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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 5 — Revocation of the Edict of Nantes

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Edict of Revocation – Summary of its Enactments – The Protestant Churches Demolished – Charenton, etc. – The Pastors Banished – Severe Penalties – No Burial without the Sacrament – Lay Protestants Forbidden to Emigrate – Schomberg and Admiral Duquesne – The Ports and Outlets from France Closed – The Flight of the Huguenots – Their Disguises – Flight of Women – Their Sufferings on the Way – Probable Numbers of the Refugees – Disastrous Influence of the Revocation on Science and Literature – on Trade and Manufactures – on the Army and Navy – France Weakened and Other Countries Enriched – Panegyrics of the Clergy – Approval of the Pope – A Te Deum at Rome – Medals in Commemoration of the Event.

THE Edict of Nantes was already in effect repealed. There was hardly one of its provisions which had not been set aside either by interpretations which explained it away, or by edicts which directly nullified it; and now scarcely anything remained of that famous charter of Huguenot rights, save the parchment on. which it was written and the seals that attested its stipulations and promises, which, read in the light of the scenes that were being enacted all over France, looked like mockery. [1] But the work must be completed. The king judged that the hour had now arrived for dealing the blow which should extinguish for ever Protestantism in France. By the advice of his counselors – Father la Chaise, his confessor; Madame de Maintenon, his wife; the Chancellor Le Tellier, and Count Louvois – the king, on the 18th of October, [2] 1685, signed the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

The Revocation swept away all the rights and liberties which Henry I5 r. and Louis XIII had solemnly guaranteed to the Protestants It declared all further exercise of the Reformed worship within the kingdom illegal; it ordered the demolition of all the Protestant churches; it commanded the pastors to quit the kingdom within a fortnight, and forbade them to perform any clerical function on pain of the galleys; all Protestant schools were closed; and all infants born subsequent to the revocation of the edict were to be baptized by priests, and educated as Roman Catholics; all refugees were required to return to France and abjure their religion within four months, and after the expiry of that term non compliance was to be punished with confiscation of all their property; all Protestants were forbidden to quit the kingdom under pain of the galleys of men, and of confiscation of body and goods if women; and, in fine, all laws against relapsed heretics were confirmed. A clause was added which occasioned a cruel disappointment: it was couched in the following seemingly clement terms: – "Those Protestants who have not changed their religion shall be allowed to dwell in the cities and places of our realm unmolested till it shall please God to enlighten them, as he has others." This clause was interpreted as a permission to the Reformed to hold their opinions in their own breast and practice their worship in private. It was not long before they had discovered that the true reading of the clause was as follows – until they shall be converted, as others have been, by the dragoons.

On the 22nd of October the Act was registered, and on the same day the Protestants were notified by a public spectacle that its execution had commenced. The great Church of Charenton, in the neighborhood of Paris, built by the celebrated architect Jacques Debrosse, and capable of containing 14,000 persons, was razed to the ground. The first blow was dealt the detested structure by two Government commissioners; then a mob of some hundreds threw themselves upon it, win pickaxes and levers; in five days not a trace of the colossal fabric was to be seen, and a cross twenty feet high, adorned with the royal arms, rose in triumph over the demolished edifice. Other temples throughout France, venerable for their age, or imposing from their size, which had escaped the demolitions of former years, were now swept away. Alas, the sorrowful scenes that marked the closing of these churches! Drowned in tears, the congregation assembled to hear their pastor's farewell sermon, and sing their last psalm; then, forming a long and mournful procession, they passed before the minister, who bestowed on each singly his benediction, exhorting him to be steadfast unto the death. With many a hallowed Communion Sunday lingering in their memories, they then passed out for ever. Many of these churches fell amid a confused noise of blaring trumpets, the shoutings of Romanists, and the sobbings of Protestants. Topping the ruins of the Church of Nimes might long be seen a stone which had formed the lintel of the portrico of the now overthrown edifice, on which were graven the words, "This is the House of God, this is the Gate of Heaven." [3]

