Online Biblical studies Rise of the Hugenots 24

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Meanwhile, not only were vigorous measures adopted to guard against attack, but the most powerful nobles, who might be suspected of complicity, were sounded respecting their intentions. Coligny and his brother, D'Andelot, who, in virtue of their offices as Admiral and Colonel-General of the infantry, stood at the head of the army, received affectionate invitations from Catharine to visit the court. Upon[Pg 384] their arrival they were taken apart, and were earnestly entreated by the queen mother and Chancellor Olivier to assist them by their counsel, and not to abandon the young king. To so urgent a request Coligny made a frank reply. He explained the existing discontent and its causes, both religious and political. Persecution, and the usurpation of those who were esteemed foreigners by the French, lay at the root of the troubles. He advised the relaxation of the rigorous treatment of the adherents of the Reformation. Extermination was out of the question. The numbers of the Protestants had become too great to permit the entertaining of such a thought. Moreover, the court might be assured that there were those—and they were not few—who would no longer consent to endure the cruelty to which, for forty years, they had been subjected, especially now that it was exercised under the authority of a young king governed by persons "more hated than the plague," and known to be inspired less by religious zeal than by excessive ambition, and by an avarice that could be satisfied only by obtaining the property of the richest houses in France. An edict of toleration, couched in explicit terms and honestly executed, was the only remedy to restore peace and quiet until the convocation of a free and holy council.[823]bible society, bible society, bible society,

The edict of amnesty March, 1560.
It is promptly registered.

The privy council, if not persuaded of the propriety of initiating a policy of toleration, were at least convinced of the necessity of yielding temporarily to the storm; and even the Guises deemed it advisable to make concessions, which could easily be revoked on the advent of more peaceful times. Ac[Pg 385]cordingly, an edict of pretended amnesty was hastily drawn up, and as expeditiously published. The king was moved to take this step—so the edict made him say—by compassion for the number of persons who, from motives of curiosity or simplicity, had attended the conventicles of the preachers from Geneva—for the most part mechanical folk and of no literary attainments—as well as by reluctance to render the first year of his reign notable in after times for the effusion of the blood of his poor subjects. By the provisions of this important instrument the royal judges were forbidden to make inquisition into, or inflict punishment for any past crime concerning the faith: and all delinquents were pardoned on condition that they should hereafter live as good Catholics and obedient sons of Mother Holy Church. But from the benefits of the amnesty were expressly excluded all preachers and those who had conspired against the person of the king or his ministers.[824] The edict—much to the surprise of those who knew the sanguinary disposition of the judges—was promptly registered by parliament; whether it was that the judges were reconciled to the step by a secret article with which, it was said, they accompanied it, to guide in the future interpretation of the law, or that the majority regarded it as a piece of deceit.[825]

A year's progress.
Beza's comment.

In spite of its insincerity, however, the edict, wrung from the unwilling hands of the cardinal and the privy council, marks an important epoch in the history of the Reformed Church in France. Barely nine months had elapsed since five members of the Parisian Parliament had been thrown into the Bastile for daring to advocate a mitigation of the penalties pronounced against the Protestants, until the assem[Pg 386]bling of the long-promised Œcumenical Council. Little more than two months had passed since one of their number, and the most virtuous judge on the bench, had been ignominiously executed. And now the King of France, with the approval and almost at the instigation of the chief persecutor, proclaimed an oblivion of all offences against religion, and the liberation of all persons imprisoned for heresy. The reformers, who had rarely succeeded by their most strenuous exertions in obtaining the release of a few of their co-religionists, could scarcely restrain a smile when they discovered what a potent auxiliary they had obtained unawares—in the fears of their antagonists. "Would that you could read and understand the number of contradictory edicts they have written in a single month!" wrote one who took a deep interest in French affairs. "You would assuredly be amazed at their incredible fright, when no one is pursuing them, except Him whom they least fear! What you could not succeed in obtaining by any of your embassies in former years, they have given of their own accord to those who sought it not—the liberation of the entire number of prisoners on all sides. Most have been released in spite of their open profession of their faith. The injustice of the judges has, however, led to the retention of a few in chains up to this moment."[826]

A powerful party had arisen.

