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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 5 — The guises, and the insurrection of Amboise

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THE GUISES, AND THE INSURRECTION OF AMBOISE.

Francis II—Pupilage of the King—The Guises Masters of France—Their Tool, the Mob—Chambres Ardentes —Wrecking —Odious Slanders — Confiscation of Huguenot Estates—Retribution— Conspiracy of Amboise—Its Failure—Executions — Tragedies on the Loire — Carrier of Nantes Renews these Tragedies in 1790—Progress of Protestantism— Condemnation of Conde—Preparations for his Execution —Abjuration Test—Death of Francis II—His Funeral.

Henry II smitten by a sudden blow, has disappeared from the scene. Francis II is on the throne of France. The Protestants are fondly cherishing the hope that with a change of men will come a change of measures, and that they have seen the dawn of better times. "Alas! under the reign of this monarch," says Beza, "the rage of Satan broke out beyond all former bounds." [1] No sooner had Henry breathed his last, than the Queen-mother and the two Guises carried the young king to the Louvre, and, installing him there, admitted only their own partisans to his presence. Now it was that the star of the Guises rose proudly into the ascendant. The duke assumed the command of the army; the cardinal, head of the Church, took also upon him the charge of the finances—thus the two brothers parted between them the government of France. Francis wore the crown; a sort of general superintendence was allowed to the Queen-mother; but it was the Guise and not the Valois that governed the country. [2]

One of the last acts of Henry II had been to arrest Counselor Du Bourg and issue a commission for his trial. One of the first acts of the son was to renew that commission. Du Bourg, shut up in his iron cage, and fed on bread and water, was nevertheless continually singing psalms, which he sometimes accompanied on the lute. His trial ended in his condemnation as a heretic, and he was first strangled and then burned in the Place de Greve. His high rank, his many accomplishments, and his great character for uprightness fixed the eyes of all upon his stake, and made his death serviceable in no ordinary degree to the cause of Protestantism. [3]

The power of the Guises, now in full blossom, was wholly put forth in the extirpation of heresy. Their zeal in this good work was not altogether without alloy. "Those of the religion," as the Protestants were termed, were not less the enemies of the House of Guise than of the Pope, and to cut them off was to consolidate their own power at the same time that they strengthened the foundations of the Papacy. To reclaim by argument men who had fallen into deadly error was not consonant with the habits of the Guises, scarcely with the habits of the age. The sword and the fanatical mob were their quickest and readiest weapons, and the only ones in which they had any confidence. They were the masters of the king's person; they carried him about from castle to castle; they took care to gratify his tastes; and they relieved him of all the cares of government, for which his sickly body, indolent disposition, and weak intellect so thoroughly indisposed him.

While the monarch lived in this inglorious pupilage, the Guises appended his seal to whatever edict it pleased them to indite. In the Treaty of Cateau Cambresis, our readers will remember, there was a special clause binding the late king to exert himself to the utmost of his power to extirpate heresy. Under pretense of executing that treaty, the Guises fulminated several new and severe edicts against the Reformed. Their meetings were forbidden on pain of death, without any other form of judgment, and informers were promised half the forfeitures. Other rewards were added to qnicken their diligence. The commissaries of the various wards of Paris were commanded to pay instant attention to the informations lodged before them by the spies, who were continually on the search, and the Lieutenant-Criminal was empowered by letters patent to judge without appeal, and execute without delay, those brought before him. And the vicars and cures were set to work to thunder excommunication and anathema in their parishes against all who, knowing who among their neighbors were Lutherans, should yet refrain from denouncing them to the authorities. [4]

