Memorable speech of the king.
At the conclusion of the mass--the most brilliant that had ever been
celebrated within the walls of the cathedral, Francis proceeded to the
episcopal palace, to dine in public, with the princes his children, the
high nobility, cardinals, ambassadors, privy counsellors, and some of
the judges of the Parliament of Paris. Here it was that he delivered a
speech memorable in the history of the great religious movement of the
time. Addressing parliament and representatives of the lower judiciary,
Francis plainly disclaimed all sympathy with the Reformation. "The
errors," he said, "which have multiplied, and are even now multiplying,
are but of our own days. Our fathers have shown us how to live in
accordance with the word of God and of our mother Holy Church. In that
church I am resolved to live and die, and I am determined to prove that
I am entitled to be called Very Christian. I notify you that it is my
will that these errors be driven from my kingdom. Nor shall I excuse any
from the task. Were one of my arms infected with this poison, I should
cut it off! Were my own children contaminated, I should immolate them!2
I therefore now impose this duty upon you, and relieve myself of
1 Registres de l'hôtel de ville. Félibien, pièces justif.,
v. 345. In the preceding account these records, together with those of
parliament (ibid., iv. 686-688), the narrative of Félibien himself (ii.
997-999), and the Soissons MS. (Bulletin, xi. 254, 255), have been
chiefly relied upon. See also Cronique du Roy Françoys I^er, 113-121.
2 "En sorte que si un des bras de mon corps estoit infecté
de cette farine, je le vouldrois coupper; et si mes enfans en estoient
entachez, je les vouldrois immoler." Voltaire (Hist. du parlement de
Paris, i. 118), citing the substance of this atrocious sentiment from
Maimbourg and Daniel, who themselves take it from Mézeray, says
incredulously: "Je ne sais où ces auteurs ont trouvé que François
premier avait prononcé ce discours abominable." M. Poirson answers by
giving as authority Théodore de Bèze (Hist. ecclés., i. 13). But on
referring to the documentary records from the Hôtel de Ville, among the
pièces justificatives collected by Félibien, v. 346, the reader will
find the speech of Francis inserted at considerable length, and
apparently in very nearly the exact words employed. The contemporary
Cronique du Roy Françoys I^er, giving the fullest version of the speech
(pp. 121-12), attributes to the king about the same expressions.
responsibility." Turning to the doctors of the university,
the king reminded them that the care of the faith was entrusted to them,
and he therefore appealed to them to watch over the orthodoxy of all
teachers and report all defections to the secular courts.
Constancy of the sufferers.
Francis had spoken in the heat of passion, but, in the words of a
contemporary, "if his fury was great, still greater was the constancy of
the martyrs."1 Of this, indeed, the king did not have to wait long
for a proof. For, after having witnessed, in company with the queen, the
amende honorable of six condemned "Lutherans" or "Christaudins," which
took place on the square in front of the cathedral, Francis, as he
returned to the Louvre, passed the places where these unfortunates were
undergoing their supreme torments--three near the Croix du Tiroir, in
the Rue St. Honoré, and three at the Halles. The first were men of some
note--Simon Fouhet, of Auvergne, one of the royal choristers, supposed
to have been the person who posted the placard in the castle of Amboise,
Audebert Valleton, of Nantes, and Nicholas L'Huillier, from the Châtelet
of Paris. The others were of an inferior station in life--a fruitster, a
maker of wire-baskets, and a joiner. All, however, with almost equal
composure, submitted to their fate as to the will of Heaven, rather than
the sentence of human judges; scarcely seeming, in their firm
anticipation of an immortal crown, to notice the tumultuous outcries of
an infuriated mob which nearly succeeded in snatching them from the
officers of the law, in order to have the satisfaction of tearing their
bodies to pieces.2
Ingenious contrivance for protracting torture.
