The Battles for the Faith
This section comprises chapters 15 through 24. 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 15 French Politics Chapter 16 Mutation Chapter 17 The Conspiracy Chapter 18 Almost a Tragedy Chapter 19 The Lost Leader Chapter 20 The Appeal to Arms Chapter 21 Death’s Coup D’Etat Chapter 22 The Hollow Truce Chapter 23 Recommencement of the War Chapter 24 Hoodwinked France
On the 31st of March, 1547, Francis I died. Vacillating in his temper, arbitrary in his rule, selfish in his policy, yet generous in his private relations, he was the Don Quixote of a vicious chivalry. By his death, one more link was broken which bound France to feudalism.
Francis was succeeded by his son Henry II, a prince who inherited many of the qualities, and who adopted the essential policy of the paladin king; but he did not sway an unvexed scepter. Schism, dangerous and ever growing, was within the temple; the court was fretted by hostile cabals; the Commons were turbulent; France bristled with rebellion; while from without, the pope had his clutch upon Henry’s dominion, England fomented discord, and Spain, under Charles V, “Forging the prodigal gold of either Ind To arméd thunderbolts,” was a perpetual menace.
Let us glance for a moment at the politics of the court at this critical epoch, and form the acquaintance of some of the grand historic figures who were destined to sway France, and to mold her future—some by their wicked ambition, others by the healthful play of their noble aspirations.
The reign of Henry II was emphatically an embryo period. It contained the roots of “many and tall trees of mischief,” which afterwards covered France with an accursed shade.
Initiation into the vile mysteries of the temple of court intrigue—this is essential.
Four rival factions formed the substratum of the state.
Anne de Montmorenci, constable of France, the minister and favorite of Henry II, headed one clique. Montmorenci was able in the cabinet, and had won wide fame in the wars of the age; but his character was stained by bigotry and fierce rancor.
The leader of a second party was Diana de Poitiers, duchess of Valentinois, the king’s mistress, who, through her wit and beauty, possessed boundless influence with her royal paramour.
Catharine de Medici, a daughter of the illustrious Florentine house which had given two popes to Christendom, the consort of the impetuous king Henry II, led a third faction in this scramble for power. Catharine’s character had barely shown itself during the lifetime of Francis I; but now she began to emerge from her former obscurity, and during the successive reigns of her three sons, she possessed supreme influence in the government. The wily queen surpassed Machiavelli himself in tortuous statescraft. By constantly adjusting and readjusting the equilibrium of the contending factions, she prevented each from overwhelming the other; played one off against another; and by prolonging this contest, she extended the duration of her own power.
The fourth faction of the court was that of the princes of Lorraine, better known in history as the Guises. These were the greediest and most unscrupulous jackals of this courtly pack. The Guises were looked on as foreigners, and their power in France was a mushroom growth.
René de Lorraine, who fought with Charles the Bold of Burgundy, and who more than once brought the claims of his house upon Provence, Naples, and Jerusalem to remembrance, ordained in his last will that Antoine, his eldest son, should succeed him in Lorraine and Bar, and that the other, Claude, should inherit his possessions lying in France: these were estates scattered throughout Normandy, Picardy, Flanders, and the Isle of France, with the baronies of Joinville, Mayenne, Elboeuf, and the counties of Aumale and Guise, all destined a little later to give names to distinguished warriors and prelates.
Among the chivalric leaders of Francis I, this Claude, who styled himself “Guise,” whose domain had been raised from a county into a dukedom, made a brilliant figure. His bravery and miraculous preservation at the battle of Marignano, the central part which he took in preserving the peace of the kingdom during the captivity of the king after the fatal rout at Pavia, the pains he took to ingratiate himself with the masses and to cement the foundations of his power, ere long made him a great name in the realm. To crown all, he made a fortunate marriage, wedding a princess of the royal blood, Antoinette de Bourbon. From this union sprang six sons, full of vital energy, three of whom devoted themselves to the church, and three to arms, all achieving fame in their respective spheres. These were Francis duke of Guise, sometimes called prince of Joinville, Charles archbishop of Rheims and cardinal of Lorraine, Claude duke d’Aumale, Louis cardinal of Guise, Francis grand prior, and René marquis d’Elboeuf.
Such was the formidable house of Guise, propped by its six stalwart pillars; and even in the reign of Francis I, their rise and prowess towards power had been so rapid and insidious, that the dying king bequeathed to Henry a legacy of distrust of their talents and ambition, which he thought—rightly, as the sequel proved—were of an order to endanger the peace of France.
Between these factions raged the utmost hate. Usually they were at open war; but when peace reigned, it was but a hollow truce—mars gravior sub pace latet, war bitterer for the disguise. A coalition had been formed between Diana de Poitiers and the constable of France; so that the chief of the Montmorencis and the courtesan duchess for a time swayed the scepter with untrammeled hands. The duchess disliked Cardinal Tournon, and one of Henry’s first acts was to dismiss this personified inquisition from the public service. Montmorenci favored this move, and seeing that his only strength lay in Diana’s smiles, he exerted himself to the utmost to flatter the king’s passion for her.
Whatever was done or left undone owed its origin to no zeal for the public welfare, but was simply a maneuver to deceive the king, whom all parties conspired to blind, and who throughout his reign was merely the empty shadow of an authority which was really vested in powers behind the throne.
Such was the political situation at the commencement of the year 1548.
The ambitious projects of the house of Lorraine were rendered doubly dangerous and difficult to foil by the masterly tactics of Francis duke of Guise, one of the most remarkable men of that age. As a soldier, he had distinguished himself by the capture of Calais from the English, who had usurped it in a preceding century, and by his defence of Metz against the Spaniards. He possessed in an eminent degree most of those external advantages which captivate the multitude—a commanding presence, dignity, affability, an ingratiating address, and a certain chivalry. These rendered him the admiration of the populace, and made him the delight and ornament of the court.
His aspiring schemes were of course powerfully supported by his influential brothers with their hosts of retainers, all as anxious as himself to share the patronage and emoluments of office.
In pursuance of her favorite policy of an adjusted equilibrium, Catherine de Medici coalesced with the Guises, whom she both hated and feared, against Montmorenci, who stood in the path of their ambition.
It was against this powerful confederacy that the constable had to struggle. Feeling his inability to resist it single-handed, he had already, as we have seen, called Diana de Poitiers to his side. He now resolved to attach the princes of the blood to his party. The next heirs to the throne after Francis and the other sons of king Henry, were Antony de Bourbon and the prince of Condé.
Antony de Bourbon, who had become king of Navarre by his marriage with Jane d’Albrét, the daughter of the good queen Margaret, was weak, indolent, vacillating, and too fond of ease to take any active part in the troubled and stirring scenes which were soon to convulse the kingdom. He was only roused from his habitual torpor by the hope of recovering that portion of his realm which had been seized and retained by Spain. As his success in this object depended entirely upon the armed assistance of France, he was easily drawn into the ranks of the ruling party by empty professions of friendship and hollow promises of material aid.
His brother, the prince of Condé, who was connected with Montmorenci by a marriage with his niece, was a man of more determined character; and though not possessed of those high qualities which are requisite in a successful party leader, he compensated the political defect of ordinary talent by great moral courage and inflexibility of purpose.
With many others of the higher nobility, he had espoused the reformed creed; and though he was too frank and open to shine as a diplomatist in an age when fraud and mendacity were the prime merits of a negotiator, he yet brought vast strength to the ranks of Protestantism. His finances were scanty, but he was liberal to his followers; and when life was at stake or honor in peril, lie displayed a promptitude and magnanimity of bearing which commanded universal respect.
Condé was the intimate friend of the Chatillons, an ancient family which had once exercised sovereign authoritv over Nantua and Moulonét, two towns in the neighborhood of Geneva.
The marshal de Chatillon had married Louisa de Montmorenci, the constable’s sister, by whom he had three sons, two of whom achieved an immortality of fame. The eldest of these, Odét, became bishop of Beauvais and Cardinal Chatillon. He was a keen observer of the world, mild in his address, polished in his manners, an adept in the intrigues of the day, and possessed of all those winning and conciliatory arts which disarm an enemy and fix a friend.
The second son was the famous Gaspard Chatillon de Coligny, admiral of France, one of the brightest and grandest names in history, doubly consecrated by a life of sublime fidelity to Christian duty, and by martyrdom.
The gallant Francis Chatillon d’Andelot was the youngest member of the family; he held the office of colonel-general of French infantry.
The two younger Chatillons, better known by their seignorial appellations of Coligny and D’Andelot, were early initiated into politics by their uncle of Montmorenci, who placed great reliance upon their counsel and discretion. The fine talents of this famous family, their influential connections, their high offices, rendered them most formidable to the vaulting house of Guise.
D’Andelot became very early an enthusiastic adherent of the Reformation. His open and generous nature made him scorn concealment, and he frequently startled the court by his liberal conversation. On one occasion Henry II, upon hearing that his colonel-general had been heard to utter heretical sentiments, sent for him, on the advice of his favorite, Charles, cardinal of Lorraine, and interrogated him upon his opinions.
“How is this, sirrah?” said the king menacingly; “have you too become moon-stricken, that you utter this vile trash of Calvin, and rant like a common heretic against our holy mother church?”
Although D’Andelot had been cautioned to use prudence in his answer, he scorned to equivocate, and he replied firmly, but respectfully, “Sire, in matters of religion I can use no disguise, nor could I deceive God should I attempt it. Dispose as you please of my life, property, and appointments; but my soul, independent of every other sovereign, is only subject to my Creator, from whom I received it, and whom alone I deem it my duty to obey in matters of conscience. In a word, sire, I would rather die than go to mass.”
This calm speech roused the king to such fury, that he drew his rapier and menaced the intrepid disciple with instant death. But when his rage cooled, he stripped D’Andelot of his honors, and threw him into the prison of Mélun.
This punishment had no moral effect. It was well known that the court was tainted with Protestantism, and that many nobles were as heretical as D’Andelot, though few might have the Christian courage so openly to avow their faith. It seemed partial and ungenerous to incarcerate a gentleman who had shown so much honor and daring. So that this imprisonment increased the popularity of the persecuted doctrines of the Bible. The reformers, jubilant over the support of D’Andelot, and trusting that all the members of his powerful family would espouse his creed, fearlessly assembled at the Pré-aux-Cleves, situated in the modern Faubourg St. Germain, and at that time one of the most fashionable promenades in Paris. There they sang the Protestant psalms of Marat in the open air. It became the fashion to visit these reunions; and many an idle courtier, who had lounged down to ridicule the “fanatics,” as they were called, returned with his curses turned into benedictions, and his mocking laughter choked in prayer. Antony de Bourbon, king of Navarre, and Jane d’Albret, were habituésof these gatherings; and while they animated the preachers by their presence, they did not deign to disguise their attachment to the new opinions.
Coligny was remarkable for his caution in taking a step, but when he reached a decision he was inflexible. No one possessed greater intrepidity or more perseverance. Difficulties, instead of daunting him, only spurred him to greater activity, and served only to excite his ardor to surmount them.
It was his brother D’Andelot who first persuaded him to inquire into the justice of the Protestant claims. Coligny paused long. He studied carefully. Meantime he used his utmost exertions to secure the liberation of his brother. With great difficulty he at length prevailed on D’Andelot to acknowledge that he had spoken to the king too roughly. This acknowledgment, backed by the influence of Montmorenci, obtained his dismissal from the Mélun dungeon.
Pope Paul IV was very angry when the news reached him that D’Andelot was again at liberty. He imperiously demanded that he should be burned for heresy. Easier said than done. D’Andelot’s uncle was then the arbiter of France; his brother, the cardinal of Chatillon, was one of the grand inquisitors. he would doubtless hesitate long before consigning so dear a relative to the flames; so the unhappy pontiff had to content himself for a while with less distinguished victims. The Guises shared in the sadness of the holy father on this account, and they set spies upon Montmorenci while his nephew was in prison, in the foolish hope of being able to find some ground on which to base an accusation against that persecuting Saul of favoring heretics.
Coligny, like Calvin, was of the strictest sect of the papists. In an age of almost universal license, no blot has ever been found upon his moral purity. He maintained several priests at Chatillon; he also established free schools for the education of youth. Upon joining the reformers he continued the same acts, simply substituting Protestant preachers for the former monks. Girt with his conscience and armed with his principles, he would have braved the universe. When a little later he did, after long pause, declare his adherence to the Reformation, there was no more vacillation, no more timidity, no more doubt; not D’Andelot himself was more open and inflexible.
“Coligny and D’Andelot,” says their biographer Brantome, ” were both endowed with such imperturbable equanimity and coolness, that it was quite impossible to put them in a passion, and their countenances never betrayed their secret thoughts and inward emotions.”
So admirable in their mental structure and in their moral nature were these brothers, the first political leaders of Latin Protestantism; their brilliant genius, their constancy, their unwearied zeal, their unflagging faith, made them the idols of the French reformers.
In the field of persecution, Henry II walked in the footsteps of Francis I. He regarded the extirpation of heresy and the convention of costly and knight-errant tournaments as the double mission of his kingly career. “For the accomplishment of the one, he squandered the blood, the treasure, and the honor of France; in the pursuit of the other, he lost his life, dying “as the fool dieth.”
That he might secure leisure for the gratification of his bias for pageants and autos da fé, a hollow truce of five years’ duration was patched up between France and Spain, of which Henry could not say, as Francis I did on the dismal day of Pavia, “All is lost, save honor,” for in this case honor went first.
Just before the declaration of this truce, in 1556, Charles V abdicated, after one of the most stormy, eventful, and checkered reigns in history. The self-deposed emperor retired into the monastery of St. Just, in Estremadura, where he spent his hours in vainly attempting to make a hundred clocks tick together, precisely as he had endeavored to wind up his subjects’ consciences, and compel them to keep the time of the Vatican.
During the war just ended with Spain, in which Henry had been the ally of Maurice of Saxony and Albert of Brandenburg, who led the armed Protestantism of Germany, the cardinal of Lorraine had advised the temporary cessation of the religious persecution in France, in order to present the semblance of consistency.
Now the fires were once more lighted. Henry, to add dignity and importance to the executions, went in person to several of them. On one of these occasions he recognized an old domestic dying in the flames; his follower recognized him, and called out faintly from within the fire, “Save me, my king!” and the monarch was seized with such horror that, turning on his heel, he instantly quitted the scene, to hide his agitation and remorse in the depths of the Louvre.
But the reformers were not to be deterred from following the dictates of conscience. It was in vain that funeral piles were kindled in every town in France. The danger of martyrdom, while it excited every generous feeling in the hearts of the devout, and fanned enthusiasm to a white heat, also became a preventive to desertion. It confirmed the wavering. Many who would have acknowledged themselves persuaded in a theological dispute, would avoid the disgrace of yielding through dread of so unsatisfactory a proselyter as the fire.
In May, 1557, an event occurred which showed that the reformers were numerous even in Paris itself. Five hundred of them one night were assembled to celebrate the Lord’s supper in a house in the Rue St. Jacques, opposite the College Plessis. The opportunity for a tumult was too good to be lost. The populace, instigated by the monks, gathered about the house, but no attempt was made to interrupt the service. When the assembly was dismissed, however, the reformers were assailed not only with threats and abuse, but with stones and rapiers. The darkness of the night would have enabled most of them to have escaped, had not lanterns been placed in the windows of the adjacent dwellings to illuminate the street.
Many were murdered; some few who had arms cut their way through the mob; but the old men, the women, and the children were left to massacre. In the midst of the orgie, some soldiers charged and dispersed the rioters; and while the guilty escaped, the innocent reformers, to the number of two hundred, were taken into custody.
Proceedings were immediately commenced against these, notwithstanding the fact that among them were many persons of distinguished family connections. The cardinal of Lorraine demanded that they should all be condemned to the fire; but the parliament had not so capacious a maw: they did not require a hecatomb of victims to glut their appetite; and after a long process, five of the Protestants were sentenced to the flames.
Fortunately for the others, Henry required some levies in Switzerland and Germany; the elector-palatine solicited the enlargement of these prisoners; and as it would have been inconvenient for the kind to lose the friendship of that prince, he reluctantly ordered them to be treated with moderation, to the infinite regret of the pontiff Paul IV, who loudly complained in the consistory.
While Henry was at war with Charles V, a decree, called the edict of Chateaubriand, was passed, which placed the reformers under the secular jurisdiction. But now the cardinal of Lorraine was desirous of devising some method of defeating that edict, which served as a shield to the evangelicals. Accordingly he advised the appointment of an inquisitor of the faith in France, who should leave the power to cite, interrogate, and punish suspected persons, and who should likewise possess, through a bureau of trained spies, mischievous and ubiquitous, the means of penetrating into the privacy of families, and of exercising an unsleeping surveillance over the whole kingdom, from the mountains to the sea.
The pontiff greedily seized on the idea, and appointed Matthew Oni, a Dominican monk, to that hateful office. The king and his council approved this investiture of a foreigner with absolute power within the borders of his kingdom; but the parliament, somewhat leavened with the progressive ideas, and not wholly infatuated, ventured to remonstrate. “Sire,” said Sequier, one of the presidents of the parliaments, “we abhor the establishment of this tribunal of blood, where secret accusation takes the place of proof, where the accused is deprived of every means of defense, and where no judicial form is respected. Begin, sire, by procuring for the nation an edict which will not cover France with funeral piles, which will not be wetted either by the fears or the blood of your loyal subjects. At a distance, sire, from your presence, bowed down under the pressure of rural labor, or absorbed in the exercise of the arts or of trade, the people are ignorant of what is preparing against them; they do not suspect that it is proposed to separate them from your throne by the intervention of an irresponsible foreign tribunal, which shall wreak its unchallengeable will upon them, and deprive them of their natural guardian. It is for them and in their name that we now present our humble remonstrances, nay, our ardent supplications.
“As for you, sirs,” continued the orator, turning towards the sycophantic crowd of counselors and ministers who surrounded the king, “you who so tranquilly hear me, and secure in the royal favor imagine that this affair does not concern you, learn that it is fit that you divest yourselves of that foolish notion. So long as you enjoy the king’s friendship, you wisely make the most of your time—’tis your harvest; benefits and kindnesses are showered upon you without stint, and it enters into the mind of no one to attack you. But the more you are elevated, the nearer you are to the thunderbolt; one must be a stranger to the history of courts who does not know the trivialities which often precipitate disgrace.
“Under the present régime, even should that misfortune befall you, you could now retire with that fortune which would in a measure console you for your fall. But dating from the registration of this edict, your condition would cease to be the same. Mark! You will have for successors men poor and hungry, who, not knowing how long they may remain in office, will burn with a desire to enrich themselves at once and by whatever means. They will find a wonderful facility in doing so; for, certain of obtaining your confiscation of the king, it will only be necessary to bribe an inquisitor and two witnesses. Then, though you may be saints, you will burn as heretics.”
This argumentum ad hominem of the subtle parliamentary orator, produced a profound impression upon the council, and also on the king, who was so affected that he remitted the consideration of the question to another day.
