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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 2 — Henry II and his persecutions

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Bigotry of Henry II—Persecution—The Tailor and Diana of Poictiers— The Tailor Burned—The King Witnesses his Execution—Horror of the King—Martyrdoms—Progress of the Truth—Bishop of Macon—The Gag — First Protestator Congregation—Attempt to Introduce the Inquisition—National Disasters—Princes and Nobles become Protestants —A Mercuriale—Arrest of Du Bourg—A Tournament—The King Killed —Strange Rumors.

Henry II walked in the ways of his father, Francis, who first made France to sin by beginning a policy of persecution. To the force of paternal example was added, in the case of Henry, the influence of the maxims continually poured into his ear by Montmorency, Guise, and Diana of Poictiers. These counselors inspired him with a terror of Protestantism as pre-eminently the enemy of monarchs and the source of all disorders in States; and they assured him that should the Huguenots prevail they would trample his throne into the dust, and lay France at the feet of atheists and revolutionista The first and most sacred of duties, they said, was to uphold the old religion. To cut off its enemies was the most acceptable atonement a prince could make to Heaven. With such schooling, is it any wonder that the deplorable work of burning heretics, begun by Francis, went on under Henry; and that the more the king multiplied his profilgacies, the greater his zeal in kindling the fires by which he thought he was making atonement for them? [1]

The historians of the time record a sad story, which unhappily is not a solitary instance of the bigotry of the age, and the vengeance that was beginning to animate France against all who favored Protestantism. It affectingly displays the heartless frivolity and wanton cruelty two qualities never far apart—which characterized the French court. The coronation of the queen, Catherine de Medici, was approaching, and Henry, who did his part so ill as a husband in other respects, resolved to acquit himself with credit in this. He wished to make the coronation fetes of more than ordinary splendor; and in order to this he resolved to introduce what would form a new feature in these rejoicings, and give variety and piquancy to them, namely, the burning piles of four Huguenots. Four victims were selected, and one of these was a poor tailor, who, besides having eaten flesh on a day on which its use was forbidden, had given other proofs of being not strictly orthodox. He was to form, of course, one of the coronation torches; but to burn him was not enough. It occurred to the Cardinal of Lorraine that a little amusement might be extracted from the man. The cardinal pictured to himself the confusion that would overwhelm the poor tailor, were he to be interrogated before the king, and how mightily the court would be diverted by the incoherence of his replies. He was summoned before Henry, but the matter turned out not altogether as the Churchman had reckoned it would. The promise was fulfilled to tike confessor, "When ye shall be brought before kings and rulers for my sake and the Gospel's, it shall be given you in that hour what ye shall speak." So far from being abashed, the tailor maintained perfect composure in the royal presence, and replied so pertinently to all interrogatories and objections put by the Bishop of Macon, that it was the king and the courtiers who were disconcerted. Diana of Poictiers—whose wit was still fresh, if her beauty had faded—stepped boldly forward, in the hope of rescuing the courtiers from their embarrassment; but, as old Crespin says, "the tador cut her cloth otherwise than she expected; for he, not being able to endure such unmeasured arrogance in her whom he knew to be the cause of these cruel persecutions, said to her, 'Be satisfied, Madam, with having infected France, without mingling your venom and filth in a matter altogether holy and sacred, as is the religion and truth of our Lord Jesus Christ.'" [2] The king took the words as an affront, and ordered the man to be reserved for the stake. When the day of execution came (14th July, 1549), the king bade a window overlooking the pile be prepared, that thence he might see the man, who had had the audacity to insult his favorite, slowly consuming in the fires. Both parties had now taken their places, the tailor burning at the stake, the king reposing luxuriously at the window, and Diana of Poictiers seated in haughty triumph by his side. The martyr looked up to the window where the king was seated, and fixed his eye on Henry. From the midst of the flames that eye looked forth with calm steady gaze upon the king. The eye of the monarch quailed before that of the burning mam. He turned away to avoid it, but again his glance wandered back to the stake. The flames were still blazing around the martyr; has limbs were dropping off, his face was growing fearfully livid, but his eye, unchanged, was still looking at the king; and the king felt as if, with Medusa-power, it was changing him into stone.

