corner graphic   Hi,    
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to

The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 22 — Protestantism in France From Death of Henry IV (1610) to the Revolution (1789)

Chapter 1 — Louis XIII and the Wars of Religion

Resource Toolbox

 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24

 1  2  3  4  5  6  7

Henry IV – Dies in the Midst of his Great Schemes – Louis XIII – Maria de Medici Regent – Alarm of the Protestants – Character of Maria de Medici – Astrology – Governs her Son – Protestants hold a Political Convocation – Henri de Rohan – Degeneracy of the Huguenots – Synods of the French Protestant Church – New Policy of Louis XIII – The Jesuits – Toleration – Invasion of Bearn – Its Protestantism Suppressed – Jesuit Logic – Shall the Sword be Drawn? – War – Saumur – Death of Duplessis-Mornay – Siege of Montauban – of St. Jean d'Angely – A Scotch Pastor on the Ramparts – Peace – Question of the Distinct Autonomy of the Huguenots.

WE resume our history of Protestantism in France at the death-bed of Henry IV. The dagger of Ravaillac arrested that monarch in the midst of his great schemes. [1] Henry had abjured his mother's faith, in the hope of thereby purchasing from Rome the sure tenure of his crown and the peaceful possession of his kingdom. He fancied that he had got what he bargained for; and being, as he supposed, firmly seated on the throne, he was making prodigious efforts to lift France out of the abyss in which he found her. He was laboring to re-establish order, to plant confidence, and to get rid of the immense debts which prodigality and dishonesty had accumulated, and which weighed so heavily upon the kingdom. He was taking the legitimate means to quicken commerce and agriculture – in short, to efface all those frightful traces which had been left on the country by what are known in history as the "civil wars," but which were, in fact, crusades organized by the Government on a great scale, in violation of sworn treaties and of natural rights, for the extirpation of its Protestant subjects. Henry, moreover, was meditating great schemes of foreign policy, and had already dispatched an army to Germany in order to humble the House of Austria, and reduce the Spanish influence in Europe, so menacing to 'the liberties and peace of Christendom. It did seem as if the king would succeed; but his Austrian project too nearly touched the Papal interests. There were eyes watching Henry which he knew not of. His heretical foreign policy excited a suspicion that, although he was outwardly a Roman Catholic, he was at heart a Huguenot. In a moment, a Hand was stretched forth from the darkness, and all was changed. The policy of Henry IV perished with him.

He was succeeded on the throne by his son, Louis XIII, a youth of eight and a half years. That same evening, an edict of the Parliament of Paris made his mother, Maria de Medici, regent. The consternation of the Huguenots was great. Their hands instinctively grasped their sword-hilts. The court hastened to calm their fears by publishing a decree ratifying all the former edicts of toleration, and assuring the Protestants that the death of Henry IV would bring with it no change of the national policy; but with so many torn treaties and violated oaths, which they could not banish from their memory, what reliance could the Huguenots place on these assurances? Was it not but a spreading of the old snare around their feet? In the regent and her son they saw, under a change of names, a second Catherine de Medici and Charles IX, to be followed, it might be, by a second St. Bartholomew.

The boy of eight years who wore the crown could do only what his mother, the regent, counseled, or rather commanded. Maria de Medici was the real sovereign. That ill-fated marriage with the Pope's niece, alas! of how many wars was it destined to be the prolific source to France! Maria de Medici lacked the talent of her famous predecessor, Catherine de Medici, but she possessed all her treachery, bigotry, and baseness. She was a profound believer in witchcraft, and guided the vessel of the State by her astrological calculations. When divination failed her she had recourse to the advice of the Pope's nuncio, of the Spanish ambassador, and of Concini, a man of obscure birth from her native city of Florence, on whom she heaped high titles, though she could not impart to him noble qualities. Under such guidance the vessel of the State was drawn farther and farther every day into the old whirlpool. When Louis XIII grew to be a few years older, he strove to break the trammels in which he was held, by banishing his mother to Blois, and instigating men to murder Concini, but he only fell under the influence of a favorite as worthless and profligate as the man he had employed assassins to rid him of. Intrigue, blood, and peculation disgraced the court. The great nobles, contemning the power of the sovereign, retired to their estates, where, at the head of their encampments, they lived like independent kings, and gave sad presage of the distractions and civil broils yet awaiting the unhappy land. But it is the Protestant thread, now becoming somewhat obscure, that we wish to follow.

The year after the king's accession (1611) the Protestant nobles met at Saumur, and held one of those political assemblies which they had planned for the regulation of religious interests after the abjuration of Henry IV.

