Intercession of the Germans.
The Mérindol confession is said to have found its way even to Paris, and
to have been read to the king by Châtellain, Bishop of Maçon, and a
favorite of the monarch. And it is added that, astonished at the purity
of its doctrine, Francis asked, but in vain, that any erroneous teaching
in it should be pointed out to him.4 It is not, indeed, impossible
that the king's interest in his Waldensian subjects may have been
deepened by the receipt of a respectful remonstrance against the
persecutions now raging in France, drawn up by Melanchthon in the name
of the Protestant princes and states of Germany.5
1 Given in full by Crespin, ubi supra, fols. 104-110, and
by Gerdes., Hist. Reform., iv. 87-99; in its brief form, as originally
composed in French to be laid before the Parliament of Provence, in
Bulletin de l'hist. du prot. français, viii. 508, 509. Several articles
were added when it was laid before Sadolet. Crespin, fol. 110.
2 De Thou, i. 540; Crespin, fol. 110.
3 Crespin, fols. 110, 111.
4 Ibid., fol. 110.
5 May 23, 1541. Bretschneider, Corpus Reform., iv. 325-328;
Gerdes., iv. (Doc). 100,101. But when the Germans intervened later in
behalf of the few remnants of the dispersed Waldenses, they received a
decided rebuff: "Il leur répondit assez brusquement, qu'il ne se mêloit
pas de leurs affaires, et qu'ils ne devoient pas entrer non plus dans
les siennes, ni s'embarrasser de ce qu'il faisoit dans ses États, et de
quelle manière il jugeoit à propos de châtier ses sujets coupables." De
Thou, i. 541.
Death of President Chassanée, who is succeeded by Baron d'Oppède.
Military preparations stopped by a second royal order.
The Arrêt de Mérindol yet remained unexecuted when, Chassanée having
died, he was succeeded, in the office of First President of the
Parliament of Provence, by Jean Meynier, Baron d'Oppède. The latter was
an impetuous and unscrupulous man. Even before his elevation to his new
judicial position, Meynier had looked with envious eye upon the
prosperity of Cabrières, situated but a few miles from his barony; and
scarcely had he taken his place on the bench, before, at his bidding,
the first notes of preparation for a great military assault upon the
villages of the Durance were heard. The affrighted peasants again had
recourse to the mercy of their distant sovereign. A second time Francis
(on the twenty-fifth of October, 1544) interfered, evoking the case from
parliament, and assuming cognizance of it until such time as he might
have instituted an examination upon the spot by a "Maître de requêtes"
and a theologian sent by him.1
The interruption was little relished. A fresh investigation was likely
to disclose nothing more unfavorable to the Waldenses than had been
elicited by the inquiries of Du Bellay, or than the report which had led
Louis the Twelfth, on an earlier occasion (1501), to exclaim with an
oath: "They are better Christians than we are!"2 and, what was
worse, the poor relations, both of the prelates and of the judges, had
only a sorry prospect of enriching themselves through the confiscation
of the property of the lawful owners.3 It was time to venture something
1 Hist. ecclés., i. 27, 28; Crespin, fol. 114.
2 Vesembec, apud Perrin, History of the Old Waldenses
(1712), xii. 59; Garnier, xxvi. 23.
3 Henry II.'s letters of March 17, 1549, summoning Meynier
and his accomplices to the bar of the Parliament of Paris, state
distinctly the motives of the perpetrators of the massacre, as alleged
by the Waldenses in their appeal to Francis I.: "Auquel ils firent
entendre, qu'ils étaient journellement travaillés et molestés par les
évêques du pays et par les présidens et conseillers de notre
parlement de Provence, qui avaient demandé leurs confiscations et
terres pour leurs parens," etc. Hist. ecclés., ubi supra.
for the purpose of obtaining the coveted prize. Accordingly,
the Parliament of Aix, at this juncture, despatched to Paris one of its
official servants, with a special message to the king. He was to beg
Francis to recall his previous order. He was to tell him that Mérindol
and the neighboring villages had broken out into open rebellion; that
fifteen thousand armed insurgents had met in a single body. They had captured
towns and castles, liberated prisoners, and hindered the course of justice.