Apropos of this edict, it was just before the wily cardinal of Lorraine conceived his notable scheme for the extirpation of heresy, that the society of the Jesuits, the pests of modern Europe, commenced their machinations, under the protection of this same prelate. So early as 1550, the cardinal procured from Henry II letters patent, by which they were permitted to build an establishment in Paris.
The order of the Jesuits owed its origin to the efforts of a fanatic Spaniard, Ignatius Loyola, who, “poor, obscure, without a patron, without recommendations, entered that city—where now two temples, rich with paintings and many colored marbles, commemorate his great services to his church; where his form stands sculptured in massive silver; where his bones, enshrined amid jewels, are placed beneath the altar—and by his activity and zeal launched his protean propaganda.
“With what vehemence, with what unscrupulous policy, with what forgetfulness of the dearest private ties, with what intense and stubborn devotion to a single end, with what laity and versatility in the choice of means, the Jesuits fought the battles of their church, is written on every page of the annals of Europe during several generations. In ‘the order of Jesus’ was concentrated the quintessence of the Romish spirit, and its history is the history of the papal reaction against Luther. The order possessed itself of all the strong-holds which command the public mind—of the pulpit, of the press, of the confessional, of the academies. It was into the ears of the Jesuit that the powerful, the noble, the wretched, and the beautiful breaded the secret history of their lives. It was at the feet of the Jesuit that the youth of the higher and middle and lower classes were brought up, from the first rudiments to the. courses of rhetoric and philosophy.”
Such was the order which, dominant in the south of Europe, now sued for admission into France. At the first their welcome was not hearty.
When Henry’s letters-patent were presented to the parliament for registry, the procureur-general strongly opposed their reception, and the act of legalization was suspended in consequence of his remonstrances. But in 1552, the Jesuits obtained new letters-patent, which contained a peremptory order for their registration. The procureur-general, however, persisted in his opposition, and for two years more the question hung undecided. Finally, on the 3rd of August, 1551, the parliament decreed that, before the matter was definitely decided, the letters of the king and the papal balls which the .Jesuits had obtained, should be referred to the bishop of Paris and the dean of the Sorbonne Faculty of Theology.
The bishop, whose name was Eustace de Bellay, did not hesitate to declare “that the bulls of Paul III and of Julius III contained several articles which were contrary to reason, and which could not be tolerated or received in the Christian religion; that those in whose favor they were issued, by arrogating to themselves the title of ‘Company of Jesus,’ which could only be applied with propriety to the universal church, of which Christ was the head, appeared to desire to constitute themselves that church; moreover, as the principal object they proposed to themselves was the conversion of the Mohammedans, it would be better to give them a house on the frontier of the Ottoman empire, than in Paris, which was so distant from Constantinople.”
The answer of the Sorbonne was not more favorable. Feeling persuaded of their ability to cope singly with heresy, and
“…too fond to rule alone,” able to “Bear, like the Turk, no brother near the throne,”
that body, by a unanimous vote, declared the new society “dangerous to the holy faith, calculated to disturb the peace of the church, and more fitted to destroy than to edify.”
These two replies annihilated the hopes of the Jesuits during the reign of Henry II; but they plotted in the dark, and bided their time.
Meantime the truce with Spain had been broken; both kingdoms had placed large armies in the field, and the constable, Montmorenci, after sacking the town of Sens, and pillaging Artois, came upon the Spaniards before St. Quintin, which place, the admiral Coligny, one of the ablest captains of the age, held for France.
St. Quintin had been vigorously besieged, and though it was but indifferently strong, the gallant admiral had kept it for his king, while Montmorenci was coming to succor him.
On the 10th of August, 1557, the constable reached St. Quintin, and attacking the enemy with Quixotic indiscretion, suffered a disastrous defeat, in which he was himself captured.
In consequence of Montmorenci’s captivity, the cardinal of Lorraine became the administrator of the government, and the family of Guise employed their opportunity in securing the hand of the Dauphin for their niece Mary, queen of Scots, and in promoting their adherents to all the influential offices of the court, the capital, and the provinces.
But upon this occasion the Guises’ lease of power was not of long duration. Philip II, tired of the French war, and familiar with Henry’s friendship for Montmorenci, played upon these chords a tune of reconciliation with his “dear brother of France;” and after several ineffectual attempts, the treaty of Chateau Cambrisis was signed on the 3rd of April, 1559.
Montmorenci immediately resumed his ministerial functions, and the humiliated Guises were completely stripped of their snug stations and usurped honors. The cardinal of Lorraine, however, who had contrived to render himself necessary to the king, remained near his person, like an evil genius, ever prompting the impressible monarch to wicked and :arbitrary acts.
The cardinal’s next act was atrocious. By the treaty of Chateau Cambrisis, it had been stipulated that Henry’s daughter Elizabeth should marry the king of Spain. The city was now crowded with illustrious Spaniards who had come to witness the marriage ceremony, and to accompany the young queen to Madrid. Henry’s penchant for magnificent follies and splendidfêtes led him to celebrate the occasion with unusual pomp, and to prepare the lists of endless tournaments.
The bias of several prominent members of the parliament towards heresy was well known; and the independent and liberal action of the legislature on several recent occasions, had disgusted the bigoted cardinal and provoked the king.
Lorraine determined to make use of the Spanish marriage to wreak his vengeance upon the obnoxious legislators.
One day he entered Henry’s cabinet, and delivered this infamous harangue: “Sire, although it would serve for nothing more than to show the king of Spain that you are firm in the faith, and that you will not suffer any thing in your kingdom which will disparage your excellent title of most Christian king, still you ought to proceed about it boldly, and with great courage. You must gratify all these grandees of Spain, who have accompanied the duke of Alva for the solemnity and honor of their sovereign’s marriage with your daughter, by ordering half a dozen councilors of the parliament to be burned in the public square as Lutheran heretics, which indeed they are. By so doing we shall preserve the bulk of the legislature; but if you do not take these measures, the whole court will be infected and contaminated with heresy, even to the clerks, attorneys, and tipstaves.”
The cardinal then, with the craft of those Jesuits whom he befriended, persuaded the king to go to the legislative chamber as if to consult his counselors on the measures to be taken for the suppression of heresy, but really to observe the responses of the members of the parliament, and if possible to ascertain their secret sentiments, by submitting to their frank consideration and judgment some project which should draw from them an avowal of their own heresy.
Montmorenci, instead of dissuading Henry from such black treachery, approved it in open council. Vieilleville alone, who records the incident, raised his voice against it, as degrading to the royal dignity, affirming that “he was about to take upon himself the office of an inquisitor, and that the cardinal’s proposal would entirely destroy the joyous feeling of the public.”
But the cardinal’s advice prevailed. Henry convoked the Parliament, and in a few well-disguised and gracious words, begged the advice of his counselors upon the best means for the pacification of the kingdom. The more wary judges confined their remarks to general and vague expressions, believing that the use of language was to disguise one’s meaning, as one of their later countrymen, the famous Talleyrand, phrased it.
Some were less cautious, or more honest. “Let us begin,” said Louis Faur, “by examining who the real author of our troubles is, lest the same answer should be made to us which Elijah made to Ahab, ‘It is thou that troublest Israel,’ ” and a look at Cardinal Lorraine directed the application to him. The celebrated Anne Du Bourg, the son of an illustrious family in Auvergne, and nephew of the chancellor of France, next spoke. He surprised his hearers by the boldness of his speech, enlarging upon the cruelties heaped upon the reformers, and remarked with emphasis, “While men are conducted to the stake for the sole crime of praying for their prince, a shameful license encourages and multiplies blasphemies, perjuries, debaucheries, and adulteries.”
The courtiers trembled, for they considered this sentence as intended for the king and the duchess de Valentinois.
When Du Bourg resumed his seat, Henry rose in a great passion, and gave vent to a torrent of reproaches against the moderate party, and especially against those who, enamoured of the beauty of plain speech, had boldly avowed their sentiments.
On quitting the chamber, he made a sign to Count Montgomery, captain of his Scotch guard, who had surrounded the convent of the Augustines, where the Parliament was then sitting, with his men-at-arms. A fierce look directed towards Faur, Du Bourg, and three others, gave sufficient instructions for him. They were arrested in the midst of a parliamentary session, and immediately thrown into a dungeon—a high-handed violation of public law and official etiquette, the mere attempt at which, in the succeeding century, cost an English king his head.
Charges were instantly huddled up against the five counsellors, the trials were pushed on with indecent haste, and so hot was the anger of the king, that “he expressed a desire to see Du Bourg burned before his own eyes.”
But before this brutal wish could be gratified, Henry’s own life was abridged by violence; and singularly enough too, he was doomed to die by the blundering lance of that same Montgomery whom he had just employed in outraging the higher majesty of the Parliament, in the very sanctuary of justice.
At a tournament held in the Faubourg St. Antoine, on the 27th of June, 1559, the last of a succession of jousts which Henry meant should give éclat to his daughter’s marriage, the king, after contending with and vanquishing several of his politic courtiers, elated by his success, challenged Count Montgomery to enter the lists with him. The count was reluctant to comply, but Henry would not accept his refusal. Finally Montgomery entered the arena; two fresh lances were given to the champions; the trumpets sounded the charge; the knights met, with a terrific crash, in mid-career; and when the dust rolled up, Henry was seen unhorsed, and with a portion of his captain’s shattered lance protruding from his visor. The shiver pierced into his brain through the left eye; and after lingering through eleven days, he expired on the 10th of July, 1559, in the forty-first year of his age, and the twelfth of his reign.
If history has not scourged the character of this puppet king so severely as it has those of his monster brothers, Charles IX and Henry III, it is not because he was less deserving of obloquy, but because he was fortunate enough to cheat history by a death which struck him at the very moment when he had matured a plan for the extermination of French Protestantism. Henry II was as weak, as deceitful, and as execrable as any scion of the Valois line. Informers were encouraged by the prospect of reward to denounce the innocent; a casual, an ambiguous phrase was a sufficient warrant for arrest; suspicion was equivalent to proof; whoever sheltered a heretic was held to be a participator in his crime; confidence between man and man was lost; members of the same family distrusted each other; the worst passions of human nature were let loose by a bribe, and France became an extended dungeon.
It was in the reign of Henry II that the soubriquét Huguenots began to be generally applied to the French reformers. Like the names “Puritan,” “Methodist,” and “Abolitionist,” this was originally a term of reproach; but the Protestants of France, like those of England and America, were wise enough to seize an epithet hurled at them as a missile, and wear it proudly as a jewel. In a few years this designation completely superseded all others: “Protestant” and “evangelical” were swallowed up in it; and Huguenots became the honorable and universal synonym of politico-ecclesiastical reform.
With the death of Henry II terminated a historic rivalry. Diana of Poitiers at length succumbed to the subtleties of Catharine de’ Medici, who not only drove the courtesan from the court in ignominy, and confiscated her immense estates, but who actually appropriated the fair Diana’s jewels.
The politics of the Louvre were once more revolutionized. Montmorenci, whom Catharine hated because he had coalesced with Henry’s mistress, and put her authority under the ban, and whom the Guises intrigued to displace because he had deposed them and himself swayed the scepter, was one morning politely advised by the boy king to quit Paris, and take the benefit of the air at his country-seat.
The Guises were reseated in power. The feeble hands of Francis II, who was but sixteen when he ascended the throne, on the 10th of July, 1559, and poor Mary Stuart, were not old or energetic enough to hold the reins of government. Their uncles of Guise and Lorraine were kind enough to perceive this, and to relieve their majesties of the cares and honors of the state.
To be sure the witty Parisians were so unkind as to frame epigrams, and to assert that this philanthropic action of the bashful and modest house of Guise, whose probity was thus slurred, really held the king in duress. But when did a generous action ever fail to be misconstrued?
The naughty Huguenots took this view of the case; and esteeming it to be their first duty as loyal subjects to emancipate their king, they immediately prepared to stereotype their opinion into action. The Huguenots caballed. The king’s duress bred a conspiracy. But while the conspirators yet plotted in the dark with an immature programme, another auto da féwas kindled, which caused all France to growl ominously.
Anne du Bourg had remained in prison since the death of Henry II. The cardinal of Lorraine, securely entrenched in power, and emboldened by success, ordered that noble counselor’s trial proceed. Du Bourg, though deserted by the craven parliament which had permitted itself to be dragooned into submission, defended himself with the utmost vigor and spirit: he challenged one of his judges, president Minard, his bitter personal enemy; despite of which Minard took his seat on the judiciary bench, and presided at the trial.
Du Bourg could not resist the impulse to upbraid this French prototype of the English Jeffries; and he concluded a scathing philippic by prophesying that this base judge would soon be called to appear before a more awful bar, when he would wish to be as guiltless as his prisoner then was known to be.
These words were quickly and strangely verified. As Minard was returning home one evening from the court, he was assassinated. This occurred in the night of the 12th of December, 1559. On the morning of the 23rd, Du Bourg, despite the herculean efforts made by the Huguenots to save him, was led out to be executed.
The counselor’s firm demeanor on reaching the fatal plaza, excited the sympathetic admiration of the hardened mob which haunted the gallows. Measures were taken to prevent his addressing them; the executioner was ordered to gag him, should he attempt to speak.
At the foot of the gibbet a crucifix was held before his lips, but he refused to kiss it; after which he was immediately pulled up and strangled, amid shouts of Jesu Maria from the human tigers below.
His last words were a prayer: “Father, abandon me not; neither will I abandon thee.”
“Thus,” says a historian, “perished Anne Du Bourg, in his thirty-eighth year, a man of rare talents, and yet rarer integrity, loved, wept, and honored even by many of those who did not share his faith.”
After hanging for some time, the body was cut down and burned, the ashes being scattered to the four winds.
As in the classic story of the Roman Gracchi, so the martyred counselor, mortally smitten, flung his dust towards heaven, calling the avenging God to witness; and from that dust sprang ere long the embattled ranks of D’Andelot and De Coligny, eager to defend their faith and liberty.
While this tragedy was being enacted, the conspiracy of Ambois ripened. History has recorded few undertakings of a similar character in which the design was more extensive, the motives more just, the plan more skilful, the means more adequate, and the failure more miserable.
The Jesuits, ever watchful to obtain a foothold in France, now that their protectors of the house of Guise were the arbiters of the kingdom, ventured to emerge from their holes, and, though denounced by the parliament, the bishop of the metropolis, and the Sorbonne, to sue for legal recognition. This, through the finesse of the cardinal of Lorraine, was at length accorded them, and the privy council distinctly declared that “the Jesuits claimed no privileges hostile to the episcopal supremacy, the authority of curates, colleges, or universities, or to the liberties of the Gallican church.”
The parliament, overawed by the execution of Du Bourg, and filled with servile counsellors, did not venture to baulk the cardinal for a third time; and after sprinkling rose-water, in the shape of explanatory articles, over the charter with dainty fingers, the Corps Legislatif and the bishops agreed to the act of incorporation, though an additional clause, which plainly indicated the distrust of the court itself, was appended ere the registration, which provided that “if, in the course of time, any thing should result prejudicial to the prerogative of the crown or the rights of the people, the constitution of the Jesuits might be reformed.”
The legal recognition of this hateful tribunal filled the reformers with alarm, for they justly suspected that these mysterious and ubiquitous priests, who spun their webs in the dark, who invented every thing, who denied every thing, who even seized blank paper and, “after the manner of spiders, sucked heresy from it,” would ally themselves with their patrons the princes of Lorraine, in a grand effort to annihilate the Huguenot idea.
The alarm of the reformers; the discontent o£ the nobility, excluded from all posts of trust, replaced in office by the upstart retainers of the house of Guise; Montmorenci, the king of Navarre, the prince of Condé, all disgusted by the haughty behavior of the cardinal of Lorraine—these circumstances seemed at once to warrant and to guarantee the success of an insurrection against the “hated foreigners” who, through their niece, ruled the king.
The discontented nobles and the Huguenot politicians at once formed a confederacy, the former to end the political usurpations of the Guises, the latter to protect their party against the repetition of those severities which were threatened by the ugly precedent of Du Bourg.
The conspirators held their first conversations at the castle of La Ferté, which was situated on the frontier of Picardy. The prince of Condé was unanimously elected chief; but he was not to be known as a participator in the plot until the decisive moment came. Condé accepted this position, annexing this reservation: “Providing nothing be done or attempted against God, the king, my brothers, or the state.”
In the mean time a gentleman named La Renaudie, of a noble family of Perigord, a Huguenot, was selected to be the nominal head of the conspiracy. La Renaudie combined every quality requisite for the elaboration and direction of such a movement. Eloquent, energetic, persevering, intelligent, brave even to rashness, familiar, through a long residence at Geneva, with those multitudinous religionists who had been expatriated for their faith, no one could be better fitted to secure the cordial cooperation of the Huguenots.
On the 1st of January, 1560, the confederates assembled in a ruined chateau in the outskirts of Names—attracted thither by the cloak to their movements which the vast concourse of people who then crowded the city to witness the holiday fêtes would be—and here the final arrangements were made.
When night had fallen, and the conspirators had all gathered at the rendezvous, La Renaudie addressed them in a low but intensely earnest voice. In a few vivid sentences he painted the tyrannies of the house of Guise, dwelt with graphic rhetoric upon the injuries which they had entailed on France, affirmed his belief that the princes of Lorraine only waited for the death of the feeble and boyish king who might die at any moment under their skilful nursing, as the orator darkly hinted—to usurp the scepter of poor Francis II, and seat one of their own family upon the throne. “For my part,” he continued, forgetting in his heat to observe that cautious monotone in which he had so far spoken, and rising in vehemence, “for my own part, I protest, I swear, I call God to witness, that I will never think or say or do any thing against the king, against the queen his mother, against the princes his brothers, against any of his blood; but that I will defend to my latest breath the authority of the throne, the majesty of the laws, and the liberty of France against the hateful tyranny of foreign. usurpers.”
“We swear it!” echoed the band, bathed in the swarthy light of the stars, with upraised hands and uncovered heads. The tyranny of the Guises had excited such a feeling that no intervening danger, not the dread of the block, nor the awful pangs of inquisitorial torture, could chill the ardor. All signed the oath, shook hands in unison, embraced each other weeping, and loaded with imprecations any wretch who should be perfidious enough to betray the plot. Just before the separation, the fifteenth of the following March, and Blois, were fixed on as the time and place for the execution of their programme.
Ten minutes later and the old chateau of Nantes resumed its disturbed dreams; soon the conspirators were scattered to the four corners of France, each on his mission of mischief to tyrants.
The purpose of the confederates was to possess themselves of the royal person, to arrest the princes of Lorraine, and to vest the administration of the government in the prince of Condé. There was no intention to injure the king, but simply to release him from the duress of his uncles of Guise; and the distinct avowal of this principle won the confidence of all the loyal gentlemen in France.
Francis II was of a fragile and sickly constitution; and since, in the spring of 1560, he was a greater sufferer than usual, the court physicians prescribed a change of air and scene for the royal invalid. Accordingly the Guises transported him to the town of Blois, whose climate was mild and salubrious.
It was at Blois then, where the court was yet sojourning, that the mine was to be sprung upon the Guises.
