History of the rise of the huguenots

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A Huguenot petition. Vexatious delay. The petition informally granted.

The Protestant ministers, assembled at St. Germain about ten days before

Beza's arrival,4 had, with wise forethought, presented to the king

a petition embracing four points of prime importance.5 They guarded

against an unfair treatment of the cause they had come to maintain, by

demanding that their opponents, the prelates, should not be permitted to

constitute themselves their judges, that the king and his council should

preside in the conferences, and that the controversy should be decided

by reference to the Word of God. Moreover, lest the incidents of the

discussion should be perverted,

1 "Vous trouverez que je ne suis pas si noir qu'on me faict." Beza, ubi supra.

2 "Bon homme pour ce soir, mays demain quoy?" Beza, ubi supra.

3 "Le lendemain le bruict courut, non seulement à la cour,

mais aussi à Possy, et jusques aux pays loingtains, que de Bèze avoit

esté vaincu et réduict par le cardinal de Lorraine au premier colloque

faict entr'eux." La Place, 157. So Beza himself heard the very morning

he wrote: "Or est-il que tout ce matin il n'a cessé de se venter qu'il

m'a convaincu et reduict à son opinion;" but he adds: "J'ay bons

tesmoins et bons garants, Dieu mercy, de tout le contraire." Ubi

supra. So also in his letter of Aug. 30th (Ib., 59): "Cardinalis

fortiter jactat me primo statim congressu a se superatum, sed a

gravissimis tesbibus refellitur." "Ce que le Connétable ayant dit à le

Reine à son disner, comme s'en rejouissant, elle lui dict tout

hautement, comme celle qui avoit assisté, qu'il estoit très-mal

informé." Histoire ecclés. des égl. réf., i. 312.

4 "Duodecima hujus mensis profectos esse in aulam octo ex

fratribus nostris, quibus nunc accessit noster Galasius." Letter of

Beza, Aug. 22, 1561, Baum, 2 App., 44.

5 Aug. 17th. Hist. ecclés., i. 308, etc., where this

document is given; La Place, 154; Letter of Beza of Aug. 22d, ubi supra, 45.

and each party should so much the more confidently arrogate to itself
the credit of victory as the claim was more difficult of refutation, they
insisted on the propriety of appointing, by common consent of the two parties,
clerks whose duty it would be to take down in writing an accurate account
of the entire proceedings. To so reasonable a petition the court felt compelled
to return a gracious reply. The requests could not, however, be definitely

granted, the ministers were told, without first consulting the prelates,

and gaining, if possible, their consent.1 This was no easy matter.

Many of the doctors of Poissy, and even some members of the council,

maintained that with condemned heretics, such as the Huguenots had long

been, it was wrong to hold any sort of discussion.2 Day after day

passed, but the attainment of the object for which the ministers had

come seemed no nearer than when they left their distant homes. They were

not yet permitted to appear before the king and vindicate the confession

of faith which they had, several months before, declared themselves

prepared to maintain.3 Meantime it was notorious that their enemies

were ceaselessly plotting to arrange every detail of the conference--if,

indeed, it must be held--in a manner so unfavorable to the reformers,

that they might rather appear to be culprits brought up for trial and

sentence, before a court composed of Romish prelates, than as the

advocates of a purer faith.4 At length, weary of the protracted

delay, the Protestant

1 La Place, 154. "Ce même jour selon nostre requeste a

esté accordé que nous serons ouys et que nos parties ne seront nos

juges, mais il y a encore de l'encloueure qui fait que n'avons encore eu

une reponse resolutive, laquelle on diet que nous aurons solemnement et

en cour pleniere." Beza, letter of Aug. 25th, Baum, ii., App., 47

2 La Place, ubi supra. "Nous avons entendu a ce matin

qu'on avoyt mis en deliberation au conseil, si nous devions estre ouys

selon nostre requeste. Mais la royne a tranché tout court, qu'elle ne

vouloit point qu'on deliberat de cela, mais qu'elle vouloyt que nous

fussions ouys, qu'on regardast seulement aux conditions par nous

proposées. Les ecclesiastiques qui estoyent presens out dit qu'ils ne

vouloyent rien respondre de ceste affaire, qu'ils n'en eussent parlé à

leurs compaygnons." Letter of François de Morel, Aug. 25, 1561, Baum,

ii., App., 55.

