Petr Čornej spent his childhood in Prague’s Žižkov, under a monumetal statue of the warrior Jan Žižka on horseback, which rises on top of Vítkov Hill. “It was a motivation for me, an inspiration to get to know the real Žižka, he was the hero of my childhood,” says the historian.
“And I must say that Žižka was my ideal hero, but as I began to study it, I found that the personality is much more contradictory, but of course large, charismatic, but also largely problematic,” he added.
Historical science is evolving, and with the methods and approaches that were in force in the 19th and first half of the 20th century, historians can hardly suffice. According to Čornej, the knowledge of the medieval mentality has shifted above all, more is known about the way of thinking and thinking at the time, and therefore it is possible to say, for example, what kind of person Žižka was, what his mental foundation was.
“We know that Žižka was a brave and brave man, he was temperamental, but we know that he is never characterized by words as wise or prudent. But only these qualities, such as wisdom, foresight, prudence, made man perfect, along with that bravery and bravery. These are the qualities that an ideal nobleman, a ruler and an ideal military leader should have had, ”explains Čornej.
However, according to him, the fact that he was wise and far-sighted was not written about Žižek even by those who knew him and had a positive attitude towards him. “This in itself shows that Žižka was only half an ideal knight in the medieval sense,” he adds.
Although it is a great shortcoming, this great military leader was able to deal with it. According to the historian, he was also a brilliant improviser and had charisma. “And that gave him authority, so his warriors followed him,” he said.
However, Žižka’s whole life cannot be affected, because according to the stories, the source base is narrow and mainly concerns the last five years of his life, when he appeared on the great historical scene. What was before he emerged remains largely a mystery.
“We know roughly what he did in the years 1378-1384, that is, when he was 18 to 25, but then he disappeared from the sources for twenty years, only to appear around 1406 as a member of combat groups that moved beyond the law. When I wondered how it is possible that he fell out of the sources for twenty years, the only explanation I can think of is that he worked somewhere abroad as a mercenary, as a soldier, “describes Čornej.
Few documents, rare testimonies
It is not easy to find Žižka himself in contemporary literature either. The transcripts of his name are different. And its true form is not known either. According to the historian, there are ten of them available. But none of them is a portrait, a faithful depiction of Jan Žižka. There are often no portraits of many rulers from that time. “But in the case of Sigismund of Luxembourg, for example, we have several dozen of those portraits. However, this is not the case with Žižka or Hus, where we can only speculate about the form, “says the historian.
The research on Žižek itself has been developing systematically since the end of the 18th century, when it found itself in the sights of historians – even before the revival. “There was also the interest of Austrian state propaganda to pull out the Czech Žižka during the wars against Napoleon and to encourage the Czech military feeling with reference to the glorious past. Which is quite paradoxical, “smiles Čornej.
According to him, the number of materials gradually increased, but there were also issues hitherto unknown to historians. It is also the name “Žižka” itself. “He was not the only one, there were a huge number of bearers of the name, especially in southern Bohemia, there can be counted in the 14th-15th. century to twenty thirty. And something is related to this Žižka, something not, but it is interesting that the nickname probably referred to a poor-seeing or one-eyed person, “says Čornej.
And he adds that he could also start supplementing the book. His Brno colleague warned him that in the Znojmo accounts from the 15th century there is a horse offered for sale for ten gold, which is called Žižka monoculus, ie Žižka unicorn. “And that is the year 1427, ie three years after Žižek’s death, which would indicate that Žižka equals one-eyed,” he explains.
When asked whether Žižka was a driving force in history or dragged by them, he clearly responds that the first one. According to him, the participation in the defenestration of July 30, 1419, which broke out by the Hussite revolution, has already been confirmed by four sources.
“Apparently he was in charge of the military or organizational support of the whole event, so he was already a person known. And also that it is written that he was unique, exceptional, the original courtier of King Wenceslas shows that even in the environment of the royal court he enjoyed interest and had a certain reputation, he was destined to be brought up by the revolution, “he explains.
The Hussites sought to reform the church
Čornej says that Žižka actually took the desired form of the church as the right one by Jan Hus, that is, the priest, thinker, preacher and reformer, as the general social atmosphere that prevailed. This direction was supported by a large part of the Czech public opinion, across society, ie from the high nobility to the poor.
“And the second thing was that, in my opinion, Žižka found the only way to atone for his life so far, which, from the Christian’s point of view, was filled with sins, because he was beyond the law. The monarch had to amnest him, he killed without the command of the lords, all these were mortal sins, and he, a man on the threshold of physical extinction, wished for salvation and the attainment of eternal life. So he leaned towards reform, probably thinking that it would make up for his previous life. Finding salvation was to be the central meaning of every Christian’s life, an absolutely fundamental matter, ”explains Čornej.
However, if he succeeded in the end, it remains unknown. “He himself did not know until his physical extinction, he was undoubtedly insecure and it must have bothered him until the extinction. Nobody knows, this is the moral challenge: I will be saved – I will not be saved, I will achieve eternal life or not, the certainty is missing there, “the historian concludes.