The illustrious Duplessis-Mornay was elected president, and the famous Pastor Chaumier was made vice-president. The convocation consisted of seventy persons in all – noblemen, ministers, delegates from the Tiers Etat, and deputies from the town of La Rochelle: in short, a Huguenot Parliament. The Government, though reluctantly, had granted permission for their meeting; and their chief business was to elect two deputies-general, to be accepted by the court as the recognized heads of the Protestant body. The assembly met. They refused simply to inscribe two names in a bulletin and break up as the court wished; they sat four months, discussed the matters

affecting their interests as Protestants, and asked of the Government redress of their grievances. They renewed their oath of union, which consisted in swearing fidelity to the king, always reserving their duty to "the sovereign empire of God." It was at this assembly that the talents of Henri de Rohan as a statesman and orator began to display themselves, and to give promise of the prominent place he was afterwards to fill in the ranks of the Reformed. He strongly urged union among themselves, he exhorted them to show concern for the welfare of the humblest as well as of the highest in their body, and to display a firm spirit in dealing with Government in the way of exacting all the rights which had been guaranteed by treaty. "We are not come," he said, "to four cross-roads, but to a point where safety can be found in only one path. Let our object be the glory of God, and the security of the churches he has so miraculously established in this kingdom, providing eagerly for each other's benefit by every legitimate means. Let us religiously demand only what is necessary. Let us be firm in order to get it."

The want of union was painfully manifested at this assembly at Saumur, thanks to their enemies, who had done all in their power beforehand to sow jealousies among them. The fervent piety which characterized their fathers no longer distinguished their sons; the St. Bartholomew had inflicted worse evils than the blood it spilt, great as that was; many now cleaved to the Huguenots, whose religion was only a pretext for the advancement of their ambition; others were timid and afraid to urge even the most moderate demands lest they should be crushed outright. There was, too, a marked difference between the spirit of the Protestants in the north and in the south of France. The former were not able to shake off the terror of the turbulent and Popish capital, in the neighborhood of which they lived; the latter bore about them the free air of the mountains, and the bold spirit of the Protestant cities of the south, and when they spoke in the assembly it was with their swords half drawn from the scabbards. Similar political assemblies were held in subsequent years at Grenoble, at Nimes, at La Rochelle, and at other towns. Meetings of their National Synod were, too, of frequent occurrence during this period, the Moderator's chair being occupied not infrequently by men whose names were then, and are still, famous in the annals of Protestant literature – Chamier and Dumoulin. These Synods sought to rebuild the French Protestant Church, almost fallen into ruins during the wars of the foregoing era, by restoring the exercise of piety in congregations, cutting off unworthy members, and composing differences and strifes among the Protestant nobles. Gathered from the battle-fields and the deserts of France, bitter memories behind and darkening prospects before them, these men were weary in heart and broken in spirit, and were without the love and zeal which had animated their fathers who sat in the Synod of La Rochelle forty years before, when the French Protestant Church was in the prime and flower of her days.

The Huguenots were warned by many signs of the sure approach of evil times. One ominous prognostic was the reversal of the foreign policy of Henry IV. His last years were devoted to the maturing of a great scheme for humbling the Austrian and Spanish Powers; and for this end the monarch had allied himself, as we have already related, with the northern Protestant nations. Louis XIII disconnected himself from his father's allies, and joined himself to his father's enemies, by the project of a double marriage; for while he solicited for himself the hand of the Spanish Infanta, he offered his sister in marriage to the Prince of the Asturias. This boded the ascendency of Spain and of Rome once more in France – in other words, of persecution and war. Sinister reports were circulated through the kingdom that the price to be paid for this double alliance was the suppression of heresy. Soft words continued to come from the court, but the acts of its agents in the provinces were not in correspondence therewith. These were hard enough. The sword was not brought forth, it is true, but every other weapon of assault was vigorously plied. The priests incessantly importuned the king to forbid the Protestants from calling in question, by voice or by pen, the authority of the Church or of the Pope. He was solicited not to let them open a school in any city, not to let any of their ministers enter a hospital, or administer religious consolation to any of their sick; not to let any one from abroad teach any faith save the Roman; not to let them perform their religious rites; in short, the monarch was to abrogate one by one all the rights secured by treaty to the Protestants, and disannul and make void by a process of evacuation the Edict of Nantes. The poor king did not need any importuning; it was not the will but the power that was wanting to him to fulfill the oath sworn at his coronation, to expel from the lands under his sway every man and woman denounced by the Church. At this time (1614) the States-General, or Supreme Parliament, of France met, the last ever convoked until that memorable meeting of 1789, the precursor of the Revolution. A deputy of the Tiers, or Commons, rose in that assembly to plead for toleration. His words sounded like blasphemy in the ears of the clergy and nobles; he was reminded of the king's oath to exterminate heretics, and told that the treaties sworn to the Huguenots were only provisional; in other words, that it was the duty of the Government always to persecute and slay the Protestants, except in one case – namely, when it

was not able to do it.

