Battle of White Mountain Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In the first truly decisive battle of the Thirty Years’ War, the Protestant revolt in Bohemia came to an ignominious end when the combined forces of the Holy Roman Empire and the Catholic League overwhelmed the Bohemian rebels.

Summary of Event

The Thirty Years’ War Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) began in 1618 with a Bohemian revolt against the authoritarian rule of the Holy Roman Empire. The kingdom of Bohemia Bohemia was one of more than three hundred principalities and cities within the predominantly Germanic empire, which was divided along religious lines—Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvinist. The Treaty of Augsburg (1555) had allowed Catholic and Lutheran princes to determine an established church, but the Calvinists had no legal recognition. In 1608, a group of Protestant rulers formed the Evangelical Union Evangelical Union to defend their interests, and this encouraged the creation of the opposition, the Catholic League Catholic League , the following year. [kw]Battle of White Mountain (Nov. 8, 1620) [kw]White Mountain, Battle of (Nov. 8, 1620) Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Nov. 8, 1620: Battle of White Mountain[0860] Religion and theology;Nov. 8, 1620: Battle of White Mountain[0860] Bohemia;Nov. 8, 1620: Battle of White Mountain[0860] White Mountain, Battle of (1620)

Before 1618, the kingdom of Bohemia had enjoyed more religious toleration than most other areas in the empire. About two-thirds of the population was Protestant Protestantism;Bohemia , and it included Lutherans, Calvinists, and followers of Jan Hus (1372-1415), a Bohemian reformer. The Catholic minority included many prominent nobles. King Matthias Matthias (Holy Roman Emperor) , who was also Holy Roman Emperor, disliked the idea of religious diversity, but he felt too weak to enforce uniformity. When the aging and childless king was in bad health, the Bohemian diet proclaimed in 1617 that the next king would be Ferdinand of Styria, who had a record of keeping non-Catholics from living in his duchies.

Almost immediately, Ferdinand Ferdinand II (Holy Roman Emperor) , with Matthias’s blessings, began efforts to re-Catholicize Bohemia and to consolidate powers of the Crown Catholicism;Bohemia . On May 23, 1618, Protestant nobles in the kingdom expressed their displeasure by hurling two imperial commissioners (Catholics) from a window of the Prague Castle, an act known as the Defenestration of Prague Defenestration of Prague (1618) . Protestant estates of Bohemia would further defy the Crown by appointing their own local administrators, setting up a national militia, and seeking assistance from neighboring states of the empire. Matthias was slow to react.

After Matthias died in March of 1619, Ferdinand succeeded him as both king of Bohemia and the Holy Roman Emperor. In July, pro-Protestant representatives of Bohemia, Moravia, Lusatia, and Silesia agreed to an Act of Confederation Confederation, Act of (1619) . Among the terms, the signatories pledged to continue Bohemia’s policy of religious toleration and its tradition of an elective monarchy. They planned to finance the confederation with confiscated properties of the Crown and the Catholic Church. In August, 1619, a new Diet of the Bohemian kingdom met and formally repudiated the Habsburg succession. On August 26, the Diet offered the throne to a fervent German Protestant, Frederick V Frederick V (king of Bohemia) , elector of the Palatinate.

Frederick accepted the crown and arrived in Prague in October after being encouraged by his adviser, Christian of Anhalt Christian of Anhalt , a firm Calvinist and skilled diplomat. Meanwhile, rebel and imperial armies fought inconclusive battles at the Vyšši Brod pass in southern Bohemia. Frederick was hoping for significant financial and military assistance from the Protestant Union and from his father-in-law, James I James I (king of England);Thirty Years’ War , the king of England. However, the Protestant Union and the English king, given the military balance, were unprepared to promise any significant assistance. The Dutch and the duke of Savoy agreed to provide some military support, amounting to about seven thousand soldiers. Frederick also made an alliance with Prince Gabriel Bethlen Bethlen, Gabriel of Transylvania, who invaded Hungary.

Emperor Ferdinand was much more successful in his search for allies. Many rulers feared that the spirit of revolt would spread if the Bohemians prevailed, and conservative Catholics were further motivated by the religious issue. Philip III Philip III (king of Spain) gave assistance to Ferdinand from the inception of the Bohemian revolt, and in early 1620, he committed twelve thousand elite Spanish troops to the cause. Likewise, Maximilian Maximilian I (elector of Bavaria) of Bavaria, the head of the Catholic League, agreed to send money and troops in exchange for territorial compensation and the title of elector. The Lutheran elector of Saxony, John George I John George I , also supported Ferdinand because of his disdain for Calvinism and his desire for additional territory.

On April 30, 1620, the emperor ordered Frederick to leave Bohemia. Spanish general Ambrogio Spinola Spinola, Ambrogio led his troops into Frederick’s most prized territory, the Lower Palatinate on the left bank of the Rhine River. Imperial forces then moved into Hungary to oppose Gabriel Bethlen. Frederick’s hopes that the Protestant Union Protestant Union might enter the fighting were dashed on July 2, when it agreed to an armistice with the Catholic League in the Treaty of Ulm Ulm, Treaty of (1620) . By early September, Catholic League troops under Count Johan Tserclaes Tilly Tilly, Count Johan Tserclaes had suppressed most supporters of the rebels in Austria. The Saxons also captured rebel strongholds in Lusatia.

