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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 8 — Commencehent of the Huguenot Wars

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Conde Seizes Orleans–His Compatriot Chiefs – Prince of Porcian– Rochefoucault–Rohan-Grammont–Montgomery–Soubise–St. Phale –La Mothe–Genlis–Marvellous Spread of the Reformed Faith–The Popish Party–Strength of Protestantism in France – Question of the Civil Wars – Justification of the Huguenots–Finance–Foreign Allies.

The Protestant chiefs having resolved to take up the gage which the Triumvirate had thrown down, the Prince of Conde struck the first blow by dispatching Coligny's brother D'Andelot, with 5,000 men, to make himself master of Orleans. In a few days thereafter (April 2nd, 1562), the prince himself entered that city, amid the acclamations of the inhabitants, who accompanied him through the streets chanting grandly the 124th Psalm, in Marot's meter, [1] Admiral Coligny, on arriving at headquarters, found a brilliant assemblage gathered round Conde. Among those already arrived or daily expected was Anthony of Croy, Prince of Perclan. Though related to the House of Lorraine, the Prince of Perclan was a firm opponent of the policy of the Guises, and one of the best captains of his time. He was married to Catherine of Cleves, Countess of Eu, niece to the Prince of Conde, by whom he was greatly beloved for his amiable qualities as well as for his soldierly accomplishments. And there was also Francis, Count of La Rochefoucault, Prince of Marcillac. He was by birth and dignity the first noble of Guienne, and the richest and most potent man in all Poitou. He could have raised an army among his relations, friends, and vassals alone. He was an experienced soldier: valiant, courageous, generous, and much beloved by Henry II, in whose wars he had greatly distinguished himself. It was his fate to be inhumanly slaughtered, as we shall see, in the St. Bartholomew Massacre. There was Rene, Viscount of Rohan. He was by the mother's side related to the family of Navarre, being cousin-german to Jeanne d'Albret. Being by her means instructed in the Reformed faith, that queen made him her lieutenant-general during the minority of her son Henry, afterwards King of France, whom he served with inviolable fidelity. There was Anthony, Count of Grammont, who was in great esteem among the Reformed on account of his valor and his high character. Having embraced the Protestant faith, he opposed uncompromisingly the Guises, and bore himself with great distinction and gallantry among the Huguenot chiefs in the civil wars. No less considerable was Gabriel, Count of Montgomery, also one of the group around the prince. His valor, prudence, and sagacity enabled him, in the absence of large estates or family connections, to uphold the credit of the Protestant party and the luster of the Protestant arms after the fall of Conde, of Coligny, and of other leaders. It was from his hand that Henry II had received his death-blow in the fatal tournament–as fatal in the end to Montgomery as to Henry, for Catherine de Medici never forgave him the unhappy accident of slaying her husband; and when at last Montgomery fell into her hands, she had him executed on the scaffold. And there was John, Lord of Soubise, of the illustrious House of Partenay of Poitou, and the last who bore the name and title. Soubise had borne arms under Henry II, being commander-in-chief in the army of Tuscany. This gave him an opportunity of visiting the court of Rene at Ferrara, where he was instructed in the Reformed doctrine. On his return to France he displayed great zeal in propagating the Protestant faith, and when the civil wars broke out the Prince de Conde sent him to command at Lyons, where, acquitting himself with equal activity and prudence, he fully answered the expectations of his chief. Louis of Vadray, known in history by the name of Lord of Mouy St. Phale, was one of the more considerable of the patriot-heroes that followed the banners of Conde. Of great intrepidity and daring, his achievements are amongst the most brilliant feats of the civil wars. He was assassinated in 1569 by the same person – Manrevel of Brie – who wounded the Admiral Coligny in Paris in 1572. Nor must we omit to mention Anthony Raguier, Lord of Esternay and of La Mothe de Tilly. Not only did he place his own sword at the service of Conde, he brought over to the standard of the prince and the profession of the Protestant faith, his brother-in-law Francis of Bethune, Baron of Rosny, father of the Duke of Sully. And there was the head of the ancient and illustrious House of Picardy, Adrian de Hangest, Lord of Genlis, who was the father of thirty-two children by his wife Frances du Maz. Like another Hamilcar leading his numerous sons to the altar, he devoted them to the defense of their country's laws, and the maintenance of its Protestant faith. The enthusiasm and bravery of the sons, as displayed under the banners of Conde, amply rewarded the devotion and patriotism of the father. All of them became distinguished in the campaigns that followed. [2]

Nothing could more conclusively attest the strength of the position which Protestantism had conquered for itself in France than this brilliant list. The men whom we see round the Huguenot chief are the flower of a glorious land. They are no needy adventurers, whom the love of excitement, or the hope of spoil, or the thirst for distinction has driven to the battle-field. Their castles adorn the soil, and their names illustrate the annals of their country; yet here we see them coming forward, at this supreme hour, and deliberately staking the honor of their houses, the revenues of their estates, the glory of their names, and even life itself! What could have moved them to this but their loyalty to the Gospel–their deep, thorough, and most intelligent conviction that the Reformed doctrine was based on Scripture, and that it had bound up with it not more their own personal salvation than the order, the prosperity, and the glory of their country?

