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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 19 — Protestantism in Poland and Bohemia

Chapter 8 — Overthrow of Protestantism in Bohemia

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Protestantism Flourishes — Constitution of Bohemian. Church — Its Government — Concord between Romanists and Protestants — Temple of Janus Shut — Joy of Bohemia — Matthias Emperor — Election of Ferdinand II. as King of Bohemia — Reaction — Intrigues and Insults — Council-chamber — Three Councillors Thrown out at the Window — Ferdinand II. elected Emperor — War — Battle of the White Hill — Defeat of the Protestants — Atrocities — Amnesty — Apprehension of Nobles and Senators — Their Frightful Sentences -Their Behaviour on the Scaffold — Their Deaths.

The Protestant Church of Bohemia, now in her most flourishing condition, deserves some attention. That Church was composed of the three following bodies: the Calixtines, the United Brethren, and the Protestants that is, the Lutheran and Calvinist communions. These three formed one Church under the Bohemian Confession — to which reference has been made in the previous chapter. A Consistory, or Table of Government, was constituted, consisting of twelve ministers chosen in the following manner: three were selected from the Calixtines, three from the United Brethren, and three from the Lutheran and Calvinistic communions, to whom were added three professors from the univensity. These twelve men were to manage the affairs of their Church in all Bohemia. The Consistory thus constituted was entirely independent of the archiepiscopal chair in Prague.

It was even provided in the Royal Charter that the Consistory should "direct, constitute, or reform anything among their Churches without hindrance or interference of his Imperial Majesty." In case they were unable to determine any matter among themselves, they were at liberty to advise with his Majesty's councillors of state, and with the judges, or with the Diet, the Protestant members of which were exclusively to have the power of deliberating on and determining the matter so referred, "without hindrance, either from their Majesties the future Kings of Bohemia, or the party sub una " — that is, the Romanist members of the Diet. [1]

From among these twelve ministers, one was to be chosen to fill the office of administrator. He was chief in the Consistory, and the rest sat with him as assessors. The duty of this body was to determine in all matters appertaining to the doctrine and worship of the Church — the dispensation of Sacraments, the ordination of ministers, the inspection of the clergy, the administration of discipline, to which was added the care of widows and orphans. There was, moreover, a body of laymen, termed Defenders, who were charged with the financial and secular affairs of the Church.

Still further to strengthen the Protestant Church of Bohemia, and to secure the peace of the kingdom, a treaty was concluded between the Romanists and Protestants, in which these two parties bound themselves to mutual concord, and agreed to certain rules which were to regulate their relations to one another as regarded the possession of churches, the right of burial in the public cemeteries, and similar matters. This agreement was entered upon the registers of the kingdom; it was sworn to by the Emperor Rudolph and his councillors; it was laid up among the other solemn charters of the nation, and a protest taken that if hereafter any one should attempt to disturb this arrangement, or abridge the liberty conceded in it, he should be held to be a disturber of the peace of the kingdom, and punished accordingly. [2]

Thus did the whole nation unite in closing the doors of the Temple of Janus, in token that now there was peace throughout the whole realm of Bohemia. Another most significant and fitting act signalized this happy time. The Bethlehem Chapel-the scene of the ministry of John Huss — the spot where that day had dawned which seemed now to have reached its noon — was handed over to the Protestants as a public recognition that they were the true offspring of the great Reformer and martyr. Bohemia may be said to be now Protestant. "Religion flourished throughout the whole kingdom," says Comenius, "so that there was scarcely one among a hundred who did not profess the Reformed doctrine." The land was glad; and the people's joy found vent in such unsophisticated couplets as the following, which might be read upon the doors of the churches: —

"Oped are the temples; joys Bohemia's lion:
What Max protected, Rudolph does maintain." [3]

But even in the hour of triumph there were some who felt anxiety for the future. They already saw ominous symptoms that the tranquillity would not be lasting. The great security which the Church now enjoyed had brought with it a relaxation of morals, and a decay of piety. "Alas!" said the more thoughtful, "we shall yet feel the mailed hand of some Ferdinand." It was a true presage; the little cloud was even now appearing on the horizon that was rapidly to blacken into the tempest.