On September 20, the imperial coalition, which was organized into two professional armies, crossed the Bohemian border. The army of the Holy Roman Empire, commanded by General Karel Bonaventura Buquoy, Buquoy, Karel Bonaventura had about fifteen thousand soldiers. The Catholic League’s army, led by Tilly, numbered about ten thousand, and their strategy was to concentrate on capturing Prague and then pacifying the rest of the country. The outnumbered Bohemians were unable to stop the march toward Prague, where Christian of Anhalt Christian of Anhalt commanded about fifteen thousand soldiers, including many Bohemian volunteers with little training. When Christian learned that the enemy was approaching, he led his forces outside the city to intercept the invaders.

On November 8, 1620, the two opposing armies faced each other on White Mountain, which is really a large hill on the western outskirts of Prague. Anhalt’s army occupied a favorable defensive position on high ground. His right flank was protected by a hunting castle, and his left flank was covered by a large brook. Tilly ordered his well-trained and well-equipped soldiers to attack the center of the enemy line directly. Within two hours, the imperial forces had won a decisive victory, and the rebels were fleeing in all directions. Frederick, learning of the defeat, went into exile in the Netherlands, where he would live for the remainder of his life.

Imperial soldiers looted Bohemia and summarily executed an unknown number of suspected rebels without trials. In a public ceremony, twenty-seven leaders of the rebellion were beheaded in Prague’s Old Town Square. The rector of Prague University, Jan Jesensky, Jesensky, Jan and others were cruelly tortured before being killed. The heads of twelve of those executed were displayed on the tower of the Charles Bridge for ten years. The property belonging to supporters of the rebellion, whatever their social status, was confiscated and sold cheaply to Catholic loyalists. About three-quarters of the privately owned land changed hands.


The Battle of White Mountain marked the end of the Bohemian rebellion. Ferdinand unleashed the forces of the Counter-Reformation Counter-Reformation[CounterReformation] . He issued a royal decree giving Protestants the choice of conversion to Catholicism or banishment from Bohemia. About one-fifth of the nobles and burghers of the kingdom chose to move elsewhere. Many outstanding intellectuals, such as historian Pavel Stransky and Humanist Jan Komensk settled in Holland. Prague University was transformed into a Jesuit seminary. For a time, all Bohemian books published between 1414 and 1620 were prohibited.

With military control over Bohemia, Ferdinand greatly limited the kingdom’s autonomy and integrated its institutions into those of the Holy Roman Empire. The Czech chancellery was moved to Vienna and then given additional powers in a new Land Constitution. The powers of the Bohemian diet were severely curtailed. Although retaining the right to veto taxes, the diet only was allowed to deliberate on matters proposed by the king. It also lost its longstanding right to assent to each new king. Decisions of Bohemian courts could henceforth be appealed to the high courts in Vienna.

Ferdinand’s conquest of Bohemia did not end the Thirty Years’ War. The fighting moved to Denmark and then into northern Germany. Imperial forces began to suffer major defeats after 1631, and the destructive war would continue until 1648, ending with the Peace of Westphalia.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bonney, Richard. Thirty Years’ War, 1618-1648. Oxford, England: Osprey, 2002. A helpful summary of the war in less than one hundred pages.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Guthrie, William P. Battles of the Thirty Years’ War: From White Mountain to Nordlingen, 1618-1635. Contributions in Military Studies 213. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2003. This volume describes the battles fought in the early years of the war, with detailed accounts of their armies, strategies, weapons, leadership, and unforeseen developments.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Langer, Herbert. The Thirty Years’ War. Poole, England: Blandford Press, 1978. This book is actually an account of European cultural and political history during the war years, an includes abundant illustrations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mortimer, Geoff. Eyewitness Accounts of the Thirty Years’ War, 1618-48. New York: Macmillan, 2004. An interesting account based on diaries, memoirs, and chronicles of citizens and soldiers who witnessed the war.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Parker, Geoffrey. The Thirty Years’ War. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 1997. A clearly written survey that describes major personalities and emphasizes the horrors of the war.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sayer, Derek. The Coasts of Bohemia: A Czech History. Translated by Alena Sayer. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000. Taking its title from a Shakespeare play, this lively account emphasizes Bohemia’s central place in European conflicts. The Czech author is highly critical of Ferdinand’s religious policies after 1620.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Teich, Mikulas, ed. Bohemia in History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. A collection of excellent essays, including one devoted to the theme of the White Mountain battle “as a symbol of modern Czech history.”
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wedgwood, C. V. The Thirty Years’ War. 2d ed. London: Jonathan Cape, 1963. A standard narrative account that gives considerable detail about leaders and campaigns.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

The Great Condé; Ferdinand II; Frederick V; Gustavus II Adolphus; James I; Jules Mazarin; Philip III; Samuel von Pufendorf; Cardinal de Richelieu; Lennart Torstenson; Viscount de Turenne; Albrecht Wenzel von Wallenstein. White Mountain, Battle of (1620)

Categories: History