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CHAPTER XII

THE HUSSITE WARS

It would be impossible to realise the importance of Hus in the world's history if we dealt of the events of his life independently of those of the subsequent Hussite wars. In a passage which I have previously quoted, Palacky has pointed out how comparatively unimportant would have been the place of Hus in history had not the unrivalled bravery of the Bohemian people and the genius of leaders such as Zizka enabled Bohemia to beat back the united forces of almost all Europe, which endeavoured to crush the religious movement in the country. Though Palacky died more than thirty years ago, no other writer has since his time more clearly grasped the real character of the Hussite wars than he did. In one of his controversial writings, he says: One school of historians to which I have the honour to belong has maintained that the Hussite war is the first war in the world's history that was fought, not for material interests, but for intellectual ones, that is to say, for ideas. This ideal standpoint was so seriously and so sincerely maintained by the Bohemians that when victorious they never attempted to replace it by a more interested policy. It is true that during the war they forced foreign communities to pay taxes and an annual tribute to them; but they never thought of subduing them, or of extending their dominion over foreign lands—a thing that under the circumstances of the time would not have been difficult. I know that among the modern school of German historians there are persons who attribute this attitude mainly to the incapacity of the ancient Bohemians, and who with brutal derision attempt

1 Die Geschichte des Hussitenthums und Profssor Constantin Höfler. I have here only been able to allude briefly to this brilliant passage. Those interested in the matter will find a translation of a considerable part of it in my Lectures on the Historians of Bohemia, pp. 103-105. Palacky uses the somewhat contemptuous German word, Subjecte.

to deduce from it their racial inferiority. I leave it to a more enlightened posterity to decide what conduct is nearer to barbarism —that of the disinterested victor, or that of the imperious and rapacious conqueror. Two centuries later the enemies, after one victory—that of the White Mountain-certainly acted differently, and endeavoured in every way to use their victory for the purpose of material gain. Was their conduct nobler and more Christian? As to the Hussites, they never during their prolonged and heroic struggle ceased to consider it and to term it a struggle for the liberty of God's word. .

This feeling here so finely expressed by a man of learning is innate in the mass of the Bohemian people; it is as strong in the peasant or workman as in the Bohemian scholar who has studied the annals of his country. “The Hussite battles, as Dr. Gindely 1 wrote, “ were fought for a national cause; poets and painters chose them as their subject, the most stirring popular songs date from this time; the names of the leaders of this movement have lingered in the memory of the people; the name of no Bohemian king is as familiar to them as that of the blind leader of the Hussite armies. 2 The violent destruction of the national constitution by Ferdinand II., the sufferings which the country endured during the Austrian war of succession at the hand of Prussians, Bavarians and Frenchmen, events that occurred but one or two centuries ago, are forgotten. On all these occasions the peasant was a mere sufferer, he was deprived of his religious convictions or of his worldly goods, but he never defended himself. In the Hussite wars he had himself been a good fighter, he had been a victorious warrior, and his flail and fighting club had successfully beaten back the enemies of his country and his faith.

Though the Bohemians were, even after the execution of Hus, reluctant to separate entirely from the Western Church, the eventsthat followed the death of the master led inevitably to that result. The treacherous conduct of the council and particularly of Sigismund,

Abridged from Dr. Gindely, Geschichte der Ertheilung des böhmischen Majestätsbriefes, pp. 116–117.

* Zizka.

1

the heir to the throne, caused general and vehement indignation in Bohemia. If civil war did not immediately break out in the country, this must be attributed to the attitude of King Venceslas, and more particularly of his queen. Queen Sophia openly expressed her indignation at the treatment of her former chaplain, and Venceslas made no secret of the displeasure which the treachery of his brother, and the conduct of the Bohemian priests who had so fiercely attacked Hus, caused him. No doubt forseeing this, John “the iron,” the wealthy Bishop of Litomysl, who had been the leader of the adversaries of Hus, addressed a letter 1 to King Venceslas on July 11, only a few days after the death of the master. He had heard, he wrote, that many said that he had acted at Constance in a manner hostile to Venceslas and to Bohemia; he begged the king to place no faith in such reports, and declared that he had sought only the king's advantage and the honour of the country.

