but perhaps out of fear of Silesians or other Catholics, the capture of the castle was abandoned after 11 days.

It seems that Jan Městecký of Opočno stood in the following year in the battle of Hořice in the ranks of the army of Čeněk of Vartenberk against the troops of Jan Žižka of Trocnov. Like several times before, the battle went badly for his side.

At the beginning of 1424, Jan Městecký of Opočno was again in the lands of the Bohemian Crown and waged war against Žižka. On January 6, the battle of Česká Skalice was fought, where the so-called Opočenská side stood and Žižka’s Brotherhood stood against them. Žižka won again, Jan Městecký lost again. Žižka did not decide to plunder and conquer the possessions of his defeated opponents, and therefore there was relative peace in the region until the end of 1424.

In 1425 the Orphans launched another offensive against the enemies of the Chalice. Fortunately, Jan Městecký was not in the castle and therefore escaped capture, but he lost his entire estate, except for the court in Popice.

In 1427, Jan Městecký became involved in yet another plan that did not lack ambition. On 6 September, Hynek of Kolštejn, a representative of the Calixtiner nobility, and his allies, in alliance with the leaders of the Catholics in eastern Bohemia, attempted a coup in Prague. The whole action was betrayed and ended in a complete fiasco. Participation in the coup had unfortunate consequences for both Jan and Puta in the future.

The exact date is not known, but neither is the year in which he gained possession of Lichnice Castle. In July 1427, an Orphan army led by the priest Prokůpek and Jan of Kralovice began to besiege the castle. The castle was manned by a strong garrison led by Petr Liška and could have resisted for a long time - and it did.

The year 1429 was full of losses for Jan Městecký. In November, even the starving Lichnice had to capitulate. All this forced Jan Městecký to act, he became a Hussite again and according to the convention he was to get back at least the castle of Lichnice from the hands of Jan Hertvík of Rušínov.

Castle Lichnice in 15th Century

Jan Městecký is now trying to reclaim his possessions by serving in the Hussite army. In the autumn of 1430, he appears at Plzeň, where the Hussites are assembling for the coming campaign in Plzeň and then in Silesia.

A complaint survives from the following year that Jan Městecký was among the nobles who failed to live up to their obligations in repelling the crusade. In the same year, after the death of his uncle, he acquired the rest of the town of Dobruška and also Frymburk Castle.

The unstable loyalty of Jan Městecký of Opočno to the Hussite movement is evidenced by a record from April 1431, when he installed a Catholic parish priest in Markovice.

Several documents from 1431 and 1432 have survived in which Jan of Opočno returns money or acknowledges debts. In the second half of 1432, this nobleman, being in debt, dies.

Before characterizing his personality, it is necessary to write a few reflections on his conversion to Hussitism. As in the first case (1421), it was not reformist ideology that drove him, but material interests, in this case under worse conditions - he now wanted to recover his lost possessions. The events of the turn of the 3rd and 4th decade are not entirely clear - why, according to the convention, John did not regain Lichnica. His lukewarm attitude to the war events could have been both a cause and a consequence of not giving up the castle. We will never know.

The sources do not speak of Jan Městecký of Opočno in a good light. He is known as a very cruel and treacherous nobleman who did not shy away from using any means to increase his wealth. He may well have been a good commander at a lower level (in the spirit of the various grudges and raids of the early 15th century), but unfortunately for him he never commanded a large army and the battles he fought were lost by his side.