03.03.06, Fudge, The Crusade against Heretics in Bohemia

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David Mengel

The Medieval Review baj9928.0303.006


Fudge, Thomas A.. The Crusade against Heretics in Bohemia, 1418-1437. Series: Crusade Texts in Translation vol. 9. Hampshire, UK: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2002. Pp. xxv, 419. ISBN: 0-7546-0801-8.

Reviewed by:
David Mengel
University of Notre Dame

Thomas Fudge is to be congratulated for undertaking the formidable task of compiling nearly four hundred pages of translated material related to what he broadly terms the "Hussite Crusades." Translating such an ambitious collection from seven original languages (Czech, Latin, German, French, Middle English, Polish, and Hebrew) requires both bravery and an unusually wide linguistic expertise, even for a medievalist. Fudge readily admits his initial reluctance to accept this daunting commission from one of the editors of Ashgate's series, Crusade Texts in Translation. He even offers the disarming admission that "I am not a translator." Accordingly, he acknowledges the help he received with most of the languages (he mentions all but Polish and Hebrew) from ten different people. Ales Porizka of Prague in particular "bore a very heavy and essential burden with many of the Czech, Latin and German texts."

The result is the most comprehensive collection of texts related to the fifteenth-century Hussite wars to appear in English. Its stated aim is to add significantly to the relatively small amount of Hussite material previously translated into English. The book is targeted, it seems, primarily at students and non-specialists. In the author's words, "[t]hese documents were assembled and put into the English language for those who have either little or no facility with the vagaries of the later medieval sources." The great number and range of documents assembled here represents the most important accomplishment of this volume. The vast majority are translated from Latin, medieval German, or Old Czech. Many of the excerpts were first published in the original languages in nineteenth-century source collections, most notably Frantisek Palacky's two-volume Urkundliche Beitraege zur Geschichte des Hussitenkrieges (Prague, 1873) [hereafter UB], which gathers together more than one thousand different documents related to the Hussite wars. Some of the editions used here can be extremely difficult to find in North American libraries; this volume does a great service simply by making such texts easily available.

One finds here an impressive combination of texts: excerpts from several important chronicles; decrees of the Council of Constance; Hussite sermons; Taborite manifestos; the Bohemian diet's demands of Emperor Sigismund; battle descriptions from opposing perspectives; university treatises; imperial edicts; papal bulls; and battle songs. Reichstag documents outline a series of agreements for organized German opposition to the Hussites, a 1421 agreement at Caslav lays out a temporary secular and ecclesiastical Bohemian government, friendly and unfriendly commentators explain the tactics of the Hussite war wagons, and financial negotiations between a group of German towns eager to avoid being plundered and the Hussite army at their gates reveal a remarkable combination of religious and financial interests. One also encounters a letter (almost certainly spurious, as Fudge notes) from Joan of Arc to the Hussites, various expressions of the four articles of Prague, a German poetic lament of the failed fifth crusade, and the text of the Basel Compactata that restored peace in 1436 and 1437.

Organizing a such a wide-ranging collection of texts inevitably poses serious challenges. Fudge has chosen not to follow the common strategy adopted by many editors, namely grouping the texts by genre or theme and then arranging the texts within each group by date of composition. Instead, he chooses to follow strict chronology, subdividing the collection into seven time periods. There are some awkward results. For example, Fudge breaks up the important chronicle of Lawrence [Vavrinec] of Brezova, the Historia Hussitica, into nearly a score of brief excerpts, many of them no more than half a page long. Interspersed with these are difficult-to-date songs and letters. With 209 excerpts (not 209 documents, as Fudge states) crammed into four hundred pages, a rather choppy and uneven character is unavoidable. In fact, Fudge's organizational goal seems to have been more narrative than chronological. For the sake of a fluid story, he even occasionally ignores strict chronology. Chapter 1, for instance, includes accounts of battles in the year 1420 while Chapter 2 begins with a 1418 papal bull. One would not normally ask such a collection of brief excerpts to provide a coherent narrative, nor would one tend to read through the entire collection from start to finish. This unusual approach, it must be said, proves surprisingly successful here. A newcomer to the Hussite wars who perseveres through these four hundred pages would emerge with a rich impression of the multifaceted events.

Key to this success are the editorial introductions provided for each excerpt. Ranging from a few lines to a long paragraph, these introductions not only provide basic orientation for the following text, but also frequently relate a whole series of intervening events. (In document 38, for example, the introduction is nearly twice as long as the excerpt from the Historia Hussitica). The resulting chain of introductions and brief texts nearly amounts to a complete story. If it is not quite accurate to call it, as Fudge does, "the story of the crusade against Hussite heretics in fifteenth-century Bohemia" (xvii), the book certainly comes closer to providing a coherent story than a source collection normally does.

