Jeff G.

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Recently, while playing an on-line game of TYW, I decided to see what I could learn about the current condition of the White Mountain battlefield. This decisive Protestant defeat on November 8, 1620 resulted in the swift capture of Prague by Tilly’s and Bucquoy’s Bavarian and Imperial troops and marked the end of the Bohemian revolt and the initial phase of the war. There are extensive and vivid discussions of the battle in both Cecily Wedgwood’s and Peter Wilson’s histories. Wilson’s volume includes an excellent plan of the battle at page 305 (a version of which is readily available on-line). My favorite bit of trivia about the battle is that Rene Descartes served as a military engineer with the Bavarian-Imperial forces there.

White Mountain (or, as Wedgwood perhaps more appropriately calls it, White Hill) was a actually chalk ridge, rising to 60 meters in height, that ran southwest to northeast across what was then the main road leading to Prague from the west. The battlefield was only about 4-5 miles west of Prague’s outer limits in 1620, so it seemed likely that the city had long since expanded across it. That turns out to be true – modern Prague’s western outskirts extend well past the battlefield – but a portion of the site has nevertheless been preserved. With the assistance of the Web, you can easily study the current condition of the battlefield.

The site today lies in Prague’s inner suburbs, about two-and-half miles southeast of Vaclav Havel International Airport (also known as Ruzyne Airport, taking its name from a small village that stood on the left edge of the battle area in 1620). This makes the battlefield a convenient first sightseeing stop for visitors arriving by air. Alternatively, it can be reached by taking Tram lines # 22 or 25 from the city center all the way to the end.

Although the city has grown over and around it and suburban streets run across much of the battlefield, a portion of the central section of the ridge has been protected from development. A modest pyramidal cairn of rough stones was erected there in 1920 on the Tercentenary of the battle, after Czechs regained their independence following the collapse of the Hapsburg monarchy in the final weeks of the First World War.

That modest monument, standing alone, would provide little reason for anyone other than a diehard history buff (or a passionate Czech patriot) to pay a visit to the battlefield. But the right wing of the Protestant/Bohemian forces in 1620 rested upon the highest point of the ridge, which was occupied by a walled imperial hunting preserve established nearly a century earlier by Ferdinand I, who was then an archduke and later ruled as Holy Roman Emperor from 1558 to 1564.

In 1555-58, Ferdinand added to the site’s amenities by building a remarkable structure known as the Star Palace, or Letohradek Hvezda in Czech. This striking and original Renaissance building takes the form of a six-sided hexagram, but the main interior space is dodecagonal (12-sided), while ovals occupy each of the points of the star. The interior is decorated with stucco depictions of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. There are suggestions, which seem reasonable in light of the fact that it was only 5 miles out of town, that it was intended not merely as a hunting lodge, but as a place for meetings of a philosophical discussion group or society.

The very last act in the Battle of White Mountain took place there, as the Austrian and Bavarian forces swept across the ridge and most of the Protestant troops fled in disarray. Surprisingly, Wedgwood and Wilson – excellent historians both – flatly disagree about how it played out. Wedgwood – who seems to be aware of the Park, but perhaps not of the Palace – says that “on the brow of the hill only the Moravian life-guard stood to their places about the walls of the ‘Star’, not a man surrendering.” Wilson reports a less bloody denouement: “A few survivors [of Schlick’s Moravian troops] resisted for another half hour in the Star Palace before surrendering.” Today, the Palace contains a small exhibit about the battle.

For images and a more detailed description of the Star Palace:

You can also find pictures of the palace's interior, and a cutaway model, on Flickr.

For an aerial view and the battle site as a whole, including the memorial cairn (which is located in the middle of the cultivated field to the southwest of the Palace) [you can move your cursor around to view the entire area]:

For an image of the memorial cairn:

And here’s a link to the White Mountain battlefield map from Saints in Armor (the Star Palace hunting park is on the right-hand side of the map):

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