Czech Republic Magazine

On this Day, in 1621: 27 leaders of the Bohemian Revolt were executed on Prague’s Old Town Square

On June 21, 1621, twenty-seven leaders of the Bohemian Revolt were executed in Prague’s Old Town Square and twelve of their heads were impaled on iron hooks and hung from the Old Town Bridge Tower.

Following the Second Defenestration of Prague of 1618, which triggered what came to be known as the Bohemian Revolt, the Bohemian estates deposed Emperor Ferdinand II as King of Bohemia and replaced him with leading Calvinist Frederick V of Palatine, the son of Frederick IV, and son-in-law of the Protestant King James VI and I, of Scotland, England and Ireland.

The Battle of the White Mountain

But by June 1620, Ferdinand II set out to conquer Bohemia and make an example of the rebels. Imperial forces under the leadership of Field Marshal Tilly pacified Lower Austria while the army of the Catholic League pacified Upper Austria before the two armies united and moved north into Bohemia.

After conquering most of western Bohemia, the Imperial army made for Prague. Under the command of Prince Christian of Anhalt, the Bohemian army managed to get ahead of the Imperial army and set up defensive positions at Bílá Hora (“White Mountain”) near the Bohemian capital.

But the Bohemian army was no match for Emperor Ferdinand’s troops commanded by Field Marshal Tilly. The Battle of White Mountain lasted only an hour and left the Bohemian army in tatters, with some 4,000 Protestants killed or captured, while Imperial losses amounted to only about 700.

Leaders of the Bohemian insurrection executed in Prague

With the Bohemian army destroyed, Tilly entered Prague, King Frederick fled the country, the Bohemian Revolt collapsed, and Europe was engulfed in the Thirty Years’ War, still considered today as one of the most destructive conflicts in European history,

In June 1621, forty-seven leaders of the Bohemian insurrection were put on trial, and twenty-seven of them were executed in Prague’s Old Town Square. Twelve of their heads were impaled on iron hooks and hung from the Old Town Bridge Tower while their headless bodies were handed over to the families to be burried.

The Emperor then ordered all Calvinists and other non-Lutherans to leave the realm in three days or to convert to Catholicism, and by 1627, most Bohemians had converted.

The end of the Bohemian Revolt thus brought two centuries of re-Catholicization of the Czech lands and the decline of the Czech-speaking aristocracy. It also ensured that the Bohemian lands would remain in Habsburg hands for nearly three hundred years.

After World War II, twenty-seven crosses were installed in front of Prague’s Old Town Hall in memory of the Czech martyrs, while a nearby plaque lists the names of all 27 victims.

Find out more about Central European history in our On this Day series.

Headed by Kafkadesk's chief-editor Jules Eisenchteter, our Prague office gathers over half a dozen reporters, editors and contributors, as well as our social media team. It covers everything Czech and Slovak-related, and oversees operations from our other Central European desks in Krakow and Budapest.