Though but the crowning act of a treacherous, cruel, and most tyrannical policy under which they had groaned for years, the Revocation fell upon the Huguenots like a thunder-bolt. Their eyes opened on blank desolation ! Not a single safe-guard had been left them; not a single right of conscience, or of property, or of body of which they had not been stripped. The fact seemed too terrible to be real; the crime – the folly – too stupendous for any king to commit! The Protestants amounted to between one and two millions; their factories and workshops were to be found in nearly all parts of France; their commerce and merchandise upheld its great cities, their energy and enterprise were the life of the nation; and to be all at once flung beyond the, pale of law, beyond the pale of humanity! They were stupefied.

But they soon found that the first blow was far indeed from exhausting the calamities with which this measure was pregnant. The

edict opened out in a series of oppressions to which they could see neither limit nor end. Troops were sent into the provinces to execute it. As an inundation breaks in, or as a tempest sweeps onward, so did a torrent of pillagings, outrages, and murders rush upon France. Louis XIV in all this was not persecuting, he was only converting; for had not the Savior said, "Compel them to come in"? An army of "booted apostles" scouring the country and 800 Protestant churches now in ruins attested the reality of the Revocation; but instantly came new provisions to amplify and perfect the edict. Protestant preaching had already been forbidden on land; now it was forbidden on board ship. Protestants, or new Catholics, as they were termed – for it was assumed that now there were not any more Protestants in France – were forbidden to employ as servants any save Roman Catholics, under penalty of a fine of 1,000 livres. Huguenots were absolutely forbidden to enter, in the capacity of servants, any family, whether Roman Catholic or Huguenot, under pain, if men, of being sent to the galleys, and if women, of being flogged and branded with a fleur-de-lis.

Even English families resident in France were not exempt from the operation of this law. Protestant ministers found lurking in France after the expiry of the fifteen days given them for removal were to be put to death; and, to hasten their departure and make sure that not one heretical teacher remained in the country, a reward of 5,500 livres was offered for the apprehension of ministers in hiding. Pastors who should return to their native land without a written permission from the king were to expiate their offense with their lives, while the terrors of the galleys, imprisonment for life, and confiscation of property were suspended above those who should dare to harbor such. Not a few foreigners, particularly Englishmen, were summoned to abjure, and on their refusal were thrown into prison. The English monarch sent tardy remonstrances against these insults to his crown, and the Court of Versailles responded with an equally tardy satisfaction.

Nor did these annoyances and torments terminate with life. Not only were the death-beds of all Protestants besieged, and their last moments disturbed by the presence of priests, but no grave could receive the body of the man who died without confession and without the Sacrament of extreme unction. His corpse was a thing too vile to rest in the bosom of the earth – it must rot above ground; it was exposed on the highway, or was flung into the public sewer. The body of M. de Chevenix, a man illustrious for his learning and piety, was subjected to this indignity. Dragged away on a hurdle, it was thrown upon a dung-hill. His friends came by night, and wrapping it in linen, bore it reverently on their shoulders, and buried it in a garden, giving vent to their sorrow, as they lowered it slowly into its place of sepulture, by singing the seventy-ninth Psalm: "Save me, O Lord, for the waters are come into my soul." [4]

