Reenactment of Prague's Battle of White Mountain to mark 400th anniversary

A new parade this year will come ahead of two days of re-enacting the crucial Bohemian battle

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 14.09.2020 14:33 (updated on 14.09.2020)

The Battle of White Mountain took place on the outskirts of Prague 400 years ago, so for this anniversary the annual re-enactment will be a bit bigger this year and will also include a parade.

The battle at the start of the Thirty Years’ War determined Czech history for the next 300 years, and people’s emotions over the event still run high.

The battle itself took place at Bílá Hora (White Mountain) November 6, 1620, but the re-enactment is always in September for practical reasons, as by November it usually too cold to stand outside for hours. The battleground used to be outside the city but is now an easily reachable in a residential area of Prague 6.

On Friday, September 18 at 6 pm, the parade of participants will gather at Písecká brána, near Prague Castle, and the medieval music band Turdus will play at 6:30 pm. The procession will leave at 7 pm and head to Park Maxe van der Stoela.

The re-enactments will take place Saturday and Sunday, September 19–20, on part of the actual battlefield in front of Obora Hvězda, by Vypich or Malý Břevnov tram stops. Gates open at 11 am, and the battle is at 3 pm. Before the battle, there is music, events for kids, a chance to see the soldiers’ camps, and stands with food, drink and souvenirs. Reproduction weapons, wooden toys and games, model soldiers, medieval-style cups, mystical medallions, clothing, beads, and similar items are usually available, as well as beer, honey wine (mead), cooked meat, and sweet treats.

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Cannon squad at White Mountain / via Raymond Johnston

The events of the historical battle of course remain the same, but the details of the staging change slightly every year to emphasize different aspects and create new moments of drama. Narration over loudspeakers is in Czech, but the battle is very visual. A quick look at an online history site should get you up to speed on what will happen — or you can go in cold and let the end of the battle be a surprise.

The area used for the re-enactment will be larger this year, with more soldiers and over 30 horses, according to organizer Tomáš Cholinský. Participants will come from across Europe, and include re-enactors for cavalry, artillery, foot soldiers, clergy, nurses and support staff, and other roles. Women have long been welcome to participate both is soldiers and non-combatants.

The bulk of the action usually takes part in the center of the field, but it does move around so there are no truly bad spots to watch from.

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Hand-to-hand combat at White Mountain / via Raymond Johnston

The organizers point out that they are not celebrating war and militarism, but trying to remind people of historical events and their impact. They want people to understand the role of Bohemia in the broader context of European history. At the same time, they want to support tourism with interesting events.

The battle is tied to another famous event in Prague history, the Second Defenestration. This was when a meeting at Prague Castle ended with representatives of Emperor Ferdinand II, a Catholic, being thrown out of a window in 1618. (This event is also sometimes called the Third Defenestration, as historians argue over the numbering.)

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Cavalry charge at White Mountain / via Raymond Johnston

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The defenestration was followed by the election of Frederick V, a Protestant, as king of Bohemia in 1619. The move further antagonized the Catholic emperor, who sent his imperial troops plus soldiers from the German Catholic League.

The resulting Battle of White Mountain was so short that by the time King Frederick V arrived, it was already over. History remembers him as the Winter King because his reign was so short.

The battle was the beginning of the end for Czech nobility. The loss was followed a year later by the execution of 27 Protestant rebellion leaders in Old Town Square at the hands of the Catholic Hapsburgs. Protestants were forced to either convert to Catholicism or leave the country. Czechs would not be free of foreign rule again until 1918 when the First Republic was established.

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Firing a piano cannon at White Mountain / via Raymond Johnston

A short way from the site of re-enactment, there is a small stone monument marking the event in the middle of a field.

People’s emotions over the battle and subsequent outcome of the Thirty Years’ War war still running high can be seen in the opposition to the replica Marian column recently erected on Prague’s Old Town Square. The original column, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, went up after the war ended to commemorate the Battle of Prague, which happened in 1648. One person, for example, has tried to set the replica on fire.

The main organizer of the battle re-enactment is the Czech group Rytíři Koruny České (Knights of the Bohemian Crown), and the event is put on with the financial support of Prague 6, among others.

This and all events are subject to change at the last minute due to the coronavirus pandemic.

For more information visit the event’s website or Facebook event pages for the parade or battle re-eneactment.