The Protestant Church in Paris in this extremity addressed the Queen-mother, Catherine de Medici. A former interview had inspired the members of that Church with the hope that she was disposed to pursue a moderate policy. They had not yet learned with what an air of sincerity, and even graciousness, the niece of Clement VII could cover her designs — how bland she could look while cherishing the most deadly purpose. They implored Catherine to interpose and stay the rigor of the government, and, with a just and sagacious foresight, which the centuries since have amply justified, they warned her that "if a stop was not speedily put to those cruel proceedings, there was reason to fear lest people, provoked by such violences, should fall into despair, and break forth into civil commotions, which of course would prove the ruin of the kingdom: that these evils would not come frets those who lived under their direction, from whom she might expect a perfect submission and obedience; but that the far greater number were of those who, knowing only the abuses of Popery, and having not as yet submitted to any ecclesiastical discipline, could not or would not bear persecution: that they had thought proper to give this warning to her Majesty, that if any mischief should happen it might not be put to their account." [5] It suited the Queen-mother to interpret the warning of the Protestants, among whom were Coligny and other nobles, as a threat; and the persecution, instead of abating, grew hotter every day. [6]

We have already related the failure of the priests and the Sorbonne to establish the Inquisition in Paris. Paul IV, whose fanaticism had grown in his

old age into frenzy, had forwarded a bull for that purpose, but the Parliament put it quietly aside. The project was renewed by the Guises, and if the identical forms of the Spanish tribunal were not copied in the courts which they succeeded in erecting, a procedure was adopted which gained their end quite as effectually. These courts were styled Chambres Ardentes, nor did their name belie their terrible office, which was to dispatch to the flames all who appeared before them accused of the crime of heresy. They were presided over by three judges or inquisitors, and, like the Spanish Court, they had a body of spies or familiars in their employment, who were continually on the hunt for victims. The sergeants of the Chatelet, the commissaries of the various quarters of Paris, the officers of the watch, the city guard, and the vergers and beadles of the several ecclesiastical jurisdictions—a vast body of men—were all enjoined to aid the spies of the Chambres Ardentes, by day or night. [7] These ruffians made domiciliary visits, pried into all secrets, and especially put their ingenuity on the rack to discover the Conventicle. When they succeeded in surprising a religious meeting, they fell on its members with terrible violence, maltreating and sometimes murdering them, and those unable to escape they dragged to prison. These miscreants were by no means discriminating in their seizures; they must approve their diligence to their masters by furnishing their daily tale of victims. Besides, they had grudges to feed, and enmities to avenge, and their net was thrown at times over some who had but small acquaintance with the Gospel. A certain Mou-chares, or Mouchy, became the head of a band who made it their business to apprehend men in the act of eating flesh on Friday, or violating some other equally important command of the Church. This man has transmitted his name and office to our day in the term mouchard, a spy of the police. The surveillance of Mouchares' band was specially exercised over the Faubourg St. Germain, called, from the number of the Reformed that lived in it, "the Little Geneva." A hostelry in this quarter, at which the Protestants from Geneva and Germany commonly put up, was assailed one Friday by Mouchares' men. They found the guests to the number of sixteen at table. The Protestants drew their swords, and a scuffle ensued. Mouchares' crew was driven off, but returning reinforced, they sacked the house, dragged the landlord and his family to prison, and in order to render them odious to the mob, they carried before them a larded capon and a piece of raw meat. [8]

The footsteps of these wretches might be traced in the wreckings of furniture, in the pillage and ruins which they left behind them, fit those quarters of Paris which were so unfortunate as to be visited by them. "Nothing was to be seen in the streets," says Beza, describing the violences of those days, "but soldiers carrying men and women, and persons of all ages and every rank, to prison. The streets were so encumbered with carts loaded with household furniture, that it was hardly possible to pass. The houses were abandoned, having been pillaged and sacked, so that Paris looked like a city taken by storm. The poor had become rich, and the rich poor. What was more pitiable still was to see the little children, whose parents had been imprisoned, famishing at the doors of their former homes, or wandering through the streets crying piteously for bread, and no man giving it to them, so odious had Protestantism become to the Parisians. Still more to inflame the populace, at the street-corners certain persons in priests' habits barangered the crowd, telling them that those heretics met together to feast upon children's flesh, and to commit all kinds of impurity after they had eaten a pig instead of the Paschal lamb. The Parliament made no attempt to stop these outrages and crimes." [9] Nor were these violences confined to the capital; the same scenes were enacted in many other cities, as Poictiers, Toulouse, Dijon, Bordeaux, Lyons, Aix, and other places of Languedoc. [10]

