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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 17 — Protestantism in France From Death of Francis I (1547) to Edict of Nantes (1598)

Chapter 15 — The marriage, and preparations for the massacre

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Auguries—The King of Navarre and his Companions arrive in Paris— The Marriage—The Rejoicings—Character of Pius V—The Admiral Shot— The King and Court Visit him—Behavior of the King—Davila on the Plot —The City-gates Closed—Troops introduced into Paris—The Huguenot Quarter Surrounded—Charles IX Hesitates—Interview between him and his Mother—Shall Navarre and Conde be Massacred?

The Queen of Navarre, the magnanimous Jeanne d'Albret, was dead; moreover, news had reached Paris that the Protestant troop which had set out to assist the Prince of Orange had been overpowered and slain on the road; and further, the great advocate of toleration, L'Hopital, dismissed from office, had been banished to his country-seat of Vignay. All was going amiss, save the promises and protests of the King and the Queen-mother, and these were growing louder and more emphatic every day.

Some of the Huguenots, alarmed by these suspicious occurrences, were escaping from the city, others were giving expression to their fears in prognostications of evil. The Baron de Rosny, father of the celebrated Duke of Sully, said that "if the marriage took place at Paris the wedding farourn would be crimson." [1] In the midst of all this the preparations for the marriage went rapidly on.

The King of Navarre alTived in Paris in deep mourning, "attended by eight hundred gentlemen all likewise in mourning." "But," says Margaret de Valois herself, "the nuptials took place a few days afterwards, with such triumph and magnificence as none others of my quality; the King of Navarre and his troop having changed their mourning for very rich and fine clothes, and I being dressed royally, with crown and corset of tufted ermine, all blazing with crown jewels, and the grand blue mantle with a train four ells long, borne by three princesses, the people choking one another down below to see us pass." [2] The marriage was celebrated on the 18th of August by the Cardinal of Bourbon, in a pavilion erected in front of the principal entrance of Notre Dame. When asked if she accepted Henry of Navarre as her husband, Margaret, it is said, remained silent; [3] whereupon the king, putting his hand upon her head, bent it downward, which being interpreted as consent, the ceremony went on. When it was over, the bride and her party entered Notre Dame, and heard mass; meanwhile the bridegroom with Coligny and other friends amused themselves by strolling through the aisles of the cathedral. Gazing up at the flags suspended from the roof, the admiral remarked that one day soon these would be replaced by others more appropriate; he referred, of course, to the Spanish standards to be taken, as he hoped, in the approaching war. The four following days all Paris was occupied with fetes, ballets, and other public rejoicings. It was during these festivities that the final arrangements were made for striking the great meditated blow.

Before this, however, one of the chief actors passed away, and saw not the work completed which he had so largely helped to bring to pass. On the 5th of May, 1572, Pope Pius V died. There was scarcely a stormier Pontificate in the history of the Popes than that of the man who descended into the tomb at the very moment when he most wished to live. From the day he ascended the Papal throne till he breathed his last, neither Asia nor Europe had rest. His Pontificate of seven years was spent in raising armaments, organizing expeditions, giving orders for battles, and writing letters to sovereigns inciting them to slay to the last man those whom he was pleased to account the enemies of God and of himself. Now it was against the Turk that he hurled his armed legionaries, and now it was against the Lutherans of Germany, the Huguenots of France, and the Calvinists of England and Scotland that he thundered in his character of Vicar of God. Well was it for Christendom that so much of the military furor of Pius was discharged in all eastern direction. The Turk became the conducting-rod that drew off the lightning of the Vatican and helped to shield Europe. Pius' exit from the world was a dreadful one, and bore a striking resemblance to the Moody malady of which the King of France expired so soon there-after. [4] The Pontiff, however, bore up wonderfully under his disease, which was as painful as it was loathsome.

The death of the Pope opened a free path to the marriage which we have just seen take place. The dispensation from Rome, which Pius V had refused, his successor Gregory XIII conceded. Four days after the ceremony—Friday, the 22nd of August—as Coligny was returning on foot from the Louvre, occupied in reading a letter, he was fired at from the window of a house in the Rue des Fosses, St. Germain. One of the three balls with which the assassin had loaded his piece, to make sure of his victim, smashed the two fore-fingers of his right hand, while another lodged in his left arm. The admiral, raising his wounded hand, pointed to the house whence the shot had come. It belonged to an old canon, who had been tutor to Henry, Duke of Guise; but before it could be entered, the assassin had escaped on a horse from the king's stables. which was waiting for him by the cloisters of the Church of L'Auxerrois. [5] It was Maurevel who had fired the shot, the same who was known as the king's assassin. He had posted himself in one of the lower rooms of the house, and covering the iron bars of the window with an old cloak, he waited three days for his victim.

The king was playing tennis with the Duke of Guise and Coligny, the admiral's son-in-law, when told of what had happened; Charles threw down his stick, and exclaiming with all oath, "Am I never to have peace?" rushed to his apartment.

Guise slunk away, and Co1igny went straight to the admiral's house in the adjacent Rue de Betizy.

Meanwhile Ambrose Pare had amputated the two broken fingers of Coligny. Turning to Merlin, his chaplain, who stood by his bedside, the admiral said, "Pray that God may grant me the gift of patience." Seeing Merlin and other friends in tears, he said, "Why do you weep for me, my friends? I reckon myself happy to have received these wounds in the cause of God." Toward midday Marshals de Damville and de Cosse came to see him. To them he protested, "Death affrights me not; but I should like very much to see the king before I die." Damville went to inform his majesty.