It would seem, however, that the most relentless enemy could scarcely
have complained that any womanish indulgence had been shown to the
persons singled out to expiate the crime of posting the placard against
the mass. To delay the advent of death, the sole term of their
excruciating sufferings, an ingeniously contrived instrument of torture
was put in play, which if not altogether novel, had at least been but
seldom employed up to this time. Instead of
1 Histoire ecclés., i. 13.
2 Histoire ecclés., ubi supra.
being bound to the stake and simply roasted to death by means of the fagots
heaped up around him, the victim was now suspended by chains over a blazing
fire, and was alternately lowered into it and drawn out--a refinement of cruelty
whose principal recommendation to favor lay in the fact that the diversion it
afforded the spectators could be made to last until they were fully
satisfied, and the executioner chose to allow the writhing sufferer to
be suffocated in the flames.1 So satisfactory were the results of
the Estrapade, that it came to be universally employed as the
instrument for executing "Lutherans," with the exception of a favored
few, to whom the privilege was accorded of being hung or strangled
before their bodies were thrown into the fire. Such was, soon after this
time, the fate of a woman, a school-teacher by profession, found guilty
of heresy. In any case, the judges took effectual measures to forestall
the deplorable consequences that might ensue from permitting the
"Lutherans" to address the by-standers, and so pervert them from the
orthodox faith. The hangman was instructed to pierce their tongue with a
hot iron, or to cut it out altogether; just as, at a later date, the
sound of the drum was employed to drown the last utterances of the
victims of despotism.2
Flight of Marot.
The flames of persecution were not extinguished with the conclusion of
the solemn expiatory pageant. For months strangers sojourning in Paris
shuddered at the horrible sights almost daily meeting their eyes.3
The lingering hope that a prince naturally clement and averse to
needless bloodshed, would at length tire of countenancing these
continuous scenes of atrocity,
1 "Une espèce d'estrapade où l'on attachoit les
criminels, que les bourreaux, par le moyen d'une corde, guindoient en
haut, et les laissoient ensuite tomber dans le feu à diverses reprises,
pour faire durer leur supplice plus longtems." Félibien, ii. 999.
2 Gerdes, Hist. Evang. renov., iv. 109. For the nature of
the penalty, see Bastard D'Estang, Les parlements de France, i. 425,
note on punishments.
3 When John Sturm wrote, March 4th, eighteen--when
Latomus wrote, somewhat later, twenty-four--adherents of the
Reformation had suffered capitally. Bretschneider, Corp. Reform., ii.
855, etc. "Plusieurs aultres héréticques en grant nombre furent après
bruslez à divers jours," says the Cronique du Roy Françoys I^er, p. 129,
"en sorte que dedans Paris on ne véoit que potences dressées en divers lieux," etc.
seemed gradually to fade away. Great numbers of the most intelligent and scholarly consulted their safety in flight; the friendly court of Renée of France, Duchess of Ferrara, affording, for a time, asylum to Clément Marot, the poet,
and to many others. Meantime the suspected "Lutherans" that could not be found
were summoned by the town-crier to appear before the proper courts for trial.
A list of many such has escaped destruction of time.1 Fortunately,
most of them had gotten beyond the reach of the officers of the law, and
the sentence could, at most, effect only the confiscation of their property.
Royal declaration of Coucy, July 16, 1535.
As summer advanced, however, the rigor of the persecution was perceived
to be somewhat abating. Finally, on the sixteenth of July, the king so
far yielded to the urgency of open or secret friends of progress among
the courtiers, as to issue a "Declaration" to facilitate the return of
the fugitives. "Forasmuch," said Francis, "as the heresies, which, to
our great displeasure, had greatly multiplied in our kingdom, have
ceased, as well by the Divine clemency and goodness, as by the diligence
we have used in the exemplary punishment of many of their
adherents--who, nevertheless, were not in their last hours abandoned by
the hand of our Lord, but, turning to Him, have repented, and made
public confession of their errors, and died like good Christians and
Catholics--no further prosecution of persons suspected of heresy shall
be made, but they will be discharged from imprisonment, and their goods
restored. For the same reason, all fugitives who return and abjure
their errors within six months will receive pardon. But
Sacramentarians2 and the relapsed are excluded from this offer.
