Famous loss re-enacted
Large cast stages the Battle of White Mountain on the actual site
Posted: September 18, 2013
Czech history changed for good Nov. 8, 1620, when the army of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II handily defeated the Bohemian forces in a brief battle on what is now the outskirts of Prague. For the last nine years the Battle of White Mountain, or Bitva na Bílé hoře, has been restaged in Prague 6 at Bělohorská pláň, in front of Hvězda Park.
The action is scaled down a bit from the original battle, where some 30,000 Bohemians met 25,000 enemy soldiers. But the skimping isn't apparent. This re-enactment is one of the largest in the country and the most impressive one in the Prague area. Between 600 and 700 re-enactors come from across Europe, from as far away as England and Russia. They are grouped into units, each with a distinctive flag and uniform style, and represent the various factions from the historical battle.
The historical fencing group Knights of the Czech Crown, a part of the civic association Bílá Hora 1620, has been staging the event in cooperation with Prague 6 since 2005. Milan Sýkora, one of the organizers, previously told The Prague Post that the event is more than a history lesson; it highlights the Czech nation's willingness to "pass through historic difficulties and obstacles and walk on."
Doors open at noon, and there are lots of stands with medieval-style accoutrements as well as some music, fencing and other diversions. The battle itself starts at 3 p.m., but if you want a good view it is best to find a place a bit earlier. The historical battle, an early episode in the Thirty Year's War, lasted about an hour, and the show here takes pretty much the same time.
When: Sept. 21 and 22, doors open at noon, battle at 3 p.m.
Where: Hvězda Park, in front of Letohradek Hvězda
Tickets: 180 Kč, plus 50 Kč for tribune seating
While the battle looks chaotic, it is highly choreographed with well-planned maneuvers that mimic the overall ebbs and flows of the historical battle. It builds slowly like a symphony, with a little isolated action that slowly work up into a thunderous encounter filled with cannon shots, hand-to-hand combat and volleys from black-powder guns.
"When one is in the middle of the battlefield and shots from muskets and cannons are ringing out, and the cannon shots are bursting all around, it is true adrenalin," Sýkora said.
Some lulls in the battle allow for women in period costumes to go look among the dead and injured for their loved ones and to offer first aid. The aftermath of the battle is also impressive, as the uniformed soldiers, a little worse for the wear, parade by and you can see the authentic details of their outfits.
The battle is staged twice over two days. This means the soldiers get to camp out. "Another strong experience is the night after the battle, when you walk over the battlefield through historical military camps. We are located in fact where the true battle took place, and one can feel this shiver of previous times. I felt this many times. It is really an unusual feeling," Sýkora said.
The battle is tied to another famous event in Prague history, the Second Defenestration, when a meeting at Prague Castle ended with representatives of Emperor Ferdinand II being thrown out of a window in 1618. This was followed by the election of Frederick V, a Protestant, as king of Bohemia in 1619. The move further antagonized the Catholic emperor, who decided to put down the rebellious faction in Prague by sending an army consisting of his imperial troops and soldiers from the German Catholic League.
The battle was so short that by the time King Frederick V arrived, it was already over.
Historically, the battle was the beginning of the end for Czech nobility. The loss at Bilá Hora was followed a year later by the execution of 27 Protestant rebellion leaders at the hands of the Catholic Hapsburgs. Protestants were forced to either convert or leave the country. Czechs would not be free of foreign rule again until 1918 when the First Republic was established.
Fans of battle re-enactments have one more big event to look forward to. The Battle of Austerlitz is staged near Brno, south Moravia, with commemorative events from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1.
Stephan Delbos contributed to this report
Raymond Johnston can be reached at
Tags: Bilá Hora, White Mountain, Thirty Year's War, re-enactment.