They were intending to march against Marseilles, and when successful would establish a republic fashioned on the model of the Swiss cantons.1
Francis, misinformed, revokes his last orders.
Thus reinforced, Cardinal Tournon found no great difficulty in exciting
the animosity of a king both jealous of any infringement upon his
prerogative, and credulous respecting movements tending to the
encouragement of rebellion. On the first of January, 1545, Francis sent
a new letter to the Parliament of Aix. He revoked his last order,
enjoined the execution of the former decrees of parliament, so far as
they concerned those who had failed to abjure, and commanded the
governor of Provence, or his lieutenant, to employ all his forces to
exterminate any found guilty of the Waldensian heresy.2
1 "Sur ce que l'on auroit fait entendre audit feu Seigneur Roi, qu'ils étaient en armes
en grande assemblée, forçant villes et châteaux, eximant les prisonniers des prisons,"
etc. Letters Patent of Henry II., ubi supra, i. 46; also, i. 28; De Thou, i. 541.
Notwithstanding the evident falsity of these assertions of Courtain, the parliament's
messenger, writers of such easy consciences as Maimbourg (Hist. du calvinisme, liv. ii. 83)
and Freschot (Origine, progressi e ruina del Calvinismo nella Francia, di D. Casimiro
Freschot, Parma, 1693, p. 34) are not ashamed to endorse them. Freschot says: "Nello
stesso tempo che mandavano à Parigi le loro proposizioni, travagliavano
ad accrescere le loro forze, non che ad assicurare il proprio Stato. Per
il che conseguire avendo praticato alcune intelligenze nella città di
Marsiglia, s'avanzarono sin' al numero di sedici mila per
impossessarsene," etc. The assertions of so ignorant a writer as
Freschot shows himself to be, scarcely require refutation. See, however,
Le Courrayer, following Bayle, note to Sleidan, ii. 256. The impartial
Roman Catholic continuation of the Eccles. Hist. of the Abbé Fleury,
xxviii. 540, gives no credit to these calumnies.
2 The substance of the royal order of January 1, 1545, is
given in the Letters-Patent of Henry II., dated Montereau, March 17,
1549 (1550, New Style), which constitute our best authority: "Le feu dit
Seigneur permit d'exécuter les arrêts donnés contre eux, révoquant
lesdites lettres d'évocation, pour le regard des récidifs non ayant
abjuré, et ordonna que tous ceux qui se trouveraient chargés et coupables
d'hérésie et secte Vaudoise, fussent exterminés," etc. Hist. ecclés., i. 46.
His letter construed as authorizing a new crusade.
The new order had been skilfully drawn. The "Arrêt de Mérindol,"
although not alluded to by name, might naturally be understood as
included under the general designation of the parliament's decrees
against heretics; while the direction to employ the governor's troops
against those who had not abjured could be construed as authorizing a
local crusade, in which innocent and guilty were equally likely to
suffer. Such were the pretexts behind which the first president and his
friends prepared for a carnage which, for causelessness and atrocity,
finds few parallels on the page of history.
An expedition stealthily organized.
Three months passed, and yet no attempt was made to disturb the peaceful
villages on the Durance. Then the looked-for opportunity came. Count De
Grignan, Governor of Provence, was summoned by the king and sent on a
diplomatic mission to Germany. The civil and military administration
fell into the Baron d'Oppède's hands as lieutenant. The favorable
conjuncture was instantly improved. On a single day--the twelfth of
April--the royal letter, hitherto kept secret, that the intended victims
might receive no intimations of the impending blow, was read and
judicially confirmed, and four commissioners were appointed to
superintend the execution.1 Troops were hastily levied. All men
capable of bearing arms in the cities of Aix, Arles, and Marseilles were
commanded, under severe penalties, to join the expedition;3 and some
companies of veteran troops, which happened to be on their way from
Piedmont to the scene of the English war, were impressed into the
service by D'Oppède, in the king's name.2
1 The names are preserved: they were the second president,
François de la Fond; two counsellors, Honoré de Tributiis and Bernard
Badet; and an advocate, Guérin, acting in the absence of the "Procureur
géneral." Letters-Patent of Henry II., ubi supra; De Thou, i. 541; Hist. ecclés., i. 28.
