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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

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

Chapter 4 — The Dragonnades

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The War of the Fronde – Mazarin adopts the Foreign Policy of Richelieu – Dies at the Height of his Power – Louis XIV now Absolute – "The State, it is I" – His Error as a King – His Error as a Man – Alternate Sinning and Repenting – Extermination of the Huguenots – Confiscation of their Churches – Arrets against Protestants – Fund for the Purchase of Consciences – Father la Chaise – Madame de Maintenon – The Dragonnades – Conversions and Persecutions.

WE now resume our narrative. Louis, a mere youth, was king; his mother, Anne of Austria, was regent; but Cardinal Mazarin was the master of both, and the ruler of the kingdom. Mazarin, as we have already said, squandered with prodigal hand the treasures which Richelieu had husbanded for wars of ambition. The coffers of the State began to be empty, and had to be replenished by new taxes. This brought on insurrection, and new commenced the War of the Fronde. This war was an attempt, on the part of the nation, to raise itself out of the gulf of dependence on the crown into which Richelieu had sunk it. On the part of the crown, it was a struggle to retain its newly-acquired prerogatives, and to wield over both nobles and people that despotic away from the path of which all impediment had been removed, now that the Hugxtenots had been suppressed. The War of the Fronde divided the aristocracy, some of the nobles taking part with the court, others with the people. The two great military leaders, Conde and Turenne, brilliant in arms but uncertain in politics, passed from side to side, now supporting the court, now betraying it; now fighting for the people, now deserting them, as the caprice of the moment or the interest of the hour led them. The war extended over the provinces, and even entered the gates of Paris.

Barricades rose in the streets; the Louvre was besieged, and Mazarin and the court had to flee. But notwithstanding these successes, the arms of the insurgents did not prosper. The tide again turned; victory declared in favor of the royalists; and the court returned to Paris in triumph. The War of the Fronde was at an end. The nobles, with the people and the municipal corporations, had signally failed to curb the despotism of the crown, and now these classes were in a worse plight than ever. Nor for 150 years thereafter was there the least attempt to resuscitate the popular liberties.

From this time forward Mazarin's power continued to grow, and remained unshaken to the close of his life. Having quieted France within, he set himself to carry out the great projects of Richelieu, so far as that great statesman had left them incomplete. He made war with Spain, and his arms were successful; for he brought to a close the protracted conflict which France had waged with the House of Austria, humbling it in both its branches, and transferring to France that political and military preponderance in Europe which its rival, the proud and powerful House of Austria, had held for a century and a hair. These events it does not concern us to relate, further than to note the very significant fact that two princes of the Roman Catholic Church were employed in weakening a Power which was the main support of that Church, and in paving the way for that great Revolution which was to reverse the position of all the kingdoms of Europe, stripping the Papal nations of their power, and lifting up the Protestant kingdoms to supremacy.

Mazarin had prospered in all his plans. Abroad he had triumphed over Austria and Spain. At home he had abased the nobles. The Parliament and the municipal corporations he had reduced to insignificance. The people he had sunk into vassalage. The throne he had made supreme. But he did not live to enjoy the fruits of his anxieties and toils. Like Richelieu, he died just as his fortunes culminated. He climbed to the summit of his glory to find that he had arrived at the brink of his grave. Smitten with an incurable malady (1661), he was warned by his physicians that his end drew nigh. He sketched in outline the policy which he recommended Louis XIV to follow, he named the ministers whom he advised him to employ in his service; and then, turning his face to the wall:, he took farewell of all his glory.

Louis XIV had already reigned eighteen years; he now began to govern. He called to him the men Mazarin had named on his death-bed – Le Tellier and the great Colbert – and told them that they were to be simply the ministers through whom he was to act. And seldom has monarch had it more in Ms power than Louis XIV. to do as he pleased throughout the wide extent of his realms. [1]

Abroad he was Powerful, at home he was absolute. In his person centered all rights and functions; he was the sole fountain of law. Seldom indeed has there been despotism more complete or more centralized than that now embodied in Louis XIV. His own well-known words exactly express it – "The State, it is I." It was a fearfully responsible position. Sole master of the rights, the liberties, the lives, and we may add the consciences of the millions who were his subjects, his reign must be a fountain of untold blessings, or a source of numberless, enduring, and far extending miseries.