The Archduke Matthias renewed his claims upon the crown of Bohemia, and supporting them by arms, he ultimately deposed his brother Rudolph, and seated himself upon his throne. Matthias was old and had no son, and he bethought him of adopting his cousin Ferdinand, Duke or Styria, who had been educated in a bigoted attachment to the Roman faith. Him Matthias persuaded the Bohemians to crown as their king. They knew something of the man whom they were calling to reign over them, but they relied on the feeble security of his promise not to interfere in religious matters while Matthias lived. It soon became apparent that Ferdinand had sworn to the Bohemians with the mouth, and to the Pope with the heart. Their old enemies no longer hung their heads, but began to walk about with front erect, and eyes that presaged victory. The principal measures brought to bear against the Protestants were the work of the college of

the Jesuits and the cathedral. The partisans of Ferdinand openly declared that the Royal Charter, having been extorted from the monarch, was null and void; that although Matthias was too weak to tear in pieces that rag of old parchment, the pious Ferdinand would make short work with this bond.

By little and little the persecution was initiated. The Protestants were forbidden to print a single line except with the approbation of the chancellor, while their opponents were circulating without let or hindrance, far and near, pamphlets filled with the most slanderous accusations. The pastors were asked to produce the original titles of the churches in their possession; in short, the device painted upon the triumphal arch, which the Jesuits had erected at Olmutz in honor of Ferdinand - namely, the Bohemian lion and the Moravian eagle chained to Austria, and underneath a sleeping hare with open eyes, and the words "I am used to it" [4] — expressed the consummate craft with which the Jesuits had worked, and the criminal drowsiness into which the Bohemians had permitted themselves to fall. [5]

No method was left unattempted against the Protestants. It was sought by secret intrigue to invade their rights, and by open injury to sting them into insurrection. At last, in 1618, they rushed to arms. A few of the principal barons having met to consult on the steps to be taken in this crisis of their affairs, a sudden mandate arrived forbidding their meeting under pain of death. This flagrant violation of the Royal Charter, following on the destruction of several of their churches, irritated the Reformed party beyond endurance. Their anger was still more inflamed by the reflection that these bolts came not from Vienna, but from the Castle of Prague, where they had been forged by the junto whose head-quarters were at the Hardschin. Assembling an armed force the Protestants crossed the Moldau, climbed the narrow street, and presented themselves before the Palace of Hardschin, that crowns the height on which New Prague is built. They marched right into the council-chamber, and seizing on Slarata, Martinitz, and Secretary Fabricius, whom they believed to be the chief authors of their troubles, they threw them headlong out of the window. Falling on a heap of soft earth, sprinkled over with torn papers, the councilors sustained no harm. "They have been saved by miracle," said their friends. "No," replied the Protestants, "they have been spared to be a scourge to Bohemia." Tiffs deed was followed by one less violent, but more wise - the expulsion of the Jesuits, who were forbidden under pain of death to return. [6]

The issue was war; but the death of Matthias, which happened at this moment, delayed for a little while its outbreak. The Bohemian States met to deliberate whether they should continue to own Ferdinand after his flagrant violation of the Majestats-Brief. They voted him no longer their sovereign. The imperial electors were then sitting at Frankfort-on-the-Maine to choose a new emperor. The Bohemians sent an ambassador thither to say that they had deposed Ferdinand, and to beg the electors not to recognize him as King of Bohemia by admitting him to a seat in the electoral college. Not only did the electors admit Ferdinand as still sovereign of Bohemia, but they conferred upon him the vacant diadem.

The Bohemians saw that they were in an evil case. The bigoted Ferdinand, whom they had made more their enemy than ever by repudiating him as their king, was now the head of the "Holy Roman Empire."

The Bohemians had gone too far to retreat. They could not prevent the electors conferring the imperial diadem upon Ferdinand, but they were resolved that he should never wear the crown of Bohemia. They chose Frederick, Elector-Palatine, as their sovereign. He was a Calvinist, son-in-law of James I. of England; and five days after his arrival in Prague, he and his consort were crowned with very great pomp, and took possession of the palace.

