Battle of White Mountain in Praha

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The Battle of White Mountain, 8 November 1620 (Bílá hora is the name of White Mountain in Czech) was an early battle in the Thirty Years' War in which an army of 30,000 Bohemians and mercenaries under Christian of Anhalt were routed by 27,000 men of the combined armies of Ferdinand II, Holy Roman Emperor under Charles Bonaventure de Longueval, Count of Bucquoy and of the German Catholic League under Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly at Bílá Hora, near Prague (now part of the city). The battle marked the end of the Bohemian period of the Thirty Years' War.


Emperor Matthias wanted his dynastic heir Ferdinand II appointed to the royal throne of Bohemia and Hungary. Ferdinand was duly elected by the Bohemian estates to become the Crown Prince in 1617, and automatically upon the death of Matthias, the next King of Bohemia. This did not sit well throughout the Protestant population in Bohemia because they thought that they would lose the rights given to them because of the new Catholic King. Ferdinand II viewed Protestantism as the main problem in his realms. King Ferdinand was also the Holy Roman Emperor and since he held this title he took seriously the duties which came with it. For him, the preservation of The Roman Catholic Church was most important as Holy Roman Emperor. He viewed the Protestant political stature in his realm as an issue involving 'protests' or rebellion against imperial authority. He hoped to bring about the conversion of subjects of the Catholic Lords from Protestantism back to the Catholic Church. The dissension within his estates was an ever daunting domestic issue. Most of his realms in Bohemia were primarily Protestant. These areas under King Ferdinand’s rule were under separate individual constitutions thus giving them separate regional traditions. With the majority of his subjects being of the Protestant faith, they had apprehended their lands from the Roman Catholic Church in their initial confiscations of monastic properties at the beginning of the Reformation; they were resistant to their newly elected Catholic King and his tendency to favor the centralization of their region. Catholicism was no longer proscribed but was being actively promoted and both church and local properties seized by King Ferdinand’s royal throne. None were as rebellious as the Protestant Hungarian subjects in Transylvania. However it was Bohemia which became the first to act on these religious and domestic interests in fomenting a rebellion. The conflict known as the Second Defenestration of Prague was a dispute between Bohemian Nobles and the crown in 1618 over a royal guarantee made by one of King Ferdinand’s predecessors Rudolf II ensuring religious freedom throughout Bohemia. This conflict resulted in Bohemian nobles throwing King Ferdinand’s appointees and his secretary out of a window in the royal castle in Prague. They survived only because they fell into a heap of manure thus saving their lives. This incident sparked a national struggle known as the Bohemian Revolt.


The Bohemian estates organized an army of 30,000 men in determination to fight for their liberties, as they saw them. Ferdinand II set to make an example of this Bohemian Revolt and countered the Bohemian Army by sending 25,000 men, many of them seasoned soldiers, to crush the revolt. They included the future philosopher Renee Descartes. These trained soldiers were under the leadership of Catholic Spanish-Flemish nobleman, Field Marshal Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly. The army made straight for Prague, the capital of Bohemia, which was in the hands of the rebels. The Bohemian army attempted to block the Imperial army by setting up a defensive position on a hill. The Imperial army simply ignored the Bohemian army however, and bypassed the hill. Christian of Anhalt then force-marched the Bohemian army and managed to get ahead of the Imperial army just before Prague. The Bohemian army again tried to set up a defensive position, but had little time, and morale was low. As the Imperial army approached, Tilly divided his men into two distinct squads: The Imperials and the Catholic League (German) troops. The Catholics, Ferdinand’s army, pushed forth without great bombardment of artillery. Anhalt opened the battle by sending forward infantry and cavalry, led by Anhalt's son. The cavalry charged into the Imperial infantry, causing significant casualties. Tilly however, quickly brought up his own Cavalry, forcing the Bohemian cavalry to retire. The Bohemian infantry, who was only now approaching the Imperial army, saw the Cavalry retreating, at which they fired one volley at extreme range before retreating themselves. The Catholic Imperial Cavalry, amounted to 400 or so, circled the Protestant forces pushing them closer into the middle of the battle. With the Bohemian army already at a low morale, company after company started retreating, most without having even entered the battle. With the Protestant forces steadily diminishing Tilly and his 400 Imperial cavalrymen moved with the 2000 hussars which the Bavarians had brought to the battle. Tilly’s men steadily pushed the rebel forces back to the Star Palace where the rebels tried to establish a final defence but failed. The Battle of White Mountain was more of a skirmish than a fully-fledged battle. The Bohemian army was no match for King Ferdinand II trained soldiers, and the actual battle only lasted an hour and left the Bohemian army devastated. The Protestant army was non-existent by the end of the battle. Some 4,000 Protestants were killed or captured. The Catholic losses amounted to roughly 800.