For a time “all went merry as a marriage bell;” the confederates sailed over a placid and auspicious sea. Success seemed certain. The princes of Lorraine, charmed by the syren songs of prosperous wickedness, lay lapped in supine security, when suddenly the overconfidence of the chief conspirator withdrew the veil of secrecy, and every thing was revealed.
La Renaudie quitted the rendezvous at Nantes for Paris, where he was to station himself and direct the plot.
He lodged in the house of an old friend, Avanelles, a lawyer, who, suspecting mischief from the vast number of persons who called upon his comparatively uninfluential guest, mentioned his suspicions to La Renaudie. That gentleman very indiscreetly acknowledged the existence of the conspiracy.
The meddlesome and perfidious attorney professed to be well pleased with the plan and purpose of the intrigue, and after sucking its minutiae from his overconfiding friend, he hastened to the metropolitan residence of the Guises, and unfolded the whole plot to the cardinal’s secretary, who instantly posted Avanelles off to Blois to apprize the court of the volcano upon which it trembled.
The messenger arrived travel-stained and weary, and his interview with Francis duke of Guise speedily interrupted the frivolous festivities with which his ambitious relatives amused the attention of the king.
Francis, unaware of the existence both of Avanelles and his news, was strolling in the meadows of Blois, while the agitated Guises interrogated the volunteer attorney. He found his principal solace and amusement in the company of his beautiful and at that time innocent young queen, Mary Stuart. Her harp often soothed the painful restlessness engendered by disease; and though flattered and worshipped and caressed wherever she appeared, though walking upon roses, she really seemed devoted to her royal husband.
The hair of the girlish queen was singularly beautiful, and curled in natural ringlets. It was then a custom to wear low skull-caps; these, as a matter of fashion, were considered regal; but Francis was so proud of his pet’s head that Mary threw them off. The king delighted to hear the tones of her voice in singing, in speaking, in reading; and often, when sleep fledfrom his weary pillow, Mary would patiently lean over him, and lure the truant back by low, sweet chants, or by the touching music of her own dear Scottish ballads.
This was the queen who was, in later and more dismal years, arraigned for the murder of Darnley, her own husband.
She may have been guilty, for who can spell the riddle of corrupting circumstances? Early separated from her mother, trained at a licentious court by ambitious uncles, that firm, unyielding principle, that elevation of character which is developed and strengthened by judicious education, could hardly have been acquired. Instigated by hatred, beckoned on by passion, poor Mary may have erred most sadly in the melancholy hours of her later career; but now her generous and gentle nature still controlled her.
On the morning of Avanelles’ advent, Francis and Mary, together as usual, were in the fields—pausing here on an eminence which commanded a wide prospect, there by the side of the magnificent Loire, and roiling away the hours in sweet converse. Francis, looking forward to a life of regal splendor, expressed an earnest desire for the time to come when, unfretted by his uncles, he might govern his own empire. Mary chatted of her native land, of the heath-covered mountains of Scotland, and many a quaint legend gathered from the superstitious gossip of her attendants.
Suddenly the duke of Guise joined them.
“A fair morrow,” said he, “for the hopes of France. What says my royal cousin, what says his consort, to a hunting gallop to-day?”
A ready acquiescence was given; and returning to the castle of Blois, where Louis XI had been born, the court-yard was speedily filled with hounds and steeds, and ere long the merry party were flying over the country at great speed.
When the walls of Blois had been left far behind, Guise reigned up beside Francis, and informed him of the discovered plot, and told him that the hunting party was only a pretence for removing him from an unfortified town to the stronger protection of the Amboise donjon.
Francis was displeased that duplicity had been used, and turning towards his guardian he said pointedly, “It is so difficult now to distinguish friends from enemies, that perhaps it had been better for us to remain at Blois.”
The duke replied that “he had acted from the truest motives of tenderness, fearing that any uncommon agitation might injure him in his present feeble and broken health.”
Francis made no further objection to the journey, but contented himself with saying sadly, “What can be more injurious or painful than to see one’s self an object of party hatred and contention?”
The princes of Lorraine were now in possession of the chief features of the plot to unseat them from the government. They also knew the names of a number of the actors in theémuete. Beyond this all was shadowy. Suspicion began where knowledge ended. Coligny and D’Andelot were supposed to be implicated; and though Brantome distinctly declares that the admiral had no part in the conspiracy, they were summoned to present themselves before the king at the earliest moment. Both hastened to comply with this requisition; and upon being introduced into the queen mother’s chamber, Coligny spoke warmly against the bad administration of affairs, pleaded the cause of the Huguenots, and recommended that the penal statutes against them be expunged from the judicial code.
The chancellor, Olivier, and the moderates of the council, seconded this bold appeal, which was finally embodied in an edict, and published on the 12th of March, 1560. The edict appeared too late to strangle the conspiracy. The outbreak was to occur upon the sixteenth instant; the time had been changed from the fifteenth by the removal to Amboise.
Every thing now looked as black for success as before La Renaudie’s admission to the recreant Avanelles the auspices had appeared bright.
Nevertheless Condé, no whit discouraged, went boldly to Amboise, and picking out a band of resolute men-at-arms from the body of his retainers, introduced them as his body-guard into the donjon walls.
But the Guises, aware of the plan of attack, took every precaution, filled the tower with their adherents, and posted the Chatillons and Condé in conspicuous places, and surrounded them with confidential persons who were pledged to prevent their joining the assailants.
Forewarned was forearmed; and when the Huguenots attacked Amboise, they were repulsed with great slaughter. La Renaudie rallied the fugitives, who returned gallantly to the charge; but their chief, surrounded by a party of his foes, after slaying a number of his assailants, was struck from his saddle dead by a bullet fired from a distance. The confederates then scattered in all directions. The pursuit was pressed with vindictive fierceness, and the body of La Renaudie was placed on a gibbet with the inscription, “Chief of the Rebels.”
During the battle, the duke of Nemours recognized at the head of a Huguenot squadron a gentleman named Castelnau, for whom he entertained a warm friendship. He reined in his horse, and asked the Calvinist cavalier why he had taken arms against the king. “Our intention,” was the reply, “is not to war against the king, but to expel the tyrant Guises from authority.”
“If that be the case,” said Nemours, “sheath your sword, and I promise you on my honor that you shall speak to the king, and I pledge myself for your safe return.” Castelnau accepted these terms, and Nemours reduced his engagement to writing, and signed it; on which his late foeman followed him to Amboise.
Castelnau was seized upon his entrance into the town, put into irons, and despite Nemours’ urgent remonstrances, he was sentenced to death, Guise insisting that Nemours had no authority to undertake to do what he had written and sworn to do.
On this proceeding Vieilleville makes this comment: “This caused Nemours great uneasiness and vexation on account of his signature; for had he only passed his word, he would have denied it, and given the lie to any man who should charge him with having plighted it, so valiant and generous was this nobleman.“ “A remarkable instance,” observes Anquétil, “of the point of honor badly understood, which fears a crime less than the proof.”
The Guises triumphed. They revoked the edict obtained by Coligny, arrested the prince of Condé, commanded that no quarter should be given the insurgents, and hung their prisoners on a gallows erected in the Amboise square. Those who escaped this death were condemned, without trial, to be tied hand and foot, and thrown into the Loire.
Many of the confederates were racked, and especially La Bique, La Renaudie’s secretary, the object of the ministers being to secure some testimony which should implicate Condé, or at least justify his arrest. They failed on both points. Only one person was found who implicated the prince, and he spoke only from report, while La Bique doggedly refused to give any specific information, affirming that La Renaudie kept his own secrets, and only entrusted him with general correspondence.
Condé, on his part, was indignant. He concluded a long speech to the king’s council in these words: “If any man has the audacity to affirm that I have instigated a revolt against the sacred person of the king, I renounce the privilege of my rank, and am willing to attest my innocence by single combat.”
Then occurred a notable instance of hypocritical finesse. The duke of Guise, the secret author of the arrest, rose, and unmindful of the evident application of Condé’s words to himself, said with apparent heat, “And I will not suffer so great a prince to be accused of so black a crime, and entreat you to accept me as your second.”
Thus ended the conspiracy of Amboise with a liberation—Guise being as convinced of the treachery of the prince, as Condé was sensible of the duplicity of the duke.
“The Prince of Condé was liberated,” says an old contemporaneous historian, “in the hope that the apparent confidence thus placed in his loyalty might throw the king of Navarre, the Constable, D’Andelot, and the Vidame of Chartres off their guard, and thus enable the Guises to seize their persons; for they feared to put Condé to death, and leave so many of his friends alive to avenge him. Past examples had taught them that it is in vain to cut down the body of a tree, how high and lofty soever, if there be any quick roots left, which may shoot forth new sprouts.
ALMOST A TRAGEDY
After their fierce suppression of the Amboise conspiracy, the Guises returned to Fontainebleau with the court in their pocket. Meantime France wailed under a grinding tyranny which could no longer be endured. Even the just choked émuete was not able with all its blood to stifle the agonized cry for relief. Something must be done; and it was determined to convene an assembly of the Notables, without reference to party or creed, for the investigation of the existing evils: all proved grievances were to be remedied—such was the burden of the Guises’ syren song.
The Montmorenci’s and the Chatillons attended; but fearful of being entrapped, they were accompanied by a long train of mailed cavaliers, the escort of the old constable alone numbering eight hundred men-at-arms.
The sky brightened for a moment. Chancellor Olivier, a statesman of moderate views, but weak and yielding, was so affected by the brutal policy of the princes of Lorraine, that just as the conspiracy of Amboise was definitively quelled, he died of grief at the holocaust of immolated victims. It is related of him, that when the cardinal of Lorraine called on him just before his decease, he turned his face to the wall, and refused to see him, saying, “I will look no more upon his face, for he is the accursed cardinal who is the cause of all the condemnations.”
Olivier was succeeded in the chancellorship by Michael 1’Hôpital, a lawyer of distinguished fame, whom Brantome calls a second Cato, who did his utmost to inaugurate a reign of peace, and whose memory France is bound to revere as the active, unwearied friend of tolerant politics.
The king of Navarre and Condé had been urgently summoned to attend the convention; but their wiser partisans, familiar with the wily character and deadly rancor of the Guises, advised them to absent themselves, and they followed this prudent counsel.
The debates at Fontainebleau were long and animated. Coligny on his knees presented to Francis a petition from the Huguenots. The king handed it to his secretary L’Aubespine to read. He commenced: “A request of the people who address their prayers to God, according to the true rule of piety;” and when he had gotten thus far, he was interrupted by the clamors of the Guises’ adherents. Francis commanded silence; and the secretary resumed reading the memorial, which contained a prayer that the prevalent persecutions for conscience’ sake might cease; it showed also that those who were nicknamed heretics were quite ready to abide by the declarations of Scripture, asking only to be convicted of error from the Bible; that the pope was not a fit person to decide such matters, since his position as the leader of the hosts of error made him necessarily more partial than just; and the paper concluded by calling upon the king himself to arbitrate.
When L’Aubespine had finished, the cardinal took the floor, and opening the flood-gates of his wrathful bitterness, poured forth a torrent of vituperative epithets. “The docility, the meekness,” he said, “of these perfect Christians, these new evangelicals, might be judged by the flood of libels leveled at himself; that, for his own part, having collected no less than twenty-two scandalous writings against his single self, he carefully preserved them as badges of honor.” He added, that “though he pitied the ignorant, who were misled, extreme measures ought to be adopted against those who carried arms without the permission of the king.”
Coligny, in his reply, said that “his voice was that of fifty thousand Huguenots.” “Well then,” retorted the duke of Guise with bitter emphasis, “I will break their heads with a hundred thousand papists whom I will lead against them.”
This verbal tilt is said to have been the beginning of the mortal feud between the duke of Guise and the admiral, who had heretofore been warm personal friends—a hatred never appeased. Crimination and recrimination succeeded, mutual defiances were haughtily exchanged, and amid great confusion the conference was adjourned, and the convocation of the states-general was decided upon, to whom all the political and religious points of controversy were referred.
While this rude blast was rushing over France, and roaring in the antique galleries of lordly palaces, the still small voice of the Word was making its way into the homes of praying men. In private chambers, in the lecture-rooms and refectories, students, and even masters of arts, were to be seen reading the Latin Testament, Erasmus’ Greek version, and even the Bible in French. Animated groups were discussing the rationale of the Reformation. “When Christ came on earth,” said some, “he gave the word; and when he ascended up into heaven, he gave the Holy Spirit. These are the two forces which created the church, and these are the forces which must regenerate it.” “No,” replied the partisans of Rome, “it was the teaching of the apostles at first, and it is the teaching of the priests now.” “The apostles,” rejoined the Huguenots; “yes, ’tis true, the apostles were, during their ministry, a living scripture; but their oral teaching would infallibly have been altered by passing from mouth to mouth. God willed, therefore, that these precious lessons should be preserved to us in their writings, and thus become the ever undefiled source of truth and salvation.” “To set the Scriptures in the foremost place, as your pretended reformers are doing,” replied the monks and their satellites, “is to propagate heresy.” “And what are the reformers doing,” queried their apologists, “but what Christ did before them? The sayings of the prophets existed in the time of Jesus only as scripture, and it was to this written word that Christ appealed when he founded his kingdom. And now in like manner the teaching of the apostles exists only as scripture; and imitating Christ, it is to this written word that we in our turn appeal, in order to reestablish the kingdom of our Lord in its primitive condition. The night is far spent; the day is at hand; all is in motion—in the lofty ancestral chateaus of the nobility, in the classic aisles of our universities, in the mansions of the rich, and in the lowly dwellings of the poor. If we wish to scatter the darkness, must we light the shriveled wick of some old lamp? Or shall we not rather open the doors and shutters, and admit freely into the house the great light which God himself has hung in the heavens?”
But while by these and kindred conversations the Huguenots were burying the Romanists in their own nonsense, public events were marching towards a crisis.
Although the Bourbon princes had absented themselves from Fontainebleau, the Guises had strongly suspected that some of their emissaries were present, who were empowered to negotiate with the leaders of the court opposition, with Montmorenci, with the Chatillons, and the rest. From information received, they arrested a Gascon gentleman named La Saque; he was put to the torture, and the confession that Navarre and Condé were prepared to take the field as soon as the states-general were convened at Orleans, was wrung from his unwilling lips. “Dip the wrapper of this letter in water,” faltered La Saque, enfeebled by the rack, and whose quivering sinews yet anguished him. The inquisitors hastened to comply with the direction, when lo, the whole blot lay disclosed. What had before seemed blank paper, teemed with ominous meaning. The handwriting of Dordois, the constable’s secretary, became visible; a letter to the vidame of Chartres was revealed, and the Guises learned that, despite the failure of the Amboise intrigue, the hostile nobles still hoped to succeed in expelling them from France.
The Bourbons were soon apprized of the apprehension of La Saque, but they were at first uncertain whether he had made any disclosures, as his confession was kept a profound secret. But the imprisonment of the vidame of Chartres, one of their most faithful adherents, who was shut up in the Bastile and treated with great rigor, convinced them that their projects were known. They were soon specially summoned to Orleans by Francis. But traversing Gascony at the head of a considerable number of gentlemen, both Romanists and Huguenots, pledged to support them, they bade defiance to the king’s mandate. However, repeated commands from the court, intimating that further disobedience would be deemed an act of overt rebellion and constructive treason, imperiling both their liberties and their lives, intimidated the feeble spirit of the king of Navarre, and he dismissed his little army, saying, “I must obey, but I will obtain your pardon of the king.” “Go,” said an old captain, “and ask pardon for yourself; our safety is in our good swords;” and the gentlemen who composed this nucleus force broke ranks indignantly, and separated for their homes.
In the month of October, the Bourbon princes set out for Orleans. Navarre, anxious not to make a misstep, made the greatest, faux pas. He walked straight into the net, and death touched both Condé and himself so closely, that its clammy fingers might have been felt.
The Guises were prepared for a crushing victory. They had persuaded the king, by perverting La Saque’s confession, that the princes of the blood, and especially Condé, whom they most feared on account of his energy, boldness, and talents, had conspired against his life; and they urged him for his personal safety to arrest Condé as an example. To this advice the irritated monarch lent a willing ear. When Condé reached Orleans in the latter part of October, he ordered him into his presence, reproached him with his many supposed crimes, and without deigning to hear any reply, commanded his immediate imprisonment.
The trial soon followed, before the chancellor and some commissioners chosen by the Parliament, now become a mere echo of the Guises. The prince refused to plead, protested against the competence of this mushroom tribunal, and demanded, as a prince of the blood, to be tried by the king in person and by the peers of the realm. This privilege, though perfectly legal and strictly in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Constitution, was refused, and Condé was sentenced to be beheaded on the tenth of the following December.
When Condé was informed of the decision, his tranquility was unruffled. A priest was sent to him to perform mass. ” What want you, reverend sir?” queried the prince. “I come to prepare you for death,” was the reply. “This is a work,” said Condé reverently and solemnly, “that I can safely trust with my Master; it rests between God and myself. Leave me, good father; it is time for the work to begin.”
The priest retired, shocked at this blasphemy.
Then a gentleman of the court, an emissary of the Guises, came to Condé’s cell. The prince received him with the courtesy which distinguished him. Having expressed his deep sympathy, the courtier hinted that possibly affairs might yet be accommodated, and requested the prince to appoint him mediator.
“I ask but one Mediator,” said Condé with an upward gesture, “and that one is interceding for me now at the throne of God. Return, my lord, to your employers, and tell them you have failed in your mission.”
One more trial yet awaited him. His wife was conducted to his prison. When she entered, she threw herself into her husband’s arms, unable to speak.
“Now this is kind,” said Condé with rare tact. “I know your errand: it is to confirm, to support, to give new strength to your husband; to tell him that you will live to perform his duties and your own; to teach our children that their father, though dying an ignominious death, still bore a true and loyal heart. And now farewell. Let us not prolong this painful interview. Nothing can be done by your means or mine; it is hopeless. Let us not add disgrace to sorrow. All things are in the hands of God; he may yet save a life that has been sincerely devoted to his cause.”
Again the princess would have spoken; but Condé said, “No more, sweet wife; write all you would say. Farewell.” And the hero quitted the apartment for an inner room.
When Condé’s sentence was made public, his powerful relatives importuned the king for his pardon; but they plead in vain. His wife, Eleanora de Roye, Montmorenci’s niece, accompanied by her children, threw herself before Francis, and with a woman’s devotion endeavored to beat through the icy coldness of the king. “Madame,” said the monarch, “your husband has assailed the crown, and conspired against my life; he must pay the penalty.” In despair the poor princess implored the intercession of the Guises. “It is our duty,” they said, “to strike off the head of heresy and rebellion at one blow.”
The complete destruction of the Huguenot party was to follow the execution of Condé, and every one was to be compelled to choose between death or the signature of the confession of faith drawn up in 1542 by the Sorbonne, in response to Calvin’s “Institutes.”