The execution was at an end: not so the terror of the king. The tragedy of the day was reacted in the dreams of the night. The terrible apparition rose before Henry in his sleep. There again was the blazing pile, there was the martyr burning in the fire, and there was the eye looking forth upon him from the midst of the flames. For several successive nights was the king scared by this terrible vision. He resolved, nay, he even took an oath, that never again would he be witness to the burning of a heretic. It had been still better had he given orders that never again should these horrible executions be renewed [3] .

So far, however, was the persecution from being relaxed, that its rigor was greatly increased. Piles were erected at Orleans, at Poictiers, at Bordeaux, at Nantes — in short, in all

the chief cities of the kingdom. These cruel proceedings, however, so far from arresting the progress of the Reformed opinions, only served to increase the number of their professors. Men of rank in the State, and of dignity in the Church, now began, despite the dis-favor in which all of the "religion" were held at court, to enroll themselves in the Protestant army. But the Gospel in France was destined to owe more to men of humble faith than to the possessors of rank, however lofty. We have mentioned Chatelain, Bishop of Macon, who disputed with the poor tador before Henry II. As Beza remarks, one thing only did he lack, even grace, to make him one of the most brilliant characters and most illustrious professors of the Gospel in France. Lowly born, Chatelain had raised himself by his great talents and beautiful character. He sat daily at the table of Francis I, among the scholars and wise men whom the king loved to hear discourse. To the accomplishments of foreign travel he added the charms of an elegant latinity. He favored the new opinions, and undertook the defense of Robert Stephens, the king's printer, when the Sorbonne attacked him for his version of the Bible. [4] These acquirements and gifts procured his being made Bishop of Macon. But the miter would seem to have cooled his zeal for the Reformation, and in the reign of Henry II we find him persecuting the faith he had once defended. Soon after his encounter with the tailor he was promoted to the See of Orleans, and he set out to take possession of his new bishopric. Arriving at a monastery in the neighborhood of Orleans, he halted there, intending to make his entry into the city on the morrow. The Fathers persuaded him to preach; and, as Beza remarks, to see a bishop in a pulpit was so great a wonder in those days, that the sight attracted an immense crowd. As the bishop was thundering against heretics, he was struck with a sudden and violent illness, and had to be carried out of the pulpit. He died the following night. [5] At the very gates of his episcopal city, on the very steps of his episcopal throne, he encountered sudden arrest, and gave up the ghost.

Five days thereafter (9th July, 1550), Paris was lighted up with numerous piles. Of these martyrs, who laid gloriously with their blood the foundations of the French Protestant Church, we must not omit the names of Leonard Galimar, of Vendome, and Florent Venot, of Sedan. The latter endured incredible torments, for no less a period than four years, in the successive prisons into which he was thrown. His sufferings culminated when he was brought to Paris. He was there kept for six weeks in a hole where he could neither lie, nor stand upright, nor move about, and the odour of which was beyond measure foul and poisonous, being filled with all manner of abominable filth. His keepers said that they had never known any one inhabit that dreadful place for more than fifteen days, without losing either life or reason. But Venot surmounted all these sufferings with a most admirable courage. Being burned alive in the Place Maubert, he ceased not at the stake to sing and magnify the Savior, till his tongue was cut out, and even then he continued to testify his joy by signs. [6]

In the following year (1551) a quarrel broke out between Henry and Pope Julius III, the cause being those fruitful sources of strife, the Duchies of Parma and Placentia, The king showed his displeasure by forbidding his subjects to send money to Rome, and by protesting against the Council of Trent, the Fathers having returned for the second time to that town. But this contention between the king and the Pope only tended to quicken the flames of persecution. Henry wished to make it clear to his subjects that it was against the Pope in his temporal and not in his spiritual character that he had girded on the sword; that if he was warring against the Prince of the Roman States, his zeal had not cooled for the Holy See; and that if Julius the monarch was wicked, and might be resisted, Julius the Pope was none the less entitled to the obedience of all Christians. [7]

To teach the Protestants, as Maimbourg observes, that they must not take advantage of these quarrels to vent their heresies, there was published at this time (27th June) the famous Edict of Chateaubriand, so called from the place where it was given. By this law, all former severities were re-enacted; the cognizance of the crime of heresy was given to the secular power; informers were rewarded with the fourth part of the forfeited goods; the possessions and estates of all those who had fled to Geneva were confiscated to the king; and no one was to hold any office under the crown, or teach any science, who could not produce a certificate of being a good Romanist. [8] This policy has at all times been pursued by the monarchs of France when they quarrelled with the Pope. It behooved them, they felt, all the more that they had incurred suspicion, to vindicate the purity of their orthodoxy, and their claim to the proud title of "the Eldest Son of the Church."

