Heroism and Tragedy
This section comprises chapters 25 through 36. They are listed below. To go directly to any particular chapter click on the link to that chapter. Otherwise you can scroll down as you read chapter by chapter.
- Chapter 25 – The Massacre of St. Bartholomew
- Chapter 26 - The Triumph of Rochelle
- Chapter 27 - Vicissitudes
- Chapter 28 - The League
- Chapter 29 - The War of the Three Henries
- Chapter 30 - The Double Assassination
- Chapter 31 - The White Plume of Navarre
- Chapter 32 - The Edict of Nantes
- Chapter 33 - Richelieu
- Chapter 34 - The Dragonades
- Chapter 35 - The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes
- Chapter 36 - A Resume
THE MASSACRE of ST. BARTHOLOMEW
The preachers in Geneva and the cardinals at Rome foresaw and predicted a catastrophe from the abnormal political situation at Paris. The radical antipathy between the rival parties who stood nudging each other’s elbows at the Louvre, with reconciliation painted on their faces, but hatred still unsubdued in their hearts, could not but forebode evil.
Yet, unmindful of the petulant murmurs of the king, oblivious of the old threats which had issued from Bayonne, the Huguenot leaders still lingered at the court, while one more act was played in the dreary comedy which ushered in the awful tragedy of St. Bartholomew. On the 18th of August, Prince Henry and Margaret de Valois were married.
The young duke of Guise had cherished the hope of marrying the king’s sister; he had long entertained a violent passion for her, while her affection for him was equally undisguised. But mutual affection was compelled to succumb to vicious state policy, and the wedding was consummated.
It had been agreed that the ceremonial of the marriage should not be wholly conformable to either creed: not to the Protestant, because the vows were to be received by a priest; the cardinal of Bourbon; not to the Romish, because those vows were to be received without the sacramental ceremonies of the Vatican. A great scaffold was erected in the court before the principal entrance of the cathedral of Notre Dame; and standing upon this typical structure, the inauspicious nuptials were celebrated. It was remarked by many that when the princess was asked if she were willing to take king Henry of Navarre to be her husband, she stood obstinately silent; she had said repeatedly that Guise alone should be her husband. But the king her brother, who stood just behind her, with his own hand rudely inclined her head, and this was taken for Margaret’s assent. This done, the bridegroom retired into a neighboring Huguenot chapel, while the reluctant bride passed into the cathedral with a bitter and broken heart to listen to the mockery of the mass. In the evening the coldly indifferent husband and the sulky spouse attended the brilliant festival with which Charles crowned the dismal day.
From this time horrible events begin to jostle each other. Four days after the wedding, an attempt was made to assassinate the admiral as he was returning from one of his daily interviews with the king at the Louvre. He was fired at from a window screened by a certain. Coligny was indebted for his life to an accidental movement made at the moment; but as it was, his left arm was broken, and the index finger of his right hand was shot off. With imperturbable sang froid the old soldier pointed out the house from whence the bullet sped; but ere his suite could break open the gate, the assassin had escaped.
This assault caused a profound commotion. The hostile mob of Paris, which had only borne the presence of the Huguenots with suppressed fury, now heaved in almost open insurrection. Navarre and Condé, supported by the whole Protestant party, presented a petition for justice and protection; and the king, who was playing at tennis when the news reached him, threw down the racket in a violent rage, muttered something about immature action, and exclaimed, “Must I be perpetually troubled by broils; shall I never have quiet?”
Active measures were then taken to allay suspicion, to quell the rising tumult, and to flatter the angered Huguenots into renewed stupefaction.
Coligny, who had been borne to his apartments by his attendants, weltering in his blood, was shortly visited by the king, the queen mother, Anjou, and many of the chief nobility. Every expression of condolence was uttered, signal vengeance upon the assassin was promised, the police were ordered to make domiciliary visits and arrest all suspected persons, and his majesty even carried his hypocrisy so far as openly to notify his high displeasure at the occurrence to all the public ambassadors.
This energetic action at once disarmed the suspicion and conciliated the respect of the Huguenot chiefs. Startled Paris resumed its tranquility, and that awful hush which precedes a storm succeeded.
Meantime, warned by this émuete of the danger which lurked in procrastination, perfectly well aware that every hour lost was an opportunity for misfortune, the conspirators worked with diabolical zeal to complete the preparations for the wholesale slaughter, and the time was definitively fixed—the 23rd of August, 1572, the eve of St. Bartholomew’s day. A pistol was to be fired in front of the Louvre as the signal for the commencement of the butchery.
A few of the Huguenots were alarmed, and boldly proposed to quit Paris with the admiral. The Vidame of Chartres strongly advised this course. He even informed Coligny that the Guises, despite their ostensible disgrace at court, had been twice seen in masks at the Louvre in secret conversation with Catharine and the king. “We have been shamefully ensnared,” he added.
Coligny was averse to showing any suspicion. “If I do so,” said he, “I must display either fear or distrust: my honor would be hurt by the one; the king, I hope, would be injured by the other. Besides, I should then be obliged to renew the civil war, and I would rather die than again see such ills.”
The shrewd Vidame, however, was not to be persuaded, and accompanied by a number of equally wise friends, among whom were Rohan and Montgomery, he passed out of the fatal city.
Under pretence of protecting the admiral and his friends from any tumult which the Guises might stir among the populace, the whole Huguenot faction were lodged in one quarter of the city, and the chiefs were huddled together for the double purpose of preventing their escape and beeping them under easy surveillance. Perhaps too Charles called to mind the pithy maxim of Alaric: “Thick grass is easier mown than thin.” Around this doomed quarter was drawn a cordon of the duke of Anjou’s guards, professedly to protect the victims, but who shortly became their most zealous murderers. At the same time arms were profuselv delivered to the canaille of the metropolis, previously crazed by the clamors of the Jesuits, and these were hidden in the slums of the capital. Finally, couriers were dispatched to all parts of France with orders to make the massacre general and exterminating.
France was commanded to commit suicide. The kingdom was to stagger and bleed beneath self-dealt and frenzied blows.
The awful eve arrived. At midnight the pistol shot was fired; the talismanic word was uttered. Charles cried, Havoc, and let slip the thunderbolt. The wild populace swayed through the streets, crying, “Blood, blood!” The protecting guard of the Huguenot quarter was suddenly transformed into a legion of demoniacs. “Bleed, bleed!” shouted Tavannes; “the physicians say that bleeding is as good in August as in May.” The dukes of Guise and Montpensier rode through the streets, crying, “It is the will of the king; slay on to the last, and let not one escape.” The count. of Coconnas seized thirty prisoners, put them in prison, and put them to death with his own hand by slow and lingering tortures.
The butcher Pezon, who slaughtered men, women, and children as he did cattle, boasted of having in one day killed a hundred and twenty Huguenots. René, Catharine’s perfumer, frequented all the gaols in which the evangelicals were immured, and amused himself by stabbing them with daggers. He decoyed a rich jeweler into his house, under pretext of saving him; but after plundering his person, René cut his victim’s threat, and threw the body into the Seine. “This arm,” said Cruce, a gold-wire drawer, taking off his coat and exhibiting his naked arm, “on the day of St. Bartholomew, put to death four hundred heretics.” At the first signal the duke of Guise sped for the residence of the admiral, pausing but to ring the great bell of the palace, which was only tolled on days of public rejoicing. He was accompanied by his two creatures, Petrucci, an Italian, and Bérne, a German bravo; a company of men-at-arms also followed. The bravos rushed into the chamber of the helpless admiral, who, awaked by the noise, had just arisen from his bed and now stood leaning against the wall of his apartment. “What means the tumult?” queried he of his attendants. “My lord,” was the solemn reply, “God calls us to himself.” The admiral then bade his suite to leave him. “I cannot escape; it is all over with me; I have long been prepared for death; but save yourselves, dear friends.” Such were the collected and noble words of this martyr, whose spirit, armed by faith in God, no danger could quell. Coligny’s attendants at once quitted him, while he composed himself in prayer.
Unmoved by the entrance of the assassins, he continued his supplications. Awed by the grandeur of the scene, the majestic figure of the calm and venerable old soldier engrossed in devotion, Petrucci instinctively paused. “Art thou Coligny?” demanded the bravo. “I am indeed,” responded the admiral. “Young man, you should have respect unto my gray hairs: but work your will; you can abridge my life only by a few short days.”
A moment later, and Gaspard de Coligny, the foremost subject in France, the most distinguished man in Christendom, lay dead.
Bérne plunged his sword into Coligny’s body, and his companions then gave him multitudinous stabs with their stiletto. “Your enemy is dead,” cried Petrucci from the window to the duke of Guise, who awaited the dénouement impatiently in the court below. “Very well,” was the answer, borne up through the midnight gloom; “but M. d’Angouléme will not believe it until he sees the body at his feet.” The next instant the corpse, flung from the window, fell with a thud at the feet of the princes; the yet warm blood even spurted out on the clothes and into the faces of the disbelievers. With brutal nonchalance Guise stooped and wiped Coligny’s face, then ordered his satellites to hold a torch, that he might recognize his foe. When, through the lurid and flickering gloom, he detected that it was indeed the mighty admiral who lay before him, he spurned the body with his foot, and ordered the head to be cut off. This was sent to Catharine: what disposition she made of it is uncertain; Tavannes and Felibien affirm that it was dispatched to Rome; others say that Philip II of Spain received the ghastly present. The decapitated body was mangled and drawn through the streets during two or three days; the populace then threw it into the river, but afterwards drew it out and hung it by the heels to the gibbet of Montfaucon; a slow fire was then kindled beneath it, which disfigured it horribly.
The body swung from this gibbet when Charles went with his court to gloat over the abused remains of that man whom he had so recently termed “his father,” and assured of his affectionate veneration. The odor emitted by the decomposing body was so dreadful, that the courtiers stopped their noses with their handkerchiefs. “Fie, fie!” cried Charles, borrowing the language of the classic brute Vitellius : “The carcass of an enemy always smells pleasantly.”
Marshal Montmorenci, Coligny’s cousin, had these insulted remains cut down one night, and secreted, for he feared to inter them at Chantilly, lest they should be molested. Subsequently, when the decrees against the admiral’s memory were reversed, they were buried in the tomb of his ancestors at Chatillon-sur-Loing.
While Coligny’s murder was being perpetrated, the drunken pavements of bewildered Paris were glutted in blood. The Huguenots, surprised and overmatched, could make no resistance. Escape was impossible; the city gates were shut and guarded; numerous lights, placed in the windows of the dwellings, deprived the reformers even of the normal protection of night; and patrols traversed the streets in all directions, butchering every one they met. From the streets, as the carnival grew wilder, the frenzied multitude swept into the houses. Neither age, sex, nor condition were spared. Priests, holding a crucifix in one land and a sword in the other, preceded the murderers, encouraging them to butcher alike relatives and friends, and promising them absolution from all crimes and heavenly happiness as the reward of these “acts of devotion.”
Even the Louvre became the scene of great carnage; the king’s guards were drawn up in double line, and the Huguenots who lodged in the palace were summoned out one after another and killed with the halberds of the infuriated soldiers. Most of them died without complaining; others appealed to the public faith and the sacred promise of the king. “Great God,” cried they, “be the defense of the oppressed. Just Judge, avenge this perfidy.”
While these events were occurring in the courtyard, Charles, seated at a window of the Louvre, amused himself by shooting down all who came within range of his musket.
The monarch’s ferocity was contagious; even the ladies of his court were seen descending into the square of the Louvre, then filled with the dead bodies of Huguenot gentlemen, many of whom had cheerfully passed with them some hours of the preceding day. It was by their siren-like qualities that some of the victims had been enticed to their death; they now became harpies, through the addition of cruelty to fanaticism and wantonness, and trampling common decency under foot, they jested and laughed as they recognized the murdered Huguenots, precisely as the king did from the window of the Louvre, and beneath the gibbet of Montfaucon.
Among those who fled within the precincts of the palace was a nobleman named Soubise, whose wife had recently instituted a suit of divorce against him. His mangled body underwent a careful examination from these brazen wantons, whose barbarous curiosity was worthy of such an abominable court.
When day dawned, Paris exhibited an appalling spectacle of slaughter: headless bodies were dangling from innumerable windows; gateways were blocked up by the dead and dying; the houses were battered, while the doors were smeared with gore; and the streets were filled with carcasses, which were drawn, bleeding and mutilated, across the bloody pavements to the choked and reddened Seine.
These atrocious scenes were continued through three days and nights, and the orgies only slackened from lack of victims.
Meantime the massacre spread throughout France; the reeling kingdom bled at every pore with mute heroism. The slaughter at Meaux, Angers, Bourges, Orleans, Lyons, Toulouse, Rouen, and in many of the smaller towns of the provinces, was horrible.
But the genius of humanity had not wholly fled from France. Claude de Savoy, count of Tende, saved the lives of all the Huguenots in Dauphiny. “This missive,” said he when the king’s letter ordering the massacre was handed to him, “must be a forgery, and I shall so treat it.”
Eleoner de Chabat, count of Charny, who commanded in Burgundy, acted with similar heroism; there was but one Huguenot murdered at Dijon.
Heran de Montouvin, governor of Auvergne, positively refused to obey the mandate, unless it were supported by the personal presence of the king.
The Viscount d’Ortes, the governor of Bayonne, penned this immortal response to the royal order “Sire, I base communicated your majesty’s mandate to our faithful inhabitants in this city, and to the men-at-arms in the garrison. I find here good citizens and brave soldiers, but not one executioner. On this point, therefore, you must not expect obedience from me.”
But despite these luminous exceptions, from seventy to a hundred thousand victims were slaughtered, and the lives of two of the heroes who refused obedience to the bloody fiat of Charles IX—the Count de Tende and the Viscount d’Ortes—were abridged by the infernal skill of the royal poisoner.
Both the Romish and the Huguenot chroniclers of this tragedy have bequeathed to posterity many episodes of personal adventure, which are replete with thrilling interest. But after “supping full of horrors,” the imagination wearies and palls. Details grow hideous. “The deep damnation of their taking off” appalls those who peruse the history of the Huguenots; readers have no appetite for minutae.
It was long a mooted question whether Condé and young Henry of Navarre should be saved or not. Upon this point the testimony is clear. “It was anxiously deliberated,” says the archbishop of Paris, “whether the prince should be murdered with the others; the conspirators were for their death; nevertheless they escaped by a miracle.” “The duke of Guise,” remarks Davila, “Wished that, in killing the Huguenots, Henry of Navarre and the Prince de Condé should be included; but the queen mother and others had a horror of dipping their lands in royal blood.” “Indubitably,” says quaint old Brantome, “they were proscribed and down on the ‘red list,’ as they called it, because it was remarked that it was necessary to dig up the roots of the heretical faction, Navarre, Condé, the admiral, and other noted personages; but the young queen Margaret threw herself upon her knees before king Charles her brother, to beg her husband’s life at Catharine’s command. The king granted it to her after much urging, since she was his good sister.”
Margaret, in the account she gave of the horrors of the night which ushered in the massacre, relates that “on retiring to rest, Henry’s bed was surrounded by thirty or forty Huguenots, who talked all night of the accident to the admiral, and resolved the next morning to demand justice upon the Guises. No sleep was had; and before day the king of Navarre rose, with the intention of playing at tennis until king Charles was up.”
Margaret then narrates that she fell asleep after the retirement of Henry and his suite, but that in less than an hour she was awakened by loud shouts in the palace corridors, and by a man striking with hands and feet against the door of her room, and crying “‘Navarre, Navarre!” Thinking it might be her husband, she opened the door, when lo, a man besmeared with gore rushed in, and clasping her by the feet, conjured her to save him. This cavalier was quickly pursued by four soldiers, from whose greedy swords the young queen with difficulty saved her strange client. At length his life was spared to her prayers, and she was conducted to the chamber of her sister the duchess of Lorraine, where, at the very moment of her entrance, a gentleman was killed just at her side.
Margaret fainted: upon her recovery she inquired for her husband, and was told that both Henry and Condé were then in the presence of the king.
When the princes were summoned to the king, Catherine, in order to affright them into submission, ordered them to be conducted under the palace vaults, and to be made to pass through the royal guards drawn up in files on either side, and poised in menacing attitudes.
“Charles received them,” says Sully, “with a fierce countenance and a valley of blasphemies. He avowed that the admiral and the other heretics had been slaughtered by his mandate; affirmed that he would no longer be thwarted or questioned by his subjects; declared that all should revere him as the likeness of God, and be no longer the enemies of his mother’s images; and ended by calling on the princes to recant.”
” Sire,” replied Condé with noble candor, “I am accountable to God alone for my religion; my possessions, my life, these are in your majesty’s power; dispose of them as you please; but no menaces, nor even death, shall make me renounce the truth.”
“And you, sir,” said Charles with bitter emphasis, turning to prince Henry, “what say you ?”
Henry expressed the same determination, though less frankly. “Well, sirs,” said the king, “I give you three days in which to consider; then the mass, death, or the Bastille; take your choice.”
Charles then gave way to sardonic glee. “Have I not played my part well?” asked he of Catherine de’ Medici. “He who cannot dissemble is not fit to reign,” said Louis XI. “Have not I known how to dissemble?” queried Charles, quoting this precept; “have not I well learned the lesson and the Latin of my ancestor, king Louis XI?”
Thus the hideous fête of St. Bartholomew closed with a laugh and a sarcasm.
The slaughter was complete. The heads of the most distinguished Huguenot families in France were the victims of the holocaust. Coligny, Rochefoucault and his son Teligny, the admiral’s son-in-law Briquemont and his sons, Plauviant, Bemy, Clermont, Lavardin, Caumont de la Force, and many thousand more gallant gentlemen and Christian soldiers, formed the trophies of the fanatics. The zealous reformer of the University, La Rameé, hunted out in his hiding-place by one of his colleagues whose ignorance he had frequently exposed, was surrendered up to a gang of hired assassins.
Nor did fanaticism alone sharpen the sword and direct the dagger. Defendants in actions at law assassinated the plaintiffs, debtors slaughtered their creditors, jealous lovers butchered their rivals. It was a combination of religious frenzy, private vengeance, and public condemnation such as the world has never seen since the days of Sulla’s proscriptions.
When the ghastly saturnalia had continued through a week, Pibrac, the king’s advocate, waited upon his majesty to inquire whether he would be pleased to have the “joyous” event registered in Parliament, to perpetuate its memory. The lawyer also begged that the “revels” might be discontinued. To both these propositions Charles acceded, and orders were given by sound of trumpet forbidding further murder.
Shortly after proclamations were issued in which the king assumed the responsibility of the massacre, which he declared that he had ordered; affirming that Coligny and his associates had plotted regicide; branding the admiral’s memory as infamous, confiscating his property, degrading his family to plebeian rank, ordering his body—and if that could not be found, his effigy—to be drawn on a hurdle, hung up at the Place de Gréve, and then fixed on the gibbet of Montfaucon. Coligny’s portraits and arms were commanded to be destroyed wherever they could be seized, by the public executioner; and his residence at Chatillon-sur-Loing was to be razed, and the trees cut down to within four feet of the earth. The decree concluded by declaring that in future the anniversary of St. Bartholomew should be celebrated by public processions and, feus de joie.
It was perhaps honestly believed that these spiteful and abortive insults would affect the posthumous fame of the illustrious admiral, thrice honored by the stigmatization of such a king.
In the conduct of Charles IX it is difficult to decide whether his atrocity or his dissimulation is most detestable. His own edicts, which closely followed one another, were ridiculously contradictory; and it is asserted by a Romish partisan that the day after the publication of the edict commanding tranquility, he dispatched courtiers of note to the larger provincial cities with verbal orders to continue the fête despite the proclamation.
These orders were quite unnecessary; the unslaked rage of the fanaticized multitude was not to be suppressed by a parchment fiat. From time to time the “Paris matins,” as the massacre was called—a name suggested by the “Sicilian vespers”—were renewed; the tocsin sounded everywhere, and the sans-culottes stormed the houses of the Huguenots with undiminished ardor, robbing, murdering, and ravishing with the talismanic cry, “The king desires and commands it.”
The minds of men were filled with wild fantasies, which made them fear even themselves, and caused the very elements to appear fraught with terror. In after years, Henry IV used openly to relate, that during the seven nights which immediately succeeded the slaughter, flocks of ravens perched upon the eaves of the Louvre, and croaked loudly and lugubriously, always commencing as the palace clock tolled twelve.
Henry mentions another prodigy still more extraordinary: “For several days before the massacre commenced, I noticed, while playing at dice with the dukes of Alencon and Guise, that drops of blood clotted upon the table: twice I tried to wipe them off, when they reappeared; upon which, seized with horror, I quitted the game.”
About eight days after the slaughter, Charles IX summoned his Huguenot brother-in-law to his bedside at midnight in great haste. Henry found him as he had sprung from his couch, filled with terror at a wild tumult of confused voices which resounded through the chamber. Henry himself imagined that he heard these sounds; they appeared like distant shrieks and howlings, mingled with the indistinguishable raging of a furious multitude, with wails and groans and smothered curses, as on the day of the massacre. Messengers were dispatched into the city to ascertain whether any new tumult lad broken out, but these returned with the assurance that Paris was quiet, and that the commotion was in the air. Henry could never recall this scene—the affrighted courtiers huddled in the middle of the room, the half-distracted king, and the agonized wail of the phantom voices—without a horror that made his hair stand on end.
Thus, for his share in the awful “pageant” of St. Bartholomew, the weak and too late affrighted king was tortured by the reproachful visions of his distempered imagination, compelled…
“To groan and sweat under a weary life,”
…while conscience gradually stung him into an untimely grave.
THE TRIUMPH OF ROCHELLE
The massacre of St. Bartholomew created an unprecedented sensation throughout Christendom. Affrighted Europe, frozen with horror, stood on tiptoe gazing towards France, and asking with white lips, “What next?”
This was regarded as the signal for a general crusade against Protestantism.
Even the maiden queen of England was far from esteeming her insulated position to be a guarantee of safety. She was familiar with the tortuous morality of the Vatican. She had already experienced the character of Romish intrigues in the different maneuvers made to unseat her and install Mary queen of Scots in her throne. The pretended rupture between France and Spain, which had cozened the profound penetration of Coligny, vanished as soon as its object was accomplished. Elizabeth feared either an immediate attack from Philip II, or a general revolt of the papists in Great Britain.