While one clause of the Act of Revocation made it death for the pastor to remain in France, another clause of the same Act made it death for the layman to flee from it. The land was converted into a vast prison. The frontiers were jealously guarded; sentinels were placed at aft the great outlets of the kingdom; numerous spies kept watch at the seaports; officers patrolled the shore; and ships of war hovered off the coast to prevent escape beyond those dismal limits within which the Protestant had only the terrible alternative of sacrificing his conscience, or surrendering his liberty or life. Many earnestly petitioned for leave to withdraw from a land where to obey God was to incur the wrath of the king, but they petitioned in vain. Of the native subjects of Louis, we know of only two to whom this favor was conceded. The Marshal Schomberg and the Marquis de Ruvigny were permitted to retire, the first to Portugal, and the second to England. The Admiral Duquesne was summoned into the presence of Louis XIV., and urged to change his religion. Pointing to his hairs, which tempest and battle had bleached, the hero said, "For sixty years, sire, have I rendered unto Caesar that which I owe to Caesar: suffer me still to render to God that which I owe to God." He was permitted to live in his native land unmolested. Among the names that lent a glory to France there were none greater than these three. Schomberg was at the head of the army, Duquesne was the creator of the navy, and De Ruvigny was equally renowned in diplomacy; the Revocation deprived France of the services of all the three. This was much, and yet it was but the first installment of that mighty sum which France was destined to pay for the Revocation in after-years.

Nothing can be imagined more appalling than was now the condition of the Protestant, as he looked around him in his native land. The king was his enemy, the law was his enemy, his fellow-countrymen were his enemies; and on all sides of him was a cordon of guards and gens-d'armes, to apprehend and subject him to terrible sufferings should he attempt to escape from the vast prison which had shut him in. But fruitless were all the means taken to prevent the flight of the Huguenots. Fruitless were the peasants that clay and night, armed with scythes and similar weapons, guarded the high-roads, and watched the fords of rivers; fruitless the troops that lined the frontier, and the ships that cruised off the ports and examined all outward-bound vessels; fruitless the offered spoils of the captured fugitives, by which it was sought to stimulate the vigilance of the guards; fruitless even the reports which were put in circulation, that no asylum was

to be found in foreign countries that 10,000 refugees had died of starvation in England, and that of those who had fled, the vast majority were soliciting permission to return. In vain were all these efforts to check the emigration; danger was braved, vigilance was eluded; and the frontiers were crossed by an ever-enlarging crowd, who were even more anxious to find liberty of conscience than to escape from death.

The devices resorted to and the disguises assumed by the fugitives to avoid detection were infinite. Some attired themselves in the garb of pilgrims, and with shallop and palmer-staff pursued their journey to their much-wished-for shrine – a land of liberty. Some traveled as couriers; some as sports-men, carrying a gun on their shoulder; some as peasants driving cattle; some affected to be porters, carrying burdens; others were attired in footmen's liveries, and others wore soldiers' uniforms. The rich in some cases hired guides, who, for sums varying from 1,000 to 6,000 livres, conducted them across the frontier. The poor, setting out alone, chose by-paths and difficult mountain-tracks, beginning each day's journey at night-fall, and when the dawn appeared, retiring to some forest or cavern for rest and sleep. Sometimes they lay concealed in a barn, or burrowed in a hay-stack, till the return of the darkness made it safe for them to continue their flight. Nobles and gentlemen, setting their servants on horseback, would put on their dress, and follow on foot as though they were lackeys.

The women were not less fertile in artifices and disguises. They dressed themselves as servants, as peasants, as nurses; even noble ladies would journey onward trundling wheel-barrows, or carrying hods, or bearing burdens. The young disfigured their faces by smearing or dyeing their skin and cutting off their hair, thus converting blooming youth into withered and wrinkled age. Some dressed themselves as beggars, some sold rosaries, and some reigned to be deaf or insane. [5] The perils that environed them on every side could not daunt their heroic resolution. They urged their fleeing steps onward through the darkness of night and the tempests of winter, through tangled forests and quaking morasses, through robbers and plunderers, forgetting all these dangers in their anxiety to escape the guards of the king and arrive at the rendezvous, and rejoin fathers, or brothers, or husbands, who had reached the appointed place by another route. The terrors of the persecutor had overcome the sense of weariness, and hundreds of miles seemed short to some who, brought up in luxury and splendor, had never before, perhaps, walked a league on foot. The ocean had no terrors to those who knew that there was a land of liberty beyond it, and many crossed the English Channel at that inclement season in open boats. Those on the sea-board got away in Dutch, in English, and in French merchantmen, hidden in bales of goods, or buried under heaps of coal, or stowed in empty barrels, where they had only the bung-hole to breathe through. The very greatness of their misery wrought some alleviation of their hardship. Their woeful plight melted the hearts of the peasants on the frontier, and they suffered them in some instances to escape, when it was in their power to have delivered them up to the dragoons. Even the sentinels sometimes acted as the guides of those whom they had been appointed to arrest. There was hardly a country in Europe into which these men did not flee, but England and Holland and Germany were their main asylums.