The king of Navarre, though himself but little better than a prisoner, was for once extraordinarily active, and he made efforts constant and tireless to save his brother, even humbling himself to the cardinal of Lorraine, by whom, however, he was rudely repulsed. The duke of Guise had conceived a scheme to murder Navarre, and had even secured the king’s assent to it. It was arranged that Francis should summon Navarre to his presence, and that at a sign from him some bravos, whom Guise would station behind the arms, should pierce their victim to the heart.
Navarre was indeed summoned into the king’s chamber; but having received word from some quarter that to go would be to commit suicide, the reluctant prince refused to obey the citation. At length, after being summoned three times, he yielded, saying to a confidential friend as he departed on the perilous visit, “Duty compels me to go; I will defend myself, if attacked, to the last gasp. If I fall, take my shirt, stained with my blood, carry it to my son, and may life abandon him sooner than the purpose to avenge his murdered father.” Navarre went to the king, listened calmly to his reproofs, replied gently, and retired unharmed: Francis’ courage failed him at the critical moment. “Oh the fool, the coward; what a contemptible monarch we have!” exclaimed the incensed duke of Guise as he saw Navarre quit the royal presence unsmitten.
Disappointed in their hope of assassinating the Navarrese sovereign, the princes of Lorraine pressed with increased vehemence for Condé’s early execution. The fatal day approached. Francis, unwilling to witness the ghastly spectacle, had resolved upon a tour to Chambord, when suddenly he was taken alarmingly ill. The chancellor instantly sent for Ambrose Paré, the king’s physician; and upon being informed that Francis was not likely to recover, the cunning lawyer had recourse to a stratagem. He was very desirous of postponing Condé’s death, and had delayed signing the order for his execution for several days by one pretext or another, using the weapons of his profession. Now the Guises hastened to him and implored him to sign; alarmed by the king’s health, they feared that Condé might yet cheat the executioner. L’Hôpital pretended to be seized with a violent colic, which prevented him from examining the body of the decree, an essential preliminary to his signature; but when Francis’ danger became imminent, the keen chancellor suddenly recovered from his pain, and hurrying off to the queen mother, advised her to take advantage of the posture of affairs by uniting herself closely with the princes of the blood, as the Guises had already despoiled her of power and influence. The Machiavellian Catherine agreed with L’Hôpital, and charged Coligny, who had been summoned with the other nobles to attend the assembly of the states-general, with the negotiation.
Thus stood affairs when, on the 5th of December, 1560, the thread which attached the shattered health of Francis to life, snapped, and the young king, then but seventeen, lay dead in the midst of a court which instantly gave itself up to the mockery of woe.
THE LOST LEADER
Charles IX, a fatal name, an infamous memory, succeeded in his eleventh year to the vacant throne of his dead brother. Now once more the politics of the court were completely revolutionized. The Guises had been entrenched by the influence of their niece, Mary Stuart, over Francis II. Of this support they were now of course deprived. Chaos reigned, not Charles; and the selfish struggles of the chiefs of the several factions, ambitious not for their country’s honor, but for their own governmental advancement, held France a second-rate power for a quarter of a century, and made this period one of the most calamitous in its history.
Upon Charles’ coronation, Catherine de’ Medici assumed the position of arbiter almost without opposition. Almost the first act of the infant king, under the queen mother’s direction, was to write the Parliament, on the 8th of December, 1560, a letter, in which, after announcing his brother’s death, he informed that body “that, considering his youth and confiding in the virtue and wisdom of the queen mother, he had requested her to undertake the administration of affairs, with the wise counsel and assistance of the king of Navarre, and of the gentlemen of distinction in the late king’s counsel.”
This crafty move at once deposed the princes of Lorraine, but their real influence remained almost untouched, since they were the representatives of the reactionists of France, as the Bourbons were of the Huguenots.
Still, many changes occurred. The command of the army was taken from the duke of Guise, and confided to Antony of Bourbon, who was made lieutenant-general of the kingdom.
The prince of Condé was released from prison; and while as a matter of form he retired for a little to his government of Bearn, his innocence was openly proclaimed at court.
The nobles who had been placed under the ban by the haughty Guises in the days of their regime, were recalled with honor, and the constable Montmorenci resumed his ancient functions, and regained his former titles.
At the council board of the king the queen mother was now seated as regent, while upon either hand the princes of Bourbon, the princes of Lorraine, and Montmorenci were clustered.
Between all the members of this heterogeneous cabinet a rankling hatred still existed, which threatened at every session to inaugurate fresh convulsions. But Catharine, cozened by her favorite theory of an “adjusted equilibrium,” foolishly hoped to be able to hold the scales evenly poised between these implacable enemies.
The first measures of the new administration were indeed judicious. All persons were released who had been imprisoned for heresy, and their property was restored, while a general amnesty was proclaimed.
While the reconstruction of the cabinet was being effected, the states-general continued their sittings at Orleans. L’Hôpital implored the assembly to adopt such measures as would insure domestic tranquility, burying, in devotion to the general good, the bitter feuds of the past reign, which had so nearly kindled a civil war. But this statesmanlike and noble appeal of the patriotic chancellor was not much heeded.
The nobles, taught wisdom by experience, insisted, as a sine qua non, upon the exile of the princes of Lorraine. Condé, Navarre, and Montmorenci declared that if Catharine did not concede this measure to the safety of the state, they would march to Paris, proclaim one of themselves regent in her place, and execute their purpose. But this scheme was rendered abortive by the action of the chancellor, who prevailed upon the king to command the constable to remain at court; a command which Montmorenci was too old and wily a courtier to disobey.
But a motion made about the same time by the king of Navarre in the states-general, had a more serious result. He proposed a searching examination into the financial system of the preceding reign, and that a return of all excessive gratifications in money or lands to the late court favorites be speedily ordered. This motion instantly made a flutter in the dove-cote, and alienated a powerful friend. Everyone felt that it was a blow at the extortion of the Guises, but the blow struck beyond them. It affected the gratuities of Diana de Poitiers, the marshal Saint André, an old chum of Henry II, and the servile instrument of the duchess de Va1entinois, who had battened upon the gains incident to his office of pimp, and of Montmorenci himself, since one of his sons had married a daughter of Diana, and he had shared largely in the public plunder. A community of interest made this horde of thieves, but yesterday deadly foemen, fast friends today: all minor differences were buried in the unanimous desire to preserve ill-gotten wealth; and the consequence was, an infamous coalition. The Guises, Montmorenci, and Saint André united under the name of the Triumvirate. These abandoned nobles swore at the altar to forget their old quarrels; and in order to give a religious flavor to their avaricious league, they signed a treaty by which they pledged themselves to the extermination of heresy. It was a fitting collocation; a horde of titled plunderers, met to preserve their booty from the clutch of justice, and leagued to earn a good right to their stolen gold by filching the yet more costly jewel of life from their innocent countrymen whose creed taught them better things.
The Triumvirate had a powerful ally in the Spanish ambassador, who had a seat at the council, pretending that his master, Philip II, the most bigoted king in history, had taken France under his protection. And such was the wretched and disgraceful condition of France, torn by the internecine factions, that this insolent foreigner was tamely permitted to dictate its policy. This Spaniard was personally and politically attached to the Guises, who sacrificed the honor of France and the dignity of the crown to secure his protection.
The nation was now divided into two great parties, into which all the minor factions had melted the Triumvirate, supported by the holy see and by the Romanists; the Bourbon princes, at the head of the Huguenots, and backed by those who, indifferent about religious creeds, longed for the inauguration of political reform, and for the reinstatement of France in her natural position of a commanding power in Europe.
Between these parties stood the queen mother, muttering her shibboleth, and eternally grasping the shadow of power, but never its substance.
The Triumvirate and the Bourbons were about equally matched, and Catherine long hesitated which way to lean. Finally judging that it would be safest to favor the Huguenots for the moment, she permitted the eager chancellor to wring from the states-general a decree, published in July, 1561, and hence called the Edict of July, which relieved the Huguenots from the punishment of death without a judicial condemnation, but which still refused them their principal prayer, permission to assemble for public worship.
This edict was the pretext for a simulated reconciliation between Condé and Francis of Guise. They met at the palace, where the king desired that the duke should declare how affairs had been managed at Orleans. Guise accused the late king of having peremptorily ordered the imprisonment of Condo; on which the prince answered, looking earnestly at the duke, “Whoever put that affront upon me, I hold him to have been a scoundrel and a villain.” “And I also,” replied the hypocritical duke; “but it does not regard me in the least.”
They then dined together, interchanged vows of friendship, and separated with mutual, but smothered curses,
“And study of revenge, immortal hate, And courage never to submit or yield.”
such was the apparently placid, yet really uneasy and abnormal political situation—a heterogeneous cabinet, a double-faced edict, a hollow reconciliation—when a remarkable event occurred, the famous colloquy of Poissy was convoked.
The chancellor L’Hôpital, eager in the pursuit of his panacea for the existing evils, a grand conference upon religious differences, in which both Romanists and Huguenots should be represented, and in which theological rights should be definitively defined and regulated, persuaded Catherine de’ Medici to assent to his project, and to command the debate.
The Roman publicists and orators were reluctant to accede to the conference; but stung by the jeers of the evangelicals, who hailed the project of a free colloquy with enthusiasm, they finally consented.
Accordingly, after great preparations, the oratorical representatives of the two ecclesiastical parties met, in the month of August, 1561, in the little village of Poissy, a short distance from St. Germaine, where the royal family then resided.
The leading Roman disputant was the cardinal of Lorraine, a prelate of fine, though sadly perverted intellect, of rare scholarship, and whose discourse, sustained by a never-failing memory, flowed from him intelligibly and gracefully. He was assisted by five other cardinals and by forty bishops.
The reformers were represented by Theodore Beza, a divine of singular genius, erudition, acumen, and eloquence, the friend and biographer of Calvin, who was supported by twelve celebrated doctors of the Reformation, among whom were Marloratus and Pierre Martyr.
On the ninth of September the session opened with great éclat. Never had a grander audience been convened, not even when Luther’s Demosthenian eloquence sounded over Worms. The king himself attended the first sitting, accompanied by the queen mother, his elder brother Henry of Anjou, his sister Margaret de Valois, the Bourbon princes, the princes of Lorraine, the old constable, the ministers of state, the holder of the great seal, and the chief officers of the crown.
The debate was opened by L’Hôpital, in a conciliatory address, which breathed the spirit of a politician, not of a theologian; for, careless about matters of religious belief, he was anxious only to preserve a false peace, to tide over differences. He proposed a compromise, and urged the papists to relax upon some points, in order to win back the Calvinists. This conservative, Erasmian course was distasteful to both parties. It was thought, and rightly thought, that in radical differences radical methods should be employed.
When the chancellor finished his speech, Beza, the orator of the Huguenots, was called on to state his opinions. The questions at issue were two, the authority of the church of Rome and transubstantiation.
The Protestant orator stepped forward into the middle of the hall, knelt, and prayed God to enlighten his mind and inspire him with the luminous truth, and then commenced his address. He adduced numerous and irresistible arguments to disprove the assumption of Rome that she alone is the true church, made a profession of the reformed faith, expatiated upon the rigors, unchristian and abhorrent, which were exercised against the primitive theology, defended the different points which Rome disputed, and after an exhaustive discussion of the dogma of the real presence in the eucharist, concluded with the affirmation that Christ was as far from the sacramental elements as the highest heavens were from the earth..
Horrified by this bold declaration, the adherents of Latin orthodoxy broke out into vociferous clamors. The cardinal of Tournon suddenly started from his seat, and after asserting that he entirely disapproved of the colloquy, and had only sanctioned it in deference to the wish of Catharine de’ Medici, exhorted the infant king not to be led astray by the subtle and impetuous eloquence of Beza, but to suspend his judgment until he had listened to the reply of the orthodox divines. Tournon further pointed out the impropriety of the young monarch’s attendance upon the debates, as they involved questions above the capacity of his tender age: this hint was taken, for Charles did not afterwards appear.
The cardinal of Lorraine then rose to speak, and he delivered a harangue of great astuteness and rhetorical talent. When he concluded, the cardinals and bishops formed a circle around him, and declared that he had expounded the true faith, for which they were all ready to suffer martyrdom.
Beza demanded to reply, but since the hour was late, the conference was adjourned to the following day.
The debates continued through several days, and Beza astonished his opponents by his accurate learning, his acute reasoning, his evangelical fervor, and his animated, graphic eloquence. Still the good results of the colloquy were scarcely perceptible; the ecclesiastics in general were convinced that no reform could take place without stripping them of their vast wealth, of their usurped power, and of their impunity. And when the conference of Poissy was dissolved, the disputed points stood just as unsettled as when the debates commenced, while both sides claimed the victory. But while in some respects the colloquy resulted unsatisfactorily, in others it was not without effect. The papists felt that they had committed a blunder in consenting to it at all—it compromised a faith which had existed for so many ages; the bare discussion of these questions was an acknowledgment that Rome might err. “The government,” says a violent Jesuit who wrote at a later day, “committed a grave error, or at least idleness, in permitting the conference of Poissy, instead of sending Beza and his troop to the then sitting council of Trent.”
Besides this moral gain and recognition, several bishops were so affected by Beza’s masterly arguments, that they devoted themselves to an inquiry after the truth. By the conversations which they had with Catherine de’ Medici, they so far wrought a change in her sentiments, that she not only invited Beza, but actually insisted upon his remaining at the court. The divine complied; and protected by the queen mother, delivered a series of powerful sermons which greatly advanced the Reformation.
Catherine did more; she wrote an epistle to the pontiff: “Those of the reform,” she said, “are neither Anabaptists nor libertines; they believe in the twelve articles of the apostles’ creed; therefore many persons think that they ought not to be cut off from communion with the mother church. What danger could there be in taking away the images from the churches, and in retrenching some useless forms in the celebration of the sacraments? It would further be very beneficial to allow to all the communion in both kinds, and to permit divine service to be performed in the vulgar tongue.”
Thus spoke Catharine de’ Medici shortly after the conclusion of the colloquy of Poissy. She boldly recommended to the sovereign pontiff the adoption of a series of innovations which the most heated enthusiast, the most Utopian dreamer among the Huguenots would not have demanded. Yet this was the woman who, a little later, instigated the massacre of St. Bartholomew! Catharine is the Sphinx of history; and though many an Œdipus has assumed to solve the riddle, the wily tiger queen yet remains a mystery. Of course Beza’s eloquence could not have touched her heart; she had none—only a muscle to circulate the blood. It is probable that Beza’s flattering reception and retention at court, and the papal letter, were both simply parts of some scheme for preserving the balance of power in her own hands.
Be this as it may, Paul IV was alarmed, and he instantly instructed his legate at Paris to spare no exertions for strengthening the papal party in France.
The most plausible plan for the achievement of this purpose seemed to be to alienate the king of Navarre from the Huguenots. It was thought that if that monarch could be won over to Rome, “heresy would be a clock without a pendulum.” The legate, seconded by a score of cunning satellites, commenced the congenial work. Every wile which could affect the human mind and heart was put in active operation. Temptation after temptation was thrown into his way. The pope offered to dissolve his marriage with Jane d’Albrét, on the ground of her heresy; the Guises offered him the hand of their niece Mary Stuart, with her prospective claims on the English throne; a marriage with the king’s sister Margaret de Valois was hinted at as quite possible; but to all of these seductions Navarre was deaf. He even refused a promise of Sardinia, as an indemnification for that portion of Navarre of which the Spanish king had deprived him.
Finding that Antony of Bourbon could not be bribed to desert his faith, the Jesuits changed their tactics. Then this man, proof to all the proposals of temporal advantage which had been made him, fell a victim to his own pride and vanity.
Antony of Navarre was known throughout his whole life as a man amiable, but weak and vacillating; who, although he adopted his opinions with vivacity, did not hold them with firmness. And when with insidious and tireless zeal it was insinuated that Condé was the actual chief of the Huguenot party, while he was only his brother’s second, his pride and vanity revolted. He hesitated; the king’s youth opened for him a long career of authority; and if he became a papist, his power and influence in Europe would be so much enhanced, that he might dictate to Philip II of Spain the restoration of his stolen kingdom. The Spanish ambassador himself breathed this insinuation into his ear.
Quite overcome and dazzled blind to the infamy of the action by his brilliant prospects, Navarre at length succumbed; the renegade king joined the triumvirate, and this “lost leader,” in the excess of his newly acquired zeal, became one of the bitterest persecutors of his old companions. Similar revulsions are the never-failing accompaniment of political and theological treason.
Navarre soon proceeded to carry his new opinions into practice. He declared that he considered the reformed preachers as charlatans, and expressed his determination to remove his son—afterwards the famous Henry IV—from their influence, and place him under Romanist governors. Jane d’Albrét, who had inherited her faith and Christian devotion from her mother Margaret of Navarre, the mother also of French reform, heard this avowal with dismay. After vain entreaties, she was compelled to yield; but passionately embracing her child, she exclaimed, “Oh, my son, if you renounce the religion of your mother, she will renounce and disinherit you. Deep to the faith in which you have hitherto been educated, and God will be your guide and support.”
“My dear madame,” said Catharine, who was present, “let me advise you to suppress this violence of emotion. I have always found it best to appear to yield. Assume a seeming conformity to your husband’s will; even attend mass, and you will the more easily get the reins into your own hands.”
To this characteristic advice Jane d’Albrét replied indignantly, “Rather than deny my faith by attending mass, if I had my son in one hand, and my kingdom in the other, I would throw them both into the sea.”
Such was the difference between these two women and between their creeds.
But Jane d’Albrét was ere long relieved of her fears by her vain and vacillating husband’s death.
Ere Navarre’s defection startled France, the indefatigable chancellor, not discouraged by the failure of the colloquy of Poissy to apply a remedy to the ecclesiastical abases, contrived to convoke another assembly of the states-general at St. Germaine.
“The object of your deliberations,” said L’Hôpital in his opening address to the deputies, “is simple and clear. Is it advantageous, in the existing state of affairs, to tolerate or to forbid the meetings of the Calvinists for the exercise of their devotions? That is the single question you have to decide. To come to a right conclusion, you must keep out of view whatever relates to creed, doctrine, or religious discipline. Even let it be assumed that Calvinism is one continuous error of judgment, is that a reason to bar their assemblies, or to justify the proscription of those French subjects who have embraced it? Can a man not be a good citizen without being a good Romanist? Do not then waste your time, or entangle yourselves in fruitless controversy, in the vain attempt to decide which is the true religion. We are not here to establish a mode of faith, but a rule of government.”
It was thus that the keen and cautious chancellor exhibited his anxiety to make all vexed points of theology subservient to the vital interests of political government. By dexterously narrowing down the discussion into this limited space, and extracting the sting of theological hate, the triumph of the Huguenots was rendered certain; for had the duke of Guise affirmed that none but Romanists could be good citizens, the prince of Condé would have resented it as a personal affront, and demanded satisfaction at the sword’s point. The papists were thus compelled to make concessions, or raise the standard of civil war, for which they were not yet fully prepared.