Scarcely had the bells ceased to ring, and the cannon to thunder, by which the coronation was celebrated, when the nation and the new monarch were called to look in the face the awful struggle they had invited. Ferdinand, raising a mighty army, was already on his march to chastise Bohemia. On the road to Prague he took several towns inhabited by Protestants, and put the citizens to the sword. Advancing to the capital he encamped on the White Hill, and there a decisive battle was fought on the 8th of November, 1620. [7] The Protestant army was completely beaten; the king, whom the unwelcome tidings interrupted at his dinner, fled; and Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia lay prostrated at the feet of the conqueror. The generals of Ferdinand entered Prague, "the conqueror promising to keep articles," says the chronicler, "but afterwards performing them according to the manner of the Council at Constance."

The ravages committed by the soldiery were most frightful. Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia were devastated. Villages were set on fire, cities were pillaged, churches, schools, and dwellings pulled down; the inhabitants were slaughtered, matrons and maidens violated; neither the child in its cradle nor the corpse in its grave was spared. Prague was given as a spoil, and the soldiers boasted that they had gathered some millions from the Protestants; nor, large as the sum is, is it an unlikely one, seeing that all the valuables in the country had been collected for security into the capital.

But by far the most melancholy result of this battle was the overthrow, as sudden as it was complete, of the Protestantism of Bohemia. The position of the two parties was after this completely reversed; the Romanists were now the masters; and the decree went forth to blot out utterly Protestant Bohemia. Not by the sword, the halter, and the wheel in the first instance. The Jesuits were recalled, and the work was committed to them, and so skillfully

did they conduct it that Bohemia, which had been almost entirely Protestant when Ferdinand II ascended the throne, was at the close of his reign almost as entirely Popish. No nation, perhaps, ever underwent so great a change in the short term of fifteen years as Bohemia.

Instead of setting up the scaffold at once, the conquerors published an amnesty to all who should lay down their arms. The proclamation was as welcome as it was unexpected, and many were caught, who otherwise would have saved their lives by flight. Some came out of their hiding places in the neighborhood, and some returned from distant countries. For three months the talk was only of peace. It was the sweet piping of the fowler till the birds were snared. At length came the doleful 20th of February, 1621.

On that evening fifty chiefs of the Bohemian nation were seized and thrown into prison. The capture was made at the supper-hour. The time was chosen as the likeliest for finding every one at home. The city captains entered the house, a wagon waited at the door, and the prisoners were ordered to enter it, and were driven off to the Tower of Prague, or the prisons of the magistrate. The thing was done stealthily and swiftly; the silence of the night was not broken, and Prague knew not the blow that had fallen upon it.

The men now swept off to prison were the persons of deepest piety and highest intelligence in the land. In short, they were the flower of the Bohemian nation. [8] They had passed their youth in the study of useful arts, or in the practice of arms, or in foreign travel. Their manhood had been devoted to the service of their country. They had been councilors of state, ambassadors, judges, or professors in the university. It was the wisdom, the experience, and the courage which they had brought to the defense of their nation's liberty, and the promotion of its Reformation, especially in the recent times of trouble, which had drawn upon them the displeasure of the emperor. The majority were nobles and barons, and all of them were venerable by age.

On the Clay after the transaction we have recorded, writs were issued summoning all now absent from the kingdom to appear within six weeks. When the period expired they were again summoned by a herald, but no one appearing, they were proclaimed traitors, and their heads were declared forfeit to the law, and their estates to the king. Their execution was gone through in their absence by the nailing of their names to the gallows. On the day following sentence was passed on the heirs of all who had fallen in the insurrection, and their properties passed over to the royal exchequer. [9]

In prison the patriots were strenuously urged to beg pardon and sue for life. But, conscious of no crime, they refused to compromise the glory of their cause by doing anything that might be construed into a confession of guilt. Despairing of their submission, their enemies proceeded with their trial in May. Count Schlik, while undergoing his examination, became wearied out with the importunities of his judges and inquisitors, who tried to make hint confess what had never existed. He tore open. his vest, and laying bare his breast, exclaimed, "Tear this body in pieces, and examine my heart; nothing shall you find but what we have already declared in our Apology. The love of liberty and religion alone constrained us to draw the sword; but seeing God has permitted the emperor's sword to conquer, and has delivered us into your hands, His will be done." Budowa and Otto Losz, two of his co-patriots, expressed themselves to the same effect, adding, "Defeat has made our cause none the worse, and victory has made yours none the better." [10]