Maurice, Elector of Saxony, was at this time prosecuting his victorious campaign against Charles V. The relations which the King of France had contracted with the Protestant princes, and which enabled him to make an expedition into Lorraine, and to annex Metz and other cities to his crown, moderated for a short while the rigors of persecution. But the Peace of Passau (1552), which ratified the liberties of the Protestants of Germany, rekindled the fires in France. "Henry having no more measures to observe with the Protestant princes," says Laval, "nothing was

to be seen in his kingdom but fires kindled throughout all the provinces against the poor Reformed." [9] Vast numbers were executed in this and the following year. It was now that the gag was brought into use for the first time. It had been invented on purpose to prevent the martyrs addressing the people at the stake, or singing psalms to solace themselves when on their way to the pile. "The first who suffered it," says Laval, "was Nicholas Noil, a book-hawker, who was executed at Paris in the most barbarous manner." [10]

The scene of martyrdom was in those days at times the scene of conversion. Of this, the following incident is a proof. Simon Laloe, of Soisson, was offering up his life at Dijon. As he stood at the stake, and while the faggots were being kindled, he delivered an earnest prayer for the conversion of his persecutors. The executioner, Jacques Sylvester, was so affected that his tears never ceased to flow all the time he was doing his office. He had heard no one before speak of God, or of the Gospel, but he could not rest till he was instructed in the Scriptures. Having received the truth, he retired to Geneva, where he died a member of the Reformed Church. [11] The same stake that gave death to the one, gave life to the other.

The insatiable avarice of Diana of Poictiers, to whom the king had gifted the forfeited estates of the Reformed, not less than zeal for Romanism, occasioned every day new executions. The truth continued notwithstanding to spread. "When the plague," says Maimbourg, "attacks a great city, it matters little what effort is made to arrest it. It enters every door; it traverses every street; it invades every quarter, and pursues its course till the whole community have been enveloped in its ravages: so did this dangerous sect spread through France. Every day it made new progress, despite the edicts with which it was assailed, and the dreadful executions to wlfich so many of its members were consigned." [12] It was in the midst of this persecution that the first congregations of the Reformed Church in France were settled with pastors, and began to be governed by a regular discipline.

The first Church to be thus constituted was in Paris; "where," says Laval, "the fires never went out." At that time the disciples of the Gospel were wont to meet in the house of M. de la Ferriere, a wealthy gentleman of Maine, who had come to reside in the capital. M. de la Ferriere had a child whom he wished to have baptized, and as he could not present him to the priests for that purpose, nor undertake a journey to Geneva, he urged the Christians, who were wont to assemble in his house, to elect one of themselves to the office of pastor, with power to administer the Sacraments. They were at last prevailed upon, and, after prayer and fasting, their choice fell on Jean Maqon de la Riviere. IIe was the son of the king's attorney at Angers, a rich man, but a bitter enemy of Protestantism. He was so offended at his son for embracing the Reformed faith, that he would have given him up to the judges, had he not fled to Paris. The sacrifice which M. de la Riviere had made to preserve the purity of his conscience, fixed the eyes of the little flock upon him. In him we behold the first pastor of the Reformed Church of France, [13] elected forty years after Lefevre had first opened the door for the entrance of the Protestant doctrines. "They chose likewise," says Laval, speaking of this little flock, "some amongst them to be elders and deacons, and made such other regulations for the government of their Church as the times would allow. Such were the first beginnings of the Church of Paris in the month of September, 1555, which increased daily during the war of Henry II with Charles V." [14]

If France blazed with funeral piles, it was day by day more widely illuminated with the splendor of truth. This gave infinite vexation and torment to the friends of Rome, who wearied themselves to devise new methods for arresting the progress of the Gospel. Loud accusations and reproaches passed between the courts of jurisdiction for not showing greater zeal in executing the edicts against heresy. The cognizance of that crime was committed sometimes to the royal and sometimes to the ecclesiastical judges, and sometimes parted between them. The mutual recriminations still continued. A crime above all crimes, it was said, was leniently treated by those whose duty it was to pursue it without mercy.