This terror, which had so suddenly risen up in France, struck many Romanists as well as Protestants with affright. Some Popish voices joined in the cry that was now raised for a moderate Reform; but instead of Reform came new superstitions. Images of the Virgin were set up at the corners of streets, tapers were lighted, and persons stationed near on pretense of singing hymns, but in reality to watch the countenance of the passer-bys. If one looked displeased, or if he refused to uncover to the Virgin, or if he did not drop a coin into the box for defraying the cost of the holy candle that was kept buring before "our Lady," the cry of heretic was raised, and the obnoxious individual was straightway surrounded by the mob, and if not torn to pieces on the spot, was carried off to the prison of the Chatelet. The apprehensions were so numerous that the prisons were filled to overflow, and the trials of the incarcerated had to be hurried through to make room for fresh victims. The cells emptied in the morning were filled before night. "It was one vast system of terror," says Felice, "in which even the shadow of justice was no longer visible." [11]

No arts were neglected by the Guises and the priests to maintain at a white heat the fanaticism of the masses, on which their power to a large extent was based. If any public calamity happened—if a battle was lost, if the crops were destroyed by hail-storms, or if a province or city was ravaged by disease—"Ah!" it was said, "see what judgments these heretics are bringing on France!" Odious calumnies were put in circulation against those of the "religion." To escape the pursuit of the spies by whom

on all sides they were beset, the Reformed sought for retreats yet more secret in which to assemble — the darkest alley in city, the gloomiest recess of forest, the most savage ravine of wilderness. "Ah!" said their enemies, "they seek the darkness to veil their monstrous and unnatural wickedness from the light of heaven and from the eyes of men." It was the story of pagan times over again. The long-buried calumny of the early persecutor was raked up from old histories, and flung at the French Protestant. Even the Cardinal of Lorraine was mean enough to have recourse to these arts. His own unchaste life was no secret, yet he had the effrontery to advance, not insinuations merely, but open charges against ladies of illustrious rank, and of still more illustrious virtue — ladies whose lives were a rebuke of the profligacy with which his lawn was be-spotted and bemired. The cardinal knew how pure was the virtue which he labored to blacken. Not so the populace. They believed these men and women to be the atheists and monsters which they had been painted as being, and they thought that in massacring and exterminating them, they were cleansing France from what was at once a defilement of the earth, and a provocation of Heaven.

Avarice came to the aid of bigotry. Not a few of the Reformed were persons of position and property, and in their case confmcation of goods was added to loss of life. Their persecutors shared their estates among them, deeming them doubtless a lawful prize for their orthodox zeal; and thus the purification of the kingdom, and the enriching of the court and its myrmidons, went on by equal stages. The history of these manors and lands cannot in every case be traced, but it is known that many of them remained in possession of the families which now appropriated them till the great day of reckoning in 1789, and then the wealth that had been got by confiscation and injnstice went as it had come. Indeed, in perusing the era of Francis II we seem to be reading beforehand the history of the times of the Great Revolution. The names of persons and parties changed, the same harrowing tale will suit both periods. The machinery of injustice and oppression, first constructed by the Guises, was a second time set a-working under Danton and Robespierre. Again is seen a Reign of Terror; again are crowds of spies; again are numberless denunciations, with all their terrible accompaniments—prison cells emptied in the morning to be filled before night, tribunals condemning wholesale, the axe incessantly at work, a triumphant tyranny wielding the mob as its tool, confiscations on a vast scale, and a furious political fanaticism madly driving the nation into civil war.

It was evident that a crisis was approaching. The king was a captive in the hands of the Guises. The laws were not administered—wrong and outrage stalked defiantly through the kingdom; and to complain was to draw upon oneself the punishment which ought to have visited the acts of which one complained. None were safe except the more bigoted of the Roman Catholics, and the rabble of the great cities, the pliant tools of the oppressor. Men began to ask one another, "What right have these strangers from Lorraine to keep the king a captive, and to treat France like a conquered country? Let us hurl the usurpers from power, and restore the government to its legitimate channels." This led to what has been called the "Conspiracy of Amboise."