It is only an approximate appreciation that can now be formed of the numbers of Protestants who succeeded in escaping from France. The official reports sent in to the Government by the Intendants are not to be relied on. Those whose duty it was to frame them had many motives for making the emigration appear less than it really was. They naturally were unwilling to falsify the previsions of the court which had buoyed itself up with the hope that only a very few would leave their native land. Besides, to disclose the real extent of the emigration might seem to be to present an indictment against themselves, as chargeable with lack of vigilance in permitting so many to escape. It is vain, then, to think of arriving at an exact estimate from these documents, and these are the only official sources of information open to us. But if we look at the dismal blanks left in France, at the large and numerous colonies planted in foreign countries, and at the length of time during which the exodus continued, which was not less than from fifteen to twenty years, it is impossible to resist the conclusion that the emigration was on a scale of gigantic magnitude. Of the one million Protestants and upwards scattered among the twenty millions of Frenchmen, it is probable that from a quarter to half a million emigrated. Jurieu estimates that in 1687, 200,000 persons had already left France.

Antoine Court, one of the preachers of the desert, makes the total 800,000 persons. Sismondi says from 300,000 to 400,000. In a celebrated memorial addressed to Louvois in 1688, Vauban says "that France had lost 100,000 inhabitants, 60,000,000 of francs in specie, 9,000 sailors, 12,000 veterans, 600 officers, and her most flourishing manufactures. The Duke de Saint Sinton says in his Memoirs that all branches of trade were ruined, and that a quarter of the kingdom was perceptibly depopulated." [6]

The face of France was changed in a day. Its framework was suddenly and violently shaken and loosened, as if an earthquake had rocked the land. The current of the nation's life was not indeed stopped outright, but its flow became languid and sluggish beyond the power of king or of parliament again to quicken it. The shock was felt in every department of national enterprise, whether mental or industrial. It was felt at the bar, which it stripped of some of its brightest

ornaments. It was felt in the schools of philosophy. Some of the ablest cultivators of science it drove away. The great astronomer and mathematician, Huygens, had to quit France and seek asylum in Holland. It was felt in the ranks of literature. It chased beyond the frontier some of the finest writers and most eloquent orators that France contained. In the list of these illustrious refugees we find Claude, Jurieu, Lenfant, Saurin, Basnage, Bayle, and Rapin. It was felt in the army and navy. The Revocation drove beyond the frontier the flower of the French soldiers, and decreed that henceforth those banners which had waved so proudly on many a victorious field should be folded in humiliation and defeat. The Revocation was felt in the iron works and smelting furnaces on the Vrigne and at Pouru-Saint-Remy. It was felt in the manufactures of arms and implements of husbandry in the Sedanais. It was felt in the gold and silver lace works of Montmorency and Villiers-le-Bel. It was felt in the hat factories of Coudebec. It was felt in the wool-carding establishments of Meaux; in the cloth manufactories of Picardy, Champagne, and Normandy; in the silk-weaving establishments of Tours and Lyons; in the paper mills of Auvergne and the Angoumois; in the tanneries of Touraine; on the shipping wharves and in the trading establishments of Bordeaux, La Rochelle, and other towns, where the foreign trade had been almost exclusively in the hands of Protestants. In short, not an art was cultivated, not a trade was carried on in France which did not suffer from this blow; not a province was there where the blight it had inflicted was not to be seen in villages half-depopulated, in habitations deserted, in fields lying unploughed, and in gardens and vineyards overgrown with weeds and abandoned to desolation. The ravages inflicted by the Revocation were to be traced not on the land only, but on the ocean also. The fleet of foreign ships which had gladdened the shores and crowded the harbors of France, to carry thence the beautiful and varied fabrics which her ingenious sons had worked on her looms and forged on her anvils, from this time all but disappeared. The art and genius which created these marvels had transferred themselves to Germany, to Holland, to England, and to Scotland, where they had taken root, and were producing those implements with which France had been accustomed to enrich other nations, but which now she had to beg from her neighbors.

