Edmund Alexander De Schweinitz.

The history of the church known as the Unitas Fratrum, Or, The unity of the Brethren, founded by the followers of John Hus, The Bohemian reformer amd martyr online

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Committee of Safety, whose efforts to raise an army were,
however, not crowned with success. Scarcely two thousand





men took the field ; and before this insignificant contingent
could join the Elector of Saxony, the battle of Miihlberg left
him a prisoner in the hands of the Emperor and crushed the
hopes of the Bohemian confederates (April the twenty-fourth,

Bishop Horn was spared the news of this disaster. He
died, at Jungbunzlau, on the Friday preceding the second
Sunday in Lent. His brethren mourned for him with deep
sorrow. He was a man of rare ability and sound judgment,
and belonged to the excellent of the eartli.^ His colleague,
Bishop Martin Michalek, preceded him to the rest which
remains to the people of God. He died on the twenty-fourth
of January, of the same year, at Prossnitz in Moravia, aged
sixty-three years.^

Ferdinand having returned to Bohemia, convened the Diet?
on the third of June, at Leitmeritz. He bore himself with
such unexj)ected graciousness, that a majority of the nobles and
cities connected with the League submitted unconditionally,
trusting in his promise of forbearance. But they were soon
undeceived. Measures of the greatest severity were adopted.
Four nobles — one of them, Wenzel von Petipesky, a member
of the Brethren's Church — w^ere executed. The rest were
condemned to remain, for life, in certain towns and castles,
and their estates, in part, w^ere confiscated. Some of the
most prominent patrons of the Unity — Krajek, Kostka,
Krinecky^ and others — suffered in this way; and Leitomischl,

^ Todtenhuch, p. 19, which says that a more complete history of him and
of other pious men, than can be given on earth, will be written in the life
eternal. He was buried on the second Sunday in Lent, John Czerny
preaching the funeral sermon. As far as we know, Horn is the first Bishop
whose portrait has come down to our day. The original is a life size oil
painting, by Wallerat, formerly the property of the late Bishop Anders, of
Berthelsdorf, Saxony, now, we presume, in the Herrnhut Archives.

^ Todtenbuch, pp. 18 and 19, which work calls him a great man, sagacious
and eloquent. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1531.

' Baron Krinecky, who had presented the Confession to Ferdinand, in
1535, not only lost all his possessions, but was also condemned to death. He
fled to East Prussia where he lived in great poverty.


Turnau, Richenburg, Brandeis on the Elbe/ all chief seats of
the Brethren, fell into the relentless hands of the King.
Upon Prague and other cities were imposed heavy fines.

It was amidst such circumstances that the Utraquists dis-
played the worst traits of their double-dealing character, and
that Mistopol, in particular, adopted a dastardly course. No
party had been more active in furthering the League than he
and his immediate followers ; and yet, with one accord, they
imitated his cowardly example and screened themselves
behind the Brethren. These — so rang the cry throughout
Bohemia and Moravia — were the chief instigators of the
League ! Augusta was the arch-conspirator ! He had had
secret consultations with the Elector of Saxony; he had
visited the Duke of Liegnitz with treasonable intent ; he had
planned the dethronement of Ferdinand ! These accusations
were false. While Augusta did not oppose the League, he
took no active part in it, and foretold its disastrous issue f
and while a number of the nobles of the Unity manifested
great zeal in furthering the movement, they were not more
guilty than their Utraquist confederates.

But however unfounded such charges were — in view of
Ferdinand's purpose they could not have been more oppor-
tune. He caught them up with eager joy. The occasion for
Avhich he had so long and patiently waited, was come. Death
to the Unitas Fratrum !

On Sunday, the eighteenth of September, as he stepped
from the door of the cathedral where he had attended mass,
representatives of the Roman Catholics and Utraquists pre-
sented themselves, and with a vehement show of sincerity,
besought him to defend his faithful subjects against the
machinations of the Picards. He promised to fulfill the

* At Brandeis Krajek had built a large church for the Brethren. It was
designed by an architect from Milan, is still standing, and known as the
Dechantei- Kirche .

5 Gindely, I. p. 307. Either in 1546 or 1547 Augusta did visit the Duke
of Liegnitz ; for what purpose' is not known — certainly not with treasonable


petition of these suppliants who, without doubt, had engaged
in this demonstration by his own orders, Nor did he fail to
keep his word. On the eighth of October, by royal mandate,
he renewed the Edict of St. James.