Notwithstanding its incompleteness and insincerity, however, "the Edict of Forgiveness," as it was termed, is a significant landmark in the history of French Protestantism. It is the point where begins the transition from the period of persecution to the period of civil war. By this concession, reluctantly granted and faithlessly executed, the first recognition was made of the existence of a large and powerful body of dissidents from the Roman Catholic Church. No longer were there a few scattered sectaries whose heretical views might be suppressed by their individual extermination. But a compact and wide-spread and rapidly growing party had assumed dimensions that defied any such paltry measures. It had outgrown persecution. The time for its eradica[Pg 387]tion by open war or by secret massacre might yet come. Meanwhile, it was important to avert present disaster by partial concessions.

Dismay of the court.
New alarms.

The treachery of Des Avenelles had warned the Guises of their danger, but had left them in dismay and doubt. They knew not whom to trust, nor whence to expect the impending blow. Sir Nicholas Throkmorton's correspondence is full of interesting details throwing light upon the confusion and embarrassment of the Guises. "You shall understand," he writes on the seventh of March, "that the Duke of Guise and the Cardinal of Lorraine have discovered a conspiracy wrought against themselves and their authority, which they have bruited (to make the matter more odious) to be meant only against the king: whereupon they are in such fear as themselves do wear privy coats, and are in the night guarded with pistoliers and men in arms. They have apprehended eight or nine, and have put some to the torture." "Being ready to seal up this letter," he adds in a postscript, "I do understand that the fear of this commotion is so great, as the sixth of this present, the Duke of Guise, the Cardinal of Lorraine, the Grand Prior, and all the knights of the Order which were here, watched all night long in the court, and the gates of this town were all shut and kept." On the fifteenth of March he writes: "These men here have their hands full, and are so busied to provide for surety at home, that they cannot intend to answer foreigners. This night a new hot alarm is offered, and our town doth begin again to be guarded. It is a marvel to see how they be daunted, that have not at other times been afraid of great armies of horsemen, footmen, and the fury of shot of artillery: I never saw state more amazed than this at some time, and by and by more reckless; they know not whom to mistrust, nor to trust.... He hath all the trust this daye, that to-morrow is least trusted. You can imagine your advantage." A few days later he writes again: "And now it was thought that this was but a popular commotion, without order, and not to be feared; when, unlooked for, the 17th, in the morning, about four of the clock, there arrived a company of 150 horsemen well appointed, who approached the court gates, and[Pg 388] shot off their pistolets at the church of the Bonhommes, whereupon there was such an alarm and running up and down in the court, as if the enemies being encamped about them had sought to make an entry into the castle: and there was crying, To horse, to horse.... This continued an hour and a half,"[827] etc.

La Renaudie had actually established himself within six leagues of Amboise on the second of March, and had made his arrangements for the vigorous execution of his plans a fortnight later. The Guises were to be seized by a party that counted upon gaining secret admission to the castle, and opening the gates to comrades concealed in the neighborhood. But another act of treachery on the part of a confederate enabled the cardinal and his brother to frustrate a project so sagaciously laid and offering fair promise of success. The parties of cavaliers, who had succeeded, as by a miracle, in eluding the spies and agents of their enemies, posted in every important city of France, and had reached the very vicinity of the court without discovery, were caught in detail at their rendezvous. Companies of fifteen or twenty men thus fell into the hands of the troops hastily assembled by the urgent commands of the king's ministers.

Treacherous capture of Castelnau.
Death of La Renaudie.