On Saturday, the 19th of June, the judges assembled in the Palace of Hardschin, and the prisoners, brought before them one by one, heard each his sentence. The majority were doomed to die, some were consigned to perpetual imprisonment, and others were sent into exile. Ferdinand, that he might have an opportunity of appearing more clement and gracious than his judges, ordered the sentences to be sent to Vienna, where some of them were mitigated in their details by the royal pen. We take an instance: Joachim Andreas Schlik, whose courageous reply to his examiners we have already quoted, was to have had his hand cut off, then to have been beheaded and quartered, and his limbs exposed on a stake at a cross-road; but this sentence was changed by Ferdinand to beheading, and the affixing of his head and hand to the tower of the Bridge of Prague. The sentences of nearly all the rest were similarly dealt with by the merciful monarch.

The condemned were told that they were to die within two days, that is, on the 21st of June. This intimation was made to them that they might have a Jesuit, or a Capuchin, or a clergyman of the Augsburg Confession, to prepare them for death. They were now led back to prison: the noblemen were conducted to the Castle of Prague, and the citizens to the prisons of the printer. Some "fellows of the baser sort," suborned for the purpose, insulted them as they were being led through the streets, crying out, "Why don't you now sing, 'The Lord reigneth'?" The ninety-ninth Psalm was a favorite ode of the Bohemians, wherewith they had been wont to kindle their devotion in the sanctuary, and their courage on the battlefield.

Scarcely had they reentered their prisons when a flock [11] of Jesuits and Capuchin monks, not waiting till they were called, gathered round them, and began to earnestly beseech them to change their religion, holding out the hope that even yet their lives might be spared. Not wishing that hours so precious as the few that

now remained to them should be wasted, they gave the intruders plainly to understand that they were but losing their pains, whereupon the good Fathers withdrew, loudly bewailing their obstinacy, and calling heaven and earth to witness that they were guiltless of the blood of men who had put away from them the grace of God. The Protestant ministers were next introduced. The barons and nobles in the tower were attended by the minister of St. Nicholas, Rosacius by name. The citizens in the prisons of Old Prague were waited on by Werbenius and Jakessius, and those in New Prague by Clement and Hertwiz. The whole time till the hour of execution was spent in religious exercises, in sweet converse, in earnest prayers, and in the singing of psalms. "Lastly," says the chronicler of the persecutions of the Bohemian Church, "they did prepare the holy martyrs by the administration of the Lord's Supper for the future agony."

On the evening of Sunday, as the prisoners shut up in Old Prague were conversing with their pastor Werbenius, the chief gaoler entered and announced the hour of supper. They looked at each other, and all declared that they desired to eat no more on earth. Nevertheless, that their bodies might not be faint when they should be led out to execution, they agreed to sit down at table and partake of something. One laid the cloth, another the plates, a third brought water to wash, a fourth said grace, and a fifth observed that this was their last meal on earth, and that tomorrow they should sit down and sup with Christ in heaven. The remark was overheard by the Prefect of Old Prague. On going out to his friends he observed jeeringly, "What think ye? These men believe that Christ keeps cooks to regale them in heaven!" On these words being told to Jakessius, the minister, he replied that "Jesus too had a troublesome spectator at his last supper, Judas Iscariot."

Meanwhile they were told that the barons and noblemen were passing from the tower to the courthouse, near to the market-place, where the scaffold on which they were to die had already been erected. They hastened to the windows, and began to sing in a loud voice the forty-fourth Psalm to cheer their fellow-martyrs: "Yea, for thy sake we are killed all the day long; ... Rise, Lord, cast us not off for ever." A great crowd, struck with consternation at seeing their greatest and most venerated men led to death, followed them with sighs and tears.