The assembly of St. Germaine therefore passed a decree, called the Edict of January, 1562, by which many of the disabilities of the Huguenots were removed. The reformers might meet unarmed without the walls of cities and towns, and the local magistrates were commanded to afford them protection; though prohibited from levying money to pay their preachers, they might receive any sum voluntarily contributed. In return for these concessions, the Huguenots were to restore all images and relics of saints which they had seized, and to pay tithe and other ecclesiastical dues, while their preachers were commanded to abstain from all violent invectives against the mass.
Some bloody scenes occurred in various sections after the promulgation of this edict; but as a whole the winter glided quietly away. The Huguenots were grateful and satisfied; the Romanists sullen and discontented. But both parties felt conscious of an approaching rupture, convinced that this temporary calm was only the harbinger of a fearful storm.
THE APPEAL to ARMS
Coligny, anxiously watchful for the interest of religion, was early apprized of the efforts being made to win over Antony of Bourbon; and when the illustrious deserter joined the Triumvirate, he was “sad, but not astonished;” be knew Navarre’s character. He had suspected the motive of a mission to Spain in the early months of 1562, and employing persons to watch the emissary, he ordered them to arrest and search him on his return. Shortly after the messenger, in the garb of a pilgrim, endeavored to reenter France. He was seized and searched; nothing was found. Someone, however, observing that he threw away his staff, informed Coligny of the circumstance. The acute admiral ordered it to be brought to him; a countryman had picked it up and carried it to his cottage. On examination it was found that the staff was hollow, and that it contained a budget of letters from the king of Spain. Upon examining these letters, they were found to be directed to the king of Navarre, to the Triumvirate, to Catharine, and to others of the leading Roman chiefs, expressing poignant grief at the concessions recently made to heresy, and exhorting them to take arms and crush the Huguenots by a single blow, to effect which Philip offered to furnish men and money.
Catharine was absolutely frightened; Coligny was calm and resolute. The queen mother allied herself more closely than ever with the admiral. The admiral, perceiving that the foes of his faith were about to kindle the flames of civil war, worked with Titanic energy to prepare his party for the ordeal of battle. He united with Condé, and securing the appointment of that prince to the chief command of the reformers, called upon him to make a public confession of the Protestant creed.
The gallant prince complied; and so great was the effect of his example, that many nobles did not scruple to do likewise. The number of persons who came to the Faubourgs to hear the Reformation preached in a little time numbered fifty thousand, very respectable congregation.
Navarre, witnessing Coligny’s activity, and galled perhaps by the presence of his old companion in arms, urgently pressed Catharine to banish him from court. She would consent, however, on but one condition: that the duke of Guise, the cardinal of Lorraine, and the marshal St. André, the original triumvirs, should also quit the capital for their estates. Unexpectedly to Catherine, her terms were accepted; for the chiefs of the reaction, knowing that their interests might safely be entrusted to Montmorenci and the king of Navarre, who were to remain in Paris, were willing to go into temporary exile for the purpose of removing their dangerous rivals from the vicinity of St. Germaine.
But this compromise did not long stop up the mouth of Vesuvius with its cotton. The adherents of Guise at the capital wrote him that the queen mother was every day becoming more closely connected with the Huguenots, and urged him to hasten back to Paris. Guise obeyed the summons, leaving his estate of Joinville towards the close of February, 1562. His suite, already numerous when he quitted his chateau, was augmented as he advanced, until, when lie reached the little town of Vassy, he was at the head of a small army.
At Vassy a fatal event occurred. A Huguenot congregation attending divine worship in a barn, attracted the attention of the bigoted chieftain and his fanatical retinue. Filled with hate, and armed, they rushed upon the reformers, who endeavored to shut the doors against the assailants. A collision resulted; Guise himself was slightly wounded in the cheek by some chance missile, and his followers, infuriated at the sight of his blood, massacred the whole helpless congregation.
The news of this bloody foray spread with almost incredible rapidity; it reached the metropolis before its hero; and when Guise appeared, the civic mob of Paris hailed the “butcher of Vassy” with “frenzied shouts and tears of joy.” A sanguinary and cowardly slaughter of an unarmed assembly, convened for religious worship, was hailed as a great and heroic exploit.
In later days Guise protested that he had no hand in this wholesale assassination; but whether he intended it or not, it is enough that he did not prevent it. The deed was his; upon his head history heaps her malediction.
Nor was Vassy the only scene of violence. Cahors, Toulouse, Sens, Amiens, and Tours hastened to follow in Guise’s bloody footsteps. At Tours a refinement of cruelty was displayed. Three hundred Huguenots were shut up without food for three days; then, tied together two by two, they were led to a slaughter-house and butchered like beasts.
At Sens also there was an exhibition of atrocious fanaticism; during three successive days the bell of the cathedral invited the citizens to murder the reformers. Even the vines which embellished their dwellings were plucked up by the roots. The bodies of the victims, floating down the Seine, appeared to speak trumpet-toned to their brothers in the faith for justice. The Huguenots did indeed bestir themselves to obtain redress. When some of the shocking incidents of the massacres were related to Navarre, the traitor cried with a sneer, “They were all factious heretics.” “Sire,” replied Beza, who chanced to be present, with indignant emphasis, “I speak on behalf of a religion which pardons injuries, instead of resenting them; but remember, it is an anvil which has blunted many hammers.”
But while one party demanded justice, the other clamored fiercely for the extermination of the Huguenots, and Montluc addressed a memoir showing how easily it might be effected.
Meantime Condé, overpowered, quitted Paris with his preachers and armed followers. “Caesar has not only crossed the Rubicon,” wrote he to D’Andelot and Coligny, “he has already seized Rome, and his banners will shortly be everywhere displayed.”
Guise was aware that in a coup d’etat audacity and energy were necessary. Catharine was sojourning at Meaux with her royal son. The princes of Lorraine sped thither, seized the regent and the king, and hastening back to Paris, received another ovation. Their captives were lodged in a building which had peen used as a prison for a century. The possession of the king’s person was the grand object of their policy, and they succeeded, spite of the prayers and menaces of the queen mother.
Emboldened by their success, the triumvirs rejected all compromises, all overtures, and determined to strike a vigorous blow at once in the very commencement of their lawless campaign; they designed a revocation of the tolerant edict of January, in the chief cities first, and then throughout the kingdom.
Meantime Paris was surrendered to a carnival of fanaticism; the cardinal of Lorraine commenced preaching in the style of his predecessors, St. Dominic and Torquemada; and Montmorenci displayed his zeal on the evening of the youthful monarch’s return to the metropolis, by plundering the Huguenot chapels, destroying the books, and building bonfires with the reading-desks of the preachers. The fanatical violence with which he sought after and destroyed these desks, gained the hoary old bigot the soubriquét of Capitaine Brule-Bancs.
While these events were occurring at the capital, Condé was not idle. He received, through a secret messenger, a letter from Catherine, in which she implored him to save the mother and the child, at the same time assuring him that all her hopes rested upon him; the liberty of the king, the prosperity of France, all was staked upon the pluck and loyalty of the Huguenots.
Condé at once published two manifestoes, which roused France as with the blast of a trumpet. The eloquent prince implored the Huguenots to arm and attack their common enemy, and he conjured all true Frenchmen, whatever their creed, to couch their lances for the liberation of their captive sovereign. The response was enthusiastic. Orleans was seized after a sanguinary battle, and there Condé set up his banner. This city became the Huguenot rendezvous.
The triumvirs, to destroy the effect of Condé’s appeal, forced the irresponsible toy who at this awful moment played king, to sign and publish an official denial of the charges of the Bourbon prince, and an affirmation that both his mother and himself enjoyed perfect freedom; but the cheat was too transparent, and even the reluctant pen of an old contemporaneous historian, devoted to that side, was forced to pen these significant words: “It is most certain that the young king was seen by many to weep that day, being persuaded that the Romanist lords had restrained his personal liberty; and that the queen mother, being discontented that her wonted arts had not prevailed, and foreseeing the mischiefs of the opening war, seemed perplexed, and spoke no word to any one; of which Guise made light, saying publicly, ‘The food is always good, whether it proceeds from love or force.’ “
The enthusiasm of the Huguenots was at floodtide. They were very soon in possession of the principal cities of the provinces—Lyons, Bourges, Vienne, Rouen, and the rest. All the Orleanoise was subjected to them, and the whole of Normandy declared in their favor. Levies of men were everywhere made to swell their embattled ranks, and detachments flocked from every quarter, with the motto “God and liberty” emblazoned on their banners, to Condé’s camp.
Brantome relates that a squadron of fifty Huguenot cavaliers set out from Metz for Orleans, and M. d’Espan, governor of Verdun, learning the circumstance, determined to cut them off on the march. When he came up with them, they had taken a position in an old windmill, where they defended themselves with stubborn valor, until night closed the combat. Before morning they made a sortie, surprised their weary assailants, and routed them. The cavaliers then recommenced their march, and after thirty different skirmishes, they reached Orleans with the loss of but three of their number, an incident which the quaint old chronicler justly thinks illustrative of remarkable pluck and zeal.
The leaders of the reformed host were Condé’s nearest relatives: there were the three Chatillons, the cardinal, Coligny, and D’Andelot, the uncles of his consort; the Count Porcian, who was married to his niece; Francis de Rochefoucault, who was married to his sister-in-law, of whom it was said that he could bring an army into the field composed of his friends and vassals in Poitou alone. The viscount René de Rohan led the Bretons, Antony, count de Grammont, the Gascons; Montgomery—the count who had accidentally slain Henry II in the tournament of 1559—was present from Normandy, and Hangest de Genlis from Picardy. There assembled at Orleans in a short time three thousand gentlemen, of whom Lanquét says, “If they were destroyed, the very seed of masculine virtue would have been exterminated in France.”
The triumvirs received assistance not only from the reactionary home party, they drew upon Romanist Europe. The king of Spain, the pope, Cosmo, duke of Florence, all lent jubilant levies; and soon the Guises marched towards Orleans at the head of ten thousand men-at-arms, the vanguard of the larger host to come.
Between the hostile ranks of Condo and Guise the government of a boy and a woman disappeared.
Catherine made one last effort to regain her lost prestige. As usual, her weapons were hypocrisy and treason. Instigated by Guise, with whom she appears now to have allied herself, overawed perhaps by the threat that she would be deposed even from the nominal regency, unless she lent herself to the projects of the usurpers, the queen mother attempted to entrap Condé.
A personal conference was appointed between them at Thuri. Condé, unsuspicious of treachery, nearly fell into the snare. It was proposed that he and his friends should quit France for a time, while the triumvirs also retired from the court. “Offer these terms,” said the wily queen in a seductive whisper; “they will certainly be refused; then you will gain the credit of having made a patriotic proposition, which will augment your strength.”
The frank soldier for once attempted to play Machiavelli; he was unequal to the part. Condé assented. After some delay, the council replied, “Your terms are accepted,” but no allusion was made to the retirement of the triumvirs. Condé was thunderstruck; his diplomatic ruse had recoiled upon himself; Catherine had played him false. His troops were indignant; his nobles protested against the validity of the contract; the preachers inveighed against the regent’s duplicity; and Condé, declaring that he had been deceived, retracted the agreement, and mounting his horse, bade defiance to his own and his country’s foes.
This faux pas convinced the Huguenots that no reliance could be placed either on the friendship or the good faith of Catharine de’ Medici.
Condé was anxious to strengthen his cause by alliances with the Protestant powers of Europe. In Germany, the proofs he advanced in justification of his action were regarded as satisfactory. The old landgrave, Philip of Hesse, gave Marshal Rollshausen orders to advance into France with some thousands of lanzknechts and arquebusiers.
The Huguenots also dispatched a mission to England to sue Elizabeth for an alliance. The stingy queen agreed to aid them on condition that Havre de Grace was delivered to her as a compensation for Calais, whose loss still rankled. This conceded, Elizabeth furnished one hundred thousand crowns, and garrisoned Havre de Grace, Dieppe, and Rouen, with six thousand English yeomen.
Towards the close of June, 1562, the contending armies opened the campaign. Condé and Coligny left Orleans to attack Paris and deliver the king; the triumvirs quitted the metropolis to besiege the Huguenots in Orleans. The two parties were about equal, each having ten thousand men.
To detail the various skirmishes which steeped the provinces in fraternal blood, to enumerate the villages plundered and razed, to record the deeds of cruelty committed by individual and remorseless leaders of roving bands attached to either army, would occupy volumes, and would farm a narrative of crime hideously diversified in its features, from which humanity would recoil. Both sides undoubtedly committed excesses. Where the Huguenots triumphed, they destroyed altars and broke images; where the papists were successful, Bibles were burned and heretics were racked.
The picture of France rent by demoniacs is the most melancholy and pathetic that ever employed the pencil of an artist. Not Angelo nor Raphael nor Rembrandt could have originated so woeful a canvas.
It is an unquestionable historic fact, that in this drama of death the papists were the most frenzied and remorseless actors. The testimony of the Abbé Anquétil will scarcely be impeached in the court of Rome. Let us see what this inimical witness has to say: “For the heretics there was no security, no asylum; the faith of treaties and the sanctity of oaths were alike set at naught. Tortures, contrived with cruel care for delaying death and increasing the duration of pain, were inflicted upon persons who had surrendered upon capitulation. Husbands and fathers were poignarded in the arms of their wives and daughters, who were then violated in the sight of the dying loved ones. Women and children were treated with a brutality which defies description. Aged magistrates, the victims of an unbridled rage, were insulted after death by the populace, who dragged their yet palpitating entrails through the streets, and even ate their quivering flesh.”
Beaumont, baron des Adrets, one of the Huguenot leaders, determined to meet cruelty with cruelty, forgetful of the mild tenets of the faith which he professed to serve. He killed and laid waste with a barbarity which made his own officers shudder; superstitious nurses frightened children by the simple repetition of his name: his vengeful acts drew forth an admonition from the admiral, and a severe reproof from Calvin.
Beaumont’s rival was the ferocious Blaise de Montluc, who relates in his memoirs, with the utmost sang froid, the chilling cruelties which he practiced upon the heretics: “I procured,” he says, “two executioners, who were called my lackeys, because they were so constantly with me in active service.”
Thus, while France wailed and heaven wept, the hideous dance of the loosened furies of death and hell went smoothly on.
DEATH’S COUP D’ETAT
Before a fanatical conception of religion, morality, which lies at the base of civilization and of human society, vanished. A kind of fatalism reigned. A species of resignation linked with enmity, of religion mingled with hatred—this was what took place in these sad years. It was like a bloody Scottish feud, in which those who held the same principles regarded themselves as members of one clan.
Both armies were in the field, and Guise especially was viciously active.
Navarre assailed and captured Bourges. Then pausing and looking towards Paris, he asked, Where next?
The Triumvirate hungered for Orleans, the rendezvous and the dépôt of Condé and the Chatillons. Catharine said No; she thought that if the citadel of Protestantism should fall, the already over-powerful league would shoot up to a still loftier pinnacle. “Let us rematch Rouen,” said the wily queen; “these bulldog Englishmen have seized Normandy; we must shake it from their greedy maw.”
The Parisians were cozened; besides, the Huguenot garrison of Rouen would suffer no merchandise to ascend the river from the sea. Inexorable Rouen stood guard upon the Atlantic. Trade was sulky; commerce was angered. “We will give two hundred thousand crowns to the king, if he will drive the Huguenots from Rouen,” cried the Parisian merchants. Navarre marched into Normandy, and at the close of September, 1562, laid siege to Rouen.
Montgomery held the town, supported by two thousand English men-at-arms, twelve hundred choice infantry from Condé’s army, four squadrons of horse, and one hundred gentlemen who had volunteered their services.
The attack was vigorous; the defense was obstinate. A breach was no sooner made, than the indefatigable Montgomery threw up behind it a new entrenchment. “This count is a necromancer; he juggles in war,” said Navarre dispiritedly, as he returned one day from a foiled assault.
Mining and countermining succeeded. The Huguenot bombs fell within Navarre’s lines with but slight effect; burying themselves in the soil softened by recent rains, they only made volcanoes of mud; the explosion was changed into a splash.
At length, on the 25th of October, Guise, who had joined the army before Rouen, led an assault, after a spirited harangue, the effect of which he heightened by a brilliant display of chivalric valor, Rouen was captured by this coup de main; Montgomery lead only time to leap into a galley which was in port. By the promise of liberty, he induced the galley slaves to row so well, that he got to sea despite some chains swung across the river a few leagues below the city by the besiegers, to prevent the English sending any assistance from the ocean. Shortly after, Montgomery safely touched the shores of Britain.
Rouen was pillaged through three days; many citizens were massacred; the reformed preachers especially were hunted down with vindictive cruelty; and Marloratus, who had been a central figure at the Poissy colloquy, was hung in front of the cathedral, amid the jeers of the brutal soldiery and the insults of Montmorenci and his son Montberan.
That which characterizes other Romanic races even at this day, the habit of repaying violent deeds with violent deeds, was then the general custom of France. The Huguenots at Orleans, as a reprisal for the Rouen massacres, hung the Abbé Gastines, a violent Jesuit, and Sapin, one of the hostile presidents of the Parliament of Paris.
The capture of Rouen cost Navarre his life. Emulating the prowess of Guise, he descended into the trenches one day to view the town; while there, he was struck in the shoulder by a discharge of musketry. The surgeons at the outset laughed at the wound, and the king even desired to make a triumphal entry into the conquered city. Soon however symptoms of danger appeared. Navarre desired to be transported to the village of St. Maur, near Paris. He did not live to reach it, but died at Andelys on the 17th of November, 1562, in his forty-fourth year.
All writers who have sketched Antony of Bourbon’s character, describe him as deficient in every princely quality except personal courage. He was ambitious without foresight, vain without capacity, and intriguing without diplomatic skill. He threw away that noble part which fortune destined for him. Denying his faith, he ceased to be the head of a powerful party, to sink into the despised tool of abler rogues.
“Antony of Bourbon, father of the firmest and most intrepid of men, was the weakest and least decided,” says one of the most celebrated of French critics. “He was always so wavering in his religion, that it is doubted in which faith he died. He bore arms against the Huguenots whom he loved, and served Catharine de’ Medici whom he detested, and the party of the Guises who oppressed him.”
While these events were occurring in Normandy, the Huguenot leaders, Condé, Coligny, and D’Andelot, united their forces, and tempted by the absence of the main army of the Triumvirate before Rouen, marched towards Paris. The prince actually pitched his tents at Montrouge, from whence his troops pillaged the faubourgs on that side.
This movement hastened the return of the triumvirs from the ruins of Rouen, to effect the salvation of the imperiled capital.
Condé then determined to march into Normandy, and forming a junction with the English forces, secure Elizabeth’s subsidy. On the 10th of December he broke camp, and commenced his march. Guise, who had meanwhile arrived in Paris, upon being apprized of the prince’s intention, determined to pursue him, and force a battle.
Condé was overtaken near Drew, and finding it impossible to avoid an action, he prepared to fight.
Here, by the banks of the sparkling Eure, the first collision between the hostile armies in the open field occurred. The sight was a singular one. It seemed as if this mass of human beings had become a monster, and had but one mind. Each squadron undulated and swelled like the ring of a polype. They could be seen through the thick smoke, as it lifted brokenly here and there. It was a pell-mell of casques, cries, sabres; a furious bounding of horses, a blare of trumpets; a terrible and disciplined tumult; over all the cuirasses, like the scales of a hydra.