Fénélon was then the French ambassador at the court of St. James. Upon being summoned into Elizabeth’s presence to present the dispatches of his king, which represented this monstrous act of treason against his subjects as the offspring of necessity, Fénélon blushed at being a Frenchman. When he attended the hall of audience, he found the whole court arrayed in deep mourning; a gloomy silence was preserved; no friendly eye was turned towards him; every countenance was mournful and downcast. He approached the queen, who neither rose from her throne nor extended her hand, as was the courtesy of the times. Elizabeth read the documents with marked displeasure, and broke the stillness only to express her astonishment and indignation.
A cry of horror rang though Germany and the Low Countries. Many writings were published, all denouncing the massacre, which was justly characterized as a compound of trickery, perfidy, and atrocity, exceeding in turpitude all that had ever been perpetrated in the annals of tyranny.
The court of France was the more sensitive to these animadversions, as negotiations were then pending to secure the crown of Poland for the duke of Anjou. It was feared that the prejudices and antipathies of the neighboring Germans might frustrate these expectations. Accordingly a deputation was sent to the Protestant princes to disarm their resentment.
The pleas of justification were as various as they were absurd. Sometimes the whole transaction was defended by citing the odious maxim of Innocent III, more recently decreed by the Council of Constance and adopted by the Jesuits, that no faith need be kept with heretics. Some condemned in part, and extenuated in part; while others regretted the event, but denounced what they were pleased to term Coligny’s regicidal intentions, borrowing the “buncombe” of their king. But these lame explanations, these limping apologies, were not able to stand on their own feet. Such absurdities produced but little effect in the outraged Netherlands and in angered Germany, where the assassins of the Huguenots were always held in undisguised abhorrence.
There were two courts which received the news from Paris with acclamations. At home diabolical joy was manifested. Cannon were fired, bonfires blazed, the city was illuminated as if to celebrate a glorious achievement, and a solemn mass was intoned, at which pope Gregory XIII personally officiated, with all the imposing ceremony of the papal church. The cardinal of Lorraine, who was resident minister of France at the Vatican, questioned the messenger like a person informed beforehand; and a medal was struck, bearing on one side the head of Gregory XIII, and on the other the exterminating angel smiting the Huguenots, with the legend, “Huguenotorum Strages, 1572.”
Thus Rome embalmed the massacre in barbarous Latin.
Yet despite his processions, his high masses celebrated in St. Peter’s, and his honorary medals, it is said that the pontiff shed tears when he listened to the private recital of the excesses which smeared France with fraternal gore. “I cannot but weep,” said Gregory, “when I think how many of the innocent must have suffered with the guilty.” The abbé Anquétil cites these words, and observes, “A sentiment of compassion not incompatible with those public demonstrations which policy required.” But it has been justly said that this is a dangerous morality which permits a jubilant exultation in public over a crime which is condemned in privacy, which distinguishes between the natural and the artificial man, and throws the mantle of hypocrisy over the spotless form of shrinking virtue.
It was at Madrid that the horrible crime was welcomed with the loudest plaudits. Philip II, the dark and gloomy bigot whose habitual demeanor was as frigid as the outside of a sepulchre, then showed for the first time that he could be sensible to joy. The somber gravity which had been proof against Alva’s cruelty, which had given no outward sign of pleasure when the great naval victory of Lepanto crippled the Ottoman, now quite forsook him, and his black heart gloated over the streams of blood which had reddened the streets of Paris. He made magnificent presents to the courier who brought him the thrice-welcome news, wrote an autograph letter of congratulation to Charles IX., caroused with his courtiers, rejoiced in public, ordered Te Demn to be chanted, and summoned all the functionaries of the state to wait on him and tender their felicitations.
The admiral of Castile read the French dispatches at table, thinking to increase the festivity of the occasion. “Prythee, good admiral, were Coligny and his friends Christians?” queried the young duke den Infantado, who was seated among the guests. “Undoubtedly,” replied the admiral. “Why then,” rejoined the young prince, “since they were Christians, were they butchered like wild beasts?” “Gently, gently, my prince,” said the admiral, “know you not that war in France means peace in Spain?”
But while agitated Europe was commenting thus variously upon the massacre of St. Bartholomew, France, plagued once again by those ills which Coligny so pathetically deprecated, was plunged in civil war. The pacificatory results which the court crazily imagined would ensue, failed to appear; it was divinely fired that the sowers of the wind should reap the whirlwind.
To slaughter the representatives of an idea even in hecatombs does not extinguish the principle, does not settle controverted points, does not weaken the right of private judgment. Moreover, the massacre of the Huguenots, extensive as it was, was very far from an extermination. Thousands survived the bloody deluge; and seeking asylums in the Netherlands, in the German duchies, and in England, they still had faith in God, and bided his good time.
Others, making no effort to quit France, fortified themselves in Montauban, in Nîmes, in Rochelle; and these three towns, forming themselves into a confederation, declared their union an independent republic—imperium in imperio.
“The court,” says the abbé Crillon, “thought to have drowned Calvinism in the blood of its chief defenders; but that hydra soon regained its vigor.” The Huguenots were indeed so far from being crushed, that they speedily put eighteen thousand well equipped and devoted men-at-arms in the field, and became masters of a hundred towns.
The court made strenuous exertions to throttle the infant confederation. Three armies were levied. One, under La Chastre, was employed to reduce Sancerre; D’Amville Montmorenci, with another, undertook to choke the émeute in Languedoc; while the third, commanded by Villars, the new admiral of France, was sent into Guyeure. Besides these, there were the forces under Strozzy and Montluc’s army.
It was determined that Rochelle, now, as always before, the Huguenot citadel, should be conquered at all hazards. After various intrigues to foist upon the Rochelloise a Romanist governor, all of which were foiled by the been inhabitants, the city was besieged by an immense army, officered by Strozzy and Bovin, accompanied by the duke of Anjou.
Rochelle had long been one of the first maritime cities in France. It was well known to the early English merchants under the name of the “White Town,” as they called it, from its appearance when the sun shone and was reflected from its rocky coasts. It was also much frequented by the Netherlanders. There were merchants among the Rochelloise who had each as many as ten ships at sea at one time.
Ever since the period of the English wars for the French succession, Rochelle had enjoyed extraordinary municipal franchises. It had by its own unaided power revolted from the English dominion; and for this heroism Charles V, in his customary manner, conferred upon the burghers valuable privileges; among others, that of independent jurisdiction in the city.
Rochelle exhibited Protestant sympathies at an early period. Habituated to civil liberty, intelligent and self-reliant, the citizens were excellently well prepared to accept the Reformation; and when a Genevese preacher arrived there in 1556, on his return from an unsuccessful missionary enterprise to Brazil, he found no difficulty in building up a prosperous church among the Rochelloise. With the rough and hardy population, habituated to the sea, a teacher like this, who had boldly performed his voyage across the ocean to serve God, was sure of a generous reception. In all the reactionary changes and alternations of party through the civil wars, the faithful Rochelloise clung to the tenets of the Reformation, to Christ and their open Bibles, with unshaken firmness.
The town had a fine harbor, and was naturally well fortified, while nature had been carefully reinforced by art. The garrison now consisted of fifteen hundred regular troops and about two thousand of the burghers, who belonged to the train-bands of the city. These had been well disciplined in the frequent wars, and their ardor was at this time raised to fever heat by the enthusiasm of the women, who at once emulated and animated their husbands, fathers, and lovers.
The influence of the preachers was also very marked. Two among them, La Place and Denard, were remarkable for their ability, energy, and devotion. Their discourses marvelously strengthened the determination of the populace, whose humanity was appealed to by descriptions of the sufferings endured by their brothers in the faith; but they chiefly dwelt upon the paramount claims of religion to their utmost devotion. Denard was very eloquent; and he possessed such influence by his persuasive style, that he was called the pope of Rochelle.
Although the town was not completely invested before the close of January, 1573, there were several assaults in December, 1572; one especially was upon a mill near the counter-scarp. As it could not easily be fortified, it served as a barbican or post of observation in the daytime, and at night it was left under guard of a single sentinel. Strozzy, considering that the position would be valuable to the Rochelloise, advanced by moonlight to attack it. The solitary sentinel, with a hardihood rarely equalled, resolved to defend the mill, although two culverines were pointed against it. He briskly fired on the assailants; and in order to deceive them, he called out to an imaginary troop of followers, as if encouraging them or giving orders, while an officer hallooed from the nearest bastion that he would soon be reinforced. The contest was too unequal to allow time for the arrival of the promised assistance, and to avoid the consequences of an assault, the sentinel demanded quarter for himself and men. It was granted; when lo, he walked out alone. Strozzy was so enraged at his presumption in pretending to hold out, that he ordered his heroic prisoner to be hung for his insolence; but Biron interfered, and saved his life, at the same time condemning him to the galleys. Happily the courageous fellow managed to escape. His name has not been preserved, but Barbet says that he was a brazier of the isle of Rhé.
The conduct of the court in the prosecution of the war was enigmatical. La Noué, a fearless soldier, a skilful captain, and a zealous Huguenot, had been absent in Hainault, whither he had been sent by Coligny to collect such intelligence as might be useful in that Netherland campaign which was never to occur, at the time of the “Paris matins;” thus he had escaped the massacre. On his return to France, Charles received him with open arms. He gave La Noué the confiscated estate of his brother-in-law Teligny, and then entreated him to use his influence with the Rochelloise, whose commander he had been in the preceding war, to induce them to accept terms of peace.
At first La Noué peremptorily refused; but after a long struggle he yielded to the importunities of the king, and influenced both by anxiety for peace and the hope of serving his party, he accepted the delicate commission. an adjacent village, and sent to the town announcing his errand and arrival.
The Rochelloise at once dispatched deputies to meet the distinguished soldier. Familiar with the character of the court, they feared that some treachery lurked beneath La Noué’s overtures. “We have been invited,” said they, “to confer with La Noué; but where is he? It is nothing that the gentleman to whom we speak resembles him in person, when in character he differs so widely from him.” The soldier pointed proudly to his artificial arm, which had procured for him the sobriquet of Bras de fer, thus mutely to remind them of the limb which he had lost in their service. But the deputies persisted that they remembered with gratitude their valued friend, but that they did not now recognize him.
Finding it impossible to treat with them, La Noué asked permission to enter Rochelle. The citizens received him joyfully, but would not listen to his proposals for peace. They left him to choose one of three alternatives, a safe passage to England, a residence in their city as a private individual, or the governorship of Rochelle. After some hesitation, lie accepted the command.
Strange to say, this step did not destroy the good opinion which Charles and the whole court party entertained of him; and it is a case almost unparalleled that, being commissioned by two contending parties, he preserved the confidence of both. In action, none more bravely joined in repelling the assailants; and at quiet intervals he never omitted to exhort the townspeople to listen to the king’s offers—liberty of conscience, and full security for themselves. But the gallant Rochelloise were not satisfied with simple liberty to worship God for themselves: while their coreligionists went with shackled lips, they knew no peace. They insisted on treating for all the Huguenots, a demand to which the king would not accede.
After a time La Noué, dissatisfied with his equivocal position, requested and obtained permission to quit Rochelle for an honorable retirement.
The Rochelloise could not but regret the loss of their skilful chieftain, but they “bated no jot of heart or hope.” The siege dragged through six bloody months, and still the Huguenot bastions remained impregnable. There was no order among the royalists, no unit, no combination of plans; jealousy and bickering poisoned their counsels;
“And enterprises of great pith and moment, With this regard, their currents turned awry, And lost the name of action.”
Anjou was wounded; Aumale was killed in the trenches; many others of rank also perished; an epidemic broke out in the camp, and fifty thousand men died either by the sword or by disease.
Anjou began to weary of a siege in which his reputation was frittered away; and as the negotiations for the crown of Poland wore an auspicious aspect, the elated prince forgot his duty to France, and passed his time with his favorites in planning schemes of pleasure and magnificence on his installation at Warsaw.
The royal arms were as unsuccessful in other sections as before Rochelle; and in July, 1573, the exhausted state of the court exchequer compelled the cessation of hostilities.
On the 6th of July a treaty of peace was signed, which guaranteed to the confederated cities, Rochelle, Montauban, and Nîmes, the free exercise of their religion and their civic independence. Thus the self-sacrificing efforts of the gallant Rochelloise to secure the enfranchisement, not only of themselves, but of their brothers in Christ, were crowned, though God’s favor, with success.
In November, 1573, the duke of Anjou quitted France for his new kingdom of Poland, for that crown had at length been tendered him. His departure was followed by the birth of a new conspiracy, which originated with the duke of Alencon, the Montmorenci’s, Biron, and Cossé, to which Navarre and Condé, both of whom had finally succumbed to the king’s threats, and apparently united with the Roman church, also adhered. But a variety of circumstances united to strangle this infant cabal in its cradle; and though its aim had been to effect certain needed reforms in the state, without any consideration for religion, it exploded in a laugh.
Charles IX, meanwhile, was every day drawing nearer to his grave. His last hours were embittered by that remorse which agonizes the conscience of the dying sinner. From the fatal eve of St. Bartholomew, he was observed to be always gloomy and wretched; he would groan involuntarily when the horrors which he had perpetrated were recalled. The king’s physician, Ambrose Paré, though an outspoken Huguenot, possessed a greater share of his confidence than any other person; and to him he frequently unbossomed the tortures of his soul. “Ambrose,” said Charles, “I know not what has happened to me these two or three past days; but I feel my mind and body to be terribly at enmity with each other. Sleeping or waking, the murdered Huguenots seen: ever present to my eyes, with ghastly faces and weltering in their blood. I wish the innocent and the guiltless had been spared.”
It is pleasing to record these expressions of repentance, says an eminent historian, for they show that humanity can never be wholly despoiled of her rights, and that outraged conscience will sting the most callous soul.
Henry of Navarre was present at the death of Charles IX. The expiring monarch called him to his side, and recommended his wife and infant daughter to his protection. At this solemn hour he appreciated this manly prince whom he bad so bitterly outraged. He drew Henry to his pillow, and cautioned him to distrust __________; but he whispered the name so faintly, that none heard it but his kinsman into whose ear it went. Catharine, however, who stood near by, guessed his meaning, for she said, “My son, you should not speak thus.” “Why not?” queried the king, “it is perfectly true.”
On the 30th of May, 1574, Charles IX expired, bathed in a bloody sweat, which oozed from every pore. Standing beside this awful death-bed; the solemn words of the apostle may be discerned written across the livid lineaments of the atrocious king: “THE WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH.”
Upon the death of Charles IX, Catherine de’ Medici, grown old and hag-like, but as energetic and unscrupulous as in her prime, dispatched a courier to Poland to inform Anjou that the vacant throne of France awaited him; she then assumed the regency during the interregnum.
In these troubled times, the slightest change at court was the signal for a cabal; so important an event as the demise of a monarch was certain to precipitate a revolution. France soon heaved in insurrection, and even private gentlemen made forays upon the royal strong-holds in the southern provinces.
This outbreak had no special religious significance, but was rather one of those periodical upheavals which occur at stated intervals in countries where justice and law are recklessly overridden by selfish, licentious, and abandoned despots. France through all this dismal epoch was emancipated from judicial forms; a strong hand and an unsheathed sword—these were the synonyms of government. The arbiter of all disputes, public or private, was the dagger, the bullet, or the poisoner’s bowl. To such a desperate strait had the Italian morality of Catherine de’ Medici—the morality which looks upon all means as lawful by which power is obtained and preserved, which stands muttering the favorite Jesuitical shibboleth of the Vatican, “The end sanctifies the means”—reduced unhappy France. Catherine’s ancestor, Cosmo de’ Medici, had maintained his authority at Florence by severity, guile, and vengeance; should she scruple to use the weapons of so consummate a politician?
She now used all three. Her severity and vengeance were shown by the execution of La Malle and Coconnas; by the arrest of Montgomery in Normandy, shortly followed by his beheadal, ostensibly for killing Henry II in the tournament of 1559, but really because he was one of the most indefatigable and uncompromising of the Huguenots; by the imprisonment of marshals Montmorenci and Cossé in the Bastile, and by the confinement of Alencon and Henry of Navarre in a grated chamber of the Louvre under careful surveillance.
Her guile was exhibited by the attempts which she made to wheedle those chiefs who wisely absented themselves from her dangerous vicinage, and especially by her efforts to cajole D’Amville Montmorenci, who, dissatisfied by the imprisonment of his brother the marshal, by the insult offered his family in the assassination of Coligny, and by the exile of his house from court, aided, sub rosa, the insurgents ill his government of Languedoc, while professing to quell the émuete.
Such was the political situation when Henry III returned to France.
Henry received intelligence of his brother’s death within fourteen days after his arrival in Poland. The austere behavior of his new subjects made him regret, even in that brief period, the unchecked profligacy of Paris; and his companions, young libertines from twenty to twenty-five years of age, disgusted by the restraints of decency and virtue, longed to lap themselves once more in the licentious arms of Catharine’s court beauties. In this desire the dandy king, who wore earrings, and perfumed his person so that he smelled like a walking Cologne-bottle, fully shared. Fearing lest the Poles might remonstrate against his departure, one dark tempestuous night he quitted his palace at Cracow by stealth, thus abandoning as a fugitive a crown which he had gained by bribery and intrigue, and in two days he reached the frontiers of the German empire.
A little later Henry joined Catharine at Lyons. On arriving at his capital, he found the seeds of civil war again sown; and amid the hireling shouts of gratulation which hailed his presence, he heard the ill-suppressed murmurs of seditious discontent.
But discord was Catharine’s element; she reveled in it: “I prefer to fish in troubled waters,” said she. She told Henry that it became the hero of Jarnac and Moncontour to crush sedition sword in hand; and the weak monarch succumbed to this subtle flattery, and adopted Catharine’s pernicious counsel. Siege was at once laid to one of the insurgent towns—Livron.
At this juncture died the cardinal of Lorraine, whose infamous policy and vaulting ambition had bathed France in blood. He possessed great talents, which he devoted to the aggrandizement of his family, careless of the honor or advantage of his country. He was the center of a circle, and his relatives bounded its circumference; no thoughts of national utility ever, even transiently, entered into his conceptions of state policy. He made use of religion as the ladder of his ambition; he embroiled the various members of the royal family with each other, while he directed their concentrated fury against the best subjects in the kingdom. He was a priest without piety, a statesman without honor, a libertine by practice, a hypocrite by habit, avaricious, unfeeling, treacherous; concealing, under an engaging air of simulated candor, a black heart, malignant and revengeful.
Ere the court recovered from the sensation produced by the cardinal’s death, the chiefs of the insurrection met at Millaud and bound themselves by oath to two distinct articles: the political malcontents covenanted never to lay down arms until the Huguenots were secured in the complete and free exercise of their religion; the Huguenots pledged themselves neither to sign a peace, nor to consent to a truce, till the liberation of the captive marshals Montmorenci and Cossé.
Meantime the feeble garrison of Livron defied the utmost exertions of the royal army, and Henry himself went to the camp, accompanied by the queen mother and the court, expecting that his presence would insure the speedy fall of the stubborn town. He was mistaken; when the besieged learned of his arrival before their walls, they crowded to the ramparts and hurled the bitterest insults into his ears. “Cowards,” they cried, “assassins, what are you come for? Do you think to surprise us in our beds, and to murder us, as you did the admiral? Show yourselves, minions. Come, prove to your cost that you are unable to stand even against our women.” Thus Henry was literally hooted from the walls of Livron; he lost his heroic laurels, and raising the siege in a great passion, retired ignominiously to Paris.
The court had scarcely settled itself in the Louvre; ere it was startled by the news that Alencon, the king’s brother and heir apparent to the throne, had escaped his mother’s surveillance and joined the insurgents. Alencon, whose only importance consisted in his position, for he was utterly destitute of talent and honesty, had been angered by the king’s refusal to bestow upon him the lieutenant-generalship of the kingdom, which Henry withheld because he knew his brother’s turbulent incompetence.
Still, Alencon was a prince of the blood, and his accession to the opposition gave them increased strength. The confederates had nominated Condé, who had quitted Paris some time before, and was now in Germany recruiting an army for the Huguenots, as their leader, in the absence of Navarre, still held at court; but with rare good sense, when Condé heard that Alencon had joined his party, he conferred the nominal leadership upon that prince, satisfied with retaining its essence.
Soon the confederates had a large army in the field; Condé was rapidly advancing at the head of his German mercenaries; and Thoré Montmorenci, who commanded the advance guard of the main body, met the dukes of Guise and Mayence, brothers, and two of the ablest captains of the age, at the village of Dormans. The forces at once joined battle, and after a sanguinary contest, Thoré was routed. It was here that Guise obtained the wound in the face which gained for him the surname of Le Balafré.
Alencon was soon surrounded by a number of distinguished gentlemen, among whom were Turenne and La Noué. Ere long the party was still further reinforced by the arrival of Henry of Navarre, who escaped from Paris by a stratagem, to the chagrin of Catherine and the rage of Henry III. At Tours, Navarre renounced popery, protested against his abjuration of Calvinism, in 1572, as wrung from him in duress, and announced his determination to battle for his faith.
The Huguenots were jubilant, and they speedily put fifty thousand men-at-arms in the field.
Suddenly Alencon, true to his weak and perfidious nature, wavered, then went over to the court. Soured by the superior influence of Navarre and Condé in the confederate camp, he fell an easy victim to his mother’s wiles.
Shortly after Alencon’s defection, both parties wearied of the war, and a treaty of pacification was signed. The Huguenots again wrung from the reluctant court those concessions so often granted and so invariably infringed. But the terms now won were more favorable than any heretofore obtained: amnesty for the past; full liberty of conscience; the free exercise of religion, without exceptions of time or place; the power of erecting schools and colleges, of convening synods, of performing marriage, administering the sacraments according to the reformed creed; the eligibility of Huguenots to office; the liberation of all prisoners of state; a promise to establish a court of justice in each parliament, composed jointly and equally of Huguenots and Romanists: these were among the chief clauses of the treaty, a treaty which was characterized at the time as “not a pacification, but a surrender at discretion of the court.”
Yet despite Brantome’s epigram, the Huguenots committed a gross blunder in signing the pacification. With their experience of the hollowness and treachery of Catherine and the king, it seems strange that they should not have known that concessions so ample would never be executed. Catherine’s well-known maxim was, “Divide and govern.” When the wily queen was hard pressed, she negotiated a peace, and then went deliberately to work to break its most solemn ratifications.
Concerning this treaty, Davila openly confesses that the court never intended to fulfill their engagements; that all they aimed at was the withdrawal of Alencon from the coalition, and the return of the mercenaries to Germany. And Sully, referring to the queen mother, says, “She offered more than we thought that we could demand; promises cost that artful princess nothing. Thus all things fell out as she wished; for in making this peace she had nothing in view but the disunion of her enemies.”