2 De Thou, ubi supra; Sleidan, Hist. de la réformation
(Fr. trans. of Le Courrayer), ii. 252.
3 The fleet carrying these troops, consisting of
twenty-five galleys, was under the joint command of Poulin, Poulain, or
Polin--afterward prominent in military affairs, under the name of Baron
de la Garde--and of the Chevalier d'Aulps. Bouche, ii. 601. The Baron de
la Garde is made the object of a special notice by Brantôme.
Villages burned and their inhabitants butchered.
On the thirteenth of April, the commissioners, leaving Aix, proceeded to
Pertuis, on the northern bank of the Durance. Thence, following the
course of the river, they reached Cadenet. Here they were joined by the
Baron d'Oppède, his sons-in-law, De Pouriez and De Lauris, and a
considerable force of men. A deliberation having been held, on the
sixteenth, Poulain, to whom the chief command had been assigned by
D'Oppède, directed his course northward, and burned Cabrièrette, Peypin,
La Motte and Saint-Martin, villages built on the lands of De Cental, a
Roman Catholic nobleman, at this time a minor. The wretched inhabitants,
who had not until the very last moment credited the strange story of the
disaster in reserve for them, hurriedly fled on the approach of the
soldiery, some to the woods, others to Mérindol. Unable to defend them
against a force so greatly superior in number and equipment, a part of
the men are said to have left their wives, old men, and children in
their forest retreat, confident that if discovered, feminine weakness
and the helplessness of infancy or of extreme old age would secure
better terms for them than could be hoped for in case of a brave, but
ineffectual defence by unarmed men.1 It was a confidence misplaced.
Unresisting, gray-headed men were despatched with the sword, while the
women were reserved for the grossest outrage, or suffered the mutilation
of their breasts, or, if with child, were butchered with their unborn
offspring. Of all the property spared them by previous oppressors, nothing
was left to sustain the miserable survivors. For weeks they wandered homeless
1 Crespin, fol. 115. Sleidan and De Thou give a similar
incident as befalling fugitives from Mérindol. Garnier, alluding to the
absence of any attempt at self-defence on the part of the Waldenses,
pertinently remarks: "On put connoître alors la fausseté et la noirceur
des bruits que l'on avoit affecté de répandre sur leurs préparatifs de
guerre: pas un ne songea à se mettre en défense: des cris aigus et
lamentables portés dans un moment de villages en villages, avertirent
ceux qui vouloient sauver leur vie de fuir promptement du côté des
montagnes." Hist. de France, xxvi. 33.
and penniless in the vicinity of their once flourishing settlements; and there
one might not unfrequently see the infant lying on the road-side, by the corpse
of the mother dead of hunger and exposure. For even the ordinary charity of
the humane had been checked by an order of D'Oppède, savagely forbidding
that shelter or food be afforded to heretics, on pain of the halter.1
Lourmarin, Villelaure, and Treizemines were next burned on the way to
Mérindol. On the opposite side of the Durance, La Rocque and St. Étienne
de Janson suffered the same fate, at the hands of volunteers coming from
Arles. Happily they were found deserted, the villagers having had timely
notice of the approaching storm.
The destruction of Mérindol.
Early on the eighteenth of April, D'Oppède reached Mérindol, the
ostensible object of the expedition. But a single person was found
within its circuit, and he a young man reputed possessed of less than
ordinary intellect. His captor had promised him freedom, on his pledging
himself to pay two crowns for his ransom. But D'Oppède, finding no other
human being upon whom to vent his rage, paid the soldier the two crowns
from his own pocket, and ordered the youth to be tied to an olive-tree
and shot. The touching words uttered by the simple victim, as he turned
his eyes heavenward and breathed out his life, have been preserved:
"Lord God, these men are snatching from me a life full of wretchedness
and misery, but Thou wilt give me eternal life through Jesus Thy
The village razed.
