Interesting anecdote of a riot in Prague

History and Historical European Martial Arts in the Codex Martialis

Interesting anecdote of a riot in Prague

Postby Galloglaich » Sun Nov 25, 2012 8:54 pm

Just read an interesting description of a civil disturbance in Prague, in this book: http://www.amazon.com/Warring-Maidens-C ... 0880334258, page 205. I think this provides an interesting insight into town life on a number of levels and also on the kind of urban conflicts which ordinary citizens sometimes encountered.

"In August 1471, John Jenec of Janovice, acting as the supreme Prague burgrave [Mayor, essentially], tried to stop the raids of a rebel nobleman, Zedenek Konopiste. He sought to gather the armed gentry of the region as well as from Prague who, he thought, were duty-boud by virtue of the obedience they owed him to help create public order."

[By way of explanation, Konopiste was a robber knight who was interfering with certain merchant caravans, and it was the obligation of the burgrave to maintain the 'peace of the roads' and crack down on robber knights when they got out of hand, usually by besieging and destroying their castle. This is what Jenec was trying to organize with the gentry of Prague, who were technically subjects of the city, and the Prague citizens who were also landowners within the folwark or territory of Prague the city were technically obligated to help enforce the 'peace of the roads', though they did not always do so. Anyway, to continue:]

"When they did not obey, he ordered that all the gentry's livestock and horses be brought to his field. The recalcitrant squires hastened to Prague for help, saying that the loss of their animals would cause shortages in that city for several years. When the magistrates Schoffe, judges who were usually also 'aldermen' or members of the town council] ascertained that Janovice intended to march the animals through Prague, and sell the cattle to the butchers, they closed the gates in order to prevent him. [some of the town council were siding with the gentry]

Janovice hoped not to have to proceed, so he carefullydivided the animals into groups for eventual return to their respective owners. He insisted to the protesting city council that he had the right to the animals, and began to move them toward the city's butchers. The squires and their peasants raised the alarm and went after the cattle. When the cattle got to New Town square, the butchers came out with their knives. A general melee broke out, lasting all night , and many were killed. A married woman, Macha Chodovska, participated in the fracas. Seizing a sword from the sheath of one of the bailiffs, she killed several people. In the end, surprisingly, most owners got their cattle back except for the occasional sheep which could not be found."


So this is a pretty typical Medieval urban disturbance of a type called a Rezeß, or 'backing down'. Two sides, in this case the rural gentry and some members of the town council on one side, against the chief burgrave and the butchers guild on the other, faced off in a power struggle over this issue of going on a raid against the robber knight vs. losing their cattle. The book doesn't state which side backed down but the implication is that it was the gentry. It says 'many people were killed' but in these situations, 'many' usually means a dozen or two at the most. An actual pitched battle in which both sides were fighting all night would have ended in hundreds if not thousands of casualties, which would in turn weaken the town significantly since the town population was small and the population of people armed and able to fight was smaller still.

This was also typical of urban political clashes in that, while one side may technically have certain authorities or rights over another faction, they often had to push things to the brink of violence to get what they wanted. Stand-offs and confrontations like this were common in late Medieval towns.

The woman taking part in the action is interesting, but not as unusual as you might think particularly in Bohemia, where women were playing an active combat role in some of the Hussite armies as late as 1434, and possibly still were at the time of this incident, since the Hussites were still in power in 1471. Though Prague was dominated by moderate Hussites who did not condone women in combat, even in the moderate and Catholic areas Czech women had a lot of rights compared to women in other parts of Europe, and in some cases exercised considerable social and political power. Women were in the guilds and women gentry sometimes controlled castles.

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