In the fifteenth century, Bohemia, the westernmost lands of the present day Czech Republic, experienced a spiritual reformation, blessed by leaders such as John Hus. Hus’s teachings continued to spread following his martyrdom, which troubled the Roman Catholic church greatly.
By the early seventeenth century, the teachings of Calvin and Luther had spread throughout Europe. In Bohemia, large populations of Protestants (estimated at nine-tenths of the population) enjoyed varying levels of religious freedom and even built churches on royal lands, even though the country remained under Catholic Hapsburg rule.
The beginning of the end took place when the Bohemian crown went to Ferdinand II. Ferdinand was described as a “devoted pupil” of the Jesuits who vowed to stamp out the Protestant “heretics” in Bohemia. He desired absolutest rule over the Bohemians and planned to force them back into the Catholic fold. The Protestants refused to recognize Ferdinand as their king and instead chose Frederick, the count palatine of the Rhine and a Calvinist, as the king of Bohemia.
Tensions ran high and in 1618, word spread that the Protestant churches in Prague were marked for destruction and religious freedom was about to be snuffed out. Two of the kings advisors, staunch Roman Catholics, were suspected of villainy and summarily thrown out the windows of the Hradčany (castle). Strangely, they fell into a dung pile and survived. This event was labeled the Defenestration of Prague and marks the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War.
Sides were drawn and armies formed by 1620. The Catholic counter-reformation forces were seasoned soldiers, led by strong military leadership. (It’s interesting to note that René Descartes served with the Catholic forces as an official observer.)
The Protestant army took their position on White Mountain, an advantageous location, but time was not on their side. They had lost many soldiers in the weeks leading up to the battle, so the Imperial forces held the advantage.