Condé charged first. His cavalry, composed of the elite of the Huguenot party, cut clean through the enemy’s center, which was commanded by Montmorenci. Smitten by this resistless thunderbolt, the constable tumbled from his saddle. Rising again, he strove to redeem his position. In vain; Condé’s cuirassiers would not be stayed, and Montmorenci was ere long himself made prisoner, while his son Montberan, who had so recently jeered at the martyrdom of Marloratus in the streets of Rouen, lay dead before his face.
The battle lasted seven hours, during which time wavering success perched with capricious whim upon both banners. At the moment when victory seemed finally to have declared for the Huguenots, Guise, who had held himself carefully in reserve, thundered down upon the conquerors, and wrested the hard-earned laurels from their grasp. By a singular reverse of fortune, Condé fell wounded, and was made a prisoner by D’Amville, Montmorenci’s son.
The wearied and dispirited Huguenots’ infantry were instantly panic-stricken. Guise pressed them fiercely, and their rout was complete.
Coligny, perceiving that safety lay in retreat, held his men well in hand, and shouting, “He who holds his troops together to the last carries off the fruit of the battle,” he commenced to retire leisurely and calmly to a neighboring morass, where, entrenching his followers behind a pile of felled timber, he awaited Guise’s attack with nonchalance. At the same time the admiral, divining that Orleans would be the next point assailed, directed D’Andelot to collect as many of the dispersed battalions as possible, and hasten with them to reinforce the menaced city.
Meantime Guise pressed on, and renewed the battle with great ardor. Coligny obstinately defended his position. In vain did the fiery duke hurl squadron after squadron upon his imperturbable lines. The marshal St. André at length fell; and Guise, glancing sadly at his terribly thinned ranks, desisted from the attack, and preparing to bivouac upon the battle-field, dispatched a courier to Paris to announce a victory.
The battle was a bloody one. Eight thousand dead strewed the plain.
The Huguenots were far from considering themselves defeated, though Guise remained master of Dreux, and Coligny, after the cessation of the duke’s assaults, continued his retreat.
“Our infantry,” wrote the admiral in a letter to Elizabeth of England, “has suffered a defeat without fighting; but our cavalry, which alone fought the battle, is undamaged, and wishes for nothing more ardently than to meet once more without delay the enemies of God and of this kingdom. These will deliberate whether to attack us, or to await an attack from our side.”
Guise was wonderfully elated by his success, disputed as it was. The first account of the battle which reached Paris ascribed the victory to Condé. “Well then,” said Catharine coolly, “we shall have to pray to God in French.” And when she received the second report from Dreux, she was far from expressing joy at the event. The death of St. André and Montmorenci’s captivity delivered Guise from all rivals; no one shared his triumphs. The duke wrote a letter, demanding the disposal of St. André’s baton in so arrogant a tone, that young Charles himself was astonished.
Condé, in his captivity, was treated with politic kindness. Guise conducted him to his quarters; they supped together, and the prince accepted the offer of half the duke’s bed. He was afterwards taken to court, where Catharine exerted herself to win him from the Huguenot party, a task which she did not esteem very formidable, since, removed from the counsels of the inflexible Coligny, she thought he might be easily biased.
Montmorenci was taken to Orleans, where his niece, the princess of Condé, used every persuasive measure which she could devise to reconcile her uncle and her husband; all however to no purpose. The sulky veteran only growled and swore.
Meanwhile Guise led his victorious squadrons to the Orleanoise, and laid close and resolute siege to the Huguenot citadel.
D’Andelot’s defense of Orleans was as skilful as the duke’s assault. While the fate of the city hung undecided, murder stepped between the combatants, and dictated a decision: Guise was assassinated.
In the dash of the evening the duke went to superintend the erection of some redoubts. While the party trotted pleasantly along, chatting and laughing, a shot was fired from behind a hedge, and three balls lodged in Guise’s left shoulder. The shock made him stagger; but he only said, “This was to be expected; but I think it will be nothing.” He was carried to his tent, when the surgeons, on examining the wound, pronounced the bullets to have been steeped in poison.
Upon his death-bed he expressed regret for many of the occurrences of his violent, ambitious, and warlike career; but this late repentance served but to inflict upon him sharper pangs of remorse. The massacre of Vassy tormented his conscience, which could neither be soothed by all the puns of the priests, nor quieted by the hymns of the Parisians.
On the 4th of March, 1563, eight days after the infliction of the fatal wound, this celebrated soldier heaved his last sigh.
This event stirred France profoundly. The animated attacks upon Orleans suddenly ceased. The famous Triumvirate crumbled to pieces. Navarre, St. André, and Guise were lost to Rome.
The duke’s assassin was finally arrested and put to the torture. He was a madman named Paltrot. What was called a “confession” was wrung from his crazy lips, which implicated several of the Huguenot chiefs in a plot to butcher Guise. Bossuét accuses Coligny and Beza of having instigated the insane zealot to commit the crime; but the eloquent Frenchman, with all his subtlety, could not twist the circumstances of the case into giving color to the charge. All impartial chroniclers have acquitted these illustrious and unspotted Christians of any participation in so odious a deed. History dismissed the accusation to contempt.
Yet despite Coligny’s published and reiterated denial at the time, Henry de Guise persisted in charging the admiral with his father’s murder; and young as he was at the time, he swore against him an unrelenting hatred, which was only appeased by one of the bloodiest catastrophes in history.
With the dissolution of the Triumvirate there came a general pause. Death’s coup de main startled France. The genius of civil war halted for a moment before the bier of Francis Guise.
THE HOLLOW TRUCE
By the death of Guise, Catharine de’ Medici regained supreme power. Her first act was to intrigue for tranquility. Every insidious art was employed to cajole Condé into signing a treaty of peace. The Chatillons were absent in the field. Their inflexible spirit insured the continuance of the war until liberty was guaranteed, unless some disgraceful concession could be won from the prince.
The Huguenot sky never looked so bright. Hardly a cloud spotted the horizon. Two of the triumvirs were dead; the third was a prisoner. Everything was propitious for a liberal and righteous peace. The reformers congratulated one another, and said, “The wished-for day has come.”
Suddenly these hopes were dashed; a courier arrived in Coligny’s camp one morning, and flung this announcement into the admiral’s face like a thunderbolt: “Peace is declared; Condé orders arms grounded.” The messenger then circulated an edict which had just been ratified at Amboise. This was eagerly scanned by the surprised Huguenots. It contained a permission for the reformers to assemble for the exercise of their religion in those towns which were in their possession on the day the edict was signed; but the general permission to preach in the country places, contained in the preceding edict of January, 1562, was considerably curtailed. The lords high justiciaries could only convene their friends and neighbors on the demesnes of their seignories. The nobles were only allowed to hear their preachers in their own chateaux, and even that indulgence was withheld if they resided in a city or territory over which a Romanist governor exercised judicial power. The decree contained neither censure nor amnesty; but declaring that Condé and his friends were good and faithful subjects, buried the past in oblivion.
Such was the niggardly decree to which Condé, without consulting his friends, had irrevocably set his hand. The Huguenots were indignant. D’Andelot was chagrined. “Alas,” said Coligny, “our prince has injured the Reformed church more by this stroke of his pen, than the Triumvirate could have done in ten years with all their armies.”
Sadly and dejectedly the admiral dismissed his old companions in arms, paying them great attention, that he might, in time of need, calculate upon their speedy aid.
Catharine was displeased at this precaution; but when she complained of it to Condé, he silenced her by replying, “Nay, madame, this conduct of Coligny ought to be attributed solely to a grateful desire to acquit his obligations to the nobility; sure ’tis the least he could do for those who quitted home and friends to serve our cause.”
The queen mother was doubly provoked at this unexpected speech; she had done her utmost to convince Condé that Coligny’s influence was prejudicial to his own. She now perceived how cautious Condé was of taking the bait; indeed she feared the prince saw into her treacherous design; she therefore referred no more to the subject, but redoubled her blandishments.
One clause of the recent treaty bound the Huguenots to unite with the royal forces in expelling the English from Normandy.
Condé, conscious that nothing could justify him in admitting the hereditary foemen of France once more into the kingdom, and entrenching them within important strong-holds, proffered his services for their dislodgment.
The prince’s offer was accepted, and ere long he returned to Paris from this expedition completely successful. France was no longer dismembered; no hostile foot profaned her soil.
Elizabeth of England was very indignant at the loss of Havre de Grace, which she hoped would have compensated her for Calais. “When the admiral again desires my assistance, I shall know how to act,” said the maiden queen.” But when her anger subsided, she observed, “The king of France is happy in having such faithful subjects.”
Condé’s star was now at its zenith. As he had distinguished himself by his bravery in the field, so now he desired to shine through his versatility, by taking part in the knightly festivities of the court, in which it was then the fashion to represent the heroic fables of the Greeks. His wit and vivacity made him a great favorite. All restraint was removed by the recent death of his excellent wife Eleanora du Roye; and Condé, whose amorous disposition disposed him to fall an easy prey to the intrigues of the queen, frittered away his time and strength in dissolute and infamous orgies.
The condition of the Huguenots now became as bad as it had ever been. Encroachments upon the edict of Amboise were of constant occurrence. The Protestants would not submit without attempting to defend their rights. The consequence was, that the uneasy kingdom fretted under the abnormal pacification—a name without a substance. The Huguenots inundated France with apologies, complaints, and remonstrances—some addressed to the king, some to the queen, but most to Condé, who was generally held responsible for the strict fulfillment of the treaty, since he had signed it.
But Catharine had so artfully engrossed the forgetful prince in lewd amusements, he was so surrounded with every charm and variety of pleasure, that he had neither time to think nor heart to bestir himself on behalf of imperiled liberty of conscience.
The noblesse were ensnared in a similar manner. Catharine’s maids of honor, young and beautiful, but abandoned girls, were the sirens employed to captivate the more worldly and impressible of the Huguenot leaders. Treachery was the leading feature in the queen mother’s policy; her aim being bad, she naturally was not scrupulous as to her means, and the morals of her licentious court would be exposed to but little scrutiny. Those of her pimps, men or women, who were most successful in their infamous work, received the highest honor. Thus it was that those twin devils, debauchery and perfidy, were the earliest and most intimate companions of Charles IX.
Thus was the Reformation compromised by its political chiefs. While the current ran in lowlier channels, it coursed unwaveringly to the sea. The alliance of the nobles lowered the religious morale. The fervor of Calvin, the eloquence of Beza never injured the cause they loved; the treason of Navarre, the licentious coxcombry of Condé, wasting precious hours lapped in the arms of Catharine’s dancing wrens, melted, like a common fop, in baths and perfumes—these worked God’s cause incalculable mischief.
It is a pity, some say, that the noblesse gathered under the Huguenot banner; why, query others, did Beza’s pulpit stoop to preach politics?
Great moral movements necessarily and inevitably bubble over into politics. If politics invade the domain of morals, if diplomacy attempts to strangle religion, if iniquity enthrones itself in law, then it becomes the preacher’s duty with one hand to appeal to the state for redress, and with the other to uncloak the cheat. This was what Luther did. This was what Calvin did. They desired to preach Christ. The state said, No. Then the reformers created a party in the state whose circumstances enabled them to obtain the required liberty to preach God’s word.
In this sense, wherever statutes withhold permission to proclaim salvation, if men’s thoughts influence their laws, it is the duty of the pulpit to preach politics. If it were possible to conceive of a community whose opinions had no effect upon their government, there Beza and Calvin and Luther would have no call to impeach bad laws and ungodly policies. But those worthies knew of no such community. The czar, at the head of a government whose constitution knows no check but poison and the dagger, yet pauses when he hears his subjects growl. The sultan dared to murder his janizaries only when the streets came to hate them as mach as he did. Though sheltered by Roman despotism, Herod and the chief priests abstained from this and that because they “feared the people.” Certainly then there can be no question that the ratinale of the reformers was right.
At all events, the pontiffs never scrupled to bring the pressure of public opinion to bear upon governmental action. In the early years of the rein of Charles IX, Pius IV directed the politics of the Vatican. This crafty pope perceived that the temporal authority of his see would be undermined if the Huguenots could enjoy religious liberty; his object therefore was to make them hateful to the French government.
To prevent the clergy from giving the Reformation countenance, he determined to punish those prelates who had either wholly adopted the new theology, or had at least tolerated it. He excommunicated the cardinal of Chatillon, St. Romain archbishop of Aix, Montluc bishop of Valence, Caraccioli of Troves, Barbancon of Pomiers, and Guillart of Chartres, all of whom were summoned to appear before him and account for their conduct.
Pope Pius’ audacity saved these prelates from his wrath. He cited the queen of Navarre to give an account of her faith; and if within the space of six months she did not appear before him, he declared that she should be proscribed, convicted of heresy by default, and deprived of her kingdom, which should be given to the first occupant.
This insolent assault upon a crowned head and a near relative of the king of France, caused a strong remonstrance to be filed by the French ambassador at Rome; in consequence the bull was withdrawn, and affairs remained in state quo.
Upon the heels of the pope’s rescinded bull trudged a new edict; it was called a declaration, and was avowedly to explain the obscurities of that of Amboise, but in reality to curtail once more the rights of the Hnguenots.
The month of December, 1563, was rendered remarkable by the conclusion of the Council of Trent, one of the most famous of the Roman synods. Long before the doctrines of Calvin had become popular in France, Germany, embracing Martin Luther’s evangelical opinions, demanded the convocation of a general council to settle disputed points of orthodoxy. Finally Paul III, who then wore the tiara, yielded to the request, and in the year 1537 selected Mantua as the ecclesiastical rendezvous; but the sovereign duke of that city refused his consent, in consequence of which the assembly was transferred to Vicenza, and postponed to 1538. Various contingencies delayed the conference till 1542, when Paul convened the council at Trent.
From that date the sessions dragged their slow length along, amid constant and frivolous adjournments, through twenty-one tedious years, during which time the dogmatism, the bigotry, and the tergiversations of the council, wholly devoted to Rome—there was not a Lutheranist or Calvinist present—so disgusted the Protestants, that they refused to recognize its authority, or to be bound by its decrees.
Pius IV had renewed the sessions and pressed for a decision, because he was persuaded that unless some fixed principles were adopted, to which the floating creed of the Vatican could be anchored in case of need, the most sincere adherents of the holy see might be seduced into heresy by the arguments of those who claimed the right of interpreting the holy Scriptures for themselves.
The different discussions during the twenty-five sessions of the council, embraced the whole range of subjects which affected the purse, wealth, and supremacy of the court of Rome. The decrees were prefaced in this style: “The holy Œcumenic Council, legitimately assembled under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the apostolical legates presiding.” But as the various pontiffs had the council completely under their control, no latitude of discussion was permitted, no breath of liberality stirred the mushy air. Instead of deliberating upon the spiritual interests of Christendom, for effecting an abolition of the superstitious and corruptions which were the grounds of Luther’s terrible attacks, it was only proposed that one or two of the more glaring abuses should be slightly modified, while additional authority was conferred in every point in which the councils and traditions of the church were at variance with the Scriptures. Thus what was professedly intended to reform the Roman communion, served only to confirm its errors.
How could this be otherwise, when the council was packed with the creatures of the pontiff, whose number he could increase at his pleasure, while the most learned and evangelical divines of Europe at large were never invited to shed over the discussions the light of their luminous counsel, when even those papists who ventured to differ with the legates upon trivialities were speedily gagged?
The last act of the council was to establish the absurd dogma of the pope’s infallibility; and it was observed at the time that the “Holy Spirit,” of which the decrees spoke, “was sent from Rome in a portmanteau.”
So greatly did the ultramontane interest predominate in the decrees of the Council of Trent, that even the papists of France would not submit inconsiderately to their reception. A celebrated lawyer, Charles du Moulin, published a memoir, showing that the council was null and vicious, contrary to former decrees, and prejudicial alike to the prerogatives of the crown and to the liberties of the Gallican church. He was arrested for this while upon the steps of the Palace of Justice, and that circumstance nearly caused a tumult, for the whole legal profession felt indignant that an advocate who honored the law so highly should be treated like a malefactor for a legal writing. The clerks were incited to attempt a rescue. The conciergerie, however, being close at hand, the guard hustled their victim within its walls and shut the gate, thus by a prompt flight escaping the vengeance of their pursuers.
No sooner did this affair reach Coligny than he made the case his own, for he had encouraged De Moulin to publish the memoir; the event to the queen mother, and by a full representation of the facts and the probable result of the incarceration, soon obtained an order for the advocate’s release.
As the king’s minority had afforded the pretext for many of the attempts against the government, Catharine was desirous that he should be declared of age; that measure could not affect her influence over the boy, while it would protect her from the intrusion of meddlers. In 1563, Charles entered his fourteenth year, the age fixed by a law of Charles the Wise as marking the majority of the king.
After some maneuvering this point was gained, and the royal party then set out upon a tour of observation through France. As the brilliant retinue of the young monarch passed through the country, the populace crowded to salute the king with their acclamations. The court first tarried at Lorraine, where a number of fétes were given in honor of the visit. But though Catharine’s policy made her countenance these lavish revels, since “thereby she caught many gudgeons,” the wily queen was very far from permitting herself to be engrossed by the follies she set afoot. Availing herself of this opportunity, she negotiated with the neighboring German princes, for the purpose of persuading them to restrain their subjects from arming to aid the Huguenots in case of another civil convulsion in France; her efforts, however, were not crowned with full success.
From Lorraine, Charles journeyed into the south of France. At Avignon the queen met a special legate from the pope, a Florentine, and Pius’ confidant. While the besotted court was amused with pageants, this precious pair had au interview of long duration. Catharine is supposed upon this occasion to have opened her full budget of perfidies, for the nuncio was reported to have been “merveilleusement satisfait.”
On the 10th of June, 1565, the court arrived at Bayonne. Here the king met his sister the queen of Spain, who had been dispatched by her husband Philip II as an unconscious instrument in a hideous plot. She was accompanied by a splendid suite led by Alvarez de Toledo, duke of Alva, celebrated for his atrocities in the Low Countries, an envoy quite equal, by his talents and his sanguinary, bigoted temper, to the infamous commission confided to him.
Here, at Bayonne, it was that while the French and Spanish courts endeavored to outvie each other’s pageantry—for it was a peculiarity of Catharine de’ Medici, that when she plotted most infamously she hid her intrigues behind a pageant—that Alva and the queen mother hatched the massacre of St. Bartholomew.
By a gallery which she had ordered to be constructed to connect her apartments with those of her daughter, she conversed every night with the duke of Alva. Here the monster duke and the serpent-like queen discussed the best means of extirpating French heresy; sitting there in the gloom, like two conspirators, they agreed upon the adoption of one of two plans: to expel the whole body of Huguenot preachers from the country, or else to assassinate at one stroke the four or six unhappy men who stood at the head of the party, and whose loss was supposed to be irreparable.