Nor did he lack qualities which might have enabled him to make it the former. He had a sound judgment, a firm will, a princely disposition, and great capacity for affairs. He liked hard work, and all through his long reign was never less than eight hours a day in the cabinet. He was not cruel by nature, though he became so by policy. The rock on which he split as

a monarch was ambition. He had tasted of the sweets of conquest under Mazarin, and ever after he thirsted with an unappeasable desire for the spoils of the battle-field. In the course of his wars, there was scarcely a country in Europe which he did not water with French blood. By these long-continued and sanguinary conflicts he still further humbled the House of Austria, and annexed cities and provinces to his dominions, to be stripped of them before his reign closed; he crowned himself with laurels, to be torn from his brow before he died. He got the title of "the Great;" he had two triumphal arches erected in his honor in Paris; and he contracted an enormous debt, which paved the way for the Revolution, that came like a whirlwind in his grandson's time to sweep away that throne which he had surrounded, as he believed, with a power that was impregnable and a glory that was boundless.

The error of Louis XIV, as a man, was his love of pleasure. He lived in open and unrestrained licentiousness. This laid him at the feet of his confessor, and sank him into a viler vassalage than that of the meanest vassal in all his dominions. The "Great" Louis, the master of a mighty kingdom, whose will was law to the millions who called him their sovereign, trembled before a man with a shaven crown. From the feet of his confessor he went straight to the commission of new sins; from these he came back to the priest, who was ready with fresh penances, which, alas! were but sins in a more hideous form. A more miserable and dreadful life there never was. Guilt was piled upon guilt, remorse upon remorse, till at length Fife was passed, and the great reckoning was in view. But how fared it with the Protestants under Louis XIV? Their condition became worse from the moment that Mazarin breathed his last and Louis began to govern in person. One of his first ideas was that Protestantism weakened France, and must be rooted out; that the Edict of Nantes was an error, and must be revoked. This was the policy on which he acted as regards the Huguenots – the goal towards which he worked – all throughout his reign: the extirpation of Huguenotism, the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The wars of his early years interfered with the pursuit of this object, but he never lost sight of it. No sooner had he taken the government into his own hands (1661) than commissioners were appointed, and sent, two and two – a Roman Catholic and a Protestant – into all the provinces of France, with authority to hear all complaints and settle all quarrels which had sprung up between the two communions.

In almost every case the commissioners found that the Roman Catholics were in the right, and the Protestants in the wrong. The commissioners were further instructed to examine the title-deeds of churches. In many instances none could be produced; they had gone amissing in the lapse of time, or had perished during the wars, and the circumstance was in every case made available for the suppression of the church. It is impossible to tell the number of churches pulled down, of schools suppressed, and charitable establishments confiscated for the benefit of Popish institutions.

Next came the decree against "Relapsed Heretics." This ordinance denounced against such the penalty of banishment for life. If one asked for the priest's blessing at a mixed marriage, or had been heard to say to one that he should like to enter the Church of Rome, or had done an act of abjuration twenty years before, or given any occasion in any way for a suspicion or report of being inclined to Romanism, he was held as having joined the Church of Rome, and the law against "Relapsed Heretics" was applied to him; and if ever afterwards he entered a Protestant church, he was seized and carried before the tribunals. By another ordinance, a priest and a magistrate were authorized to visit every sick person, and ask if he wished to die in the Roman faith. The scandalous scenes to which this gave rise can be imagined. The dying were distracted and tortured with exhortations to abandon their faith and pray to the Virgin. Children were capable of abjuring Protestantism at the age of fourteen; and by a subsequent decree, at the age of seven; and their parents were compelled to pay for their maintenance under a Roman Catholic roof. Spies haunted the sermons of Protestant ministers, and if the pastor spoke: a disparaging word of the Virgin, or any saint of the Romish calendar, he was indicted for blasphemy. If one pleaded a suit-at-law, and were doubtful of success, he had only to say that he was arguing against a heretic, and the magic words were instantly followed by an award in his favor. Protestants were excluded from all offices under the crown, from all municipal posts, from the practice of law and medicine, and generally of all the liberal professions. They were forbidden to sing psalms in their workshops or at the doors of their houses. They had to suspend their psalmody when a Roman Catholic procession passed the doors of their churches. They could bury their dead only at break of day or on the edge of night. Not more than ten mourners could follow the bier; and the statutory number of a wedding procession was restricted to twelve. This did not satisfy the priesthood, however. In 1665 they declared that more zeal must be exercised in order "to cause the formidable monster of heresy to expire completely." From this time the Protestants began to flee from their native land. It was now, too, that Marshal Turenne abjured in his old age the faith he had professed through life. His virtue had declined before his Protestantism was renounced. His example was followed by the great nobles