Meantime the work of persecution was thoroughly done. The houses were
plundered and burned; the trees, whether intended for shade or for
fruit, were cut down to the distance of two hundred paces from the
place. The very site of Mérindol was levelled, and crowds of laborers
industriously strove to destroy every trace of human habitation. Two hundred
1 So say the Letters-Patent of Henry II.: "Furent faites
défenses à son de trompe tant par autorité dudit Menier, que dudit de la
Fond, de non bailler à boire et manger aux Vaudois, sans savoir qui ils
étaient; et ce sur peine de la corde." Hist. ecclés., i. 47; Crespin,
2 Crespin, and Hist. ecclês., ubi supra.
dwellings, the former abode of thrift and contentment, had
disappeared from the earth, and their occupants wandered,
poverty-stricken, to other regions.
Treacherous capture of Cabrières.
Leaving the desolate spot, D'Oppède next presented himself, on the
nineteenth of April, before the town of Cabrières. Behind some weak
entrenchments a small body of brave men had posted themselves,
determined to defend the lives and honor of their wives and children to
their last drop of blood. D'Oppède hesitated to order an assault until a
breach had first been made by cannon. Then the Waldenses were plied with
solicitations to spare needless effusion of blood by voluntary
surrender. They were offered immunity of life and property, and a
judicial trial. When by these promises the assailants had, on the
morrow, gained the interior of the works, they found them guarded by
Étienne de Marroul and an insignificant force of sixty men, supported by
a courageous band of about forty women. The remainder of the population,
overcome by natural terror at the strange sight of war, had taken
refuge--the men in the cellars of the castle, the women and children in
Men butchered and women burned.
The slender garrison left their entrenchments without arms, trusting in
the good faith of their enemies. It was a vain and delusive reliance.
They had to do with men who held, and carried into practice, the
doctrine that no faith is to be observed with heretics. Scarcely had the
Waldenses placed themselves in their power, when twenty-five or more of
their number were seized, and, being dragged to a meadow near by, were
butchered in cold blood, in the presence of the Baron d'Oppède. The rest
were taken to Aix and Marseilles. The women were treated with even
greater cruelty. Having been thrust into a barn, they were there burned
alive. When a soldier, more compassionate than his comrades, opened to
them a way of escape, D'Oppède ordered them to be driven back at the
point of the pike. Nor were those taken within the town more fortunate.
The men, drawn from their subterranean
retreats, were either killed on the spot, or bound in couples and hurried to the
castle hall, where two captains stood ready to kill them as they successively
arrived. It was, however, for the sacred precincts of the church that the crowning orgies of these bloody revels were reserved. The fitting actors were a motley
rabble from the neighboring city of Avignon, who converted the place
consecrated to the worship of the Almighty into a charnel-house, in
which eight hundred bodies lay slain, without respect of age or
In the blood of a thousand human beings D'Oppède had washed out a
fancied affront received at the hands of the inhabitants of Cabrières.
The private rancor of a relative induced him to visit a similar revenge
on La Coste, where a fresh field was opened for the perfidy, lust, and
greed of the soldiery. The peasants were promised by their feudal lord
perfect security, on condition that they brought their arms into the
castle and broke down four portions of their wall. Too implicit reliance
was placed in a nobleman's word, and the terms were accepted. But when
D'Oppède arrived, a murderous work began. The suburbs were burned, the
town was taken, the citizens for the most part were butchered, the
married women and girls were alike surrendered to the brutality of the
For more than seven weeks the pillage continued.3 Twenty-two towns
and villages were utterly destroyed. The soldiers, glutted with blood
and rapine, were withdrawn from the scene of their infamous excesses.
Most of the Waldenses who had escaped sword, famine, and exposure, gradually
1 Many, overtaken in their flight, were slain by the sword, or sent to the galleys, and
about twenty-five, having taken refuge in a cavern near Mus, were stifled by a fire
purposely kindled at its mouth. Sleidan, ii. 255.