The value of a collection of translated texts inevitably depends in large part upon the quality of the translations. In his introduction, Fudge anticipates criticism on this point and offers a remarkable pre-emptive defense. Those able to check and criticize his translations, he suggests, should not be reading this book in the first place: "Others will be critical of some of the translations. For scholars au fait with the late medieval texts in their original languages, this volume was not prepared for you. Be contented with the Czech and the Latin." For this reviewer at least (who has only very modest skill at reading Polish and none whatsoever in Hebrew), this justification for inaccurate translation seems problematic. If one disregards the author's advice and compares the original texts with the English translations, awkward and inexpert translations are not difficult to find. The majority are probably benign, yielding English prose that still manages to convey the general meaning of the original text. Others are confusing and misleading. A document addressed to a group of monasteries and cities, for instance, perplexingly instructs them to send money for the new royal tax, levied to fight the Hussites, "to your university." Surely universitati vestrae here refers not to "your university," but rather to "all of you." Grammatical considerations apart, Emperor Sigismund would hardly have hoped to collect anti-Hussite taxes through the university of Prague, at that time a bastion of Hussite thought. There are other, admittedly less serious, problems with the translation of this passage, part of which I reproduce below in Latin, Fudge's English translation, and my own.

Literas unius summae regalis bernae vobis ad instar aliorum monasteriorum et civitatum de mandato serenissimi principis et domini D. Singismundi..., in subsidium pro maleficorum regni Boemiae temeritate et protervia conculcanda et compescenda ad praesens impositae, regali camerare in terminis in hujusmodi literis expressis universitati vestrae cum praesentibus per ostensorem praesentium destinandas et transmittendas jussu regio decrevimus (UB 1: 21-22, no. 14).

"We have decided on royal command by letter the sum of the royal tax presently imposed upon you in the same way as the other monasteries and towns. By command of the most serene prince and lord, Sigismund,...[this sum shall be] a means for suppressing and destroying the devilry and imprudence [sic] of the delinquents within the kingdom of Bohemia. This is payable to the royal chamber in the terms expressed in that letter to be sent to your university with this letter by a representative" (Fudge, doc. 24, 56-57).

"By royal command, we have decreed that letters [describing] an amount of royal tax be sent and delivered to you along with the present letter by the bearer of this letter. [This tax], modeled after [taxes levied on] other monasteries and cities, now established by the command of the most fair prince and lord, Sigismund...to support the stamping out and repression of the rashness and recklessness of the evil-doers of the kingdom of Bohemia, [is payable] to the royal treasury in terms made clear to all of you [universitati vestrae] in these letters" (my translation).

A similarly misleading translation appears in a passage from a papal legate's response to the Hussite "Four Articles of Prague." The problems in this passage are in one sense minor, but they nevertheless undermine the sense of one of the legate's central arguments. Against the lay reception of the chalice, the legate reasons: "Even if communion in both kinds were by chance more perfect and more meritorious (magisque meritoria), as some theologians have claimed, it would be better to accumulate merit (augere meritum) through humility, by abstaining from the chalice, because the universal custom of the church is the opposite, and for good reasons..." (my translation). In other words, there is more merit to be gained through humility and obedience to church custom than through receiving both bread and wine in communion, which may or may not be spiritually beneficial. In Fudge's translation, however, the legate instead advises abstention from the chalice as a more effective strategy for advocating lay communion in both kinds: "...even if communion under both kinds is better and more meritorious as some doctors claim, it would still be more advantageous to witness to its merit by not receiving the communion of the chalice since it is in opposition to the practice of the Catholic Church..." (Fudge, 69, n. 32). (Et quamvis communio sub utraque specie esset forsitan perfectior, magisque meritoria, prout quidam doctores asseruerunt, tamen eligibilius est, per humilitatem augere meritum, abstinendo a communione calicis, ex quo consuetudo universalis ecclesiae ex rationabilibus causis est in contrarium...) (UB 1:36).

Examples of misleading and inaccurate translation could be multiplied, at least for the Latin, medieval German, and medieval Czech texts that I have checked. Even the adequate translations are often marred by poorly crafted and badly edited English prose. It is unfortunate that such an ambitious collection of translations was not executed more carefully. Yet arguably all of this only serves to underscore Fudge's own point: that he has not provided a source collection for scholars to rely upon for their own research. Students looking for a first introduction to the Hussite wars will presumably be less bothered by the mistranslations. Unfortunately (and of course through no fault of Fudge), those wishing to check the original texts for themselves will in many cases be forced to search for relatively or extremely hard-to-find books and journals. Scholars who do not consider themselves specialists in fifteenth-century Bohemian history will still find much of interest and use in this book. Likewise, teachers and students interested in the crusades or in later medieval Central Europe now have vastly expanded access to sources in English. Numerous undergraduate research papers will undoubtedly be written from these texts. For this reason it is disappointing that the thirteen-page introduction does not offer a better orientation to the crusades against the Hussites.