Thus was inaugurated, throughout Bohemia, the fourth
general persecution of the Brethren. In Moravia they could
not well be molested, because its nobles and cities had stood
aloof from the League. Ferdinand, however, solaced him-
self with the hope that if the Brethren were rooted out of
the former country they would languish and die in the latter.
But he imagined a vain thing. The Unitas Fratrum was not
suppressed. It grew in numbers and influence. Indeed, in
one sense, persecution stretched out a suicidal hand ; for it
opened a way for the extension of the Brethren to Prussia
and Poland. Nevertheless it was, at the same time, a cruel
hand and besomed the Bohemian part of the Church with
pitiless fury.

The afflictions of the Brethren began with the closing of
their chapels and the interdiction of their religious worship in
every form. Such a course was pursued even on the domains
of their own members. Baron Kostka, imbittered by the
confiscation of Leitomischl, carried out the royal edict with
great severity.^ The installation of Catholic or Utraquist
priests followed, on all the estates seized by the King. These
priests immediately began to pervert the Brethren. Not a
few succumbed to the fear of torture and death. The parish
at Brandeis on the Elbe, it is said, went over, almost in a
body, to the Utraquists.^ And now began the arrest of the
priests. A number were seized. The bishops and members
of the Council, confronted on every side by the rack and

® Augusta wrote him a severe letter, denouncing his course. L. F., VII.
p. 1 20, cited by Gindely.

' Tliis seems to have been owinw to the well meant but mistaken counsel
of John Czerny, who advised the members of the parish, if there was no
way of escape, to attend worship in the Utraquist church. Augusta, on
the contrary, earnestly exhorted them to avoid this church. L. F., VII.
p. 64, cited by Gindely.


stake, were forced to conceal themselves ; and when one place
of refuge became insecure, sought another. Nevertheless
they did what they could to strengthen their brethren,
addressing pastoral letters to the Unity, writing to the single
parishes, and secretly visiting the oppressed. Augusta, who
had succeeded Horn as President of the Council, was particu-
larly active. His energetic character expanded in proportion
to the perils by which he was surrounded. In the name of
the entire Church he sent a letter to the King, who had gone
to attend the imperial Diet at Augsburg, beseeching him to
spare the Unity, which was innocent and had not conspired
against him.* In the beginning of 1548 a reply was received
from the Chancellor's office, sternly pointing the Brethren to
the royal mandate as setting forth Ferdinand's unalterable
determination. John George, the messenger who had been
employed in this correspondence, was arrested on his return
from Augsburg, imprisoned at Prague, narrowly escaped the
rack, and was at last set at liberty on condition of his emigrat-
ino-. Moreover a second royal edict against the Brethren
appeared, commanding the first to be strictly enforced and
ordering the arrest and imprisonment, at Prague, of every
minister of the Unity. Ferdinand, prior to his departure,
had given the same instructions to his son, the Archduke
Ferdinand, whom he had constituted Regent of Bohemia.

In carrying out the cruel purposes of the King, Mistopol
proved himself to be a zealous abettor. He directed
his deans to care for the strict observance of the royal
mandate. He caused lists of the members of the Unity to be
prepared, so that, in the case of every one of them, it might
be known whether he had or had not recanted. He produced
a lengthy formula of recantation which every pervert was
forced to accept with a solemn oath. The priests at Brandeis
on the Elbe and Leitomischl vied with him in all the arts of
persecution. Other Utraquist ministers were not slow to
follow their example.

8 Letter in L. F., VII. This same Folio, as cited by Gindely, is the
authority for the most of the facts which follow in this chapter.


For such conduct there was not the shadow of an excuse.

It was revolting. Mistopol and a large part of the priests

under him belonged to that wing of Utraquisni which

entertained many of the tenets of Protestantism. Lutherans

at heart, they became time-servers and renegades who, by

their craven zeal for tyranny, escaped the sufferings which

they ought to have shared with the Unity. What an

impression such a course made upon the Brethren, let John

Czerny, who passed through all the troubles of that period,

tell. He writes :

" The shameless Utraquist priests, especially those at Brandeis
and Leitomischl, were the worst of persecutors. Although, in
their own lives, wanton scoundrels, adulterers, drunkards and
unparalleled liars, they became the most ardent sycophants of the
King in undertaking the conversion of the Picards. Neither the
royal town-captains nor the Roman Catholic priests were guilty
of such tyranny, such revilements, such lies, such tormenting,
such menaces, such imprecations, as these bare-faced Utraquists,
dead to shame and disregarding all divine and human lavvs."'^

The calm and moderate tone which generally pervades
Czerny's writings, renders this severe arraignment over-

The domains confiscated by the King suffered more than
any others. He appointed a commission to carry out his edict,
choosing four barons whose hearts were steeled against mercy.
They proceeded in a barbarous manner. Unjust and un-
truthful accusations were eagerly entertained. Informers
received high praise. Private revenge for real or fancied
wrongs could, with a word, gain the most cruel satisfaction.

The first to suffer was the village judge of Semanin,
charged with having used images of Christ and the Virgin
as fuel for a fire at which he broiled fish. He was cast into a
foul cellar at Leitomischl, where he languished for half a year
until he became, physically and mentally, a wreck. In this
state he promised to recant, but died as soon as he was taken
out of the cellar. From the same town a certain Gabriel,
accused of being a messenger of the Bishops, was hurried to

« Gindely I. pp. 312 and 313.


Prague and cruelly imprisoned for months. Many others
were cast into loathsome dungeons, or stretched upon the rack
in order to extort confessions of treason. A large number
perished. Not a few, with shattered constitutions, eked out
a miserable existence. The slightest approach to the forms of
worship common among the Brethren, was punished in a
frio-htful manner.

An instance occurred at Leitomischl, where Schoneich,
whom nature intended for a creature of tyranny, had been
appointed town-captain. At the funeral of a member of the
Unity, while his remains were borne to the grave, the young
people began, as of old, to sing hymns. For this trivial
offence sixteen heads of families were arrested, conveyed to
Prague and confined in the White Tower. Every attempt to
induce them to deny their fiiith having failed, they Avere
thrust into a vault which formed the receptacle for the closet-
drains of the tower. The stench was fearful and the air thick
with disgusting exhalations. In this state, which beggars
description, they languished for several months. At last six
of them, broken down by sickness, promised to recant. The
rest endured with unshaken heroism until a certain Doctor
Erhard, a favorite of the King, took pity on them and
secured their release. They joined their families which had
meanwhile emigrated to Prussia.

There was no one whom Ferdinand more eagerly longed to
get into his power than Bishop Augusta.^" Although the
Council had published a document in his defence, the
animosity against him, both among Catholics and Utraquists,

^° Sources for the account of the arrest, imprisonment and sufferings of
Augusta are : History of his Life, by J. Blahoslaw, in Bohemian, which
work remained in manuscript until 1837, when Sumawsky published it in
an incomplete form ; the Seventh Lissa Folio (both these sources as cited
by Gindely); Bucholtz's Geschichte der Regierung Ferdinand I., Wien,
1831, etc.; Hormayr's Taschenbuch fiir die Vaterlandische Geschichte, for
the year 1820; Bechstein's Deutsches Mus. fiir Gesch., 1862; Pelzel's
Abbildungen Bohm. Gelehrteu, 2tr Tlieil, Prag, 1775, with Augusta's


did not abate, and the King looked upon him as a personal
enemy. That a liberal reward would be paid for his arrest,
was well known.

Schoneich's mercenary and cruel nature was excited to the
utmost. He prowled about like a tiger watching for its prey.
But in spite of all his efforts Augusta could not be found.
He was concealed in the vicinity of Leitomischl and frequently
changed his hiding-place. Jacob Bilek, a deacon, carried his
letters to the churches and made his apj)ointments with their
elders for secret meetings at night.

When Schoneich saw himself foiled, he concocted a plot
which deserves to be called aatanic. Going to the house of
one whom he knew to be an elder of the church at Leito-
mischl, he told him that he was troubled in his conscience
and needed the advice of a faithful minister, and asked
whether Augusta could not be persuaded to grant him an
interview. Through Bilek this request was made known to
the Bishop, who replied, that if Sch5neich would pledge
himself not to arrest him, he would consent to a meeting.
Such a pledge was given, and Augusta designated a clearing
in the midst of a forest, about two and a half miles from
Leitomischl, as the place of the interview."