“Ten thousand frogs are not worth the head of one salmon,” cried Alva when speaking of the contemplated massacre. The young prince of Bearn, afterwards Henry IV, who was with the royal party on this tour, and whose penetration was far beyond his years—he was then but twelve—treasured up this expression, which he accidentally overheard, and considered applicable to Condé and Coligny. He repeated the words to his mother, Jane d’Albrét, who warned the prince and the admiral that sly mischief was afoot.
Revolving in her mind these “mortal accidents for the ruin of the state,” Catherine concluded the royal progress; and in 1566 convened an assembly of the Notables at Moulins. Her chief object now was to lull all suspicion to sleep; and then, when the Huguenots were entrapped, to give them the coup de grace. If the Samson of reform could be won to recline in the lap of this Delilah, she felt competent to insure that when she pronounced the word, “Samson, the Philistines be upon thee,” the undone Hercules should not have the strength to rise and avert his fate. We shall see how well Catherine succeeded.
The result of the conference at Moulins was the promulgation of an edict which settled many controverted points of jurisprudence, and which, in reference to religion, ordered that the former decrees should be solemnly confirmed.
Had there been any sincerity in the professions of Charles, or had honesty swayed the counsels of his authoritative advisers, the privileges and disabilities of the Huguenots would have been clearly and fundamentally fixed by this edict. But though there was a general ratification of prior decrees, all of which had been distorted by unfair constructions put upon essential clauses, yet it was so loosely worded as to leave all the main principles in confusion and incertitude. Indeed the court had no wish to establish any definitive settlement of the questions at issue; on the contrary, it was their intention to leave all the mooted points in such a fluctuating and doubtful state, as to render the constant interference of the royal council necessary; by these means it was hoped gradually to fritter away all the protective securities of religious liberty.
Through these perfidious negotiations the queen mother had great difficulty in restraining the belligerent bigotry of the young king, whose hatred of the Huguenots was only equaled by his dissimulation; for though yet a mere boy, he masked his real opinions with a wiliness and duplicity which deceived the oldest and craftiest courtiers. Every fresh demand of the Huguenots for the extension of their privileges, or for the protection of those already conceded, roused his choler.
One day he broke out in great anger against the admiral: “It is not long since,” said he, “that you were satisfied with being merely tolerated by the orthodox; now you claim to be their equals; presently you will wish to be supreme.” The habitual caution of Coligny kept him silent. Charles left him abruptly, rushed into the apartment of the chancellor, and exclaimed, “The duke of Alva was right; heads held so high are dangerous to a state; tact and skill are useless, for they may be parried by the same weapons. We can only keep our ascendancy by force.”
Catharine also was heard to mutter darkly that “Ere long the ancient faith would have few enemies in France.”
Below the deceitful calm which smiled above, these ominous words presaged St. Bartholomew.
RECOMMENCEMENT of the WAR
The treaty of pacification gave no satisfaction to either party. As in all compromises upon vital questions, one side esteemed that too much had been conceded; the other thought that assured triumph had been bartered to obtain a hollow and treacherous edict. Gloomy and suspicious, all France rested upon arms; while the Huguenot chiefs, fearful of Catharine’s poisoner or of the steel of her bravos, quitted the dangerous vicinage of Paris for a safer residence.
No sooner had the champions of the Reformation left the court, than the cardinal of Lorraine, plotting busy mischief, arrived at St. Germaine, and resumed his seat at the council board. Notwithstanding his apparent moderation and the vacillation of his ordinary conduct, this consummate intriguer was ever the same—unchangeable in his views, and, despite of all reconciliation, implacable. The effects of his presence were soon visible.
The king of Spain, determined to exterminate the Protestants of the Netherlands, designed, at the commencement of 1567, to march an army, under Alva, by the route of Savoy and the mountain chain of Lorraine skirting the French frontier, into the Low Countries.
The plotters at Paris eagerly seized this pretext to augment the army. Catherine expressed great alarm lest France should be invaded by the Spaniards. Avowedly to avert the menaced danger, six thousand Swiss were taken into the pay of the government, new captains were appointed to the civic militia of Paris, and the companies of the hommes d’armes were raised to their full complement.
At first the Huguenots took the bait. Condé, with Hotspur impetuosity, even tendered his services to guard the frontier. But ere long their suspicious were aroused. It was perceived that all stations of trust were bestowed exclusively upon Romanist officers, and that Alva, so far from meeting with any opposition, received the warmest of welcomes and the heartiest, was supplied with abundant provisions, and trod through France amid an ovation.
The keen eye of the sleepless admiral instantly pierced into the depths of Catherine’s perfidious policy. A secret council of the Huguenot chiefs was speedily convened at his residence, Chatillonsur-Loing. It was determined to foil stratagem by stratagem. French history teaches that that party which is master of the court can alone accomplish its designs; therefore, since it had been ascertained that Catherine had resolved to imprison Condé for life, put Coligny to death, distribute the Swiss to garrison Paris, Orleans, and Poitiers, and to revoke all edicts of tolerance and pacification, that the extermination of the reformers might proceed unfettered by statutes, the wary Huguenots determined to take the initiative—by a grandcoup d’etat, to elope with the court.
In the secrecy with which this plan was formed, and in the rapidity and precision of its execution, the learned men of the age could find nothing in history to be compared with it, without going back to the times of Mithridtites king of Pontus.
The court was sojourning at Monceaux, near Meaux, in an open residence, quite unsuspicious of danger. Catherine, steeped to the lips in treachery, was now caught napping; the biter was nearly bitten. At the critical moment however, the king was warned, and he returned to Paris under the escort of his Swiss, whose steady, disciplined valor beat back the headlong charges of Condé’s cavaliers.
But though foiled, the Huguenots were not disheartened. Condé pressed forward, and encamped before the capital. His head-quarters were at St. Dennis, from whence his troops blockaded the city, destroyed the mills, mastered the river, and fortified all the surrounding castles which commanded the main roads.
Tedious and subtle negotiations ensued. The Huguenots demanded the general, distinct, and irrevocable guarantee of religious toleration, complete and public, as the essential basis of pacification. The court not only refused this concession, but speaking through the octogenarian lips of Montmorenci, declared that those indulgences which had been granted to the heretics were always intended to be temporary; that the king had now determined upon their revocation, since henceforth he would permit no lisp of any religion in France save that of Rome.
The decision was then left to the arbitrament of battle. The royal army, much the more numerous and the best equipped, sallied out, and led on by the old constable in person, charged Condé upon the plain of St. Dennis. A sanguinary battle ensued; Montmorenci himself, the scarred veteran of a hundred fights, fell mortally wounded; and the Huguenots, borne back by stress of numbers, rested at a little distance from St. Dennis, with unbroken ranks and undiminished ardor. The field and the spoil remained to the royalists, but the honor of the day belonged to the vastly outnumbered Huguenots. The admiral commanded; and Marshal Tavannes, himself an accomplished soldier, said admiringly, “Faut confesser que l’Admiral de Coligny estoit Capittane.”
Montmorenci was taken to Paris, where lie shortly died. “Those who speak without passion of the constable,” says Davila, who knew the old soldier well and personally, “give him three principal attributes: that he was a good captain, a loving servant, but a bad friend; for in all his actions he was ever swayed by the single consideration of himself.”
Brantome bears this quaint testimony to his piety: “He never failed in his devotions; for every morning he would repeat his paternosters, whether he was in the house or on horseback among his troops; which caused the saying, ‘beware of the constable’s paternosters;’ for while he was repeating them and muttering the creed, as occasion presented he would cry, ‘Go hang up such a one; tie this man to a tree; run that fellow through with your pikes this instant; shoot all those fellows before me; cut in pieces those vagabonds who wish to hold yon church against the king; burn me this village:’ and such sentences of justice or war he would utter without leaving off his paternosters until he had quite finished them, thinking that to defer them to another time would be to commit a great error, so conscientious was he.”
At the solicitation of Condé, John Casimir of the palatinate, who was zealous for his creed, and always ready to battle for it, entered France at the head of seven thousand five hundred cavalry and some thousands of infantry, to assist the Huguenots; not, as he said, to resist the French king, but to protect his coreligionists against the enemies of their persons and their faith.”
Condé and Casimir formed a junction shortly after the stricken field of St. Dennis, and directed their united march towards Paris, pausing on the way to capture Chartres.
The Huguenots had agreed to pay their German auxiliaries one hundred thousand crowns; the military chest contained but two thousand. What was to be done? Condé’s army served without pay; they had suffered severely in the retreat from St. Dennis in the most rigorous season of the year; their provisions were scanty, and regiment after regiment walked barefooted. To all these privations they cheerfully submitted for conscience’ sake. It was doubtful whether this impoverished and frozen host would exert themselves to discharge the claims of the Germans. The experiment was tried; it was successful: thirty thousand crowns were raised at once by voluntary contribution, and Casimir’s followers were satisfied. History records no circumstance more extraordinary, or which more finely illustrates the influence of religious principle.
While the Huguenot army lay before Chartres, Catherine, alarmed by the formidable danger which menaced her government, had recourse once more to vicious diplomacy: she granted the reformers what they had demanded from the beginning, the complete restoration of original edict of pacification.
Both Condé and Coligny were dissatisfied. They wanted guarantees. But the gentry, fatigued by an arduous campaign, longed for their homes; they imagined that their object was accomplished; they hoped to “honor God and serve the king in peace.” Very reluctantly the Huguenot chiefs disarmed. Trusting God, they yet “kept their powder dry.”
After the ratification of peace, the German troopers left France. The Huguenots insisted that the Spanish and Swiss auxiliaries of the court should also depart. Spite of this protest, they were retained. This distinction between the foreign levies sufficiently announced the hollowness and insincerity of the recent negotiations. Presently events proved that the reenacted edict was only a concession wrung from the reluctant fear of the perfidious court—a concession made only to be broken.
Distrust and suspicion everywhere arose. Every possible discourtesy was shown to the admiral, to D’Andelot, and even to Condé, while the Huguenot masses were exposed to an infinite variety of petty vexatious. The papist pulpits resounded with invectives against the heretics, with seditious reflections on the recent peace, and with clamorous exhortations to break it. The clergy had become inoculated with the virus of Jesuitism; and digging up from its grave of three hundred years the infamous maxim of Innocent III, they openly proclaimed that “no faith should be kept with heretics,” and that their massacre was just, pious, and conducive to salvation.
These inflammatory ravings provoked constant tumults, and occasioned frequent assassination. The ignorant and superstitious canaille ran frenzied and foaming through the streets, panting for murder. Huguenot writers affirm that under this “pacification,” in the space of three months ten thousand of their persuasion perished by poison, by the dagger, and by the slow torture of imprisonment.
The astute policy of Catherine aided the frantic zeal of the priests and the Jesuits. Fearing lest any of her diabolical plans might reach the ears of Coligny or Condé, she new-modeled the cabinet. De 1’Hôpital, whose virtue and equity had frequently thwarted the exterminating plans of the princes of Lorraine, was ordered to deliver up the seals, and he was banished to his estate. The effective powers of government were confided to a faithful few, and shrouded in mystery. Every possible precaution was taken to render the next blow struck at the Huguenots decisively fatal.
In pursuance of her scheme, the queen mother determined to seize Condé and the admiral. The prince was at his castle of Noyers, in Burgundy; Coligny at Chatillon-sur-Loing. “Their retreat,” naively writes one of the admiral’s biographers, “would have been extremely satisfactory to Catharine, if she had not seen that one half of the kingdom paid court to them. And indeed so great was the confluence at Chatillon and Noyers, that the Louvre was a desert in comparison. All the noblesse of the Huguenot party went in crowds to see them; and when ten gentlemen went out by one door, twenty passed in at another. This obliged the admiral especially to incur great expense; and if he had not been a careful man in every thing else, it would have ruined him. However, he was so much beloved that a thousand presents were constantly brought to him; and although he forbade his attendants accepting them, this did not prevent the same thing from occurring every day. The different reformed churches collected and sent a hundred thousand crowns to prevent the prince and himself from entirely bearing such a charge.”
The queen mother sent an engineer to reconnoiter Noyers, to familiarize himself with Condé’s habits, to learn the weak points of the castle, and to see whether it would be possible to get possession of it by a coup de main. The spy entered Noyers without difficulty under the guise of a poulterer. He was well received; but when he began to talk, it was suspected that he was not what he pretended to be. The prince ordered him to be watched; when lo, one night he was detected sounding the moat. Condé dissembled, and dismissed him pleasantly; but when he was gone, he wrote Coligny, acquainted him with the circumstance, and advised him to be upon his guard. The two chiefs then dispatched couriers to arouse their friends, and to request them to stand ready to grasp the sword at any moment.
In the mean time Coligny also had a visitor. Catherine sent Castelnau, an able diplomatist, to Chatillon-sur-Loing, to penetrate the admiral’s designs; but the wary Huguenot was on his guard, and the hoodwinked politician reported that he found him busily engaged in his vineyards.
When Castelnau left him, Coligny posted off to Noyers to confer with the prince. Upon being apprized of this, Catherine ordered Marshal Tavannes, who commanded in Burgundy for the king, to seize them at all hazards. But though Tavannes was a bitter foe of the Reformation, he had a keen sense of military honor; and he knew besides, that if the scheme miscarried he would be sacrificed by the queen mother without a scruple, to allay the ensuing storm. He was too wary a courtier, however, to disobey openly so authoritative a mandate; so he set himself dexterously to save Condé and the admiral while yet appearing to perform his mission.
Approaching Noyers, he wrote Catherine, “The stag is at bay; the chase is prepared.” After dispatching this laconic epistle, he sent two scouts to sound the depth of the water in front of the prince’s strong-hold. They were captured, as Tavannes intended they should be, and upon being interrogated, confessed the plot.
Condé and Coligny prepared for instant flight. They quitted Noyers with their families in August, 1568, and after enduring the severest hardships, traversing mountain paths hitherto untrodden, and crossing the Loire at a ford never before passed, reached, in September, the protecting wells of the friendly city of Rochelle.
Nor were these the only victims of intended perfidy who baffled the subtle arts of the outwitted petticoated Machiavelli. Odet, cardinal of Chatillon, in the disguise of a common sailor, reached England from a port in Normandy, where his negotiations with queen Elizabeth subsequently proved of eminent service to his party.
The queen of Navarre, whose arrest had been entrusted to Montluc, retired from Bearn at the critical moment, and accompanied by her son and daughter, sought safety at Rochelle. Thus St. Bartholomew was again postponed. Hostilities instantly recommenced.
The feeling at the court was very bitter. The edict of January, 1562, confirmed by the last peace, was again revoked; the exercise of any other form of worship than the Roman was prohibited, under penalty of death; and the nominal command of the royal army was given to the duke of Anjou, the second brother of the king, a youth of sixteen, with the title of lieutenant-general of the kingdom. But Marshal Tavannes commanded in reality.
A feeling of the utmost jealousy and hatred existed between Anjou and the Young king; and Charles let no opportunity slip of mortifying his brother. When Anjou was nominated to the chief command of the army, Charles protested vehemently, and on one occasion an angry altercation took place at the supper-table. “Cousin,” said the duke, “if you strive to obtain what belongs to me, I will make you little in the same degree as you imagine to become great.”
In this convulsion Rochelle became the Huguenot rendezvous, as Orleans had been in the preceding war. The extreme measures of the court rallied the whole Huguenot party to fight for their common safety; nor did they on this occasion require any stimulus from the exhortations of their preachers. Their chiefs levied troops in all the provinces in which they had personal interest. So great was the influence of these leaders, that James Crussal, lord of Acier, alone raised and equipped twenty-five thousand men in Languedoc and Dauphiny; a striking proof of the comparative weakness of the royal prerogative, and of the vast power still retained by the descendants of the ancient baronial aristocracy.
Marches and counter-marches, skirmishes and maneuvers innumerable succeeded.
At length the two main armies fronted each other on the banks of the Charente, near Jarnac, a small frontier town which divided Limousin from Angournois. The river separated the combatants, and had the Huguenots exercised common prudence, they might have avoided the calamities which soon befell them; but they neglected to keep a diligent watch through the night, and Tavannes passed the Charente unchallenged.
Condé’s army was spread over a wide tract of country, while that of the marshal advanced in a compact phalanx. The prince, surprised and beaten before the battle commenced, attempted to retreat upon his main body commanded by the admiral. In vain; Tavannes held him in a vice. Condé then wheeled and charged the royal cavalry led by the duke of Anjou. At this critical moment his leg was broken by a kick from the horse of De la Rochefoucault, who was riding by his side. Undaunted by this accident, the gallant prince held his saddle, and encouraging his feeble escort, plunged like a hero into the thickest of the fight. Surrounded on all sides, he was soon dismounted; with one knee upon the earth, he still shook his sword in fierce defiance of his enemies. He was commanded to surrender by the royalist officers who recognized him; but ere he could do so, Montesquieu, a captain of Anjou’s guards, came behind him and shot him through the head.
Such was the end of Louis de Bourbon, prince of Condé, a man of many noble and some great qualities, distinguished for his heroism, skill, and wit in an age when such a reputation necessitated corresponding ability. His licentiousness was the chief blemish upon his character. This exposed him to many snares, and impeded him in the rigid maintenance of his principles. Aside from this grievous fault, his character was free from spot; a sincere friend, an unwavering advocate for religious toleration, an ardent, unbending Huguenot in his intellectual convictions, if not always in his practical conduct, he was mourned by his friends with poignant sorrow, while his memory was respected even by his foes.
The defeat of the Huguenots was complete. Many of their best officers were captured, among the rest the brave and talented La Noué, whose graphic pen has left a stirring picture of his age. Upon this gallant soldier the cruel and remorseless duke of Montpensier pronounced summary sentence. “My friend,” said he sneeringly, “your trial is finished; yours, and that of all your comrades: look to your conscience.” Martigues, a captain in the royal army, who had been an old brother in arms of La Noué, obtained his pardon, and he was exchanged.
The Huguenot army was only saved from utter rout by the coolness and skill of Coligny. Collecting the remnant of the dispersed and shattered squadrons, the imperturbable admiral held them firmly together, and retreated with slow and stubborn valor upon the neighboring village of Cognac. Pausing here only long enough to fortify the town, he left there a strong garrison, and then resumed his retreat, resting at St. Jean d’Angely, from whence he could advance to the assistance of Cognac, should it be besieged, while he was enabled also to open a road for the duke of Deux-Ponts, who was advancing to his assistance at the head of some German auxiliaries.
The conduct of the royalists after the battle of Jarnac was weak, vacillating, and impolitic. The dukes D’Aumale and Nemours, relatives of the cardinal of Lorraine, commanded an army fully equal in numbers to that of the duke of Deux-Ponts; still the Bavarian general marched steadily through the heart of France. The duke of Anjou did not push on to Cognac till Coligny had strongly fortified it; and then he no sooner reached it then he hastily retreated from its walls. The solution of these mysterious tactics is to be found in the memoirs of Tavannes, who attributed the whole of these faulty operations to the jealousies and intrigues of the court.
Meantime two inauspicious events occurred: the duke of Deux-Ponts fell a victim to the fever which then raged as a pestilence; but he did not die before delegating his authority to his lieutenant, Mansfeldt, to whom his troops swore allegiance.