Of these destructive maxims – destructive to the Huguenots in the first instance, but still more destructive to France in the long run – two terrible exemplifications were about to be given. The territory of Lower Navarre and Bearn, in the mountains of the Pyrenees, was the hereditary kingdom of Jeanne d'Albret, and we have already spoken of her efforts to plant in it the Protestant faith. She established churches, schools, and hospitals; she endowed these from the national property, and soon her little kingdom, in point of intelligence and wealth, became one of the most flourishing spots in all Christendom. Under her son (Henry IV) this kingdom became virtually a part of the French monarchy; but now (1617) it was wished more thoroughly to incorporate it with France. Of its inhabitants, two thirds – some say nine tenths – were Protestants. This appeared no obstacle whatever to the projected incorporation. The Bearnese had no right to be of any but the king's religion. A decree was issued, restoring the Roman Catholic faith in Bearn, and giving back to the Romish clergy the entire ecclesiastical property, which had for a half-century been in possession of the Protestants. "These estates," so reasoned the Jesuit Arnoux, a disciple of the school of Escobar, "belong to God, who is the Proprietor of them, and may not be lawfully held by any save his priests." [2] Consternation reigned in Bearn; all classes united in remonstrating against this tyrannical decree, which swept away at once their consciences and their property. Their remonstrance was unheeded, and the king put himself at the head of an army to compel the Bearnese to submission. The soldiers led against this heretical territory, which they burned with zeal to purge and convert, were not very scrupulous as to the means. They broke open the doors of the churches, they burned the Protestant books, compelled the citizens to kneel when the Host passed, and drove them to mass with the cudgel. They dealt the more obstinate a thrust with the saber; the women dared not show themselves :in the street, dreading worse violences. [3] In this manner was the Popish religion re-established in Bearn. This was the first of the dragonnades. Louis XIV was afterwards to repeat on the greater theater of France the bloody tragedy now enacted on the little stage of Bearn.

This was what even now the Protestants feared. Accordingly, at a political assembly held in La Rochelle, 1621, they made preparations for the worst. They divided Protestant France into eight departments or circles; they appointed a governor over each, with power to impose taxes, raise soldiers, and engage in battle. The supreme military power was lodged in the Duke de Bouillon, the assembly reserving to itself the power of making war or concluding peace. The question was put to the several circles, whether they should declare war, or wait the measures of the court? The majority were averse to hostilities. They felt the feeble tenure on which hung their rights, and even their lives; but they shuddered when they remembered the miseries which previous wars had brought in their train.

They counseled, therefore, that the sword should not be drawn till they were compelled to unsheathe it in sell defense. This necessity had, in fact, already arisen. The king was advancing against them at the head of his army, his Jesuit confessor, Arnoux, having removed all moral impediments from his path. "The king's promises," said his confessor, "are either matters of conscience or matters of State. Those made to the Huguenots are not promises of conscience, for they are contrary to the precepts of the Church; and if they are promises of State they ought to be referred to the Privy Council, which is of opinion they ought not to be kept." [4] The Pope and cardinals united to smooth the king's way financially, by contributing between them 400,000 crowns, while the other clergy offered not less than a million of crowns to defray the war expenses.

The royal army crossed the Loire and opened the campaign, which they prosecuted with various but, on the whole, successful fortune. Some places surrendered, others were taken by siege, and the inhabitants, men and women, were often put to the sword. The Castle of Saumur, of which Duplessis-Mornay was governor, and which he held as one of the cautionary fortresses granted by the edicts, was taken by perfidy. The king pledged his word that, if Mornay would admit the royal troops, the immunities of the place should be maintained. No sooner had the king entered than he declared that he took definite possession of the castle. To give this act of ill-faith the semblance of an amicable arrangement, the king offered Mornay, in addition to the arrears of his salary, 100,000 crowns and a marshal's baton. "I cannot," replied the patriot, "in conscience or in honor sell the liberty and security of others;" adding that, "as to dignities, he had ever been more desirous to render himself worthy of them, than to obtain them." This great man died two years afterwards. His end was like his life. "We saw him," says Jean Daille, his private chaplain, "in the midst of death firmly laying hold on life, and enjoying full satisfaction where men are generally terrified." He was the last representative of that noble generation which had been molded by the instructions of Calvin and the example of Beza.