about court, and it was remarked of all of them, as of Turenne, that they had espoused the morals of the king before embracing his faith. The names of Count Schomberg, the Duke de la Force, the Marquis de Ruvigny, and also several descendants of Duplessis-Mornay stand out in noble relief from this degenerate crowd. [2]

Attempts were next made to unite the two Churches. These came to nothing, notwithstanding the numerous reforms in the Romish Church promised by the king, all the more freely, perhaps, that he had no power to fulfill them. Then, after a little space, the work of persecution was resumed; a new discharge of ordinances and arrets struck the Protestants.

We can mention only a very few of the new grievances. The Reformed were forbidden to print religious books without permission of a magistrate of the Romish communion; to celebrate worship when the bishop was holding a visitation; their domestic privacy was invaded; their rights as parents violated; their temples demolished; and if they dared to meet around the ruins and pray beside the sanctuaries in which their fathers had worshipped they were punished.

But perhaps the most extraordinary means employed was the creation of a fund for the purchase of consciences. This fund was fed from the resources of vacant bishoprics, which were the right of the crown, but which the king now made over to this fund. In every case, when a see became vacant, a year's revenue was thus applied, but sees were often kept vacant for years that the fund for conversions: might profit thereby.

Pellisson, by birth a Calvinist, but who, having gone over to the king's religion, from a convert became a zealous converter, presided over this fund. It was, in truth, a great mercantile establishment, organized according to the rules and wielding the machinery of other mercantile establishments. It had its head office in Paris, and branch offices in all the provinces. It had its staff of clerks, its correspondents, its table of prices, its letters of credit, and its daily published lists of articles purchased, these articles being the bodies and the souls of men. A curious circular letter (June 12th, 1677) of its president, Pellisson, has been given by the historian Felice, and is as follows: – "Although you may go as far as a hundred francs, it is not meant that you are always to go to this extent, as it is necessary to use the utmost possible economy; in the first place, to shed this dew on as many persons as possible and, besides, if we give a hundred francs to people of no consequence, without any family to follow them, those who bring a number of children after them will demand far larger sums. Tiffs, however, need not hinder you from furnishing still larger assistance in very important cases, if you advise me of it beforehand, whenever his Majesty, to whom explanations will be given, thinks it proper." The daily lists of abjurations amounted to many hundreds; but those who closely examined the names said that the majority were knaves, or persons who, finding conversion profitable, thought it not enough to be once, but a dozen times converted. The king, however, was delighted with his success, and nothing was talked of at court but the miracles of Pellisson. Every one lauded his golden eloquence – less learned, they said, but far more efficacious than that of Bossuet.

Louis XIV was now verging on old age, but his bigotry grew with his years. His great minister Colbert, whose counsels had ever been on the side of moderation, was now in his grave. There were left him the Chancellor, Le Tellier, and the Minister of War, Louvois, both stern haters of the Huguenots. His confessor was the well-known Father la Chaise. No fitter tool than Louis XIV could the Jesuit have found. His Spanish mother had educated him not to hesitate at scruples, but to go forward without compunction to the perpetration of enormous crimes. To make matters still worse, the king now fell entirely under the influence of Madame de Maintenon. This woman, who figures so prominently in these awful tragedies, was the grand-daughter of the Protestant historian Agrippa d'Aubigne. She was a Calvinist by birth, but changed her religion at an early age, and being governess in the family of one of the royal mistresses, her beauty and address fascinated the king, who privately married her on the death of the queen, Maria Theresa. Madame de Maintenon did not particularly hate her former co-religionists, but being resolved above all things to retain her influence over Louis, and seeing the direction in which his humor set – namely, that of expiating his profligacys by the sacrifice of the Huguenot heretics – she and Father la Chaise became the counselors and partners of the unhappy monarch in those deeds of tyranny and blood which shed an ever-deepening darkness and horror over the life of Louis XIV as he approached the grave.

