Warrior of God

Jan Zizka and the Hussite Revolution

By Victor Verney

front cover - Warrior of God

Do you think you know Jan Zizka? Probably not. In fact, very little is known about this remarkable general outside of Central Europe; a point made in the sleeve notes and foreword of "Warrior of God: Jan Zizka and the Hussite Revolution" by Victor Verney. Astonishingly, you'd have to go back fifty years to find the last book on the subject to be published in English.

Verney tackles this situation head on with a thoroughly detailed account of one of the most turbulent periods in European history. Zizka was a key figure in the Hussite Revolution, the first of the religious wars that swept through Europe in the 14th and 15th Centuries. Throughout the book, Verney paints a very vivid picture of the apparent casual brutality of the times, when people were beheaded, flayed or suffered burning at the stake for a failure to observe accepted religious practise.

Events are recounted in such detail that a dizzying array of characters is introduced, from beginning to end, to the point where it is increasingly difficult to keep track of the protagonists. Add to this Verney's stated intention to use the Czech form of person and place names and you may find it wise to keep a notepad handy. This level of detail is a significant achievement on the author's part, given the scarcity of the historical evidence from this period. As such, Verney's passion for the subject is beyond question and he writes with a style that tempts the reader and maintains interest. Descriptions of significant events are invested with colour and texture so that the reader begins to develop an appreciation for how life may have been in 15th Century Bohemia.

Perhaps surprisingly for a book recounting the exploits of one of the most successful and influential military tacticians of medieval times, the descriptions of the battles themselves are comparatively brief. It is unclear if this is due to the scarcity of reliable accounts of the battles or whether Verney simply prefers to emphasise the influence that Zizka exerted away from the battlefield. Although Zizka's shadow looms large over the entire story, there are extensive passages where he has no direct participation in the unfolding events. While he was undoubtedly an important political figure, his reputation is surely based more on his catalogue of outstanding military achievements. I believe a more thorough treatment of these achievements may have benefited this book.

However, this is a minor niggle and should not discourage reading of a fascinating and thoroughly well researched account of an important and yet relatively little known historical figure and the world he inhabited. Having read this book, I feel I know Jan Zizka.

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