The letters of John Hus/The Later Career of Wyche; The Troubles of Hus; etc.

What became of Wyche we know not for certain. He is usually assumed to have been the same Wyche who many years afterwards was first degraded, then burnt on Tower Hill (August 2, 1439), and to whose tomb, as Foxe tells us, the Londoners made pilgrimage, accounting him a prophet and a holy man. ‘So they upreared a great heap of stones and set up a cross there by night.’ This Richard Wyche, as we learn from the writ prohibiting the pilgrimages, ‘did long since heretically hold, teach, and publicly preach certain heresies in many places, and being judicially convicted did before a judge abjure all heresy generally.’ If this Richard Wyche was the same as the author of this letter, he must have been, at the time of his burning, a very old man—too old, in fact, to have been, as Hus assumes, the actual companion of Wyclif.

We resume our narrative of the events at Prague from the burning of the books of Wyclif to the close of the struggle of Hus and Archbishop Zbinek. As the letter which Hus wrote to Wyche shows, the reformer had found powerful adherents at court. He soon needed their help. On August 25, 1410, Oddo Colonna, the future Martin V., to whom John had handed over the appeal of Hus, decided against him and urged the Archbishop to proceed against the Wyclifists with all severity, ‘calling in, if need be, the help of the secular arm.’ A vigorous protest was at once made by Wenzel (September 12) and Queen Sophie (September 16), by certain barons of the realm, and by the magistrates of Prague, whose rights in the Bethlehem Chapel were at stake. These protests Wenzel despatched to the Pope by Antonio of Monte Catino, whom John had sent to Prague to notify his accession to the Papacy. Zbinek showed his contempt by at once making the process against Hus absolute (September 24), while on October 1 Colonna cited Hus to Bologna, where the Curia was then resident. Hearing of this intended step, Wenzel and Sophie once more protested. The envoys of Wenzel, John Cardinalis of Reinstein and Dr. Naas, were instructed to obtain from John the release of Hus, ‘our faithful and beloved chaplain,’ from the personal citation, ‘on account of the perils of the road and the danger from Hus’s enemies.’ The case, they pleaded, should be tried before the University of Prague. At the same time Wenzel gave orders that ‘Master Hus, our faithful, devout, and beloved chaplain,’ should ‘be allowed to preach the word of God in peace.’ At Rome the royal interference proved useless; the influence, or rather the gifts, of Zbinek[1] prevailed. Hus had neglected to repair to Bologna in person, sending there instead his proctors, John of Jesenicz and two other theologians. These John flung into prison, while in February 1411 Colonna placed Hus under excommunication. On March 15 this was read in all the churches of Prague, with two exceptions. One of these was the Church of St. Michael’s, the vicar of which was Christian Prachaticz. But Hus met the excommunication with defiance.

Meanwhile in Bohemia the excitement was intense, as Hus owns—‘riots, hatreds, and murders.’ As Prague still persisted in its writ of sequestration against the property of Zbinek for the burning of the books, the Archbishop retorted by an interdict on the city and surrounding country (May 2, 1411). Prague, following the lead of Hus, treated the matter with indifference. The goods of the priests who obeyed were seized; they themselves cast into prison or banished. Nobles, burghers, and king joined hands in the spoliation of the Church. The Archbishop had already fled, leaving the treasury of the Cathedral to be pillaged by his foes (May 6). By June 18 few priests were left in Prague, save the followers of Hus.

But Wenzel and Zbinek were anxious for peace. Both realised that they had gone too far. Wenzel perceived that the struggle over religion was an injury to his political projects: Pope John on his part was willing to throw over Zbinek if he could win over to his side Sigismund, who showed signs of a reconciliation with Gregory, or save Wenzel from defection. So in June 1411 Stephen Palecz, who seems at this time to have occupied a middle position, conveniently showed cause why the interdict should be removed, ‘now that the Archbishop was better informed.’ On July 3 the case between the University and the Archbishop was placed in the hands of a court of arbitration, chiefly laymen of the highest rank. At the head of these were two strangers, the Elector Rudolph of Saxony and Stibor, waywode or military governor of Transylvania, who were present in Prague on a mission from Sigismund. With these were associated Wenzel, Patriarch of Antioch, and Conrad Vechta, Bishop of Olmütz. Among the lesser men who were present we mark with interest John of Chlum and Wenzel de Duba. After three days’ deliberation the court decided that Zbinek should despatch to the Pope an assurance that there were no heretics in Bohemia, and obtain the removal of all excommunications. The King on his part must restore the Archbishop’s property and release the imprisoned clergy. Hus furthered the peace by reading before the University on September 1 a letter to John, in which he declared that he had never forsaken the doctrines of the Church. On the request of Hus and with the consent of the rector, his friend Simon of Tissnow, the letter was stamped with the University seal, and inscribed in its records ‘for greater proof of the same.’ Hus further wrote a letter to the cardinals in the same tenor. Both of these letters, which display considerable political adroitness, especially in the sly hint that the origin of all the trouble is Hus’s adhesion to the Pisan Council, have been preserved for us, though whether they were ever forwarded appears more than doubtful. The draft of Zbinek’s letter also still exists. It states that, ‘after making diligent inquisition, I can discover no heresies in Bohemia. The dispute between Hus, the University, and myself has been settled.’ This letter certainly was never sent. Fresh disputes broke out which led Zbinek to appeal to Sigismund (September 5). He complained that for five weeks he had lingered at Prague ‘at great expense’ in the vain hope of an audience with Wenzel. The royal promises were still unfulfilled, the reign of terror still continued, and ‘foul lampoons against himself were still circulated.’ On his way to the court of Sigismund, Zbinek suddenly died at Pressburg (September 28, 1411). He was succeeded by an old man even weaker than himself, Wenzel’s physician, Albik of Unicow (October 29, 1411). The reign of this ‘greedy German’ was not long. He soon exchanged his difficult post with his suffragan, the Bishop of Olmütz, and retired (February 12, 1413) to a less thorny benefice, the titular bishopric of Kaisarije in Palestine.

With this introduction, the following letters, for the most part full of the strife of the times, will explain themselves:—

  1. See infra, p. 60, n. 2.