The letters of John Hus/Inquisition at Work; Commision Appointed; "A Dozen Masters"

The Commission to which Hus alludes in the following letter was a Commission of three inquisitors—the Patriarch of Constantinople, Hus’s courier the Bishop of Lebus, and Bishop Bernard of Citta di Castello, who had met Jerome at Cracow in the spring of 1413, and procured, as we have seen (p. 134), his expulsion from that city. These the Council had appointed, immediately on Hus’s arrest, to examine him. By these three, ‘together with their notaries and witnesses,’ Hus was repeatedly visited in prison and questioned. The prosecutors, especially, Palecz and Michael, were unsparing in their labours. ‘I should be glad,’ said Michael, spurring on a reluctant witness, ‘to bear evidence against my own father if he were a heretic.’ Michael’s spies, as Hus complains, were everywhere ‘finding out letters and other evidence.’ To what Hus alludes in his statement about the ‘dozen masters’ it is difficult to say. Wylie[1] and others have taken Hus to mean that the inquisitors offered him a dozen masters to plead his case. But the defence of a prisoner was a thing absolutely forbidden, as Lea[2] has shown, and would never have been allowed. In fact, as Hus tells us (p. 179), a proctor was expressly refused. We incline to think that there is here some confusion in allusion to the Commission of twelve, that according to Cerretanus (reported in Hardt, iv. 23) was appointed to try Hus on December 1. At the head of this Commission were Cardinals D’Ailli, Zabarella, and Fillastre. With them were associated ‘six other learned men.’ This Commission seems to have delegated the actual work to the Commission of three, who, if my interpretation be correct, spent much time in pleading with Hus to waive his claim to a hearing before the whole Council, and recognise the jurisdiction of the twelve. If so the word ‘masters’ is used contemptuously. In support of this the reader will note the last clauses of the second paragraph.

  1. Council of Constance, p. 148.
  2. Lea, Hist. Inquis. in Middle Ages, i. c. xi.