Sully and Davila were right: the treaty of pacification was scarcely ratified before it was pronounced null and void; not one of its articles was ever executed. It produced an armistice, rather than a peace; both parties rested upon their arms. But the apparent “surrender of the court at discretion” was in fact another trophy won by the vicious statesmanship of Catharine de’ Medici.
All parties were dissatisfied: the Huguenots, because they saw that they had bartered success for a worthless parcel of parchment promises, which the government had no intention of enforcing; the Romanists, because they thought that their creed had been compromised by even the empty assent to tolerant concessions, whether made in good faith or from hypocrisy; the people at large, because their taxes were vastly increased, while the court spent their substance in riot and debauchery.
But two years had elapsed since Henry’s accession, yet he was clothed in dishonor. The Polish diet had expelled him from their throne with the most degrading marks of infamy; and he now lounged in the court of France, occupied in seductions, in inventing new forms of etiquette, and in weighty consultations with his tailor upon the cut of a coat or the tie of a cravat, while his government was crumpling into dust. He was hated by the reformers on account of his vices and his breaches of faith; he was despised by the Romanists for his foppish imbecility. Thus the substance of royalty had departed from him, only the shadow remained. Openly bearded by the Huguenots, while the reactionists, led by the house of Guise, secretly conspired against his nominal authority, this miserable representative of the august Valois dynasty saw none but enemies abroad and rebels at home. His only friends, if that sacred name can be applied to such characters, were young libertines, the companions of his profligacies, whose extravagance and license put the seal to his unpopularity.
Not the slightest dependence was placed upon the unsteady royal popinjay. On behalf of his party, Condé wrote to prince Cassimir requesting him to remain near the frontier with hislanzknechts, as great apprehension was felt that the pacification would not be observed by the court.
On their part, the ultramontanists, incited by the gold of the Spanish king, and filled with the venom of religious hate, longed and watched and plotted for the dismal tocsin to ring in once more the “Paris matins.” They petitioned the king to revoke the recent edict; they conjured him to exterminate the heretics.
Henry’s will to comply with this congenial requisition was as good as that of the fiercest fanatic in his kingdom; nothing would have pleased him better than to figure as the hero of another St. Bartholomew. But he lacked stamina; when weighty obstacles were to be surmounted, his unstable and weak nature succumbed. Wary and dissembling as he was, he made use of an expression which showed the wish of his heart, immediately after signing the obnoxious treaty. The Huguenots of Rouen had just resumed the exercise of their worship, and the cardinal of Bourbon, accompanied by several counsellors, went to their rendezvous to prevent the service. He entered without difficulty, but when he mounted the pulpit and began to speak, the evangelicals quitted the building and left him to address empty benches. Some one told the king that the cardinal had dispersed the Huguenots of Rouen by a flourish of his cross and banner. “Is ‘t so?” cried Henry; “would to God they could be as easily driven from the other towns, were it even necessary to add the holy-water basin.”
But the ultramontanists distrusted Henry’s pluck, and they despised his lack of vigor. Therefore they determined to choose a fitter leader, and to league themselves together by an oath to extirpate heresy, and to exclude the Huguenots from participation in the government.
Such, in its inception, was the famous League; such was its abhorrent and fanatic object. Later, as we shall see, it assumed an additional phase.
There is a little cabinet in the castle of Joinville which has long been pointed out as the chamber in which the league was formed. There, in 1576, there were assembled Tassis and Moreo, two delegates of the king of Spain, the dukes of Guise and Mayenne, who also represented the cardinal of Guise and the dukes D’Aumale and Elboeuf; and besides these, a delegate of the cardinal of Bourbon. A covenant was drawn up and signed, Henry duke of Guise was appointed chief of the association, and under the pretext of religion, a terrible, secret, and atrocious society was launched which, like the Jesuits who reinforced it, plotted in the dark, used all weapons of deceit and fraud and force, and ere long drenched Europe in blood.
As in antiquity Athens cannot be thought of without Sparta, Rome without Carthage, so in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries France can neither be comprehended nor understood without the counterpart of the Spanish monarchy.
What was it that Francis I and Charles V contended for in their time? The emperor sought to realize that universal supremacy which was connected in theory with his title; Francis maintained the idea of France. There was now no danger to be apprehended from the Capuchin emperor; but his son and successor, powerful in the possession of extensive territories and the gold of the Indies, renewed the claim to Spanish predominance, and stepped forth himself as the champion of the ancient faith against its assailants. In the adherents of the Vatican he met with warm supporters, by whose assent he assumed the position and authority of head of the reactionists generally throughout Europe.
The League then was largely his idea, and Guise became merely the lieutenant of Philip II when he assumed the nominal leadership.
The emissaries of the new society circulated the forms of the covenant with equal celerity and secrecy: at first no proselytes were made; only papists of known zeal and discretion signed the rolls and took the oath, for the association did not mean to strike a hasty blow; they intended rather to perfect their organization at leisure, and to await an auspicious moment for the manifestation of their prodigious power.
Thus the League lay coiled and torpid, like a huge serpent, ready to spring upon the victim when events should warm it into vicious life.
Meantime, towards the close of the year 1576, the states-general were convened at Blois. France was agitated; Henry had just learned by accident of the formation of the League; the Huguenots were clamorous for the enforcement of the edict of pacification; the papists were mutinous; chaos seemed come again. The king was alarmed. The League boldly demanded war; he felt himself too weak to resent their insolence; yet to yield was in effect an abdication. In an unhappy moment Henry determined himself to head the League, to become the chief of a faction, instead of the sovereign of a nation.
This maneuver disconcerted the confederates; but instantly recovering their equanimity, they dispatched the duke of Guise to visit the king, and enjoin him as a member of the holy union to annul the last edict and proclaim war. It was however desirable that, before the sword was unsheathed, Navarre, Condé, and D’Amville should be summoned to obey the king, in order that on their refusal to recant, the responsibility of the ensuing strife might appear to rest on their heads.
This was done. Navarre declared that “If God opened his eyes that he might see his error, not only would he immediately abjure it, but he would contribute his utmost efforts to abolish heresy altogether,” a speech which has been well said to be characteristic of the epoch. Navarre was at the time in arms for liberty of conscience, and yet declared his readiness to become a persecutor if a change took place in his opinions, a remark which actually justified the leaguers in their course, and which cried Amen to the tortuous diplomacy of Catharine de’ Medici.
The deputies to Condé and D’Amville received this answer: “We ask only for peace; let the promises given us be fulfilled, and all will be well; besides, we do not acknowledge your states-general, and we protest against every resolution there made to our prejudice.”
Towards the close of March, 1577, the war recommenced; the campaign, however, was a tedious one; little was accomplished on either side; it was a war of skirmishes. The League, persuaded that their policy dictated patient preparation, and convinced that they were not yet fit to take the field, dissembled; and Henry, true to his weak nature, speedily tired of the contest when no longer hounded on by bolder rogues. The consequence was the conclusion of a new treaty at Bergerac, in September, 1577, which was immediately followed by the edict of Poictiers, confirming, in all essential respects, the tolerant enactments of the past.
Peace—if a society torn by feuds and cursed by incessant émuetes, can be said ever to enjoy that blessing—now reigned through three years.
In 1580, a wanton insult offered by king Henry to the queen of Navarre, by a brother to a sister, again kindled war. Henry, impelled by his love of mischief or by his dislike of Navarre, wrote that prince that Turenne was criminally intimate with Margaret.
Both Turenne and the queen were naturally indignant at this insult, with which Navarre acquainted them by showing the royal letter, and they spared no pains to precipitate another revolution.
This contest had no religious basis; yet such was the peculiarity of the times, that in any trouble the chiefs of either party could depend upon the support of their partisans, who took it for granted that the object for which they battled was just.
After raging fiercely for some months, the “Lover’s war,” as it was called on account of its origin, was concluded by another pacification, and weary France again rested for a moment from internecine butchery.
But the kingdom had undergone so many and such violent convulsions, had become so habituated to martial strife, that a parchment treaty had no power to tranquilize it. The civil wars had created a distaste for the ordinary occupations of life; a large portion of the population, demoralized by the camp, hated whatever made for peace; the country swarmed withbanditti; bravos, ready to assassinate or to plunder, awaited employment in the open market-place. Such was France under the imbecile scepter of Henry III; but while the papists, in the excess of their fanatic zeal, did not scruple to charge these crying evils to the prevalence of heresy, the Huguenots, with better philosophy, attributed them to the wickedness of France, abandoned to licentious despots and the whims of fanaticism; no text was more frequent upon their lips than this: “Righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people.”
THE WAR OF THE THREE HENRY’S
Instantly the torpid League sprang to its feet, full of Satanic energy, and prepared for action. In the reigning monarch the house of Valois became extinct. Henry had been married ten years, but he was childless; by the death of Alencon, Navarre of the line of Bourbon became next heir to the throne. This the Salic law decreed; this abstract right not the fiercest bigot questioned. But the Navarrese prince was a Huguenot; and the champions of the Vatican in France appealed through the League to the intolerant passions of the people, affirming that the accession of a Calvinist monarch would necessitate the overthrow of Latin orthodoxy.
The chiefs of the League were again convened at Guise’s castle of Joinville, and to this rendezvous Philip of Spain also sent his delegates. A pronunciamento was agreed on, and shortly published. Proceeding from the fundamental principle that a heretic could not be king of France, this paper declared the League to be of one mind, that the scepter should not pass to the king of Navarre, but to his uncle the cardinal of Bourbon, a younger brother of that renegade Antony, who married Jane d’Albrét, and from whom these claims were derived. The cardinal, by his plenipotentiary, joined the union and adopted the shibboleth. Further, the League was announced to be intended to effect the extirpation of the Huguenots not only in France, but also in the Netherlands. The king of Spain promised for the first year a subsidy of one million scudi. The Freud princes, on their part, regarding themselves as already clothed in the royal purple, bound themselves to renounce the alliance with the Ottoman Porte; to give up the system of piracy carried on in the West Indian waters; to restore Cambray, wrung from Philip by the valor of the Protestants; and to assist Spain in the subjugation of the Netherlands.
Such, in its main features, was the extraordinary treaty concluded between the traitorous subjects of Henry III and the Spanish government, without the consent, nay, without the knowledge of the king of France.
When Henry learned of the mischief which was brewing, he was prodigiously startled. One of his favorites, Epernon, was hastily dispatched to Henry of Navarre, to offer him the undisputed succession, provided he would return to the court, renounce his creed, and reconcile himself to Rome.
The League, in its turn, was now startled. Matthieu, a Jesuit, who was nicknamed the courier of the League, was sent to Rome to procure the pontiff’s dispensation for the action of the confederation, a move which looked to the murder of the king. But Gregory XIII steadily refused to sign any document, while his verbal answers were always expressed with non-committal craft.
In the mean time Epernon lad been received by Henry of Navarre with courtesy. The Navarrese prince hesitated. By renouncing Calvinism he smoothed his path to the throne, but he distrusted the sincerity of the court: he feared to exchange his present independence for a gorgeous imprisonment; nay, more, should the Guises regain the ascendency, his assassination was certain. He was also much influenced by the recent conduct of his wife, who was separated from him, and who led a licentious life in Auvergne. He felt that he would be obliged to receive her back to secure the sincere friendship of the queen mother and the king, if any such quality as sincerity could be expected from Henry III, whose other name was duplicity, and from Catherine, whose synonym was treachery.
These considerations made him finally resolve neither to embrace Romanism nor to return to the court; but he offered to assist the king against the League, and declared himself open to conviction in religion.
Jest as Henry III received this answer, and stood deeply lamenting the failure of the negotiation, the leaguers, who had assembled at Gaillon, in the neighborhood of Rouen, published a manifesto declaring war without awaiting the king’s assent, artfully blending together the interests of religion, the privileges of the nobles, and the oppressions of the poor, demanding the definitive revocation of all tolerant edicts, and dictating the expulsion of the Huguenots from France.
The emissaries of the League then seized every strong-hold which they could surprise; while Guise, at the head of an insignificant army, rendezvoused at Chalons, and anxiously awaited reinforcement.
The king published a counter-declaration, in which he appeared rather to justify his imbecile government than to condemn the rebellion. “Forgetting the arms which nature and necessity presented to him, he had recourse to pen and paper,” says a satirical contemporary; “but so tamely that you would say he did not dare to name his enemy, and that he resembled a man who complains without saying who has beaten him.”
The king’s appeal produced no effect; not a sword was drawn.
Had Henry possessed either courage or energy, he might have easily dispersed Guise’s nucleus force. Indeed Guise himself said to Nangis, when that gentleman asked him what he should do if the king assailed him, “Retire as quickly as possible to Germany, and await a more favorable opportunity.”
But when fear chills the heart and paralyzes the arm of a sovereign, all is lost; the audacity of revolt increases with impunity. Could Henry have exhibited the conqueror of Jarnac, he would have insured tranquility. But anxious to appease the insurgents, not to quell them, he entreated the queen mother to meet Guise, assure him of his friendship, and accede to the terms of the League, rather than disturb the peace of France.
Lyons, Bourges, Orleans, Angers, had succumbed to his feeble army, and Guise, emboldened by success, met Catharine with an air of bravado, and with rare insolence actually dictated a peace to his king. A request, signed by himself and the cardinal of Bourbon, was presented, demanding an edict for the extirpation of heresy, the forcible expulsion of the Huguenots from the kingdom, a pledge from Henry to adhere to the League, and to renounce the protection of Geneva.
This “request” was at once adopted, and the royal imbecile signed the ignominious treaty at Nemours on the 7th of July, 1585. From this hour Henry III ceased to be de facto king of France; he was merely the nominal chief of a religious faction. He himself felt this, and he once said with a touch of pathos, ” ‘Tis true that I wear the crown, but Guise is the king of hearts.” The king now came to hate Guise with the peculiar virulence of a weak and treacherous nature, and he determined to avail himself of the first opportunity to avenge his humbled honor by the stiletto of a bravo. “This over-powerful subject,” muttered he, “must be swept from my path.”
The Huguenots received the intelligence of this fatal treaty with grief and consternation. The king of Navarre was astounded. Condé’s troops had been largely disbanded; the party were unprepared for war; the fiercest harry yet organized, sanctioned by the king, was about to swoop upon them. So terrible was Navarre’s agony, says the historian Matthieu, that “his mustachios became white in a night.”
But unlike the king, his energy and fertility of resource were not to be paralyzed by danger, either menaced or present. With Titanic zeal he labored to save imperiled Christianity. Negotiations with Protestant powers abroad were opened; the home partisans of reform were summoned to assemble; Condé went into Germany to recruit his lanzknechts: Navarre published an appeal to Christendom, in which he complained of being stigmatized as a relapsed heretic, a persecutor of the church, a disturber of the state, false and malicious libels on his character invented to deprive him of the royal succession; declared that he had been compelled to appear to abjure his faith on the St. Bartholomew to save his life; that he was open to conviction, but that efforts had always been made to destroy rather than convert him: he repudiated the accusation of persecuting the papists, showing that many of that creed held high offices in his hereditary domains, and that others were constantly in attendance upon his person: he averred that he had never molested the persons nor touched the revenues of the Romish priests; offered to place all his fortresses in the king’s hands if the Guises and their adherents would imitate his example; denounced the ambition of the house of Lorraine; and concluded by giving the lie to his enemies, and offering to decide the quarrel with the duke of Guise according to the chivalric habit of the times, by combat, either singly, or with two, ten, or twenty on a side.
This manifesto produced a profound sensation. Liberal Europe cried, Amen. His friends displayed increased devotion; the indifferent joined him, partly from admiration for his fortitude, partly because they were clear-sighted enough to perceive that he was the victim of a base and unprincipled faction, who, to compass their ambitions views, would hazard laying France prostrate at the feet of Spain.
Small detachments of cavaliers reached Navarre from time to time, the precursors of more formidable levies; and this prince, who was supposed by many to be preparing for flight, was soon strong enough to attack the overconfident League.
Thus Navarre was supported by his own indomitable heroism, by the enthusiasm of his party, by the prayers of the righteous, and by God’s all-powerful hand.
The contest at once commenced. It was called, The War of the Three Henry’s—Henry III at the head of the royalists, Henry of Guise at the head of the leaguers, and Henry of Navarre at the head of the Huguenots.
At this critical juncture pope Gregory XIII died. He had steadily refused to identify himself with the League, or to put the Bourbon princes out of the pale of the church: “I will leave the door open for their conversion,” said he. He was succeeded by Felici Paretti, a fanatical friar of the Franciscan order, who assumed the tiara under the title of Sextus V. This pontiff had no scruples; he excommunicated Navarre and Condé, stigmatizing them as relapsed heretics; as such he declared them incapable of the royal succession; he deprived them of their estates, absolved their subjects and vassals from allegiance, and menaced with anathema all who should thenceforth serve them either in a civil or military capacity.
Unawed by this brutum fulmen, the Bourbon princes preserved their serenity, and even posted on the walls of the Vatican a protest against the anathema.
But this authoritative voice from the “holy of holies” at Rome consolidated the League, confirmed many doubting consciences, and gave Guise prestige. Even Catharine was awed into the cessation of her machinations. Croaking, “Divide and govern,” she had ventured to negotiate with Navarre, and to give him covert aid; for she feared lest Guise might be too successful, and thereby destroy the political balance. Guise discovered this move, and shaking his finger menacingly, bade the withered old diplomat beware of approaching the abyss of excommunication; and the queen mother shrank back affrighted.
The League was jubilant; the sanction of the pontiff was the test of every Jesuit sermon. The fanatics declared that victory was sure to follow a banner blessed by the vicegerent of God; and the zealots already in imagination celebrated the extirpation of heresy.
Still, on the whole, the moral effect of this insolent interference was favorable to the Huguenots. The calmer and more reflecting members of the body politic deprecated the pope’s presumption. They perceived that it struck at the civil franchises of the kingdom, and might be twisted into a precedent dangerous to the privileges of tile Gallican church.
The pontiff’s fiat did indeed detach numerous partisans from the Huguenot banner, but these were of the lowest and most ignorant class. As a compensation, many gentlemen of rank openly adhered to Navarre; while others who did not choose publicly to join him, stood neutral, or favored him in secret. The gauntlet he had flung down to Guise and which the chief of the League had not ventured to take up, his defiance of the pope, the severe misfortunes which he had incurred, all combined to make Navarre an object of interest, of admiration, of pity; they gained him the active sympathy of the good, the generous, and the heroic.
The Swiss cantons sent deputies to Henry to intercede for the Huguenots. The Germans, animated by the eloquence of the famous Theodore Beza, who had pleaded the cause of the Reformation before Charles II in happier years, armed in defense of their coreligionists, and enthusiasm gave to their movements the character of a Protestant crusade.
Henry of Navarre took the field: under such a leader, small bodies equaled armies. He marched from victory to victory. Fired by his spirit, his troops captured fortresses, subjugated provinces, and baffled the most subtle tactics of Mayenne.
On the 20th of October, l587, the battle of Coutras was fought. The royalists, commanded by the duke of Joyeuse, were confident, well equipped, and ten thousand strong.
The Huguenot army was composed of four thousand infantry and two thousand five hundred cavalry; but the disparity of numbers was balanced by discipline. Joyeuse was a courtier; Navarre was a soldier. The duke’s officers were dressed in richly ornamented costume, and their helmets were adorned by brilliant plumes; the Huguenots displayed naught but iron, and arms rusty with rain. It was the army of Darius against that of Alexander.
Navarre drew up his men-at-arms in the form of a crescent; Condé and the count of Poisson were on his right, Turenne was upon his left. “My friends,” cried the king, “behold a prey much more considerable than any of your former booties; this is a bridegroom who has still the nuptial present in. his pocket, and all the chief courtiers with him.” Then turning to Condé and Soisson, he said, “All that I shall observe to you is, that you are of the house of Bourbon, and, please God, I will show you that I am your elder brother.”
Just as Navarre concluded, one of his principal supporters, Duplessis-Mornay, stepped forward, and in a solemn manner reminded Henry of the great injury which he had done the reformed religion by his incontinence, and particularly by the recent and notorious seduction of a young lady of Rochelle. “Sire,” said this reproving Nathan, “make public reparation for your misconduct, lest God send defeat as a judgment upon your so many sins.”
Henry, influenced either by religious feeling, or considering that the ardor of his soldiers would be heightened by the freedom of their cause from so foul a stigma, consented publicly to avow his fault in the church of Pau, and also to confess it on his first visit to Rochelle. He then knelt, together with the whole army, while prayer was offered to the God of battle.
This spectacle, instead of awakening respect in Joyeuse’s mind, only conformed his vain confidence. “See,” cried he, with a chuckle, “they kneel, they tremble; the day is ours.” Laverdin, an old soldier, who was familiar with the habits of the Huguenots, replied, “Nay, my lord, you mistake. ‘Tis their custom; they always pray when they mean either to conquer or die.”
The battle was decided in half an hour. The courtiers were no match for the soldiers of Christ. The royalists routed; five thousand dead; five hundred prisoners; Joyeuse slain: such were the fruits of this brilliant victory.
The Bourbon princes performed prodigies of valor on that day, but Navarre eclipsed them all. He fought like the paladin of a fairy tale. A white plume fastened in his helmet made him conspicuous. When some of his friends, esteeming him menaced, threw themselves in front of him to shield his person, he cried, “Give me room, I beseech you; you stifle me: I would be seen.”
Henry did not press his victory; indeed he is charged with having frittered it away. Quitting the army, which he left under the charge of Turenne, he repaired to Bearn and laid at the feet of the duchess de Guiche, of whom he was enamoured, the colors captured at Coutras. He dwarfed the heroic Henry of the battle-plain to the dandy carpet-knight of a courtesan’s boudoir—a sad metamorphosis, shameful to the prince, and insulting to his God.
To say nothing of his duty as a professed Christian, he ought not, as an able captain, to have bartered success for a lady’s smile; he ought not to have muddled the future by leaving it to the chapter of accidents, when, by energetic action, he might lave anchored God’s cause and his country’s.
THE DOUBLE ASSASSINATION
Tedious negotiations, which had no effect, followed the battle of Coutras. In the meanwhile Guise was winning laurels at the head waters of the Loire. His name was on every papist’s lips. Henry III, jealous of this renown, himself departed for the army; but he arrived only in time to see the hated Guise entwine the laurel about his brow; so that when the king returned to Paris, armed cap-à-pie, with the port of a warrior, the witty citizens only lampooned his vanity and satirized his assumption of stolen honors.
But Guise was the popular idol. The metropolis especially resounded with pans in his praise. The “new David,” the “second “Moses,” the “modern Gideon,” “the prop and pillar of holy church,” such were the titles showered upon him. Every café in Paris hymned his virtues.