The Protestant

cause had attractions not alone for the patricians of France; it was embraced by the intelligence and furthered by the energy of the middle classes. It is well to remember this. Bankers and men of commerce; lawyers and men of letters; magistrates and artists; in short, the staple of the nation, the guides of its opinion, the creators of its wealth, and the pillars of its order, rallied to the Protestant standard. In every part of France the Reformed faith spread with astonishing rapidity during the reigns of Francis II and Charles IX. It was embraced by the villages scattered along at the foot of the Alps and the base of the Pyrenees. It established itself in the powerful city of Grenoble. The Parliament and magistracy of that prosperous community took special interest in the preaching of the Protestant doctrine in their town; and the example of Grenoble had a great influence on the whole of that rich region of which it was the capital. The city of Marseilles on the Mediterranean shore; the flourishing seaports on the western coast; the fertile and lovely valleys of central France; the vine-clad plains on the east; the rich and populous Picardy and Normandy on the north–all were covered with the churches and congregations of the Reformed faith. "Climate, custom, prejudice, superstition," says Gaberel, "seemed to have no power to resist or modify the spread of the Protestant doctrines. No sooner was a church provided with a pastor, than the inhabitants of the villages and towns in the neighborhood demolished their Popish altars, and flocked to hear the preaching of the Protestant doctrine. The occupants of the castles and rich houses followed the example of their tenantry, and opened their mansions for worship when the church stood at too great a distance." [3] Many of the prelates, even, had perused the writings of Calvin, and were favorable to the Reformed doctrine, although, for obvious reasons, they had to be careful in avowing their convictions and preferences.

When we turn from the grand phalanx of nobles, warrior's, jurists, literary men, merchants, and cities around the Protestant standard, to contemplate the opposing ranks which still remained loyal to Rome, and were now challenging the Reformed to do battle for their faith, we are forcibly struck with the vast inferiority, in all the elements of real power, on the Popish side. First on that side came the crown. We say the crown, for apart from it Charles IX had no power. Next to the crown came the Queen-mother, who, despite certain caprices which at times excited the hopes of the Protestants and awakened the fears of the Pope, remained staunchly loyal at heart to the cause of Rome–for what else could be expected of the niece of Clement VII? After the Queen-mother came the Triumvirate. It embraced one grand figure, the bluff, honest, awful Constable, so proud of his ancient blood and his ancient Christianity! Over against him we may set the weak and wicked St. Andre, who was continully enriching himself with plunder, and continually sinking deeper in debt. Then came the Guises –truculent, thoroughly able, and as athirst for blood as the Marshal St. Andre for money. These strangers in France seem to have taken kindly to the soil, if one may judge from the amazing rapidity with which their power and their honors had flourished since their arrival in it. We assign the last place here to the King of Navarre, though as a prince of the blood he ought to have had the first place after the crown, but for his utter insignificance, which made him be fully more contemned even by the Papists than by the Protestants.

The Popish party were numerically the majority of the nation, but in respect of intelligence and virtue they were by much the smaller portion of it. There was, of course, a moiety of the nobility, of professional men, and of the middle orders still attached to the Roman worship, and more or less zealous in its behalf; but the great strength of the Triumvirate lay in another quarter. The Sorbonne, the secular priests, and the cloistered orders continued unwavering in their attachment to the Pope. And behind was a yet greater force–without which, the zeal of Triumvirate, of cure, and of friar would have effected but little–the rabble, namely, of Paris and many of the great cities. This was a very multifarious host, more formidable in numbers than in power, if names are to be weighed and not counted. Protestantism in France was not merely on the road to victory, morally it had already achieved it.

And further, to form a true estimate of the strength of the position which Protestantism had now won, we must take account of the situation of the country, and the endowments of the people in which it had so deeply rooted itself. Placed in the center of Christendom, France acted powerfully on all the nations around it. It was, or till a few years ago had been, the first of the European kingdoms in letters, in arts, in arms. Its people possessed a beautiful genius. Since the intellect of classic days there had appeared, perhaps, no finer mental development than the French mind; none that came so near the old Roman type. Without apparent labor the French genius could lay open with a touch the depths of an abstruse question, or soar to the heights of a sublime one. Protestantism had begun to quicken the French intellect into a marvellous development of strength and beauty, and but for the sudden and unexpected blight that overtook it, its efflorescence would have rivaled, it may be eclipsed, in power and splendor that extraordinary outburst of intellect that followed the Reformation in England, and which has made the era of Elizabeth forever famous.