Survivors of the battle soon reached Prague, causing a general panic. Some rebel commanders tried to set up a defense, but they received little support. Frederick V of Bohemia and his entourage, leaving the crown jewels behind, slipped out of Prague quietly, disappearing into the stream of refugees who were fleeing the imminent Imperial takeover of Prague. When the Imperial army arrived, it was able to enter Prague without resistance.

As the victor of the battle, King Ferdinand immediately turned to his council on questions arising from extravagant success of the recent battle on the international situation and on internal (Bohemian and Palatinate) politics. Ferdinand’s council believed in the centralization of power in all regions of his lands. It was sought to use the defeat at the Battle of White Mountain as a defense of his ultimate goal of centralized power in the Estates of the realm. The defeat left the estates lacking in self-confidence and left them without any defensive stand. Ferdinand’s council wanted to declare the throne hereditary thus removing the election liberties of the estates and to expel several Protestant Lords from the estates thus leaving the religious and domestic and political rebellion inactive.

With the Bohemian army destroyed, Tilly entered Prague and the revolt broke down. King Frederick with his wife Elizabeth fled the country (hence his nickname the Winter King), and many citizens welcomed the restoration of Catholicism. Forty-seven noble leaders of the insurrection were tried, and twenty-seven were executed on what is called "the Day of Blood" by Protestants at Prague's Old Town Square. Amongst those executed were Kryštof Harant and Jan Jesenius. Today, 27 crosses have been inlaid in the cobblestone as a tribute to those victims. An estimated five-sixths of the Bohemian nobility went into exile soon after the Battle of White Mountain, and their properties were confiscated. Before the war about 151,000 farmsteads existed in the Lands of Bohemian Crown, while only 50,000 remained after the year 1648. The number of inhabitants decreased from 3 million to 800,000. The Thirty Years War had still another 28 years to run, and Bohemia was often the scene of much bloodshed.

But there was still a strong Protestant army in Silesia under the command of Johann Georg of Hohenzollern, Duke of Brandenburg-Jägerndorf which continued fighting the Imperial army in Moravia and in what today is Slovakia until 1623.

In 1621, the Emperor ordered all Calvinists and other non-Lutherans to leave the realm in 3 days or to convert to Catholicism. Next year, he also ordered all Lutherans (who primarily had not been involved in the revolt) to convert or leave the country. By 1627, Archbishop Harrach of Prague and Jaroslav Borzita of Martinice set out to peacefully convert the heretics as they were termed; most Bohemians converted, but a significant Protestant minority remained. Spanish troops, seeking to encircle their rebellious Dutch provinces, seized the Palatinate electoral lands. With the prospect of Protestantism being overrun in Germany, Denmark entered the struggle. Sweden was to join the Protestant forces in 1630.

See also

  • Letohrádek Hvězda


  • The History of the Thirty Years War by Friedrich Schiller
  • Luca Cristini, 1618-1648 la guerra dei 30 anni . volume 1 da 1618 al 1632 2007
  • Luca Cristini, 1618-1648 la guerra dei 30 anni . volume 2 da 1632 al 1648 2007
  • Johnson, Lonnie. Central Europe enemies, neighbors, friends. New York: Oxford UP, 1996. Print.
  • Guthrie, William P. Battles of the Thirty Years War from White Mountain to Nordlingen, 1618-1635. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2001. Print.
  • Bohemia in history. Cambridge, U.K: Cambridge UP, 1998. Print.
  • Helfferich, Tryntje. Indianapolis: Hackett Company, Inc., 2009. Print.
  • Josef V. Polisensky, Thirty Years War, Univ of California Pr (June 1971); La guerra dei trent'anni: da un conflitto locale a una guerra europea nella prima metà del Seicento - Torino: Einaudi, 1982.

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