Furthermore, all men are forbidden, under
1 G. Guiffrey, Cronique du Roy Françoys I^er, 130-132;
Soissons MS. in Bulletin, etc., xi. 253-254. We may recognize, among the
misspelt names, those, for example, of Pierre Caroli, doctor of
theology and parish priest of Alençon, already introduced to our notice;
Jean Retif, a preacher; François Berthault and Jean Courault,
lately associated in preaching the Gospel under the patronage of the
Queen of Navarre; besides the scholar Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples, and
Guillaume Féret, who brought the placards from Switzerland.
2 Under the head of Sacramentarians were included all
who, like Zwingle, denied the bodily presence of Christ in or with the
elements of the eucharist.
pain of the gallows, and of being held rebels and disturbers of the public
peace, to read, teach, translate or print, whether publicly or in private, any
doctrine contrary to the Christian faith."1 The concession, it must be
confessed, was not a very liberal one; for the exiles could return only
on condition of recanting. Yet the new regulations were mild in
comparison with the previous practice, which consigned all the guilty
alike to death, and left no room for repentance. Consequently, there
were not a few, especially of the learned who had been suspected of
heresy, that were found ready to avail themselves of the permission,
even on the prescribed terms.
Alleged intercession of Pope Paul III.
In explanation of this change in the policy of Francis, the most
remarkable rumors circulated among the people. Not the least strange was
one that has been preserved for us by a contemporary.2 It was
reported in the month of June, 1535, that Pope Paul the Third, having
been informed of "the horrible and execrable" punishments inflicted by
the king upon the "Lutherans," wrote to Francis and begged him to
moderate his severity. The pontiff did, indeed, express his conviction
that the French monarch had acted with the best intentions, and in
accordance with his claim to be called the Very Christian King. But he
added, that when God, our Creator, was on earth, He employed mercy
rather than strict justice. Rigor ought not always to be resorted to;
and this burning of men alive was a cruel death, and better calculated
to lead to rejection of the faith than to conversion.3 He therefore
prayed the king to appease his anger, to abate the severity of justice,
and grant pardon to the guilty. Francis, consequently, because of his
desire to please his Holiness, became more moderate, and enjoined upon
parliament to practise
1 "De ne lire, dogmatiser, translater, composer ni
imprimer, soit en public ou en privé, aucune doctrine contrariant à la
foy chrétionne." Declaration of Coucy, July 16, 1535, Isambert, Recueil
des anc. lois franç., xii. 405-407. See also a similar declaration, May
31, 1536, ibid., xii. 504.
2 Journal d'un bourgeois de Paris, 458, 459.
3 Neantmoins Dieu le créateur, luy estant en ce monde, a plus usé de miséricorde
que de rigueur, et qu'il ne faut aucunes fois user de rigueur, et que c'est une cruelle
mort de faire brusler vif un homme, dont parce il pourroit plus qu'autrement
renoncer la foy et la loy. Ibid., ubi supra.
less harshness. For this reason the judges ceased from criminal proceedings against the "Lutherans," and many prisoners were discharged both from the Conciergerie and from the Châtelet.
That this extraordinary rumor was in general circulation appears from
the circumstance that it is alluded to by a Paris correspondent of
Melanchthon; while another account that has recently come to light
states it not as a flying report, but as a well-ascertained fact.1
Its singularity is shown from its apparent inconsistency with the
well-known history and sentiments of the Farnese Paul. It is difficult
to conceive how the pontiff who approved of the Society of Jesus and
instituted the Inquisition in the kingdom of Naples, could have been
touched with compassion at the recital of the suffering of French
heretics. Yet the paradoxes of history are too numerous to permit us to
reject as apocryphal a story so widely current, or to explain it away by
making it only a popular echo of the convictions of the more enlightened
as to the views that were most befitting the claimant to a universal
Clemency again dictated by policy.
