pope martin v

The battle of Vitkov Hill - stand of the 100

The Battle of Vítkov Hill was a part of the Hussite Wars, where the Holy Roman Empire and various Papal forces sought to crush the proto-Protestant followers of reformer Jan Hus. The battle pitted four thousand knights commanded by Sigismund, Holy Roman Emperor against just a hundred Hussites under command of Jan Žižka. Vítkov Hill was located on the edge of the city of Prague and the battle occurred in a vineyard established by Sigismund’s father, Charles IV. The battle ended with a decisive Hussite victory.

On 1 March 1420, Pope Martin V published a papal bull in which he ordered that Sigismund and all Eastern princes had to organize a crusade against the Hussite followers of the reformers John Hus, John Wycliffe and other “heretics.” A crusader force moved to recapture Hussite-controlled Prague.

The siege began on 12 June. The crusaders’ forces, in the opinions of the chroniclers, consisted of 100-200 thousand soldiers. In the opinions of modern historians they probably had 3-4 thousand. One of the most important points in the fortifications of Prague was Vítkov Hill. The fortifications on this hill secured roads on the crusaders’ supply lines. The fortifications themselves were made from timber but they were consolidated with a stone and clay wall and with moats. On the southern part of the hill there was a standing tower, the northern part was secured by a steep cliff. The fortifications were said to be defended by 26 men and three women, though in the opinion of J. Durdik, it was probably about 60 soldiers. On 13 July, the Crusader’s cavalry crossed the river Vltava and began to mount repeated attacks, all of which were resisted. On 14 July, Hussite relief troops surprised the knights through the vineyards on the southern side of the hill on which the battle was fought. The violent attack forced the crusaders down the steep northern cliff. Panic spread among the crusaders, which made them rout the field. During the retreat, many knights drowned in the Vltava. 

In honour of this battle, Vítkov Hill was renamed Žižkov after Jan Žižka, the commander of its defenders. As a consequence of the Hussite victory on Vítkov, the crusaders lost any hope of starving the city into submission and their army disintegrated. The National Monument exists today on the hill and as of 2003 local officials have been attempting to replant the vineyard. Ultimately the Hussites were victorious, and the Hussite church became free from Papal control.

On October 23 1295 the “Auld Alliance” treaty was signed between John Balliol, King of Scots, and Philippe IV of France.

The history of the old alliance between France and Scotland, better known as the “Auld Alliance”, is unique in the history of nations because there is no equivalence in terms of duration and intensty.

The formal part of this alliance is mainly linked to a succession of military treaties, renewed reign after reign (20 times between 1326 and 1558). The culmination was during the Hundred Years War and particularly with the Scots troops who disembarked at la Rochelle (up to 30 000 soldiers) in the period 1419-1429 and played a major role, beside the dauphin Charles and Joan of Arc, in the recovery of the French territory.

But in 1295, date of the oldest treaty recorded in Paris National Archives, the name was already “Auld Alliance”, and this shows that this alliance was far older. Some historians claim that it went back to the VIII th century with Charles Martel and Charlemagne. Legend suggests the Auld Alliance (or Vieille Alliance if you are French) originated in 809, when a Scots king named Achaius or Eochaid allegedly agreed to help Charlemagne fight the Saxons.

This alliance also had cultural and commercial aspects. The Scottish students went to French universities such as Paris, Orléans, Bourges, Montpellier, and the first Scottish universities, Saint Andrews and Aberdeen, were designed upon French university model.

By the XVIth century and through general letters of naturality, granted by kings of France and kings of Scots, French and Scots living abroad had dual nationality.

Scotland was at that time one of the major commercial partners of France, especially regarding the Bordeaux wine called “Claret”, and had a low tax status.

Nowadays France is a major commercial partner for Scotland especially concerning Scotch Whisky.

Over the centuries and still today, France and Scotland have enjoyed strong connections, recently demonstrated by numerous French and Scottish twined towns. My own home town of Loanhead is twinned with Dalum, a town in Denmark, but not many will know that it is also twinned with Harnes in northern France, which also has a strong mining tradition.

Some quotes about the Auld Alliance.

After the Battle of Baugé during the 100 year war in which the Earl of Buchan led a Scots-French army to victory Pope Martin V passed comment by reiterating a common medieval saying, that “Verily, the Scots are well-known as an antidote to the English.”

In 1525, the French Regent Louise de Savoie, Duchesse d’Angouleme, wrote a letter to the Estates of Scotland expressing “the ancient and inviolable love, alliance, federation and affinity, which has been from the earliest times, and is now, between the House of France and that of Scotland.”

And in 1472, Alain Chartier, Chancellor of Bayeux, hoping to unite the countries through the marriage of the dauphin to the daughter of James I, gave the following speech: “We have tested the faith of the Scots in adverse times - a faithful nation, a people most worthy of friendship and renown, tried in manhood, whom we cannot honour enough or praise worthily. Nor is the league between us written in parchment of sheepskin, but rather in the flesh and skin of men, traced not in ink but in blood shed in many places.”

Just over half a 500 years later, in a speech given in Edinburgh in 1942, Charles de Gaulle, leader of the free French, referred to what he believed was ‘the oldest alliance in the world’: “In every combat where for five centuries the destiny of France was at stake, there were always men of Scotland to fight side by side with men of France, and what Frenchmen feel is that no people has ever been more generous than yours with its friendship.” Now, in a world riven by those who would see such unity destroyed and people driven by hatred, it is perhaps most important to remember the spirit of such long lasting friendships. For in these things, people bring out the best in each other.“