This movement, in its first origin, was entirely political. It was no more formed in the interest of the Reformed religion than of the Popish faith. It was devised in the interests of France, the emancipation of which from a tyrannous usurpation was its sole aim. It was promoted by both Roman Catholics and Protestants, because both were smarting from the oppression of the Guises. The testimony of Davila, which is beyond suspicion, is full to this effect, that the plot was not for the overthrow of the royal house, but for the liberation of the king and the authority of the laws. [12] The judgment of the German and Swiss pastors was asked touching the lawfulness of the enterprise. Calvin gave his voice against it, foreseeing "that the Reformation might lose, even if victorious, by becoming in France a military and political party." [13] Nevertheless, the majority of the pastors approved the project, provided a prince of the blood were willing to take the lead, and that a majority of the estates of the nation gave it their sanction. Admiral de Coligny stood aloof from it. It was resolved to proceed in the attempt. The first question was, Who should be placed at the head of the movement? The King of Navarre was the first prince of the blood; but he was too apathetic and too inconstant to bear the weight of so great an affair. His brother, the Prince of Conde, was believed to have the requisite talents, and he was accordingly chosen as the chief of the enterprise. It was judged advisable, however, that he should meanwhile keep himself out of sight, and permit Godfrey du Barry, Lord of La Renaudie, to be the ostensible leader. [14] Renaudie was a Protestant gentleman of broken fortunes, but brave, energetic, and able.

Entering with prodigious zeal into the affair, Renaudie, besides travelling over France, visited England, [15] and by his activity and organizing skill, raised a little army of 400 horse and a body of foot, and enlisted not fewer than 200 Protestant gentlemen in the business. The confederates met at Nantes, and the 10th of March, 1560, was chosen as the day to begin the execution of their project. On that day they were to march to the Castle of Blois, where the king was then residing, and posting their soldiers in the woods around the castle, an unarmed

deputation was to crave an audience of the king, and present, on being admitted into the presence, two requests, one for liberty of worship, and the other for the dismissal of the Guises. If these demands were rejected, as they anticipated they would be, they would give the signal, their men-at-arms would rush in, they would arrest the Guises, and place the Prince of Conde at the head of the government. The confederates had taken an oath to hold inviolable the person of the king. The secret, though entrusted to thousands, was religiously kept till it was on the very eve of execution. A timorous Protestant, M. d'Avenelles, an attorney in Paris, revealed it to the court just at the last moment. [16]

The Guises, having come to the knowledge of the plot, removed to the stronger Castle of Amboise, carrying the king thither also. This castle stood upon a lofty rock, which was washed by the broad stream of the Loire. The insurgents, though disconcerted by the betrayal of their enterprise, did not abandon it, nevertheless they postponed the day of execution from the 10th to the 16th of March.

Renaudie was to arrive in the neighborhood of Amboise on the eve of the appointed day. Next morning he was to send his troops into the town, in small bodies, so as not to attract notice; he himself was to enter at noon. One party of the soldiers were to seize the gates of the citadel, and arrest the duke and the cardinal; this done, they were to hoist a signal on the top of the tower, and the men-at-arms, hidden in the neighboring woods, would rush in and complete the revolution. [17]

But what of the king while these strange events were in progress? Glimpses of his true condition, which was more that of a captive than a monarch, at times dawned upon him. One day, bursting into tears, he said to his wife's uncles, "What have I done to my people that they hate me so? I would like to hear their complaints and their reasons I hear it said that people are against you only. I wish you could be away from here for a time, that we might see whether it is you or I that they are against." The men to whom he had made this touching appeal gruffly replied, "Do you then wish that the Bourbon should triumph over the Valois? Should we do as you desire, your house would speedily be rooted out." [18]

We return to affairs outside the walls of Amboise. Among those to whom the secret was entrusted was a Captain Lignieres, who repairing to Amboise revealed the whole matter to the Queen-mother. He made known the names of the confederates, the inns at which they were to lodge, the roads by which they were to march on Amboise—in short, the whole plan of the assault. The Guises instantly took their measures for the security of the town. They changed the king's guards, built up the gate of the city-wall, and dispatched troops to occupy the neighboring towns. Renaudie, surrounded as he was advancing by forced marches to Amboise, fell, fighting bravely, while his followers were cut in pieces, or taken prisoners. Another body of troops under Baron de Castelnau was overpowered, and their leader, deeming farther resistance useless, surrendered on a written promise that his own life and that of his soldiers should be spared.