A more powerful detachment of malcontents could not be so easily stopped, and threw itself into the castle of Noizay. It seemed more feasible to overcome them by stratagem than by open assault. The Duke of Nemours, having been sent to reduce the place, allowed Baron de Castelnau, commander of the insurgents, a personal interview. Here the Huguenot defended his adherents against the imputation of having revolted against their lawful monarch, and maintained that, on the contrary, they had come to uphold his honor and free him from the intrigues of the Guises. Seeing, however, the hopelessness of resisting the superior force of his enemy, Castelnau consented to capitulate, after exacting from the Duke of Nemours his princely word that he and his followers should receive no injury, and be permitted to have free access to the king, in order to lay before him their grievances.[Pg 389] The pledge thus given was redeemed in no chivalrous manner. No account was made of the terms accepted. Castelnau and his companions-in-arms were at once thrown into the dungeons of Amboise, and steps were taken for their trial on a charge of treason.[828] Much larger numbers, arriving in the vicinity of Amboise ignorant of what had happened, were surrounded by cavalry and brought in tied to the horses' tails. Many a knight, better accoutred than his fellows, was despatched in a more summary manner and stripped of his armor, after which his body was carelessly thrown into a ditch by the roadside.[829] La Renaudie was so fortunate as to escape this fate and the yet more cruel doom that awaited him at Amboise, by meeting a soldier's death, while courageously fighting against a party of Guisards who fell in with him. He had just slain his antagonist—one Pardaillan, his own relative—when (on the nineteenth of March) he was himself instantly killed by the ball from an arquebuse fired by his opponent's servant.[830]

Plenary powers given to the Duke of Guise.

While the alarm arising from the "tumult" was yet at its height, the Guises took advantage of it to obtain yet larger powers, at the same time securing their position against future assaults. The king, in his terror, was readily induced to accept the warlike uncle of his wife as the only person on whose military prowess and faithfulness he could rely. He regarded the interest of the Guises and his own as identical; for he had been told, and he firmly believed it, that the enmity of the insurgents was directed no less against the crown than against its unpopular ministers.[831] On the seven[Pg 390]teenth of March he therefore gave a commission to "Francis of Lorraine, Duke of Guise, peer, grand master, and grand chamberlain," to be his lieutenant-general with absolute powers, promising to approve of all his acts, and authorizing him to impose the customary punishment upon the seditious, without form or figure of process.[832]

Chancellor Olivier opposes.
Forgiveness to the submissive.

There were those about the monarch who could not but look with concern upon the unlimited authority thus accorded to an ambitious prince. Chancellor Olivier was of this number. He at first refused to affix the seal of state to a paper which falsely purported to have been made by advice of the council. It was, however, at length decided that another edict should be published contemporaneously, extending forgiveness to all that had assembled in arms in the neighborhood of the city of Amboise, under color of desiring to present to the king a confession of their faith. To avail themselves of the benefits of this pardon, they must, within "twice twenty-four hours," return to their homes, in companies of two, or, at the most, three together. The disobedient were to be hung without process of law, and the tocsin might be rung to gather a force for the purpose of capturing them. The king, however, invited all that desired to present him their requests to depute one of their number to lay them before his council, promising, on the pledge of his royal word, redress and security.[833]

Explained away by a new edict.

The acts of the court little agreed with these words of clemency. Many of those who, in obedience to the edict, turned their steps homeward, found that edict to be only a snare for their simplicity. Indeed, five days only had elapsed when, on the twenty-second of March, a fresh[Pg 391] edict, explanatory of the former, excluded from the amnesty all that had taken part in the conspiracy![834]

Carnival of blood.
The young king visibly affected.

