The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe/Volume 3/The Safe-conduct given to Master John Huss

2948766The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe, Volume 3 — The Safe-conduct given to Master John HussJohn Foxe

The Safe-conduct given to Master John Huss.

Sigismund by the grace of God king of the Romans, of Hungary and Denmark, Croatia, &c. To all princes, as well ecclesiastical as secular, dukes, marquisses and earls, barons, captains, borough-masters, judges and governors, officers of towns, burgages, and villages, and unto all riders of the commonalty; and generally, to all the subjects of our empire, to whom these letters shall come, grace and all goodness.

The safe conduct given to Master John Huss.We charge and command you all, that you have respect unto John Huss, conduct who is departed out of Bohemia, to come unto the general council, which shall be celebrated and holden very shortly at the town of Constance. The which John Huss we have received under our protection, and safeguard of the whole empire, desiring you that you will cheerfully receive him when he shall come towards you, and that you entreat and handle him gently, showing him favour and good will, and show him pleasure in all things, as touching the forwardness, ease, and assurance of his journey, as well by land as by water.

Moreover, we will, that he and all his company, with his carriage and necessaries, shall pass throughout all places, passages, ports, bridges, lands, governances, lordships, liberties, cities, towns, burgages, castles and villages, and all other your dominions, without paying of any manner of imposition or Danemoney, peage, tribute, or any other manner of toll, whatsoever it be. We will also, that you suffer him to pass, rest, tarry, and to sojourn at liberty, without doing unto him any manner of impeachment, or vexation, or trouble; and that if need shall so reqiure, you do provide a faithful company to conduct him withal, for the honour and reverence which you owe unto our imperial majesty. Given at Spires, the eighteenth of October, in the year of our Lord God, 1414.

By this it may appear, that this safe conduct was granted not in the time of the council, by the bishops, but before the council, by the emperor, who was or ought to be the principal ordainer and director of the council under God. Now, whether the bishops did well in breaking and annulling this promise of the emperor, against the emperor's mind, because the discussion thereof belongeth 'ad materiam juris, non facti,' being a matter rather of law than of story, I will defer to reason this case with Master Cope, to such time as may be more convenient to the full tractation thereof.

Notwithstanding, briefly to touch and pass, let us consider part of the reasons of the said Cope,[1] how frivolous and false they be, and easy to be refelled. Answer to Copus."What," saith he, "if he preached by the way coming up?" First, that it is false, see hereafter. "What," saith he, "if he stood obstinate in his heresy" "what if he sought to escape away after his coming up?" To this the lords of Bohemia do answer: That this safe conduct was broken, and he imprisoned not only before he attempted to escape, or before he was condemned for a heretic, but also before he was heard of the council what he was.[2] Vide infra.

Further, where Cope saith, that the general council was above the emperor, and hath power in case of heresy to break public leagues and grants: to that I say, that this safe conduct stood not only upon the emperor, but also upon the consent of the pope himself. Vide infra.

And admit that to be true, that the council had power to make this decree, to break promise with heretics; yet this cannot be denied, but that John Huss was condemned and judged before that decree in the nineteenth session was made. Finally, when Cope hath proved by what Scripture the councils have power to defeat the authority of their emperors in such secular causes touching safe conducts and outward safety, then will I answer him more fully herein. But to the purpose again of the story.

John Huss taketh the emperor's safe conduct.John Huss seeing so many fair promises, and the assurance which the emperor had given to him, sent answer unto the emperor, that he would come unto the council. But before he departed out of the realm of Bohemia, and especially out of the town of Prague, he did safe write certain bills long enough before, as well in Latin as in the Bohemian language and Almain, and caused them to be set and fastened upon the gates of the cathedral churches and parish churches, cloisters and abbeys, signifying unto them all, that he would go to the general council at Constance; whereof, if any man have any suspicion of his doctrine, that he should declare it before the lord Conrad, archbishop of Prague; or, if he had rather, at the general council, for there he would render and give up unto every one, and before them all, an account and reason of his faith. The example of his letters and intimations set up, were these, the copy whereof here followeth:

  1. Alanus Copus, p. 929.
  2. Dr. Milner, in his "Letters to a Prebendary," p. 80, remarks: "The safe-conduct of John Huss was nothing more than a common travelling passport, to protect him from seizure or violence, on his journey to and from the council." To this it may he answered, that "common travelling passports" were not in general use for more than three hundred years after this event: that it was not essential for John Huss to provide himself with one: and that, when granted, they were peculiar and special privileges, and, in every sense of the word, "safe-conducts," extended to travellers, when their rank, the importance of their embassage, or the peculiar nature of the times, demanded for them a special pledge of protection. Besides, if it be admitted, by the above Roman catholic writer, that the safe-conduct secured to John Huss protection on his journey from the council (of which, though evident in itself, the safe-conduct makes no mention), it must also be inferred that it remained in force during his stay at Constance, nor can it be denied but that the violation of it, in his condemnation and martyrdom, was an act of the grossest treachery.—Ed.