The insurgents were now in the power of the Guises, and their revenge was in proportion to their former terror, and that had been great. The market-place of the town of Amboise was covered with scaffolds. Fast as the axe and the gallows could devour one batch of victims, another batch was brought out to be dispatched in like manner. Crowding the windows of the palace were the Cardinal of Lorraine and the duke, radiant with victory; the ladies of the court, including the Scottish Mary Stuart, in their gayest attire; the young king and his lords, all feasting their eyes on the terrible seenes which were being enacted in front of the palace. The blood of those that fell by the axe overflowed the scaffolds, filled the kennels, and poured in rushing torrents to the Loire. [19] That generous blood, now shed like water, would in after-years have enriched France with chivalry and virtue. Not fewer than 1,200 persons perished at this time. Four dismal weeks these tragedies were continued. At last the executioners grew weary, and bethought them of a more summary way of dispatching their victims. They tied their hands and feet, and flung them into the Loire. The stream went on its way with its ghastly freight, and as it rolled past corn-field and vineyard, village and city, it carried to Tours and Nantes, and other towns, the first horrifying news of the awful tragedies proceeding at Amboise. Castelnau and his companions, despite the promise on which they had surrendered, shared the fate of the other prisoners. One of the gentlemen of his company, before bowing his head to the axe, dipped his hands in the blood of his already butchered comrades, and holding them up to heaven, exclaimed, "Lord, behold the blood of thy children unjustly slain; thou wilt avenge it." [20] That appeal went up to the bar of the great Judge; but the answer stood over for 230 years. With the Revolution of 1789, came Carrier of Nantes, a worthy successor of the Cardinal of Lorraine, and then it was seen that the cry had been heard at the great bar to which it ascended. On the banks of the same river did this man enact, in the name of liberty, the same horrible butcheries which the cardinal had perpetrated in the name of religion. A second time did the Loire roll onward a river of blood, bearing on its bosom a ghastly burden of corpses.

When we look down on

France in 1560, and see her rivers reddening the seas around her coasts, and when again we look down upon her in 1790, and see the same portentous spectacle renewed, we seem to hear the angel of the waters saying, "Thou art righteous, O Lord, who art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus: for they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink, for they are worthy. And I heard another angel out of the altar say, Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments." [21]

The Reformation continued to advance in the face of all this violence. [22] "There were many even among the prelates," Davila tells us, "that inclined to Calvin's doctrine." [23] The same year that witnessed the bloody tragedy we have just recorded, witnessed also the establishment of the public celebration of Protestant worship in France. Up till this time the Reformed had held their assemblies for worship in secret; they met over-night, and in lonely and hidden places; but now the very increase of their numbers forced them into the light of day. When whole cities, and well-nigh entire provinces, had embraced the Reformation, it was no longer possible for the confessors of Protestant truth to bury themselves in dens and forests. Why should the population of a whole town go out of its gates to worship? why not assemble in its own cathedrals, seeing in many places there were not now Papists to occupy them? The very calumnies which their enemies invented and circulated against them compelled them to this course. They would worship in open day, and with open doors, and see who should dare accuse them of seeking occasion for unnatural and abominable crimes. But this courageous course on the part of the Reformed stung the Guises to madness, and their measures became still more violent. They got together bands of ruffians, and sent them into the provinces where the Calvinists abounded, with a commission to slay and burn at their pleasure. The city of Tours was almost entirely Protestant. So, too, were Valence and Romans. The latter towns were surprised, the principal inhabitants hanged, and the Protestant pastors beheaded with a label on their breasts, "These are the chiefs of the rebels." [24] These barbarities, as might have been expected, provoked reprisals. Some of the less discreet of the Protestants made incursions, at the head of armed bands, into Provence and Dauphine. Entering the cathedrals, and turning the images and priests to the door, they celebrated Protestant worship in them, sword in hand; and when they took their departure, they carried with them the gold and silver utensils which had been used in the Romish service.