But it was at Amboise that the vengeance of the Guises found its widest scope. Day and night the execution of the prisoners stayed not. Their punishment was ingeniously diversified. Some were decapitated, others hung; still others were drowned in the waters of the Loire.[835] The streets of Amboise ran with blood, and the stench of the unburied corpses threatened a pestilence. Ten or twelve dead bodies, in full clothing and tied to a single pole, floated down from time to time toward the sea, and carried tidings of the wholesale massacre to the cities on the lower Loire. Neither trial nor publication of the charge preceded the summary execution. Most frequently the victims were placed in the hangman's hand immediately after the hour for dinner, that their dying agonies might furnish an agreeable diversion to the ladies of the court, who watched the gibbet from the royal drawing-rooms. Few, besides the Duchess of Guise, daughter of Renée of Ferrara, manifested any disgust at the repulsive spectacle. Some of the prisoners who importunately insisted on seeing the king, and making before him a profession of their faith, were summarily hanged from the castle windows. One intrepid reformer had been so fortunate as to be admitted to the queen mother's presence, and there, by his ready and cogent reasoning, had well-nigh brought the Cardinal of Lorraine to admit that his view of the Lord's Supper was correct. Catharine's attention having been for a moment withdrawn, when she returned to the discussion the man had disappeared. Actuated by curiosity or by a desire to spare his life, she requested him to be sent for. It was too late; he had already been despatched.[836] For the most part, the victims displayed great constancy and courage. Many died with the words of the psalms[Pg 392] of Marot and Beza on their lips.[837] Castelnau, after having in his interrogatory made patent to all the hypocrisy of the cardinal and the cowardice of the chancellor, died maintaining that, before he was pronounced guilty of treason, the Guises ought to be declared kings of France. Villemongys, upon the scaffold, dipped his hands in the blood of his companions, and, raising them toward heaven, exclaimed in a loud voice: "Lord, this is the blood of Thy children, unjustly shed. Thou wilt avenge it!"[838] The body of La Renaudie was first hung upon one of the bridges of Amboise, with the superscription: "La Renaudie, styling himself Laforest, author of the conspiracy, chief and leader of the rebels." Afterward it was quartered, and his head, in company with the heads of others, was exposed upon a pole on a public square.[839] The sight of these continually recurring executions, succeeding a fearful struggle in which so many of his subjects had taken part, is said to have affected even the young king, who asked, with tears, what he had done to his people to animate them thus against him. It is even reported that, catching for an instant, through the mist with which his advisers sought to keep his mind enshrouded, a glimpse of the true cause of the discontent, he made a feeble suggestion, which was easily parried, that the Guises should for a time retire from the court, in order that he might find out whether the popular enmity was in reality directed against him, or against his uncles.[840] Their fertile invention, however, was not slow in concocting a story that turned his short-lived pity into settled hatred of the "Huguenot heretics."

The elder D'Aubigné and his son.

On others, and especially upon those whose hearts throbbed with patriotic devotion, a less transient impression was made. Some months after, the young Agrippa d'Aubigné, then a mere child of ten years, was traversing the city of Amboise with his[Pg 393] father. The impaled heads of the victims were still to be recognized. The barbarous sight moved the elder D'Aubigné's soul to its very depths. "They have beheaded France, hangmen that they are!" he cried out in the hearing of the hundreds that were present at the fair. Then, spurring his horse, he scarcely escaped the hands of the rabble who had caught his words. Afterward, when his young son had rejoined him, he placed his hand on Agrippa's head, and exclaimed, full of emotion: "My child, you must not spare your head after mine, to avenge these chieftains full of honor, whose heads you have just seen! If you spare yourself in this matter, you will have my curse."[841]

Peril of the Prince of Condé.
He is summoned by the king.
Condé's defiance.
Guise's offer.

The Prince of Condé had set out for the court about the time of the discovery of the conspiracy. If the coldness of the courtiers whom he met on the way did not convince him that he was suspected, the position in which he soon found himself at Amboise left him no doubts. Surrounded by spies, he was viewed more as a prisoner than as a guest. The Guises even counselled Francis to stab him with his dagger while pretending to sport with him. The crime was averted both by the caution of the prince and by a reluctance on the part of the young king to imbrue his hands in the blood of his kinsman—a sentiment which the Guises interpreted as cowardice.[842] But, unable to resist the urgency of those who accused Condé of being the true head of the conspiracy, and maintained that the testimony of many of the prisoners rendered the fact indubitable, Francis at length summoned the young Bourbon to his presence. He informed him of the accusations, and assured him that, should they prove true, he would make him feel the difficulty and the danger of attacking a king of France. At Condé's request an assembly of all the princes, and of the members of the Privy Council and of the Order of St. Michael, was summoned, that he might return his answer to the charges laid against him.[843][Pg 394] In the midst of the august gathering, Louis of Bourbon arose and recited the conversation which he had had with the king. He knew, he said, that he had enemies about him who sought his entire ruin and that of his house. He had, therefore, solicited to be heard in this company, and his answer was: that, excepting the person of the king, his brothers, and the queens, his mother and wife—and he said it with all respect to their presence—whoever had asserted to the king that Condé was the chief of certain seditious individuals who were said to have conspired against his person and estate, had "falsely and miserably lied." To prove his innocence he offered to waive for the time the privileges of his rank as prince of the blood, and in single combat force his accuser at the point of the sword to confess himself a poltroon and a calumniator. As Condé looked proudly around, no one ventured to accept the gauntlet he had thrown down. On the contrary, the Duke of Guise, his most bitter enemy, promptly stepped forward to offer him his services as second in the single combat proposed! Hereupon Condé begged the king to esteem him hereafter a faithful and honorable man, and entreated his Majesty to lend no ear to the authors of such calumnies, but to regard them as common enemies of the crown and of the public peace.[844]

An alleged admission of disloyal intentions by La Renaudie.

It is well known that the Huguenots were accused by their enemies of intending to remodel the government of France. According to some, the king was to be retained, but shorn of his authority; according to others, he was to be dispensed with altogether. Under any circumstances, the Swiss confederation was to be imitated or reproduced in France. That which gave the pretended scheme most of its air of probability, in the eyes of the unreflecting, and compensated[Pg 395] for the entire absence of proof of its substantial reality, was the familiarity of many of the Huguenots—both religious and political—with Geneva, Basle, Berne, and other small republican states. These were fountains of Protestant doctrine; these had afforded many a refugee shelter from persecution in France. It was notorious that the free institutions of these cities were the object of admiration on the part of the Calvinists.[845]

I believe that no contemporary writer has brought forward a particle of evidence in support of this view, and impartial men have rejected it as incredible. But a history of the Parliament of Bordeaux, lately published,[846] contains an extract from the records of that court, which, if trustworthy, would go far to establish the reality of treasonable designs entertained by the Huguenots. Under date of Sept. 4, 1561, the following entry appears:

"Ledit jour, M. Géraut Faure, official de Périgueux, a dit: qu'il y a deux ans que le feu Sieur de La Renaudie fust à la maison dudit official, à Nontron, lui dire que c'estoit grande folie qu'un tel royaume fust gouverné par un roi seul, et que si l'official vouloit l'entendre, qu'il lui feroit un grand avantage; car on délibéroit de faire un canton à Périgueux, et un autre a Bordeaux dont il espéroit avoir la superintendance. Et lors luy tenant de tels propos, retira à part ledit official sans qu'autre l'entendist. Ainsi signé: Faure."

The late M. Boscheron des Portes, giving full credit to the assertion of the "official" of Périgueux, believed that the party of which La Renaudie was a prominent leader contemplated, in 1559-1560, the formation of "a federative republic broken up into cantons, the number and situation of which were already, it would appear, determined upon by the authors of the project." And he deplores the blind sectarian spirit which could induce Frenchmen to acquiesce in a plan designed to destroy the unity and consequent power of a realm whose consolidation every successive king since the origin of the monarchy had unceasingly pursued.

I imagine that few unbiassed minds will follow this usually judicious historian in his singularly precipitate acceptance of the "official's" statement. It is in patent contradiction with well-known facts respecting the constitution of the Huguenot party. The noblemen who gave this party their support had everything to lose, and nothing to gain, by the change from a monarchical to a republican form of government. Condé, the "chef muet," was a prince of the blood, not so far removed from the throne as to regard it altogether im[Pg 396]possible that he or his children might yet succeed to the crown. The main body of the party had had no reason to entertain hostility to regal authority. The prevailing discontent was not directed against the young king, but against the persons surrounding him who had illegally usurped his name and the real functions of royalty. If persecution for religion's sake had long raged, the victims had never uttered a syllable smacking of disloyalty, and continued to hope, not without some apparent reason, that the truth might yet reach the heart of kings.