Thus strangely did that country defeat what had been the grand object of her policy for half a century. Her aim all through the administrations of Richelieu and Mazarin was to consolidate her power, and lead in the councils of Europe. But this one act of Louis XIV did more to weaken France than all that Richelieu and Mazarin had done to strengthen her. Not only did Louis weaken the fabric of his own power, he enhanced the strength of that interest which it was his great object to abase. The learning, the genius, the art which were the glory of his realm, and would have been the bulwark of his throne, he drove away and scattered among Protestant nations. His folly herein was as conspicuous and as stupendous as his wickedness.

But the Revocation was not the act of the king alone. The clergy and the nation equally with Louis must bear the guilt of his great crime. The people by their approbation or their silence became the ac. complice of the monarch; and the clergy made his act their own by exhausting the whole vocabulary of panegyric in its praise. According to them the past history of the world had nothing more wise or more magnanimous to show, and its author had placed himself among the heroes and demi-gods of fame. We might fill almost a volume with the laudations written and spoken on the occasion. "You have doubtless seen the edict by which the king revokes that of Nantes," wrote Madame de Sevigne to her daughter a few days after the publication of the decree. "There is nothing so fine as all that it contains, and never has any king done or ever will do ought so memorable!" The chancellor, Le Tellier, was so carried away by the honor of affixing the seal of state to this atrocious edict, that he declared that he would never seal another, and in a fit of devout enthusiasm he burst out in the song with which the aged Simeon celebrated the advent of the Savior: "Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, since mine eyes have seen thy salvation." When the men of law were so moved, what might we not expect in the priests? They summoned the people to the churches to unite in public thanksgivings, and they exhausted all their powers of eloquence in extolling the deed. "Touched by so many marvels," exclaimed Bossuet, "let us expand our hearts in praises of the piety of Louis. Let our acclamations ascend to the skies, and let us say to this new Constantine, this new Theodosius, this new Marcian, this new Charlemagne, what the thirty-six Fathers formerly said in the Council of Chalcedon: 'You have strengthened faith, you have exterminated heretics; it is a work worthy of your reign, whose proper character it is. Thanks to you, heresy is no more.' God alone can have worked this marvel. King of heaven, preserve the king of earth: it is the prayer of the Church; it is the prayer of the bishops."

The other great preachers of Paris also celebrated this edict, as throwing into the shade all past monuments of wisdom and heroism. It is in the following terms that Massillon glorifies Louis' victory over heresy: "How far did he not carry his zeal for the Church, that virtue of sovereigns who have received power and the sword only that they may be props of the altar and defenders of its doctrine! Specious

reasons of state! in vain did ye oppose to Louis the timid views of human wisdom, the body of the monarchy enfeebled by the flight of so many citizens, the course of trade slackened either by the deprivation of their industry or by the furtive removal of their wealth; dangers fortify his zeal; the work of God fears not man; he believes even that he strengthens his throne by overthrowing that of error. The profane temples are destroyed, the pulpits of seduction are cast down, the prophets of falsehood are torn from their flocks. At the first blow dealt to it by Louis, heresy falls, disappears, and is reduced either to hide itself in the obscurity whence it issued, or to cross the seas, and to bear with it into foreign lands its false gods, its bitterness, and its rage." [7]