This letter formed the beginning of an extensive correspondence between the members of the council and Sigismund on one hand, the Bohemians on the other; this correspondence had, however, but little influence on the course of events. The national movement soon assumed a somewhat revolutionary, though as yet by no means anti-dynastic character. Some of the nobles and knights connected with the court of King Venceslas were indeed among

the leaders of the movement. Together with a large part of the nobles of Moravia the Bohemian nobles met at Prague on September 2, 1515. They drew up a solemn protest,” which they forwarded to the council. The document said: “ Master John Hus was a good, just and catholic man, who lived in our kingdom for many years and was favourably known, because of his good conduct, pure life and fame; in a truly catholic manner he taught us and our subjects 3 the law of scripture and of the holy prophets, expounding

1 Palacky, Documenta, pp. 563-565.

* The document from which I extract this passage is well known under the name of the Protestatio Bohemorum. It has been printed by Von der Hardt, Löder, and more recently by Palacky. Löder states that his edition was from a manuscript preserved at Edinburgh of which a copy existed at Oxford. (See my Bohemia, a Historical Sketch, p. 140, n.)

32.e. the tenants on the estates of the Bohemian nobles.

the books of both the Old and New Testament, according to the teaching of the holy doctors, of whom the church approves. He preached much and left many writings, and he consistently detested all errors and heresies, and continuously and faithfully admonished us and all the faithful in Christ also to detest them; he also by his words, writings and deeds exhorted us, as far as it was in his power, to preserve peace and charity. We have never heard, nor been able to understand-in spite of all the attention which we gave to the matter—that the said Master John Hus ever taught any errors or heresies in his speeches, or preached or asserted such matters in any fashion whatever, or that he scandalised by word or deed us or our subjects in any way. Living piously and gently in Christ he both by word and deed strove most diligently to conform to the evangelical law and the teaching of the holy fathers, for the edification of the holy mother the church, and for the salvation of his fellow-men.” This valuable document clearly expresses the opinion which the more intellectual and more pious of his countrymen formed of Hus's life and teaching immediately after his death. The letter ends with what may again be considered a covert threat to Sigismund. The nobles declared that any one who should affirm that heresies had sprung up in Bohemia or Moravia should be considered the worst of traitors unless such statements should be made by Sigismund, the heir and successor to the throne, whom, however, the nobles hoped and believed not to be guilty of such an offence. This was undoubtedly a prelude to the subsequent deposition of Sigismund. This protest, which bore the seals of four hundred and fifty-two nobles and knights of Bohemia and Moravia, was forwarded to Constance, and caused great indignation and some consternation among the members of the council.

The Bohemian patriots were far too shrewd not to perceive the grave danger to which their bold attitude exposed them. Only three days after their letter of defiance had been sent to Constance, they bound themselves by a solemn covenant 1 to unite in the

1 Known as “ Pactio multorum baronum Bohemiae et Moraviae de tuenda libera verbi Dei praedicatione contemnendisque excommunicationibus injustis ” (Palacky, Documenta, pp. 590-595).

defence of freedom of thought and in resistance to arbitrary and unjust excommunications. They decided to send to Constance envoys that were to complain of the murder of Hus. They maintained the right, and even the duty of the priests on their estates to preach the word of God freely and truly in accordance with the teaching of Scripture. Should a priest be by his bishop hindered from acting in this manner, the rector, doctors, and magisters of the theological faculty of the University of Prague were to act as arbiters. Should a pope at a later period be elected, lawfully and according to the ancient regulations, they would send representatives to him who were to complain of the injury done to Bohemia by the false accusation of heresy, which had been brought against the country. They finally pledged themselves to defend by all means the principles contained in their declaration, and resolved that a committee of three-consisting of two Bohemian and one Moravian noblemen-should be intrusted with the organisation of the defence of the country, should it be attacked.

The confederated nobles invited King Venceslas to join them, but in consideration of his brother, whom he feared even more than he hated him, he declined, probably against the advice of the good Queen Sophia. Soon afterwards the lords favourable to the cause of Rome, who were not numerous, but among whom were some of the most powerful nobles, also formed a confederacy whose members pledged themselves to continue obedient to the universal church and to the council.

Sigismund at this moment displayed a great literary activity, perhaps still hoping to avert war with Bohemia. He had left Constance for a time and proceeded to Paris, from where he sent two letters to Bohemia, both dated March 21, 1416. The one was addressed to the utraquist nobles. As communion in the two kinds was one of the principal tenets of the national party in Bohemia, they began at this time to be generally known as utraquists. The letter certainly bears witness to the excessive perfidy and falseness of Sigismund, on which most historians have not laid

1 Both these letters are printed by Palacky, Documenta, pp. 609-615.

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