Nor was it the least of the advantages of French Protestantism that its headquarters were not within, but outside the kingdom. By a marvellous Providence a little

territory, invisibly yet inviolably guarded, had been called into existence as an asylum where, with the thunders of the mighty tempests resounding on every side of it, the great chief of the movement might watch the execution of his plans in every part of the field, but especially in France. Calvin was sufficiently distant from his native land to be undisturbed by its convulsions, and yet sufficiently near to send daily assistance and succor to it, to commission evangelists, to advise, to encourage – in short, to do whatever could tend to maintain and advance the work. The Reformer was now giving the last touches to his mighty task before retiring from the view of men, but Geneva, through her Church, through her schools, and through her printing-presses, would, it was thought, continue to flood France with those instrumentalities for the regeneration of Christendom, which the prodigious industry and mighty genius of Calvin had prepared.

But the very strength of Protestantism in France at this era awakens doubts touching the step which the Protestants of that country were now about to take, and compels us to pause and review a decision at which we have already arrived. How had Protestantism come to occupy this position, and what were the weapons which had conquered for it so large a place in the national mind? This question admits of but one answer: it was the teachings of evangelists, the blood of martyrs, and the holy lives of confessors. Then why not permit the same weapons to consummate the victory? Does it not argue a criminal impatience to exchange evangelists for soldiers? Does it not manifest a sinful mistrust of those holy instrumentalities which have already proved their omnipotency by all but converting France, to supersede them by the rude appliances of armies and battle-fields? In truth, so long as the Protestants had it in their power to avoid the dire necessity of taking up arms, so long, in short, as the certain ruin of the cause did not stare them in the face in the way of their sitting still, they were not justified in making their appeal to arms. But they judged, and we think rightly, that they had now no alternative; that the Triumvirate had decided this question for them; and that nothing remained, if the last remnants of conscience and liberty were not to be trodden out, but to take their place on the battle-field. The legitimate rule of the king had been superseded by the usurpation of a junto, the leading spirits of which were foreigners. The Protestants saw treaties torn up, and soldiers enrolled for the work of murder. They saw their brethren slaughtered like sheep, not in hundreds only, but literally in thousands. They saw the smoke of burning cities and castles darkening the firmament, unburied corpses tainting the air, and the blood of men and women dyeing their rivers, and tinting the seas around their coasts. They saw groups of orphans wandering about, crying for bread, or laying themselves down to die of hunger. The touching words of Charlotte Laval addressed to her husband, which we have already quoted, show us how the noblest minds in France felt and reasoned in the presence of these awful tragedies. To remain in peace in their houses, while these oppressions and crimes were being enacted around them–were being done, so to speak, in their very sight–was not only to act a cowardly part, it was to act an inhuman part. It was to abnegate the right, not of citizens only, but of men. If they should longer refuse to stand to their defense, posterity, they felt, would hold them guilty of their brethren's blood, and their names would be coupled with those of the persecutors in the cry of that blood for vengeance.

The pre-eminence of France completes the justification of the Huguenots, by completing the necessity for the step to which they now had recourse. Rome could not possibly permit Protestantism to triumph in a country so central, and whose influence was so powerfully felt all over Europe. The Pope must needs suppress the Reformation in France at all costs. The Popish Powers, and especially Spain, felt equally with the Pope the greatness of the crisis, and willingly contributed the aid of their arms to extinguish Huguenotism. Its triumph in France would have revolutionized their kingdoms, and shaken their thrones. It was a life-and-death struggle; and but for the stand which the Protestant chiefs made, the soldiers of the Triumvirate, and the armies of Spain, would have marched from the Seine to the Mediterranean, from the frontier of Lorraine to the western seaboard, slaughtering the Huguenots like sheep, and Protestantism would have been as completely trampled out in France as it was in Spain.

Both sides now began to prepare with rigor for the inevitable conflict. On the Huguenot banner was inscribed "Liberty of Worship," and the special grievance which compelled the unfurling of that banner was the flagrant violation of the Edict of January–which guarantee them that liberty–in the dreadful massacre of the Protestants as they were worshipping at Vassy under the supposed protection of that edict. This was specially mentioned in the manifesto which the Huguenots now put forth, but neither was regret expressed by the Triumvirate for the violation of the edict, nor promise given that it would be observed in time to come, which made the Protestant princes conclude that the Massacre of Vassy would be repeated again and again, till not a Huguenot was left to charge the Government with its shameful breach of faith. "To arms!" must therefore be their watchword.