But, independently of the gross inconsistency between the design ascribed to La Renaudie and the known sentiments of the Huguenots at this time, there are other marks of improbability connected with the statement of Géraut Faure. It was not made at the time of the pretended disclosure, or shortly after, when, if genuine, it would have insured the informer favor and reward; but, after the lapse of "two years," when Francis the Second had been dead nine months, and when under a new king fresh political issues had arisen. In fact, if the term of two years be construed strictly, it carries us back to September, 1559, when Francis the Second had been barely three months on the throne, and the plans of the Huguenots had, to all appearance, by no means had time to assume the completeness implied in Faure's statement. Not to speak of the great vagueness and the utter absence of circumstantial details in the announcement of the conspiracy and in the promised advantages, it should be remarked that the confidant selected by La Renaudie was a very unlikely person to be chosen. The "official," an ecclesiastical judge deputed by the Bishop of Périgueux to take charge of spiritual jurisdiction in his diocese, could scarcely be regarded by La Renaudie as the safest depositary of so valuable a trust.

[Pg 397]



Rise of the name "Huguenots."
Various explanations given.

The tempest which had threatened to overwhelm the Guises at Amboise had been successfully withstood; but quiet had not returned to the minds of those whose vices were its principal cause. The air was still thick with noxious vapors, and none could tell how soon or in what quarter the elements of a new and more terrible convulsion would gather.[847] The recent commotion had disclosed the existence of a body of malcontents, in part religious, in part also political, scattered over the whole kingdom and of unascertained numbers. To its adherents the name of Huguenots was now for the first time given.[848] What the origin of this celebrated appellation was, it is now perhaps impossible to discover. Although a number of plausible derivations have been given, it is not unlikely that all are equally far removed from the truth, and that the word arose from some trivial circumstance that has completely passed into oblivion. It has been traced back to the name of the Eidgenossen or confederates, under which the party of freedom figured in Geneva when the authority of the bishop[Pg 398] and duke was overthrown;[849] or to the Roy Huguet, or Huguon, a hobgoblin supposed to haunt the vicinity of Tours, to whom the superstitious attributed the nocturnal assemblies of the Protestants;[850] or to the gate du roy Huguon of the same city, near which those gatherings were wont to be made.[851] Some of their enemies maintained the former existence of a diminutive coin known as a huguenot, and asserted that the appellation, as applied to the reformed, arose from their "not being worth a huguenot" or farthing.[852] And some of their friends, with equal confidence and no less improbability, declared that it was invented because the adherents of the house of Guise secretly put forward claims upon the crown of France in behalf of that house as descended from Charlemagne, whereas the Protestants loyally upheld the rights of the Valois sprung from Hugh Capet.[853] In the diversity of[Pg 399] contradictory statements, we may perhaps be excused if we suspend our judgment of their respective merits, and prefer to look upon this partisan name as one with whose original import not a score of persons in France besides its fortuitous inventor may have been acquainted, and which may have had nothing to recommend it to those who so readily adopted it, save novelty and the recognized need of some more convenient name than "Lutherans," "Christaudins," or the awkward circumlocution, "those of the religion." Be this as it may, not a week had passed after the conspiracy of Amboise before the word was in everybody's mouth. Few knew or cared whence it arose.[854]

Its sudden rise.

A powerful party, whatever name it might bear, had sprung up, as it were, in a night. There was sober truth conveyed in the jesting letter of some fugitives to the Cardinal of Lorraine. Twenty or thirty Huguenots succeeded in breaking the bars of their prison at Blois, and, letting themselves down by cords, escaped. Some others at Tours, a few days later, were equally fortunate. Scarcely had the latter regained their liberty when they wrote a letter to the prelate who was supposed to take so deep an interest in their concerns, informing him that, having heard of the escape of his prisoners at Blois, they had been so grieved, that, for the love they bore him, they had immediately started out in search. And they begged him not to distress himself on account of their absence; for they assured him that they would all soon return to see him, and would bring with them not only these, but all the rest of those that had conspired to take his life.[855]

How to be accounted for.