At last, in the hope of attaining the requisite rigor, the Cardinal of Lorraine stripped the Parliament and the civil judges of the right of hearing such causes, and transferred it to the bishops, leaving nothing to the others but the mere execution of the sentence against the condemned. This arrangement the cardinal thought to perfect by establishing the Inquisition in France on the Spanish model. In this, however, he did not succeed, the Parliament having reftused its consent thereto. [15]

The calamities that befell the kingdom were a cover to the evangelization. Henry II had agreed on a truce with the Emperor Charles for five years. It did not, however, suit the Pope that the truce should be kept. Paul IV sent his legate to France to dispense Henry from his oath, and induce him to violate the peace. The flames of war were rekindled, but the French arms were disgraced. The battle of St. Quentin was a fatal blow to France, and the Duke of Guise was recalled from Italy to retrieve it. He recovered in the Low Countries the reputation which he had lost in Sicily; [16] but even this tended in the issue to the weakening of France. The

duke's influence at court was now predominant, and the intrigues which his great rival, Montmorency, set on foot to supplant him, led to the Treaty of Cateau Cambresis (1559), by which France lost 198 strongholds, [17] besides the deepening of the jealousies and rivalships between the House of Lorraine and that of the Constable, which so nearly proved the ruin of France. One main inducement with Henry to conclude this treaty with Philip of Spain, was that it left him free to prosecute the design formed by the Cardinal of Lorraine and the Bishop of Arras for the utter extirpation of the Reformed.

In fact, the treaty contained a secret clause binding both monarchs to combine their power for the utter extirpation of heresy in their dominions. But despite the growing rigor of the persecution, the shameful slanders which were propagated against the Reformed, and the hideous deaths in-fiicted on persons of all ages and both sexes, the numbers of the Protestants and their courage daily increased. It was now seen that scarcely was there a class of French society which did not furnish converts to the Gospel. Mezeray says that there was no town, no province, no trade in the kingdom wherein the new opinions had not taken root. The lawyers, the learned, nay, the ecclesiastics, against their own interest, embraced them. [18] Some of the greatest nobles of France now rallied round the Protestant standard. Among these was Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Vendome, and first prince of the blood, and Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Conde, his brother. With these were joined two nephews of the Constable Montmorency, the Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, and his brother, Francois de Chatilion, better known as the Sire d'Andelot. A little longer and all France would be Lutheran. The king's alarm was great: the alarm of all about him was not less so, and all united in urging upon him the adoption of yet more summary measures against an execrable belief, which, if not rooted out, would most surely overthrow his throne, root out his house, and bring his kingdom to ruin. Might not the displeasure of Heaven, evoked by that impious sect, be read in the many dark calamities that were gathering round France.

It was resolved that a "Mercuriale," as it is called in France, should be held, and that the king, without giving previous notice of his coming, should present himself in the assembly. He would thus see and hear for himself, and judge if there were not, even among his senators, men who favored this pestilent heresy. It had been a custom from the times of Charles VIII (1493), when corruption crept into the administration, and the State was in danger of receiving damage, that representatives of all the principal courts of the realm should meet, in order to inquire into the evil, and admonish one another to greater vigilance. Francis I had ordered that these "Censures" should take place once every three months, and from the day on which they were held—namely, Wednesday (Dies Mercurii)— they were named "Mercuriales." [19]

On the 10th of June, 1559, the court met in the house of the Austin Friars, the Parliament Hall not being available, owing to the preparations for the wedding of the king's daughter and sister. The king suddenly appeared in the assembly, attended by the princes of the blood, the Constable, and the Guises. Having taken his seat on the throne, he delivered a discourse on religion; he enlarged on his own labors for the peace of Christendom, which he was about to seal by giving in marriage his daughter Elizabeth to Philip of Spain, and his only sister Margaret to Philibert Emmanuel, Duke of Savoy; and he concluded by announcing his resolution to devote himself henceforward to the healing of the wounds of the Christian world. He then ordered the senators to go on with their votes.

Though all felt that the king was present to overawe them in the expression of their sentiments, many of the senators declared themselves with that ancient liberty which became their rank and office. They pointed to the fact that a Council was at that moment convened at Trent to pronounce on the faith, and that it was unjust to burn men for heresy before the Council had decreed what was heresy. Arnold du Ferrier freely admitted that the troubles of France sprang out of its religious differences, but then they ought to inquire who was the real author of these differences, lest, while pursuing the sectaries, they should expose themselves to the rebuke, "Thou art the man that troubles Israel."