The next exploit of the king's arms was the taking of St. Jean d'Angely. The besiegers were in great force around the walls, their shot was falling in an incessant shower upon the city, and the inhabitants, when not on duty on the ramparts, were forced to seek refuge in the cellars of their houses. Provisions were beginning to fail, and the citizens were now worn out by the fatigue of fighting night and day on the walls. In these circumstances, they sent

a deputation to Mr. John Welsh, a Scottish minister, who had been exiled from his native land, and was now acting as pastor of the Protestant congregation in St. Jean d'Angely. They told him that one in particular of the enemy's guns, which was of great size, and moreover was very advantageously placed, being mounted on a rising ground, was sweeping that entire portion of the walls which was most essential to the defense, and had silenced their guns. What were they to do? they asked. Welsh exhorted them to defend the city to the last, and to encourage them he accompanied them through the streets, "in which the bullets were falling as plentifully as hail," [5] and mounted the ramparts. Going up to one of the silent guns, he bade the cannonier resume firing; but the man had no powder. Welsh, seizing a ladle, hastened to the magazine and filled it with powder. As he was returning, a shot tore it out of his hand. 'Using his hat instead of a ladle, he filled it with powder, and going up to the gunner, made him load his piece. "Level well," said Welsh, "and God will direct the shot." The man fired, and the first shot dismounted the gun which had inflicted so much damage upon the defenders. The incident re-rived the courage of the citizens, and they resumed the defense, and continued it till they had extorted from their besiegers favorable terms of capitulation. [6]

Montauban withstood the royal arms, despite the prophecy of a Carmelite monk, who had come from Bohemia, with the reputation of working miracles, and who assured the king that the city would, without doubt, fall on the firing of the four-hundredth gun. The mystic :number had long since been completed, but Montauban still stood, and at the end of two months and a half, the king, with tears in his eyes, retired from before its walls. It is related that the besieged were apprised of the approaching departure of the army by a soldier of the Reformed religion, who, on the evening before the siege was raised, was playing on his flute the beginning of the sixty-eighth Psalm, "Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered, and let them also that hate him flee before him," etc. [7] The king had better success at Montpellier, on the taking of which he judged it prudent to close the campaign by signing terms of peace on the 19th October, 1622. The peace indicated a loss of position on the part of the Protestants. The Edict of Nantes was confirmed, but of the cautionary towns which that edict had put into the hands of the Protestants, only two were now left them – Montauban and La Rochelle.

The French Protestants at this stage of their history are seen withdrawing to a certain extent from the rest of the nation, constituting themselves into a distinct civil community, and taking independent political and military action. This was a strong step, but the attitude of the Government, and its whole procedure towards them for a century previous, may perhaps be held as justifying it. It appeared to them the only means left them of defending their natural rights. We are disposed to think, however, that it would have been well had the French Protestants drawn more strongly the line which separated their action as citizens from their action as church members – in other words, given more prominence to their church organization. The theory which they had received from Calvin, and on which they professed to act, was that while society is one, it is divided into the two great spheres of Church and State; that as members of the first – that is, of the Church – they formed an organization distinct from that of the State; that this organization was constituted upon a distinct basis, that of Revelation; that it was placed under a distinct Head, namely, Christ; that it had distinct rights and laws given it by God; and that in the exercise of these rights and laws, for its own proper ends, it was not dependence upon, or accountable to, the State. This view of the Church's origin and constitution makes her claims and jurisdiction perfectly intelligible; and gives, as the French style it, her raison d'etre. It may not be assented to by all, but even where it is not admitted it can be understood, and the independent jurisdiction of the Church, whether right or wrong in fact, on which we are here pronouncing no opinion, will be seen to be in logical consistency with at least this theory of her constitution. This theory was embraced in Scotland as well as in France, but in the former country it was more consistently carried out than in the latter. While the French Protestants were" the Religion," the Scots were "the Church ;" while the former demanded "freedom of worship," the latter claimed "liberty to administer their ecclesiastical constitution." The weakness of the French Protestants was that they failed to put prominently before the nation their rights as a divinely chartered society, and in their action largely blended things civil and things ecclesiastical. The idea of "Headship," which is but a summary phrase for their whole conception of a Church, enabled the Scots to keep the two more completely separate than perhaps anywhere else in Christendom. In Germany the magistrate has continued to be the chief bishop; in Geneva the Church tended towards being the supreme magistrate; the Scots have aimed at keeping in the middle path between Erastianism and a theocracy. Yet, as a proof that the higher law will always rule, while nowhere has the action of the Church been so little directly political as in Scotland, nowhere has the Church so deeply molded the genius of the people, or so strongly influenced the action of the State.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 19th, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
Search Historical Writings
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology