Francis promises to prove himself "Very Christian."
The gratified monarch, delighted with the complaisance of his clerical
subjects, did not hesitate to accede to all the petitions the Cardinal
offered, and declared that, "so far as concerned heresies, he was determined not
to endure them, but would cause them to be wholly extirpated and driven from
his kingdom," inflicting on any found tainted therewith such exemplary
punishment as to demonstrate his right to the honorable title he bore.1
It was a rash promise that Francis had made. Like many other absolute
monarchs, he expected without trouble to bring the religious convictions
of his subjects into conformity with the standard he was pleased to set
up.2 He had yet to learn
1 The declaration is significant and noteworthy as the
first of many similar assurances. Among the documents in Isambert,
Recueil des anc. lois françaises, is a full account of the proceedings
of the notables, xii. 292-301.
2 If Francis was sanguine of success in suppressing the
Reformation in his kingdom, there were others who went farther still.
Barthélemi de Chassanée this very year (1527) chronicles the destruction
of "Lutheranism" in France as an accomplished fact! The passage is not
unworthy of notice. After explaining the significance of the
fleurs-de-lis on the royal escutcheon by the wonderful efficacy of the
lily as the antidote of the serpent's poison, and remarking that the
kings of France had thrice extracted the mortal virus from the bite of
Mohammed, "serpentis venenosi," the writer adds: "Et, his temporibus,
videmus nostram fidem et religionem Christianam sanatam esse a morsu
pestiferi serpentis Lutheri, qui infinitas hæreses in fide Christiana
seminavit, quæ fuerunt extirpatæ a Rege nostro Francisco
Christianissimo, qui non cessat insudare, ut Clemens summus Pontifex a
sua Sede ejectus restituatur, quem Carolus Borbonius dux exercitus
Caroli Austriaci electi in Imperatorem, in urbe obsederat hoc anno
Domini 1527 die 6 Maii." Catalogus Gloriæ Mundi, fol. 143.
that there are beliefs which, when they take root in the hearts of
humble and illiterate peasants or artisans, are too firmly fixed
to be eradicated by the most excruciating tortures man's
ingenuity has been able to contrive. Through fire and sword, the
victim now of persecution, again of open war, the faith denominated
heresy was yet to survive, not only the last lineal descendant of the
king then sitting on the throne of France, but the rule of the dynasty
which was destined to succeed to the power, and reproduce not a few of
the mistakes, of the Valois race.
The provincial council of Sens.
In accordance with the suggestion of the Cardinal of Bourbon, three
provincial councils were held early in the ensuing year (1528). The most
important was the council of the ecclesiastical province of Sens,
which met, however, in the Augustinian monastery at Paris. It was
scarcely to be expected that a synod presided over by Antoine Duprat,
who, to the dignity of cardinal and the office of Chancellor of France,
added the Bishopric of Albi and the Archbishopric of Sens, with the
claim to be Primate of the Gauls and of Germany, should discuss with
severity the morals of the clergy, or issue stringent canons against the
abuse of the plurality of benefices. As an offset, however, the Council
of Sens had much to say respecting the new reformation. The good fathers
saw in the discordant views of Luther and Carlstadt, of Melanchthon and
Zwingle, proof positive that the new doctrines the reformers advanced
were devoid of any basis of truth. They ridiculed the claim of the
Protestants to the presence of the Spirit of God. But they reserved
their severest censures for the practice of holding secret conventicles,
and, with an irony best appreciated by those who understand the
penalties inflicted by the law on the discovered heretics, they gently
reminded the men and women to whom the celebration of a single religious
service according to the dictates of their conscience would have insured
instantaneous condemnation and a death at the stake, that God hates the
deeds of darkness, and that Christ himself said, "What I tell you in
darkness, that speak ye in light."1
1 Labbei Concilia, xix. fol. 1160.
The punishment of heretics.
More practical were the prescriptions of the council's decrees
respecting the punishment of offenders against the unity of the faith.
Heretics who, after conviction, refused to be "united to the church,"
were to be consigned to prison for life, priests to be degraded, the
relapsed to be given over to the secular arm without a hearing.