3 On the 9th of June, 1561, Hist. ecclés. des égl. réf, i. 308.

4 Letter of Beza to Calvin, Sept. 12, 1561, Baum, ii., App., 60.

ministers presented themselves before Catharine de' Medici,

on the eighth of September, and demanded the impartial hearing
to which they were entitled; and they plainly announced their

intention to depart at once, unless they should receive satisfactory

assurances that they would be shielded from the malice of their

enemies.1 It was well for the Protestants that they exhibited such

decision. Catharine, who always deferred a definite decision on

important matters until the last moment--a habit not unfrequently

leading to the hurried adoption of the means least calculated to effect

her selfish ends--was constrained to yield a portion of their demands.

In the presence of the Protestants an informal decree was passed, with

the consent of Navarre, Condé, Coligny, and the chancellor2--those

members of the council who happened to be in the audience chamber--that

the bishops should not be made judges; that to one of the secretaries of

state should be assigned the duty of writing out the minutes of the

conference, but that the Protestants should retain the right of

appending such notes as they might deem proper. The king would be

present at the discussions, together with the princes of the blood. But

Catharine peremptorily declined to grant a formal decree according these

points. This, she said, would only be to furnish the opposite party with

a plausible pretext for refusing to enter into the colloquy.3

Meanwhile she urged them to maintain a modest demeanor, and to seek only

the glory of God, which she professed to believe that they had greatly

at heart.4

Last efforts of the Sorbonne to prevent the colloquy.

The Romish party, however, was unwilling to approach the

1 "Eo deventum est ut necesse fuerit nos parenti Reginæ

testari statim discessuros nisi nobis adversus hostium audaciam

caveretur." Beza, ubi supra.

2 Beza to Calvin, Sept. 12, 1561, ubi supra.

3 Not unreasonably did the queen mother allege--and none

knew it better than she--that even written engagements derive their

chief value from the good faith of those that make them: "Que il estoit

malaisé mesmes avec l'escripture d'empescher de decevoir celuy qui ha

intention de tromper." La Place, 157.

4 "Sans rien chercher que la gloire de Dieu, de laquelle

elle estimoit qu'ils fussent studieux et amateurs." La Place, 157.

Compare the letter of Catharine to the Bp. of Rennes, Sept. 14, 1561,

apud Le Laboureur, Add. to Castelnau, i, 733.

distasteful conference without a final attempt to dissuade the queen from so

perilous an undertaking. As the Protestants left Catharine's apartments,

a deputation of doctors of the Sorbonne entered the door. They came to

beg her not to grant a hearing to heretics already so often condemned.

If this request could not be accorded, they suggested that at least the

tender ears of the king should be spared exposure to a dangerous

infection. But Catharine was too far committed to listen to their

petition. She was resolved that the colloquy should be held, and held in

the king's presence.1
1 Beza to Calvin, Sept. 12, 1561, ubi supra; La Place,

157; Hist. ecclés. des égl. réf., i. 314.


The Huguenot ministers and delegates.
On Tuesday, the ninth of September, 1561, the long-expected conference

was to be opened. That morning, at ten o'clock, a procession of

ministers and delegates of the Reformed churches left St.

Germain-en-Laye on horseback for the village of Poissy. The ministers,

twelve in number, were men of note: Théodore de Bèze, or Beza, with whom

the reader is already well acquainted; Augustin Marlorat, a native of

Lorraine, formerly a monk, but now famous in the Protestant ranks, and

the leading pastor in Rouen, a man over fifty years of age; François de

Saint Paul, a learned theologian and the founder of the churches of

Montélimart, a delegate from Provence; Jean Raymond Merlin, professor of

Hebrew at Geneva, and chaplain of Admiral Coligny; Jean Malot, pastor at

Paris; François de Morel, who had presided in the First National Synod

of 1559, and had recently been given to the Duchess Renée of Ferrara, as

her private chaplain; Nicholas Folion, surnamed La Vallée, a former

doctor of the Sorbonne, now pastor at Orleans; Claude de la Boissière,

of Saintes; Jean Bouquin, of Oléron; Jean Virel; Jean de la Tour, a

patriarch of nearly seventy years; and Nicholas des Gallars, who, after

having been a prominent preacher at Geneva and Paris, had for the past

two years ministered to the large congregation of French refugees in

London. It was a body of Huguenot theologians unsurpassed for ability by

any others within the kingdom.1

1 La Place, 154; Baum, Theodor Beza, ii. 230-234. To the

names mentioned in the text must be added the name of Jean de l'Espine,

who joined his brethren soon after their arrival at Poissy. He was a

Carmelite monk of high reputation for learning, who now, for the first

time, threw aside the cowl and subscribed to the reformed confession of

faith. For an interesting account of his conversion caused by conversing

with and witnessing the triumphant death of a Protestant, Jean Rabec,

executed April 24, 1556, see Ph. Vincent, Recherches sur les

So high ran the excitement of the populace, stirred up by frequent

appeals to the worst passions in the human breast, and by highly-colored

accounts of the boldness with which the "new doctrines" had for weeks

been preached within the precincts of the court, that serious

apprehension was entertained lest Beza and his companions might be

assaulted by the way.1 The peaceable ministers of religion were,

therefore, accompanied by a strong escort of one hundred mounted archers

of the royal guard. After a ride of less than half an hour, they reached

the nuns' convent, in which the prelates had been holding their


Assembly in the nuns' refectory. The prelates.