This adulation turned Guise’s head. Hurried away by the madness of ambition, he summoned his family to assemble at Nancy; and here the house of Lorraine matured a scheme for deposing the king, immuring him in a cloister, and crowning Henry of Guise.
This shows how little interest the princes of Lorraine really took in religion; they only used it as a vehicle in which to ride to empire. Their simple, sole object in every maneuver, from the very inception of these troubles in the reign of Francis I, through forty rears of internecine strife, was the aggrandizement of their mushroom house. To that every thing was made to bend—the public weal, religious honor, the good faith of the state; the weightiest interests were transmuted into battle-doors.
The convocation at Nancy masked its real design, the usurpation of the throne by Guise; and committing to writing a series of insolent demands, forwarded them to the king. This precious document was not a petition; it was a command. Signed by the Guises, the cardinal of Bourbon, and other principal chiefs of the League, it imperiously demanded that the king should banish from his court all persons who were from any cause obnoxious to the “holy union;” that he should publish and enforce the decrees of the Council of Trent, place in the hands of the confederates such towns and fortresses as they might see fit, the crown paying the garrisons and all costs of fortification, and confiscate the Huguenot estates to defray the expenses of the war of extermination.
Henry III was quite broken by this daring insolence. As was usual with him when perplexed, he applied to the queen mother for assistance. Discord reigned in the privy council. One set of the king’s minions favored the League; another urged the monarch to identify himself with Navarre, and strangle that presumptuous union, the pest of France. In accordance with the weak vacillation of his character, he took neither counsel, but contenting himself with half measures, which in stormy crises always disgust both parties, he sent the conspirators at Nancy word that lie would consider their petition.
Guise, emboldened by the king’s timidity, now resolved to strike a decisive blow. His friends were ready; he was sure of the capital; the omens were auspicious; he determined to proceed to Paris, and seize Henry during the celebration of the carnival.
Despite the written and reiterated orders of his sovereign not to quit the camp, he entered Paris on the 9th of May, 1588, at high noon. Ere he had passed half through the city, he was recognized and thronged by the admiring mob. Thirty thousand people formed his retinue. “The shouts of the people,” says an eye-witness, “sounded to the skies; nor did they ever cry, “VIVE LE ROY” as energetically as they now shouted, “VIVE GUISE.” Some saluted him, some gave him thanks, some bowed to him, others kissed the hem of his garment. Those who could not get near him manifested their joy by gestures; some were seen who, adoring him as a saint, and touching him with their beads, either kissed them or pressed them against their eyes and foreheads. Even the women, thronging green leaves and blooming flowers from their windows, honored and blessed his coming.
Guise, with a smiling countenance and gracious air, showed himself affable to some in words, to some by courteously returning their salutations; others he requited with kind looks. Passing through the throng with his hat off, he omitted nothing that was calculated to win and rivet the affection and applause of the people.
Such was the reception awarded to the “king of Paris.” Guise, intoxicated by this adulation, had the hardihood to visit the Louvre. Catherine was aghast. She received him pale, trembling, and dismayed. Henry’s consternation may not be described. The impudent duke stood with easy nonchalance, enjoying the astonishment which his presence caused, and smiling as the shouts of the populace, who now crowded the court of the Louvre and the adjacent streets, came borne to his ears on the exultant wind.
Henry reproached Guise for his disobedience in visiting the capital, and the stern look which greeted him at length made the champion of the League and the idol of the Parisians turn pale. After a stormy interview, the duke feigned fatigue, and took his leave amid the acclamations of the multitude.
In the evening Guise fortified his house and stored it with ammunition. Equal vigilance was observed at the Louvre. The Swiss were under arms, and every man-at-arms whom Henry could press into service was put on guard.
The nest morning Guise again visited the Louvre; but fearful of treachery, he was accompanied by four hundred armed friends. Nothing was accomplished; and in the evening further consultations were held.
In the meantime every wile was employed to lash the excitable populace into a frenzy. The report was spread that a hundred and twenty of the chief leaguers were marked out for death. A counterfeit list was framed and circulated. Guise headed the victims. The people, incited by the priests, raged madly. Then commenced the famous barricades.
Paris, in the reign of Henry III, was not protected by the vigilant police of modern times. Now the constabulary force receives instructions from the crown minister; then it was wholly under the control of the municipal authorities. The city was then girt with walls, flanked by lofty towers; the gates were shut exactly at the fixed hour, and the sheriffs held the keys. The burgesses were formed into a militia, chose their own officers, and were frequently drilled. At the corners of the streets weighty chains were attached to rivets in the houses; these were stretched out at the least alarm, and thus all communication of one quarter of the city with another was impeded.
The people had banners, fixed places of meeting, rallying words; and no more than a drum-tap or the sound of a bell was required to collect a mass of soldiers under arms, imperfectly disciplined, but formidable from their number. Paris was divided into sixteen districts: in each of these a council was formed in the interest of the League; these appointed sixteen demagogue delegates, who made another council, called the “Council of Sixteen,” which was so famous in the religious wars of France.
Now the SIXTEEN were in their element. The tocsin sounded; the streets were unpaved; the chains extended from corner to corner; the Swiss guard of the king, shut up in the square before the church of the INNOCENTS and isolated, were soon forced to surrender; and Guise saw himself master of Paris by an almost bloodless coup d’état.
While these scenes were being enacted in the streets of his turbulent and traitorous capital, Henry, palsied by fear, gave up all hope. He had been informed of the object of Guise’s visit by one of the repentant conspirators, and he could not believe that his foe would let slip this opportunity: he stood disarmed and friendless; what could save him?
The craft of Catharine de’ Medici extricated her inefficient son from Guise’s net.
The queen mother had already visited Guise, when he had named such hard terms as amounted to the abdication of the king. Now, returning to the duke, she held him in protracted conversation, that he might have no opportunity to invest the Louvre, while the king prepared for instant flight.
Proceeding into the garden of the Tuilleries on pretense of taking a promenade, Henry repaired to the royal stables, equipped himself for his journey, and immediately set off on horseback, accompanied by a suite of fifteen or twenty gentlemen, for Chartres, where he arrived safely the next day, receiving every mark of affection and respect.
In the meanwhile Memville, one of Guise’s attendants, having ascertained that Henry had quitted Paris, burst unceremoniously into the duke’s cabinet, interrupted the queen mother’s empty harangue, which meant only time, and flung into his master’s ears the announcement, “The king has fled from Paris.” The duke started up in dismay, and said to Catharine, “Ah, madame, I am undone; while your majesty has been detaining me, the king has departed to plot my ruin.” Catharine, versed in all the arts of dissimulation, replied, “I credit not this news,” and took her leave.
Although bitterly disappointed that the grand prize had escaped him, Guise was not inactive, but took every precaution to secure the advantages which he had gained. He secured the Bastile, took St. Cloud, Vincennes, Lagry, and thus commanded the free navigation of the Seine and the Marne to the gates of Paris, and revolutionized the municipal administration, filling all offices with his satellites.
Notwithstanding these usurpations, Henry, from his retreat at Chartres, had the despicable weakness to open negotiations with the triumphant Parisian leaguers; and eventually a treaty was signed, which ratified demands very similar to those drawn up at Nancy.
In this edict a clause was inserted which guaranteed the convocation of the states-general at Blois on the 16th of October, 1588, to confirm the treaty. Victors thus far, the princes of Lorraine now used every effort to subsidize the members of the states-general; religious zeal, ambition, avarice, all were appealed to; they were again successful, and Guise was master of the assembly ere its opening session was held.
At the appointed time, the states-general were convened, and the pomp was unprecedented. The King, who, despite his reconciliation with the League, had resolutely refused to enter Paris since his ignominious flight, sojourning meantime at Rouen, made the inaugural address. Then business commenced; maneuver succeeded maneuver. Guise was confirmed as commander of the gend’armerie; a prior decree, declaring the cardinal of Bourbon first prince of the blood and next heir to the throne, was assented to; and Guise, blinded by success, moved that the decrees of the Council of Trent be registered, an act which world have barred the house of Bourbon from the crown. Even the lackey states paused here. They were not prepared to go to such a length. The clergy feared to jeopard the rights of the Gallican church; the nobles dreaded any extension of the papal power over their temporalities; the states secured a practical veto by postponement.
Guise, no whit discouraged, then moved that Navarre be declared incapable of the succession; this was voted with alacrity. In spite of Henry’s intrigues, notwithstanding his manifest reluctance to accede to this fiat, against the protest of Navarre, who denounced the states-general as a packed and exclusive convention of his enemies, the king, finding that he could neither conquer the inflexible resolution of the League nor evade their demands, finally assented to the general rote, and said that he would issue an edict giving it validity.
The political situation was still farther confused by the seizure of the marquisate of Saluzzo by the dupe of Vassy, an adherent of the League. This aggression torched the national pride, and the voice of patriotism was heard amid the din of religious discord. Henry charged that Guise had instigated the act; the duke asserted that the king himself incited it. Murmurs arose, and both Guisards and royalists bated each other with increased venom.
It was now, while affairs were thus tangled, while nothing was settled, save that the Huguenots were outlawed, declared incapable of holding office, and tabooed, that Henry, driven to desperation, definitively decided to assassinate his subtle and triumphant persecutor.
He had recourse to Marshal D’Aumont, a brave soldier, and to Nicolas D’Augenay, an able publicist: informing them of his purpose, he asked their opinion. “Strike,” advised the cavalier in a monosyllable; but the lawyer, with the instinct of his profession, counseled the duke’s imprisonment and trial before the regular tribunals for high treason.
The soldier’s advice was the most congenial, and the king resolved to adopt it. It was some time ere he obtained a willing instrument of revenge. At length Loignac, a partisan of Epernon, and a bitter foe of Guise, undertook the work.
On the 22d of December, 1585, Henry sent word to Guise that, as he proposed going to Notre Dame de Clery to pass the festival of Christmas, he should hold his daily council early the next morning.
Loiguac then received his last instructions. Thirteen assassins were introduced into the council-chamber and hidden behind a tapestry: and Henry himself gave each of them a poniard, saying, “Guise is the greatest criminal in my kingdom; the laws, both human and divine, permit me to punish him. Not being able to do so by the ordinary tribunals, I authorize you by my royal prerogative to do so.”
In the meantime the wretched victim received Henry’s treacherous note, and unmindful of the manifold warnings which he had received to beware of the king, he at once repaired to the palace, where he arrived in the grey, bleak winter dawn. Once in the trap, every thing conspired to alarm the duke. The gates were clanged after him with ominous precaution; he passed though a long lane of soldiers stretching away to the court-yard; he met the archbishop of Lyons, a confidential friend, who said to him in presence of Larchant, one of the captains of the guard, alluding to the light dress he wore, “That coat is too light for this season and place. You should have put on one stiff with fur.” These words, pronounced in accents of suspicion, heightened Guise’s alarm.
In one of the anterooms he nearly fainted; recovering, he proceeded to the fatal council-chamber. The door had been walled up. Ignorant of this, Guise was in the act of raising the tapestry which screened the apartment, when the bravos sprang upon him, and ere he could draw his sword, gave him countless stabs, and flung him to the floor quite dead.
The false door of the council-chamber was then thrown down, and Henry, followed by his suite, emerged into the anteroom where lay his late redoubted foe. The courtiers jested; and the king himself, in imitation of Guise’s brutality to the dead body of Coligny, kicked the duke’s remains.
Having gloated his eyes with this ghastly spectacle, Henry hastened to the queen mother, and cried exultingly, “Madame, the king of Paris is dead; I am now king of France.”
“I fear,” replied the astute Catharine, “that you will soon be king of nothing.” But she exhorted him to wait at once upon the papal nuncio, and avert his displeasure, and to use diligence and resolution.
The murder of Guise caused a profound sensation. Never was man less fit to die. He had quitted the chamber of one of the titled harlots of the court, the marchioness of Noirmontier, with whom he had passed the night, on the very morning of his death. He was stained by vices and crimes whose name was legion, and was one of the chief butchers of St. Bartholomew—a fearful record with which to face his God.
Guise possessed many of the qualities of a political leader. He was sagacious, affable, prepossessing in his physique, and possessed the keen, penetrating talent of a Machiavelli. He united in his single person the diplomatic acumen of his equally unscrupulous uncle the cardinal of Lorraine, and the military genius of his father.
Henry III for once acted with vigor. He ordered the arrest and instant execution of the cardinal of Guise. Then the bodies of the unhappy princes were consumed in quicklime, and buried secretly. Mayence also was upon the red list, but he escaped from Lyons to Dijon, whence he repaired to Paris; but the archbishop of Lyons, the old cardinal of Bourbon, the prince de Joinville, and the duke of Elboeuf were seized. “Hencefurth,” cried the aroused king, “I wish my subjects to know that I will be obeyed. I will punish the leaders of insurrection, and those who abet them. I will be king not merely in words, but in deeds; and it will be no difficult matter for me to wield the sword again as I did in my youth.”
News of the tragedy at Blois reached Paris on the day succeeding the assassination of the duke of Guise. Popular indignation vented itself in the bitterest and fiercest execrations. Sermons were preached on the martyrdom of the “king of Paris,” and Henry was compared to Herod. Intelligence of the death of the cardinal of Guise soon followed, and the outcries of fury grew louder and deeper. The king was denounced as a favorer of heresy, as an enemy to holy church, who had dyed his hands in the blood of an ecclesiastic. Priest and layman panted for revenge. Councils of war were held in shops and cloisters. The statues of the king were broken, the royal arms were defaced; he was called simply, Henry of Valois. The Sorbonne declared that he had forfeited the crown, and that his subjects not only might, but ought to cast off their allegiance; and this resolution was forwarded to Rome for the sanction of the pope.
In the midst of this excitement, Catharine de’ Medici died. She breathed her last on the 5th of January, 1589, in the seventieth year of her active and intriguing life.
Catharine possessed a strong intellect, persuasive eloquence, and an invention so ready that it never halted for an expedient. She believed with the Vatican, that “the end justifies the means;” and in the pursuit of her purpose, she availed herself without a scruple of the most abhorrent arts, and especially of the licentiousness of her court. She was always accompanied by a bevy of fair but frail beauties; and by her encouragement of vice, she raised it to an unparalleled height of dissoluteness and infamy.
In the exercise of her cruelty and perfidy, she eventually became equally detested by the papists and the Huguenots, both of whom she had often betrayed. Fighting with such poisoned weapons, she could not fail to be despised in each camp when she became known in each.
In her stony heart maternal affection had no sway. She encouraged her children in habits of licentiousness, in order to make them subservient to her will. She is even accused of murdering two of her sons when they stood in her path; and it is not questioned that she employed the poisoner’s bowl and the stiletto of the bravo to abridge the lives of several rivals. The good she did France was imperceptible; the evil she inflicted, the curses she entailed, the atrocious régime of deceit and perfidy and selfish despotism which she inaugurated, two centuries later crazed France—drove it to blow its own brains out in the revolution of 1793.
The death of the queen mother completed the king’s embarrassment. He had leaned upon her counsel; now that prop was gone. The whole country heaved in insurrection. City was opposed to city, castle to castle. In vain did Henry strive to appease the indignation of the League by proving the treason of the duke of Guise. The correspondence with Spain and Savoy, the terms of the alliance, the monies raised to arm the traitors against the throne, all went for nothing. The country was in no mood to listen to evidence; the people were the slaves of unbridled passion; they wanted not truth, but vengeance.
Nor was the monarch more successful in his efforts to placate the pope. When Sixtus V learned through the French ambassador of the death of the Guises, and the imprisonment of the cardinal of Bourbon and the archbishop of Lyons, his rage knew no bounds. “Your master,” said he, “thinks to deceive me, and treats me as if I were no more than a poor monk; but he shall find that he deceives himself, not me; and that he has to deal with a pontiff who is ready to shed plenty of blood when the interest of his see requires it.” “But, holy father,” retorted the keen ambassador, “shall not the king my master be at liberty to kill the cardinal of Guise, his mortal enemy, after pope Pius IV has authorized the murder of cardinal Caraffe, who had been one of his friends?” Sixtus was too much enraged to reply to this home-thrust, so he dismissed the minister from his presence.
This rebuff at the Vatican isolated the king. He held a scepter which he could not wield. On one side of the Loire the exasperated League ruled, undisputed; on the other, the king of Navarre governed. Henry stood alone in the center of his kingdom, without money, without friends, without an army.
He attempted to negotiate with the League; but that confederacy, under the able management of Mayenne, who had been appointed head, had regained stability, and the offended brother of the murdered princes haughtily refused all overtures.
In despair, the wretched monarch recalled the dying advice of the queen mother. He turned to Navarre, and besought his forgiveness and assistance; when this was known, the papal legate and the Spanish ambassador quitted him, and proceeding to Paris, recognized the lords of the League as the legitimate government of France.
But the Huguenot sky was propitious. Navarre acceded to Henry’s request for an armistice; and on the 30th of April, 1589, clasping hands at Plessisles-Tours, the two monarchs pledged themselves to bury the past, to unite for the future; and they entered Tours amid the acclamations of the soldiers and the inhabitants. Huguenots and royalists fraternized, and vowed to devote their consolidated strength to the subjugation of the League and the inauguration of a tolerant régime.
Deeply chagrined by this unexpected phase of affairs, Mayenne collected his squadrons and dashed towards Tours, hoping to surprise the kings in the midst of the reconciliatory fêtes. He nearly succeeded. Swooping upon Vendôme, he captured it, and then pressed into the suburbs of Tours. After a severe contest, Mayenne was forced back; and retreating across France slowly and sullenly, he passed through St. Cloud into the friendly and sheltering walls of Paris.
The jubilant royalists crossed the Loire close on Mayenne’s heels. When they reached Poissy, they were joined by some foreign auxiliaries, ten thousand Swiss and four thousand Germans, whom the king had enlisted under his banner. These, added to the detachments of Longueville, Montpensier, De Givry, and Navarre, swelled Henry’s army to forty-two thousand fighting men.
The terror excited by this array reduced those towns which environed the capital to speedy submission. Consternation reigned in Paris. Mayenne could only muster eight thousand infantry and eighteen hundred cavalry. Despite his exertions, all the passages of the Seine were wrung from his control, and the approaches to the bridges fell into the hands of the king.
Paris was almost strangled by the besiegers, so closely did they clasp the throat of the rebellious capital. Henry in person begirt the Faubourg St. Honoré, and all that side of the Louvre which borders on the river. Navarre besieged the line from the Faubourg of St. Martin to that of St. Germain.
The fate of Mayenne seemed certain; when fanaticism extricated the League from the impending danger, and once more unsettled France.
Fanatical opinions exercise their power oftener over individuals than on great corporations. From the midst of the common fermentation there now arose a monk who resolved to perpetrate a fresh deed of horror. This was Jacques Clément, a Dominican whose passions were strong, whose principles were libertine, and whose frenzy was unequalled. He had recently been ordained a priest. To persons of his own age and to his friends, he was an object of ridicule. He was weak in body and simple of mind. Such are the natures on which fanaticism makes the most profound impression. Clément was persuaded that it was lawful to kill a tyrant, and he laid before his superiors the question whether it would be a mortal sin for a priest to assassinate a despot. He was told that it would be an irregularity, but no mortal sin. Meantime every art was employed to heat his brain and nerve his hand for the atrocious deed.
When the fanatic communicated his project to Mayenne and D’Aumale, they approved it. The demagogue Council of Sixteen applauded it. He was promised a cardinal’s hat if he did the deed and escaped; if taken and executed, he was assured of canonization; and on the night that his resolution was confirmed, the duchess of Montpensier sacrificed all that a woman holds most dear to the young libertine regicide.
Thus doubly crazed by passion and by fanaticism, Clément provided himself with forged credentials to the king; then bidding his friends adieu, he passed outside the lines of the League, loosened his frock, and walked with rapid strides towards Henry’s camp. After some delay, he spent the night within the king’s lines. Clément succeeded in securing an audience. Henry approached him. Pretending to draw a paper from his sleeve, he drew instead a knife, which he plunged with deadly effect into the monarch’s abdomen. “Wretch,” cried the king, “what have I done, that you should assassinate me?” and as he spoke, he drew the fatal blade from the wound, and struck it into the forehead of the miscreant friar. La Guesle, one of the attendant courtiers, ran him through. His body was hurled from the window, where it was hacked to pieces by the soldiers, burned, and the ashes thrown into the Seine.
Henry lingered eighteen hours, counseled forbearance, deplored the unhappy state in which he left France, exhorted the nobility to remain united, and declared Navarre to be his legitimate successor. Then turning to the anxious followers who crowded about his couch, he said, “Adieu, my friends; turn your tears into prayers, and pray for me.” Shortly after this, in the thirty-eighth year of his age and the fifteenth of his reign, the last of the house of Valois died without a struggle, while repeating the miserere.
Henry’s death was finer than his life. Imbecile, vacillating, vicious, even to name his vices would outrage decency. Never did monarch mount the throne under brighter auspices; never had a king more shamefully squandered his time in low debauchery, lost golden opportunities, and frittered away his reputation. His feebleness alienated the League; his treachery disgusted the Huguenots. His religion was hypocrisy, his prudence was craft, his liberality was licentious prodigality, his private life was a continuous round of enervating and rouépleasure. His death was received by the factions and by bigots with exultation, and France at large rashly attributed it to a stroke of divine justice.
THE WHITE PLUME of NAVARRE
When apprized of the assassination, ultramontane France ran mad with ferocious joy. The Dominicans of the capital chanted Te Deum. Portraits of Clément were exposed to the veneration of the populace. The statue of the murderer was placed in the cathedral, with the inscription, “St. James Clément, pray for us.” Bonfires blazed; rockets shot up to kiss the heavens. The abandoned duchess of Montpensier, in whose arms the assassin had had his purpose confirmed, traversed the Paris streets with disheveled dress, crying, “Good news, my friends, good news! The tyrant is dead; we shall have no more of Henry Valois.” Pope Sixtus V, in full consistory, pronounced a studied panegyric upon Clément, beginning his atrocious harangue with a quotation from the Psalms: “This is the Lord’s doing; and it is marvelous in our eyes.” Then, with frightful blasphemy, this pastor of the faithful declared the cowardly regicidal act comparable, for heroism, to the actions of Judith and Eleazar, and for usefulness, to the incarnation and resurrection of the Savior.
But while the League was exulting, Navarre, aware that boldness is the mother of opinion, and that from this springs power, from power victory, and thence security, hastened to have himself proclaimed king of France under the title of Henry Quatre; then, leaning with one hand upon the Swiss auxiliaries, and with the other upon the united Huguenot and conservative parties, he calmly turned to Europe and demanded recognition.