Francis himself, however, made no such statement to the Venetian
ambassador at his court. Marino Giustiniano, who gave in his report to
the doge and senate this very year, was informed by the French king
that, on hearing of the suspension by the Emperor Charles the Fifth of
all sentences of death against the Flemish heretics, he had also himself
ordered that against every species of heretics, except the
Sacramentarians, proceedings should indeed be held as before, but not
to the extremity of death.2 It is evident,
1 "Et le très-crestien et bon roy François premier du nom,
à la prière du pape, pardonna à tous, excepté a ceulx qui avoient
touché à l'honneur du saint sacrement de l'autel." Soissons MS.,
Bulletin, xi. 254. Sturm to Melanchthon, July 6, 1535, says: "Pontificem
etiam aiunt æquiorem esse, et haud paulo meliorem quam fuerunt cæteri.
Omnino improbat illam suppliciorum crudelitatem, et de hac re dicitur
misisse [literas ad Regem]." Herminjard, iii. 311. Cf. Erasmus Op.,
2 "Sapendo, come sua Maestà m'ha detto, che Cesare in
Fiandra aveva sospeso ogni esecuzione di morte contro questi eretici, ha
anche egli concesso che contra ogni sorte di eretici si proceda come
avanti, ma citra mortem, eccetto i sacramentarii." Relazione del
clarissimo Marino Giustiniano (1535), Relaz. Venete, i. 155.
therefore, that the suppression of the most cruel features of the persecution had
no higher motive than political considerations. Francis had worked himself into
a frenzy, and counterfeited the sincerity of a bigot, when it was
necessary to make the Pope a friend, and a show of sanguinary ardor
seemed most adapted to accomplish his object. He now became tolerant, on
discovering that the course he had entered upon was alienating the
Protestant princes of Germany, upon whose support he relied in his
contest with Charles the Fifth. The turning-point appears to have been
coincident with the time when he found that the emperor was endeavoring
to outbid him by offering a short-lived toleration to the Netherlanders.
Francis writes to the German princes.
Only eleven days after the solemn propitiatory procession, and while the
trial and execution of the French reformers were still in progress,
Francis had written to his allies beyond the Rhine, in explanation of
the severe punishment of which such shocking accounts had been
circulated in their dominions. He justified his course by alleging the
disorderly and rebellious character of the culprits, and laid great
stress upon the care he had taken to secure German Protestants from
danger and annoyance.1
Melanchthon entreated to come to France.
A month later, Voré de la Fosse was on his way to Wittemberg, on a
private mission to Melanchthon. He was bearer of a long and important
letter from John Sturm. The learned writer, a German scholar of eminence
and a friend of the reformed doctrines, was at this time lecturing in
Paris, and after his departure from Francis's dominions, became rector
of the infant university of Strasbourg. He contrasted the hopeful strain
in which he had described to his correspondent the prospects of
religion, a year since, with the terrors of the present situation.
Crediting the king with the best intentions, he cast the blame of so
disastrous a change upon the insane authors of the placards, who had
drawn on themselves a punishment that would have been well deserved, had
it been moderate in degree. But, unhappily, the innocent had
1 Francis I. to the German Princes, February 1, 1535,
Bretschneider, Corpus Reform., ii. 828, etc.
been involved with the guilty, and informers had gratified private malice by
magnifying the offence. Francis had, it was true, been led, at the
intercession of Guillaume du Bellay and his brother, the Bishop of
Paris, to interpose his authority and protect the Germans residing in
his realm. But, none the less, he begged Melanchthon to fly to his
succor, and to exert an influence over the king which was the result of
Voré's continual praise, in putting an end to this unfortunate state of
things. Francis, he added, was willing to give pledges for the
reformer's safety, and would send him back in great honor to his native
land, after the conclusion of the proposed conference. "Lay aside,
therefore," wrote Sturm, "the consideration of kings and emperors, and
believe that the voice that calls you is the voice of God and of
Christ." Voré followed up this invitation with great earnestness
both in personal interviews and by letter.