Meantime, an august and imposing assembly was gathered in the spacious

conventual refectory.2 On an elevated seat, upon the dais at its

farther extremity, was the king, on whose youthful shoulders rested the

crushing weight of the government of a kingdom rent by discordant

sentiments and selfish factions, and already upon the verge of an open

civil war. Near him sat his wily mother--that "merchant's daughter"

whose plebeian origin the first Christian baron of France had pointed

out with ill-disguised contempt, but whose plans and purposes had now

acquired such world-wide importance that grave diplomats and shrewd

churchmen esteemed the difficult riddle of her sphinx-like countenance

and character a worthy subject of prolonged study. Not far from their

royal brother, were two children: the elder, a boy of ten years, Edward

Alexander, a few years later to appear on the pages of

commencements et premiers progrès de la Réf. en la ville de la Rochelle,

1693, apud Bulletin, ix. 30-32. The delegates of the churches were

more numerous than the ministers; there were twenty-two, according to

the Histoire ecclésiastique, i. 316; though the Abbé Bruslart (Mém. de

Condé, i. 51), swells the number to twenty-eight. The names of twelve,

representing twelve of the principal provinces, are given, with

variations, by two MSS. of the National Library of Paris (Dupuy Coll.,

vols. 309 and 641), see F. Bourquelot, notes to Mém. de Claude Haton, i. 155.

1 Beza to Calvin, Sept. 12, apud Baum, ii., App. 61; La Place, 158.

2 Beza, ubi supra. An engraving of the period,

reproduced by Montfaucon, affords a pleasant view of the quaint scene.

history under the altered name of Henry the Third, the last Valois King of
France; the younger, a girl of nine--that Margaret of Valois and Navarre,
whose nuptials have attained a celebrity as wide as the earth and as lasting

as the records of religious dissensions. Antoine and Louis of Bourbon,

brothers by blood but not in character; Jeanne d'Albret, heiress of

Navarre, more queenly at heart than many a sovereign with dominions far

exceeding the contracted territory of Béarn; the princes representing

more distant branches of the royal stock, and the members of the council

of state, completed the group. On two long benches, running along the

opposite sides of the hall, the prelates were arranged according to

their dignities. Tournon, Lorraine, and Châtillon, each in full

cardinal's robes, faced their brethren of the Papal Consistory,

Armagnac, Bourbon, and Guise, while a long row of archbishops and

bishops filled out the line on either side. Altogether, forty or fifty

prelates, with numerous attendant theologians and members of the

superior clergy, regular and secular, had been marshalled to oppose the

little band of reformers.1

It was an array of pomp and power, of ecclesiastical place and wealth

and ambition, of traditional and hereditary nobility, of all that an

ancient and powerful church could muster to meet the attack of fresh and

vigorous thought, the inroad of moral and religious reforms, the

irrepressible conflict of a faith based solely upon a written

revelation. The external promise of victory was all on the side of the

prelates. Yet, strange to say, the engagement that was about to take

place was none of their seeking. With the exception of the Cardinal of

Lorraine, they were well-nigh unanimous in reprobating a venture from

which they apprehended only disaster. Perhaps even Lorraine now repented

his presumption, and felt less assured of his dialectic skill since he

had tried the mettle of his Genevese antagonist. Rarely has battle been

forced upon an army after a greater number of fruitless attempts to

avoid it than those made by the French ecclesiastics, backed by the

alternate solicitations

1 La Place, 157; Hist. ecclés. des égl. réf., i. 314; De Thou, iii. 65.

and menaces of Pius the Fourth, and Philip of Spain. Such reluctance

was ominous.

On the other side, the feeling of the reformers was, indeed, confidence

in the excellence of the cause they represented, but confidence not

unmingled with anxiety.

Diffidence of Beza.