Annas du Bourg, who next rose, came yet closer to the point. There were, he said, many great crimes and wicked actions, such as oaths, adulteries, and perjuries, condemned by the laws, and deserving of the severest punishment, which went without correction, while new punishments were every day invented for men who as yet had been found guilty of no crime. Should those be held guilty of high treason who mentioned the name of the prince only to pray for him? and should the rack and the stake be reserved, not for those who raised tumults in the cities, and seditions in the provinces, but for those who were the brightest patterns of obedience to the laws, and the firmest defenders of order! It was a very grave matter, he added, to condemn to the flames men who died calling on the name of the Lord Jesus. Other speakers followed in the same strain. Not so the majority, however. They recalled the examples of old days, when the Albigensian heretics had been slaughtered in thousands by Innocent III; and when the Waldenses, in later times, had been choked with smoke in their owal dwellings, and the dens of the mountains; and they urged the instant adoption of these time-honored usages. When the opinions of the senators had been marked, the king took possession of the

register in which the votes were recorded, then rising up, he sharply chid those members who had avowed a preference for a moderate policy; and, to show that under a despot no one could honestly differ from the royal opinion and be held guiltless, he ordered the Constable to arrest Du Bourg. The captain of the king's guard instantly seized the obnoxious senator, and carried him to the Bastile. Other members of Parliament were arrested next day at their own houses. [20]

The king's resohtion was fully taken to execute all the senators who had opposed him, and to exterminate Lutheranism everywhere throughout France. He, would begin with Du Bourg, who, shut up in an iron cage in the Bastile, waited his doom. But before the day of Du Bourg's execution arrived, Henry himself had gone to his account. We have already mentioned the delight the king took in jousts and tournaments. He was giving his eldest daughter in marriage to the mightiest prince of his time — Philip II of Spain—and so great an occasion he must needs celebrate with fetes of corresponding magnificence. Fourteen days have elapsed since his memorable visit to his Parliament, and now Henry presents himself in a very different assemblage. It is the last day of June, 1559, and the rank and beauty of Paris are gathered in the Faubourg St. Antoine, to see the king tilting with selected champions in the lists. The king bore himself "like a sturdy and skillful cavalier" in the mimic war. The last passage-at-arms was over, the plaudits of the brilliant throng had saluted the royal victor, and every one thought, that the spectacle was at an end. But no; it wan to close with a catastrophe of which no one present. so much as dreamed. A sudden resolve seizing the king yet farther to display his prowess before the admiring multitude, he bade the Count Montgomery, the captain of his guard, make ready and run a tilt with him. Montgomery excused himself, but the king insisted. Mounting his horse and placing his lance in rest, Montgomery stood facing the king. The trumpet sounded. The two warriors, urging their steeds to a gallop, rushed at each other:

Montgomery's lance struck the king with such force that the staff was shivered. The blow made Henry's visor fly open, and a splinter from the broken beam entered his left eye and drove into his brain. The king fell from his horse to the ground. A thrill of horror ran through the spectators. Was the king slain? No; but he was mortally wounded, and the death-blow had been dealt by the same hand—that of the captain of his guard which he had employed to arrest the martyr Du Bourg. He was carried to the Hotel de Tournelles, where he died on the 10th of July, in the forty-first year of his age. [21]

Many strange things were talked of at the time; and have been related by contemporary historians, in connection with the death of Henry II. His queen, Catherine de Medici, had a dream the night before, in which she saw him tilting in the tournament, and so hard put to, that in the morning when she awoke she earnestly begged him that day not to stir abroad; but, says Beza, he no more heeded the warning than Julius Caesar did that of his wife, who implored him on the morning of the day on which he was slain not to go to the Senate-house. Nor did it escape observation that the same palace which had been decked out with so much magmiflcence for the two marriages was that in which the king breathed his last, and so "the hall of triumph was changed into the chamber of mourning." And, finally, it was thought not a little remarkable that when the bed was prepared on which Henry was to lie in state, and the royal corpse laid upon it, the attendants, not thinking of the matter at all, covered it with a rich piece of tapestry on which was represented the conversion of St. Paul, with the words in large letters, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" This was remarked upon by so many who saw it, that the officer who had charge of the body ordered the coverlet to be taken away, and replaced with another piece. [22] The incident recalled the last words of Julian, who fell like Henry, warring against Christ: "Thou hast overcome, 0 Galilean!"

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