The Czech Republic is a new country, formed with the separation of Slovakia on New Year’s Day, 1993. This is known as the “Velvet Divorce”, a nod to the country’s Velvet Revolution of November 17, 1989.
In past centuries and millennia, this area was a part of various countries. The current Czech Republic has been overrun by the armies of many different nations, and it has been occupied time and time again – such as in the time period from 1938 to 1945, when Nazi Germany marched in and settled down, only leaving after seven years and millions of deaths.
In the 17th century, the Czech lands (as they were then known) were under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire. The country’s large and growing Protestant population was guaranteed various rights, which allowed them a certain amount of religious freedom. However, in 1617, Ferdinand (the cousin of the dying Emperor Matthias) was named the successor to the throne. This caused no small alarm among the Protestants of Bohemia, as Ferdinand’s staunch pro-Catholic stance could spell disaster for the freedoms they had enjoyed for so long.
As it happened, they were right. Ferdinand took the throne as Ferdinand II in 1619, and set about attempting to force all Protestants under his rule to convert to Catholicism, no exceptions allowed. In 1620, Ferdinand II, still smarting from the First Defenestration of Prague in 1618, intended to make an example of those Bohemians who dared to oppose him.
As it happened, King Frederick of Bohemia was firmly on the side of the rebels, and raised an army of some 30,000 men under the command of Prince Christian of Anhalt. Ferdinand’s army was smaller – 25,000 – but consisted of many seasoned fighters. Their leader was one Field Marshal Tilly. Furthermore, this army consisted of many mercenaries. One of the men went along not as a fighter, but as an observer. This man was none other than philosopher Rene Descartes.
As the army marched towards Prague, it made short work of the defenses the Bohemian army had put in place. Christian of Anhalt’s army was reduced by approximately one-half, and by the time he had managed to bring his troops to the area still known as Bila Hora (White Mountain), few of them had any desire to wage war against Tilly’s men.
The battle of Bila Hora only lasted about an hour. The unseasoned troops of Christian of Anhalt simply could not hold out against the more experienced army of Field Marshal Tilly. Losses on Tilly’s side were only about 700, while around 4,000 of the Protestant troops were killed.
Tilly and his troops marched to Prague and captured the city quickly. King Frederick and his wife, Elizabeth, promptly fled. Twenty-seven noblemen who took part in the rebellion were executed publicly, on Prague’s Old Town Square. The battle was not yet over, though; Johann Georg of Hohenzollern maintained troops in Silesia. These men continued to fight Ferdinand’s army in what is now Moravia and Slovakia until 1623.
As the decade wore on, the decrees of Ferdinand II became increasingly strict. True to his word, he attempted to force Catholicism on a surly public. In 1621, all Calvinists and non-Catholics were forced to leave the country in three days, upon threat of being forced to convert to Catholicism. In 1626, no Lutherans were allowed to practice their faith. In 1626, having had enough of Lutheranism altogether, he forced them to convert to Catholicism or leave the country. Other countries joined the fray, some on the side of the Protestants, some on the side of the Catholics.
Bila Hora, which in 1620 was well outside the city limits of Prague, is now easily accessible by public transportation. Tram 22 goes to the vicinity of the former battlefield. Take the tram to the end of the line, then walk into the nearby field, where you will see a memorial to the soldiers of Bila Hora.