A letter written by Beza only a few days before affords us a glimpse of

the secret apprehensions of the Protestants. "If Martyr come in time,"

he wrote Calvin, "that is, if he greatly hasten, his arrival will

refresh us exceedingly. We shall have to do with veteran sophists, and,

although we be confident that the simple truth of the Word will prove

victorious, yet it is not in the power of every man instantly to resolve

their artifices and allege the sayings of the Fathers. Moreover, it will

be necessary for us to make such answers that we shall not seem, to the

circle of princes and others that stand by, to be seeking to evade the

question. In short, when I contemplate these difficulties, I become

exceedingly anxious, and much do I deplore our fault in neglecting the

excellent instruments which God has given us, and thus in a manner

appearing to tempt His goodness. Meanwhile, however, we have resolved

not to retreat, and we trust in Him who has promised us a wisdom which

the world cannot resist.... Direct us, my father, like children by your

counsels in your absence from us, since you cannot be present with us.

For, simple children I daily see and feel that we are, from whose mouth

I hope that our wonderful Lord will perfect the praise of His


L'Hospital explains the objects in view.

The king opened the conference with a few words before the Protestants

were admitted,2 and then called upon the chancellor to explain more

fully the objects of the gathering. Hereupon Michel de L'Hospital,

seating himself, by Charles's direction, on a stool at the king's right

hand, set forth at considerable length the religious dissensions which

had fallen upon France, and the ineffectual measures to which

1 Letter of Beza to Calvin, Aug. 30, 1561, ap. Baum, ii., App., 59.

2 The speeches of Charles and L'Hospital seem to have been

delivered before the introduction of Beza; cf. Hist. ecclés. des églises

réf., i. 316. Prof. Baum, following La Place, 157, and De Thou, iii.

65-67, represents them as having been delivered subsequently. Theodor Beza, ii. 238.

the king and his predecessors had from time to time resorted. Severity and

mildness had proved equally futile. Dangerous division had crept in. He

begged the assembled prelates to heal this disease of the body politic,

to appease the anger of God visibly resting upon the kingdom by every

means in their power; especially to reform any abuses contrary to God's

word and the ordinances of the apostles, which the sloth or ignorance of

the clergy might have introduced, and thus remove every excuse which

their enemies might possess for slandering them and disturbing the peace

of the country. As the chief cause of sedition was diversity of

religious opinion, Charles had acceded to the advice of two previous

assemblies, and had granted a safe-conduct to the ministers of the new

sect, hoping that an amicable conference with them would be productive

of great advantage. He, therefore, prayed the company to receive them as

a father receives his children, and to take pains to instruct them.

Then, at all events, it could not be said, as had so often been said in

the past, that the dissenters had been condemned without a hearing.

Minutes of the proceedings carefully made and disseminated through the

kingdom would prove that the doctrine they professed had been refuted,

not by violence or authority, but by cogent reasoning. Charles would

continue to be the protector of the Gallican Church.1

The Huguenots are summoned. Beza's retort.

These preliminaries over, the Protestants were summoned. Conducted by

the captain of the royal guard, they entered and advanced toward the

king, until their farther progress was arrested by a railing which

separated the space allotted to the king and his courtiers, with the

assembled prelates, from the lower end of the hall filled by a crowd of

curious spectators.2 No place had been assigned the Protestants

where they might sit during the colloquy on an equality with their

opponents, the Romish ecclesiastics. They

1 La Place, 158; Hist. ecclés. des égl. réf., i. 314, 315.

I have alluded to the fact, first noticed by Prof. Soldan, that De Thou

and others have placed here a speech which was in reality delivered five

or six weeks earlier; while not only they, but also the accurate La

Place and the author of the Histoire ecclés. des égl. réf., have done

the same by the king's speech, and a rejoinder of Tournon to

L'Hospital's address.

2 Hist. ecclés. des égl. réf., i. 316.

were subjected to the paltry indignity of appearing in the guise of culprits

brought to the bar to be judged and condemned. In truth, the spirit of
conciliation which L'Hospital had been at so much pains to inculcate had
found little welcome in the breast of the prelates. "Here come the Genevese
curs," exclaimed a cardinal as the reformers made their appearance.

"Certainly," quietly retorted Beza, whose ear had caught the insulting

expression, turning to the quarter whence it came, "faithful dogs are

needed in the Lord's sheep-fold to bark at the rapacious wolves."1

Beza's prayer and address.

When the twelve ministers had reached the bar, Theodore Beza, at their

request, addressed the king: "Sire, since the issue of all enterprises,

both great and small, depends upon the aid and favor of our God, and

chiefly when these enterprises concern the interests of His service and

matters which surpass the capacity of our understandings, we hope that

your Majesty will not find it amiss or strange if we begin by the

invocation of His name, supplicating Him after the following manner."