This night was spent as the preceding one had been, in prayers and psalms. They exhorted one another to be of good courage, saying that as the glory of going first in the path of martyrdom had been awarded them, it behooved them to leave an example of constancy to their posterity, and of courage to the world, by showing it that they did not fear to die. They then joined in singing the eighty-sixth Psalm. When it was ended, John Kutnauer turned the last stanza into a prayer, earnestly beseeching God that he would "show some token which might at once strengthen them and convince their enemies." Then turning to his companions, and speaking to them with great fervor of spirit, he said, "Be of good cheer, for God hath heard us even in this, and tomorrow he will bear witness by some visible sign that we are the martyrs of righteousness." But Pastor Werbenius, when he heard this protestation, bade them be content to have as sufficient token from God, even this, "that that death which was bitter to the world he made sweet to them."

When the day had broken they washed and changed their clothes, putting on clean apparel as if they were going to a wedding, and so fitting their doublets, and even their frills, that they might not need to re-arrange their dress on the scaffold. All the while John Kutnauer was praying fervently that some token might be vouchsafed them as a testimony of their innocence. In a little the sun rose, and the broad stream of the Moldau, as it rolled between the two Pragues, and the roofs and steeples on either side, began to glow in the light. But soon all eyes were turned upwards. A bow of dazzling brilliance was seen spanning the heavens. [12] There was not a cloud in the sky, no rain had fallen for two days, yet there was this bow of marvelous brightness hung in the clear air. The soldiers and townspeople rushed into the street to gaze at the strange phenomenon. The martyrs, who beheld it from their windows, called to mind the bow which greeted the eyes of Noah when he came forth from the Ark. It was the ancient token of a faithfulness more steadfast than the pillars of earth; [13] and their feelings in witnessing it were doubtless akin to those with which the second great father of the human family beheld it for the first time in the young skies of the post-diluvian world.

The bow soon ceased to be seen, and the loud discharge of a cannon told them that the hour of execution hail arrived. The martyrs arose, and embracing, they bade each other be of good cheer, as did also the ministers present, who exhorted them not to faint now when about to receive the crown. The scaffold had been erected hard by in the great square or market-place, and several squadrons of cavalry and some companies of foot were now seen taking up their position around it. The imperial judges and senators next came forward and took their seats on a theater, whence riley could command a full view of the scaffold. Under a canopy of state sat Lichtenstein, the Governor of Prague. "Vast numbers of spectators," says Comenius, "crowded the market-place, the streets, and all the houses."

The martyrs were called to go forth and die

one after the other. When one had offered his life the city officers returned and summoned the next. As if called to a banquet they rose with alacrity, and with faces on which shone a serene cheerfulness they walked to the bloody stage. All of them submitted with undaunted courage to the stroke of the headsman. Rosacius, who was with them all the while, noted down their words, and he tells us that when one was called to go to the scaffold he would address the rest as follows: "Most beloved friends, farewell. God give you the comfort of his Spirit, patience, and courage, that what before you confessed with the heart, the mouth, and the hand, you may now seal by your glorious death. Behold I go before you, that I may see the glory of my Lord Jesus Christ! You will follow, that we may together behold the face of our Father. This hour ends our sorrow, and begins our everlasting joy." To whom those who remained behind would make answer and say, "May God, to whom you go, prosper your journey, and grant you a happy passage from this vale of misery into the heavenly country. May the Lord Jesus send his angels to meet thee. Go, brother, before us to our Father's house; we follow thee. Presently we shall reassemble in that heavenly glory of which we are confident through him in whom we have believed." [14]

The beaming faces and meek yet courageous utterances of these men on the scaffold, exhibited to the spectators a more certain token of the goodness of their cause than the bow which had attracted their wondering gaze in the morning. Many of the senators, as well as the soldiers who guarded the execution, were moved to tears; nor could the crowd have withheld the same tribute, had not the incessant beating of drums, and the loud blaring of trumpets, drowned the words spoken on the scaffold.

But these words were noted down by their pastors, who accompanied them to the block, and as the heroism of the scaffold is a spectacle more sublime, and one that will better repay an attentive study, than the heroism of the battlefield, we shall permit these martyr-patriots to pass before us one by one. The clamor that drowned their dying words has long since been hushed; and the voices of the scaffold of Prague, rising clear and loud above the momentary noise, have traveled down the years to us.


Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, June 24th, 2018
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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