No feature of the rise of the Reformation in France is more[Pg 400] remarkable than the sudden impulse which it received during the last year or two of Henry the Second's life, and especially within the brief limits of the reign of his eldest son. The seed had been sown assiduously for nearly forty years; but the fruit of so much labor had been comparatively slight and unsatisfactory. Much of the return proved to be of a literary and philosophical, rather than of a religious character, and tended to intellectual development instead of the purification of religions belief and practice. Much of the seed was choked by relentless persecution. Bishops and preachers, the gay poet, and the time-serving courtier, fell away with alarming facility, when the blight of the royal displeasure fell upon those who professed a desire to abolish the superstitious observances of the established church.

A sudden harvest.

But now, within a few brief months, the harvest seemed, as by a miracle, to be approaching simultaneously over the whole surface of the extended field. The grains of truth long since lodged in an arid soil, and apparently destitute of all vitality, had suddenly developed all the energy of life. France to the reformers, whose longing eyes were at length permitted to see this day, was "white unto the harvest," and only the reapers were needed to put forth the sickle and gather the wheat into the garner. There was not a corner of the kingdom where the number of incipient Protestant churches was not considerable. Provence alone contained sixty, whose delegates this year met in a synod at the blood-stained village of Mérindol. In large tracts of country the Huguenots had become so numerous that they were no longer able or disposed to conceal their religious sentiments, nor content to celebrate their rites in private or nocturnal assemblies. This was particularly the case in Normandy, in Languedoc, and on the banks of the Rhône.

The progress of letters
and of intelligence.

It may be worth while to pause here, and inquire into some of the causes of this rapid spread of the doctrines of the Reformation after the long period of comparative stagnation preceding. One of these was undoubtedly the astonishing progress of letters in France during the last forty years. From being neglected and rough, the French language, during[Pg 401] the first half of the sixteenth century, became the most polite of the tongues spoken in Western Europe—thanks to a series of eminent prose writers and poets who graced the royal court. The generation reaching manhood in the latter years of the reign of Henry the Second were far better educated than the contemporaries of Francis the First. The public mind, through the elevating tendencies of schools fostered by royal bounty, was to a considerable degree emancipated from the thraldom of superstition. It repudiated the silly romanese, passing for the lives of the saints, with which the public had formerly been satisfied. It scrutinized minutely every pretended miracle of the papal churches and convents, and exposed the trickery by which a corrupt clergy sought to maintain itself in popular esteem. Thus the growing intelligence and widening information of the people prepared them to appreciate the merits of the great doctrinal controversy now occupying the attention of enlightened minds. Interest in the discussion of the most important themes that can occupy the human contemplation was both stimulated and gratified by a constant influx of religious works from the teeming presses of Strasbourg, Basle, Lausanne, Neufchâtel, and especially Geneva. And the verdict of the great majority of readers and thinkers was favorable to the Swiss and German controversialists.

Calvin's Institutes.
Marot and Beza's Psalms.

Next to the Bible, translated originally by Olivetanus, and in its successive editions rendered more conformable to the Hebrew and Greek texts, the "Christian Institutes" exerted the most powerful influence. The close logic of Calvin's treatises, speaking in a style clear, concise and nervous, and touching a chord of sympathy in each French reader, made its deep impress upon the intellect and heart, while captivating the ear. Calvin's commentaries on the sacred volume rendered its pages luminous and familiar. Other works exerted an influence scarcely inferior. The "Actions and Monuments" of the martyrs, by Jean Crespin, printer and scholar, not only perpetuated the memory of the witnesses for the truth, but stimulated others to copy their fidelity. Marot and Beza's metrical versions of the Psalms, wafted into popularity, even among those[Pg 402] who at first little sympathized with the piety of the words, by the novelty and beauty of the music to which they were sung, were powerful auxiliaries to the arguments of the theologian. They entered the house of the peasant and invested its homely scenes with a calm derived from the contemplation of the bliss of a heaven where the fleeting distinctions of the present shall melt away. They nerved the humble artisan to patience and to the cheerful endurance of obloquy and reproach. They attracted to the gathering of persecuted reformers in the by-street, in the retired barn, or on the open heath or mountain side, the youth who preferred their melody and intelligible words to the jargon of a service conducted in a tongue understood only by the learned. In the royal court, or rising in loud chorus from a thousand voices on the crowded Pré-aux-Clercs, they were winged messengers of the truth, where no other messengers could have found utterance with impunity.