About two of the afternoon the King, the Queen-mother, the Duke of Anjou, and a number of the gentlemen of the court entered the apartments of the wounded man. "My dear father," exclaimed Charles, "the hurt is yours, the grief and the outrage mine; but," added he, with his usual oaths, "I will take such vengeance that it shall never be effaced from the memory of man." Coligny drew the king towards him, and commenced an earnest conversation with him, in a low voice, urging the policy he had so often recommended to Charles, that namely of assisting the Prince of Orange, and so lowering Spain and elevating France in the comicils of Europe.

Catherine de Medici, who did not hear what the admiral was saying to the king, abruptly terminated the interview on pretense that to prolong it would be to exhaust the strength and endanger the life of Coligny. The King and Queen-mother now returned to the Louvre at so rapid a pace that they were unobservant of the salutations of the populace, and even omitted the usual devotions to the Virgin at the corners of the streets. On arriving at the palace a secret consultation was held, after which the king was busied in giving orders, and making up dispatches, with which couriers were sent off to the provinces. When Charles and his suite had left Coligny's hotel, the admiral's friends expressed their surprise and pleasure at the king's affability, and the desire he showed to bring the criminal to justice. "But all these fine appearances," says Brantome, "afterwards turned to ill, which amazed every one very much how their majesties could perform so counterfeit a part, unless they had previously resolved on this massacre." [6]

They began with the admiral, says Davila, "from the apprehension they had of his fierceness, wisdom, and power, fearing that were he alive he would concert some means for the safety of himself and his confederates." [7] But as the Popish historian goes on to explain, there was a deeper design in selecting Coligny as the first victim. The Huguenots, they reasoned, would impute the murder of the admiral to the Duke of Guise and his faction, and so would avenge it upon the Guises. This attack upon the Guises would, in its turn, excite the fury of the Roman Catholic mob against the Huguenots. The populace would rise en masse, and slaughter the Protestants; and in this saturnalia of blood the enemies of Charles and Catherine would be got rid of, and yet the hand of the court would not be seen in the affair. The notorious Retz, the Florentine tuter of Charles, is credited with the authorship of this diabolically ingenious plan. But the matter had not gone as it was calculated it would. Coligny lived, and so the general melee of assassination did not come off. The train had been fired, but the mine did not explode.

The king had already given orders to close all the gates of Paris, save two, which were left open to admit provisions. The pretense was to cut off the escape of Maurevel. If this order could not arrest the flight of the assassin, who was already far away on his fleet steed, it effectually prevented the departure of the Huguenots. Troops were now introduced into the city. The admiral had earnestly asked leave to retire to Chatilion, in the quiet of which place he hoped sooner to recover from his wounds; but the king would not hear of his leaving Paris. He feared the irritation of the wounds that might arise from the journey; he would take care that neither Coligny nor his friends should suffer molestation from the populace. Accordingly, bidding the Protestants lodge all together in Coligny's quarter, [8] he appointed a regiment of the Duke of Anjou to guard that part of Paris. [9] Thus closely was the net drawn round the Huguenots. These soldiers were afterwards the most zealous and cruel of their murderers. [10]

Friday night and Saturday were spent in consultations on both sides. To a few of the Protestants the designs of the court were now transparent, and they advised an instant and forcible departure from Paris, carrying with them their wounded chief. Their advice was over-ruled mainly through the over-confidence of Coligny in the king's honor, and only a few of the Huguenots left the city. The deliberations in the Louvre were more anxious still. The blow, it was considered, should be struck immediately, else the Huguenots would escape, or they would betake them to arms. But as the hour drew near the king appears to have wavered. Nature or conscience momentarily awoke. Now that he stood on the precincts of the colossal crime, he seems to have felt a shudder at the thought of going on; as well he might, fierce, cruel, vindictive though he was. To wade through a sea of blood so deep as that which was about to flow, might well appall even one who had been trained, as Charles had been, to look on blood. It is possible even that the nobleness of Coligny had not been without its effect upon him. The Queen-mother, who had doubtless foreseen this moment of irresolution

on the part of her son when the crisis should arrive, was prepared for it. She instantly combated the indecision of Charles with the arguments most fitted to influence his weak mind. She told him that it was now too late to retreat; that the attempt on the admiral's life had aroused the Protestants, that the plans of the court were known to them, and that already messengers from the Huguenots were on their way to Switzerland and Germany, for assistance, and that to hesitate was to be lost. If he had a care for his throne and house he must act; and with a well-reigned dread of the calamities she had so vividly depicted, she is said to have craved leave for herself and her son, the Duke of Anjou, to retire to some place of safety before the storm should burst. This was enough. The idea of being left alone in the midst of all these dangers, without his mother's strong arm to lean upon, was frightful to Charles. He forgot the greatness of the crime in the imminency of his own danger. His vulpine and cowardly nature, incapable of a brave course, was yet capable of a sudden and deadly spring. "He was seized with an eager desire," says Maimbourg, "to execute the resolution already taken in the secret council to massacre all the Huguenots." [11] "Then let Coligny be killed," said Charles, with an oath, "and let not one Huguenot in all France be left to reproach me with the deed."

One other point yet occasioned keen debates in the council. Shall the King of Navarre and the Prince of Conde be slain with the rest of the Huguenots? "The Duke of Guise," says Davila, "was urgent for their death; but the King and the Queen-mother had a horror at embruing their hands in royal blood;" [12] but it would seem that the resolution of the council was for putting them to death. The Archbishop of Paris, Perefixe, and Brantome inform us that "they were down on the red list" on the ground of its being neccessary "to dig up the roots," but were afterwards saved, "as by miracle." Queen Margaret, the newly-married wife of Navarre, throwing herself on her knees before the king and earnestly begging the life of her husband, "the King granted it to her with great difficulty, although she was his good sister." [13] Meanwhile, to keep up the delusion to the last, the king rode out on horseback in the afternoon, and the queen had her court circle as usual.

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