Whether it was the number or the quality of the conversions that did not satisfy the court it is hard to say, but now greater severitys were had recourse to. It was deemed bad economy, perhaps, to do with money what could be done by the sword. Accordingly the dragonnades were now set on foot. A commencement was made in Poitou. In 1681 a regiment of cavalry was sent into this province, with instructions from the Minister of War, Louvois, that the greater part of the men and officers should be quartered on the Protestants. "If," said he, "according to a fair distribution, the Religionists ought to have ten, we may billet twenty on them." The number of soldiers allotted to each Protestant family varied from four to ten. The men were made aware that they might do as they had a mind, short of actually killing the inmates. "They gave the reins to their passions," says Migault, describing the horrors of which

he was eye-witness; "devastation, pillage, torture – there was nothing they recoiled at." The details must be suppressed; they are too horrible to be read. The poor people knew not what to do; they fled to the woods; they hid themselves in the caves of the mountains; many went mad; and others, scarce knowing what they did, kissed a crucifix, and had their names enrolled among the converts. The emigration was resumed on a great scale.

Thousands rose to flee from a land where nothing awaited them but misery. The court attempted to arrest the fugitives by threatening them with the galleys for life. The exodus continued despite this terrible law. The refugees were joyfully welcomed in England and in the other Protestant lands to which, with their persons, they transferred their industry, their knowledge of art and letters, and their piety. They now made Europe resound with their wrongs – though not one of their books could cross the frontier of their native land. We quote a few sentences from Jurieu (1682), who, fleeing to Holland, became Pastor of the French Church in Rotterdam: – "We were treated as if we were the enemies of the Christian name. In those places where Jews are tolerated they have all sorts of liberties; they exercise the arts, and carry on trades; they are physicians; they are consulted, and Christians put their lives and health into their hands. But we, as if polluted, are forbidden to touch children on their entrance into the world; we are excluded from the bar, and from all the faculties; we are driven away from the king's person; all public posts are taken away from us; we are forbidden to use those means by which we save ourselves from dying of hunger; we are given up to the hatred of the mob; we are deprived of that precious liberty which we have purchased by so many services; our children, who are part of ourselves, are taken away from us. Are we Turks or infidels? We believe in Jesus Christ, we believe in the eternal Son of God, the Redeemer of the world; the maxims of our morality ate pure beyond contradiction; we respect kings; we are good subjects and good citizens; we are as much Frenchmen as we are Reformed Christians."

The Protestants thought one other attempt ought to be made, though not by arms, to recover some little from the wreck of their liberties. They agreed that such of their churches as were still standing should be re-opened for public worship on the same day in all the southern provinces of France. This they thought would prove to the king in a peaceable way that the abjurations, so loudly vaunted by his counselors, were a wholesale delusion. The project was carried into effect, but the Government pretended to see in it insurrection, and the poor Huguenots were visited with a yet heavier measure of vengeance. The dragonnades were extended to all the provinces of Southern France. The Protestants fled to the forests, to the deserts of the Cevennes, to the mountains of the Pyrenees.

They were tracked by the soldiers, and on refusing to abjure, were sabered or hanged. Some of the pastors were broken on the wheel. Many of the churches spared till now were demolished, and a hideous devastation was inflicted on private dwellings and property. Everywhere there was a Reign of Terror; and the populace, entirely in the hands of ruffians, who, if they forbore to kill, did so that they might practice excruciating and often unnamable tortures upon their victims, now came in crowds to the priests to abjure. "Not a post arrives," wrote Madame de Maintenon, in September, 1685, "without bringing tidings that fill him (the king) with joy; the conversions take place every day by thousands" Twenty thousand abjured in Bearn, sixty thousand in the two dioceses of Nimes and Montpellier: and while this horrible persecution went on, the Edict of Nantes was still law. [3]

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Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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