Rather than providing a brief narrative account of these crusades for students, Fudge begins with a cursory explanation of the theological and especially liturgical background to the Hussite movement up to 1420. Most of the remainder of the introduction defends Fudge's process of selecting the documents. Of the six main selection criteria he describes, at least one seems overly vague: "Beyond this, the selection of documents included a fifth criterion which informed the selection of materials aimed at elucidating a number of important elements which resulted either from the crusade or prompted the crusade in the first place." The selection of documents is sound. For this reviewer, at least, the detailed justification of the selection process was not necessary in such a brief introduction. The book's slightly uneasy fit within a series devoted to translated crusade texts further troubles the introduction. The large collection in fact illustrates much about the Hussites that, strictly speaking, does not relate to the crusades launched against them. This distinguishes it from other volumes in the same Ashgate series, which tend to translate a single chronicle or other source that exemplifies a particular aspect or period of crusading. On this model, Fudge might have simply and profitably translated the entire Historia Hussitica into English. (Josef Bujnoch's German translation of the Latin and Old Czech chronicle runs to over 250 pages [Graz, 1988]). Instead, Fudge follows the pattern of Palacky's Urkundliche Beitraege zur Geschichte des Hussitenkrieges (1419-1436) and takes a wider view of the Hussite wars in general, some of which were fought between different Bohemian and even various Hussite factions rather than between Hussites and crusaders.

The collection is almost certainly more valuable for taking this wider view. But rather than simply admit that his collection is not limited to the crusading theme, Fudge commits himself to a convoluted argument that claims the entire period of 1418-1437 for the crusades. He must therefore argue, for instance, that it would be "specious to conclude that the crusade was over" in 1431 even though "no actual crusading force would again enter Bohemia and no technical crusade battle would again be waged against the Hussite heretics..." (5). Further, he reasons that although several "pre-crusade conflicts...were not crusader battles,...it is impossible to separate them from crusader mentality, crusade initiative and anti-heresy measures." The space devoted to this argument could have been better used for a general orientation to the Hussite wars.

The book's critical apparatus significantly increases the accessibility of the texts to non-specialists. Numerous footnotes, spread rather unevenly through the volume, offer generally reliable explanations of technical terms, provide useful historical background, and cite relevant secondary literature in English. Six clearly drawn maps offer invaluable geographical orientation to Bohemia and map various crusade campaigns and battles. Moreover, Fudge helpfully and consistently links the maps to the translated excerpts in the introductions he provides. There is also a brief bibliography of primary and English secondary sources as well as a fourteen-page index. A straightforward system of abbreviations identifies the original source of each excerpt. For the most part, the system works. Poor editing and inconsistent citation practice however create practical problems for those interested in tracking down some of the original texts. A student looking for the meaning of PL helpfully finds the relatively full publication information for the Patrologia Latina in the List of Abbreviations (xviii-xix), whereas one interested in a text from the less well-known FRB or FRA finds only the bare expansion of the acronyms: Fontes rerum bohemicarum and Fontes rerum austriacarum. The Select Bibliography, arranged by author or editor, offers little help in these and other cases. The abbreviation list expands the ubiquitous "UB" as "Urkundliche Beitraege zur Geschichte des Hussitenkrieges, 2 vols," but only someone who already knew that Frantisek Palacky had edited the collection would easily find the full reference in the bibliography. The same is true for the many citations of the Old Czech Annals (or the "Old Czech Annalists," as Fudge and the older editing tradition call these texts). Cited simply as "SRB" (for Scriptores rerum bohemicarum, the series in which the edition was first printed), even a reader who consults the list of abbreviations still needs to know or guess that Palacky edited the text in order to find the full bibliographic entry. Such inconsistent and incomplete references-which more careful editing would have caught-create practical annoyances, but for the most part do not pose serious problems.

In conclusion, Fudge has provided a valuable and important collection of translated documents illustrating the Hussite movement and the crusades launched against it in the fifteenth century. The numerous brief excerpts, drawn from an impressive array of sources and genres, provide a rich picture of a region and series of events that are not well-known in English-speaking countries beyond a small circle of specialists. Awkward and inaccurate translations together with some careless editing unfortunately mar this ambitious project. Scholars should consult it only with great care, always checking the translations before citing it. Better yet, they should follow Fudge's recommendation and cite the original texts instead of this translation. On the other hand, university teachers with even a tangential interest in the Hussite wars will thank the translator for making this material accessible in English. It is also to be hoped that numerous libraries will purchase the book, as students will certainly find it useful. Its price, however, will almost certainly keep this hardback volume from being assigned as a required text.

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David Mengel

University of Notre Dame