This, however, was not readily conceded. Most of the foreign states were hostile to his claim; France itself was divided: the League, dominant in half of the kingdom, cried Veto to the new monarch’s accession; many of the royalist cavaliers deserted Henry’s standard at this critical moment; and the king, with his army thinned by desertion to half its original size—forty-two thousand men—raised the siege of Paris, divided his squadrons into three divisions, and retired into Normandy.
Nor was the League a unit at this crisis. Dissension, bitter and open, ate out the heart of action. Mayenne himself, chief of the “holy union,” backed by the formidable house of Guise, aspired to the throne. Mendoza, the Spanish ambassador, opposed his election in favor of Philip II, who also had designs upon the crown; and Sixtus V was urged to espouse the cause of the “most Christian king.” But the pope did not enter into the views of Spain with any cordiality. He foresaw not if Philip, who was already too strong for the Vatican, should become arbiter of France and master of the Netherlands, he could reduce the pontiff to the position of mere head chaplain to the court of Madrid. Accordingly Sixtus threw the weight of his influence into the scale against Philip, whom he all the time cozened into imagining that he was assisting. This tortuous policy finally effected the election of the old cardinal of Bourbon, whom the Huguenots still held in duress, and who received the empty honor of the ultramontane allegiance, under the sobriquet of Charles X. In the absence of their nominal king, the Council of Sixteen ruled Paris, and Mayenne controlled the Romanist provinces.
In the mean time Henry Quatre, by dint of his superior military genius, beat down all opposition, and marched from victory to victory. He convened a parliament at Tours, where his authority was acknowledged, and where justice was administered in his name; he overran Normandy; he gained the celebrated battle of Argens, in 1588, and subdued a multitude of rebellious towns.
After exhaustive but abortive diplomatic ruses, succeeded by much military maneuvering, the army of the League, commanded by Mayenne, and the Huguenots, led by Henry IV, met, in March, 1590 on the famous plain of Ivry.
Two writers who were with the king mention that, during a terrific thunderstorm which preceded the battle, two armies were descried in the heavens fighting furiously. “This,” says Davila, “discouraged the royal army, who for the most part looked on the heavenly display as a presage of defeat, and coupled it with the unhappy rout at the fight of Dreux, fought on that very spot at the commencement of the civil wars.”
At a time when the aurora borealis was but little known, this phantom fight in the clouds could not fail of producing consternation.
The force of the two armies was very unequal: the king had eight thousand infantry, and but two thousand cavalry. The League mustered twelve thousand men-at-arms and four thousand horsemen.
In the king’s camp much time was given by both Romanists and Protestants to devotion. The churches of the neighboring hamlet of Nanancourt were crowded by gentlemen who went to mass; while the Huguenot ministers performed divine service with their adherents.
When all was prepared, Henry advanced to the head of his army, in complete armor, but bareheaded, and prayed aloud to the Almighty for his favor and protection. When he finished his supplication, a shout of “Vive le roy” ran through his lines. Henry then exhorted his followers to keep their ranks, and assured them that he was determined to conquer or die with them. “Gentlemen,” cried he, with animated voice and sparkling eye, “if the standard fail you, keep my plume in your eyes; you will always find it in the path of honor and duty.” So saying, he put on his helmet adorned with three white plumes; then perceiving that the wind blew in the faces of his soldiers, and that in consequence the smoke would blind them, he ordered a position to be taken more to the left. Mayenne, perceiving this maneuver, at once sounded a charge, and battle was joined.
The field was stubbornly and skillfully contested, and the victory long hung in doubt. At length Henry in person plunged with his reserve upon Mayenne’s array headlong and resistless; for a space he was swallowed up in the dreadful mêlée: then came the clang of sabres, the fierce shouts of infuriated combatants, the agonized wail of the death-smitten; while above all sounded the hoarse roar of musketry and the sullen boom of cannon. The suspense was awful; but when the smoke rolled up, the army of the League was descried decimated, broken, dispersed, scattered in wild rout across the ghastly plain, shouting madly, “Sauve qui peut:” while over all loomed the white plume of Navarre, and echoed the frenzied cry of, “Victory, victory!”
“Gentlemen,” said the exultant monarch, “you have served God well this day; receive his benediction and your king’s.”
In this famous battle six thousand leaguers perished, among whom were the count of Egmont, who commanded the Spaniards, and the duke of Brunswick, who led the Germans. Sixteen French and twenty Swiss colors, eight pieces of cannon, all the baggage and ammunition of Mayenne—these were the trophies which graced the triumph of the king.
Henry lost five hundred killed, and two hundred wounded.
Mayenne retreated with his battered battalions upon the dismayed capital, at the same time dispatching a courier to the duke of Parma, the Spanish governor of the Netherlands, whom he implored to hasten to the rescue of the imperiled League.
The victory of Ivry gave Henry IV a prestige which consolidated his party and insured his eventual success. Upon this occasion he did not fritter away his triumph by misspent hours at the feet of a courtesan, as he had his prior victory of Coutras; but pressing closely upon Mayenne, he environed the discomfited legions of the League, and laid close siege to his rebellious capital.
So skillfully did Henry invest Paris, that ere long gaunt famine stalked through its streets. The hunger of the isolated city was terrible and unprecedented. The Parisians not only ate human flesh, after consuming dogs, cats, leather, every thing masticable, but they actually ground the bones of human beings and mined this awful powder with chaff and bran, of which, at the papal nuncio’s suggestion, they made bread.
Yet though Henry choked them with hunger, the leaguers, steeled by desperation and heated by the Jesuits, still held out. The king might have easily taken Paris by assault, but he was anxious to save it from the horrors of pillage; so he resolved to starve it into submission.
Meantime Alexander Farnese, duke of Parma, was apprized of the desperate condition of the League. This celebrated soldier and consummate tactician at once set out to relieve Mayenne and Nemours.
Farnese did indeed compel Henry to raise the siege of Paris, but avoiding a battle by a series of those cunning military maneuvers which had gained him his reputation, he contented himself with this, and soon retired into the Netherlands.
Mortified by Farnese’s tactics, Henry attempted to take Paris by escalade. But the obstinate fortitude of the citizens, led by a regiment of fanatic monks grotesquely aimed above their frocks, foiled the assault, and the king retired balked and sulky from the city walls.
But while these scenes were being enacted, several other important events occurred. Charles X, the phantom monarch of the League, died at Fontenoy, after publicly acknowledging the right of his nephew to the throne. About the same time the prince de Joinville, now duke of Guise, who had been imprisoned by Henry III when he seized the cardinal of Bourbon, made his escape from duress, not without some suspicion of the connivance of Henry Quatre, who was accused of desiring to make use of the young duke to foment dissension in the ranks of the League.
These events were chiefly of consequence because they revived with increased earnestness the question of the succession, to which the demise of pope Sixtus V, in 1591, and the election, after a stormy conclave, of Gregory XIV, a creature of the Spanish king, gave added venom. There were several rival claimants of the French crown within the ranks of the League. Some favored Philip II; some were for Guise; others preferred the duke of Savoy. After a rancorous contest, during which Henry marched from one success to another almost unopposed, the settlement of the mooted claims and the election of a king was referred to the states-general.
This decision alarmed Henry. The formal nomination of a monarch by the states-general would greatly embarrass him, if it did not ultimately baulk him of the throve. His heroism had melted all Europe into admiration. Many of the inimical nobles did not scruple to declare that, were it not for his heresy, they would serve him and die for him. His Huguenot tenets seemed the only obstacle to the almost undisputed succession. God seemed to put before Henry these two alternatives: a throne bought with a denial of his truth; a divided scepter accompanied by loyalty to the heavenly King.
The struggle in Henry’s soul was fearful. Ambition imperiously beckoned one way; religion sternly pointed the other.
At length ambition triumphed; Henry determined to recant. Many things combined to make the king desert his mother’s God. He had no true faith in his soul. His Protestantism was not a saving grace in the heart; it was a cold intellectual conviction, nothing more. He was a Huguenot because Romanism was so ridiculous: “It is unreasonable,” cried he, “this mummery of the Vatican.” Devoted to pleasure, nay, to gallantry, what sympathy could this licentious monarch, who seduced young girls, debauched the wives of his highest subjects, and kept a dozen mistresses, have with the pure morality, the chastened piety, the holy ardor of the children of God?
Therefore, since Henry was always a Romanist in practice, since his Protestantism was of the head, not of the heart, his apostasy was not so difficult, the abyss across which he leaped was not so yawning as some have painted it.
Henry had long thought that unless he became reconciled to Rome, he would have to pass his life in warfare, “a monarch without a kingdom,” in his phrase. He had not raised himself to the Christian height of daring to TRUST GOD. Like Simon Peter, he doubted. His favorite mistress, Gabrielle d’Estrés, constantly urged him to recant and pacify the country. When the alarmed Huguenots entreated him not to abandon them, he said, “Ventre St. Gris! Paris is well worth a mass.”
On the 25th of July, 1593, Henry publicly abjured Protestantism at St. Denis, and envoys were instantly dispatched to Rome to obtain the papal absolution; but the reluctant pontiff would not publish a decree of admission into the bosom of Rome until two years later. In 1595 he was absolved from all censure, upon certain prescribed conditions, with all of which he complied.
This event broke the back of the League; Mayenne only held out to obtain better terms; ere long he succumbed. The nobles and the commons hastened to swear allegiance to the renegade monarch, and ere many months had passed, rebellious Paris itself opened its obstinate gates with a shout of welcome.
But if Henry’s abjuration killed the League, it also wounded the Huguenots. From the day of his mock reconciliation with Rome, Henry treated his old friends, Turenne, Duplessis-Mornay, D’Aubigné, and the rest, with shabby neglect. Happily Condé was dead, poisoned some years before, so he could not be tabooed. The whole reform party was sad and apprehensive. “In taking the king’s abjuration,” wrote the wise and good Duplessis-Mornay to the duke of Bouillon, “it was proposed that he should swear to make war upon the Huguenots, which he refused to do. This is a great boldness to dare to make such a demand when he was barely on the threshold of their door.” “I expect,” wrote he farther on, alluding to the embassy to Rome, “that Henry will obtain absolution on condition of the revocation of his edict against the bull of excommunication; and for penance, he will be secretly enjoined to make war upon the Huguenots. The king of Spain will then remain to be satisfied: he can marry his daughter to our king, by which the two interests will be blended, and then the Philistines must be sacrificed as a dowry.”
Such is the force of pernicious example, that within a few years after the farce at St. Denis, nearly every family of distinction in France had returned to Rome, like dogs to their vomit.
The loss of their protectors rendered the humbler Huguenots an easy prey to their Jesuitical foes, and the slender recompense which they obtained for their services to Henry Quatre was only an added spur to the oppressions of his successors.
The monarch now lapped himself in the caresses of his late opponents; upon them his favors were almost exclusively bestowed. But he did not feel strong enough to dispense with the support of his ancient comrades; so that when a Huguenot synod, convened at St. Maixent, sent deputies to petition Henry to inform them how their affairs were to be conducted, and to entreat him to convoke a general assembly of the Protestant church, he answered suavely but equivocally that his conversion had not changed his affection for them, promising to take their petition into speedy consideration.
All France now seemed desirous of acquiescing honestly in the new régime, all save the Jesuits, those pests of modern Europe. These obstinately refused to recognize or obey the king, notwithstanding his recantation and absolution. Filled with hatred, they hissed and spat their venom at the throne. They did more; they openly counseled regicide. One of these wretches named Commolet preached a sermon, in which he enlarged upon the death of Eglon king of Moab; he applauded the assassination of Henry III, and described Clément as seated among the angels of heaven. Having thus applied the text, he exclaimed, “We too require an Ehud; we must have an Ehud; be he monk, soldier, or shepherd, does not matter; but we need an Ehud; and this blow is all we want to give us a halcyon sky.”
Similar regicidal doctrines were proclaimed in Lyons and at Rouen, indeed wherever the Jesuits were influential. These madmen soon heated a fanatic, Pierre Barriére, an ignorant and superstitious waterman of Orleans, so that he resolved to attempt the assassination of the king. He asked the advice of the grand prior of the Carmelites at Lyons, who praised his courage and eulogized his piety. A Capuchin, of whom he made a confidant, told him decidedly that his enterprise was meritorious. Happily for Henry, the embryo assassin held a similar consultation with a Dominican named Serapin Bianchi, who was attached to the royalist party. He notified the king, through a gentleman of the royal retinue, of the impending danger; and eventually, after a variety of adventures, Barriére was seized. In his ample confession he implicated all the instigators of the horrid crime in contemplation, after which he was tortured to death.
The connection of the Jesuits with Barriére, together with their impolitic resistance to the pacification, increased the storm gathering above their heads. They had shown themselves so persistently and implacably the enemies of the king and of the state, that it was resolved to cite them before the courts of justice, as a preliminary to their total expulsion from France.
The University of Paris led the prosecution. A petition was presented to the Parliament, which narrated in detail all their crimes from their admission into the kingdom, and urged their banishment; “the Jesuits having been the tools of the Spanish faction all through the late troubles, aiming at the disseverment of the state, conspiring against the life of the king, and violating all order, political and hierarchical.”
The cause was pleaded at Paris in July, 1594. Antony Arnauld, one of the most famous advocates in the jurisprudential history of France, appeared for the prosecution.
Since, in our day, the Jesuits are as active, as ubiquitous, and as malicious as in the epoch of the League, it becomes of interest to know what the foremost lawyers of mediaeval France thought of these dangerous enemies of civilization and of God.
“Was it not among the Jesuits,” exclaimed Arnauld, after a brilliant exordium, “that the ambassadors and secret agents of the Spanish king held their traitorous meetings? Was it not among them that Louchard, Ameline, Crucé-Crome, and other murderers, hatched their diabolical conspiracies? Was it not among them that, in 1590, it was resolved that nine tenths of the population of Paris should starve, rather than the city should be surrendered to its lawful king? Who was president of the Council of Sixteen, but the Jesuit Pigenot, the most ferocious tiger in the capital, who was so heart-broken at the bad success of the League, that he became insane through vexation?
“Was it not in the Jesuit colleges of Paris and Lyons, in the month of August, 1593, that the last resolution to assassinate the king was formed? Does not the deposition of Barriére, executed at Mélun, prove it? Was it not the Jesuit Vorade who assured the would-be murderer that he could not perform a more meritorious act, and to confirm him in his purpose, had him confessed and absolved by another Jesuit whose name is not known? Did not these impious and execrable assassins employ the most holy, the most solemn, the most awful mysteries of the Christian religion to confirm the wavering resolution of a fanatic to massacre the first king in Christendom?
“I confess that a righteous indignation transports me beyond the bounds of forensic calmness when I see that these traitors, murderers, confessors, and absolvers of regicide walk still among us, that they live in France and breathe its air. What do I say? Not only do they live among us, but they enter our palaces; they are countenanced, they are caressed, they form cabals, leagues, and alliances.
“The humiliation of these pests in the affair of Cardinal Borromeo is quite recent. Their order was extinguished, and they were expelled from Italy by pope Pius V. And yet the Jesuits, who have attempted to murder the king of France, and who daily preach regicide, are not banished from our country! Is the life of a cardinal, then, more precious than that of the eldest son of the church? If the tribunal before which I plead does not deliver us from these monsters, they will perpetrate even more evil than they have yet accomplished.
“If the day of conservation is not less delightful than the day of birth, certainly the day on which the Jesuits shall be expelled from France will be no less memorable than that on which the University of Paris was founded; and as Charlemagne, after having delivered Italy from the Lombards, Germany from the Hungarians, passed twice into Spain, subdued the Saxons, and founded our university, which during eight hundred years has served as a refuge to men of letters banished from Italy, and persecuted in Greece, Egypt, and Africa, in the same manner Henry Quatre la Grand, having expelled the Spaniards by force of arms, and banished the Jesuits by your decree, will restore to our university, to the city, to France, the ancient splendor, the primitive glory.”
Louis Dollé, advocate of the curates of Paris, followed Arnauld, and he spoke against the Jesuits with equal force and eloquence. He said that they were not members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, either as secular or regular priests; that they had only been received in France in the character of a collegiate society, and on the express condition that they should plot no mischief, nor undertake any thing to the prejudice of the bishops or curates; that, far from observing these conditions, they had meddled in politics, assumed to be the censors of the clergy, pretending to be universal pastors and guardians of the church; that by virtue of the privileges too prodigally granted them by the pope, they lad not only exalted themselves above the curates, but even above the bishops, and had disturbed the whole hierarchical discipline. Dollé painted in the blackest colors the furious zeal displayed by the Jesuits during the siege of Paris. “Dare you deny,” cried he, apostrophizing them, “dare you deny that when Henry III was at St. Cloud, in 1589, you went daily to the trenches distributing money to the soldiers, and exhorting them to persist in their rebellion? Have you not been compelled to acknowledge that a priest of your company was chief of the Sixteen, and presided at the meetings of those villains?”
The relentless advocate next dwelt upon the evils caused by the Jesuits through the system of confession. “It is not necessary,” said he, “to cite examples; there is not a family in France which cannot adduce several. I shall content myself with noticing one quite recent, and of public notoriety. The Jesuits of Fribourg wished to persuade the small Romanist cantons to separate themselves from the small Protestant cantons, and break their union, which is the palladium of Switzerland; but finding the men too firm and wise, they imitated the serpent who tempted Eve. They cozened the women; urged them to refuse all conjugal privileges to their husbands till they had consented to dissolve the alliance. They obeyed these directions; and the men, having learned from them by whom they were seduced, punished the Jesuit seducers as they deserved.”
The lawyer also denounced their infamous doctrines, that “to the pure all things are pure,” and that “the end justifies the means;” he then concluded in these words:
“We have been told that the Jesuits wished to assassinate the king: not only have we evidence of the fact, but the traitor has confessed that he counseled the deed. Can we doubt after this what ought to be done to those who would cut all our throats if they had the opportunity? If you do not now banish them from the kingdom, you will positively establish them. Our first movements are full of vigor, but all efforts, national or individual, slacken with the lapse of time; of this we have too much proof, for during the thirty years that this question has been agitated, we have slumbered, and have not thought of the evil, till we have been made to feel its pressure. Behold, now is the appointed time. The Jesuits, who know our weak point, wish to protract your sentence by delaying the trial; thus they gain time, which in France gains every thing. Those for whom I speak know that their sacred calling prevents them from demanding vengeance upon the atrocities of this most pernicious society. But, gentlemen, as in ancient times the augurs of Rome were obliged to advise the senate concerning all prodigies that appeared, that the evils they presaged might be averted by expiations, so the plaintiffs, who have charge of things holy and sacred, as the augurs formerly had, apprize you now that there is an ominous prodigy in this city and in other towns of France; it is this, that men who call themselves religious, teach their blind pupils the lawfulness of murdering kings. Avert then the evils of this prodigy by timely and energetic action.”
So intense was the feeling excited by these masterly pleas, that the Jesuits did not venture to respond, but availing themselves of legal technicalities, they artfully postponed the sentence, aware, as Dollé said, that in France to gain time is to gain everything.
Then they renewed their intrigues, and formed new plots to assassinate the king. A miscreant named Chatél, who had studied in a Jesuit college, was now selected as their instrument of vengeance.
On the 27th of December, 1594, as Henry was surrounded by a cordon of gentlemen who had called to congratulate him upon his auspicious prospects—he had just returned from Picardy, and stood booted and spurred—Chatél stole up stealthily behind him and aimed a blow at his throat. An accidental movement saved him, and the treacherous knife merely cut his lip. The foiled assassin endeavored to escape; but he was seized, and when interrogated, confessed that the Jesuits had incited him to attempt the murder.
The cry of indignation which reverberated over France brought down the slumbering avalanche. Proceedings against the Jesuits were hastily resumed in Parliament; and the same decree which condemned Chatél to a frightful death, choked the Society of Jesus, and flung it, banished and dishonored, from the kingdom.
This consummation caused wide-spread gratulation; the Huguenots especially rejoiced. D’Aubigné hastened to Paris to felicitate the king. This brave soldier and unspotted Christian had expressed himself freely since Henry’s abjuration; in the synodical conventions of the Protestants he had not hesitated to denounce the king’s hypocrisy. Henry had in consequence been alienated from this old, tried friend, whose honest rebukes rankled. But he now received D’Aubigné kindly. On one occasion Chatél’s attempt upon his life became the theme of conversation. “Ah, sire,” said the frank soldier, “as you have as yet renounced God with your lips alone, they only have been pierced; whenever your heart renounces him also, that will receive the blow.” This was at once a warning and a prophecy.
THE EDICT of NANTES
France was now nominally at peace with itself, and Henry’s only open enemies were the Spaniards upon the frontier of Flanders; yet the condition of the country was deplorable. Distress, the exhaustion consequent upon protracted civil war, the unsatiated ambition of many chieftains anxious to reestablish the feudal sovereignties of the middle ages, the uneasiness of the people at large, habituated to the restless vicissitudes of partisan warfare—these materially retarded returning prosperity, and sadly checked a healthy pacification.
Henry devoted the larger portion of his time to the amelioration of internal affairs; in many respects his statesmanship was wise and judicious, and every effort was made to obliterate the scars of war.
On the 30th of April, 1598, the Edict of Nantes was signed. From its provisions it appears to have been modeled upon the old edict of pacification ratified at Poitiers. Its essence was limited toleration. The Huguenots were permitted the most ample liberty of conscience, but they might not publicly exercise their religion except in certain specified parts of France. They were compelled to submit to the external police of the Romish churches, by keeping festivals, by paying tithes; but as some compensation, they were declared eligible to office; their poor were admitted into the hospitals; while, for their protection, mixed chambers were to be established in all the parliaments.
Such, in its scope and purpose, was the famous Edict of Nantes. Upon several occasions the Huguenots had wrung more liberal terms from the mailed hands of the League and from the reluctant diplomacy of king Henry III. The only gain now was that the Edict of Nantes was honestly granted; the others had been mere make-shifts, intended to tide over a shallow spot—made to be broken.
Yet comparatively niggardly as were these concessions, the papists considered them super-liberal; many of the parliaments refused for some time to register the decree; while the fanatics protested so loudly that their voices echoed to the Vatican. Still Henry would not be balked; when the Romanists murmured, he stormed. “The edict must be registered,” said he to a delegation appointed to wait on him and acquaint him with the reluctance of the parliament to ratify it; then he added in his pithy, picturesque style, “I hare climbed the walls, and can easily get over the barricades.”
As usual, firmness triumphed; the edict was registered; indeed a year did not elapse between its signature by the king and its ratification by the provincial assemblies.”