Near this clearing, early in the morning of the appointed
day — April the twenty-fifth, 1548 — the perfidious captain
posted three of his hirelings. They were ordered to arrest
Augusta as soon as he would appear. Concealing themselves
behind trees they waited for his coming. Presently a man
emerged from the forest and looked around. Schoneich's
creatures rushed from their lurking-place and seized him

" Gindely I. p. 319, followed by Cerwenka, represents Schoneich as
saying, "that he had something very important to communicate to
Augusta." This representation not only destroys the point of the narrative
but is also rendered improbable by Gindely himself, who says that Augusta
had no confidence in the sincerity of Schoneich's message. The only
consideration which could overcome such distrust on the Bishop's part,
was the thought that ho would perhaps be able to minister to a troubled
soul. In union with Keichel and Croeger, we follow Plitt (Sect. 48), whose
authority is Lasitius.


with eager hands. But he proved to be Jacob Bilek and not
Augusta. With all haste, and dragging Bilek along, they
hid themselves again. After a while another man, dressed
like a peasant and carrying an axe, came out of the forest.
This was Augusta. So completely, however, had he succeeded
in disguising himself that the hirelings were baffled. Twice
they arrested and twice they set him free. But as he was
about going his way, their suspicions were again aroused.
Seizing him a third time they began to search his person, and
found a handkerchief such as — so they asserted — peasants
never used. Thereupon Augusta made himself known. " Sir,
is this your faith ?" — he indignantly said to Schoneich when
this miscreant appeared.

The prisoners were first conveyed to Leitomischl, and then
taken, in a covered wagon, to Prague, where they arrived on
the twenty-eighth of April. A member of the Church,
William by name, secretly followed them on horseback all
the way to the capital, in order to ascertain the place of their
imprisonment. Bilek was confined in a dungeon of the royal
castle and Augusta in the White Tower.^^ As to Schoneich,
he was munificently rewarded.

'^ The oldest royal castle at Prague, known as the St. Wenzel Castle,
dated back to the time of Ottokar the Great in the twelfth century. It
was enlarged and strengthened by Wenzel the First. This castle has long
since passed away. In 1333, near by its site, Charles the Fourth erected
tlie Hradschin, to which Uladislaus added a second and magnificent palace-
In 1541 a terrible fire destroyed a large part of the Hradschin. It was
rebuilt by Ferdinand the First. Originally the entire pile of buildings
had twenty-two massive towers, which have, howev^er, all crumbled to dust
except three, the Black Tower, the White Tower and the Daliborka. The
first is four-cornered, the other two are round. They stand on the North
side of the Hradschin and overlook the Hirschgraben. In the Middle Ages
they contained all the appliances of its inhuman mode of administering
justice, including subterranean vaults into whicli, through an opening large
enough to admit a himian body, criminals were let down by means of ropes
and a wheel, to a depth of fifteen fathoms, to die of hunger. These vaults
are still to be seen, and even at tlie present day contain masses of human
bones. Schottky's Prag. II. pp. 86, etc., and 134 ; Illustrirte Chronik von
Bohmen, Prag., 1854, II. p. 230, etc.


The news of the arrest of the Unity's chief bishop caused
a sensation throughout Bohemia. His friends mourned and
called upon God ; his enemies, it has been well said, rejoiced
with the joy of the Philistines when Samson fell into their
power. That the Brethren would submit, now that they were
deprived of the man whose commanding influence had sus-
tained their courage, was the common belief. But such
expectations were triumphantly disappointed. The Church
of the Brethren was built upon Jesus Chrisj:, not upon

On the day of the arrival of the two prisoners at Prague,
the royal chamber of justice subjected Bilek to an examina-
tion : of Augusta no notice was taken for an entire week. It
was on the tenth of May that his sufferings began. He was
put in chains, in a way thac rendered walking almost impos-
sible, and thrust into one of the lowest cellars of the tower.
The next day (May the eleventh), the Governor of the Castle,
accompanied by two nobles, appeared, ordered his irons to be
taken off, and addressed a series of questions to him with
regard to the Unity and especially his supposed treasonable
transactions at Wittenberg and Liegnitz. His answers were
pronounced unsatisfactory and he was delivered to the execu-
tioner for torture. Stretched upon a ladder, his hips were
smeared with boiling pitch, which was set on fire and torn
off with iron tongs. From this horrible torment he was
relieved only in order to be forced into excruciating stocks ;
and when taken out of these, he was hung up on a large hook
thrust through his flesh ; and when this agony was over, he
was laid on the floor and his abdomen loaded with heavy
stones. Not until he was half-dead did the Governor order
the executioner to cease from his fiendish work. And yet,
even now, the afflicted Bishop's sufferings were not at an end.
The next morning (May the twelfth), after only a few hours'
respite, he was mercilessly tortured a second time.

