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George of Podebrady

George of Kunštát and Podebrady, also known as Podebrad or Podiebrad (Czech: Jiří z Poděbrad), King of Bohemia (1458-1471), was the first King in Europe to renounce the Catholic faith when he adopted the religion of Jan Hus. This was then established throughout Bohemia with a sculpted chalice being set up outside every church as a symbol of the reformed religion.

He was the son of Victor of Kunštát and Podebrady, a Bohemian nobleman, who was one of the leaders of the Orphans or modern Taborites during the Hussite Wars. George himself as a boy of fourteen took part in the Battle of Lipany, which marked the downfall of the more advanced Taborites. Early in life, as one of the leaders of the Hussite party, he defeated the Austrian troops of the German King Albert II, son-in-law and successor of King Sigismund. He soon became a prominent member of the national or Hussite party, and after the death of Ptacek of Pirkstein its leader. During the minority of Ladislaus, son of Albert, who was born after his father's death, Bohemia was divided into two parties: the Catholic or Austrian one, led by Ulrich von Rosenberg (1403-1462), and the national one, led by Podebrad.

After various attempts at reconciliation, Podebrad decided to appeal to the force of arms. He gradually raised an armed force in north-eastern Bohemia, where the Hussite cause had most adherents and where his ancestral castle was situated. With this army, consisting of about 9000 men, he marched in 1448 from Kutná Hora to Prague, and obtained possession of the capital almost without resistance. Civil war, however, broke out, but Podebrad succeeded in defeating the Catholic nobles. In 1451 the emperor Frederick III, as guardian of the young king Ladislas, entrusted Podebrad with the administration of Bohemia. In the same year a diet assembled at Prague also conferred on Podebrad the regency.

The struggle of the Bohemians against Rome continued uninterruptedly, and the position of Podebrad became a very difficult one when the young king Ladislas, who was crowned in 1453, expressed his sympathies for the Roman Church, though he had recognized the compacts and the ancient privileges of Bohemia. In 1457 King Ladislas died suddenly, and public opinion from an early period accused Podebrad of having poisoned him. On February 27, 1458 the estates of Bohemia unanimously chose Podebrad as king; even the adherents of the Austrian party voted for him, not wishing at that moment to oppose the popular feeling, which demanded the election of a national sovereign.

A year after the accession of Podebrad Pius II became Pope, and his incessant hostility proved one of the most serious obstacles to Podebrad's rule. Though he rejected the demand of the Pope, who wished him to consent to the abolition of the compacts, he endeavoured to curry favour with the Roman see by punishing severely all the more advanced opponents of papacy in Bohemia. All Podebrad's endeavours to establish peace with Rome proved ineffectual, and though the death of Pius II prevented him from carrying out his planned crusade against Bohemia, his successor was an equally determined opponent.

The Hussite king had many enemies among the Catholic members of the powerful Bohemian nobility. The malcontent nobles met at Zelena Hora (Gruneberg) on November 28, 1465, and concluded an alliance against the king, bringing forward many accusations against him. The confederacy was from its beginning supported by the Pope, though Podebrad, after the death of Pius II, attempted to negotiate with the new Pope, Paul II. These negotiations ended when Paul apparently insulted the envoys of the king of Bohemia.

On December 23, 1466 Paul II excommunicated Podebrad and pronounced his deposition as king of Bohemia, forbidding all Catholics to continue in his allegiance. The emperor Frederick III, and King Matthias of Hungary, Podebrad's former ally, joined the insurgent Bohemian nobles. King Matthias conquered a large part of Moravia, and was crowned in the Moravian capital, Brno, as king of Bohemia on May 3, 1469. In the following year Podebrad was more successful in his resistance to his many enemies, but his death on March 22, 1471 put a stop to the war.

Last updated: 02-10-2005 16:15:10
Last updated: 05-06-2005 01:27:49