The complaisant king next turned to Spain, and opened negotiations with his ancient foe, Philip II, now grown old and worn. Both monarchs desired peace; and on the 2nd of May, 1598, the French plenipotentiaries signed an advantageous treaty at Vervin, which Henry a little later ratified at Paris.
“Thus,” says Sully, Henry’s Huguenot minister of state, with justifiable exultation, “in spite of so powerful a league, comprising the pope, the emperor, the king of Spain, the duke of Savoy, the great French feudatories, and all the ecclesiastics in Christendom, our king effected his designs, and crowned them with a glorious peace.”
At this time measures were taken to annul Henry’s marriage with the profligate Margaret, with whom he had not lived for many years. When the divorce was obtained, he felt considerable repugnance to contracting any new alliance. In a conversation with Sully, after enumerating the qualities which he considered essential to a happy marriage, he said with a sigh, “But I fear no such person can be found.” Subsequently, however, he yielded to reasons of state, and in 1600 he conferred his hand upon Mary de’ Medici, one of the boldest, haughtiest, and most revengeful queens who ever bore the name of that unscrupulous and intriguing house.
The year 1594 witnessed the revocation of the decree which banished the Jesuits. Singularly enough, Henry himself was the most strenuous advocate of this policy, against the remonstrance of the Sorbonne, against the counsel of the politicians, against the urgent advice of the sagacious Sully. Whether the king wished to conciliate this horde of fanatics from dread of their ceaseless intrigues, or to convince Europe that he acted upon genuine and impartial principles of liberality, is simply matter of speculation. Whatever influenced his action, it is certain that the “Society of Jesus” never forgave Henry for decreeing their expulsion, that his generosity did not placate their vengeful animosity, and that the regicidal blow of Ravaillac, so shortly to be dealt, was echoed by a deep Amen from every Jesuit heart.
During the remainder of Henry’s reign, the affairs of the Huguenots present no event of marked importance. Sheltered beneath the Edict of Nantes, they pursued the even tenor of their way, held their periodical synods, elected their deputies to the provincial parliaments, and were a recognized body of the state. Henry consulted the sympathies, and deferred to the wishes of the Romanist majority, and in this sadly grieved his ancient adherents; but his place in their affections was in some degree filled by his sister Catherine of Bourbon, whom Sully pronounces “noble and generous,” who inherited Jane d’Albrét’s zealous faith, who adhered to the primitive creed with enthusiastic devotion, and whose influence in obtaining the edict of toleration, by her tears, her entreaties, her prayers, was fully recognized by her coreligionists.
“To you, madame,” wrote Duplessis-Mornay from the synod of Montauban, “we now look for our sole illustrious patronage. Continue firm, we entreat you, in the true faith; let not the persuasions of the king nor the arts of the Romanists prevail. Write to us, we beseech you; give us comfort and assurance.”
Catherine at once answered this epistle, assuring the Huguenots of her unshaken fidelity. “All I see, all I feel, but the more confirms me in my convictions,” she said. “You know well the pain my brother’s abjuration has given me. But I have a strong hope that, when this unsettled state of affairs has passed away, he may, through God’s grace, repair the breach which, for the seeming good of his people, he has now suffered to be made in his conscience. Of me personally, believe no slanders. If reports say I go to mass, receive my denial in a word: I do not, either in act or thought. Nor does the king request it; he leaves me free in the exercise of my faith; depend on it, I will not go to mass till you are pope in very deed.”
Catherine’s influence over Henry was very great; and this, coupled with her lively faith and vigilant protection of all menaced privileges, was of incalculable advantage to the Huguenots, themselves exiled from familiar access to the throne. One of the clauses of the Edict of Nantes forbade the exercise of the reformed faith within the corporate limits of Paris; and even Sully, the chief minister of state, was obliged to repair to Allon, on the banks of the Seine, four leagues distant—the nearest spot where the primitive worship was held—when he listened to the Huguenot preachers.
But Catharine, who usually resided at Fontainebleau, when she visited the king at the Louvre, always had divine service performed in her chapel by her own chaplain, and to these precious reunions all members of the reformed church crowded, without distinction of rank, for Catherine recognized the essential democracy of Christianity. Once the cardinal of Goudé waited upon Henry at the head of a formal ecclesiastical delegation, to protest against this “strange desecration” of the palace. “Gentlemen,” said the king angrily, “I think it more strange that such language should be held to me, in my own palace, and of my own sister. I am king, not you, sir cardinal. Adieu.”
The snubbed delegates withdrew, nor did they venture to renew their complaints.
Several attempts were made at this time to reconcile the differences between the two hostile creeds. Discussions were held; one even took place before Catherine; but nothing was effected: Rome and Geneva could not embrace; their respective doctrines differed too radically to kiss each other.
In 1604, the death of Catherine of Bourbon occurred. She had been married to Charles, duke of Bar, who loved her with romantic devotion, and with whom, despite their opposite religious opinions, she enjoyed the utmost felicity. Bar made numberless kind efforts to detach her from her faith but in vain. One of her last acts was to visit Angers, where she received communion with three thousand devoted Huguenots. When married, the nuptial benediction was pronounced by a Protestant minister; and constant to the last, she died, finding “joy and peace in believing.” The fervent and uncompromising princess was buried at Vendôme, in the tomb of her ancestors, beside queen Margaret and Jane d’Albrét, a noble trinity of illustrious and beneficent women.
Henry was deeply afflicted by this event. “All, all; mother and sister!” cried he with eregols1. How many painful reflections must have thronged upon him. They slept together in a common faith; he, the hope, the pride of both, had deserted their God. Bitter regret for a moment wrung his heart; and when, among the letters of condolence received from every crowned head in Europe, there came one from the pope, “expressing his holiness’ fears for the salvation of the princess who had died out of the bosom of the church,” he exclaimed with warmth, “I have not that bitter pang added to what I now feel; not a doubt with regard to my sweet sister’s salvation exists in my mind.”
To divert the king’s mind, he was persuaded to visit different cities in various portions of the kingdom. Wherever he arrived, tedious addresses were delivered, of which he heartily tired. One of these municipal orators repeated very often the words, “Oh, very benign, very merciful, very great king.” “Add too,” cried Henry, “very weary.” Another began his speech with, “Agesilaus, king of Lacedæmon—” “Ventre St. Gris,” interrupted the monarch impatiently; ” I have heard that people spoke often to this Agesilaus, but it was always when he had dined; I have not.” To another, who had addressed him for some time, and who showed no signs of desisting, Henry said, “Pray, reserve the next to another time;” but the orator was not to be cheated of the full delivery of his florid prose, and he persisted in speaking. “Well,” said the king, “I am going, and you must say the rest to Master William.” This was the court fool; and the orator, not liking the audience, concluded his harangue.
With few interruptions the Huguenots now enjoyed unprecedented repose. At a synod held at Gap, in Dauphiny, D’Aubigné a was appointed historiographer to the reformed church, a position which his eloquence, learning, and piety enabled him to fill with great success, as his strangely vivid portraits of his epoch testify.
In 1609, it was reported that the Huguenots were secretly plotting an insurrection—that this was what their unwonted repose really meant. This device of the Jesuits to reinaugurate commotion—for in tranquility they stifled—cozened Henry for a moment. Duplessis-Mornay, the king’s old Mentor of the day of Coutras, was the reported chief of the conspiracy. But after much crimination and recrimination, the report was proved to be a Jesuit bubble, and Duplessis retired to his chateau of La Forest, in Poitou. There, surrounded by true friends, amid the venerable groves of his ancestors, he carried his long and useful life far into the reign of Louis XIII. Duplessis-Mornay died in 1623, after having witnessed all that the world has to exhibit of vicissitude in human opinion.
The last years of Henry’s momentous reign were spent partly in licentious intrigue, partly in extensive preparations for some grand expedition whose object is shrouded in mystery. Into the chapter of gallantry it is not necessary to go. To speculate upon Henry’s design in the giant preparations which Sully mentions, but cannot explain, is equally futile. It is supposed that he had conceived a scheme for the consolidation of Europe into a Republique Chrêtienne, which should promote the happiness of man, and insure perpetual peace. “Rumor, with her thousand tongues,” bruited through Europe misty reports of the projected movement. The din of preparation resounded from Paris to the Pyrenees.
The execution of the scheme could necessitate the lengthened absence of the king from France. Mary de’ Medici insisted upon the regency ad interim. In vain did Sully and even Henry himself combat this demand; the queen would not be put off; indeed she increased her request, and asked to be crowned, in order to give additional sacredness to her government and person. With much reluctance Henry made these concessions; on the 13th of May, 1610, nine years after her marriage, the grasping Florentine’s coronation occurred. The king assisted at the pageant as a private spectator, and though fifty-six years of age, inspired general admiration by his grace of carriage and charm of manner. Throughout his life he possessed a remarkable power of captivation; on this occasion his frank, social, and yet dignified demeanor, caused Mary to turn towards her suite of Italian parasites, and say to Leonora Coucini, her chief confidante, in Tuscan, “Ah, if he were mine alone.”
On the following day, the fatal 14th of May, the queen was to make her public, ceremonial entry into Paris. The capital was gay with flags, with legendary banners, withfleurs-de-lis. Opening with a laugh, the day closed with a cry of horror.
Henry was early astir. His buoyancy at the coronation pageant had given way to icy gloom. He was haunted by terrible apprehensions. A premonition of disaster, vivid and awful, chilled his blood. The morning he spent in his own apartments. In the afternoon he rode out with several friends, gentlemen of his suite. The curtains of the king’s carriage were drawn up, not only on account of the beauty and warmth of the weather, but to enable him to witness the joyous aspect of the city, dressed in its gala garb to welcome Mary de’ Medici.
The streets through which they passed were narrow; in one of them two carts were met, one laden with wine, the other with hay; the greater number of attendants passed beyond the carts to give more room to the royal coach, which meantime halted; two footmen only were near, one occupied in clearing the road, one stooping to adjust some portion of his dress.
At this moment, while Henry’s guards were thus scattered, an assassin, who afterwards proved to be a wretch called Ravaillac, stepping on one spoke of the stationary vehicle, leaned forward and struck Henry on the left breast with a dagger; it glanced on one of the ribs, and the king cried faintly, “I am wounded:” determined not to be battled, the resolute miscreant repeated the blow; this time it went to the monarch’s heart; the blood rushed up impetuously, and in an instant he was suffocated; he had no time to speak another word.
The assassin was at once seized; and the gentlemen present, alighting from the blood-smeared carriage, caused the curtains to be closely drawn, and marched back to the Louvre benumbed with horror.
In order to avoid a tumult, the king’s death was concealed; a cloak was thrown over the yet warm body, and a surgeon and restoratives were ordered.
The queen was in her closet when the news was broken to her; rushing out wild with terror, she cried, “Great God, the king is dead!” “Madame,” responded the chancellor, who was present, “the kings of France never die. We must take care that our tears do not undo the state; we have need of remedies, not of grief.”
“When I heard the fatal news,” writes Bassompierre, afterwards the famous marshal, “I ran to the king’s closet, and saw him extended on the bed. M. de Vie, counselor of state, was seated upon the same couch, and had laid the cross of his order upon Henry’s mouth. Milan, his head physician, was sitting by the bedside weeping bitterly, and a corps of surgeons stood near to dress the gaping wound. The windows stood open, and once we mistook the low sighing of the wind for his voice; but in a moment the physician said, ‘Ah, it is over; he is gone.’ M. Le Grand, as soon as he entered, knelt beside the bed, took the king’s lifeless hands and kissed them. As for me, I threw myself at his feet, which I held, embracing again and again, and bathing them with my tears. There he lay, still and motionless—he who, but a few short hours before, was the life of every circle. It seemed as if all waited for him to break the silence; not a sound was uttered. The children of the king were brought into the chamber, but no one else was suffered to approach. Every measure was taken to deceive the people till the queen’s regency was declared, lest there should be a popular commotion. About nine in the evening a number of nobles rode through the streets, and as they passed, cried, ‘Make way for the king.’ It being dark, the people thought Henry was among the horsemen, and shouted back, ‘Vive le Roi!’ It was only in the quarter of the Louvre that the dismal truth was known. Through the night the dreadful farce was continued; the king was dressed and washed with the same ceremony as if he were alive: one gave him a shirt ; another held the serviette, or napkin, and a third stood ready with his robe-de-chambre.”
Thus fell Henry Quatre, and his frightfully sudden transition from life to death is at once a lesson and an admonition. His story is strikingly romantic. He spent more than half a century in active collision with turbulent events, and in unremitting efforts to direct and mold them to the advantage of his country. Sully has pronounced his eulogy: “He was candid, sincere, grateful, compassionate, generous, wise, penetrating, and loved his subjects as a father.” It is a glowing record. But if we pursue Henry to the retreats of private life, witness his unbridled license, the impure devotion of his truant heart to the frail Gabrielles and Henriette d’Entragues of his seraglio, and recall his sad apostasy, caused by mistaken state policy, and his ostentatious lip-service to virtue and his heart-service to vice, no pleas of the faithlessness of his wedded wife, of apparent statescraft, of the profligacy of the age, of the pernicious examples of the Louvre, can shield the hero kind from the censure of good men; no sophistry can avert, no swelling pæans can drown the mournful verdict of the sober muse of history”
“He knew the right, and yet the wrong pursued.”
When Henry’s assassin was interrogated, it was found that his name was Francois Ravaillac, and that he was a native of Angoumais, of low birth, who had passed through his novitiate in a monastery, but had never taken the final vows. Filled with wild and superstitious notions, he had listened greedily to the laudations of Clément, and the virulent attacks upon the king daily uttered by the Jesuits drove him to frenzy—he determined to murder the king. He was put to the most frightful tortures, he suffered the most horrible death, yet he would implicate no accomplices in the murder of the monarch.
Still, “the deep damnation of his taking off” weighed heavily against the Jesuits, not from historic proof, for it could not be had, butt in a great degree from the prevalence of certain opinions which the society was well known to cherish and which not only led Ravaillac to commit the crime, but caused others to envy the wretched notoriety he thus acquired, and to avow their readiness to perpetrate a similar atrocity. At the time, public feeling was unequivocal against the Jesuits. Even the Romanist clergy, both regular and parochial, impugned them in their sermons; and these accusations found an echo in lay publications. In the, courts of law, and at meetings in the market-place, the “Society of Jesus” was alike believed to have prompted the assassin.
Strange to say, in the investigation of the regicide, the effort was rather to suppress than to elicit the facts. France seemed afraid to know the truth.
“It would seem,” remarks L’Etoile, the journalist of the age, “to hear the matter spoken of, that we are afraid of showing ourselves too exact and severe in inquiring into this crime, the most wicked and barbarous, and the most important to our state, of any perpetrated for a thousand years.”
Sad as is the misfortune for a nation to produce such wretches as Clément and Ravaillac, it is a still more serious calamity to have a servile magistracy. Sequier was chief president of the Parliament: his reply to the queen’s inquiry respecting his opinion of the question, proves the importance of the real criminals, yet the investigation was smothered. “If I am asked who were the demons who inspired this damnable murder,” says Péréfixe, archbishop of Paris, “history answers that she knows nothing; even the judges who interrogated Ravaillac did not dare to open their mouths upon the subject, and never spoke of him otherwise than by shrugging their shoulders.”
The murdered king left three children by Mary de’ Medici. The eldest succeeded to the throne in his ninth year, under the title of Louis XIII. The younger, the dukes of Orleans and Anjou, were infants. On the day following the assassination, the Parliament, browbeaten by the duke d’Epernon, confirmed the queen as regent. France, remembering the regency of Catherine de’ Medici, beheld with grief and terror the scepter pass from the vigorous grasp of Henry Quatre ostensibly into the feeble hands of an infant, really into the grasping talons of an Italian interloper, who was herself ruled by foreign parasites.
While the public salons of the Louvre were covered with “the trappings and the suits of woe,” the private apartments of the new-made regent resounded with songs of gladness and bursts of laughter. ‘Twas here that the Florentine held her giddy court, smiling before the open grave of her murdered husband, gay amid her cordon of favorites who served luxurious viands and emptied sparkling goblets in her honor.
The government of Mary de’ Medici was really the government of her confidants, Concini, who rose to be Marshal d’Ancre, and his wife Leonora Galigni. The pernicious art of this subtle pair cozened the queen. into the adoption of their measures, while she believed them to be her own. Under their influence, the court was new-modeled. Epernon was slighted, Condé was snubbed, Sully was insulted out of office.
An inimical contemporary bears witness to the quiet deportment of the Huguenots at this crisis: “Instructed by experience, they then displayed great moderation, and made no pretensions to innovation; feigning to have no wish to undertake any unfriendly action, provided they were permitted to live under the untouched edicts.”
Ere long, however, uneasiness was felt. The regent, not satisfied with remodeling the court and promoting her lackey favorites to the highest seats of honor at the council-board, and to the noblest titles of the state, revolutionized the politics of Henry Quatre. His idea was, Germany protected from the encroachments of Austria, the insidious advances of Spain sternly repulsed. Now efforts were made to placate Austria, and an alliance with Spain was eagerly sought. Despite the ominous growls of discontent provoked by this new policy of the queen regent’s mushroom council, it was pressed; and with so much success, that the boyish kin was soon married to Anne of Austria, the Spanish infanta.
The Huguenots read in these events melancholy auguries for their cause. Secret conferences were held; chiefs were chosen to maintain their menaced rights. The Jesuits, in their sermons, openly announced the object of the royal marriage to be the extermination of heresy. Threats soon passed into acts. Ancient and well-defined privileges were invaded and annulled. Slumbering animosities were rekindled.
The heads of the Huguenot party at this time were Rohan, Soubise, La Tremouille, and Bouillon. Condé and the count de Soisson had been educated as Romanists, but their turbulent ambition impelled them frequently to negotiate with the reformers. Duplessis-Mornay, broken by age, rested in honorable retirement. D’Aubigné was still an active agent of his coreligionists. “Rohan,” says the Jesuit d’Avrigny, “was a sincere Huguenot, and aimed at the good of his party. Sully was not very devout, but felt sore at his exclusion from. public affairs. Bouillon was politic, using his religion to forward his interests.”
Bigotry and court cabal kept the country in feverish excitement. The crowd of reckless foreigners who surrounded the queen regent fomented discord; for they saw in it an opportunity to achieve wealth and fame. Their efforts were seconded by a horde of warlike nobles, whose idea of life was drawn swords and pointed cannon. Added to all, the Jesuits constantly inflamed their penitents against the toleration of heresy. Local émeutes were of frequent occurrence. These were sometimes terminated by by mutual apologies, sometimes by negotiation.
On the 24th of April, 1617, the regency was ended, as it began, with a tragedy. The marshal D’Ancre was assassinated. This adventurer had in reality swayed the scepter under cover of the queen.. His insolence and cruelty made him feared and hated. The young king especially disliked him; and it was at the instigation of De Luines, Louis’ favorite, that the former obscure notary of Florence, and later gentleman-usher of the Louvre, who had clutched a marshal’s baton, was slain.
Now the king himself assumed to reign; but his rule, like his mother’s, was only nominal. De Luines succeeded d’Ancre; a satyr followed a satyr.
On the fall of her government, Mary de’ Medici was “permitted to retire to Blois,” the velvet phrase in which the court wrapped the iron reality, imprisonment.
Through these troubles at the court, the Huguenots did their utmost to remain quiet. Synods were frequently held, assemblies were often convoked, but their discussions were entirely devoted to questions of divinity and discipline. Ambitious nobles did their best to inveigle the reformers into adopting their quarrels and avenging their supposititious wrongs. Bouillon was active in his endeavors to enlist the party in his selfish schemes. Condé also, relying upon his historic name and the traditional affection of the Huguenots for his house, attempted to win them to support his tortuous conspiracies to aggrandize himself. But except in isolated instances, these insidious arts did not succeed; while their peaceful behavior and loyal tone gave the anxious court no pretest for persecution.
At length De Luines, supported by the ready clergy, determined to create war.
The principality of Bearn had been for many years preponderantly Protestant. It was there that Margaret de Valois had taught and prayed; it was there that her daughter, Jane d’Albrét, had lived and labored in God’s service; it was there that Catharine of Bourbon had garnered many souls as trophies; there Henry Quatre had been reared: it was the “holy of holies ” among French provinces.
Influenced by the reiterated clamors of the Romish clergy, one of whom did not scruple to declare that “Christians were worse treated in Bearn than in Mohammedan countries,” and that “the property of the church was applied to the support of its enemies,” Louis VIII determined not only to restore the Romish religion, but to crown that pious work by the annexation of the principality to France.
An arrét was soon after given to this effect in open council; and since the resolute Huguenots, unwilling to surrender their ancient privileges without a struggle, declined to yield, the king assembled an army, and in 1620 marched to enforce his usurpation by the unsheathed sword.
The ill-armed and unorganized partisan bands of the Huguenots could not impede the triumphal advance of the king’s mailed cohorts. In October, 1620, Louis entered Pau, and the Romish worship was at once celebrated in those cathedrals which for sixty years had echoed the purer praises of the primitive ritual.
The abolition of the provincial independence of Bearn was denounced by the whole Huguenot party as an infraction of the edict of Nantes. An assembly was convened at Rochelle. Here the excited delegates, regardless of the advice of their most judicious leaders, abjured all allegiance to the king, and published a decree dividing Protestant France into military and civil districts; on the model of the United Netherlands. The command of one circle was given to Soubise, the command of another to La Force, while a third was entrusted to the Duc de Rohan, the most enlightened, virtuous, and talented soldier of his age.
These bold proceedings instantly precipitated active hostilities. The royal army marched into Southern France, the old, familiar haunt of the twin demons of civil war and bigotry. Montpellier was entered. Montauban was besieged; but it was so skillfully defended that De Luines, now constable of France, quitted the obstinate walls with a malediction.
During this contest, the affairs of the Huguenots became so extensively diversified that it is scarcely possible to give a connected view of the events which occurred among the many divisions comprised in their loose-jointed confederation; for the interest is no longer arrested by one body, around whose history the episodes of its satellites can be successively unfolded; but events of equal importance claim and fix attention in opposite directions.
In some respects the struggle was a gallant one; but there was a prevailing readiness on the part of many of the Huguenot strong-holds to surrender upon the king’s approach, in strong contrast to their unvarying practice in the preceding civil wars. Indeed Rohan observes, “From Saumur to Montauban there was a general submission, with no resistance except at St. Jean d’Angely, which my brother Soubise defended as long as he could. And the peace of Montpellier comprised no chiefs of provinces except my brother and myself, all the others having made treaties separately, and on advantageous terms.”