Such was now the unhappy condition of France. The laws were no longer administered. The land, scoured by armed bands, was full of violence and terror, of rapine and blood. The anarchy was complete; the cup of the ruler's oppression, and the people's suffering, was full and running over.

The Guises, intent on profiting to the utmost from the suppression of the "Conspiracy of Amboise," pushed hard to crush their rivals before they had time to rally, or set on foot a second and, it might be, more formidable insurrection. In order to this, they resolved on two measures—first, to dispatch the Prince of Conde, the head of the Protestant party; and, secondly, to compel every man and woman in the kingdom to abjure Protestantism. In prosecution of the first, having lured the prince to Orleans, they placed him under arrest, and brought him to trial for complicity in the Amboise Conspiracy. As a matter of course he was condemned, and the Guises were now importuning the king to sign the death-warrant and have him executed. The moment Conde's head had fallen on the scaffold, they would put in force the second measure—the abjuration, namely. A form of abjuration was already drawn up, and it was resolved that on Christmas Day the king should present it to all the princes and officers of the court for their signature; that the queen, in like manner, should present it to all her ladies and maids of honor; the chancellor to all the deputies of Parliament and judges; the governors of provinces to all the gentry; the cures to all their parishioners; and the heads of families to all their dependents. The alternative of refusing to subscribe the abjuration oath was to be immediate execution. The cardinal, who loved to mingle a little grim pleasantry with his bloody work, called this cunning device of his "the Huguenot's rat-trap." [25]

All was prospering according to the wish of the government. The scaffold was already erected on which Conde was to die. The executioner had been summoned, and was even now in Orleans. The abjuration formula was ready to be presented to all ranks and every individual the moment the prince had breathed his last; the year would not close without seeing France covered with apostasies or with martyrdoms. Verily, it seemed as if the grave of the French Reformation were dug.

When all was lost, as it appeared, an unseen finger touched this complicated web, woven with equal cruelty and cunning, and in an instant its threads were rent—the snare was broken. The king was smitten with a sudden malady in the head, which defied the skill of all his physicians. The Guises were thrown into great alarm by the illness of the king. "Surely," said the duke to the physicians, "your art can save one who is only fit the flower of his age." And when told that the royal patient would not live till Easter, he stormed exceedingly, and accused the physicians of killing the king, and of having taken the money of the heretics for murdering him. His brother, the cardinal, betook him to the saints of Paradise. He ordered prayers and processions for his recovery.

But, despite the prayers that ascentled in the temples—despite the images and relics that were carried in solemn procession through the streets—the king rapidly sank, and before Conde's death-warrant could be signed, or the abjuration test presented for subscription, Francis II had breathed his last. [26]

The king died (5th December, 1560) at the age of seventeen, after a reign of only as many months. The courtiers were too busy making suit for their places, or providing for their safety, to care for the lifeless body of the king. It lay neglected on the bed on which he had expired. Yesterday they had cringed and bowed before him, today he was nothing more to them than so much carrion. A few days thereafter we see a funeral procession issuing from the gates of Orleans, and proceeding along the road to the royal vaults at St. Denis. But what a poor show! What a meager following!

We see none of the usual pageantry of grief—no heralds; no nodding plumes, no grandees of State in robes of mourning; we hear no boom of cannon, no toiling of passing bell—in short, nothing to tell us that it is a king who is being borne to the tomb. A blind bishop and two aged domestics make up the entire train behind the funeral car. [27] It was in this fashion that Francis II was carried to his grave.


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Tuesday, December 11th, 2018
the Second Week of Advent
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