Wars, although styled religious, must be gone about in the ordinary way; soldiers must be enrolled, and money collected, without which it is impossible to fight battles. The Prince of Conde wrote circular letters to the Reformed Churches in France, craving their aid in men and money to carry on the war about to be commenced. [4] Several of

the Churches, before voting the desired assistance, sent deputies to Paris to ascertain the real state of matters, and whether any alternative was left them save the grave one of taking up arms. As a consequence, funds and fighting men came in slowly. From La Rochelle came neither men nor money, till after the campaign had been commenced; but that Church, and others, finding on careful inquiry that the state of matters was such as the Huguenot manifesto had set forth, threw themselves afterwards with zeal into the conflict, and liberally supported it.

The Huguenot chiefs, before unsheathing the sword, sat down together and partook of the Lord's Supper. After communion they subscribed a bond, or "Act of Association," in which they pledged themselves to fidelity to God and to one another, and obedience to Conde as head of the Protestant League, and promised to assist him with "money, arms, horses, and all other warlike equipages." They declared themselves in arms for "the defense of the king's honor and liberty, the maintenance of the pure worship of God, and the due observance of the edicts." [5] They swore also to promote reformation of manners and true piety among themselves and followers, to punish blasphemy, profanation, and vice, and to maintain the preaching of the Gospel in their camp. [6] This deed, by which the Huguenot wars were inaugurated, tended to promote confidence among the confederates, and to keep them united in the presence of a crafty enemy, who continually labored to sow jealousies and disdains among them; and further, it sanctified and sublinmd the war by keeping its sacred and holy object in the eye of those who were in arms.

Another matter which the Calvinist lords deemed it prudent to arrange before coming to blows, was the important one of succors from abroad. On this point their opponents enjoyed great advantages. Not only could they draw upon the national treasury for the support of the war, having the use of the king's name, but they had powerful and zealous friends abroad who, they knew, would hasten to their aid. The Triumvirate had promises of large succors from the then wealthy governments of Spain, Italy, and Savoy; and they had perfect confidence in these promises being kept, for the cause for which the Triumvirate was in arms was the cause of the Pope and Philip of Spain quite as much as it was that of the Guises.

The Huguenots, in like manner, cast their eyes abroad, if haply they might find allies and succorers in those countries where the Protestant faith was professed. The war now commencing was not one of race or nationality; it was no war of creed in a narrow sense; it was a war for the great principle of Protestantism in both its Lutheran and Reformed aspects, and which was creating a new commonwealth, which the Rhine could not divide, nor the Alps bound. That was not a Gallic commonwealth, nor a Teutonic commonwealth, but a great spiritual empire, which was blending in sympathy and in interest every kindred and tribe that entered its holy brotherhood. Therefore, in the war now beginning neither Germany nor England could, with due regard to themselves, be neutral, for every victory of the Roman Catholic Powers, now confederate for the suppression of the Reformation, not in France only, but in all countries, was a step in the triumphant march of these powers towards the frontiers of the other Reformed countries. The true Policy of England and Germany was clearly to fight the battle at as great a distance as Possible from their own doors.

To Coliguy the project of bringing foreign soldiers into France was one the wisdom of which he extremely doubted. He feared the effect which such a step might have on a people naturally jealous and proud, and to whom he knew it would be distasteful. For every foreign auxiliary he should obtain he might lose a home soldier. But again events decided the matter for him. He saw the Savoyards, the Swiss, and the Spaniards daily arriving to swell the royalist ranks, and slaughter the children of France, and if he would meet the enemy, not in equal numbers for he saw no likelihood of being able to bring man for man into the field but if he would meet him at the head of such a force as should enable him to fight with some chance of success, he must do as his opponents were doing, and accept help from those who were willing to give it. Accordingly two ambassadors were dispatched on the errand of foreign aid, the one to Germany and the other to England, and both found a favorable reception for their overtures. The one succeeded in negotiating a treaty for some thousands of German Reiter, or heavy cavalry–so well known in those days for the execution they did on the field, where often they trampled down whole ranks of the lighter troops of France; and the other ambassador was able to persuade Queen Elizabeth so careful both of her money and her subjects, for England was not then so rich in either as she long years afterwards became into aid the Huguenots with 140,000 crowns and 6,000 soldiers, in return for which the town of Havre was put in her keeping.


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Saturday, September 22nd, 2018
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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