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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 13 — From Rise of Protestantism in France (1510) to Publication of the Institutes (1536)

Chapter 15 — Marriage of Henry of France to Catherine de Medici

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The Pope sets Sail — Coasts along to France — Meets Francis I. at Marseilles — The Second Son of the King of France Married to Catherine de Medici — Her Promised Dowry — The Marriage Festivities — Auguries — Clement's Return Voyage — His Reflections — His Dream of a New Era — His Dream to be Read Backwards — His Troubles — His Death — Catherine Enters France as Calvin is Driven Out — Retrogression of Protestantism — Death and Catherine de Medici — Death's Five Visits to the Palace — Each Visit Assists Catherine in her Ascent to Power — Her Crimes — She Gains no Real Success.

THE marriage is to take place, and accordingly the Pope embarks at Leghorn, and sets out for the port of Marseilles, where he is to meet the King of France, and conclude the transaction. Popes have never loved ships, unless it were the bark of St. Peter, nor cared to sail in any sea save the sea ecclesiastic; but Clement's anxiety about the marriage overcame his revulsion to the waves. He sails along the coast of Italy; he passes the Gulf of Spezzia; he rounds the bold headland of Monte Fino; Genoa is passed; and now the shore of Nice, where the ridge of Apennine divides Italy from France, is under his lee, and thus, wafted along over these classic waters by soft breezes, he enters, in the beginning of October, 1533, the harbor of Marseilles. Catherine did not accompany him. She tarried at Nice meanwhile, to be at hand when she should be wanted. The interview between the Pontiff and the king terminated to the satisfaction of both parties. Francis again stipulated that the bride should bring as outfit "three rings," the Duchies of Urbino, Milan, and Genoa; and Clement had no difficulty in promising everything, seeing he meant to perform nothing. All being arranged, the little Tuscan beauty was now sent for; and amid the benedictions of the Pope, the congratulations of the courtiers, the firing of cannon, ringing of bells, and rejoicings of the populace, Catherine de Medici, all radiant with joy and sparkling with jewels, became the daughter-in-law of Francis I., and wife of the Duke of Orleans, the future Henry II.

In the banquet-chamber in which sat Catherine de Medici as the bride of the future Henry II. of France, well might there have been set a seat for the skeleton which the Egyptians in ancient times were wont to introduce into their festal halls. Had that guest sat amid the courtiers at Marseilles, glaring on them with empty sockets, and mingling his ghastly grin with their gay merriment, all must have confessed that never had his presence been more fitting, nor his augury more truly prophetic. Or if this was not clearly seen at the moment, how plain did it become in after-years, when the bridal torches were exchanged for martyr-fires, and the marriage-songs were turned into wailings, which ever and anon rung through France, and each time with the emphasis of a deeper woe! But before that day should fully come Clement was to sleep in marble; Francis too was to be borne to the royal vaults of St. Denis, leaving as the curse of his house and kingdom the once lively laughing little girl whose arrival he signalised with these vast rejoicings, and who was yet too young to take much interest in court intrigue, or to feel that thirst for power which was to awaken in her breast with such terrible strength in years to come.

The marriage festivities were at an end, and Pope Clement VII. turned his face toward his own land. He had come as far as to see the utmost borders of the children of the Reformation, and, like another Balaam, he had essayed to curse them. He had come doubly armed: he grasped Catherine in the one hand, he held a bull of anathema in the other; the first he engrafted on France, the second he hurled against the Lutherans, and having shot this bolt, he betook him again to his galleys. A second time the winds were propitious. As he sailed along over the blue sea, he could indulge his reveries undistracted by those influences to which Popes, like other men, are liable on shipboard. He had taken a new pledge of France that it should not play the part England was now playing. France was now more than ever the eldest daughter of the Papacy. Clement, moreover, had fortifed himself on the side of Spain. To the greatness of that Power he himself, above most men, had contributed, when he acted as the secretary and adviser of his uncle Leo X., [1] but its sovereigns becoming less the champions and more the masters of the Papacy, Spain caused the Pope considerable uneasiness. Now, however, it was less likely that the emperor would press for a Council, the very idea of which was so terrible to the Pope, that he could scarce eat by day or sleep by night. And so, as the coast of France sunk behind him and the headlands of Italy rose on his prow, he thought of the new splendor with which he had invested his house and name, and the happier days he was now likely to see in the Vatican.

Nevertheless, the horizon did not clear up: the storm still lowered above Rome. The last year of Clement's life — for he was now drawing toward the grave — was the unhappiest he had yet seen. Not one of all his fond anticipations was there that did not misgive him. If the dreams of ordinary mortals are to be read backwards, much more — as Clement and even Pontiffs in our own time have experienced — are the dreams of Popes.

