1433: Pavel Kravar, Hussite emissary

Add comment July 23rd, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1433, Pavel Kravar — known in the place of his death as Paul Craw — was, “found an obstinate heretic, he was convicted, condemned, put to the fire and burned to ashes”* at St. Andrews, Scotland.

Kravar was a Czech (probably) physician who entered that hotbed of religious reform, the University of Prague, the very year after Jan Hus burned at the stake.

Adopting the burgeoning Hussite creed with gusto, Kravar spent the 1420s proselytizing in Poland as a side gig to a medical practice. (He was the court physician to the King of Poland, who was briefly friendly with the Hussite cause.)

In the early 1430s, perhaps as part of an aggressive, Europe-wide Hussite propaganda campaign, Kravar turned up in evangelizing in Scotland.

Lest this strike the latter-day reader as bizarre — a Bohemian church seeking converts in the Highlands — it bears remembering that Hus himself took inspiration from a Briton, Englishman John Wycliffe; one of Wycliffe’s followers, James Resby, had become the first documented Christian reformer martyred at the stake in Scotland in 1408. There are other traces of anti-Lollard legislation in the first decades of the 15th century that hint at some level of heretical ferment abroad.** And in the widest sense, the Hussite movement had, until its imminent military destruction, a legitimate shot at mounting the sort of continent-wide challenge to ecclesiastical orthodoxy that the Reformation accomplished a century later.

That events didn’t quite work out that way was hard luck for Kravar, who had headed straight to the country’s only university town where his reformist ideas (and Latin lingua franca) might have some currency. There he may also have run into the realm’s most implacable Inquisitor: Kravar’s actual activities,his objectives, his specific doctrines, and the circumstances of his capture and condemnation — these are all most obscure. The best we have is a hostile chronicler allowing that the Hussite was “fluent and skilled in divinity and in biblical argument.”†

Tudor-era Scottish cleric John Knox filled in the dubious detail that Kravar had been gagged en route to the stake with a large brass ball, to prevent his exhorting the crowd; more contemporary-to-Kravar sources unfortunately did not think to notice this picturesque expedient.

* From Walter Bower in Book XVI of the Scotichronicon (1440s), via Paul Vysny, “A Hussite in Scotland: The Mission of Pavel Krava? to St Andrews in 1433” in The Scottish Historical Review, April 2003. It’s not clear from the primary source whether events proceeded from trial to execution all in the same day, but July 23 is the date typically given for Kravar’s death and certainly the last date of his life distinctly in the historical record.

** See Vysny, op cit.

†Bower, again; via Vysny, again.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Czechoslovakia,Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,God,Heresy,History,Martyrs,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Scotland,Uncertain Dates

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1528: Patrick Hamilton, Scotland’s first Protestant

1 comment February 29th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1528, Lutheran Patrick Hamilton was condemned to death for heresy and immediately* burned at the stake outside St. Salvator’s Chapel in St. Andrews, Scotland.

The “first reformer” of Scotland — and practically the only one of note during the Reformation’s earliest phase — Hamilton sprang from noble stock and was studying in Paris just when Martin Luther’s doctrines roiled Europe’s ecclesiastical scene.

He traveled widely on the continent, visiting Luther himself along with a passel of the era’s humanists and reformers, returning to Scotland late in 1527 on what looks like the missionary equivalent of a suicide mission. Given a few weeks’ latitude to pontificate publicly, he had armed the guardians of the faith with more than enough evidence of his heterodoxy.

Hamilton was alive to the public relations potential of a gaudy public death for the faith. And he was right.

An opposing prelate would soon caution against making similar examples, noticing that “the reek of Maister Patrik Hammyltoun has infected as many as it blew upon.” In his ashes glowed the ember that would ignite the Scottish Reformation. The young** martyr bequeathed it his nation’s first Protestant text, Patrike’s Places

Nor is Hamilton’s legacy in St. Andrew’s strictly theological. The spot of his passion is marked with the initials “P.H.” on the street — a modest but powerful public testament to the courageous young man’s (ultimately fruitful) sacrifice.

* Though the sentence was put into effect immediately, a paucity of fuel made a weak fire, and Hamilton’s death consumed six agonizing hours on the spit.

** Only 23 or 24 at his death.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Botched Executions,Burned,God,Heresy,Martyrs,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Scotland,Summary Executions,The Supernatural

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