Nor was it popular assemblies only who listened approvingly to these flights of rhetoric; similar laudations of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes were pronounced before the French Academy, and received the meed of its applause. The Abbe Tallemand, when speaking of the demolition of the Protestant church at Charenton, exclaimed – "Happy ruins, the finest trophy France ever beheld! The statues and the triumphal arches erected to the glory of the king will not exalt it more than this temple of heresy overthrown by his piety. That heresy which thought itself invincible is entirely vanquished." Bossuet had compared Louis to Constantine and Theodosius; Tallemand, discoursing to a body of learned men, seeks for a more classic prototype of the King of France. A second Hercules had arisen, he told the Academy, and a second hydra, more terrible by far than the monster which the pagan god had slain, had fallen beneath the blows of this second and greater Hercules.

In the midst of this universal chorus of applause we expect to hear one dissenting voice lifted up. Surely the Jansenists will rebuke the madness of the nation, and in some small degree redeem the honor of France. Alas! they are silent. Not one solitary protest do we hear against this great crime. But the Jansenists are not content to Be silent; they must needs speak, but it is to approve of the Revocation. Through their great interpreter Arnault, they declared that "the means which had been employed were rather violent, but nowise unjust."

It remained for one other and mightier voice to speak. And now that voice is heard, from the other side of the Alps, expressing a full approval of the Revocation. All the previous inferior utterances are repeated and sanctioned in this last and greatest utterance, and thus the Roman Catholic world makes the deed its own, and accepts the Revocation with all its plunder and blood, and the punishment that is to follow it. The Pope, Innocent XI, made a Te Deum be sung at Rome for the conversion of the Huguenots, and sent a special brief to Louis XIV, in which he promised him the eternal praises of the Church, and a special recompense from God for the act of devotion by which he had made his name and reign glorious.

Art was summoned to lend her aid in appropriately commemorating the triumph of Louis over heresy. In front of the Hotel de Ville the provost and sheriffs of Paris erected a brazen statue in honor of the king. [8] It bore the proud words – Ludovico Magno, Victori perpetuo, Ecclesiae ac Regum Dignitatis Assertori (To Louis the Great, eternal Conqueror, and Assertor of the Dignity of the Church and of Kings). Its bas-reliefs displayed a frightful bat hovering above the works of Calvin and Huss, and enveloping them in its dark wings – emblematic imagery borrowed probably from one of Lesueur's masterpieces in Versailles, commemorating a similar event. Three medals were struck to perpetuate the memory of the Revocation. [9] One of them represented Religion planting a cross on a heap of ruins, denoting the triumph of truth over error; with this legend, Religio Victrix (Religion the Conqueror); and underneath were the words, Templis Cal-vinianorum eversis, 1685 (The Temples of Calvin overturned, 1685). Another displays a figure holding a cross, its foot planted on a prostrate foe, while in the background rises proudly an edifice, surmounted by the motto, Haeresis Extincta, and underneath are the words, Edictum Octobris, 1685, – intimating that by the edict of October, 1685, heresy had been extinguished. A third represents Religion placing a crown on the head of Louis, who stands leaning upon a rudder, and trampling under foot a dead enemy, the symbol of heresy. The motto – which, says Weiss, "comprises at once an error and a lie" – is Ob vicies centena millia Cal-vinianorum ad Ecclesiam revocata, 1685 (For a hundred thousand Calvinists, twenty times told, brought back to the Church, 1685).

All these medals proclaim what Louis XIV and the Jesuits believed to be the fact, that Calvinism had been eternally extinguished. The edict of October, 1685, was the date (they imagined) of its utter overthrow. As a matter of fact, however, it was the treachery and cruelty of the Revocation that, above most things, aroused the Protestant spirit of Europe, and brought about that great Revolution which, three short years afterwards, placed William of Orange on the throne of Great Britain.

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