Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Trial of Jan Hus: Medieval Heresy and Criminal Procedure

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Trial of Jan Hus: Medieval Heresy and Criminal Procedure

Article excerpt

The Trial of Jan Hus: Medieval Heresy and Criminal Procedure. By Thomas A. Fudge. (New York: Oxford University Press. 2013. Pp. xvii, 392. $74.00. ISBN 978-0-19-998808-2.)

In The Trial of Jan Hus, Thomas Fudge undertakes to narrate the entire history of the legal proceedings against the Bohemian preacher and heretic, from their inception in Prague to the fiery culmination in Constance. Altogether, these proceedings lasted more than eight years, and the primary venue for their adjudication passed from Prague to Rome and then to Constance. The signal achievement of Fudge's book is that he manages to piece together a coherent narrative of the trial's tortuous progression from Hus's correspondence, legal briefs, curial decrees, polemical texts, sermons, diaries, and narrative accounts of the Council of Constance. These constitute a bewildering array of viewpoints on Hus's trial, and Fudge does well to rein in the discordant voices and transform them into a unified narrative. In short, as a chronicle of Hus's trial from start to finish this book has no equal in English. And although its main argument-that the outcome of Hus's trial was legitimate by medieval standards of judicial practice-is ultimately consonant with that of the Czech scholar Jifí Kejr (a fact that Fudge himself acknowledges), The Trial of Jan Hus attempts to move beyond Kejr's work by analyzing the development of those standards over the longue durée.

To do this, Fudge spends the first quarter of the book detailing the accumulation of canon law sources concerning heresy and the development of trial procedures against heretics during the high Middle Ages. He subsequently uses these collective bodies of precedent in the latter half of the book as a benchmark against which the proceedings against Hus can be evaluated, which embeds Hus's trial within a longer tradition of legal thought and practice. This approach is useful, although the sheer number of legal sources that Fudge deploys throughout his account has the curious effect of flattening them out. …

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