Heretical books, including translations of the Bible, were to be
surrendered to the bishop. Indeed, it was stipulated that every book
treating of the faith, and printed within the past twenty years, should
be submitted to him for examination. Nor was the council satisfied to
leave the discovery of heresy to accident. It was particularly enjoined
upon every bishop that he, or some competent person appointed by him,
should visit any portion of his diocese in which the taint of unsound
doctrine was reported to exist, and compel three or more persons of good
standing, or even the entire body of the inhabitants of a neighborhood,
to denounce under oath those who entertained heretical views, the
frequenters of secret conventicles, and even those who merely held aloof
from the conversation of the faithful. Lest this stimulus to informers
should prove insufficient to extract the desired knowledge, the threat
was added that persons refusing to testify would be treated as
suspected, and themselves proceeded against.1
The councils of Bourges and Lyons.
Not less severe toward the "Lutheran" doctrines did the other two
provincial councils show themselves. At the Council of Bourges, the
Cardinal of Tournon presided as archbishop--a prelate who was to attain
unenviable notoriety as the prime instigator of the massacre of Mérindol
and Cabrières, of which an account will be given in a subsequent
chapter. Besides the usual regulations for the censure of heretical
books and the denunciation of "Lutherans," the decrees contain the
significant direction that the professors in the University of Bourges
shall employ in their instructions no authors
1 The reader may, if his patience will hold out, wade
through the prolix decrees of the Council of Sens as published by
Cardinal Duprat in 1529, and printed in Labbei Concilia (Venice, 1732),
xix. 1149-1202. It is worthy of remark that the confiscation of the
property of condemned heretics, if laymen, to the state, is ordered,
"tanquam reorum læsæ majestatis." Fol. 1159.
calculated to divert the students from the ceremonies of the church--a
caution deriving its importance from the circumstance that the university,
under the patronage of Margaret of Angoulême, now Duchess of Berry as
well as Queen of Navarre, had become a centre of reformatory activity.
The letter in which the king had called upon the Archbishop of Lyons to
convene the clergy of his province, declared that Francis had ever held
the accursed sect of the "Lutherans" in hatred, horror, and abomination,
and that its extirpation was an object very near his heart, for the
accomplishment of which he would employ all possible means;1 and the
Council of Lyons responded by cordial approval and by the enactment of
fresh regulations to suppress conventicles, to prevent the farther
dissemination of Luther's writings, and, indeed, to forbid all
discussion of matters of faith by the laity. At the same time the
council unconsciously revealed the necessity imposed on the private
Christian to investigate for himself the nature and grounds of his
belief, by strongly reprobating the disastrous custom of admitting into
sacred orders a host of illiterate, uncultivated persons of low
antecedents--beardless youths--and by confessing that this wretched
practice had justly excited the contempt of the world.2
Financial help bought by persecution.
Everywhere the clergy conceded the subsidy required by the exigencies of
the kingdom. But they left Francis in no doubt respecting the price of
their complaisance. This was nothing less than the extermination of the
new sect that had made its appearance in France. And the king
comprehended and fell in with the terms upon which the church agreed to
loosen its purse-strings. No doubtful policy must now prevail! No more
Berquins can be permitted to make their boast that they have been able,
protected by the king's panoply, to beard the lion in his den!
1 Labbei Concilia, xix. fol. 1139.
2 The words of the decree are sufficiently distinct: "Illam
plurimum gravem et onerosam ecclesiis, laicis vero contemtibilem,
sacerdotum multitudinem, qui solent plerumque illiterati, moribus
inculti, servilibus operibus addicti, imberbes, inopes, fictitiis
titulis ad sacros ordines obrepere, non sine magno status clericalis
opprobrio." Ibid., xix. fol. 1128. The decrees of the councils of
Bourges and Lyons are given in Labbei Concilia, xix. 1041-1048, and 1095 etc.
Insult to an image.
An incident occurring in Paris, before the adjournment of the Council of
Sens, gave Francis a specious excuse for inaugurating the more cruel
system of persecution now demanded of him, and tended somewhat to
conceal from the king himself, as well as from others, the mercenary
motive of the change. Just after the solemnities of Whitsunday, an
unheard of act of impiety startled the inhabitants of the capital, and
fully persuaded them that no object of their devotions was safe from
iconoclastic violence. One of those numerous statues of the Virgin Mary,
with the infant Jesus in her arms, that graced the streets of Paris, was
found to have been shockingly mutilated. The body had been pierced, and
the head-dress trampled under foot. The heads of the mother and child
had been broken off and ignominiously thrown in the rubbish.1 A more
flagrant act of contempt for the religious sentiment of the country had
perhaps never been committed. The indignation it awakened must not be
judged by the standard of a calmer age.2 In the desire to ascertain
the perpetrators of the outrage, the king offered a reward of a thousand
crowns. But no ingenuity could ferret them out. A vague rumor, indeed,
prevailed, that a similar excess had been witnessed in a village four or
five leagues distant, and that the culprits when detected had confessed
that they had been prompted to its commission by the promise of a paltry
recompense of one hundred sous for every image destroyed. But, since
no one seems ever to have been punished, it is probable that this report
was a fabrication; and the question whether the mutilation of the Virgin
of the Rue des Rosiers was the deliberate act of a religious
enthusiast, or a freak of drunken revellers, or, as some imagined, a
cunning device of good Catholics to inflame the popular passions against
1 The image was affixed to the house of the Sieur de
Beaumont, at the corner of the Rue des Hosiers and the Rue des Juifs.
Félibien, Hist. de Paris, iv. 676.
2 The strong language of the author of the "Cronique du Roi
Françoys I^er" (edited by G. Guiffrey, Paris, 1860) may serve as an
index of the popular feeling: "La nuict du dimenche, dernier jour de
may, ... par quelque ung pire que ung chien mauldict de Dieu, fut
rompue et couppée la teste à une ymaige de la vierge Marie ... qui fut
une grosse horreur à la crestienté." Page 66.
the "Lutherans," must, for the present, at least, remain a
subject of profound doubt.
But, whoever may have been the author, pains were taken to expiate the
sacrilege. Successive processions visited the spot. In one of these,
five hundred students of the university, chosen from different colleges
and belonging to the first families, bore lighted tapers, which they
placed on the temporary altar erected in front of the image. The clergy,
both secular and regular, came repeatedly with all that was most
precious in attire and relics. To add still more to the pomp of the
propitiatory pilgrimages, Francis himself took part in a magnificent
display, made on the Fête-Dieu, or Corpus Christi (the eleventh of
June). He was preceded by heralds and by the Dukes of Cleves and Ferrara
and other noblemen of high rank, while behind him walked the King of
Navarre, the Cardinal of Lorraine, the Ambassadors of England, Venice,
Florence, and other foreign states, the officers of parliament, and a
crowd of gentlemen of the king's house, archers and persons of all
conditions bringing up the rear. On reaching the spot where the
mutilated statue still occupied its niche, Francis, after appropriate
religious exercises, ascended the richly carpeted steps, and reverently
substituted an effigy in solid silver, of similar size, in place of the
image which had been the object of insult.1
1 The silver image, though protected by an iron grating,
fared no better than its predecessor. Stolen before the death of
Francis, it was succeeded by a wooden statue, and, when this was
destroyed by "heretics," by one of marble! The detailed accounts of the
expiatory processions in Félibien, ii. 982, 983, in the Régistres du
parlement, ibid., iv. 677-679, in G. Guiffrey, appendix to "Cronique du
Roy Françoys I^er," 446-459, from MSS. Nat. Lib., in Gaillard, vi.
434, 435, and in the Journal d'un bourgeois, 348-351, give a vivid view
of the picturesque ceremonial of the times. It must have been a very
substantial compensation for the trouble to which the unknown author of
the outrage of the Rue des Rosiers put the clergy, that the mutilated
statue of the Virgin, having been placed above the altar in the church
of St. Gervais, was said to have wrought notable miracles, and even to
have raised two children from the dead! Journal d'un bourgeois, ubi
supra. See also "Cronique du Roy Françoys I^er," 67, and especially
the poem (Ibid., appendix, 459-464), in twenty-five stanzas of eight
lines each, which, I fear, has nothing to recommend it, unless it be length!
Other icoconoclastic excesses.
From this time forward, iconoclastic demonstrations became more common.
Paintings, also, when exposed to the public view, shared the perils to
which unprotected statues were subjected. The Virgin, and such reputable
saints as St. Roch and St. Fiacre, depicted on the walls of the Rue St.
Martin, were wantonly disfigured, some two years later; so that at last,
the Parliament of Paris, in despair of preventing the repetition of the
act, or of discovering its authors, adopted the prudent course of
forbidding that any sacred representation should be placed on the
exterior walls of a house within ten feet of the ground!1
Berquin's third arrest. He disregards the cautions of Erasmus.
The repeated assurances whereby Francis had conciliated the clergy, and
secured their contributions to the exchequer, embarrassed him in the
exercise of leniency toward Louis de Berquin, now for the third time
arraigned for heresy. Moreover, the audacity and violence of the
iconoclasts, characteristics assumed by him to be indicative of a
disposition to overturn all government, probably took away any
inclination he would otherwise have had to interfere in the intrepid
nobleman's behalf. De Berquin had no sooner been released from his
former imprisonment than he set himself to prepare for new conflicts
with his bigoted antagonists. He even resolved to assume the offensive.
In vain did Erasmus entreat him to be prudent, suggest the propriety of
his temporarily going abroad, and propose that he should apply for some
diplomatic commission as a plausible excuse for absenting himself. Beda,
he told him, was a monster with many heads, each breathing out poison,
while in the "Faculty" he had to do with an immortal antagonist. The
monks would secure his ruin were his cause more righteous than that of
Jesus Christ. Finally, the tremulous scholar begged him, if no
consideration of personal safety moved him, at least not to involve so
ardent a lover of peace as Erasmus in a conflict for which he had no
taste. But his reasoning had no weight with a man of high resolve and
inflexible principle, who could see no honorable course but openly
meeting and overthrowing error. "Do
1 May, 1530. Félibien, ii 988, 989; Journal d'un bourgeois, 410.
you ask," wrote Erasmus to a correspondent interested in learning De
Berquin's fate, "what I accomplished? By every means I employed to deter
him I only added to his courage."1 If we may believe Erasmus's strong
expressions--for his own writings have very nearly disappeared--De Berquin
assailed the monks with a freedom almost equal to that employed by the Old
Comedy in holding up to merited derision the foibles of Athenian generals
and statesmen. He even extracted twelve blasphemous propositions from
Beda's utterances, and obtained a letter from the king enjoining the Sorbonne
either to pass sentence of condemnation on their syndic's assertions, or
to prove their truth from the Holy Scriptures.2 The Dutch
philosopher, aghast at his friend's incredible temerity, besought him
instantly to seek safety in flight; and, when this last appeal proved as
ineffectual as all his frequent efforts in the past, he confessed that
he almost regretted that a friendship had ever arisen which had
occasioned him so much trouble and disquiet.3
A third time Louis de Berquin was arrested, on application of the
officer known as the Promoteur de la foi. His trial was committed to
twelve judges selected by parliament, among whom figured not only the
first president and the vicar-general of the Bishop of Paris, but,
strange to say, even so well-disposed and liberal a jurist as Guillaume
Budé, the foremost French scholar of the age for broad and accurate
learning.4 The case advanced too slowly to meet De Berquin's
impatience. In the assurance of ultimate success, he is even accused by
a contemporary chronicler of having offered the court two hundred crowns
to expedite the trial.5 It soon became evident,
1 "Quæris, quid profecerim? Tot modis deterrens, addidi animum."
2 Erasmus to Utenhoven, ubi supra; also his letter to
Vergara, Sept. 2, 1527, and Beda's Apology, Herminjard, ii. 38, 39, 40.
3 Erasmus to Utenhoven, ubi supra.
4 It was one of the great merits of Francis I., in the eyes
of De Thou, the historian, that he had drawn Budé from comparative
obscurity, and, following his wise counsels, founded the Collége Royale.
Erasmus styled him "The Wonder of France" (De Thou, liv. iii., i. 233),
and Scævole de Ste. Marthe, "omnium, qui hoc patrumque sæculo vixere,
sine controversia doctissimus" (Elog. 3). He was at this time one of the
maîtres de requêtes. Crespin, fol. 58.
5 Journal d'un bourgeois, 378.
however, from, the withdrawal of the liberties at first accorded, that Be Berquin would scarcely escape unless the king again interposed--a contingency less
likely to occur in view of the incessant appeals with which Francis was
plied, addressed at once to his interest, his conscience, and his pride.
But the more desperate the cause of Berquin, and the more uncertain the
king's disposition, the more urgent the intercessions of Margaret of
Angoulême, whose character is nowhere seen to better advantage than in
her repeated letters to her brother about this time.1
Berquin sentenced to public penance, branding, and imprisonment.
The sentence was rendered on the sixteenth of April, 1529. De Berquin,
being found guilty of heresy, was condemned to do public penance in
front of Notre Dame, with lighted taper in hand, and crying for mercy to
God and the blessed Virgin. Next, on the Place de Grève, he was to be
ignominiously exhibited upon a scaffold, while his books were burned
before his eyes. Taken thence in a cart to the pillory, and again
exposed to popular derision on a revolving stage, he was to have his
tongue pierced and his forehead branded with the ineffaceable
fleur-de-lis. His public disgrace over, De Berquin was to be
imprisoned for life in the episcopal jail.2
He appeals, is sentenced to death, and is executed.
More than twenty thousand persons--so intense a hatred had been stirred
up against the reformers--assembled to witness the execution of a
sentence malignantly cruel.3 But, for that day, their expectation
was disappointed. Louis de Berquin gave notice that he appealed to the
absent king and to the Pope himself. It was no part of the programme,
however, that the thrice-convicted heresiarch should gain a fresh
respite and enlist powerful friends in effecting his
1 The series of letters ends with a prayer which it would
have been difficult, we must suppose, for a brother to resist: "Il vous
plera (plaira), Monseigneur, faire en sorte que l'on ne die (dise) point
que l'eslongnement vous ait fait oblier vostre très-humble et
très-obéissante subjette et seur MARGUERITE." Génin, 2de Coll., No. 52.
2 A MS. of the Bibliothèque Nationale, printed by M. Génin
(i. 218, etc.), and G. Guiffrey, Cronique, etc., 76, note, gives these
and other interesting details, which are in part confirmed by Erasmus.
3 Ibid., ubi supra.
release. No sooner were the judges satisfied that he persisted in his appeal,
in spite of the secret and urgent advice of Budé and others, than they
rendered a new and more severe sentence (on the seventeenth of April): he
must pay the forfeit of his obstinacy with his life, and that, too, within a few
The cause of this intemperate haste is clearly set forth by a
contemporary--doubtless an eye-witness of the execution--all whose
sympathies were on the side of the prosecution. It was "lest recourse be
had to the king, or to the regent then at Blois;"2 for the delay of
even a few days might have brought from the banks of the Loire another
order removing De Berquin's case from the commission to the royal
The historian must leave to the professed martyrologist the details of
the constant death of Louis de Berquin, as of the deaths of many other
less distinguished victims of the intolerant zeal of the Sorbonne.
Suffice it to say that although, when he undertook to address the
people, his voice was purposely drowned by the din of the attendants,
though the very children filled the air with shouts that De Berquin was
a heretic, though not a person was found in the vast concourse to
encourage him by the name of "Jesus"--an accustomed cry even at the
execution of parricides--the brave nobleman of Artois met his fate with
such composure as to be likened by a by-stander to a student immersed in
his favorite occupations, or a worshipper whose devout mind was
engrossed by the contemplation of heavenly things.3 There were
indeed blind rumors, as usual in such cases; to the effect that De
Berquin recanted at the last moment; and Merlin, the Penitentiary of
Notre Dame, who attended him, is reported to have exclaimed that
"perhaps no one for a hundred years had died a better Christian."4
But the "Lutherans"
1 It was a slight suggestion of mercy that prompted the
judges to permit him to be strangled before his body was consigned to
2 "Ce qui fut faict et expédié ce mesme jour en grande
diligence, affin qu'il ne fût recourru du Roy ne de madame la Regente,
qui estoit lors à Bloys, etc." Journal d'un bourgeois, 383.
3 For De Berquin's history, see Erasmus, ubi supra;
Journal d'un bourgeois, 378, etc.; Crespin, Actiones et Monimenta (ed.
of 1560), fol. 57-59; Histoire ecclés., i. 5; Félibien, ii. 985; Haag, s. v.
4 Journal d'un bourgeois, and Hist. ecclés., ubi supra.
of Paris had good reason to deny the truth of the former statement, and to
interpret the latter to the advantage of De Berquin's consistent faith--so
great was the rejoicing over the final success attained in crushing the most
distinguished, in silencing the boldest and most outspoken advocate of the
reformation of the church. For, in the eyes of the theological faculty and of
the clergy of France, Louis de Berquin merited to be styled, by way of pre-eminence, a heresiarch.1