At length all parties tired of the war. Louis announced his intention to adhere strictly to the Edict of Nantes, and the divided and crippled Huguenots willingly laid clown their arms on this assurance. Amnesty was granted in October, 1622. The pacification was signed, and tranquility once more reigned in France.
Two years later a new régime was inaugurated. Richelieu entered the council of state. From the very outset his soaring intellect, sagacious diplomacy, and consummate tact gave him the leadership; and ere long, basing his authority upon these qualities, he governed France as absolutely as he could had he been born to the royal purple and inherited the crown.
To elevate the regal authority by destroying the festering remains of feudal caste; to raise the importance of France by humiliating the overbearing arrogance of Austria and Spain; to terminate all domestic differences by suppressing the few liberties still enjoyed by the Huguenots—this was the triple policy of the famous statesman; and he steadily pursued it through the many intrigues essential to success. Pretexts of every kind were unscrupulously employed to veil these designs. As circumstances required, he would vary the apparent program; but whatever hue the diplomatic chameleon reflected, the real purpose was unchanged and unchangeable.
Richelieu accomplished his first object by choking the émeutes of the turbulent nobility with an iron hand. He achieved the second by a system of crafty maneuvers at once protean and astounding. As a prince of the church of Rome, he naturally devoted himself to the third; yet reasons of state were his chief motive and guide. There was nothing of the fanatic in his constitution. Richelieu never persecuted merely from the love of it. Torquemada was not his model, nor was St. Dominic a congenial soul.
In 1626 England, like France, had a vizier: the duke of Buckingham, famous for his singular elevation and untimely end, swayed the councils of the British king without a rival. Recently Charles I had espoused a daughter of the house of Bourbon. Buckingham was dispatched to receive her. While tarrying in Paris, the foppish courtier became enamored of the queen of France: the daring libertine even had the audacity to declare his passion; and undismayed by the frowns of the outraged wife of Louis XIII, on the conclusion of his mission, he returned to Paris to renew his advances. But his dream of illicit happiness was shortly dissipated by a peremptory command to quit the country.
Humiliated and enraged, Buckingham reentered England, anxious to wipe out this “insult” of his expulsion from France, by war. He negotiated with the duke of Savoy, Richelieu’s enemy. He fomented discord in the sister kingdom; and an envoy was dispatched to inveigle Rohan, who—since the death of Duplessis and the self exile of D’Aubigné domesticated at Geneva—had been the leader of the Huguenots, into arming against the incessant, though insidious encroachments of the court upon the tolerant decree of Henry Quatre.
Meantime a powerful armament was equipped, and in the summer of 1627 Buckingham in person appeared off Rochelle. After much hesitation, and through his instrumentality, the whole Huguenot party armed, really to support the projects of the duke of Buckingham, but as they thought, to wring from the greedy clutch of Richelieu the stolen and denied clauses of the Edict of Nantes.
This afforded the wily cardinal a desired opportunity; and acting with his accustomed energy, he speedily conjured an army into existence, at the head of which he in person pressed forward to besiege the Huguenot citadel.
Richelieu’s skill met and conquered all difficulties; and comprehending all the weak points in the political situation, as well as in the character of his adversaries, with the keen glance of genius, he prepared to assail both where they were most vulnerable.
He held out to the Rochelloise the prospect of renewed religious enfranchisement, and thus deceived the mayor and the city council, and secured a vacillation of purpose which gave him time—the desideratum. He dispatched the prince de Condé into Languedoc, to hold the reformers quiet by the mailed hand; and then, piecing out the lion’s skin with the fox’s, he sent Gallaud, an eloquent Huguenot whom he had secretly suborned, to persuade his coreligionists to remain in tranquility.
While these crafty measures were being set afoot, large garrisons were thrown into all menaced towns; quantities of ammunition were collected; provisions abounded in his camps; and fleets of boats were floated to convenient points, where they were serviceable in the transportation of supplies in the attack and defense of cities.
In the meantime the Rochelloise acted precisely as Richelieu anticipated—began with a solemn fast, and instead of admitting their English allies at once, hesitated, disputed, and inquired.
The Huguenots of the south followed this pernicious example; but they were even more besotted. Some armed under the appeal of Rohan; some positively supported the court; but the great majority remained in hesitating inactivity, complaining of those who had taken arms before danger had grown into adversity.
Richelieu laid close siege to Rochelle. The defense was one of the most heroic on record. The operations dragged through fifteen months. At length famine began to gnaw; various attempts were made by Rohan and by the English to succor the succumbing city, but the cunning of the cardinal foiled these; and the assassination of Buckingham on the very eve of a new expedition, rang the death-knell to all hopes of aid. Then craving nature had her way; and in October, 1628, hitherto unconquerable Rochelle opened its maiden gates to the triumphant legions of Richelieu. So terrible had been the suffering endured during the siege, that the inhabitants were reduced from twenty-seven thousand to five thousand: ghastly proof of the heroism of their fight.
Richelieu completed the humiliation of this “city of refuge” by celebrating mass with great pomp on the festival of All Saints, which occurred shortly after its conquest, and by stripping it of its boasted franchises, a desecration over which the Rochelloise shed proud tears.
In other sections the Huguenots, led by the gallant De Rohan, achieved success; but when the sad news from Rochelle reached their scattered camps, quite disconcerted and heart-broken, they desired peace. Rohan convened a Huguenot assembly at Anduze in 1628. The deputies opened negotiations with Richelieu; and on the 27th of June, 1629, a treaty was concluded and signed at Alais, which guaranteed liberty of conscience and of worship on the essential basis of the often-infringed Edict of Nantes.
No sooner was the civil war terminated, than all France resounded with paeans to Richelieu. The cardinal-duke was now firmly seated in his vizierate; but his time was largely occupied in foiling the intrigues of his foes. The court soon became the scene of rivalry and cabal; and Louis, one of the most inefficient and timid of monarchs, was so harassed by the quarrels of his family, that he acquired a habit of leaning upon the iron arm of his great minister, whom he soon came to consider indispensable to his happiness and comfort and to the government of France.
Engrossed by these events, the court paid little attention to the despised Huguenots. Stripped already, by insidious assaults, of their political importance, the time was hastening on with giant strides when they were to be deprived of the rights of conscience. But now for a space they rested in quiet security. Protestantism was armed and triumphant on the Continent. All Europe knew the resolution of Gustavus Adolphus to make common cause with all reformers who suffered persecution. France was the secret ally of the great Scandinavian; a position into which Richelieu had drifted through his desire to humble the house of Austria. This made him cautious not to alienate the continental Protestants by the oppression of their brothers in France. Besides, the Puritan party in England was rising into influence; the entente cordiale between the Puritans and the Huguenots had never been disturbed; this too conspired to guard the French Protestants from unfriendly legislative action.
“The government,” says Bernard, the Jesuitical biographer of Louis XIV, “was engrossed by the disputes between the king, his mother, and his brother, and by the exciting foreign events; so that, deeming this a favorable opportunity for an insurrection of the Huguenots, efforts were made to hold them tranquil by granting the most reasonable of their demands.”
Emboldened by the liberal temper of the cardinal, the Huguenots held a synod at Charenton in September, 1631; and two ministers, Amivault and De Villars, were deputed to present a statement of their grievances to the king, then sojourning at Compiégne. The assembly petitioned for the reacknowledgment of the right of their clergy to preach in any Protestant temple, a recent governmental decision having forbidden them to abandon their individual charges. They also requested a cessation of proceedings instituted against some Languedocian ministers for inculcating the avowed doctrines of the Reformation, and the liberation of some of their friends chained in the galleys for their opinions.
From this modest list of their demands an idea may be formed of the condition of the Huguenots at this epoch.
From the pacification of 1629 until 1661, the general history of the Huguenots presents few important incidents. There were from time to time individual causes of complaint and isolated instances of hostility, for the spirit of the League was not extinct. and the more zealous partisans of Rome were only restrained from urging their favorite measures by the imperious genius of the celebrated cardinals who successively administered the government of France, and by the preoccupation of the court. Popular prejudice would frequently burst forth in an excess of animosity, under the garb of religion; and whenever, through some technicality, the protecting clauses of the Edict of Nantes could be invaded or infringed, the circumstance was considered as a victory over heresy.
In December, 1642, Richelieu died; and five months later, consistent even in death, the lackey monarch Louis XIII followed the famous statesman to the tomb; he could not even die till Richelieu showed him how. In the following year, Louis XIV, a boy of five, succeeded to the throne. From 1643 till 1651 the history of France is the history of the regency of Anne of Austria and the faction of the Fronde, when the “grand monarch” was merely the puppet of the queen mother and her minister; from Louis’ majority until the death of Mazarin, in 1661, it is the history of that subtle and intriguing cardinal.
Not Richelieu himself had ruled France more absolutely than did Mazarin. Like his predecessor, he was a great secular statesman rather than an ardent churchman; as such he never permitted the interests of the Vatican to lure him from the path of national policy. He was enabled to maintain this position because France was now strong and consolidated. Spain had already commenced her descent into the tier of second-rate states; the peace of Westphalia had changed the tactics of several of the European cabinets; and the rise of the Commonwealth had altered the aspect of French diplomacy with England.
Mazarin prized Cromwell’s alliance; he was aware of the jealous care with which the mighty Protector guarded the interests of menaced Protestantism. The duke of Savoy had ventured to persecute the feeble remnant of the primitive Waldenses, who lived obscurely in the Lombard valleys, and all Europe saw Cromwell’s powerful arm stretch across the Channel and across the Alps to snatch the Vaudois from the greedy maw of the Savoyard, while England’s statesman-poet chanted pæans, and the fast-anchored island shouted glad Amen.
Mazarin had no disposition to provoke Cromwell’s intervention in French affairs; he knew the chord of sympathy which united the Puritans and the Huguenots; this made him cautious of overtly assailing the privileges of the reformed church in France.
Besides, pretests were wanting. The Huguenot party, after the capture of Rochelle, definitively disbanded its political organization; Henri de Rohan was their last armed chieftain. Weary of war, and perhaps persuaded that it corresponded not with the peaceful tenets of their creed, they sought in seclusion the simple liberty of praising God. What the sword had been unable to effect, they thought that civilization and open Bibles would accomplish.
Of their loyalty and quietude at this epoch, hostile writers bear ready and ample witness. “I have no complaint to make of the little flock,” said Mazarin; “if they graze on noxious herbs, at least they do not stray.”
Through the émuetes of the Fronde, they furnished devoted soldiers to the menaced government. Mazarin recognized their important services; he never spoke of the pastors of Montauban without calling them his “good friends;” and Count d’Harcourt said to the deputies of that city, ” the crown was tottering on the king’s head, but you have steadied it.”
Louis XIV expressed his gratitude more than once. In a declaration published in May, 1652, he said, “Forasmuch as our subjects of the pretended reformed religion have given us reiterated proofs of their affection and fidelity, with which we are well pleased, be it hereby known, that for these causes they be maintained and secured, and we do now maintain and secure them, in the full and entire enjoyment of the Edict of Nantes.”
This is the monarch who soon after inflicted long, odious, and Satanic persecutions upon these faithful subjects who had “steadied the crown upon his brow.”
In comparative repose the years of Mazarin’s vizierate passed away. The Huguenots, industrious, intelligent, and docile, were the pattern subjects in the kingdom.
But in 1661 the death of the great cardinal occurred, and at once ebbing persecution began to rise towards its flood-tide.
Louis XIV assumed the direction of affairs. In the heyday of his youth, the royal libertine, trampling with equal readiness upon the laws of God and man, was comparatively careless in religious matters. This circumstance, together with the fierce dispute between the Jesuit and the Jansenist parties, which menaced Rome with another schism, restrained for a space the reactive tendency. But with the subjugation of Port Royal, the relapse occurred. At the outset the assault was insidious. Every five years the secular clergy held ecclesiastical assemblies, and these never adjourned without tearing away some new shred from the laws of toleration.
Money in immense sums was supplied from the exchequer of the state to suborne heresy. The king judged men in general by the conduct of those who breathed the atmosphere of his court. As he beheld continual sacrifices of honor and principle in the halls of the Louvre, souls bartered for gold or titles, he came to think that the Huguenots held out to obtain good terms; he thought that they could be seduced by rendering their interests subservient to their abjuration.
Among the nobles the eloquence of corruption made many proselytes; men of high birth were dazzled by the proffer of honors and rank. But to the lasting honor of the middle and lower classes, let it be recorded that they could not be bribed by such inducements to shut their Bibles and deny their God. The peaceable manufacturers, the tradesmen, the cunning artificers, continued steadfast in the faith.
Every device which wit could suggest to enforce proselytism was eagerly adopted; favors of every kind were lavished upon those whom fear or avarice had converted to Romanism; they were exempted from taxation, from guardianship, from local contributions; were excused the payment of their debts, delivered from the coercion of parental authority, and advanced in the several professions to which they devoted their talents.
Far different was the fate of those who clung to their persecuted creed for conscience’ sake. They were constantly made the victims of new hardships and indignities; their colleges were closed; their youth barred out from every avenue of profit and honor; their churches were interdicted; their inheritances were wrested from them through technicalities; and their dead were not permitted to rest in their ancestral sepulchers.
The infinite hard fights which God’s suffering children now waged with self-interest, with abounding temptation, satanically devised and spread about them, may not be recorded. But fast anchored, through all vicissitudes they clung to the heavenly throne; they refused to dwell in Sodom, and they would not tarry in Gomorrah.
The reformers now had implacable and tireless enemies in the men who swayed the councils of the state. In the foremost rank figured the Jesuits, created expressly to extirpate heresy, the born foes of the Huguenots, monks doubly formidable as the confessors of kings, and because their system of morality authorized the use of any means. Falsehood, trickery, injustice, traffic in consciences, brute force, spoliation, banishment, nay, even murder—all were good in their eyes, if they tended to accomplish their end.
Under the direction of the Jesuits, the government marched steadily from one tyranny to another. Ere long the judiciary system was tampered with. In rare instances the courts of law had given impartial decisions. By a legal trick this hope of justice was destroyed.
In despair, many of the Huguenots began to emigrate: England, Germany, the Hague, all stretched forth welcoming hands.
But soon the exodus was stopped; a decree, issued in 1669, forbade emigration. The Huguenots not only might not enjoy in France the equal protection of the laws, they could not hope to find an asylum abroad. Edict followed edict in rapid succession: a peculiar dress was prescribed for the Protestants; they were shut out from many species of employment other than political; and the penalties which awaited an unsuccessful effort to escape proceeded in an awful gradation from fine to imprisonment, and from the galleys to death.
Yet still the Huguenots persisted in their worship and clung to their creed. The king, now become the complete slave, in civil matters, of his mistress, Madame de Maintenon, herself a renegade Protestant, and the tool of the Jesuits in religion, dissatisfied with the slow progress made in the subornation of heresy, determined to force conversion. “Booted missionaries” were dispatched into the Huguenot provinces to harry the reformers into adherence to Rome. The dragonades commenced.
The persecution which raged for several years subsequent to 1681, surpassed in cold-blooded malignity that of the sixteenth century; for the undisguised hostility of the last kings of the house of Valois, although barbarous, was frank; their object was avowed; the Huguenots themselves were militant, and the conflict was undisguised. But now all pretext had ceased; the Jesuits were crafty; insidious enactments rendered it almost impossible to avoid contravention; and liberty of worship was destroyed even while the Edict of Names remained the formal law, so powerless are naked statutes.
The Jesuit La Chaise was the king’s confessor. Like Milton’s Belial; this monk
“Seemed For dignity composed and high exploit; But all was false and hollow, though his tongue Dropt manna, and could make the worse appear The better reason, to perplex and dash Maturest counsels; for his thoughts were low, To vice industrious, but to nobler deeds Timorous and slothful.”
La Chaise reminded Louis that the Roman year of jubilee occurred in 1676, and he urged the monarch to signalize his piety by extirpating heresy, since the days of pilgrimages were gone, and he could no longer acquire fame by heading a crusade, or by traveling on foot with staff and scrip to the Holy Land. “Sire,” said he, “a new Christian hero is to arise; perhaps he may find another Tasso to immortalize his name;” and the royal voluptuary, bloated with license, gouty with excess, quitted the side of his mistress for a moment to beg his ghostly confessor to inform him how he might acquire the reputation of a Christian hero.
La Chaise, Louvois the king’s minister, and Madame de Maintenon, a congenial trinity, united their efforts to exterminate the Huguenots.
A brutal soldiery were quartered on the “heretics;” devastation, pillage, torture—there was nothing that they recoiled at; indeed they gave such loose rein to their passions, that their frightful excesses would have shamed a horde of brigands.
Benoit has filled many pages of his Histoire de d’Edit de Nantes with hideous details of these atrocities. “The soldiers,” he says, “tied crucifixes to the end of their carbines, and these they compelled the Huguenots to kiss; if any offered resistance, they thrust the crucifix in the face or stomach of the victim. Neither children nor persons of advanced age were spared; they fell on all without compassion: some were cudgeled to death; some were beaten to a jelly with the flat side of a sword; others were stabbed with the bayonet-crucifix fixed at the end of their carbines. These wretches inflicted similar cruelties on women. They whipped them; struck them with rattans across the face to disfigure them; dragged them by the hair of the head through mire and over stones. Sometimes, finding the laborers at their ploughs, the soldiers hurried them off to the Romish church, pricking them along like bullocks with their own goads to quicken their reluctant pace.”
Behind the dragonaders were a legion of friars, Capuchins, Franciscans, Carmelites, an ignorant and restless soldiery, who worked on the fanaticism of the mob, and marched, whenever an opportunity occurred, to make an assault upon heresy.
Emigration, which had been interdicted by the edict of 1669, now began again on a still vaster scale, and thousands of families quitted France. The Protestant countries, England, Switzerland, Holland, and Denmark, offered them a shelter in official declarations. But the ordinances prohibiting emigration were reenacted with increased severity.
The law against emigration, and that against relapsed heretics, put a two-edged sword in the hands of the persecutors. The condition of the Huguenots was pitiable. In France they would not recognize them as any thing but Romanists; on reaching the frontiers they were seized as heretics. Rulhiéres, the panegyrist of Louis XIV, says that the misfortunes of the Reformed were chiefly owing to the combined operation of these two laws, which formed the boast of Father La Chaise as masterpieces of genius.
Such were the means employed by Louis XIV to convert France to Latin orthodoxy. “Concerning this monarch,” says Macauley, “the world seems at last to have formed a correct judgment. He was not a great general; he was not a great statesman; but he was in one sense a great king. Never was there so consummate a master of what James I called kingcraft—of all those arts which most advantageously display the merits of a prince, and most completely hide his defects. Though his internal administration was bad; though the military triumphs which gave splendor to the early part of his reign were not achieved by himself; though his later years were crowded with defeats and humiliations; though he was so ignorant that he scarcely understood the Latin of his mass-book; though he fell under the control of a cunning Jesuit and of a still more cunning old woman, he succeeded in passing himself off upon the people as a being above humanity.
“Death and time have exposed the deception. The body of the ‘grand monarch’ has been measured more justly than it was measured by the courtiers who were afraid to look above his shoetie. His public character has been scrutinized by men free from the hopes and fears of Boileau and Moliére. In the grave, the most majestic of princes is only five feet eight. In history the hero and politician dwindles into a vain and feeble tyrant, the slave of priests and women, little in war, little in government, little in everything but the art of simulating greatness.”
REVOCATION of the EDICT of NANTES
Until the year 1685, the efforts of the “booted missionaries” were confined to one or two provinces; but now they were extended into other sections. Bearn was harried; Languedoc was bled; the Vivarias was changed into a Golgotha. The most sinister acts of the dark ages are white when set against the blackness of this modern infamy. France, to borrow the striking language of the Hebrew poet, was “a land of darkness, as darkness itself, and where the light was as darkness.”
Every engine which a satanic wit could invent was put in motion to cajole, to overawe, and to torture steadfast martyrs into a denial of their faith. Pellisson, the administrator of the corruption fund, regularly handed the king lists of six, eight, ten hundred converts, vouched for by fraudulent certificates; and his miracles were daily chronicled in the Gazette. He avoided publishing that the few proselytes he did make were exclusively from the dregs of the people; either knaves who periodically made a trade of their consciences, or starving beggars who took the money to get a piece of bread. Venial and licentious scribblers lauded the triumph. The court at Versailles, dripping with wine, drunken with blasphemy, bloated with gluttony, and reveling in obscene dances, paused a moment in its frightful orgy, to cross itself and hiccough aviva. The king was astonished at the number of his “converts;” the prelates applauded; Bossuet harangued, and Boileau dogmatized; while the Jesuits stood by with a cunning leer. But reasonable people did not credit Pellisson’s Munchausenisms. Even Madame de Maintenon wrote, “I think that all these conversions are not sincere; but at least the children will be Romanists.”
The jubilant court was soon undeceived. Sixteen Huguenot deputies front Languedoc, Corennes, Vivarias, and Dauphiny assembled at Toulouse, and decided to recommence worship in all interdicted places simultaneously, without ostentation, but without secrecy; either with open doors, or on the ruins of their demolished temples. At the same time union, repentance, prayer, and faith, “mighty to the pulling down of strong-holds,” were recommended.
In hundreds of thousands the Huguenots assembled. “The roses and the myrtles of devotion bloomed unchilled on the verge of the avalanche.”
The king was enraged; the satyrs of the court sputtered vengeance; the Jesuits spat fresh venom. “It was believed,” says the abbé Soulier, “that the Calvinists, being reduced to have few public exercises, would more willingly listen to the instructions which the prelates gave in their dioceses to draw them from error; and that the money which the king distributed to assist the new converts would induce the religionists to enter almost voluntarily into the bosom of the church: but as these measures had not all the effect which was anticipated, and as it appeared, on the contrary, that the Calvinists, far from listening to the missionaries, became more obstinate, his majesty deemed it necessary to take stronger measures to draw them from that lethargy into which their birth had unfortunately thrown them. The king’s troops were employed to cooperate with the missionaries, that thus what had been effected in Poitiers, where forty thousand of the Huguenots had been subjugated, might be done in the other infected provinces.”
As to the means employed, the testimony of another papist, Rulhiére, may be cited: “Whatever can be imagined of military licentiousness was exercised against the Calvinists. It is attributed to Foucault, intendant of Bearn, that he improved upon the most exquisite refinements of torture. Invention was employed to discover torments which should be painful without being mortal, and cause the unhappy victims to undergo the utmost which the human body can sustain without expiring.”
Thus tabooed in society, outlawed from trade, and battered and racked by the dragoons, the Huguenots had nothing to do but die or recant. The firmest suffered martyrdom; those whose spirit was willing, but whose flesh was weak, pretended to abjure.