2 Hist. ecclés., i. 29; Crespin, fol. 116; De Thou, ubi
supra; Sleidan, ii. 254. The deposition of Antoine d'Alagonia, Sieur de
Vaucler, a Roman Catholic who was present and took an active part in the
enterprise (Bouche, ii. 616-619), is evidently framed expressly to exculpate D'Oppède
and his companions, and conflicts too much with well-established facts to contribute
anything to the true history of the capture of Cabrières.
3 De Thou, i. 543; Sleidan, ii. 255. Of the affair at La
Coste, the Letters-Patent of Henry II. say: "Au lieu de La Coste y
auroit eu plusieurs hommes tués, femmes et filles forcées jusques au
nombre de vingt-cinq dedans une grange." Ubi supra, i. 47.
4 "Et infinis pillages étaient faits par l'espace de plus de sept semaines." Ibid, ubi supra.
returned to the familiar sites, and established themselves
anew, maintaining their ancient faith.1 But multitudes had perished
of hunger,2 while others, rejoicing that they had found abroad a
toleration denied them at home, renounced their native land, and settled
upon the territory generously conceded to them in Switzerland.3 In
one way or another, France had become poorer by the loss of several
thousands persons of its most industrious class.4
The king led to give his approval.
The very agents in the massacre were appalled at the havoc they had
made. Fearing, with reason, the punishment of their crime, if viewed in
its proper light,5 they endeavored to veil it with the forms of a
judicial proceeding. A commission was appointed to try the heretics whom
the sword had spared. A part were sentenced to the galleys, others to
heavy fines. A few of the tenants of M. de Cental are said to have
purchased reconciliation by abjuring their faith.6 But, to conceal
the truth still more effectually, President De la Fond was sent to
Paris. He assured Francis that the sufferers had been guilty of the
basest crimes, that they had been judicially tried and found guilty, and
that their punishment was really below the desert of their
offences.7 Upon these representations, the king
1 Hist. ecclés., i. 30.
2 Letters-Patent of Henry II., ubi sup.
3 At Geneva the fugitives were treated with great kindness. Calvin was deputed by the Council
of the Republic, in company with Farel, to raise contributions for them throughout Switzerland.
Reg. of Council, May, 1545, apud Gaberel, Hist. de l'église de Genève, i. 439. Nine years later
the council granted a lease of some uncultivated lands near Geneva to 700 of these Waldenses. The descendants of the former residents of Mérindol and Cabrières are to be found among the
inhabitants of Peney and Jussy. Reg. of Council, May, 10, 1554, Gaberel, i. 440.
4 Bouche, ii. 620, states, as the results of the
investigations of Auberi, advocate for the Waldenses, that about 3,000
men, women and children were killed, 666 sent to the galleys, of whom
200 shortly died, and 900 houses burned in 24 villages of Provence.
5 Francis I., on complaint of Madame De Cental, whose son
had lost an annual revenue of 12,000 florins by the ruin of his
villages, had, June 10, 1545, called upon the Parliament of Aix to send
full minutes of its proceedings. Bouche, ii. 620, 621.
6 De Thou, i. 544.
7 "Et sachant que la plainte en était venue jusqu'à [notre]
dit feu père, auraient envoyé ledit De la Fond devers lui, lequel ...
aurait obtenu lettres données à Arques, le 18me jour d'août 1545,
approuvant paisiblement ladite exécution; n'ayant toutefois fait
entendre à notre dit feu père la vérité du fait; mais supposé par icelles lettres que
tous les habitane des villes brûlées étaient connus et jugés hérétiques et Vaudois."
Letters-Patent of Henry II., ubi supra, i. 47; De Thou, i. 544.
was induced--it was supposed by the solicitation of Cardinal Tournon--to
grant letters (at Arques, on the eighteenth of August, 1545) approving the execution of the Waldenses, but recommending to mercy all that repented