What answer should the reformer give to so pressing an invitation? In
his acknowledgment of Sturm's letter, Melanchthon confessed that no
deliberation had ever occasioned him so much perplexity. It was not that
domestic ties retained him or dangers deterred him. But he was harassed
by the fear that he would be unable to accomplish any good. If only this
doubt--amounting almost to despair--could be removed, he would fly to
France without delay. He approved--so he assured his correspondent--of
checking those fanatics who were engaged in sowing absurd and vile
doctrines, or created unnecessary tumults. But there were others against
whom no such charge could be brought, but who modestly professed the
Gospel. If through his exertions some slight concessions were obtained,
while points of greater importance were sacrificed, he would benefit
neither church nor state. What if he secured immunity from punishment
for such as had laid aside the monk's cowl? Must he then consent to the
execution of those conscientious men who disapproved of the evident
abuses of the mass and of the worship of the saints? Now, as it was
1 Sturm to Melanchthon, March 4, 1535, Bretschneider,
Corpus Reform., ii. 855, etc.
2 A letter of Voré is found in Bretschneider, ubi supra, ii, 859.
precisely the expression of this disapprobation that had caused the
present massacres, he trembled with fear lest he should be put in the
position of one that justified these atrocious severities. In short, it
was his advice, he said, in view of the cunning devices by which the
"phalanxes" of monks were wont to play upon the hopes and fears of the
high-born, that Francis, if honestly desirous of consulting the glory of
Christ, and the tranquillity of the church, be rather exhorted to
assemble a general council. Other measures appeared to him, not only
useless, but fraught with peril.1
Formal invitation from the king.
At this point the king himself took a direct part in the correspondence.
On the twenty-third of June, 1535, he sent Melanchthon a formal request
to visit his court, and there dispute, in his presence, with a select
company of doctors, concerning the restoration of doctrinal unity and
ecclesiastical harmony. He assured the reformer that he had been
prompted by his own great zeal to despatch Voré with this letter--itself
a pledge of the public faith--and besought him to suffer no one to
persuade him to turn a deaf ear to the summons.2 Sturm, Cardinal du
Bellay, and his brother, all wrote successively, and urged Melanchthon
to come to a conference from which they hoped for every advantage.3
No wonder that, after receiving so complimentary an invitation,
Melanchthon concluded to go to France, and applied (on the eighteenth of
August) to the Elector John Frederick for the necessary leave of
absence. He briefly sketched the history of the affair, and set forth
his own reluctance to enter upon his delicate mission, until provided
with the elector's permission and a safe conduct from the French
monarch. Two or three months only would be consumed, and he had made
arrangements for supplying his chair at Jena during this short
absence.4 It appears, however, that Melanchthon felt
1 Melanchthon to Sturm, May 5, 1535, ibid., ii. 873.
2 Ibid., ii. 879. The address was, "Dilecto nostro Philippo Melanchthoni."
3 "Nihil est quod de vestro congressu non sperem," are
Cardinal du Bellay's words, June 27th. Ibid., ii. 880, 881.
4 Ibid., ii. 904, 905. The university had been temporarily
removed from Wittemberg to Jena, on account of the prevalence of the plague.
less confident of obtaining a gracious reply to his request than his words would seem to indicate. Consequently, he deemed it prudent to ask Luther to write
first and urge his suit. The latter did not refuse his aid. "I am moved
to make this prayer," said Luther in his letter to the elector, "by the
piteous entreaty of worthy and pious persons who, having themselves
scarcely escaped the flames, have by great efforts prevailed upon the
king to suspend the carnage and extinguish the fires until Melanchthon's
arrival. Should the hopes of these good people be disappointed, the
bloodhounds may succeed in creating even greater bitterness, and proceed
with burning and strangling. So that I think that Master Philip cannot
with a clear conscience abandon them in such straits, and defraud them
of their hearty encouragement."1