The loss of the Bavarian general was immediately succeeded by another of more importance to the Huguenots. Coligny’s brother, D’Andelot, whom the admiral termed his right hand, was also stricken down by the remorseless fever. His death soon followed, and the first patrician apostle of religious liberty was lost to France. D’Andelot was a man of spotless integrity and singular hardihood of character; frank, open, generous, he was a universal favorite, while he lived his religion as well as thought it. “He was true and sincere,” says the Romanist Abbé Anquétil, “and of all the Calvinist chiefs, one of the most honestly persuaded of the truth of his faith. Naturally frank, candid, and generous, he attracted friendship, as his brother, more severe and reserved, conciliated esteem.”
Coligny deeply felt this bereavement; but carrying it to God, he subordinated private sorrow to his stern sense of public duty, and remained at his post.
Upon the death of Condé the leadership of the Huguenot army had devolved upon Coligny. But ere long dissatisfaction arose. There were many nobles in the ranks who were his equals in wealth and birth; these, while they readily conceded the admiral’s military superiority, considered themselves degraded by accepting him as their chief. The wise admiral accordingly wrote the queen of Navarre, who still tarried in Rochelle with her children, that the time had come when she should raise her son to the dignity which was his due.
This politic move exhibits at once Coligny’s wisdom and his self-abnegation. He served God, not his own interests; he was anxious for union, not greedy for power. Nothing could more finely prove this than his appeal to Jane d’Albrét.
That illustrious woman, who inherited all her mother’s fervid piety and brilliant genius, responded to the call in the same spirit. Hastening to Coligny’s camp, her presence at once rallied the desponding spirits of the mutinous army, and animated them to fresh exertions. Her son Henry, prince of Bearn, and the eldest son of Louis of Bourbon, prince of Condé, who was a few years younger than her own boy, and destined also to achieve wide fame, accompanied her. Holding the two princes by the hand, she presented them to the Huguenots in these stirring words:
“My friends, we mourn the loss of a prince who, to his dying hour, sustained with equal fidelity and courage the faith which he had undertaken to defend; but our tears would be unworthy of him, unless, imitating his bright example, we too firmly resolved to sacrifice our lives rather than abandon God. The good cause has not perished with Condé; his unhappy fate ought not to fill with despair men who are devotedly attached to their religion. God watches over his own. He gave that prince companions well fitted to serve him while he lived; he leaves among us brave and experienced captains, able to repair the loss we have sustained in his death. Here I offer you my son the young prince of Bearn; I also confide to you Henry Condé, son of the captain whom we bewail. May it please heaven that they both show themselves worthy heirs of the valor of their ancestors, and may these tender pledges, committed to your guardianship, be the bond of your union, and the assurance of your future triumph.”
As the beautiful queen, blooming with excitement, concluded, shouts of acclamation made the welkin ring; the timid were reanimated, the dissatisfied were reassured, and the boldest panted for action. The enthusiasm of the army was kindled to a still higher pitch when the prince of Bearn and young Condé, with warlike vehemence of gesture, swore to defend the reformed religion, and to persevere in the “good fight” until death or victory.
Henry of Navarre was immediately proclaimed generalissimo of the Huguenots: all dissatisfaction ceased; the scrupulous point of honor was satisfied, and Coligny became in fact what Henry was in name.
In the summer of 1569, active operations were resumed. The Huguenot army, forming a junction with the German auxiliaries, numbered twenty-five thousand; the royalists under Anjou were still stronger. Coligny met the young duke at La Roche 1’Abeille, and worsted him in a severe engagement; he then pressed on to besiege Poitiers. Here an epidemic broke out among the Germans, who had eaten immoderately of the autumnal fruits; whole regiments were incapacitated for service; the camp became a hospital, and the admiral himself was prostrated. While the army thus lay hors du combat, Anjou, who had marched to the relief of Poitiers, suddenly retreated; and this afforded Coligny also a pretext to retire without compromising his honor.
If Coligny was adored by his own party, he was admired and esteemed by all the high-minded and generous cavaliers among the royalists. No one questioned the sincerity of his faith; all praised his invincible fortitude. Some of the royalist officers sent him word from Anjou’s camp of their vast numerical superiority, and urged him to avoid an engagement. To these admonitions the admiral, whose military genius was of the Fabian order, lent a willing ear. But this skilful policy was rendered impossible by the rashness of the Hotspur spirits in his ranks, and by the open mutiny of the Germans.
On the 3rd of October, 1569, the two armies joined battle at Moncontour. The hospital army of the admiral, enfeebled and demoralized, was quickly routed. A pistol-ball shattered the lower jaw of Coligny, who still kept his saddle, and continued to display the courage of a soldier and the talent of a captain. But the fortune of the field could not be retrieved. Cannon, baggage, banners, all fell into Anjou’s hands; and of an army of twenty-five thousand men, but six thousand reached St. Jean d’Angely on the retreat.
But the Huguenots were too numerous, too well organized, and too enthusiastic to be subdued by the loss of a stricken field.
Upon this occasion they were especially assisted to recover their feet by the bickerings and dissensions of the court. Tavannes, under whose skilful guidance Anjou had achieved his victories, was insulted out of the service by the cardinal of Lorraine. “Sir cardinal,” said the indignant marshal when the inflated churchman ventured to dictate military tactics to him, “each to his trade; no man can be at once a good priest and a good soldier.”
The victory of Moncontour obtained for Anjou the loudest praises of his party; but the glory he had acquired rankled in the envious heart of Charles IX. The king departed for the army, hoping that his presence, even after the battle, would transfer to his own brow the laurels which his brother had culled in the ghastly carnage of the battle’s front.
The disunion in the royal camp enabled Coligny, indefatigable and ubiquitous, to recruit his forces, in order to try the success of a new campaign. Early in the spring of 1570, he descended from the mountains of Upper Languedoc, and marshaled his troops on the plains of Toulouse. Thence he spread his two wings, and carried pillage and desolation to the Loire. Arrived in Burgundy, he was opposed by Marshal Casse Gouner, at the head of thirteen thousand men. Though the admiral’s army numbered but six thousand men-at-arms, he attached boldly and with such skill that he gained a complete victory at Arnay-le-Duc.
This defeat alarmed the court, but nothing was done. The rigor of the government was paralyzed by the intrigues of rival cliques. Catharine once more dissembled; the tragic comedy of a reconciliation was sought to be once more enacted.
The overtures of the government were received with joy by the Huguenots. Peace on the basis of toleration was their dream. Saddened by reverses, wearied by tedious campaigns, longing for their homes, the cavaliers of the Reformation required nothing but insured liberty of conscience to make them doff their armor with enthusiasm.
This was Catharine’s program: All preceding edicts ratified; a general amnesty; the free exercise of the reformed religion; confiscated property restored; the Huguenots declared eligible to all offices of the state; the complete possession of four important cities, Rochelle, Montauban, Cognac, and La Charité, as guarantees: such were the terms demanded and conceded in order to renew pacification.
France hailed the peace with acclamations; but the curtain fell upon a dreary war, only to rise upon an atrocious massacre.
With the pacification of 1570 came a new régime. The court changed front. Foiled in the field, Catharine changed weapons. The crafty Florentine determined henceforth to use those perfidious and deadly arts which were so congenial, in which she was strongest, and which were in such fatal vogue in her native Italy. Every effort was made to lull France into a feeling of profound security.
The Huguenots especially were treated with profound and unprecedented respect. Did any one demand additional privileges? the concession was ready. Did a murmur of complaint wail through the court? Vengeance was swift. This very excess of graciousness was enough to excite suspicion, especially when it was well known that Catharine and treachery were synonymous terms; that she smiled, and, like Cassius, “murdered while she smiled.” Strangely enough, it did not. The party seemed infatuated. Indeed all France, save the conspirators who sat darkly hatching their hideous plot, said, “Lo, the millennium is come,” and fondly believed that the present tranquility would be permanent.
At the outset the Huguenots were wary. Upon the cessation of hostilities, the Bourbon princes, Jane d’Albrét, and the admiral fixed their residence at Rochelle, where the queen of Navarre held her court. It was the study of the government to allay the suspicions which this policy proved to exist, and to tempt the noblesse of the reformed party to the metropolis. Every artifice known to the queen mother’s extensive repertoire was exercised. “As soon as the peace was signed,” says Davila, “every secret spring which the king and queen held ready in their thoughts was put into action to draw into their nets the principal Huguenots, and to do by artifice that which had been so often vainly attempted by means of war.”
Never had Catherine acted her part with more consummate skill. Not a wrinkle of venation marred her placid features. She even in appearance surrendered that authority for whose acquisition she had damned her soul; and perfectly aware that the reformers observed her closely, she made her son assume the direction of public affairs, convincing him that it was necessary to success that he should gain the confidence of the heretics, and particularly of Coligny.
On the 23rd of October, 1570, the year of the pacification, which Charles with paternal affectation styled “my peace,” the king was married to Elizabeth of Austria, second daughter of the reigning house of Hapsburg. This princess possessed the esteem and confidence of her husband, but she exercised no influence over him, for her mild temper quailed before the assumption of the imperious Catharine.
To commemorate the nuptials, a giddy round of fêtes was given, and the nobility of all parties were invited, so that a superficial observer would have imagined that the words “Huguenot” and “Romanist” had been swept from the language and merged in that of Frenchmen.
Yet still the admiral and his coterie absented themselves; the queen of Navarre, with obstinate suspicion, continued to hold her modest court within the stout walls of devoted Rochelle.
A new scheme was hatched. With the ostensible view of conciliating conflicting interests, but with the real design of masking his perfidious and sanguinary plot, and to insure the presence of the chief victims, Charles endeavored to promote various alliances among the leading families of the kingdom, and proposed his youngest sister, the beautiful but frail Margaret of Valois, as the consort of young Henry prince of Bearn.
Now for the first time this prince, who in after years achieved an immortal fame, begins to make a central figure in the checkered and tragic history of his epoch. It is fitting therefore that the more salient features of his early life should be briefly recited.
Henry was born at Pau, in Bearn, on the 13th of December, 1553. He was the grandson of Henry d’Albrét, the brother-in-arms of Francis I; his grandmother was the beautiful, accomplished, and pious Margaret de Valois, the sister of the paladin king.
The young prince was reared in the castle of Courasse, in the mountains of Navarre. Here he was exercised like a Spartan boy; nourished on the coarsest diet, brown bread, beef, cheese; he was also sent to play with the children of the peasants, bareheaded and barefooted. Thus from his cradle he was hardy, independent, and self-reliant. This harsh apprenticeship, so unlike that of most princes, prepared him for heroic destinies.
While Henry d’Albrét lived, he personally superintended his grandson’s education, a task for which his fine scholarship well fitted him. Indeed Charles V considered him one of the most accomplished men of his age. Upon his death, Jane d’Albrét provided him with an excellent and learned tutor named La Gaucherie, who cultivated his illustrious pupil’s mind chiefly by conversational instruction. He had the wisdom to abandon that trifling course of study invented in an age comparatively barbarous, which was calculated rather to disgust than to enlighten. La Gaucherie, moreover, instilled into young Henry’s mind principles of honor and of public virtue, which ever after, if we except his many and sad errors of gallantry, and these the Christian and moralist must condemn, guided his conduct.
When this able teacher died, Henry was confided to the tuition of Florent Chrétien, a Huguenot preacher of high merit. He readily entered into the views of the queen of Navarre, and trained the prince in the reformed faith with careful assiduity.
When the young mountaineer was first presented at the court of France, his blunt frankness caused much amusement; but his biting wit, grace of manner, and bonhomie speedily subdued all hearts.
“Will you be my son?” queried Henry II on one occasion as he stood chatting with the little prince. “No,” was the frank reply, “he is my father,” pointing to the king of Navarre. “Well,” retorted the king, “will you be my son-in-law then?” “With all my heart,” said Henry; and from this early date his marriage with the princess Margaret is said to have been decided upon.
At Bayonne the duke of Medina, looking at him earnestly, said, “This prince either will be or ought to be all emperor.”
In the Memoirs de Nevers, some letters written in 1567, by the principal magistrates of Bordeaux, are found, which contain interesting particulars of young Henry’s manners and person at that time. “We have here with us,” says one of them, “the prince of Bearn. It must be confessed that he is a charming youth. At thirteen he has all the riper qualities of eighteen or nineteen. He is agreeable, polite, obliging, and behaves to everyone with an air so easy and engaging that wherever he is there is sure to be a crowd. He mixes in conversation like a wise and prudent man, and speaks always to the purpose. When the court is the subject discussed, it is easy to see that he is au fait, for he never says more nor less than he ought. I shall all my life hate the new religion for having robbed us of so worthy a subject.”
Another describes Henry’s personal appearance: “His hair is inclined to a reddish tint, yet the ladies think him none the less agreeable on that account. His face is finely shaped, his nose neither too large nor too small, his eyes full of sweetness, his skin brown, but clear, and his whole countenance animated by a striking vivacity. With all these graces, if he is not well with the ladies, it must be strange.”
Henry was early initiated into the science of war, in which he was destined to achieve so wide a celebrity. Even at the early age of fifteen, when his mother conducted him to Rochelle and presented him to the army, he criticized the military faults of Condo and Coligny, two of the greatest captains of the age.
Such was the embryo king of Navarre—whose white plume at a later day led the headlong charge at Ivry—when, in his nineteenth year, he was invited to wed Margaret of Valois.
For many reasons, the proposal was extremely distasteful to Jane d’Albrét. She instinctively distrusted the tortuous politics of the court. Now, without putting a decided negative upon the plan, she yet withheld her positive sanction, for she had a dark foreboding of Catherine’s sinister designs. This tacit opposition disconcerted the court. It was feared that the slightest breath of suspicion would detect the exterminating conspiracy ere it was ripe. The precautions were redoubled. Every device was adopted with renewed zeal to lull the Huguenots into false security. Any infringement of the recent treaty was severely punished. And Charles carried his duplicity to such a length, that he insulted the Guises into apparent exile, expressed a wish that young Condé should marry Mary of Cleves, marchioness de 1’Isle, who had been reared in Jane d’Albrét’s court, and was an advantageous match; and to crown all, he brought about a marriage between Coligny, now a widower, and Jacqueline of Savoy, countess d’Entremont, a wealthy and noble Protestant lady who had become deeply interested in the admiral, giving them a nuptial present of a hundred thousand crowns, together with all the benefices enjoyed by Odet, cardinal of Chatillon, who had just died abroad.
These generous and successive acts of kingly comity produced the desired effect; only the most cautious and penetrating of the Huguenots still held out; but unfortunately among these were Coligny and the queen of Navarre. Charles perceived this, and in the summer of 1571 he made a tour into Touraine, hoping that Jane and her suite would visit him on the route; nor was he disappointed; she came to his itinerant court, accompanied by the princes and escorted by the admiral.
When Coligny stood in the presence of his majesty, out of habitual respect the old soldier was about to fall upon one knee. Charles saw his intention, seized him by the arm, and prevented the intended obeisance, saying, “Nay, I hold you now, admiral, nor shall you for the future quit me when you please; I cannot spare so valuable a friend.” Then, with great emphasis and much apparent genuineness of feeling, he added, “This is indeed the happiest day of my life.” The queen mother, the duke of Anjou, and all the attendant nobles loaded Coligny with compliments and caresses, and especially the young duke of Alencon, youngest brother of the king, who, giving full play to the vivacity and frankness of boyhood, expressed his esteem for the admiral in extravagant terms. But he alone was sincere; he was not yet old enough to be steeped in dissimulation.
On this ill-fated visit it was definitely settled that Henry of Navarre should wed Margaret de Valois, and Jane d’Albrét and her suite consented to celebrate the nuptials in the spring of 1572 at Paris. The two courts then parted, with mutual professions of eternal amity.
Catharine returned to the metropolis with sardonic satisfaction. “The cautious fish have taken the bait,” said she with a leer of triumphant malice.
On her part, the queen of Navarre reentered Rochelle sadly and thoughtfully. Reasons of state, anxiety to cement a lasting and righteous peace, had wrung from her a reluctant assent to the ill-omened marriage of her beloved boy; but not all the persuasions of apparent gain could satisfy her maternal instinct, nor quiet her apprehensions. She repeated incessantly, “This union is not, nor can it come to, good.”
The political heavens now seemed serene; not a cloud specked the horizon. The awful lightnings which lurked behind this smiling sky yet hid their thunderbolts.
Completely cozened, the leaders of the Huguenots crowded to Paris, from which they had been so long debarred, anxious to share once more in the pleasures of the capital.
In the middle of May, 1572, the queen of Navarre, accompanied by a brilliant retinue, arrived at the Louvre. On the 9th of June she was a corpse. Suspicions of foul play were at once bruited through the streets. Her death was attributed to poison, which they say was given to her in a pair of gloves by a Florentine named Rend, the queen mother’s perfumer.
This melancholy event of course postponed the marriage of Henry, who now assumed the title of king of Navarre.
Singularly enough, the fate of their great queen did not persuade the Huguenots of the doom which awaited them. Dazzled blind by Catharine’s wiles, they lingered on at the court, nor made an effort to escape the impending horrors.
Coligny indeed, profoundly grieved by the death of Jane d’Albrét, which however he considered natural, retired to his estate of Chatillon-sur-Loing for a few weeks; but it was not long ere he was once more an habitual visitor at the Louvre.
The admiral’s conduct at this time bordered upon infatuation, and is all the more remarkable on account of his natural caution and penetration.
While at his country residence, he was flooded with letters from his friends urging him not to return to Paris, and presaging calamity. They did not indeed base their appeals upon any specific facts; their admonitions were rather the result of general inferences from current reports and peculiarities of conduct observed at Paris.
But the admiral was deaf. One day one of the gentlemen attached to his suite requested leave of absence. “On what account?” demanded Coligny. “Because they caress you too much,” was the reply, ” and I would rather escape with the fools than perish with the wise.”
The chiefs of his party, relying upon the habitual wariness of Coligny, and noting his calmness, shared his confidence, and partook of his doom.
The fact is, that the admiral was attacked on his weak side. His darling project, a war against Spain for the assistance of the staggering Protestantism of the Netherlands, was held out to him as certain to be adopted. Extended conversations were held between the king and himself, in which he dilated upon the advantages certain to accrue to France from such a war. The profound and far-reaching mind of the great admiral formed plans of the grandest character. Philip II was destitute of money; the French forces, disciplined by innumerable internecine wars, were superior to the Spaniards in military science; he had but to throw united France into the Low Countries, and reinforce the kingdom by an alliance with England and Protestant Germany, and then the Reformation might be cemented into an indestructible unit, while Roman Europe would be lassoed into quiet imbecility.
Such, according to the best contemporaneous authorities, was the brilliant programme of this statesmanlike Huguenot.
The French court listened with courteous attention to the admiral as he unfolded his plans, and map in hand, pointed out the salient features of the grand campaign. Catharine and the king appeared to enter with his own ardor into the scheme; and then, when Coligny quitted them, retired to the secret recesses of the palace, and spent half the night in arranging the details of the slowly ripening holocaust.