Morals and martyrdom.

The blameless purity of life of the men and women whom, for religion's sake, the officers of the law put to death with every species of indignity and with inhuman cruelty, when contrasted with the flagrant corruption of the clergy and the shameless dissoluteness of the court, openly fostered for their own base ends by cardinals themselves accused of every species of immorality and suspected of atheism, deeply affected the minds of the reflecting. One Anne Du Bourg put to death by a Charles of Lorraine made more converts in a day than all the executioners could burn in a year.

Character of the ministers from Geneva.

But, if the rapid spread of Protestant doctrines at this precise date is due to any one cause more than to another, that cause may probably be found in the character and numbers of the religious teachers. Converts from the Papal Church, principally priests and monks, were the first apostles of the Reformation. Few of them had received systematic training of any kind, none had a thorough acquaintance with biblical learning. Many embraced the truth only in part; some professed it from improper motives. The Lenten preachers whose leaning towards "Lutheranism" was sufficiently marked to attract the hatred of the Sorbonne, were generally orators,[Pg 403] more solicitous of popularity than jealous for the truth—fickle and inconstant men whose apostasy inflicted deep wounds upon the cause with which they had been identified, and more than neutralized all the good done by their previous exertions. But now a brotherhood of theologians took their place, not less zealous for the faith than disciplined in intellect. Geneva[856] was the nursery from which a vigorous stock was transplanted to French soil. The theological school in which Calvin and Beza taught, moulded the destinies of France. The youths who came from the shores of Lake Leman were no neophytes, nor had they to unlearn the casuistry of the schools or to throw off a monastic indolence which habit had made a second nature. They embraced a vocation to which nothing but a stern sense of duty, or the more powerful attraction of Divine love, could prompt. They entered an arena where poverty, fatigue, and almost inevitable death stared them in the face. But they entered it intelligently and resolutely, with the training of mind and of soul which an athlete might receive from such instructors, and their prayerful, trustful and unselfish endeavor met an ample recompense.[857][Pg 404]

The Huguenots of Valence
seize the church of the Franciscans.

The course of events in many cities of Southern France is illustrated by the occurrences at Valence, which the most authentic and trustworthy historian of this reign has described at length. This episcopal city, situated on the Rhône, about midway between Lyons and Avignon, had for some time contained a small community of Huguenots. When, in order to avoid persecution, their minister, who had become known to their enemies, was replaced by another, a period of unexampled growth began. The private houses in which the Protestants met were too small to contain the worshippers. They now adjourned to the large schools, but at first held their services by night. Soon their courage grew with the advent of a second minister and with large accessions to their ranks. The younger and more impetuous part of the Protestants, disregarding the prudent counsels of their pastors and elders, ventured upon the bold step of seizing upon the Church of the Franciscans, and caused the Gospel to be openly preached from its pulpit. The people assembled, summoned by the ringing of the bell; and it was not long before the reformed doctrines were relished and embraced by great crowds. A goodly number of armed gentlemen simultaneously took possession of the adjoining cloisters, and protected the Protestant rites. The co-religionists of Montélimart and Romans, considerable towns not far distant, emboldened by the example of Valence, resorted to public preaching in the churches or within their precincts.[858] /hugenots, huguenots, hugenot, huguenot,hugenots, huguenots, hugenot, huguenot,hugenots, huguenots, hugenot, huguenot

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