That which struck men in general more than anything else, was the material injury inflicted by the dragonades. The spiritual mischief of a forced participation in the sacrament weighed much more heavily with men of reflection and piety. To open the mouth of a heretic with the point of the bayonet, and thrust into it the host—that consecrated host which the Roman church professes to esteem it a most heinous offence to take unworthily—this offense was prescribed by those very men who decided that it vas a crime of the most flagrant nature. The Spanish Inquisition had at least sufficient sense of shame to prevent its prisoners from receiving the communion and attending mass. There were a few noble protestations against it in the age of Louis XIV, especially from the abbey of port Royal and among the Jansenists; but the majority the clergy, harried on by the Jesuits, forced their unhappy converts to receive the host while their very paleness and shuddering horror, as Basnage tells us, showed how their whole heart revolted at the ceremony “
But the dragonaders did not care for sincerity; they looked only for the éclât of an immense army of proselytes.
The king’s council, which only regarded outward acts, was as much astonished as delighted at the countless abjurations. “Sixty thousand conversions have been made in the generality of Bordeaux,” wrote Louvois to his father the chancellor, early in September, 1685; ” twenty thousand have been won in Montauban. The rapidity with which it all takes place is such, that by the end of the month there will not be ten thousand of the heretics alive where thirty days back there were a hundred and fifty thousand.”
The duke de Noailles announced to Louvois at the same time multitudes of forced conversions at Nîmes, Uzés, Alais, Villeneuvre. “The rack is a famous proselyter,” said he with a jeer. “The leading people of Nîmes,” be continues, “made their abjuration in the church on the day of my arrival. There was then a chill; but things were put in a good train by quartering the military on the obstinate. The number of heretics in this province is about two hundred and forty thousand. I expect soon that I shall see all these hounds leashed to the car of Rome.”
The hour was now considered ripe for the abolition of the nominal law of toleration. Frittered away as the statute had been until it was little more than the shadow of a law, it was still an accusing phantom in the statute book; and the government now undertook to lay this ghost: unfortunately the perturbed spirit of reform would not “down” at the king’s bidding.
Louis XIV, overreached and persuaded by his confessor, his chancellor, his minister of war, and his mistress, ill-informed perhaps as to the real condition of the kingdom, rejoicing over fictitious conversions, and duped because he lived surrounded by flatterers, like an Asiatic sultan in the recesses of his palace—Louis XIV, to whom Louvois and La Chaise had promised that “not a drop of blood should be shed,” having consulted Harlai and Bossuet, signed the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes on the 18th of October, 1685, and enshrined his name for ever as a monument of execration. It was at this time that he added to his other mottoes that of Lex una sub uno. There was no need to write it in blood at Versailles; the hand of death had already engraved it on the frontlet of the monarchy. God left this king, broken by age, soured by disappointment, humiliated, his early glories turned to ashes on his shriveled lips, to occupy the throne for thirty disgraceful years after this unhappy event, to bear the load of the crime he had committed.
The preamble of the Act of Revocation contains a brazen falsehood; what then can be expected of the body of a paper which opens with a lie? “We behold now,” says the king, “with just gratitude to God, that our cares have attained the end which we proposed; the greater and better part of our subjects of the pretended reformed religion have embraced the Roman faith, and the execution of the Edict of Nantes is therefore unnecessary.” This is an abstract of the act: All further exercise of the reformed worship in the kingdom illegal. The Huguenot pastors ordered to quit the realm within a fortnight; and meantime to perform no clerical function, on pain of being sent to the galleys. A promise to all ministers who should become converts, of a stipend greater by one third than that which they had hitherto enjoyed, with the reversion of a moiety to their widows. A dispensation from academical studies to those which wished to practice at the bar. Parents forbidden to instruct their children in the reformed religion, and commanded to have them christened in the Romish churches, on pain of five hundred livres fine. All refugees ordered to return to France within four months, or forfeit their property. All religionists forbidden to emigrate, under penalty of the galleys if men, or seclusion for life if women. And all laws against relapsed heretics confirmed.
Such were the main enactments of this atrocious act. “It gave,” says M. Felice, “a fatal blow to the traditional policy of France—to the policy of Henry IV, Richelieu, Mazarin, and even to than of Louis XIV himself. It was no longer possible to retain the natural allies of France in Protestant Europe, when Christendom resounded with the lamentations of the Huguenots. Protestantism rose en masse against the “grand monarch.” Its chief was William of Orange, and the parliamentary resolution of 1688 was the response to the royal crime of 1685.
Meantime the act was put in force. “We have reached the end,” said the old chancellor Letellier as he affixed the seal of state to the nascent edict, and chanted the Nunc dimittus of the holy Simeon with blasphemous triumph. Letellier, of whom the count de Grammont once said, on seeing him emerge from the king’s closet, “I picture to myself a polecat who has just killed some fowls, and is licking his jaws, yet stained with their blood.” Letellier was mistaken; for the sequel proved this: that it is easier to make martyrs than apostates, and that the power of conviction is stronger than material forces.
The Act of Revocation was carried out with special rigor against the pastors; even the letter of the edict was exceeded: that granted them a fortnight’s delay; but Claude, the famous pastor of the Parisian Huguenots, whose learning and acumen had worsted the brilliant Bossuet, received orders to quit the capital within twenty-four hours after the signature of the paper; and this “seditious fellow,” as Madame de Maintenon termed him, was accompanied by one of the king’s footmen, who did not lose sight of him for a moment till he crossed the frontier. The other preachers of the larger towns were given two days in which to prepare for departure. Those living in the provinces had a little longer space; but in open defiance of all the rights of stature, they were all deprived of those of their children who were more than seven years old. Some were even forced to abandon infants at the breast, and others supported broken-hearted wives who accompanied them on the road to banishment.
Abjurations had been counted on; few were made. Nearly all those preachers who, in a moment of stupefaction and terror, had denied their faith, returned to it again, and accepted serenely the penalty of their relapse. Old men of ninety might be seen summoning up their remaining strength to set out on distant travel, and more than one perished ere he reached the asylum where he had hoped to rest his faltering steps and weary head.
So long as the Huguenots had any thing to lose, though but the shadow of their ancient liberties, the empty name of Henry Quatre’s great edict, the majority confined themselves to presenting petitions and praying for a redress of grievances. They cherished a hope that the sanctity of law, justice, and humanity would be reawakened in the breast of their monarch; and so far did they carry their endurance, as to give rise to the proverbial expression, a Huguenot’s patience. But when they lost all, absolutely all, they consulted only what was true to conscience and to their outraged faith; and by continuing to brave the most barbarous of edicts, in the face of exile, the galleys, and death, they wore out the ferocity of their tormentors.
Emigration now attained gigantic proportions. In spite of cunning preventive measures—in spite of constantly reiterated decrees, denouncing death upon all who should venture to pass the French frontier—in spite of cordons of soldiers stationed to dragoon back all refugees, the tide of emigration set resolutely, irresistibly towards Protestant Europe. England, Switzerland, Holland, Prussia, Denmark, and Sweden generously relieved their first necessities.
The depopulation of the kingdom was frightful. The best authorities estimate that France lost five hundred thousand of her best, most intelligent, moral, and industrious citizens. She lost besides sixty millions of francs in specie, and her most flourishing manufactures; while four hundred thousand lives paid the forfeit of the reign of terror.
This was what it cost to suppress the truth in France.
Thousands of emigrants perished of fatigue, cold, and hunger, besides those lost by shipwreck, and those shot by the soldiers while attempting to escape. Thousands more were taken, chained to assassins and other desperate criminals, then marched across the kingdom, that the sight of them might strike their coreligionists with terror; then they were condemned to row with the convict crews. The galleys at Marseilles were crowded with these Christians; and among them were magistrates, officers, gentlemen, and octogenarians. The convents and the town of Constance at Aigue-Mortes were crowded with devoted women. But neither threats, barbarities, nor brutal and unheard-of punishments could conquer the patience, the firmness, the energy, the sublime faithfulness of these oppressed consciences.
Of the moral results of this wholesale and most infamous proscription it is needless to speak. They are palpable. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes was the avant courierof the Revolution of 1789. The religion of reason was the inevitable outgrowth of the religion of bestiality. Robespierre was the counterpart of Letellier. The act of 1685 exiled Christ and struck the people; the frenzy of 1789 was the return blow of the people ignorant of Christ: the Revolution was France smiting the tyranny which Louis XIV inaugurated; it was the explosion of ten centuries of wickedness, of bigotry, of oppression, of perfidy, in an awful crash. It was GOD raining his vengeance upon the Sodom of the monarchy and on the Gomorrah of the papacy.
Multitudes of writers bear ample witness to the economic ruin which the revocation caused. “Trade, says St. Simon, “was ruined; a quarter of the kingdom was perceptibly depopulated.” “Whole villages were deserted,” says Sismondi; “many of the larger towns lost half their denizens; hundreds of factories were closed; some branches of industry became altogether extinct; and vast districts absolutely ached for hands to cultivate them.” “The Huguenots,” remarks Lamartine, “repaid the generous hospitality of those peoples with whom they found a home, by contributing the riches of their cunning labor, by the example of their faith, by their lives of integrity; and while they thus enriched their adopted countries, France was impoverished.” Lemontey says, “The French Protestants carried into England the secret of those valuable machines which have laid the foundations of her vast wealth, while the complaints of these proscribed exiles cemented an avenging league at Augsburg.”
Thus it should seem that the revocation of the Edict of Nantes was economic suicide as well as religious death. That fatal act not only filled the salons of modern France with infidel philosophers, it also brought pecuniary ruin. France colonized her hands away from her mouth.
Only one other nation has been guilty of so barbarous an act. In the sixteenth century, Philip II expelled the Moors from his kingdom. Bankrupt and despicable, largely in consequence of that edict, Spain stands today “wicked but in will, of means bereft,” serving, like the drunken helot, to show how disgusting and ruinous mean vice is.
But the exile of the Huguenots, though it could not be more ruinous than the Spanish perfidy, touched a meaner depth. The Moors were pagans, and in one sense interlopers; the Huguenots were Christians and Frenchmen. When France drove them into exile, she banished her manufacturers, her traders, her artisans; and in consequence, industry languished for three generations. Indeed, France has never regained the vantage-ground which she lost, and which the wiser policy of Great Britain won, at that epoch. The cunning of England lassoed Lyons and Marseilles and Paris to the feet of London and Manchester and Liverpool, and she has ever since kept them there. Holland, in a material sense, gained more by this act than she had lost by the victorious invasions of Louis XIV; while the Huguenot colonies planted on the Cape of Good Hope, on the snowy steppes of the Cordilleras, and, beside the sounding Atlantic, gained the New World for God, and compensated for the mischief worked his cause by the iniquitous politics of the elder continent.
It is estimated by authoritative historians that, despite the enormous exodus of the proscribed reformers after the suppression of Henry Quatre’s edict, there still remained a million Huguenots in France, living under the ban and at the peril of the law.
Meted and peeled, they clung to their faith with stubborn devotion. Their unwearied appeals for justice reached Paris borne on every breeze. But steeled and unmoved, the king only drugged his shoulders, and muttered, “Persecute,” while the servile magistracy echoed, “So stands the law.”
But the conscience of a generous people may not always be fettered by cruel parchments. Live growths rive dead matter. Pulse-beats smite down the strongest tyrannies. Give it time, and a spear of grass will topple over the Pyramids. Gradually France, educated by the suffering of three centuries, grew broader than her statute-book. Iniquity was indeed enacted into law; bigotry was the incorporated, fundamental, avowed policy of the state. Yet the last years of the reign of Louis XIV were gilded by the dawn of a larger charity. Religion was milder when it breathed through Fénélon. Philosophy was gentler when it spoke through the lips of Pascal. Harsh statutes were construed into impotence when D’Aguesseau pronounced judgment. Letters were more humane; the collectors of lewd anecdotes, the gatherers of the broken crumbs of history, recorders of the gossip of cafés and the whispers of the bath-stairs of the Louvre, no longer monopolized literature; and soon, through the tragedy of “ESTHER,” Racine raised his voice against intolerance.
This was the insurrection of civilization. It was the human mind which, constantly persecuted, opposed, headed off, has disappeared only to appear again; and passing from one labor to another, has taken successively, from age to age, the figure of all the great reformers. It was the human mind which was called John Huss, and which did not die on the funeral-pile of Constance; which was named Luther, and shook Romanism to its center; which was called Calvin, and organized the Reformation; which, since history began, has transformed societies according to a law progressively acceptable to reason; which has been theocracy, aristocracy, monarchy, and which is to-day religious democracy; which has been Babylon, Tyre, Jerusalem, Athens, Rome; which has been by turns error, illusion, schism, protestation, truth; but which has always groped towards the Just, the Beautiful, the True, enlightening multitudes, ennobling life, raising more and more the head of the people towards the Right, and the head of the individual towards God.
The government of France might slaughter individuals, might annihilate Paris to the last pavement, and the kingdom to the last hamlet, still it would have done nothing. There world yet remain to be destroyed something always paramount, above the generations, between man and his Maker; something which has written the books, invented the arts, discovered the worlds, founded the civilizations; something which will always grasp, under the form of revolution, what is not yielded under the form of progress; something which is unseizable as the light, unapproachable as the sun, and which God calls the human mind.
But while the premonitory phases of a revolution were beginning to appear, the law stood long unchanged, pitiless. The war of the Camisards stained the seventeenth century; it was a frightful tragedy enacted by the Huguenot peasants of the Vivavais, frenzied by that “oppression” which, as Solomon says, “makes the wise man mad.” After the employment of fiend-like cruelties, in which the demoniacal ingenuity of Indian torture was combined with the scientific inventions of semi-civilization, the Camisards were subjugated—the throats of a whole population were cut.
Thus passed away the age of Louis XIV; the penal code unsoftened, but public opinion liberalized.
The first years of the reign of Louis XV were barren of good fruit. Spasmodic acts of bigotry occurred, but the lawyers lingered more and more in the execution of the prescribed barbarities; and when a nation shudders at its laws, they are already half abolished. There were even instances of judgments pronounced by judges directly against the obnoxious statutes; they preferred to see their decisions reversed by appeal, rather than suffer the humiliation of having them confirmed—obeying justice in disobeying the law.
Disgusted by the mummeries of the Vatican, France began at this period to imbibe the poison of infidelity; but the scholars of the philosophical school did not bestow one good word upon the Huguenots. This was happy; the benediction of infidel savans would not have been appropriate. Montesquieu did not mention these oppressed children of God’s right hand; Rousseau, the child of Calvin’s own city, attacked Romanism more than he defended the Protestant idea. Between this bastard philosophy and Christianity there was little in common, no point d’appui.
In 1744, a Huguenot synod was convened at Nîsmes. Denied baptism, burial, and the marriage ceremony, deprived of a legal status, they determined to hold their services in the open air. “This,” said one, “is better than the catacombs of the earliest Christians; since God gives us the field, let us praise him there.” These meetings were called “Assemblées du desert.” To avoid awakening the suspicion of the government, the Huguenots repaired unarmed to their forest rendezvous. There,
“In the darkling wood, Amid the cool and silence they knelt down, And offered to the Mightiest solemn thanks And supplications; for their simple hearts Might not resist the sacred influences Which, from the sully twilight of the place, And from the gray old trunks, that high in heaven Mingled their mossy boughs, and from the sound Of the invisible breath, that swayed at once All their green tops, stole over them, and bowed Their spirits with the thought of boundless power And inaccessible majesty.”
And here, under the canopy of heaven, the sacraments were celebrated, the rites of sepulture were performed, and the union of affection was sanctified by religion. Yet the marriages of the desert, as they were called, were afterwards termed “concubinage,” and the hereditary estates of the posterity of persons so united were forfeited.
But though a crushing yoke rested upon the backs of the Huguenots, each year brought some alleviation. Four generations of persecutors and of victims passed away. Le bien aimé, as the most indolent and sensual of kings was ironically nicknamed, was huddled into the tomb of Hugh Capét. Louis XVI commenced his inauspicious reign; and Marie Antoinette, beautiful as Burke described her, shared the fatal throne. Then, in 1787, the statute of toleration glittered on the horizon. It was the offspring of patience and persistence, of faith and prayer. The Huguenots wearied out the Inquisition.
The edict of toleration, clutched from the unwilling grip of the government by the impetuous statesmanship of the impending Revolution one hundred and two years after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, was narrow and niggardly in its main features; but it granted to the nonconformists four things: the right to live in France, and to practice a profession or carry on a trade without molestation on account of religion; permission to marry legally; an authorization to certify births before the judge of their place of residence; regulations as to the burial of those who could not be interred according to the Roman ritual.
So ran the text; but the practice was not so narrow as the precept. The Huguenots had gained a legal status, and although they were forbidden to assemble for public worship, yet no penalty enforced the prohibition. They had not been deterred from the exercise of their religion by the fiercest prohibitory legislation; should they now desist when there was no punishment?
The heroic congregations of the wilderness held grateful jubilee; their forty years seemed well-nigh ended, and Canaan loomed up before their glistening eyes. “At length,” cried Lafayette, himself one of the most strenuous advocates of every species of equality on either continent, great in the beneficence of goodness, “at length Protestants are permitted to become husbands and fathers.”
But the frail breakwater of this decree was not of sufficient importance to arrest the surging tide which now began to gurgle round the throat of France. One by one the liberties of the kingdom had been entrapped and bound. Socialist manifestoes terminated in a Jesuitical policy. An immense intrigue was baptized with the name of government,
Then intervened the Revolution. Into that yawning abyss tumbled everything—law, order, religion. The heads of Romanist and Protestant alike fell under the indiscriminating revolutionary hatchet. The frenzied insurgents propped up the corpse of martyred liberty upon its gory tomb; then hastening to the market-place, they crowned the goddess of a spurious reason with garlands of flowers. Thus the ecclesiasticism of the Vatican, which had been rampant in France for a thousand years, inciting every crime, lauding every infamy, gloating over every outrage upon human nature, “stealing the livery of heaven to serve the devil in”—this monstrosity called Romanism ended fitly in a scoff and a blasphemy.
‘Tis a history full of blood and full of tears. “Never,” says Lamartine, ” did weaknesses more quickly engender faults; faults, crimes; crimes, punishment. That retributive justice which God has implanted in our very acts, as a conscience more sacred than the fatalism of the ancients, never manifested itself more unequivocally; never was the law of morality illustrated by more ample testimony, or avenged more mercilessly. Blood spilled like water not only shrieks in accents of terror and of pity, but gives a lesson and an example to mankind.”
At length the phantom of this bastard liberty was laid; “Cà ira” and the “Marseillaise” lost their fierceness; the tamed insurrectionary choruses died out in a plaintive wail; the revolution sobbed itself to sleep in curses. The frightful days of 1793 passed into history; above the subsiding waves reappeared the turrets and towers of old institutions. Even before the overthrow of the Republic, the “Goddess of Reason” was deposed; and the dismal inscription, “Death is an eternal sleep,” ceased to insult God and the human heart. Once awakened from their awful trance, men came to feel that “there would be no dignity in life, that it would not be worth the holding, if in death we wholly perish. All that lightens labor and sanctifies toil; all that renders man brave, good, rise, noble, patient, benevolent, just, humble, and at the same time great, worthy of intelligence, worthy of liberty, worthy of God, is to have perpetually before him the vision of a better world darting its rays of celestial splendor through the dark shadows of this present life. No one shall unjustly or needlessly suffer in the hereafter. Death is restitution. By limiting man’s end and aim to this terrestrial and material existence, we aggravate all his miseries by the terrible negation at its close. No; there is an ulterior life. In that, mercy reigns through Christ; hope is its beacon, and the ‘perfect liberty of the sons of God’ is its fruition. The law of the material world is gravitation; of the moral world, equity. At the end of all reappears God, ‘Judge of the quick and the dead.’ “
When Napoleon usurped the government, one of his first acts was to reestablish religion. In 1795, a decree was issued authorizing the free exercise of religious worship. But anxious to win the benediction of the pope, Bonaparte leaned in his policy towards the Vatican, and Protestantism was shackled by mild conditions.
Under the restoration, Bonaparte’s edict remained substantially unaltered. Charles X left the law untouched, and on his flight bequeathed it to Louis Philippe. When the government of the citizen king went down before an after-dinner speech and an epigram, when a cab carried the new royalty into exile, toleration did not follow it. Firm through the days of the second Republic, it likewise survived the coup d’état of Louis Bonaparte in 1852, and soon received the imprimatur of the Empire.
Napoleon, anxious, like his uncle, to reestablish the principle of authority, which in France is based on the ancient traditions of the papacy, has placated the Vatican by a succession of complaisant acts which have given Romanism the éclat of the national religion, and whose tendency is to suppress the growth of the dissenters. Napoleon perceives that the natural, inevitable gravitation of Protestantism is towards democracy. He remembers De Tocqueville’s prophecy that all Europe is gradually marching to that goal. Hence the emperor, at the head of an abnormal government, cannot but look with suspicion upon the non-conformists.
Still, despite the open unfriendliness of the state and the sinister efforts of the Romanist party, the descendants of the Huguenots maintain their ground. The Revolution robbed the ultramontanists of great prestige by the confiscation of the immense church property; it also made the people suspicious of their ascendancy in the état civile. This gives the reformers a fulcrum upon which to rest their lever. They have several colleges, one at Montauban, one at Nîsmes, one at Paris. The south of France, the ancient strong-hold of the Reformation, is yet the rendezvous of Protestantism. The Lutheran, the Wesleyan, the Calvinist denominations are militant; and they can afford to be patient, sure that, since their essential principles are in conformity with the fundamental tenets of the New Testament, the future is theirs, and that they will eventually subdue the conscience of the human race beneath their sway.
“Wrong,” says Victor Hugo, “is but a hideous flash in the darkness; right is an eternal ray.”
The object of the Huguenots was the demolition of idols, the purification of the sanctuary, the reinauguration of primitive Christianity; to bring man to God through the divine Redeemer, the “one Mediator,” by the abolition of an impious, mediatorial priest-caste, and the promulgation of the golden truth which Luther reaffirmed, and which Calvin echoed, “justification by faith” in Christ, the invocation of His sole intercession at the heavenly bar.
Standing in the sunlight of the nineteenth century, the age of unfettered lips, of myriad churches, of open Bibles, whose great heart throbs with that love of God which is “perfect liberty,” who shall say that the Huguenots have not grandly performed their work?
Let each of us reverently thank God for the light of their example; let us determine to be worthy of the past, and the apostles of a sublimer future.