In the midst of all these physical torments Augusta
remained strong of heart. He refused to deny his faith ; he
refused to confess treasonable proceedings of which he was


innocent ; he refused to say anything that would bring new
danger to the Church. When his agonies were at their
height, he was asked what his brethren were doing. " They
are seeking refuge, with one accord, in impassioned prayer to
God !" — was his illustrious answer.^^

Meantime, for three days, Bilek had been lying in chains
still more cruelly fastened than in Augusta's case. On the
thirteenth of May — the holy day of the Lord — they were
taken off and he was made to pass through the same frightful
ordeal as his Bishop. These tortures were resumed the next
morning, until he swooned and life was nearly extinct. In
the evening, while lying in utter weakness and misery, the
Governor came and informed him that, as soon as his strength
revived, he would be tortured again, and tortured ten times?
unless he confessed everything.

It was a confession of Augusta's supposed treason that was
to be extorted from Bilek. With this end in view a long
series of written questions, covering several sheets of paper,
had been put to him while he was stretched upon the ladder.
Ferdinand either obstinately believed, or pertinaciously pre-
tended to believe, that Augusta had been the soul of a
conspiracy against his throne — to which the Elector of
Saxony was to be elevated — and in this way tried to justify
his inhuman course. It is reported that, at a later time, he
even sent him a message saying, that it was not on account of
his faith that he was made to suffer.^^ But the policy,
which the King had been steadily pursuing, his violent
bigotry, and the fact that Augusta and Bilek were offered
their freedom on condition of forsaking the Unity,^^ all
prove this assurance to have been grossly untrue. In
any case, Ferdinand covered himself with shame. For when
the cruel proceedings in the White Tower were reported to
him by his son and the Chancellor, and the latter remarked

13 Blahoslaw's Narrative, L. F., VIII. p. 43, E's Z. p. 359.
1* Bucholtz, VI. p. 438. Ferdinand himself had given orders that
Augusta should be tortured.

1^ Plitt, Sec. 48, on the authority of Lasitius.


that the use of the torture could scarcely be kept a secret, he
replied — in a letter written from Augsburg, on the twenty-
seventh of May — that he was well satisfied with what had
been done, that he would bear the responsibility, and that
Augusta should be tortured again in order to ascertain the
object of his journeys to Wittenberg. In this letter he in-
closed a slip of paper on which he recommended one of the
following three modes of torment as more efficacious than
those which had been employed :

First, for five or six days and nights in succession, let Augusta
be forcibly prevented from sleeping.

Second, strap him to a board, or a shutter, with no support for
his head ; rub vinegar into his nostrils ; fasten, with half a nut-
shell, a large beetle on his navel ; keep him in this state for a day
or for two days and two nights.

Third, season his food as highly as possible, but give him
nothing whatever to quench his thirst.

Let Bilek be treated in the same way."^

Love to the brethren, because it is the greatest of the
Christian graces, deems no sacrifice too grievous and shrinks
from no danger. In spite of the imminent perils by which
William was surrounded, he remained at Prague and gained
access to Augusta. The forlorn Bishop rejoiced as though an
angel had visited him. But as William passed through the
Tower on his way back, he was suddenly confronted by
Schoneich, who recognized him and had him cast into a
dungeon. Two days later Wenzel Wejwoda, one of
Augusta's servants, arrived. His sister was the prison cook.
By her aid he, too, made his way to the Bishop and ministered
to his wants, supplying him, in particular, with writing
materials so that he could communicate with the Council.
But before long, Wenzel also was detected and imprisoned.
For three months he lay in a dungeon, until the unceasing
intercessions of his mother secured him a pardon. William,
after an incarceration of ten weeks, was set free at the claim
of his lord, Baron Pernstein.

i« Hormayr's Taschenbucli for 1833, cited by Gindely, I. pp. 325 and 326,

and Cerwenka, pp. 281 and 282.


None of the modes of torture recommended by Ferdinand
were put into execution ; for, when his letter arrived, Augusta
and Bilek were no longer at Prague.

About twenty-five miles to the west of this city lies

Online LibraryEdmund Alexander De SchweinitzThe history of the church known as the Unitas Fratrum, Or, The unity of the Brethren, founded by the followers of John Hus, The Bohemian reformer amd martyr → online text (page 25 of 64)