The emperor became more pressing for a Council than ever. The Protestants of Germany, having formed a powerful

league, had now a voice at the political council-table of Christendom. Nay, with his own hands Clement had been rearing a rampart round them, inasmuch as his alliance with Francis made Charles draw towards the Protestants, whose friendship was now more necessary to him. Even the French king, now his ally, could not be depended upon. Catherine's "three rings" the Pope had not made forthcoming, and Francis threatened, if they were not speedily sent, to come and fetch them. To fill up Clement's cup, already bitter enough and brimming over, as one would think, his two nephews quarrelled about the sovereignty of Florence, and were fighting savagely with one another. To whatever quarter Clement turned, he saw only present trouble and portents of worse to come. It was hard to say whether he had most to dread from his enemies or from his friends, from the heretical princes of Germany or front the most Christian King of France and the most Catholic King of Spain.

Last of all, the Pope fell sick. It soon became apparent that his sickness was unto death, and though but newly returned from a wedding, Clement had to set about the melancholy task of preparing the ring and robe which are used at the funeral of a Pope. "Having created thirty cardinals," says Platina, "and set his house in order, he died the 25th September, 1534, between the eighteenth and nineteenth hour, [2] having lived sixty-six years and three months, and held the Papacy ten years, ten months, and seven days. He was buried," adds the historian, "in St. Peter's; but, in the Pontificate of Paul III. (his successor), his body was transferred, along with the remains of Leo X., to the Church of Minerva, and laid in a tomb of marble." [3] "Sorrow and secret anguish," says Soriano, brought him to the grave. Ranke pronounces him "without doubt, the most ill-fated Pope that ever sat on the Papal throne." [4]

Clement now reposed in marble in the Minerva, but the evil he had done was not "interred with his bones;" his niece lived after him, and to her for a moment we turn. There are beings whose presence seems to darken the light, and taint the very soil, on which they tread. Of the number of these was Catherine de Medici. She was sunny as her own Italy: but there lurked a curse beneath her gaieties and smiles. Wherever she had passed, there was a blight. Around her all that was fair and virtuous and manly, as if smitten by some mysterious and deadly influence, began to pine and die.

And, moreover, it is instructive to mark how nearly contemporaneous were the departure of Calvin from France and the entrance into that country of Catherine de Medici. Scarcely had the gates of Paris shut out the Reformer, when they were opened to admit the crafty Italian woman. He who would have been the restorer and savior of his country was chased from it, while she who was to inoculate it with vice, which first corrupted, and at last sunk it into ruin, was welcomed to it with demonstrations of unbounded joy.

We trace a marked change in the destinies of France from the day that Catherine entered it. Up till this time events seemed to favor the progress of Protestantism in that country; but the admission of this woman was the virtual banishment of the Reformation, for how could it, ever mount the throne with Catherine de Medici sitting upon its steps? and unless the throne were won there was hardly a hope, in a country where the government was so powerful, of the triumph of the Reformation in the conversion of the great body of the nation.

True, the marriage of the king's second son with this orphan of the House of Medici did not seem an event of the first consequence. Had it been the Dauphin whom she espoused, she would have been on the fair way to the throne; but as the wife of Henry the likelihood was that she never would be more than the Duchess of Orleans. Nor had Catherine yet given unmistakable indication of those imperious passions inclining and fitting her for rule that were lodged in her. No one could have foretold at that hour that the girl of fifteen all radiant with smiles would become the woman of fifty dripping all over with blood. But from the day that she put her hand into Henry's, all things wrought for her. Even Death, as D'Aubigne has strikingly observed, seemed to be in covenant with this woman. To others the "King of Terrors," to Catherine de Medici he was but the obsequious attendant, who waited only till she should signify her pleasure, that he might strike whomsoever she wished to have taken out of her path. How many a visit, during her long occupancy, did the grim messenger pay to the Louvre! but not a visit did he make which did not assist her in her ascent to power. He came a first time, and, lo! the Dauphin lay a corpse, and Henry, Catherine's husband, became the immediate heir to the throne. He came a second time, and now Francis I. breathes his last. Henry reigns in his father's stead, and by his side sits the Florentine girl, now Queen of France. Death came a third time to the Louvre, and now it is Henry II. that is struck down; but the blow, so far from diminishing, enlarged the power of Catherine, for from this time she became, with a few brief and exceptional intervals, the real ruler of France.

Her imbecile progeny sat upon the throne, but the astute mother governed the country. Death came a fourth time to the palace, and now it is the weak-minded Francis II. who is carried out a corpse, leaving his throne to his yet weaker-minded brother, Charles IX. If her son, a mere puppet, wore the crown,

Catherine with easy superiority directed the government. Casting off the Guises, with whom till now she had been compelled to divide her power, she stood up alone, the ruler of the land. Even when Death shifted the scenes for the last time by the demise of Charles IX., it was not to abridge this woman's influence. Under Henry III., as under all her other sons, it was the figure of Catherine de Medici that was by far the most conspicuous and terrible in France. Possessing one of those rare minds which reach maturity at an age when those of others begin to decay, it was only now, during the reigns of her last two sons, that she showed all that was in her. She discovered at this period of her career a shrewder penetration, a greater fertility of resource, and a higher genius for governing men than she had yet exhibited, and accordingly it was now that she adventured on her boldest schemes of policy, and that she perpetrated the greatest of her crimes. But, notwithstanding all her talent and wickedness, she gained no real success. The cause she espoused did not triumph eventually, and that which she opposed she was not able to crush.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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