Following the battle of White Mountain, Ferdinand II published an amnesty to all the Bohemian soldiers who would surrender their arms. The appearance of an amiable spirit towards the conquered continued for three months, catching many off guard who thought their only hope was to flee to another country.
Then, in February of 1621, the conqueror’s net was cast and forty-seven Protestant leaders were seized while eating dinner in their homes. They were transported to the Tower of Prague and various other local prisons. Historians have noted that these were men “of deepest piety and highest intelligence in the land.” They had served their country as judges, ambassadors, professors, and statesmen. More importantly, they had promoted the Reformation in Bohemia, which now they were to pay for with their lives.
Early in their imprisonment, they were urged to beg for pardon, but they refused to compromise their convictions. Frustrated, their enemies proceeded to move to trial. Twenty-seven of the men received the death sentence. The remainder received lesser sentences of life in prison or exile.
Those condemned to death were informed that they would be executed within two days. As they walked back to their prison, some bystanders threw insults at them, yelling out, “Why don’t you now sing ‘The Lord Reigneth’.” (It had been the custom of the Bohemians to sing the ninety-ninth Psalm both in worship and on the battlefield.)
Back in their cells, they were accosted by Jesuits and monks who urged them to recant. The prisoners quickly dismissed them, not desiring their last hours on earth to be wasted. Next, their ministers visited them and remained with them to the end. Their final hours were spent in prayer, the singing of Psalms, and godly conversation. They also received the Lord’s Supper. One of the last Psalms they sang, the eight-sixth Psalm, was turned into a prayer by John Kutnauer, one of the men condemned to die. He asked the Lord to “show some token which might at once strengthen them and convince their enemies.”
The following morning as the sun began to rise over Prague, the men dressed themselves as if they were going to to wedding. John Kutnauer continued to pray, asking God for a token. Outside the prison, townspeople and soldiers assembled in the street. Suddenly, the cloudless sky above filled with a dazzling rainbow, even though it hadn’t rained in two days. All eyes looked up, and the prisoners, peering from their cell window, rejoiced as they remembered Noah and God’s faithfulness to him.
With the sound of a canon in the distance, the rainbow disappeared from the sky. The soon-to-be-martyrs embraced each other for the last time and encouraged one another to be cheerful in the face of death. One by one they were called to the scaffold that had been prepared for their execution. A witness recorded their words to each other as their names were called:
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.
Those left behind would answer in this way:
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.
Each of the men continued giving testimony to their Christian faith at the scaffold. Both senators and soldiers were moved to tears as they witnessed the undaunted courage the men showed in the final moments of their lives.