As the orator pronounced these words, he reverently kneeled upon the

floor. His colleagues and the delegates of the churches followed his

example. A deep solemnity fell upon the assembly. According to one

account of the scene, even the Roman cardinals stood with uncovered

heads while the Huguenot minister prayed. Catharine de' Medici joined

with still greater devotion, while King Charles remained seated on his

throne.2 After a moment's pause, Beza, with hands stretched out to

heaven, according to the custom of the reformed churches of

1 This interesting incident Prof. Baum discovered in a

fragmentary MS. in the remarkable collection of the late Col. Tronchin.

Theodor Beza, ii. 238. The text is thus given in the Bulletin xiii.

(1864) 284: "M. de Besze, entrant dans la conférence de Poissy avec un

ministre de Genève, un cardinal dit: Voici les chiens de Genève! M. de

Besze, l'ayant entendu, répondit: Il est bien nécessaire que, dans la

bergerie du Seigneur, il y ait des chiens pour abboyer contre les


2 "Es sind auch die Cardinäl, diewyl er geredt, mit

entdektem Houpt gestunden, und beede mal, diewyl sy gebätet, hat sich

die alte Künigin niderglassen und mit gebätet, der Künig aber ist bliben

still sitzen." Letter of Haller to Bullinger, Berne, Sept. 23, 1561,

ap. Baum, ii., App., 73.

France,1 commenced his prayer with the confession of sins which in

the Genevan liturgy of Calvin formed the introduction to the worship of

the Lord's day.2

"Lord God! Almighty and everlasting Father, we acknowledge and confess

before Thy holy majesty that we are miserable sinners, conceived and

born in guilt and corruption, prone to do evil, unfit for any good; who,

by reason of our depravity, transgress without end Thy holy

commandments. Wherefore we have drawn upon ourselves by Thy just

sentence, condemnation and death. Nevertheless, O Lord, with heartfelt

sorrow we repent and deplore our offences; and we condemn ourselves and

our evil ways, with a true repentance beseeching that Thy grace may

relieve our distress. Be pleased, therefore, to have compassion upon us,

O most gracious God! Father of all mercies; for the sake of thy son

Jesus Christ, our Lord and only Redeemer. And, in removing our guilt and

pollution, set us free and grant us the daily increase of Thy Holy

Spirit; to the end that, acknowledging from our inmost hearts our

unrighteousness, we may be touched with a sorrow that shall work true

repentance, and that this may mortify all our sins, and thereby bear the

fruit of holiness and righteousness that shall be well-pleasing to thee,

through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord and only Saviour.

"And, inasmuch as it pleaseth Thee this day so far to exhibit Thy favor

to Thy poor and unprofitable servants, as to enable them with freedom,

and in the presence of the king whom Thou hast set over them, and of the

most noble and illustrious

1 Baum, ii. 245.

2 La Place, 159; Hist. ecclés. des égl. réf. i. 316. The

current, but erroneous belief, that this confession was first composed

by Theodore Beza at the Colloquy of Poissy, has already been noticed. It

had been printed, as we have seen (ante, c. viii. p. 343), in the

Geneva Liturgy as early as in 1542; and earlier still in that of

Strasbourg. It was already the favorite of martyrs and confessors. Jean

Vernou, in 1515, recited it at the estrapade. "Verum antequam

mactaretur," says Jean Crespin, "preces ad Deum fudit, ita exorsus:

'Domine Deus et Pater omnipotens ego certe coram sacrosancta majestate

tua ex animo et syncere agnosco me peccatorem esse miserrimum,' et

cætera quæ in precationum formula recitantur statim initio." The margin

reads: "Initium precum solennium Geneuæ." Actiones et monimenta

martyrum, Genevæ 1560, fol. 321.

company on earth, to declare that which Thou hast given them to

know of Thy holy Truth, may it please Thee to continue the course
of Thy goodness and loving kindness, O God and Father of lights,
and so to illumine our understandings, guide our affections,
and form them to all teachableness, and so to order our

words, that in all simplicity and truth, after having conceived,

according to the measure which it shall please Thee to grant unto us,

the secrets Thou hast revealed to men for their salvation, we may be

able, both with heart and voice to propose that which may conduce to the

honor and glory of Thy holy name, and the prosperity and greatness of

our king and of all those who belong to him, with the rest and comfort

of all Christendom, and especially of this kingdom. O Almighty Lord and

Father, we ask Thee all these things in the name and for the sake of

Jesus Christ, Thy Son our Saviour, as He Himself hath taught us to seek

them, saying: 'Our Father, which art in heaven, etc.'"1

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